Posted Tue Nov 23, 2021 at 09:14 AM PST by Matthew Hartman
Brick-and-mortar shops are shrinking their physical media selections every year. Could label-specific subscription services be the answer for boutique outfits catering to enthusiasts while preserving classics on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and DVD? Vinegar Syndrome seems to think so.
By and large boutique labels are setting the gold standard for physical media home video collecting - and Vinegar Syndrome is no different. The label was founded in 2012 by Ryan Emerson and Joe Rubin. Their initial aim was to restore and preserve lost and forgotten X-Rated and Adult films on home video. Very quickly the company expanded that mandate to include science fiction, horror, and cult films from the 1960s, the 70s, 80s, and into the early 90s. Covering all formats from DVD to Blu-ray to 4K Ultra HD, they have a vast catalog of genre favorites with impressive restoration efforts, intricate packaging, and informative bonus features.
A couple of years ago, VS introduced subscription plans - pay X dollars amount and for a year you get every month's offerings sent to your doorstep automatically at a rate of 50% off MSRP and additional 50%-off coupon codes for bigger more elaborate premier releases not covered in that month's releases. I hesitated initially. That was a lot of money to pay upfront for titles I didn't know about or would like. But as I found myself each month buying more and more of Vinegar Syndrome's releases I started to wish I had subscribed. By the time their annual Black Friday Sale hit in 2020, I was convinced. I didn't subscribe for their biggest or most elaborate package - their basic plan was enough to test the waters and see what came of it. After a year as a subscriber - was it worth it? Short answer - yes it was for me, but it might not be for everyone.
I'm going to delve into some Pros and Cons of the subscription platform and then speculate what it might be like if other labels adopted a similar option for physical media fans.
You get a lot of movies sent right to your doorstep automatically
Who doesn't like to open a package? Even when I order from Amazon and I know what is coming in that cheap plastic bubble bag, it's a thrill to cut that sucker open and see what's inside. Now picture that with a nice sturdy medium-sized box with branded Vinegar Syndrome tape and it's loaded with new Blu-rays and maybe a new 4K Ultra HD title! Seeing that box on my porch was always a thrill.
Old Favorites & New Discoveries
I was a video store brat in my day. As a kid, I rented tons of tapes. As an adult, I worked at one of the largest Hollywood Video stores in the country during the company's death rattle. I devoured tapes and discs all the time but I never saw everything. Each monthly selection of titles VS drops was this lovely blend of nostalgic favorites as well as rare cult films. I'd never heard of the three movies in the recent Camille Keaton in Italy set, but Scanner Cop 1&2, Ticks, The Fall of the House of Usher, Necromancer, Alien from L.A., etc. - those were rental favorites! It's a trip to reconnect with these old favorites while discovering something new.
Cult Classics & Genre favorites Lovingly Restored
One version of the Vinegar Syndrome subscription includes a range of their adult new releases. While I enjoy a bawdy cheeky flick on occasion, it's not a genre I personally collect. Obscure cult classics, regional horror, video store favorites - I'm all for those films. While it's nice enough to get these films on disc, VS goes the extra mile giving these films the best restoration efforts possible. And since they're sent right to me direct, I don't have to weigh options or wait for reviews and then hope to remember to circle back to them in time for a sale. They're right on my shelf waiting to be watched.
Discounted Deluxe Titles and Partner Label Titles
While my subscription didn't cover every new specialty release, it did come with a coupon code for the extra titles I did want to pick up. Movies like Six String Samurai 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray weren't included with my subscription, but 50% off the MSRP with free shipping made adding it to my monthly box a lot easier! VS also currently has 14 partner labels offering their own new releases and that 50% off coupon works for those too. I hadn't seen Prospect, but that coupon made a blind buy of Dust's excellent 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray release easier - and absolutely worth it!
The Overall Value
Pulling the titles off my shelf, between the various three-film box sets, the standard subscription titles, the more elaborate deluxe editions, and Partner Label titles I picked up roughly 65 new films so far this year. November 2021's titles haven't come in yet so there will be more. But looking at my overall costs for the year subscription and additional titles, each film I picked up averaged out to roughly $15. Now I still haven't watched everything I got - and I might never get to them - I still feel I got far more than my money's worth than if I'd ordered each title on its own.
While the savings do add up with the titles you get and discounts for deluxe editions with free shipping, that is a lot of cash to drop all at once. You could use PayPal's Credit program and get six months no interest to cover that initial spread - that's what I did. But again, that's a lot to drop for a year of movies where you don't know what you're getting.
Too Many Movies To Keep Up With
If you're a collector is that really even a problem? It might be for some. While I revel in having a stack of titles to plug through, it is admittedly very daunting. I had to put myself on a schedule of grabbing at least one unseen VS title a week to keep up. If you've got a family, job, dog, and the irritating need to eat or sleep occasionally, a stack of unopened unwatched movies could sour the experience.
