The first compilation from legendary lost loony flicks resurrectors, Something Weird Video
If you are not aware of Something Weird Video, once you do happen across it, it can very well become an obsession, just like it did for founder Mike Vraney.
He started out circa the late 1980s as a garden variety collector of wild, lost B-to-Z-grade flicks, and soon turned that garden into an endless jungle of utterly insane, hilarious, sick, twisted, and always out there filmic oddities from the deepest underbellies of midcentury America and beyond. The company’s early, scattered, limited VHS releases eventually turned into legit distribution and licensing over the years.
Vraney’s vision/infection – along with brethren like Troma Films and, of course, the existence of The Cramps and John Waters – spread up through the “slacker” culture of the 1990s that revered sly, ironic references to obscure trash culture. And the DIY spirit of the chintzy flicks Vraney saved from history’s dustbin have influenced a large part of the indie film world’s embrace of previously maligned subgenres and seat-of-pants filmmaking. Unbeknownst to the “respected” pop culture gatekeepers, Something Weird Video has become one of the most influential film distribution independents of the last 30 years.
Sadly, Mike Vraney has left this square world, but his wife Lisa Petrucci has kept the flame burning and spreading. The latest project is the first ever Something Weird Video soundtrack compilation – Something Weird Greatest Hits! – chock full of the wildest tunes culled from the huge SWV catalog, with snippets of gonzo film dialog in between. It’s a template that goes back to the mid-80s appearance of quasi-legit cult comps like Wavy Gravy, Las Vegas Grind, Swing for a Crime, and many more. It always seemed like Something Weird Video would be the number one nuts out there to tackle such a kooky compilation, and the fact that they finally have has the skuzz-culture zombies charging towards stores and website with arms jutted forward in hangry anticipation.
The comp’s limited release started on Record Store Day Black Friday, but is still available. We checked in with Ms. Petrucci about how this unholy grail finally came together.
So can you give me a basic history of how / when this compilation came together?
I had always wanted to do a Something Weird Video music soundtrack album. It’s something fans constantly asked about. But the idea was put on the back burner for years until I started talking to my pal deejay Howie Pyro from Intoxica Radio on Luxuriamusic.com. He’s a huge SWV nut. We had a general concept of what we thought the record should be, easily recognizable “hits” from SWV classics and favorite soundbites from films. Then out of the blue, I got a call from Jay Millar at Modern Harmonic / Sundazed Music asking, “Have you ever thought about doing a soundtrack LP?” Being a fan of the label and familiar with Sundazed, it was a no-brainer to do the album with them.
How were the tracks culled? Just swiped from the DVDs? Or were you able to track down original tapes for some tracks?
The LP is seamlessly frankensteined together from many sources. A little of this, a little of that. The goal was to use as much original audio as we could for the music. It also helped that we broke things down to four thematic sides: rock and soul; psychedelic; sleazy instrumental; and novelty songs. Between Howie, myself and fellow weirdo Kogar The Swinging Ape, we had some of the 45’s, radio spot ad records, and LPs that have actual complete and clean tracks of songs from the movies. But some of the most iconic music can only be heard on the films themselves, which means the audio came from DVDs. In many cases the DVD tracks were rough, so it took the wizardry of Sundazed Music’s Bob Irwin to magically make them sound good. I marveled at what he was able to do with the material I gave him.
Kogar The Swinging Ape (https://kogarsjunglejuice.blogspot.com/ ) is a DJ, blogger, and all-around trash culture vulture on a life-long search for all things mondo wacko. We asked him about his participation in the Something Weird compilation. (Plus, any article about anything can be enhanced by adding the name Kogar The Swinging Ape.)
I am terribly honored to be involved in the making of this momentous collection of songs! It was a real blast talking with Howie and Lisa for hours on end about how the record would be sequenced, what songs and samples would be used, etc. Howie and I going back and forth for what seemed like hours/weeks: “What about this song? What flick was it in? I lost my notes! Me too!” It was madness!
Seeing everything come together was a complete joy. It really was years in the making. Back when Something Weird Video teamed up with Image to release those amazing DVDs, I was all over them! Finally these great flicks were available digitally. That meant the crazy audiophile in me could rip digital sounds of them. I spent tens of hours ripping sound bites and songs. Something I had wanted to do since discovering those big, beautiful VHS clamshells in the back room of a Boston record store in the early ‘90s. I put two CDs worth of material together and listened again and again. At the time, I dreamt constantly of some sort of legitimate gatefold LP of songs from these amazing movies.
At one point a few years back, I stumbled upon an eBay auction for “Psyched by the 4-D Witch” theme song on 45. I was shocked to find it and pounced on it with the idea that maybe a Something Weird soundtrack album would happen and it could be a part of it. It was one of the few 45s that Howie didn’t have, and it really is a great addition to the “psychedelic side” of the album.
Thanks Lisa and Howie for letting me be a part of it, and thanks to Mike Vraney for starting this amazing company all those years ago!
