Good old DVD – it rose from nowhere a decade ago and offered us unrivalled picture quality, amazing special features, supersharp sound, and films the way they were meant to be seen. (Sound familiar?)
Soon, the VHS tape, bulky, prone to rewinding, fast forwarding, tape lag, and degradation with repeated use, was obsolete. Who can forget the original VHS tapes of Ghostbusters, watched so many times it started to look like a Swedish TV broadcast recorded from a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? And then there was the upgrading, rebuying your library over the course of a few years, with each double-dip special edition. Evil Dead 2 has been released in seven different versions in the UK alone.
But not everything made it to DVD, and plenty of it never will. Aside from what are now classified as niche small-run old rock concerts, obscure TV series, and an Oscar Winner for Best Picture (The African Queen), here’s a few of the gems that have been undeservedly overlooked from a DVD release, often for no reason apart from apathy and general inertia, and probably now never will see the light of day again.
Hark at 15 random, forgotten films of note that are not on your shelves, and rejoice at yet another copy of Evil Dead 2D at your local megamart.
Films are ranked alphabetically, not in order of preference.
Blind Fury (deleted, region 1 only DVD)
Aside from very occasional TV showings, this brilliant, and utterly bonkers Rutger Hauer vehicle is still absent from your DVD shelves – unless you bought a US copy last millennium.
This is a confused film in every possible way. Hauer was probably drawn to the complex interplay of portraying a blind ninja operating by sound alone – a human Kung Fu Bat – and the producers by getting Rutger Hauer to do Kung Fu.
Whilst the plot is thinner than Wilford Brimley’s hair, and the film little more than a fairly average revenge thriller with a gimmicky twist, it stands head and shoulders above the majority of similar dross from the mid 80s for the amazing and improbable action sequences, topped most of all by a supposed moment of high suspense, that is, frankly, some of the finest comedy ever filmed, where a blind Hauer, on the run from his pursuers, hides inside a drumkit, and the ensuring cacophony of cymbal crashes brings about a showdown of gargantuan proportions – intentionally and not so – that has to be seen and heard to be believed.
Later, this may have been remade as Daredevil with Bennifer.
The Decline Of Western Civilisation Part II: The Metal Years
Lost in a nightmare of contractual disputes, this is Penelope Spheeris’ masterpiece (and single-handedly responsible for Wayne’s World).
No film has ever captured the decadence of Western civilisation quite so accurately. The cast is nothing more than interviews with rock stars and never-weres, and there’s rip-roaring live footage from the Hollywood strip Glam Metal scene of 1987-89. There’s a remarkably sober Lemmy, a po-faced, and utterly pompous Gene Simmons pontificating as if he himself were a modern day rock Jesus, and a cast of thousands of clueless morons trying, failing, and occasionally succeeding at being famous.
Three unforgettable highlights of this stunning time capsule make all the difference:
A wrecked Ozzy Osbourne making breakfast in a bathrobe whilst suffering visible shakes from the ravages of alcoholism looking like a man with barely weeks left to live
Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. in an inflatable dinghy in a swimming pool, pouring whiskey down his throat, slurring and falling asleep mid-camera as his despondent mother silently looks on. Livin’ the dream.
And Odin. Their interview consists almost entirely of one question, and the same answer, repeated what seems like hundreds of times.
“But what if you don’t become famous?”
“But we will.”
“But what if you don’t become famous?”
“You don’t get it. We will be famous.”
So in a way, Odin did become famous, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Topped off by sizzling concert footage and a general air of absolute, unrestrained hedonism and idealism that hints on the Last Days Of Rome, this is an unacknowledged, unforgettable classic that once seen, sears itself onto your brain like a scar. It’s the best single music documentary ever. The music itself, mind you, is irrelevant. All anyone remembers is the excess.
Pollox Et Le Chat Bleu (1972) aka Dougal And The Blue Cat
Some films struggle to fill their running time, others race by at such a pace they could be twice as long and you wouldn’t notice the passing of time.
