Anybody remember CAPTAIN EO? I do, because I covered the event’s debut at Disneyland, for Cinefantastique magazine back in 1986. The science fiction short subject starred Michael Jackson as the titular space hero, confronting Anjelica Huston in a wicked Giger-esque makeup as the Supreme Leader. Francis Ford Coppola directed for his friend, executive producer George Lucas. If you have never seen CAPTAIN EO, the reason is that the film screened in “4D” at Disney theme parks (meaning that, in addition to 3D photography, the attraction featured live, in-theatre effects, such as fog to simulate the smoke from explosions). It ran for about ten years, then made a comeback after Michael Jackson’s death, but it’s never been easily available anywhere outside of Disneyland and Disneyworld.
Fortunately, you can now watch in online for free, courtesy of YouTube. The impact is considerably diminished by the absence of 3D (the asteroid, which seems to linger pointlessly on screen in the opening shot, was pretty cool when it seemed to float out of the screen to a point about an arm’s length in front of your nose). Jackson is an awkward actor at best, but needless to say he shines when he begins to sing and dance. All in all, this is a curio, not a masterpiece. Enjoy!
See a larger version of the video below.
It’s goofy but fun! That’s what makes SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN the perfect subject for an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Known as SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO in its native Mexico, this film follows the exploits of the titular masked wrestler, who moonlights as a crime-fighting superhero – not that he lets his extra-curricular activities interfere with his day job! Check it out! Free!
Watch a larger version of the video below:
This is the English-language dub of SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO (1962), released in the U.S. one year later by American International Pictures. Apparently, AIP figured Santo was not famous enough outside of Mexico to have his name on the marquee, so the title was changed, suggesting that a film more along the lines of an Italian gladiator movie, such as HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD or GOLIATH ANDTHE VAMPIRES.
Check out the original Spanish language version of the cult movie, about a masked wrestler battling evil vampire women. No subtitles, unfortunately, so I hope you stayed away during high school Spanish.
It’s a wrestling movie! It’s a vampire movie! It’s two movies randomly cut together!
Some movies defy expectations, good or bad, in a way that makes them surprising enough to be interesting. SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO (1962, dubbed into English as SAMSON VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN) certainly qualifies. Half masked wrestler movie, half vampire movie, this Mexican import is such a jumble of conflicting elements that the absurdity becomes quite entertaining. Which is not to say the entertainment value is entirely camp in nature; one surprise in store for interested viewers is that SANTO VS LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO is, at times, an effective horror film. Though it will never be regarded as a classic, the film’s recent availability on Hulu, in its original, Spanish-language form, offers a welcome opportunity for a new appraisal.
If you are reading this, you probably know that Santo (actual name: Rodolfo Guzman Huerta) was a real-life Mexican wrestler whose gimmick was that he never appeared in public without his signature silver mask. In the 1950s the character became a superhero in a series of comic books, which eventually lead to several films, such as SANTO VS THE ZOMBIES (1961).
With that history, you might expect SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO to be a second-rate hack job designed to showcase its star at the expense of everything else. However, much as with the recent GODZILLA (2014), Santo remains somewhat in the background of this film, which focuses instead on the Vampire Women and their plan to kidnap a young woman, Diana Orlof (Maria Duval) to replace their Vampire Queen, Thorina (Lorena Velazquez).
Consequently, for the first half-hour or so SANTO VS. LAS MUERAS VAMPIRO plays like a traditional, old-fashioned horror film, hokey but atmospheric, with lovely black-and-white photography showcasing the sinister sets. There is little innovative here – the film is clearly aping the classic Universal Pictures horror films of the 1930s and 1940s – but there is enough local Mexican flavor to spice the proceedings up a bit.
In particular, the opening sequence, mostly silent, with the camera wandering through an old mansion, is wonderfully evocative, revealing the Vampire Women emerging from their coffins as old hags, before transforming into supernatural seductresses. The slow and stately pace may lay the atmosphere on a bit thick, but the imagery is almost good enough to stand beside the best Italian horror films of the period. One might even call it “Bava-esque” – though not quite on par with BLACK SUNDAY, nor does it fall embarrassingly short, instead standing on its own as enjoyably spooky horror, served up straight, without the camp.
