Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reflections On The Draculina Empire by Tim Ritter

Draculina #19

by Tim Ritter

It had to have been sometime in 1987 when I was introduced to Hugh Gallagher by Donald Farmer. I had just finished shooting KILLING SPREE and Hugh had an upstart horror ‘zine called DRACULINA that wanted to interview me about TRUTH OR DARE and KILLING SPREE, my two 16mm horror flicks that came from the mid-80’s and went direct to VHS. Hugh sent me a copy of DRACULINA # 6 and I definitely wanted to be a part of what he was creating! Here was coverage of the kind of movies I loved (and aspired to make!) and the people that made them---past, present, and future! I YEARNED to be a part of this new magic kingdom!

So Hugh did a long, extensive interview with me for DRACULINA # 7, where I rambled on and on about my big plans for horror and how much I loved the genre. It was one of my first interviews (done by telephone!) and Hugh made it so fun and exciting---it felt like I was getting coverage in TIME MAGAZINE and I was stoked to be a part of it. Hugh was booming with enthusiasm about the horror genre, scream queens, and making movies in general, three things I loved as well. Well, three things we were both totally CONSUMED by, so it seemed!

When I got my copy of DRACULINA #7 [January 1988], which featured my name on the cover along with Sean S. Cunningham and Camille Keaton, I was blown away! Definitely on my way to the big time, and I loved the heavy paper that contained the articles and the thick cardboard cover of the ‘zine. Here was a professional underground publication not afraid to show its love for the genre, highlighting movies like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, CANNIBAL HOOKERS, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, CARMILLA, and so many more…all completely in an uncensored fashion! Of course, there were many underground ‘zines back in the day, and it’s probably hard to imagine reading photocopied, stapled “pamphlets” covering all your favorite movies now, in the Internet age, where everything you want is just a CLICK away! But back then…this was the only way we could read about some of these movies and see pictures that “delivered the goods”, especially of scream queens showing themselves in uninhibited fashion. (Ahhhhh, Ingrid Pitt on page 30 of DRACULINA # 7…) Reading these ‘zines was kind of like being part of a secret horror society or something, a closed club, where only the ‘cool people’ or those “in the know” would gather…

Draculina #7

Of course, Hugh Gallagher’s vision for DRACULINA was big, way beyond its humble beginnings as a black and white, photocopied-style ‘zine. His publication grew and grew over the years, eventually becoming a slick, glossy professional magazine that was revered in the underground film community---especially those who were shooting on video and their diehard fans. Again, in an era of Internet “instantaneous blogs”, it’s probably very difficult to imagine all the talent, time, planning, and money it took to put out each and every issue…where every single detail was overseen by one passionate fan…Hugh Gallagher!

Hugh Gallagher

Hugh also had a burning desire to make movies, and he pursued this on the side, while creating the Draculina Empire, and we’d always compare notes. My memory may be a bit fuzzy on this, but sometime in 1989, I believe he sent me a movie he made, called DEAD SILENCE, just so I could see it and we could compare notes on getting these things done and out into the marketplace. [For example, actresses’ wanting money after the movie was completed, how to write up contracts, how to get VHS copies in the store, this sort of thing.] I always loved sharing information with Hugh and learning from his experiences as well. DEAD SILENCE wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything that bowled me over at the time. But we all start somewhere, you know? Our first efforts are rarely our best, especially when we’re out there learning by doing.

Dead Silence

As we entered the 1990’s, most of us aspiring Wes Cravens were diving into the Shot On Video market, taking advantage of pro-sumer cameras [Super-VHS and Hi-8] and relishing not having to raise tons of money to realize our visions. Hugh kept in touch with everyone, especially those of us who were making movies on video, like Donald Farmer and me. Number one, he wanted to cover what we were doing in his magazine and number two, he wanted to compare notes so he could get his own productions going. This is where we all learned the importance of taking a variety of great still photographs during our productions---all of us---because in Hugh’s underground press, we could run shocking, bloody, damsel-in-distress photos to give potential viewers an uninhibited look at what we were creating. Bottom line---it was good public relations! Translating into good VHS sales.

