Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Stephanie's 10 Favorite Blu-rays of 2017

by Stephanie Crawford
As widely predicted, the internet has finally died off, and physical media will continue to dominate all comers.

With that said, it's easy to see why 2017 was such a stellar year for Blu-Ray releases. From big budget blockbusters that actually took the time to include interesting extra features to smaller label weirdies and genre tentpoles, it's been an embarrassment of riches. These are my favorite releases that I bought personally. In the interest of being to actually keep a list to 10 items, box sets are not included.

10. Rawhead Rex from Kino Lorber.
Whatever you think of the film itself (I love it and welcome whatever comments about my taste that may bring), this tweed bloodbath has a 4K restoration, 5.1 surround sound and a massive amount of fascinating extras. What a time to be alive. I've also noticed that Kat Ellinger is on a good amount of my favorite releases this year (here she provides a short essay on folk horror), and that's a trend I hope continues. The talk that's lasted since the VHS days about this little monster picture probably dwarfs the quality of the actual output a bit, but it's still a ride that shouldn't be missed by lovers of glowing red eyes or Clive Barker completists--God help them and Jesus wept.

9. Liquid Sky from Vinegar Syndrome
I first heard about this film on the wonderful House of Self-Indulgence blog a few years ago, and I've been jonesing to see it ever since. Whether you're ultra-cool and already loved the film or a hopeless catch-up kid like myself, Vinegar Syndrome knew exactly how to treat this arty-new-wave-punk-rock-drugged-up-neon buffet of joy. Every bright slash of color and halo of bleached hair glows flawlessly on the screen in a new 4K restoration, and the up-to-the-minute extras (a Q&A from 2017 itself!) are wonderful. This is the kind of film I immediately wanted to know everything about after viewing, and interviews, an almost-feature-length documentary, and commentary will slake even the most die hard's thirst.

8. His Girl Friday from The Criterion Collection
This is the gold standard for screwball comedies, and for good reason. Marry Howard Hawks to crackerjack dialogue and a game cast with chemistry for days, and you got yourself a classic that I'd have memorized if only they didn't talk so fast. Criterion knows what they got, so they put it where it counts. Included is the inferior but interesting The Front Page (1931's adaptation that kept Hildy a man. Imagine!) The black and white restoration is almost too beautiful for this world, and the extras contain treat after treat for fans. Hey, does anyone else listen to the radio adaptations? I hope so, because they're nearly as charming, and they're here too.

7. The Gate from Vestron Video
This was the last movie I rented from Blockbuster Video, and ever since watching that lackluster DVD, I craved a truly worthy Blu-ray release. Vestron, who refuses to undervalue their releases, made my whole year by taking up the mantle. The film? Looks fantastic, don't worry. The extras are the real jackpot here. Season your beloved memories of this possibly-the-best-kid-starring-horror-movie-ever with commentaries and almost too many featurettes. These would have sold like hotcakes on a bare-bones disc (although Vestron would have heard about it, trust me) but this is the loving treatment that this adorably bonkers movie deserves.

6. Effects from American Genre Film Archive
In my book, releases like Effects are what the Blu-ray format is all about. As a big Tom Savini fan (I have both volumes of Grande Illusions on my bookshelf and I always will), I've heard whispers of this movie for years but never got the chance to see it myself. AGFA wins "Best Newcomer" of the year for discs with their superfine releases of ultra-obscure gems, but Effects both satisfied my curiosity and broke my heart. This no-budget love letter to horror movies got a 4K scan from the 35mm theatrical print, has two short films from the filmmakers, a commentary, and an amazing hour-long documentary covers absolutely everything, and it also features a glowing George Romero. He looks beautiful and happy, and they're the perfect moments to tie together a big-hearted presentation celebrating DIY filmmaking soaked with Pittsburgh charm.

