Today, October 22nd, Criterion will release The Uninvited on Blu-ray and DVD. Though typically considered to be a label that only champions serious art-house and foreign fare, Criterion have offered up great editions of plenty of our favorite genre titles with a fair share of those being horror. I won’t run through all of them here, and the focus will primarily be on titles that are available on blu-ray due to many of the original DVD releases either being out of print or of sub par quality, but will detail a few titles that should be on your radar if not already on your shelf.
Making any sort of ranked list for this is rather futile as all of the releases are great and deserving of attention on their own. These will be presented in alphabetical order and all comments are for the blu-ray editions unless otherwise noted.
If you are looking for a starting point both in regards of a solid disc to buy and proof that Criterion don’t always take themselves 100% seriously, here you go. Of course, this is the 1958 Steve McQueen drive-in classic and not the 80s splatter fest (that I do have a fondness for). The recently released blu-ray upgrade looks astounding, with colors popping brighter than they ever have before and the titular menace looking particularly great in 1080p. The disc isn’t as stacked as we get from other Criterion discs, but two commentary tracks featuring professional, historical and critical context are well worth your time.
One of the best things that Criterion ever did for horror fans was start working with Guillermo Del Toro. We all know from previous home video releases of his films that he keeps EVERYTHING and has every intention at giving a complete package to his fans. This makes him and Criterion as perfect a match as any and this disc (as well as the one that follows) is proof of that. First off, the blu-ray video and audio has been supervised by Del Toro and is fantastic. The only other release of this that I’ve seen is the Lionsgate DVD and this very noticeably blows that away in both departments. And if you really want to scare your neighbors, or first time viewers, turn that DTS HD track way up. The supplements are as exhaustive as we’d expect from Del Toro: two commentaries, a newly completed short film, a tour of Del Toro’s personal collections which will inspire envy from just about anyone, and more. This disc is packed.
The Devil’s Backbone
Ready for more Del Toro? This one came out recently and it’s a doozy. Again, the presentation gets very high marks and the supplements don’t disappoint. This is my personal favorite of his work so I ate up every bit of what is offered here. Sony put out a decent special edition DVD of the film, and pretty much everything from that is ported over. We do get a new commentary track with Del Toro that is a great listen and a intro from 2010. Beyond that there is a short documentary, interviews, storyboards, thumbnail sketches and an interactive director’s notebook which is pretty great. This coupled with Cronos makes for quite the double-feature package.
Eyes Without a Face
Georges Franju’s wonderfully macabre tale of ocular horror is finally on blu-ray and it looks as great as I’d hoped it would. Like its DVD counterpart, it also comes with his slaughter house short film Blood of the Beasts which has even been restored in HD for this release. We also get a couple of interviews, including a new one with Edith Scob only available on the blu-ray, as well as excepts from a documentary about the writers of the film. This is one of my favorite horror films from any era or country and having it in HD and looking this good is something that I never expected. If there’s anything on this list that I’d heartily recommend a blind buy one, it’s this one.
This is the disc here that most people probably do already own. It’s cult status was as assured as anything and it still manages to catch unknowing viewers off guard. Criterion’s blu-ray is a vibrant thing to behold and they include some features to round out the package. We get an experimental film by the director Obayashi, which is the highlight for me here, a video appreciation by Ti West and a short feature about the film featuring plenty of people involved in the production. The lack of a commentary track is a big disappointment here as this is the kind of feature that would absolutely welcome such a thing. What we do get is of quality though and it makes for quite the candy coated nightmare on screen.
The Night of the Hunter
Not a horror film in the traditional (or stereotypical) sense, Charles Laughton’s only film may be the most unsettling on this list for me. It’s also one of the most starkly and flat out eerily shot black & white features that I can think of, and it’s all gorgeously captured in HD here. There is a big whopper of an extra here too in the form of Charles Laughton Directs Night of the Hunter, which is a 2 1/2 hour (!) collection of behind the scenes footage and outtakes and is indispensable. That alone is worth the price of this. We also get a very involved commentary track featuring commentators from archival and critical backgrounds as well as those involved with the film itself. It’s a great track. And there’s still an overwhelming amount of interviews, TV show clips, conversations and other assorted materials that makes this as exhaustive a package as I’ve ever seen from Criterion or any other studio for a single film. And it all comes packaged in a very attractive digipack with a hefty booklet of essays. Essential.
This is destined to be Roman Polanski’s “other” horror movie, which is unfortunate. I really love Rosemary’s Baby (which Criterion did release a great blu-ray of but I’m not going to cover it here as everyone probably has it, or should) but Repulsion just gets to me so much more. Polanski himself approved the transfer here and it looks about as good as I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen a 35mm print on more than one occasion. He also turns up in a commentary with himself and Catherine Deneuve, which is a casual and educational talk that’s certainly worth a listen. We also get the documentary A British Horror Film which is about the making of Repulsion and a made-for-TV documentary made on the set of the film. It’s a very well rounded package with Polanski’s hands all over it and it makes a great pairing with the equally solid disc for Rosemary’s Baby.
Another one that you should just have by now. Who doesn’t love Videodrome? Hell, even the Beta-esque packaging for this release makes it a no-brainer purchase for fans and it’s also packed with fun stuff. The blu-ray upgrade looks great and is of the unrated version, there are two commentaries with one featuring Cronenberg and the other featuring actors, Cronenberg’s short film Camera, a half hour doc on the film and then some very fun features including: the full footage of Samurai Dreams and Videodrome, a round table featuring other horror filmmaker royalty, and a great interview with Rick Baker. This is one of the more nerdy packages put out by Criterion and it fully embraces its demographic and the film itself.
There were quite a few titles that I didn’t list here, most of them only available on DVD at the current time. A few of those that you should seek out regardless are: Empire of Passion, Haxan (which really needs an upgrade), Jigoku, Kuroneko, Onibaba (also greatly in need of a re-release), Peeping Tom, Sisters and Vampyr.