How did you become the “Boss Lady” at Something Weird? And what is the daily routine of running the show? I of course imagine there is a wild gorilla running around the office, and go-go girls on top of desks, swirling lava lights projected, etc…
Ha! I wish! It’s not quite that glamorous. I met Mike Vraney (founder of Something Weird Video) in 1993 after interviewing him for an article about sexploitation cinema. We hit it off and I eventually moved to Seattle and started working at SWV as a writer and graphic designer. Mike and I got married in 1999 and over the years I took on more responsibilities. I never planned on becoming the “Boss Lady” at SWV. It just got thrust upon me after Mike died of lung cancer in January of 2014. I’d much rather still be doing this with him. I miss him every day. At this point in the game, SWV is just myself and a part-time employee. The headquarters and the office are located on the second floor of a dive bar and decorated like a psychedelic spook show. It’s a very pleasant environment to work in if I do say so myself.
Was Mike Vraney thinking of doing this kind of comp going way back?
Not really. We always had so many other projects in the works. But Mike did initiate a SWV tribute record with contemporary bands doing songs inspired by Something Weird Video. It never got released, but I may do something with those tracks in the future.
Sadly, I never got to meet Mike. Can you tell us about him?
Mike was larger than life. He had his finger on the pulse of all that was cool and crazy, without ever even meaning to. He was just doing his own thing. Which in retrospect was to influence popular culture, whether it be managing punk rock bands like the Dead Kennedys, TSOL, and The Accused, or starting a vintage exploitation video company and film archive. He was always an arbiter of unparalleled trash and liked to push the envelope. Mike was a fanatical collector – toys, bric-a-brac, comic books, old magazines, paper ephemera, horror and spook show memorabilia, you name it. Between the two of us collecting for decades, our home became a massive pop culture emporium.
What are some of your favorite movies from the Something Weird catalog, and why?
Every time I get asked this, it dawns on me that my faves are female-driven flicks. She Mob, Teenage Gang Debs, Hot Thrills, Warm Chills, Shanty Tramp, Olga’s House of Shame, Nymphs Anonymous; or sick ‘60s roughies like The Flesh Trilogy, and anything by Doris Wishman and Michael and Roberta Findlay. I like the edgier stuff, so I guess that makes me a perv.
I remember way back in like 2002, I think, Something Weird Video worked out a distribution deal with Borders book store. And if you bought two or more Something Weird DVDs, you got a free DVD of two-hours of trailers. I grabbed that one quick! And then I heard kids were bringing this trailer thing home, and parents were appalled at what they saw, and the distro deal was done, I think? Sorry if that worked out bad for Something Weird, but that is a fucking great story!!!! Any memories of that, or thoughts about it?
Actually, the DVD distribution deal was with Image Entertainment and was highly successful, and many of those DVDs are still in print. We put out over 120 double and triple feature special edition DVDs through the label. They got our DVDs into retail stores like Best Buy and Borders. With the Borders deal, we created an “Extra Weird Sampler” which had clips and trailers from all the Image releases. It was given away for free (obviously to encourage the rubes to buy more DVDs). Yeah, it was pretty abrasive, but seems to have been a gateway to many people discovering SWV. I hadn’t heard it got pulled for corrupting America’s youth! Yay us! That makes me beam with pride!
I love that trailer DVD, I play it at DJ gigs still. That’s cool the Image Entertainment thing worked out. So, who did the new compilation liner notes, and why?
Howie Pyro and myself. We’re the most familiar with this material and could put all the songs in a context for listeners. Howie has the music knowledge, I know about the film history. Some of the tracks were very subjective choices, ones that we (or Mike) were especially fond of and have a special place in our hearts. The record was a labor of love and dedicated to Mike. It never would have happened without all his hard work and obsession with finding all these lost exploitation films for over 25 years. We just pulled it together hoping to make the definitive Something Weird record. And apparently, we succeeded because longtime SWV fans are going nuts over the album saying it’s everything they had hoped for.
This was a Black Friday Record Store Day release, right? How limited is it?
Yes. Modern Harmonic (http://www.modernharmonic.com/ ) made that call. The 2-LP and 2-CD versions are limited to 1350 each. I hear it’s proving challenging for some folks to find at their local independent record stores, and the label says it’s sold out of the warehouse now. I loaded up on inventory so SWV will have it available on www.somethingweird.com after January 1.
Are there plans for a Volume 2?
Yes! Some of the tracks that didn’t make it on Volume 1 (mainly because we ran out of room) will be used on Volume 2. There’s enough material for a few more volumes! We’re also doing a series of individual Feature Film soundtracks with Modern Harmonic, the first of which will be SPACE THING, one of the worst science fiction movies ever made.
Since Mike’s death, Something Weird has been partnering with other like-minded video companies and film archives to do new film restorations and Blu-ray releases. The best known of the recent partnerships is with Alamo Drafthouse’s AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) in Austin (https://www.americangenrefilm.com/ ). They’ve taken possession of many 35mm films from the SWV archive and have been doing new 2-4K scans that are coming out on Blu-ray, as well as being shown theatrically. Some of the other companies are Severin Films, Pop Cinema, Film Media, Mondo Macabro, Kino Lorber, and The Film Detective. These co-brandings are proving to be mutually beneficial and keeping the Something Weird brand out there and relevant. Ideally, I see Something Weird getting involved in book publishing and other projects related to the massive paper archive I have accumulated. So I’ll be busy for years to come!