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Top 10 DVDs (Probably) Not on Any Other Top 10 List in 2005

(In Alphabetical Order)

1. Though a bit overpriced, Anchor Bay's The Ealing Films Comedy Collection is a must-have for fans of British comedy and the little studio that practically invented the style of subtle character and locale-driven humor unique to Britain. The five-movie set includes a nice mix of better-known classic titles like Passport to Pimlico and Whiskey Galore! (both 1949), but also less-famous gems: Titfield Thunderbolt (1952), A Run for Your Money (1949), and The Maggie (1954). Read Stuart's review here.

2. Edgar Wallace - Edition 7 - The Monk with the Whip / The Horror of Blackwood Castle / Hand of Power (German only) / The Gorilla of Soho No import DVDs impressed this reviewer more in 2005 than UFA and Universum Film's Edgar Wallace series, eight boxed sets containing the hip and hugely popular light mysteries produced from 1959-1972. About half the films offer English subtitle and English audio options, and except for the earliest titles (originally released full frame), all are given splendiferous 16:9 enhanced transfers. The color films look outstanding, and most of the black and white ones retain their original full-color titles. The DVDs are loaded down with extras, including interviews, on-location footage, full color booklets and sample daily production reports. Wildly imaginative, funny and sexy, these immensely entertaining movies are ripe for a major rediscovery outside Germany. No Reviews.

3. The Flesh Eaters New label Dark Sky Films got off to a great start in 2005 with this genuine cult film, a sometimes goofy but eminently watchable blend of science fiction, horror, and proto-gore shot in New York State. A disparate group of castaways find themselves stranded on a creepy scientist's (cult character actor Martin Kosleck) remote island, where's he's conducting strange experiments involving the deadly title creatures. One of the very best 16:9 transfers of a 1.85:1 black and white movie this reviewer has seen so far; this picture sure has come a long way from late-night TV showings via battered 16mm TV prints. DVD Savant's review can be found here.

4. Okay, so it's on DVD Savant's list, too, but Universal's Hammer Horror Series, a two disc set features the studio's entire collection of Hammer horror and suspense films - The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Night Creatures, Nightmare, Paranoiac, The Kiss of the Vampire and The Evil of Frankenstein - is impossible to ignore. All eight films, all 16:9 enhanced, look terrific, from the 1.66:1 Technicolor-printed Brides of Dracula to the HammerScope'd, crisply black and white Nightmare. Retailing at under $30, this is an unbelievable bargain that made many a horror fan's Halloween this year, and almost makes up for Universal Home Video's mostly disastrous policy of using DVD-18s on most of their boxed sets. Glenn's review can be found here.

5. Hogan's Heroes - The Complete Second Season There are better TV shows out there (lots and LOTS of better shows), but few 40-year-old series are given the TLC accorded to this oddball sitcom, from sparkling transfers that make episodes shine like mini-movies, to myriad and often fascinating extras, many of which come courtesy star Bob Crane's widow, Sigrid Valdis. If “definitive” boxed sets of The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show set the standard for great shows, Paramount's release of Hogan's Heroes Year Two illustrates how well even lesser library titles from the fifties and sixties can be presented. Of course, this doesn't explain why Taxi, another and much superior Paramount title, has no extras at all, or account for the absence of such classic Paramount-owned series like Sergeant Bilko, but…. Stuart's original review appears here

6. Hopalong Cassidy (Volumes 1-8). When Image stopped releasing the Corinth-licensed Hopalong Cassidy double-feature discs several years back, it looked as if the remaining entries in the long running film series (66 features in all!) would never make it to DVD. Then, in 2004, budget label Platinum Disc Corporation quietly began releasing the rest of the much-loved series. There were no press releases that we know of, no review copies were sent out, and subsequently no reviews of these sets have appeared on the Internet, at least not on any of the major and minor DVD review sites. Though unfortunately transferred at a criminally low bit rate, the films are fully licensed by the U.S. Television Office (the successor of all rights to the series) and most of the film elements are pristine, playing like brand-new movies. Platinum's confusingly organized sets (to say nothing of their curious aversion to publicity) are available in separate volumes or grouped together. This reviewer picked up one set simply sold as Hopalong Cassidy; it offers a whopping 25 movies on five discs for just $34.99 retail. Wow! No Reviews.

7. Matango - Attack of the Mushroom People Fans of Japanese science fiction, fantasy and horror films paid princely sums 15 years ago for imported laserdiscs or bootlegged videotapes featuring the original Japanese versions of movies like The Mysterians (1957), Varan the Unbelievable (1958), and Dagora, the Space Monster (1964). Now all of these movies are available on DVD, in pristine 16:9 transfers with English subtitles and feasts of extras, including audio commentary tracks with the original actors and special effects men. Who would have thought any American label could negotiate a deal with the notoriously impossible Toho Co., Ltd. and their army of lawyers? To see these films in their original form, and not the bastardized American versions with all their bad dubbing and added or altered footage, is sometimes a revelation, never more so than Matango (1963), a uniquely Japanese horror film directed by genre master Ishiro Honda (Gojira). DVD Savant's review is here.

8. Panic Beats. All hail Paul Naschy and Mondo Macabro! One of the top labels for offbeat Euro-horror and Asian exploitation, thanks to them more adventurous film buffs can now enjoy Pakistani vampire movies, Indonesian Lady Terminators, and this, which is something like a Spanish Diabolique, only with a lot more sex and a vengeful 16th knight out for blood. Featuring Mondo's usual superlative transfer and some great extra features, it's DVDs like this which are fueling America's newfound fascination with heretofore obscure European horror cinema. Stuart's review is here.

9. Panic in Year Zero/The Last Man on Earth. MGM's sale to Sony doesn't seemed to have slowed the former label's Midnight Movies line, a delirious collection of drive-in double features, most drawn from MGM's AIP library. This long-delayed double-bill deserves special mention partly because it illustrates how studios can make the remastering of movies that have fallen into public domain economically worthwhile. Though The Last Man on Earth (1964) had already been released by numerous fly-by-night PD labels (21 labels are listed on Amazon as selling it), MGM's 16:9 enhanced version of this creepy Vincent Price thriller (adapted from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend) put all previous PD editions to shame. Better still, the DVD retails for less than $15 and includes Panic in Year Zero (1962), Ray Milland's highly entertaining if peculiar story of a family coping with life after The Bomb. DVD Savant's review is here.

10. Stooges: The Men Behind the Mayhem Labels that release public domain and/or cheaply-acquired movies and miscellaneous video usually present their holdings with no concern at all for the consumer and certainly without any knowledge or understanding of the very products they're hawking. Mackinac Media's release of this hodgepodge of Three Stooges documentaries, radio interviews, home movies and such was obviously prepared by hard-core fans wanting to get out everything possible they could get under the intense radar scrutiny of the Stooges' estates and Sony's legal department. For fans of the team, this release is a treasure trove of rare material. Stuart's original review is here

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.

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