Devoted to rescuing and releasing the most controversial and provocative films from around the world, Severin Films was co-founded by today's guest, David Gregory, in 2006 with Carl Daft and John Cregan as an answer to our home entertainment prayers for physical media that would honor the love and admiration we collectors and lovers of cinema have for our cult classics. What a time for cinephiles to be alive, when we can load our checkout carts with Lina Romay pins, Laura Gemser t-shirts, Al Adamson box sets, and Severin nipple pasties - we're not worthy! But how does one find themselves at the epicenter of bringing obscure, rare, forgotten pictures to their fully restored Blu-ray glory for future generations of film fans devour, accompanied by thoughtfully and beautifully produced bonus features such as the brand new feature-length documentary, Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson? The director of this and several other wonderful films discusses his journey on the road to co-founding Severin, and what the mouth-watering future of this badass boutique label has in store for us.
David Gregory: Carl Daft and I went to school together and always shared a passion for horror films, much to the chagrin of our mothers, not helped by the fact that horror was considered the source of all society's ills during that period in the U.K. according to the press, the moral do-gooders, and the government.
Once films started to be banned in the mid-80s and hard to come by through legal channels, we started trading tapes with similarly minded horror fans up and down the country through a network surreptitiously enabled by fanzines like Shock Xpress and Samhain and all-night festivals like Shock Around the Clock and Black Sunday. We would scour video shops for banned films that the owners would often have hidden in the back and buy them. One day this search took me to a small distributor called VPM in Nottingham, where we lived. I got along with the owner, Andrew Clarke, and he saw that I was passionate about movies and how the business side of it worked. I started working there as a summer job. It was there that I learned about rights and labels and such. At the time, there was so much bootlegging going on because all of the labels had gone out of business after the Video Recordings Act 1984 was introduced by Parliament because they couldn't afford to get all of their product rated and make the cuts required, so the old masters were passed around being retitled and repackaged. There were a lot of budget releases at every gas station, every liquor store... wherever you could get tapes.
Andrew had shitty, cut masters of things like The Beyond (1981), Eaten Alive! (1980), Blood Bath of Dr. Jekyll (1981), and Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), repackaging and selling them in bulk for cheap. I wanted to give them proper covers with original artwork and market them as the horror classics they were, but Andrew said if I wanted to do that I should actually buy the rights and put them out properly. Before long I was talking to rights holders. Eventually Carl and I pooled our resources and started our company, Blue Underground, and its subsidiary label, Exploited, on which we released 14 titles or so. It was tough going because the U.K. was still very censorious and the BBFC did not see eye to eye with us on the merit of the movies we were putting out. We also started putting extras on our VHS releases such as interviews with filmmakers at the end of the movie. This is what led us to doing our first feature documentary, Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000), which in turn led to me being hired by Bill Lustig to do extras for the Anchor Bay special edition DVDs that he was producing in the early 2000s. I moved to the U.S. and Lustig formed Blue Underground US. I was with him there as disc producer for the first four or five years - then Carl, John Cregan and I formed our own label, Severin.
Walk me through the process of how a Severin Blu-ray is produced once the rights for a film has been secured.
Once we license a title I'll let the team know that it's in the pipeline. The Severin team is nine people including me, plus a bunch of additional people we work with regularly for editing, design, authoring, and shooting. Between us we come up with who can be approached for interviews and we decide how deep we want to go. If it's an Italian film we consult with our longtime featurette co-producer, Federico Caddeo at Freak-O-Rama Video Productions in Italy, and he will let us know who he can approach.
The mastering is different for every film. Sometimes we get the raw scan in from the territory where the negative resides. Other times the negative, or best element, will be shipped to the office where we will scan it on our 4K scanner, which we purchased a couple of years ago and has enabled us to do a lot more projects than when we had to rely on outside scanning for cost and time reasons. But it's often not as simple as getting access to the negative. Sometimes the negative is lost or unavailable for some reason. So we then have to go on a hunt for the best possible element in existence. In some cases this might be a release print, but we do try and access a pre-print element, at the very least, where possible. Once we have the raw scan files we send to one of our three colorists and restorationists and the sound goes to a sound professional for clean-up. Were it that simple, though - we have to compare our master to all existing releases because so many of these films were released in different versions around the world. There are a lot of very vocal trolls out there who demand you be hanged in the town square if you dare to be missing a sound effect or seconds of a car driving by, so we try to be as thorough as possible in checking we have everything on there in the feature and give the best presentation we can.
And of course the extras are particularly important to us. The feature is the main draw, but as we are preserving exploitation cinema history we are passionate about getting firsthand recollections on record while we still can. We treat our featurettes like mini-productions, or sometimes massive productions, because it is thoroughly unacceptable the quality of some of the extras on a lot of labels' otherwise terrific discs. Extras are always essential for us and treated with care.
Tell me about the conception of the Severin logo.
John Cregan, our third partner, and I were still working at Blue Underground when we were spitballing for a company name. I had come up with Blue Underground as a combination of Blue Velvet (1986) and Velvet Underground. John and I, both big fans of Velvet Underground, decided to go through their catalog to find inspiration. We got as far as "Venus in Furs" from their debut album and "Severin" was the standout word, it was also the name of the protagonist in the original masochist text, so it seemed ideal. He found a designer, a lady named Wanna Cam Cam, and we told her the name and source of inspiration (and what it is we do), and she came back with a bunch of comps - the Severin lady is immediately the one that grabbed us. Then my good friend Mark Raskin, who scores most the films I make, composed the accompanying jingle and Bob's your uncle.
What are the three Severin titles you are most proud of?