At a scant 88 minutes, this 1972 stoner classic (voiced by Emma Thompson’s dad, trivia fans) is barely half the length it should be, and still about a thousand times less irritating than any other ‘children’s’ film made.
Wonderfully innocent, this musical tale of life in the garden is an endlessly quotable work of genius that makes words such as ‘factory’ more threatening than ‘murder’.
The plot, as such, revolves around the theft of Zebeedee’s magic moustache, a mysterious new arrival called Buxton, an obsession with the colour blue, and a dog known as Blue Peter who goes to the moon and has sugar lumps as his Kryptonite.
Mysteriously, this film, easily the equal of anything Pixar have produced in charm and its ability to work well for adults and children, is never shown on television, and was last seen on video in a scratchy transfer on the long lost Channel Five label in 1993.
Aside from the old-fashioned songs as durable as any stage musical, the new characters to the fold are brilliant, including a wonderfully cheerless train, and a brilliantly realised army of useless blue Plasticine goons that only obey instructions when singing them off-key.
At heart, Dougal And The Blue Cat is a brilliant, happy romp that is, according to some a fierce satire of the nature of political belief, the corrupt nature of power, and the virtues of idealism. It is the way the Magic Roundabout should always be portrayed on screen. If you watch this, you can almost forget the worthless recent Robbie Williams voiced film never existed. Almost.
Of the 7,000 or so films I’ve seen this in my lifetime this classic has been consistently in the top three. And if you could ever see it, you might very well agree.
With Kurt Russell as Elvis and John Carpenter at the helm, this rarely seen 1979 TV movie surely jumps out to me as one of the most obvious and deserving candidates for a DVD release. Whilst Carpenter’s skill has often been overlooked by an aversion by some to his specialist genre, this is his most naturalistic film, that operates far beyond the usual palette, with nary a ghost, slasher, alien, or monster in sight, aside from the chesseburger chompin’ deceased egomaniac that was Elvis himself.
Unlike the rest of the Elvis biopics, being made a year after The King checked out on the greasy yellow banana in his blue suede shoes, the Mise en scène is 100% accurate, the music awesome, and Carpenter exposes his not oft recognised talent for characterisation.
This is also the first time Carpenter and his hetero life buddy Kurt Russell worked together, so the powerful combination of the two, that later brought us Escape From New York, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China, is worthy of reappraisal.
Fantastic Four (1993)
Made as a Ashcan Title, and never intended to be released, this odd experiment is a cheap as chips curio that combines sincere ambition on behalf of the cast, who thought they were making a genuine movie, and the slapdash necessity of underfunded contractual obligation from Roger Corman.
By no means anything more than an expensive Power Rangers-style pilot, it’s a gonzo-powered overblown TV episode that was never intended to be widely seen, and sneaked out on VHS in Italy alone.
The best way to think of it is as a literal interpretation of a comic book: speedy, bright, gaudy, excessive, blunt, and moves so fast that it hopes you don’t see where it doesn’t quite make sense.
I wouldn’t exactly say it’s good, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’ve heard, and it’s better than Superman IV. And Superman III, come to think of it. Then again, Battlefield Earth is better than Superman IV. Just.
Worth seeing once, if only for an example of what could have been.
The Godfather 1901-1980
Recently touched upon, and rightfully praised, The Godfather Trilogy is a stunning, 10-hour epic. Coppola’s huge vision, recut and expanded for television in the early 90s, was a complete and utter reimagining of two of the finest films ever made, plus there was a bolted on third part.
The biggest and most notable change is that the trilogy portrays a century of the Corlene family rise, fall, and rise, from the 1900 side streets of a tiny Italian village to the end of the line outside a New York opera house.
To an extent, the thematic similarities between the rise of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, that echo each other across the whole of the fabulous Godfather II, are shattered in favour of a broader, wider vision. Instead, it’s told chronologically, opening with a countryside funeral massacre, and seeing Don Corleone rise from child to his death.
