New Blu-Ray Releases: 'The Nun', 'A Simple Favor', 'The Equalizer 2', 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation', 'Maniac'

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

The year is winding down, the holidays are here, and you're in need of stocking stuffers. Here, buy every single one of these Blu-rays, and stuff them into various stockings. Problem solved! In this week's Blu-ray round-up, I bring you the latest entry in The Conjuring universe, Blake Lively wearing some dope suits, Denzel Washington killing lots of people, a horror sequel starring two actors on the cusp of fame, and a splatter-movie classic, now rendered in glorious 4K.

Here are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week and beyond.

The Nun

The Nun! She's here, and she's ready to scream in your face! The Conjuring Universe has been mostly enjoyable. The main Conjuring films are a blast, and the Annabelle sequel was a heck of a lot better than it should be. Now, The Nun – first introduced in The Conjuring 2 – gets to take center stage. Unfortunately, the results are lacking. The Nun was genuinely creepy in small doses in Conjuring 2, but by giving her her own movie, most of her scary power is gone. In the film, a priest (Demián Bichir) and a nun-in-training (Taissa Farmiga, sister of Conjuring star Vera Farmiga), travel to a Romanian monastery in the 1950s. A nun there has committed suicide, and the priest has been sent by the Vatican to figure out what's going on in the creepy, run-down monastery. As it turns out, a demonic Nun is haunting the halls. This should be enough for a scary movie. And director Corin Hardy brings a wonderfully gothic aesthetic to the proceedings. But the script from Gary Dauberman is a snooze. Still, there are a few effectively scary scenes here that make The Nun mostly worth watching.

Special Features to Note:

"A New Horror Icon" bends over backwards to classify the Nun as a modern-day horror legend – going so far as to compare her to Freddy Krueger (calm down). Sure, the Nun is creepy looking, and director Corin Hardy rightfully points out that nuns, with their black robes and head-hiding habits, are inherently mysterious, which makes for extra fright factor. But the Nun doesn't have much of a personality – she just floats into rooms and opens her ugly mouth. 

The most enjoyable feature breaks down the "Conjuring Chronology." James Wan, who directed the first two Conjuring films, and serves as an executive producer on all the others, talks up how the Conjuring series became a kind of accidental cinematic universe. As Wan says, superheroes have cinematic universes – so why not horror, too? There's a slight irony here, because Universal Studios spent millions of dollars trying to launch their own horror cinematic universe with The Dark Universe, and failed immediately with The Mummy. Meanwhile, The Conjuring Universe has gone off without a hitch (at the box office, at least).

Special Features Include:

  • A New Horror Icon
  • Gruesome Planet
  • The Conjuring Chronology
  • Over 10 minutes of deleted scenes

A Simple Favor

Now on Digital; Blu-ray Arriving 12/18

What a delightful surprise this movie is. Paul Feig's A Simple Favor had a rather puzzling marketing campaign that failed to adequately sell the film. Feig and company were trying to keep the film's many twists and turns a secret, but accidentally sabotaged A Simple Plan in the process. Thankfully, more people can discover the movie now on home video. Anna Kendrick plays an enthusiastic mommy blogger who befriends glamorous, hard-drinking mom Blake Lively. The two grow close, although Lively remains standoffish and strange at times. Still, Kendrick's character cherishes her company, and her huge, modernist home she shares with husband Henry Golding. But things go awry when Lively's character vanishes off the face of the earth. What happened to her? Did she flee a loveless marriage? Or did something nefarious befall her? A Simple Favor is basically a comedy version of Gone Girl (although Gone Girl is pretty funny on its own, and A Simple Favor isn't afraid to go to some dark places). Kendrick is her usual charming, chipper self, but the real breakout here is Lively, giving the best performance of her career. Acerbic, wry, and always looking fabulous wearing snappy suits, she steals the film with ease.

