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Think Pink: Matt Kennedy of Panik House Entertainment
By Steven Jenkins
October 31, 2006 - 12:45 AM PST

Officer Nash getting his ear cut off in Reservoir Dogs is way more upsetting than the frat boy getting chainsawed in The Mutilator.

As president of Panik House Entertainment, a Chicago-based DVD distribution company specializing in obscure Asian horror films, sexploitation epics and notorious Pinky Violence shockers, Matt Kennedy is a disarmingly cheerful aficionado of nightmarish visions and unspeakable acts. Applying the theory of absolute relativism to infamous instances of onscreen mayhem, Kennedy distinguishes truly transgressive classics from formulaic grindhouse gore. His expert eye for artful splatter, serial killers, psychotic dwarfs and girls gone way-past-wild is apparent in every Panik House release. Painstakingly remastered, lovingly curated and lavishly packaged, these DVDs grant historic and aesthetic importance to previously neglected genre gems and unjustly maligned B-movies.

Halloween, just two weeks after Kennedy's birthday, is the perfect occasion on which to explore his gleefully haunted House. Just don't be surprised to find him dressed up as Gene Simmons, spitting blood and wielding his Love Gun. I spoke with Kennedy about his spooky obsessions just before All Hallow's Eve.

What was your impetus for startingPanik House Entertainment?

I have always been a movie geek. As a small child, I would sneak out of bed to watch the late shows on the old Zenith family set in the living room. Most of the films shown at that hour were genre films. Also, WLVI in Boston used to broadcast the Creature Double Feature on Saturday mornings. They'd usually show one Universal or Hammer film, then a Toho or Daiel monster movie. The first films I remember making a real impression were Dai Maijin and Gamera, but I also loved the Godzilla films and War of the Gargantuans, which actually made me ill. I was convinced that when the monster spit out the salaryman's clothing, it was actually his guts. I really couldn't tell the difference on my nine-inch black-and-white television. I stayed away from hamburgers for an entire summer, but I've loved horror films ever since.

I've been connected to cult movies in one way or another for most of my adult life, first as an actor and film critic, then as an assistant at Troma, then as jack-of-all-trades at Blue Underground, and finally as president ofPanik House. It's been a natural progression. I went from collecting trading cards, comic books and memorabilia to making and acquiring films. To me, that's the American Dream, and I've been very fortunate to be able to make a career out of doing what I love.

Your passion for these films makes Panik House much more than a mere business venture.

I wanted to see films that no one else was releasing, so I bought and released them myself. I am a fan, first and foremost. That means that I won't release a DVD that I don't want to see. My taste is my own, and everything under the Panik House banner is indicative of that. I'm free to release horror, exploitation, drama, even comedy or children's films.

Many of these films have been largely ignored or harshly dismissed prior to their Panik House debut. Are you on a rescue mission?

Almost invariably, every film I've released has been overlooked or neglected, particularly by the entities that produced them. Every single film I've licensed, including films produced as recently as 2004, have required some degree of restoration. When I licensed the first Pinky Violence films, no one knew the term, never mind the films. There were maybe 12 of us in the world. Now I get asked almost daily if I'm going to produce a line of Pinky Violence apparel! My aim was to make sure these films were seen, and to that end I've already succeeded.

Are the Asian horror and exploitation films that you gravitate toward vastly different from American and European films within the same genres?

Japanese sexploitation films are artistically well-made, and I think that a western viewer's preconceptions about Asian culturemake them a bit more shocking than they were originally intended to be. This probably is why almost none of these films played anywhere outside of Japan until I brought them here.

There is something both familiar and alien about these films that fascinates us. On one hand, they rise above typical exploitation by carrying a strong feminist agenda, but on the other hand, they are incredibly violent, and the heroine often has to endure quite a bit of humiliation before triumphing in the end. The films I have selected are in no way misogynistic, yet there is a level of brutality prevalent in most of them that is missing from some of the roughest grindhouse films from the US.

Additionally, Asian sexploitation generally lacks the actual hardcore element present in the South American or European variety. Chained Heat, Red Heat and Jungle Warriors, three of the most well-known Women In Prison" movies, were European productions featuring all-star casts including Linda Blair, Sybil Danning and Sylvia Kristel. The versions originally shown in the US were incredibly popular, even in edited form. We'll be releasing these films restored from the original European camera negative. Genre fans will be able to judge the nuances for themselves.

Whether in peril or in prison, the women in these films are, as you point out, frequently the targets of violence. Have you passed on films that go beyond your limit of acceptability?

I don't enjoy films that glorify violence against women, but my barometer may be different than the next guy's. I have certainly passed on films that I feel are unacceptable or lack redeeming quality. There is a huge difference between a guilty pleasure and repugnance. All of the films I've released celebrate female empowerment in one way or another. Are there important films that don't? Sure, but I'm not hellbent on putting my name on them.

In the case of horror, I strongly believe that the most effective films hold a little back. Gore by itself is merely unpleasant, not scary. But if a filmmaker manipulates his audience with the threat of violence or gore, that makes any actual situation far more terrifying. Violence is far more shocking in films when it's not expected. Officer Nash getting his ear cut off in Reservoir Dogs is way more upsetting than the frat boy getting chainsawed in The Mutilator. Freddy getting his fingers macheted in a botched pawnshop robbery in Miami Blues has a higher squirm factor than any of the murders in any of the Friday the 13th films. Why? Because the expectation of the cop drama or crime comedy doesn't include that level of violence, so it's genuinely shocking. There are a handful of directors who specialize in that type of transgressive cinema; I'm thinking of Takashi Miike, Gaspar No and Catherine Breillat, some of whose films are excellent. But even in the works of those three filmmakers, it's very easy to locate moments in which shock is taken too far.

Ironically, the only complaint I've ever received about Panik House content was in reference to the Reiko Ike Sings! CD that was included with the Pinky Violence Collection box set. One of the Ryko sales reps played it for the first time in his car while entertaining the buyers from a major retailer, and everyone just sat there in silence, blushing! He told me I should have warned him how overtly sexy it was!

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Officer Nash getting his ear cut off in Reservoir Dogs is way more upsetting than the frat boy getting chainsawed in The Mutilator.
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Steven Jenkins
Steven Jenkins writes about film, music, art and literature, and serves as a juror, writer and consultant for film festivals and alternative exhibition venues. As the former executive director of San Francisco Cinematheque, he published City Slivers and Fresh Kills: The Films of Gordon Matta-Clark, and curated its related screening series. He frequently can be spotted at the movies sitting way up front next to a dashing Argentine.

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