Thursday, July 29, 2010

Assorted Bits & Pieces: Upcoming reviews, Recent Purchases & Blog Stats!

This post is just some ramblin' randomness till I get a handful of reviews up in the next few days.


I finally had a free evening last night and was able to sit down and break open some DVD's sitting on my shelf for a long time now. It was a night of drive in trash with the likes of Riccardo Freda's fragmented, but eerily surreal TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972), John Peyser's sadistic THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974) and a primo double feature of subtle action films from Dark Sky Films, William Fruet's SEARCH & DESTROY (1979) and Ross Hagen's THE GLOVE (1979).


It was nice to see the former in such a nice print and the latter for the first time period. Both had extraordinary casts and both were fine, if moderately engaging action films. Reviews coming very soon for those. The Dark Sky double header was a lot of fun as it recreated the drive in experience (both films play one after the other; a nice touch!) with original refreshment stand ads and a nice dose of coming attractions before each feature.


Also yesterday, I ordered a stack of movies which keeps with my extended stay at the exploitation station. Some of these I already have, or have seen on VHS, but the upgrade warrants another purchase and hopefully, for a couple of them, a better viewing experience...

BONNIE'S KIDS (Been wanting to see this for some time. Tiffany Bolling in more Dark Sky goodness!)
BLOODY BIRTHDAY (Don't remember much about this one, but never seen in widescreen before)
CRACK IN THE WORLD (I remember reading about this one in various reference books. Hope it's worth the purchase!)
FORBIDDEN WORLD (Blu Ray)
GALAXY OF TERROR (Blu Ray)
GIRLY (Heard lots of good things about this dark comedy horror)
HORROR HOSPITAL (Michael "mad doctor" Gough!)
LAST HORROR FILM, THE (Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro...together again!)
PRIMAL RAGE (uncut!)
SILENT SCREAM (Barbara Steele and Yvonne De Carlo slasher in creepy mansion by the sea!)
SLITHIS (didn't care for this much years back, but it's a creature feature, so...)
SOLE SURVIVOR (FINAL DESTINATION ripped this one off)
TERROR CIRCUS (hopefully this uncut version is better than those washed out VHS prints)
UNSEEN, THE (creepy thing in the basement movie directed by Danny Steinmann under a pseudonym)

WHAT'S GETTIN' READ--Here's a list of what people are checking out here, the top 20 most read items on coolasscinema.com as of today, July 29th, 2010. Whether you're just passin' through, skimming over a review, or article, or reading something from start to finish, or even commenting on something, it's very much appreciated!

1. THE 20 BEST HAMMER HORRORS--This recently toppled the article that now sits at #2.

2. THE 26 BEST SWORD & SANDAL ADVENTURES--Oddly enough, the genre that most people seem to care less about, is one of the most consistently read subjects here. This 'Best Of' entry doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

3. INDEPENDENT DVD COMPANIES: BATTLES WITH BOOTLEGS, CHAIN STORES & AN ECONOMICALLY CRIPPLED CLIMATE--This one might actually usurp the #2 spot.

4. INQUISITION--This Naschy review has remained in the top 20 for some time now. This movie needs an English friendly R1 DVD release like yesterday!

5. ANIMAL CRUELTY: MONDO MOVIES & THE CANNIBAL CONNECTION--This article has stayed on for a long time, too. The search words that led some readers to it were kinda bizarre

6. SHAW BROTHERS & KUNG FU CINEMA PART 5--the review for FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS finally got bumped just shy of the top 20, so it's nice to see some Shaw Brothers love stay on here!

7. SHAW BROTHERS & KUNG FU CINEMA PART 4--this one doesn't seem to be moving at all!

8. FORBIDDEN WORLD--This review is from the German DVD. The new one from Shout! Factory is the one to beat!

9. THE EVIL--Another upcoming Shout! Factory release and I can't wait!

10. DEATHSTALKER--This supremely trashy barbarian flick has stalked the top 20 for a good while. I wouldn't mind a special edition from Shout! for this one!

11. REMAKES: REDUX, OR RIDICULOUS? CLASH OF THE TITANS '81 VS. CLASH '10--This fourth entry in the original/remake comparison column gets the most attention out of this series so far.

12. ASSORTED BITS & PIECES: FILM CONNOISSEUR, CELLULOID HIGHWAY & COOL ASS CINEMA JOIN FORCES FOR UNUSUAL VAMPIRE MOVIES!--I was honored to be able to participate alongside two distinguished personalities for this list of varied vampires from America, Great Britain and everywhere in between.

13. THE BIG BIRD CAGE--This Corman favorite has seeped back into the top 20. At one time, this was the single most read review for months. Maybe it was all the girly pics?

14. HONG KONG GODFATHER--This spectacularly violent and bloody Shaw Brothers gangster movie shoots its way to number 14!

15. SINS OF CELLULOID 1: THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL, DISTURBING & ESSENTIAL EXPLOITATION/GRINDHOUSE MOVIES--Oddly enough, entries 2-4 of this (ultimately) 25 part article were read, or clicked far more than this first entry, so it's surprising to see the other three drop out and this one drop in.

16. THE BOXER'S OMEN--The third Shaw flick on this list is also the single most disgusting movie review featured here on this top 20.

17. EL CAMINANTE--This Naschy movie needs a lot more love and attention as well as a legit English subbed version in America. Dubbing would do this one no justice.

18. TWINS OF EVIL--Hammer goodness!

19. PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING--This review of the international version of James Cameron's killer fish flick is finally moving out of the top 20.

20. THE REBEL GLADIATOR--This obscure muscleman movie starring both Dan Vadis and a villainous Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani) just will not die. I like the movie, but can't figure out why it gets so many views.


UNTIL NEXT TIME...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams (2010) review


THE DIS LIST

For this entry of the low brow list reserved solely for those movies I find insufferable experiences, it's this asinine sequel to 2001 MANIACS, the so-so refurbishment of H.G. Lewis's classic, 2000 MANIACS (1964). Tim Sullivan and his conspirators surely had the best intentions, but what we have here is one of the all time worst ever. It's not even bad enough for a Razzie, or a Golden Turkey. This overlong 80 minutes of torturous cinematic constipation will strain the limits of one's intestinal fortitude. Yes, bowel movements are better than this movie. This is....


