• All Things Restoration, Preservation & Exploitation - The Vinegar Syndrome Interview

    Upstart cult DVD and Blu-ray label Vinegar Syndrome is set to launch 2013 in grand style with their inaugural release, The Lost Films Of H.G. Lewis in less than one month’s time, so it made perfect sense for R!S!P!’s Ian Jane to have a talk with VS’s John Lyons to get some background information on the genesis of the label and some insight into the other releases they have on deck for the coming months.

    R!S!P! - So let’s start with a little background information – how did you get into cult films and more specifically, what lead to your interest in film and film restoration?

    I think my becoming interested in film restoration came as a very direct result of my being into exploitation films. After all, these movies have always been passed by when it came to preservation. I figured that I almost ‘owed it’ to the films I loved to try and do something to save them. I’ve also been collecting prints and negatives for years and it was always thoroughly depressing to see the color fade or watch them become vinegared, et cetera.

    As for how I got into exploitation movies in general, I’m not entirely sure. I was obsessed with horror movies when I was a really little kid, like 4 or 5, and as I discovered the wider world of exploitation, I gravitated towards all of.

    R!S!P! - You’re involved in the restoration side of the business through your company Process Blue and have recently gotten into the distribution side of things with Vinegar Syndrome – what’s the difference between the two companies?

    Well, PB is a film scanning and restoration facility. Our goal in starting it was to lure all the video companies releasing genre films to us so that we could become THE facility doing genre films. Essentially, another way to be able to work on movies we like. But we do all sorts of projects. We scanned over 150 episodes of THE CISCO KID this past summer. That was a nightmare.

    When we started PB, the idea of having a video company offshoot wasn’t on anyone’s mind. When we decided to do the HGL project, it was more of a test than anything else. We weren’t sure if there would be sufficient interest in the films or the kickstarter concept. We also didn’t know how people would respond, but they responded wonderfully so we decided to try out launching a full fledged video company.

    R!S!P! - For those who might not necessarily get the reference, why did you choose the name Vinegar Syndrome?

    When the chemicals in film start to decay, they give off an aroma similar to vinegar. The name is both an inside joke for film people but also a reminder of why preserving these films is so important.

    R!S!P! - VS’s inaugural release is going to be The Lost Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis, a collection of three sex films made by the godfather of gore that have never seen a home video release before. How did you guys come into possession of the materials for this release?

    I’m constantly looking for elements and I’ve been helping Shaun Costello track down his stuff for a few years. So we were talking about labs where he might have had some film stored and I suggested getting in touch with the owners as all of the labs were closed. It turned out that, while the lab didn’t have any his films, they had the HGL materials. We worked out a deal to get them.

    R!S!P! - Have you had any luck tracking down any of Costello’s stuff outside of the titles that have already been released?

    We've found some various odds and ends but none of the 'holy grails' as it were. But virtually none of Shaun's stuff is lost, thankfully. It's just a matter of locating the best elements.

    R!S!P! - To fund the HGL release, you bypassed the typical route and used Kickstarter to take the fan funded route. Why did you choose this option?

    As I said earlier, when we started PB, the idea of doing a video company wasn’t even fathomable. We didn’t know if putting in months and months of restoration work on these titles would be at all fruitful. Of course, we would have restored them at some point, but probably wouldn’t have had the time to do full restorations and wouldn’t have had a distribution outlet. So, this was sort of a way to speed things up and ensure that they’d get released.

    R!S!P! - Have you been in touch with Lewis regarding this disc? What has his response been? I know he’s denied involvement with these pictures in the past.

    Unfortunately, he wanted no involvement. He’s gone back and forth denying the films and then sometimes claiming he was merely a hired hand. To a certain extent, he was, as he didn’t produce them. But they reek of his aesthetics in every possible way. I think his official site lists LINDA and ECSTASIES. No mention of BLACK LOVE, of course.

    R!S!P! - Why do you think that is?

    I'm not entirely sure. It's not like he didn't do other sexploitation films (though the fact that BLACK LOVE is fully hardcore and is being packaged with the other two might be a factor). It's rather disappointing because, even though the films themselves are no longer lost, there's still a gap in his career history that only he can fill.