By 1993, I had two new video projects ready to release and was learning the art and business of self-distribution as I went along. These were BLINDED BY THE BLOOD (The Making Of Killing Spree and Wicked Games) and WICKED GAMES- TRUTH OR DARE PART II, a sequel to my 1986 film TRUTH OR DARE- A CRITICAL MADNESS. Naturally, Hugh wanted to cover my stuff, including interviews, pictures, and reviews, and it was issue # 19 [Spring 1994] where WICKED GAMES made one of its first appearances in the underground press scene. DRACULINA had improved greatly by then, with a slick color cover and centerfold, clear black and white photos on the inside, and a great layout that looked totally pro. Issue # 19 features BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, sexy Debra Lamb, and awesome coverage of Donald Farmer’s RED LIPS. Hugh had recently finished a movie called GORGASM and was in the process of making video boxes for it along with his latest projects, GOROTICA and the upcoming GORE WHORE. Again, Hugh and I talked about what equipment we were using, how to get good talent, and the problems inherent in making VHS boxes and dubs. At this point, I was having trouble getting the WICKED GAMES sleeves printed up because all the printers thought the Chas Balun drawn cover was too graphic, so Hugh was nice enough to turn me on to the printer he was using. I also tried out the duplicator he was using for VHS releases---they were actually much cheaper than everyone else I was using because they were recording over old titles that hadn’t sold, and some of those ended up being porno movies, I recall---and if our title was shorter than the porno movie, after our end credits rolled, well, you’d get an eyeball full of triple-X action! What an Easter Egg bonus, eh? (This caused me some problems with some of the video stores I eventually sold copies to when their customers complained!)

Wicked Games Promo Ad

Once my box situation was taken care of, Hugh gave me some ad space in his magazine and sold copies of my stuff through Draculina Direct, his new distribution arm. We did some really decent business in 1993-95 as we learned to highlight our best still shots from our productions in the magazine to show readers what we were doing. Getting fans to buy our titles at $20 a piece (or more) seemed to be the most profitable way to make our budgets back. (The wholesale video market was terrible- you’d be lucky to get $5 or $6 a tape by then!) I was amazed at how well BLINDED BY THE BLOOD was selling---it seemed there was an insatiable appetite from fans who wanted to make their own movies. They craved material on how to get a project going. Keep in mind, this was way before there were things like DVD extras and making-of videos on everything; the only project I had been inspired by was Roy Frumke’s classic DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, which I had modeled BLINDED BY THE BLOOD after. (And that doc had never been officially released then, I got it from one of the producers of KILLING SPREE, who knew Roy!) There was just a scarcity of material covering small movies back then and how they were made---especially no-budget 16mm and video movies. It seemed no one really cared…until, well, they DID care and wanted to make their own movies! Where do we START?!?! That was the very first question!

Blinded By The Blood VHS

I also got a copy of Hugh’s latest movie, GOROTICA, and honestly, was blown away by it! Yes, technically speaking, the movie wasn’t the greatest, but it had a rawness (and realness) about it that just felt…right. It was short, around an hour, with no padding, and it got right to the brutal point with a cool, tight plot, involving a stolen diamond and the unlucky thieves that try to unload it. From there, the story goes all over the place into dark territory as a murder happens and a chick staying with the crooks (Ghetty Chasun) explores her crazed necrophilia urges on the cast members that are dropping off. There’s an aura of weirdness and bizarre double-crosses that lead to a severely downbeat ending. The opening sequence, with Ghetty graphically pleasuring herself with a human skull, grabs your attention like the entrancing opening credits of a James Bond flick---only much sicker, of course. It helps that Ghetty was a very attractive young lady and also---she had real acting chops. You really believed in what she was doing. (I think Donald Farmer discovered Ghetty doing some plays in Tennessee, so she’s definitely one of his great discoveries! Donald used her next in a movie called RED LIPS.) Hugh really seemed to be onto something with this flick, and it did really well for him. Everyone was always talking about GOROTICA in the underground horror scene, it was just one of those things that had to be seen to be believed! An EVENT VIDEO for the underground, something that [sadly] rarely happens today… I was obsessed and inspired by GOROTICA, and I’d watch it over and over back in the day, sometimes two or three times in a row. There was just something about it…some VIDEODROME-ish quality, that drew me in! (I’d actually love to see a remake of GOROTICA, done in respectful way of the original, perhaps updating things a bit for today’s technology but being very true to the original!)

