Josh Schafer is a guy who is bringing back the world of print and indepdent zines with Lunchmeat; a magazine that is dedicated to keeping the memory of VHS alive and remembering all those lost movies in the digital evolution. It was a pleasure being able to nerd it up with Josh as we talk about everything for VHS tapes, to Swedish Fish, and even giving senior citizens seizures in what is probably one of our most random and amusing interviews yet.
For those who don't know who Josh is, why don't you give yourself a small introduction?
Well, I'm Josh Schafer and I'm the co-creator and Editor-in-Chief of Lunchmeat Magazine. I love VHS and I love films. All media, really. Anything that's stimulating to the intellect, I'm into it; the weirder, the better. Ha!
Where did the idea for making the Lunchmeat magazine come from?
It stemmed from me and my buddy Ted's (co-creator and co-editor) love for film, really. We would sit around at work (we met at Relapse) and chat about flicks and talk about how much they ruled, or how terrible they were (and why they rule even though they were terrible) and we just really were enthusiastic about film in general. We realized that a lot of the flicks we were talking about didn't have DVD releases. I mean, a great deal of the flicks we liked, they were VHS only. We both liked to write, and we both loved old monster magazines. movie mags etc, so we wanted to do a print zine, not an internet thing. We wanted to put it out there to be in people's hands. That's really a big essence of Lunchmeat: to have something physical in your hands, know that it's real and it's going to last. Much like the almighty VHS!
Going back to what you said about terrible movies. I take it that it's safe to assume the name of yourmagazine came from the 1987 flick by the same name?
A guilty pleasure?
Well, I think by others standards, yes. (laughs) But for me, that was a flick that really hit home for me in two ways. It showed me an indy horror flick that while riffing on the backwoods redneck, TCM feel, really pulled it off and gave some entertainment. I feel like "Juwanna Mann" is a guilty pleasure for me. Miguel Nunez Jr is great in that flick, though! That's the dude who played Spider in "Return of the Living Dead" gave some worthwhile entertainment up there. (laughs) But, yeah, I show Lunchmeat (the movie) to a lot of people, and they are admittedly kinda let down I think it's because they are expecting this amazing, totally great horror flick And for me, it is. It struck a chord with me. But for others, it might just be another backwoods horror flick, you know? I think everybody has that one flick that really changes their mind about film, and everything that goes along with it Lunchmeat was one of those flicks for me. That's why I called the magazine Lunchmeat. It was definitely a personal thing.
How do you decide what movies or what content you want to cover for each issue of the magazine?
It really just matters what comes to mind. Both Ted and I have a entire mental library of stuff we'd like to cover, and it either just falls into place for the upcoming issue, but if we need to work on something a bit more, or want to save it for another issue for whatever reason, we'll do that. We also have a lot of videovores writing in with suggestions, ideas etc. We find a lot of cool reviews that way. When people write in with a flick to review, we welcome the review with open arms. We're stoked when people write in with stuff we've never heard of; that's really the whole reason we started LM. If you can picture Ted and I sitting around, watching flicks and drinkin' some brews talking about flicks we like, people we think are awesome that aren't covered by other genre mags, that's pretty much a LM conceptual meeting, haha.
Do you think or rather hope you'll be able to turn out issue a little more regularly than you do now, or are you pretty happy with the system you've got going for it now?
Well, ideally, we want to get an issue out every 3 months. I think we've done pretty good thus far, but it's definitely not perfect. (laughs) We both work full-time jobs and of course have personal lives that take up a lot of our time, so LM functions like a hobby - a very passionate hobby indeed. We are always working on the next issue one way or another, but when stuff gets delayed because of life in general to problems at the printer, we just take with a grain of salt and handle it the best way we can. Like I said, we would love to be able to put out an issue right on time every time, but right now, it would be very difficult. Doing LM full-time with a actual staff, waking up just to do LM, that would be a dream come true. Until that dream is realized, we'll just keep doing it the best way we know how, and that's with a lot of passion and a good dose of fun. Ultimately, we just want the issue to be the best it can be, regardless if it come out in 3 months, 5 months, however long it takes.
