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Dusty B

Top 10: Collectible DVD Labels Part 2

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
After a bit of a delay, I now bring you the final countdown of the most collectible dvd labels. I'll try to keep the intro brief as most of the relevant information can be found in the opening entry, but I will ask that if you have the means, please support these labels if you can. Some of them are barely hanging on in this rough economic climate. Times are tough on everyone right now but downloading or bootlegging these labels will only hurt the chances of even more genre goodness getting released in the future. Looking around the 'net, I was surprised to see that quite a few people weren't aware of the titles these companies have brought out, or that some of the labels even exist in the first place. If this list does nothing else but raise some exposure for these guys, then I'll be glad. Anyway, enough with the preaching. I hope you enjoy the top 5 most collectible dvd lines!

5. Synapse Films

This next company on the list has become known for their combination of two sterling traits found throughout their catalog: an eclectic film selection and top-notch restoration. Spear-headed by the more public face of the company, Don May, Synapse delivers probably the best quality for your buck than any other label on the list.

You really can't peg down a "type" for what Synapse gives you. There's documentaries, comedies, horror, adult films, domestic titles, foreign films; all placed firmly in the cult fan's wheelhouse. Their titles can range from big-name genre stuff like Maniac Cop and Vampire Circus to unknown bizarre foreign flicks such as Animalada. Synapse gets bonus points for also providing re-releases of Panik House and Casanegra's catalogs after those companies unfortunately folded, giving those titles a second wind for collectors who didn't want to pay the high prices they were commanding. Only Mondo Macabro gives you a more varied selection to pick from.

Besides the quality of titles, Synapse is also known for delivering the best job possible when it comes to picture and sound quality. Don May has justifiably earned a reputation for going the extra mile in personally restoring these films for disc. The movies are cleaned up to the point that many of them appear as though they were filmed just yesterday rather than decades ago. That level of quality, along with their unique choices in movies, makes Synapse one of the titans of genre labels along with Blue Underground.

Favorite titles: 42nd St Forever series, Basket Case 2, Deadly Spawn, Embodiment of Evil, Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural, Brain Damage, Street Trash

Upcoming titles: Thou Shall Not Kill...Except blu, Gurozuka

4. Criterion

It's not really a genre label, but I couldn't in good conscience leave out Criterion, one of the heavyweights in dvd collecting. They might not need any more press but they deserve to be talked about when going into collecting mania being as they pretty much originated that one little trick that drives OCD guys like me crazy: spine numbers.

Man, their spine numbers still drive me crazy. Back in 2000 or so, I bought my first Criterion: Robocop. When I saw that little number on the side, I wandered around the store and found more of them, realizing they were part of the same series which immediately fueled my desires. You mean there's a line of prestigious dvds that encourage you to collect them all? Oh, fuck yes. I only have a little over a hundred or so, but I still take time out of my day to admire them all lined up on the shelf. And I can't forget their Eclipse line of boxsets which look gorgeous next to each other. Oh so satisfying.

That's not to say the films themselves are slouching anywhere, either. While I started with their definitive releases of some of my favorite movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I soon got into the habit of picking up any of their titles when I could, even if I had never heard of them before. Thus far, I've enjoyed every movie I've bought from them on some level (save for Monsoon Wedding which can go to hell), with a few I might have otherwise never seen becoming personal favorites. My only real complaint is their higher prices, but I understand that they aren't a studio and have high licensing costs to cover. If you think about it, a lot of their titles are even more niche than some of the horror labels since genre fans are far more open to trying blind buys than the mainstream. But for the adventurous viewer, Criterion has a lot to offer to both the film fanatic and obsessive collector.

Favorite titles: Blood for Dracula, Fiend Without a Face, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, Blast of Silence, Brazil, Eclipse Series: Nikkatsu Noir, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Withnail and I, Vampyr

Upcoming titles: The War Room, Anatomy of a Murder, Three Outlaw Samurai, Godzilla, Belle de Jour

3. Something Weird

Now, you wanna talk about a company that knows how to stack them? Something Weird routinely crams as much shit on their discs as possible, creating an archive of psychopathic movies and befuddling educational films that most other companies would never even care about.

