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Rhapsody in Blu: Slarek's pick of the discs for 2017
Following on from his selection of favourite film and TV, Slarek picks 20 Blu-ray titles from a slew of great releases from the likes of Arrow, Indicator, Eureka, Second Run and the BFI that he particularly enjoyed in 2017.

Having rambled my way through a lengthy introduction to my pick of the year's films and TV, I promised myself that I'd keep this one comparatively brief. Yeah, good luck with that. I will state up front that the difficult home situation that so narrowed my film viewing last year also impacted on the number and range of discs I was able to see and (especially) review. And that really hurt, as for those of us who favour non-mainstream, cult, classic and world cinema, it was a terrific year for disc releases, with Arrow, BFI, Eureka, Indicator and Second Run especially all putting out must-have titles with terrific transfers and first-rate extra features. Indeed, there were so many such releases last year that I'd have needed a small staff of writers with oodles of free time to have had even a hope of covering them all, at least in our customary detail. Dream on. This meant that there were discs that I wanted to cover that I didn't request for review simply because I knew I wouldn't have the required free time to watch and write about them, and even a fair few that were sent to us anyway fell victim to these fate-enforced time constraints. In my case, this even extended to some of the discs that were reviewed by other contributors to the site, hence the absence from this list of some of the titles they have championed in their reviews.  Arrow, and particularly Arrow Academy certainly suffered on this score in the second half of the year, and it's a testament to the sheer number of quality discs that Arrow is now releasing each month that so many of their titles still made it on to this list. I also struggled to keep pace with Eureka's busy and consistently excellent output, was forced to pass on just about every title released by the BFI, and even let the lovely people at Indicator down on more than one occasion. My shame weighs heavily on my drooping shoulders.

Thus, in common with my pick of the year's films and TV, my selection of favourite discs from 2017 is as notable for what's missing from it as it is for what I've included. There were some terrific releases from all of the above listed distributors last year – as well as from the likes of Criterion UK, Second Sight and Curzon Artificial Eye – that circumstances have so far prevented me from even seeing, several of which I've bought anyway and have sitting in a tidy pile awaiting my attention. Their time will come, as in the not too distant future I know I will be once again relying on film to fulfil its valuable role as an artistic comfort blanket, and it's nice to know that these discs (plus a fair few others that are due for release soon) will be there to give me a virtual hug when I need it most.

It's worth noting that this is the first year since I began drawing up these lists in which all of the selected titles are Blu-ray. Yes, some of them were dual format releases, but aside from one occasion when I popped the included DVD into my drive to compare it to a previous SD release of the film in question, this year I went for the Blu-ray every time, and this has now become the default format for review discs sent out to us (not ten minutes after I typed that, a set of DVD check discs for an upcoming Arrow dual format box set landed on my doormat, seemingly mocking the authority of that statement). For the record, I have yet to make to the move to 4K and UHD and currently am in no particular hurry to do so. Prices are still too high for my shallow pockets, the range of titles available in the format is too limited, and I'm still not sure how I'd get a screen of the size you'd need to take full advantage of that extra resolution in my living room without completely blocking out the light from the only window. It'll be interesting to see how the format develops over the coming year or whether it really takes off, particularly given the continued (and curiously) enduring popularity of DVD.

For the sake of continuity, I've once again picked 20 titles, and while the restrictions on my viewing during the course of last year means that a number of key disc releases from 2017 are absent from this list, I'd still argue that every title included deserves to at least be on a shortlist for the best the year had to offer, and a fair few have appeared on more definitive lists than mine. As ever, there are a slew of other titles from the above-mentioned distributors alone that I could have comfortably added, but there has to be a cut-off point and I really need to put this to bed in order to start work on the first of this year's reviews. Once again, this is not a definitive list, just 20 discs that excited and impressed me during the course of what was a rough year for personal tranquillity, but a terrific one for independent home entertainment releases.

