• Rock! Shock! Pop! Presents An Interview With Stephen Biro Of Unearthed Films!

    Stephen Biro has been the one man wrecking crew behind Unearthed Films, quietly and sometimes not so quietly releasing a slew of cult classics, gore films and underground oddities for well over a decade now. He was kind enough to take some time out of an increasingly busy schedule to talk about releases past, present and future as well as his thoughts on the industry and more. So without further ado…

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Before you started Unearthed Films, you ran a video store. How and why did you make the transition from that business to film distribution?

    Stephen Biro – I Loved horror films and I thought it would be amazing to actually get the films I loved into the hands of the horror fans that wanted them. Plus, I was a video bootlegger back in the 90's and got busted for bootlegging the Guinea Pig Films. This is actually funny because instead of just paying a fine, I went into business with the company that made them, bought the Guinea Pig films and we started Unearthed Films.

    R!S!P! - In the early days Unearthed made a splash by releasing a lot of talked about but rarely seen films, infamous movies like the Guinea Pig series, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre and the Red Room films for example. What went into hunting down the rights holders and securing these for official home video releases in North America?

    SB - Some were easy, some were hard and some are just impossible. Once in a while, the filmmaker owns the rights, other times it's the production company. Sometimes, it was as easy as a phone call, other times it was tracking down a filmmaker with dead emails and a lot of dead phone numbers.

    R!S!P! - Any chance any of those early, rare releases are going to be repressed or are they out of print for good?

    SB - Out of print for good. That is unless a different company picks them up. We usually only buy the rights for 7 years. If you can't buy it in 7 years... you’re shit out of luck. Plus, buying the rights again and doing a re-release doesn't mean it will get enough sales to pay for the rights again since, the film has been out for years already.

    R!S!P! - You’ve also branched into film production recently with the American Guinea Pig series. Where did the inspiration for this come from and how has the reception been to this series?

    SB - Reception at first was… I pissed off some fans. Then we announced who the people involved were, and then it warmed up. When Bouquet was released... the Guinea Pig fans dug it and knew we meant business. I've always wanted to start a new Guinea Pig Series. The Japanese company refused at first and we were lucky to get the rights to release the films in the first place. As the years went on, the head honcho at the company was like, fuck it, go ahead. So we got the rights and started moving forward. With the advent of more films in the series now fan support has grown and keeps growing because no one is making out of control graphic gore movies like this.

    R!S!P! - You recently worked with Jim Van Bebber on American Guinea Pig: The Song Of Solomon, casting him as a priest of all things. You and Jim have also collaborated on American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts And Gore and Gator Green. How was he to work with? We’ve all heard stories…

    SB - Hahaha... Jim is a great guy. He helped me move twice, not many friends will do that. He was a pleasure to work with but you have to understand, the guy is an artist so you can butt heads now and then but having him in your corner is a win.

    R!S!P! - Solomon has been making some festival rounds lately – how has the reception been? When is the DVD/Blu-ray release happening?

    SB - Reception for The Song of Solomon has been amazing. Surprisingly were the first real gore possession film so fans of possession films are excited to say the least. We are working on the special features/commentaries and such now. It should hopefully be out in six months.

    R!S!P! - Unearthed just released Todd Sheets’ insane Dreaming Purple Neon – how was Todd to work with and are there plans to release any of his other pictures?

    SB - We're in talks for his film from before Dreaming. He's a great guy. He's always so positive so I haven't seen his mean side yet. Dreaming Purple Neon is out of control FX wise. He said he made it just for Unearthed because he knows we need extreme gore films because that is what sells for us.

    R!S!P! - Let’s talk about some of your upcoming releases. Jean-Paul Ouellette’s The Unnamable is in the works. What can fans expect from this release in terms of extras and presentation? Any shot you’ve got the sequel in the works for release as well?

    SB - The Unnamable will get a new 4k scan with restoration and color correction. It will be the start of the Unearthed Classics line up. We have interviews and commentary with most of the main actors and we have this never seen before artwork that is amazing. Well, if you lived in Thailand, you would have seen it. Sort of like our release of Frankenhooker. They had that gorgeous artwork but never used it. So we did... and it's the coolest artwork for Frankenhooker I have ever seen.... so we have something special happening with The Unnamable artwork too.

