Joe Rubin is one of the men behind Process Blue, which is the group behind the H.G. Lewis film restoration that we featured in our first installment of our Kickstarter focused-series Kickstart and Live!. For those of you who don’t know, Herschell Gordon Lewis is the director of many exploitation films, most notably the incredibly influential Blood Trilogy, and though he was best known for his gore-focused films (he was nicknamed the Godfather of Gore, after all), he made a number of sexploitation films, with these three among them. The films in question are Black Love, Linda and Abeline, and The Ecstasies of Women, none of which have seen any kind of release in over 40 years.
The Kickstarter campaign is still going strong, and they are about three-quarters of the way towards their goal with a little under two weeks left. So check it out, and if you like what you see, contribute. It’s an awesome project, and if it succeeds more films of that sort will get the same treatment.
During our interview, which can be found below, we talked about all sorts of things. Most of it’s technical, but it’s interesting and I learned a lot. We also talk some about exploitation films in general, including a brief discussion of the much-maligned rape and revenge genre.
Some accompanying images may not be safe for work.
How long has Process Blue been around?
It’s official state only a few months, officially we started in January, so Ryan [his coworker] and I have been doing this sort of work for a few years together, and then before we started working together we were each involved in various aspects of film archival restoration work for the better part of a decade. I think he’s been doing it since 2002, 2003. I’ve been doing it for about the same.
As part of Process Blue, how much have you done versus in verses in the grand scheme of your work, because I watched the reel of things that you have on the website that were restored. Those restored Process Blue or were those restored before that?
All the stuff that’s available online are projects that we’ve done in the past six months so in terms of officially done at process blue, I’d say probably around half of it, but they’re all projects that we’ve done in the past six months. No earlier than November of last year.
You started off this exploitation based Side Projects thing. Why do you think exploitation films are significant and worth preserving?
While there are type of film that I have loved pretty much my entire life since I’ve discovered them, and as I went about looking for copies and researching them and talking to filmmakers, I discovered that many, many films even seemingly easy to find movies that were readily available on VHS didn’t exist on film anywhere. As a lifelong film collector, I’ve always collected exploitation films, and when I was given the opportunity to start working on doing film preservation and restoration archival work that was just my natural inclination, because I love films that were in many cases in far greater danger of loss than pretty much any other type of films.
Definitely true. Why start with H. G. Lewis?
Well, we are starting this particular project, to be perfectly honest, because we are hoping it will be successful, and use it as a launching pad for other stuff, like for instance the film in the same collection called Massage Parlor Murders (also known Massage Parlor Hookers), which is an absolutely great mix of early 70s cop drama, lots of ridiculous killing scenes, nudity, and a fantastic car chase through lower Manhattan, and all sorts of wonderful elements. It’s got excellent cinematography, and the lighting… It’s a really good film, but it’s a movie that pretty much no one knows. If I’d had my way, you know, I probably would’ve started with a film like that, but it’s easier to sell a pitch like this when you’re given some kind of pre-existing significance to the titles involved in, so in this case you have a major filmmaker, who’s already established and respected and has a large following, and it’s also nice to be able to say, “We found these movies that were thought to be lost, and now we have them and we’re trying to move forward and do something with them.”
Have you actually talked with HG Lewis about any of it?
I personally am not in contact with him. I have friends who have been, and were working on getting a hold of him and trying to involve him in the eventual Blu-ray release as much as possible. You know, seeing if you wanted to do a commentary track and interviews regarding the films, and I’ve heard from various sources that he’s not all that big a fan of any of these films. So hopefully when we do get in touch, he won’t be uninterested in participating just because they’re films that he’s not particularly fond of.
Makes sense. Have you seen any of his films that have come out in the last 10 years?
Hasn’t he only made one in the last 10 years?
Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat ten years ago, and about two years ago he made The Uh! Oh! Show.
Oh. I had no idea about that. I’ve seen Blood Feast 2, and I can’t say that I really loved it
Really? That’s too bad.
I think that I… The film that really, really worked for me, and it’s probably an odd choice, is The Gore Gore Girls [Lewis’s last film for 30 years, released in 1972]. I think that movie is hilarious. It’s really well paced. It has great sense of humor. The gore, which is obviously a trademark, is just perfect perfectly handled being a mixture of absurd ridiculous and completely over-the-top. The film just really works for me, so I guess far to say that I had to choose a favorite Lewis film it would definitely be that one.
I actually just watched that recently. It’s a really interesting movie for sure.
And I’m also quite fond of 2000 Maniacs.
