The 1970’s was a virtual goldmine of quality made-for-TV genre movies. These days … Do you think people in the future are going to look back so fondly on the days of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Saturday night original movies? Well, maybe. But the difference is all those movies will be available on DVD while most of the great 1970’s TV movies will have yet to even get a DVD release. Heck, most never even got a VHS release. Many haven’t seen the light of day since the syndication days of the early 1980’s (where I saw most). It’s really a niche market so it’s understandable why so many of these films remain hard to find outside of the occassional bootleg; and even then some are impossible to find a copy. Anyone know where I can find a copy of the 1977’s Exo-Man?
A new DVD company has now come along looking to cater specifically to that niche market. Wild Eye Releasing is “dedicated to bringing marginal, forgotten and nostalgic horror and cult films into a spotlight that otherwise was not there.” Their first two releases were a pair of mid-Seventies, made-for-TV, animal gone amok flicks: Maneaters Are Loose! and Shark Kill (review). They’ve also just announced their next two releases: the 1972 chiller Crawlspace (currently up for a remake from Paramount) and the 1973 satanic panic flick The Devil’s Daughter.
I conducted a brief interview with Wild Eye’s honcho, Wade Wells, about their new company and the hardships of trying to salvage and release such obscure TV movies that have been practically lost to time.
The Foywonder: How did the idea come about to form a DVD company that specializes in obscure 1970’s television genre movies?
Wade Wells: Well, if you grew up watching and looking forward to all the TV genre movies that were being produced weekly at that time – the way myself and many others did – then it just makes sense. And considering the paltry amount of MFTV movies (pre-1990 finding release on DVD, it makes even more sense on all fronts – for both business and film appreciation.
TF: Why do you think it is that so many of the TV genre movies gather dust on a shelf, out of circulation, almost impossible to find even a decent quality bootleg of, even though an awful lot of them are still quite highly regarded today?
WW: The made for TV movie fan is a member of a small, dedicated cult – and sadly their reverence for the great films and even the cheesy ones that came from the era was never fully shared with the studios and producers of that time. Remember, this was a time before cable TV, before VHS, before DVD – the most you could hope for was a repeat broadcast to see your favorite TV movie. And these films were made or ordered by the networks to serve an airdate or schedule and then they moved on to the next project or special. There was no life for these films so to speak, no way to keep the profits coming. The problem we have as fans today is that since these films were essential “throwaway” one shots, they weren’t always kept in the best conditions, documented, stored properly, or even kept at all.
The only exception to this was when more internationally known stars appeared in these films, they could serve a second life overseas to a foreign audience. So, some of these MFTV movies would play here then enjoy a theatrical run in Europe or elsewhere. This has actually helped us in tracking down some rare movies since these prints still exist and are collected outside the USA.
TF: How did you go about deciding on the titles you did for the first releases?
WW: Shark Kill was a title I had not seen on it’s intital airing and was even shocked to find a print exsisted, since it was a Jaws rip off and often those films are buried to avoid legal trouble. But after realising it was essentially a “lost” movie, and not even on the market from the bootleggers or collector sites – then we knew we had something “new” and unique to present to the MFTV fans. The Maneaters are Loose! print was found around the same time, from a foreign source and having the two of these rare films make their way to us, and them both being part of the “Animals Run Amok” genre of the 1970s made the decision clear that they needed to come out together.
TF: Was there difficulty working out the rights issues for some of these titles? Still owned by specific television networks? Production companies (that may no longer exist)? Public domain?
WW: The rights to TV Movies are often a complex web of production companies, networks, trusts and changeovers from one corporation to another. It’s just a lot of detective work, and it’s also like speaking a foreign language. You can call Universal and say “I want to discuss releasing Jaws on DVD” and they know what your talking about, say Shark Kill and they’re like “Is that the Casper Van Dien movie from three years ago?” people at these companies don’t even understand why someone would want to release them or watch them. They don’t care so it makes some of this easier for us, though even if they sell the rights, they often do not have a print. But I think with all the old TV on DVD now, the demand and knowledge for MFTV movies is changing.
Public domain status is also a factor in this genre, because again, many companies and networks simply never saw a financial opportunity and the rights were never renewed. So, that is another avenue for release consideration, if prints can be found in decent enough shape.
TF: How difficult has it been finding prints for these films, most of which probably haven’t seen the light of day in at least 20-25 years?
WW: As I said, there are the foreign sources which we discussed. Then of course there are the networks who may have these in their vaults on film or on video master. Then there is the collector market, where prints can be found in good enough shape to deal with. It’s a lot of luck and a lot of knocking on doors, but worth it.
TF: Has there been any film you’ve just had to scrap any hopes of finding a halfway decent print of?
WW: The Ivory Ape with Jack Palance is a dream release for me, that was scrapped, but which may happen someday. The one print I came across was chopped up and seemingly someone took an ape scene or two out for some other purpose, maybe a party reel or something silly.
TF: I picked up a copy of Maneaters are Loose! and noticed the print, while not bad, is a bit on the soft side picture-wise. Is that just a sign of how scarce source material for a film such as this is to locate?
WW: We are open and honest about these prints up front, and sometimes they will suffer due to time and improper care and the rarity is always a factor. Maneaters, you are correct, is on the soft side. It has a bit of what is the beginning of vinegar damage. But, before the print is completely ruined by age, and since no other print has surfaced in the 20+ years I’ve been screening and collecting, we felt that we were at least sealing this film in time for fans to own and enjoy now.
TF: What technique(s) do you use to transfer the prints you do find to digital?
WW: Since most TV movies are from 16mm, we have them transfered via a five blade shutter. That five blade shutter insures a clean, smooth transfer with no interference. Sometimes, the prints themselves are not in the best of shape, and require some TLC before the conversion, which can be done, depending on time and budget.
TF: No special features on the DVDs at this point, but I understand you hope to do so with future releases; are there even supplemental material for these films to be found?
WW: Aside from tracking down cast and crew for commentaries, the extras are limited. But besides making that happen, we would like to eventually include original TV Guide ads, foreign and domestic box art or foreign theatrical posters, and original promos and trailers as aired. These things often involve a separate team researching and tracking down just that material. But there are some goodies to be had.
TF: I’ve had a bit of a difficult time finding retailers online that carry Shark Kill. Was the run of that DVD less than of Maneaters are Loose! or am I just looking in the wrong places?
WW: Well, it’s readily availbale at Amazon and at Movies Unlimited online. Other then that, distribution is happening, which includes most major retailers, which you’ll see by April.
TF: Any release dates set yet for Crawlspace and/or The Devil’s Daughter?
WW: Mid May or Early June, both titles are ready to go.
TF: Any hints at any future films you hope to release?
WW: Would love to do films such as The Spell, The World Beyond, Ants, The Girl in the Empty Grave, Night Slaves. Oh, there are so many!!! We’re working on as many as possible. And the fans have been great, they are sending so many want lists and coming up with some great, rare, suggestions.
TF: Any chances of getting The Bermuda Depths to DVD? Of all the TV movies from the Seventies, that seems to be the one most people are clamoring for?
WW: Yes it is, we get so many requests for this one. Have you seen it? It’s a great, fun flick. That’s a Rankin/ Bass production, and they seem to have their own intentions for the back catalog. But it doesn’t hurt to try, which we are planning on. Another great TV movie from Rankin/Bass is The Last Dinosuar (1977) that deserves a release as well.
Thank you, Mr. Wells! You can keep up-to-date on the latest Wild Eye Releasing releases at their official website. Hopefully, one of those new releases will eventually be that copy of Exo-Man I’ve been searching for…