In the first of a three-part series, the press-friendly co-founders of Exhumed Films individually answer a list of questions regarding the group’s origins, their favorite programs from the past, and what we can look forward to at this weekend’s 24 Hour Horror-Thon. First up is Exhumed Films’ peacemaker/always entertaining host, Dan Fraga.
CINEDELPHIA: How did Exhumed Films form?
DAN FRAGA: Okay, the short version (as short as possible…) is this: Harry, Jesse, and Dan all went to the same high school (within a few years of each other) and worked together at a video store in the early 1990s. Dan knew Joseph from the local punk rock scene. The four had a common interest in horror movies, so Dan introduced Joseph to Harry & Jesse. We’d all sit around at one of the guys’ homes watching bootleg Euro-horror on VHS. We’d bemoan the fact that the days of seeing bad, B-grade horror films in the movie theaters had passed, and wished someone would do rep screenings of old horror films. Eventually, we decided if we wanted such a thing to happen, we’d have to do it for ourselves. I’ll leave out all the mundane details, but the bottom line is we rented a couple of 35mm Fulci films for our first show from Bob Murawski, who runs Grindhouse Releasing and is Sam Raimi’s film editor—Bob is a really nice guy and a wonderful fan/supporter of classic horror. We rented a run down old movie theater (The Harwan), showed ZOMBIE and GATES OF HELL, and had a really good response. We made enough money to do more shows, and the audience kept showing up to support us. Fourteen years and five movie theaters later, we’re still doing it.
C: What is your role in Exhumed?
DF: I do everything from maintaining finances to booking movies to coordinating with the venues, but the most important role I serve in Exhumed is that of “The Peacemaker.” After fourteen years, we all get on each others’ nerves. We lose our tempers, or at least get passive-aggressively angry at each other and mutter behind each others’ backs. So whenever things get too tense, I try to placate the angry parties and restore peace to the organization. The others may deny it, but it’s true. I am the voice of calm and reason within Exhumed Films. Which Beatle do you think kept the group together for as long as they were? Paul McCartney? That’s me–I’m Paul. I’m a high school teacher by day–I deal with surly teenagers all the time, so I’m pretty good at being placating and holding back my anger.
C: What are the roles of your collaborators?
DF: Harry is the backbone of Exhumed. Without him, we would have fallen apart years ago. Harry knows everything about film and projection, has collector contacts across the globe, and houses/inspects/repairs/tracks down the majority of the movies we show. The others do stuff too—Jesse maintains the website, and Joseph deals with promotion—but Harry is the silent force behind Exhumed Films. But as is Harry’s personality, he stays out of the limelight. He doesn’t want to be up front doing announcements…and he probably won’t answer your interview questions. He’s just interested in watching the movies.
C: How would you characterize your audiences?
DF: They run the gamut from middle-aged film aficionados to teens and twentysomethings who just love horror. Lots of punk & metal folks. I read an article recently that found a correlation between antisocial or anti-authoritarian behavior and a fondness for horror movies. Well duh, but I wonder why that is? Why do horror fans (myself included) gravitate toward punk/metal music, primarily? I mean, there are obvious thematic crossovers, but I wonder what else is going on in our brains? Why don’t we see more horror fans into country music? But I digress. I love our audience members. They are appreciative fans, just like we are ourselves, so it’s really rewarding to hear from people how much they enjoy the shows and are thankful for what we’re doing. They are not just passive consumers, they are active participants in a cool little horror community we’ve managed to establish over the years. We are them and they are us and we couldn’t do it without each other.
C: What’s your favorite venue that held an Exhumed event?
DF: I really am partial to The Harwan in Mt. Ephraim, NJ because it was our first home, and I had a personal connection: I grew up near the theater, so I saw lots of movies there in my childhood and teen years—I distinctly remember seeing the 1976 KING KONG there when I was four years old. I performed in Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings at The Harwan as a teen. So that will likely be my favorite, warts and all. That said, the other venues had their plusses as well: we got our biggest crowds at The Hoyts, The Broadway was a beautiful old venue with a balcony, and the I-House is probably the only place where we could get away with doing the marathon shows.
