By Louise Buckler
2019 has been quite the year the for all of us at Arrow – We celebrated 10 years of the Arrow Video brand (happy birthday to us!), we saw some big hitting studio titles gain the Arrow treatment, we unleashed films on the big screen – which resulted in more than a couple faintings (looking at you Lords of Chaos…), we attended more awesome events from Texas Frightmare in the US, Fantasia Festival in Canada and FrightFest here in the UK, and over the past few months we’ve been packing up and organising our stock as we’ll be moving to a brand new warehouse at the start of 2020.
So, as we wave goodbye to 2019 – and the decade – we pick up our annual tradition of looking back over the past 12 months and selecting our personal favourite releases of the year. With family disfunction, cardboard capers, deadly ghosts and buckets of blood we have something to tickle every taste.
Sit back, relax, and explore Team Arrow’s Top Titles of 2019…
Francesco Simeoni, Director of Acquisitions & Business Development
The year end is a great time for reflection and though much has happened I am pleased to once again feel like we released some essential titles alongside discoveries and urgent rescues. Exercises like this make me feel really torn, my heart wants to choose titles which have been close to me for a long time, films from my youth and even adulthood which I feel strongly about versus titles which I’ve discovered recently or we’ve presented for the first time in the world, be they older films released for the first time in an official capacity or brand new films which are yearning to find their niche.
To my mind as a collector and cinema enthusiast, cinephile or whatever term you prefer both are equally important to me. What I love about the new films we present on both Arrow Video and Academy are that they feel very Arrow in that they’re cut from the same cloth as our great catalogue. The films are bold, distinctive and very much beat to the rhythm of their own drum they may not be perfect but then I think the best films aren’t, films with quirks and personality are what I find most exciting, whether that’s the humour of Dave Made a Maze or the very specific sort-of-meta-Melville world of The Limits of Control. But it’s also about their physicality too, which is very important to us at Arrow, we love to not only have great on disc presentations but we also enjoy creating releases which are physically attractive and can showcase great aspects of the film whether that’s artwork in gorgeously produced boxsets or extensive writings on the film to pore over as another element of the home video experience. When titles like Weird Science and Robocop get delivered into the office there is a great moment of excitement that I think we are all proud of, and can breathe a sigh of relief!
Dave Made a Maze & Mega Time Squad
As a fan of the underdog I really want to shine a light on these films which may have passed people by. They’re the kind of idiosyncratic filmmaking I find really exciting, the emergence of new voices who are dedicated to telling stories that you won’t find in multiplexes and the equivalent digital streaming platforms where everything feels a bit by numbers and homogenised. The distribution landscape is really changing and I hope voices like these have a strong chance to find audiences in the future. Both have really lovely, wonderful filmmakers behind them who have films in development, both equally crazy and I hope they go on to great success and when they do you can say you saw them first on Arrow!
I first saw William Friedkin on stage at a Q&A I helped organise at the Screen on the Green to celebrate the Blu-ray re-issue of The French Connection, one of my favourite films, but I had never really explored Friedkin’s work beyond a handful of films. So when we came to produce Cruising I had a lot of catching up to do. Seeing that Q&A with him and Mark Kermode was certainly a good primer for his views on his own films as well as some others (he’s never seen French Connection II) and I never imagined I would go on to work so closely with him. When you work on films which have much cast and crew who are no longer with us you have to do a lot of detective work in order to present the film in the best way possible, when you have a filmmaker with Mr Friedkin’s recall (the commentary recording was a sight to see as he reeled off names from every aspect of the film’s production without a second to think) you are very much in their hands and Mr Friedkin very much knew what he wanted which certainly makes the job of the producer easier in certain aspects. I think Cruising is one of Friedkin’s best films and a real time capsule of a certain era and scene, it was great to be able to create a new edition of the film but also be able to get so much insight from Mr Friedkin and Mark Kermode to whom I am very grateful for his generous help across the release.
The Ring Collection
The Ring is one of my favourite horror films of all time and it was a huge thrill to be able to release all the films in the series as well as being able to do a brand new restoration for Ring. I loved how we were able to also clarify on the whole Ring/Ringu issue on the disc so it was a shame to have to release the films as Ringu due to copyright obligations surrounding the US remake! What was great about Ring was being able to not only look at the films but also use the opportunity to look at Hideo Nakata’s work in more detail and the wider J-horror phenomenon. Part of what I think makes our releases so exciting is being able to look at other subjects related to the film, I really appreciate being able to contextualise a film within a period or style or even influences on it.
