When you think of film restoration, you usually think of something like Lawrence of Arabia or Ben Hur, where as much as a million dollars can be spent to save a film's negative from crumbling to dust. You usually don’t think of movies like I Drink Your Blood or Cannibal Holocaust, but there are companies that restore these films with great care, and have been doing so for decades.
Grindhouse Releasing was founded in 1996 by Bob Murawski, and Sage Stallone, the late son of Sly. Sage had an incredible passion for these films, and he enlisted Murawski and Dave Szulkin, who’s in charge of the company’s theatrical releasing, as his partners in crime. (Murawski has been Sam Raimi’s editor for many years, and he also won an Academy Award for editing The Hurt Locker. He keeps his Oscar on a mantle at home, right beneath his poster of Blood Feast.)
In addition to restoring these movies for home viewing, Grindhouse has also had successful theatrical runs with the original Evil Dead, Maniac, and most recently Gone With the Pope, and An American Hippie in Israel. (Both Pope and Hippie were lost films until Grindhouse saved them.)
In an age where so many theaters have to convert to digital projection, Grindhouse still proudly makes 35mm prints of their releases. Even with film on the way out, Murawski says, “Making 35mm prints is not difficult. There are still great film labs like Fotokem in business. And ironically, the print stocks are better than ever. The tricky part is finding theaters to play them. That's becoming more and more difficult. Many of the newer theaters don't even have the ability to play film. And some of the older ones don't want the expense or hassle.”
And don’t get Murawski started on how many theaters cut corners with digital projection. “They'd rather show it off of a crappy DCP [Digital Cinema Package] or Blu-ray,” he says. “Personally, I'd rather watch a movie projected from a faded, scratched print than a DCP. If I want to watch video, I'll stay at home and watch it on TV. 4K DCPs are great. I think they capture the quality of a film print. But most studios cheap out and go 2K, which is basically HD resolution, which is less than 1/4th the resolution of a 35mm print. And projecting from Blu-ray is a joke. It's an absolute rip-off.”
Back in the good old days of low budget movies, an indie company like American International Pictures couldn’t afford to make thousands of prints for a movie’s opening day. They would usually make, say, a hundred of them, and “bicycle” them around the country regionally. As Szulkin explains, Grindhouse does the same, but with a couple of prints going around from theater to theater. Szulkin says that there’s still theaters around the country that are equipped for 35mm projection, like the New Beverly Cinema in L.A., the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston, the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore., the Loft Cinema in Tucson, the Grand Illusion in Seattle, to name a few. He also says that Grindhouse will keep making 35mm prints, “Until they pry the film canisters from our cold, dead hands.”
But before they can get these prints on the road to theaters, Grindhouse Releasing goes through the arduous process of restoring these movies. Here's how it's done.