Going back to what you were talking about with the movie "Lunchmeat" being a personal thing; I think we've all got that one weird title that we absolutely love while everyone else wonders what the hell is wrong with us. Any other movies that pushed you into liking the movies that you do and your love for film in general?
Absolutely. "Mother's Day" - totally changed my love for movies. I got that VHS at a dollar store, watched it, and fell in love. It made me want to go out and search for every weird horror flick I could find. "The Sandlot" - saw that in the theater when I was a kid. Still love that movie. Makes me feel good. "Willy Wonka" - no explanation needed there. "The Seventh Seal" - Ingmar Bergman showed just how much emotion, thought, and feeling a movie can put inside of you. Polanski's films, "The Tenant" especially. "Return of the Living Dead" - scared the SHIT out of me when I was a kid. drilling my eyes into HBO. (laughs) All those movies moved me in some way, they rounded out my appreciation for film. It's funny: I think when people talk with horror-buffs, they automatically think that's all that person is in to. I mean, I love all types of film, not just horror. But horror does have a following like none other, man I was doing an interview not too long ago, and someone in the interview said " Yeah, you don't see any Drama conventions popping up." (laughs) It made a lot of sense. But back to it, all kinds of films inspire me. Anything that can generate feelings, emotions, thoughts. It all has value I mean, who doesn't like "Wayne's World"?
I don't know, but I don't wouldn't want to meet them.
Yeah, they're probably stiff as a board. And let's be real here. I'm one to talk about emotions, thoughts, etc. coming from a film but a lot of the movies I watch are schlocky trainwrecks, I love that stuff too. Those types of films are great fun, no matter how bad they get. They have comedic value, even if not intentional and, most importantly, it's someone's vision. "Horrors of Spider Island" was somebody's baby. They poured their heart into it (presumably, haha) and even though the result may be lackluster, it still exists. That guy can say to most crtics "Yeah, well where's your no-good potboiler!" (laughs)
And as we've seen from Roger Ebert, just because you criticize movies doesn't mean you can make one that's any better. Or rather write in his case.
Absolutely. It's a whole different mindset. And a lot of those schlocky trainwrecks were made to fill gaps, make a quick buck, I have no illusion on that. But still, they are great time capsules to represent that part of film history. You can't look away from it; it was there and it won't go away.
As much as you wish it would in some cases. There are some great bad movies out there, and then there are those that can make you hate life. Ever find a movie you couldn't finish?
Mmmmm, yes. It really just made me fall asleep or lose interest. I can't think of any off the top of my head, honestly. But I know I've seen some movies that are just downright awful, boring, vapid. "Scream" - Not the Wes Craven one, the one from the 80's. That movie I never finished, ha I just didn't care what happened. (laughts) It was THAT bad; 1981 was the release year on that flick *shudder* it's bad.
Ouch. I guess I should be thankful that I haven't seen that one yet then. If a fine purveyor of trash cinema like yourself says it's bad then it must be bad.
(laughs) Well, I'm certainly not the be-all, end-all, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Alright, I've got to ask the question that I'm sure all those youngn's out there are dying to know. What is it about VHS tapes that you like so much that you continue to watch and collect them?
It's definitely the nostalgia. I mean, it takes me back to a different time and place. Well, that was the original reason. But now, after doing Lunchmeat, I realize how important it is to keep VHS alive. I mean, you ask people nowadays if they have a VCR and they look at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears. VCR? I threw that away years ago. My buddy was telling me that he knows 20 year olds that laugh when he says VHS. VHS is what ushered in home entertainment to the maximum. It re-invented entertainment, really. I think it's important to preserve VHS, and to let people know just how awesome it is. TONS of flicks can only be seen on VHS. And with every format change, movies are lost. But with VHS, that created flicks Direct-to-Video. Direct-to-BLuRay? Don't think so. (laughs) And this is no shit, I hope to one day facilitate a VHS museu. And above all else VHS is fun. You can turn ony our VCR, hear it hum, stick that bulky slice o' black gold in your VCR and you got a good time rollin, man. It's definitely an entirely different experience than DVDs or Blu-Ray. Everyone should be able to experience it.
