“7 Lucky Ninja Kids” and Earl Owensby

 

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   Earl Owensby has been referred to by others as a “Hillbilly Roger Corman” or a “Southern-fried Orson Welles”. It’s a shame to label the guy, and I don’t think that either of the descriptions really suit him- he never had the pure output of product that Corman had (I think that Earl has only had his hand in about a dozen or so feature films), and he never released anything that could be considered an artistic vision and something on par with Welles. However, he did have Corman’s drive-in sensibilities- knowing his target (basically people below the Mason-Dixon Line who like adventure, thrills and a moral thread running through their flicks) and attempting to deliver the goods. And, as Orson Welles, he could be a Jack-of-all-Trades; at different points in his career he was Producer, top-lining Actor, Director- Hell, he even built his own studio after acquiring an abandoned and half-built nuclear power plant in a small town in South Carolina (http://www.earlowensby.com/)- and this ain’t no tin-roofed shack behind an outhouse either, but a world-class facility worthy enough of the likes of James Cameron (who shot The Abyss there). The only person that I can really equate him with would probably be H.B. Halicki- the Stuntman/Director/Producer/Star of the original Gone in 60 Seconds; a self-made man who made a few flicks before tragically dying while performing a stunt in a movie he was making…

 

 

   I’ve been fascinated with him long before I ever saw one of his flicks- I had read somewhere about him (OK- actually the SOMEWHERE was in an issue of “Penthouse” that a friend of mine had snuck out of his Dad’s sock drawer. See- sometimes we DON’T lie and really DO read the articles, even as a kid) and had never thought until then the possibility of someone; ANYONE; being able to make a movie that actually played in theaters that wasn’t located in New York or Hollywood. This was a real guy making real features. The next few years I was able to catch various Owensby movies either at local drive-in’s or on TV (Wolfman– another one of his that seems to be released by all kinds of bargain DVD companies and one I have to bring up on the blog again, a true Gothic/Southern werewolf movie that must be seen to be believed; Seabo (aka Buckstone County Prison– made in the wake of mid-‘70’s badass Southern cops on a rampage like Macon County Line and Walking Tall) and Rottweiler– released to cash in on the brief resurgent 3D craze of the early 80’s). I’ve also missed out on some beauties that I have to watch; like Living Legend (his take on the whole “Elvis Presley thing”) and Tales of the Third Dimension. One of his later works (and, if I’m not mistaken, his last film to date as a Director) is 7 Lucky Ninja Kids, a movie that would appear to have been made to cash in on 3 Ninja and its never-dying string of sequels and rip-offs. I would once in awhile find this in on DVD in unexpected places like FYE but never thought of purchasing it until too late, and then when I started to look for it in earnest, it ended up going out of print and fetching as high as $50 from used movie vendors on Amazon and eBay. Imagine my surprise finding it at a Family Dollar for 60 cents (that’s what it rang up as- even though there’s a printed-on-the-cover price tag selling it for $1). Yeah, it’s packed in a cardboard sleeve, and manufactured by some outfit called Dollar DVD (don’t bother going to dollar.dvd.com; that web page is long gone), but I thought that I could risk three quarters for this obscure little item…

 

 

   Well, there’s a reason that this has fallen into obscurity- THIS ISN’T AMERICAN MADE! It’s a painful redubbing of some Honk Kong kids comedy, with skilled acrobatic kids performing antics that would make the Three Stooges wince and atrocious dubbing with clever repartee like “You dumb jerk” 50 times, and gems like “You don’t believe me? You’re an idiot! You don’t know anything! Only how to sleep!”; and “Over here I’m ‘Rocky’, but in the states I’m known as ‘Rambo’!” (the last line said by a fatigues-wearing ten year old who’s appointed as the squadron leader). The basic plot has the 7 Lucky Ninja Kids stumbling on a diamond heist and murder, but in between the idiocy of Japanese Gangsters trying to find ways to stop the meddling kids are restaurant hijinx; stuttering hitmen; tough guys trying to stand on an ice rink; a BMX bike chase; and a desk that beats up the guy sitting behind it (don’t ask). It all culminates in a prolonged warehouse fight, when, after the kids are victorious (sorry to spoil the ending) is an apparent out-take of the leaping-in-unison shot in the credits, showing the crew rushing in to goof around with the suspended tykes…

