Just in time for Halloween, classic (and not so classic) horror film music rises from the grave on Something Weird Video’s new compilation, Spook Show Spectacular A-Go-Go. With the help of Lower East Side punk veteran Howie Pyro (the Blessed, D Generation, Danzig) and Kogar the Swinging Ape, Something Weird owner Lisa Petrucci is releasing compilation discs of some of the best/worst in horror film soundtrack music. Eric Davidson spoke with the wonderful folks at Something Weird—“The Very Best in Exploitation Cinema!”—closing in on its 30th anniversary next year.
Recently, the last single-screen film theater in Manhattan, The Paris, closed. Aside from the usual Facebook crocodile tears offered from people who probably hadn’t paid to see a movie there in 15+ years, it was shocking to even film buffs that, whoa, there was still a single-screen theater in town?!
Trying to convince anyone under 35 to pay $10-20 to see a movie in a theater is becoming increasingly tough, if understandable given the incrementally shrinking income generations have been making for a while now. Although ironically, you add up all the various film streaming services, app fees, and the constant-upgrade phones, laptops, and flat screen TVs to watch them on, and you’re stuck in a moola vortex that looks a lot more insidious than giving Anthology Film Archives a ten-spot to see a film you will never find on Netflix, usually with a Q&A afterward.
Hey, here’s an idea – bring back the Spook Shows! Extinct far longer than even single-screen theaters, Spook Shows is a catch-all midcentury moniker for the live events that movie theaters, drive-ins, and independent film distributors would cook up to help get the kids out to see their latest Z-grade double features.
Local radio announcements, newspaper ads, and pre-flick trailers would scream of terrifying monsters, ghouls, and goblins that might inhabit the theater this Friday! Warnings for those faint of heart and assurances that doctors would be in attendance were standard. Then they’d pay a few bozos in sheets and ketchup-splattered monster masks to run around the entrance and up and down the aisles between the movies. Not a bad idea, because lord knows 50% of the flicks weren’t going to scare you much. But damn, what a wild night out! I have no idea why more surviving theaters do not try these kooky promotions. Today they’d call it “value-added.” Back then the marketing term was “hilarious fun.”
Well leave it to the sordid saints at Something Weird Video to bring back some of the fun of those wacky evenings. Begun in the latter 1980s as an offshoot of the voracious habits of punk band manager and underbelly culture vulture Mike Vraney, Something Weird Video stands today as the greatest life-savers and distributors of the most utterly insane, sleazy, violent, dopey, accidentally artsy, often kooky-crappy forgotten films in the world. Unlike most geek collectors who nervously guard their stash in their parents’ basement, Vraney started pumping out quasi-legit VHS copies of his found film oddities, and unwittingly helped spur – equal to the greasy commodities of Troma Films, the Cramps, and John Waters – the vintage trash culture revival of the 1990s that has since risen to an over-riding pop cultural influence, of which the makers of stuff like Olga’s House of Shame and Teenage Gang Debs would never have dreamed.
Vraney was a huge music fan, too, and had notions of doing compilations of some of the equally crazed music from many of the films he found. Sadly, Vraney passed away in 2014, but his wife, Lisa Petrucci, has not only kept Something Weird pumping out the flicks, but – with the help of Lower East Side punk veteran / film fanatic, Howie Pyro (the Blessed, D Generation, Danzig) and collector/DJ, Kogar the Swinging Ape – has begun to get those music comps going.
Last year saw the first collection of ribald rarities, Something Weird Greatest Hits! and now they’re taking a big dive into those old Spook Shows. Just in time for Halloween, Spook Show Spectacular A-Go-Go (on LP and CD) brings together a bubbling cauldron of cool, creepy, and ridiculous songs and snippets from some of their favorite SWV horror titles, interspersed with those amazing radio and trailer ads that told of the horrors that awaited, should you dare! It also includes a DVD of loads of Spook Show stuff, all wrapped in more awesome visual inanity culled from vintage exploitation ads and posters.
I checked in with the three principal madness merchants, Petrucci, Pyro, and Kogar, about the compilation and Something Weird’s wild world.
PKM: So, tell us your “official title” at Something Weird Video? And how did you come to attain that status?
Lisa Petrucci: I’m the current proprietress of Something Weird Video. I’ve been with SWV since 1994. My husband and business partner, Mike Vraney, passed away in 2014, so I guess I’m the boss lady now.
PKM: What were some of the first Something Weird DVD titles that were released?
Lisa Petrucci: The Herschell Gordon Lewis films were the first to come out on DVD through Image Entertainment in 1999. Some of the early releases were Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Wizard of Gore, She Devils on Wheels, and Doris Wishman’s Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73. The David F. Friedman films were released on DVD shortly after.
