Alternative Cinema Goes Bye-Bye: A Final Farewell to Tempe Video

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By Bob Freville

Tempe Entertainment was founded in 1991, but I didn’t hear about them until the mid-90s when I happened upon an enthralling profile of Tempe founder J.R. Bookwalter in Fangoria magazine. The article in question painted a picture of DIY innovation before DIY was part of the pop culture lexicon.

Upon reading about Bookwalter’s debut film, The Dead Next Door, and the bloody shoestring production of his next movie, Ozone, it became clear that this Akron, OH resident was at the vanguard of a new microbudget horror movement, one that was making movies for peanuts and pubic hair.

After making a dynamic debut with The Dead Next Door, a unique take on the zombie genre that was partially funded by Sam Raimi, Bookwalter churned out a series of passionless no-budget quickies for producer David DeCoteau before turning his frustration with this thankless work into a goal – create a company that can do more with less.

Founded in 1991 during post-production on ‘Dead Next Door,’  Tempe Video’s ethos was simple; as Bookwalter told Michael Scrutchin of Flipside Movie Emporium, “Whatever some guy in his backyard comes up with will be infinitely more passionate and honest than the crap Hollywood churns out on a weekly basis! I say get out there and do it! Now there is no excuse.”

Tempe Entertainment wasn’t waiting for some hotshot honcho to stick millions of dollars in escrow and assign executives to lob a flurry of notes at Bookwalter’s scripts. Instead, the Tempe team were turning their backs on the silver screen machine and building the direct-to-video market into a prosperous new avenue for indie talent.

Over the ensuing three plus decades, that talent has brought us fabulous cheapy features like the batshit psychological drama Eddie Presley and the fiendishly funny Filthy McNasty quadrilogy, to say nothing of Bookwalter’s own brilliant drug scourge thriller Ozone. Their catalog reflects the full width and breadth of no-budget horror, warts and all.

A lot of their titles are excruciatingly bad, but their egregiousness is part of their charm. Like other indie houses, such as Troma Team Releasing and Full Moon, the videos of Tempe Video are either shockingly well-crafted or so poorly crafted that the fun is in imagining the filmmakers’ state of mind during production.

Recently J.R. Bookwalter took to social media to announce that the company would no longer be producing motion pictures. In a Facebook post, Bookwalter writes, “All good things must come to an end, which is why we’re announcing today that Tempe Entertainment will be packing our bags and heading to that great indie retirement home in the sky on January 1, 2019.”

The news was a blow to those of us who place importance on indie film distribution. With streaming platforms fast replacing traditional distribution paradigms, it is unnerving to see a legendary studio like Tempe turning out the lights.

Like Crystal Pepsi, Tempe Video may be back one day, but it will never be the same again.

It would be all too easy to say that this spells the end for indie horror, but Tempe Video has served as a guidepost for innumerable indie houses to sprout up all across the country and today horror production companies number in the hundreds.

Outfits like Blumhouse, Brain Damage, Breaking Glass Pictures, Darclight, Dark Sky Films, Glass Eye Pix and Unearthed Films are rolling out a king’s ransom of cool titles that stretch the boundaries of what is possible with the kitchen sink approach.

The last ten years have given us modern macabre classics like Chad Ferrin’s mindfuck slasher Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009), Adam Wingard’s genre-bending DXM trip/ghost story Pop Skull (2008), the Trent Haaga-penned cumming-of-age flick Deadgirl (2008), Ti West’s old school Satanic panic film The House of the Devil (2009) and the slippery sci-fi cringer Honeymoon (2014).

We’ve also seen genre exercises like You’re Next propel directors like Wingard into the mainstream where they were given the opportunity to make exceptional genre films (The Guest, Blair Witch) with a slightly grander scope.

These videos and films owe much to the Tempe Video model of frugal, makeshift innovation. It’s hard to imagine directors like Kevin Smith (Red State, Tusk) being able to successfully stage movie road shows or directors like Rob Zombie (31) being able to raise post-production monies using crowdsourcing had it not been for companies like Tempe Video paving the way.

Many great filmmakers are shooting feature-length flicks in 30 days or less and finding creative solutions to problems that present themselves on the day. And there are a lot of little production houses out there who are able to write, produce, direct and release their own pictures on little more than a prayer.

But Tempe did it first and they did it the best. Indie horror—Esto Perpetua.

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