After that, the plot kicks in, and things get weird, which is definitely fun but also quite a bit goofier than what the opening would lead you to expect.
First off, the Vampire Women have not only a Queen but also a Priestess, Tandra (Ofelia Montesco). Why there should be two leaders is a question the screenwriters really do not bother to answer; instead, we get to see lots of shots of the two vixens standing around in curvaceous white gowns, slit to the hip, while we have time to ponder which is the more alluring of the two (answer: the Queen!).
The convoluted premise is that after a 200 year hibernation, the Vampire Women are rising from their coffins to find a replacement for Thorina, so that she can descend into Hell to join her betrothed, the Devil himself (who makes a cameo appearance or two – a horned shadow cast on the wall). The last time the vampires tried this, they were thwarted by a masked hero (presumably an ancestor of Santo); apparently, frustration over their failure sent them into a two-century slumber. Or perhaps we are to assume that the vampire life cycle consists of resurrecting every 200 years to find a new Queen and then immediately returning to their coffins for another 200 years? Whatever…
Professor Orloff, Diana’s father (played by Augusto Benedico) is an academic who has deciphered just enough ancient hieroglyphics to know that his daughter is to be targeted on her 21st birthday, which is rapidly approaching. Although he manages to enlist the aid of the police, but troubled by their skepticism about the nature of the threat (they don’t believe in vampires), he also seeks help from Santo for help. I guess Orloff doesn’t believe in keeping all his eggs in one basket. In a delightfully absurd conceit, Orloff has an electronic gizmo in his study that acts as a direct-line videophone to Santo’s lair – his equivalent of the bat cave – which we briefly glimpse when Orloff calls for assistance. Unfortunately, Santo is not home – a recurring them of the movie.
Meanwhile, the Vampire Women are seeking blood, and making moves on tracking down Dianna. In this, they are aided by a trio of vampire henchmen, portrayed by bare-chested wrestlers wearing capes (because any vampire worthy of the term wore a cape back in these days). Fashion sense aside, the henchmen come across more like conventional thugs than supernatural threats from beyond the grave, but they get the job done, more or less.
We finally get to see Santo in an extended wrestling sequence, and by extended, I mean one that will have you reaching for the fast-forward button like Han Solo pressing the warp speed drive button to outrun the Empire. The gratuitous and obligatory nature of the scene is exceeded only by the baffling notion that Santo, a superhero capable of battling the undead with relative ease, has a rather hard time dispatching a mortal opponent in the ring.
Eventually, Santo puts his wrestling career on hold long enough to engage with the plot of the film in which he is allegedly starring, and the action moves along well enough from there, though it sometimes plays more like a conventional crime movie: in the grand tradition of movie villainy, Priest Tandra repeatedly tries and fails to kidnap Diana; Queen Thorina berates her but gives her one more chance; and eventually, Tandra succeeds.
Amusingly, part of the reason for Tandra’s eventual success is that Santo is back in the ring: during an ill-conceived attempt to use Diana as bait (which ultimately results in her being kidnapped), police chief recalls casually notes that Santo is busy wrestling; he seems not the least nonplussed that the superhero prioritizes his fight career over guarding an innocent victim from blood-drinking hell-spawn. Fortunately for Santo, he does end up confronting the vampires, who seems to consider him a threat despite his frequently being AWOL: one of the vampire henchmen sneaks into the arena before the match, kills Santo’s opponent in the opponent’s dressing room, and puts on his mask, then fights Santo in the ring. (Why not skip a step and try to kill Santo in his dressing room? Don’t ask.)
I’m not sure this second wrestling match is any more exciting than the previous one, but at least it merges the two elements that the film has so far kept isolated from each other: vampires and wrestling. Santo has a pretty rough time of it (though not particularly rougher than when he was fighting humans), eventually unmasking his opponent to reveal…a werewolf!
