Ross Snyder, who is probably better known by his thrashing alter ego Donner Dave of The Donner Party, could rightly be considered a shot-on-video cinema scholar. His immense knowledge of the schlocky sub-genre has been cultivated by years of collecting via underground movie magazine mail-orders and his propensity to dig deep into SOV sights unseen. He’s certainly an integral part of the current Carl J. Sukenick re-issue craze, but it’s his growing list of other releases, including an upcoming re-issue of the brain-smashing Burglar from Hell, that proves he’s doing some of the most important, impressive and inspired rewind-inclined re-animations for fans of underground SOV cinema. Read on, my fellow Tapeheads, hang loose with Ross, and learn how his passion for obscure shot-on-VHS movies has led him to be one of the most vital video vindicators in the fresh VHS movement…
Ross aka Donner Dave in the flesh in front of some his tapes with his arms full of FEEDERS! Phew! Say that three times fast, Tapeheads!
For the uninitiated, can you give us a little info on your creative background, and where your keen interest in shot-on-video / horror films began?
RS: I’ve played in heavy metal bands in the northern New Jersey area since the late ’90s. Most recently, I’ve been fronting the thrash / crossover band The Donner Party since 2010 (which is where my nickname comes from). My first love though has always been movies and collecting tapes and memorabilia. Growing up in the late ’80s, the Video Warehouse store in my town had an amazing horror section which included a lot of choice shot-on-video titles. I religiously rented Redneck Zombies, Video Violence 1 & 2, Death Row Diner, Blood Cult, and Attack Of The Killer Refrigerator there. I guess that’s where it started, really. Later, in the ’90s they even carried stuff like the original 1994 Psycho Sisters and other titles from W.A.V.E. Productions.
The totally toxic cover art for “Chain Reaction” from THE DONNER PARTY! More slime all the time, man!
When did you start collecting VHS, and when do you think your Videovore habits / tastes really took shape? What were some titles that were really inspiring to you?
RS: The first tape I ever owned was Killer Klowns From Outer Space. My parents purchased it for me from Sam Goody in 1988. I still have that exact copy in my collection. Second was The Toxic Avenger on Lightning Video. After that, as a youth I started heavily collecting Troma tapes. It was tough at that time because there was no Troma Team Video or internet yet. Blood Hook was on Prism, Rabid Grannies was on Media, and Lust For Freedom was an AIP. Everything was scattered. I just hunted around malls and rental shops comparing titles with an old Tromabilia catalog I had.
Once the ’90s came around it seemed like mainstream horror was kind of dying out. Fangoria was doing cover stories on The Addams Family and Jurassic Park. It was around this time that magazines like Alternative Cinema, Film Threat Video Guide, Draculina, and Independent Video started popping up. I discovered the whole burgeoning underground SOV movement that was beginning at that time and I began mailing away for the tapes I saw advertised in the pages. Movies like Ozone, Shatter Dead, Savage Harvest, Original Sins, Vicious Sweet, and Bride Of Frank were game changers for me. And although shot on Super 8, renting Leif Jonker’s Darkness on Film Threat was as seminal for me as seeing something like Evil Dead for the first time. Simultaneously, I started attending horror conventions like Chiller Theatre where all these titles and hundreds more were right at my fingertips. My favorite companies to collect then and now are Cinema Home Video, Tempe Video, Video Outlaw, E.I. / Brain Escape, Salt City / Sub Rosa, Falcon Video, and W.A.V.E. Productions.
Ross and David “The Rock” Nelson rockin’ with THE DEVIL ANT! Two righteous rewind-inclined heroes right here, man.
What was the inspiration to start your label Saturn’s Core Audio & Video?
