Lost Highway recently caught up with Josh Schafer, owner and editor of Lunchmeat VHS Magazine, a great independent publication that celebrates the obscure and esoteric stuff in horror / exploitation / fantasy from the VHS era. Josh was gracious enough to give us the low down on his magazine and discuss his love of b-movies.
LH:Tell us a bit about yourself. I can’t imagine you just write this magazine all day long when there’s so much cheap child labor to do it for you? What keeps you busy on a daily basis? Who are your partners in crime?
JS: Well, lem’me see hurrr… as you would probably guess I watch a lot of movies, read fantastic fiction quite frequently, work on my own writing aside from LM… just escape the best ways I know how. I currently work at Drexel University in Phila. PA, so there’s the day job for ya, haha. I work on LM a lot, though. There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not doing something to make it progress. It’s an intense and passionate hobby. It’s really just myself and my buddy John [DeSantis] and an army of really talented, wonderful writers that are so kind as to lend their minds and time to a cause they believe in. Ted [Gilbert] was a big part of LM when it started up, but he’s since went on to have a baby and pursue his career as a teacher. He’s still involved with the ‘zine, but on a more peripheral level. He’s still a really good friend, too, and I see him when I can.
Other than that, I just keep it chill and have a good time as much as humanly possible. I hang out with my friends and family a lot; they’re the most important thing in my life. I enjoy going on adventures, camping, reminiscing over times gone by while drinkin’ some brews… BBQ’ing, stomping around in the woods, going to flea markets, Salvation Armys, Goodwills, collecting the stuff I find at these places. Believe it or not, I love playing sandlot football, softball, kickball etc. I release soundtracks and scores on vinyl every once in a while with my good buddy Ben Harris….
LH: Let’s go back to a simpler time when people ate more red meat and smoked heavily, what got you into cult cinema/b-movies and VHS?
JS: Man, I’ve been into watching flicks ever since I could see straight, haha. I always say that, but it’s true. I mean, ever since I was little, I was into movies, cartoons, everything. It wasn’t always horror then just like it’s not now. I mean, some of my favorite flicks aren’t horror flicks, that’s for sure. THE SANDLOT, WILLY WONKA, THE NINJA TURTLE MOVIES… not horror flicks, but without a doubt cultivated my love for the art form that is film. But I know when my fascination with horror flicks really started: my Mom would take me to the local Mom and Pop Video Shop (R.I.P Video Vision) every Friday for years and years and years – I’d say the entire length of my childhood. That’s really what spawned my obsession with weird, fringe cinema. Just being enamored in that store, staring at all that lurid and insane box staring back at ME. Haha. It was amazing for me, man. I’ve always had a very (over)active imagination, and watching these flicks just made me happy, sent me to another world. I’m still the same way now. I still haven’t stopped watching.
LH: What made you decide to put together a magazine?
JS: I wanted to make something real. I’ve always been a collector and very fond of physical media: books, records, VHS tapes etc. And since the internet is how most people get their information nowadays, I think it’s really important to keep physical media around. It’s tangible; it’s not just some coding the blinks on some screen. And I mean, ultimately, it was always about the tapes – that’s the real reason why I started LM: I wanted to talk about these radical movies that you could only get on tape, you know? I never thought it would get such a great reaction. I mean, Ted and I just wanted put something out. Do a DIY, punk rock kinda thing, ya know? I’m absolutely thrilled with how it’s come along. I can’t stress that enough. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to connect with so many people that care about VHS and weird cinema in general.
LH: What was the first horror movie you remember seeing that scarred you for life and made you the twisted human being we’ve all come to identify with?
JS: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD scared the crap out of me. I can recall some of my friends just knowing that I was scared when it came to zombies and they’d be like, “Zombies, Josh!! OOOoooooOOoo.. they’re gonna eat your face!” And I was terrified, haha. It might sound weird coming from a guy that watches so much horror stuff and reads so much spooky, otherworldly lit, but that’s what I enjoy about this stuff – it actually works on me, you know? Haha. I mean, not the same as when I was a kid, but still, it’s got its moments when it sends chills up your spine, which is something I love…. Hmmmm… other flicks that freaked me out: LEPRECHAUN (this thing is SCARY when you’re a kid), STEPHEN KING’S: IT, PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, JACOB’S LADDER… just a few that stole sleep from me.
LH: There’re a lot of horror magazines floating around out there. How would you describe Lunchmeat Magazine to oh, let’s say to a starving guy lost in the woods and is starving for a good meal?
