Following is Armchair Commentary's round-up of the best horror titles released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2012. As in past years, the films here may not reflect all tastes in the genre, which offers a dizzying array of styles, sub-categories and degrees of intensity. The ten films in this list, as well as a handful of honorable mentions, were selected because they met one (or more) of three important criteria: the overall quality of their stories and direction, their packaging and presentation for home video, and (most importantly), the level of terror they raised.
1. Kill List Director Ben Wheatley skillfully manipulates genre expectations in this indie-styled UK thriller about a pair of hitman who discover, far too late, that the trio of individuals they are assigned to kill are part of a vast and sinister network. Wheatley's Chinese box plot is punctuated by moments of heart-stopping violence that culminate in a finale that echoes The Wicker Man in its shocking sledgehammer impact.
2. The Pact A young woman discovers that the ghosts of the past, both figurative and unsettlingly literal, hold the key to a terrible family secret in this atmospheric feature debut from writer/director Nicholas McCarthy. The film's largely female cast - a rarity for the genre - is capably led by Caity Lotz (Mad Men) in a physically demanding role, though Haley Hudson also stands out as a blind medium whose unearthly fragility that seems more supernatural than the picture's restless spirit.
3. Cabin in the Woods Though audiences were divided over its meta-take on horror tropes, co-writer/producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard's tribute/critique of the genre's rules and foibles was one of the most clever and energetic releases of the year.
4. Eclipse Series 37: When Horror Came to Shochiku The latest release from Criterion's budget line is a quartet of eye-popping '60s-era horror and science fiction titles from Japan's venerable arthouse studio. Late-night TV habitues may remember the startling alien invasion chiller Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell and the thoroughly out-to-lunch kaiju The X from Outer Space, but the set's real discovery is The Living Skeleton, a macabre mash-up of supernatural revenge, Expressionistic shadows and pulp weirdness.
5. Universal Monsters: The Essential Collection As its title rightly states, this Blu-ray presentation of Universal's most iconic horror films - Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, the '41 Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon (presented in 2-D and 3-D formats), all remastered with stunning audio and video - belongs in the collection of every horror fan.
6. The Innkeepers A pair of bored clerks (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) at a crumbling New England inn turn amateur ghost hunters to investigate the building's history of supernatural phenomena in director Ti West's underrated haunted house thriller. West, who paid tribute to '80s horror excess with House of the Devil, also takes a tip from the past by evoking the slow-building, special effects-light shudders of '70s supernatural efforts like The Legend of Hell House.
7. The Woman in Black Daniel Radcliffe makes a capable transition to mature roles in this extremely effective Victorian ghost story about a widowed solicitor who becomes embroiled in a small village's legend of the titular spirit, which is connected to a string of children's deaths. The film's Gothic-steeped, funereal atmosphere pays homage to England's legendary and recently resurrected Hammer Films, which released the picture (along with two of the best horror films of the last five years, Let Me In and Wake Wood).
8. The Snowtown Murders A relentlessly bleak dramatization of an Australian murder spree carried out by a self-styled and utterly psychotic vigilante, played with chilling conviction by Daniel Henshall, that also does much to strip away the glamour of infamy from a killer's base, animalistic acts.
9. Jaws Not the perfect presentation of this still-potent horror-adventure - it lacks several of the supplemental features that were included in previous anniversary DVD editions - but the gorgeous restoration to picture and sound, as well as a pair of exceptional (and exhaustive) making-of documentaries still make this an essential purchase for fans.
10. Mario Bava on Blu-ray Kino Classics brings four of the Italian horror pioneer's most enduring nightmares - the landmark Black Sunday with Barbara Steele, the hypnotic Lisa and the Devil (paired with its grittier re-edit, House of Exorcism), the delirious psycho-slasher Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Baron Blood with Joseph Cotten and Elke Sommer - to Blu-ray in extraordinary remastered editions.
Also worth mentioning: Eduardo (The Blair Witch Project) Sanchez''s Lovely Molly; the surprisingly effective '80s creature feature The Boogens; the five-disc Complete Hammer House of Horror; Lucky McKee's potent cannibal chiller The Woman; A Serbian Film (Uncut), an even more punishing version of the controversial exercise in excess; and V/H/S, an uneven but frequently disturbing anthology of "found footage" horror by a cadre of independent filmmakers, including Ti West, Adam Wingard and David Bruckner.
Which horror DVD releases made your 2012 best-of list? -- Paul Gaita