Top Missing Horror Releases: Filling in the Gaps

Few horror fan could deny we’re living in a golden age of home video release. Companies like Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome, Code Red, Olive, Scorpion, Synapse, Kino, and Arrow offer up fine flicks on a regular basis in truly inspired editions.

Other than the sheer amount of titles being hard to keep up with, there’s very little to complain about. However, there’s still a vast selection of domestic and foreign horror films languishing in the form of outdated editions and old formats.

The sheer number of forgotten horror flicks wouldn’t seem quite so sad if we weren’t already seeing titles like Return of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, or the Jeepers Creepers franchise approaching their second high-def edition. From both a business and fandom perspective, it seems silly to double down on already available films when there are plenty of classics just dying to get a chance on Blu-ray. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.

Possibly the saddest specimen of left behind cinema are those rare features left wallowing on long-dead formats. Take, for instance, The Keep. One of two entries in our favorite genre from director Michael Mann, The Keep is that rare film that almost feels like a night at the opera. Dialogue and plot are not the focus here so much as audio visual drama that creates some of the best atmosphere you’re ever likely to witness.

Despite an appreciative fanbase that only seems to grow over time, The Keep has never received anything better than a LaserDisc. One reason may be talk of conflicting music rights with composing team Tangerine Dream, though one has to wonder how much of an issue those rights may be considering the movie appears on different streaming services from time to time.

The Keep

The other claim for the release status of The Keep is that Michael Mann apparently wants nothing to do with the film and is fine with leaving it in limbo. Someone should probably introduce him to George Lucas as an example that what a director thinks of his films isn’t always in tune with the masses.

There may yet be a spot of hope for this one as Scream Factory worked with Mann on their upcoming collector’s edition of Manhunter (its second time on Blu-ray). Hopefully someone had the good sense to remind him of his other fan favorite.

Another film that occasionally appears on streaming services without a proper physical release is the Mia Farrow and Keir Dullea spook story The Haunting of Julia (aka Full Circle), a classic tale of a woman trying to begin anew after the loss of her daughter and subsequent separation from her husband. Ghostly occurrences ensue in her new home, and she’s convinced that her child is trying to communicate with her from beyond. The truth, however, is much more sinister.

The Haunting of Julia pairs perfectly with other high-class thrillers like Don’t Look Now or The Changeling. There’s a wealth of quality performances, excellent music, and grand direction; yet, it never seemed to find an audience. Which means to this day your only option for ownership is to spend $30 on a battered VHS from eBay and hope for the best.

The Haunting of Julia

Of course, not every horror films needs to be meaningful or even well-produced, for that matter. Some prefer movies of the cheap and trashy variety like The Brain, the story of, well… an alien brain with a face which aids a psychologist in hypnotizing the populace with only some well-mannered Canadian teenagers standing in the way. This one actually sneaked its way onto a European DVD that is currently out of print. Meanwhile, its American fanbase, which is surprisingly bountiful, still waits for an upgrade from fuzzy YouTube files.

That’s barely scratching the surface of titles stuck on dead formats. We’ve got the original Willard and its sequel, Ben, which features the classic song by Michael Jackson. Not to mention classics such as Eyes of Fire, Terror on Tour, The Plumber, and Blood Beach. There’s an entire release line still waiting to be rescued from obscurity. It’s a possibility many of them could be lacking in decent material for a proper restoration, but as Olive Films proved with their Blu-rays of Deadly Pray and Killer Workout, you can salvage a film even with the worst of sources.

It’s bad enough to miss out on a great standalone film, but what if you’re a completist? The type who needs every piece of the story whether it’s an astounding success or miserable failure? Well, start getting your panties in a bunch because there are still some rather notable sequels languishing in obscurity while their respective franchises roam free.

Godzilla 1985

The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985), having never received a digital release on our shore, could just as easily fit into the VHS-Only category. This becomes all the more shocking when you consider nearly every other Godzilla flick is not only available on disc, but a good deal of them are on Blu-ray in their original Japanese versions. In fact, this is the only entry in the franchise to have no U.S. digital media release in either its original or highly altered American versions. There was talk of Echo Bridge Entertainment bringing this to Blu-ray shortly after their launch of the similarly mistreated Godzilla vs. Biollante, but that soon faded into nothingness. So if you’re sitting there glaring at the little hole in your otherwise massive kaiju collection, the only way to fill it is to hit the import market.

While we’re on the subject of better-than-average sequels, let’s talk about Fright Night Part 2. Directed by frequent John Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace, this second entry flips the roles from the first film by turning Charley Brewster into a skeptic by means of good old fashioned therapy and placing Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) in the role of a true believer. That belief serves him well when Jerry Dandridge’s sister arrives seeking vengeance for the death of her fanged sibling.