PKM: Do you have a couple favorite stories of you and/or Mike stumbling on a cache of great old film canisters?
Lisa Petrucci: Most everybody familiar with SWV knows about the legendary Movielab film vault raid that happened in the early 1990s. Dave Friedman gave Mike a tip that there was a giant cache of abandoned film elements just sitting in dead storage somewhere in midtown in New York City, so Mike and Frank Henenlotter (director, Basket Case) gained access to the film vault and cherry-picked what would become some of the best and most beloved films SWV ever released, like The Curious Dr. Humpp, The Beast That Killed Women, Satan in High Heels, and Horrors of Spider Island, among others. Mike and I had our fair share of exciting film finds over the years as well; usually the most obscure titles were buried deep in neglected film warehouses we gained access to.
PKM: I realize the whole notion of these live spook shows faded by the late 1960s, but do you have any memories of a similar kind of event from your youth?
Howie Pyro: Only that it was a thing to look for in old newspapers found in the trash. It came with my collecting and film fanaticism. For me, I would be looking for horror movie ads, and I started running into these other ones that sort of looked like horror. I started seeing sexploitation films, many horror-themed, but some so weird I couldn’t figure it out! And I couldn’t find them, see them, or know why! Until later. Films like Blood Feast, Olga’s House of Shame, House on Bare Mountain – they were monstrous, but would never be on TV or mentioned in film books. The other thing I found in the movie sections were the craziest ads I’d ever seen! These were live spook show ads that had horror movies attached, and were for kids or teens. “SEE a girl’s head chopped off! Jungle WORMS roam the theater! You may DIE of fright!” etc.
Kogar the Swinging Ape: I do remember going to the Jaycees haunted houses with my dad back in the 1970s. I remember one time where the guy playing the Frankenstein monster broke loose from a table and made a beeline for me! Even grabbed my ankle! He was a guy my Dad worked with and had told him what time we were going to be there so he could go a little extra crazy when we were in the room.
Those type of haunted houses really have their roots in Spook Shows. Just like those haunted houses, Spook Shows really ran the gambit. They could be all sizzle and no steak, or they could be actually scary and frightening. Some of Dr. Neff’s shows were famous for actually being good and scary. Juvenile delinquents came prepared to cause problems, but sometimes found themselves forgetting to hurl tomatoes like they originally planned!
PKM: So, how did the idea of this new Spook Show Spectacular compilation record come about?
Lisa Petrucci: I’m a huge Spook Show memorabilia fan. I love everything about them, especially the paper ephemera and theaters’ “coming attractions”. Spook Shows were the horror equivalent to Exploitation Roadshows [of even earlier decades]. I had always wanted to do this record, and proposed it to Jay Millar at Modern Harmonic. He and Bob Irwin thought it was a fun idea and a good follow-up to the Something Weird Greatest HitsLP.
I had Max Brody, who works at SWV and can do basic sound engineering, isolate and digitize all of the Spook Show audio from all of our DVDs, including the Monsters Crash the Pajama Party Spook Show Spectacular DVD, and the other compilation series Hey Folks It’s Intermission Time and Dusk to Dawn Drive-In Trash-O-Rama Show, and radio come-on cassettes that SWV had made back in the 1990s. There was a lot of great Spook Show audio to choose from, but I picked enough of the best quality and most entertaining tracks to fill an LP length record. But after repeatedly listening to 40 minutes of just the Spook Show promo audio, I decided something else was needed to make it more of a party platter that people would want to listen to over and over again. And not just at Halloween – which is every day in my world!
So I reached out to my monster kid pal record collectors, Howie Pyro and Kogar The Swinging Ape, and asked them what rare horror-themed rock ‘n’ roll instrumental songs they thought would be a good fit, but also haven’t been out there and comped to death. Plus, Modern Harmonic had a few tracks up their sleeve. So we added eight spooky foot stompers to liven things up.
I started seeing sexploitation films, many horror-themed, but some so weird I couldn’t figure it out! And I couldn’t find them, see them, or know why! Until later. Films like Blood Feast, Olga’s House of Shame, House on Bare Mountain – they were monstrous, but would never be on TV or mentioned in film books.
Kogar the Swinging Ape: It was great timing as I had just picked up a super rare 45 with picture sleeve by a band from Ohio. The song is called “Scream,” and has this girl screaming over the music. It’s probably her on the cover of the pic sleeve; the members of the band, holding her up. You’ll be able to see the image when the record comes out.
But the kicker was, Lisa wanted only instrumentals! Which, in retrospect does work better with all the Spook Show sound cues, but I had a few rarities that I would’ve loved to have seen make it on an LP. Luckily I also collect instrumental 45’s and had a few that fit the bill. There are a few rarities that will see the light of day somewhere else, like “The Mummy” by Jonathan with Orchestra. It’s this kid singing about a mummy coming back from the grave and forming a band. It’s just him and his guitar. It’s great! Howie’s got some really wild rare ones too.