Gorotica VHS

As I championed Hugh’s GOROTICA movie, we both moved on to our next projects. For quite some time, Hugh and I had a really great business relationship. DRACULINA DIRECT was selling a lot of copies of my stuff, especially KILLING SPREE, WICKED GAMES, and BLINDED BY THE BLOOD. I was self-distributing my stuff to anyone that would buy, and it was a lot of work: selling to wholesalers, video stores, and directly to customers, all while working a regular job and trying to get my next movie started. I took an ad out in FANGORIA and did well, but the exposure in DRACULINA amazingly always proved to be more profitable!

The DRACULINA Empire seemed to really be growing at this point, and it was a wild ride to be on! High was amidst finishing his renowned ‘accidental’ GORE trilogy, and talking to him was always inspiring---he was full of passion and excitement for his movies and magazines, which were steadily gaining more and more fans. He now had comic books, movies, and other magazine offshoots coming out…The tree was growing many branches!

If I remember correctly, editing GORE WHORE took an extra long time for Hugh, he had some blue screen effects work to do and also, he was busy with his publications, doing almost everything himself. The time it takes to do all this creative stuff is…unfathomable! I was so excited with anticipation to see GORE WHORE that I pre-ordered a copy on VHS… I began to see Hugh Gallagher very much in the same way as Hugh HEFNER: the Chief of this multi-conglomerate operation of [horror] girly magazines, comics, books, and movies, as the Draculina Empire continued to expand. The focus of DRACULINA magazine largely became the latest burgeoning scream queens and their delicious photographs and enticing interviews. Hugh was discovering more and more SOV filmmakers and their girl-next-door starlets willing to bare all in his pages, much to the fans’ delight. It was headed to a fevered pitch of success in the 1995-1998 timeframe…

Gore Whore VHS

I had a great time viewing GORE WHORE---it did not disappoint! Again, it had Hugh’s auteur stamp on it and was full of wild set-pieces that included a strange formula that revives a dead hooker, zombie attacks, castrations, and even a car crash sequence that I vividly remember nearly 15 years later! I was like, “Wow, Hugh is quite the Corman maverick here, staging car wrecks with such little money and no stunt men.”  The scene where the car goes off a cliff was quite an eye-opener! Audrey Street was bold and provocative in the lead part, and D’Lana was stand-out in her role. GORE WHORE was also heavy on the zombie side, complete with RE-ANIMATOR like gags, including a cool decapitated head sequence and a green formula that reanimates the dead. There was also an unforgettable castration scene of this dude in a car which…like some of the GOROTICA antics, is best seen to be believed! Again, I was impressed, entertained, and inspired by the work Hugh was doing as I went into my own production of a little movie called CREEP in 1994…I wasn’t quite as obsessed with GORE WHORE as I was with GOROTICA, although it was a good flick and I watched it many times. Technically, it was worlds better than GOROTICA, but as I mentioned, there’s just some indescribable quality about GOROTICA that really worked, that whole low-tech vibe, that just made the movie seem so real and in your face…It’s that magic in a bottle that you can’t ever predict or make happen, it just comes when it does.

With CREEP, I had the notoriety of using Kathy Willets (known as “America’s Favorite Nymphomaniac”) in the lead role, and I got awesome coverage in DRACULINA # 21 and # 22.  Issue # 22 was an incredible high note for DRACULINA (and CREEP), as it marked the first time the entire issue was in FULL COLOR, and that one sold completely out in record time! The fans just couldn’t seem to get enough of this kind of stuff and the underground scene seemed to be not only THRIVING, but….digging out of the underground and tasting a bit of that MAINSTREAM air. CREEP was even covered on A CURRENT AFFAIR and in several other magazines, including one published by TIME Magazine! It was amazing, an incredible turning point in the DRACULINA juggernaut. As Donald Farmer’s stock moved up in the film industry, issue # 22 also covered Donald’s movie COMPELLING EVIDENCE extensively, where he worked with stars like Brigitte Nielsen and Dana Plato. There was an article on Eric Kroll’s photography, the SOV movie BLOODSCENT, an awesome piece on Jewel Shepard, and much, much more.

