Stu Willis' Best (and Worst) of 2006

2005 was a vintage year for genre DVD releases. 2006 could never live up to the amount of excellent films getting given sterling digital disc releases in the preceding 12 months.

But, it did a fine job of trying ...

If anything, 2006 saw genre DVDs getting released more frequently than ever before - and because so many of them were at the very least "of interest", that meant that barely a month went by where my Credit Card wasn't tested to the limit.

In the US, I was surprised by the relatively low-key status of Blue Underground and Anchor Bay. In previous years these distributors have trounced all comers in the "Best Release" stakes. But no, while putting out some interesting flicks on mildly diverting discs (though Italian crime fans may to differ there!), both have been overshadowed this year - in my opinion - by Subversive Cinema.

Relative new kids on the block, Subversive went from strength to strength in 2006 with a couple of staggering packages that exceeded all rational expectations.

SAVAGE SINEMA FROM DOWN UNDER

The first was their spiffing SAVAGE SINEMA boxset - 4 discs devoted to the works of Aussie auteur Mark Savage. While the mega low-budgeted films themselves may be an acquired taste, it's fair to say you'd be hard pushed to fault the glorious abundance of commentaries, interviews, Making-Of's etc on each disc ... and a bonus disc with the sublimely disturbing STAINED?! We really were spoilt.

The second was, of course, the stunning 5-disc package in honour of Richard Stanley's so-so DUST DEVIL. Okay, the film has a reputation that's greater than it's content (it's a mediocre serial killer flick with some beautiful photography on occasion), but the effort put into this release was incredible. If ever you could argue that a film has received it's definitive release, then this would be the case.

But Barrel Entertainment almost matched this achievement with their ludicrously jam-packed 2-disc SE of Leif Jonker's enjoyably cheap DARKNESS. If, like me, you discovered this film via the Screen Edge VHS in the early 90s and had been waiting for a decent DVD release ever since, then your prayers were surely answered (and then some) with this exhaustive plethora of commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews and so on.

No Shame's release of DARK WATERS merits special mention too. The limited 2-disc box is a beautiful masterpiece of DVD design. The best horror film of the 1990s (I kid you not) gets a pristine transfer, along with stunning extras that include one of the best, most amusing documentaries ever filmed. Brilliant.

STREET TRASH: SPECIAL 2 DISC MELTDOWN EDITIONBut for me, the best US DVD release of the year was Synapse's long-awaited 2-disc SE of the fantastic STREET TRASH. Fuck me, the film looks like it was made yesterday. And the extras (not only the mammoth - and insanely entertaining - 2-hour doc, but the trailers, 16mm short, commentaries, etc) made this utterly essential genre purchasing in my opinion. Great stuff.

Honourable US mentions must go to Dark Sky's TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE release - the best contemporary horror film gets a near-definitive release, and Code Red's DON'T GO IN THE WOODS ALONE ... not a great film, but great fun and a must-have for fans of the old Nasties. And who in their right mind would've expected a commentary and 60-minute documentary?!

For me, the worst US release of the year had to be Shriek Show's lacklustre 2-disc SE of ANTHROPOPHAGUS. Now, I'm a fan of Shriek Show and like to see them do well (they have enough people berating them on message boards). But this release was pretty shit. Yeah, I know they're limited to the prints they can access ... but, hey, we waited and waited for this to come out - and the end result was a poorly packaged, grainy transfer with dire sound and contrived extras (a documentary largely comprising of scenes cribbed from JOE D'AMATO - FULLY UNCUT). Not good enough.

In the UK, we had cause to celebrate with the eventual release of rousing 90s sci-fi shocker EVENT HORIZON. All the extras from the R1 release were present, but we scored extra points with a limited attractive "spaceship" packaging. Nice to see the UK distributor go the extra mile for a change.

Eureka continued to be utterly essential with world-best releases of the seminal FAUST and KWAIDAN (if you don't own these yet, then you really should drop everything and order them right now).

Anchor Bay redeemed themselves somewhat from a disappointing year with their excellent boxset of MASTERS OF HORROR - VOLUME 1. A mixed bag of hour-long teleplays by genre faves such as John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. The films were iffy but you couldn't complain about the extras - over 28 hours' worth in total!

A few festival favourites surfaced onto UK DVD during 2006, including a very nice release of HARD CANDY, plus the likes of THE DARK HOURS, TEARS OF KALI, EYES OF CRYSTAL and THE NAMELESS. All are recommended.

A personal joy of mine too was seeing some golden oldies finally see the light of day on shiny disc in the UK: THE OLD DARK HOUSE, DEAD OF NIGHT, SALEM'S LOT, BLIND BEAST, THE INNOCENTS, BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE, FEMALE PRISONER 701: SCORPION and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. Buy these or die. Then save furiously for Tartan's SE's of the similarly essential HOLY MOUNTAIN, EL TOPO and FANDO Y LIS - all due out in Spring 2007.

VENGEANCE TRILOGY

The best UK release for my money was arguably Tartan's VENGEANCE TRILOGY boxset. Three near-impeccable films, equipped with stunning extras and gorgeous presentations. Nectar.

Worst UK release of the year? It's a toss-up between Tartan's SE of IRREVERSIBLE and Anchor Bay's THE NIGHT PORTER. The principal reason for both is because they were so hotly anticipated ... then failed to deliver.

IRREVERSIBLE was promised as a 2-disc SE (it's not). Then we were told it would house an exclusive Gaspar Noe interview (it doesn't). Oh, and don't forget the new commentary from Cassel, Bellucci and Noe as advertised on the DVD box (it doesn't exist). What we actually get is the R1 release, minus the 30-odd second deleted scene.

THE NIGHT PORTER has 39 minutes of decent interviews. But the transfer is fucking terrible. Soft, grainy, overly dark and incorrectly framed - it's an abysmal presentation of a film that was carefully - and beautifully - photographed. You wouldn't know that from this abortion of a transfer. Avoid, at least until you can find it for 4.97 in Music Zone (it won't be long).

As a matter of sheer indulgence, I will offer a cursory nod of appreciation towards Koch Lorber's 2-disc SE of SEVEN BEAUTIES (R1) - the disc could have been better, but I feel this film is in desperate need of rediscovery/recognition.

That's 2006 as I saw it. Please feel free to rip my take on it to shreds on the message boards. I've no doubt overlooked some gems (hey! I never mentioned the impressive Bond makeovers!), but I feel I've covered the releases that tantalised - and disappointed - me the most over the last 12 months.


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