In this installment of MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD'S interview with Gary Svehla, Gary talks about how he produces an issue of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and his opinion of Universal's THE WOLF MAN remake.
MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: Tod Browning or James Whale?
GARY SVEHLA: Come on, not even close. James Whale!!! Whale was eccentric and artistically idiosyncratic in the best possible ways. He blended horror with dark humor and populated his films with interesting characterizations and incredible symbolism (making Frankenstein’s Monster a Christ symbol). For me FRANKENSTEIN and especially BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN became the two greatest classic Universal horror movies ever, and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA are my two favorite horror movies of all time. James Whale created multi-textual cinematic canvases of such depth and beauty that he for me is the ultimate horror film director. I would rate Terence Fisher a close second.
To explain the failings of Tod Browning, all one has to do is compare the Spanish version of DRACULA to the same year’s Universal American version starring Bela Lugosi. Remember, Browning only directed the Lugosi version, and for my money, the Spanish version (with the exception of Bela Lugosi’s performance) is infinitely better directed and cinematically more innovative than the stage bound American version. Lugosi’s DRACULA is a classic horror film in spite of Tod Browning’s participation.
MMW: Who all is currently involved with the production of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and what are their roles?
SVEHLA: Basically, my wife Susan and I do it all, with contributions from our dwindling writing staff (we are an open shop and looking for new writers to contribute articles… email me at email@example.com if interested in contributing articles). Sue designs the covers and I do the interior layout. We both copy edit. Sue prepares the files for the printer. I miss the active participation of my father Richard, one 90 years old and living in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s.
MMW: Gary, sorry to hear about your father's health and hope he is being made as comfortable as possible. What type of technology do you use to design and layout each issue -- computer, software, etc. -- and do you still do anything the old-fashioned way . . . by hand?
SVEHLA: Sue and I each own state of the art Macintosh computers and use Adobe’s INDESIGN layout problem to produce all our books and magazines. We copy edit articles in Microsoft WORD and import the text into INDESIGN. We illustrate the magazine with tiff files enhanced by Adobe’s PHOTOSHOP, where the photos and posters are tweaked for maximum effect. Everything is done electronically. We use to print up thousands of copies and store them at expensive warehouse storage places, but now in the new world of digital printing and print on demand, we can print as many or as few copies as needed, and by eliminating the warehouse storage, we keep our costs under control. No, after all those years of using layout boards, printing out justified text and using an Xacto knife to cut and paste, no, I do not miss the good old days at all. Technology makes it neater, faster and more professional looking. Unfortunately, electronic layout design programs allow novices and hacks to feel they are graphic design artists and that anyone can design their own book or magazine. It still takes imaginative, a good eye and know-how (in other words, technical skill) to design, lay out and publish magazines and books. Some self-published books look and read okay, but the vast majority would be infinitely improved if placed in the hands of a professional publishing company.
MMW: You went from a full-size magazine to a digest/trade paperback… why?
SVEHLA: John, remember, it is the other way around. GORE CREATURES started out as a digest size magazine and only went full size with issue #12, I believe. Beginning with issue 50 we went to a slightly smaller full size format, based upon what was most economic for us with the printer we were using at the same. Sometimes by trimming as little as 1/2 inch off the width or height of the magazine, the cost to us would be reduced radically. And we could pass on our savings to the customer. Size is all economics, nothing more. When we switched from the true magazine format to the trade paperback perfect bound format, it was because the printer was more a book publisher and he could offer us a better deal to go with that format than he could with a regular saddle stitched (fancy talk for stapled) format. Say if one printer charged us the same price to go with 5,000 copies of a full size 48 page stapled magazine or could offer us the perfect bound (square bound and glued) format, slightly smaller overall size, but 98 pages of that slightly smaller size, we would go with the 98 page format. Format and size were not as important to us as getting the most magazine for the lowest price. That’s why we are still around 47 years after the fact. Page count, size and binding are all based upon getting the best deal from a printer (who also provides the highest quality standards we require).
