(Scroll down to go straight to the Something Weird Seldom-Seen Wall of Fame)
In early 1995, every aspect of my life was about movies. I was one year out of college, managing a movie theater (which is a great job, if for no other reason than the fact that instead of saying “I gotta go to work,” you get to say “I’m going to the movies!”), making a new little movie every week with my friends and roommates (with titles like “Henry’s Bloody Improv” and “Profanity of the Super-Atomic Wart-Beast”) and writing my first feature-length screenplay on the side.
To help fill my considerable spare time, I had about a hundred and fifty VHS tapes, culled from bargain bins everywhere, and at the time, that seemed like an enormous collection. I felt I’d already dug fairly deeply into cult/trash film (Plan 9, Rocky Horror, Eraserhead, Repo Man, Spider-Baby, the early John Waters movies, even Blood Feast), but I had no idea how long a way I had to go.
I’d also just discovered a wonderful publication called Big Reel, and started collecting 16mm films. I had my own full-length film prints with sound and color of great movies no one else seemed interested in, like Burnt Offerings, Trog, and Doctor Tarr’s Torture Dungeon. Big Reel also always featured a full page ad for a company called Something Weird Video. The ad featured drawings of a whole bunch of characters I’d never seen before – intriguing. I liked how they called themselves “America’s Favorite Crackpot Video Company,” too. But the catalog cost five dollars. Five dollars? You could go to Woolworths and buy a whole movie for that.
Despite all of my movie-watching, movie-working, movie-making, movie-writing shenanigans, there was one movie longed to see. I couldn’t find it, though, and, at the time, I didn’t even know the name of it. It was a movie I saw on TV once, about a lady who’s being chased by the ghosts of evil Puritans. In real life, it was called Crowhaven Farm, but for some reason I had a suspicion that it might have been called Blood on Satan’s Claw.
Then I saw an ad (probably in Big Reel) for rare horror movies on VHS. My thought process was something like the following: I can’t find the movie I’m looking for, therefore it must be rare, therefore maybe it’s on this list of twenty films spanning three decades. And there was a title that I thought might match up to the movie I was looking for: Black Sunday. I shelled out twenty dollars American for a bootleg copy of a movie I’d never seen before, and when it arrived, it wasn’t Crowhaven Farm, and I really had no idea what it was. Of course, now we all know that Black Sunday is a haunting Mario Bava classic, and Crowhaven Farm is an Aaron Spelling made-for-TV schlockfest, but I’ll still admit to being disappointed at the time.
After a rollicking first couple of minutes, the rest of Black Sunday was pretty slow going for me the first time through. But I watched it to the end, and I was glad I did.
After Black Sunday was a group of trailers for movies I’d never seen before. And among those was the amazing and wonderful trailer for Bloody Pit of Horror. I’d never seen a more perfect-looking comic-book villain than Mickey Hargitay as… the Crimson Executioner! And he had all these crazy torture devices! And the women were scantily clad! And the dubbing looked out of sync! You think I’m using them here, back then my brain was just about filled up with Bloody Pit of Horror exclamation points!!!
So at that point, Bloody Pit of Horror jumped to the top of my list of must-see movies, and, as I was living a movie-driven life, it wasn’t long before… the new issue of Big Reel came out and… there’s that Something Weird Video ad, and… those drawings of characters I don’t recognize, except… wait a minute… who’s that guy?… It’s the CRIMSON EXECUTIONER!
And that’s how my Something Weird journey began.
That first Something Weird catalog was photocopied, and huge, but kind of a mess. Even with that initial catalog, I think, was a small list of titles that were no longer available. On my first order, I got Bloody Pit of Horror, natch, and an amazing trailer compilation featuring a ton of CRAZY stuff that wasn’t at all on my radar and most of which Something Weird didn’t even carry (Dr. Black & Mr. Hyde! Blazing Stewardesses! Dinah East -“Did you know your mother was a man?!”). It blasted me wide open as far as the range of weird cinema that was going to start being released as soon as DVDs took over in just a couple of years.
When the new catalog (With a table of contents! From a printer! With a color cover!) came out, I started eating, sleeping, and breathing Something Weird. If I recall correctly, SWV tapes were $22 each in those days (plus postage), so it was slow going, but I still collected as many as I could.
I’d already seen Blood Feast, but Something Weird introduced me in quick succession to the works of Jean Rollin (The Nude Vampire), Joe Sarno (Sin in the Suburbs, Inga), Dave Friedman’s later work, Barry Mahon, Coffin Joe, and Jess Franco (my first copy of Awful Dr. Orloff was a SWV tape). Most importantly for me at the time, Something Weird was the only source for the other two available films from Fredric C. Hobbes: I already had Alabama’s Ghost, and as soon as I found out about them, Roseland and (the then newly-rediscovered) Godmonster of Indian Flats were on their way.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal now that everything is so easily accessible, but the enormity of choices in the Something Weird catalog was so vast that I collected their videos for years without even touching the prominently displayed works of Doris Wishman and the Findlays. I didn’t get into that side until long after DVDs were the format of choice.
