Thanks for this, Mark Welser!
Warning: The following piece was written in a pretty nasty funk. I can't make heads or tails of it anymore, but fuck it all. What's in here needs to be said just so I can dump it out of my subconscious and move on.
So, here's the short version: FRIGHT NIGHT, the 1985 horror/comedy classic recently (and, I hear, quite brutally) raped on a bed of hot holy water by a fusion of 3D bullshit and gratuitous Collin Farrell, was announced as getting an exclusive Blu-ray release through Screen Archives' own Twilight Time label. There will be 3,000 copies pressed, and no more. The price will be $29.95 plus postage, or roughly $35 shipped. There will be no new extras, though whatever was included on the prior DVD may well make an appearance here. Apparently, Twilight Time has to check with the film's masters over at Sony Pictures to be sure.
When the title was announced but no price had been set, there was a pretty mass assumption that it would be the same price as the limited-to-3,000 units The Egyptian (a 20th Century Fox license that sells for $40), and immediately the internet itself quickly broke down into Mad Max territory - and I'm talking Road Warrior, none of that pussy Thunderdome crap: Accusations of the title being limited to create an "artificial demand" were thrown about like water balloons, comparisons to a number of other nostalgia soaked 80s fright comedies were dredged up ("What about Monster Squad, didn't that do well?" "Didn't Sony release Night of the Creeps?" "Return of the Living Dead came out just last year!" etc), and a shockingly vocal number of customers who were at first excited by the prospect of owning a beloved 26 year old fan-favorite creature feature basically told the entire world to fuck off. "I don't WANT your fancy limited edition" they cried, with varying degrees of transparency and bitterness. "Why can't Sony just release the film themselves and sell it everywhere, giving us all a chance to get a copy at a fair price like any other Sony film?"
Why not indeed, Sony? For one thing, the remake tanked: As of this writing it has made less than $17 million worldwide, despite having been made with an estimated budget of $30 mil. But who cares, right? Anyone in the demographic of nostalgic-30-somethings who'd actually give a flying shit about the original film would avoid the remake like AIDS infused cancer anyway, so why not just dump the classic out on BD and be done with it? Sony owns the rights, the negative, all of the materials they could ever need and already own a film lab with salaried employees, and heck, Sony may as well be the goddamn BDA who gets all the eye-roll inducing fees paid every time a Blu-ray gets released. All they'd have to do is slap a new transfer on a disc and that sweet, sweet nostalgia money would just come rolling in! It's a no brainer, right? So why would they sell it off to Twilight Time and let them pocket both the profits and the glory? For that matter, why are they limiting a title with such obvious cult appeal to a meager 3,000 units?
I may not know anybody at Sony Pictures or Twilight Time, but I do know the answer friends, and it's not one any label wants to broadcast very loudly. I recently had a chat with an old boss, and still a good friend, and before y'all start assuming it's "this guy" or "that guy", I can tell you right now that it's not who a lot of you probably think it was. God help me, it's someone I worked with regularly long before I started this blog, and he recently got in touch because he had a production emergency he needed to have fixed, and I'm never too busy (or too broke) to do a little grunt work... anyway, we got to talking. This old friend still runs an independent label, and they released their first Blu-ray last year. You have to understand that this was a title that sold over 50,000 copies on DVD, and the Blu-ray was on sale as a pre-order for as little as $12 from usual suspects like Best Buy and Amazon.com - it's also a great little fucking movie, and one I myself bought a copy of because I like it that much. In short this was born to be a success story, a briskly selling Blu-ray title built on a legacy of DVD sales... but they decided to play it safe and went with a small initial batch, knowing they could always produce more to meet demand. That's what they did for the DVD, and they were new to the whole BD process enough that they figured having too few up front was better than having too many. You want to know how many units they pressed? A bit less than 3,000, and in the end nearly 500 unsold copies were returned. I won't give away what the title was, but suffice to say it's a unique and damned enjoyable cult film with a decent presentation that outshines the DVD in every way. At face value they pretty much everything right, offered a fine product at a fair price, and it couldn't even move 2,500 copies.
