When I first thought about writing the FILMS GONE WILD column, one of the first ideas to write about was inspired by a couple DVDs that held uncomfortable spots in my library. The first was a combo DVD that paired Bob Balaban’s Grand Guignol ode to the Norman Rockwellian suburbia, PARENTS (1989) with a thriller titled FEAR (1990). I know what you’re thinking. And no, this wasn’t Marky Mark’s crazy-a*s boyfriend gets psycho possessive over young Reese Witherspoon FEAR. No, this was some movie starring Ally Sheedy as a psychic helping cops solve crimes kinda thing…uhmmm, FEAR.

But the DVD was a “Red Carpet Double Feature”. Yeah, not so much. Now, the frustrating thing for me is that my wife, Justina wanted PARENTS because she was just starting to work on a script that involved cannibalism and that was an obvious film to check out. But to get that film, you had to take it’s double date buddy, FEAR. No way around it, PARENTS couldn’t come out to play unless FEAR tagged along too.

The second DVD that drove me up the wall was another combo – this time pairing the American remake of THE VANISHING (1993) starring Jeff Bridges with the Keanu Reeves’ action spectacle about physics and stuff, CHAIN REACTION (1996). Once again, I only wanted THE VANISHING – this time because Justina was taking a criminology class about serial killer profiling and the film was recommended viewing for her. And yet again, if you wanted Jeff Bridges’ dubious tour-de-force, then you had to also take Keanu’s tour-de-chubby action guy in a down vest.

So here I had these irritating films in my sacred DVD library because they had hitched a ride with the films I HAD to have because of Justina.

But I love my wife. So there they were. Taunting me.

And it was even more maddening because the films had no obvious connection. PARENTS and FEAR? No obvious actor connections or theme or even genre! Why couldn’t they have put FEAR with another unfortunate Ally Sheedy movie like that big-a*s dog cautionary tale, MAN’S BEST FRIEND (1993) or better yet, her film AMNESIA (1996) which was appropriately titled since no one remembers that it was ever made. And PARENTS? Put it with another cannibal movie or a 50’s movie or a dark comedy – just something that made sense! And what about THE VANISHING and CHAIN REACTION? Was that from the “Out-of-shape Leading Men Collection”? Who came up with that?

Which brought me to the idea that ultimately disturbed me about this packaging of multiple films on one DVD – it devalued the idea of films or movies as something special. Now, I love a bargain as much as anyone, but I also see film as art. Or at the least, I see most films and movies as something that deserves an element of respect for the creative effort that was put into making them. Now, that definitely doesn’t apply across the board. There is a lot of stuff produced that is literally churned out without the slightest concept of lofty ideals, let alone original ideas. JACKASS movies, SCARY MOVIE-type parodies, Fill-in-the-leading-man next to Jennifer Aniston in a romantic romp….I’m looking at you. And while it doesn’t always have to be seen on a big screen (or even a decent flat screen television), there is still something about the idea of what a “film” represents to me that is completely disregarded with these DVD packages.

So today I went to Target to see what kind of bargains I could find…

Some collections made sense: A Touchstone Films trio included RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986), DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (1986) and OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE (1987). There were collections of all the SPY KIDS movies, the OCEANS 11 films, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the MATRIX films – all acceptable, all inclusive groupings and packaging. Then you would have troublesome theme groupings. An “International Spies” collection has the three Austin Powers movies and then….SPIES LIKE US (1985).  The “Ice Cube Collection” has the three FRIDAY movies with…ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS (2002). It’s always the fourth film that gets them. A “Romance Collection” has MUSIC AND LYRICS (2007), RUMOR HAS IT…(2005) and LUCKY YOU (2007). And then, SWEET NOVEMBER (2001). Apparently, because LUCKY YOU wasn’t quite enough to make you slit your wrists while pining over him. Or her.