I would have also added The Dead Center to my first listing but adding three felt like a step too far so as this wasn’t a comedy I had to drop it, but I would echo many comments, another lovely and wonderful filmmaker I am sure you’re going to hear more from and it stars Shane Carruth! I was also thrilled to bring works by Akio Jissoji to Blu-ray, I really enjoy lots of Japanese New Wave cinema and I hope this series can continue in 2021 (we won’t have one for next year I am afraid ATG fans). It was also an immense pleasure to revisit An American Werewolf in London, Robocop, The Vengeance Trilogy, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Weird Science, all films I have huge affection for and feel incredibly proud of the editions we’ve created.
James Flower, Producer
An undisputed J-horror classic gets a terrific 4K restoration so clear you’ll think Sadako will crawl out of your TV, as well as a new commentary by reigning king of commentaries, David Kalat. (Kalat’s done another forthcoming Arrow commentary that I can personally confirm is as infectiously fun and fact-filled as ever.)
Alice, Sweet Alice
At long last this marvellously atmospheric Catholic proto-slasher classic gets the authorised special edition it deserves after years of endlessly-bootlegged ignominy, including a glorious uncut restoration from the original negative and some excellent bonus features, including composer Stephen Lawrence playing the spooky theme on the piano!
An American Werewolf In London
Finally, Landis’ landmark comedy-horror gets a Blu-ray where it looks and (at long last) sounds exactly as it should do, thanks to a new 4K scan and the originally-pitched mono audio. Ballyhoo’s exhaustively comprehensive feature-length doc about the classic Universal werewolf films and how they inspired Landis is the ever-so-sweet cherry on the cake.
Cameron Waaler, Head of Theatrical and International Sales
Lords of Chaos
Louise Buckler, Marketing Manager
Dazzling dance scenes, spiked sangria and Gaspar Noé. A troupe of dancers get dragged into hell in Noé’s latest wild ride. With a pumping soundtrack, hallucinogenic horrors and endlessly energy this one will certainly leave you with your head in a spin…
Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy
The long wait was finally over in 2019 as our hotly anticipated Jissoji set finally hit doorsteps across the globe! Bringing together three of his films from the ATG days, our gorgeous box set allowed many to experience the unique and fascinating works of this Japanese master for the first time – and came with some great supplemental materials.
The Ring Collection
One of my entry points to the world of Asia Extreme via the Tartan VHS release, it was a joy to have the privilege to work across this release from Theatrical to the Blu-ray releases. Gorgeously restored and crammed with extras (including the films sequels) Ring looks better than ever and is just as effective 20 years on.
Honourable mentions go out to Khrustalyov, My Car!, The Chill Factor, Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz, The Prey. Mega Time Squad and Oldboy
Mike Hewitt, Head of Sales & Marketing
2019 has seen some incredible tentpole releases this year on Arrow Video: from Robocop to An American Werewolf in London, from the long-awaited second volume of the American Horror Project to the exquisite Oldboy Limited Edition including Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. Whilst any one of those would easily sit in my Top Three list, I’ve chosen some of our lesser-known releases from this year.
Stunning Sci-Fic from Sweden, Aniara is quite simply one of the best films of the year. Made on a low-budget (although it certainly doesn’t look like it), Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja’s film covers huge topics, including Climate Change and how it may affect us all, in the way that only the best sci-fi can. Equally the two directors were wonderful people to meet when they came over in August for a preview screening and to record a hilarious and informative commentary recording which is well worth a listen.
A very personal recommendation, Roger Christian’s debut film The Sender is one of the 20 VHS tapes I still own, having been transfixed by it on its original release. To be able to see the film finally on Blu-ray presentation, it was a joy to revisit its creepy and literal dreamlike charms.
Finishing off Arrow’s Buttgereit collection, Schramm got all the love it deserved with gorgeous packaging and artwork from the extremely talented Gilles Vranckx. Ewan Cant’s devotion to the release included extensive extra features, postcards, CD soundtrack, postcards and much more – an amazing package to sit proudly alongside our earlier releases of Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2.
Kevin Lambert, Head of Catalogue
Khrustalyov, My Car!