Santa Sangre (1989)
Combat Shock (1986)
How has COVID-19 affected Severin?
The biggest hit we took was the cancelation of conventions. We do a lot of them and they provide a decent chunk of income, but they also allow us to meet likeminded people face to face. We chat about what's coming up, spread the good word, get ideas of titles to go after or merch to do, and they're really the only place where fans of the movies we put out can browse our stuff all in one place, check out the covers, learn about the movies, and then pick up what they want. Other things have slowed down such as manufacturing of boxes, shipping discs from overseas, and getting scans done in Rome... so there's been quite a few hurdles and some delays. But overall we had so much in-house already that we've been able to continue with production. The team has been working harder than ever to keep our products moving towards delivery so that we can continue to release as much as possible. Everyone has been working from home, which many of the team do anyway because we are spread all over. Only Zach and I work out of the Severin office in L.A. on a full-time basis. Nicole is the Production Manager/Coordinator, she ties all the pieces together logistically. Carl in the UK handles contracts and accounts. Andrew is the Post Supervisor, coordinating elements between the various people who edit, quality control, color correct, restore, and author. Josh handles our social media and public relations and also produces some special features. Zach edits and is quality control.
Kier-La produces special features and is working on a documentary feature on folk horror. Jamie edits. Jason and Amanda, who run the web store (www.Severin-Films.com) and oversee physical packaging and shipping for our direct order customers, have been working nonstop so that we can keep things going, even if the outside world is in turmoil. Jim Kunz authors and handles any technical panics we may have. Johnnie Buell and Marc Morris author, too. Crystal and Earl design. Warren and Lannie color. Everyone has been plowing forth and being more productive than ever. During this time, we released our most ambitious project ever in Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection, as well as a box set of Umberto Lenzi/Carroll Baker gialli and a bunch of single discs which come with merch items and whatnot. I am very proud to be working with all these wonderful and dedicated people.
Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson is easily, along with Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, one of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen on a filmmaker. Do you plan to direct more Severin documentaries moving forward?
Well thank you, my biggest passion is filmmaking and the documentary on filmmaking has turned out to be my thing. Didn't plan it that way, but I've been at it pretty much nonstop since Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000). After doing many, many short featurettes I was always looking for a subject which would be worthy of the feature-length treatment. It couldn't just be your common or garden 'making of' story, it had to be something that would stand on its own and justify that length. I'd done The Godfathers of Mondo (2003) for Blue Underground's The Mondo Cane Collection, which I was very happy with but which didn't get any play outside of the set, really. We also should have done The Joe Spinell Story (2001) as its own feature, as he was a fascinating subject. That 50-minute piece for the Anchor Bay Maniac (1980) release is still one of my favorites. Anyway, the point being that there were some warm up projects - Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005) was another that I thought could play separately from the films they were accompanying.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) was the first one we took out to festivals as its own documentary feature, the response to it was very positive and it subsequently went far and wide. I was looking for the next subject that could match that in filmmaking insanity, and once Al Adamson came into my orbit it was pretty clear this would be it. So began a three and a half year process of tracking everyone down for interview, finding all the films and scanning them - it was a very rewarding process. One advantage of doing docs like this as opposed to narrative features is that they're not a sprint, they're a long-distance run. You can take the time to get everything you need and, as was the case here, reshoot some elements and make sure you get what you want over time. I was making three documentary features concurrently while shooting Blood & Flesh. I also did Master of Dark Shadows (2019) for MPI Media Group as a work for hire, which was completed first, and I also shot Enter the Clones of Bruce (2020) about the decade of faux Bruce Lee movies which hit the market worldwide after Lee died, starring the likes of Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and Dragon Lee. That one is now deep in post and should be done by the end of this year.
What are three movies you love to recommend?
Bitter Moon (1992)
Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
For those interested in working in the world of home entertainment in some capacity, what is your advice on skills and education they should acquire to pursue that career path?
If you want to be in the boutique label world and consider yourself a filmmaker, make a featurette or two, or documentary, on a subject you're passionate about. There's a lot of people out there who are "scholars" or can stick a phone in front of some actor or director and ask them to talk about a given film, but there are very few who can actually deliver a well produced, informative piece on that given film. I'm always looking for filmmakers who can do something with what may seem like a basic assignment. If you're thinking of starting a label, know that it's not a quick way to make a lot of money. We all do it because we can make a living doing what we love, and for the most part fans of the movies we put out get a kick out of what we do. It may seem like there is a lot of negativity, but that's usually because the eunuchs from the harem in forums have very loud voices, a lot of free time, and a whole lot to say on the internet. If you're a self-appointed expert, better to go out and do it rather than moan in a vacuum that you could do better.
Which upcoming Severin titles are you most excited for?
Oh man, so many - but quite a lot not announced yet. The Andy Milligan box set is finally coming together after a few years of work. The first proper U.S. disc release of the batshit unofficial sequel, Nosferatu in Venice (1988) starring crazy-as-ever Klaus Kinski, accompanied by a documentary on the last years of Kinski. The remasters and first U.S. disc releases of Álex de la Iglesia's Perdita Durango (1997) and The Day of the Beast (1995) are so close now - the nightmare we had on those with elements paid off because Perdita Durango in particular not only looks better than ever, it's also a few seconds longer than any previous disc release anywhere. More Italian classics well overdue for the Blu-ray treatment, some Christopher Lee rarities well overdue for an upgrade, our own movie The Theatre Bizarre (2011) is finally coming home, along with accompanying releases of features made by some of the directors. Some French, Czech, South African, British, Spanish and plenty more U.S. films in the works.
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