    R!S!P! - Your next release, slated for March 2013, is going to be The Massage Parlor Murders which features Sandra Peabody and Chris Jordan among others. There isn’t a ton of information out there about this movie but it’s also been released as Massage Parlor Hookers. What can you tell us about this project and what can fans expect from the disc?

    It was released as MASSAGE PARLOR HOOKERS. That was a re-release. They tried to pass it off as a comedy! It has its touches of humor and a couple ‘schtick’ sequences but it’s a thriller through and through. The re-release also removed a ten-minute sequence, ironically the film’s only slapstick humor scene. We found the negative for that as well and re-inserted it. Extras will likely include trailers, a radio spot, and an additional 20 or so minutes of outtakes. This has been an impossibly hard film to research. We’ve been trying to get in touch with anyone involved but the few people we’ve found either don’t remember anything or don’t wanna talk.

    R!S!P! - Vinegar Syndrome also has a ‘Drive-In Collection’ line in the works. This will be a series of double features, correct? What’s the logic between going the double feature route on some titles versus the stand alone route on others? Is it purely based on the commercial viability of a specific title or is there more to it than that?

    All of the stand-alone releases will be fully restored films with extras. The double features are going to be mostly sourced from prints. Some have scratches. We didn’t feel right charging full price for a less than pristine copy. Other titles are gonna be released as double features, but negative sourced. Those are films that we want to get out but can’t imagine many people will be picking up so we can’t make the jump to Blu-ray with them.

    R!S!P! - So the stand alone releases will be Blu-ray/DVD Combo packs and the double features DVD only?

    Not in all cases. We're trying to get films on Blu that we feel fans will appreciate the opportunity to see presented in that format. There are so many titles I'd love to someday offer in the format but right now, it's completely cost prohibitive for a lot of smaller films. So, we're making most of our big, full restoration projects our Blu targets. We'll be doing a few smaller films that will be negative sourced but not fully restored and those will likely be DVD double features only. But then again, the better sales become, the more films we can afford to press on Blu.

    R!S!P! - The first entry in the ‘Drive-In Collection’ line is the adult themed pairing of Anthony Spinelli’s Expectations and Confessions. Given your involvement in the restoration of other classic adult films, can fans expect that this is the first in what could hopefully be a long run of good quality releases from the era?

    Those were kind of a fluke thing. We were looking for two titles to pair for a drive-in release and the films we were planning on doing ended up having more severe damage than we thought so they were put on the back burner and we did these instead. I’d transferred them months earlier, for fun. I had acquired a large collection of 35mm prints of X rated films that were used for video masters in the early 80’s. These were from that batch so they actually look really nice. But yes, X rated films are my personal passion. We’ve been very happy to work with Steve Morowitz on his projects. The big problem with X-rated films is rights issues. Although many, by neglect on the part of their makers or incorrect notices, have fallen into the public domain, many others have numerous entities, with dubious claims at best, claiming ownership. For instance, we were recently in touch with the director of a fairly big budget hardcore feature that has proper on screen notice but no LOC registration. The director produced the film. He distributed the film. He first distributed it on video. Yet, a larger porn company claims they own it and has released it on DVD (sourced from VHS and cut, of course). We have the negative. They have VHS. We have the director. They don’t have proper chain of title. But even though we could release and legally be in the right, I know they’d send a C & D and tie it up in court.

    R!S!P! - The next entry in the ‘Drive-In Collection’ release pairs up two obscure horror titles, Savage Water and Death By Invitation, the later being a Leonard Kirtman production. You’ve lined up commentary tracks for these two movies with some of the guys who run The Hysteria Continues! How did this come about?

    Someone on our facebook page suggested that we get in touch with them for a commentary on some future release. They also happened to be on our facebook page, saw the suggestion and replied that they’d be happy to. The tracks are very entertaining. Especially SAVAGE WATER. Apparently it’s a favorite of theirs and they’d managed to get in touch with some actors years ago.

