Streaming might be the future, but physical media is still the present. It’s also awesome, depending on the title, the label, and the release, so each week we take a look at the new Blu-rays and DVDs making their way into the world. Welcome to this week in Home Video for February 23rd, 2021!
This week’s home video selection includes a John Hughes collection, some classics new to Blu-ray, an unlikely horror sequel, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Pump Up the Volume [Warner Archive]
What is it? A teen stands out while trying to avoid fitting in.
Why see it? Yes, it sucks that this new release is devoid of extras, but happily the film itself is a fun, lively gem from 1990 that is long overdue for a Blu-ray. Christian Slater stars as a shy teen who finds his voice, quite literally as the anonymous DJ in a small Arizona town who catches the ear and heart of the teen populace. The film speaks to the importance of free speech, expression, and individual personality, and it does so with a killer soundtrack, some fun sequences, and the always appreciated Samantha Mathis.
The Belles of St. Trinians
What is it? Adventures at a girls school in England.
Why see it? Alastair Sim is having a blast in dual roles here as gambler and a headmistress, and the comedy flows well from him and the others in the cast. There’s a plot throughline here involving a student whose father is foreign royalty, but it plays best as an ensemble with interactions between teachers, students, and others. It’s funny stuff that went on to see sequels, but this original remains the most entertaining.
[Extras: Featurette, interviews]
The Croods: A New Age
What is it? A stone age family glimpses the future.
Why see it? Dreamworks found success with its 2013 original, and while the sequel opened in a weird-ass year it once again delivers some big fun and laughs. Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Peter Dinklage, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Leslie Mann, and more familiar voices help bring the characters to life, but its biggest highlight is the visuals. They’re bright, energetic, and endlessly creative, and they absolutely shine in 4K. The film’s back half is its best as the punch monkeys bring a whole new level of fun.
[Extras: Shorts, deleted scenes, featurettes]
Forgotten Gialli: Volume 3 [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? Three giallo films!
Why see it? Vinegar Syndrome’s epic box set series continues with three more giallo films with minimal pop culture footprints. Autopsy is probably the most well-known of the bunch, but as a first-time watch for me it stands out for both its premise and graphic nature. Mimsy Farmer stars alongside lots of kills, bloodletting, nudity, and weirdness as sun spots apparently lead people to grisly suicides… or do they. Murder Mansion sets up a Scooby Doo like premise as a group of people face off against a supernatural mystery with very human motivations, and it delivers with some fun set-pieces and exchanges. Lastly, while Crazy Desires of a Murderer has the most giallo-like title it also manages the least thrills. A group of friends spend the night in an old mansion and talk… a lot, before anything of note really happens. It looks good — all three films do thanks both to talented filmmakers and the restoration wizards at Vinegar Syndrome — but it’s not quite memorable. The box holding all three is once again a piece of beautifully illustrated die-cut perfection.
[Extras: 2K/4K restorations, interviews, featurette]
John Hughes: 5-Movie Collection
What is it? Five films from the late, great John Hughes.
Why see it? Two of the films here — She’s Having a Baby and Some Kind of Wonderful — are making their Blu-ray debuts with this set, and the latter alone probably makes this worth a pick up. It’s essentially a remake of Pretty in Pink (also included) that improves on the original through its casting and the wisdom of its ending. This set also includes two absolute classics in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, so you really can’t go wrong here. The films each come with varied extras sourced from previous releases, and each movie comes on its own Blu-ray.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]
Lady Sings the Blues
What is it? A biopic on Billie Holiday.
Why see it? A new film has arrived on Hulu about the great Billie Holiday that focuses on her brushes with the law, but its reception has been shaky at best. Happily, this highly acclaimed drama from the early 70s is here to capture the woman and her talent without complaint. Diana Ross plays Holiday, and she’s joined by Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor for a film that captures the life, drama, joy, and music of an icon.
[Extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
Smooth Talk [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A young woman comes of age.
