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rhett
12-31-2008, 08:00 PM
What a year it’s been! As tumultuous as the economy, the home video scene saw its share of ups and downs throughout 2008. It started off bleak, with NoShame officially gone from Region 1, Code Red without a distributor, Blue Underground still comatose and Media Blasters with a vacant slate.
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http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/unseen/unseen_shot14s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/unseen/unseen_shot14l.jpg)What a year it’s been! As tumultuous as the economy, the home video scene saw its share of ups and downs throughout 2008. It started off bleak, with NoShame officially gone from Region 1, Code Red without a distributor, Blue Underground still comatose and Media Blasters with a vacant slate. With all the reports of the DVD market being oversaturated, it seemed as if horror was in for a brutal year. Thankfully, though, the genre rebounded while the economy seemingly went south (isn’t that how it works, though, with the best horror always coming from times of hardship?).

The big studios stayed mostly away from catalog horror this year, with MGM and their “Finally!” inducing special editions for Child’s Play and Pumpkinhead and CBS and their debuting of Friday the 13th – The Series the notable exceptions. Instead, it was up to the little guys to pick up the slack, and with many of them M.I.A., the responsibility fell on an elite few. Blue Underground seemed to be back on course with a surprise special edition of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, but sadly that was their only original release for the year. Who picked up the slack instead? Code Red signed with BCI, and together they both had their best year yet, with BCI releasing some great special editions as well as a number of great bargain offerings, and Code Red releasing special edition after special edition. Anchor Bay was old reliable with a number of nice upgrades to their catalogue and a few new surprises like Phantasm: OblIVion and End of the Line. Grindhouse finally put out a couple of much requested discs, Severin delivered a big slate of small obscurities and Dark Sky still pushed quality despite a pared down slate. Those were the heroes who made the fall season, and the year in general, a satisfying one for horror fans.

And already there’s great hope for 2009. There’s an official release of that DVD that would never be official, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, more Grindhouse, a ton of new Friday the 13th items and My Bloody Valentine uncut. It’s rosy skies ahead for 2009, but here are the top ten discs this year that got us to this point.

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10. Love Me Deadly (1973) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=694) Media Blasters

The fact that this one even came out is cause enough for inclusion here on this year’s list. Love Me Deadly is saccharine melodrama by most accounts, fine, but it’s necrophilia melodrama, and that has to count for something. Truth be told, it’s actually an affecting drama about a woman with a “deadly” addiction, and like it could only be done in the seventies, this movie doesn’t beat around the bush. Mary Wilcox (who’d also memorably turn up again this year in Dark Sky’s Psychic Killer) gives a literally bare performance, injecting compassionate life into a film often shrouded in death. Media Blasters’ DVD (a leftover from their Code Red partnership) is good enough in the audio and video departments, presenting the film in the correct mix and ratio it was barely shown in during its brief theatrical run. The rare commentary from producer Buck Edwards is a gem, both candid and amusing. That he died only weeks after recording the extra adds even more chilling allure to this heartfelt ode to love after death.

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9. Phenomena (1984) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=673) Anchor Bay

After successfully upgrading a number of old classics like Phantasm, Hellraiser and The Evil Dead last year, Anchor Bay once again continued their prestige “Anchor Bay Collection” line for 2008. We got worthy double dips of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Tenebre and Phantasm: OblIVion. The best upgrade, though, was Phenomena, doing away with the old non-anamorphic LaserDisc transfer that made up the previous disc - now a whopping eight years old! With all the crying induced by Argento’s ho hum return to theaters, Mother of Tears, it was nice to revisit one of the less celebrated works from his golden age. Add in a nice new featurettes and all the same great extras from the original release, and this was one of the true safe bets of the year.

