Fans of EuroCult DVDs may not immediately recognize the name Mike Baronas, but they surely have seen his work on such releases as Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, DEMONIA and other genre favorites like Ruggero Deodato’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.
Currently working on a DVD release in honor of Lucio Fulci entitled PAURA: LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED through his company Paura Productions (www.PauraProd.com), Baronas also edits www.GASPetc.com, a webzine covering movies, music and more. Film Fanaddict checks in with Mike to get the full, inside scoop on his upcoming DVD and working within the “cult” DVD industry.
Read our exclusive interview....
FILM FANADDICT: With both of us being huge fans of Fulci it seems funny to ask, yet for those who are curious, what about Fulci and his career appeals to you and why have you become such a huge fan?
MIKE BARONAS: My fascination with Lucio came at the age of 15 when I rented my first ever batch of VHS horror films – BAY OF BLOOD, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and THE GATES OF HELL (aka CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). I remember being so intrigued by the GATES cover art and its warning that nobody under 18 should view its shocking scenes, I just HAD to rent it. My mom plunked down like $500 as a safety deposit so my buddy and I could rent a VCR back in 1985 and we sat through these four videos until the wee hours of the morning.
When we got to GATES, Catriona MacColl’s opening scream in the pitch dark just set the tone and I was on edge the entire film. Even at that young age I knew I stumbled onto something special. There were things contained in GATES that no Hollywood horror film ever attempted. I fell in love with the atmosphere and how everything was so visually stunning that the storyline didn’t really matter; that anything could happen at any moment for no good reason. It made such a powerful impression on me that I had to seek out what other movies this director had done and was able to find the classics that were given a US video release (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (THE BEYOND) and ZOMBIE).
It wasn’t until college that I discovered some of his other works through outlets like Midnight Video for titles like DEMONIA and after that his spaghetti westerns and Italian sex comedies. His breadth and variety of work is so impressive when you look at his entire career. So, to me, I grew up on the gore but have come to appreciate him now as a true cinematic genius, which was only reinforced after speaking with those he worked closest with.
FF: Man, those were really the days. I rented ZOMBIE (who could resist with that cover) and thanks to Vestron video, guys like us got exposed to a lot of trashy Eurocinema, not just the gory stuff.
As you began to really discover the different levels of Fulci's career, were you starting to build an impression of what his personality was like?
MB: I could tell he was a craftsman and that he really knew his audience, but I had no idea what he was really like until I finally met him at the Fangoria “Weekend of Horrors” convention on January 6, 1996. Even then, it was just a brief encounter. I was a bit freaked out after he started yelling and screaming at my friend who gave him a bootleg CD cover of the infamous “Requiem in Blood” soundtrack that contained the scores from THE BEYOND and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. I think I was so freaked and nervous that when we followed him up in the elevator, I couldn’t even talk to the guy. I had hoped to interview him but that damn blizzard got in the way. So I never really got to know him personally, but through those I interviewed for this book turned DVD project I now have a pretty good idea at what made him tick I think.
FF: When did you get the idea to begin working on a book about Fulci’s career and what did you initially envision it to be?
MB: I think my book idea really spawned from when I finished reading Stephen Thrower’s Beyond Terror back in 1999, which was just before the big EuroCult DVD resurgence. When I was done with it, I really didn’t know any more about who Fulci was than when I began. And please know that that’s not a slam on Thrower at all as he’s been most cordial toward my project and is a better writer than I’ll ever hope to be. The fact is it revolves around Fulci’s films almost solely. I thought how cool it would be to have a companion book that was about his life and times as told by those who worked with him and knew him best.
FF: Now with your idea, where do you begin?
MB: A LOT of internet research my friend. I spent hours upon hours Google-searching names and following leads. I didn’t do too shabby as through that process I was able to locate Brett Halsey, Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka John Morghen), Giannetto De Rossi, Jared Martin & Florinda Bolkan. Although I realized that I would soon hit a wall as I cannot speak Italian. That’s when I contacted Kit Gavin via the Mobius Home Video Forum newsgroup after seeing a post of his with detailed family info on some actor.
