The Synergy Archive Series: A Diatribe

The increasing popularity of Blu-Ray makes me wonder how much longer new standard-definition DVDs will be manufactured—and yet there are still many forgotten B- and C-grade movies that will never have gotten proper DVD releases (like The Mad Room; see yesterday’s post).  So for that reason I’m grateful for projects like the Warner Archive or Amazon’s burn-on-demand service, which are now putting out workable DVD editions of many out-of-print films.  They may not be ideal editions, but they’re a step up from VHS.  (Finally I can throw away that old cassette of The Mad Room, which I taped off of cable c. 1995.)  In most cases, the prints aren’t half bad, either.  The Mad Room even looks downright beautiful in spots, in its own particular garish, cheap, late-60s way. 

But the Synergy Archive Series is another story.  Commendably, they have taken to releasing the crap that no other DVD company will touch—stuff like the 70s horror bomb Cathy’s Curse (which has a reputation around my family’s household), sleazy thrillers like Julie Darling (dir. Paul Nicholas, 1981), and exploitation favorites like Paranoia (a.k.a Orgasmo, dir. Umberto Lenzi, 1969).  Since this is probably the only shot these films will have at the DVD format (and it seems to me unlikely that they’ll ever make it to Blu-Ray), I guess these DVDs are better than nothing.  But just barely.  In most cases Synergy appears simply to have ported over VHS or broadcast-ready editions of the films.  So the lurid, psychedelic Paranoia, for instance, is butchered by truly atrocious pan-and-scan (see the screen grab above); all of the sex scenes have been cut (a total of six minutes are missing); and even the plastic wrap on their cheap DVD cases is impossible to remove without leaving scabs of dried glue all over the spine.  There’s also a burned-in “Synergy” logo that periodically shows up in the corner of the screen.  Sure, most of these movies are pretty trashy; you might say, “who cares?”  I imagine that in many cases it’s also difficult to acquire good quality prints of these films to work with.  But anything that calls itself an “archive” should, IMO, go to the trouble of archiving a half-way decent copy of its artifacts.  Thanks for dropping the ball, Synergy.

A few words about Paranoia, though. I wanted to check it out after learning that it played here in Boston last spring as part of the Brattle Theater’s grindhouse series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s kind of a Eurotrash cross between Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove, with Carroll Baker playing the Milly Theale role as a wealthy American movie star spending a summer at an Italian villa, where she gets tag-teamed by a sexy brother-and-sister who are after her money.  Incestuous orgies, bad trips, and blaring rock-n-roll music ensue. Who says this stuff isn’t worthy of a decent DVD edition?  

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