I recently interviewed London-born Richard Gordon at his New York office. His company,Gordon Films, is responsible for importing and distributing a nice sampling of British and other foreign exploitation films, some of which he produced or co-produced. Thankfully, most of Mr. Gordon's product is now becoming available on DVD. We talked about the DVD distribution of the films in question
George Reis: How were you able to maintain the rights to most of your films for home video distribution?
Richard Gordon: The way I did that was by arranging the financing of the films privately when they were originally made and not going to a major studio or distributor to get financing or advances. Consequently, most of the pictures were made without a prior release and I made my deals afterwards. That way, I was able to control the deal-making process and restrict the rights--in most cases--when I granted them to distributors to find five-, seven-, or even 10-year licenses. But I always retained the copyright, and at the end of the license period, the rights reverted to me. The rare exceptions--for instance--were with Universal on ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) and THE PROJECTED MAN (1967). The only way that I was able to make a deal with them was to give them perpetual rights. So, I no longer own the copyrights for those two pictures in the United States, although I do still have them in the Eastern Hemisphere and outside Universal territory. But in most cases, that's simply how I arranged it. When I made the deal with MGM on THE HAUNTED STRANGLER and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (both 1958), and then subsequently with CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) and FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959), they were completed pictures which were available to them [MGM], and I was able to negotiate a 12-year license, and at the end of the 12-year period, the rights reverted to me.
Reis: What were your first U.S. DVD releases?
Gordon: My first DVD releases were FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959) and THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1959) because prior to that, I had already made a laserdisc deal with Image Entertainment. When the whole DVD thing started, Image of course came around and said that they would like to have the DVD rights. That was my first deal, and the second deal was for CORRIDORS OF BLOOD and THE HAUNTED STRANGLER. I must say that it has worked out very well, and I'm very pleased with the way that Image has distributed my product. I also made a deal with them on PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1962), which is a film that I own the copyright for in the United States, but not overseas because it's a picture that I purchased many years ago and made the English language version.
Reis: Did Image suggest to you that they wanted to carry these titles over to DVD?
Gordon: They suggested that since they had the laserdisc distribution and also the cassette re-issue distribution, that they would also be interested in the DVD distribution. I went along with Image because I like the people very much. They were doing a good job and they seem to be one of the pioneers for DVD in the independent market, so I couldn't see any reason to go anywhere else with those pictures.
Reis: Aside from PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, they of course were already remastered for the laserdisc versions.
Gordon: Well, for the DVD, you have to make a different kind of master, what they call a "compression master" from which they make the actual DVD discs. But we had all the digital Betacam masters already made for the laserdisc and cassette distribution. Although it's an expensive process, we didn't have to go back to the original film materials.
Reis: Will you be licensing any more DVD titles to Image?
Gordon: I have three more films coming out with Image that fall into the same category as PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE: CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964), TOMB OF TORTURE (1963) and a British film called THE WOMAN EATER (1957) with George Coulouris and Vera Day.
Reis: I didn't know that you owned THE WOMAN EATER, I thought that Columbia owned it.
Gordon: Well, that came about because when I made a film called THE ELECTRONIC MONSTER (1957), Columbia was interested in distributing it in the United States and Canada. They asked me if I had another picture to go with it because in those days, everything was double-billed. They quite candidly said, "You know if you don't have another picture, we're going to have to double-bill it with one of our own pictures and split the film rentals. It would be to your advantage if you could give us another picture." Well, I had nothing else going in production at the time that was suitable, but I knew about this picture, THE WOMAN EATER, which a friend of mine had produced in England. I was able to get the American rights and then turn it over to Columbia for distribution as a double-bill with THE ELECTRONIC MONSTER. But in buying the rights, I bought the rights in perpetuity so that when the Columbia license expired, the rights--for the U.S. and Canada--reverted to me and that's how I came to be able to make this deal with Image on it now.
Reis: Image also did a DVD of THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1978), the film that you produced which Radley Metzger directed. Do you own the rights to that too?
Gordon: I share the rights to that with Radley in the United States. It's not a deal that I made, it's a deal that was actually made by First Run Features. They are the company that is distributing the entire Radley Metzger product on cassette and DVD, but they're doing the DVDs through Image.
Reis: Tell us about your DVDs with Elite Entertainment.
Gordon: I made a deal with Elite for CURSE OF THE VOODOO (1965), TOWER OF EVIL (1972), HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) and INSEMINOID (1982), all which never had been out on laserdisc--well, INSEMINOID had been out on laserdisc in a very limited edition that Embassy put out under the title of HORROR PLANET, which was a cut version that I wasn't very happy with. For those four pictures, we did in fact go back to the original film materials and they had to remaster them. In the case of TOWER OF EVIL and HORROR HOSPITAL, we actually brought the original camera negatives over from England and made brand new masters, and also letterboxed them, which is why--at least in my opinion-they look much better in their DVD releases than they had previously.
Reis: They all look stunning, like they could've been made yesterday.
Gordon: It's worth that expense, and it's worth that trouble if you have access to the original materials. The trouble is that in many cases with the type of movies that you're talking about--where the original owners haven't retained the copyrights and the pictures are passed through three, four, or five different hands--there's no longer access to the original film materials available and they have to work with whatever is around. I mean, I've seen a few DVDs recently of public domain type films--or real B movies--that have been knocked out so fast and the quality has been absolutely appalling. You might just as well buy one of the old cassettes that's floating around because it's no better since they don't have access to anything. They've probably copied them from either a cassette or a 16mm television print, or something like that. While you can improve some of those materials with the new technology, that becomes very expensive if you have to put them through the equipment to remove scratches and restore the soundtracks and everything else. And I guess that on some of those pictures, it's not worthwhile.
