Altogether, those early releases alone represent some of the finest and most well regarded horror films ever made. Astonishingly, they will be remembered as merely the tip of the iceberg of the Anchor Bay legacy. From 1998 through 2000, the company tapped into the world of Eurohorror, which opened the eyes for many fans, especially younger ones, to a twisted world unlike anything they'd ever seen. The first run of Euros were amongst the best of their kind, with a good mixture of gialli, zombies and style. Lucio Fulci's Zombie was among the first and fans were treated to another gore classic that featured a murky transfer, but a pumping audio mix. Perhaps the most accessible of all the films Lucio Fulci released, Zombie's visuals are enhanced by one of the best scores longtime Fulci composer Fabio Frizzi ever produced. In addition to the great visuals and score are no fewer than four iconic scenes that horror fans will treasure forever, including a wooden shard being jammed into the eye of lovely actress Olga Karlatos. And if that's not enough, we get some of the most rotted corpses ever committed to celluloid and an underwater duel between a zombie and a shark.
Anchor Bay heads knew Fulci would be key to the success of the company and, alongside Dario Argento, would be as familiar of a name as Eurohorror could get. Fulci's famous, sleazy response to Maniac definitely opened as many eyes as it made roll as The New York Ripper was released. With an unorthodox Donald Duck voiced killer who viciously stabbed women in the vagina and a overly sleazy view on New York City, Ripper is a film that must be seen uncut for full effect. Gaping with raunchy nudity and slimy characters, it proved to be the most excessive film in the Fulci arsenal in terms of sheer offensiveness. But that was the beauty of the uncut AB philosophy; it told the entire story that was oftentimes missing from VHS prints (not just in terms of censored gore and sex, but in terms of original aspect ratio). These key elements transformed average films into good ones and great ones into masterpieces.
The fan-favorite Fulci giallo, Don't Torture a Duckling was presented in its widescreen glory as well as the first uncut release of as bonafide of a classic as their ever was, The Beyond, now widely considered to be Fulci's greatest accomplishment. Aided by Fabio Frizzi's most haunting score ever and the most gore you're likely to encounter in an Italian zombie movie, Fulci explores the afterlife via his own atheistic beliefs and allowing viewers to interpret his film as a series of images that connect slightly, but for reasons no character quite understands. With exploding heads, nasty acid and quicklime absorbing flesh and an army of the living dead, Fulci gives new meaning to the phrase "shoot him in the head!". An unequaled epic if there ever was one, The Beyond lingers with you long after the credits roll.
Not to be outdone was the ritzy works of Dario Argento, in particular his master giallo, Tenebre, starring John Saxon. A highlight reel of slash, a cleaver burst through a window and cuts off the hand of an unsuspecting victim and her white wall is painted crimson as her stomp spews the red stuff in a fountain of macabre. Style is of the essence as the typical Argento colors are in full effect as well as a great scene where a dog chases a victim into the house of the film's killer. Phenomena, a fantasy laced thriller than Argento normally was involved in also saw the light of day alongside two Argento-produced Lamberto Bava Demons 1 & 2 gorefests starring the insane tough guy, Bobby Rhodes. These films featured modern rock soundtracks and some of the ickiest grue committed to celluloid at the time. While more popcorn films than anything, these two examples of insanity took the edge off the more serious Eurohorrors out there at the time. And to be honest, the demon attack occurring in a movie theatre in the first one would make a great theatrical experience and the movie in a movie concept is intriguing as well; even if the flick the characters are watching is more engaging than the one we are.
Argento's sequel to Suspiria, Inferno, actually debuted on DVD before its predecessor by a year and was a decent follow up to the Argento art house gem. Utilizing many of the same camera angles and similar colors, Inferno is redundant, yet shows off some great eye gouges and decapitations. Of course, it pales in compares to the infinitely more vibrant Suspiria, which may be the prettiest horror film of all time that appropriately also features horror's most artistic kill and another grueling death scene involving a pit of razor wire. Factor in a timeless Goblin score and we have a headlining feature that just begs to be heard in exciting DTS. Deep Red hit the scene with an extended cut featuring all the cut violent goodies with many more scenes of exposition that some fans considered a mixed blessing. Nevertheless, the release hit the spot with a bunch of unthinkable gialli twists and staples. Nearing the end of 2000, AB dealt a sign of things to come by releasing a unique Jorge Grau zombie film entitled, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, a well liked zombie romp with grassy, lush cinematography and one heckuva "breast feeding" zombie. The awesomely cheesy, gory and ridiculously written Slugs as well as Torso also received surprise DVD releases in 2000.
While the time-tested Eurohorror classics had been out for a while, that didn't stop Anchor Bay from keeping it coming. Shock, a 2000 release by Lamberto's father, Mario, that Lamberto would also work behind the scenes on. Like the other releases from the Bava boys, it isn't Mario's best work (perhaps explained because a young Lamberto was set free with a lot of it), but had its share of moments including a mysterious razor blade between piano keys and the possession twist involving a boy leaving the camera's view for a split second and popping into frame to attack! Two pure Lamberto Bava efforts hit the scene to a little fanfare in 2001 with A Blade in the Dark and Macabre; two minor but sick romps. Blade was the better of the two about a slasher coming after a horror composer in an Italian villa, while Macabre had the most twisted ending and dealt with a wife having late night sex with her deceased husband's maggoty severed head... that she keeps in her icebox!
Anchor Bay exhausted most of the well-known titles in the Argento oeuvre, but they also turned their attention to his lesser known quantities. Cat OíNine Tails was released between his landmark giallo debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, and his often-hailed masterpiece, Deep Red. Itís a film that either feels like an experiment or a half-hearted effort, but the result at any rate is a mediocre giallo thatís missing many of the qualities that make that sub-genre so fun (namely the outlandish, elaborate gore and death sequences that Argento himself helped to popularize). Of course, when discussing Argento, one can hardly overlook his disappointing output from the past couple of decades. Anchor Bay got in on this unfortunate action with their release of The Card Player, an internet-based giallo that actually features very few hallmarks of that sub-genre. The admittedly interesting setup sees a madman kidnapping girls all over Rome, then challenging the police to games of internet poker, with the lives of his victims on the line. Despite the interesting setup, this one fails to deliver, as the violence is mostly unseen, and the tension is surprisingly low. Though itís far from terrible, this and Do You Like Hitchcock? are both forgettable efforts from the Master of Horror.
With fans clamoring for more gore, City of the Living Dead was spewed out from its long out of print tomb and shocked viewers with more Fulci madness in a grain drenched, bass filled DVD. With a wide array of head drillings, gut pukings, scalpings and featuring the acting of future genre icon, Michele Soavi, Fulci lays it all on the line. The zombies are unique and especially drippy and gooey while Frizzi's score is once again top notch - they even borrow his Zombie theme at the end! House by the Cemetery proved Fulci could get it done with gothic atmosphere as much as he could with gore, even if he brings the gooey goods in heavy doses. Of particular interest in House by the Cemetery is the ultra grating dubbing for Bob, the child of the family residing in the house of the zombie killer who replaces his old parts with those of fresher meat. Unfortunately, the dubbing does distract from an otherwise superb outing from Fulci. More Fulci was on the way with Manhattan Baby and The Black Cat, two films that oftentimes don't catch on with even the most devout Fulci fanatic.
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