WTF? The briefly scene, face-only makeup is the only hint that this henchmen is anything other than a vampire; the revelation is completely pointless except as a visual shock – and almost immediately forgotten. As Santo and the police swarm over the “werewolf,” they find themselves gripping empty air; the culprit escapes in the form of a bat, flapping away to safety.
Or not so much. Santo pursue in his sports car (it’s not the Batmobile, but it does have an invisible camera mounted on the hood – or at least we have to believe so, because Professor Orloff is able to view and speak with Santo via his videophone contraption). The vampire muscleman runs down the street, grasping his cape like wings, as if he cannot quite achieve liftoff in bat from, and comes up short when he finds himself face to face with a large cross, which reduces him to ashes.
This scene underlines another odd point about SANTO VS LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO: Santo does not do much to dispatch the vampires, who instead fall prey to their own miscalculations. More of this will follow in the climax.
Anyway, Professor Orloff finally deciphers more ancient writings and learns where the Vampire Woman have taken his daughter: to a miniature castle on the outskirts of the city. (It’s actually a mansion rather than a castle, but it has a dungeon, so there. And it’s not such a bad miniature really, but it looked better when it was partially hidden beneath the opening credits.) Santo races over and is immediately captured. Tandra begins the ritual to vampirize Diana into the new queen, but the rising sun peeks through a window and ignites the vampire priestess.
That’s right: Santo doesn’t save the day; the sun does. Giving our masked hero the benefit of the doubt, we can perhaps credit his intrusion for delaying Tandra and distracting her from the approaching dawn (she wastes time ordering her henchmen to unmask Santo instead of completing the ritual to turn Diana into the new vampire queen), but this is being overly charitable. Santo does manage to break free of some chains and fight the two remaining vampire thugs, but all he does is knock them down. Like Tandra, they burst into flames as if touched by the sun – thought the lighting of the scene is a bit sketchy about showing exactly which parts of the dungeon set are illuminated by sunbeams.
The remaining Vampire Women relapse into their hag-like appearance and retreat to their coffins, where Santo finally does something tangible, igniting their undead bodies with a torch (like George Romero’s ghouls a six years later in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they “go up pretty good”). Curiously, the women seem so helpless at this point that Santo’s action seems more appalling than heroic.
And that’s about it. The police and Professor Orloff arrive too late to lend assistance. Santo delivers Diana to her father (not to her ineffectual fiance, who has been standing on the sidelines the whole movie) and drives off like the Lone Ranger, while the professor delivers a heartfelt paean of admiration to the masked hero.
SANTA VS LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO cannot be taken seriously, but it is fun. Although the vampire henchmen are goofy at best, their female overlords cut a striking figure, particularly the regal queen. Pitting seductive female blood-suckers against the uber-macho Santo represents conservative gender politics taken to their nth degree, but it’s amusing to see that the wily women are almost a match for the masked wrestler.
Along the way, there are some interesting variations on vampire lore. For example, these vampires do cast reflections, but the mirror reveals their true countenances – ancient hags hiding beneath the illusion of young flesh.
Santo himself is an odd superhero, to say the least. He’s strong, but he doesn’t have any particular superpowers. He can survive vicious beatings delivered by the undead, yet he is unable to easily overwhelm human opponents in the wrestling ring. He’s also rather stocky and beefy – a far cry from the muscled physique of an archetypal Frank Frazetta protagonist. Presumably he has a secret identify, but the film never reveals it, nor even address it; we simply assume he runs around in that silver mask all day, alternating between wrestling and crime-fighting. And as mentioned above, he has a real problem with prioritizing these two activities.
The production is a bit hit-and-miss. The sets and photography establish atmosphere worthy of a classic film, and some of the special effects work well enough (such as the simple lap dissolves to transform vampires into flaming heaps), but the flying bats are typical for the time – obvious props swung on wires. Also, the editing makes occasional missteps, such as having different scenes reuse the same closeup of Tandra eyeing her target from outside a window (you don’t even need to be an anal-retentive DVD-rewinder to notice this one).
