August may be winding down to its languorous conclusion, but the dog days won't hit the video rental business until next month. The rental business is a little out of step with the rest of the entertainment industry; while the film, television and publishing sectors try out their most prestigious new wares each autumn, there is relatively little excitement headed for the rental shelves in the early fall.

In part to take advantage of the seasonal lull in rental titles, Paramount Home Video is launching an effort to revitalize one sagging segment of the rental business -- a move that could cause some little movies to show up in big numbers on rental shelves this fall. The category in question is what the industry refers to as "B" titles -- low-budget genre pictures that may not offer the campy delights of B-movies of yesteryear but serve the same function as fill-ins for the more high-profile releases playing on other screens.

B-titles were once a mainstay of the video-rental business, back when retailers could fill their shelves with virtually anything and be sure that tape-hungry renters would bite. Now these low-budget genre pictures -- which typically make the move from camera to tape without ever stopping on a big movie screen -- aren't so attractive to video retailers, who have to spend their extra money buying extra copies of those "A" and "Mega-A" titles that everyone wants.

Opinion is divided about the profitability of B-titles. A recent survey by industry analysts Alexander & Associates found that B-titles take twice as long as A-titles (six weeks vs. three weeks) to generate enough rentals to turn a profit for the retailers. But video dealers build loyal customers by offering a varied selection -- the B variety included -- and thus see some need for alternatives to the latest blockbuster. According to Paramount, retailers report that new A-titles often account for only 30 percent of their rental transactions. That is, of course, good news for Paramount and other purveyors of B-titles, which represent a much lower studio investment than their high profiled competition.

Consequently, Paramount -- whose A-titles these days aren't quite the top of the alphabet -- has a lot to gain by its "Shelf-Help" B-title promotion, which includes an extended-payment plan for retailers who order extra copies of the movies involved. All of which sounds more interesting than the first four movies: "Crash and Burn," billed as a futuristic sci-fi thriller; "Satan's Princess," an "erotic thriller" whose title character, according to Paramount, is "desirable, deadly and will rent like a demon"; the thriller "Snow Kill," in which "executives on a team-building wilderness trek face an unexpected test: attack by a pack of murderous drug smugglers"; and the long-awaited sequel to the bimbos-in-uniform comedy "Vice Academy." If Paramount's plan works, these will be showing up in surprising numbers in the next two months. At least you'll know why.

The More the Merrier

After a two-year "moratorium" in which no new copies were manufactured or offered for resale, the most successful trilogy in film history will return to the home video market this fall at its lowest price yet. In October, CBS/Fox Video will offer "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi" for $19.98 each, or $59.98 for the specially packaged box set of all three. The three movies have already sold upwards of 3 million tapes priced at $29.98 and higher. Luke Skywalker and crew will have some company on the video box gift set shelf this fall, as several other video suppliers rush to repeat the surprise success that Paramount had with its Indiana Jones three-pack last winter. A Media Home Entertainment "Nightmare on Elm Street" gift set will reduce the prices on those movies to $9.95 each; and RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video will offer a $54.95 "Karate Kid" trilogy and a $34.95 "Ghostbusters" two-tape collection, representing the first price reduction for last year's rental hit "Ghostbusters II."

A Rose Is a Rose

Anyone who has ever shopped in a video store where tapes are organized by genre may have had occasion to question the retailer's sanity and judgment when trying to decode an idiosyncratic organization scheme. The latest round of winners in the annual Homer Awards, in which retailers elect their favorite releases by category, confirms that video dealers do indeed have a unique way of making sense of the movies they merchandise. Best Foreign Film honors went to "Shirley Valentine" -- whose title character, at least, is foreign -- while "Beaches" won the Best Musical prize. Other winners included "Rain Man" (Drama), "Dead Calm" (Horror), "Look Who's Talking" (Comedy), "Lethal Weapon 2" (Action-Adventure), "The Abyss" (Science Fiction) and "Bambi" (Classic). The awards were voted on by 4,000 members of the Video Software Dealers Association, who also named Arnold Schwarzenegger Video Star of the Year. At least they know a star when they see one.