In 1996, I went to the Chiller convention in Secaucus, NJ. Mike Vraney and the team were there, and I got a chance to meet Dave Friedman, Frank Henenlotter and Joe Sarno (not to mention Russ Meyer, though he seemed pretty far gone by that point). I got an autographed copy of the brand new Psychotronic Video Guide, and all was right with the world.
So really, this was going to be a nice short post, but I got a little carried away waxing nostalgic. So lemmee just do my seldom-seen wall of fame and get out of here.
The movies on this list are (mostly) from deep down in the Something Weird catalog, where all but the most adventurous film fans fear to tread. In alphabetical order, because I can’t organize them any other way.
The Seldom-Seen Wall of Fame
Belle, Bare & Beautiful – Like Blood Feast? This is the movie Lewis & Friedman made right before (like a week or two before) with almost exactly the same cast! William Kerwin plays a dude who dreams about a girl, has a picture drawn of her (“She had a Roman nose.” “Sounds like a Greek goddess.” “Believe me, she was.”), then discovers that she’s a stripper in Miami and sets out to win her love.
Below the Belt – Dir.: Bethel Buckalew. A bastard boxing manager gets in trouble with a gangster in this softcore sex movie. There’s one unpleasantly rough sex scene (and some of the others go on for too long), but the “plot” part of the movie is highly entertaining. In the 70s, you could be an actor in a sex movie and still be an actor. With Buck Flower, Rene Bond, and Uschi Digard. A Harry Novak production, no longer available from Something Weird.
The Big Bad Wolf – A literal retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” starring people in animal suits. You know, for kids. Dubbed into English from the original German, but you’d never know it because the baker and the shopkeeper are the only characters not wearing animal suits. Featuring the hit song “Sweep the Floor”!
Burlesque in Harlem – A filmed variety show featuring all-black talent (burlesque dancers, singers, and comics) from the 1940s. The print is choppy during Pigmeat Markham’s bit, but after you’ve watched it as many times as I have, you’ll understand anyway. Wonderful.
Erotic Adventures of Hansel & Gretel – A pair of German teens (he’s over-eager, she’s a virgin) get lost in the woods (in their car) and meet a beautiful “witch” in a mod outfit who invites them back to her place, where they stay for a couple of days and all sorts of lightweight sexytime hijinks occur. There’s a lecherous old narrator, character actor Herbert Fux (Mark of the Devil, Franco’s Jack the Ripper) shows up, and the whole thing is pretty surreal. Also known as “How to Make Love to a Virgin.”
Feast of Flesh – A guy in a creepy mask plays organ music that enslaves unsuspecting girls so he can shoot them up with heroin. The cops are after him, and in the end it’s all revenge plot – the dude is against teenagers in general because his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash by a teenager high on drugs (kinda like the Birdy, the unsympathetic cop in The Blob). I’ve watched it five or six times and the mask still really creeps me out. From Argentina, and the director of the Curious Dr. Humpp.
Inga – A beautifully shot soap opera about a teenage girl coming of age while living with her aunt in Sweden. Joe Sarno was a wonderful writer/director, certainly the only one in this list with realistic (I was going to say well-rounded, but that sounds like a joke from Kiss Me Quick) female characters. No longer available from Something Weird.
Pagan Island – In his “Untamed Video” intro, Johnny Legend insults the production values in this movie mercilessly, but I think they’re just fine. A man is shipwrecked, washes ashore on an island of partially-clad women who speak broken English, and falls in love with one of them. She’s due to be sacrificed next week. What will happen? Cheese. Cheesecake. Bad acting. Decent photography. Fun.
Roseland – This is one of my all-time favorite movies. The Black Bandit (E. Kerigan Prescott) steals a dirty movies from a research clinic, and tells his psychiatrist about his former singing career and his obsession with the Hieronymous Bosch painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The psychiatrist gives his a potion to make him dream, and it gets weirder from there. He gets a job in a burlesque house, then is sent to the nuthouse, where he finally meets Hieronymous Bosch, who takes him to Roseland (aka the Garden of Earthly Delights), but the Power Elite has another plan before our hero gets his reward. A counterculture masterpiece, with a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Christopher Brooks as Bosch, who explains in great detail why “art is the ultimate reality.” Along the way, there’s lots of sex scenes and a couple of musical numbers – if any of this seems intriguing to you, do yourself a favor. A Harry Novak production, no longer available from Something Weird.
Red Roses of Passion – Dir. Joe Sarno. A very cool little film. Carla joins a cult called “The Daughters of Delphi,” where ladies drink potions and then rub rose petals on themselves. Soon, her uptight aunt and cousin are waiting by the door for a strange man to deliver a single rose. This is a sex movie with no nudity, in black and white, with only a few characters, and almost all of the action takes place in 3 rooms, but it’s really weird. And highly recommended.
Satan’s Children – A teenage boy runs away from home and is raped by an older man and his friends. They leave him to die, and he wakes up in the care of a satanic cult where all the guys have mustaches. Did you know that Satan hates gay people? At least in Florida he does.
Almost 20 years later, Something Weird Video is still America’s Favorite Crackpot Video Company, with DVD-R titles as low as $8 if you buy ten at a time. Their website took a long time to become fully functional, but it has been for a few years now. They’re also the only real brand loyalty I harbor towards anything – those guys have done a lot for me!
Words & images copyright 2013 Eric Henderson