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Under the Radar’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 3: Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K

The Best in Home Video for your Gift-Giving Needs

Dec 06, 2021 Bookmark and Share

​Don’t look now, but the holiday season is upon us and 2022 will be here before we know it. If you still have a need for gift ideas, then we’ve got you covered with our annual holiday gift guide. We’ve already walked you through our top picks in board games and boozy beverages. Today, we’ll be highlighting some of our favorite new releases on Blu-ray, 4K UHD, and DVD. Stay tuned for our gift guides to video games, vinyl and music box sets, collectibles, toys, and more, which are just on the horizon. (And don’t forget: a subscription to Under the Radar always makes a fine gift for any indie music lover in your life.)

When the pandemic kept so many of us from going out for so long, we found ourselves watching more movies and TV shows from the comfort of our own homes than ever before. This is a trend that will likely continue for some time, but fortunately there are newer technologies such as 4K, HDR, DTS X and Dolby Atmos that have helped bring home viewing closer and closer to a theatrical experience. You can catch the latest blockbusters with incredible picture and sound, or revisit some older favorites at a higher quality than you’ve ever experienced before, with so many classics receiving format upgrades thanks to specialty Blu-ray labels.

Please scroll on down to see some of our favorite new releases from 2021.

Halloween I – V 4K UHD Collector’s Editions (Scream Factory)

RRP: $36.99 each

Easily the most-anticipated home video release among horror fans this year, the first five Halloween have hit 4K UHD courtesy of the team at Scream Factory. The original classic that changed horror movies forever, Halloween (1978), has received an all-new 4K scan directly from the original negative, and was overseen by cinematographer Dean Cundey—it’s a massive upgrade over even the 4K release from a few years ago. Meanwhile the first four sequels are making their UHD debuts—we’ve always felt that II makes a great double feature during our annual October viewing of the original, and that the Myers-less III is a fun seasonal classic in its own right. If it’s been a while since you’ve gone back to Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers or Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers, this is a spectacular way to do it, as all five movies come in beautiful matching slipcases with newly-commissioned art, are loaded with bonus features, and look gorgeous up on screen. (The new presentation makes itself known as soon as you hit the movies’ title screens: both the eerie jack-o-lantern of the original and the digital scan lines of Halloween III’s logo pop from the screen in HDR.) If you have a slasher movie fan on your list, these are the best home video releases you can buy for them right now, period. By Austin Trunick (Buy them here.)

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Complete Series (Steelbook) (CBS/Paramount)

RRP: $111.99

Star Trek: The Original Series gets a Blu-ray re-release via this new handsome steelbook box-set. All the classic episodes are here. There’s “Space Seed,” which introduced Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), a 1990s genetically engineered space traveler awakened after centuries of suspended animation who proceeds to take over the Enterprise. It served as the basis for 1982’s all-time classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is a sequel to the episode. “The City on the Edge of Forever” was a masterwork on the heartbreak of time travel, featuring a memorable guest starring performance from Joan Collins. Another highlight is “A Taste of Armageddon,” where a war between two planets is waged via computer simulation, with “casualties” forced to report to termination booths to be killed for real. Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, cited “The Devil in the Dark” as his personal favorite episode in his memoirs. In “Mirror, Mirror” some of the crew are transported to an alternate evil universe. And even casual fans might know of the comedic delights offered by The Trouble with Tribbles.

With Trek currently thriving with various live action and animated series on Paramount+, a new theatrical movie in the works, and Shatner recently becoming the oldest person to go to space, it’s a good time to revisit the iconic series that started it all. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Star Trek: The 4-Movie Collection (Paramount)

RRP: $90.99

The first four Star Trek movies finally get the 4K treatment with this new box set. There are a couple of puzzling choices in its assembly. Why not include the preferred Robert Wise director’s cut of 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was released in 2001 and featured updated special effects? Paramount says the director’s cut, which has never come out on Blu-ray, let alone 4K, is coming to 4K on Paramount+ later. Also, why only include the first four films? While 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is not exactly well loved, 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was an allegory to the end of the Cold War, is considered one of the best Trek films. Two films aren’t enough for a separate box set, so why not just include them here?