Why see it? Joyce Carol Oates’ original short story (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”) is a beloved classic, and Joyce Chopra’s adaptation manages the same feat even as it changes up the narrative focus. The creepy older man (played beautifully and menacingly by Treat Williams still fills an important role here, but the focus is shifted onto the relationships and behavior of its lead teen (a young Laura Dern). Her interactions with friends, her sister, and her loving but at her wits end mother all work to explore her transition from child to young adult. Moments of quiet beauty share the screen with tension and uncertain terror, but the film remains grounded throughout in a way that makes it recognizable to our own teen years. It’s a quiet, attractive, and loving film, and Criterion gives it the release it deserves.
[Extras: New 4K transfer, interviews]
The Allnighter [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Three college students have a fun evening.
Why see it? This late 80s teen comedy/drama is best known as a starring vehicle for the lead singer of The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs, but it’s really more of an ensemble film. It’s a coming of age tale, directed by Hoffs’ mother, that’s simple and relatively chaste all things considered. Hoffs’ friends are played by Joan Cusack and Dedee Pfeiffer, but keep an eye out for a brief turn by the great Pam Grier.
The Attic Expeditions [Severin Films]
What is it? A man awakes in an asylum, but things aren’t what they seem.
Why see it? Jeremy Kasten’s The Dead Ones is a nightmarish indie gem about guilt and consequence, and while this earlier film feels bigger its effect is smaller. There are still some interesting beats and visuals, though, as a journey through insanity offers unexpected turns and big performances. We get some bloody sequences too making a film that should appeal to genre fans with patience for twisty shenanigans.
[Extras: New 2K scan, featurettes]
Castle of the Creeping Flesh [Severin Films]
What is it? A group of bawdy friends take shelter in a creepy castle.
Why see it? This late 60s genre tale touches on past misdeeds as characters come face to face with historical deeds, and the film does good work capturing the atmospheric nature of it all. The castle is a terrific locale and dressed as if time has stood still. Blood and sex echo through its halls alongside some real-looking surgery scenes, and while it never quite stands apart from others of its breed it’s never dull either. The new restoration really helps the color pop, though, making for an eye-catching watch at times.
[Extras: Interview, Q&A, featurette]
Centigrade [Scream Factory]
What is it? A couple is trapped in a car beneath the snow.
Why see it? Single location thrillers have a tough road ahead maintaining suspense and engaging characters, and this recent entry almost succeeds. The premise is a fresh one as the pair pull over to rest only to awake to having been buried in a snow storm, and the film finds some engaging beats in their quest for freedom. Where it stumbles somewhat is where many similar films do with characters who begin to grate. They don’t kill the momentum, but even at 89 minutes they get on viewer nerves.
The Fear [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? College students take part in an experiment with deadly results.
Why see it? Friends heading to a cabin in the woods is nothing new, but this 90s horror feature adds in a human-sized wooden dummy that comes to life and starts slaughtering folks. So that’s something! It’s a silly setup, but genre fans will enjoy some interesting set-pieces and some mildly bloody kills. It’s like a more traditional riff on (the superior) Pin and has its charms.
[Extras: 4K restoration, commentaries, making of]
Hard to Hold [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A rocker finds love.
Why see it? Rick Springfield was a familiar enough actor on television soaps, but his big screen feature sees him embrace what actually made him a star — his on stage presence. He plays a rock and roller who finds love with someone who has no ear for his kind of music… crazy! The pair find highs and lows en route to each other, and it’s all set to a solid 80s soundtrack. The film breaks no new ground, but it’s a fun little time capsule from the 80s.
[Extras: Commentary, interview]
Hitcher in the Dark [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A killer stalks girls in his RV.
