Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Halcyon Days of the Horror Fanzine

This post is by no means a history of the Horror film fanzine, but rather my own small tribute to some favourite underground publications of the '80's and 90's...

The United Kingdom has been an especially fertile place for the bloggers of the pre-Internet Age, fired up by a love of Cult Cinema, and rallying against the aggressive censorship of the British censors (which in effect lasted until BBFC head-honcho James Fermann stepped down in '99). Popular fanzines of the day were Samhain, Delirium, Giallo Pages, Cold Sweat, Mkultra, Eastern Heroes, Invasion, and Trash City. Samhain in particular was note worthy for its classifieds section where fans could buy/sell/trade rare tapes. If you needed a copy of Men Behind the Sun, you probably could have found it thru the pages of Samhain.

Regular fixtures among the fanzine community included the Video Nasties, Italian splatter, Hong Kong action cinema and unsung European film makers like Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin, Paul Naschy, none of whom had the exposure on home video back then as they do now. Today in the DVD age, mainstream film magazines are now savvy enough to mention Cannibal Holocaust when discussing The Blair Witch Project, but it wasn't always so, and a generation of horror fans were discovering a whole world of Secret Cinema in the pages of their favourite fanzines...

Shock Xpress which ran from 1985 to 1989 championed the films of Clive Barker, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and featured memorable essays on strange subgenres - biker films, LSD Cinema; plus some groundbreaking features on the work of Boris Karloff, Jesus Franco and the Southern Fried Gothic of S.F. Brownrigg (surely a first!). Shock Xpress editor and chief Stefan Jaworzyn's acidic editorials about the state of Thatcher's Britain and his love for the Butthole Surfers were often the best thing in the magazine, and Jaworzyn took a sadistic delight in administering a dose of "shock treatment" to readers who complained about negative reviews of Hellraiser II, in the letters page. Shock Xpress would later appear as an irregular annual, finally disappearing after 3 volumes. Stefan Jaworzyn would later author the excellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion, play bass on the first Skullflower EP, and would front the British improv noise band Ascension.

Author, musician and all round Renaissance man, Stephen Thrower took a novel approach to fanzine publishing with Eyeball, mixing exploitation and art cinema together, and was home to fans of Gestapo's Last Orgy and Godard's Weekend. The magazine ran for just 5 issues from 1989 to 1998, and the best of Eyeball's material was collected together in a single volume available from FAB Press. With a heavy emphasis on European Cinema, Eyeball stood out among the crowd for its high quality of writing (although occasionally it got too scholarly for its own good) and guest writers included Ramsey Campbell and Kim Newman. In addition to reviews, it featured interviews with Alexandro Jodorowsky, Andrzej Zulawski and Paul Morrisey, and fascinating essays on important films like Performance, Possession and Tenebrae. Stephen Thrower would go on to write, Beyond Terror, The Films of Lucio Fulci and Nightmare USA, both absolutely essential reading. His book on the films of Jess Franco is in the works.

UK mag In the Flesh started life like a lo-fi punk fanzine but editor Steve C soon developed it into quite a professional looking publication. It ran for 11 issues from 1989 to 1992 and included a serialized round-up of the Video Nasties (Franco's anti-masterpiece The Devil Hunter earns 1 star), interviews with the likes of Gunnar Hansen and Jorg Buttgeriet, a regular feature on censorship in other countries, a short story section, breakdowns of censorship cuts imposed by the BBFC, a review section for obscure films (Poor Albert and Little Annie, anyone ?) and book and video reviews. Issue 11 which would prove to be the final issue came with an impressive mini poster of the Dutch VHS jacket of The Beyond. The final Video Nasty reviewed was Night Train Murders. What Steve C and his team lacked in prose skills, they made up for with sheer passion and enthusiasm, and I still today leaf through copies of In the Flesh for fun.

European Trash Cinema, Craig Ledbetter's fanzine from the Lone Star state, came on the scene in even more humble circumstances than In the Flesh, originally appearing in 1989 as an eleven-page news sheet with smudgy graphics alongside the standard typeface. By 1992 it had grown into a proper magazine with striking color covers and unusually sized somewhere between a Video Watchdog and a regular magazine. ETC was heavily concerned with Italian Cinema, gialli, directors like Dario Argento, Joe D'Amato, and Enzo Castellari but would occasionally spread its wings to include Jean Rollin and Brigitte Lahaie ("after all, it is called European Trash Cinema" Lebetter once wrote in an introduction). ETC also managed to unearth the most obscure films for its review section like Fulci's 1975 Dracula In the Provinces, a film I know almost nothing about but the ETC review reassuringly promises it to be "loopy"...



6 comments:

  1. I well remember Samhain - I even submitted an ink-line drawing of the ALIEN (I am still awaiting their reply!) Gotta love the zines.

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  2. This is an excellent post!
    I thought you might be interested to know about the "2011:The Revenge of Print" campaign and also my overview of horror fanzines.

    http://www.cyberschizoid.com/2010/11/fangtastic-world-of-horror-fanzines.html

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  3. Do you use much artwork? I am always submitting my drawings to a variety of small press horror fanzines. My drawings can be experienced on http://chris.michaelherring.net/
    Thank You Chris Friend
    mars_art_13@yahoo.com

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  4. I like yr atwork Chris, especially the Hippo-Octopus-Anus Dog... Anyone interested should check out Chris' stuff at his website...

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  5. I had a British pen pal in Reading from around 1982-1995 or so - we've since lost touch though I'm still trying to track him down through social networking. He mentioned at least a couple of these once or twice. He never sent any - we stuck to an exchange where he sent me 2000 AD and I sent him Twilight Zone magazine for a couple of years anyway.

    Weird sidenote - that British penpal and I met through a Fangoria subscriber ad I placed - "10 Best/Worst Horror Film lists to Craig Edwards address following" - England was the furthest away I got a list from - but guess who one other respondent was - with whom I kept up a brief correspondence across a couple of years in the early 80's? None other than Craig Ledbetter!

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  6. Craig, that is an impressive run of correspondence - 1982 - 1995 - I hope you get to track him down - wow ! Great story about Ledbetter - I see he's still part of the scene, the ETC website offers some rare DVD-Rs (and not so rare it must be said), so fair dues to him for staying around - I think it's fair to say a lot of guys who were at the forefront of the fanzines scene in this era got jobs, married, kids and understandably moved on...

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