This month Alan goes on one of his rants. This time it's...
Things have certainly came a long way for us horror fans. I have fond mixed memories of the video boom of the eighties when video rental shops were popping up all over the place and a massive slew of unregulated tapes hit the shelves. A real horror fans delight, that was until the tabloid press and the government decided 'no more' and in 1984 banned the rental or sale of uncertified tapes. Not only did this mark the end of an era for horror fans but it also meant the closure of large numbers of video shops as they could not afford to replace entire stock with classified versions and countless jobs were lost.
Throughout the eighties and early nineties horror once again went underground. The quality product just wasn't coming out and when it did it was generally cut much to the disdain of horror fans. The underground horror fan then went into a long period of accessing their beloved genre 'under the counter'. The wealthier horror fan had the funds to purchase such extravagant delights as laserdisc players and were the envy of the 'man on the street' horror fan. But the laser owners knew a good thing also and many set about funding their collections by trading in video bootlegs of their discs. So that's how the horror fan got by, through the classifieds of such magazines as 'Samhain' and 'Darkside' buying dupes of the sought after horror delights or running the customs gauntlet by ordering videos from Holland and such the like.
Things took a dramatic change of events a few years ago when the DVD format hit the market. Always first to jump on any new media format the horror fan wasted no time in getting involved in this new and affordable system that in one swoop obliterated the elite nature of the laserdisc collector. The horror genre always has been an inexpensive one for distributors to market, and the horror collector has always been keen to chase down new variations of their beloved genre films.
Very quickly the market was flooded with hundreds of horror titles of varying quality and the british horror fan was reborn. The availability of multi-region DVD players was just as quickly available as the format itself and with the widespread use of the internet discs could now be easily picked up over the net (many of which were only ever previously viewed in third generation fuzzy video bootlegs).
We jump to now and a few years down the line things for the horror DVD fan are postively booming...or are they ? Are the fans being delivered the goods as far as the DVD product goes ? I wonder. The state of the market today is starting to get somewhat messy and it'll be the horror fan that suffers.
Sure there's plenty for us to sing from the rooftops about - dolby 5.1 mixes, anarmorphic widescreen, directors cuts et al. But what about the mass of niggling wee things that boil the blood just as easily...
Film prints - do many distributors really give a hoot about obtaining complete prints of films and then hey, making the effort to clean the print up, Digitally remastered - how many times have we seen that one on a box only to discover that what that means is that the image is no better than a VHS tape. The fact that they've put a film onto disc does not qualify it as digitally remastered.
Masking - now here's another great one that possibly the horror fan only has themself to blame for. Years of obsessive attitudes towards the widescreen format has led to many horror fans demand for all titles to available in this format. The thing is, this has lead to countless occasions of distributors masking films that were originally full screen format just to appease the horror fan. A perfect example of the absurdity of it all has to go to the US disc of 'Bride of the Re-Animator' with its optional black bar widescreen format.
The discs - now we all know that the DVD format is a lovely one, but only in the right hands. Respect for the consumer is often dropped for greedy attitudes from profiteering distributors looking to make the maximum quick buck. How many times have you oohed and aahed at the pin sharp orgasmic experience of showcase discs, but bizarrely find that most horror purchases really are no better than your VHS of old. But hey, they've got audio commentaries and trailers - sure, they're a nice touch, but who cares when the potential of the format and good mastering aren't being used.
So then there's regional coding. Not as much a problem these days with the availability of multi-region players. And for at least European collectors the fact that most players come Pal/Ntsc compatible is a godsend too. What is annoying though is the producers Pal/Ntsc attitudes, especially in the European market. The standard for Europe is the Pal system, the Pal image when mastered properly is gorgeous - clearer and sharper than Ntsc. So why on earth would a European producer press up a disc on Ntsc ? Why, for the money. I'm dead against the restrictions of regional coding but I'm also appalled at the greediness of EU discs being marketed initially for the US market. The horror fan once again losing out on the best quality product for the benefit of the profit margin.
DVD in the UK - generally the horror fan has been dealt the 'lazy' card from producers here in the UK. Shoddy VHS master transfers with the tragically hilarous opinion that the four chapter scene selection is an 'extra' (and the only one on the disc!). Who are they kidding ? Us I'm afraid. On the odd occassion we are very lucky from the rarely spotted quality producers like Pagan and Salvation, but they're sadly outnumbered by the lazy few that quite honestly don't seem to give a damn about the horror fan (Good day Vipco !) Horror fans are quick to back something, both vocally and with their hands in their pockets but the UK horror DVD scene doesn't have a chance if the producers don't get their act together. With the change of policy at the BBFC (film censors) it looks as though more uncut horror is on the way, which should be great news if it were not for the sad fact that these uncut titles will fall into the hands of an unscrupulous producer that will slap a full screen scratchy old VHS print on disc and charge £20 for it.
So why the rant you may be thinking ? Well, a lot of this stuff has been grumbling around the net forums for sometime now. I know also that many of the industry folk visit SGM and I thought it would be nice to poke a wee freindly finger in some ribs here. I'm not attacking those guilty of such lacklustre approachs to DVD, just pointing out some home truths that really do need to be addressed.
Show some respect for the horror fan and they'll loyally support you.