 

 

   Framed incorrectly to the right, therefore cutting off a fair-sized sliver on the right and leaving a large black band on the right, it is distracting to say the least- it’s as if the telecine operator (the guy who transfers this obvious ¾ video master to DVD) couldn’t stomach to watch this, so he started up the machine, then left for the local pub to get a few drinks in him. On top of that, it’s horribly zoomed in, easily cutting off a total of a quarter of the picture on both sides, like if you were to try to watch a movie with your face stuck right on the TV screen, and the tracking is bad, especially at the top of the screen and an occasional picture warble. The sound is very flat and has a slight hum throughout; all punctuated by the highly exaggerated smacks and cracks of all the worst Kung Fu movies of the seventies. The dubbing is (naturally) just awful, and the tinka-tinka theme song sung by the kids (“Olalala-lalalala chi chi chi”) doesn’t help matters…

 

 

   The Director listed as Chau Chen Li (I think- between the cutoff titles and the white letters on a washed out white background, it’s hard to see ANYTHING). Even though it’s aimed at kids, I’m not sure that this is wholesome Disney-esque entertainment, with lines like “Goddamn foreigners” and “What’s you problem? Go to Hell!” Also, watching the kids get punched and kicked around by adults double their size is a little disturbing. As for how Earl Owensby is tied to this I have no idea- nowhere on either the film or the packaging is his name (or ANY English name) listed. If this IS somehow his, I would guess that he was a distributor for it, but there aren’t a lot of clues that THAT ever happened, either. And after watching this 80 minutes of celluloid (that, at times felt like twice as long) I sat in a stupor, not believing what I saw so I was going to watch it again just to make sure. But you know what it’s like to suck in helium? How your voice gets funny and it cracks everyone up around you and you feel light-headed, so it wears off and you try it again, only this time it’s not as funny, and the high isn’t as high and all you end up with is a slight headache? Well, when the headache started about 5 minutes into re=watching it I couldn’t go through with it, ejected the DVD and sleeved it. Oh, and even though the date is reported as “1989”, I have to think that it was made at least 10 years prior to that, judging by the cars and scenery…

 

 

   One more thing- come to find out that “Dollar DVD” is an offshoot of the late Brentwood/BCI- Eclipse – it appears to be BCI’s ‘sub-label. They’ve released a whole slew of very old PD titles- things that have been in bargain bins as far back as the old VHS days (like Charlie Chaplin shorts; The Road to Bali and The Beverly Hillbillies that are in Public Domain). So if you find it for under a buck, consider it “fair market value”; if, however, you run into somebody asking you to pay anything more than that, tell them to lay off the helium.

 

 

7 Lucky Ninja Kids– 1 out of 5*

 

 

 

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Flexplay and You…

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I remember seeing these first at a 7-11 a few years ago where I bought a couple of them out of curiousity (one of the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and something else), then they seemed to disappear. I was at Staples last week and saw a big cardboard display for them, so I though that I’d cover them on the blog…

 

 

