What got you into into filmmaking?
Going bekw in the record business! The history of Carlson International and my roots as a studio session guy is on the home page of carlsoninternational.com - and if you think the horror flicks were bad, you should have heard some of CI's records (especially the nefarious "Disco Godfather" by the thankfully late Peppe Villani.
What were your influences?
The jump start influences for me were Herschel Gordon Lewis and the Brandt 42nd St Theatres in NYC. I emerged from the Port Authority Bus Terminal one morning and got caught in a downpour of rain. So I ditched in the New Amsterdam theatre that was playing a HGL double header, "Wizard Of Gore" and "Blood Feast' As my twenty something eyes feasted upon Connie Mason getting her leg amputated in a bath tub but also noticed the 2000+ seat theatre was packed SRO at eight o'clock in the morning. I figured if HGL can film in his mother's basement and attract such a conglomerate of eyeballs, maybe I could. My father had a drill press, too!
How did the Vidimax Macabre Video Underground Begin?
Well, the big home video revolution burgeoned in the late seventies and, speaking of jump starting, I wanted to be among the first to release "trash horror" on VHS and Beta (Analog...yikwa!!!). Since getting on retail shelves took some doing (albeit most pioneer video rental stores were mom and pop at the start), me, my B&W copier and I came up with the name "Vidimax" ripped off from cable TV's "Cinemax" And then the catch line that kinda caught on, "The Macabre Video Underground."
What were the titles you distributed that were produced exclusively for Vidimax?
The original self produced and exclusive titles of Vidimax (operation as a subsidiary of Carlson International) were: "The Necrotic" (1976), "Star, Baby" (1979), (time lapse due to yours truly getting hit by a car --- guess someone didn't like those flicks!) "The New York Centerfold Massacre" (1984), "Tenderloin" (1985), "Violations" (1986), "Genesome" (1987), "Child Of The Sabbat" (1989), "The Nutzoids At Cannibal Cove" (1990), "The Intruder" (1992).
Where there any films you distributed to retail or rental chains?
Two productions we did for hire, for Telepix, "Violations" and "Stars of Burlesque" and "NY Centerfold..." were the only titles retail packaged & distrib'd by Telepix crediting Carlson International as producer.
What where your best selling titles?
During the mail order VHS/BETA years were 1. Violations, 2. Child Of The Sabbat, 3. Tenderloin, 4. Cannibal Cove, 5. NY Centerfold Massacre. Fast forward to now on free streams, the same as most viewed save "Violations," most of that footage was lost in the fire.
How many members where there at the Macabre Video Undergrounds peak?
At the mail order peak, late 80's, there were about 2,500 member "regulars" ....fans, guys and gals, who called or wrote letters and questions to us or a fanzine called "Videomania" out of WI.
What were some of the outside titles you distributed?
In addition to our own abortions, some indie guys asked us to add their productions, so we had 1986 "Cannibal Church" from upstate NY, 1978 NYC/Jersey filmed "A Certain Sacrifice" starring none other than Louise Veronica Ciccone (ya all know who she is...the adoption queen). And some Cleo The Whip Lady spectaculars from none other than Carter Stevens.
Vidimax was the first distributor to release the Guinea Pig films in the US can you tell us about that?
Ah, yes, the notorious "Guinea Pig." As I remember, I got a call from a Mr. Hi (add joke here) in Osala, Japan, but I couldn't understand one word he said. A few days later, I get this huge 1" broadcast format video reel in the mail and couldn't play it because, hey, we weren't CBS. (The box & reel label read "Slow Death" in Japanese...that I had translated) So I took the thing over to a Jersey UHF station and paid the tech $100 to play it. He gets excited believing it was a "snuff" film and said "Get it outta here!!!!" I asked him if he'd make a 3/4" format duplicating master, he yelped "Hell, no" until I gave him another hundred bucks. By Special Delivery, I get a document in the mail that read "licensing agreement" and since a lawyer buddy mentioned "Yakuzza," damn straight we paid the royalties on time. A few years later a Florida video mail order company claimed they had the rights to "Guinea Pig: Flowers Of Flesh & Bood" ~ the title a video company, NEK, in Japan released it under. Then, everybody began selling it and you know the story....every gorey vid coming out of Tokyo was labeled "Guinea Pig series." And now, of course, NEK's "The Making Of Flowers Of...."