JS: Well, after I take this poor guy out for a super-awesome plate of nachos and a das boot of beer, I’d describe LM as an independent zine with one thing in mind: to cover the obscure and esoteric stuff in horror / exploitation / fantasy, the VHS format in particular, and all the other radical stuff that “other” horror magazines won’t cover, or didn’t cover before, anyway. It’s a place where VCRs are your main machine. Weird character actors wear the crown and the stuff that’s buried in your weird but interesting neighbor’s basement is brought back to life. And referring to my comment before about “or didn’t cover before, anyway”, I feel like a lot of horror mags are starting to pay more attention to VHS now, which is fantastic. RM did a VHS SPECIAL ISSUE and HorrorHound does a feature on old releasing companies. I think it’s so important, man. VHS is the format that ushered all of these horror flicks into your home. And by that same token, they preserve so many of these great independent gems that’ll never see another format… and that’s why you should have a VCR, haha.
LH: The cover artwork to your magazine is amazing that I’ve actually had to close my eyes for fear of being stricken with awesome blindness. How do you go about finding artists for that?
JS: We’ve had two artists craft our covers. Jonathan Canady did issues 1 and 2, and Tanner Toft has created 3 through 5. Tanner’s gonna be our guy until he’s no longer able. Jon’s been my good friend for a while; we used to work together at Relapse Records, which is a metal label based out of PA. Jon also paints, does experimental music and writes. He’s one of the most multi-talented and humble dudes I have the pleasure of knowing. Tanner’s been my boy since we we’re in high school. We used to ride to school together in the morning and stuff, hang out all the time. He had a skate shop in NJ for a while, and that was a blast. We’d just hang out in there, drink chocolate milk, eat food and watch VHS tapes and kids would rove around looking at skate stuff. Great times. He’s always been an amazingly chill, talented guy. A great friend, too. He’s a party animal, hahaha.
LH: What’s your opinion on the rise of Netflix and the decline of videostores? And do you hate Blockbuster as much as we do?
JS: I think Netflix is a great tool for people. I won’t denounce it, but I will say I am resistant to new stuff. It’s just my nature. I can’t say it makes perfect sense, haha. I use Netflix. I use my friend’s accounts to watch instant download stuff. Netflix has a TON of stuff on Instant Download that’s currently VHS only. You gotta dig that. Of course, I miss the old days of Mom and Pop video shops. That’s where it all began, man. There are still those kinds of shops here and there… but not everywhere. LM knows a bunch of them, and we’ve highlighted them in the zine. We’ll continue to do that throughout the life of the zine. We wanna put those people out there for fighting the good fight.
Yeah, Blockbuster sucks. I applied there once when I was 17 and they didn’t hire me. What dumbasses.
LH: What tape did you watch until it broke? Did you get a 2nd copy?
JS: Hmmm, a few, I guess, haha. My copy of TCM has been run through so many times it just looks like smeared ink on black construction paper with choppy sound, haha. I must have watched that copy about 500 times, no lie. Yeah, I’m a re-watcher. I broke a copy of THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, but that was probably just because it was a Video Treasures version, and while that company did cool stuff, it wasn’t the best quality. Oh, and I have like 5 copies of TCM on VHS to answer if I got a replacement copy. Nerd. Hmmmm… can’t think of any other tapes breaking, but I have watched some flicks so much that the print just deteriorates (like TCM). Other examples of that would be PSYCHOMANIA and OCTAMAN. OCTAMAN is the most intense ‘cause I only found that flick about 5 years ago, haha. It does have something to do with the original quality of the tape, but yeah, it says something about the flick… it rules.
LH: What are some of your favorite b-movies/cult films you discovered on VHS?
JS: Well, OCTAMAN, I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE, MICROWAVE MASSACRE, EYES OF FIRE, PAPERHOUSE (I saw this flick on pay-cable years ago and re-found it after buying the tape), MOTHER’S DAY (one of my all-time favs), C.H.U.D., MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE, MOTEL HELL, BLOOD SALVAGE, CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD…. I found so many movies for the first time on VHS. That was just how I found new movies when I was younger. That, or on cable channels like HBO or Cinemax. HellloOOoooOO. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and GARBAGE PAIL KIDS!
LH: With the re-emergence of vinyl are you seeing a similar interest in VHS tapes starting to occur and will it lead to more hippies?
