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MIKE VRANEY, R.I.P.


SOMETHING WEIRD'S MIKE VRANEY...R.I.P.

Hereforth follows solemn tribute to Mr. Michael Vraney, savior of cinematic oddities, historian of film trash and mogul of the untouchable Something Weird video company. The tributes unfold at the hands of the 3 Worm-sters who knew his legacy best, that being Jens Hellroute, Solomon G and your humble servant. We each celebrate his career and his influence upon us in our own inimitable way. Bow your heads...Dr. Abner Mality



Mike Vraney : The High Priest Of Low Culture


By Jens Hellroute

Since the 80’s I’ve been hooked on the wild world of exploitation cinema. First as a kid in theaters with gems like “Caligula” and “Ilsa The Shewolf Of The SS”, then when the video revolution exploded through the tv sets of me and my pals. In the 90’s my addiction went into overkill. I needed to see every crazy and bizarre movie ever made in the world. The Psychotronic film magazine had become my bible and this video company named Something Weird kept popping up in the divine pages.

In Copenhagen there was a video rental shop, Videoudlejningen, which was like the holy church of trash cinema for us hopeless fanatics. The shop is featured and celebrated in Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Bleeder”. I used to hang out with him when I worked in the Danish Filminstute, Refn was also a fellow exploitation fiend. He later made “Drive”. In the video shop I found lots of titles from the Something Weird company. Quickly my favorites became the deranged epics of Herschell Gordon Lewis and Coffin Joe.

At the Danish Filminstitute I worked in the video and bookstore. My co-worker – yet another lost b-movie connoisseur – and I started ordering tapes and t-shirts from Something Weird. We also received newsletters/magazines from our favorite American supplier which expertly described with great insight and wicked humor the sleaze they were selling. One of the writers were SW boss Mike Vraney. So when it was announced in ‘99 that our American trash soul brothers were coming to the Filminstitute, we were of course completely floored by the godlike news.

For three days the Americans invaded the halls of Denmark’s movie temple of high culture with 16 and 35 mm examples of their finest lurid and gory items that used play the seedy drive-ins of yesteryear. During that weekend I had several chats with “Bloodfeast” producer, David F. Friedman, whom I wrote an epitaph on for Wormwood Chronicles. I also met Mike Vraney and his wife Lisa. Mike was an extremely funny and bright guy in his 40’s and of course we did the nerd thing as movie freaks. I also told him that I sang in a punkband and liked to wear SW shirts on stage. He had huge knowledge of early American westcoast punk, so we really connected to things other than geeking out on the size of Chesty Morgan’s bosom. Somehow I won a prize during a showing, a tasteful “The Black Klansman” t-shirt. “Try wearing THAT at your next gig!” Mike said to me with a gleam in his eye. Recently I discovered that he used to be the manager of punk legends like Dead Kennedys and Flesheaters back in the day! He never bragged to me about that fact which tells you what kind of bloke Mike was.

The Americans left my workplace but never my heart and soul. I will always cherish that March weekend of ’99 when Mike & Co. came to Copenhagen with their crazy and important artifacts. Something Weird unearthed like no one else the lewd underbelly of American culture, sexual fears, social ignorance and just plain insanity. Mike might be gone but his company’s place in film history is immortal and will always live on. RIP Mr. Vraney. All the best to his family and friends. He will be missed.

P.S. I’m writing this piece with the SW filmfestival poster for that glorious weekend 14 years ago hanging on the wall. And no, I never wore that Black Klansman t-shirt at a gig. Maybe I should.
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R.I.P., MIKE VRANEY....XPLOITATION XHIBITIONIST XTRAORDINAIRE!


By Dr. Abner Mality

You already know Mike Vraney has passed away if you're reading this. But you probably still don't know just how great a debt of gratitude that fans of film history owe him. If anybody deserves to be honored at the Oscars for contributions to cinema preservation this year, it's Mike Vraney. Of course, the chances of that happening are exactly zero, but that says more about corporate Hollywood than it does about Mike.

I still remember vividly when I first encountered Something Weird Video, the revolutionary company Mike created to preserve what others termed "trash" cinema. I was over at my friend Colossal Dave's house in the late 90's and we were having one of our wild movie nights, where we pretty much watched anything we could think of as long as it wasn't mainstream entertainment.  "Watch some of this shit, you won't believe it!", Dave said after putting in a VHS tape of trailers. For the first time, I got exposed to Something Weird Video, although this was before they had their world-famous "swirling hypno-disk" intro with music taken from the H.G. Lewis classic "Something Weird". There were plenty of old burlesque loops featuring the busty beauties that Dave favored, but mixed with them were trailers from some of the most bizarre, shocking and crazy films I had ever seen. And I considered myself a conneisseur of cult film at this point.

