Farewell to the King of Grindhouse

From B Movie Nation

It’s a truly sad week for cult cinema. Mike Vraney, founder of the era-defining Something Weird Video, died Jan. 2 at the age of 56.

Vraney’s importance in the preservation and celebration of exploitation, grindhouse, drive-in and z-grade movies can not be overestimated.

For music fans, the Pacific Northwest native may be most famous as a cofounder of Seattle’s The Showbox, and later as manager of punk bands including The Dead Kennedys, TSOL, and The Accused. But it was a film fanatic – in the truest and deepest sense of the words – that he made his biggest impact.

As a teenager, he worked in the Bel-Kirk Drive-In in Bellevue, Washington, then became a projectionist at Seattle’s Green Parrot Theater (a notorious 24/7 grindhouse and x-rated theater) and the Apple Theatre.

Then in the early 1990s he started hunting down prints: The obscure, the erotic, the exotic, the sleazy and the scary. It began with a collection of 16mm girlie arcade loops, which he edited together to form one of the company’s first compilation releases. As Vraney told the Chronicle in 2001, “I came up with titles and screened ‘em, thinking, ‘Boy, none of this is on tape, like naked girls just walking around on rocks in 1952.’”

After that first haul, he was lucky enough to get access to the archives of exploitation king Dave Friedman. That was just the beginning, as he unearthed over 2,500 titles. The massive collection he gathered and transferred to video and then digital became the Something Weird archive.

These were films that no-one cared about. Rough, often amateurish, scarcely likely to make it into the Cahiers du Cinema. But to Vraney they were “very pop culture, Americana, adult-oriented but soft, not hardcore, fascinating stuff.” He championed them, and gave them the life they deserved. He kept them on screens.


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