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New Price Strategies Could Boost Home Sales Market; Big Expectations for Some New Releases in April

Times Staff Writer

Can the home-video market, traditionally dominated by rentals, ever become significantly geared to sales?

Many home video executives now say maybe. A few years ago, the answer was a resounding no.

According to which survey you quote, rentals claim between 80% to 90% of the market. But in the next year or two, sales may grab an increasingly larger share.

In the last year, more and more home-video companies have been assembling packages of roughly 20 to 30 titles--mostly of movies a year or two old--to sell from $20 to $30 each. Generally, a current movie sells for $79.95, so heavily promoted reduced-price titles lure customers who are inspired to buy.

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Many of the titles in these promotions are high-quality items. However, since most have been on the market for a year or two, they’re no longer in great demand as rentals, and have already had considerable cable-TV exposure.

Meir Hed, co-owner of the Videotheque stores in Westwood and Beverly Hills and a longtime advocate of lower prices, noted: “These bargains are great for customers. If they wait a while, they can buy their favorite movies at reasonable prices. These promotions make people want to buy. If handled right, I’ve always said this business could be primarily a sales business, not a rental business. Retailers like customers to get into the habit of buying. There are huge profits for us in sales.”

Tim Clott, Paramount Home Video senior vice president and general manager, observed: “We always knew lots of people would buy rather than rent if the price was right. Even though they can tape a certain movie off of TV, some people prefer to buy a cassette, so they can get a nice package, in stereo and a better quality print than they get from taping off of TV. As the VCR population grows you find more and more people like that.”

Clott said Paramount has about 50 titles on the market in the $17-to-$30 range, some former blockbusters like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “48 HRS.": “We vary the titles in that low-price range. We retire some and bring new ones.”

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Incidentally, Paramount was a pioneer in bargain pricing, selling “Star Trek II” in 1982 at $39.95, when no major movie cost less than $60.

NEW AND COMING MOVIES: Though “Power” didn’t have much power at the box office, this star-studded political drama--with Richard Gere, Gene Hackman and Julie Christie--should be potent in the rental market. Karl-Lorimar is releasing the movie, directed by Sidney Lumet, onMay 28.

Don Johnson fans who missed “Cease Fire” when it was in the theaters last fall may make this a rental hit when Thorn/EMI/HBO releases the videocassette on April 30. Johnson, often rapped by critics for his “Miami Vice” performances, was lauded for his portrayal of a traumatized Vietnam veteran.

In the stores this week: “Bring on the Night” (Karl-Lorimar, $79.95), Sting’s concert/documentary; the comedy/mystery “Compromising Positions” (Paramount, $79.95), with Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia.

On Wednesday, two major movies debut on videocassette--Paramount’s “Witness,” with Harrison Ford, and Charter Entertainment’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” co-starring Oscar winner William Hurt and Raul Julia.

The week of April 13: “Sweet Dreams,” featuring Jessica Lange’s acclaimed portrayal of country singer Patsy Cline; the Chuck Norris movie, “Invasion USA” and the vampire comedy, “Once Bitten.”

The week of April 21: “American Flyers,” “Krush Kroove” and “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.” The week of April 27 is the big one of the month, with the releases of “Cocoon,” “A Chorus Line,” “Agnes of God,” “The Journey of Natty Gann” and “My Chauffeur.”

Recent releases: “Commando,” “The Bride,” “The Goonies,” “Plenty,” “Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird” and “Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer.”

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OLD MOVIES: The Gem of the Month award for the best old movie to debut on videocassette goes, hands down, to “The Hidden Fortress,” a 1958 Japanese action movie directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The great director’s attempt at a simple, thrills ‘n’ chills B-picture is revered by film buffs and knowledgeable action-film fans. Toshiro Mifune plays the good guy who escorts a sassy princess through legions of bad guys. If the plot sounds familiar it’s because it was an influence for George Lucas’ “Star Wars.” “The Hidden Fortress” will be issued Tuesday by Media at $59.95.

On the same day at the same price, Media will release an earlier Kurosawa film, “Ikiru” (1952), the sentimental tale of a man dying of cancer. Both are subtitled.

One of the best cinematic explorations of the abuses of power is the 1949 movie, “All the King’s Men,” which won a best picture Oscar and best actor Oscar for Broderick Crawford. Due on RCA/Columbia on April 30 at $59.95.

Noteworthy recent releases: “Alfie” (1966), “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), “The Naked Prey” (1965) and the 1977 documentary, “The California Reich.”

HORROR/ACTION: Hard-core action film buffs are eagerly awaiting the videocassette release of “Black Moon Rising,” which stars Tommy Lee Jones, Bubba Smith and Linda Hamilton, the female star of “The Terminator.” It’s due on May 28 from New World.

In “Stephen King’s Silver Bullet” (Paramount, $79.95), a youngster in a wheelchair battles a homicidal monster who makes life miserable for residents of a small town. Classier than most in the genre.

They don’t come more gruesome than “Carnage,” a haunted-house tale due out next week (Media, $49.95). Also due next week: the gory monster thriller “Alligator” (Lightning, $79.95).

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In “Howling II,” the werewolves are prowling Transylvania. It’s just slightly less scary than the grisly original, “The Howling.” The sequel, due in two weeks on Thorn/EMI/HBO, stars Christopher Lee and Marsha A. Hunt.

“Nightmare on Elm Street II,” the sequel to the B-movie horror classic, is due out June 26 on Media. CHARTS (Compiled by Billboard magazine). TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS

1--"Return of the Jedi” (CBS-Fox).

2--"Silverado” (RCA/Columbia).

3--"Rambo: First Blood Part II” (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

4--"Prizzi’s Honor” (Vestron).

5--"Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (Warner Video).

6--"National Lampoon’s Big Vacation” (Warner Video).

7--"Mask” (MCA).

8--"St. Elmo’s Fire” (RCA/Columbia).

9--"Summer Rental” (Paramount).

10--"Weird Science " (MCA). TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES

1--"Return of the Jedi” (CBS-Fox).

2--"Jane Fonda’s New Workout” (Karl-Lorimar).

3--"Beverly Hills Cop” (Paramount).

4--"Rambo: First Blood Part II” (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

5--"Pinocchio” (Disney).

6--"Jane Fonda’s Workout” (Karl-Lorimar).

7--"The Wizard of Oz,” (MGM/UA).

8--"Silverado” (RCA/Columbia).

9--"Prime Time” (Karl-Lorimar).

10--"Gone With the Wind” (MGM/UA).


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