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DVD Shopping Bag: Top 10 Blu-rays of 2013
Vincent Price makes the list 2X
By Robert T. Trate
December 24, 2013
Let’s face it Maniacs, DVD and Blu-ray releases the day before Christmas are a meager lot at best. This is the perfect opportunity to address our favorite end of the year topic, a top 10 list. I wanted to give you my personal favorite Blu-rays of the year. Now these were the best Blu-rays that I either reviewed or featured here in the DVD Shopping Bag (yes, it is time for an update on that name). The titles featured here had that certain something that stuck with me. It could have been a variety of things from the transfer to the special features. Here are the “Top 10 Blu-rays of 2013”.
The Blob Criterion Collection Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)
The Blob may not be the greatest film of all time, but it has earned a spot in our collective hearts.The transfer here is all that should be. Despite the film being incredibly dated by the clothes, cars, and film stock, The Blob glistens in 1080p. It is almost creepy to see loose strains of hair free standing off of Steve McQueen’s head. Jane Martin’s eyes truly are a bright blue sky and the one that McQueen is fighting for. The Blob itself glistens in the darkness and completely translucent when it needs to be. It even appears to have a heartbeat with its blood red surface. Where Criterion fell short on new special features it delivered in a transfer that should last another 50 years.
Willow 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (Lucasfilm/ Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
After three Star Wars films that relied heavily on green screens and CGI characters, Willow is joy. The simple fact is that you actually believe that these characters are in their environments and that the creatures are, in fact, living and breathing the same air as our cast of characters. There is a special feature highlighting the use of Matte Paintings that reveal conception to the composite onscreen. I’ll take this old Hollywood tool over a bunch of ones and zeros that come out of a computer. There is a huge battle in the castle of Tir Asleen. It is here that I thought the Blu-ray transfer would really get put to the test. Willow turns one of the Trolls into an Eborsisk, a two-headed monster that had those dreaded black SFX outlines surrounding it. This is no fault to the SFX wizards of the day. It was simply the best they could do. In 1080p the Eborsisk looks a lot better. The lines are gone and, though not as clear cut as his younger sister, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, he looks good; far better than he did in 1988 and on the special DVD in 2003. By far the best part of the Blu-ray 25th Anniversary Edition are the deleted scenes. Finally, we have answers about the third acorn, what happened to Sorsha’s father, and we get to see the Fish Boy scene.
National Lampoons Vacation Blu-ray (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Now Vacation’s third installment is a holiday perennial and has been on Blu-ray already. Here, for the 30th anniversary, Warner Brothers has re-released the original in stunning 1080p and Dolby Digital. All of the special features are the same as the 2003 DVD release save one. Much like the new Behind the Scenes feature on Harold Ramis’ other comedy starring Chevy Chase, this one you also have to watch. “Inside Story: National Lampoon’s Vacation” is a brand new 90 minute documentary that takes you on the real road trip that Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, and Christie Brinkley all went on. We’ve all seen it. We can all quote at least one part of it. If anything, you probably already have it. Trust me, you don’t have this edition. It has never looked better and rivals Warner Brothers 2010 Blu-ray release of Caddyshack. Like that film, this is a quintessential comedy and one for the library. I just can’t believe that it is 30 years old and still as funny as the first time I watched it.
House of Wax 3D Blu-ray Edition (Warner Bros. home Entertainment)
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of House of Wax, Warner Brothers has released a special edition of the film on Blu-ray and in Blu-ray 3D (special equipment and glasses required). Only fitting, as this was their first film in this format. The film stars the legendary Vincent Price as Prof. Henry Jarrod, a man obsessed with his wax figures and who will do anything to protect them. The film is a combination of the Phantom of the Opera and Dracula. There is a beautiful damsel in distress, revenge, murder, and what one person is willing to do for immortality. Price shines in his second big horror film (The Fly being his first). Only, this time, he plays the madman. If you have yet to experience House of Wax, Warner Brothers has pulled out all the stops and gave the fans an edition they so desperately need for their collections. The colors live and breathe much like Jarrod’s wax creations. Hands down, this is a great horror treat if ever there was one.
Fantastic Voyage (20th Century Fox)
Fantastic Voyage delivered a smart Sci-Fi adventure that is rarely seen today, let alone one that was released in the Sixties. The mission is to not only save one’s man life, but keep the dangerous new technology from getting into the wrong hands. The C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniature Defense Force) is in a secret race to harness the technology of shrinking men and materials. When the man with the secret to perfecting that technology is injured, the C.M.D.F. sends in “The Proteus” to save his life and the world. Our hero, Grant (Boyd) is our window into this crazy adventure. His mission is to not only protect the crew, but discover if a member of their team is actually a saboteur. Both Dr. Michaels (Pleasence) and Dr. Duval (Kennedy) are experts in their field, but both could be the saboteur. Cora (Welch) is Duval’s assistant and the tech of the group. The spectacle, here, is the voyage and horrors inside the human body. The special effects for 1966 are a sight to behold in 1080p. The sad part is that the Blu-ray only heightens our awareness the of strings and blue screen shadows. A slight blue hue appears when we see our characters from either the left or right of the screen with images behind them. Over the shoulder shots are the best and the hue is gone. Yes, the strings are there, but there are enough wonders, horrors, and white blood cells to keep you fully entertained.
