Selecting my Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 was no easy task. As a matter of fact, I found it pretty impossible since there were so many great films released last year that I could easily compile a list of 50 impressive film titles. Instead of limiting myself to a mere 20 Favorite DVD Releases I’ve decided to share 30 Favorite DVD Releases of 2006 with you instead, but I’ll post my list in 3 parts over the next week.
The one thing all these films have in common is that they’re all official NTSC Region 1 DVDs and they were all originally released between 1960 and 1979. This list just contains DVD releases from last year and the numerical order means absolutely nothing except that I got the reviews written in the order that they appear.
30 FAVORITE DVD RELEASES OF 2006!
Ganja & Hess
1. Ganja & Hess: The Complete Edition (Image)
When I stuck Ganja & Hess (1973) into my DVD player last year I didn’t know what to expect. I had never seen the film before and only read brief reviews where the movie was simply called “an odd blaxploitation horror flick.” Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that it didn’t resemble any horror film I had ever seen with the exception of George Romero’s Martin (1977) which was made some 4 years after Ganja & Hess. Ganja & Hess manages to mix African mythology and modern vampirism into a fascinating and original story. The performances by Duane Jones and Marlene Clark are both really terrific and Bill Gunn’s impressive directing is especially noteworthy. Also worth a mention is the wonderful soundtrack by Sam Waymon, which adds lots of depth to the film. Ganja & Hess is simply one of the most thoughtful and interesting horror movies I’ve seen in years and this beautifully presented DVD from Image Entertainment was a real treat. The DVD also comes with some terrific extras including The Blood of the Thing featurette as well as a copy of the original screenplay by Bill Gunn and a great article by Tim Lucas & David Walker which sheds a lot of light on this excellent film.
The Red Queen Kills 7 Times
2. Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set (NoShame)
This great double DVD set contains The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (La Notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba, 1971) and The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (La Dama rossa uccide sette volte, 1972) which are both directed by Emilio Miraglia. These stylish gothic flavored giallo films are a terrific treat for the eyes and ears! I had never seen The Red Queen Kills 7 Times before, but The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is probably familiar to a lot of Eurohorror fans like myself since it was easily available in various edited forms on VHS as well as DVD, but the quality was always lackluster. In contrast, both DVDs in this set are presented in widescreen for the first time and contain loads of wonderful extras including interviews with the cast and crew of both films, a nice 20-page booklet and postcards featuring lobby card art. The Box Set even comes with a fun Red Queen Figure that you can display. The casts of both films are great, but Barbara Bouchet is especially memorable as Kitty in The Red Queen Kills 7 Times and the talented Italian composer Bruno Nicolai created the terrific soundtracks for both films. Overall this is a really nice homage to an under-appreciated filmmaker who passed away much to early. NoShame’s great DVD Box Set left me wishing Miraglia had lived longer and made more films as impressive as these two.
Reflections In A Golden Eye
3. The Marlon Brando Collection (Warner Home Video)
This terrific DVD Box Set from Warner contains five of Brando’s films which have never been available on DVD before. I think The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) is the weakest film in the lot and it’s a bit embarrassing to watch Brando pretend to be Japanese so I can’t really recommend it and The Formula (1980) is a somewhat forgettable film with an interesting plot costarring George C. Scott, who gets much more screen time than Brando. Thankfully the other three films in this set more then make up for the previous two mentioned. In the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film Julius Caesar (1953) Brando gives an impressive and Oscar nominated performance as Marc Antony, but my two favorite films in this set happen to have both been made in the 1960s so that’s why this collection made my list. In Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) Brando gives a noteworthy and underrated performance as the troubled Fletcher Christian. The two disc DVD presentation of Mutiny on the Bounty is really impressive! It comes with no less then 5 special featurettes, as well as a Brando trailer gallery and alternative footage that was not seen during the film’s theatrical release. Last but not least is John Huston’s remarkable and under-appreciated film Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) which has long been one of my favorite Brando films (as well as one of my favorite John Huston films) and it’s presented in its original “golden color treatment” for the first time since the theatrical release. Huston’s addition of a golden hue to the film gives it a surreal quality, which adds another dimension to the entire movie. Brando is terrific as the sexually confused Major Weldon Penderton and Elizabeth Taylor is totally over-the-top as his frustrated wife. Together they’re lots of fun to watch, but their relationship in the movie is also abusive and disturbing. Julie Harris is also really memorable in the film and gives one of the best performances of her career here as the deeply troubled wife of Brain Keith. Reflections in a Golden Eye also comes with some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage that John Huston fans shouldn’t miss. Even though only three of the five movies presented in this collection are truly noteworthy, this is still a great treat for Brando fans as well as John Huston fans like myself since the Warner release of Reflection in a Golden Eye is only available in this collection.
Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Beast Stable
4. Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Beast Stable (Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters)
Having loved the previous two Female Prisoner Scorpion movies, I was really looking forward to the release of this film on DVD which is the third of the series and I was not disappointed. Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Beast Stable (Joshuu Sasori: Kemono-beya, 1973) quickly became my favorite movie in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series because of all the complex issues it dares to deal with including incest, abortion and prostitution. The movie is also beautifully shot by talented director Shunya Ito and features one of the greatest openings of any movie I’ve ever seen. Star Meiko Kaji gives another sensational and intense performance as tough girl Sasori, but this time she’s out of jail and battling cops as well as pimps. Yayoi Watanabe is also very memorable in her role as the tormented young Yuki. The DVD only comes with few extras, but the movie looks fantastic and it’s great to see Media Blasters releasing so many previously hard-to-find Japanese films.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
5. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (20th Century Fox)
I wrote about the DVD release of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) last year so I won’t bother going over it again, but this DVD was a real treat for Russ Meyer fans like myself and it came with lots of terrific bonus material.
