Monday, March 12, 2007

Forbidden treasures

Cult Classics 20 Movie Pack (4 DVD) (Mill Creek Entertainment): They carried titles like "Chained For Life," "The Road to Ruin," "Child Bride" and "Reefer Madness." Even with the dramatic titles, they weren't dramas in the strict sense -- they were exploitation films of the '30s and '40s -- each a filmmaker's attempt to scare and sway his audience.
We laugh about them today. But they were no laughing matter back then, as seen in Mill Creek Entertainment's Cult Classics 20 Movie Pack, a fascinating budget-friendly four DVD set collecting 20 of these curios.
The films tackled subjects that were sometimes only whispered about back then. One could argue the films weren't for teaching, but for shock value. There's "Reefer Madness," the overly dramatic 1936 midnight-matinee cult favorite of recent years. The set also includes several other drug-related films: "Marihuana," "She Shoulda Said No," "The Marijuana Menace" and "The Cocaine Fiends," all from the mid-30s.
Other "shocking" subjects seen in the films include Siamese twins ("Chained For Life"), prostitution ("Slaves in Bondage," "Escort Girls") and infertility ("Test Tube Babies").
But maybe the most controversial film in the set is "Child Bride," a 1938 film starring Shirley Mills (who bears a slight resemblance to Shirley Temple) in a film about a teacher who tries to halt the practice of underage girls marrying older men. The film has what for its time -- and even now -- is quite a shocker -- a scene featuring a somewhat distant view of the young Mills swimming naked in a river -- and observed luridly by an older man from her town. It's surprising that such a scene would have been filmed in the '30s and one can only imagine the reaction it might have received from the public.
These films are available individually from other publishers, but this collection rounds up 20 of them in the most economic package we've seen. As with other releases by Mill Creek, the films aren't remastered. And purists may not be too happy about the company logos that pop up very briefly during each film.
But don't let that keep you from getting this set. It's a must for film history buffs, and film fans in general. It's entertainment and weirdness at the same time. We hope Mill Creek can dig up 20 more for a second set. It'll be worth it.
Short takes: Two other sets by Mill Creek are worth a mention. 150 Cartoon Classics is the biggest collection of public domain cartoons we've seen to date. It includes Popeye, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Mutt and Jeff, Grampy, Little Lulu and many more. The cartoons appear to be grouped somewhat chronologically, with several black-and-white cartoons on the first disc, with color cartoons filling out the collection. Given the age of most of these cartoons, viewers will find a lack of political correctness they may be used to seeing in today's toons. Therefore, not all of these are for kids.
Mill Creek's Very Best of One Step Beyond (4pc) collects 50 episodes of this TV series, hosted by John Newland, which originally ran in the late '50s. Comparisons are often made with "The Twilight Zone," but there's a big difference between the two: While stories on "Zone" often dealt with fictional human stories punctuated with fantasy, "One Step Beyond" stories dealt with the paranormal based on real events like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic. As with the cartoon collection, you'll find many DVDs of this material around, but this 50-episode box is by far the best for the money.

You can order "Cult Classics," "150 Cartoon Classics" or "The Best of 'One Step Beyond'" in our 50 Movie Pack Store in the right.