TAKE ME TO CHURCH: The Importance of Special Features with Reverend Entertainment’s Justin Beahm
We love to engulf ourselves with knowledge. Horror fans eat and breathe this beloved genre and ask any convention goer, film enthusiast, or horror fan in general what their favorite film went through to get made and more times than not, you’ll get a college thesis on what stars aligned to get Jaws off the ground. Since the 1980’s, companies like Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment as well as many others, have featured various supplemental material showing how things were made, who made them, and so on; and with the advent of DVD and Blu-ray, fans have been able to ingest the trivia and history behind some of the best (and worst) films around, sometimes making way for a documentary that even surpasses a film when it comes to entertainment value. Filmmakers like Charles de Lauzirika gave film buffs game-changing documentaries like Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner and the exceptional The Beast Within: The Making of Alien, paving the way for producers like Heather Buckley, Michael Felsher and the subject of this piece, Justin Beahm, and their quest to bring film lovers in depth and enthralling supplemental material that isn’t your typical 4-minute EPK thrown on a disc for no good reason.
With his company, Reverend Entertainment, filmmaker/writer/producer Justin Beahm has worked alongside Shout! and Scream Factory (among others) in giving physical media collectors some of the most jam-packed Collector’s Edition Blu-rays around. With films like Sleepaway Camp, Willard and more recently, Big Trouble in Little China and The Blob, Reverend Entertainment brought enough special feature material to the table to please the most diehard fans around. We thought we would have an in-depth chat with Beahm about why supplemental material is so important to today’s horror fan.
Dread Central: When David Gordon Green’s Halloween was released on Blu-ray, a lot of fans were pretty vocal regarding their disappointment in the lack of special features on that release. Social Media had a lot of people talking about how important they felt supplemental material was, but as a reader, I hadn’t read much as far as pieces ABOUT the importance of that stuff.
Justin Beahm: I’m really glad you’re doing this, because that’s a good point. It is often in the shadows but also very important.
DC: Let’s start with the recent Scream Factory Collector’s Edition of 1988’s The Blob.
JB: I love that film and I have been a nerdy superfan of it since I was a kid. It’s always meant a lot to me, so when I got the gig on that release, I knew I was going all in with it. It’s been poorly handled on the video front and despite being a movie that means so much to so many of us, little has been done to celebrate it. I wanted to just go all out with giving fans as much as possible for it.
DC: Growing up, renting the Full Moon movies like Puppet Master and Trancers, one of my favorite parts of that experience was getting to see the Video Zone segments at the end of the tape. What was your experience with supplemental material growing up?
JB: Video Zone was ABSOLUTELY my introduction to it. I’ve always been a fan of documentaries and that stuff but outside Video Zone it wasn’t readily available like it is today. We’re really in the golden age of a lot of things, physical Media, Television and I would say that documentary filmmaking is another. Companies like Shudder are putting out feature docs, and networks like HBO have a huge focus on this content, so it’s a really great time for that. When we were kids though, there weren’t many of those to dig into. It started with Full Moon and really picked up when Anchor Bay started doing their special edition clamshell VHS releases of Argento, Fulci, and Romero films. I just could not get enough. With those, you would have a reversible cover with information on the back, special features, sometimes on separate cassettes like the 2-tape anniversary release of Halloween that came with the keychain and orange videotapes. Once DVDs came out, that was everything. The first one I got that floored me was Carpenter’s The Thing and I remember sitting there watching all the special features and I was in Heaven, man. From there on out, I felt that was an integral part of the viewing experience at home and I would or would not buy a release based on if there were special features on it.
DC: DVD changed everything. As a lifelong movie fan and a horror fan, there was nothing better than being able to watch a movie and getting a treasure trove of information regarding the film you just watched. There are a few making of documentaries that I STILL watch regularly.
JB: What are they?
DC: Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner, Kibrick’s Making the Shining, and Rob Zombies 30 Days in Hell.
JB: Dangerous Days! That’s my number one.
DC: The work you’ve been doing with your Reverend Entertainment company for Scream Factory reminds me of how Rob Zombie approached his 30 Days in Hell doc. That film showcased every step of the way, and watching your stuff on The Blob and now Big Trouble in Little China, you don’t just talk about the interviewee’s experience making the film, but also about everything leading to the film.
