BS: For starters, tell us about yourself and how you came to be a lover of film.
VB: Well, I’m a filmmaker from Long Island New York. I’ve been making little movies since I got my first camcorder for x-mas at like 11 or 12 years old. As far back as I can remember, I have always loved movies. When I was really young, my older sisters would dress me up play Rock Horror Picture Show for me. They were both into punk and underground film so, I was introduced to all that shit early on. But when I was like 10 or 11 my mom rented “The Shining” for me. It scared me so fucking bad, that I liked it. It got me into the horror genre for sure. It also got me really interested in directors. I obsessed about the film, read everything I could about it, and then eventually got really into the director, Stanley Kubrick. I liked older movies more, especially from the 70’s. I started getting into other directors like Scorsese and Hitchcock, and tried to watch everything they did. As I got older, it was all about the VHS horror section at the mom and pop store, horror magazines, horror conventions. Now my life and pretty much revolves around film.
VB: Well, originally, I had bought the distribution rights to put out Jim’s early work: Twenty five never-before-seen 8mm films. Everything he’d made from the time he was 11 years old to his college years. Really great stuff. Little Jim Van Bebber doing these epic backyard productions, starring all the neighborhood kids. Even at an early age there are inventive camera tricks, stop-motion animation, sea monsters, decapitations, alien attacks. Then there are the grittier, bloody, kung fu-inspired films, like “White Trash”, about an underground fight club run by the local mob. Great locations, real actors, well choreographed fight scenes, etc. They’re all really advanced and you can see the talent and love of movie making in just these films. So, after seeing this stuff and already being a fan of his other films, I just thought it would make a great documentary. I already had these 25 films that begin to tell the story of an unappreciated, honest American filmmaker. All I had to do was fill in the cracks and bring everything up to date.. So, I asked Jim and he agreed to it. At that point, my job had just put me on the salary payroll and I had, for the first time in my life, a week’s paid vacation to use. So, I put in for my vacation and I booked a flight to California to meet Jim. Three years later and here we are.
VB: There are a lot of stories people tell in the documentary. Phil (Anselmo of Pantera fame) talks a lot about the tour he did in Europe with his band DOWN where Jim, and frequent partner Mike King, went along to make a documentary- there’s some wild stories there for sure! There are actually a lot of interesting stories that came out in the LA Interviews. Jim had lived out there, I believe, post-Manson Family and I just feel like it was two worlds colliding; you have the “Hollywood” system and then Jim Van Bebber, the personification of everything Hollywood is not. The independent horror and cult scene out there is associated with over-hyped directors like Adam Green, who make silly movies like “Hatchet”. So, there was definitely a clash of personalities. Jim came into that town like Clint Eastwood or something, ready to shake up their little Tinseltown, and they just weren’t ready for it.
BS: Without giving too much of the film away, what was the most shocking thing you discovered while shooting?
VB: The most shocking thing? I guess it’s not really shocking, but all the projects and scripts Jim was attached to. He was originally supposed to direct the Toolbox Murders remake. He wrote a dynamite script for it that would have been so much better than that shit that was later released. There is just a pile of incredible scripts that are waiting to be made. There’s a script on Al Capone called “Capone: The King of Crime” that would blow “The Untouchables” away. There’s an Iraq war script he wrote with Sage Stallone (head of Grindhouse Releasing), a voodoo biker film, even a sequel to Deadbeat at Dawn. I’m shocked that these films have never seen the light of day.Again, I don’t know if this is shocking, but interesting was the fact that Jim had been involved as an actor in this whole other world of underground films on the West Coast. Underground filmmakers like Joe Bosco, who makes these really serious, drug influenced, seedy, road films has used Jim on a number of occasions as an actor and even a fight choreographer. Then, there’s Las Vegas filmmaker Ron Atkins who directed Jim in his psychedelic violent opus “The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell” as one of the lead characters. I was able to get interviews with a lot of these filmmakers and it just brings out another side of Jim, as like a tough guy actor. Regardless of the budget or the subject matter, Jim puts in these powerful, unhinged performances.
VB: Everything is out of pocket. That’s why it takes me so long to get shit done. I’m broke, I’m unemployed, and I have decided to dedicate myself to my film projects, so that’s really all I do. I’m always editing, trying to set up an interview, scheduling this, getting that developed. It’s constant but I love it! I love that kind of controlled chaos. It’s never boring. For the past couple of years, a lot of my time has been dedicated to this documentary. There’s over 35 talking heads in this doc, and the majority of the interviews were done with just me travelling around and doing interviews whenever possible. Anytime I had a little extra money, I would put it towards the doc. Went to LA twice to compile interviews, hosted Jim at a horror convention in Ohio, toured the place he grew up, and then went to Florida while Jim prepares to make a new film. It’s never felt overwhelming though, because I feel like it’s all worth it.
BS: Talk about some of the best moments you had with Jim Van Bebber while filming this. Whether tense or completely hilarious, what were the finest moments in making this documentary for you?