Howie Pyro: Mike and Lisa have all been collecting Spook Show posters and ephemera for decades. I bought an incredible amount from Mike, but Lisa still holds one of, if not THE biggest collection of Spook Show stuff. Combine that with the fact that one of the things I’m very well known for, through live DJing and my radio show, is that I have one of the biggest collections of horror-oriented ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll 45s; Kogar as well. So it was perfect.
Lisa Petrucci: We also made a special new continuous play DVD that comes with the LP, using Spook Show clips from a variety of SWV sources, but does include the classic featurette, Monsters Crash the Pajama Party and some other coming attraction promos and trailers from that release. The DVD is about 90 minutes long and is continuous play, so ideal for background fodder while playing the record or having a monster mash of your own. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.
PKM: Will there be more Spook Show-themed compilations, or will each be a different theme?
Lisa Petrucci: This will be the only Spook Show-themed record that we do. There are plenty more subjects and themes to exploit from the Something Weird catalog, as well as individual movie soundtracks and the Something Weird Greatest Hits Volume 2. We’ll never run out of material!
PKM: Were drive-ins a big deal for you when young; and if so, can you tell us a particular memory of one?
Lisa Petrucci: Absolutely! I totally remember going to the drive-in in Lynn, Massachusetts, starting as a kid around seven years old. My mother and her boyfriend would put me in the back seat, assuming I’d just fall asleep, while they watched movies that were completely inappropriate for a child. I saw Night of the Living Dead, The Undertaker and His Pals, The Corpse Grinders, and a slew of other horror and exploitation movies that were permanently burned into my impressionable young mind. Explains a lot, huh? Then as a teenager in the late in ‘70s and early ‘80s, I’d go to the Route 114 Drive-In in Middleton, Mass., with my friends and we’d see the latest slasher movies. So drive-in theaters have a special place in my heart.
Howie Pyro: I never went to a drive-in as a kid in Queens, I don’t even recall one! The first drive-in I remember was in L.A. the first time we came out here in 1978, and Joan Jett took us to a drive in where we got in trouble…of course! Ha ha.
PKM: Is there a theater where you live that you could possibly put on the kind of live event that gets memorialized on the Spook Show Spectacular?
Lisa Petrucci: I live in Seattle. Mike Vraney and I put on some classic Spook Shows over the years – first in 1999 at a Something Weird Film Festival in Scandinavia, complete with monsters grabbing girls from the audience. And then in 2008 with the Black Cat Burlesque troupe at the Somerville Theater in Massachusetts. I wore a nurse’s uniform and handed out “faint pills” to anyone who was “too scared” to sit through the show. I have also been known to wear the gorilla suit when no one else would. I’ll always take one for the team! Something Weird does plan to restore the original 35mm Spook Show theatrical promos and Monsters Crash the Pajama Party with AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) at some point. Who knows, I might to dust off my ratty old ape costume and take it on the road.
I remember one time where the guy playing the Frankenstein monster broke loose from a table and made a beeline for me! Even grabbed my ankle!
PKM: Howie, do you think fright flicks influenced your teen move into punk rock?
Howie Pyro: Horror movies had nothing at all to do with me getting into punk rock. There was no “move” into punk – there was no punk rock! There was just music, and as different as it was, the world had still been us (youth) vs them (adults). That being said, since I was always into the music that became punk, I was there already as it started, and one of the big connecting personal friendship things was certainly horror and weird films. Very soon after punk started, I quickly learned all about all the unknown films in those old ‘60s newspapers, as people like Michael Weldon (Psychotronic), Bill Landis (Sleazoid Express) and Rick Sullivan (Gore Gazette) were doing their fanzines and film shows. And then it started infiltrating the music with bands like the Cramps and the Misfits, etc.
PKM: In any of the rock & roll bands you’ve been in, did you ever try to put on a kind of “Spook Show,” or play after a horror movie?
Howie Pyro: Never incorporated a horror movie, even though in Danzig there’s loads of that. But in my first band, the Blessed, we incorporated a porn loop of priests and nuns in serious triple XXX action showing on a sort of round, paper-covered hoop that a clown would pop through. The film was projected on that, and our singer jumped through it! Remember we were all 13-16. Ha ha!
Kogar the Swinging Ape: As a kid, it was hilarious, we lived right near a Jerry Lewis Theater, which showed family-friendly movies. At some point, they changed the format and started showing R-rated flicks. The best theater around for midnight movies in the Boston area is the Coolidge Corner Theater. I spent many weekends there in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Seeing Frankenhooker on opening night at midnight with a packed house is something I’ll remember forever.