White Zombie Blu-ray (Kino Classics)
The transfer of this 1932 classic is mastered in HD from the 35mm fine grain master. Now, in no way does that means it is perfect. It doesn’t have to be. I just want to be able to see the characters that lurk in the dark shadows and hear the dialogue over the snap, crackle, and pop of the old dialogue track. Kino Classics delivers a film from another era that modern viewers will both appreciate and marvel at. To allow you to fully understand all that Kino Classics has restored, they have included the raw un-enhanced version of the film as well. Bravo, Kino! This is something that I wish companies like Shout! Factory would do in their restoration of the Roger Corman Library. It allows us to see the difference, yet gives us that movie house 35mm version to watch as well. It a strange duality many of us film aficionados possess. We want our cleaned up restored 1080p Blu-ray, but we’ll scream if we can’t see the film in 35mm, too. This is the perfect combination.
Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
What genre fans and fans of these animated features will appreciate is that in no way is this one for the kiddies. To be honest, don’t the kids have enough already? With a series like Teen Titans Go! existing, shouldn’t the older fans get the stories they want, too? Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox is rated PG-13, a fact I had to double check after numerous occurrences that transpired on screen. I knew if it was Rated R, there would have been a big to-do about the film. Though, for a brief second, I thought perhaps it was unrated. I wonder what they did cut out of the film. The realism of this universe is exactly what the fans want and got. Now, violence and “realistic dialogue” don’t usually bode well for a great story. In fact, those two things usually ruin a good story. Jay Oliva and James Krieg tell an incredible story about consequences and redemption. How close this is to Geoff John’s original story is something that I want to now discover. Each of us would love to go back and change one thing in our lives. Here, we see the consequences of what might happen if we had the power to do so. Their story reveals the power of knowing what is the right and wrong thing to do with the power you are given. It’s a fitting morality tale wrapped in the world of superheroes.
Day of the Dead Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)
With each release, Scream Factory highlights the cultural significance and endurance of these modern horror classics. It isn’t the rehash of special features that have either survived from the film’s birth or countless other releases. No, it is Scream Factory’s desire to bring together as many collaborators as possible to talk about the history of the film and its role in modern cinema. Most people wouldn’t sit through a 95 minute documentary about a movie that came and went at the box office in 1985. Those very same people aren’t buying this release, ever. No, the tried and true horror fans are going to drool while watching “The World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead”. This look back features every surviving cast member and a large portion of the crew. Here, you will learn why Romero had to scale back the production and why he made two other films (Knight Riders and Creepshow) first and how Day of the Dead couldn’t escape Dawn of the Dead’s shadow. The Blu-ray transfer has never looked better until you see the VHS playbacks that have survived. The film looks as if it was made today, outside of a few make up lines on the human actors. Otherwise, Bub and his buddies are as great as they ever were, a far better threat than those faced by Brad Pitt in World War Z. This is, hands down, the definitive Collectors Edition of Day of the Dead.
Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (Anchor Bay)
What really swayed me on this Blu-ray Edition was the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was doing the commentary with John Carpenter. Now, it seems strange, but John Carpenter commentaries are an interesting experience in watching his films. With Big Trouble and Little China, he and star Kurt Russell kick back, drink a few beers, and get lost in their own conversation. That conversation had nothing to do with the film, yet it was completely worth it. In Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter chats with star Natasha Henstridge and he calls the film his Biggest P.O.S. (read that review here). Halloween is not Ghosts of Mars. In fact, it is Carpenter’s defining film and one that is considered, by many, to be a classic. There are reasons why Halloween has endured and Curtis and Carpenter reminds us of all those great things in the commentary. What really stood out for this critic was Curtis reminding us that a studio or director today wouldn’t make a film like this. There would have to be quicker cuts and no long drawn out takes. Carpenter points out that the reason why they are there is because they didn’t have the time or the money. They had to get it all done in one.
The Vincent Price Collection (Shout! Factory)
DVD and Blu-ray Releases for 12-24-2013
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
The Berlin File Starring Gianna Jun, Jung-woo Ha, Seung-beom Ryu and Suk-kyu Han
Bonded By Blood
Die Eiserne Maske [Blu-ray] Starring Jean Marais, Jean-Francois Poron, Claudine Auger
Humanity Has Declined: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
Humanity Has Declined: Complete Collection
Say I Love You: Complete Collection
Say I Love You: Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
Sword Art Online-Part 1 [Blu-ray]
COMEDY AND LOVE Mania Style
We're the Millers [Blu-ray]
Insidious: Chapter 2 (+UltraViolet Digital Copy) Starring Patrick Wilson and Ty Simpkins
Insidious: Chapter 2 (Two Disc Combo: Blu-ray / DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy)
SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY
Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (Bonus Feature: Colossus and the Amazon Queen) Starring Mark Forest and Giuliano Gemma (1963)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters [Blu-ray]
Jurassic Park [Blu-ray]
Magnificent Gladiator (Bonus Feature: Revolt of the Barbarians) Starring Mark Forest and Marilu Tolo (1964)
Samson and the 7 Miracles (Bonus Feature: Ali Baba and the 7 Saracens) Starring Gordon Scott (1961)
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