The cult film collector will often have a rather divided personality when it comes to DVD editions of desired movies. On the one hand, perfection is ardently sought – no better example of this can be seen than the down-to-the-very-last-frame detail of the reviews in Video Watchdog. In a perfect world, all movies would be released by Criterion.
On the other hand, down that road lies both madness and bankruptcy. And the fact of the matter is that many films, particularly of the B-level (or lower) from …he 50’s and 60’s, will never look amazing, no matter how much care is given to the transfer. The source material will remain firmly and wonderfully in the realm of the sow’s ear.
This being the case, the lust for perfection must be balanced by a certain flexibility, not to mention an eye for a deal. Back when I first began this column, I wrote a bit about some of the mail-order public domain outfits. Many (though not all) of the films they offer have been appearing, of course, in even cheaper form, as any stroll by the Wal-Mart bargain bins will tell you. Plenty of outfits have put together sets of two, three, four or more movies for ten bucks or less. A certain degree of caution is necessary. I’ve mentioned Madacy before, but just to reiterate, these people appear to make a concerted effort to find the worst prints possible, and give them the worst transfer possible. Avoid at all costs.
On the other hand, TreeLine has released a series of sets that are pretty difficult to pass up. Each box packs FIFTY films onto 12 DVDs. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. I’ve had a look at two of these sets so far: Horror Classics (Amazon ID B0001HAGTM) and SciFi Classics (Amazon ID B0001HAGU6). At the outset, let’s make one thing clear. If you’re looking for a really nice edition of a favourite film, this packages will disappoint. Many of the films here have had individual releases from Image, and that’s where you want to go for a good-looking package. Print quality here is rough, as is the transfer. Heavy grain and pixelation are very much the order of the day, and to say that the sound gets the job done is pretty much as far as any kind of praise can go in these circumstances. Madacy might as well have been responsible for some of the transfers here. But, most of the time anyway, the picture remains just on the right side of watchable. But at mere pennies a movie, one can’t be too churlish.
The selection of films is rather haphazard. The horror set has everything from such heavy hitters as Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera to classic exploitation (Maniac, and no, the 30’s one, not the 80’s one) to vintage 40’s B-pics (The Mad Monster) to Italian gothic (Atom Age Vampire) to films that aren’t horror at all (such as Doomed to Die, which is a Mr. Wong film with Boris Karloff). The science fiction box is even more eclectic. There are no big classics here, though there are plenty of low-end 50’s and 60’s offerings which have their own charm (Robot Monster, Gamera the Invincible), but also numerous Italian Hercules flicks (which are science fiction how, exactly?).
So coherence of theme and quality of transfer are both AWOL. How are these packages to be recommended? Again, through sheer quantity. For your cult faves, go elsewhere and buy individually. But for a quick fix of those films you might want to see once in a while (at most), or as perfect samplers for the questionable but undeniable delights of low-end filmmaking from decades past, these aren’t a bad place to start.