July 21, 2014

Horror Movie Advocacy - You've Gotta See This Movie Because It Earns My Own Personal Seal Of Approval

Vintage VCR magazine ad
Slightly better than a rooftop antenna . . .
     While shopping for a few new Blu-rays to order in anticipation of Pre'Ween, it occurred to me that I rarely ever purchase movies on disc anymore.  I view movies almost exclusively by streaming or media server.  That's not really news, because increasingly, that's how most people view movies at home.  What was interesting to me was how my criteria for what warrants a "buy" rather than a "stream" has changed along with my altered viewing habits.

     Like many movie aficionados, I am by nature a collector.  I'm just old enough to remember a time, though, when even movie fans rarely owned their own copies of their favorites.  The tech wasn't as widely available, and the movies themselves - because they were exorbitantly expensive - weren't as commonly purchased to own.  We rented instead.

     Once upon a time, Mom and Pop video rental stores were almost as ubiquitous as Redbox kiosks are today.  The good news was that the cost of rental was well within most families' budgets provided they could make the initial investment in a VCR.  Even better, all of those video stores (and their customers) were so eager for new content that store shelves overflowed with movies of every stripe.  Of course, such a wealth of choices was a movie fan's dream, but rental did not scratch the itch to collect one's favorites.  If you were really enterprising you could purchase a second VCR and dub copies of your rental tapes, but it was only a matter of time before the movie industry plugged up that hole by widely adopting Macrovision copy protection.

LaserDisc magazine ad from 1990
LaserDisc - It's Portable!
     All things must eventually pass, however, and the arrival of new format called DVD eventually drove the last few nails in the VHS coffin.  I'm intentionally glossing over LaserDisc because it was never widely adopted in North America - or anywhere else save Japan and South East Asia, really.  DVD was the giant killer, and the format popularized the idea of sell-through pricing so that many of us were finally able to start our own movie collections in earnest.  Many of us went a little ape-shit on that point, too.

     Throughout the first decade of the new millennium I purchased an absurd number of DVDs.  Curating my own collection even took precedence over actually going to the theater, since for the cost of a movie ticket and some popcorn I could actually own my own copy of each new release just a few months after it was in theaters.  My rule of thumb:  if I entertained the notion of venturing out to the theater to see a new release, I just bought a copy of the DVD a few months later instead.  My DVD collection grew exponentially in a very short period of time based upon this somewhat specious reasoning.

Suspiria Limited Edition dvd cover
My first Limited Edition DVD purchase
     Of course, new releases were only the tip of the iceberg.  It was the catalog titles that really broke the bank.  Distributors like Synapse, Code Red, Anchor Bay, and Blue Underground were releasing old favorites at a brisk clip, and I was buying most of them.  Not only was I finally able to own my own copy of movies like Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) and Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), but I was awash in a sea of special features that augmented these releases.  Now even the most obscure titles were getting the Collector's Edition treatment.  It was truly a wonderful time to be a movie fan.

    Not surprisingly, though, I soon found myself with a sizable collection that housed far too many disappointing catalog releases and watch-it-once-and-forget-it new releases.  I had to institute some buying parameters to insure more judicious purchases.  I stopped buying new releases sight unseen, and I began to be far more selective about my catalog purchases.  A DVD did not warrant a purchase unless I was certain it was a title I'd watch multiple times.  Catalog titles did not warrant a purchase until after reviews hit the internet to tell me whether or not it was a quality release.

The Manitou dvd cover
A bigger priority than Jaws
     Perhaps most importantly, obscure titles, long out of print titles, and titles that rarely aired on cable or satellite were always the priority.  For example, to this day I don't own a copy of Jaws (1975) on disc.  Jaws is always on television and will never be out of print in my lifetime.  It's a brilliant movie, but it's not a priority purchase.  I do, however, own a copy of The Manitou (1978).  What the f**k, right? 

     Since my purchases were now required to be titles that were previously difficult to obtain,  or difficult to see elsewhere, or - in my own humble opinion - worthy of multiple viewings, it almost goes without saying that the discs I did purchase were usually titles that I would enthusiastically recommend to others.  One more parameter, perhaps more important than all the rest, began to govern my purchases:  if it's a title that I want to share with others, it's a buy.  It was the birth of my horror movie advocacy.

     At the same time, it was essentially the death of my spend-crazy ways.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, I guess, but it did mean that my purchases became fewer and far less frequent.  Since by that point I already owned copies of most catalog titles worth owning, my buying began to revolve only around newer titles that made the grade.  When I consider now my purchases over the course of the last several years, I find that there have been distressingly few of those.