“Them” are Flexplay DVDs (www.flexplay.com) “the Time Limited DVD” and what they are- well, it’s kinda hard to say. It’s sort of like having a rental DVD, only you don’t have to return them- instead you’re stuck with a disc that “ages”; after you’ve opened it from it’s protective air-tight sleeve you have 2 days (the packaging says) to watch it before it comes unplayable. I saw that Staples were clearancing these out; they normally retail for $5 each (a bit high for a comparable DVD rental when you can go to a Redbox for $1 a night, but, you don’t have to return the disc anywhere so I guess you’re paying for convenience) but they marked all of theirs down to a buck a piece (of course your mileage may vary). I ended up buying 15 or so; different titles that interest me like The Invasion; Cloverfield; Be Kind Rewind; The Brave One (Jodie Foster– YUM!); The Love Guru, etc. They also have some TV content like Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs episodes and some concert flicks like Rolling Stones- Shine a Light, but all of their content seems to be current or semi-current- I guess you really want to buy a classic movie if you really want to see it, and not have it go ker-plunk on you for repeated viewing…

 

 

I went ahead and opened the recent Sweeney Todd for analysis. Once you open the cardboard package (they’re packed in a full-color sleeve that opens to reveal the clear pouch that contains the disc), you remove the air-tight disc packaging, cut the side off then remove the DVD. The disc itself looks like a standard DVD; it has the same heft as any other professionally produced disc, even down to the full-color silk-screened top (which seems a little wasteful- I mean, you’re just going to chuck this in a few days anyway; why go whole hog with fancy graphics on a disc that you’ve already purchased?), but if you look on the underside of it, the disc is a pretty ruby red (I think that this has changed and they’ve come up with newer technology for the “rotting” process; The Love Guru disc looks like the familiar reflective silver that are standard with regular DVDs). It goes quickly straight to the movie- no menu or extras or anything (again, in comparison to Love Guru– that has a simple Menu that allows you to choose either “Play” or “Setup”, which allows you a choice of English/French/Spanish Languages or Audio- all in 5.1). The picture was in widescreen; again, no choice (however, some of the other titles show “widescreen” on the packaging, so I’m not sure what titles they have that are NOT in widescreen)…

 

 

The picture itself is clear (if just a touch softer than the regular DVD release) and the sound is as vibrant. I watched the flick on both an upconverting DVD player on a large-screen HD set as well as on my PC and had issues with neither. I then waited two days and tried to watch on both and again, no problem- however examining the physical disc itself I noticed the inner ring of the disc was gradually turning black- the way the disc shuts itself off. I tried it two days later and was still able to play it in both the stand alone DVD player as well as the PC. On the 5th day, however the stand alone DVD player churned then stopped; I was still able to play it on the PC until about the week mark, where it finally failed to play. However as another test, I was able to copy it using (SHHhh- secret) software that allowed playback with no issues whatsoever both when I opened it as well as making another copy after a week (though the packaging does say that the discs are “copy-protected”, so either the software I have is very good or their copy-protecting software ain’t). Actually, after almost two weeks, the files on the Flexplay are viewable; what seems to derogate are the files initiated at startup. So, basically if you are not tech-y (my Parents immediately come to mind) this protection is fine; but if you want to find a way to crack it, it is easily achieved…

 

 

I’m not really sure who these are marketed for; I would guess first and foremost would be the casual movie viewer who’s not a collector (and therefore wouldn’t want to own a DVD for repeated viewing) and who doesn’t want to go to the trouble of either joining a local video store (like Blockbuster) or something online (like Netflix), or doesn’t want the trouble of repeatedly going to a Redbox for renting then returning or incur the expense of Pay-per-View on their local cable systems. This seems like a very specific niche, though, and I’m not sure how long the company is going to stick around (a recent look on their site shows some even newer titles available, so maybe Staples just wanted to get out of the pre-recorded DVD market) with all of the viewing options available. You can purchase these on the Flexplay site as well for $4.99 each with free shipping. One more thing that is a bit disturbing is the waste factor; the disc covers mark these as “recyclable”; however, you have to go on their site, register the UPC codes individually (limit 5 at a time) then they’ll send you a pre-paid shipping package to return to them. It seems a bit too much work to be “eco-friendly”; this also doesn’t allow for the cardboard sleeve these are sold in, so this may bother you if you have those kind of concerns. At the $1 price-point I would recommend these easily; anything above that for a title that you would consider watching more than once then I would be more apprehensive…

