Johnny Dickie is an extremely avid (and super-cool) VHS collector who not only runs his own website called Video Vendetta which is dedicated to showcasing and reviewing some of the grooviest and most obscure VHS flicks known to the Videovore , he’s also just completed his very first full-length feature entitled SLAUGHTER TALES (premiering next Saturday, May 19th at Severed Sinema’s Film Festival first ever VHS Event!) all written, directed and edited by Johnny himself. But you wanna know what’s even more groovy? Johnny’s done all of this before his 15th birthday. And while he’s quick to dismiss his age as a factor, I wish I was THIS cool when I was 15. Read on, fellow tapeheads, and meet the dude that proves that passion is truly ageless…
LM: You just celebrated your 15th birthday, right? How was it? Get anything good?!
JD: Yes, I did! I had a lot of fun! I was sick for some of it, but I got to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. My mother made me maybe the best gift I have ever received: huge handmade VHS shelves in my room! I was running out of storage space before, and now all of my collection is displayed in my room. It is really a great sight to see, especially when it’s the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning.
Since you’re so young, most people wouldn’t expect you to be into VHS. Was it the format you had around you growing up or… ?
I have actually not received a whole lot of interest in my age recently. I think most people can talk to me as just another collector, not someone trying to jump on a bandwagon. I had grown up around a lot of VHS and have very fond memories of looking at the gory DVD covers in the horror section of my now closed local TLA video store. I think the aspect of VHS collecting for me came in when I found out there were so many movies not available on DVD. I was very fond of VHS, but my family had moved on to DVD, so getting back into using them was very easy for me. There is a warmth I get from putting a VHS tape into my VCR and sitting down to watch. I don’t get that feeling from watching a DVD; something seems amiss… where are the scan lines!?!?! Why does it go back to the menu when the movie is finished!?! The cover and packaging differences between more modern formats and VHS should go without saying, but I have always found it much nicer to hold a VHS in my hand than say, a Blu- Ray or just looking at a file saved on my computer. It’s a different feel entirely, and I find it very easy to compare the VHS vs. DIGITAL FORMATS debate to the FILM vs. VIDEO debate in how they both have different looks and feels to them.
What were some of the first movies you remember seeing that totally blew you away or just made you think, “Man, I love this stuff!”?
The first one that comes to mind is John Carpenter’s Body Bags. It was the first VHS I ever had to seek out. Since the first time I saw the movie I have been influenced. The film can be credited as the main inspiration for Slaughter Tales. Besides Body Bags, Unmasked Part 25 has made a very big impression on me and has become my favorite film of all time since I first watched it nearly two years ago. The whole SOV style of film making has really affected me; I still consider the films of Tim Ritter and Joel Wynkoop to be greatly under looked. (Ed’s note: Check out Creep and Killing Spree)
When and how did you get into collecting VHS? What are some of your favorite titles? Holy Grails?
I first got into collecting about three years ago. I had heard the name “Gore-met Zombie Chef from Hell” and was blown away. [I said to myself,] “I cannot believe a movie like that exists!” I was searching all over the place for [the tape], and I finally found a site of bootlegs that was selling it, and there I [also] found a listing for the film Body Bags. A quick amazon search showed a thirty dollar price tag for the out-of-print DVD, but the VHS only cost about 5 bucks, so I had to have it, because I already had a VCR and used it once in a while to watch Final Destination. When Body Bags showed up in the mail, it sparked something in me, I couldn’t put the tape down. After that, I dried out my area in a day of hunting and started searching the internet for good deals – my collecting was in full swing. Right now my main holy grail is the SOV film Heavy Metal Massacre on Valiant Video, which has a three-hundred dollar price tag on it. I would pay half that for it.
You’re really active in the VHS community. What do you think of the collector community as a whole? By that I mean, what’s the vibe you get from all the different personalities?
I love all of the different people in the community of collectors! Pretty much all of them are very nice and all have very different senses of humor. I have rarely run into another collector that I have disagreed with, but when I have, it usually isn’t pleasant. Most people don’t mention my age when we are trading or talking, and when it does come up, it never gets in the way. It’s a great community and I am very proud and happy to be a part of it.
When I first started collecting, you could get tapes for next to nothing. Nowadays, prices can get downright ridiculous. What are your thoughts on this transformation, and have you been able to see this change since you started collecting? How do you combat paying an arm and a leg for tapes?
I guess I partly love and hate the raised prices. On one hand, it makes a lot of things I want and own stand out more and makes finding holy grails way more satisfying. On the other hand, paying 700 bucks for a copy of Demon Queen is really ridiculous. A lot of store owners and closing video stores around me have raised their prices to stupid amounts, like 30 dollars for a resealed copy of New Year’s Evil on Paragon. I just bite my tongue and leave without looking back; I can find the same tape for a buck at a yard sale somewhere. The most I have ever paid for a single tape was 40 bucks, and it was something I have been after for a long time. I do NOT blame the sellers for outrageous ending prices on bids, but people who try and flood the market with outrageous prices are pretty scummy. I am also fine with people who spend silly amounts on tapes, because I don’t think they are selling their children into slavery for the cash they spend or anything; it’s their money and they should be allowed to spend it on whatever they want. Just as long as there is no child slavery involved.
