The 1960s Mexican genre films Batwoman and The Panther Women will be available in a double feature in English on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 19 from MVD Entertainment Group and VCI Entertainment.
In Batwoman, after the body of a professional wrestler is found off Acapulco’s coastline, the victim, by all appearances, is believed to have drowned. However, the autopsy reveals a very perplexing and disturbing prognosis, when it’s discovered the victim’s pineal gland has been surgically drained of all fluid. With this prognosis eerily imitating the findings in the autopsies of murdered victims in Hong Kong and Macao, the police turn the investigation over to Mario Roble, who enlists the help of a beautiful crime fighting luchador known as Batwoman. Their thorough investigation leads them to an evil neurosurgeon who is using the fluid in his endeavors to genetically engineer a half fish, half man hybrid.
In The Panther Women, in an effort to resurrect the dead leader of their satanic cult, the Panther Women must perform blood sacrifices in order for him to arise from his cold grave. Using the wrestling ring as their sepulcher and their unsuspecting opponents as their blood sacrifice’s, these beautiful sirens of Satan perform their life-resurrecting rituals, shedding much innocent blood. However, the accomplishment of their goal is thwarted, after Captain Diaz becomes wise to their evil dealings and quest.
Director Rene Cardona was later known for his luchador (masked wrestler) adventure movies such as Santo vs. the Riders of Terror (1970) and Night of the Bloody Apes (1969).
After a year in which COVID-19 upended Hollywood, 2021 looms as one big question mark for home entertainment executives.
The pandemic accelerated the growth of streaming and made premium video-on-demand (PVOD) an economic and logistic necessity due to the closure of movie theaters. And despite the lack of fresh theatrical product, the transactional end of the home entertainment business flourished.
In 2020, films that would have been major theatrical releases — including Disney’s live-action Mulan, Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour and Warner Bros. Scoob! — hit PVOD first before moving on to other windows. Studios made the most of captive home audiences by seamlessly transitioning from PVOD to TVOD, and at the same time dug into their vaults and came up with creative ways to market catalog titles.
“COVID didn’t introduce new trends to entertainment, but it did accelerate what was already happening,” observes Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
With a vaccine rollout underway, the big question is whether things will return to normal — or whether the changes have been so pronounced, so significant, that Hollywood will never return to its old ways. Whichever way the wind blows, industry executives say, the strides made by PVOD are unlikely to be reversed even once most of the country has been vaccinated and it is safe for theaters everywhere to reopen.
“COVID was clearly an accelerant to move more entertainment consumption to the home,” says Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox. “Event films will still be big theatrically, but there will be a push to accelerate consumers’ abilities to watch at home through PVOD and shorter overall windows — both digitally and on disc.”
He adds, “We don’t believe the theatrical model will return exactly as it existed prior to COVID. The evolution over the last year benefited consumers and content creators through the introduction of new products — and a number of them, like PVOD, are here to stay. PVOD has been a model the studios have wanted to add for many years, and I expect to see more PVOD releases in 2021. It’s another way to provide customers choice, which is good for them as well as for the industry.”
Dametra Johnson-Marletti, corporate VP of Microsoft Digital Stores Category Management, agrees. “I think many consumers will be excited to return to the theaters when the COVID risk is nearer to zero,” she says. “That said, I also think that PVOD is here to stay, particularly for titles that are not forecasted to be box office blockbusters, and for a certain segment of viewers.”
The mantra for home entertainment executives, then, is to keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry, and on the consumer, and be prepared for more changes as well as more uncertainty.
“What we saw in 2020 was an anomaly, but it also demonstrated our ability to pivot and continue to monetize our content through the distribution strategies and platforms that are available to us and that make the most sense,” says Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures. “All of these options — including traditional theatrical distribution — will continue to co-exist in a post-pandemic world.
“I feel strongly that we need to stop framing things as ‘normal,’ whether that’s ‘back to normal’ or ‘a new normal’,” adds Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “Our business is currently in an accelerated state of evolution, as the pandemic created the perfect environment for overdue experimentation with distribution models. Many studios are working within this unique opportunity to offer consumers new ways to consume content at earlier points in its lifecycle, and consumers have embraced the change. There is no replacement for the experience of seeing a movie in a state-of-the-art theater, but we expect content owners will continue to meet entertainment lovers wherever it is that they choose to consume new content.”
