Purveyors of fine taste and highly influential in the home video arena, Criterion releases a few select titles per month in a wide array of genres. You know that if a movie gets a Criterion edition that it will be remastered and transferred beautifully, plus they scour the earth for bonus content on top of their original extras. Their recent releases have been quite eclectic, from Hitchcock’s Rebecca to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, to one of my all-time favorites, Blow Up. Two titles I’ll be checking into next month are Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi epic Stalker and a recent supernatural film with Kristen Stewart called Personal Shopper. Be on the lookout for Barnes and Noble’s 50 percent off Criterion sale which usually happens twice a year.
Founded in 1981, Vestron Video was a successful indie company that released titles from the Time-Life library and B-movie studio Cannon Films. Thanks to their success, the company started Vestron Pictures in 1986, which lasted through the end of the decade and had a major hit with Dirty Dancing. Lionsgate acquired the rights to their catalog in 2004 and have released numerous Vestron titles. Since 2016, Lionsgate created the Vestron Vintage video brand to reissue fun B-movies from that company and other ‘80s indies like Concorde and Trimark Pictures. What’s great about this brand is they take the Criterion approach to cult titles, much like Scream Factory and Arrow Video.
A classic cult film finally getting the Blu-ray treatment is Parents (1989), a ‘50s-era horror story directed by Bob Balaban with an unnerving ambient score by Jonathan Elias and perky jazz orchestrations from David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti. Young Michael (Bryan Madorsky) is socially awkward and has a vivid imagination. He suspects there is something wrong with his cheery and creepy suburban parents (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) and the weird meat they feed him. His investigation into their activities sets a strange course of events in motion. This is horror with black comedy touches. Vestron honors it with generous extras, including an audio commentary with Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef, isolated music cues and a composer interview, and numerous featurettes including interviews with Hurt and screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne who offer different interpretations of the film.
A couple of cult flicks that have also received an HD upgrade are Waxwork (1988) and Waxwork II: Lost In Time (1991), both starring Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame and directed by Anthony Hickox (Hellraiser III). In the first installment, a group of students visit a monster-oriented wax museum and one by one get sucked into a different display. Each one plays out the staged scenario in real-life with grisly results. Two survivors return in the sequel and one when is accused of murder, they must go back in time to prove her innocence.
Unfortunately, the also have to contend with the evil Lord Scarabus (Alexander Godunov). The first movie is the better of the two (hey, it’s got David Warner and Patrick Macnee), and it gets a six-part feature chronicling its production. The latter receives an audio commentary from Galligan and Hickox. These are the kinds of fun, overacted, low budget horror flicks from the ‘80s that I have a soft spot for, as do many other fear fiends.
If you’re a fan of the outrageous work of director Ken Russell (The Who’s Tommy), you should get a kick out of Lair Of The White Worm (1989), starring Amanda Donohoe (L.A. Law) playing a high priestess to a giant worm burrowing beneath the English countryside and near the manor of a British Lord played by Hugh Grant. Soon one of the locals is plucked for a virgin sacrifice, which leads to trouble. It’s dark, campy fun with the crazy touches one expects from Russell.
One of the few companies dedicated to releasing great indie and underappreciated studio films, Kino Lorber keeps putting an eclectic array of titles at such a dizzying pace that it’s hard to keep up, and they create or seek out bonus content to add to the experience. This recently unleashed an impressive array of titles: the 12-disc Fritz Lang: The Silent Films box set, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly 50th Anniversary Edition, cult horror titles like Rawhead Rex and Mario Bava’s classic, Kill, Baby…Kill!, and the new music doc Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World. There’s so much stuff that I might not leave my place for weeks.
So many streaming services, so little time. On top of all of the recent releases, there is so much original content coming out through various companies that one could literally spend all their time keeping up with just new TV shows. With so much available through our remotes, a streaming service would make a great gift for someone who likes to watch. A lot.
Even though these sites tend to immediately offer a free trial, click back to the homepage to peruse their selection so you know what you are getting into it. Taste is relative, right?
Netflix – The biggest streamer of them all keeps cranking out original shows and movies. For my money, their original series Stranger Things 2, Mindhunter, and Black Mirror are already huge incentives. Naturally movie titles come and go, but there is always something to watch and your queue will always be stuffed.
Shudder – This horror-focused service has been gradually building up its catalog of terrifying titles, offering classics (The Hills Have Eyes, Dracula, The Howling), cool indies (Black Death, Society), and movies that veer into thriller territory (The Ghost Writer). They also have exclusive fare like Sadako Vs. Kayako. Casual genre fans need not apply; this is an aficionado’s service for sure.
Acorn – This long-running home video company focuses on British TV titles, and their streaming service allows access to a wide range of comedies, mysteries, and dramas that should keep a dedicated Anglophile happy. They have some movies too. There is a lot to choose from here, like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Doc Martin, Agatha, and I, Claudius.
Hulu – What started as a TV streaming service for new and old series has blossomed into movies and original programming. It should keep many TV junkies satiated. Like Netflix, Hulu is going out all with their own shows, including a Sarah Silverman talk show, Casual, and the multiple Emmy Award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale. Although Hulu programs weekly like regular networks, Future Man’s first season was streamed all at once.
Bring Out Yer Dead
Even though it’s been reissued multiple times on DVD and Blu-ray, the classic Re-Animator always has an audience. Directed and co-written by Stuart Gordon (Dagon) who expands upon the H.P. Lovecraft short story, this chronicles the morbidly funny exploits of weird medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) whose experiments into reanimating the dead in his basement lead to splat-tastic results. It’s not for the faint of heart. Arrow’s souped-up, limited edition box set has got it all: a cool new cover, fresh liner notes, numerous interviews, a reprint of the 1991 comic book, and 4K transfers of both the 86-minute Unrated version and the 105-minute Integral version previously only included on foreign releases. Snap it up if you dare.