The New Blu-Ray Releases You Should Check Out This Week: Ghost Stories, Zombies, And David Lynch

(Welcome to Not Dead Yet, a feature dedicated to what's new on Blu-ray and what special features you should be excited about. Because yes, some of us still like to own physical copies of our movies.)

Happy Halloween! Open your goodie bags and/or plastic pumpkin buckets and I'll drop some fine physical media in there. In this latest Blu-ray round-up, I've got a group of films that are actually perfect for Halloween. They're also perfect for any day besides Halloween, too. You don't need Halloween as an excuse to watch creepy movies, folks. They're good all year round.

Below you'll find a George Romero later-day zombie film, a remake of a Romero classic, a spooky post-modern ghost story starring Kristen Stewart, and a polarizing trip to Twin Peaks. Here are the new Blu-ray releases you should check out this week.

Personal Shopper

In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart sends the following text message to a stranger who may or may not be a ghost: "R U alive or dead?" It sounds silly, but Olivier Assayas' weird, hypnotic ghost story finds ways of making the silly seem serious. The key to making all this work is Stewart, one of the very best actresses of her generation.

It's hard to put into words just what makes Stewart such a fascinating actress. She's very low-key in her performance here, and it's a performance that relies frequently on quirks and tics – the way she bites her nails, the way she stumbles over words. Yet Stewart's performance in Personal Shopper is almost hypnotic. We can't look away as she chain smokes one cigarette after another, or checks her phone, or gets wrapped up in a murder mystery.

Stewart is a personal shopper for a hellish actress, and when she's not out buying fancy clothes for her client, she's attempting to contact the ghost of her twin brother who died of a heart defect that Stewart's character also has. Along the way, she gets wrapped up in a game of cat and mouse, sort of, with a mysterious person sending her mysterious text messages.

Assayas' film, set in Paris during a chilly autumn, moves at its own deliberate pace, yet it's never boring. Again, this is due almost entirely to Stewart, who somehow makes long sequences of text sending very cinematic and engrossing. After a while, you feel like you could watch Stewart texting all day and never get tired of it. All of this makes the film sound more boring and less driven than it actually is, but Personal Shopper is constantly moving forward. Like Stewart's character, the movie is always on the go, as if it's trying to outrun something. Perhaps death itself.

In the end, Personal Shopper is almost unclassifiable. The film features supernatural elements, including several genuinely spooky scenes involving ghosts. Yet I wouldn't exactly call it a horror movie. Instead, it's a meditation on grief and life. It's a haunted film about being haunted, where the thing doing the haunting might in fact be your own mind. It's an altogether fascinating film, and one of the very best of the year.

Special Features to Note:

I was thrilled that Personal Shopper ended up as part of the Criterion Collection. I was less thrilled when I saw the special features, or lack thereof. We get a filmed conference from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where Stewart and members of the cast talk about the production, and we also get a new interview with Assayas.  

There, Assayas talks about how, before he made Personal Shopper, he had an image in his head of a girl who rides a scooter who hates her job. Also, he had wanted long wanted to make a genre film that dealt with the supernatural. After thinking on these topics for a while, Assayas combined them into this film. "I think the supernatural is what happens outside the sphere of our senses," he says. It's not a bad interview, but again, this film deserves much more. A more in-depth interview with Stewart, where she delves into her character, would've been perfection. Alas, it was not to be.

Special Features include:

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

2K digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Yorick Le Saux and approved by director Olivier Assayas, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray

New interview with Assayas

2016 Cannes Film Festival press conference featuring actor Kristen Stewart and other members of the film's cast and crew

Theatrical trailer

PLUS: An essay by critic Glenn Kenny

Land of The Dead

The late, great George Romero kept making zombie movies throughout his career, but none could ever measure up to his original unholy trilogy – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The only film that came close was 2005's Land of the Dead, which had Romero returning to the genre he basically created after much time away.

The funny thing about Land of the Dead is it feels even more relevant today than it did in 2005. Dennis Hopper, who rules over a walled-in city oblivious to the world of zombies beyond, could very easily be a Donald Trump stand-in. Land of the Dead is set in a post-post apocalyptic world. Zombies still shuffle through the world in search of flesh to eat, but Hopper has constructed a walled-in world inside the luxury condo community known as Fiddler's Green. Within the walls of Fiddler's Green, the wealthy upper class live in complete luxury, willfully ignorant of the zombies outside. To them, life is perfectly normal; there's nothing to worry about.

Except, there is. It's only a matter of time before those ghouls breach the walls and come storming in. All of this is great stuff – like the best of Romero's zombie films, he's using the undead to tell a socially conscious story. Unfortunately, the bulk of the humans he has populating the film are complete duds. Simon Baker is so boring as our hero that he may as well be part of the scenery. This is no doubt by design; Romero's zombie films care more about the dead than the living. But when we're forced to spend so much time with these dull humans, it starts to wear us down.

