Friday, December 12, 2008

Acrentropy's Guide to DVD Multi-Packs

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've become a big fan of DVD Multi-Packs. These are cheap DVD sets that have at least three or more movies in one set (or any number of classic TV show episodes). The films and episodes are usually in public domain or are just obscure titles that cost very little to procure the rights to. In other words, they are Dollar Store DVD's on a grander scale.

To some, this may not sound like an appealing package. Many of these titles are forgotten for a reason, and the transfers often leave a lot to be desired. But that's part of the diamond-in-the-rough pleasure of seeking these sets out.

As these kinds of sets have gained in popularity, more and more companies have entered the market. Even the big studios have been putting out relatively inexpensive two, three and four packs of films great and not-so-great. But when it comes to bang for your buck, it's best to go for the cheapies. Here's a rundown of the companies to look for:

(Reviewer's Note: I'm not testifying to transfer quality on these titles. Most of these companies do not do painstaking restoration efforts for such obscure films, so I assume that identical titles in different sets are relatively similar in appearance.)

Name: Mill Creek Entertainment
Number: 10, 20, 50, 100 and 250 packs.

Mill Creek is the BMOC when it comes to multi-packs. Though they only started selling them four years ago, their catalog has grown substantially in number, quality and variety since then. The packaging and discs themselves are first rate, and I own quite a few of them myself (including the four pictured above). I have found that one disadvantage of owning so many is that quite a few of the titles are repeated in different sets. But given the budget price you pay, it's a very minor complaint.

One of the most impressive aspects of Mill Creek is their web presence. The company website is easy to navigate and provides information on every single title in each set, including which of the different sets include said title (in case you want to avoid double dipping). Their latest innovation is their own YouTube channel, where they are posting clips of each film so that you can have a preview of the titles (and the quality of the transfer) before you buy. If you're a newbie to multi-packs, I highly recommend going with Mill Creek your first time out.

Name: Pendulum Pictures
Number: 6, 50 and 100 packs.

Pendulum Pictures is a new offshoot of Mill Creek that deals exclusively in very recent, low budget horror. Now as much as I love Mill Creek, I have to advise extreme caution to anyone tempted to purchase one of these sets. There is a big difference between low budget camp of yesteryear and painfully horrid acting of the here and now. Most of these are from young, amateur filmmakers who have the budget for a digital camera, buckets of fake blood and that's about it. The diamond-in-the-rough theory applies to these films as well, but the slogging may be more pain than most people will be willing to endure (just ask Nathan Shumate).

Name: St. Clair Entertainment
Number: Anywhere between 8 and 13, mostly.

Even more so than Mill Creek, St. Clair has been one of the most pervasive companies putting out multi-packs in stores. They also have a uniform (if cartoony) appearance with a colored stripe on top and a numeral that announces the number of hours of entertainment per set. The titles they list are the same kind of public domain movies you see in other sets, but they do have a wide variety of themed packages to choose from (including a "Bible Time" set).

Recently, they have been experimenting with new packaging styles, but they don't seem to have decided on a specific one yet. In addition to the last two above, there is a third that is a very classy black & white look that I've recently seen on the shelves at BJ's. The titles are mostly the same, and one has to wonder if the different looks are there to fool customers into buying multiple sets with the same titles.

Name: BCI Eclipse (aka Brentwood aka Navarre)
Number: 4, 8 and 10.

BCI has been around for longer than Mill Creek and also has an impressive catalog of titles. My very first multi-pack was the "Galactica" Sci-Fi set (which I reviewed here) and it was what got me initially hooked. There's a lot of confusion as to what the company is called and who owns who (I have always called them Brentwood). And in terms of their website, it's the polar opposite of Mill Creek's in terms of accessibility. The interface makes it appear as a purely corporate, money making endeavor, which doesn't really jibe with the care that clearly has gone into making these sets over the years.

But recently, they have done a radical redesign with their products. "Eight" is now the magic number and the films aren't as obscure as they used to be. Now they're putting down money for film titles that are very familiar to anyone who browsed video stores in the eighties and nineties. Some crisp cover art and a clear listing of the enclosed titles (in the original font, no less) really have a professional sheen to them. Granted, many of the titles are on the level of Porkys, but there is no doubt an audience for these, and Brentwood is producing a quality package.

Name: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Number: Completely random.

In terms of number, Echo Bridge is one of the few companies that dare venture into Mill Creek's territory of packs larger than 20 films. Unfortunately, their numbers (and packaging) are all over the place, which makes customer loyalty a bit of a problem. Their lack of focus may be due to the fact that multi-packs appear to be only a small portion of their product line, as their website does not seem to have a separate section that lists them. However, they do seem to have some "adult" genres that other companies do not offer.

Name: Allegro Video
Number: 2, 4 and 10.

Allegro, like St. Clair, also seems to be experimenting with packaging styles. This includes one series that has a classy black & white background with the featured actor front and center and a clear list of the titles included. When you look at so many of these different packages with their jumbled and crowded cover art, such a professional presentation is a pleasant relief.

However, it must be said that one of these packages performs some misdirection that other companies such as Mill Creek are also guilty of. Nearly all of the companies that do multi-packs have a John Wayne package because there are a number of JW titles in the public domain. However, most of them feature cover art of an older Rio Bravo-era Wayne. In reality, with the exception of Mclintock!, all of the PD films are early B&W pre-Stagecoach films. It's still the Duke, but it's not quite the Duke we know and love. So be forewarned.

Name: Vintage Home Entertainment
Number: 3 and 6.

Vintage keeps it simple with their catalog: Either it's three movies on one disc or six movies on two discs. Such consistency and low numbers may also appeal to those who want to start small in dealing with multi-packs. Also, as I mentioned with John Wayne, be also wary of cheap Alfred Hitchcock packs. All of them contain fuzzy transfers of his British films before he came over to the states. Again, it's still the Hitch, but there's no James Stewart or Cary Grant to be found here.

Name: Viedoasia
Number: 6, 10 and 20.

Videoasia reaps most of their reward courtesy of Quentin Tarantino. All one has to do to see their inspiration is look at QT's last two films: Kill Bill and Death Proof. The result is a relishing of the Martial Arts and Grindhouse genres. Like the new Brentwood 8-movie sets, these are some slick packages that go the extra mile to procure titles that have not been done to death in this market. They are easily found in Best Buy and could be giving Mill Creek a run for their money with their cool veneer.

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