2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS 2009

Bill Moseley (Mayor George W. Buckman), Lin Shaye (Granny Boone), Christa Campbell (Milk Maiden), Katy Marie Johnson (Rome Sheraton)

"Directed by" Tim Sullivan

***WARNING! This review contains images of a sexual nature and bloody, but shoddily accomplished (well, what they could afford on a tattered shoestring of a budget) violence***


"I decided to make FIELD OF SCREAMS for the 14 year old version of me."--Director, Tim Sullivan

The above quote perfectly surmises what to expect from this amateurishly retarded, hopelessly shoddy movie that does in fact look to have been made by 14 year olds. For what its worth, I'm foregoing my usual synopsis and just say that the Maniacs go on the road by bringing the South to the North with a poverty row traveling carnival act. They trap a group of obnoxious, beyond brain dead young adults working on an even more impoverished reality show modeled on THE SIMPLE LIFE. The ribbing of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, a jab at our current President, a literal rendition of "Brokeback Mountain" and a cannibalistic recreation of The Last Supper is about as intelligent (I use the term lightly here) as this movie gets. Now on to the review, ya'll!


"Come get a taste of the old South...and let the old South, get a taste a you!"


FIELD OF SCREAMS is a stunningly awful horror-ible movie, a sequel to 2005's 2001 MANIACS, a movie I wasn't all that high on to begin with. The director, Tim Sullivan, obviously has an enormous amount of enthusiasm for this material, but all it translates to onscreen is a vastly childish, irrepressibly nonsensical celluloid puke stain. It makes any Troma picture look like Masterpiece Theater by comparison. Easily the worst movie I've seen this year, it triumphantly trumps the malignant mess that was CABIN FEVER 2 (put your year here since it sat on a shelf for several of them). At least that movie started out with some semblance of cohesion.


If you ever wanted to see Bill Moseley and Lin Shaye have simulated sex, it's in there, pardner!

And then there's this...!

Here, it starts out like a child's weekend project and ends...well, hell, I only got through the first 30 minutes. Guess I should try and sustain my patience and sanity and soldier on through this migraine inducing movie, this gutter spooge of mountainous proportions. Be back shortly....


....Okay, I finally managed to get to THE END, but I think I'd rather drink curdled milk if ever given the option of seeing this again, or even a third entry in this increasingly infantile "franchise".


What a creative camera angle. You can see the bright "sun" just above those two "mountains".


I love how DVD's have these disclaimers before the actual movie that states "Interviews and commentaries do not reflect the opinions of such and such individuals." When it comes to the actual content of some of the movies themselves, such as the one being reviewed here, these DVD companies should alter that to "Productions like this do not reflect what we'd normally put out, we're just doing somebody a favor." Maybe even calling 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF STEAMING PILES OF SHIT an actual "production" is giving it entirely too much respectability.


Originally titled, 2001 MANIACS: THE BEVERLY HELLBILLY'S, that version of the film was to have been too much of a monetary undertaking, so what we got is this even less inspiring, frequently offensive and infrequently funny moron movie. Robert Englund wisely chose to decline reprising his role as Mayor Buckman possibly either due to the lower budget, or the lousy script.


This ridiculous cun-traption is what passes for a creative kill in this movie

The very first screen credit, which speaks volumes about what you are about to see, reads, 'Social Capital Films in association with Tax Credit Finance presents'. This movie reminds me a lot of the dozens of under budgeted shot on video shit heaps that were unloaded on video store shelves back in the 1980's. No doubt the director loves this stuff and had good intentions, but none of that translates in this movie at all, at least not to me. Please, please, Tax Credit Finance, if there is to be a third chapter in this, dare I say, "franchise", please, I implore you to lend the filmmakers a few hundred extra dollars to realize their vision, ever how blurry, or blind it may be.


Also, this isn't a foreign film that needs to be dubbed in various languages for export. This picture, which, forgiving the fact that its budget looks like it wouldn't cover a car rental for a couple weeks, appears to have been dubbed. The audio itself seems to fluctuate from one scene to the next--loud one minute, then slightly muffled the next.


Lin Shaye and her girls get 'Physical'.

The director says in the 'making of' on the disc that he sees this as a "horror comedy...a gag a minute...laugh a minute..." Well....there's lots of horror, only not the horror you expect from a bonafide 'horror' movie. There's no real comedy here, nor gags, nor laughs. Maybe I have no real sense of humor, but what passes for comedy here is incredibly juvenile and painfully strained. There's one, or two minor moments that brought about a slight giggle, but there's virtually NOTHING here that redeems the notion of actually buying this movie. If I were a religious person, I'd say "Thank God I didn't buy this garbage!" Personally, it's not even worth the $3.00 rental I plopped down for it last night. I wouldn't have even bothered doing a review for it were it not for 'The Dis List' being neglected as of late. At least my viewing last night of THE LOSERS (2010) was a winner.


No doubt this picture will incur brain rot, so approach with extreme caution. The director refers to this film as the representation of exploitation, or grindhouse cinema. While it's definitely un-PC, filled with sometimes sloppy, yet splattery gore and XXXploitation, his comments are pretty much an insult to those damned daring, savage and salacious shockers of a bygone era in my view. Incidentally, the film does trot out the barrel gore gag from the Herschell Gordon Lewis 1964 original and poorly recreates it here. Speaking of that, how 'bout simply rewatching that one again? It's far more successful handling this material than either of these two incarnations could ever hope to be.


Would you accept an invite to a barbecue from these three? Only if the proceeds went to the budget of a third film and if said budget was moderately higher than $35.

