Back from the dead, and then back again
- Bob Woods, Editor
In the spring/summer of 2003, I embarked on a weekly DVD buying binge of all the major horror franchises of the (then) past 25 years: Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'd spent the previous 10 years peripherally fascinated & mildly obsessed with these movies - most of which I'd never seen until they sat on my shelf in disc form.
In an appropriately literal sense of the word, horror movies haunted me my whole life - particularly the ones from my generation: the 1980s. Like my mother before me, I started young, and if heredity sharpened the blade, environment certainly swung the axe. To put it cordially, my sister inadvertently 'allowed' me to view both Elm Street and Freddy's Revenge at the mature age of 3. I'll never be sure of how much I absorbed as I watched them, but I am aware that it firmly established two things: for me, Freddy Krueger would be the once and future king of the monsters. Secondly, all theses scary movies that I was unable to get my hands on until the availability and affordability of DVDs were all a lot scarier (and better) in my head. In other words, the movies I did see weren't as scary as the ones I didn't (Exorcist aside).
I started buying Fangoria Magazine when I was 9 or 10 - around the time of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Casually at first, then obsessively. I couldn't know it at the time, but this was a fun and bizarre period for horror - the early to mid 90s. The slasher boom had died (until Scream) leaving the genre in some nameless void that was blindly firing in every direction: Flatliners, Candyman, Dr. Giggles, Leprechaun, Innocent Blood, Brainscan, The Prophecy. In addition to Dracula, there was also Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Wolf. John Carpenter seemed to be on a tireless winning streak with Memoirs of An Invisible Man, In the Mouth of Madness and Village of the Damned. After the success of Misery, there was a Stephen King adaptation in the theater or on TV every other week. And, throughout this entire mini-era, Tales From the Crypt was kickin' ass. In hindsight, a lot of it was as good as the 80s, or better. Definitely better than all that came after.
It's funny - if I had actually read-read more of the articles, I woulda had a better understanding of some of the bigger game I was missing. The wonderful thing about Fangoria (back when it was wonderful) was how honest they were, and how high their standards were. For all their eye-popping, head-splitting cover stories, when it came time to review stuff, they really didn't like much of anything. And how could they? Between the mainstream stuff, the independent stuff, and the drive-in movies (which eventually became the cable and direct-to-video movies) the volume of dreck was knee-deep. They were always loud & proud about what they thought was good: The Haunting, The Stepfather, Night of the Creeps, Dawn of the Dead, The Entity. But, I was surprised - sometimes pleased, sometimes saddened - by what they though was not so good: Halloween II, I Eat Your Skin, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Toxic Avenger, Chopping Mall and every single Friday the 13th. Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree with any of these, the interesting and sorta encouraging thing about these opinions is that they came from an institution that championed and advertised the genre, but were not affected by camp or nostalgia. They knew when we deserved better, and while their covers promoted otherwise, they were rarely swayed by franchise fandom.
And it's true: in this superficial pile of 70s and 80s pop trash, there were a few gems - even a couple diamonds. But overall, this 'golden age' of iconic terror left a lot to be desired. That being said, I discovered the only way to enjoy the Friday the 13th movies is to watch them all in succession (or, as the kids say, "binge" them). To watch any of them on their own (especially the first 5) is like going to a restaurant, reading the menu for 87 minutes, then leaving.
In the years and years to come, I kept buying and buying horror, trying to fill a void created by my own anticipation and expectation. I ended up selling nearly as much as I bought - I got rid of hundreds & kept dozens. That seemed to be the ratio of the good to the not-so-good. I'd had a handful of favorites, but that's all it was - a handful. By 2010, I'd hit a wall & found there wasn't much left in the genre on digital format. And apparently, I'm in some kinda minority, which is the point of all this.
I haven't had an interest in VHS since the 90s, and I never got into bootlegs, VOD or streaming. Physical media - of all kinds - has always been very important to me, and becomes more precious as it slowly slips away. Therein lies a unique tradeoff though: throughout this past decade, there has been a boom of new and/or expanding video distribution companies that have been rescuing, reviving, restoring and releasing obscure genre titles that, perhaps, I've been waiting my whole life for, heard of but forgot about, or plainly never heard of at all. These companies have single-handedly revived my love of (or interest in) seeing new stuff - even if it's old-new - and bridging the gap in this time when I have no interest in anything new-new. And more than that still, they'e cornered me back into trading in my take-home pay for digital restoration. For anyone who's not hip to this, basically these places are giving the Criterion treatment to the video nasties. And for anyone who's seen the 2013 documentaries Adjust Your Tracking or Rewind This! will find that the films that are sustaining VHS as cult are finally getting the big transfer.
In no particular order, here are 10 titles that got the upgrade they deserved, or the availability they never had...
Studio: Arrow Video
Brian Yuzna's feature debut plays out like the scariest Twilight Zone episode never made.
The best thing about cannibal movies has usually been the score. This may rank as #1.
Studio: Vinegar Syndrome
Aaron Sorkin only wishes he could write dialogue this sharp.
Studio: Scream Factory
A double feature set that pairs two movies that go together better than The Godfather saga.
Studio: Kino Lorber
Chad Lowe does what any of us would do: journey through hell to rescue Kristy Swanson.
Shot-on-video supernatural slasher flick is better than most Friday the 13ths.
Studio: Slasher Films
From the director of Sledgehammer, combines fitness and stabbing = more 80s than Cyndi Lauper singing the Pee Wee's Playhouse theme.
One of the greatest horror movies ever made gets the blu-ray makeover.
Studio: Blue Underground
Unlike bees, you can't dodge zombies by diving into a body of water.
Studio: Scream Factory
Coming out June 2017. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.