Our resident Blu-ray reviewer Joshua Dean is back and this time he is featuring the top 10 must haves on Blu-ray that every horror fan MUST own. Enjoy!
Blu-ray has been around for several years now… but it is now that it is finally taking off and becoming mainstream. All of us at Slasher Studios love our horror films very much… and many of us want to own and experience them in the best way possible. Barring theatrical exhibition (and sometimes it’s even better than that), Blu-ray is the ultimate way to experience a film. A picture that replicates the look of an actual physical film print (unless it’s a botched transfer), and often times going beyond that with 4K scans or restorations of the original camera negative (such as Halloween’s new Anniversary Edition, or Jaws), combined with stellar uncompressed audio that matches even what the theater can offer, is what makes Blu-ray such a great format for film buffs such as ourselves. Here I am going to list ten of the best Blu-ray releases the genre has seen, and films no horror fan should be without. The criteria for making this list includes several factors: Picture quality, sound quality, and extras. Extras come last for a reason… The object of Blu-ray is to offer the “perfect movie-viewing experience,” if you will. Extras are nice to have, but if the movie looks bad, why bother?
Since mainstream horror films tend to get the best treatment on Blu-ray (That’s not to say Scream Factory doesn’t do a stellar job with with their more obscure chillers, though!), I’ll mainly be covering those this time… but I shall return with full reviews on the more hidden gems, as well!
(in alphabetical order)
ALIEN (1979, Ridley Scott) Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Tom Skerritt and Sigourney Weaver.
Presented from an all-new 4K master, Ridley Scott’s 1979 “slasher-in-space” masterpiece delivers on Blu-ray. The picture is stunning, with a fine, but natural film grain providing clarity, enhancing the production design of both the Nostromo itself, and the titular ALIEN that terrorizes first-time horror heroine Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, and a cast of now-legendary actors aboard their isolated ship. While the single-disc original only offers minimal supplements (a pair of commentaries, two different isolated score tracks, and deleted scenes… but also two cuts of the film), the Alien Anthology box set (that can be had cheaply if you catch it on sale, as low as $30!) offers comparable extras for all four films (ALIEN, ALIENS, ALIEN3, ALIEN: RESURRECTION), as well as two packed bonus discs includeing over 12,000 stills combined of photos and artwork, several behind the scenes featurettes, and more.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981, Sam Raimi) Anchor Bay Entertainment
Starring Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss.
Despite the widely-available release being short on extras (offering only a commentary) it delivers a stunning presentation- wait… no, two stunning presentations of this classic cheese-fest. Presented in its original 4×3 version as well as an “enhanced widescreen version” (again clipping the top and bottom of the frame, but this time doing a much better job than the many DVD releases), the film looks and sounds much better than ever before. Despite Anchor Bay’s ever-disintegrating reputation for their horror releases, they must be commended for one thing: The horror titles they DO appreciate, they deliver. Great care was put into this amazing (still VERY grainy and VERY ugly to the unexpecting eye) transfer, and it can be had very cheaply. My local Walmart sells it for $10. With it being Halloween season, however, you may well find it cheaper. Also released in a limited editon with a DVD bonus disc of extras.
THE EXORCIST (1973, William Friedkin) Warner Home Video
Starring Ellen Burstyn and Max Von Sydow.
Called the scariest film of all time, this demonic shocker featuring Linda Blair as the possessed daughter of actress Ellen Burstyn debuted on Blu-ray in 2010, featuring both the original theatrical cut, as well as the 2000 Director’s Cut, in absolutely stunning transfers (each cut got its own unique transfer, and details often differ between the two versions) with superb soundtracks… and a large host of extra features, including more than a couple documentaries and three commentaries (one for the extended cut, two for the original cut). It was offered in a digibook package with shiny metallic artwork and plenty of photos and information that would keep fans pleased. Sadly, it is out of print, but a 40th anniversary edition is due out on October 8th with a host of new supplements and presumably new transfers… though I don’t believe they’d be necessary.
THE FOG: Collector’s Edition (1979, John Carpenter) Scream Factory
Starring Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis.
John Carpenter’s post-Halloween ghost story comes with a very spooky-looking transfer (complete with his signature “blue glow”) by cinematographer Dean Cundey and a few new bonuses that are sure to enhance any fan’s enjoyment of the film. First up is a commentary with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and Tommy Lee Wallace, joined by Horror’s Hallowed Grounds’ Sean Clark. This track is very fun, but only mildly informative. Also included is a very candid, and very revealing interview with a decidedly unbashful Jamie Lee Curtis, who admits that she doesn’t much care for the film, and reveals that its production was tainted by the recent split of writer/producer/director team Carpenter and Debra Hill, as well as Hill and Curtis’ dealing with Carpenter’s new lady, Barbeau, being ever-present as the film’s lead. There are several more extras included, most from the prior DVD release from MGM.
