The 12 best sci-fi and horror movie restorations and re-releases of 2016

Contributed by
Jan 4, 2017

2016 is going to be remembered for a lot of good and right nerd things, but if there's one thing 2016 got 2016%  the rightest, it's restorations and re-releases of classic (and some maybe not-so-classic) genre movies. The flicks we loved, the flicks we would've loved but didn't know about, and the flicks that are actually not good but we love anyway... a TON of them got [insert the current slang for "super good" here] restorations.

Oh. But maybe you didn't know. Maybe your finger was on another pulse in 2016 and you missed out on some the best sci-fi and horror re-releases of 2016. Or maybe you just like reading lists that affirm how smart you are. Either way, welcome to the party. We'll be serving up deliciously clear transfers, with deep blacks, hearty film grains, and absolutely no digital noise reduction because @#$% that digital noise reduction.

Here are my twelve personal favorite re-releases and restorations from the world of sci-fi and supernatural horror in 2016. There were a LOT more, but I wanted to focus down to the ones I thought were the absolute best and most exciting. Take a look: notice the abundance of horror movies because, dang, yo, 2016 was bananas about horror movie re-releases. Let me know what you bought this year and what you're excited about already in 2017. But first -- this year's list. Take it away, me!

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Squeaking onto this list, I'm including the '70s version of the Body Snatchers solely because Scream Factory's re-release is just sharper and more realistic/cinematic in color tone than previous discs (yes, even the recent Arrow edition) to merit a mention. Also, any year one of the best sci-fi movies of all time gets an improved restoration, it's worth cheering about.

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The Exorcist III

Most people watch the original The Exorcist and then promptly leave things there because, well, the first sequel was not perhaps the best. However, William Peter Blatty (who wrote the original novel) directed The Exorcist III himself and Scream Factory's new transfer from the (grumble, grumble) interpositive looks very solid. A slow-moving, more procedural narrative still deserves a release with visual clarity and, if you dismissed this sequel in the past, Scream Factory has given you a very compelling reason to give The Exorcist III another shot in 2016. It looks great and includes a director's cut that looks less great, but is still very interesting. 

Time After Time

Surprising absolutely everyone, Warner Bros used their WB Archive Collection imprint to put out an actually good blu-ray release of 1979's Nicholas Meyer time travel romance story. Very kind of them. After all, there aren't many movies where Malcolm McDowell plays the good guy. There are many movies where David Warner is the villain, but this is the only one where he's a time-traveling Jack the Ripper, though. And gosh is there a lot of very colorful 1970s fashion, art, and... everything else to enjoy. Despite some weird out-of-focus shots from Meyer himself, the pops of color are really appreciated. At last one of the best time travel movies ever made (yes, really) gets the visuals it deserves.

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Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama/Nightmare Sisters

A double dip here for fans of scream queens Linnea Quigley, Brinke Steves, and Michelle Bauer, kind of a pick your poison scenario: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama from Full Moon is the better movie, but Nightmare Sisters from Vinegar Syndrome gets the better transfer. Either way, David DeCoteau's insanely schlocky B-movie trash is the kind of stuff '80s horror dweebs live for (that includes me, by the way). Both films had been released again and again from the same low-quality source in the past until the original negatives were unexpectedly found in a warehouse this year. They both look better than anyone could expect. Sorority Babes suffers a little because so many of the location shots are dark and murky. Nightmare Sisters, despite how ridiculous it is, looks outstanding. Vinegar Syndrome, as ever, has a gift for taking the kind of movies most people hide in their underwear drawer and giving them the level of spit and polish you expect for a Criterion release.

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Chopping Mall

It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that a movie about mall security robots run amuck would be left to low-grade VHS quality for a long time, but what might surprise you is that Chopping Mall is actually super great and has been long overdue for a restoration. Well, good news everyone! Lionsgate's Vestron label has brought us a scan of the original negative film materials and, dang, does it look way better than I dared dream it could.

