Douglas died of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday in Green Valley, AZ, according to former associates and social media postings by his family.
Douglas joined the upstart Anchor Bay in 1995 and over the next decade his passions came to define the company’s eclectic library of genre films, off-kilter cinema curiosities, lost classics, obscure gems, and, most especially, unforgettable horror movies of any and every quality level.
During the rise of VHS and then DVD, Anchor Bay became a powerhouse name in genre circles and renowned for giving quality treatment to movies that others dismissed as too scruffy, silly, sordid, or strange to deserve a second look much less a second life. The library also found room for television artifacts, public domain oddities, foreign films and dusted-off studio classics.
”Our goal,” Douglas explained to The New York Times in 1998, “is to elevate these old films and B movies — if that’s what you call them.”
Among the films that Douglas was involved in acquiring or overseeing while at Anchor Bay: The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, Time Bandits, The Life of Brian, The Stepford Wives, Fitzcarraldo, Day of the Dead, The Ladykillers, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Hellraiser, Repo Man, Halloween, Supergirl, Kentucky Fried Movie and three Evil Dead films.
Douglas and Anchor Bay didn’t just salvage films, they minted unexpected careers. Actor Bruce Campbell, for instance, who played Ash in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, found a new level of celebrity when Anchor Bay gave the franchise’s first film a robust afterlife on home video.
“Jay and Anchor Bay were instrumental in rekindling interest in the Evil Dead movies,” Campbell said Thursday. “For that, my partners and I will always be grateful. He was fun and smart and really a special guy.”
In addition to the Evil Dead films, Douglas was especially proud of acquisitions such as the libraries of both Handmade Films (famed for Monty Python movies and Time Bandits) and Hammer Films (the now-classic British horror brand) as well as the films of Werner Herzog.
Douglas was also a linchpin in developing Anchor Bay’s long-standing relationships with directors such as John Woo, George Romero, Monte Hellman, Dario Argento and John Landis.
Even with less prestigious films and filmmakers, Douglas was a champion of using highest-quality elements by tirelessly chasing down the best prints and negatives. In a 2002 interview, Douglas explained that Anchor Bay’s mission was giving a second life to films that were misunderstood, mishandled, misguided, or just missed all together.
“All of our movies, the movies that we license I call ‘ambitiously flawed,’ ” Douglas told City Beat in 2002. “It’s much more fun to watch movies that went wrong, not in terms of being bad art, but movies that were mishandled on the marketing end, or movies that were maybe ahead of their time.”
Douglas himself was somewhat ahead of his time with his midnight-movie sensibilities (which echo now in the genre sector’s robust representation via Comic-Con culture, Quentin Tarantino, Alamo Drafthouse, Kevin Smith, James Gunn, Eli Roth, et al). Although he personally disliked the term “cult films” as being too ominous, Douglas was a film lover who appreciated a cinematic hot mess and movie that were “so bad they were good.”
“Sometimes interesting is better than good,” Douglas once told DigitallyObsessed.com. “I’d rather see a movie that was so over-the-top for being a mess…as long as it’s not straight-to-video with a guy with a machine gun looking to the left and a girl with a machine gun looking to the right. And if you do give me that movie, have them do something completely nutty right in the middle of it!”
Still, the late executive’s greater impact may have been as mentor to several generations of film industry stalwarts.
“I am very saddened to hear of the passing of a dear friend and colleague, Jay Douglas,” said Malek Akkad of Trancas International Films, the producer of Halloween (2018). “I was fortunate enough to work with Jay during the early years of Anchor Bay, and his passion for not only the Halloween films, but cinema in general, was infectious. He will be sorely missed.”
After Anchor Bay, Douglas worked with Blue Underground before heading up the film division of Ryko Distribution. Anchor Bay was based in Troy, MI, and the factory town’s persona was reflected in Douglas’ blue-collar approach and unpretentious tastes. Those also live on through his many protégées.
“I’m so saddened to hear about Jay’s passing,” said Mark Ward, Chief Acquisitions Officer of RLJ Entertainment. “I will forever be indebted to Jay for giving me my shot and he truly was my Obi-Wan. I still live by Jay’s mission statement of simply ‘putting out really cool movies’ that people want to watch over and over. He is truly an icon of the genre community and there will never be another one with his passion and enthusiasm.”
Memorial information is pending.