FF: And how did joining up with Kit change the dynamic of the project?
MB: Kit had assisted on the Thrower book amongst others and was well-versed in European cinema as a whole, much more than I. He has an amazing memory for the even the most minute details in these films and even more amazing research prowess. The guy is part bloodhound I think. He was able to track down folks I only dreamed of meeting. So, he accepted my offer to join the quest to get to know Fulci through those he worked with and create a book in the process. Then it was you, Mark, who inadvertently made it a reality for us.
FF: Yeah, when John Sirabella of Media Blasters contacted me for materials for the first Shriek Show DVD release, Fulci's DEMONIA, I put him in touch with you about possible materials as well.
Surely you thought that this was a chance to do so much more (as I did as well). Did you suggest what you had to potentially offer Shriek Show's releases? I never really did get the "behind the scenes" scoop on all of that coming together.
MB: When I told John that I had just recently interviewed Brett Halsey, he said he’d tack on a plug for my book in the DVD in exchange for the text interview I supplied him with. That was all fine and dandy, but it seemed like an exciting opportunity and I wanted to do more. So I went and located DEMONIA’s female lead Meg Register. John was happy about this and things were all set to go for an on-camera interview that I was going to conduct with her at the Media Blasters offices in New York when she totally flaked out and started making unreal requests of both of us.
After that, I had a discussion with Kit about proposing our services to John for their upcoming batch of releases. It took a lot of convincing that filling these EuroHorror releases with interviews and audio commentaries was going to boost his sales – something we had to constantly fight with him over throughout our partnership – so he decided to test the waters and gave us the green light on one release, Deodato’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. Having never done anything like that before, we didn’t budget properly and ended up eating peanut butter & crackers most of that first trip. Not to mention it was my first time to Europe, my first time actually meeting Kit face to face, and hardest of all, 1/3 of the way into the trip – during our very first interview for the DVD with the late Ivan Rassimov – the planes were flying into the World Trade Center back home. It was a surreal time, but we tried to make the best of a pretty dismal situation and filled our down time meeting people for the book.
FF: Wasn't your wife pregnant during the time you were overseas?
MB: Yes, Michelle was 9 months pregnant with our first baby, so leaving her was stressful enough. Then when 9/11 happened, I remember calling her from this actor friend of Kit’s we were staying at and we just wept together on the phone. It was tough, and it didn’t get any easier leaving them after Jessica was born. I did decide to call it quits with Media Blasters once I learned she was pregnant with our second. It was just going to be too much for everyone involved.
Michelle has always been a trooper when it came to my crazy schemes and bullshit. I’m just glad that the one I’ve been carrying on about the most is finally going see the light of day, whatever the format. Though this means more travel to promote the DVD at various conventions, but the kids are older now and more self-sufficient. I’m a bit older and wiser myself now too.
FF: That was a completely insane time and I can only imagine how detached from your family you felt.
You mentioned having to constantly fight to continue what you were working on for Media Blasters. Can you elaborate more? Did you have a feeling that things could be cut off at any moment?
MB: Yes and no. Like any job, there are good points and bad points. I was grateful for the opportunities, but having to beg for overdue expense payments in time to make my mortgage, for example, was painful. John put us on a retainer later down the line which helped smooth out those rough patches and made it feel more like actual stable employment, but what still bugs me to this day is his belief that the important work we did had no bearing on the ultimate sales of his DVDs. Oh well. It’s part of history now and I feel good about the majority of what we were able to accomplish in giving these films a behind-the-scenes perspective.
FF: When Shriek Show was starting up, John would send me endless lists of titles he could get rights to asking my opinion, etc. Shriek Show released at least a dozen titles based around my info and I practically had to beg just to get a free copy of a couple titles. It really showed me how things work in this industry. My eagerness to help in hopes of building a possible working relationship were basically exploited.