And so, to the discs themselves, which have again been listed alphabetically rather than in any order of preference.

the discs


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Limited Edition pack shot

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Arrow Video Limited Edition Dual Format

The opening cannonade of Dario Argento's film career is not just a hugely confident debut feature, but the one that is often credited with kick-starting the giallo subgenre. Released in June of 2017, this Limited Edition Dual Format release showcases so many of the things that Arrow gets right, boasting a terrific transfer from a 4K restoration, which is backed by a swathe of worthwhile special features, including a fine commentary by Troy Howarth and a typically detailed half-hour appraisal of the film by Kat Ellinger, who is fast becoming a go-to source for informed commentary on horror and horror-related titles. As with so many of the best Arrow titles, the goodies aren't confined to the on-disc material, and this one includes a fold-out poster, six reproductions of original lobby cards and a 60-page booklet with contributions from Michael Mackenzie, Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook.


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Blu-ray pack shot

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Arrow Video Blu-ray

One of my very favourite Arrow titles of 2017, this welcome release of one of Sam Peckinpah's most personal but criminally undervalued films was showcased in a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, but it's the special features that really blew me away. We get one commentary from film scholar and author Stephen Prince, a second one from writers Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle, a 47-minute audio recording of Peckinpah interviewed at London's National Film Theatre, the excellent feature-length documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, and a second disc absolutely jam-packed with interviews. In total, that's over 15 hours of quality supplementary material for a release you can still pick up for less than £17, making it one of the bargains of the year and an essential purchase for those with even a passing interest in the work of this most distinctive filmmaker.

Blu-ray review >>


Buster Keaton: 3 Films pack shot

Buster Keaton: 3 Films

Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Oh, the timing. This gorgeous package arrived on my doorstep just as my home situation took a serious nosedive and thus became an unintended casualty of my severely compressed free time. Given that I've been a fan of Keaton's work almost since I first started watching movies and that this package contains three of his finest features (the unfussy title 3 Films gives no indication of the brilliance of the content), it really hurt to have to let this one go. The films in question are Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), and you probably couldn't pick three more perfect feature-length examples of Keaton's comic brilliance, from the surrealism of Sherlock Jr. through the unwavering perfection of The General through to Keaton's most celebrated sight gag in Steamboat Bill, Jr. when the side of a house falls down on him during a storm and he's spared just because of where he happens to be standing. The restorations and transfers are all terrific, and they're backed by a bag of first-rate extra features.


The City of the Dead Blu-ray pack shot

The City of the Dead

Arrow Video Dual Format

I always get a thrill when Arrow or Eureka or Indicator announce they will be releasing one of my personal favourites, and such was the case last year with John Moxey's wonderfully atmospheric and visually striking gothic horror, The City of the Dead. That said, had it been a vanilla release with little in the way of special features, it probably wouldn't have made its way onto this list, but not only did Arrow include all of the best features from previous DVD releases, but even added a sprinkling of their own, including a new third commentary track and the American cut of the film, which was somewhat less interestingly titled Horror Hotel. And the HD transfer, sourced from a new 4K restoration of the film, is terrific. Love it.

Dual Format review >>


The Creeping Garden dual format pack shot

The Creeping Garden

Arrow Academy Dual Format

This one really blindsided me, and my review was delivered late for no other reason than it took me a while to muster up the enthusiasm needed to watch a feature-length documentary about – wait for it – slime mould. To my genuine astonishment, in the course of being thoroughly educated I was also mesmerised, thanks in no small part to the measured approach of co-directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, whose unbridled enthusiasm for their subject is captured in their engaging commentary track. Being an Arrow Academy release, the transfer is immaculate and the special features both well-chosen and of considerable interest. A most comprehensive package – you even get a soundtrack CD!

Blu-ray review >>


The Day of the Jackal Blu-ray pack shot

The Day of the Jackal

What was I just saying about favourite films? The news that Arrow would be releasing Fred Zinnemann's masterful thriller The Day of the Jackal on Blu-ray was for this long-standing fan one of the year's most exciting home video announcements. It's not just that I absolutely adore the film, but also that it was so poorly served by its previous DVD release, which featured a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer and no extras of note. The HD transfer on Arrow's Blu-ray is just lovely, and although the special features are not as numerous as I'd hoped, they are still well chosen, and to finally see the film looking as good as it does here is reason enough to have this on your shelf.

Blu-ray review >>


Death in the Garden dual format pack shot

Death in the Garden

Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

The arrival of any Luis Buñuel film on UK Blu-ray is cause for celebration in my book, but Eureka went the extra mile by selecting one of his lesser known and in some ways (note I said some ways) atypical films and giving it A-list treatment. The film itself is fascinating, a full-blooded adventure tale which Buñuel uses to playing sly games with genre conventions and audience expectations. A generally excellent transfer is backed by a small but nicely chosen collection of quality extras that collectively run for almost as long as the film itself. A most welcome addition to the Masters of Cinema series. More please!

