Just about a year ago now, Briarwood Entertainment established themselves in the analog revival with their admittedly ambitious yet utterly exciting book box VHS release of Johnny Dickie’s indie anthology messterpiece SLAUGHTER TALES, successfully wowing tapeheads with a first in the new VHS era. The emulation of an MGM Home Video style book box VHS was a feat no other fresh VHS entity had dared before, and perhaps may never dare again, as Briarwood has seemingly carved out that particular slice of video vindication as their signature move. And Briarwood has been staying analog attentive since the release of SLAUGHTER TALES, unleashing a few more limited edition tape treats, not to mention owner and operator Justin Rice reigning as the unsung hero of the new VHS movement, slaving away in front of tape replication towers and a small army of Go Video machines in order to dub copies for various revival companies and keep your VCR chock full’a new VHS flesh. But even with all of the arduous analog insanity occurring in Briarwood’s world, they’ve managed to up the ante once again on their new release of the Dustin Drover and Justin Propp indie horror-comedy SWAMPHEAD with a throwback to one of the grooviest VHS release specialties there is: a 3D cover! Touch it. Feel it. Groove it. But before you do, Mr. Rice has a few things he’d like to say to you…
Classy, baby, classy.
Can you tell us how Briarwood got started? What was the impetus to put the label together?
Briarwood was started primarily because of a conversation I was having with Matt D. of Horror Boobs. We both thought it would be cool to start a VHS company. As everyone else that came subsequent to us, we were just ripping off Louis and Earl at Massacre Video. Matt and I wanted to do something together and that coincided with Johnny Dickie finishing his first movie SLAUGHTER TALES, which we thought would be an awesome launch title (we were right).
Along the way my brother and my lawyer got involved and it kinda just rolled from there. Unfortunately, due to my abject laziness and the complication of distance, Matt kinda fell out of the Briarwood picture, which turned out to be for the best because he releases about five tapes for every one of ours, and they all rule beyond measure. In summation, the impetus for the label was to do something cool with my friends that could potentially beget more friends, and the best way to do that is through a haze of magnetic fuzz.
Mr. Justin Rice and SWAMPHEAD hangin’ out, being awesome. WHAT A DOME!
The book boxes for SLAUGHTER TALES were absolutely bitchin’, man. Totally have that classic MGM book box feel. Can you tell us a little bit about the production of those? The specs, etc.?
Briarwood was never meant to release anything but clamshells. The idea was to do everything on the cheap and allow the company to support itself with little initial cost. However, since it took us a gigantic amount of time from conception to release of SLAUGHTER TALES, I saw that other companies were springing up and everyone was releasing clamshells. Well, pretty much anyone can print off a piece of paper and slip it in a clam and call it a release, and I’m not really into that idea anymore. So I started brainstorming about other methods of release. Massacre had already done a big box, and I know from looking into it that it costs a lot of time and money to do it right. So looking at my collection I realized that not only was no one releasing a book box, but probably no one else was even considering it.
Then, I got the idea to put a DVD on the inside of the cover and everything kinda fell into place. So I took a haggard book box (FORCED VENGEANCE) and fully opened it up to get the dimensions. Well… it was just too big for an average printing plant to press in one piece the way the MGMs are. So I redesigned it to be two pieces, and we had a couple of bad printers attempt it and fail (I have a box of incorrectly printed ones unfolded) until Rob Hauschild rode into my life on a white horse (courtesy of Matt D.) and had his guys print me up some boxes that were what you now have today. So, really, the story is that I wasted a huge amount of time and even more money but eventually it was done thanks to Rob. In a nutshell, this company, and surely the Briarwood Book Box, is a memory of a failed endeavor if not for Rob and Matt.
A full look at the SLAUGHTER TALES book box release! OPENED UP AND FUZZED OUT, MANG.
You also did a DVD edition of SLAUGHTER TALES, and that’s out and about in retail stores, right? How’s that been going?
Yeah, the DVD was always in the cards, as well as VOD. Basically, we were going off of what I perceived as the Massacre model which always included DVDs. I figured we could do the limited edition book boxes with both, but also offer an unlimited DVD as well as the unlimited slipcase (or small carton) VHS. This is because the main objective is to get the film out to as many people as possible. So with a healthy amount of help from Rob, we got national distribution of the DVD. Hopefully someday soon there may also be national distribution of the VHS, but I’ll keep dreaming. It seems to be going pretty well, considering the physical media market on the whole has tanked. To combat this, I tried to make it as affordable as possible and most places sell it between $10 and $15. I know Amoeba has some in LA so go get it there!
The super-rad ad slick for the slip case (or small carton if ya wanna put on the fancy pants) edition of SLAUGHTER TALES!
What’s been going on since the release of SLAUGHTER TALES? You’ve done a few other limited runs of slabs of video vengeance, too. Tell us a little bit about those?
