The Weird Weird World of Mike Vraney and Something Weird Video

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author image by CharlesHarrison | 0 Comments | January 11, 2014


By Mr. Lobo with Will Viharo, Lisa Petrucci, Daniel Griffith, and others.

Cover art by David Hardy with Dixie Dellamorto

SWVSpiraleyesEarly this month, a friend notfied MR. LOBO–and our staff here at HORROR HOSTS AND CREATURE FEATURES, that SOMETHING WEIRD VIDEO founder and visionary MIKE VRANEY “faded to black” after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 56. It hit me hard. This news is something bad…and something sad for many Misunderstood Movie fans and pop culture cultists. Many argue that he has done more than any other single person to rescue obscure genre and exploitation films from the brink of oblivion. The works of HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, DAVID F. FRIEDMAN, HARRY NOVAK, JOE SARNO, MICHAEL and ROBERTA FINDLAY, DORIS WISHMAN, DON DAVIS, BARRY MAHON, JOSé MOJICA MARINS, and hundreds of other filmmakers are discovered, re-discovered, reviewed, studied, talked about, and enjoyed by newer generations of fans because Mr. Vraney could see they still had value. Archivists and Collectors are rarely celebrated as heroes–but the work they do is vital to our lot–even if they may not particularly be angels.

SWVTeaserama (1955)

Vraney said this about his schlock-tacular vision-quest in his own words:

“In my mind, the last great genre to be scavenged were the exploitation/sexploitation films of the ’30s through the ’70s. After looking into this further, I realized that there were nearly 2,000 movies out there yet to be discovered. So with this for inspiration, my quest began and wouldn’t you know, just out of the blue I fell into a large collection of 16mm girlie arcade loops (which became the first compilation videos we put together). Around the same time I received an unexpected phone call that suddenly made all this real: my future – and hands-down the king of sexploitation – Dave Friedman was on the other end of the line. SWVvraneydavfriedmanThis would be the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship for both of us. Dave’s films became the building blocks for our film collection and he has taught and guided me through the wonderful world of sexploitation, introducing me to his colleagues (Dan Sonney, Harry Novak, H. G. Lewis, Bob Cresse and all the other colorful characters who were involved during his heyday) and they’ve been eager to dive into the business again.” – Mike Vraney

Mr. Lobo remembers renting his first tear stained VHS tape of Something Weird rarities.  While working on underground comics and magazines in the 1990′s and presenting 16mm film shows with my film collector friends, our dubs of Vraney’s oddities provided a pulse and a background to our creative endeavors and fueled our aspirations

There was always a seamy punk rock edge to the whole operation. A bizarro DIY film empire of sex, drugs, horror, and rock and roll. It’s no surprize that he also managed the famous LA-based punk band The DEAD KENNEDYS in his younger days. 

Sadly, I never got to work with Mike. On Planet-X magazine, our publisher Scott Moon called him asking him about the drive-in snack bar films from one of his VHS dubs from the 80’s – Mike was the only person that sold them at the time and Scott was trying to
write an article. Mike wasn’t very forthcoming with information and ultimately Mike wrote his own article for another competing mag about those same ads–this ruffled my good friend Scott and with my small circle of film collectors our relationship with Mike honestly “started on the wrong foot”.

In preparing for this memorial article, I asked his wife, LISA PETRUCCI, about Mike’s days “trading tapes” and making these dubs of Drive In stuff–

“Yes, but let’s call a spade a spade, he was a bootlegger! Ha-ha! We still sell those. They’re called “Hey Folks! It’s Intermission Time!” There are six two hour volumes. And yes, Mike used to set up at conventions throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He put ads in the back of fanzines and people sent in for a video catalog and order through the mail. They still do!” – Lisa Petrucci

Punk Rock Video Bootlegger. Now this makes sense to me. Especially in those early days, someone calling up and asking a lot of nosy questions might have raised a red flag.

What’s the code of ethics among bootleggers? Which is what we all were. Egos are bound to get stepped on and boundaries are likely to be crossed when a bunch of people–myself included–are trading on the abandoned works of others.

When my show CINEMA INSOMNIA was distributed by JONATHAN MORKEN’s DVD label APPREHENSIVE FILMS, Mike and Johnathan had a minor dispute over  BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL. Jonathan’s research showed the film was public domain and the issue was dropped. I thought it was kind of funny–I understood the need to protect your interests in our kind of narrow marketplace…but it rubbed Jonathan the wrong way as it did Scott–so it was another arena where a collaboration or meeting between Mike and MR. LOBO was unlikely. This was sad because I think we would have got along. There is a  point of bringing up the grudges of  film collectors in this article. I’m trying to make an argument and try to encourage a greater understanding–even among Mike’s competitors and critics. For sea vessels there are Salvage laws to reward someone wo rescues abandoned property from peril, similar to the wartime law of prize, or squatters rights. What is right and fair in the world of abandoned artistic works? Possession is 9/10ths of the law…And  Love for the subject matter should be another consideration. And Mike loved this stuff.