If similar wastes of film such as BLACK DEVIL DOLL (2007;whose makers seem to have intentionally forgotten to mention the awful 1984 original movie they ripped off) tickle your funny bone, then 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS (2010) is just the ticket for you. Otherwise, take the "Detore" clear away from this movie and heed the words of director, Tim Sullivan, "If you don't like my movie, kiss my Dixie!"

This review is representative of the First Look DVD


Friday, July 23, 2010

Hong Kong Godfather (1985) review


HONG KONG GODFATHER 1985 aka HEROES OF TSIM SHA TSUI

Liang Chia Jen (Mad Dog Wei), Tsui Siu Keung (Playboy Lung), Wong Chun (Hei Lan), Shek Kin (Uncle Han), Cheung Kuen (Sergeant Man), Sam Wai (Rotten Chi), Pomsin Shi (Lan thug), Wang Lung Wei (Lan's partner)

Directed, written & Action directed by Wang Lung Wei

***WARNING! This review contains images of graphic, bloody violence***

The Short Version: One of Shaw Brothers last productions has them deliver possibly the single most bloody gangster mini epic within a 95 minute running time. Many of Shaw's past stars of period martial arts films in either big roles, or supporting ones, figure into this grim Triad tragedy. The last ten minute ultra gory and frenzied finale is well worth the price of the DVD alone. Check it out.

Wong Chun (left) and Wang Lung Wei (right)

After receiving a life imprisonment sentence for a NY Chinatown massacre, Jia Shi Lan, alias Hei Lan, obtains a pardon through the Mafia's influence. Returning to Hong Kong, Hei Lan attempts to use the stature and fortitude of Brother Han, an elder, but good-natured underworld boss, to gain power and spread the Mafia's influence throughout Southeast Asia. After a deadly double cross leaves many of Han's society dead, two former members, one a cop, the other a florist, and the sole remaining loyalist join forces to bring down the criminal empire of Hei Lan.

Liang Chia Jen and Wang Lung Wei in a brutal boxing match during the closing moments of HONG KONG GODFATHER

Famed Shaw Brothers villain, Wang Lung Wei handles triple duty on this spectacularly gory gangster movie just shy of Shaw Brothers closing their filmmaking doors in favor of television productions. The Shaw's were a bit late coming to the New Wave party, and by the time they had arrived, their audience had already passed them by, unfortunately. They did manage to produce a small number of provocative action dramas before they called it a day, leasing their vast studio out to other local and foreign production facilities.


Films such as MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG (1982), BROTHERS FROM THE WALLED CITY (1982), MEN FROM THE GUTTER (1983) THIS MAN IS DANGEROUS (1985) and DANGER HAS TWO FACES (1985) were either mostly, or totally successful in emulating the then fresh, new style of Hong Kong action cinema that was taking hold. Where some of these were both humorous and serious, HK GODFATHER takes itself very seriously from start to finish. There's some minor funny moments, but nothing to jar the tone as so many of the islands movies were known (and expected) to do.


The plot itself is nothing new and by the numbers in relation to this sort of storyline. Where Wang's movie excels is in its violence. There's plenty of it. Having gotten his big break working with the Godfather of Hong Kong Action Cinema, the venerable Chang Cheh (both Wang and Liang co-starred in Cheh's seminal SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS 1974), it isn't surprising to discover many of Cheh's themes and rousingly bloody plot devices present in Wang's script; not the least of which is the increasingly over the top violence.

One of relatively few lighter moments in HONG KONG GODFATHER. Fans will know Shek Kin as Han, Bruce Lee's nemesis in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). He had previously played a gangster lackey in Shaw's equally gruesome production of THE CASINO (1972; reviewed on this site).

Three friends enjoy a good meal before all the screaming, killing and excessive bleeding

During the first 30 to 40 minutes, the film spends a bit of time getting to know the myriad number of characters. There are quite a few of them. Wei, the former chief bodyguard of Triad leader, Han (Liang), is now retired from the underworld and lives a life running a nursery and trying to keep his wild daughter out of trouble. Playboy Lung (Tsui Siu Keung) is as his name suggests, but is totally loyal to Han, who is the equivalent of a father figure to the men under his employ. Sergeant Man (Keung), now a cop, was previously in the gang, but keeps his ties strictly on a professional level remaining loyal to his job. Rotten Chi (Sam Wai) is a slimy rat of a man just as his name reveals.

After going through a psychotic rage in THUNDERING MANTIS (1979) and a profound desire for vengeance in SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984), Liang Chia Jen prepares to go into bloody battle in a modern day bloodbath in HONG KONG GODFATHER (1985)


The film doesn't spend a lot of time on exposition, but gives us a decent amount of characterization to make the viewer cringe just enough when terrible things happen to these people. All bets are off on pretty much everyone. It's open season on women, children and peoples pets. Violence towards women is strong in a couple of scenes, but one of the female characters proves to be very strong and capable of holding her own in fights. While misogyny is prevalent in this genre, HK films (particularly of the Wuxia and kung fu variety) were the first to showcase women in strong roles equal to men. There's even an entire subgenre of 'Girls & Guns' movies that are very popular with fans of modern style Hong Kong action movies.

This fellow to the right looks an awful lot like former venom actor, Chiang Sheng


While the action and violence gets more intense as the film goes on, it's nothing compared to the totally insane and riotously gore drenched finale inside a mall; apparently the same mall that gets demolished in Jackie Chan's POLICE STORY (1985). In addition to the demolition of an entire upper floor office level, the mall is covered in blood and body parts from the bottom floor, to the escalators, to the staircases and then the upper levels.

The joys of digital restoration and also the use of the freeze frame reveals such things as this cable jerking the stuntman backwards after a devastating kick

As with seemingly all Shaw Brothers movies, it doesn't end on a happy note. That's one of the beauties of Shaw productions. You never know just how many, or if any of the heroes are going to make it to the end. Previously available in a cut bootleg version minus much of the nastier bits, this new DVD from Funimation is the complete version containing the full frontal nudity and extreme bloody action cut from the previous versions floating around collectors circles. When Celestial Pictures announced their plans to release the entire Shaw library, fans rejoiced, but their planned 20 titles per month proved to be an impossibility. A number of titles were moved around, announced and removed multiple times, or simply never released at all after their five year lease with DVD distributor, IVL expired at the end of 2007.