Whatever its flaws, SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO is seldom boring (except for the wrestling scenes). Fans of Mexican horror and/or wrestling consider this one of Santo’s best on-screen efforts, and even more general old-school monster movie aficionados should have a good time.
HOW TO WATCH
Long available in the U.S. only in a badly dubbed English-language version, SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO can now be seen in its original Spanish-language version on Hulu Plus. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles (this is part of the new Hulu Latino programming, intended for Spanish-speaking audiences); fortunately, you can probably follow most of the plot if you took high-school Spanish. If your language skills are not up to par, do what I did: run the Hulu version in synch with one of the English-language versions on YouTube. There are no editorial differences between the two, so the run times are virtually the same.
Why not just watch the English-language version? Because the picture quality of the Spanish-language version is pristine, highlighting the atmospheric detail that is the film’s main strength. Also, as weird as it may seem, hearing the original Spanish voices in the background helps distract from poor quality of the English dubbing, for which the voice actors seemed most concerned with spitting the dialogue out in time with the the lip movements, not with giving a dramatic performance.
If you do not subscribe to Hulu Plus, you will not be able to view SANTO VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN through your Roku box on your widescreen high-def television. Fortunately, the film is also available for free viewing on your computer through Hulu.com, and it is on YouTube as well. Picture quality is not bad as long as you watch in small size on your computer; nevertheless, HuluPlus is the preferred method.
The sound-booth quality of the English dub, along with the faded, pockmarked picture quality, renders SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN in terms that make it almost impossible to regard as anything more than a piece of junk, a campy artifact of a bygone age, worthy only of derision. Though the original Spanish cast were never going to win any awards, their dialogue delivery at least sounds appropriate and in-character; the superior soundtrack and image raise SANTO VS. LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO to a level of watchability that allows viewers to enjoy the strengths without being overwhelmed by the absurdities (which are enjoyable in their own way).
If you would rather watch the English-language SAMSON VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, you might as well check out the version that appeared on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, which is also available, free, on YouTube.
SANTO VS LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO (“Santo vs the Vampire Women,” 1962). Alternate titles: SANTO CONTRA LAS MUJERAS VAMPIRO, SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN. 89 minutes. Unrated. Black and white. Directed by Alfonso Corona Blake. Produced by Alberto Lopez. Written by Rafael Garcia Travesi; story by Antonio Orellana & Fernando Oses and Rafael Garcia Travesi; screenplay consultant, Alfonso Coronoa Blake. Cast: Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Maria Duval, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico, Xavier Loya, Ofelia Montesco, Fernando Oses, Guillermo Hernandez, Nathaneal Leon. Caernario Galindo, Ray Mendoza, Alejandro Cruz, Bobby Bonales.
While visiting a Los Angles courthouse last month to testify at the murder trial of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, I had a strangely irrelevant epiphany: Those of us with a Sense of Wonder are living in the Golden Age of Gods and Monsters. This revelation had nothing to do with our legal system and everything to do with the location: with Chinatown and Little Tokyo within walking distance of the courthouse, a trip like this would, once upon a time, have been an opportunity to stock up on items difficult if not impossible to obtain elsewhere. There used to be – and, to some extent, still is – an almost literal cornucopia of videotapes, laserdiscs, DVDs, and action figures related to Fant-Asia, Anime, and Kaiju cinema in the family-owned shops downtown. If you wanted to see POKEMON with its Japanese dialogue or check out the SUPER SENTAI series in its original form (before being cannibalized for POWER RANGERS), or if you wanted VHS tapes of the 1990s-era Godzilla films (which went unreleased in the U.S for nearly a decade), this was the place to go: such an opportunity was not to be missed; leaving empty-handed was not an option. However, on this occasion, when searching my memory banks for hard-to-find horror, fantasy, fiction science fiction films and memorabilia that I should seek out in the nearby stores, I came up blank. Because, you see, fewer and fewer cult movies are hard to find these days; almost anything we want is available at the push of a button.
