When it comes to Ron Switzer’s 1991 gonzo slice of insanity SCIENCE CRAZED, I’m a true acolyte. Seeing the film for the first time was a life-changing experience, and ever since that day I’ve preached the pleasures (and pains) of it far and wide – first on the No-Budget Nightmares Podcast, and later among the scant few on its Facebook Fan Page. Don’t believe me? Even a quick search will find people CURSING MY NAME for recommending the film to them. As I wrote a long, long time ago: “You’ve never seen anything like SCIENCE CRAZED. That’s both a threat AND a promise.”
So you can imagine my surprise when it was announced a few months back that SCIENCE CRAZED would be getting a new VHS & Special Edition DVD release from those mad folks over at VIDEONOMICON. I needed to find out more about the sort of mad geniuses who would unleash this movie upon the wider world, and I discovered two guys with a real passion for releasing low-budget films – Canadian and otherwise – in the best possible packages. It’s a true labor of love for Videonomicon founders Jon Vaughn & Tyler Baptist, so for NATIONAL CANADIAN FILM DAY I was lucky enough to chat with the two about their love for VHS, the evolution from videostore to video releasing, and the details about the upcoming SCIENCE CRAZED VHS & DVD release. How FIENDISH!!
Doug Tilley (DT): Let’s start by talking a little bit about Videonomicon’s transition from video store to releasing company. What spearheaded this transition, and what’s the current state of Videonomicon as a video rental store?
Tyler Baptist (TB): While we had the idea for releases and Videonomicon for about 5 or 6 years now, we actual started out officially as a video store, and were open for about a year before we had our first release ready. The video store idea started when a friend of ours approached us in 2012 about possibly setting up video rentals in his record shop, so Jon and I got to planning and opened the video store in 2013. Unfortunately we’ve had to close down the video store for the time being since the record shop had to close its doors about a month ago now…
Jon Vaughn (JV): We are still planning to re-open the store perhaps under slightly different circumstances and our original plan was to first and foremost be a releasing company / resource for rare cinema, SOV movies, and lost films.
DT: One of the things that defined both the video-store version of Videonomicon and its current iteration is a slavish love for VHS as a format. What about VHS continues to appeal so strongly to you? Do you see the VHS collector market exploding in a similar way to the vinyl collector market?
TB: Since I grew up with VHS, part of it is of course nostalgia, but basically it’s what kickstarted my love for cinema. That you can view a movie on magnetic tape; rewind, fast forward, and have a physical analog effect on the tape every time you watch it is something tangible and organic and fascinating. And missing from digital. While yes, it’s an inferior format compared to DVD or Blu-ray, it’s still an important experience. I don’t think it will ever be as big as the vinyl collector market seeing as usually these VHS releases are limited to 50 copies or so compared to 1000+ usually found for limited vinyl, but to collector’s it shares a similar mentality, so it will continue to grow in that respect.
JV: We’ve talked about the appeal of the tactile experience of VHS in previous interviews and an affection for the high quality cassette sound and warm, fuzzy and often warbly visual, and for us it’s an aesthetic that’s still desirable and still has a strong cult following world wide. Many of the titles we stocked on the shelves and hope to track down and release were shot on VHS and I also have an interest in VHS video art in general which may surface on the Videonomicon one day as well.
DT: Your first three releases featured a wide mix of genres and subject matter. What typifies the sort of films that Videonomicon are looking to release? What should viewers expect FROM a Videonomicon release?
JV: We hope there is very little in the way to expect what we might bring viewers next. Both of us have spent and continue to spend a considerable amount of time digging and searching for rare cinema and also have many mutual favourites, tapes we both own, that we are interested in releasing one day. I personally seek out movies that are wacky and strange, and cross genres to invent something new. This is not limited to fictional or scripted creations, but also documentaries and anything potentially anyone has committed to tape that I come across. However, currently we are putting out some things we have confidence will have an audience or have at least some notoriety and small following that we can build upon.
TB: Jon’s pretty much summed it up. We look to release anything we feel, and that we can license, that deserves a new and appreciating audience, and all films are like hand-picked curiosities of the underground and independent film worlds. Ryan’s Babe which is a road comedy, for instance, has never been released so when we can bring something no one has seen, or rarely seen, to the surface that’s one of our biggest goal. You can expect a one-of-a-kind experience from each release.
JV: I literally came across it searching through hundreds of random tapes on a large ebay store around 2008 or 2009, Immediately when I saw the cover I fell in love with it, the title was brilliant and and staged photo with the creature on the front really appealed to me. Information about the movie was scarce which is always a good sign when it comes to rare VHS hunters and with it being Canadian and myself being Canadian I obviously had to check it out. I was definitely not prepared for what I experience when I inserted into my VCR the day I received it in the mail and that was fucking awesome. A rarity amongst any kind of cinema, it’s a real next level art experiment and that’s what I love about it the most.