No matter, let’s just celebrate the delights of the first four films. The second through fourth film operate as one interconnected continuity, as a trilogy of sorts. 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the masterpiece of the classic films, artfully bringing back a villain from the original series without alienating non-Trekkies. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the crowd pleaser, the one that sent the crew of the Enterprise crew back in time to then contemporary 1986 to bring some humpback whales back to the future. It’s the funniest of Trek films and the one that is most likely be fully enjoyed by non-fans (“double dumb ass on you!”). In between, you’ve got Doc Brown (aka Christopher Lloyd) as a Klingon commander in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which also features the dramatic self-destruction of the Enterprise. All four films look splendid in 4K and feature a slew of special features ported over from previous editions. “Khan!!!!!” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD (Paramount)

RRP: $90.99

Snakes?! Why did it have to be — okay, you know where this one was going. This brand new 4K UHD set contains the first four theatrical adventures of one Mr. Indiana Jones, the whip-cracking, Nazi-punching hero played by Harrison Ford. The series’ first installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is only one of the most beloved movies of all time, and requires little in the way of an introduction. The darker sequel, Temple of Doom, is more entertaining than some want to give it credit for, and The Last Crusade brings Sean Connery into the fun. The most recent film in the series, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, at least offers some of the best picture and audio you can run through your home theater, making it a nice addition to this set no matter what your feelings are on the movie itself. All four films look absolutely stunning in 4K, and the new Dolby Atmos mixes do the movies’ audios justice, whether it’s giving the many traps Indy encounters a more palpable impact, or just juicing up John Williams’ iconic score. This box set also includes a printed map, digital copies, and the bonus features from the prior Blu-ray set, so there’s plenty to enjoy even once you’ve worked your way through the movies.

This is a classic series, and a great set for anyone who’s recently upgraded their setup to start building a 4K UHD collection. Who doesn’t love Indiana Jones? By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Neon Genesis Evangelion Complete Series Blu-ray (GKIDS)

RRP: $59.98

One of the most influential anime series of all time has finally arrived on Blu-ray courtesy of GKIDS, in both a limited collector’s edition and the lower-priced standard edition featured here. From its premiere in 1995, Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion was one of the most critically-acclaimed acclaimed anime series to hit television—uniquely marrying powerful mecha battle scenes with symbol-rich meditations on humanity, religion, and war.

The show is set in 2015—funny enough, now the past—on an Earth under attack from mysterious, extraterrestrial adversaries ironically referred to as “Angels.” Humanity’s last line of defense is a small handful of humongous war machines piloted by teenagers. Shinji Ikari is one of these young pilots, reluctant and understandably scared of what end he could meet each time he’s sent to battle. It’s a show that starts out straight-forward and full of action, but then gets incredibly heady in the second half of its 26-episode run. (Think: Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and the like—but with huge, kickass robots.) This set also includes two movies, Evangelion: Death (TRUE) and The End of Evangelion, which provides an alternate take on the show’s divisive ending. On top of incredible picture and sound quality, this Blu-ray set contains more than five hours’ worth of bonus materials. If you’re on the hunt for a gift for an anime fan, there’s hardly a better option out there than this definitive collection of one of the medium’s best-ever series. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection 4K UHD (Universal)

RRP: $79.99

It’s been ninety (!) years since the classic, Universal versions of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster came to movie screens, and eighty (!) since the first appearance of Universal’s Wolf Man. It’s a testament to these movies’ effectiveness—and the talents of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Claude Rains—that we’re still talking about Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Invisible Man almost a century later, let alone grabbing a four-film collection on 4K UHD (a format that anyone involved in the films’ creations would probably regard as alien technology.) Universal has reached into their vaults to grab their most famous monsters’ first outings and present them for another generation. While these century-old films may not be the most impressive display of Ultra High Definition, these discs are definitely the best they’ve ever looked on home television screens. Hours’ worth of bonus features are also included, exploring the monsters’ mythologies and the careers of the people who brought them to the screen. It’s also worth mentioning that these movies are almost family-friendly compared to today’s horror standards, and are an excellent way of welcoming new fans—say, your children—to the genre. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Kolchak: The Complete Series Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $99.95

I want to paint a picture for you. Imagine it’s Christmas Day, and your family is half-dozing around the TV while A Christmas Story is showing on whatever cable channel is showing it for twenty-four hours straight this year. Right as Darren McGavin is mispronouncing “fragile” (“fra-jee-lay”) and uncovering his very important award from fifty pounds of straw packaging, you hand your favorite movie-lover one more Blu-ray sized gift. “You love him in this movie,” you whisper. “Just wait until you see Darren McGavin drive a stake through a swingin’ ‘70s vampire lady.”

We’ve written at length—quite recently—about Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Kino Lorber’s excellent Blu-ray set collecting the complete series. Long story short, it’s a supernatural-flavored mystery-comedy series partially written by the creator of The Sopranos and went on to inspire The X-Files. If that sounds like something anyone you know might like, we promise you: they will. This cult series should have ran ten seasons, but we’re happy we can now get what was made in a nice Blu-ray set packed with extras. We’d comfortably recommend this for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Godzilla vs. Kong (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $49.99 (4K), $22.98 (Blu-ray), $19.98 (DVD)

There have been a whole lot of Godzilla movies, 36 in all, ranging from the 1954 classic film that started it all to 1998’s horrible Hollywood version (both simply titled Godzilla). Purists may prefer the sight of a man in a rubber suit stomping on model tanks, but it’s easy to argue that the films at least look better these days, with state of the art modern special effects. And Hollywood has redeemed itself with their Godzilla films of recent years, all produced by Legendary and Warner Bros. 2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters were both quite dark and serious, and while Godzilla vs. Kong couldn’t be called campy, it is the most pure fun Godzilla movie in years.

It’s not the first time these two titans have tussled—that would be 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, the third only Godzilla movie. The Kong here is meant to be a more grownup version of the great ape found in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, which was set at the tail end of the Vietnam War. No matter who you root for, both monsters get ample moments to shine, although King Kong is presented as the more sympathetic creature, in part because of his friendship with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young deaf girl who is able to communicate with Kong via sign language. Events get particularly fantastical when Kong leads the human heroes to Hollow Earth, an amazing hidden underground world filled with crazy monsters and the secret to stopping Godzilla. Godzilla vs. Kong was a success, despite being released on HBO Max at the same time it was in theaters, and more MonsterVerse movies are in the works. Special features on the Blu-ray and 4K editions include over 10 featurettes adding up to an hour. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

LAIKA Studios Collection Blu-ray/DVD Combo Editions (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $22.98 each

LAIKA Studios are the most skilled animators working in stop motion today, hands down. Watching any of their films, it’s hard to believe they were made with puppets and miniature sets, as there’s almost none of the stutter that we’ve come to associate with the medium thanks to a childhood diet of Rankin/Bass specials and Gumby shorts. They’ve taken the art form to an all-new level—even The Nightmare Before Christmas never looked as good as these. And speaking of that film—several of LAIKA’s films will appeal to fans of the Disney classic, what with their spooky-kid themes. Coraline, from a Neil Gaiman story, follows a young girl into a scary, stitchwork world where she finds evil, button-eyed doppelgangers of her parents. The Boxtrolls is the story of a young boy who was raised from infancy by clockwork-obsessed gremlins who live in the sewers beneath a city that fears them. ParaNorman is best described as a family-friendly version of The Sixth Sense from the ghost-seeing kid’s point of view. They’re all great for families with older children who don’t scare easily, and are into Halloween-y stuff, and a must for lovers of stop motion. The first four LAIKA films were reissued this year on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory, with some excellent bonus features that detail how they were made. By Austin Trunick (Buy them here.)

The Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $49.99 (4K), $39.98 (Blu-ray), $34.98 (DVD)

The Suicide Squad received rave reviews and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, doing much better with critics than 2016’s Suicide Squad, but it also made a lot less money than the first film. There are various factors at play, with the prime ones being the Delta variant of COVID-19 depressing the theatrical box office in general and the film being simultaneously released for free to HBO Max subscribers. There was also some confusion over whether the film was a sequel to the 2016 movie or a soft reboot, which was helped by the titles being almost identical and absence of Will Smith, the star of the first film. The Suicide Squad clearly exists in the same continuity as the first film and should’ve been better marketed as such. An R-rating also likely put off family audiences, but there is no way that James Gunn’s film could’ve been edited down to a PG-13 without substantially changing the very nature of the director’s vision and desired tone.

It’s too bad though, because The Suicide Squad is so much more fun (and coherent) than the 2016 film, which featured some studio meddling and was essentially taken away from director David Ayer. It is Gunn’s most fully realized film, the world of The Guardians of the Galaxy taken to extremes, and is a non-stop crazy ride from the start of the film (when a bunch of important characters are unexpectedly killed) to the bonkers climax where they battle a giant alien starfish with mind control powers. Sylvester Stallone is a giant talking shark! Margot Robbie once again nails her Harley Quinn performance! Peter Capaldi (the Twelfth Doctor himself) as the villainous Thinker!

Special features on the Blu-ray and 4K versions include deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, making of documentaries, and director commentary. With a spinoff TV series starring John Cena’s Peacemaker coming to HBO Max in January, Gunn is not done with the world of The Suicide Squad. Let’s hope that Warner Bros. understands that various factors impacted the film’s box office and allows Gunn to continue playing in that world, post-pandemic. (Buy it here.)

Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $44.95 (4K), $22.98 (Blu-ray), $19.98 (DVD)

I do find some of the negative reactions to Wonder Woman 1984 to be a bit baffling. Was it as perfect as 2017’s Wonder Woman, one the greatest modern superhero movies? Perhaps not. Did it live up to its first trailer, one of the best trailers of recent years? Not completely. But was it also a whole lot of fun if you just gave into the zaniness? 100% yes.

Maybe it resonated more with those who grew up in the ’80s, like myself, than younger viewers? Sure, the way they brought up Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was a bit iffy, having his consciousness inhabit the body of another man, but it’s not all that different than how things went down on the beloved ’90s time travel show Quantum Leap (R.I.P. Dean Stockwell). And there’s a long stretch in the first half of the movie without any Wonder Woman action. But there are also many fantastic sequences from director Patty Jenkins, such as the opening on Themyscira with Diana competing in Amazon games as a child, the chase in the Middle Eastern desert, and the fight at the White House. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Pine still have palpable chemistry. And Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal both really give it their all as the complex villains Barbara Minerva/Cheetah and Maxwell Lord, with Pascal particularly magnetic. And a post-credits cameo was a nice callback to a previous interaction of Wonder Woman. Regardless of the mixed reception to Wonder Woman 1984, Jenkins and Gadot are already developing a third film, set in the present day. Special features on Blu-ray and 4K versions include making of documentaries, a gag reel, and a retro remix cutting scenes from the film in the style of the opening titles of the 1970s TV show. (Buy it here.)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $49.99 (4K), $39.98 (Blu-ray), $29.98 (DVD)

Fueled by one of the most successful fan campaigns in movie history (Release the Snyder Cut!) and the need for exciting fresh content on the new HBO Max streaming service, Zack Snyder’s complete original vision for Justice League was finally released this year, four years after the theatrical cut came out. It’s always fascinating to see the director’s cut of a film that was initially tampered with by the studio. One of the most famous instances is Blade Runner, with the tone of the film altered by the removal of the voice over and the happy ending in The Director’s Cut, even if the film’s story and length remain similar (and Ridley Scott’s later Final Cut featured even more minimal alterations when compared to The Director’s Cut). Zack Snyder’s Justice League, on the other hand, is radically different to the original.

