Shelf Space: An Interview with Diabolik DVD

As a majority of BGH readers are predecessors to the digital age, we know that underground cinema pairs with nothing better than our local, specialty video stores of days past. But with those cinefile safe-havens disappearing, what do we do? Roll over and die in the bottom of a Wal-Mart 5 dollar movie bin? Scour Amazon and Ebay until we reach a state of catatonia? Shit no, man. Diabolik DVD is here for you!

Diabolik DVD has taken the niche-conscious climate of the humbled video store and made it available online for the whole world to thumb through. If you are a collector of cult home video and haven't made yourself familiar with this company, you should. The potent catalogue of domestic, imported, and out of print titles is unmatched to any other. Add responsive and knowledgeable customer service to that and you've got yourself a site that's crucial for those collecting underground DVD and Blu-ray.

For this segment of Shelf Space, I was able to chat with Jesse Nelson, the driving force behind Diabolik DVD; Not before struggling/panicking while trying to figure out how to Google chat... I may look 23, but I promise you, I have the sensibility of a 70 year old.

Bloody Good Horror: Ok so Ill start it with the conventional- Tell me about Diabolik DVD. How did it start?

Jesse Nelson: Diabolik started out as a small side business, selling VHS tapes online and at our Exhumed Films shows. We used to scour flea markets, pick up oddball horror movies and sell them for $10. I cry now when I think of how many big box "ZOMBIE" VHS I sold for $10 and I never even kept one for myself. We did well with it but it wasn't always easy to find stuff and eventually we moved on to DVDs. I think the first thing I imported was "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" from Hong Kong when it was still in theatres here. The early days were a lot of Asian films. Eventually we moved on to more horror and cult films as things started popping up around the world. It was a long time before we even carried domestic titles and nowadays we carry very few Asian titles.

BGH: Talk to me about Exhumed for a second.

Jesse: Years ago, we went to the Fantasia festival in Montreal when it was still in its early days and screening a lot of horror. While we were there, we were blown away by the new 35mm prints of Fulci's "The Beyond" and "Cannibal Ferox" that Grindhouse Releasing had struck. When we got back, we made contact, and agreed to rent "Zombie" and "Gates of Hell" (which were vintage prints) for a Halloween show at a local dive of a theatre. Our thought was that at the very least we will have a fun halloween party, watching these two movies on the big screen, and we will put some of our own money out. But the show did very well and we just continued on from there. Now we have nearly monthly screenings in Philadelphia at the Ihouse and the PhilaMoca plus we have two flagship events - the 12hr eXfest and the 24hr Horror-Thon annually.

BGH: Whats the seminal film(s) that inspired your initial love for genre films?

Jesse: I grew up in the 70s and my dad would take me to see everything- So I have very vivid memories of seeing "Jaws", watching "The Exorcist" on TV, "Salem's Lot" Mini-Series and into the 80s "The Thing" and "Evil Dead" really shaped what I still enjoy. I really don't enjoy some of the over violent films of today despite my love of the violent films I grew up on.

BGH: You know, my father used to talk about seeing "The Exorcist" when it came to theaters and how nuts it was but growing up I could never really get him to sit and watch a horror movie with me. I know a lot of people who would say the same about their parents. Do you think there's a reason for that? For all the adults who lose whatever taste they once had in horror films.

Jesse: It's interesting because I will still watch something like "Evil Dead" (1981) and not have an issue with it, but I didn't really enjoy the violence in the new "Evil Dead". It just didn't have the same glee as the original. Meanwhile, something like "Eden" really upset me. I liked the film, but the stabbing scene was just brutal and the ending was a kick in the nuts. I have no other explanation other than it comes with getting older. I haven't let my 10 year old daughter watch anything more extreme than "Hellboy" though I overhear people at conventions talking to their kids about "Chucky, Jason and Freddy" all the time. Its almost like I was desensitized for a long time and then came back around.

BGH: Since you have your hands on cult/horror films from all over the world, Which country/region do you think has the most to offer for someone looking to expand their pallet?

Jesse: At one point I would have said Japan, but I really lost interest in a hurry. I am not sure I can really put a finger on any specific country for current output, but for horror and exploitation films Italy is always the goto country. The 70s and 80s offered so many crazy horror, crime and exploitation films, its hard to top them. I would probably say "Dellamorte Dellamore" was the last great film to come from there. I would also direct people to the Mondo Macabro label. They have gone to the trouble of picking out some real gems from around the world. "Lady Terminator" and "Mystics in Bali"....FTW

BGH: That was actually going to be my next question! What companies are putting out your favorites at the moment. Mondo Macabro being number one?

Jesse: I really do love Mondo Macabro for their output. I just wish they would put out more titles. I also love Vinegar Syndrome lately. Who would ever expect "Night Train to Terror" on Blu-Ray!

BGH: That IS bad ass! I'm going to assume that you have a pretty respectable collection of home video titles and possibly some paraphernalia. What is the most sacred piece(s) in your personal catalogue?

Jesse: I started scaling back my collection earlier this year as I was planning to move, but there are certain things like my original "Suspiria" one sheet and my "Alien" kid's costume that I could never part with.

BGH: Being so involved with home video as well as the theatrical side of films, do you partake in video streaming? Do you think it will eventually wipe out the physical format?

Jesse: I do netflix but I don't love the quality of the streaming, plus I like to have the physical product. For something I want to see, I don't mind, but for something I want to own, I want to have a disc and a case sitting on my shelf.

BGH: So what's your favorite part about what you do?

Jesse: As much as I hate working a convention, it is really my favorite part
of the business since I get to meet so many of my customers in person that I usually have little or no contact with and never in person. Without the horror community, neither Diabolik or Exhumed would survive.

BGH: Where would you like to take Diabolik next? Or are you right where you want to be?

Jesse: I am not really interested in starting my own label, which is always a question I get and opening a store really seems like a bigger burden on the business. I am happy doing what we are doing for as long as people are still interested in buying discs.

BGH: These are all really great answers. Thanks a ton!

Jesse: Thank you. It was fun.

Fun it was Jesse.. fun it was. Seriously though, my man takes films from all over the globe that fuel us sub-culture freaks, puts them all in one place, and wraps it up in a slick website with a bow on top. I'm stoked; You should be too! Spend a few moments browsing his website and I promise that you'll find something on DVD/Blu-ray you've wanted your whole life and you didn't even know it existed.

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