During the early 80's, when home video was in it's infancy, an influx of video companies were created to keep up with demand in the burgeoning VHS rental market. Bear in mind that this was before owning videos was financially feasible, as the cost for a single VHS copy of a film could run well over $100. Renting videos was really the only way to watch most of these films at home, as TV gave up their 4:30 Movies, Million Dollar Movies and Late Late Shows to make way for syndicated talk shows, reruns of TV series and infomercials. A lot of business-savvy companies jumped on the VHS bandwagon and created labels to release films to a demanding public. A lot of them were fly-by-night affairs, who released one or two films on VHS before they realized that it takes money to make money, but some companies stayed around for years. It's these companies that I am going to pay their much-overdue props to. These companies released so many films that occupied our nights and weekends during the 80's. They turned out splashy covers, outrageous plot synopsis and hours and hours of visual enjoyment to the renting market. A lot of obscure films were released during this time, turning a lot of horror newbies into lifelong fans. These long-gone companies had a major influence on a lot of people, turning them into film directors, writers and other film professionals, yet their impact seems to be taken for granted. There's not a lot of information on these companies to be found anywhere on the Internet or in print, except to list the films that they released. Since I am a collector, I feel obligated to show my readers the pleasures of the VHS video sleeve. When they are done right, it's just like staring at a fine piece of art at a gallery. Those day are long gone now and we must preserve the experience of walking into a video store and looking at the shelves stocked with titles unfamiliar to us and the feeling we got taking that chance of picking up an unknown film, bringing it home and being blown away watching the TV screen ( although a lot of times the reverse was true).
Without the success of these companies, I doubt that there would be a DVD market today. As the 80's came to a close, and it was getting affordable to own pre-recorded films on VHS, many of these companies went out of business, thanks to companies like Star Classics, Interglobal, Goodtimes, Video Treasures and Starmaker licensing films and releasing them in inferior LP or EP recorded versions, often making them available in supermarkets as impulse buys at the checkout line. Who could pass-up the chance of picking up THE TOOLBOX MURDERS for less than ten bucks? The urge was simply too great to pass up (yes, I was a major offender) and most of the video companies gave up on releasing new product and grew fat licensing their libraries to supermarket chain labels or simply sold off their titles and closed up shop.
Now that VHS is no longer considered a viable medium for releasing new films (as well as old ones) and DVD has taken over (and rightly so, thanks to the higher definition picture and better quality sound, not to mention the supplements), I now believe it is time to look back at the companies who released the films that we look back on with reverence. The picture and sound quality may have left a lot to be desired, but it was the only way to view these films at the time and maybe forever as some of these films may never see the light of day on DVD due to licensing and music rights. I believe, in the near future, that the value of VHS tapes will only increase (both monetarily and emotionally), becoming an obsession, just like someone who collects posters or stamps. It is now time to pay our proper respects. This is my tribute. (Special thanks to the following people for sharing their scans of lost treasures with all of us: Tranzor, Kim Gibbs, Mario Dominick, Michael Felsher, Chris Poggiali, Lorne Marshall, Cameron Archer, Andrew Copp, Joe Narde, Mike Malloy, Bruce Holecheck [Project MOGUL], Robert Richardson, Kevin Hopp,Nivekian Konsolate and the fine folks at VIDEO WASTELAND.)
THE MAJOR PLAYERS
ACADEMY ENTERTAINMENT - This independent distributor opened it's doors in 1985, first releasing a bunch of 70's horror and action titles (some retitled for video), such as: THE ZODIAK KILLER, THE LOSERS, ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH (a.k.a. THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE), BLOOD EVIL (a.k.a. DEMONS OF THE MIND), BLOOD FEAST (a.k.a. NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS), SLASHED DREAMS (with probably the most deceptive packaging of the 80's),TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (a.k.a. THE FOLKS AT RED WOLF INN), SATAN'S SUPPER (a.k.a. THE NIGHTMARE NEVER ENDS) and many others. Academy quickly progressed into releasing a bunch of DTV films, including: FLESH EATING MOTHERS, DANGEROUS GAME, BLOODY NEW YEAR, PLAY DEAD, ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE, DOOM ASYLUM and the awful WITCHCRAFT series (Academy handled parts 1 thru 6). As with all video companies approaching the 90's, Academy got involved in producing and releasing a load of DTV "Erotic Thrillers", such as: ANIMAL INSTINCTS, BODY OF INFLUENCE, SINS OF THE NIGHT and many, many others until they closed-up shop in 1995. I also think that there's a small conspiracy to keep Academy Entertainment VHS covers off the Internet. The VHS covers for this company are nearly non-existant anywhere on the web. If you don't believe me, try Googling Academy and see what you come up with. Plenty of info on the films that they released, but hardly any artwork. I believe my site has the most Academy covers collected in one spot. To see the collection, click HERE. If no one ever hears from me again, it's because the Academy gremlins have taken me away.
ACTION INTERNATIONAL PICTURES (A.I.P.) - This is a TRUE independent distributor. A.I.P was founded in 1986 by low-budget director/producers David A. Prior (SLEDGEHAMMER - 1983), David Winters (THE LAST HORROR FILM - 1982) and Peter Yuval (KILLER WORKOUT - 1986) as a way to distribute their poverty-row productions. A.I.P. (which, probably uncoincidentally, shares the same initials as the biggest independent of the 50's, 60's and 70's: American International Pictures), began by right off the bat distributing home-made productions like MISSION....KILL and NIGHT WARS, mixed in with international pickups such as MIAMI HORROR and STRIKER. While their action and horror productions, like ALIEN SEED, SPACE MUTINY, THE SATAN KILLER and the horrendous ELVES, were strictly low-rent (and unintentionally hilarious), A.I.P. did manage to release a few notable films, including the sadistic ROAD-KILL, Richard Haines' technicolor gore comedy ALIEN SPACE AVENGER, the immortal soldiers thriller THE LOST PLATOON, Lucio Fulci's DANGEROUS OBSESSION and Jose Larraz's slasher flick SAVAGE LUST. Many of A.I.P.'s in-house productions starred David Prior's brother Ted, a capable and muscular action star who, unfortunately, never went on to bigger and better things and a lot of their films contained appearances by B-movie actors, such as David Carradine, Robert Ginty (remember him?) Cameron Mitchell and Erik Estrada. Action International closed up shop in 1994, partly due to the Richard Pepin/Joseph Merhi company (PM Enterprises) turning out superior action and horror flicks (they would eventually cease to exist in 2000) and partly due to major video store chains no longer looking to stock their shelves with low-budget DTV films (up yours Blockbuster!). To see a selection of A.I.P. video covers, click HERE. This was one of the last true independent video distributors.
CONTINENTAL VIDEO - The king of the big box videos. Continental Video (and it's sister label, Comet Video) unleased a slew of exploitation titles to the video public from 1981 to 1987. People who remember walking through the aisles of video stores during the early 80's couldn't help but notice Continental's big boxes on the shelves. Titles like SUICIDE CULT, CLASS REUNION MASSACRE, NIGHTMARE and ALIEN PREY lined the shelves and attracted renters due to the garish artwork and lurid tag lines. Continental went one further by releasing double features on tape, pairing down two features to 75 minutes each and releasing them on VHS. Double features like SLAYER/SCALPS, FROZEN SCREAM/EXECUTIONER II, SWEET SUGAR/ESCAPE FROM WOMEN'S PRISON and STUDENT BODY/JAILBAIT BABYSITTER were very popular with the public because you got two movies for one rental. Most Continental and Comet (who released the H.G. Lewis BLOOD trio for the first time on video in America) titles go for big bucks nowadays, especially in good condition, since most video stores cut the boxes up to fit them into plastic clamshell cases (stupid idiots!). Continental began distributing their later films in normal cardboard slipcases, as they were probably sick, too, that their product was getting cut up. Some of their later titles included DEADTIME STORIES, the bloody awful SOV fiasco MIAMI VENDETTA, BLOOD DEBTS, MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY and ZOMBIE HIGH. Other Continental titles of note include John Water's FEMALE TROUBLE and DESPERATE LIVING, THE EMERALD JUNGLE, TERROR ON TAPE and BLOOD TIDE. To see a collection of Continental and Comet VHS covers, click HERE. Be prepared for some big box flashbacks.
EMBASSY HOME ENTERTAINMENT - One of my favorite 80's video labels. Although short-lived (1981-1986), Embassy Home entertainment distributed a wildly-varied mix of genre films to the viewing public. Many people got their first taste of Italian horror (THE TEMPTER; BLOOD LINK), David Cronenberg weirdness (SCANNERS), 70's camp (THE AROUSERS; EMPIRE OF THE ANTS; PSYCHIC KILLER), cult classics (INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS; PHANTASM; GALAXY OF TERROR) and early 80's slashers (FINAL EXAM; SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE), thanks to Embassy. Their generous sked of films kept viewers busy, as they also released Filippino horror (NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN), English space gore (HORROR PLANET), Ulli Lommel crap (THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR; BRAINWAVES) and plenty of other films, some that were seen on the big screen (BLADE RUNNER; CHILDREN OF THE CORN; THE NAME OF THE ROSE; THE STEPFATHER). Embassy also had a sublabel, called Charter Entertainment, which released several dozen films, many of them horror-related. In 1986, Embassy Home Entertainment was sold to Nelson Entertainment, where they dropped the Charter Entertainment line and re-released Embassy's library before they, too, went out of business. Some of Embassy's bigger-budgeted titles are now owned by MGM and most of the library is owned by Canal +, who licensed the library to Anchor Bay Entertainment. I have a question for Anchor Bay: Instead of re-releasing the same old films over and over on DVD, why don't you release some of Embassy's obscurities on DVD. I'm sure that there is an audience for an uncut DVD of RITUALS. Where is the special edition of HUMONGOUS (eventually released on DVD by Scorpion Releasing) or HUNTER'S BLOOD? I'm sure that there are plenty of people that would buy those. To see a collection of video covers from Embassy Home Entertainment's library, click HERE. This was one company that delivered.