5.  Streets of Fire from Shout! Select
I lost my mind when I heard Streets of Fire was coming out on Blu-ray, on a fancy Shout! Factory Select title no less! As of this writing, it's the only disc I've ever pre-ordered from their site so I could get the poster. Walter Hill's kinetic rock 'n roll masterpiece has never looked or sounded better, and the only drawback is that Diane Lane didn't participate in the new extras. A moment of silence for that loss, then lose yourself in the entertaining and extensive "The Making of Streets of Fire," featurettes, and re-watching this movie forever and ever amen.

4. Multiple Maniacs from The Criterion Collection
Having John Waters, my favorite living filmmaker, join the illustrious Criterion Collection means the world to me and, frankly, the world. I was lucky enough to see this in a theater on my birthday before the release of the disc and experiencing the audience reaction only whetted my appetite. The real treasure here, of course, is a brand new Waters commentary. If you've ever heard him talk on his own films, Mommie Dearest or, heck, even Christmas Evil, you know that a John Waters commentary is a joy forever. Divine has never looked more trashily gorgeous than in this 4K restoration (in black and white, natch. That's true ageless glamour.) and the surviving Dreamlanders have new interviews, making this the crown jewel of Baltimore on Blu-ray. Now, let's hurry up and get the rest of Waters' work upgraded.

3. Re-Animator from Arrow Films
If Anchor Bay ever had their sexy hands on it in the DVD heyday, then it was probably a movie that had more-than-enough decent home video releases. That said, Arrow pulled out all the stops with their limited three-disc edition of Stuart-Gordon-Brian-Yuzna-H.P. Lovecraft's-oh-god-they-congealed-into-one-moviemaking-monster-bless-us-all Re-Animator, which is good because you could put at least half a child through college if you're a dedicated fan who dutifully bought everything released on formats prior. A ridiculously gorgeous package containing a full-color comic from Steven Philip Jones and Christopher Jones houses two discs stuffed with the good green stuff. The feature-length "Re-Animator: Resurrectus" documentary has been ported over, and new extras ranging from a commentary on the unrated version to a wonderful look at H.P. Lovecraft works on film nestle into MORE extras covering everything Re-Animator and anything that ever orbited it. If you can get more comprehensive than this, you should probably question if you should.

2. Daughters of the Dust from the Cohen Film Collection
It's been over 25 years since Julie Dash's intoxicatingly gorgeous and heartbreaking look at a family of Gullah islanders was released, and it's only grown more powerful and culturally relevant over time. While the film itself seems to float in its own beauty so that it's drawn it more than just watched, the extras firmly put the film in a context within Gullah, African American and pop culture. Treat yourself to a wonderful film paired with a wealth of entertainment and knowledge in this comprehensive and overdue release.

For extra credit, pair this with the Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman's Film book for a fuller look at a world of filmmaking very rarely talked about.

1. Suspiria steelbook from Synapse Films
Synapse goes above and beyond with their steelbook releases. My favorite Argento got a stunning release last year in Phenomena, but there's no question that Suspiria was the one fans were lusting after the hardest.

Suspiria has gone through severe cuts and limited releases throughout the decades on home video, but if you thought there was a wait with Synapse working meticulously on its stunning 4K restoration, then talk to US viewers in the '80s who had to figure out how to get their hands on the Japanese laserdisc. The wait was worth it: The deliriously gorgeous film never looked better on the small screen, and the extras cater to both diehards and those new to the film and Argento's output in general. Featurettes discussing film theory and the history surrounding themes in the film in an approachable way add new depth, making future rewatches even more exciting. You'll certainly find more packed discs, but fans know that seeing the film in this restoration was all we really needed.

Some films can become small events onto themselves in the right presentation, Synapse knew it, and they stole the year with Suspiria.

Top 5 Honorable Mentions (AKA This Is Secretly A Top 15 List)

1. Serial Mom from Scream Factory. Two John Waters commentaries and a new interview with Waters, Mink Stole and Kathleen Turner. A must.

