If standard holiday films are not your bag, then this is your lucky day. This time out, we’re turning the tables on Xmas with a bountiful bag of gift-able goodies that are sure to add some extra spice to the season. Here, you’ll find a few choice box sets and special edition items that no horror fan can resist. And hey, if you’re smart, you’ll get the added benefit of easy access to this stuff all year ‘round if you shop it right.
The series of our lifetime has entered its final phase and it’s nothing less than massive. Season 7 of Game of Thrones saw several loose ends get tied up swiftly, to the point where a number of story arcs reached their peaks. For some, it was too much of a whirlwind, and lacked some of the more esoteric and lyrical qualities of prior seasons. But in the reality, the show runners have had a very limited amount of episodes left to work with and had to strategically—and artfully—find a way to move the story along to its conclusion. And that’s exactly what Season 7 is all about.
While the blockbuster aspects are in full force—from the epic battles to the tension-filled capture of a wight and the dramatic assassination of a key baddie, the ominous aura and sharp twists are still intact. HBO has just issued both the individual Season 7 on immaculate Blu-ray, along with another set containing all seven seasons. The former includes a bonus feature, Conquest and Rebellion, narrated by the cast.
One of the best films of the aughts in my view was Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001). The film is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it served as the breakout vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal, who starred as the title’s mysterious character—a damaged teen who is suddenly plagued with visions of a disheveled talking rabbit spouting tropes of the world’s end. And then there’s the film’s dark feel and clever blend of time-travel, alternate reality, Sci-Fi elements, religion and all-around skull-fuckery. Surprisingly, it wouldn’t catch fire for years to come, but thanks to slow-building DVD sales and rentals, the film has become a cult favorite. Now, you can score the ultimate edition in the form of a new steelbook release featuring a newly minted 4K transfer, a book and tons of extra, all enclosed in a limited metal case, courtesy of ace reissue label Arrow Films.
Director Don Coscarelli created a quite a stir in 1979 when he unleashed Phantasm on the world. Mixing horror, Sci-Fi and fantasy, Coscarelli created a film that traversed dimensions, and provided a creepy new horror icon: the “Tall Man,” played to the hilt by the wonderfully named Angus Scrimm. Featuring a clutch of killer dwarves, a deadly flying sphere that drills skulls, and of course, the Tall Man—who seemingly pulls the strings—the film centers on a pair of brothers, and their role in savings us from all that. With somewhat primitive special effects, low-budget sets and a relentless determination to do something different, the 24-year-old Coscarelli started a legacy that would see several sequels of varying quality.
The film has recently been reissued as part of Phantasm 5 Movie DVD Collection from Well Go USA, in all its uncensored glory. Also included are the somewhat lesser effective sequels Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and the latest installment Phantasm: Ravager (2016). And there are actually some worthwhile extras like a documentary, deleted scenes and more.
While it may not measure up to GoT in terms of TV triumphs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has endeared itself to multitudes of fan boys and girls over the years. Debuting 20 years ago on the WB network, the show featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as a predestined vampire killer and boasted some nifty special effects, clever storylines and enough quirk to make it slightly offbeat at times, widening its appeal beyond just mainstream watchers. The show has been immortalized in a massive box set that features all seven seasons on a sprawling 39 discs, all wrapped up tidy in a deluxe box with a comic book and more. (Fox)
Bearing several similarities to Buffy, including its creator Josh Whedon, Firefly was a smart and visually arresting Sci-Fi show following the misadventures of the crew of the ship, Serenity. With a Western flair and a relatable ensemble cast, the show was in some ways too clever for the masses and was cancelled after just 11 of its 14 episodes had run. But like other items on this list, the show has remained a fan favorite over time and its following has grown through DVD and other means. The whole series can now be gotten in a stealth new 15th Anniversary Edition, with all the bells and whistles, and in crisp hi-def. (Fox)
TV horror franchise American Horror Story has been one of the better network offerings to grace the small screen over the past few years. With some inventive and surprising twists, it’s done a fair job of conjuring up some solid shocks. For its sixth season, American Horror Story: Roanoke, the show takes the form of a documentary with a paranormal flair. Different from all the prior seasons, this format lacked some of the contemporary crudeness inherent in the current crop, but with actors like Kathy Bates and Evan Peters, it still packs some serious punch. This set includes all 10 episodes and extras. (FOX)
The 1980s were rife with cheesy horror comedies (many unintentionally so). And while some have rightfully remained in obscurity, others have been immortalized for their outrageous approach to this often hard-to-digest subgenre. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) definitely falls into the latter camp. And campy it is, in spades. Billy had to live through the murders of his parents and the abuse of some nasty nuns. Somehow he survived, but something about the holidays gets under his skin, and sets our hero off into a murderous rage. Loaded with funny bits and some graphic slaughter, Silent Night, Deadly Night has remained a cult favorite for the past several decades. It’s also notable for its inclusion of exploitation queen Linnea Quigley.
To commemorate the chaos, the clever folks at Shout! Factory have crafted the ultimate gift set featuring a remastered cut of the film along with a poster, limited slipcover and an 8-inch action figure of our friend Billy.
While often seen as the teen take on the blood-sucking genre, The Vampire Diaries has not only enjoyed a long run, but has from time to time, produced some sweet little shocks amid the melodrama. With a clutch of cool effects, some interesting plot twists, and a reliable ensemble cast, the show fit well with similar offerings like Buffy and Charmed, and was certainly a cut above your average sitcom. All seasons of the show’s eight-year run can now be had in one scintillating set, with a bevy of bonuses. (Warner Bros.)
Shifting gears just a bit, key reissue label Kino Films brings a few limited edition obscurities to the mix in pristine hi-def, for the collectors and completists on your list. Out of print for eons, the Cohen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991) is a classic slice of dark comedy. A treat for its quirky dialog, eerie characters (John Turturro and John Goodman notwithstanding) and bizarre, unpredictable narrative, the film’s focus on an up-and-coming screenwriter with a less-than-sunny disposition leaves a lasting impression.
Going back a few decades further, The Last Laugh (1924) is another hidden gem to recently make its way to hi-def. Directed by groundbreaking filmmaker, F.W. Murnau, the film follows the plight of a once-proud doorman, who gets demoted to work in the washroom due to his age and image. Distraught and depressed, the man’s life is in turmoil until a surprising turn of events transpires. The silent film was especially notable for its innovative camera techniques and atmospherics that move the story along in an eerie and surreal fashion, without a spoken word. This new issue includes a new score, courtesy of the Berklee School of Music. (Kino)
Vintage serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) was another innovative outing. Bringing the comic book character to life in a compelling was no easy feat in the early 1940s, but the special effects team behind this one does a bang-up job. Combining said effects with strange visuals and some campy acting makes for a fun view, and here you get all 12 serial episodes in one slick set. (Kino)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz