This blog was originally titled “Physical Media’s Last Stand” but I thought it too pessimistic. And when it comes to this topic, there’s plenty of cause to feel that way. The MPAA recently revealed a staggering 50% drop in sales as the rise of Streaming services takes hold. I agree, it’s a lot easier pushing a button than getting off our butts to pop on a disc. However, anyone who’s spent 20 minutes scrolling Netflix only to finally give up in frustration knows what we like isn’t always as accessible as the modern world would have us believe. This is especially true for horror fans like us who have a fondness for older and more obscure titles. We, in fact , have plenty of cause to continue covet physical media especially nowadays. Despite the current Blu-ray apocalypse, some of the most amazing upgrades and rare titles are being released every month – though you may need to look beyond Amazon.com to find them. There are several amazing companies out there fighting the good fight and I’d like to highlight a few I feel are worthy of support!
Arrow Video shot straight to my heart
Thank heavens for Mother England and her dedication to physical media! The country that once banned many of our cult favorites as “Video Nasties” has since gone full circle in their preservation via companies like Arrow Video/Arrow Films and Indicator Powerhouse. I stumbled on Arrow while perusing a Fry’s store earlier this year. The closest Fry’s is about an hour from my apartment and it was only through one of my favorite YouTubers that I even knew they existed. It was worth the drive as they offered Steelbooks and Blu-rays I couldn’t find anywhere else. Needless to say, Arrow’s Slugs (1988) and The Slayer (1982) was love at first sight! Their clear cases were thicker than the thin blue ones I’d been accustomed to and the cover art was fantastic! Amazon does offer many Arrow titles and you can certainly find the out of print stuff on eBay – but pay attention to what Region it’s in. Thanks to the company extending its reach to North America (a.k.a. offering more Region Free titles) in 2014, many obscure films are now available here in the New World with superior upgrades and bonus material. One of the many things I love about Arrow is that they often have reversible covers. So if you’re not a fan of their newer artwork you’ll often have the option of flipping it over and going old school. As Arrow’s head of production, Francesco Simeoni, says, “physical home entertainment isn’t dying…it’s evolving.”
Indicator Powerhouse Films pack a wallop
I mentioned this company in a previous post on Night of the Demon (1957). Indicator Powerhouse Films is another British gem that gets it right. After gaining my full trust with Night of the Demon, I decided to give their multi-film collections a try. I picked up the two William Castle collections currently available and they’re just beautiful~! The extras included in Volume One alone are phenomenal and I’ve now set my sights on their Harryhausen ones. Granted, I have a tendency to get drawn in by the packaging, but this is one company whose substance matches their style!
Don’t count America out in terms of rare, remastered treasures. There are a few notable US companies out here in the States as well such as Blue Underground in California. I discoverd them at Fry’s the same day I did Arrow; immediatelty drawn to one of their lenticular Zombie (1979) covers. This release features three different covers but there was only one at Fry’s during my visit which, fortunately, ended up being my favorite. It featured the infamous “splinter in the eyeball” scene; something that no horror fan can ever forget. I’ve always been a fan of Lucio Fulci’s undead masterpiece and figured it was as good a time as any to give it a Blu-ray upgrade. Boy, was I glad I did! I was thoroughly impressed by their 4K restoration and fun extras – many featured from a cast reunion at Cinema Wasteland years back. I love going to horror cons and attending their panels because you’re often treated to riveting insights and behind the scenes and this brought the event right into my living room. I’ve since picked up a couple more Fulci favorites from Blue Underground; Manhattan Baby (1982) and The New York Ripper (1982). I also discovered a European slasher I’d never heard of before, Amsterdamned (1988) which I really enjoyed. Fans of European horror definitely want to bookmark Blue Underground!
Scream/SHOUT! Factory is one company we American horror fans should already be familiar with. They’ve famously redistrubuted many hard-to-find titles with striking, new cover art. In fact, their Trick r Treat (2007) blu-ray cover was so fantastic I ended up buying it even though I already had one in that format. Adding to collector temptation are select steelbooks such as their amazing Halloween II (1981) and recent Piranha (1978). If you preorder from their site they’ll usually give you a free poster of the artwork…but good luck getting it in decent shape! These titles are often readily available on Amazon including the steelbooks which is one area the online giant lags behind.
Vinegar Syndrome is a New England based company that boasts an enormous catalogue of rare films and primo restorations. Their moniker may seem odd but insiders in film preservation know “vinegar syndrome” describes a chemical reaction that deteriorates motion picture film over periods of time. They also happen to be marketing geniuses who understand how to trigger the mind (pocketbooks) of collectors. In addition to their digital releases, they’ll offer limited edition slipcovers that have fans literally stalking their website. Their annual holiday and “half-way to the holidays” sales are sure to put you in the spirit of giving (especially to yourself) and greedily opening your box of goodies like a ten year old. This companty is cognizant of how eBay or secondary sellers scalp thier products too and dissuade bulk buying so more copies go straight to the hands of collector’s. Because they have such a large selection of titles at their disposal, they’ve done an excellent job bringing to light many films I’ve never even heard of before. The Suckling (1990), Grandmother’s House (1988), and Body Melt (1993) are all prime examples!
Buying physical media may seem moot these days in lieu of streaming services and the dismal headlines, However, I believe it’s up to us to support these and other likeminded companies as much as possible. Of course, I enjoy streaming services – especially the Shudder network and Joe Bob Brigg’s Last Drive-In. I loved The Ritual (2018) on Netflix and am currently binging season 3 of Stranger Things. But once the original content ends, I usually come up empty when it comes to finding the films I really like or am required to pay an additional fee for it, when I do. Another benefit of physical media is that streaming will never match the quality of a good transfer no matter how good your Internet service is. And let’s be honest, they look damn good on our shelves too!