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas
6. I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (Warner Home Video)
Peter Sellers made a lot of great comedies in the 60s and I happen to think that I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968) is one of his best. Thankfully for Sellers fans like myself, Warner decided to release this movie on DVD last year for the first time and the widescreen print looks fabulous. Modern critics love to slap criticism on comedies like this using words like “dated”, “politically incorrect”, “sappy”, etc. which really just show how limited their ability to see anything made before 1980 is. I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! naturally shows some age and may look a bit worn around the edges, but if you watch the film while keeping in mind it was a satirical comedy made in 1968 and written by the same guys (Paul Mazursky & Larry Tucker) who created and wrote for The Monkees TV show, you might lighten up a bit and actually enjoy a few laughs while watching this funny film. Sellers puts on a passable American accent and plays an uptight lawyer who’s pressured into marriage by his conventional girlfriend of many years. When he suddenly falls for another free spirited girl called Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) he decides to leave his previous life behind and plunge head first into the “counter culture” of 1968. In turn he finds himself in all sorts of ridiculous situations, but there’s also a dark edge to some of the comedy at times that I appreciate. The DVD doesn’t come with any extras except the original theatrical trailer, but it’s great to see these kinds of comedies which are so often ignored by critics, finding their way onto DVD. Warner should be commended for digging deep into their vaults last year and releasing so many great old films. A lot of terrific Warner DVDs found their way onto my list of favorite 2006 releases.
Don’t Deliver Us From Evil
7. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (Mondo Macabro)
Long before Peter Jackson dazzled audiences with his impressive film Heavenly Creatures (1994) that dealt directly with the infamous Parker-Hulme murder, French director Joel Seria was exploring the same topic in his debut feature Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal, 1971), which is one of the most fascinating films I saw last year. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil was banned in France on it’s initial release and it’s easy to see why the film disturbed so many viewers in 1971. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil is not easy viewing and I really commend Mondo Macabro for continuing to release under-appreciated as well as controversial movies like this one. In some ways Don’t Deliver Us From Evil reminded me a little bit of Lopez Moctezuma’s Alucarda (1975) since both films deal with two sexually naive young girls dabbling in satanism who come to similar ends, but Don’t Deliver Us From Evil takes a much more transgressive approach to the subject matter. Director Joel Seria conjures up some impressive imagery in this film and the young French actress Jeanne Goupil is absolutely captivating in her role as the complicated Anne. The DVD looks terrific and also comes with some great bonus material including insightful interviews with the director and the films star.
8. Jigoku (Criterion)
Jigoku (1960) is a unusual Japanese horror film that explores the definition of hell as it’s envisioned in the Buddhist scriptures and this is the first time this classic film has been released on DVD in the US. Influential director Nobuo Nakagawa does a fantastic job of evoking the tortures of his imagined hell with creative set designs and great use of color. The entire cast is memorable, but Yoichi Numata really stands out as the “evil” Tamura and Shigeru Amachi is terrific as the tortured Shiro. The talented Japanese composer Michiaki Watanabe created a memorable score for the film that is really unforgettable. This Criterion release features some great bonus material including a new documentary called Building the Inferno and the picture quality of the DVD is fantastic. Jigoku starts off rather slowly, but the film builds to a spectacular conclusion filled with amazing imagery that will stick with many viewers long after the movie has ended.
9. The Magus (20th Century Fox)
Lots of negative criticism has been heaped on The Magus (1968), but when I watched this film for the first time last month I found it really entertaining and engaging. In the film Michael Caine stars as a roguish English teacher who avoids a developing romance with the lovely Anna Karina by taking a teaching post in Greece. He is soon drawn into a strange game involving magic and Greek mythology with a mysterious island inhabitant played by Anthony Quinn who uses Candice Bergen as bait. Michael Caine looked terrific in 1968 and I enjoyed watching him roam around Greece. The film is filled with some really striking imagery and I thought the love scenes between Caine and Karina had plenty of sparks. In contrast, Candice seemed a bit uncomfortable in her role, but you can forgive her since she looks great and seems to be having fun as does Quinn. The Magus also contains a noteworthy soundtrack by the great British composer John Dankworth. The film is based on John Fowles’ book of the same name and he also wrote the screenplay. The DVD comes with an interesting featurette about John Fowles as well as a theatrical trailer and I thought the widescreen print looked fantastic
Death Walks on High Heels
10. The Luciano Ercoli’s Death Box Set (NoShame)
This is another great giallo DVD Box Set released by NoShame last year that really impressed me and contains Death Walks on High Heels (La Morte cammina con i tacchi alti, 1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (La Morte accarezza a mezzanotte, 1972). NoShame has released some terrific and hard-to-find films in recent years and last year they really went the extra mile for giallo fans like myself by releasing this great DVD set as well as the Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set. Both films in the The Luciano Ercoli’s Death Box Set offer unusual takes on the giallo formula and star the talented and beautiful Nieves Navarro who was married to director Luciano Ercoli and made three films with him. Ercoli had a great eye for detail and his entertaining movies show a lot of imagination and creativity. The Box Set comes with plenty of terrific bonus materials including a nice collectible booklet and a terrific CD featuring the music of the talented composer Stelvio Cipriani who has scored many Italian thrillers. I really hope that NoShame will offer more great Box Sets like this in the future.
20 More DVD reviews to come soon!