By the end of 2001, Anchor Bay had released so many classics that fans would cherish forever. Fact of the matter is, there are only so many classics out there for release. DVD was still over a year away from overtaking VHS's popularity and the format had already been part of a horror revolution only the golden era of VHS could top. In the next few years, DVD would become undisputed for the horror fan, with Anchor Bay still leading the charge. So many subclassics, obscurities and long out of print treasures were about to be discovered before the company would take the step up from licensing films to making their own with a name change also in the cards.
Having lead the way with Zombie and the aforementioned City of the Living Dead, Anchor Bay would play a pivotal role in the integration of the amazingly bad, awesome world of Italian zombie cinema. Early inspirations for films like Planet Terror, these B-epics were chalk full of gore, nudity and insanity and are most notable for cementing the rotted zombie rather than recently deceased living dead. For every Fulci or Bava, Italy also seemed to churn out a Bruno Mattei. Some of the Z-grade master’s best (worst?) made it to digital format courtesy of Anchor Bay, including Hell of the Living Dead. The most inane of the Italian flesh eater cycle at the point of its release in '81, it has crude, albeit decomposing effects and a story ripped from Romero. Ever the resourceful bunch, music was actually lifted from Dawn of the Dead and video footage from stock footage reels fill the film. Featuring a famous scene involving a white woman going topless to "blend in" with a cannibal tribe, this Mattei effort requires a devout fan to venture through. Luckily for him there is a legion of spaghetti splatter followers. Faring much better was Umberto Lenzi's "infected people" outbreak film, Nightmare City which did quick-moving zombies a few years before Return of the Living Dead. Contrary to Mattei's crap, Lenzi's weapon wielding zombie massacre may be cheesy, but an no point is it tedious with head explosions, meatball headed zombies and even a scene with zombies invading a live aerobics television show!
Another infamous, non-zombie Mattei effort would find a release alongside the aforementioned Hell of the Living Dead. The post-apocalyptic Rats features titular characters that are actually “played” by hamsters that have been painted up to resemble the more revolting rodents, which is probably all you need to know. Gratuitous sex, terrible acting, laughable dub jobs await you on this Night of Terror. Of course, there are also some nice gore centerpieces to be found too if you can stomach all of the cheese. In the same year, Soavi popped up a couple times with his slasher/giallo, Stagefright, which was high on thrills as well as one of the many unofficial contenders for the Demons III throne, The Church. Soavi’s film, of course, has nothing to do with Bava’s two efforts and is completely different in visuals and tone. Considering the talent involved, it’s a bit of a disappointment, though it does have some memorable sacrifice scenes (complete with obligatory goat masks).
Not nearly as disappointing was Soavi’s 1994 classic, Cemetery Man, released four years after The Church. One of the greatest horror films of all time, this undead epic explores themes of love, life, and death as well as any movie out there. It’s also one of the best splatter fests of all time, featuring great gore and some creepy moments alongside ample nudity. Though it sounds like your typical gratuitous Italian zombie romp, it’s anything but--the excellent premise (our hero must kill the recently deceased when they return from the dead) and thought provoking ending make this one a Criterion-worthy effort. Not bad for a movie where a goofy supporting character falls in love with a severed head.
Anchor Bay couldn’t go without releasing another infamous Exorcist knock-off in the form of The Antichrist, which is one of the most insane and grotesque films of that legacy. This one has it all: stuff shaking and flying all over the place, rituals, the horny possessed attempting to seduce a schoolboy, and, yes, plenty of puke! There were many films released in the wake of Friedkin’s classic, but this one arguably stands out as the best of them all. There were more Euro scares in the form of Naschy vehicle Curse of the Devil, the British Fright and Delirium, which was available with both foreign and American versions on one disc. Even more gialli saw the light of day in 2002 in their own collection featuring four rare flicks from the Land of the Boot, Bloodstained Shadow, Who Saw Her Die?, Case of the Bloody Iris and Short Night of Glass Dolls. And Soon the Darkness came up from the depths in '02 as well from director Robert Fuest, who also made the amazing Dr. Phibes films. Rounding out the year's Euro exploitation offerings were Deodato's Cut and Run and Hitch Hike.
There have been hundreds of vampire films produced, but very few are as well done as 1987’s Near Dark. Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow’s direction here shows that she’s always been talented and innovative, as she fuses the vampire mythos with a western/outlaw motif that delivers a memorable pack of badass vampires, highlighted by Bill Paxton’s Severen. A hauntingly effective film, Near Dark separates itself with its high production values, particularly its moody, evocative cinematography. It also gets dirty when it has to be, as there’s a number of violent scenes, with Severen’s boot spur kill being most noticeable. The film's deluxe, two-disc release did the film justice, as it was packed with an assortment of special features that finally gave these cult classic the attention it deserved.
Most fans will never forget the wealth of legitimately good, but mostly cheesy slashers Anchor Bay would bestow over the next few years, beginning in 2002. Perhaps the most famous of them all would be the re-release of the first Sleepaway Camp film with its siblings, Unhappy Campers and Teenage Wasteland in a sexy, bloody box labeled the "Survival Kit", also adorned with the Red Cross logo. Famously, with the help of uberfan John Klyza, most of the surviving footage from Sleepaway Camp 4: The Survivor was included as a bonus disc on Best Buy and Future Shop exclusive sets. The collectible box set was one of the most important horror releases of the DVD age and as controversial as the first Camp's ending was the fact that the Red Cross made a stink about their logo being used on the cover, leading to a re-release of the set with a much less interesting cover. This, of course, immediately upped the value of the out of print, original boxing.
The original Sleepaway Camp was no stranger to controversy in its day, and it has the dubious honor of actually taking place with kids at a summer camp instead of using the setting merely as a cheap backdrop. Although fondly remembered for its out of the blue twist, the film is quotable and entertaining for what it is, even if the Anchor Bay print was missing a few seconds of footage. Its sequels would fare better in the camp sense; embracing tits, gore, outlandish characters and comedy well before Scream set the trend. Not only would the film continue the story of the maniacal and entertaining Angela Baker, it would also poke fun at genre kings Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the stoner slasher world involves a topless, sex crazed twin singing the camp's theme song with her own unique spin. "Oh, I'm a happy camper, I love to drink and fuck! And if you pay me money, my titties you can suck!"
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