I had a band with a buddy of mine in the late ‘90s called Thee Monkey Butlers. We played gigs locally in New Hampshire, played shows in most of New England, NYC, and went as far as Philadelphia. We all took monkey names; and as a tribute to Bob Burns and Ray Dennis Steckler, I chose Kogar the Swinging Ape. People started calling me Kogar, even when I wasn’t performing, so I go by that name “professionally.” The band broke up, I now DJ by that name, and run “Lux Lives East Coast,” a yearly charity event that raises money for Best Friends Animal Society. We make the donation in Lux’s name.
Anyway, we even played one of Coolidge Corner Theater’s Halloween marathons, where at around 7 a.m., they would have a band play three or four songs to wake people up for the next 10 hours or so. Imagine waking up to the tender sounds of “Jack the Ripper” being sung a by an Ape Quartet!
PKM: Howie, did you have a favorite NYC film theater that you could catch midnight movies and B-flick fests at that isn’t there anymore?
Howie Pyro: There were so many cinemas like that, there seemed to be one every five blocks! But the best were The Thalia, the St. Marks Theater, and my favorite, the 8th Street Playhouse where I saw so many things for the first time. I went there with Johnny Ramone a lot. They let Bill Landis hold the month-long “Sleaze Festival” there which was the most eye-opening cinematic time of my life.
PKM: You incorporated B-flicks into the Greendoor parties you and D-Generation threw at Coney Island High in the early ‘90s?
Howie Pyro: Yeah, I used videos from Something Weird at GreendoorNYC, and I have used the same ones for decades! I’ve used Something Weird Videos for many things even recently.
PKM: I remember when I caught a couple of those Greendoor parties, I thought the wild B-flick clips showing on TVs was so cool because, while that’s somewhat standard fare at DJ nights these days, in the early ‘90s it was new again, kind of felt like a throwback to the Warhol “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” events. Which, when you think about it – with dancers running up and down isles yelling at people, and crazy films being projected – were probably in some way influenced by those Spook Shows. How did you begin working with Something Weird?
Howie Pyro: Oh, it’s not work when it’s a labor of love! Early on I met Mike at the Chiller Convention when he first came, and we really hit it off. He had a major punk background – he had managed TSOL, Dead Kennedys, and many more – and we were both on a serious fanatic trail, movie-wise. He always said, “Man, I like you because you really live this for real!” And those were also his last words to me. He’d see me coming and start piling up the videos!
So he was planning to do his first comprehensive drive-in/horror trailer cassettes called “Dusk to Dawn Drive In Trash-O-Rama Show” And we were both rabidly collecting radio ads for these crazy films. These were originally put out on 45s and sent to radio stations to play! So for me it was the divine crossing of movies and records! He asked if we could record them all as he had some as well, and he wanted to include a cassette tape with the radio ads on it with each trailer VHS compilation. So I brought my records to my best buddy Roy Mayorga’s apartment (he was in Nausea, Sepultura, Soulfly). We made a DAT tape and sent it to Mike. All these ancient terms! Video! Cassette tape! DAT tape! Yowza!
So that was my first and main “job,” not that I ever thought of it that way. But from then on, my name would be included in the big catalogs and stuff, which made me quite proud. My incredibly obsessive needs oddly and luckily were met by two entities – Something Weird Video and Norton Records. Between them I was set, and in many cases, these were my starting points for digging. It was the end of wondering about these almost imaginary realities. And yes, I know how lucky I was/am. I’m probably the biggest, or in the top three, SWV fans, and probably have just about every DVD and many VHS tapes. I have three walls of Something Weird Videos.
PKM: Can you tell me any favorite stories of Mike Vraney?
HP: Every Mike story is a great one, but not in the way you’d think. He was a pretty subdued guy. When I think of him, it’s slow and easy and smiling a mischievous smile. My true fave thing about Mike is when he’d start talking about an obsession of his. He’d get very excited and intense, but still in his subdued way, and you felt like it was something holy and serious he was telling you. And it was! And Lisa not only has taken the torch, she’s been running with at least half the torch for decades.
Kogar the Swinging Ape: Sadly, I never met Mike. I did talk to him on the phone once or twice back before the internet. Something Weird means so much to me. Discovering those movies in the late ‘80s was just such a memorable time. Outside Harvard Square, there was a great little store called Pipe Line. They had this amazing back room filled with Something Weird tapes. All those beautiful boxes formed something like this really cool wallpaper. Floor to ceiling smut!
I was crushed when Mike died. I felt so terrible. The impact he has had on our “scene” cannot be measured. I am beyond happy that Lisa is keeping it going. The releases they have coming out in partnerships with other companies are amazing!