Reviving METAL NOIR: Talking to SOVHorror.com’s Tony Masiello

Tony Masiello is a busy guy. Aside from being an accomplished visual effects artist and director, he’s devoted much of his life to the celebration of shot-on-video films through his website, SOVHorror.com, as well as the documentary series S.O.V. The True Independents, which provides a visual history of shot on video horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.

So, when he stumbled on a tape of the entirely unavailable 1990 body horror SOV film Metal Noir, you could have forgiven him for celebrating his good fortune in a low-key way. Maybe write it up for his website, or pass it along to someone else and let them deal with the fallout; but that’s not the Tony Masiello way. Instead, he gathered up all the existing sources of the film and, with the blessing of director David R. Williams, painstakingly edited together a definitive, special edition version of a film that was thought lost forever.

I recently chatted with Tony about his love for shot-on-video cinema, how he ended up resurrecting Metal Noir, and what he’s working on next.

 

Doug Tilley (DT): I’d like to start by asking about when you first started getting interested in shot on video horror, or horror in general.

Tony Masiello (TM): Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. I think, like a lot of kids, I grew up a complete horror nerd. I remember I had my mom drive me around to six or seven different local video stores and I would just consume any horror film I could. I’m not sure really what was the first shot on video movie I saw. It was probably something like Redneck Zombies or Blood Cult, those ones you’d see a lot at the stores. But as I kind of started digging deeper into the genre, you start running out of Friday the 13ths. You start running out of stuff like that.

And I started discovering these shot on video movies, and they are just a lot of fun. I just really kind of gravitated towards them because I wanted to be a filmmaker myself, and found them very inspirational. So I’ve been in love with shot on video movies now for twenty plus years.

DT: It’s a funny thing, because I’ve watched a lot of shot on video work, but I do know that I run into fans — even fans of horror movies generally — who, when they see shot on video horror movies, they think of them as not “real” movies. They have kind of pigeonholed in their mind about what makes a horror movie; they can’t adjust it to including shot on video.

TM: Oh sure, there’s a lot of bias and it’s mainly because of the look. People look at it and they go, “I could do that with Grandpa’s video camera,” you know? And so they don’t consider them real movies. But it’s kind of cool the time we’re in now, because obviously there’s more fans of shot on video movies, you know? They’re getting a cult following, a lot of them. And I feel that stigma is slowly starting to change, which is great, and people take them for what they are, which are movies that are made with a lot of heart and dedication.

You know, maybe not a lot of money all the time, but these were movies made by people who love the genre for the most part.

DT: The thing I love most about shot on video movies in general is that the passion is right there on the screen. Like you said, there’s not only not a lot of money involved usually, but not even an indication that there is potential for profit at the end. That this is made specifically because they’re inspired; because they have that passion for film-making, because they just want to create something and have someone else see it. When I talk to filmmakers like Todd Sheets or Tim Ritter, and people that I know that you’ve worked with and who you’ve talked to extensively, just knowing what they had to go through to get their films made and get their films distributed is really inspiring

TM: Oh yeah. I mean it’s incredible. Guys like Tim Ritter and Joel Wynkoop, and they’re all, like, driving around to video stores to hawk Day of the Reaper or Twisted Illusions. These guys worked their asses off to get their movies out there because they believed in them.

DT: I also think that there’s a unique fandom around shot on video cinema. One of the things I’ve always loved about horror as a genre is though it might feel somewhat exclusive, the reaction of a lot of horror fans when they find something they’re passionate about is to tell as many people as possible.

Especially because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of sub-par horror movies. There’s a lot of stuff that probably we don’t enjoy as much. So when you talked about driving around to different video stores, I really relate to that. I did a lot of that myself in the late ’80s early ’90s, when I was really getting into horror. Particularly because at the time, I didn’t have any reference material, right? I didn’t have film guides or websites telling me what was good and what wasn’t. You just took in everything. And when you found something that you loved you just wanted to let everyone know about it and share in that. And it’s one of the things I really still love about kind of the the fandom around microbudget and shot on video cinema.

Tony, you run SOVHorror.com, and there’s the Shot On Video: The True Independents web series you do. I mean honestly you do tons of work in that area. When did you know you wanted to be involved in the making of these projects, rather than just a fan?

TM: I’m a visual effects artist, and the first film I worked on was a movie by Brett Kelly. He did a lot of shot on DV stuff until the late ’90s and the 2000s, and so I kind of started with him. I went to college studying video production because I wanted to get into the film industry, and pretty much the way I got into the web series/documentary was I was trying to make short films. I had attempted a few features previously, and it’s always hard to find people who want to work, especially work for free and all that. And me and a good friend of mine, we were big fans of shot on video and we would watch anything we could get our hands on, and I started thinking I don’t need a ton of people to help me make a documentary film, and you know that’s something I can do on my own.