Special Features to Note:

We get a standard "making-of" featurette, in which Kendrick and Lively discuss their characters. Really, though, they're basically describing everything that happens in the movie. There's another featurette devoted to the film's final scene, which is full of action-beats and twists and turns.  The most enjoyable featurette is devoted to Lively's costumes, which were inspired by director Paul Feig's constantly snazzy way of dressing on set.

Beyond that, there are deleted scenes – mostly character moments that flesh things out a bit more, but nothing too outstanding. Included with this is an alternate ending involving an elaborate dance scene. Feig says it was cut because test audiences really didn't like it, and thought the original ending was fine as-is. Test audiences can often be wrong, but in this case, they were on the money. The dance-based ending is too twee for the somewhat dark and twisted film that came before it. 

Special Features Include: 

    • 3 Audio Commentaries with Cast and Crew
    • 8 Featurettes
    • Gag Reel
    • Deleted Scenes
    • Flash Mob

    The Equalizer 2

    I found the first Equalizer film to be rather dull, but it made a boat-load of money. Enter: The Equalizer 2, an unnecessary sequel that ends up being pretty damn entertaining. On the plot front, The Equalizer 2 is somewhat flat: Denzel Washington's former spy character Robert McCall is now a Lyft driver operating out of Massachusetts. He occasionally helps people in extreme circumstances – his help involves violently murdering evil scumbags – but he mostly keeps to himself. But when one of his old friends is murdered, McCall gets drawn into a plot involving people from his past. This is by-the-book stuff, but what makes The Equalizer 2 so watchable is Washington, who throws himself into the character, playing him as an all-seeing, all-knowing killing machine. Equalizer 2 is often startlingly violent – we're talking slasher-movie violence here. Indeed, the last act of the film basically turns Washington into Jason Voorhees, silently stalking around an evacuated town during a hurricane, leaping out of hiding spots to brutally butcher people in his way. The Equalizer 2 runs about a half-hour too long, but it's an action movie that actually does interesting things with its action scenes, and that goes a long way.

    Special Features to Note:

    "Round Two" confirms that Equalizer 2 is somehow the first sequel Denzel Washington has ever done in his long career. Washington says what most excites him about his work is when he does something new – so he wanted this sequel to be different. As a result, he says the movie is "more personal." I don't know if I buy that, but Washington clearly enjoys the character, and has fun playing him. 

    There's a look at the action in the film that comments on how the action has been increased for the sequel. That's definitely accurate – I barely remember a single action scene from the first, but there are a handful here I won't soon be forgetting. Director Antoine Fuqua reveals he wanted to go for realism here, even when the action increased. "There's nothing in the movie that can't happen," he says. As a result, Equalizer 2 is a bit more grounded than other over-the-top action films. 

    Special Features Include: 

    • :Retribution Mode" with Denzel Washington and Director Antoine Fuqua
    • 11 Deleted & Extended Scenes
    • "Denzel as McCall: Round Two" Featurette
    • The Equalizer 2 Pop Up Trivia Track

    Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation

    Other than being a somewhat terrible entry in the spotty Texas Chainsaw franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Next Generation's claim to fame is that it featured both Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, right before their careers blew up. Legend has it that both Zellweger and McConaughey tried to bury the film once they became famous – although McConaughey denied this, saying he loved making the movie. In 2016, Zellweger said of the film: "It was very low-budget." That's an understatement. The Next Generation starts off like your typical Chainsaw pic – a group of young people, Zellweger among them, are attacked by a family of crazy cannibals – which includes both the infamous Leatherface, and McConaughey. Then the film gets really weird, introducing a subplot about a secret society. This is a total misunderstanding of what made the original film so powerful. And yet, The Next Generation is worth watching, just to see the young Zellweger and McConaughey on the cusp of fame, running around alongside Leatherface.

    Special Features to Note: 

    It was always a long shot, but I've always held out hope that one day, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey would sit down for new interviews to be included on a Blu-ray release. Sadly, it will probably never happen. The two actors are likely content to leave The Next Generation in the past. Instead, this Scream Factory release features an interview with DOP Levie Isaacks, where he talks a bit about shooting the film, makes it abundantly clear how slapdash the production was – for instance, they had no locations to shoot at when filming began, and had to drive around looking for them on shooting days. 

