This has been a crazy year for the folks at Scream Factory. They have unearthed and reissued a treasure trove of classic and cult horror movies that is hard to top in terms of restoration, packaging, and extra features. They take their fear fare seriously, and they embrace movies big and small, whether it’s the indie Canadian werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, the classic ghost chiller The Legend Of Hell House, the crazy Old West cannibal movie Ravenous, or The Vincent Price Collection II (which includes HD versions of The Last Man On Earth, The Comedy Of Terrors, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Tomb Of Ligeia, The Raven, Return Of The Fly, and the original House On Haunted Hill). Scream Factory frequently offer excellent extras such as new interviews and commentaries, and most of their releases would make excellent gifts for the horror maven in your life. Check their website to see what’s out, plus take a sneak peek at their 2015 offerings, which will include Mad Max, Dog Soldiers, and Vampire’s Kiss.
The high-powered, muscle bound, effects driven action movie genre continues pumping out larger than life spectacles that audiences keep eating up. This year was no different, and many of them are arriving just in time for the holiday season, which is a great time to catch up on movies you missed. I was pleased that the rebooted Planet Of The Apes franchise began with a reimagining of the fourth movie in the original series, which gave it the chance to chart new territory, and the popular 2014 summer sequel Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, a more epic entry than the first, sucked audiences into a future war between man and ape following a plague that has stricken a majority of humankind. Andy Serkis certainly is the master of CG acting, from Gollum to King Kong to Cesar. The Expendables 3 also delivered intense battle action and a stellar cast that’s practically a who’s who of ’80s and ’90s action icons. It pisses me off that somebody leaked a DVD of that movie onto the web, thereby hurting the movie’s chances at the box office (it probably did not even break even), and I hope they find whoever did it. Amazingly, there will be an Expendables 4!
INTO THE REALM OF HERZOG
Indie German filmmaker Werner Herzog has been making quirky indie features for over 45 years, and he certainly has a special sense of style and pacing. 15 of his films—including Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, and Nosferatu The Vamypre, three of his most famous—have been collected in Shout! Factory’s lovingly packaged Herzog: The Collection Blu-ray box set, which includes liner notes, commentaries, and documentaries. (Kudos to having book sleeves that are not too tight for the discs.) Part of me really admires the exquisite cinematography, poetic imagery, and quirky ideas to be found in his films. Herzog focuses on eccentric characters and situations, like a crazed Spanish conquistador on a foolish quest for mythical Incan gold, a revolt of little people against their institutional oppressors, and an aspiring rubber magnate who seeks to push a steamboat over a mountain in an attempt to reach large rubber resources. And the ambitious director, working with low budgets in the past, really put his casts and crews through their paces, like tromping through an actual Peruvian rainforest and dealing with flooding. You’ve got to admire his balls and tenacity, especially because no one would need to be so extreme in our modern era of CG fakery. At the same time, his lush films tend to be slow and tedious, which means if you’re going to get this for a loved one, make sure they are a Herzog fan. He’s certainly an original who has some hardcore fans. Just make sure your recipient is one of them.
DREAMS AND REALITY
Chilean avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, also known for his comic book and theater work, has a small but respected feature film portfolio that includes the acclaimed Santa Sangre and El Topo. His latest work, the autobiographical The Dance Of Reality, is his seventh film and first in 23 years. It turns the idea of a conventional life story on its head by incorporating elements of magical realism to heighten specific scenes and dig deeper into their emotional core. Set around 1930, the basic story revolves around a young Alejandro, his strict, abusive father Jaime, and his devout, repressed, overly protective mother Sara, who only sings her lines (the director’s real-life mother wanted to be an opera singer) and thinks her son is the reincarnation of her deceased father. The Jewish family faces anti-Semitism in small-town Chile, a country then ruled by right-wing dictator Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, and while his father is an Atheist Communist who seeks the downfall of Ibáñez, he also lashes out at the unfortunate and bullies his son into being a brave man. The first half of the film focuses more on beleaguered young Alejandro, while the latter centers on Jaime’s quest to kill Ibáñez and the transformative journey that brings. Jodorowsky’s poetic direction, eye-popping use of color, and surreal sequences will stick with you long after you watch this; particularly a grave-digging sequence for a man about to die and a bizarre moment when his mother, seeking to save her potentially dying husband by having God’s power flow through her, uses urination as the elixir. (No joke.) Somehow that weirdness clicks within this lyrical, imaginative meditation on life and death. An autobiographical book of the same name by the director is also available.
MUST BRIT TV
Acorn Media offers a wide range of DVD and Blu-ray releases, and they have certainly built up a very respectable catalog of modern and vintage series from England that should delight fans of British TV. For the holidays they have a lot of box sets that should entice fans of certain classic series, including Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Complete Cases Collection, Upstairs Downstairs: The Complete Collection, and Wooster & Jeeves Complete Collection. Not to mention all the other series they continually release, like Midsomer Murders, George Gently, and Agatha Christie’s Marple. Acorn also offers a streaming service that includes many of their series, so surf on over to Acorn.tv to see if a subscription might make a good gift. They are offering a 30-day free trial.
Netflix is a conundrum for film buffs. Their disc rental service via mail offers a great selection of movies that surpasses your local library or Redbox, when they are in stock. But many people prefer the convenience of streaming movies, and that end of their business model is spottier as many new movies are not ready for streaming for a long period of time and numerous titles drop off due to various licensing arrangements. Still, I enjoy the streaming service, as will anyone who is a fan of cult movies, genre films, documentaries, classic movies and TV shows, and Netflix original series. Others who can wait a couple of days for their titles and enjoy them one, two, or more at a time can find pleasure in their rental by mail service. Combining streaming on one or two screens and a two-disc at a time mail plan is not mad expensive either; a total of $20-$21 per month. When you think of how much one used to spend renting individual titles at overpriced chains like Blockbuster in the past, Netflix is a way better deal any day. Setting someone the movie buff in your life for three months of service is a pretty good gift idea and could offer them a good test run to see if they like it.