    R!S!P! - You’ve also announced that you’ve got Bruce Cook’s 1989 picture Nightwish in the works. What can you tell us about this release?

    SB - Nothing yet, ha. We’re just finishing up The Unnamable. Hopefully we can get the cast and crew involved. It will more than likely be a 4k scan, restoration and color correction job. Hopefully the fans want it because adding all the bells and whistles is a bit expensive. We could do a 2k scan but I do love the movie and working closely with the producer. I'm just worried about the grain which you can see with these new transfers at this high DPI.

    R!SP! - D.J. Webster’s Dark Side Of The Moon is also happening – same question, what this release going to entail, and do you have approximate release dates in mind for any of these?

    SB - We are going to be working on it soon. Lots of plans for it, just like Nightwish... too early to tell but, we are trying to give them the treatment they deserve, like with our old releases, Aftermath, Rock & Rule and such. I'm debating on whether or not to do new artwork for Dark Side because the original is not really cool at all. But will see what the purists say as we move along. The artwork for the Unnamable we have, Is amazing. Like I said, never before seen unless you got a copy in Thailand. Think of our release of Frankenhooker. The artwork is amazing, never before seen and I had to use it cause... that old VHS artwork... that was total meh. Yes, everyone saw it but the artwork we used was original and never used or seen before. So along that line we’re trying to figure out what to do with the art for Darkside.

    R!S!P! - You’ve started work on producing a documentary called A Serbian Documentary that is going to focus on the story behind the infamous A Serbian Film. What made you decide to produce a documentary on this? What are the release plans for it? Is A Serbian Film going to get the Unearthed Films treatment as well?

    SB – Ha! We got all the footage to the film and also got all of the behind the scenes footage too. As everyone knows, I am a stickler for extras when we can get them. Needless to say, they shot the behind the scenes material in 1080p with professional camera people. There’s over seventy hours of behind the scenes footage from the beginning of the film to the end. Amazing cinematography and amazing footage. I was just going to go for a making of featurette until I saw the footage. That's when I decided to change it and make a full-fledged documentary on one of the world’s most dangerous films. People talk about it in hushed tones and yes, it is extreme but the film is a glorious example of a picture that doesn't hold back. It pushes the boundaries while giving us a story that hurts and characters that stay with us. Srdjan Spasojevic is an amazing director and A Serbian Film was his first one out of the gate. It deserves the documentary and everything we can do to show the world that it isn’t just an extreme film, but a film with heart and soul that didn't care about boundaries but that had to go where the story went. A perfect piece of filmmaking deserves a nuanced and wonderful look into the behind the scenes events that we are very lucky to have.

    R!S!P! - You’re understandably very vocal on social media about the effects of piracy and illegal downloading. How does it affect independent distributors like yourself and what do you say to those that use the argument that it actually helps the business by exposing people to your films to justify this type of thing?

    SB - Ahhh, you went there. Fine, let’s go there. Piracy is killing the independent movie scene. A lot say, well, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, blah blah blah... Those films also open in China and every other territory known to man. Has anyone noticed how the middle and lower budgeted films are slowly disappearing? Probably not because the industry is flooded with everyone trying to make a movie now... since we’re talking to film people... do people outside the industry know or even understand that 95% off all films do not make their money back?

    95%... let it sink in for a moment. I’m talking worldwide so it's not just a US problem, it's a worldwide problem. In the late 90's and very early 2000's the idea was, make ten films. One will be a hit and the rest will lose their ass but, if you can stay in the game for ten, the law of averages would make that one film pay for the rest. Now? There are no video stores left besides Redbox. Family Video and the rest don't cut it. VOD is not working cause a ton of people that have been brought up with torrents are used to getting movies for free. A lot of people 35 and under. Older people are used to buying films and want the collector’s version for all the extras of the film. Which is awesome but... as we get older, dental bills, health insurance, life in general gets in the way of buying the many films and with the flood of massive amounts of crappy films, people get pickier... How can they not? I'm very astute in not wanting to waste my time on a film that sucks.

