My favourite Blu-ray releases of 2018

JANUARY 12 — Every cloud has a silver lining, people often say. With streaming bulldozing its way through the home video market even more in 2018 and sales of physical media like Blu-ray and DVD continuing to decline, who’d have thought that something positive could come out of all that? 

Well, something positive did manifest out of all this, instead of targeting the mass market, companies are now targeting the more loyal following of niche markets. 

For a collector like me, the steady blossoming of boutique home video publishers is truly heaven sent.

Not only have the usual suspects like The Criterion Collection, Kino Lorber and Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema continued their dominance in the classic and arthouse home video market, newer players like Twilight Time, Indicator Films, Cinema Guild and Grasshopper Film have continued to steadily release Blu-rays and DVDs of titles that your average cineplex goer has no interest in buying.

And when one ventures into the even more niche world of horror and genre films, the choices are even more bountiful, from established labels like Arrow Video and Scream Factory to smaller ones like Vinegar Syndrome, Code Red, Severin and lots more. 

And I haven’t even mentioned labels that specialise in premium packaging like Filmarena, Plain Archive, Novamedia, Kimchi, Blufans and lots more.

In short, the end may be near for physical releases of mainstream titles, but the niche market is blossoming, and I can’t imagine a better time to be a collector than right now. 

And of the many releases I managed to get my hands on in 2018, these are the ones I treasure the most.

Police Story 1 & 2

Anyone who grew up in Asia in the 1980s and 1990s will surely have a special place in their hearts for Jackie Chan, no matter how highbrow their movie tastes may be. 

The dude’s genius blend of martial arts and Buster Keaton/Chaplin-esque slapstick is simply irresistible, and to anyone who grew up adoring his Police Story films, whether from watching them in the cinema or fuzzy VHS copies, or even local TV, this new release from Eureka, remastered in 4K, is a true revelation in terms of clarity and picture quality. 

It’s quite simply the best the films have ever looked on home video. Eureka even included three different cuts of Police Story — the original HK cut (100 mins), the Japanese cut (106 mins) and the abbreviated US cut (88 mins) — and three cuts of Police Story 2 — the original HK cut (106 minutes), the uncut version (2 hours) and the US dubbed version — alongside all sorts of documentaries and interviews.

Gloria

As a long-time John Cassavetes fan, my list of favourite Cassavetes films tend to change every few years, but Gloria, alongside Husbands and Minnie & Moskowitz, will always be in there or thereabouts. 

So even when its long overdue Blu-ray release finally came, courtesy of Twilight Time, without much in the extras department — only two theatrical trailers are included — the beautiful picture quality and the opportunity to hear what this fan thinks is Bill Conti’s greatest movie score (yes, better than his classic score for Rocky) in Dolby 5.1, is more than enough reason to treasure this release and return to it over and over again.

King Of Jazz

Releases like this one are the reason why it’s important that boutique Blu-ray/DVD labels like Criterion should continue to exist. 

An almost 90-year-old musical from 1930, shot in gorgeous 2-strip Technicolour, in the revue style, with a white man (named Paul Whiteman) bestowed the title “King Of Jazz” at its centre, and without a single black jazz musician in sight, is bound to be at least of historical interest. 

Long forgotten, this restoration of King Of Jazz, albeit still incomplete (some scenes had to use still photos, as only the soundtrack survived, while missing frames make it “jumpy”) is quite a sight to behold. 

The bountiful extras will also shed light on the absence of black jazz musicians onscreen, and on how so many of this film’s innovations ended up paving the way for the glorious Busby Berkeley musicals that were still a few years away. 

“A right film at the wrong time,” one of the interviewees here said about this, and he couldn’t be more spot on.

Gun Crazy

Long before Bonnie And Clyde, there was Gun Crazy, one of the most visually stylish films from the noir cycle, in my humble opinion. 

This Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection improves on the already excellent DVD from before, with the details sharper, blacks darker and whites brighter, especially during close-ups, which will sometimes make you forget that this is an almost 70 year old low budget quickie from 1950. 

