Movies

VIPCO were a legend in their own brief lifetime.

The intials stood for 'Video Instant Picture Company' and the company was the bold brainchild of Mike Lee, a former Laskys salesman who saw the sales potential of pre-recorded video programmes before just about anybody else in the UK. If you started collecting horror movies in those halcyon days then chances are that some of the classic VIPCO releases still hold pride of place in your library.

They certainly do in mine. Even as I write these words I can spy the battered, well word copy of VIPCO's Zombie Flesh Eaters waving at me from the bookcase with its decaying hand. This was the first movie I bought on VHS. It cost thirty quid, but it was worth every penny to see the sickened look on friends' faces when I showed them the scene where the zombie pops a girl's eye out with a wooden splinter. More cake, vicar?

Of course the eyeball - I mean the bubble - had to burst sometime, and the video nasty scare of the early 80s decimated the VIPCO list of uncensored horror product quicker then Fulci's flesh eaters went through the population of Matoul. In fact Zombie Flesh Eaters was raided by the police more often than Cynia Payne's Streatham town house and the horror-hungry DPP's shopping list included such other VIPCO faves as The Slayer and that all-time DIY delight, Driller KIller.

VIPCO bowed out of the picture in1984, but like Lucio Fulci's zombies they just won't stay dead. A hand has broken through the ground and - cue screams of horror from the Mary Whitehouse brigade - VIPCO has returned from the grave. Starting next month, just about the whole of the VIPCO catalogue will be made available to collectors on sell-through. We were so excited to hear this news that we decided to track down the company's boss and mentor to get the lowdown on what gore was in store.

Mike Lee is a self-confessed horror freak. He started VIPCO in 1979, when the idea of instant video pictures was a new and wonderful thing. 'There were very few companies releasing pre-recorded feature films on tape at that time,' explains Mike. 'Intervision was around, VCL was around, Hokushin was around. But the films that they had were generally poor quality.

'There were very few companies releasing pre-recorded feature films on tape at that time,'

'In 1979 I was selling video machines in Lanskys in Oxford Street and a lot of customers were asking programme material on video tape. I saw that this would be a big thing of the future, although I didn't know at the time just how big the video industry would be. So I took the last few thousand pounds that I had and I decided to go out and buy some feature films to put on video.'

He didn't know anybody in the film business, so he picked up the Yellow Pages and went through all the film distributors that were listed in the West End. 'I rang them all up asking if anyone had any rights that I could buy for video. They were all very worried about this new thing called video and how it would affect their cinema admissions. But I cam across a bloke who said he might have something to sell, I went down there and did a deal for four films. Not having the money to buy any blockbusters, Mike settled for Hot Sex in Bangkok, Bed Hostesses, Sweet and Sexy and Caged Women.

These early releases were priced at £19.95 and the profits were ploughed straight back into the business, allowing VIPCO to release bigger and better movies. Reminisces Mike: ' I think the next two films were The Invincible Iron Palm and The Three Musketeers, which was a cartoon. Then I bought Zombie Flesh Eaters and another film called Psychic Killer.'

He explains that he was drawn to horror movies because of his own love of the genre, plus of course the realisation that such product was eminently exploitable. The stronger it was the better it seemed to go down with punters. 'We released the cinema version of Zombie Flesh Eaters first,' he says. 'Then we put out the completely uncensored version, which sold for a tenner more. It was our best-selling title, alongside another wonderfully famous film, Driller Killer...'

The latter drew considerable controversy at the start of the 'Nasties' craze, though the fuss was mainly centred around the grisly ads that VIPCO placed in the early video consumer mags. These depicted a drill being thrust into some poor schmuck's head and the advertising legend: 'The Blood Runs in Rivers As The Drill Tears Through Flesh And Bone!' Whatever happened to the soft sell? Says Mike: 'The advertising for Driller Killer was more controversial than the film itself. But I must state that at no time when I placed those ads were there any guidelines given by anybody as to what was acceptable and what was offensive. If people thought they were excessive, I'm surprised the magazines ever accepted them in the first place.

'The Blood Runs in Rivers As The Drill Tears Through Flesh And Bone!'

Mike was also surprised when the law came down on horror movies en-masse. 'I had never heard of horror movies being prosecuted before,' he sighs. 'We knew pornography was illegal, so we stayed well clear of sex films. And of course videos were not required to have certificates in those days anyway.'

When the Video Recordings Act came into effect in 1984, VIPCO slipped quietly away rather than face the considerable expense of re-certifying its entire back catalogue in an area increasingly dominated by the Hollywood majors. But now it's back thanks to a deal Mike has just signed with leading wholesaler Gold and Sons. 'Gold have formed a division called SGS to handle their sell-through product,' he explains. 'And there's a lot of product to handle. This year we're looking at some 50 films to be released and we have some 250 to re-release in all.'

These include some of VIPCO's most controversial movies, starting with Zombie Flesh Eaters, which has amazingly been allowed through uncut (in its original cinema version) and will be on sale around April 20th. 'We were amazed at the BBFC's decision on Zombie Flesh Eaters admits Mile. 'There was a time when both versions were on the banned list...' The Bogey Man due for release on March 27th, is another banned title that has gone through with minimal cuts of 44 seconds: 'The cuts have primarily to do with a bedroom sequence were some blood is shown on a girl's breast when she dies. I'm pleased that the censor hasn't touched the rest of the movie because that would have spoilt it. The frightening moments of the movie have not being disturbed. If you've seen it then you'll probably remember the knife that floats in the back of the car in the early part of the film and comes out through the mouth of the guy sitting behind the wheel. That has not been touched, sequences that I thought might have been areas of contention, but have proved not to be so.'

The Bogey Man comes out the week alongside Spookies, a supernatural romp originally released on the Palace label and featuring such delightful characters as the farting muck-men! Other VIPCO sell-through releases include The Groove Tube, a raunchy comedy but first off the assembly line on February 28th is The Deadly Spawn a 16mm monsterfest shot in 1983 by a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs. It's not high art but there's enough blood and guts to keep most horror buffs happy!

'And of course there are a lot of other big titles due to come through from us,' enthuses Mike, 'One of my own favourites is Shogun Assassin, a tremendous film that has also come through the BBFC in its original cinema version. That had a really good stereo soundtrack and the likelihood is that it will be remastered in hi-fi.'

Mike explains that in accordance with the BBFC's wished, VIPCO product will be put through the system in a sensible fashion. 'Some of our most popular titles have not been granted certificates yet but we are hopeful they will be. There's The Slayer, which was banned and another all time great in my view is Andy Warhol's Flesh For Frankenstein. We shall be bringing that one back. The original version that we put out was the uncut version. I think that with Andy Warhol's death, this film will take on a new importance. We will also be releasing Warhol's Blood for Dracula, which is another superb film and Tobe Hooper's Death Trap, with an early appearance by 'Freddy' himself - Robert Englund.

'We will be submitting evry film, one way or another. If the censors decide not to let certain controversial pictures through, them that will be their decision. I think Driller Killer will be acceptable, though, with a suitably toned down campaign where nothing offensive appears on the box cover...'

Once VIPCO is re-established in the sell-through marketplace, Mike intends to pick up another highly collectable horror product from the past. 'Certain titles will never be allowed,' he admits. Like Snuff, for example, or any of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. But there's a lot of really good material out there that would be suitable for the VIPCO label.' So start saving your pennies, folks. The blood is about to run in rivers once more and this time its legal!

Video World - March 1992
With thanks to Robert Berwick for the article