JS: Oh, yeah. I mean, there are some SERIOUS collectors out there, dude. People that will drop half a paycheck on a tape. More power to ‘em. If you got ‘em, smoke ‘em, you know? I know I don’t have the cash to drop 100 bucks on a tape. That’s just not how I roll. I think it’s rad that people want this stuff so bad, but the best thing to do is dig. Go to yard sales, thrift shops, estate sales. That’s the Promised Land for this kind of stuff. But if you’re a richy rich type (again don’t mean that in a derogatory sense), you can find nearly anything on the internet, save a few elusive gems.
More Hippies? Dude, I have no idea. Hopefully, if that does happen, they’ll be deformed, toxic hippies infected by the overdose of gnarly chemicals seeping from the faulty magnetic tape inside the video. But I better be careful what I wish for. I mean, if VHS creates “video hippies”, I think I might already be one of them. LOL
LH: Are there any interviews you did or people you’ve encountered in the b-movie industry that really stood out to you? Was their tequila and hot tubbing involved in any of them. If not feel free to make stuff up.
JS: I have met so many wonderful and weird people by publishing Lunchmeat. And I’d like to say first and foremost how awesome I think that is. It’s fantastic for me. Carl Crew was a stand-out interview. He’s a very odd person. And I mean that in the most sincerely nice way possible. He’s definitely a unique personality. Very nice guy. I’ve been in touch with people that others might not consider famous, but do a lot for the VHS and horror subculture. Like Jon Canady, my buddy that I mentioned before. He’s done so much for underground music etc. and I’m just thrilled to call him a friend. Of course, I met him through working at Relapse, but it’s all connected. If it wasn’t for Jon, LM wouldn’t be around. He helped design and submit the first issue to the printer. But actually through LM, I’ve met and worked with Rob Hauschild, Heather Drain, Joe Moe, Lynn Lowry, Keith Crocker…. Tremendous people that are doing what they want and the collective subculture should feel fortunate that they are. Seems bold, but it’s true, man.
LH: Do you have some favorite directors or actors/actresses you really admire from the time of VHS cinema.
JS: Oh, man. So many people I admire… it’s hard to pick from the VHS era, though, so you’ll have to forgive me? haha. John Saxon, Don Dohler, Roger Corman, Hitchcock, William Castle, Susan Tyrell, John Waters, Bert I. Gordon, Rod Serling, Vincent Price, Ingrid Pitt…. The List is enormous, man. Not by name, but I really admire anyone and everyone that endeavored to make a low-budget film. I can appreciate that mentality. Some of ‘em were just trying to make a buck, but you can’t always think you’re making art, right? That’s just too serious, haha.
LH: What is your opinion on the state of modern horror in today’s cinema and direct to DVD/ video on demand?
JS: It’s got its high points. I liked INSIDE and HUMAN CENTIPEDE. Those were great flicks. But for the most part, it’s pretty dismal and hackneyed. I mean, I know there’s A LOT of stuff out there I haven’t seen, but most of what I have seen is just recycled garbage. It’s cool for some people, I’m sure. Those flicks have to be there to get younger kids into horror, you know? It’s rare that a 15 year-old kid will gravitate directly to old-school stuff. I certainly can’t condemn the new stuff. But I don’t have to like it. Besides, you know I’m in a time warp, hahaha.
LH: Are you or have you ever been a member of the communist party?
JS: No, but I cook hot dogs in the microwave sometime. Does that offend anyone? No?.. Well, it should! haha
LH: What can we look forward to in some upcoming issues?
JS: Obscure flicks that only exist on VHS. Coverage of some of the best film esoterica you’ve never heard of. Interviews with people you never knew existed, but probably have worked on films you love. Radical cover scans with jaunty copy underneath, haha. Just lots of fun, fun stuff that I think people will really dig. And this is open to anyone and everyone – get a hold of us! Tell us about your favorite flick(s) and tell us your VHS memories, or how you’ve never forgotten them. Hang out with us!
LH: What is your favorite grocery meat product? We’re partial to Oscar Mayer Lunchables and those tiny circles of ham. How do they find pigs that small?
JS: Dude, I have no idea where they find those little piggies. They is delicious, though. I’m gonna go with Chicken Nuggets / Tenders / Fun Shapes. Man, I could just eat those all day. And have you ever had chicken nugget nachos? For real? Dude…….
We want to thank Josh for spending some time with us on the highway and are looking forward to more upcoming issues of Lunchmeat magazine in our mailbox. There’ll be more exciting news from them here on our site soon. To learn about subscribing to their publication, please visit www.lunchmeatvhs.com. Be sure to tell them Lost Highway sent ya.