Monday, July 20, 2009

Budget Label Bargain Bin DVDs

Here's an update to a post from the original Mise-en-scene Crypt blog. The original publication date was: 07/24/2006 11:37:20. This was an examination of the video quality to be found on certain "PD" (wink wink nudge nudge) budget labels and asked the question: Are budget DVDs a bane or boon?

It's a question that's still very pertinent today as the budget labels have moved on to producing "multi movie" packs that cram anywhere from 10 to 20 to 100 or more movies onto a bare minimum of flipper discs. What's the big deal?

If you are like me you like movies. I wouldn't necessarily say I like all the movies I have on DVD, nor would I want every movie I've seen over the years on DVD, but when I buy a DVD I expect to actually be able to SEE the movie. Movies are meant to deliver on one important need, an escape from the dull routine of everyday life. Sort of like going to a mall. They are entertainment. Sure you never know going in what a movie has in store until you see it, but that's half the fun. Same with some of the DVDs released by certain budget labels. However the bargain bin holds treasures as well as junk. You can look at what's in the bargain bin but there's one problem with it, no matter what's in there you're buying blind.

Bargain bins are like Outlet or "Dollar" stores. Sadly not every mall has them but most video retailers do. Sure you often have a love-hate relationship with them, but there's almost always something chuckle worthy to be found in a bargain bin. (And I don't mean dump bins where some stores treat DVDs like garbage and just throw them into a mass heap like a farmer tossing slop to pigs.) On rare occasion you may find something interesting, like DVDs of old cult favorites and half-forgotten movies you may never have heard of. Savvy shoppers get to know labels as not all bargain bin labels take care to secure decent looking source prints. But that's a risk you sometimes have to take.

For instance I found my original DVD copies of Lady Frankenstein, Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, Web of the Spider, Deep Red, Horror Express, and other movies too numerous to list here in video stores bargain sections. However Bargain Bin DVDs are like last years fashion. Nothing wrong with them, per se, just a bit questionable sometimes. Too, when you get that item home you find out it doesn't fit quite right, wont play properly, or wasn't at all what the packaging advertised. This happened with a 4-movie pack purchased out of a bargain bin. What a surprise it turned out to be!

Don't get me wrong the price was too good to pass up, so I've only got my self to blame. Yet one has to wonder what people thought that bought this set when it was first released and going for full price. But I am getting ahead of myself. The DVD set in question was..

Bad Boys of the West

DVD Type: 4-movie pack (2 double sided DVDs)

Label: Brentwood

Cost: $3.99

The Movies - Disc One Side A: Vendetta


This is an extremely grainy version of Poncho Villa sourced from VHS with its original title crudely replaced by a still image insert. In all honesty I actually stood in the store and read the write-up and said to myself, "This sounds like Poncho Villa!" yet bought it anyway. Caveat emptor indeed! Funny thing is the sound track is louder on this DVD than my WS version, which isn't to say it's better, rather the person responsible for the re-dub work just cranked up the volume.

Disc One Side B: A Town Called Hell



There was a feature on certain consumer grade analogue video editors that allowed you to zoom in or out to reframe the picture during dubbing. One assumes this was intended to allow creative minded home video editors to play around with SFX. Alas too many dubbers had no real clue how to properly utilize this feature thus they usually ended up with improperly framed and severely overscanned dubs. You see a lot of this in PD (wink wink nudge nudge) type releases taken from broadcast television where the dubber was trying to hide onscreen logos or create a faux letterbox effect. Alas Westerns seem to be plagued by this more than any other genre, witness this video, which was obviously sourced from such a dub.

Disc Two Side A: Hunt the Man Down


Another cheap looking retitling job, this time for "Bad Man's River". As if you are going to fool anyone. The song playing during the intro repeats the title in chorus several times over. How Brentwood slipped through the cracks with this one boggles the mind. To add insult to injury whatever source was used is dark, murky, and so poorly filtered through whatever cheap analog video processor the garage dubbers used as to render the movie virtually black and white.

Disc Two Side B: Deathwork


Yes, you guessed it, this is yet another retitled western. This time it's "Captain Apache". How can I be certain? Because the song that plays during the intro has a chorus that repeats the original title over and over. However it's hard to tell if the colors are murky or if the guy operating the dubbing machine was colorblind. It also doesn't help that the contrast was turned too far up (when viewed on screen there's a bright haze in evidence throughout that the thumbnails don't really show that well). Obviously sourced from an amateurish dub job.

One is moved to ask what Brentwood was thinking when they released this box set, alas; the likely answer is they weren't thinking so much as laughing all the way to the bank. After all these are "PD" titles. So any money they made on these sets was gravy.

Then there were DVDs like this..



DVD Type: single sided DVD (bare bones)

Label: Front Row Entertainment

Cost: $2.99

To be blunt this DVD is a heinous example of hideous video that is excruciating to watch. Alas, believe it or not, I've actually seen worse. This DVD, at least, is well authored with no intrusive compression artifacts though the picture does have an odd curvature that might lead the imaginative to wonder if someone didn't use a camcorder to record it off a TV screen. Alas the source appears to be a copy of the print PBS stations used to broadcast during the eighties, which was not very good to begin with, thus making the video herein barely tolerable.

A Few Observations

Metropolis is one of many Public Domain titles that have been making the rounds on budget label video in dark and murky, washed out and blurry, barely viewable prints of questionable provenance for years. If there was no other version of it available one could argue that such companies are providing a service given difficult circumstances. Alas there not only is another much better version available it's a restoration print!

True it costs roughly six to seven times as much as the average bargain bin fare, and this is an black and white movie, which means the average consumer is likely to balk at the price tag. It's also a rare DVD in comparison to these mass produced low-end DVDs. But for the movie buff this premium edition is the way to go, even if it takes a big hit to the wallet. More importantly the picture quality will be a marked improvement.

Which is not to say every budget label release is bad. True, picture quality varies wildly, but then so does the quality of the movies themselves. Over the years I've even purchased a few such titles that turned out to be letterboxed. Alas these are few and far between. Usually what you have on these ultra cheap DVDs are full screen versions of movies, often over scanned, and seldom with any extras.

Then there are the multi-movie sets like Bad Boys of the West. I don't know what it is about budget labels and their multi-movie packs but they seem to think they can hide video prints of dubious origin on these and no one will notice. One assumes this is either done blatantly or out of a willful ignorance breed from the desire to make a quick buck. After all if one doesn't look at their source prints all that closely they can, like a good politician who tells his staff not to bother him with details, claim plausible ignorance.

Yet, and yet, there are so many titles that haven't ever appeared on DVD, even DVDs of questionable provenance, that one has to accede to the fact greed, alone, isn't the single driving force here. Sure there's the questionable (and often hard to find) DVDs released with alternate titles. Movies like Female Space Invaders (Star Crash) but there's also a ton of movies that, while not available (officially) in R1, have been released elsewhere. Premium editions exist of movies like Twins of Evil, The Humanoid, Star Crash, the Ator movies, and many other marginal genre titles. Alas, infuriatingly, not in R1! Which leaves gray market merchants and DVDs with alternate FS versions taken from dubious sources.

If these budget labels really were pirates they'd be ripping and re-burning these titles left and right. That they aren't would seem to indicate the state of video rights is just as murky, blurry, and shadowy as the movies these companies release to DVD. Mores the pity for cinephiles and movie buffs who've been waiting for years on end for that certain title to receive a proper DVD release.

#end of line

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