Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Confessions of a Dollar DVD Junkie...

Sure, you start out with just one or two.. "Say! I was looking for a copy of Rescue From Gilligan's Island!" you say. But, OH no.. You can't just buy the one DVD, can you? I mean, what the hell is Slipstream, anyway? And HOLY CRAP, it has Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton in it!! AND IT'S DIRECTED BY STEVEN "TRON" LISBERGER!!! So into the basket it goes.. and what's this? Cathy's Curse? A 1977 Canadian Exorcist rip-off?? YOW!! And before you know it, you're up to your neck in public domain goodness, cheap cardboard sleeves all over the bloody place.



Dollar DVDs have the old cheapo SLP VHS tapes beat nine ways from Sunday. Away with impossible-to-track images and $2.50 price tags! DVD titles from Genius Entertainment are usually mastered from nice prints.. sometimes rather questionably acquired (their copy of Buster Keaton's College was ripped straight from Kino's DVD edition, musical score and Kino logo intact). Their cartoon collections are especially nifty. Who'da thunk that someone would have released THREE VOLUMES of Van Beuren cartoons? Or a Gumby DVD which not only features untampered 50s and 60s prints with their original audio tracks intact (the "official" Gumby collections have changed out the cartoons' original Capitol needle-drop music in favor of synthesizers) but also includes Art Clokey's pre-Gumby experimental short Gumbasia??? I've been a PD booster for a long time, so I wasn't too surprised to hear that 19 of the top 50 best selling DVDs of 2004 were dollar titles. But, for some reason, many industry insiders are shocked that consumers are showing enthusiasm for these DVDs, even at a buck a throw. Part of the appeal, I think, is the thrill of the hunt. Most of these public domain titles are completely obscure, having slipped through the cracks a long time ago so you frequently have no earthly idea what you're getting. But at a buck, it scarcely qualifies as a gamble. And, one way or another, you're at least getting something you've never seen before, which also helps break the aforementioned cultural feedback cycle that threatens to homogenize our culture into tasteless mush once and for all.

Here are a few of my favorite Dollar DVD finds (from various 99 Cents Only and Dollar Tree stores):

David Copperfield (1969)- (Dollar DVD) - Excellent made-for-TV version starring Ron Moody as Uriah Heep, Sir Laurence Olivier as Mr. Creakle, Sir Ralph Richardson as Mr. Micawber, and Sir David Attenborough as Mr. Tungay. With that kind of cast, how this film slipped through the cracks is beyond me. Beautiful print, too.

Flash Gordon (1954) - (Genius Entertainment) - This TV series was shot on film in West Berlin so every cast member besides Flash (Steve Holland), Dale (Irene Champlin), and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) speaks with a heavy German accent. The stories are fun and light and a few episodes give you a good glimpse at how many bombed out buildings were still standing in W. Berlin in 1954. The typography used in the openings credits is remarkable.

Santa Claus (1959) - (Genius Entertainment) - Sharp print of the Mexican-made Christmas classic, dubbed by K. Gordon Murray. This title sold out everywhere I looked. I had to buy my copy on Ebay for marginally more than a dollar.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955) - (Genius Entertainment) - English-made TV series starring Richard Greene as Robin. The first two episodes on volume one feature a very young Leo McKern in different roles. The theme song was parodied on Monty Python's Flying Circus as "Dennis Moore".

Jungle Book (1942) - (Genius Entertainment) - How the hell did this stunning Alexander Korda film end up in the public domain? A work of art. Easily the best version of Kipling's novel ever made. Starring Sabu as Mowgli and Ralph "Dick Tracy" Byrd as Durga. Crystal clear print.

They Call Me Trinity (1971) - (Treasure Box) - A very funny spaghetti western starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer and featuring an all-out battle between Mormons and Mexican banditos!

Final Comedown (1972) - (Dollar DVD) - Billy Dee Williams is a black revolutionary trying to forge an alliance between his Black Panthers-ish group and the campus Left. It all goes horribly wrong. An excellent 70s exploitation movie with a message.

The Phantom Ship
(1935) - (Genius Entertainment) - Bela Lugosi made a few films in England and this, originally released as The Mystery of the Marie Celeste, was the first. I had seen almost all of Lugosi's films, but this title eluded me until I found it on DVD for a frickin buck! And Lugosi, almost unrecognizable, turns in another excellent performance.

Down Among the Z Men (1952) - (Genius Entertainment) - The only official movie spinoff from BBC radio's hysterical and groundbreaking Goon Show. The original Goons, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine, all appear in this haphazardly constructed formula comedy about spies and secret plans. Not one-tenth as funny as the radio show, but endlessly fascinating.

Hi-De-Ho (1947) - (MMM) - Cab Calloway (scientifically determined to have been the coolest person to ever live) stars as himself in this bizarre blend of startlingly bad acting and excellent music. Cab's lineup in 1947 included Dizzy Gillespie. Also features the red hot Peters Sisters! A lot of fun despite the muddy print.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) - (Genius Entertainment) - One of the best "bad" movies of all-time. Genius's print has the main titles intact. Not even the copy MST3K used had that! A classic. Starring Pia Zadora as Girmar, John Call as Santa, Bill McCutcheon as Droppo, The Laziest Man on Mars, and quite possibly Jamie Farr working under a pseudonym.

3 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

I've typically skipped these cheapie DVDs in the past – too many memories of unwatchable "bargain" VHS tapes in the past – but you've got me considering 'em. I'm told that some of Wheeler & Woolsey's features can also be found in these bins. . .

1:35 PM  
Blogger packratshow said...

i'm always suprised to find my lj community linked elsewhere because sometimes it seems like i'm toiling in the dark as NO ONE EVER COMMENTS. glad to see that there are others that are addicted to dollar dvd like me. i was reminded of the ep vhs tape dilemma recently when i purchased a dollar tape of demi moore's early film "choices" that turned out to be pretty much unwatchable. for me the picture on these are bad, but the terrible sound is much more annoying.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

I love Dollar DVDs! I just found a bunch of old Japanese Super Robot cartoons in english! Joy! My only disappointment was the Mazinger ones I saw which were all in spanish!!!!

Get the Viseo TReasures Last Man on Earth! the print is PRISTINE!

8:17 AM  

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