     I've been vocal here at the Dog Farm with my advocacy of Pontypool (2008), a movie I still frequently loan out to others.  I continue to share Trick 'r Treat (2007) with as many people as I can every Halloween,  because I'm determined to do my part to make it a perennial staple.  I frequently loan out [REC] (2007) because it kills my soul that American audiences are still more familiar with the inferior English language remake.  Attack The Block (2011) is one of my more recent causes.  I just can't understand how this relatively big and wildly entertaining release managed to fly beneath so many radars.  There have been others - Laid To Rest (2009), House Of The Devil (2009), John Dies At The End (2012) - but still too few to warrant more than a trickle of new purchases.  I still see plenty of movies that I enjoy, but I don't see that many that inspire my whole-hearted advocacy.

My Pre'Ween choices for 2014
My Pre'Ween shopping list for 2014
     For what it's worth, every movie I've chosen to purchase for Pre-Ween this year is a catalog title.  The Director's Cut of Nightbreed (1990) is a must have, as is Without Warning (1980).  I'll also be picking up Sleepaway Camp (1983) and Curtains (1983), neither of which have previously enjoyed decent releases.  I'll probably also purchase Blue Underground's bargain priced release The Complete Blind Dead Saga since I never purchased The Blind Dead Collection Limited Edition from 2005.  That's it, though - not a new movie in the bunch.  It looks like this horror movie advocate is stumping exclusively for the oldies this year.

     Which newer movies have you really gone out of your way to recommend to others recently, and what makes them deserving of special attention?  If you consider yourself a horror movie advocate, what qualities are most likely to earn a movie your own personal seal of approval?


  1. I love this article. Yeah I used to own tons of DVD's but I loaned them off to help pay some bills and then forget to get them back.I still own Laser discs too( Old Skool Star Wars Trilogy ftw) I own a few titles on my laptop and I have a few movies I pick up from Pawn shops and outlet stores. Im trying to get more people to watch May, Ginger Snaps, American Mary, and House(Hausu) Those are just a few suggestions

  2. Thanks, Vern. I'd still like to get a LaserDisc player some day. I occasionally run across stashes of LD at flea markets and antique stores. Although I'd never use it, I'd like to have a top loading VCR, too I still just can't wrap my head around "owning" digital files that live in someone else's cloud.

    Your advocacy choices are great. I intentionally limited myself to slightly newer movies for the purpose of this post, but I do own (and loan) Ginger Snaps and May. My first copy of Ginger Snaps was the crappy full frame Tri-Mark release, which I quickly upgraded to the Canadian Collector's Edition. I've pointed a lot of people toward American Mary on Netflix Streaming, too, though I haven't purchased a copy yet. I just saw House for the first time last year. I may need to watch that again to fully appreciate it. lol

  3. Excellent reflection, Brandon!

    Due to low funds, my childhood was devoid of cable and a VCR. I relied on local UHF stations to provide me with my movie thrills. I even remember taping the audio of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on two audio tapes and listening to them nightly as I went to bed.

    When we did get our first VCR, I filled tapes with Halloween shows like Peanuts and Garfield. That was when those specials played only once a year. Then, I had the ability to watch them as much as I wanted. I felt spoiled.

    I did purchase a laser disc player (bottom of the line model that needed to flip the discs halfway through viewing). Having it hooked up to a stereo system made the experience somewhat magical. My laser disc purchases were limited, but I did amass quite a VCR collection. Then I moved on to DVD and built a library of over three bookcases of movies. Begrudgingly, I moved on to BluRay but have since bought into the image and sound quality 100%. Now that I am at a premium for room, I still have one bookshelf of books and one of movie discs.

    Like you observed, most movies I bought on speculation, watched once, and moved on. Now that I have Netflix and Apple TV, I am infused with so many movies that don't cost additional prices and take no space whatsoever. When my wife asked why I purchase so few discs anymore, I realize that I have fully assimilated into the digital revolution. I can't honestly see buying a physical copy of a film unless it would be for the extras.

    As far as my advocacy is concerned, I recommend films here and there, yet so few movies have really been great. Trick 'R Treat, Christopher Nolan films, and a handful of horror suggestions get endorsed.

    But being of the generation that has access to so many movies after to wait patiently, I think the experience has changed me. Maybe my indifference comes from the glut of films I can view. Most times I wander through the Netflix listings longer than I actually watch something.

    Now that I think of it, part of the fun came form the waiting for the film. I recall The Blair Witch Project gaining hype and firing my curiosity. Or reading the TV guide that came in the Miami Herald on Sunday and seeing that John Carpenter's The Thing would be on Wednesday at 8. I thought about how great it was going to be to watch.

    I don't have that hunger. Now, I have feeling of being full and never getting real satisfaction.There was something to waiting a year to see if Linus would witness the Great Pumpkin or if Garfield would escape the Pirate Ghosts. At this point, I can go on iTunes and find out immediately. Too much of a good thing, I guess...

  4. My next post: Horror Movie Ennui. If I had a nickel for every time I spent an hour browsing through Netflix and then deciding I didn't have enough time left to watch a movie I'd have at least tree-fiddy. lol The youngsters just don't understand delayed gratification (shakes cane at kids on lawn), but anticipation makes everything sweeter. I remember surreptitiously setting my alarm clock for the wee hours of the morning when I was a kid so I could watch The Howling on HBO on the 13" black and white television in my bedroom while everyone else slept. It's too easy now. Too much of a good thing, indeed.

    It pains me that I've been so thoroughly assimilated by the digital revolution, though I still can't quite wrap my head around "owning" a movie in the digital domain. That's got to be the greatest marketing scam in the history of capitalism. I am a bit of a picture quality queen, though, and that keeps me from succumbing entirely. In my experience, only Vudu comes close to rivaling the picture quality on Blu-ray, and even then the sound is inferior and there's always a chance that the movie will buffer at the worst possible moment.

    Thanks for the detailed comment, Carl. I like it when there's a dialog in the Comments section. It pleases me when a post prompts comments as long as the post itself. However it's really all just part of my master plan to trick others into writing all the new content for the Dog Farm. I'll just cut and paste the comments and put titles on them...

    Bwa-ha-ha! (rubs hands together fiendishly after setting the cane aside)

  5. Great post man. And yeah, EVERYONE should see REC. Amazing movie, as is part 2. There was no part 3 in my eyes :)

    1. Thanks, Tyson. Yes, [REC] 3 was disappointing - and yet, not terrible. I think [REC] 3 will someday be regarded in much the same way folks now regard Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. It fails as a [REC] movie, but we'd probably all think it was at least okay if it had been titled anything other than [REC] 3. Unfortunately, that name saddled part three with some pretty lofty expectations that the end result just didn't succeed in meeting. Bring on [REC] 4: Apocalypse! All is forgiven (as long as part four is a return to form, of course).

  6. I've waxed poetic about my beloved Mom & Pop video stores more times that I can count and I will continue to do so until my dying day. I remember, quite vividly when my family got our first VCR. We bought it from a furniture store called M-C-M. That place was awesome. It had this GIANT upholstered chair that I loved to sit in every time we went. The first video my family ever rented was the 1979 anime version of The Little Mermaid. The first video tape my family bought was E.T. and it cost $89.95!

    When I was a little older, my parents subscribed to the Columbia House Movie Club.....that was the one that let ya buy like 12 movies for a small fee and then sent you a new movie every month that you could either keep or send back. That's how we built our initial collection. My parents taped a lot of stuff off HBO in the early days as well. Then I got the "recording bug". Sitting in storage right now are hundreds of VHS tapes with God knows what recorded on them, the labels long ago fell off. One of my projects this winter is to be go over each tape....catalog and (for the ones that are worthy) digitally preserve the tapes.

    When DVD's came around, the collecting craze hit me again. My first two DVD's I bought with my first (Zenith) DVD player were Killer Klowns from Outer Space and the Army of Darkness Official Bootleg Edition from Strawberries Music Store! When Blu Ray came around....well you guys know how it goes.

    I've learned to embrace the digital streaming revolution somewhat, but not fully. I enjoy being able to access tons of movies and TV shows on Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, etc.....but it does not hold a candle to owning the physical media. Like you said...the movie is up in a cloud somewhere. It's not truly mine to own. If the internet is down, I can't even access them.

    What I've done is use streaming/digital as a trial version, so to speak for films I want to watch and potentially own. If it's on Netflix/Amazon to rent then I can try before I buy. If I like the film, then I have no problem shelling out the bones for a physical copy. I'll use digital as a secondary collection of sorts as well....such as when my Blu Ray comes with an Ultra-Violet copy of the movie, I'll sync it up and then I can stream a flick on my phone/tablet/computer when I'm out and about and in need of entertainment. If I'm home, it's always going to be a physical copy if I can help it.

