There is a new video company putting out the obscure movie treats that all ravenous cinephiles hunger for. The company is called Verboden Video, and it promises to dive deep and deliver the forgotten gems that have been left behind. The first two releases, Blonde Death and Holy Moly came out recently and delivered shot-on-video trash epics with regurgitation, murder, 80s Disneyland, high theatrics and a priest seduced by a demon. I had a chance to sit down with LA-based founder Warren Chan and discuss his company and his film obsessions.
AB: Give me a little info on your professional background.
WC: I went to college for film studies and I always wanted to be involved in film in one way or another. Right after college I wanted to move to New York to get into the film scene there. I was looking to move out with someone, but no one had the money. One of my friends I was in the film program with said “Hey, I’ve got a job out here in Laramie, if you want to come to Laramie.” I didn’t, but I really wanted to get out of Ohio, and it was something, a small editing job and it was salaried. So I thought I could do that for a year and see where it goes. After a little less than a year, the company started doing film scanning in Los Angeles. I put together a presentation and convinced my boss and my boss’s boss to send me out there to do it better, faster and cheaper. That job was scanning stock footage for Paramount, working from the present backward.
I was out in LA for less than a year before the company told me that they needed me to set up an office in Amsterdam to deal with the Dutch Film Archive. I spent 8 years working with different film scanners, learning about color science and image science, learning color correction and digital image cleanup. It made me want to do that for titles I liked.
At one point I came in contact with a man named Ben Solovey who found a lot of original film from Manos the Hands of Fate. He was looking for help to get it cleaned up and ready for Blu-ray distribution, and I ended up working with him doing a lot of that stuff to help him get it ready for the Synapse release. Going through that process really showed me it was something I wanted to do for the movies that fascinated me over the years. I also recently helped him with The Atomic Brain which is in the process being prepared for release. We worked with the original negative, so it is just beautiful.
AB: Do you prefer working with film?
WC: I love working with film. But I have a soft spot for video as well. I love Shot-On-Video movies, especially SOV horror movies. They have a very homegrown feel to them that appeals to me, as someone who used to shoot crappy little movies with his friends in high school. It’s the kind of stuff that you watch that makes you think, “I can do this.”
AB: Why did you choose to spell Verboden the Dutch way as opposed to the more common German Verboten?
WC: I love alliteration and I also love consonants. Apart from wanting the double Vs, I also wanted the repetition of the Ds. I also spent a lot of time living in Amsterdam doing work for the Dutch Film Museum, and when I was there, exploring the city, I would always see that sign. The one with the bar across, just like in my logo. It was always right there before you did something you weren’t supposed to do. That kind of spelled out the things I want to do with my releases. I want to show people things that normally they wouldn’t or shouldn’t see.
AB: What is your mission statement?
WC: I look for things that first of all not many people have heard of. With Blonde Death it was released on VHS by the director, only about 50 copies were made and distributed, mostly around the Southern California area. Things that are very on the fringe and have great potential for cult appeal. For that one it’s a lot of sassy, snappy dialogue, lurid colors, and it really has a gung-ho feeling to it.
AB: Yeah when I was watching it, I felt like everyone was speaking a kind of heightened form of English that was nothing but put downs. Every sentence was a series of adjectives that didn’t belong together, it was amazing.
WC: Yeah, the thing I like most about the movie is how it is a crossroads of John Waters and Tennessee Williams, where it is very snappy, very trashy and really pulpy.
AB: And every character is a degenerate of some sort.
AB: What are you going to do to distinguish yourself from the Synapse, Severin, or Scream Factory?
WC: Those guys are very upper echelon as far as niche distribution goes. I really see myself more aligned with Massacre Video and to a lesser extent Vinegar Syndrome. Really micro-run stuff. I would like to do something where I could justify making 5000 copies, but for the most part I see myself doing 500 to 1000 copy runs. Because there just isn’t enough demand yet. Two upcoming titles, I know there is a little more interest in both of them, and I’ll have to see how that goes. I don’t see myself ever being in competition with Synapse or Scream Factory.
AB: How did you get involved with Mondo for Blonde Death?
WC: I was going after it, and it just so happens that Bleeding Skull was going after it as well. I found out they were planning to put it out when I found a quote I wanted to use on the cover art and I asked the person who wrote it, Bret Berg (formerly of Cinefamily now Alamo Drafthouse). He said, “Please do, but you should talk to these guys, they love putting stuff out like this, and I think I borrowed some of the words from a review they wrote.” He put me in touch with the Bleeding Skull guys, and when we talked they said “Oh … We’re putting that out.” We had some conversations, and we all liked each other, so we decided to work together rather than fight over it. We figured with the combined efforts, more people would end up seeing it, and that would be better for everyone. Mondo handles all the distribution for all of Bleeding Skull’s stuff.
AB: Where do you see Verboden in the next few years? What kind of niche are you looking to carve in the home video market?
WC: I would like to put out a few things that have more built-in interest, but for the most part it is just having enough capital to do that. Most of the things that justify putting out 5000 copies, the people that own the rights know it, and they know they can demand a certain amount.
AB: Step me through your transfer process. For instance, what did you receive from the filmmakers to do your transfer? What kind of obstacles did you encounter?