TB: I remember Jon emailing me and telling me I had to check out the film, and I actually didn’t see it for a year or two after he mentioned it. After I watched it I didn’t know how to process it, I wasn’t quite sure of what the hell I had just experienced. It was lumbering, repetitive, yet absolutely hypnotizing and I couldn’t take my eyes away from what I was seeing. It’s probably the only movie viewing experience I could say could be described as a religious experience; you feel changed after you watch it and you’ll never forget it. I immediately went over to another friend’s house and showed him the movie. He too was speechless.
DT: How did this eventually evolve into looking to give the film a special edition release? I know my own attempts to track down Ron Switzer led to a number of dead ends, so working out who actually owned the rights to the film seems like it must have been a mess.
TB: It’s been a dream of ours to release SCIENCE CRAZED since we both saw the film. It’s been a long process and taken us a few years, and a lot of contacts led to many dead ends and no one has been able to track down Ron or know anything about his whereabouts. Even those involved with the film we have been able to reach presume he might be dead. Rights only became available within the last year after many contacts and discussion, so when we finally had the chance to license the film we jumped on it.
DT: What sort of elements are you working with for this release? I’m guessing most of the original film elements are long gone, so what’s the process of polishing it for DVD and VHS release?
JV: Ya, best of both worlds!
TB: No one knows the whereabouts of the original 16mm materials, so they are either lost or destroyed. Same with any tape masters, so we have to use the only source available – the Triworld Films VHS release from 1990. We’ve professionally transferred two different copies of the Triworld VHS release to create a composite version. So I personally have gone through the movie frame by frame and cleaned up any video and audio glitches present, so if it was one one tape and the other was clean, I’d use the clean frame, and if the glitch appeared on both tapes – meaning it was inherent in the original master used by TriWorld – I’d digitally clean it up or remove it only if I could without degrading or distorting the image. I also re-levelled the audio as best as possible. So this will be the best possible version of SCIENCE CRAZED you will ever see – until the day master tapes or film materials surface, if they ever do.
TB: SCIENCE CRAZED is like no film you’ve ever seen before, or will ever see again. It’s an experience that will absolutely change your life, for better or worse!
JV: The most classic Canadian Sci-Fi/Horror/Comedy probably ever, of course.
DT: Can you tempt fans of the film with some of the possible special features that will be included on the release? And are you still aiming for a Spring release?
TB: We actually just finished shooting the final interview for the special features this past Sunday, so we should have it out in the next couple months. The rest of the DVD and special features are already locked and edited, so once I get this last one cut and exported and Jon finishes the new cover art, it’s off to the presses! So here’s an exclusive for you, the complete list of special features!
Audio Commentary with Rewind This!’s Josh Johnson and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe!
Interview with star Cameron Klein!
Q&A with star Cameron Klein from Shock Stock 2014, featuring stills gallery!
Interview with Pontypool author Tony Burgess on Science Crazed!
Cameron’s Grim Stitch Factory featurette!
Home Video Trailer!
Reversible cover art featuring original video artwork and new artwork by Jon Vaughn!
JV: I’m almost ready with my re-visioning for the cover art as Tyler mentioned so we are still aiming for late spring/early summer, hopefully sometime in June.
DT: What should we be expecting from Videonomicon in the future? Are there more releases currently in the works?
JV: Lots more in the works! And always more possibilities after that. There’s a lot of treasures we’d love to release – it’s almost always a challenge to find their creators or rights owners though so it’s often dependent on that as well and the public’s interest.
TB: We’ve got two VHS releases due out before SCIENCE CRAZED that we should have out in the next month. So our fourth and fifth releases are Lee Demarbre’s JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER and THE COMPLETE HARRY KNUCKLES COLLECTION – a 2-tape set which features all the Harry Knuckles short films and the feature HARRY KNUCKLES AND THE PEARL NECKLACE. If you like shot-on-16mm flicks that feature Mexican wrestlers, lesbian vampires, sexual innuendo, kung-fu, and sasquatches, then these are for you! We’re also issuing our first release already available, RYAN’S BABE, in a 15th Anniversary DVD edition with some new special features. This should also be out the same time as SCIENCE CRAZED.
DT: For readers who want to purchase current Videonomicon releases, or keep up on your current dealings, what’s the best way to do so?
DT: Anything else to plug?
JV: I would just like to add that any interested festivals or theatres please approach us if they are want to screen any of the Videonomicon titles we’d love to get them out there! Also keep an eye out for perhaps eventually an original feature directed by myself as well, I’ve made a few things that could be released but I still feel the best is yet to come!
TB: Just remember to rewind! And keep supporting the DIY labels such ourselves and the others who’ve officially licensed titles and are trying to get lesser-seen or never-seen films back out to the public, be them VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray!
DT: And since this interview is running on CANADIAN FILM DAY, I’d love it if the both of you could recommend a Canadian cult film that readers should definitely be checking out.
JV: Absolutely and definitely THE MASK from 1961 viewed with the classic red and cyan 3D glasses!