Exclusive Horrornews Interview – Dan Fraga: Exhumed Films – 12.05.08
MJ : How was Exhumed Films born?
DF : It’s a bit of a long story, but here goes: Exhumed Films is comprised of four people: me, Joseph Gervasi, Harry Guerro, and Jesse Nelson. The four of us have been friends for quite some time. Harry, Jesse, and I went to high school together and actually all worked together at a video store in the early 1990s. I met Joseph in the late ’80s when we were teenagers: he was booking punk shows at a local movie theater called The Harwan. I was at that time performing at the Harwan’s midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’d go to the matinee punk shows, he’d sometimes come to Rocky Horror, so our paths crossed, but we didn’t really “hang out” or anything. A few years later, I repeatedly ran into Joseph at local Philly & NJ punk shows, & we became better friends.
Eventually, I introduced Joseph to my friends Harry & Jesse. One thing that the four of us all had in common was a love of movies, particularly
bizarre/obscure horror films. After years of getting together and watching videos at someone’s house, we decided that what we really wanted was to see some of our favorite films on the big screen. I mean, we would frequently go to horror conventions in NYC like Chillercon or Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors, but nobody was actually showing older, classic horror films in the movie theaters. In the mid to late 1980s you could still hop on the PATCO train and go to some of the run down theaters in Philly (like the Eric Twin Chestnut or the Budco Regency) and see double features of bad horror movies. But video & DVD had killed off the second-run theater circuit, and by the mid 1990s most of those theaters had closed down. So really, what we wanted
more than anything was to be able to go to shows like that again, to see classic–or not so classic–horror movies in an actual movie theater. And since no one else was doing it, we decided to try it ourselves. And that’s basically how it started: in fall of 1997, we found a distributor
who agreed to rent us two of our favorite films, Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE and THE GATES OF HELL. We went to the Harwan (which was still in operation, though it has since been demolished) and got them to rent us the theater on a Friday night for a pretty reasonable fee. When all was said and done, I think the total cost for both the films and the theater rental was about $500-$600. So each of us chipped in about $150 to fund the first show. The way we saw it, either we’d get people to come out to the show and hopefully break even, or no one would come & it would be the four of us in the theater by ourselves watching two Fulci films. It’d be an expensive night at the movies if no one else came, but we decided it would be worth $150 to see those two films on the big screen.
So then we advertised all over the internet (which, in 1997, wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now) and put up handmade flyers throughout Jersey and Philly. The night of the show came (October 24, 1997), and we were very happy to find that about 200 people came out to watch the movies! We ended up not just breaking even, but also making a few hundred dollars. The initial idea was that we could use that money to do another show the following October, but instead we tried another show in February 1998, just a few months later. Surprisingly, that was also well attended. When we sold out our March 1998 screening of FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D and made quite a
bit of money, we knew for sure that we were on to something. It was around that point that we had adopted the moniker of “Exhumed Films” for our presentations.
MJ : I’ve been going to Exhumed since the Harwan Theatre, and I miss that building. Lots of good memories. What’s your coolest memory since starting Exhumed Films?
DF : Definitely the very first Bruce Campbell show we did back in 1999 was one of my favorite Exhumed moments. We had Bruce come to the Harwan to introduce a screening of EVIL DEAD 2, then hold a Q & A with the audience about the making of the film. The story behind that evening could be a whole separate interview unto itself. But the bottom line is that happened because Bruce was already in town for a “Xena” convention and he graciously agreed to host our screening for a ridiculously small appearance fee. We only had two days to announce the show by the time everything had come together, but it still sold out and was an amazing event. Bruce stayed until 5am, making sure everyone got an autograph. It was insane. MJ : One of my favorite things that you guys do is give away prizes before the movies. I won a “Night of the Living Dead” VHS tape one time. What are some things that you’ve given away as prizes through the years?
DF : Are you the guy that won the bastardized “30th Anniversary” edition of NOTLD and proceeded to smash it on stage? That was pretty funny.
MJ : HA! I was at that show and I remember some dude doing that, but no sir, that was not me.
DF : We’ve given away hundreds of prizes over the years. Some things are pretty cool, like horror action figures, t-shirts, lots of videos & DVDs, etc. We’ve given away some autographed stuff, like a Michael Myers photo signed by John Carpenter, or a RE-ANIMATOR poster signed by Brian Yuzna. And sometimes, we just give away stupid stuff, things that people don’t want and give to us as prizes rather than throwing them in the trash. So we’ve given away fanny packs, ugly baseball caps, and copies of ultrasounds as booby prizes. But my favorite prize was giving away multiple boxes of Boo Berry cereal one year at Halloween. I love Boo Berry.
