J Hurtado's Top Home Video Releases of 2012

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
In my short tenure here at Twitch, I've managed to carve out a niche for myself as an advocate for independent home video, and it's a position in which I take great pride. As such, my list of the top home video releases of the year is entirely devoid of studio releases. The basic reason for this is that, in my mind, it isn't impressive when a multi million dollar company turns out a decent home video release, however, when a small, dedicated crew of film fanatics does the same it's something to get excited about.

I had considerable trouble whittling this list down to ten releases, so I just decided that ten was an arbitrary and bullshit number and made my own fucking list that is exactly as long as I feel it needs to be! I intended to make this a list of individual releases, but when I started compiling possible titles, I realized that it is more a celebration of the labels I love than anything else, so that's how I've set it up. If you're wondering what you've missed in 2012, this is a great place to start!

jhbfi.jpgThe Devils (BFI DVD)
BFI's DVD only release of The Devils is a miracle in a year that saw many momentous releases. A seminal film that has been buried by its home studio, Warner Brothers, finds release in the UK with BFI. I went into massive detail about this release when I reviewed it earlier this year and here's a small piece of that:
BFI's brand new DVD release of Ken Russell's masterpiece, The Devils, is a strong early contender for home video release of the year. Few British films before or since have made the kind of impact that The Devils did over forty years ago, and the fact that it remains controversial today is a remarkable tribute to Russell's power as a filmmaker. The confluence of talent that assembled at the Pinewood studio lot was legendary and included some of the finest British cinematic talents of that generation. There has been a lot of talk about this release and what it doesn't include, and I will address that later, but I think that given the current circumstances, BFI have produced a miraculous edition of a landmark film that deserves no less, and I salute them.
jhbeethoven.jpgThe Opening of Misty Beethoven (Distribpix, Inc DVD)
This is one of the few releases on the list that I haven't had a chance to formally review yet, but I have watched it and it deserves a spot on this list. The Opening of Misty Beethoven is widely regarded as the finest adult film ever made. This is the apex of Radley Metzger's hardcore cycle of films in the early-mid '70s under his Henry Paris pseudonym, and shows just how talented of a filmmaker Metzger was, even when he consigned himself to the porn "ghetto" in order to make ends meet.

The HD transfer on this Blu-ray (!) is outstanding and the fact that it exists at all is a marvel of modern crowdfunding. When Distribpix attempted to start a Kickstarter fund in order to assure that their was a demand for this product, they were kicked off of the site for presenting a porn based project even as they met their goal. As a result the company moved the fundraiser to a private site and managed to earn even more money.

The final product is amazing. A spotless, beautiful HD transfer is accompanied by an amazing array of extra material that rivals any company out there, the mighty Criterion Collection included. If you've never seen any of Radley Metzger's films, there are plenty of softcore choices to pick from, but The Opening of Misty Beethoven is a diamond waiting to be unearthed. Give it a shot, you might enjoy it!

jhcriterion.jpgGodzilla / Rosemary's Baby (Criterion Blu-ray)
I couldn't get through an entire list without including the Criterion Collection, even though I'm not our Criterion guy. Bookending the year are a pair of genre films that easily meet the Criterion credo:
Since 1984, the Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements.
Ishiro Honda's Godzilla and its American re-edit Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby are both important and classic and more than deserving of the Criterion treatment. Since I bought these with my own money, you can bet your ass that I'm happy with them, and I can't wait to see what genre films Criterion unleashes on us in 2013!