But back to Fright Night. No bullshit, no soft numbers or tin-foil hat theories, let's just use a little common sense: The ONLY reason Sony would ever give this flick to Twilight Time is because there is no worth-while market for these types of films on Blu-ray. Would Sony sell more copies if they released it through Amazon and Best Buy for $15? Sure. Would they sell 6,000? Fuck, maybe? Even if they did, to Sony that's a drop of piss in an ocean of liquid cash. They'd rather give the rights to another company entirely and let them waste their time and split the reward with absolutely no effort on their part. It's actually brilliant... except for that niggling little fact that Hollywood has already destroyed the perceived value of its own product. When you pre-order titles from Amazon or pick it up on release day at Target, it's typically 45% to 66% off, and I can't even REMEMBER the last time I paid list price for a title that wasn't already out of print. Lowering the price on catalog titles helps move unsold units and bolsters sales numbers if you want to brag about it, but it also breeds a customer that perceive the value of the product at next to nothing. Seriously, have any of you ever paid list price of a Blu-ray? Do you ever even pay 75% of list price? Of course not! Because you know goddamn well that if you really need it you'll find it for substantially less, shipping included.
For all the justified bitching I usually do against companies like Media Blasters, Arrow Video, Blue Underground and whoever else happens to release a disc crumby enough that I want to talk about here in a negative light, I honestly feel just a little bad for them. On the one hand, yeah, they're selling discs for about $15 a piece and probably doing sales in the painfully low thousands - maybe even less than that. They must be splitting a measly profit of a few thousand dollars with the licensor at this point, and that may or may not even be enough to cover the new transfer the film probably needs, and heaven help them if they release a disc shitty enough that nobody will actually buy it but the few masochistic bastards who just want to review it for Internet Geek Points (TM). Of course the licensor could say "fuck it all" and release the film on DVD only, come on... do you buy DVDs anymore? I know I don't, unless it's specifically picking up a Special Edition release to compliment a bare-bones Blu-ray. I regularly make exceptions for cheap 90s TV shows that only have composite sources left, but that's neither here nor there.
So where does that leave independent labels who want to release obscure or unknown titles? Where's the money gone? Can they? This is the future, people. Full movies are just a few keystrokes away on YouTube and BitTorrent, or Hulu and Netflix if you'd rather go the "legit" route about it - and yeah, they make a few bucks on those venues, but not nearly as much as you're probably thinking. People bought DVDs because they were cheap, readily available and there wasn't any other particularly appealing way to see a movie - nowadays, you could burn a half-dozen of them to a single layer DVD that'll cost you a quarter. The hardcore collectors still exist, but they're very few and much more tepid towards the notion of replacing their entire collections; the industry itself has long joked that crack is probably cheaper than anime, and back in 2003 when I was actually spending $200 on a 26 episode series, they might have been right. Now, my crack is readily available and cheaper than free... if you want me to show up with some jangly hand-job earned dollars in tow, you'd better deliver the fucking goods, man. That's the fucking world we live in, fair or not, and it was perhaps inevitable as technology both improved and became more accessible. We live in a world where most teenagers have never bought an album or a film or even a fucking ringtone; it's not necessary. There's simply no incentive to "buy" entertainment now. It's just something you consume and move on from to them, and having bought my share of dumb shit I probably shouldn't have, I almost envy that mindset... but those films still exist, and they're still trickling out at lower prices and with less effort for it. The result isn't going to be pretty, and it explains in a nutshell why Image Entertainment would release a shitty upscaled disc like The Hills Have Eyes and why Media Blasters isn't bothering to hire anyone to do the slightest bit of QC on Beyond the Darkness; they're probably just hoping to break even on these fucking films and could really give a fuck about all else after that point. Why do they bother, I wonder? Are they turning a profit on releases like Urotsukidoji, The 10th Victim and Vamp? What about stuff like BMX Bandits and In a Glass Cage, or all of those titles Blue Underground wound up releasing about a month or two after Arrow Video? Maybe these particular labels are doing better than the few I know personally, but I can't imagine they're doing better by enough... something just doesn't add up, and friends, it troubles me deeply.
