Thursday, 23 April 2015

persona: Jason Meredith

With his northern English roots and nordic current location (Sweden!), Jason Meredith cuts a singular figure in the contemporary genre film landscape. Following his passion for film, from German splatter to Jean Rollin poetics by way of Russian homemade avant-guarde horror and the Silent Era classics, Jason Meredith has delved into the very depths of the bizarre and the occult. Apart from having produced a number of TV shows, he has written extensively for a number of film magazines and websites (including Italian film review), and conducted interviews with the likes of Ruggero Deodato, George Romero and H.R. Giger. Now it's Jason's turn to be interviewed. Blue Demon fan, family man and since last year also home video distributor - ladies and gentlemen, meet Jason  Meredith !

TFA: It was a damn pleasant surprise to learn that the man behind the exciting new venture that is ´Last Exit Entertainment´ is you! It's only right that a lifelong connoisseur such as you should eventually venture into distribution. Was it a move you've been contemplating for a while ? Did you feel that a certain type of film is not represented on the market?

JM: Cheers mate! Well, I’vebeen thinking about getting into distribution for some time. I interviewed Andrey Iskanov a couple of years back and he was talking about how his films couldn’t get the distribution he wanted. So I started to look into what I could do to help him and ended up coming to the conclusion that if anyone was going to release these films in the way both Iskanov and I felt they should be released, I better do it myself. Another Swedish company that had an agreement with Iskanov, but still hadn’t got to the stage of releasing them, went under so I reckoned the rights where up for grabs. Turned out that Tomas (Sandquist) who also used to work for that company was just as eager to help Iskanov out and get his films to fans as I was. So we sat down, drew up a strategy, negotiated the rights to the films from that defunct company, and set up Last Exit Entertainment. At the time it was Nails, Visions of Suffering, Philosophy of a Knife and The Tourist. We wanted to tweak them, give them a new presentation, so for our first release, I took it upon myself, under Andrey’s supervision, to re-master and colour correct Nails so that it looked more as Iskanov had envisioned it back in 2003. Each scene had to be corrected, each cut, recreated so that each single scene and edit was individually altered. It took a load of whole-nighters, but it looks amazing. I also fixed a few edits/glitches that where faulty on the master. I think this passion for his films sparked something with Andrey who  went right back into Visions of Suffering to start making it his Final Director's Cut. He’s removed stuff, shot  60-70% new footage and actually recreated a whole different film. It will be massive. …How’s that for a never-ending answer! But that’s what made us feel, hell yes, we can do this, we have Andrey Iskanov on our side and let’s fucking rock. 

I think that there’s a pretty fucking good spread of films on the market, or rather, the underground market. We keep hearing that DVD is dead, and it may be so for the huge conglomerates, but for fans of low-budget, alternative cinema it’s more alive than ever. There are loads of small distributors and always something interesting in their catalogues. 

TFA: You're really on a mission to give these gems a new lease of life, aren't you! This has to be the third incarnation of Nails on home video, if we count the original domestic VHS release. So far you've put out a Brazilian film , a German film, a Russian film with some French goodness slated to hit the shelves very soon. Is there a one country that you feel has the most potential right now when it comes to these independent gems ? Are there perhaps any Swedish films slated for future release ?

JM: Every country has enthusiasts making their own genre pieces, that’s part of the magic of filmmaking.  If you look at the titles we’ve released so far: Nails, A Capital Dos Mortos, Der Samurai and Horsehead which will be out on the 25th or May, they are solid genre pieces, but each of these fantastic filmmakers had very different conditions to make their art. Iskanov shoots everything himself, edits it all himself, uses his apartment as location, while Horsehead has a full crew and fantastic locations and such. So I don’t feel that there’s one country that has more potential than the other. Of course you can see different traits in films depending on where they come from: the French film is very poetic, lush and almost flows off the screen into your eyes, the German one is very angst ridden and hard in it’s contrasts while the Russian one is surreal, aggressive and at times assaults your senses. But for me it’s all about the storytelling. If there’s a story to tell and you tell it in an impressive or entertaining way, that’s what will hook me. I have a saying : 'Form is nothing, story is everything'. It really is what you want to tell that matters. A film shot on an iPhone in a dark basement with one person could be better than a full-scale Hollywood blockbuster with a cast of thousands if you only have a good story to tell. So no, I’m frequently finding gems all over the world, and have been doing so for my entire life.

