One of the things that the Canadian media world doesn’t regularly focus on is what makes its way to discount and liquidation stores like Giant Tiger, Wal-Mart, Zellers and Liquidation World. This is where the titles of yesteryear make their final stop on the way to obscurity. One might remember when current fixtures in the $4.99 aisle like Cardcaptor Sakura and Medabots were being marketed as the hot new trends of their day – which was barely three to four years ago, but trends have the average life span of an atom. Going the budget route is a good way to find Canadian series and cult titles without spending $24.95 on something that will obviously depreciate within the hour. Canadian companies enter the budget market with regularity, either by deleting unsold copies of their normal product or releasing prints of titles that everyone owns due to lapses in copyright. It’s the nature of the closeout.
There’s not a virtual hotbed of activity in the discount stores, of course. It’s hard to ascertain who actually buys those copies of Angela Anaconda. Still, there are at least thirteen Canadian companies out there that regularly enter the world of the Wal-Mart $6.99 bargain bins and/or specialty kiosks. For the next two weeks the kings of the markdown shall be run down. This article might appeal only to culture vultures, but there are a lot of them out there. One tends to find them amongst six copies of Billy Jack, ten copies of the final episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and a Superman cartoon compilation. Be aware of possible bootlegs.
VSC (Video Service Corp.)
Public domain company? Distributes some PD from companies like Retromedia
Niches: Canadian television series (Corner Gas, Kenny vs. Spenny, Puppets Who Kill); American television series (ALF, Westinghouse Studio One); sports (Legends of Hockey, Canada Cup 1976)
Overall level of quality control: Good. VSC should be commended for its dedication to Canadian television, but what usually ends up in the discount stores are titles from the early 2000s that don’t seem to have sold as much as they were expected to – Kids in the Hall: Same Guys, New Dresses, a Kevin Spencer three-episode disc, and VSC’s entire three-disc Westinghouse Studio One series. There are also some old Retromedia Entertainment titles that VSC once distributed, though films from Bill Rebane and Fred Olen Ray have distinctly limited appeal. No one’s expecting Corner Gas or more current VSC product to hit the discount stores any time soon, and VSC’s presence in such stores seems limited to a few titles. VSC does well for itself, though, and it’s not like the company saturates the discount market through sheer force of being like Madacy. VSC is a positive force in the discount stores, all told.
Media Movies and More
Public domain company? Yes
Niches: Foreign children’s films; public domain TV movies of mostly American origin
Overall level of quality control: Poor. Some Media Movies and More releases run only thirty minutes (the children’s films and/or cartoons), and MMM seems to be one of those companies that favours sheer quantity of product over quality. Considering MMM is a dollar DVD company, it’s asking too much to expect better picture and sound quality than usual from public domain prints, but sometimes MMM doesn’t even try. Aside from the obscure animation titles, Media Movies and More is a typical dollar DVD company in the vein of Brentwood and Front Row. MMM has saturated the American market with amazing frequency in recent months, so something must be working for the company. Stores that I’ve seen carry MMM product in and around my area sell the DVDs for at least twice what they’re actually worth.
Public domain company? Yes
Niches: Multipacks; releases some licensed product from companies like Wolper
Overall level of quality control: Poor. Madacy should be familiar to some as it was around during the home video craze of the 1980s. Madacy has never been too impressive as a company – the video quality of its DVDs has regularly been panned as worse than some VHS releases. Even if Madacy takes its transfers from VHS tapes, that does not make for a good reputation. Madacy seems to be the litmus test for public domain prints – if a company is worse than Madacy, it’s truly skimming the bottom of the barrel. Even if Madacy’s quality shot up a notch, it has been clogging up retail shelves with its public domain prints since the beginning of forever. Madacy’s presence on discount shelves is inescapable, but usually forgettable. I wonder how Madacy continues to exist.
Public domain company? Distributes some PD material
Niches: Releases some licensed product from companies like FUNimation (Dragonball-related series) and 4Kids Entertainment (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , Pokémon); has a line each of budget and rental DVDs (Vampires vs. Zombies, Enter Zombie King); distributor of children’s titles like Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, Franklin and Max & Ruby
Overall level of quality control: Good. The quality of individual titles varies from company to company as KaBOOM! distributes a job lot of stuff. If fifteen copies of Cardcaptors the Movie aren’t shifting, blame KaBOOM! The sheer amount of titles the company releases is evident every time one walks into a Canadian store and sees a wall of Rolie Polie Olie and First Look Home Entertainment titles. The way KaBOOM! has become so prevalent and yet kept a low profile during its ten-year existence is amazing, even if the company saturates some of its titles to an unhealthy degree (see: fifteen copies of Cardcaptors the Movie). Peace Arch Entertainment Group recently bought KaBOOM! for $8.5 million in January 2006, but that will hardly stop KaBOOM! titles from hitting budget bins and discount stores all across Canada.
Public domain company? No
Niches: Arthouse films (Punishment Park, Edvard Munch); cult films (Heavy Metal, Acción Mutante); one-time distributor of CBC Television product (Royal Canadian Air Farce)
Overall level of quality control: Good. Most Morningstar Entertainment titles that hit the budget DVD aisles aren’t relatively new, and seem to be mostly CBC Television releases from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Net Worth is constantly allied with a $4.99 sticker (which is a shame, since it’s one of the best telefilms CBC put out in the 1990s), and Air Farce year-end best-ofs still appear in the bins whole seasons after the sketches first aired. There’s some interesting stuff from Morningstar that might enter the budget realm in the near future – I like Peter Watkins, but the commercial appeal of his films has to be minimal at best. Morningstar used to be quite a force in the discount stores, but its presence has been overtaken by KaBOOM! and VSC.
VVS Films (VideoVille Showtime)
Public domain company? No
Niches: Indie films of questionable quality (Zombie Honeymoon, Scarecrow Slayer, Ankle Biters)
Overall level of quality control: Poor. VVS has become a joke in Canadian home entertainment circles because it distributes films like Scarecrow Slayer. VVS seems to distribute York Entertainment product for the Canadian market, which is never a good sign. VVS seems like a company on the level of a Genesis Home Video or Interglobal Video. In English, VVS just seems to put out whatever will sop up those rental and sales dollars in true exploitative style. I can’t comment on sound or picture quality with regards to VVS releases. When a thriller starring Nicole Eggert is considered a marquee title worthy of a two-page advertisement in one of its PDF newsletters, I don’t need to. A company like VVS regularly appears in the cutout bins as its product is mostly worthless.
Cascadia Entertainment/Family DVD/Disc Plaza Entertainment
Public domain company? Yes
Niches: PD films, essentially; has a black cinema line
Overall level of quality control: Fair. Cascadia/Family DVD/Disc Plaza (heretofore referred to as Cascadia) titles tend to have average-to-poor picture and sound quality, though as a PD company Cascadia is noted for its more obscure titles – DVDs of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday and Range Rider, for instance. It’s a double-edged sword. Cascadia is at least trying to be different than a lot of public domain companies, but the typical quality of its bargain DVDs doesn’t preclude decent prints for whatever reason. Other PD companies are more successful than Cascadia in finding good-quality prints, but Cascadia has made a name for itself by at least going for niches that other companies haven’t exploited. With dollar DVD one needs to take the good with the bad.
Next entry: Part II – Fishbone Productions, Guillotine Films, Maple Pictures, Séville Pictures, St. Clair Vision, Brandxtensions Marketing, and possibly more if you can stand itPowered by Sidelines