Fright Night 2

Fright Night Part 2 actually received a terrible pan-and-scan DVD release in the early 2000’s which has since gone on to become something of a collectors item by virtue of there being nothing better. Granted, its predecessor hasn’t fared much better on Blu-ray, thus far receiving two very limited runs through that overpriced mockery of a film label Twilight Time. Meanwhile the awful Fright Night remake and its own follow-up (essentially another remake itself) are a breeze to buy.

I’ll admit to some personal bias in this next section. This entire article was inspired by the trailer for the upcoming J-horror showdown Sadako vs. Kayako. What does that have to do with films missing from the Blu-ray market? This might require a little history lesson if you’re down for it.

Some newer horror fans may be too young to remember the Asian horror invasion of the early 2000’s. This was a time when every visit to Blockbuster raveled another round of fresh-off-the-boat tales of long-haired ghosts and phone curses. Truly the biggest franchises of this movement were The Ring and Ju-On. Each was well-liked on both sides of the pond and received U.S. remakes to varying degrees of success along with films from all over Asia like The Eye, Shutter, and One Missed Call. The whole thing got so out of hand that eventually Hollywood turned the flow of Asian horror from a flood down to a trickle. These days some of their movies still make it Stateside, but nowhere near the amount we used to see.

With Sadako vs. Kayako set to hit theaters this summer, one has to wonder how long it will take to reach our shores given that the last Ring film and previous two Ju-on efforts have yet to cross the pond. Finding distribution isn’t even that big of an issue, as the Ju-On series belongs partly to NBCUniversal, a company with more than enough resources to bring it over themselves, yet simply chooses not to.

Paranormal Activity Tokyo Night

This isn’t the only time parts of a major franchise have been overlooked in the U.S. market. 2010 saw the theatrical release of Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night, a film that dwells in a gray area where it’s never been fully accepted nor disowned by its parent series. All the same, even though the franchise ended last year with The Ghost Dimension, this spin-off has yet to make it farther west than Europe. Surely there was a market for it. Paranormal Activity was quite the cash cow for Paramount over the years, so why keep an extra film buried away?

Let’s say these films don’t matter to you. That’s understandable. Not everyone shares a love for found footage and long-haired lady ghosts. But if entries in some of the world’s biggest franchises can’t get a fair shake, then what else are we missing out on? There’s no doubt labels went overboard during the J-horror boom, but they neglected many older titles that are still missing from our shores. Films like Sweet Home, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis, and its sequel, Tokyo: The Last War, are the stuff cult movie fans live for; yet, they exist in a bubble where they’re not considered high-brow enough for something like the Criterion collection, while other labels won’t give them a chance because J-horror is out of fashion.

Movies aren’t the only area where there are gaps to fill. There’s also the matter of television. In general, we’re pretty lucky in this category as most of the heavy hitters are at least available on DVD. Even so, there are still a few titles missing from the market, two of which tie in directly to some of the biggest horror franchises in the world.

“Freddy’s Nightmares” is a horror anthology hosted by none other than classic boogeyman Freddy Krueger. Each week he would present tales of terror from the town of Springwood, a few of which revolved around his own antics. The Elm Street association isn’t the only reason fans clamor for this series to get its day on disc. There’s a terrific sampling of directors like Tobe Hooper, Tom McLoughlin, Mick Garris, Dwight H. Little, William Malone, and even Freddy himself, Robert Englund.

Freddys Nightmares

Despite being part of a huge franchise and serving as a time capsule for that era of horror, this series has yet to fare better than an out-of-print three-episode European release and a few episodes shoved into the special features of the most recent Elm Street box set.

Fans want the show, and most would be understanding of lackluster AV quality. Said deficiencies could make this a perfect release for a budget company like Mill Creek Entertainment. At the very least fans could finally complete their Nightmare on Elm Street collections.

Freddy isn’t the only monster with a missing TV series. That green goliath Godzilla made several appearances on “Zone Fighter,” an “Ultraman” knockoff confirmed to take place between Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The reason for this one missing in action seems to have more to do with its genre. Japanese hero shows have a pretty slim release record over here, with Shout Factory and Mill Creek offering up the majority of releases. The series has been on DVD in Japan, so the source material clearly exists. The trick is convincing someone in power that enough Godzilla and henshin hero fans are willing to spend money on this series.


Would you believe that’s just a sampling of titles in need of proper releases? And this isn’t even touching the subject of films stuck with botched or out-of-print DVD’s that are in real need of the deluxe treatment.

So what can you, as a fan, do? Well, quite a bit actually. Post to company Facebook pages, participate in message boards, sign petitions… heck, just commenting on and spreading this article around could greatly help the cause of forgotten films. Most of all, though, you have to put your money to good use. Support as many obscure, unique, and foreign flicks as you possibly can. Constantly remind companies that horror fans will spend their hard-earned pennies on all sorts of wild stuff as long as those companies have the courage to make it available.

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Justin Passick

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