20 Favorite DVD Releases of 2008: Part I.

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but overall 2008 was somewhat of a lackluster year for new Region 1 DVD releases of ’60s and ’70s era films when compared to the previous two years (See: 2006 and 2007). Some of my favorite DVD companies such as BCI Eclipse and most recently New Yorker Films have folded. Boutique DVD companies are releasing fewer products and what is being released is often of questionable quality. With the failing economy and the rise in popularity of Blu-ray discs, it seems like the number of new worthwhile DVD releases might continue to drop dramatically in 2009. Many companies such as Blue Underground and Criterion are choosing to re-release films that have already been available on DVD, while big studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount seem to be focusing a lot of their energy on re-releasing titles on Blu-ray instead of releasing old films from their vaults.

Even with this disappointing turn of events, fans of ’60s and ’70s cinema were still offered some great DVD box sets from companies like Lions Gate as well as Criterion. Sony Pictures has also released an interesting batch of DVDs under their new “Martini Movies” label. And with curiosity about Japanese pink films on the rise, companies like Mondo Macabro and Media Blasters took full advantage of this and released some unexpected gems last year. 2008 was also a great year for British horror fans. Besides multiple Hammer DVD releases including the Icons of Horror: Hammer Films Collection and the Icons of Adventure Film Collection, there were also some great Amicus films released such as Freddie Francis’ The Skull and The Deadly Bees.

In previous years I’ve shared a list of my Top 30 Favorite DVD releases, but this year I’m narrowing my list down to my favorite Top 20 releases. This is mainly due to my disappointment with last year’s DVD offerings and I wanted to focus on a limited selection of new releases that I really enjoyed. As always, my list only features films that were originally released between 1960 and 1979 on Region 1 DVD. I tried not to include any DVD re-releases on my list or TV shows, but there were plenty to choose from. My selections are listed in alphabetical order and I’ll be posting them in two parts in the coming week. Below are selections #1-10.

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Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in La Piscine (1969)

1. Alain Delon – Five Film Collection (Lions Gate)
Anytime an Alain Delon film finds it’s way onto DVD for the first time there’s a celebration in my home! The Lions Gate Alain Delon DVD boxset was a real treat and offered viewers the opportunity to see five films starring my favorite French actor. I thought the best films in the collection were easily La Piscine aka The Swimming Pool (1969) and Diaboliquement vôtre aka Diabolically Yours (1967), which I reviewed back in 2007. But The Widow Couderc and Notre Histoire also make for some worthwhile viewing. Le Gitan aka The Gypsy (1975) is a bit like sitting through Zorro II, but it’s missing the catchy theme song. I actually enjoy Delon’s original Zorro (1975) film, but Le Gitan left me a little cold. For more information about this DVD release please see my previous comments about it here.

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Christopher Walken, Stan Gottlieb and Sean Connery in The Anderson Tapes (1971)

2. The Anderson Tapes (Sony Pictures)
The Anderson Tapes (1971) is one of the hidden gems that can be found in the recent batch of “Martini Movies” released by Sony Pictures. This ’70s caper film was directed by Sidney Lumet when he was at the top of his game and it’s based on a novel written by Lawrence Sanders. The movie features a great cast that includes Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Alan King and a very young and incredibly cute Christopher Walken in his first major film role. The premise of the film involves a group of con men that Anderson (Sean Connery) brings together in order to pull off a major heist at an upper-class apartment building in New York. Unfortunately for Anderson everyone he contacts is under surveillance for different reasons, so every move he makes is being carefully monitored. Sidney Lumet does an impressive job of filming the events as they unfold through the use of surveillance cameras and sound. And I really liked the adult way that Connery’s relationship with Dyan Cannon was handled. The film was released a year before the Watergate scandal made headlines and three years before Francis Ford Coppala’s seminal film The Conversation, which tackled similar themes. I was surprised by how much The Anderson Tapes had obviously influenced Coppola’s later films and I’m not just referring to The Conversation. Clearly writer Lawrence Sanders and director Sidney Lumet were well aware of the way surveillance was starting to play a role in modern society and the film does a terrific job of exploring the way it invades the life of one unsuspecting man. Quincy Jones created the film’s soundtrack and I think is one of the composers most experimental and unusual efforts. Jones used electronic sounds and noise to convey various emotions and ideas in the film and it works really well with the way Lumet handles the material. The film is presented in widescreen and the print looks terrific. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of extras on the DVD besides the original trailer and the Martini Movie features which come with every one of their releases.

