“BrainDead Season 1” (Paramount) pleased a lot of critics but very few Nielsen families, so unfortunately, this Season 1 set comprises the complete series run. Too bad, since this series from Robert and Michelle King (“The Good Wife”), about a documentary filmmaker (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who discovers that alien bugs have consumed and assumed the minds of Washington politicians, is not only clever and smartly acted (with Tony Shalhoub as a garrulous Republican senator as the standout), but possibly prescient. How else to explain this election year? Paramount’s four-disc set addresses that in a featurette which discusses the events of the election influenced their stories; the Kings and their cast, respectively, are front and center in two other extras.
There’s more body takeover by alients in “Preacher Season 1” (Sony), with Dominic Cooper as a small-town minister who finds his flagging faith recharged by an extraterrestrial deity that imbues him with incredible, if volatile powers. His efforts to do so, aided by an Irish vampire (Joseph Gilgun) and an gun-toting ex-girlfriend (Ruth Negga), form the backbone of this frantic, violent and entertaining series, based on the Vertigo Comics title of the same name and produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Sam Caitlin (“Breaking Bad”). The Sony Blu-ray offers a barrage of extras, including deleted scenes and fight and stunt breakdowns.
And CBS/Paramount has repackaged its exhaustive “Twilight Zone – The Complete Series” Blu-ray sets into a single (tightly packed) 24-disc set. All of the extra features included in the original season-specific sets from Image – commentaries by historian Marc Scott Zicree and many of the surviving guest stars (Don Rickles, Martin Landau), interviews with creator Rod Serling, promotional material and full episodes of the “Twilight Zone” radio drama series – are bundled here with all 156 broadcast episodes, which include such pop culture touchstones as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “To Serve Man,” “It’s a Good Life” – and “Night of the Meek,” with Art Carney as a down-on-his-luck department store Santa who gets a second chance courtesy of a mysterious bag of presents. It’s the perfect holiday viewing alternative to whatever variety special they foist on us this year.
Warner Archives Collection continues its remarkable efforts to bring classic films to Blu-ray with a trio of Alfred Hitchcock titles: “Suspicion” (1941), with Joan Fontaine in an Oscar-winning performance as a sheltered heiress who comes to believe that the brash playboy (Cary Grant) who has swept her off her feet may have designs on her fortune – and no compunction about killing her to get it; “I Confess” (1953), a noir steeped in Catholic guilt with Montgomery Clift as a priest who puts himself in harm’s way by refusing to identify the man who admitted t a murder in his confessional; and “The Wrong Man” (1956), with Henry Fonda as a real-life jazz musician whose life is shattered when he’s falsely accused of murder. All three have their flaws, most notably “Suspicion’s” compromised ending and the ill fit of Clift’s Method performance and Hitchcock’s direction with a docudrama format, but each has its merits as well – Grant and Fontaine are top-notch, as are Fonda and especially Vera Miles in “Wrong Man,” and in its best moments, the latter picture breaks through its murky storyline and evinces some genuinely frightening set pieces. All three Blu-rays include making-of featurettes.
Warner also has “To Have and Have Not” (1944), an extremely enjoyable Bogart and Bacall pair-up with the soon-to-be-married pair as world-weary ex-pats wrapped up in French Resistance intrigue. Based, very loosely, on a story by Ernest Hemingway, the chief pleasure of this Howard Hawks comedy-drama is the interplay between its leads, who clearly relish the ripe and foxy dialogue, penned by Hawks, Hemingway, Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, of which much has gone into Hollywood legend (“You know how to whistle, don’t you?”). The Warner Blu-ray includes a 1946 adaptation for Lux Radio Theater, with Bogart and Bacall reprising their roles, and a delirious Bob Clampett cartoon, “Bacall to Arms” (1946), which features the voice of June Foray as Bacall and good-natured skewering of the stars’ on- and off-screen images.
Meanwhile, Arrow offers Volume 2 of its “Nikkatsu Diamond Guys” collection, which again compiles three violent crime dramas showcasing the major contract stars from the venerable Japanese film studio’s stable of performers. The trio of pictures collected here are more lightweight than its predecessor – “Tokyo Mighty Guy” (1960) stars Akira Kobayashi as a chef who fights gangsters and crooked politicians, while “Danger Pays” (1962) and “Murder Unincorporated” (1965) are comedies featuring cult favorite Jo Shishido in cool and cruel mode as thieves on the wrong side of organized crime. The Shishido titles struggle to balance the crime elements with goofy comedy, though “Mighty Guy” is breezy, candy-colored fun, anchored by Kobayashi’s ineffable cool. Historian Jasper Sharp returns for another informative discussion of the films and its two stars, and trailers for all three films round the set.
And Flicker has “Woman on the Run” (1950), one of the purest examples of those remarkably rare and forgotten film noir titles that also happen to be one of the genre’s best. Its sinuous script inverts audience expectation at every turn – police inspector Robert Keith attempts to enlist Ann Sheridan in finding her husband (Ross Elliott), a mob murder witness gone missing, only to discover that she’s far less than willing to help due to their secret estrangement. Elliott has a secret of his own – a potentially fatal heart condition – that forces her to take a hard look at their differences and potentially save him, much to the concern of the cops, a hard-nosed reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) and the mob killers, all of whom are trailing her in search of Elliott. Though modestly budgeted, “Woman” offers solid performances by its cast – especially Sheridan in an initially unsympathetic role – and direction by Norman Foster (a protégé of Orson Welles), with stellar support from Hal Mohr, who provides shadow-steeped photography of the San Francisco and Santa Monica locations (including the original Pacific Ocean Park, which provides a literally thrilling climax). Flicker’s Blu-ray/DVD includes typically fine liner notes by noir expert Eddie Muller, who details his lengthy hunt for a viewable print, which nearly ended in the 2008 Universal fire.
