By this time, most techno-savvy genre film fans have noticed that Amazon Prime has been a great repository for oddball genre films, thanks to a set-up that basically allows anyone with a movie and a dream to upload their content to the platform with the potential of getting some limited funds out of Jeff Bezos’s pocket. Sure, there have been issues with content being removed from the site without warning, and it’s still too easy for content to come through without verification of the rights, but Amazon Prime still features tons of cinematic nooks and crevices that the more adventurous viewer (as, I’m presuming, you are, dear reader) can’t want to go spelunking into.
The problem is that with all of this content, there’s going to be a lot of chaff involved in sorting through the wheat. Looking for the dozens of eurotrash movies from the ‘70s that the service has to offer? You’ll have to scroll through hundreds of pages of stuff like Fergie: The Downfall of a Duchess or the eighty billion Christmas movies to get there. Even then, the nature of Amazon’s structure means that plenty of movies are mislabled by genre and year, and often have questionable artwork, so you may not even find something you’d love to see if you’re in the right place. Amazon Prime is like one of those giant used bookstores that used to exist before Amazon came along and drove them all out of business – they’re bound to have exactly what you’re in the mood to get, but they’re so disorganized that you’re not so much hunting for something specific as browsing the aisles aimlessly trying to figure out the vague system of organization that someone came up with twenty years ago and never bothered to pass on to anyone else.
For example, go to your Amazon Prime video site now. Don’t worry, you can do it in another tab, I won’t look. Is there any indication there that they’ve just added (as of May 22nd, 2020) Vincent Gallo’s BUFFALO 66, Nico Mastorakis’ weirdly homoerotic Brian Thompson action film HIRED TO KILL, Corey Yuen’s Hong Kong action pic SO CLOSE, the disco classic THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY and the 1980 Willie Nelson/Kris Kristofferson country-music drama SONGWRITER? If you haven’t clicked, I’ll save you the trouble. The answer is “no.”
“But this is a major streaming service,” you cry, “they capture every bit of information on everything I’ve ever watched! Surely they take my demographic information into account and show me the films that I’d be interested in, and I’ve watched plenty of interesting psychotronic films! It’s almost like my ‘Movies we think you’ll like’ queue means nothing! This is an outrage! ”
The problem is that because of the number of movies coming into the service, there’s obviously a lack of employees on the Amazon end that can properly categorize and evaluate everything that’s coming in, so it’s up to algorithms to do the work Jeff Bezos is too cheap to pay for. So these movies that were just added might show up to your recommendation queue eventually, if enough people that are like you discover that they’re there. Of course, a lot of companies only license their titles for a short period of time, so maybe they’ll be gone by the time they show up. Or maybe they’re mislabeled so nobody will find them unless they’re deliberately looking for them. Or maybe they have terrible, generic artwork or they’re under a different title or they’re listed as being made in 1970 rather than whatever year they actually were, because “1970” appears to be the default.
Like I said, it’s a giant used bookstore of potential. Dear reader, I’m here to help, or at least offer a tattered map from 2003 that was scribbled on a napkin by a drunken man at a Denny’s who called himself “Filmy.”
There are a number of different sites out there that offer comprehensive lists of what’s new on streaming services. JustWatch is a good one for all of your streaming platform needs, and if you’ve got a load of platforms to keep track of, it’s great. The problem is that it doesn’t give you everything (from what I can tell it only supplies titles it can track an IMDb entry for, which is fine for normal people, but a big blind spot for folks like us) and often fails to change the database entries once a title leaves the service. (This isn’t all on them – in my own experiences with various services’ APIs, this is a back-end issue.) It’s ideal for getting a snapshot of what you’re looking for, and it does allow you to search based on specific years, genres, and streaming services to find exactly what your mood suggests.
Amazon Prime, however, has too much content added on a daily basis to work well with the service. This is why I tend to check Prime via Instantwatcher, which updates almost every day and will list literally everything that is new to Prime on that day. It’s handy, and the database is updated regularly.
And that’s handy – but that’s not the trick.
The best thing about Instantwatcher is that it allows you to search by label.
See, uploading content to Amazon Prime requires some sort of studio to be attached to it, and there isn’t a way, within Amazon, to search by studio, so searching for, say, “Blue Underground” will get a lot of random stuff. With Instantwatcher, you can cut to only see the good stuff by the studio in question, and at least get a browsing setting more ideal for your needs.
Here are a few great options, with links to a cavalcade of goodies:
Shout Factory: Here’s the mother lode. Over 400 titles, virtually all of them of Daily Grindhouse reader interest, and many of them not on DVD or Blu-Ray at all. Corman stuff from the ‘70s? ‘80s? ‘90s? Yes to all of it. AIP films from the ‘50s? Yes. inda Blair reform school movies? Yes. If you can click on that link without adding something to your queue, you’re reading the wrong site.
FilmRise: You want a random assortment of “stuff?” Check out this FilmRise link. What seems to be a company that just buys the rights to whatever it can get its hands on, FilmRise’s Prime content is wildly varied, from Jim Wynorski’s 976-EVIL 2 to the Irvine Welsh adaptation THE ACID HOUSE to the five-film BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY series to the insane Dennis Hopper obscurity BLOODBATH. Do you want the experience of going through an old video store that has only updated their stock with made-for-TV movies since 1998? Click on that FilmRise link and have a blast.
Sony Pictures: Ever-rotating, but always interesting, Sony has stuck a bunch of their backlog on Prime, including plenty of titles that haven’t made it to DVD. John Sayles’ CITY OF HOPE? The 1975 interracial love story AARON LOVES ANGELA? The wild, all-star road movie MOTORAMA? It’s all on Prime, once you can find it.
MGM: Remember when Netflix had a bunch of random MGM archival stuff on their service? Well, it’s on Prime now, including titles like the 1989 TEN LITTLE INDIANS, the screwball comedy BEER and the neo-noir DIARY OF A HITMAN. And a hell of a lot more.
The best advice I can give is that if you do find something interesting on Prime, look it up on Instantwatcher and click on the label. You may just find some more treasures in the wings.
Don’t sleep on the documentaries either. While there’s a ton of barely-above-homemade level conspiracy videos and random ephemera that was rejected by the Discovery Channel in 1995, there’s no shortage of treasures to find as well. Some notable docs of vintage include Bruce Brown’s THE ENDLESS SUMMER, The Prince concert film SIGN O’ THE TIMES, the great retrospective doc THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT and the fantastic Sun Ra doc A JOYFUL NOISE. Even some newer shorts are worth a look for the psychotronic fan – I mean, there’s a 30-minute documentary on the maker of the game Operation that’s perfect for a lunch break.
Amazon Prime is a tremendous resource for genre fans, so even if they’ve got no idea how to organize the product they have, there’s a lot there to enjoy. And I’d suggest taking advantage of it as quickly as possible – streaming isn’t physical media, so once it’s gone, you never know when it may pop up again. You’ve got a three day weekend, so you may as well start hunting now!