jhsecondsight.jpgThe Return of the Living DeadBasket Case Trilogy (Second Sight Blu-ray)
In 2012, the UK's Second Sight films moved from being a budget catalog label to a major player in genre film with their definitive release of Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead. This is my all time favorite film and this is the release I've been waiting for. Original audio, great video, and a massive pile of comprehensive extras make this a top release of the year, here's a snippet from my review:
Second Sight has done a remarkable job with this disc, and it is well worth your money. The only things missing are the making-of featurette and commentary from the first US DVD, but the replacement documentary and original audio means that if you're looking for one edition to commit to, this is the one. I'll be keeping all of my previous editions because I love this film like no other, but if you're a fan, you need this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The small label made a further argument for their ascent to the top of the genre pile with their world exclusive release of the Basket Case trilogy on Blu-ray. The films look and sound great, and a wonderful feature-length documentary from the folks at Severin make this a definite winner. Here's what I said about that one, including a preview of a very busy 2013:
Following their brilliant and world beating presentation of The Return of the Living Dead on Blu-ray, Second Sight Films have solidified their place among the kings of cult home video with Basket Case: The Trilogy. This set is the only way to go, don't waste your time or money on anything else. Also, with their upcoming releases of Southern Comfort, the Scanners Trilogy, The Brood, From Beyond, and the newly announced Blu-ray release of Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, they've got a lot of fans still to make. My highest recommendation.
jhacademy.jpgMiracle in Milan / The Tin Drum (Arrow Academy Blu-ray RB)
Even though they've slowed down in recent months, Arrow Academy has proved themselves to be a force in the classic films in HD market. Vittorio De Sica's Miracle in Milan was exactly the film I needed when it showed up on my doorstep. The film is impossibly upbeat, and Academy's Blu-ray edition is fittingly awesome. Here's part of my review:
Miracle in Milan is the rarest of film commodities, it is a ray of pure sunshine, total goodness captured on film without any hint of cynicism. This film could not be any more different from its predecessor in tone, but I'll be damned if it isn't just as affecting in the opposite direction. The fact that this film has no digital release in the US is a crying shame, and needs to be rectified, now more than ever.
The second Academy release I loved this year was their comprehensive edition of Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum. Unlike the Criterion edition, Academy included both the theatrical edition and the recently compiled director's cut along with some great extras. Completionists will need this, and I'm just such a beast. Here's what I said about the release a few months back:
As I watched the Blu-ray with the Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut, it became clear to me that this was no self-indulgent exercise. The director's cut adds a lot of context to the film, and helps the viewer to understand the point of view of Oskar in the film in a way that wasn't very clear in the original. These long delayed director's cuts aren't always great, one example of a film extended with little positive effect is Milos Forman's director's cut of Amadeus. In my opinion the theatrical cut of that film is clearly superior. However, The Tin Drum improves with these changes, and that's a good thing. I really can't wait to watch this again!
jhredemption.jpgRedemption Films Entire Output (Redemption Films/Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
I could've just listed all twenty-something releases here, but I feel that may be a bit much, so instead I've chosen to fete the line as a whole. When Kino and Redemption Films announced their partnership near the end of 2011, I was really excited. However, when they actually started delivering, I nearly shit myself with joy. I'm not sure that there is any alternate universe where I could brag about having reviewed a dozen Jean Rollin films on Blu-ray, let alone a pair of Jess Franco films. It's a beautiful world we live in, and when I'm at my lowest, I can just look to my Redemption Films shelf and give myself a little smile.

I'm not sure exactly what their plans are for 2013, but if it is anything like 2012, I'm probably going to need a few new pairs of pants. My only complaint is that they can't quite seem to figure out how to get the spine numbers right. A couple of unfilled gaps have me and my fellow DVDOCD compatriots biting our nails down to the nubs. Come on guys, this is New Year's resolution material. A relatively small complaint, but it would mean the world to me.

jhtwf.jpgTetsuo I & II / Himizu (Third Window Films Blu-ray RB)
Honestly, I could have plucked any releases from Third Window's catalog this year, but these were the two that came to mind first. I know I'm not the only person for whom Tetsuo on Blu-ray seemed like an impossible dream, and with such an impressive edition, my dreams were more than fulfilled:
Third Window's Blu-ray debut of Tsukamoto Shinya's breakout feature, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, has been one of my most anticipated titles of 2012 since we broke the news earlier this year. Tetsuo is a film that transcends its bizarre and hyperactive content to deliver one of the most aggressive experiences ever committed to 16mm celluloid. This is the film that, for better or worse, put Japanese experimental film on the map back in 1989 and in turn created a legend around Tsukamoto which he has been assertively living up to for the last 23 years.
It was tempting to list Sono Sion's Love Exposure Blu-ray, but I figured that the newer release would be a better choice. Himizu shows a definite maturation on Sono's part, and as long as he continues along this track, I'll be right behind him. Here's a piece of my mind regarding Himizu:
I'm sure that someone out there will call me on this. Love Exposure is an incredible film, and one that many people, including me, have a lot of love for. To take the position that it isn't the best Sono film is probably not a popular decision, but my heart tells me it is the right one for me. I'm also fairly certain that my opinion of Sono's treatment of mankind in general as a thing with which to be disgusted and disappointed will spark some debate, however, I think that proof is in the pudding if you just go back and look. Himizu marks a huge milestone for Sono, it's as though he's grown up and realizes that he no longer has to be the angry young man to get anyone to listen. Well, the world is listening, and Himizu is a beautiful song.

