Interview With Vidimax Distributor Louis FerroilBy Tony Masiello
The following is an interview conducted with Vidimax / Macabre Video Underground Producer Louis Ferroil in 2009. Sadly the masters of many of the movies covered in this interview were destroyed in a fire, but we have included links to some restored versions of these movies for reference.
What got you into into filmmaking?
Going back in the record business! The history of Carlson International and my roots as a studio session guy is on the home page of carlsoninternational.com - and if you think the horror flicks were bad, you should have heard some of CI's records (especially the nefarious "Disco Godfather" by the thankfully late Peppe Villani.
What were your influences?
The jump start influences for me were Herschel Gordon Lewis and the Brandt 42nd St Theatres in NYC. I emerged from the Port Authority Bus Terminal one morning and got caught in a downpour of rain. So I ditched in the New Amsterdam theatre that was playing a HGL double header, "Wizard Of Gore" and "Blood Feast' As my twenty something eyes feasted upon Connie Mason getting her leg amputated in a bath tub but also noticed the 2000+ seat theatre was packed SRO at eight o'clock in the morning. I figured if HGL can film in his mother's basement and attract such a conglomerate of eyeballs, maybe I could. My father had a drill press, too!
How did the Vidimax Macabre Video Underground Begin?
Well, the big home video revolution burgeoned in the late seventies and, speaking of jump starting, I wanted to be among the first to release "trash horror" on VHS and Beta (Analog...yikwa!!!). Since getting on retail shelves took some doing (albeit most pioneer video rental stores were mom and pop at the start), me, my B&W copier and I came up with the name "Vidimax" ripped off from cable TV's "Cinemax" And then the catch line that kinda caught on, "The Macabre Video Underground."
What were the titles you distributed that were produced exclusively for Vidimax?
The original self produced and exclusive titles of Vidimax (operation as a subsidiary of Carlson International) were: "The Necrotic" (1976), "Star, Baby" (1979), (time lapse due to yours truly getting hit by a car --- guess someone didn't like those flicks!) "The New York Centerfold Massacre" (1984), "Tenderloin" (1985), "Violations" (1986), "Genesome" (1987), "Child Of The Sabbat" (1989), "The Nutzoids At Cannibal Cove" (1990), "The Intruder" (1992).
Where there any films you distributed to retail or rental chains?
Two productions we did for hire, for Telepix, "Violations" and "Stars of Burlesque" and "NY Centerfold..." were the only titles retail packaged & distrib'd by Telepix crediting Carlson International as producer.
What where your best selling titles?
During the mail order VHS/BETA years were 1. Violations, 2. Child Of The Sabbat, 3. Tenderloin, 4. Cannibal Cove, 5. NY Centerfold Massacre. Fast forward to now on free streams, the same as most viewed save "Violations," most of that footage was lost in the fire.
How many members where there at the Macabre Video Undergrounds peak?
At the mail order peak, late 80's, there were about 2,500 member "regulars" ....fans, guys and gals, who called or wrote letters and questions to us or a fanzine called "Videomania" out of WI.
What were some of the outside titles you distributed?
In addition to our own abortions, some indie guys asked us to add their productions, so we had 1986 "Cannibal Church" from upstate NY, 1978 NYC/Jersey filmed "A Certain Sacrifice" starring none other than Louise Veronica Ciccone (ya all know who she is...the adoption queen). And some Cleo The Whip Lady spectaculars from none other than Carter Stevens.
Vidimax was the first distributor to release the Guinea Pig films in the US can you tell us about that?
Ah, yes, the notorious "Guinea Pig." As I remember, I got a call from a Mr. Hi (add joke here) in Osala, Japan, but I couldn't understand one word he said. A few days later, I get this huge 1" broadcast format video reel in the mail and couldn't play it because, hey, we weren't CBS. (The box & reel label read "Slow Death" in Japanese...that I had translated) So I took the thing over to a Jersey UHF station and paid the tech $100 to play it. He gets excited believing it was a "snuff" film and said "Get it outta here!!!!" I asked him if he'd make a 3/4" format duplicating master, he yelped "Hell, no" until I gave him another hundred bucks. By Special Delivery, I get a document in the mail that read "licensing agreement" and since a lawyer buddy mentioned "Yakuzza," damn straight we paid the royalties on time. A few years later a Florida video mail order company claimed they had the rights to "Guinea Pig: Flowers Of Flesh & Bood" ~ the title a video company, NEK, in Japan released it under. Then, everybody began selling it and you know the story....every gorey vid coming out of Tokyo was labeled "Guinea Pig series." And now, of course, NEK's "The Making Of Flowers Of...."
