Thomas Weissner: EDITOR “ASIAN CULT CINEMA”
Interview – 02.06.09
Scarlett– Thanks for stopping by to interview with us!
Tom Weisser– Glad to be here with you.
Scarlett– How did you become interested in Asian Cult movies?
Tom Weisser– I could spin a story. But I presume you’d like the truth, as mundane as that might be. I’ve always loved movies. And I’ve got to admit it… the more bizarre, the better. During my college days, I lived in the grindhouses and drive-ins. But – because I grew up in middle America – I had no opportunity to see much World cinema. Sure, we would see the British, Italian, or even Spanish films. But – aside from the obvious Kurosawa film, chop sockey, Godzilla or – maybe arthouse horror like KWAIDAN – I had no opportunity to see an Asian film. When the video revolution happened in the late ‘70s, it was heaven. The first time I saw a non-mainstream Asian movie – it was WOLF DEVIL WOMAN from Ocean Shores Video – I was overwhelmed. I felt as though I’d never seen anything like it before. That movie was so fresh… well, I started looking for more.. It wasn’t until I moved to Miami in the early ‘80s that I actually found the treasure chest. There, that’s where I found a video distributor for the Chinatown stores. For months, I watched everything I could get my hands on.
How long have you been in the Asian Cult industry?
TW– Officially, since 1990. That’s when I started Asian Cult Cinema magazine.
Wait a minute. I feel like this is all over the place. How did you end up in Miami? And what background did you have to start a magazine in 1990?
TW– Sorry. For 20 years – maybe more – I was in the music business. First, I owned a couple record stores, the first opened in ‘69.
Where was this?
TW– In Ohio. Dayton Ohio.
TW– Well, with the money generated from the stores, I started working with local bands. Eventually, I learned about the studio and started doing production work. Over a period of about five years, I moved into a producer position. In the seventies – for whatever reason – there were a lot of bands that came out of Dayton Ohio. Mostly black music, artists like Funkadelic (George Clinton), the Ohio Players, Lakeside, Sun and a bunch more. I was lucky to hook up with the right people at a studio called Cyberteknics. By the early ‘80s, we would bring in many New York acts to record (the studio was state-of-the-arts but it was cheaper to record in Dayton). Disco music was the rage, and I was working for a paycheck. I guess what I mean is… I’d produce it if I got paid to produce it. I did some Debbie Gibson stuff [that was sorta interesting ‘cause the record company always promoted the “fact” that Debbie wrote and produced her own music. It was bullsh*t, of course. Debbie knew nothing about writing or producing. She was simply the lucky child of a powerful man) and I did a couple Regina tracks. I also formed my own record label, Dice Records. And we made a bunch of hit Dance songs with people like Paul Parker, Lauren Grey and Leah Landis. I had a nice run with some of that stuff, especially after getting picked up by Warners and Sutra for distribution.
Within a few years, I was offered a production position with Lewis Martinee in Miami. He was riding high with his group Expose and he brought me in to help with the studio work. That’s how I ended up in Miami.
One thing lead to another and – because of my work with Debbie Gibson – her manager [Doug Breitbart] tapped me to help him put together a new record label. We worked for a year, grooming acts and preparing. But in the end, his financing fell through and the label never got off the ground.
During the same time, I was still in the studio working with some local Miami acts. I did a record with a girl named Shana [called I WANT YOU]. That one broke-out nationally and went to the top of the charts in both NYC and LA during Xmas week in 1989. It was a weird time. I was making money with Shana but my real gig was closing its doors.
At that point, I was becoming more and more disgruntled – perhaps disillusioned – with the music business. It was very dirty. Everything you hear about Mafia, hundred-dollar-handshakes (etc)… that’s all true. When Doug closed his offices, I decided to step away from music.
And that’s when you started Asian Cult Cinema?
TW– Not right away. As I said before, I really love movies. I was probably more interested in movies than music. I’d work in the studio all day and then watch movies all night. I guess it was luck that brought me to Miami in the first place. But at that time (the mid/late ‘80s), the Miami video stores were not really like vid stores anywhere else in the country. Because of the high Spanish population there, the stores were full of videos from South America. There were things sitting on the shelves that I had never seen before. I’ll give you an example: We cult-movies fans had always heard of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but – aside from, possibly, a few people living in New York – none of us had actually seen it. I remember the first time I walked into a Miami Video store and I saw CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST [imported from Venezuelia] sitting on the shelf for rental!
Anyway, I had made friends with Tim Lucas – now the editor of Video Watchdog, then a columnist for the short-lived GOREZONE (Fangoria’s sister mag). We would exchange videos. He was very interested in Jess Franco and he quickly latched on to me when I told him there were Franco movies sitting on the Miami video shelves. Tim wasn’t much on corresponding however. Once he got his movies, there wasn’t much else to say. He eventually introduced me to Craig Ledbetter. Craig – who lived in Houston – was putting together a fanzine [actually a couple sheets of paper] called Euro Trash Cinema. When I talked to him, Craig was lamenting over a movie he had seen at a midnight showing in Texas – I think it was called PLUCKED – and how he couldn’t find it anywhere.
He only knew that it was Italian-made and starred the girl from CANDY, Ewa Aulin. Now remember, this was long before the days of the Internet and IMDB. There was NO way of finding anything unless it was commercially available somehow. I told Craig, that maybe I could find it on the shelves of a Miami store. He laughed “Good luck” but when I told him about the treasure-trove of Euro fare, he wasted no time. Craig immediately flew to Miami and we spent days going from one store to another. [He wrote an article about this adventure in an early issue of Video Watchdog.]
