Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top 10: Collectible DVD Labels Part 1

Hey there! It's been a while, yet again. Same ol' stuff going down.

But we're not here for that. We're here to celebrate another Top 10 list, because everyone loves lists. Everyone! Just try to refute it.

Returning back to the topic that inspired me to create this blog in the first place, perhaps in order to find some type of structure once again with it, or perhaps just to dwell in my favorite topic: hoarding, I mean, collecting movies!

As someone who's been fanatical about spending any free dime (something hard to come by lately) he can on a disc encased with cinematic goodness, I've found certain labels to call to me, much like music fiends who follow specific labels' releases. Whether it's the packaging, the type of movie, or any combination of mitigating factors; these lines are just plain damned fun to collect. You remember as a kid wanting to collect baseball cards? Imagine that thrill but with something you can get at least a few hours of entertainment out of before it takes up shelf space.

The rankings of this list has been decided through taking into account various factors, such as how much enjoyment I get out of the films themselves along with how much fun I get out of hunting them down and the sense of accomplishment I receive.

And here's two words for any label heads that might be looking for ways to grab collectors' attention: Spine Numbers. You throw those on there and you've got me like a fish on a hook.

10. Blue Underground

Started when William Lustig left the Anchor Bay of old, Blue Underground has made a name for itself releasing some of the most primo cult titles. Argentos, Fulcis, and a healthy dose of various gialli help to make up a strong catalog of Euro-horrors that continue to hold a high demand amongst film collectors. That's not to say domestic titles are ignored. Quality titles such as Dead & Buried, The Crazies, and Q: The Winged Serpent leave a testament to American cult. But, and I find this to be true with a lot of labels, the quieter, less notable releases really stand out to me. Oddities such as Larry Cohen's Bone and the new wave Aussie musical Starstruck have become a couple of my personal favorite movies yet there is almost no mention of them amongst cult film circles. With the advent of blu-ray, Blue Underground has also made a name for itself with some of the most outstanding transfers of catalog titles that the medium has seen yet.

Unfortunately, it seems that the release of new titles has slowed to a crawl which is one of the factors in it being placed at #10. In 2011, they released only two, though very welcome, new titles to their catalog: The Nesting and Quiet Days in Clichy. I'm very glad they're supporting HD with such quality releases though I do wish we would see more unique titles released between the big name catalog reissues.

Still, when you receive a new Blue Underground disc, you know you've got quality. Usually it's a title you've been reading about for a while online and you're excited to just be able to watch the damn thing. But then you get their wonderful covers and a decent sized booklet typically containing a top-notch essay or two by various passionate writers giving each title the star treatment. Their films are typically Euro-centric which, combined with the special treatment BU gives them, gives off a feeling of prestige. Kind of like looking at a vintage Scotch magazine ad from the 60's.

Favorite titles: Bone, Starstruck, Q: The Winged Serpent, Vampyres, The Blind Dead boxset, City of the Living Dead

Upcoming titles: Night Train Murders blu, Baba Yaga blu, Strip Nude for Your Killer blu

9. Dragon Dynasty

Now, other than horror and the like, my favorite type of genre to throw on at any old time would be kung-fu and Asian action films, the love of which is why this line makes the list. The spine numbers aren't hurting it, either. (Note: I'll freely admit that if there was one all-encompassing Shaw Bros. line instead of their titles being spread amongst distributors, it'd probably take the place of this one, and probably move further up the list.)

Dragon Dynasty, owned by the frustrating Weinsteins, has had its fair share of criticisms. Cut releases, dub-titles, confounding commentary tracks, etc., all of which I agree with. None of that shit should have happened, but knowing that its existence is really to shuttle out the stuff the Weinsteins have acquired and don't know what to do with, we should be happy that it's only been this bad. If you can get past all that, you have a very nice range of movies that might otherwise have not been released here, remaining as expensive imports; and they definitely wouldn't have had as much mainstream exposure by being carried by big box stores such as Walmart. Because of this line, these movies have a decent chance at being discovered by a completely new audience.

