Afterword – Goodbye, Joel M Reed

Joel M. Reed directed only a few movies, but he will forever be known for his sleazy grand guignol classic Blood Sucking Freaks. John Szpunar pays his respects.

“And something flickered for a minute and then it vanished and was gone…”

Lou Reed
AKA Blood Sucking Freaks

This is going to be a tough one to write. I’m sitting here at 4:16 PM on April 21, 2020. At this point in time, the entire world as we know it has suddenly gone crazy. Here in America, New York City is under siege with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country. People are getting sick. People are scared. People are dying. One of those people was a friend of mine. I’ve known the man for over half of my life. His name was Joel M. Reed.

I met Joel back in the 1990s when I cold called his home phone number. I was visiting New York, and I did my best to contact any seminal exploitation directors that hadn’t already jumped ship to LA. I finally ended up talking to Joel. I guess it was fate.

“I’m still here!” he yowled. We made rough plans to meet up in person if I ever visited the city again.

I ended up writing a book about him.

It took me twenty years.

And now, just like that… the man is gone.

My friendship with Joel Reed would have never happened if not for David Kerekes. In fact, I’d like to share a story right now that David and Joel have never heard.

Joel and I were sitting at Sardi’s, a theater bar in Manhattan that had once seen better days.

“Where are you going to publish this?” Joel asked.

Without blinking, I said, “Headpress. It will be perfect for the magazine. I uhhh… I write for it.” Joel seemed happy enough, and he answered all of my questions without any hesitation, delay, or shame. It was heaven on earth.

Joel Reed escorting Barbra Streisand round town.

What Joel didn’t know is that I’d never spoken to David Kerekes in my life. Headpress was my favorite magazine. I wanted to—no, needed to write for it. I just had a hunch. And David surely had no idea what would soon be knocking at his door.

When I got home to Michigan, I wrote to David via email and established contact. “Send the interview along when you can,” he said. Send it I did. This led to my first published work as an author. That was it. That was the spark. After a few more exchanges, Joel granted me permission to be his biographer. And David agreed to publish the book. We had no idea that it would take as long as it did.

I knew Joel Reed well. Sometimes all too well. Enough to know that any given moment with him could suddenly turn into complete and total chaos. The man was fascinating to me—good, bad, ugly… or just completely insane.

It didn’t matter to me. As I got to know Joel, I somehow became part of his twisted family of misfits, outcasts, perverts, and dare I say it… part of his life. I carried a small tape recorder with me in those days. It was always running. I didn’t want to miss a second. I wanted to learn, first-hand, about the New York City that I never knew. I was never disappointed.

This brings us to today. April 21, 2020. Joel has gone missing for over a week. The time is now 4:45, and the clock is still ticking.

The New York that I knew in those days is now closed for the foreseeable future. And the New York that Joel knew is buried with him.

All I can say is that I’m glad that I kept that tape recorder going for as long as I did.

Thanks for everything, Joel. Thanks for the memories. Thank you for sharing them with me.

In the end, that’s all we’ve got.

I will miss you,


Joel Reed (centre), acting/directing Night of the Zombies. Jamie Gillis is on the right.

Goodbye, Joel M. Reed (1933–2020)

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