Heading home, I registered a certain disappointment, much as many people mourn the passing of their favorite local video stores. But unlike the doom-sayers who think this as something akin to a huge chunk of our cultural heritage disappearing down a black hole, I realized that just the opposite is true: we now have instant access to even the most obscure elements of our cinematic heritage. The search for little-seen films no longer forces us to search through dusty shops like Allan Quatermain delving into King Solomon’s Mines; we need no longer wait for the occasional airing on late-night television or – even more rarely – a screening at a revival house.
Anyone old enough to remember the early days of Cinefantastique magazine should appreciate this. Those old back issues are loaded with capsule reviews of foreign fantasy films and cult exploitation horror that never received nationwide release. Some odd-ball opus would open at a single theatre in New York City or at a mid-west drive-in, never to be seen again. You would read the review of the latest Mario Bava film or of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and wonder, “When will I ever have a chance to see this?” And the answer usually seemed to be: Never.
Beginning in the 1980s, the home video revolution changed that, making hundreds of unreleased or barely released titles available. However, beneath the deluge of cinematic sea creatures, Aztec mummies, and grind-house gore, there lay buried an unfortunate truth: it cost money to manufacture tapes and discs, and not every lost title was potentially profitable enough to justify a release.
To a great extent, our current era of ,video on demand, digital downloads, and streaming video has changed that, by eliminating the costs of manufacturing and distribution. Yes, most of the titles on Netflix or Amazon Instant View have been restored and remastered for DVD and/or Blu-ray; nevertheless, the streaming options offer an additional source of revenue and little additional cost. Moreover, with public domain options such as Archive.org and Pub-D-Hub, many older titles that have gone out of copyright are now available for free viewing. Fans can even post these films, in their entirety, on YouTube.
This overload of obscure cinefantastique may mean little to viewers interested only in the latest box office blockbusters. However, a Sense of Wonder can find expression in many strange ways ways, not all of them likely to appeal to a wide swath of the ticket-buying populace. Fans eager to revisit old favorites or to seek out previously unavailable films for the first time are benefiting from 21st Century technology in ways almost unimaginable even a few years ago. To wit:
You want J-Horror? JU-ON 2 is currently available on Netflix, along with SHOCK CORRIDOR and dozens of other Asian scare shows. If that is not enough, head over to Asian Crush.
You want Kaiju? Check out the Godzilla titles on Sony Pictures’ Crackle.com. Also, Gamera is flying all over Pub-D-Hub.
You want anime? Check out Crunchyroll.com or Starz’ Manga channel.
You want obscure Hammer horror? SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) – a film long available only in bootleg DVDs – is up on YouTube.
You want Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters? IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) are up on YouTube. You can watch the colorized version of the latter on Amazon Instant View. THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) are available in high-definition at the Warner Archives instant viewing service.
You want Euro-horror? ZOMBIE LAKE (1981) and OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982) are on Netflix. Fans of Paul Naschy’s doomed werewolf Waldemar Daninsky can catch ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1970) on Flixstream.com’s Drive-In Classics; even better is LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (a.k.a. THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, 1971) is on YouTube – uncut, widescreen, in Spanish with subtitles. (You can buy this one on Amazon Instant View, but it’s the shorter, English-dubbed version.)
You want an eclectic mix of vampires, aliens, and giant monsters? Creepster.tv has a little bit of everything: COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE (1973), ALIEN CONTAMINATION (1980), GORGO (1960). One particularly obscure item is HORROR CASTLE (a.k.a. THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG, 1963), with Christopher Lee, which combines Gothic horror with a post-WWII murder-mystery.
You want classics? THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) is on Netflix and several public domain sources; so is WHITE ZOMBIE (1932). THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) and SVENGALI (1931) are on Pub-D-Hub. The brilliant, silent docu-drama HAXEN (“Witchcraft,” 1922) is available on Archive.org. Warner Archives offers such titles as FREAKS (1932), CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), SOYLENT GREEN (1973), THE WITCHES (1990), UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991), and many others.
