Monday, April 15, 2024

Chas Balun vs Film Threat


The first time I discovered Chas Balun was through Fangoria. I saw the hypnotic ad featuring the eyes of Christopher Lee from Dracula A.D. 1972 which boasted about “chunkblowers to rip your guts out”. I was thoroughly intrigued and requested a copy of the bootleg catalog, I even ordered the Deep Red delivers shirt and literally wore it until it dissolved off my torso. I was aware of Balun's writing in Fangoria and Gorezone and loved his anarchistic sense of humor and punk/ hippie way of writing. I’d heard all about these Film Threat shit posting letters aimed at one of my heroes Chas Balun. While digging around, I finally found them on 

In the letters between Balun and Manfred Jellinski there is some vitriol and shots fired over contracts and illegal duping. We’re talking about VHS tape deck/ foreign laserdisc technology folks, I mean how archaic. But often that’s what TOG is all about so “Be Kind and Rewind” if you dare. 

Jellinski starts off by telling Balun to stop selling his illegal boots of Nekromantik 1 because Film Threat owns the rights. Next Balun offers free promotion for Buttgereit and Jellinski to spread the word about Nekromatik 2 (which was heavily showcased in DR Alert #1). I recall first seeing the grotesque sight of a nude girl, played by Monica M., fondling a realistically dismembered corpse in a bathtub. I myself didn’t become aware of Film Threat until I bought an issue that mentioned Parker Posey. 

Film Threat and Manfred's response.

The vicious letter ends with Chas basically unglued and irked beyond belief. He calls Film Threat, Chris Gore and his mutant twin “punk snitches” and “quasi-porn merchants”. It seems as though he felt caught and says some idiotic things like “I didn’t make all that much money from bootlegging your films”. I guess he should’ve known better but I still gotta side with the big guy. 

They were very unfair and mean spirited in David E. Williams article. Chas sadly comes off like a “caught child” as M. Jellinski puts it and both sides handled this situation poorly. But for Chris Gore/ Charlie Sheen to sic the U.S. Government on Chas when they knew full well that Guinea Pig (1985) was never an actual snuff film, it comes off as a nasty move. Hashtag Winning! 

To me both sides look childish. I always assumed that Jorg and the Deep Red crew were pals, considering Graham Rae (who briefly wrote for FT), took him along on their journey to see Ed Gein’s gravesite. (read here). 

Both parties are sadly from a bygone era of VHS tape traders and for some that dead format had a sudden resurgence in popularity. I myself collect VHS tapes but prefer the cleaned up version the film makers intended us to view. The technology boom to restore anything of cult media had no signs of stopping, just as long as there are rich nerds with deep pockets willing to re-purchase shit they already bought a month ago, with a handy dandy new slip cover! Whoopie-fucking-doo! 

Seriously though without Fangoria, Gorezone, Deep Red Magazine or Psychotronic Video, where would I turn to for sources of all the horror, cult films I treasure? Film Threat never taught me a thing and I noticed how they seem to despise any bootleggers. The underground would still thrive regardless of who they slandered. These hypocrites would publicly shame the victim, even though years before FT sold bootlegs. In the “hatchet-job” piece called “Busted” by David E. Williams, they mention going after a lowlife named Donald Farmer! Read Xerox Ferox to learn more about that zine writer and film maker. 

FT’s opinion goes so far as to say (and this was written in 1992), "Dario Argento. George Romero. Lucio Fulci. Balun viciously stabs them all in the back by pirating their legally available work and selling it for his personal profit". This is way off base and funnily enough somewhat true. I mean I received The Hypnotic Eye (1960) with commercials, it was taped off of some local station. And I could pretend and say “Oh yeah I can just order the KINO blu-ray for 10$ online instead”, YEAH RIGHT! It wasn’t that fucking easy! The only source you had in the 90s was turning to bootleggers and Yes, the quality was horrendous but if you wanted to see them uncut, Chas had your back. 

In 1992, the pristine uncut versions of these impossibly rare flicks didn’t exist yet and you had all the butchered versions of every Italian Horror available! Instead of Tenebre (1982) you suffered through Unsane (1982). 7 Doors of Death (1981) the truncated version of The Beyond (1981) was all that my local Blockbuster carried and when I saw the original version my jaw dropped (read my review here). As for Romero goes, Deep Red sold the extra-long euro-cut of Dawn of the Dead (1978). 

You can dream that America already had every impossibly rare cult movie at our collective disposal back in the day, ones currently are all getting a 4K restoration (whether it needs one or not)! But I was there and it was a struggle for ghoulish film lunatics because we needed our fix. CB was the main reason for my education in rare underground cult trash films and through the chapters of the Deep Red Horror Handbook, I discovered the works of Buddy G, Jim Van Bebber, Roger Watkins and other influential indie film makers. Balun shared and meagerly profited from his collection of laser discs and duped foreign horrors for those who dabbled in the grey market. Does anyone think Film Threat and the team behind Nekromantik's bullying helped matters? I don't and it made both sides look desperate.  

I also find it fascinating that companies like Grindhouse Releasing, Blue Underground, Severin and VS have all restored the picks Chas celebrated in his books and zines. I submit for your "Rod Serling" type approval that it was Balun who ignited to flame and inspired others to secure the rights for proper release. Not only that, he included some films that are still unreleased in his catalog (or ones that have yet to come out like Run and Kill (1993). This man was light years ahead of his time. I’m glad these legit companies were able to decimate the bootleggers and now the licensed, upgraded versions are available but for decades, a 2nd generation dub of The Beyond (1981), LHODES (1972) or Porno Holocaust (1981) was all that existed in the 90s. This is mainly attributed to censorship in the USA, these VHS dupes were pretty much my only source as a suburban kid trapped in Florida with typically generic Blockbusters or Hollywood Video to rent from. OK, my two sources were 16000 and Video Waves (which carried all the Film Threat shit). 

Lately insane HK movies I only knew existed because of the Deep Red Catalog are getting 4K restorations like Burning Paradise(1994), Blue Jeans Monster (1991) and Ebola Syndrome (1996). These are some fucked up movies that I was only aware of their existence through CB, which inspired me to review them. And YES---like Film Threat accused him of selling out the film makers to get stoned on weed and maybe Orange Sunshine, he committed this petty crime. After this incident, Chas stopped selling boots of Buttgereit’s work. I currently own the Film Threat clamshell VHS and Cult Epics owns the rights now. 

Chas wrote so passionately about Nekromantik in the DR Horror Handbook that it made me want to rent the tape. I did buy a bootleg of Bad Taste (1987) and Meet The Feebles (1989) in high school. Do I feel responsible for causing Peter Jackson to struggle before he made LOTR? Ha fuck no! I mean you could make the argument that the internet devoured all forms of pay media, rendering it all free. Unlike the mean article about Chas printed in Film Threat, at least I didn’t read about how paunchy, childish and backstabbing Chris Gore is. Why go there? And who’s really the childish one here? I’ve never been a fan of FT’s condescending tone and thirst to be accepted by the mainstream Hollywood masses. They are not fondly remembered by me at least and these excerpts come off in my mind as “Punching down”. 

In one picture (the one featured at the start), FT brags about harassing Balun on his turf, the Fango Weekend of Horrors! Nice going choads, bothering a legend who’s trying to mellow out! Chas remains a triumphant educator in my film history knowledge and FT, a cringy reminder that not all zines have something important to say.

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