2015 was an amazing year to be a movie nerd. If you had told me a couple years ago that in one calendar year, I would get a five hour Evil Dead 4/5 movie, a new Mad Max from the original director, a new Star Wars film, and that John Carpenter would put down the video game controller and crank out an album of movie-less soundtrack tunes...AND they would all be great, I would have called BS pretty fast.
But that is the fruit that this year bore. In addition to some awesome new films and horror TV output, some really great horror movie reissues would get crossed off my personal wishlist. Also, the horror fan in me would find unexpected new ways to spend money on horror movie related items. First, let me share the method to my madness for this list. I would love to be in the position to talk about the 10 best horror movies of the year. However, between being a husband, coworker and new father, I just don't have the time to see that many things in the theater anymore. Instead, I wanted to reflect on the areas where I do spend my time and money as a horror movie fan, and what were my most memorable genre discoveries of the year.
Blood and Black Lace (Blu-Ray)
Since the announcement of a new high definition disk format, awesome HD versions of the films of Argento, Fulci and Mario Bava have been on the top of my wishlist. Sure enough, some of these were early titles out of the gate. The early HD output of things like Deep Red and City of the Living Dead were no brainers since I assume the elements were readily available and were in great condition, as evidenced by some solid DVDs by Anchor Bay. However what I REALLY wished for were proper remasters of a couple early Italian horror DVDs that looked bad. I mean Really Bad. Blood and Black Lace always seemed like odd man out when it came to being remastered. It was conspicuously absent in the Anchor Bay DVD box sets and didn't appear on the Kino blu ray release schedule when those started coming out. Thank god for Arrow Video which is quickly turning into the heir apparent to Criterion when it comes to genre releases (and even out-Criterion-ing Criterion on releases like Videodrome!). Their new 2k master of Blood and Black Lace is a revelation and is the film I always new it should be! The colors! The Depth! Plus, it is loaded with tons of extra, including a PhD level thesis on the history of gaillo films, tons of panel discussions, and short films…this is a really awesome release.
The Resurrected (Blu-Ray)
Much like Blood and Black Lace, another desired blu-ray upgrade for me was The Resurrected by Dan O'Bannon. This movie's lack of love on home video always confounded me. After half a dozen Re-animator DVD releases, dozens of Evil Dead DVD releases and lots of nice versions of no budget horror films, how is it that one of the best HP Lovecraft films (based on The Strange Case of Dexter Ward), directed by one of the minds behind Alien, Total Recall and Return of the Living Dead has been thus far relegated to a shoddy, barely watchable full-frame DVD? Thankfully OFDb (no idea who these guys are, but I approve) felt gracious enough to bestow upon us a massive high definition upgrade of this great genre title. While the picture quality is not quite reference material, it looks really nice in motion and since much of the dramatic moments take place in near pitch black…you can finally tell what the hell is going on! Tack on deleted scenes, an 80 page book, commentaries, and more and this is a hell of a package. Its too bad it is region B. Hey Scream Factory, here is a no brainer for you! It even has cool custom artwork.
Manos the Hands of Fate (Blu-Ray)
Alright. I finally saw Manos. Actually I watched it twice. With the announcement of the Synapse HD restoration of arguably one of the worst movies ever (IMDB ranks it as the 5th lowest rated movie, sandwiched between some Paris Hilton vanity project and Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. Yuck), I for some crazy reason, thought to myself that I may actually want to watch this. I mean Synapse rarely steers me wrong. Then everyone on the internet started raving that it was a cult classic that needed the kind of reappraisal that has been given to The Room, as well as people in soundtrack forums praising the avant-garde jazz soundtrack. So I sat down and I watched Manos in regular and MST3K form. Well, what can I say? The movie is a steaming pile of crap, and I am pretty sure most elementary school kids could direct something better (although it actually starts to get interesting right before it ends with the fever dream editing). It is a 70 minute movie that feels like it is five hours long and even the MST3K crew called it potentially the worst thing they ever aired. That says something! I know this has followers, but I don’t get it. Hey, this list is about things that were memorable…and I will not soon forget watching this twice in a week. The Master Does Not Approve.