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8. Final Exam (1980) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=686) BCI

It was a great year for us slasher fans, with big releases of fan favorites, but for me the coup of the year was BCI’s Final Exam. Light on gore but high on frat hijinks and old fashioned slasher sincerity, it’s the perfect time capsule for what the slasher movement was all about. The transfer is good and anamorphic, and the artwork actually managed to build on (rather than butcher) what the original art was all about. The biggest delight, though, were the three new interviews with the main cast. Catching up again with Courtney, Janet and, best of all, Radish, was to me the treat of the year. A special note must be given to the Nortons at Code Red for working so hard to track down these forgotten stars to once again address fans after years of obscurity. Sure, it’s nice to catch up with Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley (more on that later), but give me Joel S. Rice, Bobbie Bresee, Aleisa Shirley and John Wintergate a hundred times over first.

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7. White Dog (1982) Criterion

Sam Fuller’s masterpiece about American intolerance was hardly tolerated at all when it was dumped to theaters in 1982. Shelved and forgotten, it seemed like White Dog would stay lost in the same way that his Shark! would. The only difference, though, is that this is an animal flick worth salvaging from the pound, with its racist allegory housed in the subconscious of a seemingly innocent German Shepherd. It’s both brutally raw and emotionally devastating, a one-two punch that America’s premier pulpist was known for. Criterion had released a number of his classics before, but this December’s release of White Dog is no doubt their grandest achievement, allowing this forgotten bit of humanitarian horror to finally seek reappraisal. With new essays and interviews, and a restored anamorphic transfer, this is a disc that matches the bite of the film itself.

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6. Child's Play: Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition (1989) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=684) MGM

A special edition for Chucky’s first outing seems like one of the biggest no brainers in all of horror. The Good Guys at MGM must have been without batteries for the nine years in between this new special edition and the original bare and open matte offering. It was worth the wait, though, with old Charles Lee Ray getting the perfect dolling up for his 20th anniversary. A restored anamorphic transfer, a 5.1 surround remix, and hours of extras, including commentaries, featurettes, convention Q & As and even some in character musings from Chucky himself. For fans, there is no better tribute to the most notorious of plastic menaces.

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5. The Unseen (1980) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=703) Code Red

Although they max out at fifth place this year, the real stars of 2008 were Code Red. After five memorable releases in 2006 and 2007, it seemed as if this brotherly duo with a penchant for no budget American film from the seventies and eighties was done for. They cancelled a partnership with Media Blasters, and their entire catalog suddenly disappeared from their website. Thankfully, though, after months of dormancy, they came back swinging for the second half of 2008 with eight films of their own and a number of stragglers for other companies. They were behind Shriek Show’s quality offerings of The Chilling, The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse, Killer’s Delight and this list’s Love Me Deadly. As well, they worked behind the scenes on a number of top notch BCI product, including Mausoleum and two other films on this list, Final Exam and Savage Streets. On their own, though, their best release was this crazy Psycho-esque slasher, The Unseen. The first half was slow, but man, the second half erupts in one crazy battle of the bizarre between the king of weird, Sydney Lassick and a diaper wearing Stephen Furst. The transfer is serviceable, but it’s the plethora of uninhibited extras that makeup the two discs that really give the disc its worth. In a time when so many extras seem to cater to shallow congratulation or pithy political correctness, thank God for the unabridged extras from Code Red. On The Unseen we get some pretty nasty testimonials from a number of genre veterans, in the process revealing many of the cruel and unspoken truths of this crazy industry. It’s with these extras that Code Red is creating a rock turning legacy.

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4. The Mist (2007) Dimension

With Barack Obama and all his recession busting hope elected this year, it feels like it’s been ages since all the Bush hypothesizing of Frank Darabont’s masterful The Mist. It’s tough to believe that the DVD hit here this past March, but it’s a release that’s not easily forgotten. A fine testament to the triumph of a director’s vision, this two-disc release featured both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut. What’s notable about the director’s cut? Black and white, baby! With increased contrast and an absence of color, the film changed from a harsh, gritty thriller to a tragic and classic clash of light and dark. Of course there are a ton of extras and the audio and video are all reference quality, but it’s that ability to see the film anew and to see Darabont able to talk about that new vision that make it such a great home video experience.