JB: It means a lot that you think that. That’s totally my approach. If you hit play on an interview, then you’re most likely interested in history and as you know from years of interviewing people, everybody is fascinating. Everyone has a story, and from my experience sometimes during an interview the side roads can offer really interesting discussions, but we don’t always get the chance to include all that material when dealing with word count. I once had a big interview with Alice Cooper in FANGORIA Magazine which also had a sidebar piece where I spoke to people who had worked with Cooper. I had John Carpenter, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Rob Stefaniuk and some others, but there ended up not being enough room for it so that sidebar never saw the light of day. So, when I get someone in the chair, I have already done exhaustive research on where they grew up, what their parents did and who their frequent collaborators have been. What amazes me is how many of these people I bring in for interviews on these releases have never done anything like that before. This is giving them a chance to tell THEIR stories. One reviewer recently said that the excessive amount of special features on one of my discs made the release, in his term, “bloated”, so not everyone agrees with it.
DC: As opposed to not having anything on a release…
JB: I think some people forget what it was like or they didn’t know what it was like to grow up with almost none of this stuff for the movies we loved. The way I look at it, this is going to be THE definitive release of The Blob, at least in this format for now. If this is going to be my one chance to bring as many voices to the table and make a statement about all of our love for the film I’m going to go all out. I felt the same way about Big Trouble in Little China.
DC: That release (Big Trouble in Little China) took me hours to get through and it was Heaven, as a huge fan of that film.
JB: Working on Big Trouble was a tremendous honor. As a lifelong fan of the film and collector of the various releases I had always mourned the absence of the most crucial players in the cast and crew over the various DVD and Blu-ray incarnations, and made it my aim to include as many of those people as I could. Bringing the voices of Dennis Dun, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, Donald Li, James Pax, James Hong, Al Leong, James Lew and others to the table was wonderful and their in-depth conversations tell the story behind a crucial side of the film’s production and speak to the larger issue of race in U.S. cinema. I couldn’t believe how many people were being interviewed on the project for the first time when we talked. It was a dream project and also having the chance to spotlight brilliant talents like artist Drew Struzan, producer Larry Franco, Steve Johnson, W.D. Richter and original writer Gary Goldman further fleshing out the complicated story of the creation of this movie. A number of years ago, composer Alan Howarth handed me a record at a release event at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. It was a sealed original vinyl of The Couple DeVilles album featuring Carpenter, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Nick Castle. I couldn’t believe it. The holy grail. When Big Trouble came around, I pulled Tommy Lee and Nick in for detailed talks on the DeVilles and their histories with John. It is a whole other side of all of this from two people who can speak to the legacy and crucial importance Carpenter plays in the genre perhaps better than any other two living people.
DC: That spirit of having extensive conversations with people about things they don’t typically get to chat about it big for people who want to know as much as possible about these films. When the special features were announced for The Blob, I remember seeing that there was going to be an interview with Bill Moseley and thinking, “Wait, isn’t he in the film for just a couple of scenes?”, Not knowing how huge it was for his career.
JB: If you’ve followed Bill (Moseley)’s work and have read his interviews in the past, Bill has always felt that The Blob was the movie that made him feel like he had “arrived.” We don’t get a lot of those moments as creative types. To stand there and feel like, “Wow, this is where I WANT to be and where I NEED to be,” and The Blob was that for Bill. After how much he has contributed to the genre and cinema in general, there was no way in hell that I wasn’t going to involve him in it.
DC: When talking about various releases that you’ve worked on, there are some films that really stood out to me the most. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, Body Bags, Silent Hill, Willard and even your commentary work on the Halloween 4 and 5 Blu-rays. They all offered something new and different that you hadn’t experienced in previous releases of those films. The passion for curating supplemental material is impressive. Did the experience of any of those releases give any standout moments?
