That’s Sexploitation? Alright Then! + Suspect Video’s Slow Fade to Black

August 28, 2016 | By

I first heard the name Something Weird (SW) when my friend Mike mentioned a series of stag loop that were packed into multi-volume VHS tapes under the catchy brand name Bucky Beaver. These were being rented by a local shop called Suspect Video, along with other SW oddities like Nude on the Moon (1961), by pioneering sexploitationeer Doris Wishman.



Who can resist? You? I think not!


The early artwork was a collage of loud high contrast black ink on red or green paper, or sometimes inversions and variations of that combo – like a collage of punk art that had been pasted together with handcrafted loving care and placed on a photocopier.



I don’t think this film is about a haunted pussy cat.


SW’s brand of sexploitation oddities looked like contraband, and like the lurid video nasty covers that widened the eyes of burgeoning horror fans in England and pretty much in any video store around the world, catchy images are what made the browsing renter raise his or her hand, and examine what appeared to be forbidden fruit.



Whatever Sexy Proibitissimo is, we need this on Blu-ray. Period.



‘Unlike a bear encounter, to thwart a posse of unbridled alien nematodes, undress in a manner most sexy proibitissimo, avoiding eye contact, and making oneself into a sleek letter “S”. Overwhelmed by your obvious bounty of bodacious booty and boobery, the nematodes will be distracted long enough for a quick escape to the mother ship.’


When Mike Vraney and Frank Henenlotter’s little home brand appeared on DVD, it felt like the label had gone legit, and to an extent, it did. Grey zone titles never made the leap from tape to disc, but the pair struck serious pay-dirt when Movie Lab went bust, and a skeleton staff allowed the boys to metaphorically back up a truck and move a treasure trove of negatives and prints to safety.

The bounty from that haul of so-called ‘shit’ were classics in sexploitation, a genre with multiple sub- and sub-sub-genre filaments which nevertheless packaged sex in weird cinematic containers that reflected the shifting morals and commercial outlets of exploitation filmmakers and smut peddlers.

We wouldn’t have gorgeous DVD and select Blu-ray transfers of works by Mario Bava, Herschell Gordon Lewis, David F. Friedman, and Wishman (to name a few) had SW’s founders not been so obsessed with collecting oddities of sexploitation.


Cindy demonstrates the fine art of civil banana eating.

Even after SW’s DVDs stopped popping out on a monthly bases via Image Entertainment, the collecting continued, and Vraney’s massive archive proved a valuable resource for Henenlotter, hence That’s Sexploitation! (2013), an epic, exhaustive chronicle of the genre, which Severin recently released on Blu-ray and packed with oodles of jiggling, jostling, groped, twirling, smacked, spanked, branded, floating, and suntanned bodies – subversive cinema whose makers always changed gears to avoid being quashed by censors and Hollywood, existing in a weird realm in which Friedman himself participated and described as a kind of carny-land; fringe cinema that spawned small outfits, companies, and mini-smut empires.



A candid snapshot of four great talents.


The release of That’s Sexploitation! is bittersweet because two of its main participants – Vraney and Friedman – passed away not long after its completion and release, and certainly in Toronto, the doc reminds local sexploitation fans of the massive archive that currently resides at Suspect Video which is now slowly being sold off as the veteran bricks & mortar sales and rental shop will fold by the end of the year.

It’s another final chapter for an iconic local hangout and movie library, and for Toronto, another bricks & mortar shop that will vanish from the landscape, leaving maybe 8-9 stores come January 2017.

A report in BlogTO states Suspect has plans to resurface as an online dealer, but the loss of the original shop means a uniquely curated library will be spread out among private collectors. The tapes and discs will have homes, but there won’t be an important hub in a particularly dense section of the Annex (Toronto’s west end).

The gradual winnowing of shops seems inevitable, even in a town like Toronto that seems to have more rental shops than other major cities. Rents go up, managers and owners retire, and areas are redeveloped for upscale businesses or residential units, and while I see several of the existing stores surviving past Xmas of 2016 and beyond, the remaining shops should become a tighter knit community with one secret plan: should the end come to the last few, pool existing stock into one of the largest non-profit libraries of film culture, a la Seattle’s Scarecrow Video.

I’m not saying the end is near or inevitable, but if we’re ever down to three shops, or two, owners have a choice to sell-off rare stock to collectors and loyal genre fans and bow out with bills paid and some profits, or combine resources into one powerhouse archive that’s still a hub of rentals and sales; a place where physical media can continue to exist and thrive as indie labels keep mining studio catalogues for new special editions.

I honestly believe a store’s survival has to include selling new stock, and be part of a unique symbiotic existence between customers, shops, legit labels, distributors, and filmmakers. Just as vinyl can thrive, so should home video, but without the steep collector pricing and emphasis on packaging.

Labels must never lose sight of a central goal: a physical release is about getting a movie out to people and spreading a filmmaker’s art, not creating a highly limited, sexy product that only a few will own & cherish, but most will never see. Money is a good thing, but it loses some honor when a film becomes an instant relic that rests on a shelf, still in its shrinkwrap, and wholly unseen.

From the circulated ad, Suspect’s closing will follow the standard arc of a sliding price scale until nothing but shelves and merchant infrastructure remain, but if we ever get to that final trio or couple of shops, we have to save that collective archive and preserve its character, its breadth, its history and eclecticism, and awesome video density for future generations.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

VHS cover art courtesy of VHS Wasteland.

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