    In another interview, special effects creator J.M. Logan reveals he was hired to create the robotic leg brace for Matthew McConaughey's character, but what he really wanted to do was work on Leatherface. Logan, who was only 18 years old at the time, talked the the producers into hiring him to do everything by quoting them a price of $1500 for the entire movie.  There's also talk here about how the film was supposed to "get back to the essence" of the first film, unlike the other sequels...which obviously isn't what happened. 

    Special Features Include: 

    • Two Cuts Of The Film – The Theatrical Cut (87 Minutes – HD) And The Director's Cut (93 Minutes – HD With Standard Definition Inserts)
    • NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Kim Henkel (On Director's Cut)
    • NEW The Buzz Is Back – An Interview With Director Of Photography Levie Isaacks
    • NEW Marked For Death – An Interview With Actor Tyler Shea Cone
    • NEW If Looks Could Kill: The Return Of A "Chainsaw Massacre" – An Interview With Special Makeup Effects Artist J.M. Logan And Production Designer Deborah Pastor
    • Theatrical Trailer

    Maniac

    There are some horror movies that feel wrong. Wrong in the sense that we're watching something we really shouldn't be watching. That we've stepped out of the realm of fictional film and into something more akin to blood-splattered home movie. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is like this. Ditto Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And so is Maniac, William Lustig's sleazy, icky, nasty splatter-fest starring the habitually sweaty Joe Spinell. Set in a dirty, filthy, crime-ridden New York, Maniac tells the tale of a serial killer (Spinell) with extreme mommy issues. He stalks the city, scalping women – and bringing the scalps home to place on his mannequins. It's a horror classic, but it's definitely not going to be for everyone. Spinell is scarily believable as the sad-sack killer, and the gore effects by Tom Savini are out of this world. This holiday season, why not gather the entire family around the TV and watch this glorious 4K release of one of the most unpleasant movies ever made?

    Special Features Include: 

    This new release from Blue Underground is packed. "Maniac Outtakes" features long lost footage that no one has seen until now. It's raw material from the sets of the film, shot behind the scenes. Grainy, washed-out, and raw, these outtakes fit right in with the tone of the film itself. Director William Lustig narrates the footage in a droll, amusing manner. It's like a time capsule back into the production. 

    "Returning to the Scene of the Crime" has Lustig revisiting filming locations, and reflecting on 1970s New York. "The 70s were the golden age of serial killers!" Lustig cheerfully says. "We had some of the most interesting serial killers ever!" "God I hate Times Square," he says later, driving through the spot. "Tourists." The featurette shows things as they are now, intercut with how it looks in the movie. Lustig talks about how a hotel they shot in – which is now a fancy-looking spot – was the scene of an actual double-homicide, where two prostitutes had their heads cut off. He also talks about how the shotgun scene – where Spinell's killer blows the head off some poor schlub, played by Tom Savini, was illegal, because they fired a real shotgun, and there's no permit for that.

    "The Death Dealer" has the legendary Tom Savini discussing his make-up work in the movie. Savini talks about how in the era of Maniac, he was doing one splatter movie after another. There was no real budget – he got about $5000 for the movie. Joe Spinell was constantly coming up with stuff that was too extreme to create ("He wanted to bite stuff off...in the nether regions.")

    Special Features to Note:

    • Audio Commentary #1 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew W. Garroni
    • Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell's Assistant Luke Walter
    • NEW – Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig
    • NEW – MANIAC Outtakes Featurette
    • Anna and the Killer – Interview with Star Caroline Munro
    • The Death Dealer – Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
    • Dark Notes – Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway
    • Maniac Men – Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky
    • Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots
    • Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel
    • The Joe Spinell Story
    • MANIAC Publicity
    • MANIAC Controversy
    • BONUS CD – MANIAC Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jay Chattaway
    • BONUS Collectable Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold