Nico B., the man behind Cult Epics, has been releasing interesting and obscure films on DVD and Blu-ray for years now. He was kind enough to talk to Rock! Shock! Pop! about past projects and future endeavors.
Rock! Shock! Pop!: So in addition to running Cult Epics, you’re also a filmmaker with some interesting credits under your belt. How did PIG, your collaboration with the late Rozz Williams from Christian Death come about? Did you guys know one another before the project?
Nico. B: Previously to making PIG I lived in Holland for eight years with Gitane Demone of Christian Death, and when we moved to Los Angeles together in 1997, I started hanging out with Rozz daily. We were already close friends through years of touring together. I was ready to make experimental films in the US, and he was talking about fantasies he had of people he wanted to torture and kill. Instead, I convinced him to make a film about it, we were both into surrealism which became a underlining form throughout the film exposing the subconscious mind of a killer.
R!S!P!: What made you decide to make 1334, the follow up film to PIG, and what were your intentions with this film?
Nico: After Rozz committed suicide a week after the final edit on PIG, he started haunting me as a ghost for the ten years to come. The film follows these events. Making the film, literally, was an exorcism of his spirit who was still around me. When I finished the film he disappeared, or it may have been because I moved right after.
R!S!P!: You also directed a Bettie Page bio-pic called Bettie Page: Dark Angel and through Cult Epics have released the Bettie Page/Irving Klaw short films. What attracts you to Page as a subject and what inspired you to try to preserve her legacy through these projects?
Nico: I was a fan of Bettie Page when I saw the first image of her, she was the woman I wanted to be with, her free spirited sexual nature, and look I admired. The first release of Cult Epics was in 1991 and it was The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page, and through the years I released anything of her I could get my hands on. I also organized photo exhibits in galleries with photography by Irving Klaw, Bunny Yeager and Camera Clubs photos around the world to promote her image. Although I was in personal contact with Bettie, I never wanted to make a film about her. It was only when I met my starring lady, Paige Richards, who told me she wanted to make a film with me after she saw PIG, when she suggested Bettie Page, it all made sense. Paige had similarity in looks, size, eye color and being from the South and was into the fetish life style. With most of the bondage films being lost, and having a collection of nearly 4000 photographs, the idea started to develop as an experimental film when I reconstructed these films from the photographs and shot them in traditional 16mm black and white with Paige. Then telling the story (in color) why these films were so discriminating and why Bettie disappeared, that was merely my interest to show. It was done years before they made the Hollywood film. I still think Paige was a dead ringer.
R!S!P!: Cult Epics is best known as a label that specializes in films with an erotic bent or films that some might consider to be confrontational and/or controversial pictures. What do you look for when you decide to pick up a title for distribution?
Nico: I don’t know, I think all the films are art films. That is my background, whether horror, erotic or more directly labeled art-house, but yes they are all controversial somehow. I guess that is my personal interest, in the same way as before Cult Epics/Video I used to be an editor for a music magazine (in Holland) called Provoke. I don’t look for films to license really, most of the time I just meet someone, and from there on I decide to release the films of such a director, until their whole cinematography available is released. Kind of like how a record label works with certain artists (catalogue wise), although I never thought of this, but instinctively coming from music distribution it makes sense. Often these films, directors are neglected or forgotten, and I know one of my journeys in life is to create awareness, as in all art forms.
R!S!P!: Cult Epics tends to focus on a director’s output where possible rather than just release random single films here and there. Tinto Brass has probably had more Cult Epics releases than anyone else – why the emphasis on his work and what has he been like to work with? You’ve interviewed him extensively, how would you describe these experiences?
Nico: I love Tinto, and his films were available, and he made many films, so that was a task by itself. There is a difference in his work, I love his early surreal works like The Howl or Attraction, but also his erotic work like All Ladies Do It, his first film I ever released (in Europe). I even produced a 20 minute short film with him and my fiancée a few years ago (Kick the Cock), I am excited to announce that I finally re-acquired the rights for PAPRIKA, which will come out early next year sometime. To some people it is his best Erotic film.
R!S!P!: You’ve also worked on a few Radley Metzger pictures, bringing them to Blu-ray in nicely restored special editions with some quality extra features as well. To me, Metzger and Brass ‘belong together’ in the sense that they both specialize in ‘classy’ sex films. Would you say that the same elements that draw you to Brass’ work draw you to Metzger’s as well?