Titles You Don't Want Or Aren't Interested In
The biggest risk with the subscription for me was not knowing what I was going to get. While it was exciting, I did occasionally find myself in the field of "what the hell is this one?" when I opened the box. Most of the time I was very happy with what I got, so I haven't felt the need to sell off parts of the collection. I've seen some folks take to the gray market of Facebook Marketplace or eBay to sell off the discs they don't want. That may help cover the cost of the subscription, but that puts the workload on you to resell and then you risk not getting the full value between seller fees and shipping costs.
Pretty Much For Horror, Cult Classic, & Genre Film Fans Only
While VS's partner labels offer a little more diverse range of genres, this is really for those who love great horror movies, old video store favorites, and obscure cult classics. If you're someone searching for films in order to discover the inner meaning of the human condition - unless you're up for a variety of psychopaths - this really isn't for you.
As each monthly Vinegar Syndrome box showed up on my front porch, I got to wondering what it would be like for other boutique labels to do the same? Expensive. I mean, come on - with all of the great titles coming out from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Criterion, Shout!/Scream Factory, Blue Underground - that'd a lot of coin. But at the same time, I do pay out of pocket for a lot of favorite titles each month. A discounted subscription platform might be a worthwhile option for some labels to consider:
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection is now in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray game with Citizen Kane, Uncut Gems, Mulholland Dr., and Menace II Society on store shelves with more titles coming in the new year. They've been a great source for interesting foreign and domestic releases of all genres. Because so many titles come out at a larger-than-average pricepoint, I save a lot of my Criterion buying for July and November for the Barnes & Nobel sales. Because they offer such a vast array of new, recent, and classic films I may not be up for everything they put out, but I'd at least consider what a subscription package might entail.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Kino Lorber Studio Classics is the fastest growing label in my collection and it expands every month with each new Blu-ray, classic television, and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray title announcement. This one might be the most expensive and unwieldy for a subscription service considering the range of titles and how many they release every month. But if they keep churning out more great MGM titles on 4K and getting more Bronson flicks on Blu-ray, it's certainly an enticing prospect.
While I may not love every title they put out each month - like Criterion I'm always interested in checking out what they have to offer with their blend of fan favorites, classic comedies, dramas, horror, science fiction, and Japanese flicks. Where a subscription gets a little dodgy here is their releases are often U.K. or U.S. region-specific. I'd be down to clown since I end up getting a lot of their titles, but that'd also mean that some 4K titles like King of New York or bigger boxsets like Children of the Corn Trilogy would still need to be imported.
Shout! Factory / Scream Factory
Between Shout! Factory proper, Shout Select, Scream Factory, and their Anime offerings - a subscription service could certainly ease collecting these titles. Especially if you could subscribe to specific sub-labels only. As hard as I've tried in the past, I'm just not wildly into anime outside of a few select films. Since Scream Factory and Shout Select punch out more elaborate special editions and 4K Ultra HD titles every year, a subscription discount could be appealing.
As one of the best sources for catalog Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray horror and cult classics, this one to me is a no-brainer. Because their titles feature excellent restorations and audio presentations with informative bonus features and often with the film's soundtrack - they command a high price point. While worth every cent, it does make you be a little choosy when it comes time to pre-order.
Severin Films is like Vinegar Syndrome in a lot of ways catering to folks who love obscure genre flicks and do their best to provide the best Blu-ray and 4K releases possible. A subscription plan could be very cool - but they do already have bundles for their monthly titles at a discount and for their featured specialty films they have bundles that come packed with a lot of fun swag like stickers, posters, patches, buttons, and the occasional figurine. A yearly subscription might be a stretch given all of the options they already provide.
Well Go USA
As a smaller label catering largely to Asian market martial arts titles, a subscription option would indeed be very cool. Especially if you're a martial arts movie nut. Their 4K output may not be substantial or consistent but they've been worthy purchases. Plus if you dig Korean thrillers, they have a lot of great movies you otherwise wouldn't get to see here stateside.
There are a lot of other small labels out there, but those are the boutique operations I usually spread my thin disposable income around. Like most folks, I'm up for watching just about anything, but I only have so many hours in a day and just so much cash to burn. I love physical media and as long as it's available and I have a working player I'll never give it up. I think about how many people I know who gave up discs but then frequently complain when streaming services or VOD providers don't have their favorites or the latest classic comes to 4K on disc but not streaming. I see those titles sitting on my shelf and a wry smile stitches across my face. I buy the movies I want and then I actually get to keep them.
Now with their next Black Friday Sale hitting November 26th through the 29th, I have every intention of resubscribing. A recent email VS sent out to current subscribers with a discount code to resubscribe for another year sweetens the deal a little bit (not a lot but it helps). I may not know everything Vinegar Syndrome will put out every month or I may not like everything I get in that box, but for an overall experience I felt subscribing was more than worth it. I thought this would be a fun little one-time experiment just to do for this article and that'd be it. But now I find myself eager to do it all over again. It might not be for everyone and their budget, but it's certainly worth considering if you're able.
What do think? Have you subscribed to Vinegar Syndrome before? Are you thinking about it? Let us know in the comments below!
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