I was a bit wary of this release, but it turns out that Himizu looks and sounds incredible. The image's digital origins are easily detected by the more eagle-eyed viewers, but the cinematography is fantastic and the film looks amazing. No issues with that or the fantastic audio track which is laced with classical music that sounds gorgeous. Best of the year stuff.
jhsynapse.jpgTwins of Evil / Nikkatsu Erotic Cinema Collection (Synapse Films Blu-ray / Impulse Pictures DVD)
As far as I'm concerned, Synapse Films is one of the institutions that prove the value of humanity. The fact that a label exists and releases such fantastic editions of relatively under-acknowledged and almost always under-appreciated gems. Their catalog releases this year have been great, but this single release and collection have been the tops. Here's what I said about Twins of Evil:
It was almost two full years ago that cult home video geeks learned that Synapse Films had acquired the US distribution rights to a trio of Hammer Films classics. The first, Vampire Circus, released back in December of 2010, while the other two, Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil seemed to fade away into obscurity, leaving the fans to wonder what the heck happened.  Well, it turns out that Synapse was busy making sure that Twins of Evil was absolutely perfect before it hit store shelves, and their patience paid off. Twins of Evil is a contender for cult Blu-ray release of the year, with a sterling image and outstanding supplemental material. I'll pad this review with more opinions, but let it just be known that you need this disc in your collection.
The Nikkatsu Collection is a whole other breed of awesome and disturbing. Synapse Films distributes product for Impulse Pictures, and their relationship has been fruitful. The Nikkatsu Collection is amazing in its diversity and remarkable quality. These releases all look and sound great, who would've thought that they'd be preserved so well?

jhmoc.jpgRepo Man / Double Indemnity (Masters of Cinema Blu-ray RB)
An unlikely double feature, to be sure, but that's where my head is. This year Masters of Cinema initiated a partnership with Universal Pictures in the UK that has resulted in some fantastic releases. These are two of the fruits of that partnership, and they are incredible.

Alex Cox's Repo Man has never looked so good, and I honestly didn't expect it to look as amazing as it does, since 80's films don't typically transfer that well to HD. When you add the inclusion of the legendary "Melon Farmer" TV cut of the film, an audio commentary featuring Cox and other creative talent, and an amazing booklet designed by Cox himself, it becomes a must own piece of cinematic history. Word on the street is that Criterion is prepping the film for release in 2013, but they'll be hard pressed to match, let along exceed, Masters of Cinema's efforts here.

I'm a huge film noir fan, and Double Indemnity is the best of a very large bunch. Billy Wilder's perfect piece of crime drama with Fred MacMurray, an unusually sexy Barbara Stanwyck (who always seems matronly to me), and the inevitably weaselly Edward G Robinson in a good guy role is probably the finest of a genre that includes a lot of amazing films. Amazing extras, a gorgeous transfer, and an amazing film make for an easy inclusion on this list.

jhvideo.jpgDemons 1 & 2 / Forbidden Zone (Arrow Video Blu-ray RB / All Region)
Another unusual pair here. Arrow Video may have made their bones with an impressive series of gialli films, but with Forbidden Zone they branched out to the even more obscure. The Demons duo have been on their schedule since the very beginning, but it wasn't until 2012 that they were able to release the pair on Blu-ray, and the wait was well worth it. Here are a few words from my review earlier this year:
In 1985, Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava put together what is probably the greatest of all Heavy Metal horror films, Demons. Sure, other films have focused more on the music, and there are no musicians or bands in Demons, but the atmosphere, the pacing, and the attitude is clear, this is a heavy metal movie. Written by Argento and directed by Bava, the film is a blast of gooey fun that encompasses all that was great about '80s horror. There are fantastically outdated outfits, flashy music, and, best of all, plenty of practical gore and creature effects to keep the kiddies squirming in their theater seats. Demons is a classic, and if you don't agree, we can take it outside.