Similarly, streaming is likely to enjoy continued high growth rates. “Recent research from the NPD Group shows that the average U.S. consumer now relies on seven different streaming video services, up from five in April,” says the DEG’s Amy Jo Smith. “This is another case of the pandemic accelerating a trend that was already underway. It’s great that consumers have so many streaming options at different price points and offering different content. It’s the belief of DEG’s D2C Alliance Steering Committee that as consumers continue to customize their entertainment experience subscription and ad-supported services will continue robust growth, as will large, mainstream services and those that offer more specialized content.”
The transactional end of the business is perhaps the most fluid as 2020 gives way to 2021. Against all odds, the business didn’t collapse when the theatrical business did. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some dicey moments — nor will it be all smooth sailing ahead.
“The Microsoft Movies & TV transactional service thrives mostly on new blockbuster content,” Johnson-Marletti says. “With new production shuttered for much of the year, and top content releases pushed to 2021, our TVOD business certainly felt some headwinds. Our team had to become very creative and scrappy as they worked with our studio partners to find unique avenues for growth. We had a multi-part strategy that included shifting more focus to our catalog by bringing forward a lot of the fan favorite and classics for consumers to find more easily. We also focused on building great thematic and seasonal collections.
“Given the current state of the pandemic-related shutdown, and the related outlook through the first two quarters of calendar year 2021, I think we will likely expect much of the same, with some positive light starting to emerge in the late April to early May timeframe. The pervasiveness of vaccine adoption, the openness of the world (as it pertains to theaters), and new windows and rollouts will all be key inputs to how the back half of 2021 plays out.
“I definitely think the approach [we took in 2020] represents a viable set of tactics that will continue to serve our customers, partners and business well in the new year.”
With the continued erosion of disc sales in 2020 — at the nine-month mark, combined consumer spending on Blu-ray Discs and DVDs was down nearly 23% from the prior year, to a new low of $1.8 billion — digital retailers will likely continue to stress the collectibility of digital movie sales, as they did with catalog product during 2020.
“It may not be widely known or understood, but in many ways digital movie collections offer a level of security, portability, and confidence that discs cannot,” Johnson-Marletti says. “Your entire library can be accessed from almost any device, it travels with you seamlessly, and you never have to worry about damaged or lost discs. To the purest of collectors, the absence of tangible boxes may not fully satisfy, but, again, there are many benefits that outweigh the cardboard. Lowering the cost of entry and creating compelling promotions and offers that inspire first-time adoption could be a way to spur greater digital movie sales.”
Despite the emergence of PVOD and continued growth in streaming, some observers expect theaters to stage a dramatic comeback once most of the country has been vaccinated.
“As [Paramount studio chief] Jim Gianopulos pointed out in November, when theaters re-opened in Japan and China, audiences returned en masse, driving huge box office returns for films that were available,” Paramount’s Bob Buchi says. “Clearly, windows and consumer behaviors are shifting, but the theatrical experience will endure.”
Even so, Buchi says, “each film and situation is unique. For some films, like Top Gun: Maverick and A Quiet Place Part II, the theatrical model is optimal. On the other hand, we found tremendous success with PVOD for Love and Monsters and Spell. Some films make sense for subscription streaming services. It is not one-size-fits-all and every film needs to be evaluated individually.”
Ultimately, he adds, “we will continue to explore new distribution models and opportunities to bring our content to audiences wherever and however they want to enjoy it.”
Warner’s Wuthrich agrees. “Consumer empowerment is good for the industry and our goal is to meet the fans where they are — theaters, OTT, digital, physical,” he says. “While fans may have a preferred channel, they often participate in many, such as going to the theater, subscribing to HBOMax and picking up the Blu-ray. The multichannel experience could be one movie or across different movies, depending on interest.
“One thing is certain: If we are successful in creating compelling stories, fans will continue to show up.”
The World War II drama The Last Vermeer will come out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital Feb. 23 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
In the film, while Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew, was fighting in the Resistance during the Second World War, the witty, debonair art connoisseur Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) was hosting hedonistic soirees and selling Dutch art treasures to Hermann Göring and other top Nazis. Following the war, Piller becomes an investigator assigned the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in the flamboyant van Meegeren being accused of collaboration — a crime punishable by death. Despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant (Vicky Krieps), becomes increasingly convinced of Han’s innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life.
Family Video, the last-standing packaged-media rental chain in the United States, is calling it quits nearly 43 years after opening its first store — Video Movie Club — in Springfield, Ohio, in 1978. The privately-owned company, which cited the ongoing pandemic for the decision, said it would begin liquidation of its remaining 250 stores offering deals on DVD, Blu-ray Disc movies and related merchandise. At its peak, Family Video operated 800 stores.