 

 

Flexplay (in general)- 2-1/2* out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creature

 

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   Let’s see- it’s got:

 

 

   * A mixed-sex crew of older and young explorers, investigating strange goings-on in a space outpost…

 

   * An almost silent-but-strong Security Officer who seems to have more going on that at first appears, and Corporate-backed expeditions in the hope of finding, uh, SOMETHING…

 

   *Space turf that continually fogs and  thunders and is too dark to see much further than a few yards ahead of you…

 

   * Titillation in the form of hot chicks stripping down for the sole purpose of giving the audience something to ogle at, as everything else to look at is drab and boring industrial pseudo- functional backdrops…

 

   *A thumping bass-heavy score, punctuated by occasional squeaks, heavy-breathing sounds, and pings designed to jar you out of your seat…

 

   * Gloppy space mutants that come in a variety of shapes and leave behind astronauts in bloody heaps……

 

 

 

   So is it Alien? Of course not- it’s the easily-available 1985 B-flick Creature; filmed as Titan Find and made by monster fan, makeup artist and still-working director William Malone, who made another Alien-clone prior to this one called Scared to Death (1981) (aka filmed as Syngenor) and went on to helm most famously the House on Haunted Hill remake and Feardotcom. And if you get a chance, visit his pretty-cool-for-a-Hollywood-Director website (http://www.luminousprocesses.com/ )…

 

 

   The flick itself is very low budget (said to be well under a million dollars), but also somewhat claustrophobic, has some well done SPFX (including the spaceship scenes and the bloody carnage left over in the aliens’ wake, and a pretty good, if kind of by-the-numbers, main monster) and some taunt suspense. Probably its most surprising aspect (well, for me at least) is the above-average acting from some familiar faces (familiar to people that constantly wade through movies like I do, at least); people like Diane Salinger (you may recognize her as Simone- Pee Wee’s dinosaur companion in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure), the cute-as-a-button Wendy Schaal (who’s been in a bunch of stuff but sticks with me most in the Where The Boys Are remake)- who ends up coming up with a way to dispatch the monster by remembering how the crew from the 1950’s The Thing killed the giant carrot monster; Lyman Ward (three words- Ferris Bueller’s Dad- now of COURSE you know who THAT is); and, best of all, that old German nutbag Klaus Kinski, at his greasy-smiling, boob-grabbing best, as a fellow astronaut from a rival conglomerate, thrown into the mix for laughs and all-out creepiness. And, by the way, if you’ve never seen a Kinski performance, then I recommend that you drop what you’re doing (well, I guess I mean AFTER finishing reading this blog), go on IMDB and randomly pick out 2 or 3 flicks of his to see- you will NOT be disappointed!…

 

 

   The print I watched this on (part of the 10 movie “Space Odyssey” set put out by the late-and-lamented BCI-Eclipse, which also includes other recent-vintage somehow-they’ve-become-public-domain-fodder like Slipstream and Abraxas) is a weak video dupe, but the only time I remember seeing looking anything more than average was on a cable broadcast in the late ‘80’s; it seems like every dollar DVD manufacturer uses the same crappy dupe. Of course, it’s worth it for the pittance that you’ll pay (I know that pretty much every Walmart has Digiview’s version of this for a buck), but it would be nice if some enterprising Company would put this out in a pristine clear print complete with extras (I would LOVE to know what the fellow cast thought of working with ol’ Klaus!)- I have to doubt that will happen though as Creature seems to be stuck in some PD loophole Hell. Such a shame…

 

 

   ….anyway, if you see it, pick it up- a fun way to kill 90 minutes of tacky video viewing…

 

 

 

Creature– 31/2 out of 5*

 

 

 

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Carmen Electra IS an “American Vampire”