On the old 16mm film collector’s message board, not everyone is singing Mike Vraney’s praises…in fact, there are some downright “mean” or at the very least cranky in complaints about past business dealings. 
Even semi-cranky collectors and archivists who had negative opinions about Mike Vraney and Something Weird, admit they are glad that many of Mike’s dealings led to important discoveries of film elements presumed lost forever. For example, Mike sold his Movielab holdings a few years back and in this nightmarish mountain of unknown stuff, some archivists found original elements which had previously been considered or assumed lost. Criterion just released a Blu-Ray and DVD of Antonioni’s LA NOTTE which was transferred from the fine-grain one archivist bought from that collection. It has turned out to be the ONLY quality picture element left on the movie!

Many have had successful transactions with Mike over the years and have no complaints.

“When a company like Mike’s becomes successful, a few feet get stepped on, some egos get bruised and with the number of transactions he was doing on a regular basis, odds are something went wrong on a few of them.”
An Unnamed Collector

“Mike was very nice and very fair to me when it came to purchasing 16mm films! I bought a number of his short subjects and a Starman feature back in 2012. Mike will be missed!”
–Sci Fi Bob Eckman

We omitted some of the anonymous unattributed comments from this article out of respect to his wife and family. The intention of this article is HONOR this self-admitted Smut Peddler. The truth is he didn’t own a lot of these films but he did save them from oblivion and made them available for you and me to enjoy.Today, Something Weird has grown-up into a very respectable business that has a high customer satisfaction rate.

” He was generous with our archive when asked for clips and footage. He’d even give people their film elements if it was copyrighted marterial.”-Lisa Petrucci

So, let’s try to look at the big picture and focus on the positive. Mike’s gone–so ranting and griping on the internet about Mike in the wake of his passing is even more tasteless than the films he presented.

“The folks at Something Weird fully intend to keep Mike’s incredible legacy intact. Mike may be gone, but his remarkable achievements will live on. One of the happiest days of Mike’s life was when legendary David F. Friedman and Dan Sonney called him “the forty-first thief,” which to him was the ultimate compliment and recognition for his work. We’d like to think that Mike’s now hanging out with his old pals Dave and Dan, reminiscing and talking shop with Dwain Esper, Kroger Babb, Barry Mahon, Joe Sarno, Doris Wishman, Bob Cresse, Dale Berry, Michael Findlay and all the other exploiteers and smut peddlers who’ve gone to the great grindhouse in the sky.
      We will miss Mike with all our hearts. Goodbye dear friend, husband, father, and fearless leader…” – from the Something Weird Video website

We had another brush with Mike was several years ago, when Scott, also an archivist, and producer on CINEMA INSOMNIA, sold Mr. Vraney a bunch of 16mm films.
He was one of us. He was the film geek’s film geek. As a teenager he worked as a projectionist at drive-ins and porno theaters, he ran a comic-book store and
was “a true friend” to archivists and underground movie buffs everywhere.DANIEL GRIFFITH of BALLYHOO productions, who worked with Vraney on a number of projects had this to say:

“–Seven years ago, I set out to produce and direct my first independent documentary film, THE WONDER WORLD OF K. GORDON MURRAY. The first industry professional I reached out to was Mike Vraney at Something Weird Video. Without any hesitation, he supported the project. Mike took a chance on a kid who had a vision to tell the life story of this little known film distributor from the 1960’s. Over the course of the next few years, I had the privilege to work with (and for) Mike on several projects, including HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE, and his most recent venture, THAT’S SEXPLOITATION! Through Mike, I had the esteemed pleasure to work alongside David Friedman, H. G. Lewis, Frank Henenlotter, his wonderful wife Lisa Petrucci, and many more! Mike believed in the projects I was producing, but more importantly, I think he believed in me. And in honor of that, I will complete and/or release (in some form) both the William Grefé documentary and the K. Gordon Murray documentary this year. Mike, thank you for opening the doors of Something Weird Video to this kid from Tennessee. You will be missed.”
Pulp author WILL VIHARO, who used to present THRILLVILLE shows in the SF Bay Area for 15 years and often invited MR. LOBO to help host cult-films with burlesque and bands, gave some heartfelt reflections…
“When I heard about Mike’s death, I felt like I had lost a close friend, even though we never had any personal contact, because we were bonded by so many common interests and obsessions. Something Weird opened my eyes to the underbelly of midcentury cinema throughout the ’90s and into the 21st century, much like Black Lizard Books introduced me to long lost atomic age pulp fiction in the ’80s. Without Mike’s inspired mission to preserve fringe films of the 50s, 60s and 70s, I’d have never discovered such essential exploitation classics as “The Curious Dr. Humpp,” “Sting of Death,” “Teaserama,” “Basket Case,” the films of David Friedman, H.G. Lewis, and Coffin Joe, Mexican monster movies, etc etc etc. He offered us all a valuable and entertaining education on the history of grindhouse culture, which in turn influenced both my cult movie cabaret Thrillville as well as my own fiction. Ironically, he died just months before I finally made it to Seattle, robbing me of a possible valuable friendship. Godspeed and rest in peace, my brother I’ve never met.”The SOMETHING WEIRD catalog began in 1990, at the peak of the VHS era and was repackaged at the millennium for DVD with wonderful and inspiring releases like MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY. This had a profound effect on CINEMA INSOMNIA and it’s live shows.  More recently, his curated nuggets of joy are available for download, On Demand, Blu-Ray, and on connected TV services like ROKU.
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