For several years now (since SGM's inception in fact) we have long admired and respected the workload of Pete Tombs and Andy Starke; the brains behind much loved UK network TV shows such as Eurotika! and Mondo Macabro; both which acted as launch pads for their namesake DVD labels. To celebrate the continuing growth in deserved popularity in Mondo Macabro's diverse and exciting line, SGM's very own Al Sex Gore chats to Pete Tombs about their work…
SGM: Some SGM readers (more so those outside the UK) may not be familiar with the work you have done across the genre field and the impressive reputation built here in the UK over many years, can you give us a wee bit of background how the Pete and Andy 'Mondo Macabro' team formed and how you both met?
PETE: I'm pretty sure we met in the late lamented Falcon in Camden Town. Andy was playing in a dodgy mod band at the time. They were supporting an act I'd gone to see who were friends of mine. And I seem to recall Andy spent the whole evening telling me how crap they were. I guess I must have admired his cheek (and don't read anything into that...)
Cathal (Tohill) and me had just finished the Immoral Tales book. I remember Andy saying that it would make a good TV documentary; and as he happened to be working as a video editor at the time...
SGM: Ahhh the TV shows! Most UK fans will have first came across your work by way of the stunning TV shows broadcast on the Channel 4 television network, in a difficult and hard to please TV buyers market (more so ahead of the growth of satellite TV) how did you manage to sell such diverse broadcasting to the programmers?
PETE: It took us well over a year to finish the Immoral Tales doc. Mostly because we were doing it on spare weekends and late nights. By the time we started touting it around, Channel 4 were doing a late night series called Exploitica! Stephen Keane, who was the commissioning editor for that strand got to see our doc, liked it and asked us in for a chat. The format of the first programmes we did (Eurotika!) was loosely based on the Exploitica! series, but we were given a lot of freedom. And a very small budget. In those days such things were possible. Now, I doubt we'd even get through the door with a similar idea. Unless we had an ex Big Brother contestant presenting it.
SGM: After conquering the late night terrestrial broadcasting scene I suppose it must have been a natural progression to branch into the DVD market, what was the initial game plan for the crossover?
PETE: I was already running the Pagan label. Through TV and video work we'd got to know lots of producers and sales companies and discovered that there were quite a few interesting films that seemed to have slipped through the cracks. The plan was to have a number of "safer" titles that would help to fund the riskier stuff.
SGM: The UK DVD market seems to be a hard one for 'specialist' product, more so with high street chains looking to hold a monopoly on what product to stock - was the UK market a difficult one to break into?
PETE: I already a fair bit of knowledge of the market so I knew what to expect. But it has got a lot harder in the last few years. The main thing is not to be too optimistic with sales predictions. Keep your overheads down and try to make the sums add up with what you know you can expect to get back. Don't plan on having "hits". If you do, they're a nice bonus but you can't construct a business round them.
SGM: One key concern that any UK genre specialist has to regrettably face is having to put each and every release title in front of the British Board of Film Censors, did you encounter any problems with the Board and was their inevitable influence a factor in deciding what titles to license for release?
PETE: It's nowhere near as bad as it used to be. There have been some cuts in the past, but now it seems to be much more sensible. My main argument with the Board is the cost. Small labels like us with titles that sell probably less than a thousand in some cases are still charged at the same rate as Warners and Sony with huge blockbuster releases. It's very expensive, comes off the top of your profits (if any) and definitely means there are titles we won't put out here as they don't make economic sense after paying the BBFC up front.
SGM: You both obviously have an intense love for spectacular obscure genre cinema (for which Mondo Macabro fans are eternally indebted of course) - just how the hell do you guys not only discover the movies in the first place but also manage to source the prints and license holders for such gems?
PETE: Knowing what we want to put out is easy, it's finding who owns it that's often the hard part. And then doing the deal...Today, with so many companies chasing the same stuff, there tends to be a bit of a bidding war going on with some very unrealistic prices being asked (and being paid). We made some pretty solid contacts around the world while doing the Mondo Macabro series and they've been very helpful finding the really exotic titles that we would otherwise never have located.
With materials, it's very much pot luck. Sometimes you get good elements, often you don't. We have spent a lot of money in the past restoring films and will continue to do that so long as it remains economically viable. Sometimes, though, you just have to go with what you've got. And if that's an old one inch tape master and there really isn't anything else...well, what can you do? Is it better NOT to have the film out there or to be constantly hoping that some better materials will miraculously appear? We have to be realistic in making these decisions.
SGM: With the obscurity and rarity of the titles you track down there must indeed be the 'ones that got away', you know the films you would love to release but have long since disappeared into the Twilight Zone of lost movie hell - are there any such titles that you would have loved but have failed to trace?
PETE: Erotic Witchcraft is the one for me. It's the film that pretty much started me off on this journey all those years ago. The sad truth is that we've done the deal and even know where the materials are but for technical/legal reasons we simply can't get access to it. It's very frustrating.
And then there's all those great Asian titles like Witch With Flying Head that simply don't seem to exist anymore; not to mention the dozens of great Filipino or Turkish fantasy movies that were destroyed by poor storage etc. It's too depressing to think about.
Fortunately, there's lots of great titles that ARE still findable. You just have to dig a bit deeper and use your imagination.
SGM: It looks like the US genre fan base has taken Mondo Macabro to its heart (and rightly so), with the welcome lack of potential censorship interference and good distribution things are definitely on an upward trend for the label - will this though signal the end of Mondo Macabro in the UK? (not that it has stopped UK fans importing the US releases en masse!)
PETE: No, we will be releasing more titles in the UK soon.
SGM: From the entire Mondo Macabro release catalogue, I'm sure readers would be interested to know what your own specific personal favourites are? (my own for the record are Crazy Love, Zinda Lash and Living Doll - classics all!)
PETE: For me I guess it's a toss up between Mill of the Stone Women and Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay. But there's never been (and never will be) a title that we don't 100% love.
SGM: Not many readers will know this, but back in your early days you issued a promo for a fantastic (but sadly unreleased) compilation CD called 'Virgin Kiss' which still gets heavy play here at SGM Towers (the Dracula AD 72 theme is a cracker), will we ever see something like this now under the Mondo Macabro label? Or how about an updated revisit to the gorgeous Mondo Macabro and Immoral Tales books? Or do you have any other plans to branch out under the Macabro line in the pursuit of global domination?
PETE: We do have a musical project "in development" right now. And then there's the horror movie we're co-producing in Pakistan next year...We're keeping busy, don't worry
SGM: Excellent news indeed - thanks for your time chaps and keep up the stunning work!
PETE: You're more than welcome. And thanks for all the support over the years. We'll try never to let you down.
For full details of all the mouth watering Mondo Macabro line visit the official site by clicking here.
Special thanks to Andy Starke and Pete Tombs at Mondo Macabro - heroes both!