When looking through film history, these are the films that are unloved. Scholars would never think twice about them (if they could even sit through them in the first place) and no one's going to be throwing down the big bucks for deluxe anniversary editions of these movies, but there those of us out there that recognize the charm and fun these films have. Something Weird preserves these titles for the likes of us before they're lost forever, creating a kind of Smithsonian for the "other guys." Where else are we going to be able to prove to our grandchildren that employers would educate their employees about job safety with films of a tiny deranged imp sabotaging and maiming men in the workplace?

The films in Something Weird are truly for the "alternative" film fanatic. Their perennial best-sellers are the films of H.G. Lewis, the legendary director who created the gore-movie genre, but the rest of their catalog takes a truly deranged bent. This is true sleaze, grindhouse-style. Badly lit pornos and sadistic slashers; monsters made out of shag carpet and slick-haired gas-huffing deviants. Every disc typically has two full films and then piled with extra features and bonus shorts, bringing every release to run anywhere between three to six hours worth of psychedelia. Taking into account the typical low prices on these discs, I don't think there's a better bargain anywhere else on this list.

Favorite titles: Basket Case, Carnival of Blood/Curse of the Headless Horseman, Blood Freak, The Blood Trilogy, Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, Bloody Pit of Horror, Please Don't Eat My Mother!

Upcoming titles: Unfortunately, it appears Something Weird doesn't release retail discs for the most part anymore apart from their recent blu-rays of Basket Case and their H.G. Lewis stuff. However, they do still sell burned dvd-rs on their website of unreleased titles that they add to periodically.

2. Code Red

If I had the power to rally for a single cause, it would be to keep Code Red afloat. This label has had a special place in my heart for years now and I'm always deathly afraid of it disappearing on me like so many other beloved lines.

The reason I love Code Red so much is because no other company, outside of maybe early-era Anchor Bay, releases so many of the titles I used to study as a child, idling my time away in the video store. Most of their releases even have the same cover as those old VHS tapes, probably the only way I can even remember seeing a lot of these on the shelves since their titles have long ago slipped by me. The fact that I can own the movies that were of such wonder to me as a kid still blows me away. I never would have believed that I would one day have these films on my own personal shelf and have access to them anytime I want, many times with the original cover art. And guess what? Fucking SPINE NUMBERS!

The films released through Code Red are the type that excites me as a movie collector. Little known catalog gems that fulfill that itch a horror hound craves. I've enjoyed every movie I've discovered through Code Red. Some of them have become personal favorites, while others are so horrible that they're hilarious (the wheelchair scene in Don't Go In the Woods had me laughing out loud). The one thing all these films have in common is the nostalgia factor. I watch a Code Red dvd and I'm reminded of all my time staying up late with the lights off to watch dingy horror movies on Up All Night or Monstervision while my parents slept, unaware of the corruption their son was being subjected to. The owner of the company, Bill Olsen, is very upfront and brutally honest about his business on various forums. The discs are selling at appalling numbers when compared to similar releases from the competition and the company's been in red ink for over a year. It's come close to being shut down more than once now which scares the hell out of me. So many great labels have shut down during this rough economy and I just don't know if I can handle losing my favorite distributor.

Favorite titles: Rituals, The Carrier, The Dead Are Alive, Primal Rage, The Visitor, Hot Moves, Night of the Demon

Upcoming Titles: Maria's "B" Movie Mayhem Double Feature: The Severed Arm/So Sad About Gloria, Popcorn

1. Midnite Movies

As much as I love Code Red, I have to give the number one spot to the line that was my first passion project when it comes to collecting dvds, MGM's Midnite Movies. This was the first line that caught my eye as a collector and led to years of hunting before I finally finished the set and I place it here at the top out of honor and respect, even if that's like saying you respect your crack dealer.

