By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Genre Blu-ray distributor Synapse Films’ recent release of THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE delighted zombie fans (in part because it started shipping in mid-July, a month and a half ahead of its announced street date). The Steelbook package also whetted horror devotees’ appetites with a “COMING SOON” page in an enclosed booklet listing such titles as THE DEADLY SPAWN, Mike Mendez’s THE CONVENT and KILLERS, Nick Castle’s directorial debut TAG THE ASSASSINATION GAME and a pair of titles announced a few years ago: the slime-monster saga THE KINDRED (pictured above) and the cult-favorite teen-revenge picture MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH. So RUE MORGUE decided to place a call to Synapse president Don May Jr. to get the lowdown on what’s up with their upcoming genre slate–including one not on that list, Amando de Ossorio’s classic TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD.
How has THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE been doing?
It’s been doing great. What’s funny is, we started shipping it early; our original street date was September 1, but we had everything finished–the Steelbooks were done, the covers were done, the discs were done, the booklet. So I went to our distributor and said, “You know what? We have all the pieces, and people are going through a lot of bullshit right now with the pandemic, and they could use a pick-me-up and a surprise.” So we decided, let’s pack them up and send them out early. And the fans really appreciated that; they were sending me e-mails: “I didn’t expect this a month and a half early! Thank you so much.” And I felt it was the least we could do during this horrible time when a lot of people are out of work and suffering, and maybe getting it to them a little early would put a smile on their face.
What is the status of THE KINDRED?
That’s been going on for years. There were issues that had to be taken care of with the film’s owners first, that came up after we announced it all those years ago. Over the time those took to resolve, I realized that the masters we had were no longer up to par, because they had been done years before. So when we got the green light to continue, I decided to redo everything from scratch. Then COVID happened, and the labs we work with are still closed; a lot of people in the restoration industry are not working, so it’s taking a little time. We’re just kind of waiting it out and finishing up a couple of other projects, and hopefully, in another month or so, we’ll be able to get the materials that we need and continue with THE KINDRED.
What kind of bonus features do you have planned for it?
Red Shirt Pictures has done a lot of great extras, like making-ofs. We even got an interview with Amanda Pays, which was able to happen because of the delays; her schedule freed up and we finally got her. And the version of THE KINDRED we’re doing is the international edition, which has a few extra gore snippets, so it’ll be worth the wait. Synapse doesn’t put anything out before its time; we want to make sure it’s right before we put it out because, knock on wood, we haven’t had any mistakes or recalls in 23 years, and there aren’t too many other companies out there that can say the same.
Where is MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH at this point?
We’re getting everything finished right now. I posted a little sneak on my Instagram recently, just to let everyone know we’re still plugging along. Understandably, people are like, “Oh, it’s been years…” but again, Synapse does not release something until I feel it’s fucking done. I don’t want to put out something just to put it out, if I don’t feel I’ve done the best work I can on it. The problem with MASSACRE was very similar to the one we had with TENEBRAE. We got the masters for that, and there was all this baked-in garbage from a poorly done restoration process that we had to go back in and fix.
It was a very similar situation with MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH: We got the files, and had no control over the master. We didn’t scan it, we didn’t supervise it, and on the surface, it was like, “This is pretty good,” but then I started seeing things: Buttons, details, etc. disappearing and reappearing from frame to frame. And I actually fired two restoration companies that took a crack at fixing it. They made things worse instead of better in some cases. Then we finally found a third company, which also handled MANCHESTER MORGUE for us, and they did a great job. So MASSACRE has taken a while, but it’s coming.
Did Renee Daalder’s death last year (from Parkinson’s/Alzheimer’s disease) affect that project?
It did. Renee was awesome; I miss that guy. When he would call us, we ended up having hour, two-hour conversations. Early on in the project, he told us, “Look, this project means a lot to me, and I want to do my own extras. I know everybody, I can get people.” And my business partner Jerry Chandler and I were like, “OK, fine,” and we started working on other things. Then we started not hearing from him anymore, and got a little worried. And then we heard that he was not going to be able to do the supplements. I didn’t ask for details; they just said, “He can’t do the extras anymore, he’s not going to do any on-camera interviews or commentaries. You’d better find somebody else.” So we hired Red Shirt Pictures to jump in and take over. We waited for Renee for two years; God bless him, he had a passion for the movie, and I was really hoping he could pull it off, but his health was in decline. It hit us very hard, because Renee was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever worked with in the industry. He was so easygoing and so passionate and funny; he was like, “Maybe we can do HABITAT too!” and unfortunately that never happened.