I agree. While we know these younger generation movie fans don't think they've missed out on VHS, and look at it as nothing but dated and inferior technology. I think they missed out the wonder that was going down to your local mom 'n pop hole-in-the-wall video shop and grabbing whatever movies you could that had a cool enough cover. What do you think?
Definitely. I think that's part of the whole experience. Walking around in those Mom and Pop video stores, seeing all the eye-popping covers, going berserk grabbing one movie and instantly wanting to rent the other. Just being absorbed in that is something that is totally lost now. Those were some of the best Friday nights I can remember, man. And even though those times are gone, I still get a thrill by going to flea markets, dirt malls, yard sales. You gotta dig, but you can still unearth those amazing covers, those outrageous titles, and now, you can just take them home. You don't have to bring them back. And you get the video box!
Nothing beats those ridiculous big boxes.
Love big boxes. I have quite a few.
Out of all of your tapes, which one, if you have one, is your most prized possession?
Hummmm, that's a toughie... I would say probably any of my Midnight Video big boxes, probably "Microwave Massacre" specifically. Those are definitely my favorite just cause a bunch of them are hard to come by - and I just love that releasing company! I also have a bunch of tapes that I purchased from my childhood Mom and Pop shop when they were going out of business. "Eaten Alive", "Motel Hell", "Zombie Lake"... those were all flicks that I rented like crazy when I was a kid and it's cool knowing that I probably rented the exact copy that I own now; that's a pretty cool and special feeling. It feels good to preserve that part of my childhood.
Do you collect other out of date formats like beta max, laser disc, etc.?
Nah, not really. I have stuff on both formats; I have a LaserDisc player and everything, but I don't actively collect those formats. I respect them just the same, though. They are just as important to remember. I mean, honestly, if it wasn't for porn, who knows - BETA might have won the war! haha. I also know a lot of collectors that go specifically after those formats, which I think is totally awesome. I'm a VHS fanatic, and I want to reserve space for those.
What's your opinion on current DVD/Blu-Ray artwork and poster art in general as opposed to VHS box art?
Oh, it's incomparable. I mean, it's so different, man The artwork for VHS screams at you. It grabs you by the eye sockets and yells " Yes, Me! Pick me!" (laughs) I don't think modern covers have that. There are some good ones (again nothing off the top of my head), but for the most part, just kind of glossed over. No real umph. One-sheets? Forget about it. Old-school painted one-sheets, nothing beats them. Nowadays, it's all photoshop, sterile crap. They have viral trailers and tons of other video promotion for their flicks the one-sheet is an afterthought but when one-sheets were king. They had to be explosive Picture companies didn't have all the marketing tools that are used today, so the poster is what put butts in the seats. That's why so many of those posters are so amazing. They had to be.
Since Lunchmeat and yourself are dedicated to keeping the world of VHS alive, have you ever thought about putting out a book about VHS and old-school one-sheet artwork? I know Jacques Boyreau tried to do that with his book - Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box, but I have to say I was a little disappointed with the range of covers in it.
Yeah, you know, I really have. I really want to, I mean. I ran a review of Portable Grindhouse and I think the review was really good. It said how the guy looked at all VHS boxes, and he did. There was some weird shit in there. But not the type of weird that diehard VHS fans want. I mean, I know what I wanted. You know what you wanted. I'd like to put out a book that doesn't necessarily have the scope of PG, but definitely understands the needs of a certain videovore horror, sci-fi, cartoons, exploitation, weird-o stuff. Stuff that makes you say, "Holy shit! Awesome."
Stuff that would make you want to track down your own copy.
Exactly. So, yeah, it would be a dream to put out a book like that. Even though that's a personal goal, it's still solidarity in wanting to preserve VHS. People just throw them out, na man. Terrible! And honestly, many times, the box art was the best thing about the video release so that needs to be preserved, too.
What I think is funny is that attitude right there shows the difference in VHS fans and DVD fans. I know a number of people who buy DVD's and then throw away the cases and just keep the discs in CD books. Something you'd never see someone who appreciates and owns VHS tapes, and they take up much more space than a DVD case.
Yeah, (laughs) crazy! VHS is more than a movie. It's a work of art, every one. It's like a package deal, you know? Taking up space never bothered me, only when I have to move.