What was the budget for an average Vidimax film?
You may think I'm joking, but the average budget for one of our own epics was whatever balance I had on my credit card accounts. Fact. "The Necrotic," like Madonna's debut film, was on super-8 film. (Ya mean that teeny tiny strips of celluloid with those teenier, tinier frames....yep). The actors worked gratis, the locations were my uncle's diner, my mother's house, my aunt's house and a chiropractor/actor wannabe's office. $2,000 including bologna and cheese sandwiches from the uncle. Then, by getting contracts with NY/NJ area cable stations to do local origination programs (nice way of saying "public access'), lo and be hold, clunky video portapaks and clunkier editors. Same budgets for all the 80's stuff except "Violations," which we actually produced for hire by Telepix, a $25,000 video disaster and second most expensive was "Child Of The Sabbat" we as sole producers breaking the Vidimax budget at $12,000. The rest were credit card balance budgets.
Most of your films were shot on 8mm or Betacam can you tell us what medium you preferred?
Actually, from all the clunky A/V formats of the 70s and 80s, I am one of the few who liked SVHS - JVC's super VHS "Y" signal format brainstorm. It worked and produced pretty decent picture quality for its day. HDTV was only a whispered promise back then. Unfortunately, SVHS joined quadraphonic sound and 8 track music tapes in the short lived category.
I heard your ads were banned from Fangoria Magazine can you tell us more about that?
Ah, yes, the Fangoria ouster. In the 80's, Vidimax MVU had ads in "Video Review" (now "Home Entertainment" I think) and "Fangoria." One day, not long after Mr. Hi's undeciphered call, this screaming lady (Patrice, I think her name was) yelling "we can't run your ads anymore, too much heat" yadauadayada. I did some investigating and found out a nationally telecast televangelist got a hold of "Child Of The Sabbat" and told the Fangers we were propagating "Satanism of the worst kind." (You should have tasted the pancake mix the preacher sold on his website....yuk, talk about hell!) And so our one inch ad was thrust forever from the realm of Fangoria. C'est La Vie.
Can you tell us about the warehouse fire that destroyed many of the masters of the Vidimax library, as well as if there were any films that were lost for good in the fire?
As health issues required a lengthy hospital/LTCU stay right after we filmed my cameraman Frank Brina's burst of creativity, "The Intruder" and he was moving from NJ to VA, I had the masters stored at a furniture warehouse. Because a genius worker there got careless with a cigarette, according to the fire marshal’s report, Vidimax masters joined Broyhill and Samsung in a blaze. Of course, the witch at Cannibal Cove might have forgotten to douse the cauldron flames. So, poof went the masters and all that was left were third and fourth generation VHS copies and that is all we had to stream on the net. All the masters, intermasters and camera shoot tapes were destroyed, save one shoot reel from "Violations" the cameraman had (sneak! wish he would have taken them all!).
What caused the downfall of Vidimax and the Macabre Video Underground?
Yes, I have heard many, probably not all, of the "Vidimax" downfall rumors. Everything from mob hits to life imprisonment for snuff films. There was no "downfall." Sure, we had legal problems and challenges, more to do concerning our affiliation with Dominion Video than our own, and huffs from Mier Zarchi and grave spitting, but actually the MVU never stopped marketing; production ceased because of my health problems and the squeamishness of my head tech over horror movie content. As mentioned, the Asian Invasion came upon us in the early 90's. We could not compete with Japan and China's horror videos. American actors (the gals more than guys) would not do scenes that outdid Asia's (you can see clips from about ten of them on the macabrevideounderground.com website. When the world wide web caught on in the mid 90's and PC's/Mac's were selling like wildfire, we began the MVU site as a nostalgia thing, then we made arrangements to have other cult/horror exploitation fare added and it grew into whatever the hell it is today (mama said). MVU doesn't die, it just continues to piss people off.
Be sure and check back next week for Part 2 of our Interview with Louis Ferroil when we will discuss his films!