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Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976)

3. Assault! Jack the Ripper (Mondo Macabro)
This is not an easy film to recommend and many will undoubtedly be shocked by the film’s subject matter. Some hardened horror fans will even shy away from the graphic nature of the film, but Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976) is easily one of the most transgressive and fascinating violent pink movies I’ve seen and in turn, one of my favorite DVD releases of last year. Assault! Jack the Ripper was directed by Yasuharu Hasebe who has made some of my favorite Japanese films including Black Tight Killers (1966), Bloody Territories (1969), Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song (1973) and the Stray Cat Rock films. The movie centers around the violent and erotic adventures of young working couple who accidentally discover that they get sexual satisfaction from torturing and murdering other women. The film used true crimes such as the notorious Chicago nurse murders committed by Richard Speck for inspiration. It’s propelled by an incredible Euro-flavored soundtrack and some breathtaking cinematography. Assault! Jack the Ripper is not light viewing and audiences should be prepared to watch the DVD extras that come with the film in order to get a deeper understanding of the movie’s subversive themes, but it’s well worth the effort for adventurous viewers. The DVD extras include an insightful interview with author Jasper Sharp who wrote Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, extensive notes about the film and a great documentary called The Erotic Empire which discusses Nikkatsu Studios “Romantic Pornographic” aka Roman Porno films.

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Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973)

4. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Special Edition) (BCI / Eclipse)
A lot of Paul Naschy films found their way onto DVD last year, but Carlos Aured’s Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973) was my favorite of the bunch. In this Spanish giallo Paul Naschy plays a deeply troubled ex-con who gets hired as a caretaker for a lavish estate owned by three beautiful sisters who seem to all vie for Naschy’s affections. After Naschy takes the job, a serial killer begins terrorizing the countryside and removing the eyes of his blue-eyed victims. Is Naschy the cold-blooded killer or is someone else to blame for the horrible murders? You’ll have to watch the film to find out! No one in Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is particularly likable, but I found that aspect of the film strangely compelling. Carlos Aured does a good job with the dream sequences in the film and Paul Naschy ‘s script features plenty of unusual twists and turns to keep viewers entertained. Fans of European thrillers should find the film enjoyable. The DVD comes with some great extras including audio commentary with Paul Naschy and director Carlos Aured.

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Reiko Oshida in Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970)

5. Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (Media Blasters)
For more information about this release please see my lengthy review of the film here.

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Serge Gainsbourg, Delphine Seyrig and John Abbey in Mr. Freedom (1969)

6. The Delirious Fictions of William Klein – Eclipse Series 9 (Eclipse / Criterion)
This Eclipse/Criterion DVD collection was one of the best things the company released last year and for my money, possibly the best DVD film collection of 2008. Previously William Klein’s films were incredibly hard to come by and the prints that were floating around from various sources were often very poor. Criterion’s choice to release three of William Klein’s films was a real surprise and a treat for anyone like myself who enjoys avant-garde cinema from the ’60s. Director William Klein was a fashion photographer and an American expat living in Paris when he made these films, which satirize the fashion industry, pervading cultural values and American political policies. Although some may see the films as mere products of the times that they were made in, I think they’re still extremely relevant today. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? aka Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966) and Mr. Freedom (1969) are the standout features in this three film set and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite from the two. Both films feature some incredible visuals and lots of dark humor. The Model Couple (1977) is also well worth a look even if it’s lacking the style and intellectual punch of the other two films in the collection. This terrific set of films deserves a lot more attention than I can give it now but I briefly mentioned how excited I was about this DVD release last year and you can find that post along with a clip from Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? here. Unfortunately like all the Eclipse/Criterion DVD releases this DVD collection is very bare bones, but still well worth owning.

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The Gorgon (1964)

7. Icons of Horror: Hammer Films (Sony Pictures)
I’m always happy to see any Hammer horror films finding their way onto DVD and the 2-disc Icons of Horror collection contained one of my long-time favorite Hammer productions, Terence Fisher’s The Gorgon (1964) as well as Seth Holt’s exceptional thriller Scream of Fear (1961). This four film collection also featured Michael Carreras’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960). I hadn’t had the opportunity to see Terence Fisher’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll before this DVD release and I was really surprised by how well done the film was. I personally think it’s one of the better films based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story thanks to Paul Massie’s excellent duel performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is definitely the weakest film in the collection, which still means it’s better than most of the horror films you’ll find playing at your local multiplex right now. All the films look terrific and are presented in widescreen. Terence Fisher and Seth Holt were two of the finest directors that worked with Hammer studios so it’s nice to see them both represented in this great new DVD set. Unfortunately it suffers from a lack of extras which plagues many Hammer DVD releases, but it’s hard to complain when you can currently purchase all four films for a mere $16.99 at Amazon (see link above).