This version has been carefully excised out of existence without any apparent reason. At least as good as the loved and remembered theatrical versions, the trilogy is a vast, brilliant epic of a vision even larger than Coppola’s original movies. With the benefit of hindsight, and around an hour or so of deleted scenes effortlessly and unnoticeably slotted back in, the films become part of a larger, more fertile whole.
The deleted scenes are gems, and it is wonderful to see them returned to their original homes, adding an expanded understanding to the saga. Sadly, the 1977 Saga television broadcast featured different deleted scenes to the 1992 VHS release. To date, no version exists that contains all the broadcast footage from these three classic films.
Aside from the compelling tale of betrayal, loyalty, idealism and reality that can be seen to echo our own lives, The Godfather Trilogy simply works better as a chronological epic. And when viewed as a whole, with the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia removed, Godfather III is a slightly lesser, but still valid and effective finale that closes the tale of Pacino’s Corleone with a karmic conclusion that shows, even to the last frame, the high human price of the lives we live, the decisions we make, and the often small steps we take decades previously that turn out to be our ultimate undoing.
Whilst Coppola would prefer you to think this version is probably a mark against his masterwork, The Godfather Trilogy is, by any standards, at the very worst, a fascinating and equally effective alternate framing of the same epic tale that deserves to be seen in the modern age.
Aside from rare showings on obscure cable channels, this overfunded, underthought, and cheesy war soap opera has languished, deservedly, in a place that cinema forgot.
Subject to a whopping budget, great talent (Sir Larry Oliver, chasing a cheque with deaden, wooden enthusiasm), and absolutely no other virtues, Inchon is proof that you can’t make a film tolerable by throwing money at it.
Resembling a bad Madame Tussauds mummy reanimated by an infestation of maggots, Oliver’s McArthur is to be treasured, if only for showing with its incredulous crapness just how much further even the mediocre talent of C Thomas Howell or Michael Dudikoff could sink if they tried. Perhaps this performance is proof of a theory that, like musicians, it is only the truly talented who can be irredeemably awful and get away with it.
Bankrolled by religious cult, the Moonies, this was for many, merely a job for hire. Bond director Terence Young keeps an eye on lunchtime in every shot, the script is as blunt and crass as a teenage seduction, and the continuity is, to put it charitably, absent.
If you thought some films were bad, then you haven’t seen Inchon, which, whilst not actually in the worst 50 films ever made, certainly will never win an award for anything.
About the only redeeming feature is a classic era score from Jerry Goldsmith, but even that is insufficient to raise this unforgettable experience from the artistic seafloor it has quietly sunk into.
Therefore, perhaps this should be widely available on DVD, to show that even the worst of films are often made with some vague, misplaced ambition and hope, spoilt through the limits of budget and incompetence. That’s opposed to Inchon‘s weakness, which is straightforward cheque-cashing cinematic jobsworthyness.
But what a fascinating Making Of this film would make. A world where The Man Who Killed Don Quixote cannot seemingly be made, yet this can, is a world without reason, and run by mad men.
Let It Be
Aside from tiny excerpts being seen in the Anthology megadocumentary, this compelling, embarrassing document of The Beatles falling apart in a sea of bickering and creative earthquakes has been absent from the public eye since the VHS tape was quietly deleted in 1984.
McCartney expressed surprise it wasn’t on DVD a few years ago, and after a full remastering project last year, both Ringo and thumbs aloft Macca sunk a proposed DVD release, if for no other reason than the existing Beatles story overlooks the often bitter acrimony of their final years, and this document makes clear that things were bitterly ugly.
The director often left the cameras running and placed in discreet places to capture the true personalities in the band. McCartney regales Lennon with his ideas about The Beatles’ non-existent future, whilst Lennon is bored beyond words. It speaks volumes of the gulf between the two.
Harrison argues with perfectionist Lennon, and the band crumbles in a midst of ego, and being so incredibly rich they need never meet again.