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   I was GOING to review American Vampire (released in 2006 from Digiview Entertainment and, apparently, known in some parts as An American Vampire Story) but I can’t bring myself to do it. I spent a whole buck on the DVD and feel like I was cheated for 97 cents- it is totally unwatchable, and I turned it off after 15 minutes (and you are talking to someone who’s seen thousands on movies and have only walked out of two of them- (9 to 5 and Time Bandits). It has Adam West- the Original (and still the best) “Batman”; Sydney Lassick (the uber-creepy guy who basically upstaged Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and creeped out Carrie in “Carrie”) and the afore-mentioned Carmen, but it is just so bad that it can’t be believed. It’s basically about kids at a beach house vacationing, who get more than they bargain for when they run into some hot blood-suckers. And it’s not bad in a Plan 9 kinda way- like in a nuclear meltdown disaster. PLEASE- for the sake of sanity for you and everyone that you know and love, approach this movie ONLY with a HASMAT suit and Teflon tongs…

 

 

   …it’s THAT bad…

 

 

American Vampire– ZERO out of 5*

 

 

More BCI-Eclipse- this time Wholesale…

 

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  This will be the first time that I’ve covered Wholesale sources for DVDs, but I ran into this Company online: 

 

 

   http://www.cdplusdolphinvideo.com/

 

 

   The rules are simple- $50.00 minimum order and shipping starts at around 10 bucks. And what do you get for that? Well- some pretty cool stuff:

 

 

   * Saturday Morning 70’s & 80’s stuff– they have some great titles that BCI released a few years ago. Including ARK II; Jason of Star Command; Bravestarr, HE-MAN and SHE-RA sets. All come with some wonderful Bonus Features, including interviews with the talent and Making-of Documentaries. These retailed at around $20.00 each and are being sold for under 5 bucks each…

 

 

   * Karate and Kung-Fu flicks– sometimes you have to have a crappy dubbed action movie, you know? Well, they have lots of sets, including a lot of Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee collections as well as some rarer, non-PD stuff…

 

 

   *Westerns– for some reason, lots of Westerns; old and new, TV and movies, have fallen into Public Domain. Some of the better collections for sale here are things like The Vigilantes (Volumes 1 & 2)- each has 4 movies on 2 discs and go for $1.25 each; Great Western TV Shows– which has 26 episodes of some good shows including Kit Carson; Bat Masterson, Bonanza and The Rifleman– going for $2.25 each; and Bad Boys of the West– 4 disc movie set for $1.50 each…

 

 

   *Horror– some great bargains, including: Toxie Blood Bank Ten Disc set– boxed in a weird tin and includes some second-tier Troma pick-ups like Evil Clutch, Scream Baby Scream and Play Dead– going for four bucks; Aztec Mummy Boxed Set– 3 absolutely ROTTEN Mexican Mummy movies in a nice set for $1.75’ Back From The Grave– 12-movie set with borderline PDs like Legacy of Blood; Slave of the Cannibal God and Murder Mansion for the micro price of $1.75 each; and Kiss of Death– another 12 movie collection with some old (Kill Baby Kill; House on Haunted Hill) and newer flicks (Little Corey Gorey; Slashdance)- this one is going for $1.50 a set…

 

 

   They show how many copies they have left, and from what I’ve read elsewhere these can come and go pretty quick, so if you find something you’d better jump on it. I found it very easy to hit the $50 minimum, but in case you don’t, you may want to go in with someone else to split the cost. I suggest that you poke around and see what you find- happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Ray Dennis Steckler- King of the Cheapies

 

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   Ray Dennis Steckler was probably the cheapest filmmaker out there (with apologies to Ted Mikels and the late Andy Milligan), and having passed away January 7th I figured that a few words would be in order…

 

 