Draculina #22

The flourishing, decadent times of 1995 continued for all of us on the heels of this success, and as I mentioned, there was just a huge, pent-up demand for HOW TO material, especially for no-budget horror themed videos, and I followed up BLINDED BY THE BLOOD with a new documentary called MAKING CREEP [AKA BLINDED BY THE BLOOD 2]. By then, I had signed many of my titles with Salt City Home Video [which later became SRS Cinema] and they were handling the distribution of everything, including sales through Draculina Direct. Somewhere in here I also caught up with Hugh’s GORGASM movie and enjoyed that one---it had kind of an EATING RAOUL meets CANNIBAL HOOKERS vibe to it with an extremely hot leading lady named Gabriela. It definitely was a fun-time watch, but still didn’t quite measure up to my unhealthy obsession with GOROTICA…

Gorgasm Ad

I know Hugh intended to make more movies after GORE WHORE, but I think the magazine business demanded his full attention after that. There just wasn’t enough time to run the Draculina Magazine Empire and also write, prep, shoot, and direct movies concurrently. Not to mention postproduction and the hours that took. The “how to” market was so good then that Hugh started a new magazine called SCAN, which was strictly focused strictly on how to make low and no budget movies, everything from scripting to distribution, and I remember heavily contributing to those mags as they came out in quick succession. There were a couple issues that were pretty much written all by me and a few other filmmakers using pen names! It was a great venue to get exposure for our video movies and also help others pursue their moviemaking dreams with tips learned the hard way---by doing these things.

Scan #5

My movies continued to get prime coverage in DRACULINA all the way through issue # 36, I believe, but I think the business module slowly began to change somewhere in there, especially in the early 2000’s…you’d probably have to ask Hugh exactly what happened, but like DVD ate up the VHS markets, the Internet really hurt a lot of specialty niche market publications, especially when so much material was suddenly available gratis---especially free pictures and information on low budget movies. Not to mention, the extras on DVDs were a visual representation of all the stuff we were writing about and it seemed fans would rather WATCH how this stuff was done as opposed to READING about it. Additionally…there were financially-strapped, crooked wholesalers, which we’ve all dealt with before selling movies, mags, and about everything else. If they decide not to pay, or their checks bounced…well, guess who ends up holding the empty bag? The ardent, ingenious artists, like Hugh Gallagher, pioneers who are burning bright with ideas, creativity, and passion! They are the ones who sadly suffer when this kind of financial injustice goes down. Sadly, Issue # 51 marked the last printed issue of DRACULINA, somewhere in 2006…[Late 2011 did mark Draculina’s return to the market as an E-Zine, so we’ll have to see where this goes!]

Draculina Ezine #1

In closing, I’d just like to say “Thanks!” to Hugh Gallagher for all the great memories and collaboration, for helping to publicize and sell my movies back in the day, a day when it was much more difficult to get the word out there to people, because there was no Facebook, no Amazon, no social media blogs or twitters, tweets, and whatever else we have these days that makes it so easy to at least get attention from the masses. It’s really hard to impress upon today’s “tech savvy” videomakers and starlets that…not too long ago…you really had to hustle and plan and move paper to promote your movie. You couldn’t just slap your work up on Youtube and get 250,000 views, like some of my clips have done. Many years ago…on a distant shore…selling 250 VHS TAPES was a HUGE thing! Back then we couldn’t even imagine the possibility of 250,000 people seeing our work!

But I’d also like to thank Hugh for the cool movies he made, especially the GORE TRILOGY, and the inspiration and he gave me and many other moviemakers at the time. Hugh made some really entertaining flicks, especially the GORE trilogy, which is still fun to watch even now. If you haven’t already, seek them out and give ‘em a view, you’ll be glad you did, especially if you’re a fan of SOV movies and those Retro Analog Days. And if you’re looking for the “DVD Extras” on how these movies were made, be sure to check out Hugh’s awesome book “PLAYGORE: The Making of GORGASM, GOROTICA, and GORE WHORE”, available on-line at places like Amazon’s Kindle store. Everything you need to know about the movies and what it took to make them is recorded there via the written word directly from the man himself, Hugh Gallagher! ‘Nuf said!