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On Film Threat Video

Last week marked an anniversary you probably didn’t know about: Film Threat turned thirty.

     I’m sure most of you know the sad history of Film Threat, which began as a genuinely sharp and savage underground movie ‘zine that in the early 1990s morphed into a none-too-threatening Larry Flynt published glossy. Film Threat currently exists as an online-only presence whose outlook is even farther removed from the fringe attitude of the early Film Threat.

     One aspect of Film Threat I always appreciated was its sister periodical Film Threat Video Guide. Commenced in 1991, the David E. Williams edited FTVG kept the fire of the pre-sellout Film Threat alive in its exhaustive coverage of the underground film scene. It was in the pages of FTVG that I learned of vital no-budgeters like DESPERATE TEENAGE LOVE DOLLS, SMALL WHITE HOUSE and WAX: OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES, but undoubtedly the best thing about FTVG was its Film Threat Video line.

     During its reign Film Threat Video was arguably the premiere resource for bizarre cinema on VHS. Indeed, Film Threat Video’s catalogue provides an excellent overview of the underground film movement of the 1990s; represented are pivotal figures like Richard Kern (via FTV’s two-volume short film compilation HARDCORE), Nick Zedd (in the FTV compilation NICK ZEDD: STEAL THIS VIDEO), Jorg Buttgereit (whose entire pre-1995 filmography was distributed by FTV), Craig Baldwin (whose early films were given the FTV treatment), and even a pre-HANGOVER Todd Phillips, who back in the nineties was known for his fringe culture documentaries (and whose notorious G.G. Allin doco HATED was put out by FTV).

     In its early days Film Threat Video acted as a sub-distributor, taking payment for videos whose makers were tasked with providing the merchandise themselves. This often resulted, as I recall, in intolerably long shipping times and sub-bootleg tape quality. Yet as the years progressed Film Threat Video’s operation became more streamlined and professional, complete with snazzy cover art, a claymation volcano logo and a uniquely worded copyright notice (“Your “friends” can get their own copies”).

    Quite a few must-see films were released by Film Threat Video, including the unforgettable David Lynch-on-amphetamines spectacle RED AND ROSY, the ground-breakingly vile NEKROMANTIK, Craig Baldwin’s mind-roasting found footage extravaganza TRIBULATION 99, the pioneering shot-on-video stunner AMERICA’S DEADLIEST HOME VIDEO, John Strysik’s skilled Kafka adaptation A HUNGER ARTIST, and the feminist kill-fest I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER.

     Other worthy FTV releases included the innovative B-movie pastiche THE AGE OF INSECTS, the serial killer musical PUSSBUCKET, the NAMBLA documentary CHICKEN HAWK, and OUCH!, a fun mirth-filled short by Film Threat’s editor Christian Gore. I’ll also give a nod to FTV’s short film compilations, which included Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s SQUEAL OF DEATH, THE BEST OF THE NEW YORK UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL (worth it for the infrared porn fest THE OPERATION), Danny Plotnick and Jim Sikora’s SMALL GAUGE SHOTGUN (featuring the wonderfully grungy Charles Bukowski adaptation “Love, After the Walls Close In”), and Jim Van Bebber’s MY SWEET SATAN (which included the must-see sickie “Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin”).

     There were admittedly some clunkers in the FTV lineup. I’ve never thought much of the no-budget serial killer drama KILLER, nor the amateurish chop-socky spoof KUNG FU RASCALS. Then there’s the SOV sleaze-fest GORGASM, which is downright insufferable, as is RED, Christian Gore’s failed attempt at dramatizing the infamous “Red” prank phone call tape in LA JETEE-inspired photo roman fashion.

     A few FTV releases simply haven’t dated well. FEEDING FRENZY, a self-described “Socio-Surrealist Video Opera,” is a shot-on-video reverie that came complete with a number of enthusiastic critical blurbs (“An awesome display…as courageous as it is profound”) that seemed fully warranted back in 1991, but not now. The SOV erotic horror anthology DARK ROMANCES was a ground-breaker in its day that now seems a bit stodgy, while TWISTED ISSUES is a severely clunky splatterpunk SOV-er, and DARKNESS an ultra-low rent vampire epic whose shortcomings no longer seem as forgivable as they did in the nineties.

     There also exist some intriguing-sounding FTV titles I haven’t seen, and which in the ensuing years appear to have dropped off the face of the Earth. They include THE WRONG DOOR (described as “A suspense thriller but not the Michael Jackson kind”), FORCED ENTRY (“Humorous look at the paranoid fantasies of the extreme right wing as it protects the rich and powerful from the rest of us”) and STUFFED (“Follow the twisted members of the Puffin family as they indulge in the wondrous world of homophobia and nose picking”).

     Of course all of this activity was short lived, as Film Threat Video went down around the same time as Film Threat Video Guide: the mid nineties, when David E. Williams left the operation. Film Threat resumed its film distribution activities in the DVD era, but its output (which included the unremarkable shorts MINDWARP and THE REMOVERS, and the so-so SOV features LIGEIA and FRONTIER) was a far cry from that of Film Threat Video.

     Thankfully, a good portion of FTV’s catalogue is now available on DVD and/or online, although quite a few of those films currently languish in distribution limbo. This means if you’re interested in above-mentioned titles like THE WRONG DOOR, FORCED ENTRY, STUFFED, THE AGE OF INSECTS or OUCH! then I wish you good luck, as you won’t have an easy time tracking them down.

 

--2/10/15 

     

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