Reis: How did you get in contact with Vini Bancalari from Elite?
He did THE EVIL DEAD on DVD, which I knew about. We had a mutual friend, Gary Needle, who is also in the business, and he introduced me to Vini. He was keen to put those titles out. The re-issue cassette distribution for CURSE OF THE VOODOO, TOWER OF EVIL, HORROR HOSPITAL and INSEMINOID is going to be done with Anchor Bay. That will take place some time between now and the end of the year, hopefully by Halloween time.
Reis: Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) DVD from The Criterion Collection?
Gordon: I had FIEND WITHOUT A FACE out on cassette for many years with Republic--actually, originally with Blackhawk Films, and then when Blackhawk was purchased by Republic, they renewed the license and they also put it out on laserdisc, but in the early days of laserdisc when there wasn't much done with it. But those rights reverted to me, and I've done a deal now with The Criterion Collection, who are going to do a "special edition" of the film. They are going to restore it to its original full-length version, letterboxing it and going back to the original negative materials--which we have in England--to make the transfer. We are putting some extra features on it, including sort of a commentary in the form of an interview that Tom Weaver and I have done together, which we have already recorded. There will also be stills, a trailer, and other materials. They're planning it for a fall release.
Reis: Is this version going to run longer than the previous home video editions?
Gordon: It's only minutely longer. Originally, some of the shots were slightly shortened by the MPAA when the picture was released by MGM because they thought that it was too gruesome. That has now been restored.
Reis: Universal is licensing a lot of cult movies to Anchor Bay for DVD release. Do you think that they might get the rights to your two Universal-owned films, ISLAND OF TERROR and THE PROJECTED MAN?
Gordon: I have no control over that whatsoever. Universal finally put ISLAND OF TERROR out on cassette a few years ago, and I thought that they did a pretty good job with the transfer, as well as the advertising and publicity. They have not put out THE PROJECTED MAN yet, and I have absolutely no control over that. It's very difficult to talk to anybody at Universal because obviously, all the management has changed over the years. There isn't anyone over there that I have a relationship with as I did in the past. I imagine that they will eventually put it out on cassette because they keep putting out more of their horror pictures, at least what's not already out. What their plans are for DVD, I have no idea.
Reis: What about NAKED EVIL (1966), which Sam Sherman later re-edited (with new scenes) as EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT?
Gordon: I'm trying to arrange a deal for NAKED EVIL to come out on cassette and DVD. I don't control the rights for the United States, but I do have an interest in them.
Reis: Would this be the original version?
Gordon: Yes, that's my interest. Sam Sherman's distribution is completely finished now. I thought it was very interesting what they did with the additional footage, but I'd like to bring out the original version. I'm trying to arrange now to get the original materials, because when I made the picture, it was partially financed by Columbia and they have the rights in the Eastern Hemisphere. I'm trying to contact Columbia and see if they've got the original materials and if we could have access to them.
Reis: Will we be seeing a DVD of DEVIL DOLL (1963)?
Gordon: I hope to put DEVIL DOLL out next year. Because of a deal involving the television rights and certain other rights, I'm blocked until the end of the year from doing anything with it on my own. The rights will freely be reverting to me by the end of this year, and then I will put it out on DVD and cassette re-issue next year.
Reis: How about a DVD of TALES OF THE BIZARRE (1970)?
Gordon: TALES OF THE BIZARRE, as you know, is an edited version of SECRETS OF SEX. At the time when Antony Balch and I made SECRETS OF SEX, it was impossible to get an American release of its full version because the production code refused to give it a seal, and various companies did not want to distribute it without a seal. We did try a limited distribution through New Line Cinema, who were putting out a series of programs called "Art or Pornography." One of the other films in the program was SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (1968) with The Rolling Stones. We changed the title from SECRETS OF SEX to BIZARRE because they thought that SECRETS OF SEX sounded too much like a documentary. It had a few playdates, but it really didn't go anywhere. When I re-issued TOWER OF EVIL in the United States, we needed a second feature to go with it and I made the re-edited TALES OF THE BIZARRE, and we put that out as the second feature. Sometime soon, I'm going to restore the original version and I do intend to come out with it on DVD. It's never actually been seen on cassette here [United States] or anywhere, except for that very limited New Line Cinema distribution, and that was mostly 16mm prints shown to colleges and universities. My project for 2001 is to get NAKED EVIL, SECRETS OF SEX and DEVIL DOLL all out on DVD.
Reis: The DVD distribution for those titles is still undecided?
Gordon: Yes, I haven't done anything about arranging the distribution of them. First of all, I want to get them into proper shape and I want to screen them and discuss them with the various people. I don't anticipate any problem with getting them into release, it's just a question of working out a deal when the time comes.
Reis: How do you feel about your films being given new life on DVD? A lot of viewers are seeing these films for the first time, and in pristine quality.
Gordon: Well, I feel very pleased about it because the pictures had more or less exhausted themselves--as far as the public was concerned--from the cassette and laserdisc distribution. DVD has obviously given them a new lease on life and I am very pleased about it. I think that there will always be a continuing demand for these pictures, it's just the technology that changes. Every few years, there's a new generation of young people who--as long as these pictures are kept in the public eye, or they've heard about them or read about them or know about them--I think will always be interested to see them. If it's not in one media, it's in another.
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