Speaking of things that were memorable for the wrong reason, I finally watched Necromantik since Cult Epics unleashed a blu ray of it this year. Not that the blu adds to the experience since this was shot cheaply on 16mm and there is probably some air of forbiddeness in watching a less than pristine version of it. Its not that I am a newbee to extreme cinema, quite the opposite. I have screened Cannibal Holocaust for friends. I have seen extremes of Italian and German cinema. I have seen Faces of Death and Last House on Dead End Street and most of the video nasty list in their uncut form. But this movie trumped them all and truly repulsed me. There are things in it that I really wish I could unsee. I was taken on a sordid and dirty spiral into this gutter of depravity. So, this is more of a warning than a recommendation. I will NEVER watch this again, but even for a seasoned extreme horror vet, this one kicked my ass and made me sick to my stomach. I can only assume that was the point, and it achieved it in spades.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (TV)
Anyone who wanders into my basement immediately finds out if they didn't already know it, that I am a huge fan of the original Evil Dead trilogy. I can tell you exactly where I was when I saw each of the originals on VHS way back when. I have seen each of them dozens of times and on the right day, would claim that Evil Dead 2 is my favorite horror movie. However, after getting 23 years worth of false promises for a sequel (Sam Raimi seemed to tease it every year at some convention) and an Evil Dead remake that was gross…but little else, the Fanboy community at-large had lost hope of ever seeing Bruce Campbell reprise the role of our favorite chainsaw handed wisecracking antihero. However, by the power of the Necronomicon apparently, a continuation has come to fruition and on R rated cable nonetheless. While I haven’t seen the first season finale at this point, I have to say that I am very impressed with what we got. What made the originals so great was its amazing atmosphere, a combination of dread, black humor, cool camera angles and over-the-top gore. I am as amazed as anyone at this new series quality, and it's ease and falling right back into the same world we left in Evil Dead 2&3. I am very interested to see what they do with this in the episodes and seasons to come.
It Follows (Blu-Ray)
I expounded my admiration for this film and it’s soundtrack across a couple thousand words in the (upcoming) horrordigital.com review of the film. The long and the short of it is that it feels like a love letter to smart 70’s and 80’s horror films of John Carpenter and Wes Craven with a soundtrack that is so badass that you will be tempted to actually go buy it even if you aren’t a horror movie musical score type of person. I may have to play it while running at the gym…with a look of terror on my face.
Horror Movie Vinyl Scores
In 2015, I probably spent the lowest amount of money on movie disks than I have since I got a DVD player in the late 90s. Why? The rise of streaming services, lots of good stuff hitting Netflix and Hulu’s Criterion channel, some rock solid genre series on TV and HBO…and well, there are only so many hours to watch TV after you put the kids to bed. However, my pocketbook has been saying “thank you sir, may I have some more” for vinyl horror movie soundtracks this year. It seems like every damn week, Mondo/Waxwork/Death Waltz/Dagored/Cinevox/Lunaris/Finders Keepers, etc are putting out some awesome horror movie score in a crazy limited package with psychedelic colored vinyl and awesome liner notes and cool extras. Although I get that vinyl is hot these days (and has been for the past five or so years), it is killing the ol’ wallet when in the span of a year or two, you get EVERY score by Goblin or Fabio Frizzi and a couple dozen by Morricone. And of course they are the sort of pressings that last a week (or about 60 seconds in the case of the Army of Darkness Variant by Mondo) before they double their price in the secondary market. Aaarrrgghhh. That said, I have really enjoyed these as I sit after hours with an adult beverage and do work or type reviews up. It kind of gets you in the right mindset and takes you to a creative place. Not all of these are winners and like horror movies, some are obscure for a reason (read: they aren’t very good), but stuff like Tourist Trap, All the Colours of Dark, Phantasm, and Purfume of the Lady in Black got more time on the turntable than most of the bands that I like that dropped great albums this year. It’s an expensive hobby though. I recommend buying two of everything if you catch my drift.