It is ironic that this whole “cult” DVD industry has been built and supported by fans, yet some labels are just not interested in trying to build a relationship with their target audience.
Media Blasters may not have really believed the work you and Kit did on dozens of releases was of much value but I can speak for all the fans out there that we all really appreciate it immensely.
MB: That’s what kept us going. Kit and I had to keep telling ourselves when we came across some friggin' know-it-all bitching about the background noise on an interview we’d done or something that there were 100 other fans who really appreciated what we were doing. I think EuroHorror, and more specifically, Fulci fans will feel the same way about my DVD. That’s the reason for it because I too am a fan first and foremost.
FF: There's this whole attitude that some fan boys have thinking they own the genre which is quite annoying. Many people have no idea how much work and money it takes to put out a DVD and then you and Kit fly halfway around the world, locate and interview many actors and actresses that are rarely, if ever, heard from and some goof on a forum is whining about some minor issue. Granted there have been a few royal screw ups on some releases, but sometimes the reaction borders on absurd.
Let me stop ranting for a bit and get back on topic here. How many trips did you make, what countries did you visit and how many “genre” figures did you make contact with?
MB: I believe I made 10 trips of varying distances total. I went to Italy, Spain, France, England and then stayed Stateside with trips to California and Connecticut. As far as how many people in the industry we met during that time, hell… that has to be close to 150.
FF: After having been in touch for probably 15 years or so, that California trip gave us the chance to finally meet face to face which was great and since Kit lives overseas I am sure that is the only time I will ever see him.
But come on, Mike. Start name dropping. Who were some of the “big genre names” that you met and who were some of the real obscure people that had probably never been interviewed?
MB: Alright, twist my arm… The person I guess I was most nervous about meeting was Florinda Bolkan, simply because I’ve always had a crush on her. I brought flowers for her to our interview and she hit me with a big kiss on the lips. Thankfully there were no kisses from Fabio Testi, George Hilton or Paolo Malco. We met all the big directors: Deodato, Franco, Lamberto Bava, Lenzi, Soavi, di Leo, Mattei, Fragasso, De Angelis, Martino, Castellari, Cozzi, etc. Even Argento was lined up but our meeting had to be rescheduled for a later trip (that never happened) because he was busy with editing issues on THE CARD PLAYER at the time.
As for obscure, I doubt the late Dakar from ZOMBIE had ever been interviewed before and I’m sure there were many others. I know Ottaviano Dell’Acqua was genuinely appreciative for the exposure because in Italy people pay no mind to stuntmen or these types of films anymore, but, for God’s sake, the guy was THE zombie in ZOMBIE. He was amazed that people across America actually wear shirts with his face on them.
The most unexpected wealth of knowledge award goes to Fabrizio Jovine. Who knew that the priest in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD knew so much, or talked so much? Kit and I initially thought he was full of shit, but when his stories started corroborating with other folk’s stories, we knew we had a goldmine. I think his full book interview is something like 2 hours. The on-camera interview for the DVD runs like 5 minutes I believe.
A couple of our biggest accomplishments were in locating Tisa Farrow and Catriona MacColl. Kit had tracked down one of Tisa’s brothers and I made the call to him, was given her contact info and she and I had some brief, friendly dialogue going until she got cold feet with us planning to meet her in person. She has been difficult to convince ever since because she looks upon her film career with much disdain now.
Catriona was difficult in that she had been off and on in the acting world since the Fulci films and moved around a lot. It didn’t help that we often received bogus info from jealous outsiders on her either. Our meeting with her in the South of France was one of the most surreal, beautiful days of that whole period of my life.
FF: After all the traveling and interviewing was done, how many releases did you and Kit provide bonus materials for and were they all for Media Blasters?
MB: By my count, we did supplements on 43 DVDs total to varying degrees. Some we were only able to gather image gallery materials for (like EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS and KILLING BIRDS) because the stars/directors were not available or had no interest in talking about these films any longer, and/or the budget didn’t allow for it.