GORGON VIDEO/MPI VIDEO - Another distributor known for their big colorful clamshell releases. Gorgon Video (a subsidiary of MPI Video, which is still around today) released a bunch of great horror films during the early and mid-80's that still hold a fond place in the heart of collectors today. Gorgon's most famous release was probably the pseudo-documentary FACES OF DEATH (which spawned three sequels and a couple of "best of's"), a disgusting mix of real and faked death scenes that every boy needed to see and is still used today to gauge whether a girl is worthy to be their girlfriend (I still have a best friend that shows this to all his dates. If they become ill or tell him to turn it off, there will be no second date!). Of course, this was not Gorgon's only popular release. Their library contained the uncut version of Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD, the weird and wonderful DEATHDREAM, the horror/comedy HORROR HOSPITAL, the Mexican wrestling/gore film NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES, the 70's TV perennial KISS OF THE TARANTULA and many, many others. Gorgon's clamshells were always full of colorful garish artwork that makes them collector's items today. As the 80's came to a close, Gorgon began releasing their films in regular cardboard sleeves and disappeared from distribution in 1989, right after releasing the highly-desirable horror video magazine GORGON VIDEO MAGAZINE VOLUME 1 (Volume 2 was produced but never legally released). MPI does maintain a Gorgon website (www.gorgon-video.com), although it looks like it was never finished. MPI Video became famous and profitable by distributing the entire DARK SHADOWS soap opera on VHS and DVD, as well as many other Dan Curtis TV productions, mondo documentaries, British Sherlock Holmes films starring Jeremy Brett and their biggest film for readers of this site: HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. I have many great memories of walking into a video store in the 80's and seeing Gorgon Video releases on the shelves. I got my first taste of many Italian horror films (including the awful FRANKENSTEIN '80 and the cut version of SLAUGHTER HOTEL) and other obscure films (MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, DIE SISTER DIE). To see some selected Gorgon and MPI Video VHS covers, click HERE. This should bring back a flood of memories.
IMPERIAL ENTERTAINMENT CORP. - Imperial followed the same path as Academy Entertainment, releasing a bunch of independent horror films, before going into production and making their own films (which would also, like Academy, lead to their downfall in the mid-90's). In the early days (1986 - 1989), Imperial released such films as DEMONS 2, STAGE FRIGHT, SPECTERS, BLACK ROSES (with it's unique 3-D cover), the insanely-bad R.O.T.O.R., GHOSTHOUSE and THE DEAD PIT (another unique 3-D cover). During this period, they also released an ungodly amount of Godfrey Ho-directed cut-and-paste martial arts films, usually with "Ninja" in the title and starring Richard Harrison. As the 90's approached they began producing films for the theatrical market and groomed a French martial artist named Olivier Gruner, who would appear in their first production ANGEL TOWN as well as Albert Pyun's NEMESIS, also an Imperial theatrical release. Gruner would then go on to star in many DTV action flicks and prove to be a capable (and quite likable) performer, up to this day. Imperial also made films with Cynthia Rothrock (the CHINA O'BRIEN series; ANGEL OF FURY; LADY DRAGON 2), Don "The Dragon" Wilson (RING OF FIRE; RED SUN RISING) and even Jean Claude Van Damme (BLACK EAGLE). During the early 90's they made straight-to-video Horror (THE DARK; THE CLUB), Action (SHOWDOWN; KING OF THE KICKBOXERS), Erotic Thrillers (SECRET GAMES; THE PAMELA PRINCIPLE) and Comedy films (BUFORD'S BEACH BUNNIES; THE GREAT BIKINI OFF-ROAD ADVENTURE) before disappearing from video store shelves in 1996. To view some choice Imperial Entertainment VHS covers, click HERE. Kids today don't know what they're missing.
KEY VIDEO - This sublabel of parent company CBS/Fox Video existed from 1982 to 1990. In those years, Key Video released a lot of good stuff. Their distinctive packaging (multicolored stripes that ran through the center of the video box) and choice of films (anything from 40's actioners like AIR FORCE to 80's horror films like KILLER PARTY) distinguished them from many of the independent labels that didn't have a big company and built-in library of films to supply them with product. Key Video released 70's exploitation films like THE DOBERMAN GANG, DAMNATION ALLEY and KILLER FISH, horror films such as Dario Argento's INFERNO, NIGHT SCHOOL, VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT and THE ATTIC, cult films like BETTER OFF DEAD, STRANGER THAN PARADISE, LITTLE MURDERS and HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE and, of course, major Fox titles such as PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, ACROSS 110TH STREET, ZARDOZ, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, WHERE'S POPPA? and many, many others for the first time on home video. Key Video also released some long sought-after TV films like the original HELTER SKELTER and DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, which command big bucks on the collectors market today. Key Video has something for everyone during the 80's. To see a collection of Key Video VHS art, click HERE. The Key Video heritage is still going strong today, as most of their titles are still in the Fox family.
LIGHTNING VIDEO - This bastard stepchild of Vestron Video released a lot of genre product during the video heyday of 1985 - 1990. Releasing mainly unknown films such as DARK AUGUST, NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, A BLADE IN THE DARK, MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY and many others (their most well-known title is STREET TRASH), Lightning Video exposed a lot of renters to the pleasures (and pitfalls) of 80's horror cinema. Titles like NEON MANIACS, FROZEN TERROR, NECROPOLIS, CHOPPING MALL and NAKED VENGEANCE made their debuts on the Lightning label. They also released films from the 70's such as THE CLONES, WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS, PANTHER SQUAD, TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM and THE CLONUS HORROR. I remember many nights putting a cassette into my VCR and seeing the Lightning logo come on my TV screen. A red background with two thunderbolts would appear and someone with a Hi-Fi VCR could hear the stereo separation as the right thunderbolt would come blaring out of the right speaker and the left one out of the left speaker as the Lightning logo would appear in blue. While the films may have left a lot to be desired (GIRL SCHOOL SCREAMERS anyone?), you could at least look forward to some previews to appear after the film was finished. While Lightning Video was not a major driving force in the video pantheon, they did supply a lot of horror-hungry fans with some lesser-known titles. For that we can be thankful. To see a collection of Lightning Video video covers, click HERE. These covers should bring back some fond memories to those that can remember browsing the shelves of their local video stores during the 80's.
MAGNUM ENTERTAINMENT - This is another video company that turned out splashy covers in big box, clamshell cases and regular size video sleeves that always caught the eye, even if the films themselves were strictly bottom-shelf. Films like CURSE OF THE BLUE LIGHTS, NAIL GUN MASSACRE, MAXIM XUL and THE REINCARNATE tempted renters with their colorful artwork, only to disappoint once the cassette was inserted into the VCR. Not that all of their films were bad, mind you. Magnum also released the uncut versions of good exploitation films, including Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES, S.F. Brownriff's backwoods trash epic POOR WHITE TRASH PART II, the highly-original A.I.D.S. parable THE CARRIER and Gregory Dark's STREET ASYLUM. But Magnum was first and foremost a trashfilm maven's dream as their roster included REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES, BLOOD SALVAGE, THE CHANNELER (ugh!), GOODNIGHT GOD BLESS, THE DARK POWER and their crowning achievement, ROBO VAMPIRE. The sad fact that my library is full of Magnum Entertainment product attests to their market savvy. I was (and still am) a sucker for eye-catching box art. Magnum did close up shop in the early 90's, only to ressurect itself with new films (you can tell their newer releases by the number "2" next to their logo on the boxes) and a whole new generation of unaware film seekers getting duped into buying or renting shitty films. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Magnum finally closed-up shop for good in 1997 after a run of nearly 15 years. Not bad for a company that never released a major motion picture on VHS. To see my collection of Magnum Entertainment cover artwork, click HERE. Sunglasses are not mandatory but should be worn to avoid damage to your eyes. UPDATE: According to badfilm director Donald Farmer (SAVAGE VENGEANCE - 1993), Magnum Entertainment formed a subdivision called Eden Entertainment and released a bunch of lower-tier films under the banner of I WILL DANCE ON YOUR GRAVE. Along with Farmer's VENGEANCE, Eden also released his CANNIBAL HOOKERS (1986), Tim Ritter's KILLING SPREE (1987), the rape-revenge film LETHAL VICTIMS (1987) and the cleverly-titled (if awful) I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE TOO (1995). I have just learned from Donald Farmer that the Magnum that ran Eden Entertainment is not the same Magnum Entertainment that released all the other films mentioned. Confusing, isn't it?
MEDIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT - One of the earliest video companies, Media Home Entertainment was formed in 1978 (by co-owner Charles Band, who initally named the company "MEDA" after the first name of his then-wife, so if you have any tapes with the name MEDA on them, they are the earliest releases from the company and probably the most sought-after) and released over 1,000 films on VHS before it ceased operations in 1992. Media began by releasing public domain titles (back then, public domain titles such as PSYCHOMANIA and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD weren't readily available on the market as they are today, so they were new to the renters) and early Charles Band productions and then graduated to the big time, thanks to some popular CHARLIE BROWN titles and live concert performances. During the mid-to-late 80's (long after Charles Band sold his interest in the company), Media was king of the independent distributors, as they released popular theatrical product (the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise and much of New Line's 80's catalogue; Chuck Norris films such as A FORCE OF ONE, THE OCTAGON and many others; Charles Bronson flicks (MURPHY'S LAW, MESSENGER OF DEATH) and a lot of independent releases like TROMA'S WAR, MOTHER'S DAY and, strangely enough, a lot of Trans World Entertainment's theatrical releases) and also released a lot of low-budget horror and action films that nearly all renters of the 80's gobbled-up. Media released such titles as DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE, TOURIST TRAP, DEMONOID, LASERBLAST, C.H.U.D., BASKET CASE and many, many others. Media titles were as commonplace as major label's product in many households as they also distributed animated films, self-help videos, sports-themed videos and many films never released to theaters, such as TERROR ON TOUR, a slew of Italian post-nuke films (ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, ENDGAME, 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS) and action films like THE EXPENDABLES, NAM ANGELS and SAIGON COMMANDOS. Media had their hands in every type of genre, thereby cementing it's dependability as a company that could meet anyone's spur-of-the-moment urges. There are many unconfirmed stories about Media's reputation and they need to be told. Unfortunately, until a reliable source appears, these stories will go untold as much of Media's catalogue is still around and still being distributed by companies like Anchor Bay, Fox and New Line on DVD (I don't want lawsuits, but there are rumblings of murder and underworld connections.). To see but a small portion of Media's output, click HERE. Media also released hard-R sex films under the "Private Screenings" sublabel and older films and episodes of TV series (ABBOTT & COSTELLO) under the "Nostalgia Merchant" label. A lot of Media's early releases command big bucks today in the auction market. I own a few from the late 70's and they play perfectly. Just a side note here, but don't the early tapes weigh much heavier than tapes produced in the last 10 years? You could drop an older tape and nothing would happen. Drop a new tape and be prepared to bring out the vacuum as it will shatter into hundreds of small pieces. The older tapes were made to last, and 25 years later they play as well as the first time.
