Toronto cult flick video store owner Luis Ceriz tells tales from his over 2 decades running the legendary SUSPECT Video.
Up here in Toronto we are fortunate to have one of the biggest film festivals in the world. TIFF or the Toronto International Film Festival. In the early nineties a special program was added that focused on horror and exploitation cinema. That special program was called Midnight Madness and, as its name suggests, it would show new genre gems at midnight during the festival.
It was here that I saw North American (and sometimes world) premiers of films like HELLRAISER 2, OPERA, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN and Peter Jacksons BRAINDEAD (aka DEAD ALIVE) in 1992.
For those of you who havent had the pleasure of seeing Jacksons splatter opus stop reading this and get thee to a decent video store (ahem) and rent or buy it (the uncut version) NOW!
If you need more convincing let me give you a quick synopsis: Its 1957. An expedition on a south sea island capture a Sumatran Rat-Monkey (what the hell is a Sumatran Rat-Monkey? Howzabout the offspring of tree monkeys who were raped by plague-carrying rats!), to bring back to civilization but before the creature can get boxed up and shipped away it bites the hand of the head explorer. His men quickly lop off his hand but they notice a bite mark on his left arm which, you guessed it, gets lopped off too! Then, finding scratches on his forehead they just go ahead and kill him. Pretty great opening but just a hint of the bloody roller-coaster that is to follow.
Flash forward to Wellington, New Zealand. Our hero is nebbish Lionel who lives with his overbearing mother Vera and is in love with a local store clerk named Paquita
While spying on the lovebirds in the Wellington Zoo mom gets bitten by the rat-monkey and it doesnt take long before mommy turns into a ravenous zombie.
Being a good son, Lionel tries to keep her safe in the basement while he tries to figure out what to do with the maternal monster. But as we all know, you just cant keep yer mom locked up forever. She gets out and kills more and more people who then in turn themselves become zombies. Lionel keeps packing them into the basement until his uncle discovers the undead crew and blackmails him into giving up his inheritance for his silence.
Instead, our boy decides to kill off the zombies by poisoning them with an overdose of animal stimulant. Because the infection is animal in nature, the stimulant turns them into super zombies (just go with it) that burst out of the basement just as Lionel is having a party.
In short order the flick turns into one of Cinemas biggest, funniest, gore soaked bloodbaths EVER! In one inspired scene he wades through a crowd of zombies using a lawnmower as a shield, spraying guts, limbs and blood everywhere!
Synopsis over. Go see it.
Okay, back then ol Suspect Video had a lot of connections at the Festival and Merrill, my partner at the time, was a big fan of signings in the store. After waltzing into TIFFs press office he got Peter Jackson himself to come to the store for a few hours the afternoon after the films screening!
Now, a couple of things to keep in mind. Back then it was relatively easy to go to press screenings and to have access to the press area at the festival where you could pick up film programs, flyers, and other junket junk, not to mention requesting interviews with filmmakers or actors its pretty hard to believe in this security obsessed world but no one ever asked for credentials. All you ever had to do was act as if you belonged there.
Now, Im not completely against signings but remember, this was 1992. Pretty well pre-internet. Social platforms on this not-widely-used information superhighway were many years away and though we had Jackson there was no real way to get the word out. No time to book an ad in newspapers. Radio and TV? What are we made of cash? Nope, we could only rely on a mention during the introduction of the film, word of mouth, and flyers at the store.
Plus, what would he sign? All that was available were the vhs rentals we had of Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles, both of which were hard to get and expensive too.
Know what we did? We took the vhs cover and blew it up into a 11 x 17 mini poster and hoped hed be okay with that seeing as the alternative would be well, nothing.
Saturday afternoon was perfect weather-wise. Wed made a small stack of posters and set up a small section at the counter with a few of the posters as a backdrop for him.
As we went about the regular duties of the video store a short, unassuming, bearded fellow walked in. I remember he was the kind of guy that wears his sweater tied over his shoulders like a scarf.
Id like to say there was a throng of fans awaiting Jackson but there wasnt.
Less than a dozen rabid gore hounds stood politely by as I led Mr. Jackson to his spot behind the counter. He totally understood why we bootlegged his vhs covers and each person that came in got a free poster and pretty long chats about the making of his films.
The guy couldnt have been less like his films, soft spoken and super polite, I even had to practically force him to have a drink (Ill have a coke then, thank you).
After about an hour or two he made his exit and wouldnt even accept cash for a cab, preferring to walk the city instead.
Ive often wondered if anyone that was there kept the posters or have any photos of the signing as we kept no posters for ourselves and the only photo we have in our archives is a 3D one taken by friend and long-time customer John.
Heres to you Mr. Jackson, hope you went on to continue making movies.
-Luis the Suspect Video Guy