MMW: In MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #75, you were pretty vocal about the shortfalls of the Lon Chaney, Jr. version of THE WOLF MAN. What is your opinion of the Benecio del Toro remake? Although his costume and hairstyle more often appear to be reminiscent of Oliver Reed in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, he does have an uncanny resemblance in a couple of shots to Chaney. Would you agree?
SVEHLA: I must be honest, when we do those classic FORUM AGAINST ’EM group discussion articles in MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, I sometimes find myself purposely creating a slightly more extreme stance than I otherwise might take. I admit I have never been a big fan of the 1941’s THE WOLF MAN with Lon Chaney, Jr. Compared to the classic 1930s Universals, the ones directed by people who possessed a unique and personal visual style (James Whale with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; Edgar Ulmer with THE BLACK CAT; Roland V. Lee with SON OF FRANKENSTEN), George Waggner’s style is flat and generic in THE WOLF MAN. Yes, we have that fog-shrouded set and the Gypsy camp where that first wolf attack occurs, but the film has isolated sequences of interest without having its audience captivated throughout. Come on, can we believe that Claude Rains sired Lon Chaney! Also, what about the wolf transformations? We show human feet becoming wolf feet. The makeup and special effects improved as the series developed (and the quality lessened). Lon Chaney’s performance gets better with age, but it is still whiny and over wrought for my taste. It lacks the subtlety that a better actor could have brought to the role. I admit I like THE WOLF MAN the more I see it, and it is the best of the 1940s Universals, along with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. But when compared to the other iconic monster movies of the 1930s, its flaws become too apparent.
I wanted to like THE WOLFMAN, the Beneco del Toro remake, but at best I found it to be fair. Joe Johnson entered as the last moment as substitute director, and it shows. He focuses too often on the splatter and gore effects and not enough on the Wolf Man makeup. We have a quick cut here, and a pan there, but fans want to focus on the face, and we get precious little of that. And after Rick Baker’s wonderful work in films such as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, I do not see any progression or improvement of technique over the past 30 years ago. The still photos of the Wolf Man’s face look tremendous, but as shown in the film, the face is not as effective. I think the makeup’s major flaw is the fact that, at the end, Anthony Hopkins’ werewolf is a more effectively executed werewolf makeup than del Toro’s iconic Wolf Man. I love the mood, set design and some of the performances, but THE WOLFMAN never catches fire. Perhaps the costumes and makeup make del Toro resemble Oliver Reed from Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but Roy Ashton’s makeup for Oliver Reed is simply superior to the makeup Rick Baker delivers to del Toro. Oliver Reed looks like he’s a human being who turned into a werewolf; del Toro looks like an actor wearing makeup. I cannot suspend my disbelief that he actually morphed from man into beast. The movie is too long and lacks the emotional empathy needed to make the audience care. It’s not bad; it’s not good. It is simply okay at best and that means THE WOLFMAN will be soon forgotten. A remake of a classic such as THE WOLF MAN must be better than adequate, if not, why even attempt a redo such iconic cinema?
MMW: In the same issue you had done a lot of research and presented your case for the “13 Most Influential Horror Movies” (for the reader, the films are: FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, KING KONG, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, CAT PEOPLE, THE THING, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, HOUSE OF DRACULA, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, BLACK SUNDAY, HALLOWEEN, THE EXORCIST, RINGU). Given the chance today, would you make any changes?
SVEHLA: In a word, no! I gave about a year of thought to my choices (even doing a panel at FANEX where I asked the assembled audience to challenge my list and make additional suggestions), and I still stand by them. Since RINGU is so recent, that is the one I have the most reservations about, simply because time hasn’t allowed me to view this choice with some distance. The so-called J-Horror period has passed, but I have not seen a new trend since, except the re-appearance of vampire cinema or zombie movies. But for the 1990s, Japanese horror was the cutting edge trend and its influence affects American made productions even today. No, no, I stand by my selection.
MMW: Has circulation increased or decreased over the last few years and what do you attribute it to?