If you were worried about the Blu-ray presentation of Demons, consider your fears debunked. Arrow Video have postponed and postponed this release hoping to get it just right, and this time they've succeeded. This is the best image quality from them on an Italian film in a LONG time, and I am thoroughly satisfied. Highly recommended!
And Forbidden Zone:
Since this Blu-ray release has hit store shelves, the film has gained new attention among movie geeks, many of whom are either seeing it for the first time, or at least for the first time in a long time. Reactions to the film are typically pretty sharply divided, it's a love/hate kind of film. It is stylized in production design and performance in such a way that will either appeal to a person, or drive them completely up a wall, and I can see definite reasoning behind either reaction. I, obviously, fall firmly on the side of fandom. This film hit me at a formative age, and has helped to shape my idea of what films can be, and has also helped me to appreciate camp in a way that is only rivaled by the early films of the great John Waters. You may hate it, you may love it, but you'll react to it, I'm fairly certain of that.
jhscream.jpgScream Factory
One of the most impressive debuts of the year was this horror offshoot to the already awesome Shout! Factory. Scream Factory has released classic after classic on Blu-ray as well as several under-appreciated and under-seen gems from years past. Among their amazing releases are Halloween 2 and 3 and Terror Train, and more recently their amazing edition of John Carpenter's They Live.

As if that weren't enough, they've got quite a 2013 lined up with films like Night of the Comet, Lifeforce, The Burning, The Howling, Day of the Dead and so many more! Most of their releases are packed to the gills with extras that have never been seen before, and HD transfers to die for.

They started off with a bang, and show very few signs of slowing. All hail Scream Factory!

jhartsploitation copy.jpgGandu (Artsploitation DVD)
I haven't had the chance to review this disc, but I have watched it and it is very impressive. The film was on my top ten list for 2010, and it deserved attention. Thanks to the upstarts at Artsploitation, it has gotten that attention. I've spent years begging people to see the film, even though there's been no legal, English friendly way to do so. Thank you, Artsploitation for taking a very difficult property and making it a priority.

I won't pretend that this inclusion on the list isn't at least a tiny bit based on Artsploitation's potential. I know a lot of the acquisitions they've already made, and now that I've seen what they've done for Gandu, I'm very happy to shill for their future releases. Bring on Combat Girls, Vanishing Waves, Hard Romanticker, and all the rest. Artsploitation Films Por Vida!

Special Mention: Twilight Time (Blu-ray)
jhtwilighttime.jpg
Even though, as a geek for context, I place a high value on bonus material when it comes to home video releases, I can't leave this list without mentioning Twilight Time. This super niche label dedicated to releasing catalog titles in limited editions of 3,000 has very quickly made a name for themselves with their frequently stunning HD transfers and great catalog choices. My personal favorites from 2012 have been Bell, Book, and Candle, The Big Heat, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Enemy Mine, though that leaves out a lot of really great ones. 2013 is starting out with some equally impressive titles like Our Man Flint / In Like Flint and Experiment in Terror and I expect a lot more greatness from them. Unfortunately, their licensing contracts prohibit them from creating new extras, but they'll frequently port over old stuff, and their booklet essays from Julie Kirgo are always a highlight.

Around the Internet:
  • Less Lee Moore

    The Devils! So much love. Great list!

  • J Hurtado

    Thanks!

  • mightyjoeyoung

    "If you've never seen any of Radley Metzger's films, there are plenty of softcore choices to pick from, but The Opening of Misty Beethoven is a diamond waiting to be unearthed. Give it a shot, you might enjoy it!"

    Yeah, I might do that, after all, softporn always had a special place in my heart.

    "and I can't wait to see what genre films Criterion unleashes on us in 2013!"

    I´m hoping that Criterion will release some of Bo Widerbergs films soon, especially Elvira Madigan (1967).

    Nice to see this list of hardworking independent home video companies, thanks Mr Hurtado.

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