WC: For Blonde Death, the Gay & Lesbian Archive at USC had already done a restoration. They took the original VHS master, which had been used to show it throughout the 80s, so there was a lot of wear and tear on it. But some of the copies they made early on in the process, hadn’t been watched that many times and were actually in better condition than the Master. They captured both and spliced them together here and there and gave me an H264 Master to work from. In that case, a lot of the work had already been done for me.
Holy Moly was shot on SVHS and the director gave me his SVHS Masters. It was edited deck to deck so there were spaces where there was some video distortion that I could clean up a little bit and some audio discrepancies I could clean up.
Original Sins, which should be coming out in early 2017, has been the most complicated so far. The director still had all of his original tapes, so he gave me this giant tub that was about 100 BetaSP, BetaCam, UMatic, and Hi-8. It was shot on a lot of stuff, and also a BetaSP Master and a one inch Master. I took the one inch to be encoded because that was going to be my highest quality cut version. But when I was looking at it you could tell it was second generation, and the more I looked at it, the more I knew I had to go back to the original source tapes to get the best quality. I had actually encoded that material to pull out bloopers and cut scenes. We were taking some time to cull all of these interviews for the bonus footage and we were editing that when I realized I can just reassemble this thing. I used the 80 raw tape captures to build it back up, and the only thing I wasn’t able to replace were specific transitions and overlays. What will end up on disc will be the highest quality, anyone has ever seen this film.
AB: How do you decide what goes on the disc as special features?
WC: I really want to do as much as I can. The biggest restriction I have run into so far is being able to find people and find people that are still alive. I’d love to do commentaries whenever possible.
With Blonde Death the director committed suicide in the mid-90s and a lot of the other cast members, beside Sara Lee Wade the one person I was able to find and interview, were maybe involved in community theater at the time. They went off and had completely separate lives, and most of them aren’t on social media. Since everyone has cell phones now, instead of land lines its kind of difficult to track them down. So Sara was all I had. There was also a guy that ran a public access TV show in the early 80s who had interviewed EZTV founder John Dorr, and they touched specifically on Blonde Death because it had just come out. Thankfully I was able to track that guy down and he gave me permission to include that on the disc, so that was a very lucky thing.
Holy Moly was made 10 years closer to the present so more of those people were available. I was able to sit down with the director who was also an actor, the special effects guy that also acted in it, who had an amazing collection of special effects memorabilia in his home.
There are a lot of bonus features for Original Sins, it is going to be the most comprehensive release that I have done so far. There are hours of interviews, original trailer, bloopers, we found scenes that were shot but never edited, so I got the director to edit them together.
AB: What are some of your favorite films? What movies changed you as a person?
WC: It’s interesting. I found that most of those films were made by queer directors. When I discovered John Waters, that was a total revelation to me. When I discovered Greg Araki, that totally changed my outlook on what a movie could be. I grew up with horror my whole life.
When I was five-years-old, my sister sat me down to watch Poltergeist and I had nightmares for years and years. That generated this fascination in me, while I was repelled, I was also inexplicably drawn to them. I have spent my life since watching things that are macabre. After so many years you run out of mainstream movies to watch. You run through all the major franchises and you have start digging deeper and deeper to keep finding new things. That is how I ran into some of this stuff that I want to put out today. Perpetual excavation of the overlooked.
AB: Do you see yourself as someone preserving forgotten films? Now that we are in the digital revolution, a lot of these films are being left behind.
WC: Yes, and it is fascinating to me whenever I find more and more movies that never made it to DVD, let alone Blu-ray, and many of them never even had VHS. It’s really exciting for me to find something like this, I find I really enjoy it. I’ll show it to a few friends and find it’s not just me, this is a really interesting find. I get to have a hand putting it out there in the world.
AB: What is a unicorn film for you? Something that remains unreleased that you would like to put out.
WC: When I first started the company, I compiled a pretty extensive list of titles I wanted to go after. Pretty quickly I ran through those and found out it was either a music rights issue or some other kind of fight over the rights. One of the first things I wanted to do was Spookies. I thought how hasn’t someone put out Spookies yet. It’s because the rights are tied up in this nightmare configuration. The guy that currently owns the rights lives in England, we think, and no one has heard from him in over a decade.
Another title that I really wanted to put out, before I realized that Criterion was working on it, was Multiple Maniacs by John Waters. For a very long time it was prevented from home video release because of a song he put in there that he didn’t have the rights to use. Apparently, they finally struck a deal. Criterion will do a great job, so that is probably best for everyone, and they do great extras.
AB: What is next for Verboten Video?
WC: We talked earlier about Original Sins. I also have Split coming, which I have a one-inch master for, but I know there is a print out there and I am presently trying to track it down. There were only a small handful of prints struck for that and a lot of them were given to someone, who gave it to someone. I want it to be the best-looking release possible. It has only been on VHS, and I don’t want to give it a mediocre DVD release. Because it was shot on film, I want to put it out on Blu-ray. I already recorded a commentary with the director, which is fascinating, and I am in touch with a few of the cast members that I want to interview. Both releases should be out in early 2017.
Visit the Verboden Video website here!
Buy Holy Moly here!
Buy Blonde Death here!