For starters it’s twice as long, clocking in at four hours and featuring many essential subplots, and even some important characters, not featured in the theatrical version, including some newly shot scenes. The film also features an entirely new score by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), whereas Danny Elfman scored the theatrical version. While it’s highly unlikely that Warner Bros. would have ever released a four-hour version of the film in theaters, a three-hour blockbuster is not unheard of (including two of the biggest films of all time: Avengers: Endgame and Titanic), so perhaps there could’ve been some middle ground with the theatrical cut. Alas, tragedy struck, when Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, took her own life during the production of the Justice League, leading Snyder, who was already exhausted from battles with the studio, to step down. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in to finish the film, reshooting footage, lightening the tone, and shortening the runtime. This led to a poorly received box office disappointment that got more press for Henry Cavill’s digitally removed moustache than anything else and later reports about Whedon’s poor on-set behavior towards the actors.

Some may not like Snyder’s operatic style, but his director’s cut is a vast improvement on the theatrical version in almost every way. And it’s not without humor too. Witness the lovely and amusing scene that now first introduces Ezra Miller’s Flash/Barry Allen, as he first meets and rescues future love interest Iris West (Kiersey Clemons), who was completely cut from the theatrical cut. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg/Victor Stone also gets considerably more screen-time, with a much-expanded back-story. There’s also the cool Indiana Jones-like sequence where Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) discovers a hidden Amazon temple in Greece. And even scenes featured in the theatrical version are greatly improved, including the climactic fight with Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a character that gets a makeover here with a much more effective digital design. And then there’s the addition of Darkseid, The Joker, Martian Manhunter, Ryan Choi (who will later become The Atom), and others.

It’s a shame that it seems that Snyder will never get to complete his vision for the franchise, with his proposed sequels cancelled. It’ll also be interesting to see whether future DC movies, such as 2022’s The Flash, will appear to continue on from Zach Snyder’s version or Whedon’s. Regardless, Zack Snyder’s Justice League provides a fascinating lesson in how crucial a director is to a film’s outcome and how a studio film can flourish when a director is given free reign. Now bring on the Ayer Cut of Suicide Squad! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Transformers: The Movie 35th Anniversary Edition 4K UHD (Shout! Factory)

RRP: $29.98

This big-screen installment of the original Transformers cartoon traumatized an entire generation of kids who came in expecting a feature-length continuation of the Saturday morning adventure, but were instead treated to the on-screen deaths of some of their favorite characters on top of images of an entire planet’s worth of innocent robots being devoured by a god-like mega-monster voiced by Orson Welles. And you know what? We loved it anyway. If you, like us, remember renting Transfomers: The Movie over and over again on VHS as a kid, then I’m guessing that learning it’s celebrating its 35th anniversary will make you feel just as old as we do. But, we can think of no better way to celebrate the occasion than this 4K UHD release of Transformers: The Movie, which packs an all-new restoration that really highlights its stretches of stellar animation, which were many tiers above that of the TV show. Also included are a new, stripped-down acoustic performance by Stan Bush (of “The Touch” and “Dare” fame), never-before-seen storyboards, and lots of wonderful legacy content, including the essential Making Of documentary ‘Til All Are One, the audio commentary by director Nelson Shin and Arcee voice actress Susan Blu, and numerous featurettes, trailers, and TV spots. It’s a must-grab for Transformers fans. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Deep Cover Blu-ray (Criterion)

RRP: $39.95

Laurence Fishburne stepped into one of his first lead roles in Bill Duke’s Deep Cover (1992), in which he plays an honorable cop who is assigned to head undercover to infiltrate a dangerous drug ring. It’s a guise in which he shows stunning aptitude, playing his way into a partnership with a crooked lawyer and cartel liaison (played by Jeff Goldblum) — and being forced to stray from the strict ideals he’s long held himself to in his regular life. This riveting, Noir-flavored thriller—from its grim atmosphere and neon-lit setting to its old-fashioned voiceover—comes packed with some great bonus materials that look at the Black cinema boom of the early ‘90s, as well as conversations with the director and a 2018 seminar about the film which included Fishburne’s participation. (Buy it here.)