What was the budget for an average Vidimax film?
You may think I'm joking, but the average budget for one of our own epics was whatever balance I had on my credit card accounts. Fact. "The Necrotic," like Madonna's debut film, was on super-8 film. (Ya mean that teeny tiny strips of celluloid with those teenier, tinier frames....yep). The actors worked gratis, the locations were my uncle's diner, my mother's house, my aunt's house and a chiropractor/actor wannabe's office. $2,000 including bologna and cheese sandwiches from the uncle. Then, by getting contracts with NY/NJ area cable stations to do local origination programs (nice way of saying "public access'), lo and be hold, clunky video portapaks and clunkier editors. Same budgets for all the 80's stuff except "Violations," which we actually produced for hire by Telepix, a $25,000 video disaster and second most expensive was "Child Of The Sabbat" we as sole producers breaking the Vidimax budget at $12,000. The rest were credit card balance budgets.
Most of your films were shot on 8mm or Betacam can you tell us what medium you preferred?
Actually, from all the clunky A/V formats of the 70s and 80s, I am one of the few who liked SVHS - JVC's super VHS "Y" signal format brainstorm. It worked and produced pretty decent picture quality for its day. HDTV was only a whispered promise back then. Unfortunately, SVHS joined quadraphonic sound and 8 track music tapes in the short lived category.
I heard your ads were banned from Fangoria Magazine can you tell us more about that?
Ah, yes, the Fangoria ouster. In the 80's, Vidimax MVU had ads in "Video Review" (now "Home Entertainment" I think) and "Fangoria." One day, not long after Mr. Hi's undeciphered call, this screaming lady (Patrice, I think her name was) yelling "we can't run your ads anymore, too much heat" yadauadayada. I did some investigating and found out a nationally telecast televangelist got a hold of "Child Of The Sabbat" and told the Fangers we were propagating "Satanism of the worst kind." (You should have tasted the pancake mix the preacher sold on his website....yuk, talk about hell!) And so our one inch ad was thrust forever from the realm of Fangoria. C'est La Vie.
Can you tell us about the warehouse fire that destroyed many of the masters of the Vidimax library, as well as if there were any films that were lost for good in the fire?
As health issues required a lengthy hospital/LTCU stay right after we filmed my cameraman Frank Brina's burst of creativity, "The Intruder" and he was moving from NJ to VA, I had the masters stored at a furniture warehouse. Because a genius worker there got careless with a cigarette, according to the fire marshal’s report, Vidimax masters joined Broyhill and Samsung in a blaze. Of course, the witch at Cannibal Cove might have forgotten to douse the cauldron flames. So, poof went the masters and all that was left were third and fourth generation VHS copies and that is all we had to stream on the net. All the masters, intermasters and camera shoot tapes were destroyed, save one shoot reel from "Violations" the cameraman had (sneak! wish he would have taken them all!).
What caused the downfall of Vidimax and the Macabre Video Underground?
Yes, I have heard many, probably not all, of the "Vidimax" downfall rumors. Everything from mob hits to life imprisonment for snuff films. There was no "downfall." Sure, we had legal problems and challenges, more to do concerning our affiliation with Dominion Video than our own, and huffs from Mier Zarchi and grave spitting, but actually the MVU never stopped marketing; production ceased because of my health problems and the squeamishness of my head tech over horror movie content. As mentioned, the Asian Invasion came upon us in the early 90's. We could not compete with Japan and China's horror videos. American actors (the gals more than guys) would not do scenes that outdid Asia's (you can see clips from about ten of them on the macabrevideounderground.com website. When the world wide web caught on in the mid 90's and PC's/Mac's were selling like wildfire, we began the MVU site as a nostalgia thing, then we made arrangements to have other cult/horror exploitation fare added and it grew into whatever the hell it is today (mama said). MVU doesn't die, it just continues to piss people off.
Can you tell us more about your first film The Necrotic?