TFA: A Capital dos Mortos with its heavy score and basic digital effects sort of transported me back into the year 2003, when the then-stagnant zombie genre was about to receive a new lease of life. Just before Romero´s comeback with Land of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead remake. Lots of DIY camcorder-shot zombie epics were being made, the web was awash with gritty, grainy trailers (we´re talking pre-YouTube). Movies like Chris Kaylor's Siege of the Dead. Iskanov was finishing the first cut of Visions at the time. It was really inspiring seeing those films, it made you want to grab a camcorder and go carve yourself a niche in the genre, yet a lot of those homemade prodcutions have since seemingly vanished. Evidently they haven't had the fortune of running into guys like you. Name a few recent releases that have made you happy? Do you have a favourite DVD label ?

JM: Nekromantik on Bluray… who would ever have thought we’d see an underground shot-on-16mm film be digitally scanned for HD?
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s Spring - a wonderful love story with horror elements and Lovecraftian undertones. That’s one of those films I meant when it’s really all about how you tell it. Spring could have been a straightforward tentacle-monster flick, but it choses a different path and has a story to tell instead. The horror adds to the story instead of being the other way around.
That said, I’m hands down a huge fan of horror over story too, just as long as it’s done in a way I can enjoy, like Olaf Ittenbach’s No Reason which I picked up on bluray in Germany last November. It’s an amazingly grim, gory, dark and nihilistic piece but the story is one that lingers on after the viewing experience. It’s almost philosophical in it’s questioning.
The Nightbreed director's cut. Goes to show the power of the horror community when they get their minds set on doing something. Perfect example of a petition leading to a great release of a film in the director´s intended shape and how the gods of cinema smiled upon us, with the great fortune of those vhs worktapes being found and then later the original footage that was removed. Amazing story.
I’m kind of eclectic in my choice of films. The Search for Weng Weng or Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist, where guys with no real money have gone out and made great documentaries about a topic that's close to their heart. Again, story is key, the rest, with dodgy camerawork and poor audio, we can live with.

I don’t really think I have a favourite DVD label. I’m a classic horder. If I have a film or two of a certain company, say , Arrow, or Eureka, or Criterion or Shriek Show, or Kino/Redemption in my shelf, I compulsively have to buy more of them so that there’s some kind of artistic structure to the shelves… All those spines looking cool all in line. Ordentlichkeit ist alles!
TFA: Thanks Jason, Spring sounds very intriguing! I haven´t got a fav label, either, but I tend to think that Austrian and German companies consistently choose the wildest, most gorgeous original artwork for their Eurocult releases. What does the near future hold for Last Exit Entertainment? 

