Top Ten Hi-Def Horror Releases of 2015
2015 is officially over, and it’s time to celebrate another fantastic year of High Definition Horror releases on Blu-Ray! This is my 2nd annual Top 10 list, with the first running on my now defunct website; Doctor Macabre’s Laboratory. The tradition continues here at We Live Film with a look back at Horror releases from 2015 that truly went above and beyond in all departments: video quality, audio quality, special features, and packaging.
There is no denying that 2015 was another standout year for Horror when it comes to Home Video releases. Though not quite as exciting as 2014 (which emptied my wallet on a monthly basis), fans of the genre were treated to some fantastic feature-packed releases of both the popular and obscure. Not since my teenage years in the mid to late 90’s; saving up my lawn-mowing cash to pre-order the latest Anchor Bay tin set at Suncoast Video, has there been a time as good as this for fans of the genre.
I found those sentiments echoed throughout the Horror community lately. It was simply another great year to be a Horror aficionado. And whom do we have to thank for that? The fine folks at Scream Factory, Arrow Video, Synapse Films, Scorpion Releasing, Blue Underground, Kino Lorber, and Grindhouse Releasing to name just a few. Though not all of those aforementioned distributor’s titles made our Top 1 list this year, their dedication to the genre, attention to detail on video/audio transfers, and inclusion of fantastic special features to please the fans deserves admiration and applause.
We were spoiled beyond belief this past year, and here’s to more of the same in 2016. Without further ado, the following are my personal Top 10 picks for the very best 2015 had to offer when it came to Horror films on Blu-Ray (counting down from 10 to 1):
- Hammer Horror Classics: Volume One (Warner Bros.)
Released on October 6th, this collection includes four of Warner’s titles from the Hammer vaults including: The Mummy, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed. Though I grew up primarily watching the Universal Classic Horror films, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Hammer catalog in my teen years. They were British Gothic nightmares captured on celluloid, complete with plenty of bloody mayhem and cleavage-centric period costumes. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing proved to be, time and time again, captivating arch-enemies on screen (though the closest of friends in life). This collection from Warner Bros., though it doesn’t offer up much in the way of extras, has a fantastic hard-shell packaging design complete with brilliant original artwork and a booklet. The transfers here (both video and audio) are top notch as well.
- Scream and Scream Again (Twilight Time)
Released on October 13th as part of their annual Halloween-centric titles, Scream and Scream Again is a truly odd mix of Suspense and Horror, and though the bizarre screenplay and seemingly disconnected plot elements makes for a very strange cinematic experience, this film has become one of my B-movie favorites over the years. As my regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Vincent Price, so I’m likely biased because I will watch the man in just about anything! But what is incredibly evident here is the love and care that went into this release from Twilight Time. They have provided the Blu-Ray release with a solid video/audio transfer, lovely packaging featuring an updated take on the original theatrical poster design, and a great selection of bonus features including audio commentaries with David Del Valle, a fantastic documentary on Gordon Hessler at AIP, a very informative essay booklet by the always captivating Julie Kirgo, and a few other welcome additions. The film itself may not be for everyone with its oddball genre-bending style, but for me, this was one of the year’s best.
- Army of Darkness (Scream Factory)
Released on October 27th (just in time for Halloween this past year), this collector’s edition of Army of Darkness offers fans everything they would ever hope for in a home video release! It was also a perfectly-timed release just before the premiere of Starz’s Ash Vs. The Evil Dead show. Those that just love to nitpick may bring up the fact that the initial release had some minor scene missing/audio sync issues, but those problems were quickly fixed by Scream Factory (who offered free replacement discs to fans). The video/audio are superb, the packaging itself (with a great slipcover and reversible art) looks glorious on the ol’ Horror shelf, and the bonus features offer up countless hours of entertainment for fans of the film. I’ve purchased this same film on countless past formats (VHS, DVD, etc.) but this one stands out as my absolute favorite version to spin on a spooky full moon night.
- Manos: The Hands of Fate (Synapse Films)
I know, I know, this technically doesn’t count as Horror…but some (including me) may disagree. Subjecting yourself to 74 minutes of the so-called “worst film ever made” may, indeed, prove terrifying. Joking aside, I’ve always had a soft spot for Manos and it’s wacky, incomprehensible, Z-grade charm. Released on October 13th from the always-impressive Synapse Films, this release truly went above and beyond in every area. The video quality is stellar when you consider how truly awful the film has looked on home video in the past, and there is a great documentary included here where the workprint versions restoration is discussed at length. The “grindhouse” version of the film is also included (unrestored) as well as a fun puppet parody. Synapse has also included some truly great cover art on this Special Edition, rounding out a fine release.