C: What is your most memorable Exhumed event?
DF: Over ten years later, probably still the show where Bruce Campbell hosted our screening of EVIL DEAD 2. We were young and naïve and enthusiastic, and it was such an amazing time.
C: What is your least memorable Exhumed event?
DF: Shows where nobody shows up. They’re pretty depressing. Oh, and if any of the other members mention the Asia show, tell them to fuck themselves.
C: Has there ever been a film that you’ve regretted screening?
DF: We showed Jim Van Bebber’s THE MANSON FAMILY. The film itself is well made and I don’t regret the actual movie at all, but it’s very sexually graphic and violent. And that’s the show where a group of my female high school students decided to surprise me and show up. I could have died. I sat cringing at every scene of graphic sex and violence. Afterwards I saw them and we stared blankly and awkwardly at each other, and I said quietly, “We shall never speak of this again.” Oh, and one girl brought her dad. It’s a wonder I still have a job.
Once again, if any of the other three say they regret having ‘80s rock legends Asia perform their greatest hits at the Broadway Theater (“Heat of the Moment”! “Only Time Will Tell”!), they can totally fuck themselves.
C: Do you have any memorable recollections of an audience reacting to a film you’ve shown?
DF: I love watching the audience reactions to the “bat-shit-crazy” movie selections at the Horror-thons. Movies that many people have never seen that are just so ridiculous the audience members lose their minds. Movies like PIECES, RAW FORCE, WICKED, WICKED, etc. Those reactions are the most gratifying. Movies that get spontaneous standing ovations.
Oh, my other favorite reaction was when we did the world premiere of the restored print of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Before the movie, the audience was all rowdy, cheering, full of bravado—most having never seen the movie. Cut to an hour into the film, after real-life animal death and real-looking sexual mutilation, and nobody’s laughing or cheering anymore. They looked shell-shocked. Most people there had no idea what they were getting into.
C: Rules of conduct are always announced to the audience prior to the show. Have you ever had any difficulties with an audience member?
DF: Back in “the day,” as the kids say, we had some near fist fights in the theater. We’ve had to throw out drunken idiots, and they usually respond poorly. One guy spit in Joseph’s face, and I thought he was going to tear the guy apart. Joseph looked like a rabid mongoose or something—wiry and dangerous. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened lately. The worst we’ve had to deal with in recent years is crusty punks trying to sneak into the show without paying. Oh, and at the PLANET OF THE APES show, there was this really weird guy who was giving me a hard time because he didn’t have enough money to get in the show, which was somehow my fault. Because I couldn’t take his credit card. He started acting out the Charlton Heston “IT’S A MADHOUSE!” scene from the movie. I was really confused. But I’d rather be confused than punched.
C: What are your favorite and least favorite films that Exhumed has screened?
DF: Favorite movies: GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, EQUINOX, DEMONS, PHANTASM, RAW FORCE, DR. BUTCHER, MD, PIECES, JOYSTICKS.
Least Favorite movies: all the rape-y movies: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE PARK, ICHI THE KILLER, etc.
C: Can you provide any hints as to what we’ll see at this month’s 24 Hour Horror-Thon?
DF: Nothing you’ve seen before at an Exhumed show. All 14 films are new to us, and as a result you’ll get no really super-big titles. We’ve shown pretty much every major horror film of the last thirty-forty years (all the Fulci zombie films, the Romero zombie films, the John Carpenter films, the FRIDAY THE 13TH films, the ELM STREET films, RE-ANIMATOR, DEAD/ALIVE, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, the EVIL DEAD trilogy…). There are none left to do! So what you’ll get at this year’s show is nothing like that—more obscure, more rarities (though that’s not to say audience members won’t be familiar with many of our titles). In truth, this might be the most exciting Horror-thon so far. I’m really excited. I think every film this year is a winner. Hopefully the audience will think so too.
Next up is Exhumed Films/Diabolik DVD co-founder Jesse Nelson, check back later today.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.