JB: My philosophy is to live with the films and fall in love with them as I work on that stuff. I just finished working on Scream Factory’s upcoming release of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. The movie was on regular rotation as I worked on it. I needed to exist within the world of it as I was researching, writing questions or cutting the footage. When you do that, it becomes like the scenery or soundscape of your life, until you’re finished working on it. They are never just a line item on a checklist. I have the utmost respect for everything I am part of. When I cross that finish line, it’s sad in some ways, because I get used to living in that scenery. There have been some titles that brought some definite challenges and you just have to push on and try to do your best with what you can accomplish. Silent Hill was a big one. With that release, I had crews in Paris, the Netherlands, San Francisco, New York, it was insane. That release forced me and Reverend Entertainment to expand quickly, because I didn’t want to miss getting those voices. It has the most amazing group of people working with me on these and the family definitely grew for Big Trouble. The original Bluray of that film was a good one, but I knew there was a larger story to be told. Someone like Roberto Campanella, who not only played the Pyramid head character but was also the movement coordinator, has a background as a ballet dancer and had a fascinating story. So it was great to bring him and Christophe (Gans), the director, for a full career discussion. You have to realize that a lot of these people are asked about the same movie or same thing over and over again, so to be able to talk about their career as a whole, they appreciate that. When I did Sleepaway Camp, Shout! Factory let me do a full-fledged documentary. With that one, I wanted to explore the interpersonal stories just as much as the on-set stories you hear as well. It was a learning experience, that release, to learn about putting together crews and staying within a budget and still getting what you had hoped to get. Felissa (Rose) ended the whole piece on a beautiful personal note with tears in her eyes. Being able to capture and share that was such an honor. I was blown away. Jonathan Tiersten’s life, since acting, has been in music. So with that release, we premiered a music video of his on the disc and that helped show people what he was like outside of the movie. Doing the commentary for The Town That Dreaded Sundown was a big one for me too, that was an early one I was a part of. I had James Pressley, who was THE case historian, on the track with me, so he would talk about the real-life case aspects while I talked about the film. Stuff like that.
DC: Body Bags was a release that meant a lot to me as a fan. I loved that one growing up and seeing a proper release for it was great. When talking about the work of John Carpenter, that one isn’t mentioned often and it should be, it’s a lot of fun.
JB: I’ve had the Body Bags VHS tape forever and have always a huge fan of “The Gas Station” and “The Eye” segments. I think “The Eye” is arguably Mark Hamill’s best work. He’s outstanding in that. Plus, it was Tobe (Hooper) AND John (Carpenter). What happened with that, was that Showtime kind of screwed John with it and when he got the rights back for it, he kind of just sat on it for a while, because there was some distrust with it. Not only did they trim the film, but they gave it that terrible VHS cover that is unrelated to the film with art they didn’t even run by him! You’re totally right though, it kind of is the lost John Carpenter film. The lost Tobe Hooper film. I was working with John on something at the time, and I asked him, “Have you ever thought of releasing BODY BAGS?” After a while, he warmed up to the idea and I went to Scream Factory and said, “Hey, John wants to do Body Bags, are you interested?” They were ecstatic. Body Bags and Sleepaway Camp were two titles that I took to Shout!. Silent Night, Deadly Night was another.
DC: Commentaries were always huge for me. I’ve always been enthralled by the idea that as a moderator, your job is to in some ways, manipulate a conversation to go a way that listeners will want to hear the conversation go. I mean the word manipulate in a good way, it’s your job to steer the conversation. Commentaries can be very crucial to a good release.
JB: For commentaries, I make specific bullet points to help guide the conversation. There are key elements that you want to address, the relationships, the projects, the stories. A commentary is a living organism, you make notes that you revisit later in the track and keep the discussion moving. You want to talk about things that, like I mentioned earlier, aren’t the same things they are always asked about. I am of the belief that you have to let the featured people lead the way. Like Shawnee Smith, for example. When we did the commentary for The Blob, she had only seen the film once before. This was her second commentary that she had ever done, the first one being for a Saw movie, but she said she considered this BLOB track her first “real” commentary. She made the decision not to watch the movie before, because she wanted the experience to be fresh as we were talking. It made for a unique experience. There are moments in that commentary track, where she gets lost in the movie, which was a remarkable thing.
DC: Supplemental material is important to film fans and especially horror fans. It’s important to document this stuff, because these people we love won’t be here forever. The films live on but seeing these important people who created such important films to us, talk about the how and why and when of these massively important movies seems like a truly lasting thing. Why do you feel it’s important?
JB: I think that especially in the world of horror, the people watching have a special engagement and relationship with the films. We are invested in all aspects of the entertainment we take in. We know who directed the films, where they were shot and so on. We are lucky to have magazines like Famous Monsters and FANGORIA out there that speak to the reality that the audience wants to know what’s under the hood, so to speak. Now that we’re in this age where you can fit all of this information on Blurays, the floodgates are wide open FOR that. We don’t have many restrictions anymore so we can pack all of that knowledge and passion into loaded releases like the ones Shout! puts out. We’ve spent so much of our lives with these films and their legacies exist in the hands and hearts of the fans=, but I think it is crucial that we capture as many of them on record as we can while we can. I’m grateful and honored to be a part of it all.