Visitng the Something Weird table was always one of the highlights of going to the Chiller Theatre Expo in NJ. Mike Vraney and Lisa Petrucci were always so friendly and just about the cutest couple around. And that’s where I discovered Lisa’s adorable and very nostalgic Kickass Kuties art. I remember buying a tank top with a little devil girl on it, a little change purse with a little leopard gal on it and some stickers of various Kutie characters. I still use that change purse till this day and will always hold it dear. I kept those stickers safe in their little paper baggie hidden away for years and would love to take them out and look at them once in a while like a secret treasure. And then I started sticking them places, which led to their wearing out due to the elements and such, so I will have to replenish my stock. I also hope to one day own one of her beautiful paintings. For me, Lisa’s art takes me back to my childhood, to the cherished big eyed blond and brunette paper dolls I played with and loved so much and still remember so vividly. It’s wonderful to be able to connect with that child inside you, and I think that Lisa’s art does just that, for me, and perhaps for others who also enjoy heavy bouts of nostalgia, and certainly as you will read below, for Lisa herself!
Your art is so darn cute, hence the name, Kickass Kuties. Was there ever something you tried to paint that you couldn’t make cute?
Ha! I guess making things cute just comes naturally now. I don’t think I’ve tried to paint anything other than in that style. Even my creepy and sexy subjects are cute!
What was the first doll you ever got as a kid, that you remember dearly and had a fascination for, and how old were you?
I vividly remember having Liddle Kiddles dolls during the mid-1960s. There’s actually a photo of me clutching a Liddle Kiddle in my tiny fist outside our house in Ipswich Mass. I must have been 3 or 4 years old. They were my favorite dolls then and still are! Liddle Kiddles were the original inspiration for my Kickass Kuties.
What was the first Kickass Kutie, or other series character, you ever painted?
Some of the earliest paintings I did during the early 1990s featured Kimba the White Lion. When I moved to Seattle in 1994 I began incorporating Liddle Kiddles and pin-up girls into my art. Probably the first official Kickass Kuties were two Bad Bunnies (wearing black and red onesies) with flames in the background. I was attempting to make lowbrow art that appealed to females.
How long did it take you to find a style that you were comfortable with? Can you talk about the evolution of your style?
I didn’t seriously start painting until around 1994. I had been dabbling with the idea of doing collages and decoupage plaques with cute, sexy and subversive imagery, but it was when I decided to paint on wood slabs that I found my groove and developed the style I’m known for now.
How do you get, or where do you get, the wooden backings for your paintings?
I find vintage decorative wood slabs that already have images decoupaged on them in thrift stores, flea markets and swap meets. I scrape off and sand down the surfaces and get them prepped to paint. Or if I run out, I get blank consumer wood slabs at the arts & crafts store, but these are inferiorquality so I prefer to use the old found ones.
Is there a series, or a type of Kutie, you tend to like painting more than others? Are there any you consider your faves?
I prefer creating characters that have a retro feel to them, like 1950’s bad girls and 1960s sex kittens. Either big pin-up girls or pint-size Kickass Kuties. I also enjoy doing creepy monster-themed cuties too. And incorporating kitty cats. Some of my favorites are the Frankenkuties series and the ones based on spooky subjects and campy cult movies.
On your site you have a lot that are marked “private collection”. Does it ever happen that you’ll paint something and decide you love it too much to sell?
Private Collection just means that someone bought the painting, but prefers not to be credited or I don’t know or remember who bought the painting, (so I can’t give a proper credit)! There have only been a couple of paintings that I didn’t offer for sale. One is my Liddle Lisa self portrait. Others are ones that my late husband Mike Vraney wanted to keep for himself. But otherwise they were up for grabs!
Do collectors tend to buy the Kuties that resemble them, and whatever the answer, what do you think about that, or why do you think that is?
Collectors definitely identify with some of the characters and imagery I’ve created. And over the years I’ve done custom commissions for fans, which are basically cute versions of them surrounded by things that they like.
What do you think of girly toys and dolls that are made nowadays? Is there anything that you like?
I kinda like the Monster High Dolls, but I’m pretty out of the loop these days. I have noticed that dolls and toys have gotten increasingly bigger eyes over the years reflecting recent trends in popular culture, so that pleases me.
How did you and Mike Vraney, the founder of Something Weird Video, meet?
We met at the Chiller Theatre Expo in 1993. Which is funny because that’s also where I met you and Sal Canzonieri! I actually interviewed Mike and legendary exploiteer, David F. Friedman, for an article I was writing about sixties sexploitation films. Mike said he fell instantly in love because I knew who Michael and Roberta Findlay were. haha
How much had you been exposed to Exploitation Cinema before meeting Mike?