Since SLAUGHTER TALES I have been worriedly gazing at a giant list of things to do, and then doing something else. I’ve helped out with a handful of releases from other dudes, and done a lot of dubbing for them. The first thing I slapped my logo on with another dude was FANTASTIC PLANET with yourself. That was slow going at Cinema Wasteland but it exploded on the web, which was fun to see. I also pulled together the SLAUGHTER TALES slipcase with artwork by Romain Plourde in France because that dude rules and will be doing all of our slipcase artwork for as long as he wants. I also did some super limited stuff with Matt D. and I’m sure we will do other stuff in the future.
My brother struck out and created the ball, got it rolling, and pushed it to the finish with the MAGNETIC MIX-TAPE MADNESS short film comp that we are also doing in tandem with Lunchmeat. But, the bulk of my time has been spent worrying about SWAMPHEAD and trying to pull something together that honors the movie I never thought I’d get a chance to release.
The slippity-slip lookin’ sick, man. Bottom flaps = BITCHIN’.
Yeah, SWAMPHEAD looks too groovy, brother. Can you tell us a little bit about the flick, and how you became involved with the release?
SWAMPHEAD is a tough film to classify. You could call it a horror-comedy, but it is so much more. I bought the original limited edition VHS a couple years ago on a whim just because of the name. Honestly, I watched it about 5 times with all different groups of people before I even contacted the filmmakers about getting the rights to it. I love it. It is absolutely hilarious and it has so many practical effects (which I will forever champion), but most of all it is just a great movie. It is just shot so well, like, it is the only new movie I’ve seen that goes for that antiquated look that actual pulls it off. I think it is timeless and I’m honored I get to release it.
I basically needed to get rolling on my next release amidst the SLAUGHTER TALES clusterfuck of summer 2012. I contacted Eric Arsnow who did the amazing title sequence for it, and had been dealing with the sales of the VHS. He led me to the filmmakers, I made an appointment to come to Milwaukee and sit down with them to hash out a deal, and the rest is history. Justin Propp and Dustin Drover (the co-directors) were awesome guys and told me this crazy story about how the film took years to make and all the nonsense they went through to get it made. And Derrick Carey the producer, who came on late in the game to save the day. It is really a cool story that you can piece together from the DVD commentary track which is inexplicably done in distorted witness-protection style narration.
A close look at the book box, DVDs and die-cut stickers for SWAMPHEAD. SHIT is LEGIT, SON.
You just issued a limited edition of the SWAMPHEAD VHS with a 3D cover, handcrafted by SFX artist Gina Martire. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for the project, the process and the final product? How can Videovores get their claws on one?
So as of late, I’ve been kind of on the warpath to just do things with my releases that I know no one else is going to attempt. I missed the boat with the SLAUGHTER TALES book boxes to have trays like a true MGM-style case, but then I bought [the Lunchmeat] Videovore mask and the wheels started turning. You introduced me to the mastermind behind the masks, Gina [Martire], and we started discussing what I wanted to do. Well, as soon as I realized her full potential I had the idea to do a 3D cover a la DEAD PIT. She said she could do it no problem, and having seen her work I didn’t doubt it for a second. So I set her to work on that, and tried to figure out how to get the light up eyes for Swampie.
It got to the point where I was actually going to make a small circuit with a single push, single throw button and tiny light bulbs basically from scratch. Well, it took me almost a goddamn year to get a book box out, so I knew if I was assembling a bunch of tiny circuits with a soldering iron it would take another year, especially because I originally intended on having all 100 book boxes 3D light-up. Oh, also, at one point I ditched the idea of lights in favor of a vibrating mechanism which I thought would be awesome, but ultimately could ruin the integrity of the box and/or vinyl 3D cover. So anyway, that all got thrown out the window and what we are left with is way better than anything I would’ve ruined with my idiot’s circuitry. Gina hand-painted them, and they turned out better than I could’ve expected. …still would’ve been cool to sling something glow-in-the-dark in there…
A full and exclusive first look at the incredible 3D cover for SWAMPHEAD crafted by the too groovy Gina Martire! SICK!
Can you give us the full specs on the standard SWAMPHEAD release, e.g. extras, press numbers, etc.? When will that drop officially?
The standard Briarwood model is as such: 100 Book Boxes, 1,000 DVDs, slipcase VHS made to order indefinitely.
As we grow and people do weirder stuff, it pushes me to do weirder stuff. As I do weirder stuff, it pushes me to do even weirder stuff. So look for outrageous editions of future releases in addition to the standard Briarwood model.
So with the standard SWAMPHEAD book box (of which there are 85) you will receive: 1 Book box, 1 tray, 1 DVD, 1 VHS, 1 diecut sticker, and 1 Jose Canseco rookie card.