Adding even more value is the inclusion of the hour-long documentary Film Noir: Bringing Darkness To Light, previously only available in the Film Noir Classic Collection: Vol. 3 boxset, which is currently out of print.

Dude Bro Party Massacre III

Dude Bro Party Massacre III is a fictitious sequel in a fictional trilogy, posing as the lone surviving copy of the film in the form of a VHS taping of a TV broadcast, complete with tracking issues and advertisements. 

In short, it’s the perfect party movie, which I thought I would never be able to host since I missed its first Blu-ray/DVD release, as a “Broterion edition” on the movie’s official website a few years back. 

Thankfully, Scream Team Releasing has quietly put out a Special Collector’s Edition release, presumably replicating the Broterion edition, but with easier availability since it can be purchased on sites like Amazon.

Creepshow: Collector’s Edition

Still one of the best comic book adaptations ever made, this collaboration between horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King is one of those must-see horror titles that I’m sure many have owned in previous formats such as VHS and DVD. 

In fact, it already has a Blu-ray release a few years back. So the only question is, is this Collector’s Edition by Scream Factory worth the upgrade? The answer is a resounding yes. 

A new 4K scan means the image quality is better than before, with even a bit of colour correction done to certain frames to fix the limitations of the original production. 

It comes in a hard box slipcase, with a Criterion-like booklet, and you’ll need hours to explore the many special features, my favourite being a roundtable discussion about making the film with John Amplas, Tom Savini, Tom Atkins and Marty Schiff.

Night Of The Demon

A Jacques Tourneur film released on Blu-ray is always cause for celebration. Even bigger cheers are due when it’s of one of his greatest films, Night Of The Demon, which Indicator Films has released in an exceptional Limited Edition (which sold out its 10,000 copies during pre-order, and is only available on and off in the form of extra/returned stock on the company’s website). 

There are four different cuts of the film presented here — the original full-length version, the US re-issue version, the US theatrical version and the UK theatrical version. 

And since it’s a 2-disc Blu-ray release, there are also tons of special features to explore, from archival material to documentaries and interviews/appreciations from fans and film critics, not to mention an 80-page book on the film as well. I can’t imagine a better treatment of this classic than this.

Mausoleum

I bought this as a blind pre-order (meaning the exact titles had not been announced yet), because it’s released by Vinegar Syndrome and it’s a special Halloween/Black Friday surprise pre-order, so I was convinced it would be good. 

I’m glad I did, because when the titles were finally revealed during the Black Friday sale, this one sold out in less than 24 hours! 

I imagine this one had a lot of fans from the days of VHS, and after I saw it I definitely saw why it sold like hot cakes. 

It’s a horror flick, with lots of outrageous concepts, gore, and lots of nudity too, which of course means it’s an awesomely good time, despite how “bad” it is. 

It’s such a good time, you’ll even chuckle at the sweet interview with the film’s creature/effects man, John Carl Buechler, included as one of the disc’s extras.

Combat Shock

Probably one of Troma’s best-ever films, this unrelentingly depressing classic gets the ultimate home video release from Severin Films, a limited edition of 2,000 numbered copies signed by the director (which of course sold out in just a few days) that not only includes its original director’s cut, with its original title American Nightmares, remastered in 4K, but also a 96-page scrapbook that includes the Director’s Diary and shooting script and an actual film frame from the director’s workprint. If you thought Taxi Driver was a downer, wait till you see this.

The Changeling

The movie that influenced our own 80s horror classic Rahsia, Peter Medak’s The Changeling gets a classy (and region-free) release from UK label Second Sight, with a new 4K scan that showcases how beautiful the cinematography by John Coquillon is, which will remind its viewer how beautifully composed and staged this whole film is. 

Overshadowed by The Shining, which came out almost a year after its original release, even when exhibiting a lot of the qualities that made people admire The Shining (like the Steadicam shots, and even the rolling ball!), hopefully this release will lead more people to appreciate this underr-ated (but still very influential) gem.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.