While it is an extension of a major studio, I always considered the Midnite line its own separate entity. The titles all fit so well together and cater to a very specific audience that they might as well have come from a boutique label like the others on this list. For lovers of camp and kook, the movies in this line will keep you busy for a long while. From the titans of the Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations all the way to the oddities of Konga and The Thing With Two Heads, there's a wide range of genre goodness here. There's even a few Corman biker movies and Beach Party movies to round out the set. The transfers are all as top-notch as you can get for older SD releases from the early days of the format. A few of them, such as the immortal Killer Klowns From Outer Space, have a slew of extras when possible. There's such a history of cult cinema here that genre fans need to take a stroll through the titles if they haven't done so already.

Collecting these discs was probably the most rewarding out of any other line for me. At first, they were easy to get. Since none of them were really deluxe editions or anything, they were usually reasonably priced; about ten bucks or so at a time when most titles still retailed for twenty. As time went on, titles would go out of print at regular intervals due to rights issues or because they were store exclusives, making quite a number of them go up in value. I'm not one to pay high collector prices on Ebay so that left me hunting and picking through every used movie outlet I came across to scrounge these up. All those hours of scanning the racks, looking for that specific label on the side to grab my attention, paid off when I finally would find another disc to add to the collection. All in all, it took me about seven years to finish the set, including grabbing the two pirate themed discs when Sony had the rights for a year and the unofficial entries released before MGM started putting the Midnite Movies label on the cover. While many titles seem to be easier to nab now than when I was going crazy for them, it was the most fun I've had film collecting yet and I miss it dearly. The line hasn't had a new release in over four years and with catalog titles pretty much dead to studio eyes, there's probably not going to be anymore. Some of the films rumored for the line have popped up in MGM's burn on demand service, but it's not really the same. Though, a few custom dvd covers through Photoshop might help with that.

Favorite Titles: Witchfinder General, The Abominable Dr. Phibes/Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Food of the Gods, The Attic/Crawlspace, Invaders from Mars, Tales from the Crypt/Vault of Horror, Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Upcoming titles: Nothing. Done. Dead. Finito. Buried. R.I.P.

Other labels that have passed on:
Subversive Cinema
Panik House
Casanegra
Barrel Entertainment
BCI/Deimos



Other notable labels:
Redemption
Alternative Cinema
Full Moon
Anchor Bay of old
Severin

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Comments

  1. GregMO ROberts's Avatar
    Wonderful list. Thank you so much for putting this together!
  2. Dusty B's Avatar
    Thanks! It's always fun for me to nerd out.
  3. Butcher's Avatar
    GREAT list. I would love to see some pictures of your DVD shelf with all the various labels lined up. (Man, I'm such a geek!)

    I'm a huge collector too. I just started collecting the Midnight Movies line several months back. They're my favorite too. I like the movies for one, but the picture quality is good and they usually have some good bonus content. I've been eyeing the Motel Hell and Deranged disc for several weeks now.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to post such a great article. I'm glad you chose KR to post your stuff.

    And I'll keep posting your articles to the homepage as long as you keep writing them. Just don't feel the need to make them as long. I know this is very time consuming.
  4. crikan's Avatar
    I find myself coming back to this post just to look at all of the fantastic artwork. I own a good number of these titles and this thread is compelling me to buy the rest.
  5. Dusty B's Avatar
    Thanks, guys! I love the cover porn too. As I was looking up the covers to use, I kept staring at them myself thinking "Yep, gotta get that one too..." Sigh. Can't wait until I have expendable income again. I was thinking of taking photos of the collection sometime soon since they might be going into storage sometime later if I can scrounge up enough cash for us to move later on this year. If I do, I can post some of them on the boards somewhere. And I try to keep my stuff from going too long but sometimes I just keep blathering. The writing isn't really the time consuming part since I usually just let it loose once I start, it's the formatting and coding that takes me a while. I'm horrible with that stuff. It's why I have my wife do any coding I need for my film websites.
  6. Thorzul's Avatar
    So many great DVDs, so little money. Man, I need to stop collecting baseball cards. (Just kidding.)