JM: Well the imminent future is Horsehead. After that I’m waiting for Iskanov to complete his Final Director's Cut for Visions of Suffering. I’ve edited a few teasers for it and the new footage is amazing. But art needs it´s time and my agreement with him is that he doesn’t let go of anything that he’s not satisfied with. I jokingly call him the George Lucas of independent genre cinema because he’s always finding stuff he wants to tweak and alter. We also have to get Ingression back into the edit suite and complete that as it's the final chapter in the 
HalluCiNoGeNnN trilogy. Now that Andrey has put the initial harassment that followed when it was released it as The Tourist behind him, he wants to put all those critics in place. From what I’ve seen of the new edit so far, it will certainly do that. I don’t think the world was ready for Ingression the first time, but this time it might be. We have the rights to a few German splatter films so we’re still discussing what to do there. We might release a Mark Rohnstock box set as we’ve got a few of his films signed. But then we have to look towards the fall when we’d like to do a festival run like we did with Der Samurai last year when it was screened at a few festivals over here. Nothing beats watching cool flicks with the right crowd. A commercial horror flick at your nearest Cineplex filled with people eating popcorn, talking throughout and really only wanting to get their hands into their girlfriends' pants will never be as fun as watching an independent one in a smaller venue with people who are there to get freaked out. So we’re looking for something grand to blow people's minds and give them a few what-the-fuck moments, which is something of our motto, our films have to have the WTF moments so that the audience will remember them. We have a few films that we are looking into, the tricky part is that as soon as you start talking with sales agents you start having to dig into your wallet. With real independent filmmakers, it’s easier to make deals that benefit them in the first hand, and if we make enough to cover costs and stay afloat then that’s great. At the end of the day, we’re doing this because we want more people to see cool shit and help filmmakers make some cash for their next project. If I end up with another cool row of great looking DVD spines on my shelves then that’s just feeding that compulsion and I’m happy with that.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

the new Dylan Dog film - Victim of Circumstance/ Vittima Degli Eventi (2014)

Following a horrific vision during a nocturnal walk, young Adele (Sara Lazzaro) contacts Dylan Dog (Valerio di Benedetto), the 'nightmare detective'. Thus begins an investigation which will lead our heroes straight into the clutches of the unknown.

With Vittima Degli Eventi/ Victim of Circumstance (2014) the nebulous, phantasmagorical and exquisitely grotesque universe of the original Dylan Dog comic book series as created by Tiziano Sclavi (author of many cult comic books and novels adapted for screen by Giancarlo Soldi (Nero) and Michele Soavi (DellaMorte DellAmore)  has been brought to the screen by a group of dedicated fans.

While the action of the comic books takes place in London, this film version unfolds in Rome. Barring the location shift, current adaptation (there is also a 2012 fan film La Morte Puttana and a shitty US version) is the most faithful to the original. The filmmakers have carefully transposed the atmosphere and originality of Sclavi's works as well as visual splendour exhibited by comic book artists Claudio Villa, Angelo Stano, Corrado Roi and others. I salute the filmmakers for shooting it in Italian language, for the poetic quality which is a Sclavi trademark would have certainly been lost had they opted for English.
Much of the film appeal is in the reverence with which the original is treated by the filmmakers. Dylan's study is recreated with utmost detail, including the mounted Rocky Horror Picture Show poster seen in so many issues of the legendary comics. 

The actors resemble their prototypes a good deal. Co-writer Luca Vecchi takes on the role of Groucho, Dylan's oddball valet. Italian genre film fans will be pleased to see veteran actress Milena Vukotic (known for a wealth of cult films, from the Fantozzi series to Flesh for Frankenstein) play Madame Trelkovsky, a key character in the Dylan Dog universe.

This 100% independent film, created without any studio pressure or distributors' intervention, is permeated with a rare sense of freedom. Vittima degli Eventi is more or a living comic book than traditional cinema, and perhaps the legion of Dylan Dog fans that's put up the funds to make it happen, wanted to see exactly this - not a 'film adaptation', taking liberties with the source material, trying to conform it to the traditional film format, but precisely a comic book that's been filmed literally.
Apart from the impressive camerawork, one has to comment on the brisk cutting (and very decent quality sound recording - a rare thing in a no-budget film). The creators have wisely limited the runtime to 50 minutes - just enought to tell an atmospheric story without ever boring the viewer. The closing creadits leave you craving more. Perhaps a Dylan Dog web series from the same team?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Human Centipod Play Wes Craven EPISODE 17: It's only a podcast

Another episode of the Human Centipod is upon us. Enjoy the charming hosts' passionate rants for and against some classic as well as obscure genre gems.

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