Nico: Before 2010 I was never exposed to any of the films of Radley Metzger, as they were not released in Europe on VHS or DVD at the time when I lived there and ran the Cult Videotheek. Only five years ago, when I released a film of Anna Biller called Viva, she quoted Radley Metzger as an inspiration. It piqued my interest and soon after I watched all of his films and understood what made him different from the rest of the adult filmmakers. His films are very auteur driven and beautifully shot to detail. The thing that I was amazed about when watching these (blurry) DVD releases was that the transfers were so bad for such beautiful films. I decided to call Radley and ask him if his films were available, and he said yes, and I told him I want to restore them to all their glory, now this is history. Meanwhile, UCLA/Hammer Museum, Lincoln Center did complete retrospectives on his films, and abroad he was featured at many film festivals again and is now being regarded a master of his art (instead of a director of smut, as he was often labeled in US). Recently I licensed my new versions to Arrow in the UK as well, and a German company (The Lickerish Quartet).
R!S!P!: It’s been said that Metzger doesn’t watch his films, yet you were able to get him to contribute commentary tracks to your releases. What went into convincing him to participate in the supplements for your releases? Are there plans for any more Radley Metzger films to appear through Cult Epics in the future?
Nico: When I met him in person, it felt like meeting an old friend, he felt the same. I also share his sense of humor and we have been planning to shoot a film over the years for him to direct and for me to produce. But first up are Theresa & Isabelle and Carmen Baby in newly restored versions, while Radley is working on the extras.
R!S!P!: One of the most obscure but interesting releases you’ve had a hand in has got to be George Barry’s film Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, issued first on DVD and now recently on a special edition Blu-ray. How did you first become aware of this one and what went into securing the film for a proper home video release?
Nico: Stephen Thrower, a journalist/writer/musician, contacted me from London ten years ago, and told me about this movie, it had to be seen to believed. When I first started watching it I thought it was just a straight out horror film that companies like Blue Underground should release. But then I realized there was something special about the film, and fell in love with it. I flew to Detroit and sealed the deal with George. As the DVD had continuously been selling over the years, and with the audiences now switching to Blu-ray, it was worth the time and effort to renew the rights and make an upgrade with new extras.
R!S!P!: You’ve also released some of the films of Rene Daalder over the years. I’m sure you get this a lot but everyone is clamoring for Massacre At Central High, as Blu-ray has been announced as in the works. Can you update us on this? What can fans expect in terms of supplements, the transfer and a possible release date? What has been the hold up with this particular title?
Nico: I met Rene in the US through a close Dutch friend of mine, his nephew. I had never seen any of his films before but liked his mind and then understood his film making, which is diverse in one way, but connected always. For instance, the films of Bas Jan Ader (as documented in Here Is Always Somewhere Else) are about gravity, the moment of letting go, whereby this was surely integrated in Massacre at Central High, as Rene insisted with the producers that everyone had to die by natural causes. Regarding Massacre there have been issues with the rights over the years, that has now been resolved, and a new HD transfer has been made. We are just finding the right timing, as we wanted to release Hysteria first as that was in the making for a long time.
R!S!P!: As you’re not a label to shy away from more extreme content, have you ever run into any issues with the titles you’ve distributed? I know you’ve done tamer versions of more explicit titles, Metzger’s Score being an obvious example. Are the reasons for this simply to offer a more commercially viable version for certain outlets?
Nico: Score Uncut & Uncensored is simply not for everyone, and yes there are two markets. Certain stores like Best Buy or Wal-Mart and other mainstream stores would not carry certain versions in store or online. And in the case of Tinto Brass, some people prefer the English language version (Producer’s Cut), which is always cut, as these were specially made for the UK Market. (Note: The Special Editions include both languages in Uncut versions, as specially produced by Cult Epics later on). On the other hand there is no real censorship for art films, you just release it Unrated in the US, the same as in Holland were I am from, a country which has released most films Uncensored as there is no censorship, just age restriction.
R!S!P!: You’ve also released quite a few Walerian Borowczyk films on DVD. With the release of the massive UK boxed set, are three any plans for you to distribute any of his films on Blu-ray in North America?
