Friday, July 21, 2006

The Golden Age of DVD....

One of the reasons this is the golden age of DVD is that studios are finally getting the fact that you can make a pretty good profit from assembling obscurities that might not have much appeal individually, but at one aggregate low price attract an audience. Horror and sci-fi fans in particular are reaping the fruit of this, because we tend to be obsessive and hence vote with our wallets. The great thing is that this means that every terrifically obscure material is being made available.

Take for example the recent The Lon Chaney Collection, which actually features works of Lon Chaney Jr. Horror fans, and I count myself in this number, do indeed tend to be obsessive. Although he doesn’t have the cachet of a Lugosi or Karloff, Chaney is well known to horror buffs, who in turn would in many cases be interested in seeing Chaney’s less known, even non-genre, work, if we’re not expected to overpay for the privilege.

So the fine folks at Image scooped up the comparatively well-known Chaney junk classic The Indestructible Man and used it to anchor the set. (It helps that, although the film is available in a zillion crappy public domain editions, this offers the best, if not pristine, presentation of the movie.)

The rest of the features aren’t even horror films, but horror buffs tend to want to see everything, and many of us are interested enough to spend a few hours watching someone like Chaney even in non-genre material. Thus along with Indestructible Man, the set collects the adventure movie Manfish, along with some TV work. One is an episode of an old show called Lock Up, in which Chaney plays a malign sheriff. Another is a TV episode entitled The Golden Junkman, in Chaney’s plays a symphatetic immigrant junkman who returns to school to try to win the respect of his Americanized and apparently snotty sons.

Now, that’s some narrowly tailored material. One ‘well-known’ genre film, one unknown adventure movie, and two stand along TV appearances. I have to admit, even I would not be interested enough to buy this set, even with it selling for under $15. However, I was interested enough to rent it from Netflix, and I cheer it’s existence. Even if this isn’t my personal exact brand of obscure material, if this is available, maybe stuff I’d be more interested in (say, the poverty row horror films of Lionel Atwill or George Zucco) will be similarly released.

And that’s on the low end of the spectrum, along with stuff like the harmless but marginally interesting (even to me) collection of ‘30s murder melodramas Image released recently under the title Forgotten Horrors. However, the bigger studios are jumping in with bigger guns, but again in collections offering terrific bang for our consumer buck.

Warner Brothers is the giant of film collections, offering top-notch presentations of everything from musicals to gangster movies, boxed into sets of numerous films for little money and offering tons of extras to boot. This Halloween will see the release of the “Hollywood’s Legends of Horror Collection.” In the bad old day of VHS, even if these films had been available (and most never were), you got one short film with bad presentation and on a clunky format for $20. The six films Warners are offering in this set would have therefore run you over $120 with tax. And if you’d bought them all those years ago, chances are the tapes would by now be unwatchable.

Instead, with some vendors offering the set for as around $30, you get six horror films of the classic era, titles ranging from pretty good to at least one outright brilliant feature. The six titles offered here include Doctor X (Lionel Atwill), The Return of Dr. X (Humphrey Bogart as a vampire!), Mad Love (starring Peter Lorre, and the best film in the set, worth the price of the entire collection by itself), Mask of Fu Manchu (Karloff), The Devil Doll (Atwill) and Mark of the Vampire (Lugosi). Moreover, Doctor X will be presented in its original two-strip Technicolor, and all the transfers have been remastered. Finally, genre experts will provide commentaries for at least five of the films! Damn!

I’m especially exited by this set because a) I’ve never even seen Devil Doll, and we fans love to notch off another title, b) I haven’t seen Doctor X nor Mask of Fu Manchu since I was a very wee tyke, c) because Mad Love is a classic film that demands to be on DVD. And now it will be.

Then, as if that’s not enough, just today word came out that Sony has announced an "Icons of Horror Collection" of Boris Karloff movies the actor made for Columbia, including The Black Room (Karloff as twins!), The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You. The latter isn’t that great, but it’s a woefully hard to find horror comedy with both Karloff and Lorre. And you won’t have to pay for it separately now, but as part of a set. They haven’t announced a price yet, but I’m assuming we’re talking well south of $30, and even $30 would be a pretty great bargain.

This is one of two new Karloff sets out for Halloween, by the way, as Universal is releasing "The Boris Karloff Collection" featuring Night Key, Tower of London, The Climax, The Strange Door and The Black Castle. This should retail for around $20, as will another collection featuring the “Inner Sanctum” suspense series Lon Chaney Jr. made for the studio., which announces sets like these, has news of zillions of other obscurities due to be released soon either as stand along movies, including the upcoming Paul Naschy Collection DVDS to be released by BCI Eclipse; the same company’s new line of genre and drive-in movie double features; CasaNegra’s essential new line of Mexican horror films, featuring both the original language tracks and the comical K. Gordon Murray dubs; Classic Media’s new editions of several early Godzilla movies, including the original Japanese version of the first film, and the first DVD release of Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster; a set of Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto films, and much, much more.

Indeed, the only problem with this embarrassment of riches is finding the time to watch it all.


At 8:44 PM, Blogger Jessica R. said...

I think a wonderful Christmas relase that Something Weird or it's ilk could do is a special edtion of K. Gordon Murray's Santa Claus. It pops up on public domain discs from time to time, though really I'm hoping for this because then SW could put on Little Red Riding Hood and The Monsters as a second feature.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Actually, CasaNegra is now in the process of releasing the Mexican Horror films that Murray released in their original language and with beautiful prints. (Brainiac is next month. Yay!) Even better, they are so far including the Murray soundtracks as a bonus.

Meanwhile, Something Weird's plans to release just the Murray versions were cut short some years ago after Congress signed onto the rights-extending Berne Act.

In any case, I'm hoping these sell well enough to make it worthwhile to start putting out the sort of kiddie fantasy fare you mention here.

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