Even the actor collections can have a tough time. With Clint Eastwood, you’re safe with four “Dirty Harry” films, but Bruce Willis scores you THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991), 16 BLOCKS (2006), LAST MAN STANDING (1996) and then…THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (2000). And as Sesame Street would sing, “One of these things is not like the others…”

However, even that was less embarrassing than some other collections like “Classic Westerns”  including THE OUTLAW (1943) which I’ll give a pass to due to Jane Russell’s iconic cleavage and Howard Hughes’ involvement, and ONE-EYED JACKS (1961) which I’d let skate by because of Brando. But I wouldn’t be happy about either. However, what about KANSAS PACIFIC (1953) and THE DEADLY COMPANIONS (1961)? Classics? I doubt that even Peckinpah would consider the latter to be a classic. He’d probably rather punch you instead. Or how about the “Vampire Collectors Set”? As in “I must own every film that had anything remotely to do with vampires collection” because I am a completion-ist bordering on insane collector. Titles include THE UNDEAD EXPRESS (1996) which is NOT the one with Tom Hanks, VAMPIRE WARS (2003) which should have been either an Asylum title or a History Channel special, NADJA (1994) notable for the fact it starred Galaxy Craze and Peter Fonda AND was apparently shot using one of those box contraptions you made in grade school to view a total eclipse with, and finally…THE CASE OF THE WHITECHAPEL VAMPIRE (2002) which I’m convinced was a “Goosebumps” episode.

But that’s Target. What might I find if I went to my local grocery store in search of the finest films on DVD? Well, I’ll tell you. If you are of the belief that every film actually only ever played on television for the enjoyment of your elder relatives or your children OR both then you are in luck! Because Hallmark Channel and Lifetime have both been kind enough to package their films for you so you can get quadruple doses of wholesome entertainment or women-in-peril dramas! Score!

But let’s face it, the people that “curate” the DVD selections for purchase at your grocery store (in this case Ralph’s in L.A.) know that there is one reason and one reason only you’re looking for a DVD in the frozen foods aisle – and that is to jam that thing in the player as soon as you get home to suck up as much time or distract your kids or annoying old people living under your roof for as long as humanly possible. Therefore, the DVD box covers scream out, “6 Hours of Family Adventure!” or “Over 8 Hours of Cowboy Legends!”

Otherwise, they’ll tempt you with the big, big, big epics MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS (2009) and MERLIN AND THE WAR OF THE DRAGONS (2008) or delightful family fare like THE IMPOSSIBLE ELEPHANT(2001) which I kid you not is apparently about a boy that gets an elephant he wishes for on a falling star, and OWD BOB (1997) which naturally is “a touching tale about family, friends…and dogs”. Oh sure, there may be a stray “safe” chestnut like THE INCREDIBLE MR.LIMPET (1964) with Don Knotts, or BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, but for the most part it will be a double feature with A LITTLE PRINCESS (1995) and THE SECRET GARDEN (1993) or top shelf animated fare like SURF’S UP (2007) and OPEN SEASON (2006). Otherwise, you’ll get TV specials and “movies” about Michael Jackson and Hitler. Though, mercifully, not packaged together. Yet.

We aren’t talking broccoli movies versus popcorn movies here. We’re talking moving and talking television screen wallpaper. These are the kinds of DVDs that you find in the game room/den scattered among the Playstation and Nintendo games or are ultimately used as drink coasters during the aftermath of weekend cookouts. Which is fine if you view films and movies as electronic babysitters, something to distract you in between making out with your date or something to watch when the cable goes out.

But if the words “art” or “legitimacy” enters the conversation, then that “bargain” will rarely actually be a bargain, despite the best efforts of the studios’ Home Entertainment departments to squeeze some more income out of their libraries.

Because I like my DVD library to have some integrity. Sorry, Ally and Keanu. Those suckers eventually got traded in.

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  1. Ford says:

    I thought I recognised “The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire”, and I was right: it’s a Sherlock Holmes story, in this case with a creakily slow pace and Matt Frewer completely off-key as the detective. One of a series, apparently.

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