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Midnight DVD

28 Jun, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

So what really happened when Jesse James faced off against Frankenstein's daughter, anyway?

You've never heard of this grudge match? Well, then it's time you join a cult. Home video supplies cult opportunities galore, as so-called cult films on DVD become more prevalent in the marketplace each year, transferring from VHS or making their home video debuts.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, streeting July 29, is only one such title, part of Elite Entertainment's “Joe Bob Briggs Presents” series. Hosted by the king of ‘B'-movie knowledge, the series has Joe Bob introducing a title, then offering the option of a running commentary throughout.

“He is the guru of drive-in movies,” said Vini Balancari, president of Elite Entertainment. “This series is the kind of stuff you catch on the late, late show.

“Watching one of these movies through the eyes of Joe Bob is quite an experience. We got such a great response on our first title with him, I Spit on Your Grave. He's a wealth of information, a walking encyclopedia on cult.”

As it does with its other titles, Elite Entertainment will distribute the title exclusively through Image Entertainment for the first 90 days, then expand the release. The company also is preparing its third volume of “Drive-In Discs,” the series in which viewers are taken back to the drive-in movie days of yesteryear, complete with intermission, dancing hot-dog commercials and cartoon shorts. The disc offers the feature titles I Bury the Living and The Hand. A boxed set collection of the “Drive-In Discs” titles, featuring six titles, will also be available Aug. 5.

“With all the baby boomers who remember the drive-in days, that kind of entertainment is very popular,” Balancari said. “Their kids have no idea what it's all about, but when they see it they are blown away. That's how cult movies get passed down through the generations.”

As an added cult treat, Elite is streeting Syngenor Oct. 28. The title stars the late cult-hero actor David Gale.

Cult titles sometimes earn such status without ever enjoying a release. That's the case with Cannibal Rollerbabes, a campy cult film made by director-producer Kalman Szegvary several years ago. The film never saw the light of day, but was pirated heavily.

The title, about two buddies on a fishing trip who are accosted by scantily clad cannibal rollerbladers before one of them is kidnapped and taken to an island of flesh-eaters, has been remastered from the original 35mm print.

“We're doing something fun with this, making trading cards so you get a free trading card with each DVD,” Szegvary said. “It's kind of a neat, campy, cult thing for collectors. It's not the greatest film in the world, certainly, but pretty groovy, kind of a weird and wacky thing that I made at that time in my life.”

The dead-and-buried, winged serpents and other time-honored genres within the genre are also offered through Blue Underground, headed by Bill Lustig, the director of the cult film Maniac. Lustig worked for many years as a producer at Anchor Bay Entertainment, another home for beloved, well-established cult titles. Among many other juicy oddities, Blue Underground is preparing release of the limited-edition The Christopher Lee Boxed Set, starring the star of dozens of cult titles.

“I began acquiring rights to movies as a hobby, and then began restoring and sublicensing them,” Lustig said. “That hobby turned into a company with 300 titles. My company mission is guilty pleasures for adventurous movie fans, putting out movies for fun that are not that good for you.”

Must a cult title always employ blood, gore, zombies or flesh-eaters? Of course not. Some are high-minded science-fiction titles, old TV series, distinguished foreign films and whatever titles have earned a small but intensely loyal following. That following usually grows after the film or TV series debut. Often it will suffer though slow beginnings, maybe bad reviews, then begin notable climbs to fame after the entity earns huge word-of-mouth from dedicated followers.

A&E Home Video enjoys some of the more sophisticated cult titles, most of which earned good reviews and cultivated dedicated followers from the start, including “The Avengers,” “The Saint,” “Thunderbirds” and “Mr. Bean.”

“We spend a great deal of time and research acquiring cult franchises because our focus is on collectability,” said Kate Winn, director of A&E Home Video. “We're specifically looking for series with longevity, cache and strong fan bases, not novelty releases. It's our goal to bring quality programs to DVD so that fans can once again enjoy the good feelings they experienced when they originally watched a series like ‘The Avengers' or ‘Thunderbirds,' for example. Many of our most successful releases continue to resonate with consumers because they were landmark and trendsetting programs.”

Retail success for such titles arrives in a variety of ways.

“We have a range of customers across every channel of distribution, because we've discovered that fans of a respective series come from all walks of life, and they all shop in a variety of outlets,” Winn said. “It's our goal, and we've been quite successful in making our cult TV releases available wherever DVD collectors are shopping, and that's pretty across-the-board now -- traditional retail, big-box merchandisers, specialty stores and online.

“That reach has allowed us to market our cult releases to diverse communities looking for the best collectible programming.”

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