Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983), and Video Guide to Film (1996) contain reviews of hundreds of genre films – whether it’s Blaxploitation, Roger Corman or kung fu western movies, his books contain a truly staggering amount of trivia and obsessive attention to detail. His guides have gained a cult following themselves, even garnering praise from celebrities such as John Waters, Clive Barker and Quentin Tarantino. I was lucky enough to speak to Mr Weldon about his books, politics and the torture porn genre…
DoG: Your film guides have covered some of the most strange, obscure films ever made – has there ever been a film that you just couldn’t bring yourself to watch all the way through?
MW: Yes. Many and for many various reasons, including too long, too boring, stock footage, sex scenes that are not in any way sexy, too disgusting… I couldn’t have reviewed as many features as I did for so many years without the option of fast forwarding but I did watch the majority of them all the way through. People (and companies) sent me so many indy, amateur, low budget, no budget films (mostly horror) to review that I feel like I spent years in indy movie hell. There have also been plenty of studio features that I saw no reason to sit through 100% of. Life is too short.
DoG: I was sorry to read that you will no longer be producing the Psychotronic magazine – is there any chance that this may continue as on online publication?
MW: Yes – I intend to eventually have an active web site with new reviews and updates.
DoG: Your last two books were incredibly detailed – how long did they take to write and research?
MW: The first book was done in less than two years – before I even had a VCR. Much of it was from memory (I watched a LOT of movies as a kid and teenager) and intense research at several film libraries. The second book took longer as there were then endless titles available to watch on tape, and because the release time was moved back due to a corporate buy out and having to start over with a new editor and publisher.
DoG: Many B-Movies (particularly in the eighties) were released straight to video and have never been transferred to DVD; do you think it’s likely that some of these films could be lost forever?
MW: If they were on VHS then they will never be completely lost. Fans and collectors have them and anybody (including various companies that sell dupes) can and will make copies of them, legally or otherwise. Many will never be officially released on DVD (or future formats) though. The number of features that go directly to video (now DVD) each year (just in English) is staggering and many still have never been reviewed anywhere.
DoG: Do you think that people will have the same nostalgia for VHS in a few years’ time as some do for vinyl now?
MW: Vinyl was the main way to buy music during the best time of recorded music (50s- 80s). The much shorter period of VHS (80s and 90s basically) was not the best era for movies. For various reasons, there is an ever growing nostalgia for LPs which will never apply to CDs. In 10 years I think there will still be nostalgia for LPs but very little for CDs, VHS – or even DVDs. Everybody will download everything. I miss VHS but have to admit that DVDs are an improvement in many ways. I have countless “rare” VHS tapes that are taking up too much room and are going bad with age.
DoG: What did you think of Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse?
MW: I missed the theatrical run (it didn’t play anywhere near us) and have only seen Death Proof so far. I loved it. Great action, acting, stunts, sounds… an excellent tribute to often idiotic but fun (mostly) 70s drive in action revenge movies – and I didn’t mind seeing my magazine in a store scene. I did not love any other Quentin Tarantino movies after Pulp Fiction though and I wish he didn’t choose to make easy profits with Hostel movies.
DoG: On your website you say that movies are more politicized now than at any time since WWII or the Cold War. Could you give any examples?
MW: This is a huge topic. Many movies, producers, and production companies, and some studios, stars and directors have close ties to the American DOD (Department Of Defence), arms dealers (American and Israeli), oil companies, and/or the ruling Republican Party and neocon Bush backers. The Hollywood/D.C. connection has existed for a long time to some extent but it’s stronger now than ever. After 9/11 Carl Rove met with studio heads and top producers and directors and convinced most of them to be part of the war on terror and to be more patriotic and pro FBI, CIA, Armed Forces…
If an American movie features spies, the military, and military hardware and does not explicitly criticized the government and the Iraq war – it has the full cooperation of the DOD. Some of our tax dollars actually go to providing military planes, boats, weapons, soldiers, advisors… to pro military movies that we pay too much to see – then go buy DVDs of! Many major movies have government agents and agencies right in the credits if you know where to look. Even most people who look back at WWII era movies or early Cold War era movies and realize that they were propaganda, don’t realize what’s happening now. Major pro war movies don’t have to use modern hardware though (see 300). Many of these same movies are also loaded with more and more product placements (another major topic). Meanwhile some very anti current American government major theatrical movies are still being made but seem to get very little promotion or attention. Check out V for Vendetta, American Dreamz, and Josie and the Pussycats (!) to name a few.
This is equally true with American TV. The majority of today’s popular drama shows (many produced by Jerry Top Gun Bruckheimer) glorify government agencies and agents, while stealing crazed psycho killer plots and autopsy gore from mostly cheap and obscure horror movies. Some like the Rupert Murdoch-backed 24 (Dick Cheney’s favorite show) exist pretty much to keep us scared, voting Republican, and to justify torture. I could go on about politics on channels owned by Fox, Disney, Viacom…
DoG: There have been a surprising number of torture-themed horror movies over the last few years – Saw and Hostel are obvious examples – why do you think this is, and why do you think they appear to be so popular?
MW: These movies don’t surprise me. It’s very hard to out-shock today’s mainstream TV drama shows (let alone what’s on the internet) and these (relatively low budget) movies deliver and make lots of money. I’ve seen the first ones (Saw and Hostel) but have no desire to see sequels. I’m a lifelong horror movie fanatic but I never was a fan of watching hyper realistic (or real) sadistic torture and death scenes. I think Saw and Hostel are more extremely cynical lowest common denominator movies helping to breed new generations of numb, unquestioning soldiers in the war on terror – which (like America’s costly, ineffective, and self defeating war on drugs) will continue under President McCain and into the future until we are all long gone.
DoG: What were your favorite films of last year?
MW: Top 10 (of what I saw):
Across The Universe
Gone Baby Gone
Talk To Me
There Will Be Blood
I wanted to include The Host and Apocalypto, but both were actually 2006 releases.
DoG: Which films are you looking forward to this year?
MW: None really. I stopped reading Variety, pre release reports and hype. I prefer to be surprised.
Michael Weldon, thank you for your time.
Michael Weldon’s website can be found at www.psychotronicvideo.com.