Still, Romero was clearly ahead of his time here. At the time he made this film, the idea of a Trump-like figure as a Presidential leader seemed impossible (not that it doesn't still seem that way, here in 2017). Yet Romero has the Trumpian character Hopper plays ruling over his kingdom with disdain and complete disregard for anyone's well-being but his own. Romero knew. We should've listened to him.

Special Features to Note:

Just in time for Halloween, Scream Factory is releasing both Land of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake on new Blu-rays. There are a ton of special features here, although I must sadly say a lot of them aren't overly exciting. The bulk of the new stuff here consists of new interviews, including one with Land of the Dead co-star John Leguizamo. But Shout Factory has a problem when it comes to their special feature interviews: they're kind of dull. There never seems to be anyone guiding the interviews, and as a result the subjects tend to ramble.

Still, it's great to have this Blu-ray, and there are good features here. Primarily the documentary Dream of the Dead, which is about the making of Land. Not only is it a nice archival doc that transports the viewer back to the ancient time of 2005, it also covers Romero's zombie movie career in general, and is clearly a loving tribute to a great filmmaker who has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Anyone who is a fan of Romero's zombie films should get their hands on this ASAP.

Special Features Include:

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive

NEW Cholo's Reckoning – An Interview With Actor John Leguizamo

NEW Charlie's Story – An Interview With Actor Robert Joy

NEW The Pillsbury Factor – An Interview With Actor Pedro Miguel Arce

NEW Four Of The Apocalypse – An Interview With Actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, And Jasmin Geljo

Dream Of The Dead: The Director's Cut With Optional Commentary By Director Roy Frumkes

Deleted Footage From Dream Of The Dead

Deleted Scenes

Theatrical Trailer

DISC TWO: Uncut Version

NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive With HD Inserts

NEW Audio Commentary With Zombie Performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, And Rob Mayr

Audio Commentary With Writer/Director George A. Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald, And Editor Michael Doherty

Undead Again: The Making Of Land Of The Dead

Bringing The Dead To Life

Scenes Of Carnage

Zombie Effects: From Green Screen To Finished Scene

Scream Test – CGI Test

Bringing The Storyboards To Life

A Day With The Living Dead Hosted By John Leguizamo

When Shaun Met George

Dawn of the Dead

When a remake of George Romero's immortal zombie classic Dawn of the Dead was first announced, fans did not take kindly to the idea. Horror remakes were nothing new at the time, but the idea of remaking Romero seemed like sacrilege to some. Things only got worse when it was announced that James Gunn, then only really known for having written two Scooby-Doo movies, was going to pen the script. And then came word that the zombies, who had always been shuffling, shambling creatures in Romero's films, would be super-fast sprinters here. It just seemed like every poor decision possible was being made in regards to Dawn of the Dead.

And then the film hit theaters in 2004, and surprise, surprise: it was actually pretty damn good! To be clear, the Zack Snyder's ultra-slick, hyper-violent remake can't hold a candle to Romero's classic, and Gunn's script, while clever and fun, doesn't even bother touching on the satiric send-up of consumerism that was so prevalent in the original. But the 2004 Dawn of the Dead is mostly very successful, with a strong central performance from Sarah Polley, the type of actress you don't expect to see in a film like this.

The set-up is the same as Romero's film: a zombie outbreak strands survivors at a mall. From there, though, the Snyder's remake forges its own bloody path, and works hard to develop the film's expansive cast of characters. The zombies may not be as creepy as Romero's lurching undead, but they're still plenty effective in all their shrieking, destructive menace. The zombie genre had yet to run its course in 2004 (unlike now, when it's far overstayed its welcome), so a lot of the choices Snyder and company make here seem relatively fresh. And best of all, the dog lives.

Special Features to Note:

Like the Scream Factory release of Land of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead is full of features, including those mostly stale Scream Factory interviews. Actor Ty Burrell, who plays a professional jerk in the film, gives an animated interview in which he talks about realizing the film was pretty special while filming it. Screenwriter James Gunn has a fairly interesting interview as well. Gunn says the original was one of his favorite movies when he was a "youngster." He also talks a bit about the writing process, saying "I saw it could be a movie that took the premise of the first movie but was really a different story...a story of redemption."

In Gunn's summation, the people who would survive a zombie apocalypse would likely be the jerks of society; the self-centered individuals who are only looking out for their own ass. The film brings these characters together, and redeems them by forcing them to work together. A more disturbing element of Gunn's interview is when he talks about receiving "death threats" from fans who learned he was writing the script. This just goes to show you that it's not only comic book fans who tend to get violent and angry when you mess with their favorite properties. Horror fans can be just as crazy. Seriously, fans: chill.