MGM/UA HOME VIDEO - Here's another label which lived a very long life. MGM started out as a major film production company, cranking out films since the early 1920's. Their huge library of films was ideal for the home video market, so in 1979 they joined forces with CBS Home Video to form MGM/CBS Home Video. In 1981, CBS broke off with MGM to join with 20th Century Fox to form CBS/Fox Home Video. That same year, MGM joined with United Artists to form MGM/UA Home Video and that partnership lasted until 1998, when Ted Turner bought the MGM library and renamed the label MGM Home Entertainment. For seventeen years, MGM/UA released thousands of films on VHS, including many that have still yet to see the light of day on DVD. MGM/UA is most fondly remembered for releasing their films in those big cardboard boxes that opened up like a book (They also had a blue piece of tape shaped like a giant "I" that stuck to the middle of the right hand side or bottom of the box, either covering a portion of the artwork or the credits. If you tried to remove it, more times than not it would destroy whatever was below it.). Time has not been kind to those big boxes, as they have faded or wrinkled due to the ravages of time, but who can't help but remember seeing those big box releases, like GYMKATA, EQUALIZER 2000, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, HOSPITAL MASSACRE, FORBIDDEN PLANET and FINAL EXECUTIONER lining the video store shelves. MGM/UA had exclusive deals with Cannon Films and Roger Corman's Concord Films during the 80's and many of those big box releases command high prices on the collectors' circuit due to their rarity and the fact that they have never been released to DVD. MGM/UA was also one of the first major VHS companies to encode their tapes with the Macrovision process to curtail piracy and illegal copying. Nearly every MGM/UA VHS tape produced was Macrovision encoded, so if you ever think of buying their tapes to back up to DVD, just remember that you will need a device to bypass the encoding. To view a fraction of MGM/UA Home Video's output, click HERE. If I were to show you cover scans of every MGM/UA tape produced, I would probably take you days to get through them. I still recommend a broadband connection if you plan on clicking on the link.
MOGUL COMMUNICATIONS, INC. - Not much is known about Mogul Video (or it's sublabels: All-American Video; Mega Video, Trend Video and Canada's Galaxy Video), except they turned out some kick-ass artwork on their oversized clamshell cases between the years 1982 - 1986. Whoever did the artwork on these cases deserved some kind of award as there were eye-catching art of well-endowed women in perilous situations, skulls (a favorite theme here), and guns and knives used in threatening manners. The artwork for SATAN'S BLOOD alone was used for at least two other titles (see my visual tour) on Mogul's roster. Mogul specialized in little-known European horror films with titles such as THE ICEBOX MURDERS, DON'T LOOK IN THE ATTIC, RAPE, DON'T PANIC, FEAST FOR THE DEVIL, SCHOOL OF DEATH and many more. They also released some home-grown horror flicks, such as Donald Farmer's first film DEMON QUEEN, Tony Malanowski's piss-poor CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD, as well as the unbelievably-bad SATAN'S BLADE; Italian Crime Thrillers like Lucio Fulci's CONTRABAND and the Henry Silva-starrers THE KILLER and CRIMEBUSTERS; Martial Arts flicks like CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER, EYE OF THE DRAGON and NINJA HOLOCAUST; and British Thrillers such as Michael J. Murphy's video nasty INVITATION TO HELL and Alan Birkenshaw's INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD. Mogul and it's sublabels didn't release an enormous amount of product, but what they did before it became popular was release some of their films letterboxed. I don't know if it was on purpose of if they didn't know better, but it was a nice surprise for people who like their films shown in the proper aspect ratio. To view some nice scans of Mogul's clamshell art, click HERE. Mogul never got the proper credit it deserved. I hope this artwork brings back pleasant memories for those who remember their product on video store shelves.
MONTEREY HOME VIDEO - This long-lasting video company (started in the mid 80's as a sublabel of Family Home Entertainment and still going strong today) released many little-known (at the time) foreign genre films that entertained viewers hungry for something new. Titles such as THE GRIM REAPER, THE MEAN MACHINE, THE SLASHER, DEADLY SANCTUARY, THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE and many other were released all for the first time, in their big-box glory. Monterey didn't skimp on obscure home-grown films either, releasing THE FLESH EATERS, THE LOVE BUTCHER, BONNIE'S KIDS, DEADLY GAMES, THE LEGEND OF ALFRED PACKER, KILL AND GO HIDE, THE SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and many other for the first time in VHS format. Monterey also had a sublabel, called After Hours Entertainment, that released "dicier" titles like THE DEVIL'S UNDEAD, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, and BLOOD VOYAGE, films that Monterey didn't want to release under their own banner. Monterey also controls the rights to the "Ginger" films, a series of 70's sexploitation/action films that starred Cheri Caffaro as Ginger, an undercover agent who used her body, as well as her fists. These films include: GINGER (1971), THE ABDUCTORS (1972) and GIRLS ARE FOR LOVING (1973). A fourth film, A PLACE CALLED TODAY (1972), is usually mentioned in the same breath but has no connection other than Caffaro appearing in it. Monterey stays in business today selling their catalogue on DVD, which includes many documentaries, self-help and PBS programs. To see a collection of Monterey VHS covers, click HERE. Some of their early releases command big bucks today on the collectors market.
NEW WORLD VIDEO - Contrary to popular belief, Roger Corman had nothing to do with New World Video, since he sold his interest in New World Pictures in 1984. In a relatively short period of time (1984 - 1989), New World Video left quite an impression for the horror film lover. Releasing such films as J.P. Simon's SLUGS, the first two HELLRAISER films, direct-to-video fare CELLAR DWELLER and ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE and some chosen cuts from New World Picture's classic 70's output (BURY ME AN ANGEL, ANGELS DIE HARD, PEACE KILLERS), New World Video had nearly something for everyone. If you wanted action, you could rent THE OMEGA SYNDROME, THE ANNIHILATORS or the very offbeat CERTAIN FURY. If you wanted adventure, you could take home JAKE SPEED, DEF-CON 4 or CODENAME:WILDGEESE. If you desired comedy, you could laugh at TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000, Larry Cohen's THE STUFF or FRATERNITY VACATION (starring future pole-smoker Stephen Geoffreys). If you wanted to take home a theatrical production, New World Video offered such films as DEAD HEAT, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, BLACK MOON RISING or TUFF TURF. But, New World's stock in trade was horror films. Titles such as GHOSTKEEPER, THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL, GHOST TOWN, TERROR IN THE SWAMP, TORMENT and many. many others lined the video shelves for the undiscriminating renter. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and New World Video's came in 1989, when the News Corporation (who also owned 20th Century-Fox) bought the company and licensed most of the post-1984 library to budget label Starmaker (who released a bunch of New World titles in the crappy EP mode) and eventually Anchor Bay Entertainment. Roger Corman still retained rights to most of the pre-1984 New World library and began releasing them on his New Concorde Home Video label, both on VHS and DVD (right up until this day). To see a good selection of New World Video VHS covers (with some Starmaker ones thrown in for good measure), click HERE. The 80's were a wonderful time for me.
PARAGON VIDEO PRODUCTIONS - Of all the pre-records I own (well over 3,000 as of this writing), the majority of 80's horror in my collection comes from Paragon Video. Their sleeves were the meaning of simplicity: Usually a copy of the original release theatrical poster on the front with a big copy of their logo on the bottom right and a few photos of the film and a short plot synopsis (usually taken from the film's pressbook) on the back. While they didn't release the best-looking prints of the movies, they were usually the uncut versions (keep your Paragon version of JUST BEFORE DAWN as the Shriek Show DVD version of the film is missing bits of gore found on Paragon's tape). What really made Paragon stand out was their collection of trailers that they showed before the film. There were usually about 12 minutes of trailers for horror, exploitation and action films that were probably more enjoyable than the film on the tape. While I don't pretend to know squat about Paragon's history, I do know that they were located in Las Vegas, Nevada, were originally known as "King Of Video" and released product from late 1981 until 1985, making them one of the earliest companies in the home video rental market for genre films. I made it a quest of mine to own as many Paragon VHS tapes as I can get my hands on. Thanks to eBay, I have been able to purchase a lot of them for less than two bucks. They play just as good now as they did when they were new and some of them are nearly 25 years old! To see my collection of Paragon Video cover artwork, click HERE. Warning: Be prepared for a huge case of nostalgia.
