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AN INTERVIEW WITH AKRON’S CULT HORROR KING, J.R BOOKWALTER

INTERVIEW BY MATT GREENFIELD

FOLLOW US AT WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/RUSTBELTHAMMER

When did you start Tempe Video and with what intentions?

Tempe Video actually dates back to late 1987, when I foolishly attempted to release a half-assed instructional video called BASIC HOW-TO HALLOWEEN MAKEUPS on VHS. This was actually during post-production on THE DEAD NEXT DOOR, when I was operating as Amsco Studios (Tempe wouldn’t come along for another year or so).

Flash-forward to 1991, and I got the not-so brilliant idea to resurrect that how-to video, repackage it, and shoot a second volume. Those were actually the first two Tempe Video releases, and we had a bit of luck with them, selling to libraries and educational outlets. Shortly after that, I took over distribution of THE DEAD NEXT DOOR, which expanded to a mail-order company and selling tapes at horror conventions.

It was a very different business back then — instead of the corporate middlemen you have to deal with now, there were a handful of “boiler rooms” where salespeople would sit on the phone all day and call mom-and-pop video stores pitching them on buying stuff. It was great for small companies like me, because they’d order a case of 100 tapes at a time and pay C.O.D., no muss, no fuss.

Once the ball got rolling, I started acquiring movies from other filmmakers, including John A. Russo (HEARTSTOPPER, THE MAJORETTES), which led to co-producing titles like MIDNIGHT 2: SEX, DEATH & VIDEOTAPE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 25TH ANNIVERSARY DOCUMENTARY, then making my own films like OZONE, which was the whole impetus for doing my own distribution in the first place.

What was the idea behind Video Outlaw, the sub-label for Tempe?

I wound up with a reputation as a shot-on-video guy after making KINGDOM OF THE VAMPIRE and ZOMBIE COP, which actually wound up getting decent distribution at the time. A lot of directors who were attempting to do the same thing started knocking on my door, so I designed Video Outlaw as a home for more raw, underground-style releases aimed at collectors, freeing Tempe Video for the “tentpole” titles that had a better shot at getting into video stores.

For about a year or so, some Outlaw titles actually fared better than the bigger Tempe releases, but once I expanded further into publishing Alternative Cinema magazine, I found myself spending too much time running the business instead of getting to make movies, so I eventually sold off the Outlaw label and focused strictly on the Tempe catalog I owned outright — at least until Tempe DVD started up a few years later.

Have you thought about doing any limited edition re-releases on VHS of the old titles? There is definitely a VHS resurgence these days.

I’ve gotten requests for some of the old VHS titles over the years and talked with a few folks who specialize in that market, but nothing ever came of those discussions. Last year I included a VHS reissue of THE DEAD NEXT DOOR as part of the Indiegogo campaign to restore the film, but didn’t sell a whole lot of them. I think it’s a small, vocal group that seems to want VHS, but I’m not convinced there’s enough business to make it worthwhile. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, though. [laughs]

One thing I miss about the VHS era is all of the random things you will find on a tape after the movie ends. I know with a lot of your films you had a segment called “The B’s Nest” which offered a behind-the-scenes look at the film and also promo for Tempe items. I noticed after watching one of the films that a segment was produced by Wayne Jarold and Mark Bosco, filmmakers from the Kent area that made the infamous Killer Nerd. What was your relationship with those two guys?

jr

The B’s Nest was really just a poor man’s imitation of those classic Videozone things that Full Moon were doing at the time.I gave them up after the first few, and in fact the original VHS box for OZONE says there’s one on the front cover, but it was never actually produced. [laughs]

As far as Riot Pictures goes, they were in Ravenna, Ohio and I was a few miles away in Mogadore (suburb of Akron) at the time, so it made sense that we connected eventually. I had heard about KILLER NERD, and I think it was Mark who first contacted me. They had just finished BRIDE OF KILLER NERD, so I was able to hook them up with some sales on that, and then they made GIRLFRIENDS at the same time I was doing OZONE, and we each had cameos in the other’s film. So we partnered to distribute both films, and they also got involved in some of the other things I had going at the time, like JOHN RUSSO’S FILMMAKER SEMINAR. I became good friends with Wayne, and would later go on to distribute some of his stuff on DVD (TOWNIES and GENUINE NERD, as well as GIRLFRIENDS), and Mark and I have done some other business over the years also.

One of my favorite films you have done is Robot Ninja. I have been trying to figure out if that ever played on USA Up All Night or if I created a false memory. If it did play, I know it was heavily edited!

Wish I could say it did, but definitely not!

I had a sneaking suspicion. Actually bought that movie when a video store in Youngstown was going out of business in the early 2000s.

I’ve seen those ROBOT NINJA tapes going for upwards of $100 or more on eBay — crazy!

Do you think your movies changed with switch from VHS to DVD?

Certainly, but that had more to do with leaving Ohio and moving to Los Angeles, where I started doing post-production for Full Moon. There was suddenly more money involved and higher standards in terms of how they were shot and delivered, for one thing.

How long were you with Full Moon?

I got involved editing SHRIEKER in late 1997 and finally bailed after directing STINGERS (now called MEGA SCORPIONS), which was finished in 2002. So 5 years I guess… wound up being their in-house post-production supervisor for a time, then transitioned into producing a bunch of flicks and doing pretty much everything from top to bottom.

And now you are back in Ohio, right?

That’s right, moved back here in 2006 to get married and start a family. Also wanted to get away from LA after living and working there for a decade.

Are you working on anything new right now?

In terms of new productions, no. I think that ship has mostly sailed for me. I’ll be 50 this summer and no-budget movies are a young man’s game. Planning a 2K restoration of ROBOT NINJA for a second Ultimate Edition this year, otherwise still doing post work for others and getting more involved in the distribution end again, God help me.

Thank you! Glad we could talk about an important era in horror and exploitation cinema.

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robot ninja spanish vhs front & back4