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.
Earlier this week, I mentioned that you could now view free science fiction, fantasy, and horor movies on YouTube, since Sony Entertainment’s Crackle.com had made their catalogue of free movies available on their very own YouTube channel. What I did not mention is that Crackle is by no means the first or only company to give away their content for free on YouTube. Other feature-length movie channels on YouTube include Lionsgate Movies, First Look Studios, Shout Factory, AmPopFilms, and Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Starz Media.
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.
We have just added several categories to the Video on Demand section of Cinefantastique Online. Clicking on Videon on Demand takes you to the first page of the section, which features an Amazon.com widget highlighting the latest, popular science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles available to rent or own via download. The currently featured item is the unrated version of CAPRICA, which you can view in HD for $19.99; an SD version is also available for five dollars less.
Below the Amazon widget is a miscellaneous list of movies and television shows, with a Search function (which is different from the website’s overall Search function) that will help you find specific titles.
If you are not looking for something specific but would simply like to browse for your favorite horror movies, fantasy films, and science fiction cinema, you can click on several categories:
- Animation Movies
- Animation Television
- Horror Movies
- Horror Television
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Movies
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Television
Technically, all of this is available through the Cinefantastique Online Store, which is powered by Amazon.com. This can cause some confusion, because the store has its own navigation links, seen on the right side of the page, where the right-hand widget bar is normally located.
Consequently, once you are on the Video on Demand page, you do not necessarily have to use the category links that appear when you roll the cursor over the Video on Demand navigation button at the top of the page; you can simply use the store’s navigation links on the right. This is a bit redundant, but it gives visitors options; hopefully, everyone can decide which navigation method works best for him or her.
To add to the confusion, many of the categories have sub-categories, and some of those sub-categories are redundant. For example, under the Animation category, you can find a sub-category for Science Fiction; under the Science Fiction category, you can find a sub-category for Animation. Again, hopefully this provides options so that you can browse easily without having to worry that what you are seeking is tucked away in only one place that you may or may not be able to find.
Because of the way the Amazon Video on Demand service works, you cannot make your purchase directly from the Cinefantastique Online Store. Instead, when you have found a title you would like to rent or purchase, you click a link which takes you to the Amazon Video on Demand player, where you can complete the transaction.
While I’m at it, I’ll take a moment here to plug to Roku digital video player box, of which I am a proud owner. With this box attached to your television, you can watch your Amazon VOD films and shows directly on your high-def widescreen television, instead of on your computer monitor. It’s only a hundred bucks (110 with the high-def cable connector), and it’s very easy to install. Best of all, it’s wireless, so you don’t have to worry about running a cable to link it to your high-speed Internet connection. You can purchase one in the store of our sister website, Hollywood Gothique.
In what must be the strangest distribution strategy ever devised, MUTANT CHRONICLES opens today in exclusive engagements in New York and Hollywood – even though you can already view it here on Video on Demand. Directed by Simon Hunter, working from a script by Philip Eisner, MUTANT CHRONICLES stars Thomas Jane (THE MIST), Ron Perlman (HELLBOY 2), Devon Aoki (SIN CITY), Sean Pertwee (DOG SOLDIERS), and John Malkovich (BEOWULF) in a futuristic combination of science fiction and mysticism, about soldiers battling “necromutants” in 2702. Perlman plays the leader of a monastic order who convinces Jane’s Major Hunter to join him on a mission that will, according to prophecy, destroy the mutants.
MUTANT CHRONICLES is at the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood and the Village East Cinema in New York. The “bargain” price for the first screening at the Chinese theatre is $10, which goes up to $11.75 in the afternoon and $12.75 in the evening (and that’s not counting parking and popcorn). Or you can pay a relatively modest $6.99 for Video on Deman.
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.
Last month, we mentioned the problem with the home video release of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which substituted some dumbed down subtitles on the DVD instead of the more accurate subtitling of the theatrical prints. A yew days ago, I happened to notice that the film was available on Netflix Instant Viewing, so I checked it out to see which version of the subtitles are on display; thankfully, it was the theatrical version. Presumably, this holds true for cable and satellite television.
The quality of the subtitles may seem a minor point (and I do know people who have seen the DVD and thought the film was great, not realizing they were seeing an inferior version), but it puts people like me in an awkward position: on the one hand we want to champion the film to as many people as possible; on the other, we’re reluctant to recommend renting or purchasing a DVD that has an obvious flaw.
The subtitling is supposed to be corrected on future printings of the DVD (the packaging will clearly tell you that you are getting the theatrical subtitles), but until then it is nice to be able to whole-heartedly recommend the film to the uninitiated in at least one form. If you missed the film in theatres, don’t rent the DVD; check it out on Netflix Instant Viewing.
Click here to see LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on Netflix.
Full Disclosure: Cinefantastique Online recently signed on as a Netflix affiliate, so we do get a commission if you sign up after clicking through one of our links. In defense of selling out, Netflix Instant Viewing is a service we use ourselves on a daily basis, and we were plugging it it even before we became an affiliate. With Netflix, you do not pay to rent individual titles; you get unlimited instant viewing at no extra cost with a one-at-a-time DVD rental for $8.95 a month.
The Vault of Horror objects to Time-Warner Cable’s recent decision to drop FEARnet’s on-demand service. Brian Solomon notes that the denise of Monster HD began in a similar fashion, with the channel being dropped by one provider at a time until nothing was left. Solomon exorts angered fans to speak up, suggesting they dial 1-877-FEAR-247 to voice their complaint (FEARnet will forward you to your cable operator, so you can complain to the write people.) Solomon writes:
I’m baffled as to where this lack of confidence in the concept of a horror channel is coming from. In my experience, horror has a much stronger mainstream following than science fiction, and yet the Sci-Fi Channel has been going strong for many years. Hell, there’s even an Encore Westerns channel. Horror fans, unite and speak up!