I’ve always liked horror films ever since I was a kid, but really got into exploitation movies in the 1980s when I started renting videos and reading the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film and Incredibly Strange Films books. I used to live in the East Village in NYC a few blocks from Kim’s Video and watched any oddball low-budget flick I could get my hands on. There was a big section of Something Weird videos at Kim’s Video, which is how I became acquainted with the company. I even worked at the Psychotronic Store in the East Village for a spell, so I was pretty immersed in exploitation film fandom before becoming involved with Something Weird.
Have you watched all of the videos that Something Weird has produced? Which films or which genres of the SWV collection are your favorites?
I have watched a lot of the Something Weird catalog but certainly not them all. However, I’m familiar with all the titles since I’m the one who puts together the catalogs and dvd covers, but I certainly don’t need or want to see everything we’ve ever released. My favorites are the Sixties Sexploitation films, especially the black & white New York roughies and films of Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno and the Findlays. Also the kooky regional Nudies by filmmakers like Dale Berry. “Hot Thrills and Warm Chills” is one of my absolute favorites.
When you’ve sold your videos at conventions like Chiller Theatre, what kinds of people, characters typically buy them? Who have been the most surprising types of customers? It’s everyone from serious film genre fans to creepy pervs with cringeworthy fetishes! Young and old. I’m always surprised at what people are drawn to. Some customers want recommendations based on their particular, and often peculiar, interests. The funniest interactions have been on the phone when they call and start telling us really confessional and embarrassing things about themselves. Or just sound totally nutty. Something Weird customers are often unintentionally entertaining.
Which films have you sold the most of?
Probably the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore movies like “Blood Feast,” “Two Thousand Maniacs,” and “Wizard of Gore” which are the most well known and popular in our catalog, but also the Bettie Page burlesque movies “Teaserama” and “Varietease.” We have over 2000 titles available so there’s something for everybody!
Did anyone ever return a video because they didn’t like it or it was too shocking for them?
A few times people have tried to return a video because they didn’t like it, but never because it was too shocking. If anything it was that the film wasn’t shocking enough! One time a guy sent back a video because he said the boobs weren’t big enough. Needless to say we don’t accept those kind of returns. Welcome to my world.
Have you ever had any self-righteous anti-sexploitation people trying to shut you down?
Ha! No, but occasionally a customer will write or email to be removed from the mailing list because he’s found religion or his wife disapproves of him watching smutty movies.
How’s it been carrying on the business, and Mike’s legacy, after Mike’s passing in 2014?
Running Something Weird by myself has been a challenge. Mike and I were great team. We each brought strengths to the table. I’m trying my best to keep things afloat and going. Mike and I both knew this business was changing even before he died, so now I’m partnering with enthusiastic young companies like AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse who are helping to take Something Weird into the 21st century and bringing these films to a new untapped audience. I miss Mike everyday, and I’m working hard to keep his memory and legacy alive and well.
Have you been producing any new films? Have all the exploitation films ever filmed been found?
Not really “new” ones, but what I have been doing is working with other film preservationists to restore and release existing Something Weird films in high definition. They’re rescanning the original film elements in 4K and releasing them on blu-ray and other digital formats. There are are still lost films left to unearth, but I’m leaving that to the next generation of archivists.
Has business declined with any significance with the advent of DVDs? Actually, people are buying fewer DVDs, Blu-rays and physical media than they used to. Most of our business is actually digital downloads that customers get directly from our website. Plus many are watching films via streaming and other sources that don’t involve actually purchasing anything which effects small independent video companies who are struggling these days. We depend on genre fans to keep supporting us by actually buying movies from us.
How did Mike Vraney find these films? Can you relay any particular stories?
During the early 1990s, Mike came across the first 35mm and 16mm of the sexploitation films in an abandoned storage unit near Seattle. It dawned on him that there were probably hundreds more oddball lost movies out there so he began actively looking for them. Eventually David F. Friedman heard that Something Weird was selling some of his movies on video, so he contacted Mike and offered his film library. Dave later introduced Mike to other film producers and colleagues. People began to contact Something Weird directly about original film elements. And we scoured as many film archives as we could. Some films were even scored on eBay!
If aliens came down to earth and invaded the Something Weird film library – what would they do? What would be their commentary on the human condition after watching SWVs?
Ha! Based on that extraterrestrial beings would think human beings are obsessed with naked ladies, sex, vice, monsters, blood and death. In other words, completely unworthy of their time and attention!