- The Brood (The Criterion Collection)
David Cronenberg’s 1979 feature still gives me the creeps! With fine performances from the likes of Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed, a consistently unnerving atmosphere, and disgustingly shocking screen moments, it remains a Horror classic to this day. Released on October 13th, Criterion’s release includes a top-notch video/audio presentation, a never-ending slew of bonus material, and fine packaging (gotta love that cover art!). Though the film is one of the collection’s few Horror offerings in 2015, they certainly knocked it out of the park on this one!
- The Beyond (Grindhouse Releasing)
Released on March 24th, Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond was given the deluxe treatment from the wonderful folks at Grindhouse Releasing. The film itself is a wild, bizarre, and terrifying journey from the late filmmaker, but it’s in the love and care put into this specific Blu-Ray release that warrants a spot on our Top 10 list. From glow-in-the-dark packaging, an illustrated essay booklet, the included CD soundtrack, and a boat-load of bonus features, the distributor clearly took their time to make this release special for Horror fans.
- Count Dracula (Severin Films)
Though Jess Franco’s film was just recently released on December 15th from the fine folks at Severin Films, I only needed one night of spinning this fantastic disc to decide it warranted a spot on my Top 10 of the year list. Bram Stoker’s classic is beautifully realized here by Mr. Franco (in surprisingly true to the book form), with great performances from Christopher Lee as the titular Count (a role he is best known for through his prior Hammer offerings), and Klaus Kinski is another standout as the psychotic Renfield. Severin put a lot of love and care into making this release special for fans like me (who have been eagerly awaiting it’s arrival onto the High Definition format) by including a beautiful video/audio presentation, great packaging design, and a nice set of bonus material that includes: the UNCUT feature film (restored scene intact), a making-of featurette, interviews with the director, audio commentary featuring the always informative David Del Valle, and much more.
- The Larry Fessenden Collection (Scream Factory)
This extremely impressive and unexpected October 20th release from Scream Factory includes: No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, and The Last Winter. When I first saw Wendigo during my Junior Year in High School, I immediately sought out this unique Director’s other films in a frenzied hurry to fill my mind with such a passionate filmmaker’s vision. Mr. Fessenden captures his stories with an intelligence and unnerving atmosphere that is rarely captured by other Directors. His films will stick with you well beyond the first viewing experience and demand to be watched more than once. This release includes a nice slipcover with breathtaking artwork from The Dude Designs along with an illustrated essay booklet. Though the video/audio varies based on the budget/source material, the films themselves have never looked better on home video! There is also some truly great bonus content on each of the discs to round out this great release.
- Blood Rage (Arrow Video)
Packed with three versions of the film (Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Blood Rage UNCUT, and a composite of both), this recent release from Arrow Video is utterly incredible! Though the movie itself was clearly a cash-in copycat of other, better, Horror films (i.e. Friday the 13th, Halloween), Blood Rage has managed to remain an impressive clone throughout the years that offers up plenty of gore, bad acting that entertains, and plot twists galore. Arrow Video USA gives fans a great collection of bonus content (the Ted Raimi interview is particularly good), a better-than-it-deserves 4K transfer of the original negatives, and inspired packaging complete with a slipcover and reversible art.
- The Babadook: Limited Edition (Scream Factory)
My absolute top pick for the year goes to Scream Factory’s truly inventive POP-UP book limited edition release for The Babadook. Jennifer Kent’s film will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, and though the elements are there, it’s more of a well-executed drama about grief, loss, and the struggles of parenting. There is indeed a Babadook…but exactly what is it and what does it represent? Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the lines of Horror and forces its viewers to dig deeper. Released on April 14th, Scream Factory’s release not only features stunning video/audio quality and fascinating special features, but it also includes what is easily my favorite packaging on a Blu-Ray release in my entire collection. The Limited Edition set features a red pop-up book style slipcover with the Babadook itself looming over the viewer when opened. Not only is the film itself one of the best modern Horror films I’ve seen, but this release from Scream Factory is clearly a labor of love from people who genuinely understand their intended audience (the Horror media collector). I hope that Scream Factory revisits this concept of unique packaging on a future release!
Well folks, I hope you enjoyed reading about my TOP TEN Hi-Def Horror picks for 2015. Let me know what your picks would be in the comment section down below. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you and yours!