Those Limited Edition Blus...
Manufactured Exclusivity and the Commercialization of Horror Fandom
*editor's note: the opinions I spout off are mine, and are not necessarily shared by my employers, my cohorts, or my fiends. Hell, just ask them what they think of my taste in movies...*
The bane of the modern film collector is the limited edition. Out of all of the hurdles today’s movie geeks face - the death of small media stores, limited selections at large department stores - the prospect of losing the opportunity to hold, in your hands, physical media containing some slice of 80’s cinematic sleaze or some Italian cinematic atrocity from the 70’s is the zenith of collecting mutant movies in the digital age. Capitalism, exclusivity, and a general malaise mixed with addictive nostalgia has weaponized the fear of missing out against the same movie collectors that have made boutique DVD labels a small, but seemingly relentless, force, providing gorehounds and tapeheads an opportunity to acquire mutant movies in a format that celebrates the medium, while also taking fistfuls of geek cash (not to mention square footages of storage space!) in the process.
cue the Psycho theme...
Recently, one of the larger and more well-known boutique horror distributors ran into a large problem when attempting to hold a mid-year sale featuring limited editions of some mid-era Fulci titles, some Jess Franco trash, and a shot-on-video monster mash. Almost immediately, the site malfunctioned and ultimately crashed, leading the label to pull the site, pause the sale, and attempt to regroup to the following midnight. During this second try to execute a large, heavily advertised sale, the site purportedly went up an hour early, and, by midnight, the site was crashing again, and, once more was ultimately pulled offline, leading this label to navigate effort to appease fans and save any face, offering fans a chance to email the label and place an order directly. It was a nightmare for both fans and the label, alike. Just weeks later, another label announced a huge, limited release which also caused fervent, rabid fans (including me) to act quickly, lest they miss the opportunity, and, in turn, THIS site crashed (albeit to a lesser degree). Soon after, the label added MORE of this set to be available, increasing their limited number.
Fingers are busy being pointed by fans, who’ve expressed feelings that range from sympathy and understanding to understandable frustration and disappointment to anger and even to rage and entitled petulance toward this label. As a fan, I, too, found myself frustrated and disappointed, already imagining the hundreds of dollars this handful of not-great-cinema are going to be gouged for on eBay, bought by hacks whose only interest in these genre offerings lie with the money they stand to gain by selling these to willing, rabid fans who failed to snag them through their original, offered means. “First come, first serve,” “you can do what you want,” and “they don’t have to buy them!” are all valid expressions, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that this practice is unscrupulous at best and probably closer to the parasitic, sadistic end of the spectrum of human behavior. The TL;DR? eBay flippers suck.
I’m hardly naive; I understand practical reasons for limited editions. Besides the obvious fact that limiting a film’s release drives up interest and sales, and garners traffic and profit not only for the limited films themselves, but for the other releases any label will have to offer alongside their limited releases, many films are limited based on licensing agreements that have been made to get the film released and into the hands of fans in the first place. The reason George Romero’s 1978 Dawn Of The Dead isn’t available in North America on BluRay, outside of the out-of-print Anchor Bay pressing, is due to licensing restrictions (and, apparently, a hefty fee required by producer Richard Rubinstein). If an American company wanted to release Dawn on Blu, an agreement would have to be made, and, most likely, due to cost (and perhaps to producer whim), any label releasing this in the States would either have to dump tons of money into the project, or, most likely, limit the release. This is a legitimate reason to limit a release.
It is hard to believe, however, that every release put forth by companies across the map as a “limited release” are released as such due to these requirements, and it is my suspicion that, at times, DVD/BluRay releases are made limited purely to drive up interest and drive up profits, and, what was once a practice that was used by “the little guy” to get films into the hands of fans has become something that is almost weaponized against fans, pitting fan against fan, collector against collector, and, in turn, pushing horror fandom more and more toward a weird, pointless competition, where film fanatics prove their worth by growing their collection. This may hit home to a lot of folk, and before you start moving your multiple DVDs and BluRays of Evil Dead to look for your misplaced pitchforks and torches, know that I’d have to knock a few piles of my own misbegotten movie collection over to make it to safety on time. Now, do I believe that this is a purposely malicious or nefarious practice? No. Not really. It’s possible that one or two labels have inflated certain numbers of availability, or bent the truth when it comes to disclosing the reasons for limiting the number of copies released of certain films, but I do believe that most of these companies are on the up-and-up with their practices.
So, what’s the answer? Is there one? Probably not. Fans just have to be willing to grow with the times, to be patient while navigating new waters, and to ultimately vote with their dollars. Easier said that done, I know: I have most certainly complained about a release or a company, only to turn around and spend money on said release or with said company; when it comes to collecting cinematic filth, hypocrisy is boundless, it seems. I can promise you, however, the answer is not to attack these companies on social media like an army of virtual Karens — but it is also a reality that these companies are exactly that, and should answer, to an extent, to their patrons. To this end, most of the major players in the boutique label game have been largely successful. I’ve had personal dealings with Vinegar Syndrome, Synapse, and Severin, and all three of these label have provided service that has ranged from “great” to “above and beyond,” and this is the way, along with providing stellar releases, that they have kept my business.
I lost sleep over this...?
Ultimately, I think a little concession on both the parties of distributors and consumers could be very beneficial. I think collectors, myself included, get so obsessed with getting the most complete, limited, bells-and-whistles versions of these weird movies that we forget that this whole pastime/addiction is supposed to be fun. Now, it’s a game of refreshing browsers and sweating bullets as our trips to brick-and-mortar shops for “the hunt” have turned into virtual/digital races to see whose browsers don’t crash first. Our collective desire to find these awesome, yet limited, and sometimes, hard to get releases have turned into a joy-sucking, terminal case of FOMO. Transparency from the boutique labels/companies, excellent customer service when things go awry (Severin handled their technical problems as well as any small company possibly could, I believe), and respectful, scrupulous behavior would go a long way to ease the minds of DVDphiles. On the other hand, however, fans need to take a collective breath, a collective step back, and realize that none of these problems should be so intense or problematic that you feel the need to personally attack these companies or their workers, and maybe, just maybe, your happiness doesn’t rest on a Z-grade monster movie some local yokels made one autumn of 1990, or some flick that journeymen Italian filmmakers made to rip off an American blockbuster.
What am I saying? Of course that’s where happiness comes from.