MJ : You play horror movies from the 70’s and 80’s mostly, and that was really the greatest time for horror films. Is there anything in today’s
horror market that you like?
DF : I can’t say I’m a huge fan of many modern horror films, at least not
the re-makes. I have about zero interest in updates of horror classics. I
saw the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, and that was okay, but I hated the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake and never went back. Never saw the remakes of HALLOWEEN, HILLS HAVE EYES, THE FOG, etc. And I’m not big on the whole”torture p*rn” sub-genre, as it’s been named, so I’ve never bothered with the HOSTEL movies or SAW. Five SAW films, and I have never watched a single one! I just have no desire. Maybe I’m getting too old.
That being said, there are some things I like. I love the work of Neil
Marshall–DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT (European cut) are great, though I haven’t seen his latest (that “Mad Max” looking one whose title escapes me). And even though it’s one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a long time, and doesn’t ever deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as SUSPIRIA or INFERNO, I thought Dario Argento’s THE THIRD MOTHER was so ridiculous that I really enjoyed it. It was fun to go see a stupid, bloody Italian horror film in the theaters again–it reminded me of seeing DEMONS on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia as a teen. In fact, my comment on THE THIRD MOTHER was that if someone told me Lamberto Bava directed the film, and not
Argento, I’d totally believe it.
MJ : This may have already come to be, but if you could play any three movies back to back at one your showings, name the three movies:
DF : Well, we’ve shown the three EVIL DEAD films back to back, and that was awesome. Obviously, showing Romero’s original three living dead films back to back would be neat, though we have shown two of the three already. Personally, I’m a fan of Japanese giant monster movies, so my vote for three films to show back to back would be KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, and GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. But I don’t think anyone would come to that show but me.
MJ : You’ve played a lot of friggin’ movies; is there something you’ve wanted to play but you just can’t get your hands on it?
DF : Romero’s original DAWN OF THE DEAD is sort of the holy grail of
unattained movies for us. Richard Rubinstein owns all rights & prints for the film, and he is *very* protective of that particular movie.
Essentially, no one can show it, and if you try to show it without
permission, you stand to get sued. So hopefully one day that will become available.
MJ : On December 19th, Silent Night, Deadly Night and Christmas Evil are showing but you also have director Lewis Jackson in attendance. How did that come about? I heard Fearnet is going to be there too?
DF : Lewis Jackson, the director of CHRISTMAS EVIL, will be introducing the film, holding a Q & A, & signing DVDs. The show came about because of Harry Guerro, who is the silent genius in Exhumed Films. Harry’s very low-key and quiet, but he’s an amazing film collector with lots of connections. We decided we wanted to show CHRISTMAS EVIL for the holiday, and Harry tracked down Lewis Jackson, who owns one of the only 35mm prints. At first Jackson was just going to rent the print to us, but then after some discussion it came about that he might want to attend the show, so we’re arranging to bring him out to host. That should be fun.
My understanding is that the cable channel FearNet, which is based in Philadelphia, is going to be coming to that show. They are apparently showing CHRISTMAS EVIL this month and want to film some stuff with Lewis Jackson and maybe interview audience members to run on their channel as bonus material. Honestly, I don’t know much more than that–hopefully they’ll come out and some of our audience members will wind up on television!
MJ : The past two years Halloween time has been host to a magnificent 24 hour horror marathon. Is this going to be a yearly event now?
DF : Well, we’ve done it for two years, and it’s been a huge success both in terms of attendance and in audience reaction to the films we’ve shown. Right now, I think the plan is to maybe try it one more time next fall. Personally, my fear is that we’ll quickly run out of new, top shelf, A-list horror films to show if we do it every single year. So my vote might be to do it a third time, then maybe not do it again for a year or two. But we’ll see. Audience response has been so strong that we’ll have to see what happens next fall, then play it by ear.
MJ : What does the future hold for Exhumed Films?
DF : After over eleven years of shows and having done big marathon shows like I’ve always dreamed of, there are few unattained goals I have for Exhumed Films. Personally, I think we as a group have done much more than I ever thought possible. Surely there are some movies we’ve never been able to screen that I’d like to get my hands on, but other than that–and possibly getting the third 24 hour marathon off the ground–I don’t think that the four of us have any specific plans for the future of Exhumed. I’m happy to keep doing shows as long as the group members and audience members alike are interested, but if for some reason Exhumed were to end tomorrow, I’d be totally satisfied with what we have been able to accomplish.