PRISM ENTERTAINMENT - This independent company, which began operations in 1984, released many genre films up until they filed for Chapter 11 in 1995. Prism distributed a lot of obscure stuff on VHS during their prime, including WOLF LAKE, BECAUSE OF THE CATS, DEADMATE, BLOOD RAGE, DEATHMASK, ALMOST HUMAN (you gotta love that misleading cover!) and many others. They were known basically for releasing little-known films and hardly had any major theatrical releases in their catalogue. Prism's varied sked consisted of films such as DARK SANITY, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, MURDERLUST, CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, THE AFTERMATH, WILLARD (and BEN), TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, ASYLUM, THE DIVINE ENFORCER (a personal favorite for all the wrong reasons), THE BONEYARD and a bunch of MFTV films, including SHE WAITS, SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, CRUISE INTO TERROR, THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE, SAVAGES and DEATH AT LOVE HOUSE. As the 90's approached, Prism began distributing mostly "erotic thriller" DTV fare such as the NIGHT EYES trilogy, TROPICAL HEAT and ULTIMATE DESIRES, which eventually led to it's downfall. Still, Prism had a good 11 year run and entertained a lot of renters during the 80's, which is why you will find a lot of their releases reviewed on this site. Prism also released product for a label called A.N.E. Home Video (American National Enterprises), which distributed a bunch of even-more obscure titles such as BEASTS, JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, and RENEGADE NINJAS. To see a collection of Prism video covers, click HERE. It should bring back pleasant memories for many VHS renters in the 80's.
RAEDON HOME VIDEO - Rather than the usual distributor bio, I'm going to give this space over to resident Readon expert Mike Malloy:
The Worst Movies Ever Made: Raedon and the '80s Video Boom
by Mike Malloy
Your head will hurt. Your eyes will sting. Your brain will rot. You will wonder why you ever shoved ALIEN PRIVATE EYE, ROLLERBLADE WARRIORS or any other Raedon Home Video release into your VCR. And more to the point, you will wonder how this Raedon direct-to-video garbage ever got made.
The answer is the 1980s. Or, more specifically, the 1980s video boom. The VCR had created a new, wide-open market -- home video -- for movies. Mom-and-pop video stores, prevalent over chains at the time, were blindly stocking just about anything that was offered up. Cheapjack video labels proliferated -- Vestron, Lightning, Prism, Academy, Transworld, Vidmark, Magnum.
And then there was Raedon Home Video. For those who think they know the definition of amateurish moviemaking, throw out your standards. A typical Raedon release features actors mispronouncing common words, anachronistic period costumes that are 250 years off the mark and love scenes with actors that appear to be entirely unfamiliar with the sex act. This is, of course, in addition to unintelligible dialogue, camera angles and acting. The quality of these movies cannot be understated.
But even if Raedon is guilty of egregious transgressions against the art of cinema, the video label does serve one important function to culture: the story of the '80s video boom can most colorfully be told through the history of this single video distributor.
"In those days, it was kind of like the Wild West," says Bruce G. Hallenbeck, whose 1989 film VAMPYRE was picked up by Raedon. "There were no real fast and hard rules, and everything was kind of being made up as it went along. And you could pretty much release anything."
So this VCR-created boom was good for aspiring '80s filmmakers, maybe not so good for the artistic quality of low-budget cinema.
"It ruined everything," says filmmaker Michael Lang. "It destroyed the B-movie theatrically." Lang worked in several capacities on the 1988 futuristic rockabilly sci-fi Western film DEATH COLLECTOR, a surprisingly tolerable Raedon video release.
Understand, in the 1970s, low-budget exploitation films were experiencing their golden age, playing at drive-ins and grindhouses across the country, giving the world stylish cult faves like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Vanishing Point, Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song and Assault on Precinct 13.
Compare those titles against the disposable, what-the-hell-is-this-shit '80s fare offered in the Raedon catalog: PUNK VACATION, GAME OF SURVIVAL, NUDITY REQUIRED, FEELIN' SCREWY -- films that are even worse than their titles might indicate.
Raedon Home Video got into the VHS game in the late '80s, about ten years into that format's existence. By then, many low-budget filmmakers weren't even gunning for theatrical releases for their movies. They were simply hoping to dump their movies into a video release. And Raedon obliged.
Based in Southern California (Northridge then Chatsworth), Raedon often dealt with movie sales companies like Double Helix and Panorama instead of brokering home video deals with the filmmakers themselves. This meant sometimes a director had little contact with the video label distributing his movie.
"The first day I saw the tape in a video store here I was stunned," says Hallenbeck, "because I hadn't been told it was going to be out that soon. About six months after we completed all the post production it was in the stores. At one of the local video stores here, the owner said, 'Hey, your movie's here.' I looked at it and said, 'I'll be damned. My first feature.'"
But Lang had a little more contact with the video label. He got to see Raedon's headquarters.
"It was just a warehouse," he says. "A warehouse with a few offices in the front. And the owner was this big fat guy that looked like Grizzly Adams. He was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. I wasn't exactly impressed."
But what should one expect from the distributor of movies that are arguably the worst ever made? Even Raedon filmmakers concede that the label's releases are rubbish.
Says Lang, "Raedon was for the filmmakers who were basically inept fools who made inept product which they couldn't sell to anyone else, so they ended up at Raedon. Or Troma. I mean, Troma is the other Raedon of the business. Troma is just smarter, because they made their own movies, and they made trashy movies."
Clearly, the centerpiece of ineptitude in Raedon's catalog is a 1987 film entitled ALIEN PRIVATE EYE. The film may not yet have a Plan 9-type status as a Holy Grail of Bad Cinema, but those who have seen it know the score. A video copy on Half.com recently had the asking price of $69.75.
"It's a piece of shit," says actor Robert Axelrod, who played the villainous Scunge in the film ("I was 'Scunge.' That's a stupid name.").
"I was astonished at the ineptitude," says Michael Jonascu, who worked on the film's sound but didn't want his company's name to appear in the closing credits.
ALIEN PRIVATE EYE is deserving of this derision and more. It stars former Chippendales dancer Nikki Hill (aka Nikki Fastinetti) as Lemro, the eponymous extra-terrestrial gumshoe. The plastic Spock ears let us know he's an alien. The clichéd fedora lets us know he's a private eye. Other than that, Hill just tries to play Lemro as an '80s tough guy ("Yo!") in a performance that makes the viewer sad to be a human being.
"I did [later] see it in a video bin," says Jonascu of ALIEN PRIVATE EYE. "It was like a buck ninety-nine. And I thought, 'You know, I should probably pick this up. It's part of my filmography, for better or worse.' And I didn't. I think that kind of says a lot of it. It was two bucks and I didn't want to shell out the cash for it."
Surprisingly, there is actually a "name" filmmaker who has an early credit in the movie: writer-director Scott Spiegel, who is well known in horror circles for his involvement in the Evil Dead and From Dusk Till Dawn series. Spiegel feels no embarrassment for his minor participation in this sub-sub-competent flick.
"You have to understand," he says. "When I came out here from Detroit, that was still kind of fun. That was cool. Someone was making movies. Let's do it."
In fact, Raedon releases occasionally catch a star on the way up or down. A pre-fame Campbell Scott (Singles, Roger Dodger) appears in AIN'T NO WAY BACK, a bizarre mishmash of Deliverance and Witness. And washed-up stars of yesteryear like Julie Newmar, Troy Donahue and Rory Calhoun each slummed in a Raedon film.
Fortunately, all things -- even the indescribably horrid -- must end. The '80s video boom became the video glut of 1990.
"It was the last time with all those crappy movies being sold, when people were actually buying that stuff," says Lang. "The '80s were an incredible time for that, with the ravenous need for video product. But it got so glutted that by 1990 it just completely collapsed. The floor was like a trap door."
"Buyers were looking for better product, higher quality product," continues Lang. "I think that killed Raedon too. The video store owners had had enough of all this crap. I mean, it worked for a few years, but I think there was just too much of it."
So what lessons were learned? Maybe few. Lang, Hallenbeck and Jonascu say they see a present-day parallel to home video's legitimization of 16mm hack filmmaking of the late '80s.
"A lot of people dove in at that point," says Jonascu. "And I think the thing that is most like that now is that DV has gotten so good that you're starting to see a lot of the same thing happening again."
As for final thoughts on the phenomenon of the '80s video boom, Lang says it most succinctly: "Raedon caught the wave. And then the wave left them. It left everybody."
But Spiegel has the best understanding of the route the era's low-budget filmmaking should have taken.
"Some of that product is so bad, it should have gone direct to audio."
Malloy's article originally appeared in FLAUNT magazine Issue 66 and is re-printed here by arrangement with the author. Malloy is a widely published film journalist and cinema book author, whose work has appeared on Slate.com, FILMFAX, CULT MOVIES, ENTERTAINMENT TODAY, SHOCK CINEMA, STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR and VIDEO WATCHDOG. He wrote LEE VAN CLEEF, the biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef, for McFarland & Company as a 19-year old, and he is currently engaged in writing MOVIE TOUGH GUYS OF THE 1970s: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA.
To view what is probably the biggest collection of Raedon cover art in one place, click HERE. Just don't blame me if you go deaf and blind.
REGAL VIDEO, INC. - Not much is known about this New York City-based label (Rumor has it that is was started by two furniture business owners), but they are notorious for many reasons, including the legality of their releases, the crappy transfer quality of the films and the garish artwork on their clamshell cases during their short run in the mid-80's. They are most famous for unleashing THE REVENGE OF DOCTOR X, a film that no one can really agree about except that it stars James Craig and bears the credits for THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND. Some sources state that it is actually a 1970 film titled THE DOUBLE GARDEN (a.k.a. THE VENUS FLYTRAP) directed by Kenneth G. Crane and written by Ed Wood Jr., while other sources list it as a 1966 production titled BODY OF THE PREY, directed and written by Norman Thompson (as "Earl Norman"). Until a proper print of this film is found bearing the true credits, we just have to revel in its awfulness sans knowing the truth. Regal Video also unleased BLOOD FREAK for the first time on VHS, as well as THREE ON A MEATHOOK, THE DEVIL MASTER (a.k.a. THE DEMON LOVER), NIGHTMARE CIRCUS (a.k.a. BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD), DEATH WISH CLUB and various other horror and martial arts titles before going out of business and selling their library to budget label Video Treasures. One thing was for sure: Whoever did the artwork on their video boxes was obsessed with blonde-haired women and used them unsparingly on the covers, whether they had anything to do with the film or not. One of the true standouts on video shelves during the 80's, but not always for good reasons. Most Regal tapes are highly collectable today. Click HERE to see a sample of their VHS covers.
