HorrorTalk.com is pleased for our inaugural interview to welcome Vini Bancalari. Vini is Owner, President, and driving force behind Elite Entertainment. This is Elite's 10th year as the leader in "Cult" horror on digital media!
Peter West: Vini, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before my first question, I would like to say I've been a fan of Elite Entertainment from the instant I watched the Night of the Living Dead Laserdisc and saw the old, faded, tired opening credits miraculously turn into "The" definitive version of the movie. I gave my older copy away the next day!
PW: Vini, what was the inspiration behind creating Elite Entertainment? Why start a company specializing in horror movies?
Vini Bancalari: Elite was born when my former partner, Don May, Jr. and myself realized that we’re just never going to see “special edition” laserdisc versions of our favorite horror films. You see, back then these films were usually overlooked. Yes, they were available on LD, but they were usually dark muddy transfers from old VHS masters. And you never saw any “extras.” We decided to give it a shot and try it ourselves. I guess we weren’t the only ones who were waiting.
PW: Your first releases included some staples of the horror industry, such as the Romero Dead trilogy, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You also brought us other movies with a lot of controversy, such as I Spit on Your Grave, Maniac, and Re-Animator. Did Elite suffer from releasing such "provocative" titles? What was the feedback?
VB: The feedback was all positive. Although some of these titles are considered “controversial”, they are still important films and have very large followings. It was our pleasure to be the one to give these films the respect they deserve.
PW: The death of the Laserdisc, to me, was an emotional blow. Similar to the death of vinyl. I miss the artwork, the text, and the beautiful special editions. How did the death of the Laserdisc effect Elite Entertainment? What were your personal feelings on it as well?
VB: Well, to be honest, I had mixed feelings about this. Sure I was excited about the new format being launched, but at the same time Elite was enjoying being one of only a few fish in the LD sea. I realized quickly that this was going to change the business virtually overnight. And it did. Suddenly it was more difficult to license good product. And there seemed to be a new “horror label” being born at least once a week. In fact, they’re still coming! Competition is getting fierce.
PW: Were you an initial believer in DVD? Did DVD's explosion over the last four years take you by surprise?
VB: No surprise at all. All I had to do was see a DVD being played through a well calibrated system. I was blown away!
PW: I remember reading at the www.thecinemalaser.com, (who prior to your starting your own site, hosted a web page for Elite) your announcement that Elite was no longer in the Laserdisc business and was going to focus on DVD for future releases. How did this effect Elite? How tough a challenge was this for you personally?
VB: The market really dictated this move. LDs were killed overnight. I’ll never forget going to sleep on a Tuesday night knowing that laserdiscs were out there and the business was sound. Then on Wednesday morning……laserdiscs were gone! Dead. Finito. It’s really amazing how fast a format can be killed off. It’s like a mob hit. Here one minute………..gone the next. BANG!
PW: The advent of DVD brought the major studios into the digital media business. How has this affected acquisitions of new titles?
VB: It’s definitely more difficult than it ever was but thank God Elite joined the DVD party with our own established customer base. It’s certainly easier than starting from scratch.
PW: It seemed for a while Elite's new titles were consistantly released behind schedule and few in number for the years 2000 and 2001. However, when Elite "reprinted" (to use a publishing term) Re-Animator, it soared to the top of the sales charts and, in my opinion, "breathed new life" into Elite. Am I right or wrong on this?
VB: Not really. The re-release of Re-Animator, although was a major release for us, didn’t really affect the company on the level you’re referring to. (But, I’m sure it didn’t hurt.)
PW: In terms of quantity and quality, I feel 2002 has been a banner year for Elite Entertainment! Is this a fair assessment? How have Elite's "Millennium Editions" done?
VB: Our Millennium Editions have done, and continue to do, very very well.. And they were a lot of fun to produce as well.
PW: What's in the works for future Millennium Editions? Can you out-do the last three?
VB: Sorry, but if I told you……………I’d have to kill you.
PW: If I were a DVD publisher, I would try to include my personal favorites in my catalog. It's not a big secret about your feelings towards the movie Horror Hotel. What other movies in your catalog occupy a similar place in your heart?
VB: I would have to say Night of the Living Dead, Re-Animator and I Spit On Your Grave have to be added to that list.
PW: Your most recent release is "Horror", a film by Dante Tomaselli. Publicity for this release includes comments by Tomaselli expressing his respect for Elite Entertainment's body of work. Do you find directors are now coming to you to get the "Elite" treatment for their films?
VB: Yes, they are. And we always welcome them. It’s our pleasure to be the one to introduce a new film, and possibly a future classic, to the public. There are many filmmakers out there who just need their stuff to be seen.
PW: Elite is taking, in my opinon, a bold step in co-producing Philippe Mora's (Communion, Howling 3) According to Occam's Razor, a mockumentary on alien abduction. How is production going on this project? Any updates you'd like to share with our readers?
VB: Actually, the film has been in the can for quite a while. Mr. Mora is currently out of the country working on a new film project so we’ve put our plans on hold for now.
PW: People From Space which was scheduled released on April 15th has a bit of Blair Witch in it's roots from the publicity release I've read on it. Is this independent release going to surprise people like That Little Monster did last year?
VB: That’s tough to say. The message that we’re trying to get out there with this film is, look at what you can do with very little money and some creativity. This film costs $7,000.00 to shoot. It’s quite an accomplishment.
PW: Speaking of That Little Monster, has that title sold well? Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of it! Last August at the "HorrorFind Weekend", I was discussing the movie with Reggie Banister. Reggie told me everywhere he goes he is asked about that movie!
VB: Yes it has done well. And who knows, maybe Elite will be the company to introduce everyone to Paul Bunnell’s next film?
PW: I'd like to talk a minute about your other label, Focus Films. I have An Evening with Sherlock Holmes. I'm a fan of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes series. I enjoyed the movies, especially the radio broadcasts included as extras. Will there be further Holmes projects in Focus' future?
VB: We’re currently working on a “scaled-down” version of those 4 films. We plan to release the new package at a $24.99 price point. As far as future Holmes releases, we have discussed it. We’re still considering it.
PW: Now for the big question Vini! Joe Bob Briggs! How? Why?
VB: How? I asked. Why? Are you kidding? Can you think of anyone more qualified to do commentaries for these types of films? I can’t. Plus the fact that his commentary for the millennium edition of I Spit On Your Grave continues to get rave reviews. In fact, it was the winner of “Best Commentary Track” for several websites last year. Joe Bob Rules!
PW: In reviewing I Spit On Your Grave, I listened to Joe Bob's commentary 3 times. I have really missed Joe Bob over the last few years. I think his commentaries on your titles will enhance their value tremendously!
VB: Joe Bob is a great guy, and a pleasure to work with. I believe that the JOE BOB PRESENTS... series will be around for a while.
PW: There has not been an addition to Elite's "Drive-In Discs" since the second volume in 2001. Is it in the works to include Joe Bob Briggs as the host for future releases?
VB: Actually, Drive-In Discs Vol. 3 (The Hand & I Bury the Living) will be out on August 5th. Joe Bob will have his own series.
PW: Vini, I'd like to thank you for this interview and ask in conclusion, where do you see Elite Entertainment in the future? Please share with us anything you wish to mention that I failed to bring up.
VB: Just THANKS to everyone who has supported us through the years. You’ve all made the first ten years a lot of fun!
PW: On behalf of myself and the readers of HorrorTalk.com, Thank you Vini!
PW: Elite Entertainment's motto has alway been "Nothing but the Bloody Best" and I am sure that Vini Bancalari will continue to bring us just that in the future!