Fright Night is an isolated incident where we know for a fact that there's only 3,000 copies... who's to say that every independent genre label didn't only make 5,000 copies of every film they've licensed? How long are they even going to be there? When it's gone, who will really care? Will you pay $60 on eBay for that copy of The New York Ripper or Shigurui or what-the-fuck-ever that you never bought before it went out of print, or will you just shrug and go download a 720p rip? Be honest, now - not with me, but yourself. If you want to see more releases, all you can do is support them. Yes, I've bought some crumby releases because there was just enough good inside, and some titles I've avoided on principle that maybe I shouldn't have. It's all relative, and nobody's perfect. But unfortunately that's all we can do: Buy the goddamn thing, hope we're not alone, and pray that whoever holds the purse-strings sees that as a sign to do more like it. If the cult film market won't even bear 3,000 copies at MSRP, perhaps we don't deserve nice things to begin with. Pearls before swine, all that crap. It's been a good long time since I've felt the urge to walk out into the streets and just shout "Come ON, internet... geez!!" It's a fairly priced release of a title with a dedicated fanbase, and unless it's a fucking SD upscale I don't see how it's not worth $35 - if you like the film and all that, of course. Yes I know, this statement is coming from the crazy man who spent $70 on Rurouni Kenshin Tsuioku-Hen - but fuck it all, what should a limited Blu-ray be worth? Do films not have a tangible value anymore outside of the crazy people like me? And fuck, before you think I regularly burn money like a maniac I flatly refused to re-buy Robocop on BD until I found a copy for $10. I'll probably spend fourty bucks and change before shipping on that Goddamn Figma, but the second you don't include the DVD features I'll take my sweet fucking time about upgrading. We all have our thresholds and hang-ups, but to be fair, that's MGM/20th Century Fox and a film they've released on DVD more times than I can even count. At that point I'm almost being a cheap cunt subconsciously - the way my own biased brain works, they don't need all of my money. Not as much as Something Weird Video, Cult Epics or Aniplex USA does, that's for damn sure.
But, I do tend to ramble... this angst really isn't about Fright Night. I'll buy a copy and I'll enjoy it, end of the story. No, this dread is about the very future of "marginal" catalog titles and releases from niche cult-film labels, the films that I tend to love the most. For them to survive we're probably going to have to see smaller print runs, higher prices, and fewer venues offering them - it may well be the Special Edition Laserdisc days all over again, except any sane person who doesn't care about owning everything could watch the movie for free on TV at any time. We're already seeing corners get cut left and right by Image Entertainment, Echo Bridge and others, and studios like Blue Underground and Severin Films have all but fallen silent about what they have up their sleeve for 2012. It fills me with a sense of dread and fear that my own little favorite corner of the market is slowly being marched towards extinction by a combination of technology advancing and the apathy of seeing "entertainment" as worth celebrating, and none of the conversations I've had in the last week have made me feel any better about it. Perhaps I'm merely reading too much into numbers I can't compare to much else and trends that feel "experimental" at this point, but still, they say nothing last forever...
Blu-ray finally gave the world a chance to smile, nod, and say 'I don't need to ever buy this film again. It looks and sounds substantially better than it ever did in theaters, and this is good enough for watching at home, forever.' How many more less recognizable catalog films from yesteryear will we be able to say that about next year? And how many of those will end up being "Limited" releases like Fright Night, which means you either get it today or you don't get it ever? I look forward to finding out, but advise you to not get your hopes as high as they may have been a year or two ago.