REPUBLIC PICTURES HOME VIDEO - First, a little history lesson. Republic Pictures was founded in 1935 by Herbert J. Yates and, during it's early years, produced numerous small B-Westerns (making stars out of John Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the process) and serials (i.e. THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL - 1941). Eventually, Republic Pictures would make A-list films like THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949) and THE QUIET MAN (1952), but Yates always kept his hands in the B-movie field, churning out small films in every genre (they were also the first studio to offer their film library to TV in 1951). As the 50's were coming to a close and the demand for small films was waning (thanks to TV), Republic Pictures closed up shop in 1959. In 1962, Republic sold it's film library to National Telefilms Associates (NTA) and, in the early 80's, NTA began releasing Republic Pictures' films on VHS. NTA would eventually buy the right to the Republic Pictures name and logo in 1986 and release films under the Republic Picture Home Video banner. A mixture of old films (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS - 1956; MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS - 1959; CASTLE OF EVIL - 1966) and new productions (SCARED STIFF - 1987; DEAD MAN WALKING - 1987; NIGHT OF THE DEMONS - 1988; PLAYROOM - 1989: CTHULHU MANSION - 1990), Republic Pictures Home Video would release hundreds of genre titles, many of them Canadian tax shelter films like the SCANNERS and AMITYVILLE series, independent horror films like THE BOOGENS (1981), SOCIETY (1989) MAD AT THE MOON (1992) and NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1995), actioners like MISSION OF JUSTICE (1992) and DIGITAL MAN (1994), and just plain weird films like NIGHTMARE AT NOON (1987) and INVISIBLE MANIAC (1990), until closing up shop in 1995, shortly after being bought by late TV producer Aaron Spelling. Lionsgate Entertainment (who else?) now owns the majority of the Republic Pictures theatrical film library. To see a good selection of Republic Pictures Home Video and NTA VHS video covers, click HERE.
SIMITAR ENTERTAINMENT - This is what I want you to do immediately after reading this paragraph: Go to the Simitar Entertainment page and memorize all the covers you see there. After you have done so, never, EVER purchase any of them, even if you can get them for free. They are the worst of the worst. No, not the films. Some of them are pretty good. I'm talking about the transfers. Most of them were recorded in the EP speed and have the worst tracking problems in VCR history. Most of Simitar's tapes are unwatchable and seem to have been mass-produced to make the buyer extremely angry. I should know. I own a good chunk of them. Simitar was in existence from 1984 to 2000. While the majority of their releases were sports, children's and outdoor documentaries, they did release some films aimed at the horror film lover. Unfortunately, once you brought the tape home you usually ended up cursing at your VCR, screaming "Why are you doing this to me?" at the top of your lungs, thinking that your VCR was the offending party. Well, we know better now. I was the recipient a few years ago of aquiring the majority of a small video store's inventory and about 50 of the tapes were from Simitar. After playing them all in four different VCRs, only one of them played correctly throughout. That film was Jeff Hathcock's VICTIMS, and since it was the only Simitar tape recorded in the SP mode, I'm not surprised. The only trouble was the print they used looked like a third generation dupe and was nearly unwatchable anyway. So, heed my advice and stay away from these releases. A lot of people try to pawn them off on eBay for outrageous prices. Ask questions and demand to see the cover before you buy. Here's another little tidbit about Simitar: In 1999, the World Wrestling Federation sued Simitar for trademark infringement for selling a CD of music titled WWF-THE MUSIC, VOL. 3 and won. This led to Simitar's downfall in 2000 when they declared bankrupcy. The owners then went to Brentwood Communications, Inc. (BCI) and started a DVD division. Everyone knows the troubles that ensued with the quality of the early BCI releases. Some of them would skip in various players and I have one that died during the final 30 minutes of MESSIAH OF EVIL. Simitar was also the first independent distributor to release their films to DVD (in 1997), but they were just as hinky as their VHS releases. To see a collection of Simitar Entertainment VHS covers, click HERE. Just remember that this is a cautionary tale and the images are posted for informational purposes and are in no way endorsed by me.
THORN EMI/THORN EMI HBO/HBO CANNON/HBO VIDEO - Thorn EMI has the distinction of being the second oldest video company in the United States (Magnetic Video, which would eventually evolve into CBS/Fox Video, is the first), beginning operations in 1977 and, after going through several name changes, still surviving today. The Thorn EMI name lasted from 1977 to 1983, when it joined forces with cable giant HBO to form (what else?) Thorn EMI HBO Video. That name lasted until 1985, when Cannon Films bought the Thorn EMI film library and joined forces with HBO to form HBO Cannon Video. As Cannon was having financial trouble, it's partnership with HBO lasted two years and in 1987 the label was changed to HBO Video, which is still thriving today. In the beginning Thorn EMI released a lot of 70's and early 80's horror films, including THE PREY, GIRLS NITE OUT, ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA, Earl Owensby's WOLFMAN and A DAY OF JUDGMENT, DAWN OF THE MUMMY, THE DEADLY INTRUDER and the video premieres of Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD and James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR. Under the other various names the company took, they released the excellent NIGHT WARNING, XTRO, SPASMS, WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD, ENCOUNTER AT RAVEN'S GATE, ACT OF VENGEANCE (a.k.a. RAPE SQUAD), THE BURNING (the edited R-rated cut) and many others. Today, HBO Video releases include many of the cable giant's successful series and cable films, including THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD, SEX IN THE CITY, THE WIRE, GAME OF THRONES and others too numerous to mention. To see a selection of VHS covers from Thorn's various incantations, click HERE. And remember: It's not just video. It's HBO.
THRILLERVIDEO - When I made people aware that I was doing a visual tour of video companies of the 80's, I heard "Are you going to do ThrillerVideo?" more times than I care to remember. ThrillerVideo was a sub-label of Family Home Entertainment (which also ran the Monterey Home Video and U.S.A. Home Video labels) and was active for a short period, from 1983 - 1986. ThrillerVideo released most of their product in big colorful boxes and the majority of them were hosted by Elvira, who would do her schtick at the beginning of the film, interrupt it during the middle and the show up at the end of the flick to show trailers of coming ThrillerVideo attractions. Most of Elvira's hosting duties were on episodes of British TV's 1980 series HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR and ran less than 60 minutes each. Elvira didn't host ThrillerVideo's episodes of Britian's 70's series of 90 minute mystery films called THRILLER (shown on ABC's WIDE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT and WIDE WORLD OF MYSTERY at 11:30 PM during the mid-to-late-70's in the U.S.). Elvira also hosted the odd horror film, such as Fredric Hobb's strangely facinating ALABAMA'S GHOST (which really needs a DVD release), the ultimate badfilm NATAS: THE REFLECTION and Dan Curtis' TV adaption of THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. But, even Elvira had her standards. She refused to host five of ThrillerVideo's more extreme horror films, citing that hosting them would damage her credibility (!). Those films were: MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, NIGHTSTALKER (a.k.a. DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK), BURIED ALIVE, DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. and THE 7 DOORS OF DEATH. These five films in their big boxes command the most money on the collector's market of all the ThrillerVideo releases, mainly because they were uncut and they weren't interrupted by Elvira's sometimes cringe-inducing jokes and gags. To see a collection of ThrillerVideo's amazing big box artwork, click HERE. These artists need proper recognition.
TRANS WORLD ENTERTAINMENT (TWE) - Anyone who rented films or went to theaters in the 80's should be very familiar with TWE. They were a dominating force in the VHS rental market as well as a production and releasing company for theatrical films. While people were renting their horror, action and martial arts flicks in video stores, TWE was also distributing low-budget exploitation films to theaters. Titles such as PRAY FOR DEATH (1985), SWORD OF HEAVEN (1986), IRON WARRIOR (1986), COMMANDO SQUAD (1987), TWISTED NIGHTMARE (1987), RAGE OF HONOR (1987), I, MADMAN (1989) and others were seen on the big screen before their release to video (oddly, most of them were released by Media Home Video on VHS). Very few video distributors did this (I can only think of Vestron Video doing the same thing) and it eventually led to their downfall in 1991. Losses stemming from their theatrical arm bleeding money forced them to close-up shop, but their legend lives on, thanks to the durability of the VHS cassette. TWE released a lot of genre product including Horror (MONSTER DOG, REDNECK ZOMBIES, CURSE II:THE BITE), Exploitation (THE EMPEROR CALIGULA, GOD'S BLOODY ACRE, JAILBIRD ROCK), Action (CODE NAME: ZEBRA, THE TORMENTERS, BARE KNUCKLES) and a string of Martial Arts films (most of them with the word "Ninja" somewhere in the title). Much of the TWE library is still unavailable on DVD and, thanks to eBay, can still be purchased for a song on VHS. For all of you that have thrown away your VCRs: Shame, shame, shame! To see a huge collection of TWE VHS cover artwork, click HERE. Having a broadband connection will really help you as the page is huge and will take a long time to load with a dial-up connection.
