February 1st was my birthday, and the day before, I arrived home to find a large box sitting on my front porch, from a very good friend who shares my love of Horror films. Now, I’ve never been known for patience when it comes to gifts; as children, my little brother and I would sometimes unwrap our Christmas gifts to see what we were getting, then re-wrap them. So it was that, finding myself with such a box filled with wrapped packages, I didn’t calmly set them aside to be opened the next day. I ripped into them like Oprah with a box of Ho-Ho’s. Inside, wrapped in bundles of three or four, were DVD’s. Not just any DVD’s, but Dollar Store DVD’s.
Now, for those of you who haven’t availed yourselves of the joys of shopping at Dollar Stores, just think back to the days of five and dimes; anything you could think of, and a lot you wouldn’t, at bargain prices. These were the places that defined generic long before we had ever heard the word used.
Sure, it might not have been the highest quality stuff, and you might not have wanted to do all your shopping there, but what treasures you could find! A flashlight with a squeeze-trigger, so you never needed batteries. A package of comic books, never the popular ones, and they always had big round stickers plastered on the front (which we would discover, years later, made them worthless to collectors…) but still, comic books. The candy that always tasted just a little different than what you’d get in the better stores. You never quite knew what you’d find, what you’d buy, or what you’d think of it once you bought it.
Well, Dollar Stores, those shops and emporiums that advertise everything in the store sells for one dollar, are today’s version of the 5¢ & 10¢ stores of my childhood memories. While some of the mystique is gone, and for most items I’m content to head to Wal-Mart or Kroger’s, the one thing that dollar stores excel in now is their DVD’s.
Now, I’m not talking first-run, blockbuster fresh off the press DVD releases, and you won’t find the Universal Monster Legacy sets on the shelf here. What you will find, however, is in many ways better. The DVD racks in these stores are filled with keep cases and cardboard sleeves, printed boldly with film titles you may have never heard before. INVISIBLE AVENGER; ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS; NIGHTMARE CASTLE; ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS… lurid, daring titles, telling you everything important about the movie contained therein.
And much like the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks used to be, (back when they actually put prizes in boxes of Cracker Jacks…) you’re never sure of what you’re going to get when you open the package. It may very well be the worst movie you’ve ever seen. It may be a rare gem that you never knew existed. But you don’t know until you get that movie home and pop it into the player.
As a long-time fan of the dollar store DVD’s, I’ve experienced both the highs and the lows of buying the cheap discs. Some of the most horrendously unwatchable films in my collection were Dollar Store DVD’s, such as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2: SAVAGE VENGEANCE, (as though the original needed a sequel…) A*P*E, (a South Korean King Kong wannabe that was, for a surprisingly long time, the single worst movie I owned…) and GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN comprise, in part, the very dregs of my collection. But for these films I paid a grand total of three dollars; less, when you consider that they were accompanied by other, somewhat better movies. Would I have bought them had I known what I’d be getting? Maybe not, but where’s the fun in that? This way, I’m out almost nothing, and I can say I’ve had the dubious pleasure of watching the same three guys walking past a camera repeatedly, firing caps from obviously fake rifles at a Korean dude in an equally fake monkey-suit.
Sometimes though, you hit a winner. You put that disc in your player, and discover that you’ve found that classic you’ve hunted for years, or some movie fondly remembered from childhood, only you long ago forgot the title. Once in a while, you’re surprised by a movie that’s been retitled, perhaps something you’ve been looking for only to find you’ve acquired it by accident. That’s what happened when I watched ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS for the first time. I was expecting, at best, a Fulci-like copy of the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and at worst, some mildly inoffensive Voodoo tale. What I got was a curiously retitled EL BUQUE MALDITO, aka THE GHOST GALLEON, the third installment in Amando de Ossorio’s brilliant BLIND DEAD quadrilogy.
While it is obviously a direct transfer from the videotape, this was long before Blue Underground presented us with their definitive boxed set, and the videotape had proven impossible for me to track down. To have this film to watch and enjoy made up for all the dreck that was contained on the same disc.
Thus it was with this shipment of Birthday Videos. While there were some that I had, that’s usually the case; I’ve often had to buy a Dollar Store set that had three movies I already owned to get one I didn’t. And yes, there were some definite dogs in the bunch, movies such as THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, and REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES.
But inside that box were some true gems, as well. Koji Shima’s Uchûjin Tokyo ni arawaru, aka WARNING FROM SPACE, which was the first Japanese Sci-Fi Special Effects film, or Tokusatsu, shot in color. From Italy came SEDDOK, l'erede di Satana, better known here as ATOM-AGE VAMPIRE. And the prize of the bunch, an eight-episode collection of ONE STEP BEYOND, a series that ran on ABC from 1959-1961. Something like Kolchak meets the TWILIGHT ZONE, this long-forgotten classic was superb, frightening, and impressively enjoyable.
My point is simple. For what probably amounted to less than $20, someone was able to give me, not only one of the best birthday gifts I’ve gotten in a long while, but also the joys of wading into a big stack of DVD’s, not quite sure what I’d find. You can’t do that with something you’ve paid $29.99 for. Let’s say you buy the latest Collector’s Special Director’s Cut Boxed Edition of the newest Hollywood blockbuster, get it home, and discover it reeks. You have no choice; you’re pissed off, and want to throw the DVD across the room like a Frisbee®. Only the damn thing cost you $30… so you stick it back in its case and toss it on a shelf to gather dust.But with Dollar Store DVD's, you don’t care if you get a clunker. Even at their worst, you’re only out a dollar. And, at their best, you’ve gained so much more.