THE BASEMENT BACK IN TIME: Samuel Z. Arkoff Collection Cult Classics DVD Series

Growing up, I was obsessed with the low-budget movies of the 1950s. This obsession has continued well into adulthood. My favorites were those put out by American International Pictures, run by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson. AIP is an American motion picture production label of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In its original operating period, AIP was an independent film production and distribution company known for producing and releasing films from 1955 until 1980, a year after its acquisition by Filmways in 1979.

It was formed on April 2, 1954, as American Releasing Corporation (ARC) by former Realart Pictures Inc. sales manager James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff and their first release was the 1953 UK documentary film Operation Malaya. It was dedicated to releasing low-budget films packaged as double features, primarily of interest to the teenagers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The company eventually became a part of Orion Pictures, which in turn, became a division of MGM. On October 7, 2020, four decades after the original closure, MGM revived AIP as a label for acquired films for digital and theatrical releases, with MGM overseeing across streaming platforms and United Artists Releasing handling theatrical distribution in North America.

The movies, all low budget, were very creative with what they had. Whether it was the usual next-to-nothing budgets or cheesy monster effects, all of these films have a special place in my heart. Up until 2006, when Lionsgate Home Entertainment started releasing the Samuel Z. Arkoff Collection Cult Classics double-feature DVDs, most of these films had only been available in less than stellar versions on VHS. Upon the initial release of the first four sets, fans of these films were very excited. Some of these movies had never seen the light of day on home video and we all thought that this was going to be a long-running series. Unfortunately, it was not to be the case.

In the end, only four volumes were released, leaving many of us wondering to this day if we will ever see the rest of the AIP catalog on digital media. For the volumes we did receive, they were a lot of fun. The DVD covers featured the original movies of the double feature. Though both movies appear on one DVD, the quality of these movies are decent, considering the source material. These collections are as threadbare as you can get, with no extras provided. Thankfully, in recent years Shout Factory has gotten the rights to many of the movies on these double feature discs, upgrading the quality and including extras. The only problem is that they tend to sell out fast.

I don’t know how true it is, but rumor has it that the widow of Arkoff is in talks with Shout Factory for the rights to the rest of the AIP catalog. I am hoping that INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN is one of these titles, as she has been holding the rights to this film hostage for many years and to date, it has only had a legal release on VHS. I guess only time will tell.

Don’t forget to read other entries in my BASEMENT BACK IN TIME series!

~David Albaugh

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