Norman Tsui Siu Keung slashes his way through the enemy during an ambush

The release of HONG KONG GODFATHER became the talk of the HK movie community when it was announced it was one of the ten titles procured by BCI. But then the cheers of fans salivating to finally see the movie restored and uncut were once more silenced when BCI was closed down by their owners, the Navarre Corporation before it could be released. Now, Funimation, another company under the Navarre umbrella, has taken over these titles and now we finally have the film to see in its uncut glory. Was it worth the wait? Most definitely.

THUNDERING MANTIS, Liang Chia Jen (left) and THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN, Tsui Siu Keung (right)

Although dated by the eye opening 80's fashions and hairdo's (for those who tend to pay attention to those things), HONG KONG GODFATHER makes up for its kitsch factor with its amazing amount of gory violence. Known for their incredibly violent action movies, the Shaw's do not disappoint here, either. Much like Chang Cheh's movies, Wang Lung Wei piles on the red stuff as if his life depended on it. Possibly the single most gruesome and wildly bloody knife wielding gangster flick, there arguably hasn't been one this enthusiastically drenched in red since Cheh's period gangster movies, VENGEANCE! (1970) and THE DUEL (1971).


Cheh was also responsible for starting this style of HK action film with his hugely successful gangster epic, THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972). Possessing a high degree of energy and spirited ferocity, HONG KONG GODFATHER (1985) was one of the last really entertaining Shaw productions to get a theatrical release in its native country. Highly recommended for HK action fans and blood hungry sadists that fancy seeing alternative uses for saws, knives and machetes.

This review is representative of the Funimation DVD


Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Japan Edition! The Monsters of Tsuburaya!


EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS

By August Ragone

Hardcover; 208 pages; Color & B/W

One of the most noted authors and experts on Japanese monster and science fiction films, August Ragone realizes a lifelong dream in his exhaustive, massively informative hardback tome on that grand old man of Toho and Tsuburaya productions, Eiji Tsuburaya. Just seeing the book up close and personal it becomes obvious a lot of love and passion went into this book. From the front and back cover, to the thick, glossy pages, to the side of the book opposite the spine where Eiji's name is visible on the edges of the pages, a devout attention to detail has been paid for this undertaking.

One of the most striking attributes of this book are the sheer amount of jaw dropping behind the scenes shots from the various movies and not just the Kaiju films. There are also a handful of surviving shots from Tsuburaya's war pictures as well as images of the man himself in his younger days. The amount of 'making of' images is astounding. Fans will truly be in awe of this book. Not only does it cover all of Tsuburaya's Godzilla movies, but also his many science fiction television works including ULTRA Q and ULTRAMAN and its many spin offs. Other Japanese monster movies are covered as well with a chapter set aside for Gamera and other Kaiju creations.


What's On the Back Cover?


A number of additional writers participate on this book in addition to Ragone. Ed Godziszewski, Guy Mariner Tucker, John Paul Cassidy, Shogo Tomiyama, Akira Tsuburaya, Brad Warner, Norman England and Mark Nagata all contribute chapters to this lavish publication. Quite possibly the single best book out there on the subject, the back cover has a list price of $40.00. While it's worth every penny, the book can be purchased at amazon for $26.40 (see below), or cheaper from amazon sellers. The highest recommendation for Japanese sci fi/monster movie fans.

UNTIL NEXT TIME...


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Independent DVD Companies: Battles With Bootlegs, Chain Stores & An Economically Crippled Climate


Synapse Films DVD

***BONUS! Includes interview with Don May Jr. of Synapse Films***

***NOTE: Click a pic to read the information on the DVD box art***

***ADDITIONAL INFORMATION COURTESY OF DON MAY JR.***

This is an article dedicated to the digital purveyors of horror and exploitation cinema from around the world. It's a look (from a fans perspective) at some of the major independent players in the DVD arena and an ode to the fallen who have lost the war against a financially unstable economy and the backhanded blow dealt by bootleggers and torrent whores. Hopefully, those small few, now dwindled from a great many, will remain standing to unleash that obscure, unknown, under budgeted, fitfully entertaining, or dreadfully horrendous trash 'classick' certain special fans have been waiting for.

Grindhouse Releasing DVD

Back in May, I did a two part article about assorted movie and television show memories. It dealt with reminiscing about seeing some great and gaudy movies both at the drive in, or on the tube in the comforts of home. It more or less represented the mantra of this site displayed at the top of the page. With the advent of video cassettes (whether that be Beta, VHS, or laserdisc), there was suddenly a massive tidal wave of movies that could now be seen whenever you wanted. You didn't have to try and stay up late, or rush home to catch something interesting you spied in the TV Guide.

Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock DVD

Subversive Cinema DVD

Years later, it became apparent that many of these tapes were occasionally missing footage. Sometimes that footage was crucial whether it be additional exposition, or even those celebrated scenes of gore we blood hounds go crazy for. Often times, the versions used for these VHS versions were faded, severely cut television prints filled with pops and crackles, burn marks, print damage and tape splices. Also, seemingly all of them were fullscreen releases, seriously compromising the filmmakers original vision. Laserdisc rectified many of these problems, but it wasn't until the beginnings of DVD in the late 90's (1997 for the American market) that fans of fantastic cinema were given an all new format with which to enjoy their favorite and fondly remembered movie memories in a new way and with additional perks.

Elite Entertainment DVD

One of the first to break into the market was Elite Entertainment. This company began in 1993 (under the guidance of Vincent Bancalari & Don May Jr.) and released a lot of choice horror films on the laserdisc format. Some of their more notable laserdisc releases were numerous European movies such as films by Mario Bava and Hammer Films. American classics such as Romero's first three DEAD films, MANIAC (1980), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

Elite Entertainment DVD

They switched over to DVD towards the close of the decade. Some of the titles include THE INCUBUS (1981), HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983) and MUTANT (1984). Elite also released Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1976) to DVD prior to the two disc special edition from Dark Sky. Elite also released a brief series of films under their 'Millennium Edition' banner. These were NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) and RE-ANIMATOR (1985). The latter title is now owned by Anchor Bay (which is now owned by Starz Media). Elite Entertainment may also be among the numerous defunct DVD labels as they've been quiet on new releases.

Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD

From there, many more DVD companies began springing up at a rapid rate. One of the most prosperous and successful was Anchor Bay Entertainment. Born from the budget VHS label and fan favorite, Video Treasures, Anchor Bay started out releasing a treasure trove of choice titles such as their Hammer Films series of releases. Anchor Bay also released a number of their titles on VHS tape housed in glossy boxes with gatefold covers. Movie director, Bill Lustig was instrumental in obtaining the rights to many of these great British chillers. Lustig (along with David Gregory) also produced featurettes (under the Blue Underground banner) for many of AB's DVD's before turning Blue Underground into its own DVD company.

Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD

In the beginning, Anchor Bay was riddled with problems from bad disc pressings to listing films as being uncut, or in their original language with subtitles when that wasn't the case at all. I remember sending back several of the Hammer titles multiple times to get one that would play. I remember a service representative telling me (I also got a letter stating this) that their returns and defective rate was far below that of their competitors. They were the first (and only) company I have ever had a major problem with in relation to their discs. That didn't stop me from buying dozens of their DVD's mind you.

Blue Underground DVD

Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD

Anchor Bay later became (in)famous for the astounding number of times they released HALLOWEEN (1978) and THE EVIL DEAD (1981) on both VHS and the digital format. Before they were bought up by Starz Media, the Bay still had a lot of titles on their slate which still have yet to see a release. Anchor Bay Films has also branched out into film production as well. Among their impressive catalog of DVD releases, others worth mentioning are THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1986), NEON MANIACS (1986), SUPERSTITION (1982), NIGHT PATROL (1984), HELL NIGHT (1981), selected Dario Argento movies and their Mario Bava sets.

Panik House (Synapse repressing) DVD

Code Red DVD

With Anchor Bay being one of, if not the leading independent label of the day, it was only a matter of time before others began strutting their stuff with an onslaught of movies of various genres. Some companies became known for a certain genre. When those wells began to run dry, barrel scraping became inevitable, so other avenues were traveled in the hopes of uncovering some hidden gems. While things were seemingly profitable for these companies during the dawn of DVD, things would soon change from three powerfully crippling obstacles.

CasaNegra DVD

NoShame DVD

Movie piracy has been a problem since the days of VHS. Honestly, who hasn't rented a tape and copied it for themselves to enjoy time and again? Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, many indy video outfits sold bootleg copies of movies unavailable in America, or unavailable in their most complete version as a stateside release. Tapes of Terror, Midnight Video, Far East Flix, Mondo Video and the dreaded Video Search of Miami are/were just some of the names of companies that provided a great service for those seeking rare and hard to find movies on videotape. Some of these companies are still around and provide this same service, but now specialize in the DVD-R format. Some of these service providers do in fact discontinue a title if it becomes legitimately available (and some don't).

CasaNegra DVD

But many bootleggers were not only copying easily obtainable tapes, but selling them for a profit. When DVD's came out, the same thing became increasingly problematic. Pirates were having a field day bootlegging many of these movies, now on the digital format, and selling copies at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes, these dupes would come housed in DVD boxes with cheaply scanned covers. Others wouldn't even bother with producing a case and would simply sell their discs with little more than a paper sleeve.

Ventura/Adness DVD

With certain titles costing a lot to license, or bearing a limited pressing, some titles would cost anywhere from $20 to $40 for the buying public. A pirate could easily purchase a copy of a film and by utilizing a DVD burner and a stack of cheap media, could provide himself with a steady cash flow by rabid "fans" who refuse to pay the "high cost" of a particular title. Granted, there are some cases where problems (such as financial) would prevent certain consumers from making such a purchase. But then that would be akin to saying, "Well, I can't afford a new car, so I think I'll go out and steal someone else's."

Dark Sky Films DVD (above and below)


Right now you can go on ioffer and find any number of legit titles from an independent label and that particular seller will offer his inferior copy between $3.00 and $5.00. Google just about any title from any genre and you're bound to get any number of available torrents just ready for download for those lazy and disingenuous "fans" who pretend to be dedicated supporters of the labels they so often champion.

Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock DVD

One of the most shocking and infuriating aspects of these dupesters are their ability to seep into major stores and online retailers. At one time, numerous kung fu movies were available via bootleg labels like Ground Zero and Video Asia in Best Buy and Suncoast stores. This was still going on even after the deal with Celestial Pictures to restore 760 Shaw Brothers movies had been made with various US companies to release many of those movies here (549 of them did manage to come out from IVL on DVD and VCD in Hong Kong before the five year license ran out).

Discotek DVD

Some small time crook companies like Red Sun aka Pan Media aka Bonzai, ad infinitum, would have the balls to put out an inferior and shoddily English synced DVD to coincide with the same release from a legit US company such as Media Blasters and Dragon Dynasty (subsidiary of Miramax). What's even more amazing is that these discs frequent the shelves of stores such FYE and even Chinatown shops! The latter doesn't surprise me too much considering the plethora of bootlegs of just about any current Hollywood product, or otherwise that's found in Chinatown DVD shops. Piracy has also had a major crippling effect in Asia for many years now and continues to be a problem.

Discotek DVD

Currently, the dupe outfit, Video Asia are releasing different genres of movies in snazzy packaging such as their Spaghetti Western Bible series. Fans in the know are aware of these insidious companies and many stay away from them. But there's the select few who don't mind purchasing a terrible quality, badly synced and low priced rip off of a quality product from a legit company. These legit companies spent thousands, or millions of dollars on a multitude of titles to not only get fondly remembered films to the masses once again, but to also make a profit in the end for themselves. The bottom feeders merely have a DVD burner and a spool of cheap blank discs and they're "in business". Furthermore, these callous and cold leeches could care less.