Yeah, that’s really cool movie too.
What I like about Lewis’s 60s work and early 70s too is that his movies, even despite there being a low budget, and despite there being made on the fly with non-professional actors, and it’s pretty clear that most scenes were shot in two takes it the most—you know, almost everything is a wide shot. Very few close-ups. He just got a master shot and moved on—is that he has a very good sense of humor. What I appreciate about Lewis and this is sort of been backed up in virtually every interview that I’ve seen or read with him is that he enjoyed making movies, and although he was serious about it in the sense of is not can waste time or intentionally try to make schlock, he definitely had a good sense of what the films were, who they were playing to, and his movies were, regardless of your take on the subject matter, are always very fun. It was clear that he was enjoying making them, and that really comes out in the viewings, because they’re enjoyable to watch. You don’t have an overwrought seriousness that a lot of other films do, where they’re trying to cover up the low budget or the absurdity of the plot. Every absurd element is brought to the foreground with a sense of pride, and I like that about the films.
I think that in the case of The Gore Gore Girls, the fact that the things look really unrealistic… Especially the heads that are being smashed in. He focuses on them forever. It’s like, “Yeah, I know, but you get to watch eyeballs explode anyway, so that’s cool.”
And, he’s from what I heard from people who have spoken with him, he’s a lot of fun, and his movies definitely imply that.
What’s it like to be among the first people to see a so-called lost film?
This is not the first time I found movies that supposedly lost but it’s always exciting. Usually it’s more exciting to make the confirmation didn’t actually watch the film. To know that it’s no longer a missing piece of history. It’s a thing that’s actually sitting there in front of me. That’s far more of a personal exhilarating thrill than the eventual viewing of it, even if the film turns out to really, really great. It’s the knowledge that it’s no longer a missing link so to speak that is the ultimate satisfaction
Makes sense. Only times you have to watch a movie over the course of a restoration?
It all depends on the amount of restoration. It’s usually not as much a matter of watching the entire movie over and over again, but watching small sections over and over again, and I’m working on The Last House on Dead End Street, color timing it right now. And that’s by far the worst negative I’ve ever dealt with, and there are some shots in the film that I’ve probably seen 50 or 60 times.
Wow. Just a question about that movie: is that a lot of long shots? Cause that’s one of those fake snuff films, right?
It’s a filmmaker making snuff films, and there are quite a few longer takes, and I don’t think there are any takes that go on for longer than a minute and a half at most. The film is composed of quite a few long takes, which actually makes it easier to time, since the shots that have completely different timings are a much bigger pain than long shots, because a reel is 22 minutes at most on a 35 mm negative, and if you have mostly 1-2 minute shots on the reel, that means you’re dealing with 30 or 40 shots, hopefully no more, on the reel that have to be timed. Rather than 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 that you have to deal with when the shots only last a few seconds.
Do the negatives also come with audio?
The negatives that we’re dealing with, the H.G. Lewis negatives that we’re doing… There are different types of negatives. There’s camera negatives. There’s internegatives, which are intermediate format. There’s something else called an interpositive which is technically a type of negative kind of but it’s also intermediate format and generally the way that a film is printed or processed from the shooting to the release is the camera negative is cut (and this is the film that actually went through the camera) and then there are opticals or whatever other kind of effects that are added to the film, and opticals range from anything from a fade out to a fade in to a dissolve to title cards to superimpositions, split screens, whatever visual you see in a film that was clearly not done in the camera is an optical, and these are done through what’s called an optical printer, which is essentially a slide projector shooting images into a camera, so you do one frame at a time. It’s very time consuming and complex process, and unfortunately it’s no longer done today. It’s all done on computers, which is a loss, because the beauty of film opticals is that you can always tell it’s on film.
Anyways, the negatives that we’re dealing with are mostly camera negatives, meaning that these are the pieces of film that were shot, so the difference between say that or the common form of printing intermediate, which is the internegative, where the camera negatives are also printed along with the opticals onto another piece of film which is used to make the prints, is that typically and internegative has consistent timing, so the color timers (who are the people who are supposed to make sure that the color and contrast and general look of the film remain consistent) have already done all of that, and then the internegative is essentially a one-light process where prints are made very easily.
Now, in the case of exploitation films, the cost of making internegatives was prohibitively expensive, so filmmakers would do a mixture of camera negatives and effects negatives, so if the shots were straight cuts, they didn’t require opticals or any kind of effects, they would just use the camera negative, but if they needed an effect or an optical, they would take the shot that had the effect on it, splice them out, reprint them with the optical, and then insert them with the camera negative, so you have this mixture. So that’s what we’re dealing with, and that’s a very common way that exploitation films were cut, because the price of striking an entire internegative, in many cases, doubles the total lab costs of various films.