Last seen on Ebay fetching £100 for a VHS tape and £300 for a laserdisc, the fact that this has been airbrushed out of existence whilst the risible nonsense of Help! is treated to a super special edition is both incomprehensible and utterly bonkers.
A seminal piece of 80s sci-fi headed up by sci-fi semi-deity Matt Frewer, this short, and striking, cheap and imaginative satire of mainstream television gave the world the rarely used phrase ‘blipvert’. It also had massive influence on U2’s weird 90s, launched a million t-shirts and a short-lived TV show, and was a mostly successful attempt to pre-empt the world of CGI-created cybersteam-whatever punk trends that were always humiliating.
If you remember the wave of mid-90s ‘The Internet Is Evil’ thrillers such as The Net and Virtuousity, then you will be stunned that occasionally, cinema gets it right, particularly with this witty, wise, and likeable escapade.
Managing to hark romantically back to the age of pirate radio, predict the proliferation of a million, rubbish budget TV channels, and take the unexpected step of killing the title character in the first couple of minutes, Matt Frewer spins a quick web of genius that he was, sadly, barely able to fulfil in the following two decades, being typecast as a wacky freak of zany sci-fi instead of the affable, dark visionary he was.
Why this is not on DVD is without reason, as this is worth approximately 10,000 copies of Young Sherlock Holmes.
I’m not saying this is good. It isn’t. However, for historical reasons at least, this bastardised, colourised, castrated, and Giorgio Morodorised 90 minute version of one of the greatest films of all time deserves, at least, to be included as an ‘alternate cut’ on a Special Edition.
If nothing else, this film is an important document of cinema, albeit an artistically bankrupt one, that shows, in much the same way as the Studio Cut of Brazilon the Criterion DVD set, just how useless, and point-missing studio-sanctioned recuts are. Plus, how studios cannibalise great work with the aim of selling tickets and making money.
Watch out for the largely useless and dated soundtrack, the fact that about 40 minutes has been sliced out of it with a baseball bat, and the wonderful colourisation that makes the pale oranges of the colourised Night Of The Living Dead look… almost realistic. I cannot recommend this as any good, but if you love cinema, well, you should probably watch it at least once.
On Deadly Ground
Take Steven Seagal’s half-assed compromise of a vanity project, and what you have is a 90 minute piece of rubbish. In it, Seagal tries valiantly to defend the honour of Mother Earth with punches, paunch, and a ponytail, whilst Michael Caine’s dye-job oilman appears to consist solely of outtakes from Larry Hagman in Dallas, with Caine’s face CGIed over the top like a bad stuntman.
To call this film good is a crushing overstatement. The plot is thin and obvious (basically Avatar with Injuns in the 90s), the action mediocre, and it boasts the worst matte painting in the history of cinema, namely an oil rig painted over the top of stock footage.
That said, it has two redeeming features – the cringeworthy author’s message of the last reel from Seagal, where he pontificates and puts the world to rights, should rank alongside The Man With Two Brains for guffawness and rivals Oliver Stone for blunt naivety. Plus, there’s Billy Bob Thornton in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as a fat, useless bad guy who gets taken down in 17 seconds and has two lines.
Song Of The South
Zippity-doo-dah! Zippity-ay! Best seen through the lens of its racist times, this quaintly ignorant movie could be seen as portraying the slaves of the south cheerfully toiling away and singing songs of freedom for your Disneyfied entertainment. It’s been quietly deleted for many years and the soundtrack has been carefully removed from the Disney canon. TV showings are extinct, and the only place it is ever seen these days in brief extracts on increasingly rare Disney anthology movies.
In 2007, Disney’s top brass reviewed the movie and, after initial statements that it would be restored to DVD, this decision quietly sank without trace. Admittedly, its not quite up there with Mickey Mouse Vs The Nazis, but as a historical document, made in the days of segregation and only a couple of decades removed from lynchings, is it any wonder that perhaps Disney would think it better left forgotten?