Others (like LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, ZOMBI 2 and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) we went whole hog on as there were plenty of available folks to chat with and, ultimately, we felt the film truly deserved such treatment.
We did tread outside of the Media Blasters realm now and again to help friends out, like interviewing Florinda for FLAVIA THE HERETIC for Don at Synapse and Riz Ortolani for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for Bob at Grindhouse. Kit also did stuff for Mondo Macabro and Blue Underground as well.
FF: Your initial idea was to compile a book on Fulci, so why are you planning a DVD instead?
MB: One word: time. I can’t really speak for Kit, but since becoming a Dad and trying to provide for my family, stuff like this, however important, falls by the wayside. Now that my kids are a little older there’s more free time for me, but there’s still that daunting task of transcribing roughly 80 hours of audio interviews – many in Italian – which seems impossible to me at this time.
Utilizing the help of some very skilled friends, the DVD seemed a more logical decision to me. Please know that I’ve been itching for years to release something from all the hard work we’d done, and when I went back to look at all the on-camera footage I had taken, I discovered that what I had was exactly what I initially intended this project to be in the first place.
My original idea for the DVD was simply as a bonus for fans to get to see what these people look like today, and it turned out to be a much more poignant aspect of what I was trying to accomplish than I imagined. The last question we would always ask at the end of every interview was, “What is your fondest memory of Lucio Fulci?” More often than not I was able to film this response on-camera. With that, I got a broad range of answers but more than that a peek into who he was as a person, which is the real crux of what I was trying to do with the book. Looking at them all together is pretty moving, and even more so if you watch it and try to put yourself in Fulci’s shoes.
FF: It has always seemed that Fulci was portrayed as a madman on the set and had little respect for actors. After meeting all these people and getting their opinions and memories on him, can you dispel that myth?
MB: Not exactly. From most all accounts he was a nightmare on set and belittled many, though I think he did this for the sake of his art. He was a perfectionist in his own way and keeping a certain level of fear meant keeping the crew on its toes. It was so legendary I guess that some agents would warn their clients about him before they signed deals to be in his films. It’s funny how many really made it a point to mention that they went unscathed from his wrath, like a right of passage almost. It really depends on if you got to know him or not.
Outside of the film world, Lucio was a pretty lonely guy I think. He had many acquaintances but not many true friends it seems. His personal life was certainly a difficult one too.
FF: Do you think his attitude on the set during his “horror” period was possibly fueled by bitterness. I mean, here’s a guy who went from directing some incredibly famous Toto and Franco and Ciccio comedies, worked with some of the greats of the period and then spent the later part of his career making some the goriest horror movies ever. We all love the horror stuff but it’s never the genre that really brings critical or mass praise.
MB: Not necessarily. He was always intense on set and I think always took the approach of trying to do the best with what he was given. I’ve been told it was the Italian film industry itself that never really gave him the big budget picture he deserved because he never really played ball with them so to speak. He snubbed his nose at them and they snubbed right back.
His two personal favorite films – BEATRICE CENCI and DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING – are not horror films, and I doubt he was much of a horror fan in general, but damn did he know how pull it off! He was obviously pigeonholed after the success of ZOMBIE and was never given a real opportunity to work outside of the genre after that. Then the bottom fell out of the industry there as a whole and budgets, especially for the horror film, became even more minuscule. Because of this, his later films suffered and there was probably some bitterness then, especially when his name started to be exploited.
FF: His health was an issue through the last part of his life, perhaps this also contributed to a general sour demeanor on the set?
MB: Most certainly it did on ZOMBI 3. Then having to rely on others who didn’t always have his best interests in mind couldn’t have helped.
FF: Since finding time to work on the book is a major deterrent for getting it done, what about organizing a kind of “grass roots” Fulci fan workforce and get people to help transcribe and translate the stuff with you. Fulci fans have always been some of the most dedicated of any director, genre or otherwise. I bet there would be a lot of people who would volunteer to help, including myself.
