This week on DVD and Blu-ray: the foreign action film that puts its American counterparts to shame; one of the most gruesome films ever to come out of Australia; Ben Wheatley’s critically acclaimed follow up to “Down Terrace”; a Cuban zombie blast; a black-and-white vampire oldie; and a harrowing first person account of the Holocaust.
#1. “The Raid: Redemption”
If “The Raid: Redemption” is anything to go by, the Indonesians do action way better than we do (with help from a Welsh director). A hit at the indie box office, where it did solid numbers despite opening the same weekend as “The Hunger Games,” “The Raid: Redemption” revolves around an elite task force’s attempt to permeate a safe house filled with criminals in the slums of Jakarta. As the battle rages on with Special Forces leader Rama (Iko Uwais) at the helm, the druglord watches from his top-floor lair via a group of monitors.
“Bones break, blood flows and swift, excessively complicated fight choreography puts virtually everything released in North America since ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ to instant shame,” wrote Eric Kohn in his glowing review. “‘The Raid: Redemption’ stands out not only because of the speed of its execution but also because of the number of onscreen deaths portrayed with relentless unease. Director Gareth Evans exploits violence for the sake of entertainment along with the best of them, but he never makes it easy to watch. I swear my face hurt coming out of the theater.”
Extras: Audio commentary with Evans; 6 behind-the-scenes video blogs; “Behind the Music” featurette; “An Evening with Gareth Evans, Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese” featurette; “An Anatomy of a Scene” featurette; “In Conversation with Gareth Evans and Mike Shinoda” featurette; and “Inside the Score” trailer teaser for Mike Shinoda’s first feature score.
#2. “Kill List”
“Kill List,” Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to critically acclaimed debut “Down Terrace,” has been generating love from horror aficionados since premiering at last year’s SXSW. Bloody Disgusting went so far as to dub it “the best horror film of 2011,” while Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called the film a “brutally unsettling masterpiece that you need to see twice.” One thing’s for certain: “Kill List” will rattle your nerves. The film follows Jay (Neil Maskell), an ex-soldier-turned-contract killer who is pressured into a new assignment by his old partner following a disastrous hit job in Kiev. As they set out on their latest series of hits, it soon becomes clear that Jay isn’t in the best headspace to handle the job. All the while, strange things begin happening; among those, a number of his hits start humbly thanking Jay for taking their lives. The whole sordid tale builds to a horrifying climax that critics (for the most part) have been kind enough not to reveal.
Extras: Audio commentary with Wheatley; audio commentary featuring actors Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley; three interview segements with the producers; an the eight-minute featurette “The Making of Kill List.”
#3. “The Snowtown Murders”
Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel didn’t hold back with his feature directorial debut “The Snowtown Murders,” a grisly true account of one of the worst serial killer cases in the country’s history. Kurzel’s no-holds-barred approach paid off. The film opened via IFC Films after winning the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes’ Critics Week and picking up a slew of honors at the Australia Film Awards. “The Snowtown Murders” (previously titled “Snowtown” on the festival circuit) follows Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris), a mother raising three boys in South Australia’s Snowtown. After discovering that her boyfriend has pedophilic tendencies, she takes in a new man, John Bunting (a terrifying Daniel Henshall), who turns out to be even more vicious that the last. It isn’t long before John gets close with Elizabeth’s son Jamie (newcomer Lucas Pittaway), a soft-spoken outcast. From there on in, Kurzel’s debut shows just how easy it is for a young mind to be corrupted to perform unspeakable acts.
Extras: Audio commentary with Kurzel; deleted scenes with commentary by Kurzel; video interviews with the cast; a featurette on the Snowtown crimes; and the theatrical trailer.
#4. “Juan of the Dead”
Every year seems to yield a slew of zombie films, so when a good one pops up, we get excited. “Juan of the Dead” is one of the best to come along in ages. The film takes place in Havana, where zombies have run amok to take over the city. Leave it to forty-year-old slacker Juan to save the day. “In the enjoyable zombedy ‘Juan of the Dead,’ director Alexander Brugués uses the onslaught of lurching corpses to toy with the country’s revolutionary history and struggling underclass,” wrote Kohn in his review. “Set in a Havana beset by devastation, Brugués (making his sophomore feature after 2006’s ‘Personal Belongings’) has chosen an easy target and shoots straight. ‘Juan of the Dead’ is a goofy editorial cartoon peppered with gore.”
Extras: Trailer, making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.
#5. “Les Vampires”
If you have more than six hours to spare, you could do worse than watch ten episodes of Loui Feuidalle’s masterful black-and-white serial “Les Vampires,” debuting on Blu-ray today for the first time ever via Kino Classics. The classic serial follows journalist Philippe Guerande’s efforts to expose a vast criminal organization known as the Vampires. Most evasive of all is the Vampire’s muse, a seductive assassin that goes by the name of Irma Vep.
Extras: None. But at more than six-and-a-half hours, this set should more than satisfy.
Considered by many (including Steven Spielberg) to be one of the most important European films about the Holocaust, “Korczak,” directed by Academy Award winner Andrzej Wajda (“Katyn”) and written by Agnieszka Holland (“In Darkness”), gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Kino Classics, 22 years after it opened in theaters. The stunningly shot black-and-white drama tells the story of Polish pedagogue Janusz Korczak, who refused to abandon the kids from his Warsaw orphanage, even as they were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka.
Extras: Trailer and a stills gallery.