JANUARY 7 ― For people who are already fans of non-mainstream and more niche films (like obscure B movies from all corners of the world, arthouse films, and all sorts of pre-1980s films), the rise of streaming has opened up even more possibilities for discovering previously unheard of or mythical films, gems or otherwise.
Niche streaming services like MUBI, The Criterion Channel, Shudder, TUBI and loads more have proven helpful to satiate the global cinephile community’s endless hunger.
With more mainstream films guaranteed a global audience on big streaming and VOD services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+ and the likes, people who long for (and are always actively looking to discover) something a bit more off the beaten track have plenty of avenues to do so, especially with the boutique/niche Blu-ray label gold rush that’s still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down.
Being an avid physical media collector ever since the days of VHS, there’s an even larger variety of films available on Blu-ray nowadays, with even notorious video nasties or Hong Kong CAT III movies that you could only previously find on crappy bootleg releases receiving lavish new releases.
So if the much touted “death of physical media” means that more of these are still on the way, then long may it continue!
Here are 10 Blu-ray releases that I love and might be of interest if you’re a fellow collector.
Cloak & Dagger (Vinegar Syndrome)
Despite being released by Universal in 1984 and starring then kid superstar Henry Thomas just two years after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, I had never even heard of Cloak & Dagger before this lavish 4K UHD release (with Blu-ray included, of course) made its way into the world courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome, one of the world’s leading champions of underdog films.
Even without taking into account the absolutely gorgeous packaging and design, the film itself is more than enough reason to take the plunge.
Directed by Psycho II’s Richard Franklin, the Australian maestro who also gave us Patrick and Road Games, and written by Fright Night’s Tom Holland, delivering the same kind of thrills and perils that those films had to offer.
This time the focus is on an 11-year-old boy; the kind of things that happen in this film might even cause an uproar in these woke and politically correct times, making it even more remarkable that this is a major Hollywood studio picture starring a kid superstar.
The Warriors (Imprint)
The costumes and make-up adorning the various gangs in The Warriors have always seemed a little cheesy to my eyes, but that has never stopped me from being gripped from start to finish whenever I revisit the film every few years.
After years of only having the old DVD to return to when it comes to watching the film’s original Theatrical Cut, with the film’s initial release on Blu-ray only offering a Director’s Cut that’s littered with cartoon/graphic novel-like transitions that spoil the film’s mood, we finally have the Blu-ray debut of the film’s original Theatrical Cut.
This limited-edition boxset housed in a pretty nice and sturdy slipbox promptly sold out its 2,000 copies upon release.
The Warriors Theatrical Cut on high-definition, that’s more than reason enough to snap this up.
The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II (A24)
You can easily acquire region B Blu-ray releases of The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II from the UK, but if you’re a region A person then there’s only a Manufactured On Demand (MOD) BD-R release of The Souvenir available, and nothing whatsoever for The Souvenir Part II, so this classily designed and packaged (a thick digipak sort of packaging housing a thick book as well) combo release by A24 is the only way to go for a proper, factory-pressed release of these two films. If you’re already a fan of the films, this one’s a total no-brainer.
Hard Target (KL Studio Classics)
An absolute hoot of a movie that I’ve always tried to make my friends watch whenever there’s a movie party back when I was in college and university, John Woo’s Hollywood debut starring none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme is still prime entertainment in that outlandish “so bad, it’s good” way even today.
From Van Damme hilariously messing up the script’s one-liners to the film’s many wildly illogical yet super-cool action bits (like Van Damme knocking out a cobra with a punch), to see this underappreciated 90s action extravaganza in a spiffy new 4K restoration is something to warm the heart. Thank you KL Studio Classics for doing us this favour!
Demonia (Arrow Video)
Even if you’re a hardcore Lucio Fulci fan, there’s no way that Demonia will ever sit in your top 5 of favourite Fulci movies. In fact, I don’t think it’ll make the top 10 list of any Fulci fan either.
And even though there was already a solid Demonia release by the cool folks at Severin Films back in 2020, this new release by Arrow Video becomes essential by virtue of the inclusion of Fulci Talks, a feature-length documentary from 2021 that would be of interest to any Fulci fan out there.
If I had to double-dip on this, after already owning the Severin release, I’m sure there are many others out there who did the same as well.
Sell Out! (Kani Releasing)
If anyone out there needs proof that physical media is alive and well when it comes to niche titles, look no further than this absolutely stacked and essential (especially for Malaysians) release of the 2008 Malaysian film Sell Out! Starring Peter Davis and Jerrica Lai, directed by Yeo Joon Han.
I remember fondly the experience of seeing this movie in the cinema back then, a strange and riotous musical satire on corporate greed that very few in Malaysia paid much attention to then and even now, but has now been resurrected by the very tasteful people at Kani Releasing with a sweet new Blu-ray release (it wasn’t even released on DVD in Malaysia back then!) that’s jam packed with extras that should introduce this film to a whole new audience.
A piece of Malaysian film history that you should definitely own.
Red Spell Spells Red (Error 4444)
A pre-CAT III Hong Kong flick that would’ve absolutely been slapped with that classification, Red Spell Spells Red plays like a Hong Kong version of those infamous Italian mondo or cannibal films, with the same focus on outsiders entering exotic locales and getting massacred through various graphic means.
That exotic locale is Malaysia, with a focus on the Iban tribe and longhouses of Sarawak.
If this was made now, there’d be an uproar for sure, but since this was from the bad old days of the 1980s, the supernatural mumbo jumbo on glorious offer here just plays like a riotously goofy lark from a bunch of quite talented filmmakers (the direction, cinematography and set design here is quite something, especially when considering the film’s seedy low-budget origins) trying to make an offensive and exportable exploitation film.
And, our very own Hussein Abu Hassan (father of Faizal Hussein) has a pretty substantive role here too!
Pink Flamingos (Criterion Collection)
Whatever you may think of the merits of Pink Flamingos as a film, there’s no denying its cultural importance, and to be selected in 2021 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” is no small achievement.
And this absolutely essential Blu-ray release by The Criterion Collection of a new 4K remaster, is as clean and spotless a low-budget (reportedly US$10,000 or RM44,035), shot on 16mm provocation will ever look and sound.
Armed with the inclusion of Divine Trash, an award-winning 1998 documentary on director John Waters and his Dreamland gang of performers, this is quite simply a must have for fans of trash art.
The Seventh Curse (88 Films)
Sometimes a film doesn’t even have to be that great to have an awesome or essential Blu-ray release.
Although I loved director Lam Ngai Choi’s Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky much more as a film compared to The Seventh Curse, this Blu-ray release by 88 Films is hands down a must have if you’re a fan of Hong Kong CAT III films, especially since this includes two versions of the film – the original Hong Kong version and the shorter Export version (which was dubbed into English).
Not only does it have a bounty of special features, but the 80-page booklet included that’s more or less a short guide to 1980s Hong Kong horror flicks is one that any fan of genre cinema would truly appreciate.
Memoria (Sovereign Films)
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s somewhat overlooked and underrated 2021 film Memoria (his English language debut) gets a sterling Collector’s Edition treatment from new UK label Sovereign Films.
Jam-packed with Q&A sessions and even a roundtable discussion involving the director, star Tilda Swinton, editor Lee Chatametikool, sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr (once you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise how big a part the film’s sound design plays in your experience of it) and producer Diana Bustamante, this Blu-ray release would quench the thirst of any cinephile hungry for more knowledge and insight into the processes involved in making the film.
One thing’s for sure though ― you won’t be able to stream these special features!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.