Just because an old movie is re-released on Blu-ray doesn’t mean it’s worth ignoring. Sometimes the same movies get recycled every year for the holidays, but just about every month, a home video company gives us some restored gold. Films that have lost their luster get renewed, forgotten epics are repackaged and expanded, and cult classics that have become legend finally find their audience.
The Criterion Collection, Shout! Factory, Arrow Video, Kino Lorber and Cinelicious Pictures all have the same thing in common – they are masters at making old films new again. Each year these top-of-the-line film distributors task their best and brightest to recreate the magic of lost cinematic masterpieces. Some of these films are still circulated on home video through weathered VHS transfers, DVD and Blu-ray transfers, and flawed VOD files, so it takes time, effort, and dedication to bring a film back to life, and these folks are some of the best in the business. So, here are ten of the best examples of fantastic restorations from this year.
Belladonna of Sadness
Until the team at Cinelicious Pics restored Belladonna of Sadness to its original glory, this film was a lost Japanese anime that had become legend. Fans of obscure and challenging cinema need to see this transgressive and amazing film. Our review of Belladonna digs into the graphic nature and mature themes, but without the efforts of Cinelicious, Spectrevision, and the Cinefamily theater, this masterpiece of animation may have never resurfaced. The 4K restoration is presented beautifully on Blu-ray and digital HD, and for the first time, viewers can finally see the film at screenings held in L.A.
Chimes at Midnight
Orson Welles’ ode to his favorite Shakespeare character may be the best film he ever made. Profound classics like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil top the list of his most beloved masterpieces, but it’s Chimes at Midnight that the man himself called his greatest success. Adapted from the bard’s plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Welles crafts a brilliant tale of the comedic and ultimately tragic Falstaff. The Criterion Collection and Janus Films present this classic in the best way possible with brilliant quality in picture and sound. It’s a must see.
One of the best Christmas horror movies and arguably the first slasher film is now available from Scream Factory like never before. This year, Shout! Factory’s cult favorite genre label took the original negatives of the film and created a crisp 2K transfer that makes the soundtrack and visuals better than ever. Fans of the movie no longer have to watch Black Christmas on poor quality VHS transfers with muddled audio. Finally, this legendary holiday slasher starring Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and John Saxon is back the way it was meant to be seen.
Crimes of Passion
Crimes of Passion is insane and extremely controversial. Only Ken Russell could have directed this movie, and fans of avant-garde cinema can thank Arrow Video for this fantastic-looking restoration. Available on Blu-ray in the UK and the US, both the director’s cut and unrated versions of the film have been polished and restored in HD. Seven cut and extended scenes are also included from the original film materials. Ken Russell fans should seek this release out just to see Anthony Perkins‘ Reverand Shayne and Kathleen Turner’s China Blue like never before.
La Planète Sauvage is an animation masterpiece. This film by French director and animator René Laloux is a work of art in every frame. The creativity and unique science fiction elements of Fantastic Planet are unparalleled and have never been replicated since the creation of this amazing film. Only available on standard definition DVD and VHS until now, this film has become part of the Criterion Collection and should be celebrated by all experimental cinema fans. It’s a beautiful movie in every aspect of sound and vision.
Kino International is a company that constantly resurrects classic movie and makes them available for home video and streaming. Faust is one the best releases in their filmography and F. W. Murnau fans finally got to see the film restored to its original splendor almost a decade ago. This year, Kino Lorber mastered the film for the highest possible quality Blu-ray release with the help of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation and Ufa Studios. Much like Metropolis, this film adaptation of Goethe’s epic play Faust is a cinema treasure waiting for new audiences to discover it.
Manhunter is the Hannibal movie that never got the love it deserved. Poorly packaged and released a handful of times over the years, this classic take on Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon is one of director Michael Mann’s best and should be hailed as such. Amazing performances from William Petersen as Will Graham, Tom Noonan as “The Tooth Fairy”, and genre great Brian Cox as Hannibal make this a must see for Silence of the Lambs fans. Thanks again to Scream! Factory, this visually stunning thriller is presented in both the theatrical HD and director’s cuts.
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat is a horror story that has been adapted many times on film. Each time this tale shows up on screen, the results are almost always the same. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key takes Poe’s horrifying classic and does something different. The outline of the story is basically the same, but Sergio Martino’s version adds way more intrigue and excitement to the plot. Arrow Video did an excellent job restoring this adaptation of The Black Cat, and it is a definite must see for Italian horror fans and readers of Poe.
Fritz Lang’s Destiny
Destiny is a play on Death. Divided into six segments, the film centers on characters as they deal with the grim reaper. Fritz Lang’s stunning film on mortality may be one of the first horror anthology films ever made. In Destiny, we see Death present in six different stories that take place in all parts of the world. Lang’s use of special effects and movie magic is in full force here, and the look of the film is astonishing. Kino Lorber has restored Destiny to its definitive version to preserve the original visuals and tone of when it was released in 1921.
Transformers: The Movie
For the 30th anniversary of the cartoon feature film Transformers: The Movie, the restoration crew at Shout! Factory went to work. Having access to the original 35mm film elements, the principle color team assigned to the restoration were able to focus on making the dynamic aspects of each frame look better than ever. Meticulous detail went into making sure each character displayed perfect color tone per the original film cells. The effort going into this anniversary release just goes to show exactly why this 4K transfer is one of the best restorations of the year.