“While we have faced digital competition from Netflix and others for years, nothing has been as devastating to our business as COVID-19,” Keith Hoogland, CEO of Highland Ventures, the Glenview, Ill.-based company that owns Family Video, said in a media statement. “We are very thankful to have been able to provide entertainment for many family movie nights.”
The chain posted a letter from Hoogland on its website shortly before noon PT on Jan. 6, stating that the impact of COVID-19 combined with the lack of fresh theatrical product “pushed us to the end of an era.”
He expressed special thanks to Family Video employees and customers, noting, “Without you, we would not have been the last man standing in our industry.”
Last November, the chain mounted a last-ditch promotional campaign called #SaveTheVideoStore to drum up consumer support. The campaign was supported by studios and Hollywood talent such as Clerks director Kevin Smith.
“Our plan with this campaign is to not hide from the stark reality that our business has been affected by streaming, COVID and just about everything else this year,” senior brand manager Derek Dye told Media Play News at the time. “We are hoping to pull at the heartstrings of physical media fans, video store fanatics and movie lovers as a whole to support us in this difficult time for our business.”
The campaign ran Nov. 9 to 22, boosted by a video of support for the chain from Smith, whose Clerks famously included scenes at a video store. The major push, though, was at the store level, Dye told Media Play News in November.
“We are going for a very grassroots initiative with our stores making signage, posters, painting the windows of our stores to get the word out,” Dye said. “We think that strategy along with the help of media outlets could help us immensely to drive traffic and awareness to our stores.”
In early 2019, Family Video began selling cannabidiol (CBD) products in more than 70 stores in Michigan and 250 locations nationwide. At the time, the chain still consisted of about 700 stores.
The thriller Come Play will come out on digital Jan. 12 and Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 26 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
In the supernatural thriller exploring the connection between technology and isolation, a young boy who struggles to connect with others turns to his cell phone and tablet for companionship, befriending a strange and sinister non-human creature. When the mysterious creature uses the devices to break into our world, his parents must fight to save their son.
The film stars Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr. and Azhy Robertson with a creature created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
The Asian animated films Boboiboy: The Movie and Saving Sally are available on DVD From MVD Entertainment Group and Synergetic Distribution.
In Boboiboy: The Movie, alien treasure hunters named The Tengkotak have arrived on earth and kidnapped Ochobot in order to use him to locate an ancient and powerful Power Sphere. BoBoiBoy and his super friends must race against time to save Ochobot and uncover the secrets behind the Sfera Kuasa. The second film in the series, BoBoiBoy: Elemental Heroes, is slated for theatrical release in December 2020. The first film has been broadcast in more than 70 countries, but this is the first time it has been released in the United States.
In Saving Sally, Marty, an aspiring comic-book artist, secretly loves his gadget inventor best friend, Sally, and fantasizes about saving her from the big bad world. The film won the Audience Award at Lund Fantastic, the Jury Award at Fantasporto, Special Mention at Brussels Fantasy, Best Family Film at Bentonville and Children’s Choice at Metro Manila.
The horror film The Hex is available on DVD from MVD Entertainment Group and Cleopatra Entertainment.
In the film, a grieving girl unravels her murdered mother’s secrets connected to a witch doctor’s curse. She wants to put an end to this haunting hex by traveling to where it originated, but her journey casts her deeper into sinister depths.
Directed by Reine Swart (Z Nation, The Lullaby, Dominion, Detour), the film stars Coco Lloyd (Trypophobia), Mary-Anne Barlow (Wild at Heart, Prey) and Christopher Jaftha (Table Manners, Bedford Wives).
Two titles from VCI Entertainment, the double feature Scream Theater and the 1952 adventure Mutiny, are available on disc from MVD Entertainment Group this month.
Produced from a new restoration re-mastered from the original 35mm Technicolor negatives in 4K, Mutiny is available on Blu-ray Disc. In the film, during the War of 1812, the United States, in need of gold, arranges with a French group to lend the government $10 million in bullion. To bring the gold here, an American ship must break through the British blockade. A young captain accepts the dangerous assignment and after several narrow escapes, the ship finally reaches France. No sooner is the gold aboard the American ship than the crew mutinies and sets the captain adrift, giving him one chance in a thousand to reach shore. The captain survives his watery experience, returns with the American Navy and recaptures his vessel. A British warship arrives on the scene, but one of the men volunteers to torpedo the enemy in an untried submarine made for a two-man crew. The mission is successful, and the gold eventually reaches America. The film stars Mark Stevens and Angela Lansbury.