Code Red DVD

Take the fledgling DVD company Code Red for instance. BCI (formerly bootleg outfit, Brentwood) handled their titles circulation, but they went under for undisclosed reasons. Their distribution is now handled by Media Blasters. Although many of their titles do not cater to the exploitation masses, the dedicated few appreciate the company's efforts in unleashing some of the most tasteless gutter trash the cinema world has ever seen. One title that Code Red has been touting for a long, long time has been one of the most sought after (NIGHTMARE aka NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN), although it's taking them what seems like ages to get it out to the buying public. Below is an incredibly shocking excerpt from Code Red's blog regarding this particular title and gives some sad, but fascinating insight into the insane trials the independent labels go through when handling these obscure movies including piracy....

Our long awaited and most troubled title, NIGHTMARE, will finally be released on DVD in late 2010. This over budgeted project has been plagued with problems from the beginning: the damaged negative was unusable, four 35mm prints that had been claimed to be "pristine" were covered in white dots and emulsion scratches, and there were 3 botched telecine jobs on the transfer. Then there was the overpriced money pit extra of the Romano Scavolini interview that was supposed to have been shot in English, but was conducted in Italian....

This Scavolini interview is basically a 95-minute one man talking feature-length film and requires much more than a translator just writing down what he's saying on a piece of paper. In case you are not aware, a 95-minute interview is much more dialog driven than an average feature film - and that is why the subtitling houses wanted more money for this project than subtitling an actual movie. The budget of this release is already way beyond the estimated sales and I simply do not have the money to put anything more into it. DVD sales have been extremely poor for the last 14 months and breaking even in this business is becoming a pipe dream....

To fix the best out of the 3 telecines we did, it is costing $42,000 to do it right (or more like passable). CODE RED does not recoup $42,000 in sales on any title. Overseas sales could be one way of recouping, but the film is already being bootlegged in most countries even though it has a valid copyright. There is no way of stopping these thieves and no way of us getting some overseas funds to fix the film. Currently, a German DVD sleazeball label is bootlegging 4 of our titles, the same 4 we still haven’t recouped on. They saw profit before we even got to it.

Another problem was that many fans wanted the NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN version, which is very strange as that is the UK title and it’s the cut version. It never played anywhere outside of the UK under that title. If any of you want that cut version, I can’t help you.

Goldmine Productions wants NIGHTMARE out and the fans want it out, so the most we can do is put out what we have done and move on. For the extras, we do have the participation of Baird Stafford and also main special effects man (Florida scenes) Cleve Hall. This is all we can deliver as far as extras at this time. There is a remote chance the Scavolini interview may be worked out in time for the release, but at this moment, that is not confirmed or finalized so as it stands now we have to say it won't be included. Also, this may be hard to believe to fans of NIGHTMARE, but most of the people who worked on the film do not like the film, were never fully paid, and have nothing but bad memories working on it. 90% of the people we asked turned us down for an interview. One even said he wished the film would go away and he was happy that the negative was destroyed. Of course, we know the fans absolutely LOVE the film and that's what really counts.

NIGHTMARE received twice the amount of email requests as our recently released SLITHIS, and that movie only sold 489 copies. NIGHTMARE has to sell 4,200 copies just to break even. That amount is practically impossible in today’s market for a niche title as this. Simply put, the funds coming in from my second business and freelance work are currently paying for CODE RED’s losses.

Hopefully, what with some of the promising releases on Code Red's schedule, they will be around for a good number of years. With piracy being a huge obstacle working against these guys, there's also another side of that coin.

Mondo Macabro DVD

What about those titles that have yet to (or may never) find their way onto DVD? Is it ethical to support those "releases"? In my opinion, I have no problem buying movies in this respect. I have bought my fair share of unreleased-to-DVD movies (or titles now out of print) and have made more than a few DVD-R's from cable television broadcasts of various films. However, true fans generally purchase a DVD of a particular movie that was previously unavailable once it becomes so. Who wouldn't want a much loved film in a better version housed in a nice box and (hopefully) with extras? An actual DVD looks so much better on your shelf than sitting on a spindle amidst 50 to a hundred other discs.

Subversive Cinema DVD

NoShame DVD

Piracy is a problem for the major studios as well, only they don't take the hit like the little guys do. They have the money to go after these digital bloodsuckers. The indies do not. The majors also have a major number of sought after film titles tucked away in their vaults; MGM being one of the chief exploitation hoarders. With little faith in sales from these exploitation quickies, a lot of times you'll find certain rarities popping up quietly on late night cable television. Occasionally, a big studio outfit will unleash a scant few obscurities no doubt backed by the some millions of units sold of more recent blockbuster productions. There has become a minor trend of smaller labels licensing certain titles from big studios like Paramount, but apparently, these ventures have proven to be not so fruitful.

Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock DVD

A serious problem crippling the smaller labels are the big chain stores removing niche titles from their shelves. Over the last few years, this problem has grown steadily worse. I was just in a Best Buy last week (as of the date on this article) and the horror section is a fragment of its former self and the only titles available were newer pictures and a handful of cheap straight to DVD drivel. This snubbing of the small guy has been yet another contributing blow to the industry that has led to the demise of a number of promising DVD labels. Stores such as Best Buy do offer these obscure movies in their online stores, but the DVD companies themselves need that shelf space for the casual and impulse buyers.

VCI Entertainment DVD

Piracy and in store snubbing aren't the only reason for dwindling profits of the indy labels. Among many other things, the ever crumbling economy continues to pound away at the DVD industry and its media buying public. Ever since 2007, the United States economy has taken a beating from a majority of sources. From massive debt, to declining operating profits, to the war overseas, to the current expansive loss of jobs and homes and the current political climate we are now in continues to spiral American's finances out of control. There's still entertainment available to keep those occupied who can afford it. But when one goes on amazon and can easily purchase a title for around $10, there's little excuse as to why one would go the torrent, or dupe route.