Exactly. In some cases, going back to what you said it was, as a number of the covers came from hand painted pieces of art and some of the movies the artwork is the best thing about them.
Indeed. It's an integral part of the video. You could never just toss the box and keep the video. That would be preposterous.
I know a lot of people love and try to collect certain labels, particularly Wizard and Unicorn. Do you have a favorite VHS label?
I love Midnight Video. That's definitely my personal favorite. I think it's the logo that really made me fall for it. The Skeleton in a top hat? C'mon! That's awesome! haha. And plus they are all big box releases and ALWAYS had killer artwork. Unicorn and Wizard are definitely stand-out companies, releasing great titles and never failing to deliver fun and exploitative titles, so if you're a person looking to grab some cool videos, definitely check out those companies as well as Imperial Entertainment and Gorgon Video. And if you ever see anything on Media or Vestron, you should probably pick that up, too.
Switching gears a bit, what are your views on current cinema? Whether it's mainstream, independent, or underground.
I gotta be honest: I don't really watch too much current cinema. I'm stuck in a time-warp as it were, (laughs) I do dig the 3D craze, but not all of it. New horror is predominately bad, and usually a remake but that's big-budget stuff, there's a lot to be said for underground horror. I was just talking with a friend the other day about this, and I think my biggest problem with modern horror cinema is lack of originality. There's a difference between using a formula and just rehashing stuff, I think a lot of modern stuff is doing the latter. There are gems in the dung though. "Human Centipede" - Wow! "Inside" - Very good. I even thought "The Strangers" was effective (might get shot for that one! ha) I haven't seen it, but I hear "Machete" was kick ass too. I liked "Grindhouse" and Rob Zombie gets a lot of shit, but he knows what he's doing. I mean, White Zombie fucking rules, so he's excused either way. (laughs) It's tough to take such revered character and add new aspects tough, dirty job. He's doing what he wants, which is smart and he'll be criticized either way. "House of the Devil" wasn't bad, but I think it got hyped too much before I saw it. Kinda didn't do much for me. The VHS promo gimmick was brilliant, though loved that bought that sucker like it was the last one on planet earth.
I hear you on that. Same question with a twist; what do you think about these movies trying to recreate the grindhouse and 80's drive-in style and mood?
I think it's admirable and romantic in a sense. I just hope they are doing it for love and not money. Can't really tell, I guess. It's good because it might cause someone to actually look back to those times. It'll stir up new interest. For those who wonder what all this stuff is paying homage to. I guess they won't do it for money now that I think about it. There really isn't much to be made in box office horror. I'm an idealist.
It's those dreams that keep us going. Alright, since you're giving so many great answers it's tough for me to come up with some new questions so I think we're going to go straight to the lightening round. Quick and dirty questions; try to answer them without giving them too much thought. Ready, set, go!
Favorite movie snack food?
Idea of a perfect movie night?
Lots'a VHS, Swedish Fish, and beer.
What would be better to watch a movie at: drive-in, filthy run down movie theater filled with seedy people, or at home?
Person you would like to meet the most, dead or alive?
What do you prefer: watching a great movie, or watching a great-bad movie with friends?
Which is better, 1 or 2?
Oh sorry, we were looking for 1. The number 1. So sorry, no grand prize package for you, but instead a couple more questions.
Dang! Do I get to keep the mule? Let's Make A Deal rules?
Oh sure, why not. We like ya!
What are some movies that you think people need to see but probably haven't?
I Drink Your Blood, Persona, Lunchmeat (laughs), Eyes of Fire, Slithis, Fantastic Planet, Paperhouse, First Men in the Moon, Darktown Strutters, Grizzly...
Speaking of "Slithis", what do you think about the distro company Code Red closing their doors? They seemed to be one of the few companies trying to bring some of those lost movies to DVD.
What? Dude, I did not hear that! That SUCKS! They were one of the few releasing companies that had the pulse on VHS only horror and bringing it to DVD. People were telling me they did "Slithis", I haven't seen it yet, though. It's out now, right? Man, that SUCKS They did "Human Experiments", "Don't Go Into the Woods" - great stuff.