Michael Mackenzie, Producer
Another manic but productive year comes to an end, with yet another rich and varied slate of Arrow titles to show for it!
In terms of my own projects, the one I’m proudest of is unquestionably The Ring Collection, collecting the three “official” entries in the series together, along with the original (some might say “lost”, given the extent to which it was buried following a less than favourable reception) sequel, Spiral. This was a project that cost me more than a few sleepless nights in the race to get it over the finish line, but the end results speak for themselves and are a credit to the many people who contributed to it in one way or another – from package design to essays to commentaries to authoring to QC, and everything in between.
In terms of titles I didn’t have the privilege to work on, I’m thrilled that we had the opportunity to give John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London the Arrow treatment, affording this much-loved horror classic an audio-visual presentation that finally does it justice – restoring not only the original mono mix but also the film grain that was so cruelly stripped out of it in Universal’s own Restored Edition from three years ago.
Finally, it’s difficult to imagine a more handsome limited edition than Crimson Peak. While not my favourite of Guillermo del Toro’s films, it is nonetheless a stunning piece of visual artistry and arguably the one that, as a love letter to the films of Mario Bava, feels most at home in the Arrow canon. The hardbound book-style packaging, designed by the film’s concept artist, Guy Davis, is a genius touch and one that makes an already impressive release all the more special.
James White, Head of Restoration & Technical
An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
To say we leapt at the opportunity to restore Jon Landis’ classic is putting it mildly. Our restoration was sourced from new 4K scans of the original 35mm negative which we restored and graded to match the original theatrical release as closely as possible. Although this project involved a lot of work, we had the benefit of reviewing all the versions that had been released before, improving on past issues and making sure our new restoration was definitive. In addition to the picture work, we went the extra mile in sourcing and remastering the film’s original mono soundtrack, as well as fixing the issues that had affected the 5.1 mix on prior releases. This was truly a labour of love for all involved.
The Possessed (Luigi Bazzoni, 1965)
We released this proto-giallo alongside Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord (1971), a better-known film widely acclaimed for its dynamic colour cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. I had never seen The Possessed before but having restored the film it remains a personal highlight for me this year. The film itself has an off-kilter, dreamlike feel, more in common with films like Dennis Hopper’s Night Tide or the work of Val Lewton than the giallo films to follow. The bold high-contrast black and white images by Leonida Barboni evoke a strong feeling of melancholy and regret. The film casts a unique spell.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
This was the third feature we’d had the pleasure of restoring with Mr Gilliam (after Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys) and each occasion has been an absolute pleasure. Terry is a dream director to work with who fully understands and appreciates the role of film restoration and is generous with his guidance throughout the project. His films reflect his incredible intellect and dark sense of humour, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is no exception. We had an absolute blast restoring this film.
Other contenders worth mentioning – Alice Sweet Alice, Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz, 16 Candles and Weird Science, The Andromeda Strain, The Grand Duel and Ring.
Alan Simmons, QC Operator
We’ve put out some biiiig big hitters this year, but I want to focus my 2019 Top 3 on some of our ‘smaller’ — but still stone-cold cool — releases that you may not have, but totally should pick up.
Black Moon Rising
Written by the legendary John Carpenter (Halloween, The Fog) and stars Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men) and Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) as a pair of hi-tech car thieves trying to jack a futuristic ride from a sneeringly villainous Robert Vaughn (The Man From UNCLE). TLJ bites down hard on Carpenter’s tough and taciturn hard-boiled dialogue, creating an anti-hero who should have been given three more cinematic adventures at least, and Hamilton is a haunted hard nut with an axe to grind and an itch to drive the Black Moon – a car so fast and rad it nearly makes the film sci-fi. The Lalo Schifrin synth score slaps and there’s a huge awesome stunt at the end (later recreated in Fast 8) done purely in-camera and with practical effects. Lee Gambin’s enthusiastic commentary is a joy and another highlight of the extras is Carpenter’s Craft: Troy Howarth’s video essay exploring Carpenter’s screenwriting.