Nico: I lost contact with Walerian when he died, we had plans for quite a few films in new editions, but since his wife has not been very cooperative it seems or maybe it is just the producers, it did not happen. I would like to release Dr. Jekyll and Lady Osbourne one day, my favorite film of his. Over the years I finally found a print in one country, and the rights holder in another country, but we are missing an auteur consent form from his wife at this point still.
R!S!P!: Along with Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls you also released the Japanese nunsploitation film School Of The Holy Beast. How likely are we to see a continuation of the nunsploitation line? Any plans to bring School to Blu-ray?
Nico: These are my two favorite nunsploitation movies, and I have no plans of releasing any more or any on Blu-ray, the DVD looked already spectacular in my opinion.
R!S!P!: You’ve also been involved extensively in releasing the films of Fernando Arrabal and the early, more surreal films of Tinto Brass. How was the reception to these odd, surreal films compared to the more standard ‘erotica’ and ‘horror’ releases and given how quirky Arrabal is, what was he like to work with on these releases?
Nico: When I saw Viva La Muerte, it was one of the most controversial films I have ever seen. I met Arrabal a year after, I was shooting a film with Alejandro Jodorowsky in Paris, and asked him what happened to his friend Arrabal. He simply said he lives in Paris and got him on the phone for me. The next day we met and drank Arrabal wine, which was the start of a long relationship. I have released all of his films meanwhile, it took about ten years, and they are available in two box sets.
R!S!P!: With your Blu-ray release of Jorge Buttgereit’s Nekromantik out now, are there plans for any of his other film’s to be released on the format through Cult Epics? What went into preparing this release for Blu-ray, any specific troubles getting the transfer completed or the extras put together?
Nico: I know Jorge for over 20 years, I distributed his films in Europe at the time through my company Cult Video, as it was difficult for him (because of the German censorship) to sell his films himself at the time. We happened to run into each other last year, and I asked him if his films were available for the US and he said yes. We’ve been working on the release for about a year, including a new Interview (Q&A) we shot last year at a special screening at the American Cinematheque. Jorge and Manfred (his producer) did their own transfer of the original Super 8 negative of Nekromantik and Hot Love. At the time I said to Jorge I would be interested in doing a transfer here of the print we showed at the Beyond Festival, in all its glory with scratches, etc.. Jorge called it the Grindhouse version when he said that day on stage: “Tarantino and Rodriquez they spend a lot of money to do scratches in their movies, it’s all for free here.” The demand on the Blu-ray release of Nekromantik is huge, we initially planned for a limited release of 2000 on DVD and Blu-ray with some exclusive artwork, but when it was announced on Fangoria in August, within a month my distributor had over 5500 orders! So to please all the fans we revised the edition of the Blu-ray to 10,000. Coming soon is Nekromantik 2 on Blu-ray, and possibly Der Todesking and Schramm, if there is still interest.
R!S!P!: Any other projects on the horizon, either as a filmmaker or as pending Cult Epics releases you would like to mention?
Nico: I have some bigger releases coming up I am working on right now, with some known Dutch, Italian and French directors, but I can’t talk about them yet, as nothing has been confirmed for release. To avoid blogging with incorrect statements I would rather not announce anything more than a year beforehand. Audiences don’t seem to understand it can take years to get a film released on Blu-ray, for instance In A Glass Cage took about seven years to get the rights for DVD and another ten years after that before I finally was able to access the negative for a Blu-Ray release. So I suggest just keep checking my site. On a directing level, I be releasing my film SIN next year sometime, the one I shot between Bettie Page Dark Angel and 1334, but deemed too controversial and obscure at the time based on the content it contains, talking about hardcore nunsploitation… I will also be launching my own digital channel called The Erotica Channel this month, as many of my films seem to be too controversial for streaming on online on mainstream sites like Amazon. The Channel will be hosted by Claire Sinclair (Playmate of the Year/Star of the Vegas show Pin Up), who will be introducing the films and has her own talk show. With her, for instance, I shot the last Interview and photo shoot with Bunny Yeager this last summer. But I occupy most of my time these last years with producing films, which fruits will bear the dry lands of cinema in the years to come.
Cheers, Nico B