RS: This seems kind of crazy now, but I was the first company to release Carl J. Sukenick’s stuff. I had been a fan of Carl’s movies since the ’90s when I had ordered the OG Alien Beasts and Mutant Massacre 2 tapes through the mail. I continued to correspond with Carl and purchase tapes from him here and there over the years. Getting a blank tape from Carl is always an adventure. You really never know what you’re going to see when you pop the tape in. He could be outside doing karate kicks and blowing stuff up or he could just be lying in bed sleeping for 90 minutes. He might be filming a naked girl in his apartment or he might just be filming himself nude in the shower. It’s a total gamble.
2013 is when I started hearing a lot of chatter at conventions and online about Carl’s films. People started discovering and falling in love with Alien Beasts, I think. I felt that a lot of folks didn’t realize the vastness of Carl’s filmography and weren’t really aware of his more recent work which I had christened “the apartment era”: Movies that were shot solely in the confines of his New York City apartment. So I decided to start a label and release Blood Boy, which was the last tape I had purchased from Carl. I did a limited 25 tape run and it sold out in about 48 hours. I probably shot myself in the foot however because it’s just 90 minutes of Carl laying on a dirty mattress, smoking, and telephoning his parents incessantly. Some collectors probably never purchased from me again but I thought it was important to show fans that side of Carl’s work.
I tried to redeem myself quickly and followed it up with the release of Space Zombies, which I consider to be one of Carl’s most beautiful and hypnotic SOV masterpieces ever. I let Carl design a painting and photo collage for the sleeve and the rest is history. It turns out that the magnitude of Carl’s body of work was far beyond all our greatest expectations and dozens of other new VHS companies have started the same way, which I think is pretty amazing.
A small collage featuring some of SATURN’S CORE AUDIO & VIDEO VHS releases, with the Sukenick releases on top. What a trip, man.
Can you give us a full rundown of your SATURN’S CORE A & V releases thus far? Why do you think it’s important to shine a retrospective light on these extremely underground, indie SOV flicks?
RS: Collecting underground and shot on video movies from the ’90s is just a never ending treasure trove of astonishment. It seems like almost every other day I discover another new movie from this era that’s either amazingly ingenious or extremely brain damaged. Either way, I’m ecstatic. So much product was created solely to sell at fan conventions or in fanzine classified ads that it’s just unfathomable the breadth of what’s out there. I just hope to spotlight some of the movies and filmmakers from this era that I love. After Carl’s stuff, I released movies by directors I admire like Christopher Michael, Joe Sherlock, William Hellfire, Kirk Bowman, Phil Herman, Matt O’Connor, and Lisa Hammer. Many of the titles that didn’t sell out initially are still available from my Storenvy.
If you pick up a Saturn’s Core tape and actually watch it, you are undoubtedly watching a movie that I’m a huge fan of. The releases are all director approved and I’m incredibly honored to have films by each of these filmmakers in my catalog. Plus every tape ordered is completely DIY and hand assembled by yours truly.
SATURN’S CORE set up at this past year’s SEVERED Short Film and Horror VHS Collectors Unite Convention! So many sick slabs, dude.
You’ve got another killer release in just about a week called BURGLAR FROM HELL. Can you tell us a little about that one, and how you ended up working with this film?
RS: Falcon Video was a cornerstone of the early ’90s SOV scene and the movies by its head honcho Phil Herman were always favorites of mine. I interviewed Phil for Matt “Horror Boobs” Desiderio’s VHS zine Blood Video a year or so ago. Afterwards, Phil and I became fast friends and I pitched him the idea of rereleasing some of the Falcon Video titles on Saturn’s Core. Phil agreed and I released his long overlooked, 6 year in the making, post-apocalyptic epic Hell On Earth 2: Arena Of Death from 1992 at the Severed convention last year. Phil’s 1993 slasher follow-up Burglar From Hell had always been in the back of mind to release next. We hammered out the details last summer and the time was finally just right.
The art for HELL ON EARTH II: THE ARENA OF DEATH on Saturn’s Core! VIDEO VICTORY, DUDES!
What are the specs on the release? Where and when can we grab the slab?