CasaNegra DVD

Blue Underground DVD

Hopefully, the companies that remain in business as of this writing including Elite, Synapse, Dark Sky, Mondo Macabro, Severin, Blue Undergound, Code Red and Media Blasters among some others will see, or continue to see the fruits of their labor. It's an entertainment business whose owners are in it to make money and they deserve to make a return on their investment. But they are also in it for the love of the art of cinema. They are in it for the love of those color faded and print damaged movies seen by those special fans who enjoyed these movies on the Late Show, at the Drive In, or in a darkened theater. They also dreamt of one day bringing these films to other like minded fans in the best version possible.

Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD

Below is a list of a few now defunct DVD companies that left far too soon and well before their time...

R.I.P.

PANIK HOUSE--Praised for being the premiere DVD company bringing the notorious Pinky Violence movies of Japan to American shores. Eventually, Panik House went into a partnership with Synapse to release a number of titles before they called it quits.

CASANEGRA--A sub label of Panik House, this impressive label specialized in the restoration of classic Mexican horror cinema. This ambitious company even won Best DVD Company at the 5th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Even still, their classy treatment of those treasures wasn't enough to sustain them for very long. Some DVD outlets have a number of their titles reasonably priced.

SUBVERSIVE CINEMA--Norman Hill was involved with Anchor Bay during the days Bill Lustig was there and like Lustig, left to form his own company. Subversive Cinema had a distribution deal with Niche Media Ventures, Inc, a company specializing in producing revenue streams for, among other things, the digital production industry. This deal was set to provide Norman Hill's company with nationwide distribution such as advertising and promotion of their catalog as well as aid in their title acquisitions. Sadly, these efforts did little to sustain this promising juggernaut of a company.

NO SHAME--This Italian based DVD company opened a US arm for a brief period before closing its doors not long after it had opened them. They specialized in choice Italian genre product such as horror, drama and poliziesco movies. They had an enormous breadth of extras on their discs and were the first legit company to present the violent Italian crime pictures in lavish packages outside of Europe.

VENTURA/ADNESS--This label released a number of Japanese movies including an extensive line of Sonny Chiba movies. BCI stepped in and picked up their titles and released them under the Ronin label and managed to get at least one Chiba Blu Ray double feature out before they, too, went out of business.

BCI/BRENTWOOD--Brentwood was an incredibly prolific public domain label that released scores of VHS quality DVD's before being purchased by the Navarre Corporation. BCI, while not totally legit, did release a number of legitimate releases including a string of Paul Naschy movies and had purchased the rights to ten Shaw Brothers titles before Navarre closed them down. They did manage to get two Shaw titles and one Blu Ray out before closing up shop.

BARREL ENTERTAINMENT--This company specialized in extreme and obscure independent pictures and gave the kind of attention to them you'd expect to see from a major studio blockbuster. They lasted a few years and in that time released around ten titles including the sought after THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1972/77) and the two NEKROMANTIK films. They were working on an uncut release of EXPOSE (HOUSE ON STRAW HILL 1976) when they closed their doors.

LEGEND FILMS--Known for their phenomenal work in colorization and film restoration, this preservation facility licensed a slew of lesser known titles from Paramount's vaults and presented them for the first time on DVD. Proving difficult to find initially, some very nice genre titles did manage to see the light of the shiny disc such as THE SKULL (1965), THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959), MANDINGO (1975), PHASE IV (1974) and STUDENT BODIES (1981). Paramount has recently licensed out another string of titles to a new up and coming label, Olive Films.

LEGEND HOUSE--Horror, trash, rock-a-billy celebrity, Johnny Legend, had a brief stint in the DVD release limelight with this short-lived label that wasn't quite on the up and up. Even so, he managed to obtain legitimate distribution from Ryko/ADA, which also handled other DVD companies such as Blue Underground.

HERETIC FILMS--This independent company released a handful of likewise indy and guerrilla style filmmakers productions. Many of their releases were quirky pictures, or low budgeted, but spirited odes to more famous American horror pictures. THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), THE BLOOD SHED (2007), HEAD TRAUMA (2006) and DIE AND LET LIVE (2006) were some of this company's releases before closing their doors after a few years of being in operation.

ELITE ENTERTAINMENT--As mentioned above, this enterprising company started by Vincent Bancalari and Don May Jr. were major forerunners in the laserdisc/DVD market. It seems Elite may have also been buried within the DVD graveyard as nothing has been released from them since at least 2006.

Subversive Cinema DVD

It's truly a sad time for serious DVD collectors out there and even harder for the passionate individuals who take chances with their money to bring such films to the masses, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Those men and women who run these companies are the true fans. Even if the films aren't always as good as we'd like them to be, they save so many worthy titles and deserve adulation for their efforts.

Elite Entertainment DVD

For the fans out there, if you don't support companies such as Synapse, Blue Underground and Dark Sky, then there will be no new releases to watch, rediscover, or review for your respected websites and blogs. We will be forced to make do with washed out, faded, or murky and predominantly cut VHS tapes as a source for enjoyment of many obscure and as yet undiscovered titles.

Synapse Films DVD (and all others below)

Now, here's the exclusive interview with Don May Jr., the President of Synapse Films, who kindly took time to allow me to bug him with a flurry of questions amidst his very busy schedule. Those who have read this far will recognize Don's name having been mentioned above in relation to Elite Entertainment. He now runs Synapse Films with his partner, Jerry Chandler. And now, on to the interview!


Venoms5: What's the DVD buyers climate like today compared to what it was several years ago in relation to independent companies and niche genres in general?

Don May Jr.: It's the worst time in the history of DVD for any indie company. With the economy so bad, major stores closing and the rise of Bit Torrent sites bootlegging everything that comes out, it's harder than ever to succeed in this type of business.


V5: Explain the process of what you guys go through to release a title to the audience--from obtaining the rights down to the final DVD release itself.

DMJ: That would take an entire book to answer this question.


V5: You have released various titles from Italy to Japan to name two. How difficult is it working with foreign companies in obtaining some of these titles?

