Although everyone in the adult industry knew who they were, Western Visuals wasn’t the highest-profile production company of the many that began to blossom in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1980s. And its first release—1983’s Huge Bras 1, starring veteran Susan Nero—was not exactly a trendsetter.
Still, over its 15-year history, which ended when its warehouse burned down in 1997, Western Visuals turned out some excellent product from directors such as Robert McCallum, Jerome Tanner and Paul Thomas—Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet won two awards, including Best Video, while Tanner’s top-rated Club Exotica (1987) won three, also taking that year’s Best Video trophy. Western Visuals even released the first adult movie by highly acclaimed director Michael Ninn, Black Orchid.
But though its master tapes were lost in the fire, the rights to the movies were sold to IVD’s Frank Kay, where they languished for several years among IVD’s other properties until industry veteran David Gross received permission to take the remaining VHS and Beta cassettes, clean them up as best he could, and begin re-releasing DVDs of some of the best under his company, Vantage Distribution.
“We have 35 titles out already,” Gross recently told AVN. “Some of my top favorites include Christy Canyon’s Kiss of the Gypsy, because I’m a big fan of Christy Canyon. Also, there’s a couple of Seka titles, because I’m a big fan of Seka. One is Fallen Angel and the other is Heavenly Desires. And then there’s a whole bunch of Careena Collins movies, one of which is one of my favorites, called Twins, so I’m pretty excited about that. And of course, all of these have really a campy theme to them, which brings out the best of the ’80s with the pubic hair and the real breasts and the silly scripts. Another movie we’re coming out with is Tracy in Heaven, the remake with a very young Nina Hartley, who was quite the stunner; the original had starred Traci Lords. Another of my favorite stars, Barbara Dare, shows up in a movie called Sex Beat. These are all being re-released with fresh new covers and all digitized for those who love the classics and want to reminisce about back in the day when movies were movies.”
Considering the fact that parodies have taken the adult industry by storm, it’s perhaps not surprising that another of Gross’ favorites is the little-seen Erotic Adventures of Dickman and Throbbin, starring John Holmes and Tom Byron—little seen because, rumor has it, shortly after its 1986 release, Western Visuals was sued by Warner Brothers, which held the rights to all of DC Comics’ characters and saw Dickman as a threat to its own Batman, in preproduction for its eventual 1989 release.
“Tom Byron was telling me that somehow when they were sort of beginning to produce the movie, they found some costumes somewhere and threw them on and kind of labeled each other ‘Dickman’ and ‘Throbbin’ and kind of went with that then, and this was one of many parody titles back in the day,” Gross recalled. “Of course, at the time, we didn’t own the studio, but there’s a lot of stories that went with that one.”
Perhaps one of the company’s more unique titles was 1989’s Those Lynn Girls, starring Ginger Lynn, Amber Lynn, Porsche Lynn, Lynn LeMay, Lynn Ray ... and Pat Manning.
So far, none of the re-released titles have any “extra” material, but Gross says he’s been talking to some of the stars—notably Seka—and future releases may contain interviews and/or commentary tracks for some of the more high-profile titles.
In all, there are more than 300 titles in the Western Visuals library, including the mysterious Blue Memories and Blue Memories 2, neither of which even has a production year listed on the Internet Adult Film Database.
“They’re definitely here on my list, but I’ll go look for our master tapes on them,” Gross said. “I don’t know what condition our copies are in, whether they’re shedding [oxide flakes] in our warehouse or what.
“I’m working on all the Blacks and Blondes right now, trying to get them remastered and out on DVD,” he continued, referring to Western’s long-running signature interracial series. “That was their bread and butter for a while, their cutting-edge stuff that nobody else was ready to do.”
But as enticing as the Western Visuals material is, Gross has also taken the plunge into re-releasing early amateur vids from Florida-based Pearl Necklace Productions, whose Amorous Amateurs 12 won Best Amateur Release in 1993, with the series taking the Best Amateur Series award the following year. Gross will be releasing the entire 41 volumes of Amorous Amateurs under the imprint Retro Porno Home Movies.
“I’m releasing the Amorous Amateurs in the exact same sequential numbers as they were originally released, just retitling them and giving them a fresh look, artwork-wise, and making it a very retro-looking product,” Gross explained. “These titles haven’t been seen in more than a decade. We’re looking through the master tapes—we’re talking Beta SPs, those big tapes—and we’re reviewing them and finding some very interesting stuff in the meantime, so it’s kind of fun and at the same time a very nice walk down memory lane. We’re racing against time, because if you don’t start to pull this content off these tapes, they’re going to shed and deteriorate, so we’re very anxious to get all this stuff in a digital format.”
While most of the “amorous amateurs” were true amateurs, some went on to make mainstream adult names for themselves, including RayVeness, Jessie James, Courtney (aka Eden aka Nasty Natasha) and Laurie Cameron.
Early amateur material doesn’t usually qualify for re-release as “classic XXX,” so Retro Porno Home Video may please amateur fans enough that it finds itself with a bonanza on its hands.
This article originally ran in the June 2010 issue of AVN.