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The Iron Giant

Seventeen years after its initial release, Brad Bird's greatest work (and one of the best animated films of all time) finally got a blu-ray release. Is the blu-ray of Iron Giant everything I personally dreamed of? No. The blacks are a little too grey for this film nerd's tastes and some scenes look a little soft, but after years of unsatisfying upconverted HD presentations, the Iron Giant looks way better than it ever has. And Brad Bird did oversee this affair, so obviously the overall look is in keeping with what he wanted. The Iron Giant (and his movie) really do look super. I'm just willing to buy a 4k UHD if one is made in a few years is all I'm saying. I'm weak, okay?!

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Phantasm

Phantasm is one of the most influential sci-fi horror movies ever made. The Tall Man is so iconic that, even if you've never seen a single Phantasm movie, you would still recognize him on sight. So it's been baffling that a truly satisfying transfer eluded horror fans for 37 years. No longer! Thanks to Bad Robot and Phantasm super fan, JJ Abrams, Don Coscarelli's masterpiece finally gets the transfer it deserves. Angus Scrimm looks scarier than ever. You may want to hold out for the rest of the franchise to get the restoration treatment, but, if you can't wait, obviously run headlong into the Sentinel Sphere and spurt your brain bloods all over the maosoleum with joy, BOY!

Phenomena

You may have seen Phenomena before and not realized it. Even if you had seen Dario Argento's masterful supernatural thriller featuring Jennifer Connelly in her first leading role, there's a good chance you saw the heavily-edited American version, Creepers. But in 2016, Phenomena (which was, among other things, a huge influence on one of the first and most famous survival horror games, Clock Tower), finally saw a limited edition steelbook blu-ray from Synapse which includes all three different cuts of the film. It looks absolutely stunning, not to mention gruesome with gore and bugs practically oozing off the screen. Phenomena is a oft-forgotten classic, but this restoration guarantees you'll remember it from now on.

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The Return of the Living Dead/Part III

2016 saw two of the three (good) Return of the Living Dead movies get much needed blu-ray releases. Scream Factory released a much-improved (though still sonically incomplete) edition of the original The Return of the Living Dead which far surpasses MGM's initial blu. The original brain-eating zombie flick (which made Linnea Quigley a household horror name) has never looked better. The only thing that could improve it would be an edition that includes all the music and has visuals scanned from the original negative. Nothing, however, can improve Lionsgate's Vestron Video re-release of the unrated edition of The Return of the Living Dead 3 which looks as stunning as it's ever going to. Brian Yuzna's zombie Romeo and Juliet story may be a little soft-lit (it's 90s low-budget, what do you expect), but it's still incredible to see it look so cinematic after decades of straight-to-home-video-grade quality. Now all we need is for 2017 to give us a restoration of Return of the Living Dead Part II!

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The Stuff

I just can't get enough of The Stuff! Arrow's restoration of everyone's favorite movie where people eat white goop from a crack in the earth and become zombies looks absolutely incredible thanks to this 2k scan of the original camera negative. Excellent details on the close-ups shots, wonderful color-grading, and delicious film grain make this easily one of Arrow's best releases this year and a must-own for every horror fan.

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John Carpenter's The Thing

First of all, John Carpenter's The Thing is, in my opinion, one of the greatest science fiction/horror movies ever made. It's almost unbelievable that it wasn't immediately met with standing ovations from every critic in the game. But time heals all wounds, and this scan of the film's interpositive supervised by DP, Dean Cundey, is lightyears better than the previous blu-ray from 2008. The details are off-the-charts clear, there's color-depth to spare, and the practical effects have never looked better. This is easily Scream Factory's best from 2016.

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Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Collection/Blood Diner

The Wizard of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, may not have lived to see the release of this massive collection from Arrow, but he did supervise its production and it shows. So many of his very weird, very gory movies have gotten some kind of HD release, but never at this quality. Blood Feast is the original splatter film and it has never looked so good. This is actually Arrow's #1 best release of 2016 just because of how complete it is and also by how good some (but not all) of these movies look for the first time. And, a bonus, for those who love Blood Feast, Vestron Video saw the release of Jackie Kong's sequel/remake/some-third-thing, Blood Diner. If you love low-budget done right (the very thing Herschell helped pioneer), then you owe it to yourself to pick up Blood Diner at the same time as you grab Feast which, again, is easily the best horror blu-ray release of the year, period.