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Oliver Reed and Carol Lynley in The Shuttered Room (1967)

8. It!/The Shuttered Room (Warner Home Video)
I have so much I want to say about these two joint British/American productions that I hate trying to sum up my feelings in one paragraph so I may revisit them later, but in an effort to get this list finished up I’ll try and formulate a few quick thoughts. It! (1966) is a highly entertaining horror movie directed by Herbert J. Leder and it stars the talented Roddy McDowall. McDowall plays a mentally disturbed museum curator (playing homage to Anthony Perkins) who finds himself in all kinds of trouble after he displays a strange statue at the museum where he’s employed. The highly improbable plot gets more and more ridiculous as the film unfolds, but I won’t spoil it for potential viewers. It! is a really fun movie that has to be seen to be believed and Roddy McDowall is terrific in it. The second film in this two movie set is David Greene’s The Shuttered Room (1967) and it’s the real reason you should purchase this DVD. The movie features a great cast and two exceptional performances from the film’s star Carol Lynley and her co-star, the late great Oliver Reed. The script is based on a story written by August Derleth, who was H. P. Lovecraft’s posthumous collaborator and Derleth used many of Lovecraft’s own notes and ideas to compile his tale. The finale result may seem a little uneven to some, but I think The Shuttered Room is one of the few films that successfully captures the unsettling mood found in some of Lovecraft’s best fiction. David Greene’s direction is impressive at times, but the film is really elevated by the experimental avant-garde score composed by controversial British jazz musician Basil Kirchin. Kirchin composed music for other British horror films such as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and The Mutations (1974), but his score for The Shuttered Room just might be his most effective. Unfortunately this is another bare bones DVD release with no worthwhile extras, but it’s great to see these deserving horror films finally being made available. I’d previously only seen washed out and cut-up prints of The Shuttered Room on television so I was thrilled by the print quality of this new DVD from Warner.

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Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos (1963)

9. Le Doulos (Criterion)
Le Doulos (1963) is one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s earliest crime films (aka “policier”) and while it’s missing some of the polish of the director’s later efforts, it’s still an exceptional film featuring a truly memorable performance from the great Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo charms his way through the film playing a surprisingly ruthless gangster named Silien, who may or may not be a police informant referred to as a “Le doulos” in French slang terms. The film borrows from many classic noir films, but Melville brings his own trademark style and edginess to the proceedings, which gives Le Doulos lots of modern appeal. Criterion did an exceptional job on their release of Le Doulos and one can only hope that they’ll continue to release more of Melville’s films on DVD in the future. Besides a beautifully restored print of the film, the new DVD comes with some great extras including archival interviews with Melville and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, audio commentary by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, the original theatrical trailer and a thoughtful new essay by film critic Glenn Kenny.

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Helmut Berger in Ludwig (1972)

10. Ludwig (KOCH Lorber Films)
Few directors know how to create epic historical dramas like Luchino Visconti and Ludwig (1972) is one of the director’s most ambitious efforts. This four hour film is not without its flaws, but if you take the time to watch this dramatic retelling of the life of the “mad” Kind Ludwig II of Bavaria you’ll be rewarded with some lush cinematography, grandiose set designs, fabulous period costumes and great performances from the film’s impressive cast. Like many of Visconti’s previous efforts, the film offers viewers an intelligent critique of the powerful and wealthy, while celebrating their extravagances and mourning the passage of time. One of my favorite actors is the Austrian born Helmut Berger who stars as King Ludwig here and this film offered him one of his most expansive and fascinating roles. Visconti and Berger were long-time lovers and they work extremely well together. Visconti indulged Berger during the making of Ludwig and gave the actor plenty of freedom to bring the mad King to life, but he also knew when to rein him in. The film also features Trevor Howard as composer Richard Wagner, Silvano Mangano as Wagner’s mistress Cosima Von Buelow and Romy Schneider was smartly cast as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The lovely and talented Romy Schneider had previously become a star due to her sympathetic portrayal of the young Empress Elisabeth in the popular Austrian Sisi films and she brings a lot of experience and skill to her role. This impressive two disc DVD set from KOCH Lorber Films features a digitally restored and re-mastered widescreen print of the film and it’s loaded with extras including a documentary about director Luchino Visconti, a profile of actress Silvano Mangano and an interview with costume designer Piero Tosi. I wish one or two of the extras included with the DVD focused a bit more on the film’s star Helmut Berger, but that’s a minor complaint. This release is a real treat for Luchino Visconti fans like myself.