I’m in San Diego, so it’s close to L.A., and I told myself, you know, if I can get a hold of one of these really obscure directors, I think I’m going to tackle this project. So the first person I went after was Tim Boggs, the director of Blood Lake. And I believe.. I’m pretty sure you’re probably familiar with Richard Mogg.

DT: Oh yeah.

TM: Who wrote that great book Analog Nightmares. And it’s kind of funny because me and Richard’s stories — I’m friends with Richard — are very similar. I literally hit up Tim Boggs literally right after Richard did. Tim agreed to do that interview and what an interview it was. We went down to LA [and] we shot with him for about eight hours talking about one film. It was kind of off and running from there. After that, I just started contacting any filmmaker I could to see if I could go interview them or if they would submit interviews. And I slowly started talking to all these people, and as I did, I also offered to do work on their films for free, doing effects, and so I started working with a ton of different people.

And at this point, I’ve collaborated with Todd Sheets, Tim Ritter, gosh a whole bunch of guys, you know? Donald Farmer. And so it kind of all started from making connections with people in the shot on video world, you know?

DT: So I want to talk a little bit more specifically about Metal Noir. Moe and I on the No-Budget Nightmares podcast, we just did an entire episode on it. I loved it. I really did have a great time with it. But it’s also the kind of movie that when I mentioned earlier about the kind of shot on video eyes that you have to develop. There has to be an appreciation of some of the limitations of what went into it.

You are the architect of getting this film in front of people after it being basically lost entirely. And I know that you’ve told this story a few times, but I’m just hoping that you tell us again how this was found and when you made the decision that this is something that people need to see.

TM: Yes. So when was working on the shot-on-video project, I was interviewing Jay Woelfel, who directed one of the segments of the movie Things, and just kind of mentioned to Jay that I was a big fan of VHS and stuff like that. He mentioned “oh, I got some tapes.” You know, if maybe you want some of these VHS tapes I got lying around and I said, “Gosh, I’d love them. Thank you so much.” So he gave me a little box of tapes and I brought them home and one of the tapes caught my eyes immediately. It was a dub tape, it had about three movies on it, and I notice the title Dead Silence, which is Hugh Gallagher’s first film,  and I’m a huge Hugh Gallagher fan. He’s one of my favorites of the shot on video directors, so I was really excited about watching Dead Silence. It was extremely unavailable.

This was way before the Sub Rosa re-release and all that. I was fast-forwarding and rewinding through the compilation tape and there was another shot on video movie and it said it was called Metal Noir and I was like, “oh, that’s interesting.” And, you know, I’ll have to check that out. At the time, I was more interested in Dead Silence when I watched that. And then some time went by and I had worked on a few films myself, and I was revamping the website and I decided to do movie reviews, and I’m like, “how about that Metal Noir movie, I’ve never really heard of that. I should check this out.” And I threw on Metal Noir and all I can say is immediately I fell in love with the movie. I mean, it is such a weird, fun movie, especially the minute I put it on, I saw on the credits the names of Hugh Gallagher and Charles Pinion, you know? Both great directors in their own right. And so I was really excited after that, and you know, there’s that opening scene where Charles is bashing himself with the ring into his face, and I was just like, wow, this is great.

The copy was a really bad copy. It was a dub of a dub. Jay Woelfel had actually gotten it from a writer who used to work for a magazine called Cinefantastique.  A guy named John Thonen, and they would kind of trade tapes. And John would send Jay stuff when he thought Jay would be interested in it. And the tape was in really rough shape, lots of rolling like you get in old VHS and stuff like that. And so it was tough to watch it at times, you can always see what it was like. You know, I was a kid growing up buying bootlegs, so we’re kind of used to that. You know the old rabbit ears television, and so after I was done watching the film, I was gonna do a write up for the website on it.

And so I started doing research, like I like to do on any title, and I couldn’t find anything about Metal Noir. Oh my gosh, why is there nothing about this? The next step was digging through old magazines, old Draculinas and Alternative Cinemas and found an article in Draculina about Metal Noir being supposed to come out, but it never did. I’m not sure who first put me in contact with director David Williams — I believe it might have been Hugh Gallagher — but they said, “oh yeah, here’s David Williams, you know, if you want to talk to him,” and I started talking to David. He’s a really cool, nice guy, and I said I really love this movie and I would love to release it for you, and David was completely on-board. And so we kind of started the very long process of putting together this DVD edition of Metal Noir.

DT: I just wanted to ask quickly: did David R. Williams have any of the original source material to put it together? One of the things in watching the movie is you can tell sometimes the quality switches a little bit. Were you having to work from multiple sources?

TM: Yes. So what happened was David still had the original master tapes. They were three quarter inch tapes. He sent them to me here in San Diego, and I was going to take them to a lab to have them transferred. But when the tapes arrived — he hadn’t looked at these things in years — they were covered in mold. And so I can’t find any facilities that would deal with the tapes. No one wanted to run them through their machines because they were pretty nasty looking. So then it was, oh goodness, what are we gonna do now?