Why see it? Umberto Lenzi’s US set slasher (of sorts) opens with genre thrills including the abduction and murder of a young woman before settling into a surprisingly dull travelogue. The killer picks up another victim, her estranged boyfriend searches for them, and there’s lots of talking. It’s an odd one in its low body count and lack of style, and while it was marketed as a followup to Robert Harmon’s brilliant The Hitcher it lacks even an ounce of that film’s fun thrills. All of that said, Vinegar’s Blu is another fantastically produced release meaning fans will be thrilled.
[Extras: 4K restoration, commentary, interview]
The Last Vermeer
What is it? A wartime investigator attempts to prove whether an eccentric artist was a collaborator.
Why see it? There’s an interesting and engaging story about allegiances and loyalty here, but the film’s biggest takeaway is its observation on how we value art. The true story explores the trial of Han van Meegeren (a terrific Guy Pearce) who sold expensive pieces of classic art to Nazis, but did that make him a collaborator worthy of death — or is the truth something all together different. It’s the latter, obviously, and it makes for a solid tale.
On Moonlight Bay [Warner Archive]
What is it? Young love, set to music.
Why see it? Doris Day’s musicals are typically bright, sunny affairs even if they touch on darkness, and this 1951 musical is no different. She plays a young woman who falls in love, but in addition to drama and hijinks it also brings singing and dancing. Obviously. The story here is slight and focused mostly on character interactions between the father and the suitor, the family, and the worries about the war. Warner Archive once again gives the film an attractive home for fans.
The Other Side of the Mountain / The Other Side of the Mountain Part 2 [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The true story of an Olympic hopeful who faced tragedy head on.
Why see it? Jill Kinmont was a professional skier aiming for an Olympic run when an accident left her paralyzed. The films, made three years apart, both feature Marilyn Hassett in the role as a woman trying to rebuild her life. The first film focuses on her finding new values and desires, and the second sees her fall in love, and the supporting cast includes Beau Bridges, Dabney Coleman, Timothy Bottoms, and more. They’re restrained but inspirational fare.
Shogun’s Joy of Torture [Arrow Video]
What is it? Three tales of torture.
Why see it? Arrow has been giving the films of Teruo Ishii a continued home in HD with copious extras, and that continues with this grisly shift away from his usual crime movies. An anthology of sorts involving exploitation, nudity, and some rather grim abuses, it’s a film that balances filmmaking beauty with some true ugliness. Fans of titles like Orgies of Edo will find the filmmaker employing similar extremes with style, gusto, and an almost giddy perversion.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews]
Show Boat [Warner Archive]
What is it? Gamblers, singers, and social justice warriors enjoy a paddle boat cruise.
Why see it? This was the third film version of the bestselling novel and record breaking Broadway show, and it’s the one best remembered by fans of big, Technicolor musicals. There’s no denying the film’s visual flair as bright colors, sharp cinematography, and an impressive boat (built specifically for the film, no less) catch the eye while the film’s familiar songs and anti-racist dialogue ply the ears. It’s not always successful in marrying its themes with its presentation, but musical fans will be thrilled with this Warner Archive release.
[Extras: Commentary, early sequences, radio broadcast]
What is it? Friends find weirdos in the woods.
Why see it? A reboot of the Wrong Turn series isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but watching the new film makes you wonder if the filmmakers have ever actually seen a Wrong Turn movie. It’s especially confusing as the writer, Alan McElroy, is the creator of the whole damn franchise. There are no hill folk here, and instead it’s an unconvincing cult in the woods who terrorize a group of friends who dare trespass into their neighborhood. We get some fun gore, and it’s always great seeing Matthew Modine, but the script is endlessly stupid. The supposedly hidden community sits atop a wooded hill — from which we can easily see the town very near below! If you do watch, be sure to stay through the end credits as the most thrilling sequence unfolds as the credits are rolling.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, commentary]
Also out this week:
Chop Shop [Criterion Collection], Man Push Cart [Criterion Collection], Plague Town [Severin Films], Port of Freedom, Silk Road
Related Topics: Home Video