    I agree that the anticipation of yesteryear is long gone. Garfield is a great example. Every year, trick or treating stopped at 7:45 no matter what the status of my candy loot was because I HAD to be home to watch Garfield and Charlie Brown. Candy was secondary to my beloved specials. I could have candy anytime....but these specials were NOT TO BE MISSED AT ANY COST!

    I used to love to scan through TV Guide every week and find the movies I wanted to watch. I'd set my alarm clock to wake up at wonky hours to watch or at least hit record on the VCR (before I learned how to program it). When I discovered Fangoria I would pour over the magazine and I would memorize what video labels movies were coming out on so I could ask about them at the video store.

    Yes, it is an absolute glutton's feast in this day and age of instant digital entertainment. I too have found myself browsing movies on Netflix for periods of time that are truly an embarrassment....often looking for a film so long that I no longer have time to watch one.

    1. I still believe that there has never been a better time to be a horror fan.....or movie fan for that matter. We are living in an age where...yes...we have countless films at our fingertips for our instant gratification, but we also still have the ability to explore the past. The amount of films that have never made it past VHS are staggering. I would dare say that for as many older films that are readily available now, at least as many have faded away into analog obscurity. VHS hunting isn't for everyone, but there are so many gems that are just sitting there stored away in dusty bins in warehouses, attics, basements and god knows where else. They're sitting there, just waiting to be discovered. Films you've forgotten about, films that you've never even heard of.

      Beyond that, more "lost" films are being discovered that have never had a home video release, such as with Without Warning. There are whole companies out there now dedicated to finding and releasing films that have never seen the light of day before. Companies like Cult Movie Mania, Vinegar Syndrome, Something Weird, Scorpion, Code Red.....who knows what will come out next!

    2. I've never seen this Garfield special everyone keeps referencing. I can probably stream it from iTunes, huh?

      I'm loving the specificity of everyone's comments on this post. Isn't it funny how we can't remember something from last week, but our movie related memories are all crystal clear decades later? Of course, maybe it's only me that can't remember last week.

      Thanks for contributing to the dialog, Matt!

    3. Heresy! Really, though, Garfield is good--not great. Fat Albert's Halloween didn't inspire much, either. There seems to be a lack of great Halloween specials. Some would enter the animated version of Bradbury's The Halloween Tree. I liked it, but it did not make the impact of Great Pumpkin. I think we are discussing a great PreWeen topic in too much depth. I will cut off here and save it for September!

    4. Matt,

      I couldn't agree more, especially with you making your first DVD purchase Killer Klowns and Army of Darkness. AoD ended up being one of my earliest DVD's, as well.

      We do have all the lost treasures making their way to Blu-Ray and streaming. Shout Factory has done some great work with restoring some recent classics.

      With Trick 'R Treat so cheap on Blu-Ray, I find myself giving away my copy and re-purchasing new ones just because I want to support the film and get that talked about sequel.

    5. Good for you handing out copies of Trick 'r Treat. How awesome would it be to hand them out to trick or treaters? Probably piss off a few parents, though...

    6. You're right, Carl...this is an excellent topic for Pre'Ween! I will say one thing: I've always been a bigger fan of Garfield than Great Pumpkin. Perhaps a VS battle will be in order this Halloween season!

      I truly am excited to be a horror fan right now. Every time Scream Factory makes a new announcement it's like Christmas! Have you seen the film lineup they announced at Comic Con?

  7. SAY WHA!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!??! You've never seen Garfields Halloween Adventure?!?!??!?!? Get on that dude!!!!

    Nah, it's not just you, my friend. Half the time I don't even know what day it is....but I can tell you the first time I even say Return of the Living Dead!

  8. Wonderful post, Brandon! I'm just sorry it took so long for me to read it. We both come from the same era, so I can also relate to a time before home video was a popular (or viable) option. While I was in college (the first time), I worked at one of the aforementioned Ma and Pa video stores, which really ignited my fervor for oddball titles.

    Pontypool, Trick 'r Treat, REC and Attack the Block are all fantastic movies, and deserve more love from film fans everywhere. A few titles I can't stop crowing about are The Vampire Lovers, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and These Are the Damned, all from Hammer.

    P.S., I never really had a big collection of VHS titles, because of my early infatuation with Laserdiscs. I still have most of my original collection, and will even play one now and then. They also make great wall decorations, by the way.

    1. I love Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde myself, Barry. I've been intending to watch my copy of These Are The Damned for a long while now (since last Halloween season). My mother inherited most of my VHS tapes, so at least they're still in the family.


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