Most of the other features on the Blu-ray release have to deal with the make-up effects used to create the ghouls. The most entertaining of the bunch is one titled "Anatomy of an Exploding Head," which details all the various ways zombie-killing headshots were crafted for the film. How charming! It's worth noting that a ton of practical effects work went into creating all this stuff, whereas if this remake were being made today it likely would've been done with crappy CGI.

Special Features include:

DISC ONE: Theatrical Version

NEW HD Master Derived From The Digital Intermediate Archival Negative

NEW Take A Chance On Me – An Interview With Actor Ty Burrell

NEW Gunn For Hire – An Interview With Writer James Gunn

NEW Punk, Rock, & Zombie – An Interview With Actor Jake Weber

NEW Killing Time At The Mall: The Special Effects Of Dawn Of The Dead – An Interview With Special Makeup Effects Artists David Anderson And Heather Langenkamp Anderson

Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary By Director Zach Snyder And Producer Eric Newman

Theatrical Trailer

Still Gallery

DISC TWO: Unrated Version

NEW HD Master Derived From The Digital Intermediate Archival Negative With HD Inserts

Audio Commentary With Director Zach Snyder And Producer Eric Newman

Splitting Headaches: Anatomy Of Exploding Heads

Attack Of The Living Dead

Raising The Dead

Andy's Lost Tape

Special Report: Zombie Invasion

Undead And Loving It: A Mockumentary

Drawing The Dead Featurette

Storyboard Comparisons

Hidden Easter Eggs

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

The strange, sad story of Laura Palmer takes center stage in David Lynch's horrifying Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. When Fire Walk With Me played at the Cannes Film Festival, the audience infamously booed the film. Yet in later years, it's become respected as one of Lynch's most interesting experiments.

Lynch and Mark Frost's cult TV series Twin Peaks became a cultural phenomenon, with audiences growing obsessed with the show's weird, often confusing mythology. Eventually, the audience fizzled and the show was cancelled, yet it never strayed far from the minds of its fans. Lynch and Frost were able to revive Twin Peaks for Showtime this year with a haunting, mind-blowing new season. But before that happened, Lynch took another trip back to the town of Twin Peaks with the intense Fire Walk With Me.

Fire Walk With Me is a prequel, focusing on Laura Palmer's life before her tragic murder. Obviously, if you've never seen the original Twin Peaks series and care about preserving its mystery, you shouldn't start your Twin Peaks journey with Fire Walk With Me. Yet the film is essential to understanding the series, and also to understanding the tragic figure of murder victim Laura Palmer.

At the center of the film is an absolutely stunning performance from Sheryl Lee as Laura. Lee goes through hell here, literally, and her raw, emotional performance will floor you and break your heart. Laura just wants to live a normal life as a normal teenage girl, but that's an impossibility. She's doomed, or cursed; take your pick.

Like a lot of Lynch's work, this film is probably too perplexing for casual viewers. But that's part of Lynch's charm – it's not really supposed to make sense. Instead, it's supposed to be experienced, like a dream you can't get out of. A dream that sucks you in, and keeps you from waking up and escaping back into the normal, sane, sensible world.

Also, David Bowie shows up at one point!

Special Features to Note:

The Criterion Collection release of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me features a charming interview with Sheryl Lee, where the actress talks first about how she was initially cast on the Twin Peaks show, with Lynch asking her if she was okay with being dipped in cold water. Lee reveals she never even bothered to read the pilot script, since she was playing a corpse and didn't have any lines. Eventually, though, Lynch found a way to bring Lee onto the show by casting her to play Laura Palmer's almost identical-looking cousin. And then came Fire Walk With Me, which gave Lee the chance to be front and center. It really is a lovely interview, and Lee seems like a genuinely delightful individual with nothing but kind words for all the Twin Peaks people she's worked with.

The Blu-ray also features a funny as hell interview with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti, who has a ton of anecdotes about working with Lynch over the years, including one where he recalls Lynch listening to a track and then calling it "peachy keen." Badalamenti is incredibly animated in his speaking, and listening to him tell stories while watching him act them out is a real hoot.

The best feature of the bunch is a section called The Missing Pieces, which contains over 90 minutes of extended and deleted scenes from the already long film. These excised scenes are enough to be their own separate film, and open up Fire Walk With Me far beyond what the theatrical cut ended up being. It's a shame Lynch cut them in the end, and it would've been fascinating if Criterion could've edited them all back into the film for one long official cut.

Special Features Include:

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

  • Restored 4K digital transfer, with 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, both supervised by director David Lynch
  • 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, supervised by Lynch
  • Alternate original 2.0 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • The Missing Pieces, ninety minutes of deleted and alternate takes from the film, assembled by Lynch
  • Interview from 2014 by Lynch with actors Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, and Grace Zabriskie
  • New interviews with Lee and composer Angelo Badalamenti
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: Excerpts from an interview with Lynch from Lynch on Lynch, a 1997 book edited by filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley