The boutique Blu-ray market is alive and well, especially for genre fans. Labels such as Scream Factory and Vinegar Syndrome are fighting the good fight and ensuring physical media is far from dead just yet. Our long forgotten VHS memories are constantly being resurrected, restored, and re-released on high-def formats. From Blu-ray to UHD, we’ll keep you up to date on all the best in boutique label genre releases.
Black Friday is always a big deal amongst Blu-ray collectors. Why? Two labels have managed to build up an absolute fervor surrounding their annual sales with teases of major releases and limited editions. At the strike of midnight (EST time) on Black Friday, you can jump over to either Vinegar Syndrome or Severin and pick up a number of new releases or peruse their catalog titles that have been slashed to 50% off. The fun lasts all weekend. In fact, they make it beyond easy to continuously impulse-purchase by selecting “add to existing order” at checkout. No need to pay double for shipping!
New releases on deck from VS this weekend include the underrated late-entry Dario Argento pic, Trauma, as well as William Malone’s better-than-it-should-be Alien-riff, Creature. Oh, and there’s Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein dropping in 4K UHD and 3D Blu-ray! Over at Severin I’m excited for Ruggero Deodato’s nasty piece of work, House on the Edge of the Park and the infamously so-bad-it’s-amazing killer Sasquatch (with a penchant for penis ripping) flick, Night of the Demon.
However, for those who are looking to save some coin this weekend, you’ll do so by shopping through the sites’ back catalogs, looking for some solid deals and solid entertainment. Not sure where to begin? Below are some of my favorite titles released by both labels that you should be able to snap up at quite the bargain this Black Friday weekend.
All American Murder (1991)
All American Murder is the kind of generic looking thriller that cluttered video store shelves throughout the 90s. It draws you in with the promise of Christopher Walken but not much else. Thankfully, for those willing to take the dive, you’ll be rewarded with a fast paced and surprisingly gory murder mystery with plenty of Giallo trappings and noir-esque banter. When a troubled college student becomes the number one suspect in the murder of the campus “It Girl,” he must find the actual culprit before he gets put away for good. All American Murder features a great script that’s heavy on the snappy dialogue. It borders on silly, but it’s clear the screenwriter had an affinity for the fast-talking heyday of crime thrillers.
Don’t Panic (1987)
If you haven’t seen Don’t Panic, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. This is one of those ultimate “movie night” flicks. It’s certainly best enjoyed with like minded friends if possible. This Mexican production is clearly trying to jump on the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, though it feels like they may have been aping Freddy’s Revenge more than any of the other entries.
On Michael’s 17th birthday, his friends decide to play around with a Ouija board and unwittingly release the wise-cracking spirit of Virgil. He runs around killing the teens off in absurd fashion while Michael continuously witnesses the carnage via premonitions…all while sporting the coolest dinosaur jammies you never knew a 17-year-old could pull off. Vinegar Syndrome even sold recreations of said PJs in tandem with the film’s release last year. Who knows? Maybe they’ll make a comeback.
The Caller (1987)
This isn’t going to be for everyone. Your enjoyment of The Caller is going to boil down to how much you enjoy one location thrillers, the type that could easily be staged as a play and wouldn’t lose the elements that make them work. I will say, the less you know going into this flick, the better.
A woman is alone in a cabin. She’s preparing a meal for expected company. A man (Malcolm McDowell) shows up at her doorstep claiming his car has broken down. At first, they appear to be strangers, but as the film goes on it becomes clear there’s much more to the story and neither The Caller nor The Girl (as they’re listed in the credits) are speaking in plain truths. You will be confused while watching The Caller, but the payoff is so absolutely gonzo – it’s well worth the puzzling ride.
Deadline is more psychological drama than outright horror. Still, there are several moments to give gorehounds a reason for applause. Steven Lessey is a popular horror novelist who has recently become the talk of the town in Hollywood by adapting his own works into increasingly successful screenplays. Much of the murder and mayhem we see are actually “clips” from his various productions. But Steven is on edge. He has an impending deadline and his wife, in no uncertain terms, despises him and revels in making his life miserable. As Steven turns to alcohol to cope, his grip on reality begins to slip and tragic events drive him to unthinkable actions. Deadline is so incredibly underrated and features a final shot that will leave you shaken.