The second half of my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list can be found here.

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21 thoughts on “20 Favorite DVD Releases of 2008: Part I.

  1. Vanwall says:

    Awesome recommendations, Kimberly. Having seen some of them in the past, before DVDs, it’s going to be nice to see them again, and I’ll be looking for the one’s I haven’t.

  2. logboy says:

    …i like ‘assault! jack the ripper’ a lot, and i think that it’s kind of questionable for it’s morals / content, but superbly stylish, so over the top that it’s hard to not be fascinated with how such films come about. i get a sense from the extras that it’s one of those films made somewhat in the heat of the moment, and it would be hard to consciously try to go in that direction. instead, hasebe and nikkatsu seems to have somehow managed to find themselves heading that way, or rather realising that they’d gone a little too far with some of the films in this small sub-genre of violent romanporno.

    the only other one on this part of the list that i’ve seen is ‘blossoming night dreams’ and i’m afraid i found it rather flat.

  3. cinebeats says:

    Vanwall – Thanks a lot! I hope you get a chance to see some of the other films that I mentioned in the future.

    logboy – Assault! Jack the Ripper is a fascinating film, but I don’t expect that a lot of people will be able to appreciate it unless they have some kind of understanding of violent roman porno to begin with. I’m surprised you didn’t enjoy Blossoming Night Dreams since I think one of the better Japanese films Media Blasters released last year. Different strokes for different folks as they say!

  4. Robert Monell says:

    I’ve been waiting for your Best lists as they are always entertainly written and I had a feeling ASSAULT JACK THE RIPPER would be on it! I so agree with your comments and find it gets more fascinating on repeat viewings. The film reminds me a lot of VIOLATED ANGELS (1967), but in a different key. That was also based on the same case. But the use of color in ASSAULT and the use of music as counterpoint to the action is really interesting and makes it aesthetically pleasurable even as what you are watching is brutal murder. But the staging is so well considered that it’s not as graphic as you first think. It’s kind of like a very very low key black comedy. After reading your review I think I’ll go watch it again!

    I think LUDWIG is somewhat underrated. But I’ve only it on VHS. I does hold me for its length. Thanks. Look forward to more.

  5. cinebeats says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Robert! I’m happy to know that you find these annual lists useful.

    I haven’t seen Violated Angels in years, but it does share similarities with Assault! Jack the Ripper. They would make for one harrowing double feature! I’m not sure I could sit through both in the same evening though, but I should revisit Violated Angels soon.

    I had never seen Ludwig in widescreen before this DVD release so it was a real treat! It is underrated Visconti. A lot of people consider it a lessor version of The Leopard, but I disagree. I think both films posses worthwhile qualities, but I’m really fond of Visconti’s films in general.

  6. Steve Langton says:

    A few of these I have yet to see, so thanks for providing a personal list which has enabled me to add some titles to my must see pages.
    Great to see The Shuttered Room released at long last. Used to be a reg on UK TV back in the day.

  7. Ben says:

    Thanks for this list!

    Can honestly say I wasn’t aware of any of these releases, and now feel the need to get hold of almost all of them.

  8. cinebeats says:

    Steve – I hope it’s easy to pick these up in the UK. Some of them may even have better releases available there. The Shuttered Room used to play on US TV a bit in the late ’70s and early ’80s too but it’s so nice to be able to revisit it again uncut and in widescreen!

    Ben – Glad you found the list useful and I hope you enjoy the films since you get the opportunity to see them. Most should be available for rent at Netflix.

    Arbo – Helmut Berger always looks like he’s ready and willing to kill!

  9. Peter Nellhaus says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend the other Melville that Criterion released, Le Deuxieme Souffle. I did see Ludwig, and keep hoping that Visconti’s version of The Stranger will get a DVD release.

  10. cinebeats says:

    Peter – I haven’t seen Le Deuxieme Souffle yet, but I look forward to it! I’d like The Stranger to get a DVD release as well, but I’m excited about Koch Lorber releasing The Innocent this week!

  11. Chad says:

    I love the way Hammer twisted up the Jekyll and Hyde myth by reversing the roles of the protagonist’s split personality. (For the record, Hyde is a suave ladies man while Jekyll is kind of a troll.) And equally twisted was the motives for the experiment in the first place; a misguided attempt to seduce his philandering wife back. And for a second, I thought in the end he was going to get away with it all.

