VIPCO The Untold Story: Jason Impey Interview

Once upon a time VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company) were the be all and end all of cult and horror cinema in the UK. Releasing the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Burning and The Beyond on VHS the firm proudly distributed exploitation cinema and ‘video nasties’. Some of these titles would land them in hot water, resulting in VIPCO either having to pull certain releases or heavily edit them for a re-release. 

The quality of the releases varied, with either terrible sound or the film being presented in the wrong aspect ratio, but this didn’t matter. VIPCO truly put fans of these movies first and earned loyalty. This was a time before Arrow Video, 88 Films and others that are currently offering a similar service.

They even dabbled with DVD shortly after the new millennium, then one day they were gone. VIPCO simply ceased to be with no reason known. For over a decade fans and film makers alike have wondered why. In the following interview the real reason behind VIPCO closing will finally be revealed.

Now, in 2018, VIPCO has resurfaced thanks to British film maker Jason Impey. He is putting the finishing touches on a documentary that will cover the history of VIPCO, its demise and even an ultra rare interview with VIPCO founder Michael Lee.

As a longtime fan of the video label I was excited when I heard what Jason is doing, so reached out to him for more info. To my surprise he agreed to do an interview for Infernal Cinema. Not only does he talk about his own career, he reveals how he very nearly made a movie for VIPCO, the documentary and sheds light on why the company closed its doors.

I should point out now some of the information disclosed during the course of this interview has been altered due to the sensitive nature of it. I have used my own judgement to hold some of it back as it may cause distress for some if they were to read about it. They will know who they are and hope they appreciate this.

IC (Infernal Cinema): Firstly could you tell readers a bit about your background in the world of film making?

JI (Jason Impey): Well I’ve always had a love for the world of film. Ever since I was 5 years old I would be sneaky and watch some old horror VHS on the sly. My fascination grew as I got more and more into films, particularly the horror genre. I became interested in how and why films were made. This lead to me trying to make my first ever film at the age of 10 by using my dads home video camera.

This only fulled my obsession which lead to me leaving school going straight to college to study film making where I ended up moving straight onto freelancing as a cameraman and editor through building up connections while making student films. As I was freelancing in the business I made my own shorts and eventually features on the side which I’ve been lucky enough to gain distribution for.

IC: Out of all your previous works what would you recommend as a ‘starting point’ for someone to watch who hasn’t seen any of your work before?

JI: Its a tough one as I’ve actually made a hell of a lot of films, not all good! My IMDB acts as quite an extensive guide.

I personally think Psychopaths is one of my most accomplished films which you can get on DVD & VOD.

Jason and VIPCO founder Michael Lee

IC: How did you discover VIPCO and what were your memories as a fan of the label?

JI: One of my first memories was getting videos via a mail-order catalogue back in the day when I was a teenager. I got myself a copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters that I loved, in fact it’s my favourite zombie film of all time. This was one of the first so called video nasties I saw. It got me into collecting the films, VIPCO would put a lot out resulting in me becoming an avid collector of the label.

I do remember the excitement of hunting for VIPCO titles in the shops and markets. I even stuck titles on my Christmas list to help complete the collection! 

VIPCO is responsible for intruding me to some great films that I grew to appreciate, really love and enjoy still to this day. It was a unique label in the UK at the time  as no one else here was really offering this. Something very different than mainstream film.

IC: You were in talks with VIPCO as far back as the early 2000’s to make a feature film, how did you first come into contact with VIPCO?

JI: I had just finished making my amateur zombie film Zombie Village which I later added another film to and was released as Woods of Terror. At the time I was trying to promote and get this edit of Zombie Village seen – partly in the hope to expand it to a feature or do a new feature film.

It was 2004 when I shot the film and 2005 when I had a final cut. I decided to reach out and contact VIPCO in the hopes they would take a look at it and could maybe open some doors for me as a filmmaker at the time. This was the only UK place I could think of that may have been interested to be honest.

To my amazement Michael Lee, owner of VIPCO, responded to my email, suggesting we should meet up to discuss film making. This got me excited beyond words and I jumped at the chance. I got on a train and headed into London to have the first of quite a few lunch meetings with the man himself in which we discussed all things indie horror & VIPCO.

I actually convinced him to try and release the classic Absurd and was helping him to do so before VIPCO closed. That was such a shame as I could have been the man responsible for bringing back Absurd to UK shores!

He was very interested and supportive regarding my film making and wanted to get a bit more involved in making something new rather than just buying in rights. He was keen for me to develop a zombie feature that if it was alright he would put out on is label with a nice cover. If it turned out to be crap he would release it as a value DVD with the cheap cover – black with gold writing!