Not to be confused with the other Vinegar Syndrome release, Grave Robbers (AKA Ladrones de Tumbas), this Graverobbers is a loco concoction of Gothic Romance with Twin Peaks-ian oddball small-town characters. That said, you’d do well to pick up both films if you can!
When a waitress at a roadside diner gets picked up by a charming stranger, she’s whisked away to his mansion and the two are quickly wed. The man turns out to be the small town’s mortician who also happens to have plenty of skeletons in his own closet. The waitress soon snaps out of her fairytale haze and begins to fear for her own life. Graverobbers is filled with peculiar performances and absurd reveals. The finale is sure to have you howling in disbelief. This is an odd one, for sure.
Santa Sangre (1989)
While director Alejandro Jodorowsky isn’t known for strong narratives, Santa Sangre just might be one of his most cohesive stories. Yes, it’s still weird as fuck and filled to the brim with hallucinatory images, but there’s a beautiful throughline that manages to weave just enough horror with a heartfelt tale of love and loss. After a young circus performer witnesses an attack on his mother, leaving her with both arms chopped off, he grows up like a wild man in an insanitarium. Finally, he escapes to try and rekindle a relationship with his boyhood crush all while trying to keep “mother” from enacting murderous revenge. This is a beautiful film, and Severin’s UHD release does the candy coated cinematography absolute justice.
The Day of the Beast (1995)
Another Severin UHD release, The Day of the Beast is an irreverent comedy-horror from the twisted mind of Álex de la Iglesia (Witching and Bitching, The Last Circus). This film has such an irresistible hook, it’s hard to pass it up. It’s Christmas Eve in Madrid, and a priest has determined the Antichrist is destined to be born on Christmas Day. In order to prevent it he must draw out the devil the only way he knows how – by committing as many sins as possible in 24 hours. To do so, the Father teams up with a heavy metal fan and a TV “psychic” to bring down the devil and save humanity.
Patrick Still Lives (1980)
The Australian classic Patrick (also available from Severin) was never crying out for a sequel. However, that never stopped Italian producers from whipping up a good ol’ fashioned knock-off. Patrick Still Lives was a film I was never too eager to see. By most accounts, it’s dreadful. However, I am a sucker for some cheesy Italia-sploitation, so I picked this up and remember watching this last Quarantine-O-Ween by myself and cackling like a madman. It’s hilariously inept in parts yet features some of the most cruel and jaw dropping gore gags. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so surprised by a previously undiscovered gem. Sure, there’s way too much random sexcapades on display that drag down the pacing, but the highs truly do soar.
The Devil’s Honey (1986)
So…um…where to begin with this one? The Devil’s Honey is a later entry film from the great Italian Master of Gore, Lucio Fulci. Those expecting the filmmaker’s usual penchant for dismemberment will be wildly disappointed. To be fair, there are a couple of gruesome moments, but Fulci is far more interested here in what arouses us rather than terrifies. This is a psycho-sexual tale of lust, abuse, and power.
Jessica is in a toxic relationship with a successful musician, Johnny. Despite his abhorrent behaviour, Jessica continues returning and playing his cruel, domineering games. Meanwhile, we follow a surgeon in the midst of a mid-life crisis who has been stepping out on his wife and hitting the bottle a bit too often. These two threads come together in a surprising way and take the film in a completely different direction from where it began. The Devil’s Honey was long considered one of Fulci’s worst films, but thanks to Severin’s release, the film is finally getting the reappraisal it deserves. Fulci crafted a cringe inducing, overly sexed up, wild exercise in power dynamics and sadomasochistic desire that has to be seen to be believed. And…well, you will see a saxophone do things you never thought possible.
The Night Killer (1990)
I once wrote about this slice of insanity for BD many moons ago. At the time, it hadn’t been released on Blu and the only version I could dig up was a cruddy VHS rip. When Severin announced they were releasing this, I couldn’t have hit “pre-order” any faster. Coming from the mind of the other Italian master of horror – no, not Argento – Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2, Zombie 4), The Night Killer is full on face-palm cinema with a third act twist that will knock you on your ass. The killer’s guise is half Freddy Krueger and part Nightbeast. That really should tell you all you need to know. Watch this as a double feature with Don’t Panic and thank me later.
These are just a handful of some of the amazing titles you can pick up this weekend from Vinegar Syndrome and Severin. Post your haul in the comments below!