Rhett's Top Ten Horror DVD Releases of 2005 It’s been a big year for horror releases. While some of last year’s companies were either out of the count this year (Paramount) or simply a big step down from last annum (Anchor Bay), there were several other companies more than willing to pull up the slack. Newcomers NoShame proved to be the biggest surprise of the year, releasing a number of small gems in spurts throughout the year. There were some other new outfits that showed a lot of promise too, most notably Subversive Cinema and Dark Sky. Grindhouse made a small appearance, but with big results, while big companies like Warner Brothers and MGM stepped up with dozens of big horror films for small prices. Lions Gate had a banner year with some great special editions of titles old and new, but ultimately it was Blue Underground who set the standard in 2005. Although their output was slower this year than previous years, they proved their worth with each quality filled release. With most of the big horror titles already released (and several times over) this was the year of digging deep in the vaults for most companies. What we ended up seeing were a number of lost films that either cry to be seen (Tombs of the Blind Dead, Season of the Witch) or ones that were better left lost (Night of the Lepus). It was thus an unpredictable year, to say the least, so with that in mind here’s my list of the top ten horror DVD releases of 2005. 10. Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1972) The problems with Shriek Show’s two-disc release of this maligned Fulci classic are instantly noticeable. It was delayed nearly a year, and then when finally released the uncut version was presented in washed out pan and scan. But it was released. This is one of Fulci’s greatest films, and the fact that both (highly different) versions of the film are included on the same release, as well as a nice interview and a provocative slip cover make this still a must own and a definite high point for the year. Had the uncut version been in a cleaned up widescreen print this would have been near flawless. 9. Just Before Dawn (1981) Shriek Show’s other high profile two-disc set this year was the restoration of Jeff Lieberman’s obscure homage to Deliverance siphoned through the lens of Friday the 13th. This has been one of those titles, like The Hills Have Eyes last year, that fans had been asking for for years, not ever imagining it would actually get released. It did, and although the video transfer wasn’t jaw dropping, this release had the supplements to back it up. The hour long documentary is crammed with information and Lieberman’s commentary is candid and honest. A slasher classic among hardcore fans, this excellent release now makes the film available for horror fans both old and new. 8. Seed of Chucky (2004) Who would have guessed that the fifth film in the Child’s Play series would be the best? Directed (finally) by original creator of the series, Don Mancini, this is a smart and clever satire of Hollywood and of the entire series as a whole. A loving tribute to Chucky and his Osborne-esque dysfunctional American family, the laughs come nearly as quickly as all the great horror homages. What surprises most though, is the quality of the DVD, packed with hours upon hours of original and entertaining material. The commentary with Jennifer Tilly and Mancini is destined to become classic, and even the most mundane looking extras, like a Chucky photo montage, are authored in funny and entertaining fashion. Rarely have I been this consistently humored by supplements than I have with Seed of Chucky. Thankfully, the film has the weight to make it all worthwhile, too. 7. The Amityville Horror Collection (1979-83) MGM has made a name for themselves the last several years on their cheap as dirt releases, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a release with more bang for your buck than this. The first three films in the series are all presented in beautiful widescreen, the first is a full-fledged special edition, and a bonus disc with two hour long documentaries are also included. Those who bought this in May were treated to a free movie ticket to the remake, making an already cheap DVD set even cheaper. MGM would have scored top marks had they included the third film in full-out 3D, but you can only ask so much for twenty bucks. The quality of the films is certainly debatable, but this is a cultural artifact that has been preserved with respect by MGM. Since they are now a subsidiary of Sony, consider this release their last great hurrah. 6. Cannibal Holocaust (1979) Like Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, this was a release years in the making, but the wait has finally paid off. Without a doubt the most important and controversial of all cannibal pictures, this is a film that deserves to be in any serious fan’s horror collection. Like their previous releases, Grindhouse has amounted several supplements to help establish the film’s place in the horror canon. Personal comments from director Ruggero Deodato and others on the animal violence is welcomed and appreciated, and for those who have never been able to morally endure it, Deodato has supervised a version of the film without those scenes (although I personally would argue it harms the visceral power of the film). Still the intentions behind the release are admirable, and after you throw away the flimsy slip case, it’s all high class from there. 