SVEHLA: Oh my, just look around and look closely at the world of magazines and books. Kindle, e-readers and downloading of PDF files. The electronic handwriting is all over the walls. I love magazines, but about six of my favorites ceased publication in the past few years. Economically, skyrocketing costs and decreased sales have forced many mainstream magazines to fold. People today, for free, can surf the Internet and check out websites such as the Internet Movie Data Base for credits and reviews. Before, people had to purchase books to get the same information. Of course circulation is way down, not just for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, but also for all magazines and books. Look at how the quality of magazines such as ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has suffered over the past decade. Some magazines survive, but they are mere shadows of what they once were. I give tons of credit to all the specialty magazines that keep on keeping on.
Reasons? First of all, because of the cost of production, publishers have to pass on their costs to the subscriber, so people subscribe to or purchase fewer magazines. Secondly, with many magazines going online, at least partially, more and more people are getting their magazine fix electronically. They don’t need hard copies of their reading material. And for the small press publication, fewer brick and mortal stores are carrying the niche publications. Stores like Virgin Megastore and Tower have folded and Diamond Distribution has abandoned most small press magazines. For the magazine publisher, the days of hard copy publications are numbered and publishers must adjust or die. It is not that magazines will die out completely; they will simply have to reinvent themselves digitally or fade away. Just as my first carbon paper-copied issues of GORE CREATURES soon became hectographed, then mimeographed and finally offset printed, I too adjusted to the pulse of the times and changed whenever necessary. But in our 47 years of publication, perhaps the most radical change is the anticipated one from hard copy to digital. This is the one change that most older classic horror buffs resist the most.
(To be continued . . . )
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #27. Famous graphic artist Bill Nelson joined our staff and did his first of several covers for us. Nelson’s work graced TV GUIDE and other nationally distributed magazines.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #30. This is my favorite Bill Nelson cover, depicting a werewolf from THE HOWLING. It remains one of my favorite covers.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #32. Bill Nelson tackles one of the mind-numbing creatures from John Carpenter’s THE THING.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #37. Not my favorite Bill Nelson cover, but our giant-sized 25th anniversary issue, published by FantaCo Publishing, is considered to be a landmark issue in the annals of horror film magazines. It is perhaps our greatest issue and one that I am very proud of.
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #39, #40, #42. With Bill Nelson now becoming too famous and too busy to continue drawing for us, we found one of the greatest talents of all time, David Daniels, who designed this cover from THE MUMMY, one of our absolute finest covers ever. He followed with tremendous covers of Christopher Lee from HORROR OF DRACULA and Bela Lugosi from MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.
Gary, Forry 1990s. I do not remember the exact year, but it is most likely 1989. When Forry was a guest at our FANEX convention for the first time, he agreed to attend a 16mm movie viewing night at my friend George Stover’s house. Just a few close friends and Forry. Here Forry and I relax as Stover snaps our photo in his basement theater.
Gary, Forry 1969. Again, this is a very special shot. Gary Svehla and Forrest J Ackerman, duel of the titans! Notice how Forry would always slide a current copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS above the fanzine he was asked to pose with.
Gary, Gale Anne Hurd. When producer Gale Anne Hurd was on a press tour for THE ABYSS in 1989, members of the FANEX staff, headed by Gary, traveled to the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC to see the premiere. Afterwards, Gale Anne Hurd and the group (wife Sue is snapping the photo) traveled to a restaurant across the street for a relaxed interview.
Gary, Keir Dullea 1968. When 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered at The Town Cinerama theater in Baltimore, I met one of my oldest and best friends, George “Bloody Hunks” Stover (who snapped this photo). Just as important was meeting and having an autograph signed by the star of the movie, Keir Dullea.
Gary, Posters. Again, in the bedroom in 1966, I point to my two most important posters at the time. First is the insert of HORROR OF DRACULA, my favorite horror movie (along with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Alongside is the insert from Universal’s GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the first classic Universal poster I ever purchased. GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN set me back $3.50 (when I bought it in late 1963).