In the late 70's, CI's first horror outing, "The Necrotic" surprised the cast and I. Super-8, credit card budget and everything that could possible go wrong at shoots did. But that great ensemble cast, Rodney Williams from the soaps, enthusiastic upstart Regina Kelly and Tony La Russo, (would you believe) Shakespearean actor Lori Smith, everybody, but their all into it. So, I held a bash at the Diplomat Hotel in NYC. Screening, eats.....and I'm boggled by some of the big shots that stopped in. The cast, crew and I stared at one another in shock after the little film on the little projector got a standing ovation. (I thought they were all getting ready to throw rotten tomatoes). Then I ran it on NYC public access and I get a call from the head program director, Emily Armstrong at what is now Time Warner (Uh Oh!) I'd been doggoned....she said so many people called in to see it again, she wanted to put it on as a Saturday midnight show on their commercial channel. Then I got a call from WPIX channel 11 in NY and WTAF channel 29 in Phillie (gulp!) They wanted to run it on their then Saturday late night horror thing. So now, "The Necrotic" has its own fansite @ thenecrotic.com whee!
Can you tell us about New York Centerfold Massacre?
"The New York Centerfold Massacre" didn't have to wait for that warehouse fire for footage to be destroyed. The then cameraman accidentally recorded over the footage which had cameos from actual Oui centerfold models Kandi Barbour and Cheryl Lee. They weren't available for re-shoots. The lead aspiring model was actually played by a Catholic school 6th grade teacher who asked during her bathtub shoot, "Hey, what if Monsignor O'Reilly sees this?" Ah, Paula Weckesser. I asked her, "What in hell would a Priest and principal of a Catholic middle school be watching "The New York Centerfold Massacre" for?" Centerfold Massacre or not, she wouldn't do nudity nor the other actors and on a shoestring budget, what clout did I have? So. except for the photog's girlfriend (played by Barbara Heller who consented to nudity), it was bra and panty. We later shot two look-alikes and paid them to do pasted in nudity.
Can you tell us about Tenderloin?
"Tenderloin" was shot in one weekend, Sat & Sun. This great model who has done Victoria Secret's, Lesley Duncan, didn't mind any of the gore. That was her real tongue being pulled, then a prosthetic was subbed for the tear out. (Got that one from "Mark Of The Devil II"). Lesley had her utterly breathtaking (and delicious looking legs) strapped to a BBQ grill and how we got her legs to "cook" and the coal to smoke...ah, let's leave the fun imaginings be. Dick Biel, of course, we snagged from Lloyd Kaufman's Troma camp.
Can you tell us about Violations?
Charles Diehl, the CEO of Telepix distribution, was referred to me by
an old recording studio days buddy. Charlie wholesaled tons of Martial arts-ploitation films I dubbed into Spanish for him. He Wanted to try his hand at English speaking low budget exploitations despite I warned him the retail competition was fierce. Sort of inspired by the Linda Lovelace book "Ordeal" (where she alleged She was forced to do "Deep Throat" by the mob at gunpoint), I ripped the scenario for "Violations." It bombed retail, wound up In the dollar stores at a loss, yet had decent sales via the Vidimax MVU mail order catalog. Go figure.
Can you tell us about Genesome: The Girlpods?
Kevin Hodak (rhymes with Kodak) was both a Trekkie from Way back and a wannabe Sci-Fi moviemaker. He wrote some Mumbo jumbo about 50's air raids being cover ups for alien invasion. Then he enhanced the space ship kidnap rumors to include teenage Earth girls. Vidimax released the video the way he shot it with his camcorder and my crew guy Bob Rose helped him with playing a cop. The video bombed or as Dr. Mc Coy would say, "It's dead, Jim." Kevin then found a graphic Mexican sex Ed film of some sort and spiced up the alien gynecologist sequence. By word of mouth it then became somewhat , uh, "popular."
Can you tell us about the Dr.Sadismo’s Macabre Theater films?
OK, I'll give you the inside on "Dr. Sadismo's Theatre Of The Macabre." Of course, it was an obvious take-off on HGL's "Wizard Of Gore" and pre-Troma's "Incredible Torture Show" renamed for video "Blood Sucking Freaks." Bob Rose was originally hired as a crew member. When the actor who was suppose to play the medical examiner in "Tenderloin" never showed, Bob took on the role at the last minute and I was super impressed by his acting skills. So he became Sadismo and Bob is so much fun to work with and a great guy. The Damsel In Distress, played by Beverly Eaby was a NYC stripper with a tough-ass manager/boyfriend who almost didn't "let her" (his words) be in the film. At one point, when the big hack saw came down on her stomach and she was tied to the table, she did freak out and yelled. "I hope you guys know there are people who know where I am!" I said, "Yeah. me too. I live here." Yes, "Dr. Sadismo's Theatre Of The Macabre" 1 and 2 (#2 filmed by Dominion Productions with their, uh, stripper) were filmed in my living room.
