When the Overlook's rabid movie collectors invaded the Silver Scream Fest, Severin Films was there to quench their never ending thirst for limited and unknown releases. All the creatures in attendance spent whatever time they had in between screenings talking to the representatives about movies, both in theatres, released, and long since purchased. This on-going nerd out inspired KillDozer to get in contact with the founder of this ambitious company, who was happy to answer some questions.
KillDozer: Let's start off with a short history of Severin Films. How did it come to exist? What inspired you to do it?
David Gregory: My mate Carl Daft and I were brothers in horror since the day we met at the age of 8. After we both went to college — me in the US and him in the UK — we formed a VHS distribution company in England called Blue Underground but the kinds of movies we wanted to put out always fell foul of the UK’s strict censorship laws. I moved permanently to the US to work with Bill Lustig when he formed Blue Underground US primarily to produce special features on retro genre releases. Then a few years later Carl and I got together with another colleague and like minded soul, John Cregan, and we formed our own label Severin.
KillDozer: What inspires you to choose the films you do?
David: Often it’s films we loved in our formative years as rabid exploitation movie fans. A lot of time is spent tracking down rights holders and/or film elements which are in good enough condition to scan for blu-ray. In other instances films are brought to us by licencors who know the kinds of films we specialize in or in some cases the filmmakers themselves. We’re open to anything but it has to have a special something to be a Severin title.
KillDozer: Your remastered films are beautiful and usually come with some amazing extras. How do you go about acquiring these titles? What was the most stressful acquisition and why?
David: Again it often involves a lot of detective work. We’re always on the look out for titles which have fallen off the radar or which have only seen shoddy releases up to this point. We treat every film we put out like it deserves a Special Edition. To me AXE / KIDNAPPED COED or DOCTOR BUTCHER MD or VAMPYROSE LESBOS are far more worthy of what so many people refer to as “The Criterion Treatment” than most films that Criterion release. I believe Richard Stanley’s HARDWARE and the original INGLORIOUS BASTARDS are our most successful releases in terms of units sold. They’re relatively mainstream compared to a lot of what we acquire.
KillDozer: Being a child of the 80's, my mind was blown when I first laid eyes upon your limited edition VHS releases. Why did you decide to do those? Can you tell me what the process was like to have those VHSs produced? Do you hope to release more titles this way? If so, can you give us any info on new titles you hope to put out on VHS?
David: We first saw most of the films from this era on VHS. We learned from the ground up about directors like Fulci, D’Amato and Jess Franco from watching their movies on cropped, murky VHS rental tapes. But it didn’t matter back then what the quality was because it was a whole new world. A world that was barely touched on in the genre press. It was exploration and discovery. By releasing the limited VHS versions of a couple of our titles we’re just tapping into the nostalgia for this. We’ll only be doing it on the occasional title. DOCTOR BUTCHER MD and BURIAL GROUND for example will probably have limited VHS releases when we release the blus because many fans associate these films with their early introduction to Italian splatter. It’s not easy to find places which replicate on VHS these days and even harder to find the right VHS cases.
KillDozer: People have been going crazy over the Sinful Dwarf release and talking plush. Can you tell me about the first time you viewed the film and your reaction to it.
David: THE SINFUL DWARF is as sleazy as it gets. A filthy little movie. And we love it. It seemed to me that making a children’s toy of such a twisted character as Olaf was a hilarious idea. I brought it up to some friends and they all agreed that if one existed they would have to own one. And so it came to be. But finding a place to make the toy wasn’t easy. Our friend Louis Justin, who runs Massacre Video, found the outfit which makes McDonald's plushies and got us the right price. Wouldn’t it have been amusing if the company got those orders mixed up? Then we have Minneapolis underground filmmaker Mike Etoll make a retro-style TV spot as if it were a regular ad for a kid’s toy and our sinister plan was complete. We made 500 of them and they sold out quite quickly. We’ll be doing another one of the weird kid Michael “Mommy, it smells like death” from BURIAL GROUND too.
KillDozer: Do you ever get a chance to meet personally with the filmmakers or actors from the hidden gem titles that you put out? If so who impacted you the most or was the most memorable?
