The Bottom Shelf

Mike Vraney, 1957 - 2014: A Tribute to The Wizard of Weird

January 06, 2014 - 10:27 am   |   By 

On January 2, 2014, Mike Vraney died of lung cancer at the obscenely young age of 56.  Mike’s name may not ring a bell but if you’re a fan of cult movies, exploitation flicks and bizarre ephemera like stag films and burlesque shows, you owe Mike a huge debt of thanks.  In 1990, Mike founded Something Weird Video, one of the first and best labels dedicated to rescuing forgotten films from the dustbin of obscurity.  Something Weird was a trailblazer in the industry.  I’d argue that Mike’s passion for these movies and the success of Something Weird helped pave the way for all the cult boutique labels to follow, including Mondo Macabro, Synapse, Blue Underground and so many others.  [Read on here…]

In the early 90s, I was working in a video store in Bozeman, Montana.  The store stocked one or two Something Weird titles and once I became manager and the store buyer, I made sure to put some of my meager VHS budget aside each month to get a few more.  They didn’t necessarily show a lot of return on the investment but they certainly helped enhance our reputation as the video store with titles that nobody else in town had.  It was probably the first job I ever liked.  I remember poring over Something Weird’s mail-order catalog, circling potential titles and marveling at the fact that somebody was paying me to do so.

In some ways, VHS was kind of the perfect format for Something Weird but they made the transition to DVD beautifully.  The company signed a distribution deal with Image Entertainment, giving the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis (whose 1967 movie Something Weird gave the company both its name and its logo), Doris Wishman, Andy Milligan and many others a higher profile than they’d ever enjoyed before.  I remember a giddy thrill seeing an entire section devoted to Something Weird in Virgin Records during the height of the DVD boom.

Something Weird Video logo

More recently, they’ve expanded into Blu-ray, releasing such titles as Frank Henenlotter’s BasketCase, Lewis’ Blood Trilogy and The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls, and the films of Chesty Morgan.  In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d see these movies released in high-def but here they are, thanks to the perseverance and passion of Something Weird.

The movies that Something Weird releases are, by and large, not masterpieces of world cinema.  But they are significant and vitally important to fans who want a more complete idea of where the movies have been.  They’re rough, crude, independent movies made by some of the most idiosyncratic people ever to pick up a camera.  Something Weird proves the old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Even if you’re never compelled to watch movies like The Body Beneath or Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman, you should know they exist and are out there (in every sense of the phrase) should you change your mind.

Something Weird Video soldiers on from its home base of Seattle, with its own streaming channel and hopefully many more DVD and Blu-ray releases to come.  But we have Mike Vraney to thank for his boundless enthusiasm and sheer love of cult cinema for making the home entertainment industry a more interesting place.  On behalf of movie lovers everywhere, thank you, Mike, and rest in peace.  May the next leg of your journey bring you something even weirder.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

 

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by Adam Jahnke