You want something new? New theatrical films from Magnet Releasing and other independent outfits frequently show up on Amazon Instant View and iTunes downloads weeks before they reach the big screen. An excellent film like THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2012) – which once you would have had to track down on import disc in some specialty store – made its U.S. debut that way; now it is available on Netflix.
I could go on, but you get the idea. If some of these titles are not familiar to you, that is the point: these are low-profile films long buried in obscurity that, zombie-like, have been revived by the modern wizardry of the Internet. And now, like vampires who can cross the threshold only when invited, they are waiting for you to open your video portals and let them in. Some of these outlets are available only on the Internet; others are accessible through your Roku box, PlayStation, or XBox. All of them allow you to watch movies instantly – movies that you once would have waited months – even years – to see. Why not take advantage of this new virtual world of Gods and Monsters?
[serialposts] You can find many of these titles available for instant viewing in the Cinefantastique Online Store, powered by Amazon.
Welcome to another episode of the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast, devoted to horror, fantasy, and science fiction films available on home video – Blu-ray, DVD, Video on Demand, etc. This week, the CFQ crew of Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski run down the latest batch of new titles hitting store shelves, including SOUTH PARK: THE COMPLETE FOURTEEN SEASON, plus numerous old titles reappearing in various special collector’s editions, most notably FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, starring Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. Also, Dan Persons takes a look at the latest Blu-ray release of THE VENTURE BROTHERS, and Steve Biodrowski takes a look at Crackle, Sony Pictures’ free online video service, which recently became available through the Roku box (the device that enables viewers to access such services as Netflix and Amazon’s Videon on Demand service). Now you can watch Sony Pictures titles uncut and uncensored – but not uninterrupted. Are the commercial breaks worth the aggravation? Tune in for one reporter’s opinion.
Today, I just stumbled upon another website offering free movies and television. Is this just a brief fad – or the wave of the future? The latter, I suspect. People who really love a movie or TV show will still want to own it in some form (whether on a disc they buy or as a file they download onto their hard-drive), but there is just so much stuff out there that we want to sample, if for no other reason than to know for sure whether we are missing something, and the best way to do encourage that is to offer the entertainment for free. Presumably, if people like what they see, they will then purchase it in some form or another, just as free radio airplay for decades has boosted record sales.
Anway, the website I just discovered is called Fancast, which describes itself as the “top entertainment site dedicated to celebrating television.” Fancast also offers “comprehensive editorial and blog coverage with in-depth recaps and analysis on what’s hot and happening everyday in the world of television and entertainment.”
Although not specifically dedicated to horror, fantasy, and science fiction, there is plenty of cinefantastique available for viewing. Available are episodes from such television programs as THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE TWLIGHT ZONE, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, STAR TREK, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and TWIN PEAKS.
Despite the emphasis on television, there are movies available, many of them genre efforts. The usual low-budget and/or public domain titles show up (BLACULA, A BUCKET OF BLOOD, CARNIVAL OF SOULS, etc.), but there are also more high-profile horror, fantasy and science fiction films, like DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, and DRESSED TO KILL.
A quick look at the opening scenes of that last title (which is the Brian DePalma thriller from 1980, not the old Sherlock Holmes film from the 1940s) showed acceptable quality by Internet standards (about the equivalent of VHS tape) at the small size, but the image was noticeably softer in Full Screen mode. This is especially a problem for DRESSED TO KILL, which features gauzy photography to begin with – if you’re old enough to remember seeing the film in theatres, the Fancast version may have you checking your eyeglasses prescription. Also, as usual, for free movies on the web, you have to sit through advertising.
Titles are listed alphabetically, but you can also filter them by genre and (in the case of television) network.
In case you are wondering about the legitimacy of the Fancast website, their FAQ contains references to their licensing agreements to host the films, so this does appear to be legitimate and legal, not a bootlet operation hoping to fly under the radar.