Mark Romanek would love to airbrush this naive black and white palimpsest of a film from his body of work. So much so that, aside from a low-key VHS release in 1987 and a couple of TV broadcasts, this quirky, odd retelling of teenage awkwardness, suburban dystopia, and crazy self-belief has been forgotten. Even One Hour Photo was portrayed as Romanek’s debut, which is historically inaccurate, to say the least.
In short, Keith Gordon is a stunted and awkward teenager (playing to type, then), working in a television factory who finds he can tune into Heaven using a specially adapted receiver. But no one else can see it.
Chock full of semi-Lynchian imagery, weird, offbeat, and so self-aware it hurts, Static is a film you probably want to see so that, if you ever saw it, you’d wish you hadn’t.
It’s quirky, funny, strange, and naive, and perhaps seen with hindsight as a little embarrassing, but it is nonetheless, much more than the baby photographs Romanek makes it out to be.
Beware: there is an unofficial, VHS-sourced transfer on an illicit DVD, which is practically unwatchable, and not worth the silver it is pressed on.
The Stuff (deleted, available now in Region 1 only)
One of the scariest, funniest films ever made, The Stuff is a deliberate attempt to create the kind of cheap, rubbishy crap that proliferated in the 50s, updated to 80s America, and then infused with a dark, sadistic glee.
From the Larry Corman stable, and barely seen since the 80s, this was part of the now mostly rehabilitated canon of ‘video nasties’ that stands far and above most of the rest of the genre. A savage and schlocky attack on capitalism, The Stuff itself is a beautiful addictive ice-cream style substance found only in one place in the world that has been turned into a Stuff factory.
Unsurprisingly, all is not what it seems, and the Stuff soon shows its true colours and threatens all mankind.
Part the paranoid ramblings of a madman, part eerie foretelling of the junk food epidemic, The Stuff is enjoyable, silly, guff with Death By White Goo. It’s is a bona fide, must see classic that takes a brilliant, and hilarious left-field turn when a scenery chewing American general mobilises his army against the Stuff, and all because he’s been informed it’s a Commie plot.
Inventive, brilliant, and beautifully tacky, it’s a crime against art this B-grade classic isn’t on DVD.
Opinion is sharply divided on whether Bono and his band of gazillionaires are any good, or offer patronising codswallop bleating about potatoes and human rights. Whatever your opinion, U23D is a document of no small cinematic importance for the revolutionary effect it held on 3D technology.
Instead of documenting the tour, as such, U23D is 82 minutes of live footage (mostly from Buenos Aries) which completely revolutionised the concert movie. It’s the first 3D film to feature unscripted action, moving cameras, all live human elements, and real-time capture of an event instead of staged performance.
Instead of being a visual record of the tour, it existed more as an experience to be watched than listened to, in the old fashioned tradition of concert movies in the cinema that died out with the birth of VHS in the late 70s.
If nothing else, it is a rare experience to soak up shots that last on average 15 seconds each and eat up the visuals instead of the haemorrhaging jumpcuts of modern day concert movies that focus on style over substance. You can watch the event with the same lingering thought, and the same unhurried gaze as you would in a football stadium in London, where the eye can absorb a tiny detail or a grand vista.
You could, for example, lose yourself in the spectacle of the staging, or the music itself. Or, you could marvel at the high heels Bono is in that you almost but never quite see. Or meditate on the sheer visual richness of the show.
Given the limited palette of the staging – four men playing instruments in a confined space – U23D exists on one level as an essay on cinematography and technology, in visual richness, and on another as a vanity project experiment that saw Bono sink $15,000,000 into some fancy cameras that are now the curse of almost every film ever made.
No concert film I have seen has ever come close to capturing the exact experience so accurately – sans the plastic cup of warm lager landing on your hair – and even without the 3D gimmick, U23D is certainly a superior music movie. Well, aside from the music itself, which is a matter of taste…
Editor’s note: can I add in Kenneth Branagh’s In The Bleak Midwinter please (aka A Midwinter’s Tale)? Thanks!
What else is missing from DVD? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!