Did you find PLUCKED?
TW– Yes. It seems that an American distributor had put that title on the film for a limited release. It was actually called DEATH LAYS AN EGG. And yes. We found it on a shelf in Miami. Well – long story short – after days of video hunting, Craig and I started talking about how there were people all over the country who would love to visit the Miami stores. We talked about “wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring movie fans here and give tours” but then – it struck me… we don’t have to bring people here. We can take it to them. That’s when I started Video Search of Miami.
The mail order company?
TW– Yes. I went to my attorney and told him my idea… to make copies of these impossible to find foreign films and sell them to moviefans. He found a “loop-hole” in the Berne Act which allows people to make copies of a movie if that movie hasn’t been registered with the Library of Congress. In the beginning, Video Search of Miami was a “request company.” Somebody would write and tell me what they were looking for and I’d try to find it. That was ridiculous, of course. So I started publishing lists and we sent those lists to subscribers of Euro Trash Cinema. Eventually Mike Weldon [of Pyschotronic] got involved and we had even more names of potential customers.
Now, this was all happening at the same time that I was in the studio producing music. So, when Doug Breitbart’s company disbanded, I took the opportunity to concentrate on Video Search of Miami and get out of the music business completely.
And Asian Cult Cinema evolved?
TW– Sorta. Video Search gave me the opportunity to discover more and more Asian films. And I soon realized that those movies were my real favorites. Craig and I became very good friends during this period. I put money into his ETC newsletter and it evolved into a full magazine, EURO TRASH CINEMA. We were co-editors. I also did some writing for that magazine under the pseudonym Pompano Joe Torrez. But – as I said – my real love was the Asian films. Since we were having a success with Euro Trash Cinema, we took the next logical step and started another magazine called – obviously – ASIAN TRASH CINEMA. Craig and I worked together on both magazines until 1994. The commuting was beginning to drive him nuts. We talked about him moving his family from Houston to Miami. Initially, he agreed. But then – I always thought that his wife didn’t like the idea – he decided to back out. We split the entities. He kept ETC and I had ATC.
How did Asian Trash Cinema become Asian Cult Cinema?
TW– After Craig left, my goal for the magazine was to recruit a team of competent writers – not necessarily writers who had experience in Asian Film – but rather a group of people who were interesting… good writers who could bring a Western viewpoint to this unique cinema. For this to happen, I believed that the magazine needed a name change. I felt that these kind of writers would not be comfortable writing for a magazine called Asian TRASH Cinema. That’s when and why I changed it to Asian Cult Cinema. With that change, I was able to attract people like Oliver Stone, Max Allan Collins, Jack Ketchum, Ric Meyers, Edward Lee, New York Post’s VA Musetto. And the like.
How did you convince Oliver Stone to write for this magazine?
TW– Oliver was a customer of Video Search. He loved Asian films – especially the girls-and-guns stuff. I asked him to write a piece and he agreed. He also wrote an introduction for our book on Japanese horror films. He is a friend and a surprisingly good guy. He’s been instrumental in my life.
Your fave overall Asian Cult movie?
TW– That’s a very tough question. There are so many. Of course stuff like THE KILLER and A BETTER TOMORROW forever changed the way I see movies. Frankly, at this point in my life I’m not sure I have ONE favorite. There are many – very MANY – Asian films that I truly love, each for a different reason. Asian films tend to push the envelop, right? The filmmakers don’t seem to understand – or accept – the sense of political correctness. Isn’t that interesting? Here’s a culture that’s infinitely more conservative, more traditional… but in their art, they are more outrageous. Anyway, I drift from your question. There are many movies that I love, or respect. YOJIMBO, OLDBOY, BATTLE ROYALE, WIFE TO BE SACRIFICED, BLOODY ARIA, Suzuki’s MIRAGE THEATER, BUTTERFLY MURDERS, THE BABY CART series, FUNERAL PROCESSION OF ROSES, even the original GODZILLA. But if push came to shove, I’d have to say Toshiharu Ikeda’s EVIL DEAD TRAP is my all time favorite. It’s a movie that I have seen many times. And everytime it holds my interest.
Most shocking overall Asian Cult movie?
TW– Again, a tough question. I’d say pick up a copy of ASIAN CULT CINEMA #57. I wrote a piece on the all time most shocking Asian films of all time. I’ll give you three: SNAKE AND WHIP, ALL NIGHT LONG 2 and LEWD LIZARD. Those are probably the most outrageous, most offensive of them all.
Personal questions… what is your education background?
TW– I have a Masters in English and Communications Arts, an MA in Film Studies and a PhD in Divinity.
TW– I am a minister.
I didn’t know you were even religious.
TW– I’m not. In fact, I am an Atheist. Perhaps I know too much about Divinity.
Are you married? Children?
TW– Yes. Yuko and I just celebrated our 20 year anniversary. We have a daughter.
Do you still live in Miami?
TW– No. After I sold Video Search in 1998, we moved to Ft Pierce Flordia.
What’s a day like in the life of an editor?
TW– I try not to be structured. But I don’t totally succeed. Not at all. There are certain things – things which have nothing to do with editing – that I must do everyday. For example, there are classes I must teach at the local university. And – of course – I have a e-commerce business that I must run. Sometimes, I must also help my wife with her business [she owns a store in downtown Ft Pierce]. Usually, my time with Asian Cult Cinema magazine begins after the sun goes down.