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3. Pieces (1982) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=720) Grindhouse

So it didn’t take as long as the Child’s Play special edition, but Grindhouse’s Pieces DVD was a more agonizing wait since it had been announced several years before finally reaching completion. Thankfully, though, the wait was worth it, as this packed two-discer made for the perfect Halloween fodder this past October. The transfer is pretty stunning – going from the old Diamond DVD is a leap in quality comparable to a double feature starting with Satan’s Blade and ending with Halloween. The extras, though, are again the clincher. Two discs filled with thorough retrospectives from memorable minds like director Juan Piquer and full-time heavy Paul L. Smith. Then there’s that superb surround track that puts you right there at the Vine Theater Hollywood experience. Grindhouse has confirmed that Cat in the Brain is coming from them soon next year, but I’d wait the handful of years I did for this sucker if the release is as notable as Pieces.

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2. Savage Streets (1984) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=687) BCI

If film gave me nothing else this year, then at least it gave me the quote “Too bad you’re not double-jointed…because if you were you’d be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!” Savage Streets is the trash classic that has it all – wonderful one liners, Linda Blair smoking naked in a bathtub before her night of vengeance and some really harsh bits of rape and revenge. Danny Steinmann’s direction keeps the pace at a fever pitch, and John Farnham’s big hair ballads sustain that colorful energy throughout. It’s justice for all in the extras, too, with interviews with all the main cast, from Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley to Johnny Venocur and Robert Dryer. Danny Steinmann even comes out of the rock he’s been living under to give a top notch commentary with the current king of DVD extras, Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. One new anamorphic transfer, two discs, three commentaries and five interviews later, BCI’s stellar release here ensures this will be on my cult movie rotation for years to come.

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1. Faces of Deah: 30th Anniversary Edition (1978) (http://horrordigital.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=702) Gorgon

There were a lot of great releases this year, but none caught me off guard more than Gorgon’s Faces of Death. It was a series that had died along with VHS, but on its 30th anniversary, Gorgon, and specifically Red Shirt Pictures, gave that film all about death an amazing new life - in 1080p High Definition, no less! As a showcase for the power and importance of home video extra material, the special features here take precedence even over the film itself. The extras, consisting of featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes and an important commentary with the director, finally reveal the myths behind one of the grandest cinematic hoaxes in all of film history. If DVD and Blu-ray are designed to be archival formats to help forever preserve the integrity of the arts, then there need to be more releases like this – ones that so actively engage with filmmaking and film history to foster a better understanding of the power of the medium. I’ve always vaunted that seeing films projected in a theater on 35mm is better than home video, but this Blu-ray of Faces of Death has forced me to asterix that statement. Watching the movie beautifully restored here is one thing, but experiencing all the engaging extras immediately afterwards is symbiotic. This is the first home video release where the special features aren’t just extra…they’re vital.


Previous Top Tens:

2007 (http://horrordigital.com/vb3forum/showthread.php?t=35673)
2006 (http://horrordigital.com/vb3forum/showthread.php?t=32276)
2005 (http://horrordigital.com/vb3forum/showthread.php?t=28052)

zompirejoe
12-31-2008, 08:24 PM
I gots to get that White Dog dvd. I have all the others. That's a great list !

Matt89
12-31-2008, 09:30 PM
*shakes head* .....Final Exam?? ;)

~Matt

rhett
12-31-2008, 09:56 PM
*shakes head* .....Final Exam?? ;)

~Matt
You'll come around.

Hellbilly
12-31-2008, 10:06 PM
You'll come around.
So true :(

Good list there!

maybrick
12-31-2008, 10:33 PM
You'll come around.

Not me. That movie sucked.

Gotta say I disagree with most of this list, actually.

Matt89
12-31-2008, 10:47 PM
Not me. That movie sucked.

Gotta say I disagree with most of this list, actually.

