Exhumed Films is a collective created by Jesse Nelson, Dan Fraga, Harry Guerro, and Joseph A. Gervasi (listed in descending order of my presumption of their tolerance for the smugness of park squirrels) with the intention of giving theatrical screenings to B-horror movies of days past that might otherwise be relegated to strictly home viewing. A couple of the members have also formed Diabolik DVD, a dvd/blu ray sales site dedicated to many of the same types of films. I had a chance to speak with one of the masterminds behind both, Jesse Nelson, to get his thoughts on all things horror/exploitation (well, maybe not ALL things, but the exact number you see mentioned below – you are so hard to please semantically).
JASON HOWARD: Can you tell us a little bit about what Exhumed Films is all about?
JESSE NELSON: Exhumed came out of 4 friends wanting to see Zombie and Gates of Hell on the big screen. We rented a theatre with our own money and hoped people would come and they did! This is back in the day before the social media, so we had a few weeks to hand out flyers and post listings on message boards. We have been through a number of theatres, but here we are all of these years later and still showing things that we have never screened before and in some cases films that aren’t even on home video such as RedNeck Miller.
JH: Why do you feel there is such a renewed interest in the grindhouse/exploitation flicks of the 70’s and 80’s?
JN: I don’t really feel like that there is a renewed interest so much as the internet has brought the genre to another level. There is so much information available now that it just makes it easier to find like minded people and information about these films.
JH: What are your thoughts on modern takes on ‘grindhouse’? I feel that a select few knock it out of the park, but the market might be a bit oversaturated with filmmakers that think a couple of scratches in the film print is enough and forget what makes the genre so special.
JN: I do like some of them quite a bit but others just annoy me. Its almost impossible to recreate the what the fuck mentality of something like Raw Force. It was organic and impossible to duplicate. I think Tarantino’s Death Proof really comes the closest. Go back and watch something like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Talk Talk Talk. Car Chase. Talk Talk, Car Chase. He really nails that atmosphere along with the look and feel of those movies. Not every exploitation film was a a non-stop action fest with wall to wall boobies and sly-fox acting.
JH: Does modern horror in general excite you at all?
JN: Sure, I like any horror that’s good. Recently I really enjoyed American Mary, You’re Next, Absentia, and The Conjuring (speaking of which, James Wan’s Death Sentence was an ace grindhouse style film – grim and violent). I was less excited by Evil Dead than some, but I still thought it was a good try. If something doesn’t hook me pretty quickly, I usually just turn it off. There is too much to watch to be stuck watching a clunker
JH: I imagine one of the toughest challenges for someone who does what you do is for you to maintain the proper balance between showing all of the ultra obscure titles that would make you happy to see a 35mm print of, while still needing to cater to a more mainstream crowd to pay the bills. How do you handle that dichotomy? Do you find that the more popular titles sometimes serve to get people to look deeper?
JN: Well, the beauty of our two signature events, the 24hr Fest and the eXfest is that we don’t announce the films in advance, so you never know what you are getting into. For the 24hr fest we try to pepper some things like Darkman and Demon Knight to keep those fans happy, but we love to break out the crazy films that maybe you don’t know so well. For the eXfest, you are screwed if you are expecting to see something mainstream. The closest we get is Vigilante.
JH: One of your most popular events is the annual 24-Hour Horrorthon, where attendees go into it not knowing what will be shown. Is there a formula for deciding which films goes into a particular lineup, or is it a random smattering of various films?
JN: We do try to show a giant monster film, an animal attacks film, something special for the prime 8-10 slot and something you will hate at 6am (well, the joke is that it is really impossible to like anything in that time slot) but its getting harder to adhere to that formula so we only try our best to meet our own checklist.
JH: Any tips for staying awake the full 24 hours?
JN: I drink a lot of coffee, stretch, take a break from the films and talk to friends but there are still moments where you just can’t stay awake any longer.
JH: Have there ever been any thoughts to franchising to other parts of the country or beyond? Pretty please?
JN: You have to build a fanbase in the area to bring the people out and even we sometimes struggle to get people in the door. Since we all do other things, I think we are pretty happy what we are doing in Philadelphia.
JH: Are there any Holy Grails that you’d like to show, but have yet to find a copy?
JN: House and Hellraiser 2 are both films that we have never been able to track down in 35mm. We have screened obscure 35mm prints from 50 years ago, but can’t find two films that played in multiplexes in the 80s.
JH: Are there any filmmakers, particularly of that era, whose films you will see just because their names are attached, no matter the subject matter or word of mouth?
JN: I think Cronenberg is the answer you are looking for here. I wondered what this horror director was doing when he first made M Butterfly and Naked Lunch and all these years later I think he has proven himself to be an excellent director and I don’t really even need to know anything about a movie he directed and I will watch it though I really wish he would make a straight horror film again
JH: You also co-created Diabolik DVD (www.diabolikdvd.com), an online dvd/blu-ray store specializing in many of the types of films that Exhumed features. What do you look for when deciding to add a film to your catalog to sell?
JN: A lot of the things we bring in are not returnable, so they are ours whether they sell or not, so we have to be selective on certain titles. Sometimes pricing is an issue especially when it comes to competing with other online shops. Mostly I would rather not carry something if I know the label is going to give it to Amazon for less than I am paying for it. There are a few labels that always discount deeply with Amazon and make their films available on Netflix Streaming too soon, so we either skip them all together or order lightly. But with something like A Serbian Film, it is no brainer – we have to have that film in our shop because that is what our customers want and really it is titles like that that keep us in business.
JH: With the decline of Blockbuster Video and video stores in general, and the rise of the internet, do you feel that it’s a good thing that it’s easier than ever to see many of these movies? Or, was the hunt often part of the enjoyment?
JN: No, the hunt was always part of the enjoyment for me. I am old enough to remember not having cable, and then not having a VCR, and the joy of going to this store and that store looking for the films I wanted to see and that feeling can never be matched by pulling up Netflix. Sure, its great to have so many films at your fingertips, but I have always been a fan of the physical item and having to track something down.
JH: There are many rabid collectors of lost formats, such as VHS – do you have an affinity for any particular format, or do you just want to see the movie however you can see it?
JN: I like VHS mostly for the amazing artwork. I would rather watch a movie on Blu-Ray than VHS, but I do have the nostalgia of watching those shitty old transfers that were so common back in the video store days. I do have no tolerance for these DVD labels that take those same shitty transfers and put them out on DVD though.
JH: What’s coming up for Diabolik DVD or Exhumed Films that you can tell us about?
JN: Diabolik is always just more and more inventory. We usually find out about new releases the same time as everyone else. Exhumed has recently received access to a pretty amazing archive of films, so we will be unveiling those over the next several years. Its so encompassing, we don’t even really know where to start.
Interview by Jason Howard, Influx Lead Writer