You’ve just completed your first full-length feature film SLAUGHTER TALES. What inspired you to take on such a huge project?
Slaughter Tales actually started off as a proof of concept to see if I could make a short anthology, maybe around forty minutes long. After the original stories I already had for the film [were] destroyed when my first computer crashed (The best thing a filmmaker can do is back up their work), I had to restart. I was still aiming for about fifty minutes, but I just kept working on it till I was happy with each story. The last story of the film ended up being around a half hour. I’m really happy with how it turned out, because it was never meant to be a full length feature film; it just ended up that way, so there is no filler. I am really happy with the finished product, even though it ended up being more than two times as long as I originally intended it to be.
Could you tell a little bit about the process of making it: the writing, shooting, etc.?
I had no script for Slaughter Tales, just a bunch of ideas and props. Most weekends I would invite my friend Joey over, pull out the camera and start pouring the blood. All the animation on the devil slugs was done in about a day. All of the explosions in the film were all done with models, a spray can of sun screen, and a candle. No digital effects were used. I edited the film in order, usually the same night as shooting [for a particular] story] was finished. I would get the blood wiped off the walls and sit down to start the editing. I have tried using scripts in the past, but I cannot write one successfully. I think the way the film was shot gives the finished product a very sincere feel.
Do you have any films / directors that were an influence on you when making ST? Any styles you particularly admire or anything like that?
Tim Ritter was a very big influence, and the way he shot his films really influenced me. The film Ghoul School gave me some influence, as well; it is well made, but at the same time you can almost see the film-making taking place. Other minor influences are Body Bags, Violent Shit 2, Blood Cult and Slime City. Slaughter Tales was made for fans of VHS and SOV films, but I also tried to add my own style to it. I think a lot of people try to use a film being SOV as a way to cover up a minimal effort, like all SOV films were crappy and you shouldn’t expect anything else then crap. The main thing I hope Slaughter Tales doesn’t do is bore people, but I don’t think it will. If anything it will be a good movie to see when you are drunk off your ass.
What do your parents think about you making movies like this?
My parents are very supportive of my film making! I know that horror or VHS is not their thing, but they support me to the point of letting me cover them in blood and make up. My mother and step-father both make appearances in Slaughter Tales. I still have half of my family asking me for copies. News really spreads in my family.
You’re going to release this on DVD and VHS, right? Through Briarwood Entertainment? Can you tell us more about that?
Slaughter Tales is going to be the first release from Briarwood [Entertainment]. Justin Rice, who owns Briarwood is a really cool guy and is letting me be a big part of the release of Slaughter Tales from the logo of the company to the extras on the DVD. The VHS release is going to have an initial release of 100 book box cases. A lot of new releases on VHS are getting clamshells, but this one is going to have a lot of effort put into it; I think it is going to rock. After that there will be an unlimited release of it in a VHS slipcase, so everyone can get a chance to see it on its intended format, and so nobody gets upset about it only being a limited release. The DVD will be packed with extras and will have a maximum amount of effort put into it. Justin wants Briarwood to be a grade A company, and he is doing a very good job at that. Each release is going to be a collaborative effort between the company and the filmmakers.
What’s in the future for you, Johnny? Do you plan on making any more movies? Any other cool projects? You recently did a toy commercial, right? Think you’ll want to further your education about film, maybe?
Right now, I’m working on a new feature with my friends. I can’t say too much right now, but it’s going to be a labor of love, especially in the effects department. All I can say right now is it will put a new spin on the vampire genre. The toy commercial I did was for the film Blood Slaughter Massacre. It was a lot of fun to shoot and it was cool seeing how another group of low budget filmmakers work. It was shot the weekend of the Monster Mania Convention in Cherry Hill New Jersey. I actually shot the post ending credit footage [for Slaughter Tales] that weekend with some good friends, and some hack named Josh Schafer. Joking, of course!
I want to get into film school down the road, but for now I will continue to make features. Age has never stopped me, and if any other young filmmakers are reading this, don’t let your age stop you. I am still in high school and I am already having a full length feature released. Don’t let the business side get in your way either, because if it’s not your thing, it will suck the fun out of it for you. All ways shoot the movie, draw that picture, perform that song or whatever; [do it] for yourself. If you are happy with your final product, it was a success. Just don’t kill anyone.
ED.NOTE: Huge thanks to Johnny for taking the time do this interview. He’s seriously the coolest kid I’ve ever met. be sure to check out SLAUGHTER TALES when it drops. It just might be the last video you’ll ever watch!!