The Scream Theater double feature, including the 1970s horror films The House of the Living Dead and Night of the Bloody Transplant, is available on DVD.
In The House of the Living Dead, evil lives and feeds in the attic of Brattling Manor in a remote corner of the South African Veldt at the turn of the century. Lady Marianne arrives from London to join her beloved fiancé, Sir Michael Brechenridge, at his stately ancestral home. From the outset of her visit, things go strangely wrong for Marianne. Michael’s autocratic mother is not at all receptive to the visitor. At night Marianne is disturbed by strange organ music and ghostly footsteps in the corridor.
In Night of the Bloody Transplant, Dr. James Arnold tries to get approval to perform a heart transplant for his elderly benefactor, but the medical society turns him down. When a ne’er do well brother accidentally kills a young woman, the doctor takes matters into his own hands and his benefactor gets a new heart. Meanwhile, his brother goes on a killing rampage and, in a bizarre turn of events, Dr. Arnold is also killed, and his heart is transplanted to save a policeman the brother has shot. The film contains actual footage of open-heart surgery.
A week after its digital debut, Universal Pictures’ The War With Grandpa becomes available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Dec. 22.
Also new to Blu-ray Disc and DVD, in a slow week for new releases, is Blumhouse’s The Craft: Legacy, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
The War With Grandpa stars Robert De Niro as a recently widowed grandfather who moves in with his daughter (Uma Thurman), forcing his sixth-grader grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), to begrudgingly give up his bedroom. To get his room back, Peter stages an assortment of inventive pranks, only to find Grandpa is an expert at payback — and soon the two are engaged in an all-out “war.” The War With Grandpa is based on Robert Kimmel Smith’s children’s book of the same name. The cast also includes Rob Riggle, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, Laura Marano and Christopher Walken.
The Craft: Legacy is a continuation of the 1996 film The Craft, in which aspiring teenage witches get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers. The film is written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and stars Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale, On the Basis of Sex), Gideon Adlon (The Society, Blockers, The Mustang), Lovie Simone (Selah & the Spades, Greenleaf), Zoey Luna (Pose, Boundless) and Nicholas Galitzine (Cinderella), with Michelle Monaghan and David Duchovny.
The film debuted on PVOD Oct. 28. Bonus materials on the newly released Blu-ray Disc and DVD include two featurettes and four alternate scenes with an introduction from the director.
Arriving Dec. 22 on DVD only are Paramount Home Entertainment’s Jiu Jitsu and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Kajillionaire.
The Nicolas Cage actioner Jiu Jitsu follows an ancient order of Jiu Jitsu fighters who face a vicious race of alien invaders in an epic battle for the survival of Earth. The film also stars Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, Rick Yune, Marie Avgeropoulos, Juju Chan and Tony Jaa.
The Miranda July-directed comedy Kajillionaire, from Focus Features,stars Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins as con artists who for nearly three decades have trained their only daughter, portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood, in the art of thievery as well. After recruiting a stranger (Gina Rodriguez) during their next heist things take a bizarre turn.
Cinema Paradiso,Tremors,Versus and the Shohei Imamura three-film collection Survivor Ballads are available this month on disc from MVD and Arrow Films.
A winner of awards across the world including the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, five BAFTA Awards, the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and many more, Cinema Paradiso (1988) — available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD — is Giuseppe Tornatore’s loving homage to the cinema. It tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director, returning home for the funeral of Alfredo, his old friend who was the projectionist at the local cinema throughout his childhood. Soon memories of his first love affair with the beautiful Elena and all the highs and lows that shaped his life come flooding back, as Salvatore reconnects with the community he left 30 years earlier. The original award-winning theatrical version of Tornatore’s classic is presented here for the first time on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with DolbyVision. This edition also includes the expanded director’s cut on Blu-ray, which delves deeper into Salvatore’s backstory. Special features include audio commentary with Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus; “A Dream of Sicily,” a 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore with interviews with the director and extracts from his early home movies and interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato, set to music by Ennio Morricone; “A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise,” a 27-minute documentary on the making of Cinema Paradiso and the characters of Toto and Alfredo, featuring interviews with the actors who play them, Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio, as well as Tornatore; “The Kissing Sequence,” in which Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes with clips identifying each scene; and the original director’s cut theatrical trailer and 25th anniversary re-release trailer.