The film seems to be heavily influenced by the film Bloodsucking Freaks can you tell us more about that?
BSF: Like HGL's show, "Blood Sucking Freaks," originally released by Aquarius Distributing as "The Incredible Torture Show" sold out every showing, dawn to dusk, at RKO's Penthouse Theatre on Broadway. In the early 70's I worked for RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres as a roving manager and I watched big budgeted Hollywood epics fall on their celluloid faces and basement budgeted gorefests like "BSF" bring in the crowds. Ah, inspiration. Girl's legs stretched apart, girls spanked and I'll tell you a quick story about The Human Dart Board. I was sitting in TV talk show host's Joe Franklin's office, there to book a psychic on his show, when a gal sitting next to me all of a sudden barked, "Hey, don't you do cheap, crummy horror movies, or something?" I answered, "Cheap....crummy.....yep, that's me, but you forgot cheesy." She then proceeded to introduce herself as the actress, Jane Friedman and how DARE they (the makers of ITS/BSF) exploit us like that" on and on and on. An elderly man with cigar and heavy Jewish dialect sitting across from us reading a newspaper said to her, with a cigar puff and not putting the paper down, "You cashed the check, didn't you?"
Can you tell us about Child of the Sabbath?
And while we're on the subject of controversy, here was our biggest, "Child Of The Sabbat" It came about innocently enough. I was watching Geraldo Rivera's NBC-TV news special about the connection between unsolved child abductions and satanic cults. Anton Svandor La Vey was spouting gibberish and Geraldo added his usual hysteria and melodrama. NBC hated the show and declared they would never re-run it. So did most clergy. Well, here I go pissing people off again. The mail orders allowed a bit better budget by the late 80's so we went all out. There was such a buzz going around that we were actually contacted by those who claimed to be seventh generation Satanists. They actually took part in the final scene, a sacrificial ritual implied by Geraldo. The Hierophant (High Priest) demanded we not use the mantra in the release version (his daughter played the slaughtered, pregnant teen runaway in another scene). Well, we didn't....until the version we now stream was re-mastered. Hey, if you're going to piss people off, who better than the devil's main advocate? And so thus our claim the ritual finale is the real ceremony. Lucifer must like it, "...Sabbat" gets the most hits. One was even tracked from a seminary!
Can you tell us about Cannibal Cove?
"The Nutzoids At Cannibal Cove" was the swan song, because I had problems resulting from the car accident and I was in as almost as much pain as our viewers. Nutzoids was supposed to be a spoof on Vidimax. Barbs all throughout the movie referenced the chintzy budget, chintzy equipment, bad scripts, etc. Of course, like all Vidimax MVU exponents, there had to be something to piss people off. So, in mimicking "Father Knows Best" we take the youngest daughter and have her cooking, implied nude, in the witch's cauldron. Well, camera guy Frank designed the cauldron and the fire seemingly beneath. For some people, it looked too real and we still had that huffing preacher from the video before, "Child Of The Sabbat." Another casting irony: the mother of Dana Michele, (Kathy in the pot) was a junior high school principal of guess which school her daughter attended. I might tout that the she and the actor who played her sister (Kim French) got cast in national TV commercials as a result by Dorothy Palmer....who also cast "Blood Sucking Freaks" ....small world eh?
What are your feelings about the Vidimax legacy?
I wouldn't be so pompous, Tony, as to claim Vidimax or the MVU has a legacy. When Johnny Carson retired from his late night TV show, a reporter asked him why he thought his show was so popular. Carson replied, "Because we knew our audience," And that's what I tried to do for the MVU crowd, despite squeamish crew members and a few uncooperative amateur actors. Know the audience. Give them what they want, within legal limits but not afraid to push the envelope. I know the MVU viewer was not concerned about picture resolution or surround sound, but the gritty, grisly, down to earth less Hollywood gloss.
What’s next for Louis Ferriol?
Vidimax promo'd a future production, "The Femcan & The Babe In The Woods" last year, to be filmed in central VA by my original camera guy. His this-way that-way attitude, plus the economy downturn, but a big hamper on it. Had the script, had it cast, it just didn't happen. I am retired, but would have liked to design one more Macabre Video Underground before I go underground. Hey, if Mick Jagger can...he's as old as I am! But if not, I heartfully thank and appreciate you, your visitors, and the MVU visitors for remembering.