Yeah "Slithis" is out now. That was actually the title they were banking on but unfortunately the sales weren't there for them.
Damn shame. That was a very cool company. I remember years ago (before I started Lunchmeat) I stumbled onto their site and sent them a gushing thank you email. They had some killer stuff.
Yeah the did. A formal announcements hasn't been made, only some postings on message boards so hopefully they'll pull a William Lustig and change their mind about closing up shop.
Hopefully. I should get in touch with them, see if I can help at all.
Hopefully you can, or better yet that I'm actually completely wrong.
(laughs) Yeah, don't take it personal. That company was (hopefully is) great because they didn't just throw a crappy print on a DVD and sell it as a bargain, they did it up nicely. Unfortunately, sometimes the budget shit sells more just cause the price is right. God knows I've purchased many, many budget horror DVDS. (laughs)
Well you never know when there could be a gem in the bunch.
Exactly! But I've also purchased tricked out ones. Dollar stores are awesome around Halloween for that. e.g. right now.
I meant to ask you this earlier, since "Lunchmeat" is near and dear to your heart. What did you think when rumors were spreading that someone was trying to remake "Lunchmeat"?
I saw that. I was just like, "Yeah, right" haha! I didn't believe it. I did believe that they were going to make a live-action Thundercats movie, though. Man, that would have RULED!
With the transition to blu-ray on the horizon, what do you think awaits us in terms of home media entertainment?
Lots of lost flicks and dead technology. The only reason they create these new technologies is to sell another device with a bigger price tag. People are convinced they want crystal clear definition which is nice, don't get me wrong, but there's so much other stuff to see. I am stoked about these 3D televisions though, they induce seizures in children and the elderly! (laughs)
(laughs) So do you see yourself owning one?
I already do. It was a gift from my parents I actually got super lucky with it. My Grandmom goes to the casino and she won it in a raffle and she was like, "I need this like I need a paper asshole." So, my parents bought it off of her and gave it to me. My Family is amazing, I'm lucky that way.
Sounds like it. Do any of your family members share similar taste in movies?
My Dad for sure, I grew up watching flicks with him. Those Friday nights I spoke of earlier, that was my bonding time with my Dad. That and sports, but that's a different story. We would watch anything. We still will. I still watch movies with my Dad all the time; I visit my parents on the weekends about twice a month, so it's awesome. A lot of my friends still live near my parents, too, so it's doubly good. My Mom, not so much. She's a tear-jerker or feel-good comedy type of girl She can get down with some thrillers, though! Oh, "Jacob's Ladder"! See that if you haven't!
See it and be completely ashamed of yourself while your at it.
(laughs) That, my friend, is a creepy flick. People ask me what movies really scare me, that movie did. I was about 16 maybe 17 when I saw it for the first time (guessing here) and that one scene with the face in the window I just got a chill thinking about it OooOOoOo man and "Nosferatu" - the original. Watch that by yourself in the dark, it's creepy all those sounds mixed with music - good times. Stephen King's "IT" scared the crap out of me, man I couldn't even look at the heating vent in my room for years I would just picture Pennywise popping up, "You'll FLOAT!" Damn, those were the days!
Nothing like being young and still having the chance of having a horror movie scare you.
Yeah, stuff still scares me, though I read a lot and I still read horror stories that make me look up in my room and feel that shiver. Movies have those loud bangs that make you jump But as far as haunting you after you see it, that was definitely more potent when you were a kid. Ingmar Bergman's stuff can do that - haunt you. His films aren't scary per se but they impact you. The ideas they put across are sometimes terrifying and they make you think after the fact of watching it. "Persona" and "Hour of the Wolf" are two good examples. He also did "The Seventh Seal" which I mentioned earlier. Opinions are divided on his work, but for me, I think his stuff is brilliant. I read his autobiography, definitely gave me a new angle on him and his life work.
Well I'm spent. I actually cannot think of anymore questions for you Josh other than asking you. Do you have any final thoughts or anything last minute you would like to say?
Well, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. I had a blast. And for final thoughts... I'd like to give a quote: "Have a good time... all the time." And get a VCR if you don't have one! VHS is awesome, everyone! Sincerely!