The Limited Edition 3D Swamphead book box (of which there are 15) you will receive: 1 Book box with 3D cover, 1 tray, 1 DVD, 1 VHS, 1 diecut sticker, 1 Jose Canseco rookie card, 1 Swamphead T-shirt, and 1 Swamphead artprint by Chris Ott.
The standard DVD and VHS will be coming soon, and will be just that. The DVD should be coming at the beginning of next month. The VHS will come when the book boxes sell out.
The full package for SWAMPHEAD, complete with a mock-up for the shirt! A JOSE CANSECO BAT?! Nah, it’s a rookie card, mang. Along with an overload of other groovy stuff. YES.
Why do you think it’s important to keep VHS alive?
It is important to me because I just like physical media. VHS just feels right. I started collecting because I was renting the entire horror section of Video Unlimited every weekend, and my 6th grade logic was that it would be cheaper to buy 10 tapes for $0.01 through Columbia House than it would be to keep renting them. So I amassed a huge amount of tapes that way and ended up defending VHS until my soul finally died at the end of high school and I gave into peer pressure in favor of the digital dive. I kept my tapes because it was a feat to get what I got with what I had and getting rid of them would be like giving up a pet. Didn’t make sense to me. So for me, the tapes are like a pet that you never have to get rid of. They are firmly tied to memories, not just of childhood, but of all the times before there was real responsibility. They just look like they are ready to go all night. They look like the compliment to snacks. For me they are black beacons of friendship, made more powerful the more people you have with you. I don’t think they have this effect on everyone, but in the last few years I’ve learned that it definitely has this effect on certain people. And I like those people. So when this craze hits its ceiling, and the riffraff falls away, we will still be drawn together. That’s why it is important. It is not for everyone. It absolutely shouldn’t be for everyone. It is for us.
Side spine stylin’ with some SWAMPHEAD screeners and SLAUGHTER TALES slip / small cartons. VHSEXY.
What do you think of all the VHS appreciation and celebration that’s been goin’ on?
Obviously I’m a fan of it. It has brought me together with people I wouldn’t have known otherwise that I would literally have no problem dying for now. Anything that does that for anyone is cool in my book. I hope it facilitates this effect for a lot of people and I hope younger people like Johnny get to find their identity through it. I’m no scientist (they get me pissed); I certainly can’t figure out how fuckin’ magnets work, but they say the tape inside a VHS casing is magnetic. It certainly seems to pull people together.
What’s next for Briarwood? Anything coming up soon? Maybe something with scented tapes?! Wait… no… Flavored tapes! I’m insane.
Next up we have a surprise joint release with Wild Eye which is one of the bat-shit crazy ideas I referenced before. It’ll be pretty limited, but I’ll see what I can do to make as many as possible. I also am cooking up a bonkers release for PUSS BUCKET, as well as the book box, DVD and slipcase in time. PUSS BUCKET is our first real “re-release” even though its original release was crazy small. However, this is a director’s cut. Lisa Hammer says she originally made PUSS BUCKET to be an assault on the viewer, and it should be a challenge for people to sit through the whole thing. The director’s cut is about a half an hour shorter with the audio and video cleaned up and made generally more palatable. Obviously I’m going to release the original cut at some point as well because duh. But more importantly, I’ve teamed up in what I hope is the first of many collaborations with David Movrin for a Movrinscope version in which Dave hosts it a la Monster Vision with Joe Bob Briggs, only it is dripping with the essence of Movrin. Dude is a star and I couldn’t be more excited about working with him. The Movrinscope version is going to be released in an actual metal bucket submerged in “pus” that is homemade gak. And though you are joking, scented tapes are definitely in the pipeline. PS: I tried to shave my beard and use the hair as SWAMPHEAD’s hair on the 3D covers. I might still do that, but only on Louis Justin’s copy. [ED NOTE: This should be done… nay, SHALL be done.]
Anything else you wanna shout out to all the Tapeheads out there?
Yeah, I don’t know why you are letting Horror Boobs releases not sell out within 5 minutes of release. You’re all going to regret not having them. Also, The Video Pharmacy is the best thing on the planet. What are you doing with your life if not checking them out, and awaiting their release with wide eyes and bated breath?! And finally, I’ll trade you my soul for issues 1 and 2 of Lunchmeat and any organ of your choice for the first Midnight Snack.
Damn, does this dude rule or what, man?! You’re damn skippy he does. And so do his tireless efforts to bring super-rad indie genre flicks to analog glory while simultaneously reaching for widespread visibility. His passion for amazing, ornate packaging and love for the format is only rivaled by the folks that inspire him. And what does that mean, Tapeheads? I’d say it means a whole helluva lot more analog awesomeness on the anti-digital horizon. And that’s pretty groovy.
And DO NOT FORGET to groove on over to BRIARWOOD ENTERTAINMENT’s Official Facebook page to place a bid on one of the 15 (!!) SWAMPHEAD VHS with the incredible 3D covers. YOU GONE BE SORRY IF YOU DON’T, MANG!!