What can you tell us about THE DEADLY SPAWN?
We scanned the negative, the AB roll, and it’s messy. We put the DVD out years ago, but when you’re dealing with DVD resolution, you don’t see as much. A lot of the fine dirt and problems inherent in the material don’t show up until you scan it at a higher resolution with better equipment. So we scanned DEADLY SPAWN in 4K, and we were like, “Uh-oh! [Laughs] This is a real mess!” I sent it, again, to two different restoration houses, they sent me samples back, and again, I was upset with both of them. Then we found that company that did MANCHESTER MORGUE, and I was happy with them. We had to pull the 4K data from the other two places and send it to India, and then…COVID, which India is still being incredibly affected by even today.
I talked to [SPAWN producer] Ted Bohus recently, and he’s trying to find the original dialogue, music and effects tracks so we can do a brand new mix. What I’d also like to do with DEADLY SPAWN is create new 4K DCPs and it put it back out there if and when theaters reopen.
How about the Mike Mendez movies?
We’re still looking for materials for THE CONVENT. There’s a 4K master available that was done by the licensor with the materials they had, a couple of theatrical prints, which doesn’t look so hot. If we have to use it, we will, but we think we’ve found the original materials. The production company went under, so all the materials got scattered, and it’s hard to figure out the chain of where everything went. Around December or January, we found where we think the materials are. They’re in California, in a lab that is closed because of the pandemic. That’s basically the answer for every title you’re asking about: COVID happened!
We’re also working on KILLERS, and as soon as my schedule opens, I’m going to go back to that. That movie never had Mike Mendez’s true ending attached; the distributor wanted a different one, and Mike was never happy with that. So we found the original materials and we’re going to restore his ending.
What’s up with TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD?
TOMBS is another one where we’re in the middle of fixing a restoration. We licensed TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and were given a restored master, and were like, “This is a brand new restoration from Germany!” And there are things disappearing from the image! There’s a scene at the end where one of the Templar zombies raises a sword to cut someone down, and the whole sword disappears from the frame. And in one of the scenes in the beginning where a girl jumps off the train, and it goes by and a tree passes in front of her, she completely vanishes behind the tree, and then reappears when the tree clears her body. So we’re fixing TOMBS; as of a few weeks ago, they had 10 shots they were still working on, so hopefully we’ll get those soon and can put them back into the timeline and continue on with it. We have a lot of new extras, documentaries and interviews scheduled; in fact, I got an e-mail not long ago from [star] Lone Fleming, who said, “Hey, it’s so great that you’re doing TOMBS! Congratulations! If you need anything, let me know,” and I was like, “Uh, OK!” [Laughs] That was so cool.
What can you say about TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME?
We were searching for better materials for a while, and found a 35mm internegative, but I had paperwork that had a trail of where the negative and the interpositives were, which are generations above an internegative. But all of that paperwork was from the ’80s, when the film was bought by New World. So we called New World–Julie Corman and those guys–and they were like, “We don’t have anything. It’s been decades, we don’t have that stuff.” So all our trails went dry, and we looked and looked and looked and finally found an internegative at Warner Bros., of all places. But we don’t know how good it looks, because after we found it…COVID happened [laughs]! So it’s still sitting in the lab, waiting for it to reopen so we can have a look at it.
With the pandemic interrupting everything, how have you and Synapse been keeping busy?
Over the COVID break, we’ve done a lot. We revamped our website, so we now have Synapse Films and Impulse Pictures as two separate websites, because it was amazing to me that people with delicate eyes, ears and brains were very upset that we had porn on our Synapse site! It was like, “How dare you have adult-oriented material when I went to buy HOT DOG: THE MOVIE!” [Laughs] Also during that time, we decided that it might be best for Synapse to switch distributors, so we’re moving to MVD. There’s a lot to do there; we’re shifting 20-plus years’ worth of titles from one place to another, and it’s going to take a little time.
Head over to Synapse’s updated website here.