David: Certainly. It’s been one of the highlights of my career since this whole journey began to travel far and wide to interview the filmmakers who made these classics and produce the special features for the discs. We take immense pride in the quality of our special features. We will not settle for poorly produced / shot / edited featurettes. Even short one person interviews we will treat like a proper production. Nothing galls us more than shitty extras. No excuse for them. Now, this may be because the majority of our work when we first started was in extras so we raised the bar back then on the work we did for Anchor Bay or Blue Underground or Dark Sky Films and now we make sure we maintain that level of quality. Check out the extras on AXE / KIDNAPPED COED — a lot of love was put into those, and rightly so. We want the value to ooze out of whatever package we release.
KillDozer: What is your over all goal with Severin?
David: To give the discerning connoisseur of exploitation cinema the very finest presentation of the films they love or are about to discover. We specialize in older titles but we produce a lot too — particularly in the realm of special features and documentaries but the occasional original movie too like THE THEATRE BIZARRE. Ideally our logo will be synonymous with quality filth!
KillDozer: Not only do you remaster and release an amazing list of horror and exploitation films you also have comedy titles like Snuff Box. How were you able to put this incredible and underrated show out on dvd?
David: That was a stroke of luck. One of the few things I am still very proud of in my English heritage is our excellence at TV comedy. We knew The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place just from being fans. But one day we got an email offering up this terrific show starring two key players in those shows because they couldn’t find a home for it anywhere else — it was just too out there. That’s what made it attractive to us. Fucking hilarious it is too.
KillDozer: Do you ever set up screenings of Severin releases?
David: Oh sure. When we released our original documentary LOST SOUL - THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU it played a number of dates around the country and had quite a good run at Cinefamily here in LA. We’ve also played VAMPYROS LESBOS, SANTA SANGRE, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS and a number of others here and there in theaters. We’ll be screening DOCTOR BUTCHER MD, BURIAL GROUND and THE KILLING OF AMERICA over the summer too before their Blu-ray bows.
KillDozer: Any new projects or ideas you are working on that you would like to share?
David: We have a release schedule that is more packed solid with awesome titles than we’ve ever had. Enough to last us through the end of next year releasing one or two titles a month. The aforementioned DOCTOR BUTCHER MD will probably be our most stacked disc to date with both versions of the film (the first ever digital release of the US DR. BUTCHER cut) and ton of new extras. BURIAL GROUND too will be a major upgrade from previous releases. BEYOND THE DARKNESS aka BUIO OMEGA, same thing. More Jess Franco HD debuts. THE KILLING OF AMERICA for the first time in the US featuring both the English language and 20+ minutes longer Japanese version. Bruno Mattei’s THE OTHER HELL. Franco E. Prosperi’s WILD BEASTS packed with footage from our aborted follow up to “The Godfathers of Mondo”. A feature documentary of Al Adamson, one on Bruceploitation cinema and several others in the works too as far as original production goes, as well as our long gestating horror/comedy/underground anthology. And lots, lots more.
KillDozer: Okay, these are my fun quick questions - what is your favorite piece of movie memorabilia that you own?
David: A leg (is that what it’s called?) of the staircase from the original Texas Chain Saw house before it was moved and cleaned up and turned into a restaurant. I have a few cool signed things from my adventures too: for example, a lovely poster from the Drafthouse when we brought Jess Franco and Lina Romay over for a lifetime achievement award at Fantastic Fest.
KillDozer: Name 3 people that you must meet some day.
David: Have been fortunate to meet quite a lot of artists I admire. Not sure there’s any I would wish for the opportunity just to meet in case they disappointed.
KillDozer: If you could acquire any film or franchise which would it be and why?
David: Franchise? Can’t think of any that interest me. There are plenty of films which are holy grails for me to try and license though and give the special Severin treatment to.
KillDozer: Do you think people who sleep with the Sinful Dwarf plush are weird?
David: Perfectly normal. Everybody should. Wait til the “Michael” from BURIAL GROUND plush hits, now that’s going to be a creepy one.