    R!S!P! - On one of the extras on the Blu-ray release of The Opening Of Misty Beethoven, which you guys did the transfer work on, there’s a featurette about the restoration of the picture in which viewers learn about the use of digital filtering and noise reduction. What is Vinegar Syndrome’s position on this type of restoration?

    We never use it. It’s not filmic. Why restore a movie if it doesn’t look like film anymore?

    R!S!P! - And yet it’s common throughout the industry. Why do you think that is?

    I don't think it's common among labels releasing genre films. In fact, most of the major companies that put out exploitation have been very good about limiting (or, better still, not using) NR. Unfortunately, it's not across the board, but it's still way better than what so many Hollywood companies tend to put out, but even they've gotten way better recently. But I think it's just because NR is a sloppy way to cover up dirt hits and also create a 'smoother,' softer picture that makes people who don't know a thing about film think they're somehow getting a sharper and cleaner image. It just looks more digital and the digital demons that perpetuate the lie that film and digital are interchangeable production formats want people to have a visual for that bullshit and NR gives them a great one. But I'm gonna stop with this before I sound too much like a conspiracy theorist.

    R!S!P! - What else does Vinegar Syndrome have in store for 2013?

    A LABOR OF LOVE is one we’ve been working on for a while. It’s an amazing, never released (except for a brief theatrical run) documentary on the production of an X rated film being shot in Chicago. It’s very Maysles. It looks beautiful too. We scanned it from the original A & B rolls. We also have a couple more drive-in titles planned. We’re releasing a rare sexploitation remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME called THE SUCKERS along with Mark Haggard’s outstanding character study, THE LOVE GARDEN. Speaking of grain, LOVE GARDEN has some beautiful grain. The release I’m most excited about though is THE TELEPHONE BOOK, directed by Nelson Lyon. We just signed the license deal a couple weeks back. This’ll make its ‘official’ DVD debut in the US. We’ve done a new restoration from the best surviving print, as the negative is believed lost. We’re going to record a commentary with producer Merv Bloch. It’s one of my favorite films, period, and getting the opportunity to release it is a dream come true.

    R!S!P! - What film does A Labor Of Love document the making of? Do any interesting industry people of note appear in the movie? What will make this interesting to fans?

    It documents a film called THE LAST AFFAIR. No industry people were involved. It was a totally regional production using all local talent. Of course, a few of the people involved with the film, such as its director, went on to have 'mainstream' careers, but they were just newbies then. I think what makes ALOL so special is that it's simultaneously a regional film, with regional filmmaking sensibilities, but it's documenting the production of a regional film. It's funny that it was made so near in time (but before) to DEMON LOVER DIARY as they're similar types of movies. The fact that ALOL wasn't documenting a big NY, LA or SF production also allows for some really fascinating observations on how people away from the world of 'mainstream X' thought they should go about shooting a hardcore movie. But most of all, it's just a really engrossing character study of sincere people trying to make a film and, well, failing.

    R!S!P! - Any extras planned for The Suckers/Love Garden double feature? What else can you tell us about this release?

    No extras planned at the moment. If some trailers turn up, that would be nice. I have a few calls in to peripheral participants to see if any would like to be involved. Nothing back yet.

    R!S!P! - Regarding The Telephone Book, the IMDB states that it was originally shown with an intermission in which Andy Warhol sat in a theater seat eating popcorn until the movie started up again. The IMDB also says this footage is lost. As you’ve obviously been in contact with Bloch, do you know if there is any truth to any of this?

    Yes, there is truth to all of it. It was shot and it is lost. We've yet to uncover a single frame. But we have production stills from the shoot, which will obviously be included as extras.

    Thanks for John for taking the time out of his schedule to talk to us, and to Alison Jane for the banner art. For more information, check out the Vinegar Syndrome website by clicking here or check them out on Facebook here!
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Nice interview Ian. I am really excited to see how these titles come out.
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Awesome banner.
    1. Ryan Clark's Avatar
      Ryan Clark -
      Very good interview, Ian. This looks like a company to watch for!!
    1. bgart13's Avatar
      bgart13 -
      Thanks, great interview.