UNICORN VIDEO - A video company very close to my heart. The very first big clamshell tape I bought was Unicorn's release of GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE. I just love the cover showing Michael Pataki peeling off his old skin, revealing a younger version underneath. During the mid-80's to the mid-90's, Unicorn Video released many of their films in oversized clamshell cases, usually with original, garish artwork which would immediately draw you to in when perusing the video store shelves. Unicorn premiered many horror films on video, including THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, THE SPECTRE OF EDGAR ALLAN POE (alas, only in an edited TV print), FURY OF THE WOLFMAN, WITCHES MOUNTAIN and SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES. Unicorn was also a major supplier of Martial Arts films (LITTLE BIG MASTER, the scratch-your-head DEADLY DARLING), Spaghetti Westerns (DEAD FOR A DOLLAR; STRANGER IN PASO BRAVO), Fred Williamson Po' Boy Productions (DEATH JOURNEY; MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS; NO WAY BACK) and 70's Action films (THE BLACK SIX; BLACK GESTAPO; LADY STREET FIGHTER). Unicorn also released some rare films to the market, including WARLOCK MOON (still the most complete, and highly sought-after, version available as the Shriek Show DVD is missing almost 11 minutes of footage), SAVAGE INTRUDER (about as rare as a VHS tape can be), Larry Buchanan's BEYOND THE DOORS and Jack M. Sell's THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN. Later releases by Unicorn ditched the clamshell cases for regular cardboard cases. To see a collection of Unicorn Video VHS cover art, click HERE. An essential video distributor of the 80's, Unicorn will alway supply happy memories for those of us lucky enough to remember renting their tapes from video stores.
UNITED HOME VIDEO/VCI HOME VIDEO - These are two related companies that should be important to every serious video collector, even if for different reasons. VCI Home Video (which is still in business today) was a very early player in the VHS market and released some very choice titles in the early days of home video. The old VCI cardboard slipcases were rather drab, with a gray and black border (with epaulets on the bottom) with the film's poster artwork in the middle. But, some of the titles were desirable (even today): SWAP MEET, SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT, NAKED PARADISE, LEGEND OF THE WOLF WOMAN and many others were released in the late 70's and early 80's, many commanding big bucks on the collector's market today. United Home Video, on the other hand, had the claim of releasing the first SOV made-for-home video film (a claim that I find suspect) in 1985. That film would be BLOOD CULT and it was a smash hit, causing nearly every video distributor to try their hand at producing and releasing cheap SOV films. BLOOD CULT was so big that a sequel was made (the slightly-better REVENGE) the next year and they also made THE RIPPER starring Tom Savini. United released a lot of their early films in colorful clamshell cases, but later began releasing films in standard cardboard slipcases before disappearing in the early 90's. During the 80's, it was nearly impossible not to rent a horror film that wasn't released by United or VCI, especially some of the rarer titles (at the time). ASYLUM OF SATAN, INVASION OF THE GIRL SNATCHERS, SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS, MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS, COPPERHEAD and NIGHT OF THE BLOODY TRANSPLANT were just some of the rare titles distributed by United and VCI. They were a driving force in the formative years of video distribution and should get a pat on the back for keeping us entertained for years. To see a huge collection of United and VCI video box artwork, click HERE. I really feel sorry for kids today. They don't know what they missed.
U.S.A. HOME VIDEO - Another 80's big box company that specialized in exploitation films and 70's & 80's TV movies. Started in 1984, U.S.A. Home Video began releasing 70's exploitation and horror films like RATTLERS and EMBRYO and TV movies such as TARANTULAS THE DEADLY CARGO, ANTS and DYING ROOM ONLY. U.S.A. Home Video came into prominence when they released the controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT on VHS a short time after it's theatrical release. They were one of the first companies to offer a film in it's original unedited version, as they did with SNDT, which was shown in theaters in an R-rated edit. They also gave fans of 70's TV horror movies a lot to cheer about, releasing DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, BAD RONALD, THE SAVAGE BEES and THE STRANGER WITHIN on VHS (they are all highly sought-after collector's items now). U.S.A. began branching out in it's scope of films, opening a sub-division for family films (called Family Home Entertainment) and a label called "Sybil Danning's Adventure Video", a roster of 24 films and TV shows where Sybil Danning (in an act stolen from Elvira) would come on screen before and after a film, usually dressed in some low-cut outfit, and crack wise about the film that was about to be shown. Some of those films included THE "HUMAN" FACTOR, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON, RUSH, NINJA WARRIORS, and A MAN CALLED RAGE, with some episodes of the TV series THE SAINT and SPACE: 1999 thrown in. The majority of U.S.A.'s later output was 70's & 80's TV drama movies and docudramas, although some theatrical gems would leak through, such as IN THE SHADOW OF KILIMANJARO, STUNT ROCK and EYE OF THE TIGER. Just like most 80's video companies, when the decade came to an end, so did they. U.S.A. Home Video morphed into LIVE Entertainment, which morphed into I.V.E., which then became part of Artisan Entertainment, which then became the juggernaut that is now known as Lionsgate. To see a selection of U.S.A. Home Video VHS cover art, click HERE.
VESTRON VIDEO - This is the single-most important video distribution company in VHS history. Vestron Video, a Norfolk, Connecticut-based company, released over 3,000 (!) films and specials on VHS during the years of 1983 - 1995. They started out releasing mainly B-Movies and gradually began releasing more-popular theatrical films on VHS until major studios wised-up and recognized that there was a profit to be had in distributing videos, which eventually led to Vestron's downfall. Their visibility was just not in the U.S., as Vestron formed an international division (called Vestron International), and released films on VHS to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Later, Vestron formed a theatrical distribution arm (called Vestron Pictures) and had a monster hit with DIRTY DANCING (1987), which also spawned a Number 1 soundtrack album and Broadway musical. Vestron (which many scholars believe made renting an everyday habit) was also an early adopter of Laserdisc and released many of their films in that format. I own a huge amount Vestron releases, as many collectors do, for the simple reason that it was the only way back then to see a lot of rare and obscure films. Vestron had so many films in it's roster that it formed a sublabel, called Lightning Video, to release some of their more exploitative titles (although Vestron was not above releasing titles like BLOODSUCKING FREAKS and BLOOD DINER under their flagship banner). To list all of Vestron releases during their tenure would be quite a daunting task as they unleashed titles such as HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, PIECES, SQUIRM, THE RETRIEVERS, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, DOLLS, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and many, many others for the first time on VHS to a thankful audience looking for something different. If I have one complaint about Vestron, it is that the glue the used to apply the label to the face of the VHS tape would eventually dry-up, leading to the label falling off (this has happened to nearly every Vestron tape I own!). In 1995, LIVE Entertainment (later called Artisan Entertainment and eventually being swallowed by the Lions Gate Entertainment juggernaut) acquired the entire Vestron catalogue, thereby ending the biggest VHS dynasty in rental history. To see but a small sampling of Vestron's extensive library, click HERE. We shall never see the likes of them again. NOTE: Lionsgate now has a collection of Blu-Rays called "Vestron Video Collector's Series", which are old Vestron titles remastered into High Definition and in their original aspect ratio (OAR). Their first titles are a double feature Blu-Ray of the Unrated Edition of WAXWORK (1988) and WAXWORK 2: LOST IN TIME (1991); Blus of BLOOD DINER (1987); CHOPPING MALL (1986) and others. All titles have an amazing amount of new special features and the films look fantastic. Finally, Lionsgate does something right.
VIDAMERICA,INC. - This independent video distributor existed from 1980 till 1992. In those twelve years, it manages to satisfy nearly every type of film lover. VidAmerica originally licensed hundreds of films from the RKO library, including a lot of films from the 30's, 40's & 50's, including the Astaire and Rogers musical TOP HAT, Alfred Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN and SUSPICION, Charles Laughton's version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and Howard Hawk's THE THING, all on video for the first time. Along the way, VidAmerica dabbled in many sublabels which distributed children's videos ("Forever Fairytales"), animation series (SPEED RACER, FELIX THE CAT, THE MIGHTY HERCULES), Australian films ("Koala Family Kollection"), sport documentaries ("Boxing's Best"), self-help and medical tapes. The sublabel that would interest readers of this site most is probably their buyer-affordable "World's Worst Videos" line of obscure (at the time) and just-plain weird films. The Worlds Worst Video roster included Al Adamson's BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR, HOSPITAL OF TERROR, BLAZING STEWARDESSES, HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, the Paul Naschy-starrer HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, Jorge Grau's VIOLENT BLOODBATH and HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, a chapter of the "Blind Dead" series of films by Armando De Ossorio. Unfortunately, most of these films were the edited TV prints, missing most of the blood and nudity. It didn't matter to most buyers because it was the first time these films were available anywhere in any form (I personally own six of them!). VidAmerica also unleashed the unedited versions of Meir Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (and his lame sophomore effort DON'T MESS WITH MY SISTER!), Herk Harvey's CARNIVAL OF SOULS and William Grefe's STANLEY (still the only unedited version out there). Other notable VidAmerica releases include THE UNSEEN (still one of my favorites), DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, BEYOND DREAM'S DOOR, CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and HUMAN EXPERIMENTS, most on video for the first time. To see a collection of VidAmerica VHS cover art, click HERE. VidAmerica was a driving influence for independent distributors in the 80's and we would be all the poorer video renters if it didn't exist.
VIDEO GEMS - This is the champion of the 70's exploitation film on VHS. Video Gems released most of their tapes in big boxes or huge clamshells (with non-removable artwork printed directly on the plastic case). Their roster of 70's films spanned many genres, from Horror (THE SEVERED ARM [still the only uncut version available in the market], LOVE ME DEADLY [which everyone should see at least once]), Thrillers (THE NEXT VICTIM, Duke Mitchell's THE EXECUTIONER), Martial Arts (THE JAPANESE CONNECTION, JAWS OF THE DRAGON), Westerns (RED SUN, CAIN'S CUTTHROATS), Comedy (SEX WITH A SMILE, BOOB TUBE) and Drama (THE BITCH, BLACK STARLET). Video Gems always seemed to have the films nobody else was able to get, including such titles as Charles Nizet's (HELP ME I'M) POSSESSED, the weird and wonderful MESSIAH OF EVIL, the just plain awful but entertaining OCTAMAN, Paul Leder's I DISMEMBER MAMA and Joe D'Amato's BLACK COBRA. They also released a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns on tape, many for the first time, with titles such as HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND, MASSACRE AT FORT HOLMAN and A TOWN CALLED HELL. Video Gems also released some rare 60's horror films, including THE CRAWLING HAND, THE SLIME PEOPLE and THE HUMAN VAPOR. Video Gems was a favorite of mine during the 80's, due to their varied choice of product and their classy, off-kilter packaging. Many Video Gems releases are considered collectable today. There's a reason for that. They geniunely cared about what they released. To see a collection of Video Gems VHS artwork, click HERE. Gone but not forgotten.