And what movies, indeed. The catalog ranges from the titans of Asian action with The Killer and Hard Boiled to classic Shaw Bros. kung-fu to newer, lesser-known titles such as Seven Swords or Born to Fight. Their release of SPL (unfortunately retitled with the generic Kill Zone) put me over the moon, priming me just in time for the recent wave of Donie Yen goodness with Ip Man and Return of the Fist. Their title Dog Bite Dog, one I had never heard of before or since really, turned out to be one of the most stark and hard-hitting films I had seen in years, becoming one of my favorite films. If there's one title I'd implore people to seek out, it'd be that one. And you can't forget the spine numbers. As any collecting fanatic will tell you, seeing those gaps in the numbering on the shelf with only drive the "gotta collect them all" madness further.

Favorite titles: Dog Bite Dog, Kill Zone, Hard Boiled, The Royal Tramp Collection, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Come Drink With Me

Upcoming titles: Unfortunately, newly announced titles for the line come at random times, usually right around when you start thinking the line's dead. After releasing a flurry of Shaw Bros and blu upgrades to existing titles just in the last few months, they deserve to take a break, I suppose, with their only upcoming title listed on Amazon being the Dragon Dynasty Collection-Volume 2, collecting some of their most recent single releases.

8. Roger Corman's Cult Classics

When BCI/Deimos was sadly disbanded, cult dvd suffered a pretty big blow. One of the only highlights of that event was the main man behind it, Cliff MacMillan, was picked by Shout Factory to head up their newly acquired Roger Corman line of titles, helping to preserve a lineage for future generations.

Some of these titles had been released before through Corman's New Concorde label but most had been out of print and went for a decent price used. Others had never been released at all, some not even on VHS. Shout Factory should be given a medal for saving so many of these movies from getting swept by in time, many of them receiving deluxe special editions that are almost better than the movies deserve. They've got DVD, blu-ray, double, triple, and even quadruple feature discs to contain all this schlock!

I would have fawned over this line anyways, but they get extra points for bringing out one of my favorite movies in a great blu-ray right out of the gate with Rock N' Roll High School as their first release, along with Betty Thomas's Suburbia. They followed that up with the heavy hitters Death Race 2000, Galaxy of Terror, and Forbidden World, all on blu. Rather than taking a chance on the smaller known titles getting overlooked with single title discs, they paired movies up in packs to attract more attention, something I'm more than fine with. While I enjoy special features, I'll always prefer getting as many unique titles on disc as possible, even if the films are light with the extras. I even found a movie I had been wondering about for years through this line. As a kid, I had rented some movie dealing with a space crew and some kind of monster coming on board. Since it's a fairly generic plot, I came across a dozen or so movies it could be but was never sure of what one it was until I got the Terror Within/Dead Space disc I won in the DVDTalk Horror Challenge. One look at Marc Singer and his robot buddy and I knew I had finally got it. No idea if it's still any good yet. That's what I love about this line, they've released so many titles I used to gaze at as a child and can now finally watch. My only small gripe is their releases are heavily skewed towards the 70's stuff when I have a higher interest in the 80's/early 90's Corman stuff since that's what was coming out when I was growing up, but I'm definitely not snubbing my nose at the other titles. Great stuff, all of it.

Favorite Titles: Rock 'N' Roll High School blu, Vampires, Mummies & Monsters Collection, The Slumber Party Massacre Collection, Sword & Sorcery Collection

Upcoming Titles: The only upcoming titles with dates to them yet are the Lethal Ladies Collection, Vol. 2 and The Nurses Collection. DVD News Flash has a list of rumored future releases taken from Cliff himself.

7. Shameless

With the number of unique Euro titles being released only at a fraction of what was coming out during the medium's heyday, a company still premiering catalog titles should be commended.