I came late to writer-director Olivier Assayas through his Kristen Stewart starring Personal Shopper, then going back to Clouds of Sils Maria and then getting to work on our release of his wonderful first full-length film Disorder last year. Our special edition of his 2002 film, Demonlover, gave me another opportunity to explore his back catalogue and it is another fascinating, boundary-breaking, genre embracing (but in a super French at-arms-length way) one-of-a-kind film. Starring a terrific trinity of Connie Nielsen (Gladiator), Gina Gershon (Bound) and Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry), Demonlover is an intoxicating web-savvy tale of corporate espionage tossed in the mix with hentai, kidnapping and cyber sexual torture. Nielsen’s Diane falls down a terrifying tech rabbit hole as the double-crosses, twists and reveals pile up and the real world’s edges start to fray, all soundtracked by a dirty industrial score courtesy of the shoegaze band Sonic Youth. Our disc has a great fly-on-the-wall doco chronicling the creation and recording of the film’s music and there is also an hour-long making of that is shot by a friend of Assayas so really gets under the skin and in all the nooks and crannies that a studio EPK probably wouldn’t.
A film that I had never heard of before we started working on it but immediately felt like home. John A. Alonzo’s soft rock fuelled ‘78 film plays out a lot like a 90s favourite of mine — Empire Records — but in a too cool for school LA radio station, as opposed to a Gen X-er staffed record store. The station is full of loveable big personality DJ’s like the sultry Mother (Eileen Brennan), hilariously sex-mad puppy dog fame monster Swann (played by Colonel Mustard from Clue) and Blazing Saddles’ Cleavon Little’s late-night smooth smoothie, and taking charge of them all is Four Flies in Grey Velvet’s Michael Brandon. His Dugan is a bearded, hip, fast driving and fast thinking DJ who wants to keep his station on the air and free of corporate interference at all costs and he and the gang’s rebellious hijinx are great fun and the soundtrack will have you nodding and toe-tapping along to their sticking-it-to-the-man antics. Our brilliant disc has an interview with the man himself that’s a lot of fun and shows that he still has his jacket from the film and can instantly quote large swathes of his dialogue, as well as a really great piece from Glenn Kenny, ‘l’, that gives loads of information on the FM radio era and adds to your enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of the film.
ALSO: big love to The Loveless. I kind of fancy Willem Dafoe now because of The Loveless. It’s a 50s rock n roll greaser mood piece co-directed by the producer of Wild at Heart (Monty Montgomery) and the brilliant Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, The Hurt Locker). The pair fetishistically focuses on a biker gang led by a red hot and ruthless Dafoe, lingering on their zips, sweat, hair and the creak of their leather jackets, as they interact and clash with the square small-town locals until all hell eventually breaks loose.
Nora Mehenni, Disc Production Manager/QC Supervisor
Filthy perverts, deranged parents, deadly vixens, demure hitchhikers, sideshow freaks, religious crazies, depressed telepaths, kinky sociopaths and hilarious psychopaths. This past year has been an absolute rollercoaster for the physical department and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
As much as I love studio classics and thoroughly enjoyed working on the likes of An American Werewolf in London, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or RoboCop, my heart will always go for the 70’s grimtastic flicks: the real heart stabbing dramas, the twisted dramatic tales aiming straight at the audience’s soul, leaving you shaking and wondering what the hell is wrong with the human race. Those little UFOs bring absolute joy to my heart, I simply cannot get enough of them. In the words of Queen Doris from the Sixth Dimension: “Why does it feel so good to be so bad?”
Out of all the year’s treats, I’d like to express my affection turned fascination for – in no particular order – Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz, American Horror Project Vol 2, Hitch Hike to Hell, Alice Sweet Alice, The Sender and The Baby. That said, my true 2019 heartthrob is Toys Are Not For Children. Such a sleazoid gem, it could not remain in the dark any longer! It literally had me glued to the screen from the first frame until the bitter end. The unapologetic tone, the ordeal, the abuse and the disturbing daddy issues mixed in with a good dose of sexual awkwardness. Weaving the dreamy and the grim into a sick, sad yet realistic tapestry of empathy. Add to this the absolute joy of seeing the streets of 70’s New York captured in glorious celluloid (and restored to perfection): I AM SOLD!
Now, of course, no year is complete without the mandatory sassy, classy manifestation of Edwige Fenech. Hail to the Queen and to her great playful performance in Strip Nude for Your Killer. What a babe! Hope to see again next year…
Sicker, sleazier, weirder: Roll on 2020!
Now you know our favourites, let us know yours! Our annual Best Of poll is back! Find out more and submit your vote here!
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