The Disc-less is a new bi-monthly column exploring films not available on DVD in North America. While physical media is becoming less and less relevant with the advent of online streaming, the best quality for films outside of a theater are still in DVDs and Blu-Rays. The release of major and minor cinematic works on physical media has lead to reevaluation of cinematic history. The Disc-less hopes to point cinephiles to films still not available, as well as possible ways one can see them.
For this Halloween-themed edition of The Disc-less, here are five essential horror films that can’t be seen via DVD.
The Movie: “The Keep” (Michael Mann, 1983)
What’s Going On: A group of Nazis occupying a haunted pass in Romania are forced to bring in the aid of a Jewish man to help them find the mysterious force killing their men.
Why You Need to See It: Michael Mann has made a number of great films over his long career – “Thief,” “Heat,” “Miami Vice” – and “The Keep” isn’t exactly one of them. The performances by Scott Glen and Ian McKellen might be questionable at best, but it’s still Michael Mann. “The Keep” is one of his most expressively visual films, and probably his most audacious in terms of technique, including an amazing tracking shot through a cavern. It also has a truly seductive score by Tangerine Dream.
Why You Can’t Get a Disc: Precisely that last part – there has been a rights issue with Virgin, which for some odd reason ended up owning the rights to the score. Because of that, the film has been tangled over a DVD release for years, either here or internationally.
How You Can See It: Thankfully, this has not stopped Netflix from allowing streaming of the film on Instant. Torrents of the film are also available if you want to go illegal routes. There is also a LaserDisc and a VHS, if you still have those players around.
The Movie: “A Page of Madness” (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926)
What’s Going On: A man takes a job in an asylum with the intention of breaking out his wife after she tries to kill herself.
Why You Need to See It: Ever thought that “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was too straightforward? Enter “A Page of Madness,” part German expressionism horror film, part Japanese surrealism. Kinugasa’s film has only been found in bits and pieces (over a third of the film is still missing), so watching it for a narrative through line is a daunting, almost impossible task. But the images in the film are haunting as presented through a bold lighting style. It’s not just the first great Japanese horror movie; it’s the first great Japanese movie.
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: The film prints that have played in various places are heavily scratched and in poor quality, and heavy preservation work is needed to justify a DVD.
How You Can See It: While it has played on TCM before, chances it will screen again soon are unlikely. Unless you can arrange a screening at the George Eastman House, going with a torrent might be your only option.
The Movie: “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” (Charles Pierce, 1976)
What’s Going On: A sheriff in a small town on the Texas-Arkansas border must hunt down a hooded serial killer in the 1940s.
Why You Need to See It: It’s real. No, not really, but of all the horror films that claim to be based on true stories, this one comes closest to recreating its actual scenario, including the fact that it remained unsolved, and its use of extras from the area. Made two years before “Halloween” popularized the slasher genre, Charles Pierce’s film remains an unsung classic. Pierce aims for an almost documentary realism, including a narrator not too far from something seen on “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Why You Can’t Get a Disc: Like many films produced for American International Pictures, the rights to “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” changed a number of hands, going from MGM to Sony, where it is now. MGM had originally planed to release a DVD as part of their “Midnite Movies” line, which Sony has since discontinued.
How You Can See It: VHS tapes made in the 1980s are available. There are also some illegally produced DVDs on eBay.
The Movie: “The Uninvited” (Lewis Allen, 1944)
What’s Going On: A brother and sister move into a haunted house by the sea.
Why You Need to See It: “The Uninvited” is considered one of the classic Paramount horror films, and one of the first true haunted house movies made in Hollywood. Lewis Allen originally planned for the film to feature no shots of ghosts, though the studio nixed that idea. Even so, “The Uninvited” is a genuinely frightening movie, thanks to the expert cinematography from one of Hollywood’s most essential DPs: Charles Lang (“Charade,” “Ace in the Hole,” and “The Big Heat” are among his long list of credits).
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: Despite praise for the film by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Paramount has inexplicably never put it out on DVD.
How You Can See It: A UK DVD is set for release at the end of October. VHS copies exist in the United States.
The Movie: “Dark Intruder” (Harvey Hart, 1965)
What’s Going On: A supernatural expert must solve a series of murders in 1890 San Francisco.
Why You Need To See It: Love Leslie Nielsen in “The Naked Gun”? Wait ’til you see him as a playboy/supernatural Sherlock Holmes in this truly one of a kind movie. Originally made as a TV pilot, “Dark Intruder” ended up getting a theatrical release. Combining elements of H.P. Lovecraft, “The Twilight Zone,” and its own zaniness, “Dark Intruder” has some wonderful atmospherics, and seems to be constantly reinventing itself (Nielsen wears a number of disguises throughout the film).
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: It’s unclear who exactly owns the rights to the film, though perhaps it may show up in a “horror collection” release one day. A company called Sinister Cinema put out a small, possibly illegal release a few years back.
How You Can See It: The Sinister release is still out there in the small corners of the Internet, though expect to shell out large dollars for it. “Dark Intruder” occasionally shows up on TCM, as well as in torrents.