Blu-ray review >>


Drunken Master dual format pack shot

Drunken Master

Eureka Masters of Cinema Dual Format

One of the most unexpected additions to Eureka's Masters of Cinema label was this early delight from the master of acrobatic martial arts comedy, Jackie Chan. It's not that it isn't a terrific movie, it's just that you wouldn't have to go back too far to find yourself in a time when no serious cineaste would admit to being a fan of martial arts cinema, and particularly the work of someone like Jackie Chan (nip back a bit further and the same would be true of the entire horror genre). Let's celebrate the glory of changing times, as this hugely entertaining and beautifully executed comedy actioner fully deserves to be considered alongside the more widely acknowledged greats of any genre you care to name, and Eureka really did do it proud here – the 2.35:1 HD transfer is terrific, you can select from a range of language and subtitle tracks, and there is a fine collection of special features to savour. As with the above-detailed Death in the Garden, this can't help by whet the appetite for further titles in this vein from Eureka.

Blu-ray review >>


Experiment in Terror dual format pack shot

Experiment in Terror

Indicator Dual Format

In some respects, Indicator's release slate last year consisted of three, often overlapping and loosely defined categories: widely respected and relatively well-known films; lesser-seen cult favourites; and rarely-seen works that we all should know well but have somehow never got around to seeing before. For me, at least, Blake Edwards' 1962 psychological thriller Experiment in Terror was a shining example of that third category – I'd never seen the film, I'd never heard of the film, but it had me riveted to my seat from its opening minutes and simply never let up. As we've come to expect from this distributor, the image quality was top notch, and while there are fewer special features than many other Indicator releases, what has been included is first-rate.

Blu-ray review >>


The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Blu-ray review

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

Second Run Blu-ray

I can't think of a single DVD or Blu-ray release from Second Run that hasn't somehow surprised and delighted me, but my absolute favourite of its releases this year has to be the company's immaculate Blu-ray release of Karel Zeman's extraordinary The Fabulous Baron Munchausen [Baron Prásil]. A sublimely inventive and visually seductive blend of art and entertainment – in which live action, illustrations and animation are combined to bewitching and gloriously entertaining effect – it's consistently enchanting, creatively comical, and a technical marvel, not least for how effectively actors interact with drawn illustrations, which must have been a challenge and a half in pre-CG days. The transfer, which was sourced from a 4K restoration, is consistently lovely, and the special features are some of the best you'll find on any Second Run release, and include an enthralling 102-minute documentary on the director by his daughter Ludmilla. A magnificent release.

Blu-ray review >>


Fat City dual format pack shot

Fat City

Indicator Dual Format

And in the category of lesser-seen cult favourites, we have John Huston's superb portrait of a past-his-prime boxer and the promising young upstart whose career he helps to kick start. What may on paper sound like a Rocky-style rise to fame and glory against the odds proves to be anything but, and Fat City steeps us in the unglamorous world of low-end semi-pro more convincingly than any other film I can readily recall, aided by a trio of superb central performances from Stacey Keach, Jeff Bridges and Susan Tyrell. A wonderful choice for an Indicator release, it gets the hoped-for royal treatment, with a fine HD transfer from a 4K restoration and a superb set of special features. Another personal favourite, and another triumph for already beloved label.

Blu-ray review >>


Fright Night dual format pack shot

Fright Night

Eureka Dual Format

Even as Eureka continues to widen its scope, two 80s genre titles on their 2017 release list still caught me by surprise in the shape of Sidney J. Furie's The Entity and Tom Holland's comedy-tinged horror, Fright Night. While I've been a fan of the former for many years, I was genuinely surprised by how well the latter stands up, and how effectively it weaves the comic elements into a sometimes tense and visually arresting horror tale. The story of young horror fan who suspects that his new neighbour is a vampire is enlivened by Holland's consistently witty script, which is brought entertainingly to life by some very nicely pitched performances, including Chris Sarandon as super-suave vampire Jerry Dandrige and Roddy McDowall as faded horror star Peter Vincent, although Stephen Geoffreys steals every scene he is in in a wild turn as the spectacularly oddball Evil Ed. Eureka delivered a gorgeous 2.40:1 HD transfer, but also packed the release with so much supplementary material – including a two-and-a-half hour documentary on the making of the film – that I'm amazed it didn't require a second disc.