WORD. :D

~Matt

maybrick
12-31-2008, 10:54 PM
Just off the top of my head, I'd figure in at least one of the BCI Naschy discs that came out this year, either HUMAN BEASTS or BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL. Also, SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES, BEYOND THE DOOR, and the ICONS OF HORROR: HAMMER FILMS Collection, PSYCHO, and STONE. Every one of which kicks FINAL EXAM's and CHILD'S PLAY's asses! :lol:

rhett
12-31-2008, 11:22 PM
Just off the top of my head, I'd figure in at least one of the BCI Naschy discs that came out this year, either HUMAN BEASTS or BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL. Also, SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES, BEYOND THE DOOR, and the ICONS OF HORROR: HAMMER FILMS Collection, PSYCHO, and STONE. Every one of which kicks FINAL EXAM's and CHILD'S PLAY's asses! :lol:
Human Beasts? The film itself stinks and the extras are sparse compared to some of the other (better) Naschy films released this year. A Naschy film could have easily made the list, but rather than load it up with Code Red and BCI titles, I decided to spread the wealth. That's the same reason I replaced Beyond the Door at the last minute. Stone wasn't for me, but Severin had a great year and I was sure to mention that in the preface. Psycho, Icons of Horror and Simon King of the Witches are blind spots.

vampyr789
12-31-2008, 11:28 PM
i happy you put Pieces up there!! great disc from Grindhouse!

X-human
12-31-2008, 11:31 PM
Ah, weren't both Phenomena and Tenebre digital conversions of those same LD masters into anamorphic. The Japanese release of both is much better. I consider the AB's to be some of the worst excuses of "new releases" this year.

Also The Mist's B&W version had very poor contrasts because it was intended for color, so the color values are not different enough to create contrast. Many shots had their composition ruined because there was very poor separations of foreground and background.

It's also worth noting that the oldest film in the list is from 1973.

Mitbox
12-31-2008, 11:53 PM
I liked the new Deep Red Ultimate Edition. Pieces is one of the movies I've never seen and dieying to get this apparently super awesome edition. The Child's play rules, finaly a decent dvd of one of my fav. movies.
About Faces of Death...never knew it was out on dvd, this come as a surprise to me. The extras seem kick ass, hopefuly they'll explain the whole hoax thing around this vhs classic.

rhett
01-01-2009, 12:01 AM
Ah, weren't both Phenomena and Tenebre digital conversions of those same LD masters into anamorphic. The Japanese release of both is much better. I consider the AB's to be some of the worst excuses of "new releases" this year.
An anamorphic and progressive scan upgrade of a hard to find disc with a lengthy featurette with new interviews with rare speakers like Daria Nicolodi and Fiore Argento isn't a worthy upgrade? To each his own!

Also The Mist's B&W version had very poor contrasts because it was intended for color, so the color values are not different enough to create contrast. Many shots had their composition ruined because there was very poor separations of foreground and background.
Not sure where you're getting your information from there, but the film was always shot with the intent of being black and white. The Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There was also shot on color negative for the producers, but the directorial intent was always black and white. There's even a featurette on the DVD with Darabont explaining specific contrast timing done especially for the black and white DVD. On my TV the separation looks great, it transforms a lot of scenes (particularly in the fog outside the store) into poetry.

It's also worth noting that the oldest film in the list is from 1973.
Lists were meant to be picked apart, right? ;) To be honest, there weren't that many retro releases compared to the previous years. It's a ratio thing. By my count there are the Legacy re-issues from Universal (Psycho, The Mummy, Rear Window, Vertigo), which are already expanding on the strong foundation of their original special editions. I suppose the same could be argued for Phenomena, though. Criterion's Vampyr is a definite honorable mention and one that would have been on the list had White Dog not taken precedence, but other than that I didn't see much in the way of classic horror this year. Fox Horror Classics Vol. 2? I still haven't checked that one out, but it doesn't look to have the features or presentation of the ones that made the list. What else am I missing?

DVD-fanatic-9
01-01-2009, 12:06 AM
I think Anchor Bay's new featurette for Tenebre was a lot better than the new one for Phenomena! Am I crazy for finding the bugs to be the least interesting thing about Phenomena as a film? And those are the details that got the most attention. Sadly. Thank God for Daria Nicolodi. Her story about the script, getting actresses to read, was excellent!

maybrick
01-01-2009, 12:34 AM
Human Beasts? The film itself stinks.

