Despite many reports on the death of physical media, 2016 was a banner year for horror home video. In addition to companies like Scream Factory (who have released excellent new versions of many horror favorites and are set to continue their streak in 2017) and Synapse Films (dedicated to releasing definitive versions of Italian horror classics like Demons and Phenomena), other labels have been releasing unseen gems or going all-out with new editions of classics that more than justify double-dipping. Here are five essential 2016 horror home video releases.
5. The Undertaker (Blu-ray/DVD): Vinegar Syndrome
In the three years of its existence, Vinegar Syndrome has established itself as one of the most important home video imprints in the business with their mission to restore, preserve, and release cult and exploitation films. Their incredible run of releases in 2016 cemented their already sterling reputation among hardcore cult cinephiles. One of the most unexpected releases this year was their limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of director William Kennedy’s 1988 slasher film The Undertaker. Previously only released in severely compromised forms under a number of different titles, The Undertaker is one of the final screen appearances from genre legend Joe Spinnell (star of William Lustig’s Maniac). Vinegar Syndrome restored the film in 2K from its original camera negative, marking the first time the original uncut version of the film has ever been available on home video. It’s also packed it with special features including a full-length commentary track by Kennedy and a booklet with an essay by Michael Gingold (former editor-in-chief of Fangoria magazine). As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s also housed in a “blood soaked coffin cutout o-card!” This disc is a perfect example of the fantastic work Vinegar Syndrome does to shine a light on movies that have fallen through the cracks.
4. The Satanist (Blu-ray): Garagehouse Pictures
Garagehouse Pictures is a new Blu-ray label that launched near the end of 2015 with the release of the lost 1980s action/comedy Ninja Busters. They followed up that release with two impressive Trailer Trauma collections in 2016 (with a third on the way this month, clocking in at over 7 hours of 1980s cult/horror trailers), and the first-ever home video release of a film that had been presumed lost since the early 1970s. Exploitation director Zoltan G. Spencer’s debut feature The Satanist was originally released in 1968, but it was the victim of very bad timing: most sexploitation films were being shot in color by then, making the film’s occasionally striking black & white look dated, and before too long adult films would be dominated by much more explicit fare. After a run at a handful of adult theaters, The Satanist disappeared until a 35mm print was discovered by Harry Guerro of Philadelphia’s Exhumed Films. After a few big-screen engagements, Garagehouse scanned and restored the print for its debut home video release nearly 50 years after it was originally produced. The disc includes a commentary track by cult/exploitation historians Chris Poggiali (Temple of Schlock) and Ashley West (The Rialto Report), as well as a restored uncut version of Spencer’s biker-girl feature Sisters in Leather. This disc is a look at a fascinating slice of a very particular moment in cult film history.
3. Symptoms (Blu-ray): Mondo Macabro
José Ramón Larraz will probably always be best known as the director of the classic lesbian vampire film Vampyres (1974; a remake was released earlier this year), but fortunately cinephiles have recently been digging into his other work as well. Two of his films were released this year on Blu-ray: His bizarre 1982 Satanic softcore horror Black Candles was released by Code Red, but the real find was Symptoms, one of the films Larraz shot in the UK and Britain’s official submission to the Cannes Film Festival in 1974. Only available to see ever since its original release in murky VHS bootlegs, the film was virtually lost until its 35mm negative was finally discovered in 2014. Featuring a harrowing lead performance by Angela Pleasence, Symptoms is one of Larraz’s best films. Sadly Larraz passed away in 2013 and was unable to see this film restored and released for new generations of fans to discover. Mondo Macabro released the Blu-ray in the United States in a features-packed special edition that includes new interviews with Pleasence, co-star Lorna Heilbron, and editor Brian Smedley-Astin in addition to a 1999 BBC TV documentary on Larraz (From Barcelona to Tunbridge Wells, an episode of the Eurotika! series), and a feature-length 2011 documentary on Larraz entitled On Vampyres and Other Symptoms. The limited edition first pressing also includes an exclusive DVD with the full two-hour archival interview with Larraz used as the basis of the Eurotika! episode and a booklet featuring an essay by Samm Deighan (Satanic Pandemonium and the Daughters of Darkness podcast). It’s a major find from a director whose reputation is finally undergoing a long-overdue reevaluation.
2. Blue Sunshine (Blu-ray/DVD/CD): FilmCentrix
Blue Underground released what was previously the definitive version of Blue Sunshine in 2003, but fans of Jeff Lieberman’s 1978 cult classic now have a reason to retire that great 2-disc set. FilmCentrix is a new imprint from Distribpix, an established video company that specializes in restoring and releasing classic adult films. Blue Sunshine is their first release, and they bring to it the same level of quality and care they brought to their gold-standard releases of legendary sexploitation director Radley Metzger’s “Henry Paris” films. The film has been restored in a beautiful 4K transfer and given a plethora of special features. There are two commentary tracks (a full-length track with Lieberman moderated by filmmaker Elijah Drenner and a scene-specific commentary with actor Marc Goddard), newly scanned transfers of the film’s original theatrical trailers, interviews and other featurettes on the film, and even some vintage LSD “scare films” scanned in high-definition. It’s all packaged in a gorgeous 3-disc set that includes a CD soundtrack (also a highlight of the previous Blue Underground release), a deluxe liner notes booklet, reversible cover art, a replica press book, and more. It’s all but impossible to imagine a more comprehensive version of Blue Sunshine ever being released, and if you’ve never seen it before this is definitely the best way to be introduced to it.