HALLOWEEN: 35th Anniversary Edition (1978, John Carpenter) Anchor Bay Entertainment
Starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Carpenter’s classic suspense thriller arrives in a gorgeous digibook package with several rare photos and lovely new artwork, but the real treat here is the revelatory new video transfer (like The Fog, supervised by Dean Cundey) and immersive 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound mix. This film truly looks perfect. Supplements are weak for those hoping to learn about the film’s production, but the ones that are included celebrate the film, including a new commentary by Curtis and Carpenter (which, like The Fog’s commentary, is more fun than informative) and a documentary following Jamie Lee Curtis and many of her fans (myself included) to her first (and only) horror convention. The extras are fun, but the real reason to scoop this one up is the new transfer that makes the previous BLu-ray release look flat-out bad.
JAWS (1975, Steven Spielberg) Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Starring Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw.
Spielberg’s classic beach thriller arrives with a fully restored transfer from the original 35MM film elements, and it looks GREAT. The film definitely shows its age, but it looks amazing. The new 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix is strong, but I personally find the original mono track to be more engaging… especially since the new mix renders a certain word at the end virtually inaudible. A long list of documentaries, featurettes, and deleted scenes accompany the release, as well.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984, Wes Craven) Warner Home Video
Starring John Saxon and Ronee Blakley.
1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you! This strong Blu-ray release gives very strong picture and sound quality, though some of the visual effects suffer a bit due to the leap in clarity. The film boasts 7.1 DTS-HD audio and a long list of extras (admittedly all from the infiniFILM DVD edition), including two commentaries, both featuring star Heather Langenkamp and director Craven, but both tracks offering a different experience as each one features different people, such as John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Sara Risher, Robert Shaye, and Jacques Haitkin. Three featurettes and a host of alternate endings also fill the disc, which is also available in a series box set featuring the six surprisingly good sequels (2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, 3: DREAM WARRIORS, 4: THE DREAM MASTER, 5: THE DREAM CHILD, 6: FREDDY’S DEAD – THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, and 7: NEW NIGHTMARE), admittedly with transfers and soundtracks somewhat inferior to the masterful work afforded to the original, as well as a host of extras.
PSYCHO: 50th Anniversary Edition (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) Universal Studios Home Entertainment (OOP in the US)
Starring Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles.
The shower scene looks absolutely sensational in this restored transfer from the original film materials, as does the rest of the black-and-white mystery-thriller. While you may not expect a black-and-white film to gain much from a high-definition presentation, this disc will prove you dead wrong. The high resolution causes the contrast-based picture to look absolutely stunning. Grain is present, and even heavy at times, but is never intrusive. The strong transfer also serves to show off the beauty of stars Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, as well as the haunting Bates house and motel. Featuring a large selection of archival extras (can you really expect more? This movie is now 53 years old.) and a newly created 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track… but in this case, stick with the (included) mono track… as the creators of the new track tend to get a little free with sound effects and the like.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968, Roman Polanski) The Criterion Collection
Starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes.
Polanski’s spooky – and surprisingly comedic – horror masterpiece also featuring Ruth Gordon (in an Oscar-winning performance) is given the deluxe treatment by The Criterion Collection, offering a fully restored digital transfer supervised by Polanski. This movie looks simply stunning. Colors are beautifully reproduced, a visible-but-non-intrusive grain structure is everpresent, and a brand new documentary, featuring Polanski, star Mia Farrow, and producer Robert Evans, accompanies. Also included is a feature-length documentary about composer Krzysztof Komeda and a booklet with plenty of printed goodies.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE: The Ultimate Edition (1974, Tobe Hooper) Dark Sky Films (OOP)
Starring Marilyn Burns and Allen Danziger
One may not think this film would be particularly suited to the Blu-ray format. However, just the opposite is true. While some may think the grainy 16MM nature of the film would hinder its presentation in high definition, it actually enhances it. Transferred directly from the original film materials, the grainy 16MM film looks gorgeous. Yes, it’s still VERY grainy. Yes, details are not what you’d get with, say, Halloween, Jaws, or Alien… or any of the aforementioned releases, actually. What it DOES offer, however, is a truly chilling grindhouse experience. Featuring two commentaries, several featurettes, bloopers, and delted scenes, this sadly-OOP release can still be had relatively cheaply on Amazon.