Nashville Blu-ray (Paramount Presents)

RRP: $24.99

One of Robert Altman’s several masterpieces from the 1970s—a decade in which he somehow also gave us M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and The Long GoodbyeNashville may be a personal favorite of the bunch. A meandering, two-hour forty minute chronicle of five days leading into a country music festival, Nashville follows a massive cast of twenty-four (!) characters as they go about their lives and preparation. There’s not much plot to speak of, but it’s nonetheless gripping—there’s a documentary-like feel to how we’re watching these fictional characters, who feel genuine and lived-in. (Altman asked the stars to write their own music for the movie; Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.) The movie also features Karen Black, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Shelley Duvall, Ronee Blakley, and Jeff Goldblum among its sprawling cast. Aside from a beautiful 4K remaster, the disc contains an all-new 15-minute featurette, as well as an archival Altman commentary and several theatrical trailers. A landmark feature, this new Blu-ray release is perfect for any fan of Altman’s, country music, or ‘70s American cinema. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Train: Special Edition Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $29.95

John Frankenheimer’s WWII classic makes its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber, who’ve packed the release with two full-length commentaries, a Trailers from Hell featurette, isolated score, an essay and theatrical trailer. In the last year of the War, a brave station master (Burt Lancaster) risks his life to stop a Nazi colonel from smuggling away a massive haul of stolen French artwork on one of his trains. With nailbiting tension, strong performances from Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau, and some dangerous-looking special effects, The Train is a perfect gift for any fan of war movies—so, most father-in-laws. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Mommie Dearest Blu-ray (Paramount Presents)

RRP: $29.99

Repeat after us: “No! Wire! Hangers!” The camp classic turned 40 this year, and the occasion has been marked by it being welcomed into the Paramount Presents line of special edition Blu-rays. Based on a memoir by her adopted daughter, this controversial biopic features Faye Dunaway as a wildly unhinged Joan Crawford. What should have been a prestige affair instead brought home nine Razzie nominations, including Worst Picture, and put a massive dent in Dunaway’s career. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a cult following and a legion of fans who love it for those reasons, namely Dunaway’s over-the-top performance. This new Blu-ray edition boasts a 4K restoration, as well as a new audio commentary and a featurette on director Frank Perry, all on top of some great bonus materials from prior editions, such as the really fun feature-length commentary by filmmaker John Waters. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Hot Spot Special Edition Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $29.95

From filmmaker, actor, photographer, and all-around crazy person Dennis Hopper came this steamiest of neo-noirs: 1990’s The Hot Spot. Don Johnson plays Harry Madox, a drifter-turned-used car salesman who finds himself robbing the local bank before he’s had a chance to even settle into a new sleepy, Texas town. When he jilts the boss’s bombshell wife (Virginia Madsen) for another affair with a pretty, young co-worker (Jennifer Connelly), she makes life hell for the charming criminal. Adapted from a novel from the 1950s and featuring a soundtrack of Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker, The Hot Spot feels like a vintage film noir set in a more modern era. With a cast that also includes William Sadler, Jack Nance, and Virgil Frye, this dark, sexy thriller has gone mostly underwatched for three decades – and would be a great gift for any fan of crime movies, classic or contemporary. Kino Lorber’s recent edition includes a new 2K master, a feature-length commentary, a theatrical trailer, and interviews with Madsen and Sadler. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Special Edition Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