MB: Maybe someday my friend. If the DVD takes off like I hope it will, perhaps that will encourage me to do a Volume 2 and perhaps the book after that. It’s really not on my radar right now though.
FF: You plan on releasing the DVD yourself? When will it be available and where will fans be able to purchase it.
MB: Yes. I mentioned it to a number of DVD labels and they didn’t see the value in it. To me, the value is in the content more so than the bank account as it’s a memorial DVD to someone whose work I’ve been passionate about for more than half my life. I’ve been living with this project as a whole for so long that I just decided to take Paura Productions to the next level and make it something more than just a banner for my side projects. Overseeing the production has been exhausting, yet relieving because my vision for the whole thing is coming true.
Anyway, it will be released on February 26, with pre-orders going on sale January 6, which is 12 years to the day that I met the man in NYC at that infamous Fango con. It will be a limited pressing. I will also be offering a special autographed collectors edition with 50 signatures by many of those who appear on the DVD. That’s REALLY limited as I only have 50 of those in total. I’ll be selling them through www.PauraProd.com and will soon be looking to get them into some of the cooler online cult DVD retailers as well.
I’ll also be promoting the DVD at an array of horror conventions across the US in 2008 along with my man Giovanni Lombardo Radice (who happens to adorn the DVD’s cover) amongst others, so I think I have most of my bases covered for a small-scale release. That being said, it ain’t going to be some shoddy, tossed together, cheapo DVD. I have some real pros pulling this together for me. I have Dave Neabore, who contributed to the Fulci “A Symphony of Fear” memorial soundtrack CD, doing an ‘inspired’ original score for the DVD; Dave Beinlich, who works as Media Blasters’ DVD author and editor pulling all the pieces together; and graphic design wizard and co-worker Sean Harvey making it all look amazing. I even had ZOMBI 3 star Beatrice Ring complete the translations for me.
FF: It sounds amazing really. Oh... You actually will only have 49 of the limited edition copies because one is definitely mine. There's a lot of talk about what you are doing with the DVD yet no mention of Kit's involvement...
MB: Bro, I’ve had a special set of autographed pages set aside for you since I envisioned this project! The pages are actually two ancillary printed sheets that I started collecting signatures on from the beginning for the book project in the hopes of doing some limited autographed copies of. I’ll be selling them with the DVD at a collector’s price point to try and offset the expenses incurred with creating the DVD independently. So, again, I’m really looking at it primarily as a Fulci and EuroCult fan-driven release. I bet I sell out of these collector editions in a matter of hours, so do log onto the site on January 6 to make sure you get yours. I think die-hard fans will flip when they see it and eat `em up.
Speaking of the pages, there would’ve been three to offer, but after numerous requests – almost ad nauseam – Kit has yet to get them to me. He’s distanced himself quite a bit from me, but even more from our once business partnership. I really don’t want to speak badly of him because I love him like a brother, but personal issues have plagued Kit since I’ve known him, and this past year has been especially bad. He had no real interest when I was initially putting the Paura site together over a year ago. Then I went asking for his thoughts on releasing the DVD prior to the book and the inclusion of some of the fondest memories of Lucio from the audio interviews still in his possession, emails went unanswered and time went by. When I was finally in a position that I could no longer to wait for him, I went ahead on my own with it. It sucks, but I had no choice really. The entire concept was mine from the beginning so there’s no real issue there, but it would’ve been nice to work with Kit again.
FF: That is a shame about Kit's distance on everything, but it is fully understandable your need and desire to continue on.
How many copies of Volume 1 do you plan to make available?
MB: I’m planning on pressing 2,500 copies initially and see where that leads us. I know there are MANY more Fulci fans than that in the world, but perhaps someone might pick it up for distribution after that or I’ll press more copies if demand is high enough.
FF: Who might we expect to see on the first volume and what length are you projecting it to be?