DMJ: Most companies are great to work with. We haven't had too many issues working with foreign countries. Actually, I can't recall too many instances where dealing with a foreign country for materials has been too difficult. Our most difficult times, honestly, have been with some US companies or individuals.


V5: What's the most difficult, arduous, or expensive aspect of handling and releasing one of your titles?

DMJ: The most difficult aspect is doing the transfer and digital restoration/clean up. We approve materials ahead of time, but there's always something that needs fixing. For example, THUNDERCRACK!... a title we absolutely love and couldn't NOT do is turning into the most time consuming, difficult restoration in our history. I'm very picky and have to try and fix everything to the best of my ability and THUNDERCRACK! is one that extensive (and expensive) work is being done to. But, with all the clean up and fixes, I actually do have a lot of fun!


V5: Has an actors price tag ever kept you from procuring an interview for a DVD release?

DMJ: Oh yes. Some actors and actresses certainly have a false sense of their self worth, for sure. Won't name any names, but recently we contacted an actor to participate in an upcoming release and was told a 15 minute interview would cost us $5000. Obviously, we declined...


V5: Are there titles you obtained that did poorly than expected and were there titles that exceeded expectations?

DMJ: With the current state of the industry in turmoil, pretty much EVERYTHING does poorly, unfortunately. Back in the early days, you could sell 10,000+ of a title and, now, that same title might be lucky to do 2000. The one I was personally upset about was LONG WEEKEND, a title that I've loved since I was a kid. It's such a great movie and we spent a lot of money making it perfect and no one bought it. Its hard to talk about anything that exceeded our expectations these days because our expectations are so low.


V5: How bad has torrents and bootleggers crippled the cult DVD labels?

DMJ: It's getting worse every day. As soon as you release something (sometimes even BEFORE you street something), it's up on the torrent sites for everyone to have for free. It's amazing sometimes to see the amount of "leechers" and "seeders" exceed our amount of total sales of a particular title. But, until the government does something, we just press on and keep going. We cater to true fans and collectors who like to have finished product and we are thankful for those honest individuals.


V5: How does the use of online rental companies such as Netflix affect Synapse, or other DVD companies? Do they aid in sales, or hinder them?

DMJ: Netflix is convenient for people, but the service does hinder sales somewhat, just like any other rental service does. People rent them and then copy the movies for themselves and give them to their friends. Their video on demand service is quite nice, though.


V5: What is your opinion of companies such as Retromedia and Mya amidst the speculations of various non licensed releases?

DMJ: Well, look, it is upsetting to see some companies doing unlicensed titles, but I'm a firm believer in karma. It'll come back to get them sooner or later. For some companies, it already has. Companies spend thousands to do certain titles, only to find out right before release that they are doing something illegal and they get cease-and-desisted. Why would you even take that chance, you know? Sometimes, it's an honest mistake... it happened to us with THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN... the original producer sold it to us then we found out he already sold it to MGM over a decade before, for example. He was going for a money grab and he didn't think MGM would find out, I guess. Thank God we hadn't spent any money mastering it yet, or we would've been screwed.


V5: How well has, or how well do you perceive the Blu Ray market to do in cult film circles?

DMJ: We wisely waited for the Blu-ray market to get a little larger before jumping in. Many smaller companies have told us that Blu-ray isn't profitable for them yet. We're going to jump in eventually, but we're not in any hurry. For cult films, Blu-ray hasn't proven to be hugely successful yet. I'm not so sure it ever will be. The films we do just aren't as well known as the latest, greatest studio blockbuster and creating, mastering and replicating in HD is more expensive than a standard DVD. If you do a title on Blu-ray you are rolling the dice, for sure.


V5: Having lost Subversive, CasaNegra and rumors of other companies being in trouble, has there ever been a time where you felt like just calling it quits?

DMJ: Not at all. My business partner and I have never, ever discussed closing up. We run a tight ship. A much tighter ship than most other indie companies I know and we watch every penny and spend wisely on titles and are quite frugal. We've been around for 14 years and, at this point, we have no intention of shutting our doors. We have talked to people associated with some indie DVD companies that have closed down and the amount of money they spend on employees, offices, salaries, licenses, etc. is astounding! One now-defunct-DVD company (ex)employee talked to us one time about working for us freelance and his asking price (to work for us freelance) was TWICE the amount of money I was making as a yearly salary! It's no wonder the company they worked for went out of business, you know?


V5: What's going on with all that unused and alternate footage from HALLOWEEN? Is there a possibility this footage will see the light of day at some point?

DMJ: The footage is safe and sound, but I don't know if anything will ever come of it. Malek Akkad isn't calling us back or answering emails we send, so I can only assume he doesn't want the fans to see this stuff. That's OK, though... at least it didn't get thrown in the trash and lost forever. I have seen a lot of the footage and know what we have and there's some great stuff. At least I've been able to look at it!


V5: What keeps Synapse going and what does the future hold?

DMJ: We keep going because we love movies. We don't know what the future holds, but we're gonna keep going.


V5: Thanks so much, Don, for your time. I wish you the utmost in continued success with Synapse and any other ventures you undertake.

DMJ: Thanks very much!


Again, a huge heaping thank you to Don for granting me an email interview which has aided me immeasurably in producing this article. The link for Synapse is here. Hopefully, the DVD industry for these independent labels will thrive once again and lead to another boom in releases of some of our most sought after movies to surface on the digital format. Cheers to all of you who are hanging in there!

ADDENDUM: The following is a list of as many independent DVD sites that I can come up with and links to their respective sites. Just click the company name to be taken to their website. If anyone has any others I may have missed, please let me know in the comment box below, or by emailing me at brianchiba@gmail.com.

Anchor Bay Entertainment

Blue Underground

Cinema Epoch

Code Red DVD

Cult Epics

Dark Sky Films

Discotek

Elite Entertainment (??)

Grindhouse Releasing

Media Blasters

Mondo Macabro

Scorpion Releasing

Severin Films

Synapse Films

VCI Entertainment


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