Blu-ray review >>


George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn

My failure to even come close to finishing my review of this welcome and perfectly timed Arrow release (let us not forget that we lost Romero last year) is one of my biggest regrets, but the discs arrived just days before my private life took its biggest nose-dive, and I found myself without the time needed to complete the lengthy and detailed review that – in my book at least – such a release would have required. The set contains three of the four features that George Romero directed between the ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead and its genre-defining follow-up, Dawn of the Dead, two of which – the social drama There's Always Vanilla and the urban witchcraft tale Season of the Witch precious few of even Romero's fans had probably seen prior to this release. Both are fascinating films, not least for showcasing Romero's way with actors and his skill as an editor and camera operator, but are topped by The Crazies, the one film in the set that's instantly recognisable as the work of this filmmaker, and one that clearly and thrillingly lays the groundwork for Dawn. Although working with imperfect source materials, Arrow did a bang-up job on the transfers, and each of the films has its own special features. If you didn't pick up a copy of this Limited Edition set, then fear not, as Arrow is releasing all three films as stand-alone discs in March, by when the reviews I began and stumbled on should be complete.


Hammer Volume 1: Fear Warning pack shot

Hammer Volume 1: Fear Warning

In a year that saw a few Hammer titles make their way to Blu-ray (I'll give a quick shout here for the sparkling transfer's on Studiocanal's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb), but this terrific box set from Indicator was definitely the cream of the crop, showcasing four of the studio's lesser-known titles, and packaged together they offer the curious the opportunity to discover a small gem that they might not have seen had they been released individually. Maniac is an initially slow-burn psychological thriller from 1963, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb a belated sequel to one of the studio's defining films, The Gorgon a rare but smartly handled dabble with Greek mythology, and Fanatic a tense drama of the threat of religious mania built around superb performances from Stephanie Powers and Tallulah Bankhead. All have been restored and look glorious on Blu-ray, and all have their own generous set of special features. And now we can look forward to Volume 2, which arrives in February. Anyone else excited?


Phantasm 1-5 – Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection exploded pack shot

Phantasm 1-5 – Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection

Arrow Blu-ray

The sort of release we'll seriously mourn the loss of should physical media ever give way to internet streaming (oh I hope not), this lovely, limited edition box set not only contains all five Phantasm films on Blu-ray (the first is sourced from a new restoration), but also includes all the extra features and more from previous DVD releases, and is packed in a beautifully designed and assembled box containing model of the original film's iconic killer sphere. It's the sort of release that could make a collector out of even a casual disc buyer, and one that deserves its own, prominent place in the display cabinet of any horror fan.


The Sinbad Trilogy and The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen Volumes 1 & 2 pack shots

The Sinbad Trilogy & The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volumes 1 and 2

Indicator Dual Format/Blu-ray

This one's a bit of a cheat, as it consists not of a single release but three, but these are cinematic blood brothers and if you only plan to buy one, then I'd start saving regardless as you won't have it long before the other two end up at the top of your shopping list. All three are love letters to the singular brilliance of visual effects and animation maestro, Ray Harryhausen, and for my money are three of the best box sets released anywhere last year. Why? Well, first up we have the films: The Sinbad Trilogy contains The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger; The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volume 1 has It Came From beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver; and Volume 2 includes Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and The First Men in the Moon. That alone would suffice for many, but each release is packed with so many quality special features that it literally took me weeks to watch and write about them all. Well, not all. Volume 2 was another title that fell victim to bad timing personal circumstances, and while I've watched all three films in the set and made a head start on the review, the release date has now slipped so badly that it almost feels redundant to play catch-up this long after the event, particularly with the next slate of Indicator titles now sitting beside my TV crying out for my attention. So, know this – The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volume 2 is every bit as superb as its illustrious predecessors, with excellent HD transfers and a small mountain of extras. You can still get your hands on a copy at present, but this is a limited edition and it won't be available indefinitely, so if you've not grabbed a copy yet, I'd get your skates on.