Bottom line assessment: Fancast is not going to replace your Blu-ray or even DVD collection anytime soon, and you still get better over-the-Internet image quality from Video on Demand services like Amazon.com or subscription services like Netflix Instant Viewing. However, if you are not looking for the best quality, just for a way to sample some stuff you have missed, this is not a bad place to go.
Each channel has its own specialty. Lionsgate may be the home of the SAW franchise, but you will not find any of those films on their channel, just some obscure direct-to-video shockers. Firstlook Studios suggests an arty vibe, but they have some obscure titles like MONSTER ISLAND, starring Carmen Electra. Shout Factory is full of campy stuff like The Film Crew and Elvira’s Movie Macabre. AmPop Films is filled with older stuff like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, FLASH GORDON, and THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. Starzmedia is loaded with trailers for Anchor Bay’s DVD releases, but they also have some feature films like DO YOU LIKE HITCHOCK?, a made-for-television thriller by Dario Argento.
Since the movies are free, you have to sit through advertising. Many of the channels have the embed function disabled so that you cannot show the video on your own website; you can only link to it. This seems slightly counter-productive in that the ads precede the video; making the videos embeddable would get them – and the advertising – seen by more eyeballs, which would have the advertisers happy and lead to higher rates.
Another problem is that YouTube is not well designed for categorization inside a channel. Videos are listed in the chronological order that they were posted, not in alphabetical order according to title. For movie channels with bigger catalogues (especially Starzmedia, which includes not only feature films but also numerous clips and trailers) this can force you to click through page after page looking for something of interest. Fortunately, several of the channels have organized their titles into Playlists, which act like categories, allowing you to view only horror films, for example.
If all those choices sound intimidating, don’t worry. YouTube recently created two new navigation categories on their website: Shows and Movies. These categories include all the televison shows and feature-length movies available at the above-mentioned channels, so instead of hunting through each individual channel for one or two genre films apiece, you can find them all assembled in one place, helpfully divided into sub-categories for Animation, Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction, etc.
You need still need to search carefully: science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles like THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS, DRAGONSTORM, and THE BREED are listed under YouTube’s Action & Adventure sub-category. Nevertheless, we found YouTube’s categorization useful, especially in the case of something like CARRIE. The 1976 film, based on Stephen King’s first novel, is accurately listed under Horror, even though the channel hosting it, Impact: Action on Demand bills itself as “the first video-on-demand (VOD) channel dedicated exclusively to action programming.”
All told, at this time there are approximately a half dozen Science Fiction movie titles (including DESTINATION MOON and Crackle’s STARMAN) and 16 or 17 Horror Movie titles (depending on whether you count TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE and CARNIVAL OF SOULS, both listed under Mystery & Suspense).
There is no horror sub-category for television shows, but the Science Fiction TV subcategory currently contains 8 titles, including the original OUTER LIMITS. You can find addition science fiction and fantasy titles under Animation (e.g., ROUGHNECKS: STARSHIP TROOPERS) or Action & Adventure (JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT, CONAN THE ADVENTURER. SHE-RA PRINCESS OF POWER, FLASH GORDON).
There is also something called the YouTube Screening Room, which adds a new batch of four titles every new week. For the most part, these are low-profile independent films, which might or might not have screened at festivals; many of them are short subjects. This is sort of a virtual reality version of an art house cinema, but some science fiction and fantasy creeps in around the edges.
Last month I mentioned that Sony Entertainment had made many of its full-length movies – including several science fiction titles – available for free on Crackle.com. Now comes word that Crackle has a YouTube channel, featuring some of the same content. Some of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror films available are STARMAN, SON OF GODZILLA, and THE BREED; there are also television shows and original programming.
It’s YouTube, so of couse it’s all free, but you have to put up with advertising. Also, searching for a specific title is tricky: you have to use the YouTube search engine, plug in the title you want, and add “crackle” as a keyword. Not everything from the Crackle website is available on the YouTube channel, so for the time being you might just as well explore crackle.com, especially if you are not just browsing but have a particular movie in mind.