A 1950s-style humorous creature feature, Tremors (1990), available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray, is a cult classic that has spawned a successful franchise that continues to this day. In the film, good-ol’-boy handymen Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) are sick of their dead-end jobs in one-horse desert town Perfection, Nev. (population: 14). Just as they’re about to escape Perfection forever, however, things start to get really weird: half-eaten corpses litter the road out of town; the phone lines stop working; and a plucky young scientist shows evidence of unusually strong seismic activity in the area. Something is coming for the citizens of Perfection and it’s underground. The release features a new 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films, approved by director Ron Underwood and director of photography Alexander Gruszynski. Included in the release are a 60-page book featuring new writing by Kim Newman and Jonathan Melville and selected archive materials; a large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank; a small fold-out double-sided poster featuring new Graboid X-ray art by Frank; six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions; and limited edition packaging with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Frank. Special features include new audio commentary by director Ron Underwood and writers/producers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson; new audio commentary by Jonathan Melville, author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors; “Making Perfection,” a new documentary by Universal Studios interviewing key cast and crew from the franchise (including Bacon, Gross, Ariana Richards and Underwood, among many others) and revisiting the original locations; “The Truth About Tremors,” a newly filmed interview with co-producer Nancy Roberts on the film’s rocky road to the screen; “Bad Vibrations,” a newly filmed interview with director of photography Alexander Gruszynski; “Aftershocks and Other Rumblings,” newly filmed on-set stories from associate producer Ellen Collett; “Digging in the Dirt,” a new featurette interviewing the crews behind the film’s extensive visual effects; “Music for Graboids,” a new featurette on the film’s music with composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk; “Pardon My French!,” a newly assembled compilation of overdubs from the edited-for television version; and numerous archive and other extras.
Survivor Ballads is an exclusive Blu-ray box set from Arrow Academy that presents restored versions of three late career classics from legendary filmmaker Shohei Imamura, a leading figure of the Japanese New Wave era of the 1960s. Based on an ancient folktale, The Ballad of Narayama (1983) was the first of two works from the director to win the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or. Imamura’s magnum opus depicts the members of an extended farming family eking out their existence in the mountains north of Japan against the backdrop of the changing seasons before village lore decrees they make the sacrifice of abandoning their aged mother on the top of a nearby mountain when she reaches her 70th year. Making its HD debut, Zegen (1987) takes a satirical look at Japan’s prewar colonial expansion through the unscrupulous eyes of its flesh-peddler antihero as he establishes a prostitution enterprise across Southeast Asia. Finally, the harrowing Black Rain (1989) details the precarious existence of a household of atomic bomb survivors as, five years after being caught in the blast of Hiroshima, they struggle to find a husband for their 25-year-old niece. The three works epitomize the director’s almost documentary style of filmmaking, exposing the vulgar yet vibrant and instinctive underbelly of Japanese society through a sympathetic focus on peasants, prostitutes, criminal lowlife and other marginalized figures to explore the schism between the country’s timeless premodern traditions and the modern face it projects to the world. Special features include new audio commentaries on all three films by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; new, in-depth appreciations of all three films by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns; an alternate color ending to Black Rain, shot by Imamura but removed from the film shortly before its release; archival interviews on Black Rain with actress Yoshiko Tanaka and assistant director Takashi Miike; multiple trailers and image galleries; original Japanese press kits for The Ballad of Narayama and Black Rain (BD-ROM content); a limited edition, 60-page booklet containing new writing by Tom Mes; and limited edition packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella.
Versus (2000), available on Blu-ray, is chock-full of fight scenes, gangster shootouts, sword-slashing violence and gory zombie horror. In the film, a mysterious face-off in a wooded clearing between two escaped convicts and a carload of sharply dressed yakuza holding a beautiful woman captive ends in hails of bullets and showers of blood. The location for this violent encounter is the mythic Forest of Resurrection, the site of the 444th portal of the 666 hidden gates that link this earthly domain to the netherworld. As one of the surviving prisoners escapes with the girl into the darkness of the forest, disgruntled gangsters soon become the least of their worries as an earlier battle between a lone warrior against hordes of zombie samurai is carried over from a millennium ago into the present day. The film launched the careers of director Ryûhei Kitamura (Godzilla Final Wars, Midnight Meat Train) and action star and fight choreographer Tak Sakaguchi (Battlefield Baseball, Yakuza Weapon). Arrow Video is presenting the title in both its original 2000 and expanded 2004 Ultimate Versus iterations, in a new, director-approved restoration. Numerous extras include a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon; audio commentary by Kitamura and producer Keishiro Shin; and audio commentary by Kitamura and the cast and crew.