    My only (small) complaint on the Le Doulos release is I wish they’d redone and moved the subtitles down into the letterbox “box.” Couple of frustrating scenes where the dialogue vanishes into the background. Beyond that, great movie.

  12. cinebeats says:

    Chad – Thanks for feedback! Fisher’s Jekyll/Hyde was a real treat. There aren’t a lot of Hammer horror films I haven’t seen, but it surprised me by how creative it was and Paul Massie was really terrific in it. Of course I also loved the Christopher Lee “death by snake” scene as well!

    And just to let anyone who might be curious know – the second half of my list should be up tonight or tomorrow.

  13. Fred says:

    Thanks for giving the Anderson Tapes some recognition. I’ve always had some fondness for this flick, as it was the first R rated movie my folks took me to during that wonderful summer of 1971 (no, the 7 year old me was unsuccessful in convincing them to take me to see A Clockwork Orange and Frenzy, but I did weasel a trip to the cinema in Sag Harbor to catch this and Willard). I enjoyed Lumet’s use of flashbacks throughout the film, as well as concentrating on the surveillance and interviews with the victims of the robbery to move the narrative along. I really enjoyed that Anderson wasn’t the subject of the surveillance but just a criminal with incredibly rotten luck at tripping over the eavesdropping on others. You didn’t mention this, but a pre-Not Ready For Prime Time Players Garrett Morris appears as the leader of the SWAT team. And the building featured so prominently in the film is still there on Fifth Avenue. Whenever I walk past it, I think of this film. You can’t miss it with that distinctive driveway where they parked the moving van.

  14. Chick Young says:

    Leave it to you Kimberly to shine a light on the year’s best. And I couldn’t agree more with a) your choices, and b) the fact that it was a rather lackluster year. Blue Eyes and Assault are indeed very fine additions this year – and your other choices (of which I have seen roughly half) are spot on! I guess my only others (in addition to your fine highlights) are the releases of Phase IV (a creepy fave as a kid), The Georges Melies (Wizard of Cinema) release, and the long overdue Becket. Hoping all is well.

  15. cinebeats says:

    Fred – No need to thank me! The Anderson Tapes was a real surprise and it deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I hope my brief write-up will encourage a few more people to seek it out since it has a lot going for it. As much as I enjoy Lumet’s ’60s films, I think he really hit his peak in the ’70s and it was great to see another film that just confirmed this for me.

    Chick – Thanks a lot! Hopefully I finally get this list wrapped up tomorrow. I still have 10 more films I want to add to it. Becket was actually released in 2007 in the US so it made my list last year. You can find my thoughts on Becket here. As for Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema, I’m afraid it can’t make my own list since it only features ’60s and ’70s era films, but it was a terrific release!

  16. AR says:

    I’m glad you keep track of these things, because I don’t! I’m looking forward to the next installment

    A friend of mine has talked about one of those Klein films, Mr Freedom, which he likes very much. It looks and sounds interesting, so I’m glad that it’s more freely available.

    Ludwig also sounds like something worth seeing. I’m totally unfamiliar with Visconti, though. Are there any other films you would recommend to a novice like myself?

  17. cinebeats says:

    Thanks AR! I keep getting sidetracked, but I plan to finish it up this weekend.

    I think you’d find Klein’s films really interesting. The visuals alone make them “must sees” in my opinion.

    Visconti is a fascinating director. Some of his films aren’t available on DVD in the US, but I highly recommend White Nights, Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, The Damned, and Death in Venice. Visconti is somewhat similar to Ken Russell in that he did some amazing literary adaptations, but they’re style and approach are very different. Visconti’s more of a formalist and his films are also more personal. Hope that spikes your interest since I think you’d enjoy his work!

  18. Australian Film Review says:

    Hi,
    Fantastic article and recommendations. I am definitely going to try and track down the shuttered room.
    We had a William Klein retrospective at work recently, and I had the pleasure of being subjected to Mr Freedom twice.

  19. Kimberly Lindbergs says:

    Thanks! I hope you enjoy The Shuttered Room when you get the chance to see it.

    Klien’s an incredible director and Mr. Freedom may very well be my favorite of his films. It’s an incredible piece of work that really deserves multiple viewings.

  20. Australian Film Review says:

    i agree, the bit where he is sad and doubting his ideology while being force fed cornflakes is my favourite scene, so cute. Reminds me of me on some days!

    I just got that double DVD (it!/The shuttered room) for $20 on that ubiquitous auction site that needs no further mention.

    i’ll let you know what i think, when it arrives in…3 weeks. sigh.

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