(cross-published with Vol. 4 of Cinema Adrift)
by Jason Suzuki
As far as streaming services go, while Netflix is fine and all, my main one has been Hulu Plus thanks to its partnership with the Criterion Collection. It turns out Criterion has the rights to more stuff than they can release and that the majority of it is Japanese films (entire Kinoshita filmography, entire Oshima filmography, etc.). To this day I have not used it for TV shows or any non-Criterion movies found on the site. Thanks to the growing popularity of Netflix, certain companies have tried to brand their own services, most notably Warner Bros. and their Archive branch. With the launch of their own streaming service Exploitation.TV, Vinegar Syndrome have provided the missing niche in the world of streaming: the weird.
Unlike other distributors, this is not a half-assed attempt to cash in on the rise of the stream. Not only does it give exploitation fans something Netflix doesn’t, many of these titles can’t be found elsewhere. According to the site’s FAQ, about 80% of the films are exclusive to the site, many not having ever seen a physical release. And it’s not just Vinegar Syndrome titles on the site either, deals have been worked with companies like Severin Films (Vampyros Lesbos, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, Castle of Blood), Distribpix (Opening of Misty Beethoven), and Vagrancy Films whose only title is Colour Correct My Cock, which was immediately added to my watch list. They promise to add titles every Friday, around 10 or more a month. For some reason I see this as a promise that will be kept, though I have been burned in the past as Criterion’s Hulu presence has been extremely sparse and irregular with updates of added titles.
Exploitation.TV is available on both Roku and ChromeCast as well as on the web, which is how I primarily used it. I was able to use a friend’s Roku to test out how it works and there is definitely a lot to be desired with the UI, especially when compared to the design of the browser based experience (granted, I am not too familiar with the Roku and how the other apps work). If you have a nice selection of bookmarked titles ready, called your Watch List, then you should be fine to start watching. But it’s a lot harder to kind of freestyle explore and come across an impulse watch like you can with the way the site has been designed. You are forced to choose by genre, needing to load each one in order to go to the next. In other words, you’re screwed if you want to see all the Thrillers, needing to load Action, Arthouse, Comedy, Drama, and Horror on your way to the desired category. The films play just fine though, I didn’t have any stutters watching two films in a row, something I have encountered with both Netflix and Hulu.
I absolutely love the site though. When you look at a movie you can click through to see other films potentially on the site from the same director, the actors, and even the distribution company. It’s a feature I believe wasn’t always with Netflix and something that Hulu Plus doesn’t have, which would come in handy when looking for films starring Mariko Kaga. Thankfully here though, I can see through my newfound crush on Sandy Dempsey by searching for a movie I’ve seen her in and just clicking on her name (I know I can also just directly enter her name in the search bar but my brain thought it would be easier the other way). They could include more cast members for each film though, especially with a film with a nice ensemble like Dracula Sucks. I guess my only real gripe with the site is that it’s a little hard to distinguish films you have rated with films you haven’t. Hopefully you can judge how great a site this is out the gate from how small that inconvenience is.
Apart from films you can also watch short films and even trailers. There is even a section called Extras which includes essays and films of the week, making this the first streaming site to have supplemental materials (EDIT 9/23: Other sites have included these before Exploitation.TV, such as Shout! Factory TV and Full Moon streaming. Apologies if other sites feelings were hurt.). Just another indicator that this site was made by true film lovers, a quality that Tim League was able to create for his theater chain. This is probably the reason this site is so exciting, because you know it will always be improved, and that it is in the care of people who are not disconnected from those who would use the site. $10 a month or $84 a year turns out to be very fair for such a great and growing site.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.