VB: Wow, man there’s been so many to be honest with you, but if I were to narrow it down to one, it’s got to be the whole Cinema Wasteland Convention in Strongsville, Ohio. If your not familiar with it, (Oh, we’re familiar!! We LOVE Wasteland!!-Ed.) Cinema Wasteland is a small horror, exploitation and drive-in convention that takes place over the course of a weekend. This is where the real cult fans go, where underground filmmakers like Bill Zebub and Fred Vogel are rightfully celebrated. People actually go to screenings, panels are packed up; it’s the most laid back show and also the craziest fucking party. The convention hours end and your in this hotel filled with all these crazy horror fans. Jim is almost like the Ohio cult film hero. He’s from Ohio and made his classic gang film “Deadbeat at Dawn” there, amongst most of his other films, too. At Wasteland, he was back at home and everyone wanted to party with him. It was really amazing though, because a lot of his old friends and people he has worked with had come out to see him. And the amount of fans that came out to see Jim was what was really cool. There were so many things people brought to get signed like original VHS copies of his films, nun-chucks, posters. That’s what I loved about Cinema Wasteland- the fans really love and appreciate the low budget underground world. Everything about the weekend was crazy, from the “Dead Beat at Dawn Reunion” panel, which was just the most rowdy Q & A you can imagine, people at the show were comparing it to a G.G. Allin performance or something. Legendary, insightful, unpredictable and off the wall… and the camera was rolling for most of it! It was just a legendary weekend.
VB: Maybe the people that don’t know him that well? I think some people are intimidated by him because he’s just an intense guy, and his films are intense, but I don’t think anybody hates him. There’s a lot of different opinions on him and his films, as you can see just from the trailer, but people are interested in him nonetheless. No one makes movies and dedicates themselves to film like Jim does, and when he’s not working he gets frustrated. Maybe people don’t understand that, but that’s what I am hoping to show. How it actually is to live a life as an uncompromising, outlaw filmmaker.
VB: It’s because they don’t censor themselves and do exactly what they want. “Combat Shock” is exactly how Buddy G envisioned it, ya’ know? And he was able to work on some bigger budgets films and have a good career as well. They make the films that want without compromise, they push the limits, and don’t second guess themselves. I would think that any filmmaker wants to be successful, at least to the point where they can make the movies they want without taking years to do it.
VB: Well, I just finished up a couple music videos. One for this metal band in Boston called SEXCREMENT. It’s a real nasty video. Jim makes a cameo in that as a meth addict and it stars one of my great friends, Linnea Quigley, as a woman who runs a bar that sells meth piss. I shot all the piss collecting footage on super 8, so it looks real filthy. Drag Queens, angry meth heads, junkie moms, real piss- its a trashy, sex, drugs and rock and roll overload.This summer Chainsaw Kiss is starting production on a film called “Shitfucked: A Vile Love Story,” a raunchy lesbian love story written by Hannah Neurotica. And then, of course, I would love to finish “Blood Wings” this year, but that won’t happen unless I came into a big chunk of money. Its a feature film that we started shooting almost 4 years ago now on 16mm. The process of shooting on 16mm film becomes so expensive with all the developing and transfer fees, but I love the process. It’s a different experience and I like the look of it a lot more. I’m set on trying to finish at least shooting that this year.
VB: I wasn’t surprised that Phil Anselmo was a fan. I knew they were friends, but he tells this story in his interview how the first time he met Jim he wrote him a check for $5,000 to give towards the “Manson Family.” It showed how much people respect and believe in his work, that even on the first time of meeting him, Phil was such a fan that he wanted to help out with what Jim was working on at the time.Probably the most surprising though was Vincent Gallo. I found out he was a huge fan of Jim’s and then tried to get him in the doc. I had this crazy conversation with him one time over the phone where he told me how much he loved “Deadbeat at Dawn” and how he would love to be the star of a film that Jim would direct. It was a a surreal phone conversation. Unfortunately, it actually never went past that and I wasn’t able to get an interview with him in the documentary. That would have been a great interview.
BS: Who are your influences as a filmmaker, aside from JVB? What are some of your favorite flicks?
VB: If I was to keep it to just filmmakers? Kubrick, John Waters, Paul Bartel, Walter Hill, Sam Peckinpah, Frank Hennenlotter, David Lynch, Martin Scorcese, Jodoworski, Polanski, early Wes Craven, Fred Dekker, Richard Kern, Sylvester Stallone, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Argento, John Hughes, Dennis Hopper, and Paul Schroeder. Some of my favorite flicks are Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Wanderers, Into the Blue, Legend, The Garbage Pail Kids, Monster Squad, Cape Fear, First Blood, The Shining, Sleepaway Camp, Return to OZ, Night of the Living Dead, May, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Street Trash, Paradise Lost, Bad Dreams, Savage Streets, Amityville Horror 2, Carrie, and I Spit On Your Grave.
VB: Well, I’m getting a website together soon for Chainsaw Kiss. I’ll have updates there. I’m trying to have this done in a few months and then start maybe trying to play some festivals and shit. Since I started working on features, this doc and my film, Blood Wings…I haven’t been able to submit anything in a while. I always enjoyed the festival experience. You meet a lot of interesting people, and you get to almost screen test your film to an unknown audience. But I guess just find me on the internet. Sometimes I post stuff on my youtube/chainsawkiss. As for the documentary subject itself, if people aren’t familiar with him- Jim Van Bebber is one of those filmmakers that comes around every 50 years. A literal born filmmaker. Some one who had to do it as a kid, and someone who has to do it now. One of those filmmakers who will not compromise his work, and has to struggle to make his film. His films and his fans are unlike any other, and his story is original and real. This documentary is raw, honest, straight forward, and a real look at someone who was born, lives, eats, shits, and sleeps film. It also gives you a look into the real underground film world and what its like to live the life of a dedicated filmmaker. Keep supporting independent film and keep a look out for it. Thanks, Wes.
Tags: Adam Green, Blood, cinema, cult, Deadbeat at Dawn, exploitation, film, grindhouse releasing, Hatchet, Horror, Independent, Jim Van Bebber, John Waters, Manson Family, rocky horror picture show, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Victor Bonacore