5. High Tension (2005) Without a doubt the best horror film in years, Haute Tension had been cultivating a huge following in all regions other than North America for years prior to its Lions Gate theatrical release earlier in 2005. The release was dubbed, cut and altogether ignored, but thankfully the uncut DVD presents the film as it should be seen, with assaulting audio and video, and enough extras to truly do the film justice. You can watch the DVD in English or its original French, and in all its gory glory. This is certainly a film to be remembered, as it is arguably better than many of the films to which it pays homage. High Tension is a movie that lives up to its name, and the DVD is one that lives up to its ranking as one of the best of the year. 4. The Blind Dead Collection (1971-75) What a life Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead have led over the years. A short time ago these films were only presented in highly compromised versions, and ridiculed on “worst ever” home video compilations. Then stepped in Blue Underground, digging this coffin (literally) of films from the burial grounds of home video shelves and fully restoring them to near perfect presentation. Four films, six versions in total, and all looking great, this is without a doubt the most impressive restoration of the year. Not only that, but Lustig & Co. have included a bonus disc on the forgotten director, as well as a rare but welcomed booklet that helps contextualize the entire series. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film with more love and care seeping through each cryptic disc. The Knights Templar have long been the scariest horror villains never seen, and finally with this release they can start getting the respect they deserve. Oh, and the packaging…to die for. 3. Martin (1976) Released early in the year but not forgotten is this much celebrated early Romero classic. Martin is a touching evocation of the seventies outsider, and it is all filtered through an original vampire-movie lens. Highly moving and highly original (even today), Martin is slowly creeping up on Romero’s Dead series as his most celebrated work. Lions Gate has given Romero’s classic the class it deserves, with a heartfelt Romero commentary, as well as a number of nostalgic and reminiscent extras that really pay tribute to his watershed picture. This was Romero’s year, between his Land of the Dead DVD and Anchor Bay’s Season of the Witch/There’s Always Vanilla double feature, but Martin stands out as the best film with by far the best presentation. Anchor Bay should have hit one out of the park with their obscure Romero two-pack, but where they floundered Lions Gate flourished. Stake this movie for your collection, it deserves it. 2. The Val Lewton Collection (1942-45) Released quietly and with little fanfare at the height of the fall horror season, this box set seemed to slip through the cracks amidst all the other big horror releases. But as the year end rolls around, the quality of these classy little Val Lewton b-movies, from the cerebral Cat People to the nihilistic Isle of the Dead, still hold up sixty years later. Warner has treated this nine film set with the critical respect that has long overlooked these pictures, and nearly each one is benefited from a perceptive commentary from scholars as diverse as the late Cat People heroine, Simone Simon, to William Friedkin. The Val Lewton documentary is icing on the cake, and proves that in some cases a producer can have as much creative weight as even the most celebrated of directors. Like The Amityville Horror Collection, this is too cheap of a release to pass up without guilt. Warner Brothers have been doing great thins with their classic films this last year, but this is their modestly mounted crowning achievement. 1. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) Although initially celebrated, Dario Argento’s first film has been losing horror fan esteem over the years as his other films get eye-opening releases on DVD that help to better their standing in his oeuvre of gialli. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was long rendered obscure after a minimal release by VCI some time ago, and fans have been waiting for a special edition ever since. No other company was better suited to give the film the respect on digital that it deserves better than Blue Underground, but even they surpassed themselves with this release. The video is pristine, it could have been shot last year. The audio is even more impressive, packing a wallop in surround in whatever language option you prefer. Based on presentation alone this is a flawless release, but Blue Underground has added a commentary that ranks up there with the most informative and affectionate ever recorded on DVD. Then, with a second disc devoted to interviews with masters like Argento, Ennio Morricone, Vittorio Storaro and Eva Renzi, it is tough to imagine anything more that could be included on this release. Like Halloween for the slasher, this was the gialli’s Prime Mover, and Blue Underground couldn’t have picked a better film to pay tribute. It has been a year of great scares on versatile, but this release takes the cake. The best DVD of the year.