I put a structure together and he was going to put a bit of money up to make the film to get it going. I pitched the idea of making a zombie film where the theme is that the disease is passed as a sexually transmitted virus. He absolutely loved this idea, to the point where I received a phone call from him in which he was getting very excited about the film and wanted me to show a zombie cock!  It shocked me as I knew all the issues he had over the years with BBFC and censorship. 

Unfortunately Michael had to close the doors on VIPCO before I could get the film done. I however did end up making the film as a short shot on super 8 film, that did have a special screening at Cineworld in Milton Keynes back in 2007. The film has found a new home on VOD – it was added to this anthology Tales of Terror 3.

IC: Do you have any info surrounding the companies demise? As you were just about to make a feature for them was it a shock to you?

JI: It is a touchy subject with Michael that he does not go into much, but a family member had became very ill and sadly passed away. It was a very tough time for Michael and the main factor in why VIPCO stopped. I knew this family member was very ill in hospital during the planning stages of the film so I was aware what the outcome may have been. Sadly they passed away.

IC: That’s terrible to hear, I never expected that to be the answer. You have stayed in contact with Michael though, have you two developed a friendship over the years or did you and Michael only discuss VIPCO?

JI: I did become quite close with Michael for a while, but he did retreat away from everything afterwards and truly fell off the radar. Luckily I was able to meet up with him again to discuss the old times and all things VIPCO which he really enjoyed.

IC: When did you first think of making a documentary about VIPCO?

JI: Earlier last year I started to think about it. A distributor I have worked with regularly with for many years was trying to convince me to do a few documentaries and special interest films. I ended up shooting a documentary the beginning of last year about the fetish industry.

While I was making this I started to think about other projects, what I had done, ideas I have had in the past and all the memories of my zombie film that never. I knew Michael was hard to get hold of, but I also knew a lot of people out there had a lack of knowledge on VIPCO and wanted to know more.

I’m still very much a film enthusiast and collector, and regularly see posts and discussions online about VIPCO. Some of the things I’ve seen I’ve known more about due to my past experiences with Michael so thought it would be a good idea to embark on. 

IC: It certainly is a good idea and one that I was excited to hear about. What were Michael’s thoughts when you approached him about his involvement?

JI: He was very up for discussing everything openly and honestly. He was quite surprised that people were even interested in VIPCO at all! He didn’t believe me when I told him how much his old pre-cert VHS tapes go for and how collectable some of his releases are.

It was shocking news to him as he’s not really in touch with that side of things anymore. Sadly he does not have any of his releases or anything like that now, if he did he said he would have gave me a load!

IC: How has the documentary making process been for you?

JI: I’ve really enjoyed embarking on this journey as I am a real fan boy myself. Its something I have great passion for and interest in. I’m hoping people will enjoy it. This started out as a very independent project with just me and my kit seeing what I could do. The interest has grown since people of got wind of it, especially as it appears I have the only video interview of Michael Lee regarding all things VIPCO!

IC: What should fans expected to see?

JI: As of now they can expect a real truthful and heart felt insight into how Michael worked and what VIPCO was really all about.

IC: During the making of The Untold Story did you see or discover anything that shocked you about VIPCO?

JI: I was surprised at some of VIPCO’s business strategies. There are some very fun stories that he has told that I can’t wait to share with people. I can assure you Michael has not held back on discussing how he formed the business!

IC: You have mentioned to me you are currently looking for a distributor, how is that going for you? Will it be a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ The Untold Story sees a wider audience?

JI: There is possibly some exciting news coming soon. But I can assure you that this documentary will be released one way or another. The film business can be very frustrating in how long things can take, but this one may be well worth it. It is only a matter to time until this will be available.

IC: Before we end what was your favourite release from VIPCO? Personally, mine is The Bo(o)geyman.

JI: Now this is a tough question! One of my all time favourite films is Cannibal Holocaust which VIPCO put out, but obviously their release was quite heavily cut. I had seen a Japanese uncut VHS at the time so knew how bad the edit was. I was still excited to own this film on DVD however, and was the first of what became many DVD releases I have of this movie.

I actually really like an underrated obscure indie German film from 2001 that they put out named Suicide. That film left quite an impact on me and that DVD of VIPCO still sits on display in my collection.

IC: Jason, thank you for a brilliant interview. I’m sure The Untold Story will be warmly received. 

JI: Thank you, its been a pleasure!

Be sure to check Jason out at @jasonimpey on Twitter and his website.
The Untold Story on Facebook.