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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Top Ten DVDs of 2009!


If you haven't been keeping an eye on the Mondo Digital mainpage, I recommend checking it out. I've compiled a rundown of various critics' choices for their favorite DVDs of 2009; writers include myself, Nathaniel Thompson, Stephen Thrower, Shane M. Dallmann, Ian Jane, Jared Auner and Louis Fowler. Several titles make repeat appearances—top discs like Code Red’s Messiah of Evil, Severin’s Hardware, Lionsgate’s My Bloody Valentine and Mondo Vision’s The Important Thing is to Love should already be part of your collection—but we all get to wax poetically about some unheralded gems like Hanna D., Black Magic 2, The Centerfold Girls and Embodiment of Evil as well. Hopefully you'll find a few items to spend your holiday gift cards on! Below are my picks; purchasing links are available by clicking the titles. 

Top Ten DVDs & Blu-Rays of 2009:

Alphabetically, because it was hard enough to pick ten, much less put ‘em in order:

CAT IN THE BRAIN (Grindhouse)
Years of legal problems have prevented Fulci’s last real masterpiece—a mishmash of appropriated exsanguination footage formed into the Maestro’s own splat-happy —from getting its proper domestic release. 2009 marks the year Grindhouse came to the rescue with this superlative double-disc special edition that not only presents the hand-hacking, head-smashing, gut-spilling, chainsaw-swinging carnage newly restored from its original vault materials, but also serves as a tribute to the late director himself in the form of lengthy interviews and clips. As with all of their titles, Grindhouse have packed every nook and cranny with peripheral goodies to ensure hours of exploring; bonus points for the awesome limited lenticular cover! 

Andrew Prine gives the performance of his career in this atypically structured, fast-paced and consistently surprising serial killer endeavor, stalking and slashing the titular beauties in an effort to “help” them. A few sentences can’t do justice to the jaded worldview this film showcases; no man can be trusted, and no woman is safe. It’s an unheralded classick with a mile-wide meanstreak that’s still criminally under-the-radar; what does it take to get people talking nowadays? Remastered from the camera negative, this grainy, grungy film looks as good as it probably ever will, backed up with an entertaining little featurette, trailers and selections from the excellent score.

Probably more relevant today than it was 25 years ago, Buddy Giovinazzo’s nihilistic peek at the post-war breakdown of the American soldier remains a bleak, harrowing, nightmarish ride, just as it should. Troma’s 2-disc re-release gives us the US theatrical print along with the unseen longer original American Nightmares edit, restoring character beats and backstory, along with a previously-censored shot of oven-ooze. However, where this set really excels is with its bonus platter; we get everything from promo shorts for Mr. Robbie and Jonathan of the Night, to a video appreciation featuring the film’s more notable fans, tons of interviews, location footage -- they even sneak in some catchy Buddy G. New Wave Muzak videos! “I go back there every night…” 

Living up to their Mission Statement of delivering the “Wild Side of World Cinema,” Mondo Macabro issued a varied slew of Japanese pinku eiga this year, but none blew my mind like this unrepentantly sleazy Asian-flavored babes-behind-bars romp. An extraordinarily grubby affair, various bodily fluids get splashed across the screen throughout, but its undeniably jaw-dropping highlight involves a bit of through-the-fence watersports that whips our felonious females into an orgiastic frenzy! And that doesn’t account for the forced foot sucking, the secret S&M sessions or surprise post-coitus discharge… A nice package for such a dirty film, including a fine transfer, a Nikkatsu pink documentary and trailers, an interview featurette and more. 

Why aren’t internet messageboards alight with praise for this blazing pile of Eurotrash raunch? Detailing the travels and travails of a teenage runaway junkie streetwalker searching for love and meaning, Hanna D. has it all, from dopey romance ballads to eyeball smack injections, from Sirkian melodrama to a startlingly graphic tutorial on DIY drug smuggling that just about knocked me off the couch. In addition to a gorgeous print, Severin thoughtfully includes an extensive, career-length interview with dear dead trash maven Rino Di Silvestro, you know, for educational purposes. “It wasn’t enough to give me The Clap, this time you’ve gone too far!” 

HARDWARE (Severin) (Blu-Ray)
A thing of beauty, this one. Richard Stanley’s ahead-of-its-time cyberpunk debut sees its first uncut Stateside release, with its hallucinatory slate of self-inflicted dismemberments, elevator bisections and rouge robot eye-pokes fully preserved for the masses to enjoy—no flesh shall be spared, indeed. For years relegated to hideous presentations that made mud of its carefully constructed visuals, this high definition transfer is really the only way to view Hardware; the film’s so bathed in intense reds that any lesser format just can’t compete. The disc is fittingly loaded with a worthy roster of special features, too; besides an excellent making-of documentary (one of my favorites of recent memory) we’re treated to shorts, deleted scenes, commentary and more. You can’t stop progress. 

Over recent years, we’ve been blessed with a massive slate of restored efforts from the Shaw Bros. catalog of HK classics, running the gamut from their noted chopsocky output to bizarro horror oddities, weepy musicals and, in this case, a political exploitation shockudrama chronicling the plight of Chinese illegals being slaved across Hong Kong! Corralled like cattle in a secluded shanty, it’s Sleaze City as the immigrants are subjected to regular rounds of gang beatings, hot wax assaults, some birthday buggery and worse until they realize that revolution is their only choice. A bona fide brain-blaster of the highest order; would you expect anything less from the director of Men behind the Sun? No real extras other than some newly-created trailers, but they did manage to unearth the English dub track! 

MARTYRS (Optimum) (UK RB) (Blu-Ray)
Hard to watch, harder to recommend and impossible to forget, this fearless French-fried dose of audience-dividing audacity does what all fine genre films should: get under your skin and stay there. Ignore the cries of “torture porn,” Martyrs has a lot more on its mind. Fiercely unpredictable—every time you think you have your finger on it, it lurches into uncharted territory—this is a true modern classic. Genius’ domestic DVD is plenty good with a great-looking transfer and hour-long documentary, but fans without region constrictions will want the hi-def import. 

Finally rescued from the PD ghetto, this neglected exercise in Lovecraftian dread gets the makeover it so richly deserves; if you’ve only viewed Messiah of Evil on prior home video incarnations, you have NOT seen Messiah of Evil! Mastered in high definition from super-rare film elements and restoring the ‘scope framing so essential to appreciating its inspired photography, Code Red’s presentation at last makes reevaluation possible, hopefully serving to give this unique ‘70s outing the attention it’s lacked in decades prior. Numerous interviews and commentary serve to sweeten the deal on one of 2009’s most important releases.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (Lionsgate) (Blu-Ray)
Due to Paramount’s notorious habit of literally trashing important film material, most slasher fans had long given up their hopes of ever seeing the long-deleted bits of miner-induced pickaxe mayhem, so mouth-wateringly displayed in an ancient Fangoria article, intact. Well, if there’s one thing to praise the recent Hollywood remake trend for, it’s this Blu-Ray. In a surprise move, Lionsgate have rescued the censored snippets and restored them to the film proper, giving one of the ‘80s best bodycount pictures back its teeth and supplementing it with multiple extras -- all for a low, low price.

Honorable Mentions:
Black Magic 2 (Media Blasters)
Craving Desire (Mya)
Repulsion (Criterion) (Blu-Ray)
The Sinful Dwarf XXX (Severin)
Teenage Graffiti / Teenage Mother (Code Red)

For a look at Cinema Arcana's top picks from years past, click here!

© 2009-2013 -- Bruce Holecheck. All Rights Reserved.