|Theres something vaguely alarming about seeing DVDs sold in cardboard envelopes. It just seems like such a primitive container for such sophisticated data storage its like an iPod carved out of wood, or a laser-guided missile launched from a blowgun. When I first saw a bin full of discs in their gaudy little paper sleeves at a department store, I assumed they were a pile of greeting cards, not movies. Once I figured out what was inside those wafers of ink, cardstock and glue, I started buying them by the fistful. Why not? They cost less than two bucks each!
Most of the ultra-cheap DVDs out there are copies of public-domain films, which tend to be a little old and/or obscure. Theres tons of forgettable mundane stuff out there, but a dedicated scrounger can often find something incredibly bizarre. For instance:
· Maniac (1934) This movie was already batshit insane when it came out in the 30s and has just gotten crazier since. A mad scientist discovers a cure for death (!) but is immediately murdered by his equally mad assistant. The assistant then sticks on a fake beard and poses as the scientist, handing out shots of "super-adrenalin" to mental patients and resurrecting dead people willy-nilly. He eats a cats eyeball, then locks two women up in the basement and lets them fight it out with hypodermic needles. Title cards keep popping up, offering lengthy descriptions of mental illnesses, in order to give the film enough "educational" content to permit the filmmakers to show bare breasts onscreen without angering the Hays office. An utterly mindblowing experience.
After decades of limited availability, Maniac is popping up in cheap DVDs all over the place. You really owe it to yourself to see this one its the worst.
· Tom & Jerry Vol.1 (193?) How about some Tom & Jerry cartoons? No, not the cat and mouse duo the old black-and-white comedy duo from the 30s who have been completely forgotten. Id never even heard of these guys until I saw this dirt-cheap disc. This particular T & J team consists of two humans, one tall and one short, who run through a series of typical but peppy Laurel & Hardy-type animated adventures. Fans of wacky old Betty Boop cartoons will want to pick this up you wont find these toons anywhere else.
· The Shaolin Invincibles (1977) Imagine my surprise when I spotted this old favorite on DVD in a loonie store! If you like weird 70s kung fu movies where everybody can jump over houses, you cant miss this one. Its got Carter Wong (of Big Trouble in Little China fame), two Taoist fighters with giant tongues (!) and a pair of sword-proof kung fu gorillas (!!) who are clearly wearing sneakers. Hi-yaaaaa!
· Ninja Wars (1982) When Rogers Video got rid of its VHS section, I feared that Id never see this oddity again. Panicking, I rushed out and bought the expensive official DVD from Kadokawa films. Imagine my chagrin when I saw Ninja Wars included in some cheapo martial arts anthology DVD for a quarter of the price the following week. Oh well, its hard to be too bummed when youve just purchased a movie that includes lightsaber fingernails, two female characters who switch heads, Kill Bills Sonny Chiba and a mystical "Devil Monk" who can spray corrosive gunk from his mouth. Besides, by buying the official disc, Im supporting Haruki Kadokawa, the producer who gave me a job as an extra in Heaven and Earth (1990). Ah, memories.
· Undersea Kingdom (1936) This has got to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious cliffhanger serials of all time. See Ray "Crash" Corrigan run around a futuristic civilization wearing just shorts and a helmet! See squadrons of flying "hawkmen" with spears and rubber wings! See robots that look like enraged water heaters! The laughs just keep coming with this ridiculous Flash Gordon clone, as Crash struggles to topple an evil monarchy led by a chortling despot in an inflatable crown. All 12 episodes are included in a single cut-price disc. You know you wanna.