So… I forgot what your question was.
Does the audio come with the negative?
Oh, right. So, audio is always recorded externally, and in the case of every negative that is used in the printing element, the audio comes from a soundtrack negative, which is an optical negative. There are two types of sound in film, the optical and the magnetic. Optical tracks literally looks like a small sound wave. It’s a squiggly line. In the case of prints, it’s a white squiggle on a black background, and in the case of a negative it’s a black squiggle on a white background. So the optical track is a separate piece of film, but it’s synced with the picture, so yes, there’s matching audio, but they’re not part of the film.
Okay. Are you planning on trying for more lost films or are you going to try to do more things like The Last House on Dead End Street, which has already a DVD release but hasn’t had any HD releases?
It’s not a matter of trying for one or the other. It’s a matter of what we find. This all came as a lot. It was something where we got H.G. Lewis films, we got the The Last House on Dead End Street negative, and a bunch of other films. They were all together. It wasn’t a pick-and-choose type thing. In terms of, if this all works successfully and we keep doing the projects, the general parameters are going to be movies that we find interesting—regardless of whether they are lost or not—that we feel haven’t had proper restoration or preservation efforts done before, and that we have access to the elements, and therefore can do it.
So it’s not really a focus on one or the other. Finding a lost film is always great, and if we keep on finding other titles that are lost, then we’ll certainly keep on doing them, but we’re not really specifically seeking out things like that. in this case, it was just luck that we happened to find three films that are considered lost.
If you were to get an incomplete negative, kind of like what happened with Metropolis, would you still restore that or would you hold on and hope for the rest?
It all depends on the film. In the case of Metropolis, for instance, it wasn’t as much that it was missing, say, the final third, it was just a shorter version of the film, so in the case of a film like that where there’s a two hour cut and a ninety minute cut, and they’re both considered lost, say, and we find the ninety minute cut, sure we’ll do the ninety minute cut and hope that maybe the 2 hour cut will show up one day, but in the case of a film where there isn’t a distinct difference between versions and it happens to be missing a reel, then my general feeling is, if it’s a really, really important film or the elements are in poor shape and in danger of falling apart if we hold onto them for months or years hoping to find the missing piece, that the elements would deteriorate to the point where the quality of the restoration would be inferior to when they were acquired… I’d say we’d do them for preservation.
But generally if we had incomplete elements for a film and the elements are in good shape and could stand to stay in a can or box for a few more years in the hope that the missing piece would show up in some form, then I would hold off until the missing piece hopefully showed up.
So far you’ve said that you’re generally working from negatives. If you could only find old prints, would you restore from that?
It all depends on the film. For instance, this past weekend, we were doing various scans of movies for a client/friend of ours, and two of the titles that we did, the negatives are lost, but we were lucky enough to find a nearly pristine answer print. An answer print is a print struck directly from the negative to serve as a perfect reference of what the film looks like. So we were lucky enough to film the answer prints, so in the case of something like that, we’d use the answer print no question, because it’s a near-perfect reference of what the negative would have looked like. Granted, it’s one generation down, but it’s a very, very negligible difference, so certainly in the case of a film where the negative is missing and the only choice is to go from a print, yes, we’d go from a print.
Why do you guys stop at 2K for restoration? Why not 4K?
It’s not really anything other than… 2K and 4K are digital archival formats. Technically the resolution of a 35mm camera negative is closer to 4K, but in an ideal world, digital restoration whether it’s 2K, 4K, 6K, or 8K, is not the perfect way to preserve a film, and we choose to do 2K because the condition of the negative is good enough to the point that the detail between 2K and 4K that one would notice to the naked eye is negligible, and we’re not going to be striking preservation prints or creating preservation negatives from the 2K files, and the digital portion of the restoration is more to create a digital archive and to have a digital master for use in digital cinema or make a Blu ray. As we said on the Kickstarter, the hope is that we can get some more money on top of the $10,000 goal to actually preserve these films photochemically, which would be the ideal way to do it.
Going to 2K is the most logical way to go about it for a digital preservation. 4K is, granted, a bigger file and there’s more resolution, but there’s more resolution to what end? Because we’re not creating a new negative or print. And, I mean, if we need to go to 4K, we can go back to 4K.
True enough. As far as the Blu ray/DVD releases of these things go, are you going to do it internally or are you going try to partner up with a company like Something Weird video [which has released most of H. G. Lewis’s films].