2. Baby Driver from Sony Pictures. Edgar Wright understands movie fanatics and collectors, and he hasn't let us down yet. Commentaries, interesting deleted footage and featurettes add a nice side dish to a movie you were putting in to rewatch for the sixth time.

3. Wonder Woman from Warner Bros. Pictures. This goes double if you got the gorgeous Target exclusive. This was an exciting movie for a girl who was Wonder Woman as her first Halloween costume, and this is stuffed with celebration of both the film and the character herself.
4. Lifeboat from Kino Lorber. One of my favorite Hitchcocks, this beautiful transfer is joined by the commentary and featurette from the DVD and includes a brand new Tim Lucas commentary and audio from Francois Truffaut interviewing Hitchcock on the film.

5. Kill Baby Kill by Kino Lorber and Arrow Video. I love Mario Bava to an unhealthy degree, and Kino and Arrow have been delightful dealers to my addiction. Having two of our best companies go head to head in a bloodbath of lovely releases makes sure both region A and region B fans can co-exist without brutal turf wars is a beautiful thing.

What Blu-ray gems caught your eyes, heart and wallet this year?


  1. It's damn expensive, but Criterion's 100 Years of Olympic Films is (so far) a pretty incredible experience. I went straight for Bud Greenspan's "16 Days of Glory" for the 84 Summer Games - and was astonished to see that the original cut of his documentary runs for nearly 5 hours. I'm looking forward to "Olympia," if only to see how the majesty of Jesse Owens stands out amidst all the Nazi iconography.

    1. I'm kinda tempted to get this, but I'm almost certain I would never watch any of them ever again.

    2. I’m getting it in 2 weeks. I can’t resist

  2. I got the Suspiria steelbook, haven’t had time to go through it

    I bought a ton a great blu-ray edition this year. One i’ll note is The Complete Monterey Pop. To be honest, the main feature is very good, but just okay compared to the 2 other main attractions included: the Jimi Hendrix show he did at the festival, and the Ottis Redding show. 2 fantastic music performances that are well worth the price. And there’s a few nice extras and a booklet

  3. Didn't Arrow release a blu-ray of The Thing which has a commentary involving the guy from that podcast some of us listen to?

    1. yes, but it's Region B. you can't watch it on a regular blu-ray player from north american

  4. Great Picks! Makes me want to spend more money...

    My pick is the new season of Twin Peaks. It was the best tv/movie/whatever I've seen this year. And the hours of behind the scenes documentaries of Lynch doing his thing are equally riveting.

    1. She said box sets aren't included otherwise was going to chime in earlier with this :( I whole heartedly agree that Twin Peaks The Return is the best thing ever this year. The bonus features are amazing as well.

  5. Matt's post reminded me of another great release this year: Criterion's edition of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. This is a great (and profoundly upsetting) film, and Criterion does their usual terrific job with the transfer and the extras.

  6. a couple more, now that i had time to think about it

    Dunkirk: i really like this movie, the 4K is beautiful, and the extra is basically an 100+ minutes long making of on the movie (i think it's actually longer than the movie)

    Man From Earth: i love this movie and when they announced a Special Edition, i jumped on it. restauration from a source that was far from HD. still shows that the source is low resolution, but the work they did on it is fantastic. plus, there's a 50 minutes making of that doesn't break the mold, but is still pretty interesting. plus a few more extras that are worth it.

    Heat: the tagline on the box says 'Director's Definitive Edition'. the blu-ray is super cheap, so you have no reason not to get it. new restauration, a couple new extras. get it now

    Hell In The Pacific: if for no other reason that this movie simply exist on blu-ray, juste get it for the only 2 actors on screen in the whole movie: Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. beyond the great movie, you get a few nice extras, including the original ending intended by the director (can be viewed with the movie with seamless branching)

    and all the Arrow and Criterion i got this year (which there are many. my mother would say too many)

    oh, breaking the 'no boxset rule', Samurai Jack Complete Series, simply because it exist on blu-ray. the show is awesome and the box is beautiful.