Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ten DVD's To Die For

Around the time that Blue Underground released Gary Sherman's 1981 Dead and Buried to disc, I was speculating with a friend over how long it would be before the very finite list of all the great cult movies and TV shows that we wanted to see brought to DVD were burned through and there'd be no more big releases to anticipate.

Well, that had to be probably six or seven years ago and while some titles I never thought would make it eventually arrived in fine form (Hello, Monster Squad!) there's a handful of must-haves that I'm still waiting to put in my collection.

Here's ten titles that I'd love to see make to DVD in 2008:

1. Friday the 13th: The Series (TV, 1987-1990)

This was a late night staple for me during its three year run from '87 to '90 and it was far and away the highlight of the glut of late-'80s horror programs that ran in syndication back then. While I have a huge soft spot for other shows of that time like Tales from the Darkside and Monsters, they were always far too whimsical for my taste whereas Friday the 13th: The Series frequently got downright grim.

A host of notable genre talent both in front of (actors like Fritz Weaver, Ray Walston and Robert A. Silverman) and behind the camera (directors like David Cronenberg, William Fruet, Armand Mastroianni, Tom McLoughlin, and Rob Hedden) all contributed to the series and strong episodes (like the Texas Chainsaw-esque turn towards the "backwoods horror" genre, "The Long Road Home") could be found right up to the end of its run.

With so much genre TV already represented on disc (hell, Swamp Thing is being released this January!), it's long past time for seasons of Friday the 13th: The Series to start appearing as well.

Read more of my thoughts on Friday the 13th: The Series here:

2. Deadly Blessing (1981)

My favorite Wes Craven film. This often loopy but always atmospheric tale of a widowed woman dealing with an unknown prescene that may or may not be supernatural stalking her in her rural home coupled with her tense relationship with her Hittite neighbors (an Amish-like religious order led by a fearsome Ernest Borgnine) is a jolting ride with several of the best shock scenes that Craven has ever put on film (including a snake joining one unsuspecting character in a bathtub and a memorable dream sequence involving Sharon Stone - in her first film - and a large spider).

Read more of my thoughts on Deadly Blessing here:

3. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (TV, 1981)

This TV movie left a lasting mark on me as a kid. Not just because it was eerie but because it told a very humane and touching tale as well. Larry Drake stars as a mentally hanicapped man who is caught in a misunderstanding and pays a final price for it at the hands of a make-shift mob (played by a round of fine character actors including Charles Durning and Lane Smith) who kill Drake's character as he hides within a scarecrow's clothes. When the men who did the deed hide their crime and subsequently start to meet with grisly ends themselves, panic and paranoia set in among them. This is a perfect morality tale that should be part of everyone's DVD library.

Read more of my thoughts on Dark Night of the Scarecrow here:

4. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)

I've never seen this movie so I can't comment on it but I've always wanted to see it as it was shot in my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. This tale of paranormal phenonmenon was never the object of much acclaim but I'd love to see it for myself one day. It has some genre credentials in that Margot Kidder (Sisters, Black Christmas) and Jennifer O'Neil (The Psychic, Scanners) play major roles, famed composer Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen) created the score and J. Lee Thompson (who helmed the original Cape Fear as well as the slasher fave Happy Birthday to Me) directed. I think this only had one VHS release way back at the inception of the video age so this is a film long in need of some attention.

5. Werewolf (TV, 1987-1988)

This slice of late '80s cheese which ran from '87 to '88 was a fun horror show. Lasting only one season, this cribbed the format of the popular Incredible Hulk TV show but with its protagonist cursed to turn into a werewolf rather than into a gamma-spawned beast. Whatever faults it might have had, any show with Chuck Conners cast as an evil werewolf really deserves its due.

6. The Sender (1983)

A wild story of psychic phenonmenon concerning an amnesiac who's able to project vividly real hallucinations into the minds of others got a lot of positive reviews when it was released, despite some jumbled storytelling. This was a mainstay of HBO's programming when I was a kid and The Sender's unusual melancholy mood always sucked me in. Sadly, this ambitious film only saw one pan and scan VHS release.

7. Resurrection (1980)

I saw this supernatural drama on TV in the early '80s and it's stayed with me ever since. Ellen Burstyn stars as a woman who survives a car accident that kills her husband. She soon discovers that she's come out of the experience with the power to heal people. This sensitively written and acted film deserves far more attention that it's ever recieved from fans and critics. Burstyn gives one of the great forgotten performances of genre cinema here as a woman gifted with a power that ultimately forces her away from everyone she loves.

In its depiction of a woman struggling to understand whether her abilities are a blessing or a curse makes this an excellent companion piece to Cronenberg's The Dead Zone. The performances (Sam Shepard, Richard Farnsworth and genre fave Robert Blossoms all join Burstyn in delivering heartfelt work) along with Daniel Petrie's direction keep Resurrection from becoming the stuff of cheap melodrama.

8. Paperhouse (1988)

This has been released overseas on DVD (although it may be out of print) but we're still waiting for a Region 1 disc. Directed by Bernard Rose (Candyman), this story of a young girl who retreats into a fantasy world expressed through her drawings was a canny mix of kid's film and surreal horror. Described by one critic at the time as being "the thinking person's Nightmare on Elm Street".

8. Vampire (TV, 1979)

I watched this TV movie about a vampire whose sleep is disturbed by the construction of a new church over his resting grounds way back when it was originally aired and sadly I've long since forgotten all but snippets of it. But the fact that it stars the great Richard Lynch as the eponymous bloodsucker and E.G. Marhsall as the Van Helsing type looking to stake him out of existence with The Exorcist's Jason Miller and Kathryn Harrold (The Sender) also starring is all I need to know that this needs to be available on disc as soon as possible. And to further recommend it, Vampire's script was penned by future Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue producer Steven Bochco.

10. The Horror Show (1989)

Come on - Max Jenke needs to be on DVD, damn it! Late character actor Brion James will always be best known for his replicant role in Blade Runner ("Wake up, time to die!") but I wish his star turn as "Meat Cleaver Max" had spawned a sequel or two.

James was clearly giving his all to this character and the fact that he's facing off against Lance Henriksen as a cop out to put Jenke down for good gives him a worthy foil to pit his performance against. To see these two great character actors spar with each other elevates an otherwise mediocre film to must-see proportions.

There you have it - ten DVD's that I'll be watching for next year. If even half of these make it to disc, this horror geek will have to call 2008 a very fulfilling year.

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