??? Bah, I'll just brush that off as a comment made by a crazy guy who thinks FINAL EXAM is great. ;)

rhett
01-01-2009, 12:41 AM
??? Bah, I'll just brush that off as a comment made by a crazy guy who thinks FINAL EXAM is great. ;)
I can live with that. :D To me it felt like a rushed co-production that tried to cater to different audiences at the same time while in the end reaching none. It didn't have the artistry or even story that his werewolf flicks, or any of his other BCI films from the seventies did. What's the draw for you?

Katatonia
01-01-2009, 12:45 AM
Nice list rhett! ...nice to see Final Exam on it. ;)

onebyone
01-01-2009, 12:57 AM
Even though I would've personally kicked off The Unseen and put on any other Code Red release, this list is still pretty good to me. Final Exam, The Mist, and Pieces (the horrordvd highlight of the year for me by far) would be in my top three for sure.

The Orphanage, Vampyr, and Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street's 2-Disc release were also all excellent.

My happiest surprise of the year would be Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat's surprising quality release.

maybrick
01-01-2009, 01:04 AM
I can live with that. :D To me it felt like a rushed co-production that tried to cater to different audiences at the same time while in the end reaching none. It didn't have the artistry or even story that his werewolf flicks, or any of his other BCI films from the seventies did. What's the draw for you?

Oh, I don't know. I guess it was just that I never knew exactly where the story was headed aside from what was given away on the front cover. Maybe I just happened to be in the right mood for it, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. I'd never heard of it before I pushed play. Plus, I really loved the music soundtrack which always helps. I felt it far more appropriate to the film than the one for BLUE EYES, which became unintentionally funny in it's upbeat monotony.

CodeRedDVd
01-01-2009, 05:30 AM
Actually on the SAVAGE STREET DVD, Red Shirt not only did the director and Linda but Quigley as well, while I had to get Johnny, Robert, Strong, Stephen and Sal, and try to ge tthem all in one room, and in the end it had to be two commentary for Strong and Johnny couldn't make it on the first session.

I also had the writer also involved but he didn't want to be filmed or do a commentary (didnt want to leave his home) so he had to be cancelled. ): I was in Los Angeles for a month trying to get this moving. Glad to hear someone liked the extras we produced for SAVAGE STREETWS, FINAL EXAM, MAUSOLEUM and the MB stuff that we left behind! Are you guys ever gonna review CAMPUS CORPSE or KILLERS DLEIGHT? In fact, Johnny v called me a two week ago to wish me Merry Christmas. (:

CrazyFatEthel
01-01-2009, 05:37 AM
:fire:

DrHerbertWest
01-01-2009, 06:45 AM
After watching FINAL EXAM a few days ago, I would color myself a fan of the film. Yes it's slow and there's barely any blood (gasp!) but I liked the characters. Radish and Wildman are stereotypes, sure, but they had me interested in what happened to them. I had fun with it and plan on picking it up soon.

EDIT: I also like Human Beasts. Am I going to spontaneously combust now?

rxfiend
01-01-2009, 06:52 AM
Pieces is probably my top DVD release of the year. BCI is definitely the company of the year, too bad they're now gone.

indiephantom
01-01-2009, 09:43 AM
Damn you Rhett!! I've been going back on forth as to whether to order White Dog and Faces of Death for about 2 months now. Time to just fucking do it.

old-boo-radley
01-01-2009, 02:03 PM
No doubt about it, Poultrygeist is my DVD of the year. Awesome movie, awesome extras.

I can't believe I just said that, but Poultrygeist is just magnificent.

CrazyFatEthel
01-01-2009, 05:07 PM
My top DVD'S
10.Sweet Sixteen
9.The Mist
8.The Beyond
7.Tenebre
6.The Unseen
5.Final Exam
4.Beyond the Door
3.Bloody Moon
2.Savage Streets
1.Pieces

vampyr789
01-01-2009, 06:57 PM
Even though I would've personally kicked off The Unseen and put on any other Code Red release, this list is still pretty good to me. Final Exam, The Mist, and Pieces (the horrordvd highlight of the year for me by far) would be in my top three for sure.