John Carpenter - Lost Themes (LP)
Speaking of horror and vinyl, freakin John “and I’m all out of bubblegum” Carpenter came back into my life this year. Yeah, ok, he may never do another great horror movie again, although his Cigarette Burns episode for Masters of Horror was really great stuff, but John has delivered on something that he had been talking about for years…an album of dark John Carpenter jams to play as a soundtrack to the unmade horror movie in your head. It amazingly does not disappoint! I love that all the titles on this are one word and vague (Night, Vortex, Pergatory) and each one sounds like vintage Carpenter. This one checks all the boxes for me. For the collector, Sacred Bones, which also does some of the musical output of David Lynch, had some neat variants with custom silk screened jackets.
Quatermass and the Pit (Blu-ray)
What? How have I not seen Quatermass and the Pit? Hey, you can’t watch em all. In addition to horror movies, I study Japanese cinema, Russian sci fi, and weird stuff from around the world, and lots of interesting regional horror films from the US in the 60’s and 70’s. So sometimes things slip through the cracks. With a blu-ray released in Europe from Optimum, I finally got to watch this sci-fi classic…and I loved it! Actually, what peaked my interest was remembering John Carpenter saying it was one of his major influences…and he wasn’t kidding! This movie has so many ideas in it and each act feels like a new movie. John obviously took liberally from this for Prince of Darkness but it isn’t hard to see it’s influence in many other works of his. If you haven’t seen it, this movie plays out like one of the best Twilight Zone episodes, but throws in heaping amounts of horror and sci-fi. Very impressive work on all ends. Glad I finally saw it!
Crimson Peak (Theatrical)
Let it be known that next to Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro is my favorite modern director. Much like Nolan, his film projects seem to be “one for the studios, one for me.” The “one for me’s” are always something that I try to seek out in theaters as Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are high water marks for me in fantasy and horror of the past decade or so. His new one Crimson Peak, which I am sad didn’t light the box office on fire (although it would not have taken much effort to make it a PG-13), was an awesome watch, if not a really sumptuous love letter to Mario Bava. First of all, the sets are amazing! I enjoyed how the movie straight up told the audience that it was a story with ghosts, and not a ghost story, which is likely what some people were hoping for. But the crazy hyper detailed huge sets, the lighting, the atmosphere, the acting were all spot on. The entire movie feels like a $50m Mario Bava film. One of the year’s best and something that I look forward to revisiting on blu at some point down the road. Maybe this and Pan’s Labyrinth will get the Criterion treatment in the future!
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders – (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This movie has a spell on me. I was given this disk years ago from a friend who ran a cult video rental and sales store. Even though the Facets Video version of this looked rough and was really washed out, it took me on a dark fairy tale that mixed sexuality, coming of age, the devil, and more with some of the best Czechoslovakian cinematography. Watching this alongside with Lemora would be an interesting but weird viewing experience. I could not be more excited that genre-snobs Criterion have picked it up and put out a nice 2k remaster of it. Much like their earlier work with Hausu, Criterion is doing the lord’s work here by getting some of this bonkers, but artsy international horror out into the mainstream to find a new audience. Highly recommended if you like some surreal artsy horror.
So there is my year in review. Gazing into the crystal ball, what do I want to be writing about this time next year? Here is my wishlist: 4k remaster of Phantasm on Blu, Phantasm V: Ravager not sucking, someone putting out Friday the 13th Part 3 in polarized 3D blu ray, Synapse putting out the Coffin Joe trilogy on blu, Synapse putting out remastered versions of Suspiria and Lemora, and if I can dream, a 4k remaster of Dawn of the Dead with all three cuts. Hey, a guy can dream.