VIDMARK ENTERTAINMENT - This distributor, which began releasing genre films for the rental market in 1984, was one of the longest-lasting video companies in the United States. Releasing films such as Lamberto Bava's disasterpiece DEVIL FISH, John Russo's MIDNIGHT, Lucio Fulci's NEW YORK RIPPER and, my personal favorite, BLOOD STALKERS, to the rental market, Vidmark would soon come into their own, releasing such bloody fare like DEMONWARP, NIGHTWISH and Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE. What made Vidmark stand out amongst the pack was their willingness to release the films in both R-rated and Unrated cuts, giving the viewer the option of picking out their choice of versions (why anyone would want the R-rated cut of any film, when the Unrated cut is available, is still beyond my comprehension as they now flood eBay for unsuspecting bidders to buy). Vidmark distributed very few theatrical releases (relying more on low-budget horror and action titles), but they did release some strange ones on VHS, such as BORN OF FIRE, CRONOS and Peter Greenaway's THE COOK,THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER. During the 90's Vidmark began releasing a crapload of DTV (CYBORG COP, PROTOTYPE X29A, CLASS OF 1999 II, THE MADDENING) and MFTV films (THE PRESENCE, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY, LAST LIGHT) as well as the LEPRECHAUN and WARLOCK franchises. Vidmark would cease to distribute films in 1997 as it's parent company, Trimark Pictures (originally a theatrical production arm), would take over distribution of films on VHS, laserdisc and DVD before being devoured by the corporate takeover giant we know (and love?) as Lions Gate Entertainment. To see a nice cross-section of Vidmark VHS covers, click HERE. They were a true champion of low-budget filmmaking.
VIRGIN VISION/M.C.E.G. VIRGIN - This label was founded by Virgin Music billionaire Richard Branson in 1984 at first as an outlet to release concert and music videos by Virgin artists like Depeche Mode, UB40, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and many others. Gradually, Virgin Vision began releasing films to the rental market, at first little-known Australian films such as the slasher mystery NEXT OF KIN (1982), the chase thriller DEAD EASY (1982) and the road film BACKLASH (1985). Gradually, they began releasing other genre films like PROM NIGHT and the first sequel HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II, HOUSE OF DEATH, MADHOUSE, DANCE OF THE DAMNED, DESTROYER and THE BANKER, just to mention a few. They also caused a minor uproar by releasing the controversial film A CERTAIN SACRIFICE, a late 70's unfinished film whose main claim to fame was a role by a young Madonna (billed here as Madonna Louise Ciccone). Madonna unsuccessfully tried to block it's release, which made this film even more desirable to the viewing public. It was quickly forgotten, however, because it was a piece of 8mm rubbish and had no redeeming qualities at all. Virgin Vision went on to release some well-known theatrical releases on home video, including MYSTIC PIZZA (which made Julia Roberts a star, godammit!), the Anthony Perkins-starrer EDGE OF SANITY, Whitley Strieber's COMMUNION and HEART OF MIDNIGHT. In 1989, producer Jonathan Krane's (FACE/OFF, PRIMARY COLORS) company, Management Company Entertainment Group (M.C.E.G., who had a sublabel called Forum Home Video), bought Virgin Vision from Branson for $83 million and formed M.C.E.G. Virgin. They released films, such as NIGHT OF THE WILDING, on video for a couple of years more before going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, their library at first bought by Orion Pictures and finally settling at MGM. To see a selection of Virgin Vision/M.C.E.G. Virgin VHS covers, click HERE. They may not have been as prolific as some of the other 80's distributors, but they did release some good films for the movie lover.
WIZARD VIDEO - This is the label that I love the most mainly because of their lurid cover artwork and their big boxes that stuck out on the video shelves from all the other VHS product. Wizard Video is one of the oldest labels to carry genre product. Wizard didn't start out issuing their films in big boxes. A lot of their earlier releases such as EQUINOX (later released by Wizard in a big box as THE BEAST), THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT and AUDITIONS were released in standard-sized cases and were rather bland. Once they changed to the big box format, renters stood up and took notice. The colorful artwork and inventive advertising made these oversized releases desirable to the collector. Wizard released a lot of European horror films that were, at the time, unknown by many people. Titles, such as Jess Franco's THE INVISIBLE DEAD, THE SCREAMING DEAD and DEMONIAC, the Paul Naschy-starrers CRIMSON and RETURN OF THE ZOMBIES, the Nazi-themed FRAULEIN DEVIL and HELL TRAIN, the Exorcist rip-off THE POSSESSOR and many others lined the video shelves for hungry renters to eat up. I wonder how many people became Jess Franco and Paul Naschy fans because of these releases? Wizard's biggest claim-to-fame were their direct-to-video releases like David DeCoteau's DREAMANIAC, Tim Kincaid's BREEDERS, MUTANT HUNT and ROBOT HOLOCAUST (which all proudly displayed "Too Gory For The Silver Screen" on the front of the box) and their in-house compilations FILMGORE, BEST OF SEX AND VIOLENCE and ZOMBIETHON (which were all basically short clips of their entire VHS catalogue), original product that made them stand out from the rest of the horror pack. My favorite Wizard big box cover has to be their release of THE HEADLESS EYES. The sight of an eyeball (with the optic nerves still attached) lying on the pavement next to a dead woman always makes me smile. Wizard Video's advertising campaign was so successful that the majority of horror film renters from the 80's probably remember them better than any other video company. Their brand was so memorable that Charles Band (who owned Wizard Video from the beginning) is now again using the logo for a cult subdivivion of Full Moon and is releasing some of his older films, including INTRUDER (1989), under the Wizard banner on DVD. It's companies like Wizard that made renting such a fun game. Wizard also distributed films under the "Force Video" banner. To see an extensive collection of Wizard Video artwork, click HERE. Barf bags not included.
During the video boom of the 80's, companies popped-up offering affordable tapes (usually $14.99 or lower) of films of all genres. Some companies got it right but most did it wrong, offering unwatchable fuzzy dupes that rolled, fluttered and never tracked correctly. Below are the major budget labels that were in nearly every retail store, supermarket, car wash, outhouse and whorehouse. You know you own some. We all do.
GOODTIMES HOME VIDEO - Here is a budget company that at least attempted to do it right. Foregoing the normal EP mode of most budget labels, Goodtimes (founded in 1984 and still going strong today) opted to release their tapes in the LP mode, far superior to EP, but not quite as good as SP. Started by the colorful Cayre brothers, Syrian immigrants whose father was a souvenir salesman in Miami Beach, they decided to go into the budget VHS business after selling their profitable music label, SalSoul Records. Starting with 25 public domain titles and a contract with WalMart, the Cayne brothers sold 3 million dollars worth of tapes in the first year and turned Goodtimes into a major budget label, selling films of all genres, Richard Simmon's Sweating To The Oldies exercise tapes, animated videos to compete with Walt Disney (who sued Goodtimes for trademark infringement and lost!) and now they release mainly Christian-themed DVDs. Some of the early VHS covers look as if they were drawn by a 12 year-old with palsy. Click on the Goodtimes link to see a good amount of their early (and some later) VHS releases.
INTERGLOBAL HOME VIDEO - Canadian budget label that crossed the U.S. border and flooded the market with affordable EP and LP (and the occasional SP) mode films. Their roster was quite ecclectic and they seemed to have the exclusive rights to many of the films. They released budget versions of action films (JAGUAR LIVES; COP IN BLUE JEANS), horror films (CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD; LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF), thrillers (BLUE BLOOD; THE GRAVEYARD) and the just plain weird (LONG WEEKEND; GHOSTS THAT STILL WALK). While most of their tranfers were good for a budget label, Interglobal had the nasty habit of having the tape end before the film did, leaving the viewer to wonder how a film ended. This happened to me on at least three of Interglobal tapes; their version of LONG WEEKEND being cut-off at the 75 minute mark. I went back and exchanged the tape, but each one cut off at the same point in the film. It took me over three years to see a complete version of WEEKEND, as eBay didn't exist and the film wasn't available anywhere else. We are spoiled today. The 80's didn't offer us anything but refunds.
RHINO HOME VIDEO - Before Something Weird Video rotted our little minds with unknown exploitation films and weird comp tapes, we had Rhino Home Video in the 80's doing the same thing. Rhino released all those little 50's & 60's horror ond JD titles that most other companies didn't carry. And most of them were released in the superior SP mode for not much more than their inferior EP mode competitors. Rhino was also king of the weird comp tapes, releasing titles (many in conjunction with Johnny Legend) with names like SLEAZEMANIA, WEIRD CARTOONS, DOPE MANIA and RHINO'S GUIDE TO SAFE SEX as well as 50's JD films under the banner "Teenage Theater", hosted by Mamie Van Doren. As the 80's came to a close, Rhino released a bunch of tapes under the "Midnight Madness" banner, a group of 50's and 60's horror films hosted by Elvira (who had just recently stopped hosting duties on ThrillerVideo's line of horror films). Fans began voicing their complaints about Elvira's schtick interrupting the films and Rhino relented, having her only at the beginning and end of the films. These video boxes had a round green sticker slapped on them that said "Uncut. Uninterrupted." and the fans were happy once again. During the 90's, Rhino released selected episodes the Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV series on tape (and later on DVD) and were very successful. Rhino is still thriving today, releasing DVDs of their catalogue as well as esoteric episodic TV (THE FAR-OUT SPACE NUTS and other Sid & Marty Krofft 70's Saturday morning TV). Rhino was the king of exploitation during much of the 80's and I, for one, will be always grateful.