The Sinbad Trilogy Blu-ray review >>

The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volume 1 Blu-ray review >>


The Thing Blu-ray pack shot

The Thing

Arrow Blu-ray

A rare big title release for Arrow Video, John Carpenter's initially maligned remake of the Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks science fiction/horror favourite saw its reputation soar in the years that followed and is now regarded as a bona fide cult movie classic. It also really gave the good people at Arrow a chance to show what they can do, given that the film had already been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Universal, each with impressive transfers and impressive special features. But Arrow once again rose to the occasion, delivering a gorgeous transfer that feels even richer and more film-like than its already solid predecessors, and gathering all of the best extras from the previous releases and adding some new and substantial ones of its own. Released simultaneously in both a steelbook and boxed edition, both included physical extras in the shape of poster reproductions and postcards and a substantial booklet. Another Arrow release I've spent almost as much time hugging as watching.

Blu-ray review >>


Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series Blu-ray pack shot

Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series

Universal Blu-ray

I usually make a point of not duplicating titles on this list that were on my Film and TV list, as it risks doubling up on what I've already said in praise of the film or TV show in question. But as you'll be aware if you read my enthusiastic appraisal of Twin Peaks – The Return, my antipathy towards Sky TV meant that I had to wait until the series came out on Blu-ray to see it. But that's not the prime reason for its inclusion on this list. Despite being the only major studio release here (it was put out by Universal in the UK but Paramount in the US, which is curious in itself), this proved to be far from the bare-bones set I was expecting. Immaculate transfers and a gorgeous Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is backed by over 6 hours of high quality special features, the best of which consists of welcome and revealing behind-the-scenes footage shot by Lynch's friend and fellow filmmaker Jason S. Even the box design is up there with some of Arrow's collectible Limited Editions. This is the Blu-ray release that the series deserved.


The Wages of Fear dual format pack shot

The Wages of Fear

BFI Dual Format

Henri-Georges Clouzot's riveting thriller, which takes the nail-biting concept of having a group of cash-starved men transport lorries packed with nitroglycerin across treacherous mountain roads, and squeezes every imaginable ounce of tension from it. Having winced my way through the film some years ago at a cinema screening that I helped to organise, it's arrival – at last! – on UK Blu-ray was more than welcome, but to see it looking as good as it does on the Blu-ray in the BFI's dual format set gave me a particular thrill. Sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original French release, this is the full uncut version of the film and includes some damned fine extras, including a typically enthralling commentary from Adrian Martin and an audio recording of a Guardian Lecture with the film's lead player, Yves Montand.


Westfront 1918 / Kameradschaft dual format pack shot

Westfront 1918 / Kameradschaft

Eureka Masters of Cinema Dual Format

This double-bill of early sound films from G.W. Pabst, the visionary director of Louise Brooks classics Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, was for me one of the year’s most thrilling surprises. Westfront 1918, a gut-wrenching tale of life on the front line during WWI, and Kameradschaft, a heartfelt plea for international comradeship and cooperation based around a mining disaster on the French/German border, both movingly showcase Pabst's left-wing humanism and his considerable skill and vision as both a filmmaker and storyteller. The decision to package these two films together would be enough to get this release on this list, but both have also been handsomely restored, have informative introductions from Pabst expert Jan-Christopher Horak, and a booklet featuring an essay by Philip Kemp. Despite being made at the dawn of the sound era, these were two of the best films I saw last year and this release is an absolute must-have.

Previous annual reviews:
2003 [Camus / Slarek]
2004: Documentaries [Slarek]
2004: Films [Slarek]
2004: DVDs [Slarek]
2005: Films [Slarek]
2005: DVDs [Slarek]
2006 [Camus]
2006 [CNash]
2006 [Slarek]
2007 [Camus]
2007 [Slarek]
2007 [Lord Summerisle]
2008 [Slarek]
2009 [L.K. Weston]
2009 [Slarek]
2010 [L.K. Weston]
2010 [Slarek]
2011 [L.K. Weston]
2011 [Slarek]
2012 [Slarek]
2012 [Timothy E. RAW]
2013 [Slarek]
2014 [Slarek]
2015: Films [Slarek]
2015: Discs [Slarek]
2016: Films [Slarek]
2016: Discs [Slarek]
2017: Films [Slarek]

article posted
12 January 2018

See all of Slarek's reviews and articles