The books are now closed on 1987, and the ending, according to figures published in the industry newsletter Video Week, was not a happy one. The videocassette business (not including blank tapes) grew by an estimated 15 percent -- compared with almost 50 percent the year before -- despite the general increase in the prices of hit movies. Most of that growth came from sales of low-priced movies, confirming once again the general pall that has settled on the movie rental business. That may be good news for the rest of us though, since the major studios are now under pressure to dream up ways to keep renters happy.
Studio watchers will not be surprised to learn that last year Paramount rose to the top of the video heap, as it did in the theaters; the fact that its biggest movies of 1987 -- "The Untouchables," "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "Fatal Attraction" -- have yet to come out on tape bodes well for that studio's video fortunes in 1988. Disney and Warner were the other big gainers in 1987, while a parade of lackluster movies from 20th Century-Fox, Columbia and Universal caused declines in their video market shares.
It Takes Two
In his recently published book "Hitchcock and Selznick," film historian Leonard J. Leff reveals that the seven-year collaboration between director Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick in the 1940s represented an unending battle of wills between two of Hollywood's biggest egos. Each had his own agenda: Selznick, who brought Hitchcock over from England, was desperate to hold on to a director who could help him maintain the prestige he won with "Gone With the Wind" and worked very closely on their films to ensure that they would do just that. Hitchcock, on the other hand, was interested in one thing -- independence, both artistic and, more importantly, financial. Selznick had a bigger hand in Hitchcock's pictures than any other producer ever did, and Hitchcock fought him every step of the way. But as Hitchcock's other films during the same period demonstrate, the greater Selznick's involvement, the better the picture (with one exception). This month Key Video will permanently cut the prices on the four Hitchcock-Selznick collaborations: the classics "Rebecca" (1940), "Spellbound" (1945) and "Notorious" (1946), and the duo's final, less successful outing, "The Paradine Case" (1948), which is making its home video debut. Key is also discounting Hitchcock's best non-Selznick picture of the decade, the 1944 "Lifeboat."
Let's Get Spiritual
Now that the Christmas trees have shed their needles, home video companies are ready to get you thinking about the next round of religious holidays and the vital role that the VCR can play in the nation's home-screen altars. This month brings a flurry of tapes designed to cultivate the Easter and Passover spirits in viewers of all ages. For the kids, there's the "Heroes of the Bible" series of seven animated programs ranging in length from 30 to 60 minutes and priced at $10 each. Fans of the big-screen biblical epic can trace that bygone genre's rise and fall in three $29.98 features from CBS/Fox: "The Robe" (1953), "The Bible" (1966) and the 1976 television extravaganza "Moses." Finally, the Institute for Creative Jewish Media is offering "The Joy of Passover," which combines dramatizations of the holiday's origins with step-by-step instructions on creating a successful Seder; the half-hour tape sells for $29.95.
The Company She Keeps
Pia Zadora never was a casting director's dream, especially when it came to finding a supporting cast that would make her look like a star. One of next month's rental releases -- it's priced at $79.95 -- shows that somebody had the right idea: Surround her with creatures from outer space. The 1984 feature "Voyage of the Rock Aliens," finally seeing the light of home video courtesy of Prism Entertainment, casts Pia as a high school coed who launches a musical career singing with a band of extraterrestrial rock musicians who arrive on Earth in a guitar-shaped space ship. And in one of her final roles, Ruth Gordon shows up as the town sheriff. The film's attempt at a hit single, Pia's disco duet (with Jermaine Jackson) "When the Rain Begins to Fall," will sound familiar to those for whom strobe lights and mirror balls are the stuff of which late-night dreams are made.