Now there are a few detriments when it comes to Shameless. If you live in the States, like me, then you're going to have to import these which automatically raises the price a bit. Even though the basic price is fairly cheap, rather ten dollars when converted, you still have to pay a higher shipping price as well as your bank charging you a conversion fee. Another problem is that many of their titles are easily available here domestically, released through Blue Underground or other cult labels. If you're over in Europe and you're reading this, none of this applies to you since you have to do all this shit when ordering our domestic labels. So you guys don't even have to sweat it. For the Yanks, you're probably asking why the hell I'm even bringing this label up, let alone placing it higher than something like Blue Underground?

Well, it's because they're just so goddamn collectible, which is what this list is all about. The packaging doesn't just catch your eye, it assaults it with bright yellow plastic and covers, harkening back to the Italian pulp novels that gialli get their name from. They not only have the spine numbers racket thing going for them, but the spines also form an image of the company's logo, effectively doubling the fucking spine madness. And that's not to say the films themselves are slouching either. They carry some of the big heavy hitters of grungy Euro horror such as New York Ripper, much of which is readily available here so picking those up would be pretty much for the nutball collectors like me. But they do have titles that are harder to pick up domestically. Phantom of Death is a giallo directed by Cannibal Holocaust's Ruggero Deodato and stars Michael York. The Designated Victim, Escape From the Bronx, Footprints on the Moon, Oasis of Fear, Ratman, and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? are all unavailable with a legitimate release here in the States but are available through Shameless. They recently made the plunge into HD, creating the world's first "yellow"-rays, which frankly are just damned snazzy. With the Shameless label, their strengths are definitely in the physical presentation of their titles and how satisfying it is to collect them, more so than probably any other line on this list.

Favorite Titles: The Bronx Warriors Trilogy, Ratman, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh

Upcoming Titles: Four Flies on Grey Velvet blu, Cemetery Man

6. Mondo Macabro

Sometimes you need something fresh, something unique, something fucking different. The same old slashers, zombies, ghosts, etc. are feeling stagnant. Hell, even the whackjob giallos are feeling a little too familiar. Well, Mondo Macabro is about as far as you can fucking get from normal when it comes to movies.

If you want a crash course in cult cinema from all around the world, Mondo Macabro's catalog is all you need. I don't believe any of their titles are from American, with only one or two being in English at all. They truly span the globe; France, Spain, Japan, Bollywood, Filipino, they're all represented here with the most outlandish sights you'll see in a film. Even though some of their titles can still be categorized into categories like a giallo or Pinku eiga, they still manage to go past what you could think is capable in their fields. You ever see disembodied head fly around with its spinal cord and internal organs attached fly around and suck the blood of a baby while still in the womb? You sure as shit will here. Or how about a two-hour+ musical Bollywood ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street? You're covered. They've even got Paul fuckin' Naschy in there.

Another aspect that I love about this line, speaking as a collector, is their packaging. The plastic used for the cases are always a bright red, making them stand out from the sea of regular ol' black on the shelves. When placed together, the glaring red calls out from the shelf, almost like the Pied Piper of Crazy Shit. "Hey you! You wanna have an acid trip like your daddy used to write home about?" This line just speaks to me. Besides the unique packaging, it brings me sights from the furthest corners of the world. I'm someone who craves new and unique ideas in film. I'm always pushing and scouring for the most obscure titles possible. With Mondo Macabro, that itch is consistently scratched and for the adventurous film freak, I can't recommend them enough.

Favorite Titles: Bollywood Horror Collections 1, 2, and 3, Blood Rose, Don't Deliver Us From Evil, Mystics in Bali,

Upcoming Titles: Their most recent title was the Santa-decimating Don't Open Till Christmas with no other titles announced at the moment, but Mondo Macabro takes their time on releases so I'm sure more will be upcoming.

Holy damn, did this go long. I just clocked it and it's running at almost 2500 words already. I guess you can tell I'm passionate about this, huh? I was really planning on making this all under one post, but I think for both my benefit and for those of you reading, I'll bring it to a close. I'll get the second part of it up within the next day or two so as to not keep the world in suspense. Until then, I bid you adieu and wish you well on your movie hunting.

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