   Just in my teens, I saw my first Steckler movie (and his highest-budgeted at $38,000)- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies at one of the last Saturday Matinees that was still around in the late ‘70’s in Orlando. I had already loved crappy movies as a little kid; my Mom and I shared very little in the way of interests but we would park ourselves on the couch to watch Tampa’s Channel 44’s “Creature Feature” With Dr. Paul Bearer and his absolutely gonzo double features. But “Incredibly” was something else- my first real “cult” movie; before I would trek religiously to Midnight Movies at least weekly to catch Rocky Horror; Heavy Metal or Dawn of the Dead. From then on I would look for any of his cheesy-yet-fun movies any time they would (very rarely) play on late-night UHF TV, and even called him (after lots of microfiche and out-of-town-phonebook research at the local library) just to let him know that I was a fan (he was curt but semi-appreciative before brushing me off with a quick “Good Luck, Kid”)….

 

 

   Eventually I was able to catch most of his films on VHS and later on DVD and became hooked by most of his 60’s output- The Thrill Killers; Rat Fink a Boo Boo (which was SUPPOSE to be titled Rat Fink AND Boo Boo but when the titles were made for the movie someone in the lab goofed and he didn’t want to spend the extra movie to correct them!) and especially Wild Guitar, which is an amazing rags-to-riches rock and roll story…

 

 

   Wild Guitar stars the fleshy-faced Arch Hall Jr. as the hayseed “Bud Eagle” a starry-eyed rock-and-roller with nothing but 15 cents in his pocket (he can’t even afford tax on his meal at a diner), a crummy guitar, a giant blonde pompadour and a dream to make it big in Hollywood. Ten minutes after arriving he meets the pretty blonde Vickie (Nancy Czar), who, as luck would have it, is just on the way to her big break- dancing on a TV Variety Show. After her jiggling and writhing, the singer who’s suppose to follow her gets so nervous that he bails, so a stage hand at the urging of Vickie (who, by the way has never seen her new friend sing), lets ol’ Bud go out there to sing- and after tripping onto the stage, regains his composure and belts out a song that, at the end of it, has the girls in the audience go nuts. This gets the attention of a sleazy Producer Mike McCauley (played by his real-life Dad Arch Hall Sr.), who insists that he A) “Call me Mike”; and B) will handle everything. Well, he does and HOW- soon Bud is a huge star on national tours and records but only has a rented apartment, six new suits and a shiny guitar to show for his efforts as fatherly Mike is cookin’ the books and pocketing a chunk ‘o change. After more drama Mike suddenly gets smart and, with a scheme that could only be dreamed up in a movie where someone becomes a national superstar after only being in town for eight hours or so, ends up with the money and the girl (and a recalcitrant Mike seeing the error of his ways). That this was made in glorious Black and White at a cost under $30,000 in 1962 is truly astounding, and a personal favorite of mine as a junk-food movie…

 

 

   Ray’s output slowed down in the 70’s on, and the dozen or so movies he did make weren’t quite as fun (he even delved into hardcore porn for awhile) but were even cheaper (it’s said that he never spend anything more than he did for “Incredibly Strange Creatures”!). He ended up getting a divorce from his wife (and featured performer) Carolyn Brandt, opened a video store and make the occasional movie until he died of heart failure in early January…

 

 

   As for his output on DVD- you can find a great sample of his best work on 2 boxed sets readily available at places like Amazon or Best Buy for under $20 each: “Midnight Movie Collection”- which collects Strange Creatures…; Rat Fink A Boo-Boo (probably my second-favorite of all his movies); The Thrill Killers and The Lemon Grove Kids (Ray’s take-off of The Bowery Boys with him as the lead “Kid” and looking very much like Huntz Hall); and “Midnight Movie Collection 2”, which has his more recent works like Blood Shack; Body Fever; and his almost-silent soft-core horror dual features The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher and The Las Vegas Serial Killer. Each movie is on their own disc and cased individually, all with commentaries by the engaging Steckler as well as interviews and promotional materials…

 

 