    As for torrents, the indie guys get screwed. It’s hard to get stuff on VOD, the market for horror films was 16 to 30 to be honest, since they have the most disposable income and enjoy the gore films. But like I said, they now stream and torrent for free so all we have left is the collector’s market and the fans who enjoy indie cinema. There is a culling of the market place right now. Even new up and coming filmmakers who are making amazing product and can grow to be accomplished directors for future films are finding out it's not a decent business to be in.

    Ah, I can go on and on about the state of the industry. I'm going to stop here.

    R!S!P! - One of the more interesting titles in your catalogue and one that really stands out for basically being a family friendly film is your release of Rock & Rule. How did you wind up with this one? It’s definitely a lot different than the type of pictures Unearthed Films is known for.

    SB - I loved R&R and wanted to release it and give it all the bell and whistles. This was in the beginning of Unearthed, because as you know, we were Unearthing stuff! It was a gamble and yet we got screwed by our distributor. They totally screwed us and it hurt us beyond belief. If we actually got paid for what was sold, Unearthed would have been a totally different entity then you know now. We would have been able to go balls to the wall on the extreme stuff and move into different realms to give us a chance to grow and enrich the label in ways that most people would have enjoyed. It's why we are moving with the Unearthed Classics label. We have survived by selling a ton of films to other companies. We're also agents to films a lot would never comprehend. If the horror industry actually knew the films we handle and resell to other companies that all of you buy, and I mean every single horror fan worldwide, there would be a respect and admiration that most have ever had for us.

    R!S!P! - A few years ago you wrote a book – Hellucination – which is, and correct me if I’m wrong, basically your story about substance abuse and the search for spiritual meaning. You also wrote a book called Dialogue With The Devil. How did you come to write these? Any plans for more novels? I’ve heard a movie deal was in the works for Hellucination as well...

    SB - Hellucination was from a part of my life where I came to the conclusion I was going to take as much LSD and nitrous oxide as I needed to go to the other side to find God but ended up with the Devil most of the time. Think a DMT trip or Sativa but with over a year and a half of searching. Anyway, it changed everything about me, changed my life, and to be honest, Unearthed fell into my lap at the same time. I have some wonderful reviews on my books and had we HBO interested in all three books as a series but they wanted to see how Preacher went before signing. It didn't happen but such is life.

    I’m working on another novel but the screenplay gigs I am doing are picking up. I ghost on a bunch. It’s nice money but I don't get any credit. I usually fix screenplays and story ideas, dialogue and such because I am a fresh pair of eyes and my rep is growing in the industry as ‘that guy.’ I have a number of screenplays that have been optioned but never made. That’s why I went to novels and had them optioned but filmmaking is a fickle business. A ton don’t get made, it’s meeting after meeting, so I don't mind. I get it. That’s why I started doing films myself. We’re growing, the writing is working and I am just waiting for the day where a company just says “Well, instead of getting a crappy screenplay in the first place, why don't we talk to the guy who is fixing our screenplays in the first place?”

    I'm close to that. I'm patient. It took me 13 years to get the rights to make the new Guinea Pig films. I’m playing the long game and don't want to get washed up, like a lot desperate for that mainstream dollar, even though I am fixing some of their work!

    R!S!P! - What else is in the works for Unearthed? What’s next?

    There’s the Extended Cut of A Serbian Film that I am working on with Srdjan Spasojevic. Right now we’re working on getting all the props, costumes and storyboards from it for a gallery showing of some of the rarest of the rare in the horror industry. I’m working on helping a producer fix an anthology that was on everyone’s lips a few years back. We’re still setting up The Song of Solomon at film fests and working on its release and are bringing more films into Unearthed and hopefully, working on a new series for highly regarded film for a VOD series. Oh, and another book, another American Guinea Pig film. I’m in talks with more filmmakers to write and produce alongside them and setting up the American Guinea Pig film called Sacrifice directed by Poison Rouge out of Italy. Oh, and of course finding more films for the new Unearthed Classics line up and Unearthed in general.

    R!S!P! - Thanks Stephen!

    For more information on Unearthed Films you can check out their website here or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Excellent interview, Ian. I'm really excited about the SERBIAN FILM doc and the Unearthed Classics line. I wonder if the anthology he's helping with is THE PROFANE EXHIBIT? Hopefully, Unearthed is the company that finally releases it.