Also on the noir front: “Road House” (1948, Kino), an odd and hot-blooded thriller based at the titular Midwestern honky tonk (with attached bowling alley), where lunatic owner Richard Widmark pursues torch singer Ida Lupino, who in turn lusts for manager Cornel Wilde, despite his complete disdain for her. Director Jean Negulesco keeps the picture together when the script threatens to send it spinning into camp; Kino’s Blu-ray offers commentary by two fine noir authorities – Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan, and a featurette which traces the careers of Widmark and Lupino during their tenure at Fox. There’s an unhealthy trio at the center of Nicholas Ray’s “On Dangerous Ground” (1952, Warner Archives Collection), anchored at its heart by Robert Ryan, a cop driven to brutality by too many ugly years on the job (“Why do you make me do it?” he begs a suspect before beating him to a pulp). Dispatched to the hinterlands by his embarrassed superiors to join a manhunt for a child-killer, he encounters and falls for a blind woman (Ida Lupino), whose mentally ill brother (Sumner Williams) committed the crime – something of a problem, since his partner (Ward Bond) in the search is the dead girl’s father. A.I. Bezzerides (“Kiss Me Deadly”) overcomes the inherent implausibility of the source novel by Gerald Butler with crisp dialogue, and the trio of leads embodies the despair and desire for human contact inherent to Ray’s stark worldview. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray includes commentary by historian Glenn Erickson.
Shout Factory’s double-disc Collector’s Edition presentation of “Black Christmas” (1974) is the perfect spiked ornament for holiday detractors; the Canadian-made thriller by Bob Clark – who took a slightly less sour look at December 25 with “A Christmas Story” – about a psychopath stalking the sisters of a remote sorority house is a deeply frightening experience that sidesteps most of the pitfalls of post-“Halloween” efforts by virtue of style and unnerving suspense. The two-disc Blu-ray includes both a newly remastered 2K scan as well as the 2006 DVD edition from Critical Mass, as well as many of the extras from that disc, including commentary by Clark, co-stars Keir Dullea and John Saxon, interviews with leads Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle and Margot Kidder, and multiple making-of and retrospective documentaries. The crème du creep is the commentary track by actor Nick Mancuso as “Billy,” the picture’s screeching, glossolalia-spouting maniac. Cue up that track and watch your unwanted holiday guests scatter.
Oh, and if you’re an ’80s horror fan and find yourself with any ducats left over for yourself or others, may I suggest investing in the “Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy” from Arrow? The massive four-disc set packages 2K restorations of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser,” which launched author Clive Barker’s brief but exceptional career as a director, and the first two sequels with a staggering amount of extras, including 200-page book about Barker and the series, reams of concept art, commentary by and interviews with Barker, Doug Bradley, who enjoyed horror icon status as the haughty and sadistic demon Pinhead, actress Ashley Laurence, and directors Tony Randel and Anthony Hickox. Each film gets its own making-of documentary as well as batteries of deleted scenes (and in the case of “Hellraiser,” a featurette on a deleted score by Coil), screenplays in BD-ROM format, and promotional material, while the “Legacy” disc includes Barker’s hard-to-find short films (“Salome” and “The Forbidden”), documentaries on Barker’s literary output and the “Hellraiser” franchise. It’s just about everything you might want or need on “Hellraiser,” and the box alone makes for an imposing centerpiece at your holiday table.
Shout also has a new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Don (“Phantasm”) Coscarelli’s clever “Bubba Ho-Tep” (2002), which suggests a world in which an ailing and aged Elvis Presley (played to near perfection by Bruce Campbell) has not died, but rather landed in a nursing home where, with the help of John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) – also not only alive but turned African-American to complete the ruse – must battle a revived mummy with designs on the souls of the other patients. Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, “Bubba” manages to be mordantly funny, creepy and poignant, often in the same scene; a modest success at the time of its release, it’s gained stature in cult circles since then, and deservedly so. The Shout Blu-ray includes new commentary tracks by Lansdale and Coscarelli and a typically ingratiating interview with Campbell; Coscarelli and Campbell also team up with a commentary track from the previous MGM DVD release, and there’s a wealth of making-of featurettes, as well as some archival interviews with Campbell in full smart-ass mode.
And last (but not least) is Arrow’s Blu-ray/DVD set for “Dark Water” (2002), director Hideo (“Ringu”) Nakata’s dread-steeped ghost story (based on the novel by Koji Suzuki), with Hitomi Kuroki as a single mother whose laundry list of stressors – a complicated custody battle with a brutish husband for their daughter, money issues that has forced her to move into a cheap tenement riddled with water leaks – is complicated by visions of what appears to be a little girl, both in and around their apartment, whom no one else seems to know or see. Atmosphere is the strongest element in “Dark Water,” which finds fear and sadness in water, or more specifically, its ability to affect our lives and moods through sheer force of will (constant rain, water-stained ceilings). The identity of the girl follows a path already outlined, to greater effect, in Nakata’s “Ring” pictures, but the film’s deliberate pace and Kuroki’s nerve-jangled performance make it worth adding to any J-horror library. The Arrow set offers a high-def Blu-ray presentation as well as lengthy interviews with Nakata, Suzuki and cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi, as well as a making-of doc and liner notes by historian David Kalat and former “Fangoria” managing editor Michael Gingold.