After going out of business in 1992, the revered home video label Vestron Video is making a comeback. It was once responsible for some of the best cult classic movies on VHS, and now movie studio Lionsgate has brought Vestron back from the dead to start a brand new specialized home video label.
It will have, in large part, the same focus it did in its heyday: distributing some of best under-seen horror schlock straight from the 1980s and beyond, all from the Vestron vault.
Its first release, the evil robot thriller Chopping Mall, follows a group of teens who find themselves at the mercy of mall security robots, whose circuits have been fried enough to make them want to kill anything in their sight. The second release, Blood Diner, is about two brothers who collect body parts from unsuspecting customers in order to resurrect an ancient Lumerian goddess named Sheetar. Upcoming titles include a double feature of evil wax museum flick Waxwork and its sequel, Waxwork II: Lost in Time; Return of the Living Dead 3; and the inimitable C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.
Needless to say, they lean towards the unorthodox, and that’s exactly what Chela Johnson, Lionsgate’s Vice-President of Marketing, told Inverse when we asked her about developing the niche label and why cheap horror movies deserve to be collector’s items.
What was the genesis of resurrecting this line of 1980s horror movies?
So many important films in horror history are our catalogue, and they hadn’t been served well. People grew up watching a lot of these films, and we realized that there are fans out there who want to see them again. We’re in the position of giving people the films that haven’t made it out there, so why not give it to them in the best way possible?
So we try to remaster each film as best as possible, revisit the filmmakers and the talent involved, and try to give fans something they’ve wanted to go back to after all these years.
When did resurrecting the Vestron name come about?
We had considered starting a label like this a few years ago, and it’s just a matter of timing. And, obviously, there’s a business aspect as well. Now was just the right time.
We also pay attention to what people say out there. The Vestron line, and the logo in particular, is something iconic that so many people remember. It was our goal to call it Vestron because although all the films we’re putting out weren’t all originally put out by Vestron, it was about invoking the feeling and the nostalgia of those kinds of movies. It immediately gave fans an idea of what to expect from the label.
Why put these semi-obscure movies out in premium physical releases as opposed to on digital VOD?
You can’t collect a digital file. We looked at it like collecting vinyl versus buying a song on iTunes. The physical release is part of the experience.
This is something for the collectors who appreciate having and holding these movies. We wanted to take care to go in depth because it’s for fans, but it’s also about preserving the films as well. We didn’t want to change anything either, which is why we put them out with all the original artwork. Some of the horror designs you definitely wouldn’t be able to do now, you wouldn’t be able to get them past the MPAA. These editions should reflect the way the film was.
How does the Vestron label want to separate itself from similar niche labels like the Criterion Collection, or a label like Scream Factory that is putting out similar horror titles?
Criterion is much more high brow than anything we’d ever want to put out, but our model is along the same lines.
What other catalogues will you pull from for the Vestron label?
They can be titles from any source in the Lionsgate catalogue. So many of the awesome titles were from the Trimark library, and we’re even looking at a couple from Artisan that aren’t as old as some of the other titles.
How long is the process in putting each edition together? Is it easier since you have the licenses to these titles in the Lionsgate catalogue already?
Not really. A lot of the process takes time because we have to dig things up to create the new transfers for each film to remaster them. You have to have good elements to start with, and that’s what mostly saves a lot of time and scheduling. If those are here in our catalogue all we have to do is find them and un-vault them. Other things might not have the best basic elements. It really depends on the title for how long it takes to get it out the door.
Chopping Mall is our first release because it came together so quickly. The filmmakers were so receptive and involved with the release, and it was one that people asked to see. All the stars just aligned for that one.
Does finding people for the original special features factor in too?
Some of the people we want to find for the original special features are hard to find. Sometimes we have no idea what they’re up to today. In part our title selection is based on whether we can find people for the supplements, so we won’t put something on the schedule if too many people are MIA. Thankfully whenever we’ve reached out to people so far they’ve been receptive. People want to be appreciated for these under-appreciated films.
The director of Blood Diner, Jackie Kong, hadn’t been very active lately. But now she’s starting a whole roadshow for the movie, showing it and going all around the country.
Do you want to just release b-movie horror specifically, or will the Vestron label explore other genres down the road?
We’ve talked a bit about exploring more, but we’re going to keep it in the horror genre realm. That’s not to say we wouldn’t do this kind of treatment to other films in our library. There are other little gems coming up that aren’t necessarily horror. But we want to be protective of the Vestron label and anything released under it should be fitting and appropriate.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.