RRP: $29.95

This dark, violent crime drama came from filmmaker Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs), a director particularly famous for dark and violent films. When a Mexican crime lord puts a $1 million dollar bounty on the head of the scoundrel who knocked up his daughter, ex-Army bartender Bennie (Warren Oates) finds himself roped into the hunt for the mysterious Alfredo Garcia. This unflinching film continues to polarize viewers, and still packs a few shocks even today, but has a cult audience among those who can handle its brutal violence. Kino Lorber’s new special edition comes from a 4K scan of the original negative, carries two separate, full-length commentaries, a Trailers from Hell featurette, and various promo reels and galleries. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Nightmare Alley Blu-ray (Criterion)

RRP: $39.95

Before you see Guillermo Del Toro’s brand new remake (or afterwards), you can check out the original Nightmare Alley (1947) courtesy of the folks at Criterion, who’ve brought it to Blu-ray in a lovely, restored edition. Something of a career change-up for roguish leading man Tyrone Power, he plays an ambitious carny named Stanton Carlisle who weasels the secret code used in a hit vaudeville act away from its aging star, then runs away with a younger woman to become the country’s top mentalist act. But, this isn’t enough—and despite ominous warnings spelled out in Tarot cards, Stanton continues to build toward bigger, more dangerous hoaxes. A considerably large-budgeted Film Noir from Twentieth Century Fox, Nightmare Alley makes good use of its memorable setting, and features nice performances from Power, Coleen Gray, and Joan Blondell. The package includes some nice archival interviews, a discussion of the film with our favorite Noir historian, Imogen Sara Smith, an audio commentary, and the neatest touch: a set of Tarot cards that call to mind those featured so pivotally in the movie. (Buy it here.)

Mona Lisa Blu-ray (Criterion)

RRP: $39.95

The late, always-wonderful Bob Hoskins played a bottom-feeder gangster named George, freshly released from prison and hired to drive around a high-priced mob prostitute (Cathy Tyson), in Mona Lisa (1986), an early critical hit from director Neil jordan. At first they’re a mismatched pair—an unrefined gangster and an uber-chic hooker—whose personalities clash, but George has a tender side just beneath the surface, and the two warm up to each other as he helps her search for an old friend she fears is still under the control of an abusive pimp. Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for the role, and the movie mines many wonderful moments from his unorthodox relationship with Tyson’s character; it also features Michael Caine in one of the most slimy roles of his career, playing a genteel crime lord. Criterion’s 2K restoration is a long-awaited upgrade from Mona Lisa’s DVD release, and features new bonus materials from Jordan and Tyson, and a vintage audio commentary from its late star. (Buy it here.)

Smooth Talk Blu-ray (Criterion)

RRP: $39.95

A young Laura Dern plays fifteen-year-old Connie, a curious teen about to have her innocence shattered in Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk (1985), a haunting tragedy hidden in the guise of an Eighties coming-of-age movie. For much of the film Connie bickers with her parents, sneaks off with her friends, and flirts with older boys at the mall—fairly average, teenage activities—until she has a fateful encounter with a charming predator played by Treat Williams, who pays her a visit at home while her parents are away. It’s not a horror film, and doesn’t necessarily go in the direction you’re probably expecting after reading this description, but it’s nonetheless chilling. With eye-opening performances from Dern and Williams, it’s an ‘80s teen film that captures a far darker glimpse at the era and culture than what was immortalized in the comedies and romances of the period. The disc comes packed with plenty of bonus materials featuring the director, Dern, and the source material’s author, Joyce Carol Oates — one of the nicest extras are a trio of early short films from Chopra, which are a nice complement to the main feature. (Buy it here.)

Friday the 13th: 8 Movie Collection Blu-ray (Paramount)

RRP: $79.99

Forty-one years later, Jason Voorhees is still slasher movie royalty. The first eight films in the classic franchise are available in a new Blu-ray collection, and this one’s a great gift option if you’re on a budget. At around six bucks a film from most online retailers, fans can track Jason’s exploits from Camp Crystal Lake all the way to Manhattan, with great picture quality (newly remastered for the first four movies) and special features for each film, all in one slim, shelf-friendly—and blood red—case. It’s a ton of bang for your gift-giving buck, and something any horror fan will get many hours’ worth of entertainment from. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)


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