STAR CLASSICS - One of the most prevalent EP-mode budget labels and one of the worst in terms of quality which made it all the worse for the buyer because they had some pretty rare titles on their roster. Trans World Entertainment licensed many of their films for Star Classics to release in budget versions, including WHITE FIRE, EVIL TOWN, DEVIL'S DYNAMITE and many others. Star Classics also released many 70's & 80's horror films, including DREAM NO EVIL, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, ALIEN DEAD, THE NIGHTMARE NEVER ENDS, NIGHT OF HORROR, REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIE, BOARDING HOUSE, CRAZE, MOVIE HOUSE MASSACRE and many more. The only problen was that you played Russian roulette with every purchase. Nine times out of ten, the VHS cassette was defective. Either it wouldn't track correctly or the print was so washed-out that it would be unwatchable. Still, some of their covers were pretty decent and are considered collectable today for that fact alone. It still amazes me that people would spend upwards of $50 for a copy of Star Classics' version of the TV movies ANTS or GARGOYLES on eBay, though. Star Classics went out of business in 1991.
STARMAKER ENTERTAINMENT - Out of all the budget labels, Starmaker Entertainment was always the most visually recognizable. There's no mistaking a Starmaker video box as all their releases were framed by a yellow/orange or blue/white border on the front and back covers. They were also probably they best at EP duplication (using a process called "QEP") as most of their tapes had very little trouble maintaining their tracking in VHS players. Starmaker released nearly the entire New World Video catalogue as well as some Prism Entertainment titles in affordably-priced slipcases, some replicating the New World and Prism covers and some with new artwork (their cover for Lamberto Bava's DEMONS is one such case). Starmaker was absorbed by Anchor Bay Entertainment in the mid-90's.
UNITED AMERICAN VIDEO/GEMSTONE ENTERTAINMENT - Long-lasting independent distributor (1986 - 1998), who released a bunch of 60's & 70's horror films (I think every company in this Budget section has released a version of Roger Corman's THE TERROR, HORROR EXPRESS and 1971's PSYCHOMANIA) , martial arts flicks, westerns and cartoons, all in the public domain and all in the EP mode. In the 90's, they would release EP versions of 70's and 80's TV movies (THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE; A REAL AMERICAN HERO, etc.) and 70's & 80's horror flicks that fell into the "questionable" public domain category (CREEPOZOIDS; END OF THE WORLD and THE DAY TIME ENDED). Surprisingly, some of their later transfers were very good for EP, but their early releases (MANIA; JAWS OF DEATH) were washed out and barely watchable. Some of their artwork (check out the ones for DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and CURSE OF THE DEVIL) was so amateurish that it's become collectable to me for reasons I can't rightly understand.
VIDEO TREASURES - One of the better bugdet labels of the 80's to early 90's. Buying a Video Treasures tape was always a crapshoot, though. You never knew if you were getting an EP, LP or SP-mode tape because they released films in all three formats (I always tried to weigh them in my hands before buying, the heaviest being the LP or SP-recorded tape). Video Treasures always had the better horror films in the racks because most of them were licensed from Media Entertainment's library. Films like DEVIL TIMES FIVE, HELL NIGHT, HAUNTS, DON'T GO IN THE WOODS, INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS and many more were available to buyers for the first time, usually for under $10.00 each. Video Treasures also raided the mysterious Regal Video, Inc. vaults, releasing budget versions of the notorious Christian anti-drug film BLOOD FREAK and William Girdler's THREE ON A MEATHOOK. Later on, Video Treasure would join forces with Anchor Bay Entertainment, releasing remastered (and many times widescreen) versions of the popular horror films SPIDER BABY, ZOMBIE, HORROR HOTEL and many others until Anchor Bay absorbed them in 1996.
The following companies released product in the 80's, but didn't release a lot of films to make them as well-known as the others above. They did, however, carry enough genre films to satisfy inclusion in this visual tour.
ACTIVE HOME VIDEO - Released dozens of horror (DEATH CURSE OF TARTU), 70's TV Movies (STRIKE FORCE), risque sports shows (BUXOM BOXERS) and just plain weird flicks (SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS, PREMONITION) during its run from the mid-80's until the early 90's, usually in those oversized cardboard boxes with the flimsy plastic inserts.
AIR VIDEO - Short-lived California-based VHS company (AIR was short for Ariel International Releasing) that was known for releasing their films in oversized big boxes. Their titles ranged from horror (BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD; BOG) to thrillers (BEHIND THE CELLAR DOOR; SCHOOLGIRL KILLER) and most were exclusive to their company until they went out of business in the 1987. Most of their films are now available on DVD or Blu-ray.
ALL SEASONS ENTERTAINMENT - Distributor who released mainly Spanish genre films, including Paul Naschy horror films (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES) and early Jackie Chan Martial arts flicks (FEARLESS HYENA) in big boxes and later in regualr cardboard slipcases. Buyer Beware: The regular slipcase versions are of much poorer quality than the big box versions. All Seasons later licensed all their films to Congress Video for sale in the EP mode.
AMERICAN VIDEO - Independent distributor who released a few horror films (HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON, TIME WARP, CRAZE), but whose main claim to fame is releasing all three (official) ILSA films on VHS in uncut form.
ATLAS ENTERTAINMENT CORP. - Short-lived New Jersey-based distributor who released unknown Australian thrillers and equally unknown home-grown product such as Donald Farmer's VAMPIRE COP and the relentlessy bad BLOOD SYMBOL. They disappeared almost as fast as they began.
CAMP VIDEO - Independent label that released a couple of dozen bad films (on purpose) in the mid-to-late 80's and then disappeared, only to resurface in 2007 to release more 80's SOV horror films on DVD. Taste has no bounds. According to Kim Gibbs (who graciously submitted a lot of his scans for this section): "Camp Video was a sub-label for LA Video, an adult video company in the mid-eighties. Camp was to be their way of becoming respectable. They even had premieres for HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS in LA. The two owners were Jim Golff and Salvatore Richichi. According to Sal Richichi Jr. (who kindly emailed me with informative corrections), DEATH ROW DINER, EVIL SPAWN, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, and ROCK AND THE MONEY HUNGRY PARTY GIRLS were all Camp productions and not licensed product (as erroneously reported by Fred Olen Ray). Sal continues: "I was actually on set for some of them and used to play with the props (like the 'bug creature' maquette from EVIL SPAWN) in the Camp MP special FX department. I met most of the cast and crew as well. My father actually appears in DEATH ROW DINER and DEATH HOUSE (which is not listed on your page). Heh, I actually did have the original 'cleaver' prop on the GORE-MET ZOMBIE CHEF FROM HELL box up to a couple of years ago. I'm pretty sure my brother still has a ROCK AND THE MONEY HUNGRY PARTY GIRLS t-shirt. Unfortunately, between liquidation and about a dozen moves, we don't have much of that stuff around anymore." Thanks for that great info, Sal! NOTE: The new Camp Motion Picture label is in no way associated with the old label.
CITY LIGHTS HOME VIDEO - Before there was PM Entertainment, founders Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi released their earliest films on the City Lights label. See how they started......
GENESIS HOME VIDEO - Simply awful VHS company who were known to release the worst transfers on tape, even in the SP mode. Nearly every one of their tape releases were unwatchable but, unfortunately, they had some exclusives and were the only way to see those films back in the 80's (although a lot of titles they released were also in the Public Domain). Thankfully, most of their releases are now on better transfers on DVD, released by various companies. Now if someone would only release a decent disc of ETHAN (1964), I, and a lot of people, would be very happy.
MIDNIGHT VIDEO/SELECT-A-TAPE - Midnight Video (a sub-label for adult video label Wonderful World Of Video) only released eight big-box tapes before disappearing, but the eight films were eye-openers in their day. There were four Andy Milligan films (BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS; TORTURE DUNGEON; THE MAN WITH 2 HEADS; THE RATS ARE COMING THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE), three H.G. Lewis films (GRUESOME TWOSOME; WIZARD OF GORE; GORE GORE GIRLS) and one strange rarity (MICROWAVE MASSACRE). All these films demand big bucks today in the collectors market.
SHAPIRO GLICKENHAUS ENTERTAINMENT (SGE) - Label started by producer Leonard Shapiro and director James Glickenhaus to distribute low-budget action and horror films. Eventually taken over by MCA Universal in the early 90's.
SONY VIDEO SOFTWARE COMPANY (SVS) - While the majority of Sony's tapes were music videos from their vast catalogue of artists (A Flock Of Seagulls, Bon Jovi, David Bowie, Devo and many others), they also released a handful of interesting genre titles, mainly Austrailian thrillers (VICIOUS), homegrown horrors (HONEYMOON HORROR), DTV action (NIGHT WARS) and sex comedies (SUMMER JOB). Most of their genre titles have yet to obtain a DVD release, so look for them on VHS on eBay.
SOUTHGATE ENTERTAINMENT - An independent distributor that released mainly action and horror films. Noted for releasing uncut versions of Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH and Dario Argento's TERROR AT THE OPERA.
SUPER VIDEO - Early 80's distributor whose product seemed to be strictly Independent International releases of the 70's. All their films were released in those oversized clamshell cases with lurid artwork. Many of their releases would later turn up as part of VidAmerica's World's Worst Video line.
VCII INCORPORATED - Not to be confused with VCI Home Video, VCII was a Los Angeles, California-based distributor of every conceivable type of film from the early-80's to the early-90's (They are better known as the offshoot of porn label VCX). Some of their most notorious releases were the bigfoot gore film NIGHT OF THE DEMON and MARDI GRAS MASSACRE, both commanding big bucks on the collectors market, especially their big box editions (VCII would release their films in both big boxes and regular slipcases).
WORLD VIDEO PICTURES - Small company that released all their films in big clamshell cases. They seemed to specialize in Nick Phillip (aka: Nick Millard, Phillip Miller and Jan Anders) films (CRIMINALLY INSANE, SATAN'S BLACK WEDDING, .357 MAGNUM) and other bad 60's & 70's flicks including FLESH FEAST, Andy Milligan's BODY BENEATH and the God-awful early SOV sludge SLEDGEHAMMER.