The Orphanage, Vampyr, and Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street's 2-Disc release were also all excellent.

My happiest surprise of the year would be Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat's surprising quality release.

Vampyr's dvd release was awesome, great extras.

Enutz666
01-01-2009, 10:19 PM
10. Final Exam
9. Night of the Livng Dead(one of the best making of docs)
8. The Unseen
7. Salo
6. Savage Streets
5. The Mist
4. Beyond the Door
3. Poultrygiest
2. Pieces
1. Faces of Death

X-human
01-02-2009, 12:16 AM
Lists were meant to be picked apart, right? ;)

Why do you think I never post any of my own. :D

The Argento transfers were polished up versions of the decade old LD transfers, nothing more. So they digitally removed some black bars, put it through a comb filter and tossed some sharpening tools at it. Yeah... that's a lot more impressive than say the chemical restoration work done on Vampyr which spanned years and vaults across the globe.

As for The Mist, I'm well aware of how the Coens shot Man Who Wasn't. And if you look at the color footage you can clearly see they shot it only with B&W in mind. The Mist is the opposite situation. The director specifically stated they finally decided to do a B&W version after the movie was shot. They may have thrown some contrast boosting on the B&W transfer, but that'll only make the blacks blacker and the white whiter. It doesn't change the bigger problems of color values that are roughly the same. This is what I'm talking about. If the background is the same value as the foreground it does matter how black your blacks are, you're not going to get separation. It's most apparent at the beginning when they're outside in the day light, everything kind blends together. Also when the father and son are laying in the aisle on the first night and they're trying to coax him to sleep. Everything's the same shade of gray. It's a gimmick at best, hardly one of the best features of the year.

Kim Bruun
01-02-2009, 12:38 AM
It's nice to see some love for Code Red's release of The Unseen. It's a great little pseudo-slasher, and I really enjoyed the interviews. Code Red discs, with their makeshift interview locations, may not have the polished appeal of big company releases, but they are obvious labours of love.

For pretty much the same reasons, I love the release of Final Exam - another underrated slasher which is definitely not one of the best, but remains enjoyable thanks to its own unique atmosphere and minor technical triumphs (with a couple of cleverly shot sequences in the final chase).

bigdaddyhorse
01-03-2009, 01:44 AM
Glad to hear someone liked the extras we produced for SAVAGE STREETS, FINAL EXAM, MAUSOLEUM and the MB stuff that we left behind!

Loved the Savage Streets dvd, Final Exam was great too but not as loved as a whole film. Haven't picked up Mausoleum yet since hearing it's cut, although it's still very tempting and I'll break down sooner or later.
Let me just say THANK YOU for giving these films the respect due. I hadn't seen S.S. in so long it's practically new to me, then to see all those extras is just amazing. Keep up the great work!

Rhett: Pumpkinhead SE should be on the list, I'd even put it on in Child's Play's spot if I had too. Haven't seen a couple on the list, but agree with most of it despite Pumpkinhead not being there.

rhett
01-03-2009, 03:26 AM
Rhett: Pumpkinhead SE should be on the list, I'd even put it on in Child's Play's spot if I had too. Haven't seen a couple on the list, but agree with most of it despite Pumpkinhead not being there.
The way I approached it was this: I tried to give each company who put out great product a slot this year. I didn't want to crowd it with a single company. We all know Criterion puts out great movies, so I didn't want to put both White Dog and Vampyr if it meant taking off Love Me Deadly or The Mist. Same goes with MGM - it was one or the other for me, and I went with Child's Play, since I thought it did a better job with the extras, packaging and overall product. Maybe I should include an Honorable Mention?

captain_brandon
02-25-2009, 06:49 AM
Great list, as always rhett.

Especialyl since I own most all of the movies on this list in these versions (thank you Amazon). So yeah, great one ...
;)