RS: It’s going to be a limited edition of just 35 copies. I’m doing my first reversible sleeve which will have two of the early classic Burglar artworks on either side so fans can choose which one to display. The tape will debut at the release party and screening I’m doing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY. Any leftover copies will be added to the Storenvy the following day (February 20th).
A look at the reversible cover art for the Saturn’s Core Limited Edition VHS re-issue of BURGLAR FROM HELL! Frank the Tank 5EVA!
That screening is going to rule, man. Can you give us more details on that?
RS: The screening and VHS release party is Sunday 2/19 at 9pm at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY. Tickets are only $4 each and are on sale now RIGHT HERE. Burglar From Hell is the most well-known of Phil’s movies so I wanted to do something extra special for the release. The movie has never been screened in a movie theater with an audience before so it should be a pretty special night. It was also the debut film of notorious scream queen Debbie D., who went on to star in hundreds of movies for W.A.V.E., New Faces, and other indie companies. Debbie will be there for a Q&A and to sign tapes after the screening. Phil has also provided me with a special filmed intro for the evening. I’m hoping lots of fans and friends come out to grab a tape, eat some pizza, and say hello.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Grab your tickets HERE, Videovores! This will RULE.
What’s next after BURGLAR FROM HELL, duder? Any hot home video hints you can VHSpill?
RS: Sure. My latest obsession has been with Sharkey Video. A South Jersey-based SOV company from the ’90s started by filmmakers Dave Castiglione and Dawn Murphy. Their slasher film Love Is a Stranger and its sequel Love Is a Stranger Again are real treasures. I recently reached out to Dave and we’re hoping to dust off the masters for a Sharkey release sometime this year. I’m hoping to do more Falcon stuff, too. Phil gave me a copy of his first movie ever. It’s a homegrown Warriors style action romp entitled Wrong Side of Town. It predates Hell On Earth 2 and has never been released on any format ever. I’m hoping to commission some artwork for it and release it in 2017 with Phil’s blessing.
I’m also very lucky that my close friend William Hellfire is also one of my favorite filmmakers. Bill recently showed me an unreleased Tina Krause film from back in the day that was simply jaw-dropping. Their will definitely be more rare (and possibly well-known) Hellfire releases down the line. Joe Sherlock and I have discussed another release. Matthew Samuel Smith is a director I’m dying to work with. I’ll also have some surprises for the Severed convention for sure.
Ross (L), William Hellfire (R) and W.A.V.E. actress Pamela Sutch (center) just hangin’ loose, dude!
Anything else you wanna shout out to all the Tapeheads eyeballin’ this VHS-obsessed slice of Internet?
RS: Yes. I imagine some folks reading this have already heard the rumblings, but William Hellfire and I are co-directing a documentary feature about W.A.V.E. Productions. The working title is Mail Order Murder: The Story Of W.A.V.E. Productions and we’re happy to report that 90% of the W.A.V.E. players and cohorts we’ve reached out to are excited and on board including W.A.V.E. founder and president Gary Whitson. 2017 is the 30 year anniversary of W.A.V.E., so the timing is really perfect. We should have an official Facebook page up for it soon where everyone can keep abreast with the latest details.
Also my band The Donner Party is releasing a new album in the upcoming months called Pizza Patrol. It features several new tracks about my two favorite hobbies: watching tapes and eating pizza! I urge all rewind-inclined headbangers to seek it out for sure.
Yo, you know we will, duder! Pizza and tapes all dang day! Ross is doing some truly outstanding work, Tapeheads, and if you haven’t been following his analog-driven adventures and grabbing up his limited edition slabs, now’s your chance, man. And if you’re in the NY area on February 19th, the Burglar from Hell screening is an absolute must (snatch up some tickets with this here hotlink). Be sure to stay tuned to the Saturn’s Core A &V online store and Facebook to keep abreast of all of Ross’s radical re-animations upcoming endeavors. Fervent fans of underground SOV obscurities, this is the label of your dreams. Ross, we here in Lunchmeat Land VHSalute you, dude!