You know, I want to put this movie out. And as far as I know, I have the only copy of this movie on this really crappy dub. And so I started reaching out to anyone I could from the film, and I was talking to Charles Pinion, and he mentioned he had a copy, and I’m like, great! But he had digitized his VHS and had gotten rid of the tape. And so it was a digitized transfer and he sent me the transfer, and I put it on and I realized, “oh no, this is a work print. This is not the final movie.” So his print was missing all the music. It did have some digital tape, you know, kind of digital pixel issues with it, because of the encoding that he had done. And it was missing some scenes, some shots were using alternate takes.

In a lot of re-releases of SOVs of late, there’s a lot of people re-tinkering their movies; they are re-editing them trying to make them better, and my whole goal is to preserve that original cut. So I used Charles Pinion’s cut along with my cut and I was lucky enough to find the score for the film. And so I went through the process of re-editing Metal Noir shot for shot to match my tape. Because Charles’ version was a lot…video wise, it looked a lot better than what I had, even though there were some pixelation issues in certain scenes. But it was missing stuff. So, it took me a couple months, because I’m a stickler, literally trying to get it frame for frame. Unfortunately, it’s not the most amazing quality, but it’s probably the best the movie is going to look unless another copy pops up somewhere.

DT: It’s funny, because there are films that have been preserved a little more substantially from that time period which I think look a lot worse than Metal Noir. I think you did a great job. Especially since a lot of the movie takes place in a dark basement location, so it’s kind of amazing that it’s as visible as it is.

For those who haven’t checked out Metal Noir, you can purchase a copy through SOVHorror.com, and there’s thankfully a lot of special features that can that can supplement a lot of this information already. The version of Metal Noir that you’ve released is a complete movie with a beginning, middle and end. It tells the whole story. Why did it not get a proper release back in 1990?

TM: As far as I know, I can’t remember their distributor off the top of my head. They had signed up to a distributor and it was a no name distributor. I’m guessing this may be their first attempt at a release.

And unfortunately, the company folded. It was quoted, actually, in a magazine, they announced that it was coming out through that label and then not too long [after], they said oh, it’s not coming out now. And David unfortunately didn’t remember all the details from 30 years ago. I think he had all but forgotten about this and was very excited when I told him I rediscovered it, and I don’t even think he had a copy. He just had those master tapes and that was it.

DT: It’s an amazing thing, because these are the sort of stories that you do hear every once in a while, right? Of something that was thought lost, or maybe people had just entirely forgotten its existence, or you know for whatever reason it’s fallen into history and then it gets rediscovered.

But it’s like you said, the things that first attracted you to it is what makes it all the more interesting now, because of its connections to that era of shot on video cinema. Because of Charles Pinion, because of Hugh Gallagher being in it. It’s kind of a missing piece of that part of shot on video history specifically because it’s so early. I mean 1990 is that key Tim Ritter, Todd Sheets era of shot-on-video. So the fact that there is a new piece of shot on video horror from that time period is kind of a miracle.

TM: Yeah, I think actually at the time…. we’re not exactly sure on the exact shooting dates of the film itself, but he said it could have been ’88 that they actually shot the film. The reason we have ’90 as the date is [because] that’s the copyright date that was on that original VHS that I had. So I just rolled with that date, since we didn’t have an exact date, but I believe at the time, Hugh hadn’t even — I could be wrong — but I don’t think Hugh had even done Dead Silence yet. Charles I think had only done Twisted Issues and that was it. It was very early at both guys’ careers. So,  I agree. I thought this was definitely an important piece of SOV history. Fans of this type of movie, you know — this is the early work of these guys, and as far as I know, it’s the only movie Hugh Gallagher ever acted in. That was kind of cool as well.

I’ll go and tell you a quick story. I believe that actually you guys reviewed HI-8 and I directed one of the shorts in that called The Tape.

DT: Absolutely.

TM: And I don’t know if you recall, but The Tape is about a guy who finds a lost SOV and he tries to contact the director who ends up being a psycho killer pretty much. And that was in the process of working on the documentary. We had a few run-ins with a few people where we were like, “what if this guy’s really crazy and he’s gonna kill us or something?” And it’s so funny to see my art be imitated in my life, because I never thought I would be that guy now. Discovering the lost shot on video movie and trying to release it. So I always thought that was kind of funny how that worked out.

Pick up a copy of Metal Noir at SOVHorror.com, and keep your eyes out for The Spirit Gallery from director John Strysik, coming soon!

Doug Tilley

Writer, podcaster and beloved figure in the online film community (of assholes). Check him out on the Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man and No-Budget Nightmares podcasts. His life is dope and he does dope shit.
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