One trailer stood out. It featured a grotesquely deformed giant sheep chasing away a bunch of kids eating hot dogs at a picnic. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! That movie was the incredible "Godmonster of Indian Flats" by Frederic Hobbs. I was so blown away by what I saw that night that I became an immediate fan of Something Weird Video. "The Godmonster of Indian Flats" has remained a special favorite of mine and you can find my in-depth article on it here in the Wormwood Archives.

Since then, Mike Vraney and Something Weird opened up my eyes to worlds of film trash and esoterica I never knew existed. The mammoth compilation of trailers "Extra Weird" in particular got me into exploitation classics like "Space Thing", "The Monster of Camp Sunshine", "The Acid Eaters" and many, many more.

Where would these films be without Mike Vraney? I can tell you...sitting in the bottom of a landfill somewhere. Mike made it his mission early on to preserve and protect the obscure and sleazy from oblivion. That he did, with spectacular success, and he managed to make pretty good money while doing it as well. These movies, considered the lowest of the low by "normal" film critics, offer a special window into the time they were made. They capture glimpses and nuances of life that the bigger Hollywood movies just couldn't. Thus, Mike Vraney was just as much a film historian as anyone else who ever held that title...although with a lot more of a twinkle in his eye.

A lot of Something Weird's stock came from the collection of Harry Novak, whose Box Office International company was by far the biggest supplier of exploitation films to the old grindhouse circuit. I remember a great feature on an SWV vid that had Mike and old Harry Novak, who was the living embodiment of every exploitation film mogul you ever dreamed about, shooting the breeze about the good old days. I kinda felt like I knew Mike after I saw that featurette.

The breadth of the SWV collection was breath-taking. It wasn't just soft porn sexploitation flicks and gory horror trash...there were kung fu flicks, old "scare" films about drunk driving and VD, juvenile delinquent movies, Italian "sword-and-sandal" flicks, weird cartoons, a collection of old "spook show" memorabilia entitled "Monsters Crash the Pajama Party", biker movies, films showcasing old rock and roll, drug trip and psychedelic movies, rare exploitation films from South America and China...the list goes on and on. All of this material personally selected and rescued by Mike Vraney for the enjoyment of freaks like me, Sol and Jens. And there are a lot of us out there!


He was also involved in lots of other cool stuff. Oldschool punk rockers from the West Coast knew him well and we can probably thank (or blame) Mike for bringing bands like the Dead Kennedys, T.S.O.L. and horror punks The Accused to the public's attention. When researching this article, I also found out he was a big time comic fan and collected tons of monster memorabilia. Now that was one cool dude!

He kept the facts behind his lung cancer a secret right up until the end. Almost all of SWV's followers like myself were shocked when they learned of his passing. It sounds crass, but I wish he would have said something about his illness earlier...it would have given all of us cult and sleaze film freaks a chance to thank him and tell him how much we owed him for keeping the exploitation flame burning.

Who will take up the torch that Mike Vraney held for so long? I don't know if such a thing is even possible!
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TRIBUTE TO THE TRASH KING


By Solomon G

So I gave this a lot of thought before I started writing, and I really can't discuss whatever it is I know about Mike Vraney without explaining why he was an important person, to me and to many others.

Do you like the underdog? I mean: when you have a choice, do you go with the obvious, popular favorite, or do you chose the likely loser; not out of pity or some misguidedly hopeful sense of justice - but for the sheer perverse pleasure of saying "Fuck the winners, man!"?

I do. Always have. Always will.

Fuck the winners, man!

I’ll tell you why. Ever met someone who has mainly 'won' at life? That is to say, one born into an upwardly-mobile class status, great looking, breezes through school and professional life - people like this are generally the most boring dullards you will ever know. And most people, if not all, who gravitate towards these types generally do so because of that same luminous glamour that attracts insects to a porch light - only to discover it is not the sun or moon, and fact there is little to nothing beyond the mere attraction. Yawn.


Now, I truly enjoy a decent Hollywood Blockbuster about the same as the next guy and/or gal: well written films with great cinematography, skilled actors and artisans making it happen. That's great. Thumbs up.


You know what else is great? Shitty films that probably never should have been made for any reason, yet there they are: grinning beatifically like some brain-damaged moron at the cotton-candy stand.