   Don’t wanna spend 20 bucks? Break open the piggy bank and spring out 4 quarters and head to your nearest Walmart; Dollar Tree or check cashing store; ‘cause you’ll probably find Digiview Productions DVD of Wild Guitar there (along with a 2nd great feature The Beatniks; another singer-plucked-from-obscurity feature (this time from a dirty beatnik gang) starring a pre-“Big Valley” Peter Breck acting particularly crazed). Granted, the picture isn’t the silvery- B&W you would find on a carefully restored Criterion disc, but some movies, like Ray’s, can be enjoyed through the splices and scratches just fine- thank you very much. RIP Mr. Steckler- I just wished that I had the chance to shake your hand or have something signed; that would have been a true honor …

 

   PS- One more way to get his movies would be through his web site (http://www.raydennissteckler.com/) but I’m not sure if the Store is operational now that he’s passed- at least you would know if it IS that some of the money would be going to his family…

 

 

   Wild Guitar– (4* out of 5)

 

 

 

Chilling 12 disc DVD Set

 

   (or- “How a 50 movie DVD Set can Change at a Moments Notice”)

 

 

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   Mill Creek Entertainment (that also shoots out titles under its Echo Bridge Entertainment) http://www.millcreekent.com/ has for the past few years been releasing multi-movie titles in all sorts of bunched grouping; anywhere from 5 and 10 movie sets all the way to 100 Movie Packs. Obviously the larger (20/50/100 Movie Pack) Sets are various re-packages and include titles already included in previous smaller Sets (I mean- there are only so many Public Domain flicks they can pull from), but I’ve accidentally discovered TWO DIFFERENT SETS of their 50 Movie Set “The Chilling” titled identically but containing different flicks entirely…

 

 

   First though, I’d like to give a quick overview of what constitutes the grey area of a Public Domain movie. Previous to 1998 any movie made in 1977 or prior that was not re-registered through the Copyright Office fell into PD. At that time, other than the occasional showing on TV, there was no real intrinsic value of holding Copyrights if you were a small company- it would require a Lawyer to file documents and cable and DVDs (let alone the VCR boom) were yet a gleam in Mega-Corporations’ eyes. This allowed a bunch of 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (most famously Night of the Living Dead (1968)) and even the 70’s (like Alice Sweet Alice (1977) to go into PD (though the two examples dropped into the grey area because of incorrect registering and not because of any “shelf life”). After the new Act was passed, however (thanks to both the nosiness of Sonny Bono (yeah- THAT ONE) and Walt Disney Entertainment- in fear of losing their many character holdings, like Mickey Mouse), the shelf life was extended, making it easier for producers and copyright holders to retain their Rights for a longer period of time (up to 120 years as opposed to the original 27 year (if not re-registered) life. But this is not a legal Blog (I mean- it’s LEGAL- just not about “Legal matters”), so I want to talk about something more relevant to us, the Consumers…

 

 

   I purchased the “50 Movie Pack Chilling Classics” 12 DVD set a few years ago for the bargain price of around $15 and have watched quite a few of them with various degrees of appreciation. Mill Creek has put this and other sets in a flimsy cardboard box and the 12 DVDs in individual sleeves accessed from the opening in the front of the case (and one that velcros open and closed- which means that I ripped it the first time I used it). And each sleeve had the corresponding movie titles and a brief description. The quality of the movies is almost uniformly weak or worse, usually taken from VHS dupes or some other sketchy source. My worse beef with the Company, however, is the “video bug” that they burn into the corner of the screen every 15 minutes or so- a habit started with some Something Weird Video releases that I find very intrusive and incredibly annoying. But most of these titles, unless appropriated by other budget companies, probably wouldn’t see the light of day (who would release, I thought, the High School-made Milpitas Monster?) (Come to find out the Director- see http://www.milpitasmonster.com/m_mm.html for proof) so it’s worth the investment. However- be careful WHICH SET you purchase…

 

 