MB: Length will be a single disc from what I’m told. I couldn’t tell you the running time yet as everybody’s answer varies in length from 30 seconds (Bruno Mattei) to 8+ minutes (Brett Halsey). All 88 interviews will be viewable individually, each with a preceding photo slideshow and credit list, and arranged under 3 headings – “Accomplices” (crew members), “Victims” (Actors) and “Peers” (his directing compatriots) – with the option to Play All of course. I prefer word-for-word, Q+A style interviews much better because it’s their words and memories rather than having them cut to shreds for a documentary. It doesn’t make sense in this case.
As for who’s on the DVD, you don’t really want me to list all 88 folks, do you?
FF: Go ahead and list them alphabetically if you can. I’m joking of course!
You mentioned a connection to Mr. Lombardo Radice. More details please...
MB: Yes, Johnny (he prefers to be called just “Johnny” these days) and I are embarking on a convention tour to promote the DVD this March. He’s never done a stateside horror con before and is really looking forward to meeting his droves of fans. I really don’t think he’s prepared to see how much passion we Americans have for his work. The partnership spawned when he asked for my help in promoting his new website earlier this year and coming to the realization that these films will always be a part of him. It’s shaping up to be a rare and special opportunity to meet this legend. And, hell, he’s one of the stars from my favorite horror films to boot!
As for reciting the whole list, please be patient. I’ll have it up on my site soon enough (and keep you in suspense a bit...)
FF: What about ending the DVD with your fondest memories of collecting all these interviews?
MB: Yowza. That would be a DVD in itself. I did actually film my own fondest memory of Lucio outside of the Concord Free Public Library here in Massachusetts where he shot interiors and exteriors for HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY back in 1981. I rambled on about those brief moments that I was in his presence in NY and I may or may not include it as an easter egg.
FF: With all your travels and interesting people you met, you got to live the dream of many EuroCult film fans. Was it all worth it? Would you do it again?
MB: If there was real money in it, yes, I would do it again. That’s the only way it could take me away from my family. I look back fondly on those days though. Despite all the headaches, meeting many of these folks was a dream come true.
FF: Outside of the Fulci DVD and hopefully eventual book project, is there anything else in store for you?
MB: Welp, to follow up your last question regarding it being a dream of EuroCult film fans, I’m seriously thinking about bringing the dream here to the States for everyone to revel in. What I mean is, in booking shows for the DVD promotional tour with Johnny, I’m contemplating becoming the North American agent for many of these legends and getting them on the US convention circuit.
By my count, there are roughly 30 high-profile horror cons going on here in 2008. I’ve been to my fair share of them over the last 17 years, and now more than ever they are beginning to look very much the same with tired guests or newcomers who have done like one crap remake and think people actually care to pay $20 for their signature. There are many conventions that are going to be in big trouble in short order because of stale guest lists. Think about the wealth of talent from overseas who have NEVER done a convention before. That’s my angle. Like I said before, this whole genre is so driven by rabid fans that it can’t miss. If it does, well then I guess John Sirabella will have been right all along.
I have 12 clients confirmed to date and about 25 more I’m in negotiations with. I’ll begin shopping packages around to shows early next year so do keep an eye on www.PauraProd.com for such news, updates and announcements.
FF: Thanks Mike. It was great going over all of this with you and I can’t wait for the DVD. Any final thoughts?
MB: Thank you, Mark, for being a true friend and assisting in opening the floodgates for much of this to happen. I’ve had people tell me that EuroHorror’s time has gone, but more than 20 years later we’re still living it. Sure it was a period in time and those who got caught up in its wake aren’t just casual observers but consider these films part of their lives. I’m looking forward to seeing fans smile much like I did when I first met these folks in the years to come.
Photos from top to Bottom:
With Dakar (ZOMBIE)
With actress Florinda Bolkan (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN)
With composer Fabio Frizzi (BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, etc.)
With director Umberto Lenzi
With actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD)
At Cinecitta Studios: Italy's Hollywood