Make It A Blu Christmas With Our Movie Holiday Gift Guide
In 2016, there are countless ways to watch movies, but it’s not easy to put a stream or a download under the Christmas tree. If you want to make an impression on the movie fans in your life—one that can be wrapped, unwrapped, and even returned to a store if necessary—there’s no better option than the almighty Blu-ray. Given the thousands of options currently out there, this may sound like a daunting proposition, but we’ve narrowed the field to highlight some of the most gift-worthy recent releases.
If you want the movie fans on your list to be pleasantly surprised, be sure to remember these 12 tips, one for each of the 12 remaining days before Christmas.
1. Invest in a crowd-pleaser
If you’re shopping for someone with mainstream tastes and a relatively small collection, your safest bet might be a blockbuster from 2016. Deadpool hit stores back in May, but a new edition of that disc—featuring deleted scenes, commentary by Ryan Reynolds, and much more—has been released with festive new art work. There are many directions you could go with fans of 2016 horror, but the grueling tension of Don’t Breathe is your best bet. Last-minute shoppers should also consider Sully. It doesn’t arrive in stores until December 20, but this stranger than fiction account of the “miracle on the Hudson” is both festively uplifting and surprisingly visceral.
2. Visit the next dimension
Here’s the secret of 3D Blu-ray: fans of this format are willing to watch just about anything as long as it comes with that extra dimension. Even those who didn’t care for the recent revivals of Ghostbusters or Independence Day should be satisfied with what they have to offer from a 3D perspective. One of the highlights of this year’s holiday season, the recently released 3D Blu-ray of The Force Awakens comes equipped with one of the best 3D transfers yet—and a new commentary by J.J. Abrams. However, the most surprising 3D new release is Shout! Factory’s Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared-Syn, a notorious 1983 science fiction oddity that should prove irresistible to fans of retro 3D.
3. Get animated
The obvious place to turn for animated entertainment is the usual assortment of Disney and Pixar releases, but there’s no shortage of worthwhile alternatives available this year. Sausage Party is obviously not for everyone—especially kids and the easily offended—but this exercise in insightful bad taste is a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s grown tired of mainstream animation’s oppressive predictability. Largely restricted to a single hotel room, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (which the writer co-directed with Duke Johnson) earned an Oscar nomination by using animation to illuminate the dark side of human relationships—and it’s unlike anything else you’ll find on Blu-ray shelves.
For those who want to look a little further into the past, you can’t go wrong with the polished new release of Transformers: The Movie, the ’80s cult favourite with a bizarre rock soundtrack (“You Got the Touch” is featured twice) and an eclectic cast that includes Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, and Orson Welles. The steelbook edition is especially gift-able, but both editions come equipped with a lively assortment of extras, including a new 47-minute documentary. However, the most essential new animated release is Cinelicious Pics’s unclassifiable Belladonna of Sadness. Words can’t really convey the thrill of this uniquely hallucinogenic experience, but the trailer does a pretty good job.
4. Make time for grime
If you’re buying a gift for a horror fan with a taste for grungy retro cinema, you can’t do much better than the Blu-rays of Grindhouse Releasing. Founded by Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy), this company only put out three Blu-rays in 2016—Lucio Fulci’s meta gorefest Cat in the Brain, the wildly unpredictable Pieces, and the hippies-with-rabies saga I Drink Your Blood—but they’re all stellar releases featuring solid transfers, hours of extras, and at least one collectible item. Cat and Pieces both include CD soundtracks, Pieces includes a revealing puzzle (that’s featured in the film’s opening), and Blood includes a collectible hypodermic needle that allows you to act out the misguided hijinks of the film’s rabies-spreading Danny Bonaduce lookalike.
5. Bring back the ’70s
For fans of ’70s genre cinema, the highlight of this year’s holiday season is the new Scream Factory release of 1974’s Black Christmas, arguably the best Canadian horror film of all time. Featuring three commentary tracks, two different transfers, and hours of other extras, this is the ultimate release of the ultimate holiday horror film. Other ’70s favourites newly released on Blu-ray include Rollercoaster (a suspense movie about a maniac who rigs rollercoasters with explosives), Sssssss (a kind of snake-themed variation on The Fly about the doomed experiments of one Dr. Stoner), and Wes Craven’s unhinged classic The Hills Have Eyes, which finally gets the deluxe Blu-ray treatment. Of the new featurettes on the latter, the best is Martin Speer’s interview, featuring memorable reflections about Craven, Dee Wallace, and one-of-a-kind horror icon Michael Berryman.
6. Bring back the ’80s
If the people you’re shopping for are more drawn to the ’80s than the ’70s, you’re in luck because this is the decade that has received the most extensive attention on Blu-ray in recent months. Shout! Factory has been especially generous in this regard, offering up excellent new editions of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Dead Ringers, and Dreamscape. Released a few months before A Nightmare on Elm St., the latter plays like a fusion of that film, Inception, and a lost Ray Harryhausen classic. In a new interview on this disc, star Dennis Quaid makes it clear that Dreamscape’s a favourite of fans and Quaid alike.
