2016 Horror Home Video: 5 Essential Releases

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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.

The Undertaker (Vinegar Syndrome)

The Undertaker (Vinegar Syndrome)

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.

The Satanist (Garagehouse Pictures)

The Satanist (Garagehouse Pictures)

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.

Symptoms (Mondo Macabro)

Symptoms (Mondo Macabro)

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.

Blue Sunshine (FilmCentrix)

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.


The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Arrow Video)

The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Arrow Films)

1. The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast/Shock and Gore (Blu-ray/DVD): Arrow Films

After a long life well-lived, legendary exploitation filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis passed away in August of this year. While José Ramón Larraz did not live to see the resurgent popularity of his films, Lewis had the incredible fortune to be able to take part in the creation of Arrow’s truly amazing boxed set of 14 of his films. Presented in high-definition transfers on both Blu-ray and DVD (with nine of the 14 films making their Blu-ray debut), The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast is packaged in what looks like a big cereal box that includes a hardcover “activity book” with vintage promotional material for the films. The wild physical presentation is just the start, though, as the set includes newly-recorded introductions by Lewis to every film, commentary tracks on 11 of the 14 films with Lewis and others (including David F. Friedman, with whom Lewis worked on the “Blood Trilogy”), trailers, radio spots, outtakes, short films, a DVD featuring the full-length documentary Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore, and nearly two dozen featurettes and interviews with Lewis and a plethora of writers, filmmakers, and performers talking about the history of the films and their subsequent influence. For the true Lewis fanatic, Arrow also released a limited edition version of this set called Shock and Gore. Packaged in a huge box that could house a Trivial Pursuit board game and weighing in at 13 pounds, it included everything from the “Feast” set as well as a commemorative barf bag, the Blood Feast soundtrack on a 7″ record, 14 postcards featuring the poster art from each film included in the set, a “super gory” eyeball(!), a 160-page paperback of Lewis’s original Blood Feast novelization, and a 92-page hardcover book with a foreword by Lewis and written by Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents) presenting the definitive overview of Lewis’s film career. It’s an astonishing set in either form, and absolutely required viewing for any serious student of horror and exploitation film history.