As a longtime DVD lover it’s a difficult fact for me to face, but a fact nonetheless, that DVDs are on their way out. Pundits have long been predicting the day when the format will give way entirely to digital downloading, and while that day may not yet have arrived, it’s definitely on the horizon. With that in mind I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the days when DVDs were a new and exciting format.

Over the 00’s I came to appreciate quite a few horror/cult DVD distributors, including Anchor Bay, Fantoma, Unearthed Films, Mondo Macabro, Subversive Cinema and Synapse Films. Most of those outfits are still going (I would say going strong, but that, obviously, would be inaccurate, with sales now a fraction of what they once were). One such outfit that is no longer with us is the Michigan based Barrel Entertainment, in my view the most vital of the bunch.

Barrel, it seems, was also the most threadbare of its fellows budget-wise, being a very small operation whose output consisted of one, or occasionally two, releases a year. Yet those releases, nine in total, were always worth waiting for. I have my differences with a few of the films Barrel put out (I’ve never thought much of BULLET ON A WIRE or the camcorder vampire epic DARKNESS), but all their DVDs are stellar, with painstaking digital transfers and unerringly well-chosen extra features. Barrel’s are among the very few DVDs I’d categorize as essential.

Barrel Entertainment’s seven year lifespan can be said to roughly parallel that of the so-called DVD revolution. Barrel commenced its reign early on in that revolution, with a DVD version of Jorg Buttgereit’s sicko classic NEKROMANTIK in 2000. It was a stellar release, decked out with a strong assortment of extra features (audio commentary, featurettes, a short film), and their 2001 follow-up release of Buttgereit’s SCHRAMM didn’t disappoint. It was their third effort, however, that really established Barrel as a company to be reckoned with: the 2002 2-disc edition of the late Roger Watkins’ LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, which stands as both an unusually lavish treatment of a little-known cult classic and a fascinating exploration of its maker’s obsessive psyche.

Ironically enough, it was that very release that apparently led to Barrel’s 2007 dissolution. Information on the subject is frustratingly scarce, but as I understand it Roger Watkins sued Barrel because of some extra features they neglected to include on the LAST HOUSE DVD, and Barrel, being the tiny outfit they were, elected to cease business entirely rather than undergo a costly lawsuit.

This doesn’t detract in any way from Barrel’s other releases, notably their 2006 DVD edition of Barbet Schroeder’s CHARLES BUKOWSKI TAPES, or their final release, Harry Kumel’s MALPERTUIS. The latter is indicative of Barrel’s audacity, being a worthy but obscure film they nonetheless went all out with in a jam-packed two disc package that ushered Barrel out on an appropriately high note.

Subsequent Barrel Entertainment DVDs were to have included Buttgereit’s DER TODESKING and Gerald Kargl’s ANGST. Both films would doubtless have benefited immeasurably from the expansive Barrel treatment–as, for that matter, would any film.