Shout! also recently unveiled a special edition of To Live and Die in L.A., which features a new interview with star William Petersen. Still somewhat bemused by William Friedkin’s unorthodox methods, Petersen recounts the director’s haywire—but ultimately effective—approach to casting. To pair this with another uniquely ’80s look at the casting process, consider Olive’s new Blu-ray of Larry Cohen’s Special Effects, a satirical thriller about the intersection of filmmaking and murder starring Eric Bogosian and Ms. 45’s Zoë Lund.
7. Follow the Arrow
Just over a year ago, celebrated British company Arrow Films dipped their toe in the North American market and they’re now releasing a regular slate of discs that rivals the always stellar work of Shout! Factory, particularly for those whose tastes skew toward ’80s horror. Recent highlights include Bride of Re-Animator, C.H.U.D., Creepshow 2, Microwave Massacre, and Dead-End Drive-In, a must-see post-apocalyptic gem from Australia that’s been overlooked for far too long.
Arrow’s variety of extras are especially welcome in the case of Bride of Re-Animator and Microwave Massacre, as these films were never treated especially well on DVD. The highlights of Bride include three audio commentaries and a 10-minute interview with director Brian Yuzna, who explains how/why he graduated from producing duties on the original to directing the sequel, delivering Fangoria’s favourite film of 1989. The 21-minute featurette on Microwave Massacre is even more colourful and informative, explaining how this notoriously bizarre micro-budget oddity came about. One of the actors even brazenly explains that he’s planning to make a sequel—once his collaborators are dead.
8. Get Blu-ray from the UK
While Arrow has started releasing North American editions of its region B discs, a new British company is keeping all of their releases conveniently region-free. Powerhouse Films only has six discs under their belt, but these include new editions of Happy Birthday to Me, Christine, and Body Double, Brian De Palma’s controversial 1984 re-working of Vertigo. The latter looks better than ever on this new disc, which includes all the old extras and a lengthy new featurette.
9. Remember the classics
Earlier this year, Olive Films introduced the Signature Edition series, which offers pristine new transfers of classic films, accompanied by all kinds of worthwhile new extras. Western fans will be especially grateful if you put one of these under the tree, as two staples of the genre have been included among the early Signature releases, namely High Noon and Johnny Guitar. Other highlights include The Quiet Man, The Night of the Grizzly, and Orson Welles’s distinctive take on Macbeth.
10. Get ahead of the curve
An unwieldy but thrilling cinematic phenomenon from the ’50s, Cinerama involved shooting three distinct images and projecting them simultaneously on one giant curved screen. Thanks to the labour-intensive efforts of film preservationist Dave Strohmaier, Flicker Alley has released eight of these films on Blu-ray over the last four years, complete with a simulated curved-screen effect known as Smilebox. This recently culminated in the one-two punch of Cinerama’s Russian Adventure and The Best of Cinerama. As the title suggests, the latter is a kind of highlight reel from several of these films, while the former is an eye-popping travelogue that offers a curved-screen overview of Russia circa 1966. For any movie fan with an interest in travel or old school technology, both discs offer a feast for the eyes.
11. Keep binging after Christmas dinner
There’s more to Blu-ray than movies. In fact, there’s no better way to maximize the bang for your buck—and help friends and family take advantage of their spare time over the holidays—than gifting TV series on Blu-ray. In addition to many of your favourite Space shows, you can now find the original Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks in HD. For a more recent and compact sampling of TV, consider treating someone to the binge-friendly The People v. O.J. Simpson, which recently won an impressive (and well-deserved) nine Emmys. While it didn’t receive much recognition in its time, Freaks and Geeks has grown into a classic—and it’s now available in a deluxe Blu-ray set that includes all the extras from the elusive yearbook DVD set, as well as a lively new conversation between series masterminds Paul Feig and Judd Apatow.
12. Don’t be afraid to roll the dice
If you’re seeking out a random stocking stuffer and nothing above catches your eye, why not take a chance on one of the unclassifiable cult favourites that recently hit stores? A Bigger Splash was released in 2016, but this rock and roll crime movie—set on the refreshingly non-frigid island of Pantelleria—is likely to attract new fans for years to come. Indie filmmaker extraordinaire Jim Jarmusch is currently landing on top 10 lists with his career-best Paterson, making this an ideal time to gift the pristine new release of his career-spanning anthology film, Coffee and Cigarettes. Robert Redford recently celebrated his 80th birthday, so why no treat a parent to Little Fauss and Big Halsy, the under-seen 1970 gem about a pair of bumbling motorcycle racers from Toronto’s own Sidney J. Furie.
Last but not least, you can’t go wrong with Bubba Ho-Tep, the aggressively idiosyncratic cult favourite featuring The Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell as an elderly Elvis Presley, who battles a mummy with the help of an African-American JFK (Ossie Davis). The movie is undeniably memorable, as are this disc’s extras, including new interviews with Campbell and director Don Coscareli. They both touch on the promising-sounding sequel (Bubba Nosferatu) that never came to pass and explain the unlikely circumstances that brought Campbell, Davis, and Coscarelli together for the weirdest movie of their respective careers.