I don’t know why horror channels bite the dust while Sci Fi Channel keeps going strong, but in general I suspect these niche channels are endangered species. The future is going to be services like Netflix’s Instant Viewing and Amazon.com’s Video on Demand, which allow you to watch movies anytime you like. Although technically these are Internet services, thanks to the Roku box, you can now watch movies from these sources in high-def on your plasma television. It’s like cable, only better.
Sci Fi Japan points us to Crackle, a new online “multi-platform next-generation video entertainment network” that is loaded with movies, television episodes, and original videos. Because Crackle is a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment Company, the have a load of titles from Columbia-TriStar, which owns the distribution rights to Toho’s giant monster movies. The current feature movie on the website’s home page is GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK, one of the best of the new millennium G-films, thanks to director Shusuke Kaneko, who had done an excellent job of reviving Gamera in the 1990s. The website is also highlighting GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, and GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRAS. Other available titles include MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, and GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Or if you prefer other forms of cinefantastique, you can check out everything from CANDYMAN to GHOSTBUSTERS, IDLE HANDS to HEAVY METAL, STARMAN to TOY SOLDIERS, WOLF to MUPPETS IN SPACE, JUMANJI to LOOK WHO’S TALKING.
There is an option to register if you want to submit your own original videos for viewing, but you do not need to be a member to view the content, all of which is available for free. Unfortunately, this means you have to tolerate occasional commercial interrupts, but they are mercifully brief (10 seconds).
The standard video quality is acceptable, and the stereo sound is excellent. There is an option for HD if you want to view the videos full-screen: the results are quite good, but you will need a fast Internet connection; otherwise, the video may freeze up for a few seconds now and then.
This dismal direct-to-video anthology of nine short subjects is almost guaranteed to provoke howls of outrage from disappointed viewers demanding their money back. The low-budget production values show a certain technical competence, suggesting reasonably well-made student films, but the stories are so flimsy and the pay-offs so weak your reaction is less likely to be a scream of fear than a confused, “Is that all?” In short, this feels like a throwback to the early days of home video, before the major studios had entered the direct-to-video market, when even no-budget amateurs could get their titles released on VHS, as long as they had enough exploitable elements (e.g., nudity and violence). It is a little harder for the small guy to make a splash in the DTV world these days, but Video on Demand (which is how we viewed THE HORROR VAULT) has become this generation’s VHS: a cheap method for low-budget filmmakers to get their films see without prohbitive shipping and handling costs associated with theatrical release.
The opening credits, with a cheesy but fun synth score, suggest a fun ’80s-era horror anthology TV series, but the stories tend toward violent psycho-horror bordering on torture porn, peppered with female nudity to keep your eyelids from closing prematurely. The nadir is a sleazy docu-drama showcasing some of the crimes of Ted Bundy for no particular reason other than that it offers an excuse for portraying acts of sexual violence against women (you can practically here the filmmakers squealing their defense in mock outrage, “Hey, don’t blame us – this really happened!”) Fortunately, there are one or two supernatural tales tucked into the mix, not that their quality is much better, but it offers some variety.
On the plus side, the various episodes are ambitious enough to attempt conveying several different time periods (the 1920s, the 1950s, etc.) with reasonable success, and one or two have premises interesting enough to hold your attention. For example, the intriguing “Alone” focuses on a lone college girl, locked inside an empty sorority house, who must figure out which of two men claiming to help her is actually a serial killer; of course she makes the wrong choice – a weak ending that spoils what could have been a little gem. (The episode is vaguely similar to a sequence in Dario Argento’s OPERA, where the material was handled much better – and with a more thrilling pay-off.)
The stand-out episode is “Disconnected,” which features a man who finds himself confined in an old warehouse where he is brutally tortured. If you’re squeamish, you may find yourself reaching for the fast-forward button, but don’t push it. The hysterical punchline, involving the absurd reason the victim is being tortured, yields the one truly satisfying conclusion to any of the tales.
As for the rest, the episodes tend to be vague or inconsequential and, in at least one case, downright incomprehensible. There is also the problem that, with no time to develop plots, the stories rely only on setting up simple situations – and several of the situations are the same (two episodes involve hitchhikers, more than one features a character waking up in the middle of a horrible situation). Considering how repetitious these nine episodes are, it is amazing to realize that the filmmakers felt they had more to say: THE HORROR VAULT 2 is already available, and THE HORROR VAULT 3 is in the works. It seems unlikely that many viewers who suffered through the first batch will be reopening this vault.
THE HORROR VAULT(Cletus Productions, 2008). Directed by Kim Sonderholm, David Boone, Josh Card, Russ Diaper, Mark Marchillo, Kenny Selko, Thomas Steen Sorensen, J.P. Wenner. Written by Russ Diaper, Drew English, Nicolai Ketelsen, Mark Marchillo, Zach Rasmussen, Kenny Selko, Kim Sonderholm, Thomas Steen Sorensen, J.P. Werner. Cast: Claire Ross-Brown, Kim Sonderholm, Jonathan Trent, Heather Tom, Elisa Richardson, Chad Mehle, James Terry Salles Wells Cook.
Variety reports that THE DARK KNIGHT will be the first Hollywood blockbuster to appear on Video on Demand before DVD, airing on South Korea’s VOD channels two-weks before the disc reaches stores.
“Warner is planning to do active business with digital distribution, based on Korea’s strong digital infrastructure as a test bed for a pre-DVD VOD service. We will collaborate with local business partners of digital content, while coping with illegal downloads,” said Cho Hong-yeon, director of Warner Korea’s digital distribution unit.