   I was reading about one of the titles included on my Set on IMDB- Deadtime Stories (1986)– a pretty entertaining cheapjack horror anthology featuring Scott Valentine (best known as Mallory’s dumb boyfriend on the TV show Family Ties) and someone had mentioned in the Forums that this title was mistakenly classified as Public Domain. In the interim, Mill Creek had removed it from its future copies of Chilling Classics, so I was curious as to what they replaced it with- and the results were surprising and put me in “Video Watchdog” mode, as in ACTUALLY doing REAL LIFE research. Come to find out that in this new incarnation of the 50 Movie Set that SEVEN Titles were replaced. The Titles that were on the old Set were:

 

   * Christmas Evil (a 1980 title actually just as well-known as You’d Better Watch Out, which is a so-bad-it’s-funny killer Santa flick starring Brandon Maggart)

 

   * Crypt of the Living Dead (1973) (A weak Spanish vampire flick that was parading around Drive-Ins long after on a triple-bill that I sat through in 1981 at a Drive-in in Casselberry, Florida)

 

   * Deadtime Stories (Already covered above)

 

   * Memorial Valley Massacre (a late-arriving (1988) hatchet-wielding maniac on the loose flick that has both William (“Big Bill”) Smith and Cameron Mitchell in supporting roles)

 

   * Milpitas Monster (Made in 1974 but not released for a few years- this was a Milpitas California High School project that was reportedly made for around $40,000. The whole town chipped in to make this Giant-Monster-from-the-pollution semi-parody flick. And if you recognize the Narrator- well, you should… that’s the famous voice-over guy Paul Frees!

 

   * Snake People (1971- The Mexican living dead featuring one of the last (badly-edited) roles by Boris Karloff- who had actually been dead for two years prior to this coming out)

 

   * Virus (1980’s all-star international spectacle about germ warfare funded by the US and Germany for Japanese audiences and starring genre greats like Bo Svenson, George Kennedy, Glenn Ford and Sonny Chiba)

 

 

   (If you do have both sets side by side you will notice a listing on the old one for House of the Dead and the new one for Alien Zone- this is the same movie, an anthology flick made in 1978 and one that actually aired on Elvira’s Movie Macabre in the early 80’s. I’m guessing the re-titling has something to do with some legal-ese to keep it included in the set)

 

 

 

   You would think that someone over at Mill Creek would have run the titles past a paralegal or something to avoid the expense of a possible law suit or at least having to replace legally OK discs with the offending ones but I guess not. I’m sure this is not the only multi-disc set to suffer these setbacks (I know that some of these show up on other 50 and 100-disc sets from the Company) but, well, someone else with more time on their hands is going to have to do that legwork. And it wouldn’t just be the re-mastering of the discs; all-new disc sleeves and even the outer box had to be redone (I don’t have the new Set, but the old one includes paragraphs mentioning both Christmas Evil and Deadtime Stories– I’d be curious as to what the new blurbs say)…

 

 

   Oh, and just so you know- the replacement titles on the new discs (apparently copyright-free) are:

 

   * Devil Times Five (from 1974- psycho children on the loose- a movie that was recently released by Code Red DVD and one that I’m truly surprised has fallen into PD limbo)

 

   * I Eat Your Skin (a boring black and white jungle zombie flick from the mid-sixties)

 

   * Murder Mansion (A slow-moving Italian import from 1972)

 

   * A Passenger to Bali (Not really a movie, but an episode of the mid- 50’s Studio One television show from CBS and starring E.G. Marshall)

 

   * Shock (the 1940’s Noir starring Vincent Price- NOT the final Mario Bava that was sold over here as Beyond the Door 2)

 

   * Snowbeast (1977’s answer to all of the Bigfoot hysteria- Made-for-TV and starring our pal Bo Svenson)

 

   * Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (Italian man-wolf nonsense; B&W from 1963)

 

 

   From all I’ve read there are still some old copies on shelves out their in RetailLand; you may want to try stores that have a slower turnover rate for DVDs- like Border’s Books for example.