"Hurrr...it's fun!!!"


I'll admit full well, for whatever it's worth: I am partly attracted to the often seedy underworld of those-who-principally-lose, because I have counted myself among those numbers many a time. It's not a permanent position for many, if not most, Western folks and others who dream big, who chip away at a life until something good settles into it. And while some folks get the shaft, for sure, I would wager most who wish upon a star - no matter if that star is some gorgeous multicolored sundog, or more crusty and twisted at heart - can make something at least a little interesting happen.


Such a person as this, is Mike Vraney.


Around the time I rigged the left rear exit door at the Mesa Theater in my hometown so I could sneak in to see freaky fare, such as Willard, Frogs, or Texas Chain Saw Massacre [and later hiding my acne pocked baby-face behind a Cousin It hairdo in order to sneak into Italian splatter fare, such as Dario Argento's Suspiria (which was easy, because at thirteen, I was already 6’2”)], young Vraney endeavored to spool and unspool reel after reel of even grimier drive-in sludge, as a teenage projectionist - getting his first, primal and indelible tastes of the kind of exploitation greatness he would later trade in himself.


And here's the thing: it's really hard to explain to anybody who is not into cult/horror/exploitation cinema what the attraction is - you either get it or you don't. And though at this point in my story, I had no idea who Mike Vraney was, or that he was another member of this subculture I had no clue even existed (what my childhood horror host, Sinister Seymore, would have called 'Fringe-ys’: that is to say 'outsiders', or to use the most common vernacular, 'Freaks’). If I were to put a top-hat on it, I would call such folks countercultural enthusiasts, but, really, if you get down to the get down, what we really love is so-called 'trash cinema' - sometimes quite literally.

At the very time I explored a fun but fruitless life in rock music performance, Mr. Vraney took it to a much higher extreme as manager of old-school punk rock legends, Dead Kennedys. And though I don't know the specific dates, I would guess that about the same time Vraney's association with that era of his life wrapped up, mine slowly dissolved into aimlessness. Now, for me, when the fog cleared, it was film school - but for Mike Vraney, it was a plunge literally neck-deep into piles of discarded cinematic detritus; basement and storage bins crammed with rotting, abandoned artifacts from bygone eras: cans and cans of vintage porn loops and gloriously vile grindhouse 'B' fare.

That's where Mike Vraney’s story and my own almost completely diverge, because whatever I did past this point (okay, and at many points previous as well) is utterly unremarkable in comparison to the achievements of Mike Vraney. What he had was the brilliant foresight to know there was a roiling, untapped market for buried treasure within that great American filmic trash-heap.

I recall it was around 1999 when I first heard of Something Weird Video (SWV). I had, for years, been a huge fan of the Psychotronic Film/Video guides and attendant magazine of the same name (just as I had been to every pulpy horror film magazine from Famous Monsters of Filmland to Fangoria, as well as any book related to cult/horror/exploitation available at the library), and with the advent of internet message boards (remember those?), I had found a ton of other folks all over the world who shared this interest. If I do recall correctly, it was fellow Wormwood Chronicles scribe, Jens Kofoed-Pihl who mentioned something - probably SWV’s release of the Friedman/Lewis 'Blood Trilogy', which at that point I had already viewed ad nauseum(!), but was impressed that any company would care enough to acquire the rights and bundle them together. Luckily, at that time, my home was Los Angeles, near Hollywood, which was probably the Mecca of rare and hard-to-find video of the era. I really was not able to buy much in the way of video from SWV (or anything else for that matter), but between three or four different 'Fringe-y' video rental places, I could rent an astoundingly huge number of films from SWV's astoundingly huge library of titles. Anybody who knew me then will tell you that most of my weekends were crammed with marathon binges of obscure video weirdness. To tell you the truth, they still quite often are.

At a certain point not very long after the above account, I became associated, briefly, with the shadowy sub-culture of rare trash-film procurement and distribution, and that's where I managed to gain my one and only semi-personal story that involves Mike Vraney, if by proxy. It seemed that a friend was in competition for a certain title with Mr. Vraney, who by that time had some very powerful friends (if you are familiar with the '40 Thieves', then you have an idea of what I mean). As a result, it came to be known that if Mr. Vraney were not to retain rights for distribution of that title - nobody would retain rights to that title. The friend of mine in competition with Vraney at that time was mightily disgruntled - but nobody disrespected Mike Vraney for being the ultimate kingpin of trash-film.

He invented the title, and he owned it to the very day he died. So here's to him!

And may he rest easy...