Definitely not Something Weird Video [laughs]. The hope is… the reason that we’re doing this as a personal project of sorts is because we don’t want to have to answer to anyone or have to conform to any company’s expectations or interests or policies in terms of how we go about the restoration and how we go about scanning these films and coloring them and anything like that. And I’m big fan of Synapse Film and Blue Underground and Code Red and all of them, but they all have their ways of doing things, and that’s great. They’ve done amazing releases, but we wanted to get, with ourselves away from a distributor until we’re happy with the way it looks.
In theory, what we want to do is essentially have a full package to present to a distributor and say, “Here are the films. Here are some extras. Pretty much everything short of a menu and a DVD cover.” And hopefully we’ll find someone willing to take a nearly complete package as is, without making alterations to it and make it look like video instead of film or something like that. Ultimately, when you’re working with a company, you’re always going to meet their standards and policies, and we wanted to avoid that. But after we have everything done, after we have the nearly complete package assembled, we definitely want to try and find someone who will take it as is and do the final work to get it onto a DVD and Blu Ray and get it out there.
What other films came in that lot?
A lot of stuff that’s really boring, educational movies. Random titles aside from the 3 that I’ve mentioned are Swinging High, Altar of Lust, Cannibal Love, Joys of Sex, Wendy’s Palace, Lustful Feelings, Blue Ecstacy, Never Sleep Alone, Frozen Scream, Hell Riders, some film called Beyond Darkness which is not the Joe D’Amato’s film Beyond the Darkness, some other Italian films, [etc. etc.] It’s a very random range. One film that’s actually been requested by a number of people is Hugo’s Magic Pump, which is supposedly an Italian made sexploitation film about a bicycle race. It’s a really mixed collection of stuff.
Are there any films that you know of that you’d really like to get your hands on?
Oh, many many many. I think that right now, just because I’m in touch with the person who owns it and it just sounds like a really fascinating film, and I think that… my personal expertise or area of greatest interest is with sexploitation films, and X-rated films. So Albert Zugsmith, do you know of him?
He’s best known in the non-exploitation world for producing Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil and a bunch of major Columbia pictures from the late 1950s. Then he quit and became an exploitation film director and producer and, among other things, he produced the Russ Meyer Fanny Hill adaptation and lots of stuff in that vein, silly sexploitation films. And his final film, a movie from 1974, this is something I would love to find, is called Violated, which is an R-rated, I guess, rape-revenge thriller in the same vein as the same year’s Rape Squad, which involves a group of women banding together to try and find and kill or do something to an area rapist, and I haven’t seen the film. It’s considered a lost film, and it looks really interesting. And it happens to feature a number of actors and actresses who were better known for appearing in exploitation and X-rated films, and that film is definitely at the top of my list for movies I would like to be able to find elements for and restore.
What’s your favorite rape-revenge movie?
Good question. I really like that subgenre for some reason, but the ones I tend to gravitate towards are the ones that are really, really bleak, and… I don’t know, but just because it popped into my head, let’s say Lipstick [directed by Lamont Johnson], which is sort of a… not really classically formatted rape-revenge film, but it really works for me for some reason.
What do you think of more well-known films like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave and whatnot?
I like them both. I’ve defended I Spit on Your Grave to people on numerous occasions as not being misogynistic. To me, the silly accusations of inherent misogyny in these films are just that: silly. Especially with a film I Spit on Your Grave, where the whole point I feel of the second portion of the film is that it’s about the female character’s resilience. That she, sure what she’s doing is maniacal and vicious, but it’s also completely justified, and I don’t feel that [director] Meir Zarchi was trying to depict rape as anything other than a violent, vicious, unpleasant act and trying to show her revenge as anything more than a justified act that is perhaps slightly misguided but still justified heroism.
I think I’d agree with that to an extent. I don’t like the movie very much, but I’d agree with that assessment.
And Last House on the Left I liked. I think that Craven was definitely at his best in the 1970s, and that film, The Fireworks Woman, and The Hills Have Eyes are the best movies he’s made.
Cool. That’s all of my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
I guess my final word on the campaign would be that I’m hoping it’s successful both to ensure that these films get good treatment but also like I said as sort of a stepping stone to show that there’s a community out there who is interested in watching these kinds of movies and talking about them, and is interested in actively preserving them and doing whatever they can to make sure the films themselves are valued just as much as the works of anyone else.
I’m definitely hoping it reaches its goal. I think it will.
I hope so.
Thank you for talking with us!