Wednesday, August 28, 2013

IN PRAISE OF THE MONSTER MAGAZINE


Every time I see a meat tenderizer I am reminded of Herschell Gordon Lewis' THE GORE GORE GIRLS. Those of you who have watched it will know why.

Lewis' legacy appears alive and well in the hands of the Florida-based CULT MOVIE MANIA crew. Specializing in exploitation of the extreme kind, they promote classic cult-inspired movies through their website and the Shock Sheet, a regular email newsletter.

This week the newsletter featured a column on monster magazines. Writer Andy Lalino lauds the overall influence that monster 'zines -- and in particular, print monster 'zines -- have had over the years and even makes the case that they are the industry's life blood. I couldn't agree more.

I have reprinted the entire article here, sans photos, from the newsletter. You can visit their WEBSITE to subscribe to the Shock Sheet.

Cult Movie Mania Salutes Monster Magazines!
by Andy Lalino

It is the true nervous system of the horror genre: the venerable MONSTER MAGAZINE.  We all have media that we love: movies, TV shows, literature, video games, illustrated stories & comics, radio shows - but since the 1950's it's been the monster magazine that has corralled, examined, reported on and communicated the pleasures of all macabre stimuli.

It was truly the beginning of an era in 1958 when Forrest Ackerman and James Warren scared up Famous Monsters of Filmland, the world's first monster magazine for fans.  Before FM, pulps and comic books ruled the newsstands - both were preoccupied with telling fantastic stories than journalism, so FM had the field wide open to fill an in-demand niche.  And did so astoundingly well.

The first issue of FM was so well-received by young fans, that what originally was conceived as a one-shot became a magazine series in print from '58 to 1983 (Famous Monsters is still in print, but in a different incarnation than what Ackerman's/Warren's).  What FM was especially successful in doing, and what is a tradition among horror fans today, was exalting the importance of horror history and making a case for the dignity of the genre.

Ackerman looked to the past as much as he gazed to the future.  He was adamant about conveying the wonder and pleasure of experiencing the very first modern genre wonders, among them:

  • Lon Chaney's performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Fritz Lang's Metropolis
  • Chaney again: London After Midnight
  • H.G. Wells' Things to Come
  • The brilliant horror, sci-fi and fantasy stories from the pulps (which greatly influenced Ackerman) by such authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and many more.

Famous Monsters was as much about past horror cinema as then-current offerings, and there were reasons for it.  One, Ackerman truly loved the 1920's and 1930's era, the time he grew up in.  Two, FM was created to capitalize on interest in syndicated horror movies (by AIP) being shown on broadcast TV in the late '50s - those movies routinely featured creature features from the '30s and '40's, including the Universal classics.

To this day it's tough to find a horror fan who DOESN'T love and talk about old films as much as current ones - even more so.  That's because the importance Famous Monsters stressed on how crucial it was to preserve and study vintage horror cinema is still wholly influential.  And we are damned proud of that!  You won't find any other genre aficionado who appreciates the past as much as a horror fan.  We all have an innate sense to keep that tradition alive and flourishing as long as possible.

From the '50s to the early '80s, horror fans could enjoy articles on Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price and others with welcome regularity in FM.  This formula was so successful, other publishers were influenced to start their own, similar 'zines.  The best-known were: Castle of Frankenstein and The Monster Times.  Castle of Frankenstein boasted superior writing contrasted to FM, which usually relied on simple sentences and puns to appease their adolescent readership.  To distinguish itself from other magazines on the shelf, The Monster Times' gimmick was being a newspaper, not a mag.  As such, they covered obscure and B-movies - not just classics and big studio productions.

Famous Monsters held steady until the rise of the slasher film in the late 1970's/early '80s.  Times were changing, and due to the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, horror fans now demanded gorier images and more mature journalism.  Thus came Fangoria in 1979.  Initially, Fangoria was not specifically a "gore" mag (its original title was "Fantastica"), and took a few issues to settle into that reputation, with notorious cover images from splatterfests such as Motel Hell, Xtro, and Fulci's Zombie.  Those blood-spattered, full colored images mixed with more sophisticated on-set reporting and reviews made Fangoria an instant hit with the fans, who seemingly left behind the innocence of Famous Monsters.  The torch had been passed, for better or worse.

Fast forward past the decline of the horror film in the late 1980's through most of the '90s, its resurgence in 1996 with Wes Craven's Scream, to the popularity it enjoys today.  We now have an odd, transitory climate where print magazines have to duke it out against the tidal wave of journalistic amateurism on the weird wide web, in which content is almost always "free".  Just recently, it seems, fans are (finally!) getting back to the notion that print is still king - a professional format consisting of genuine writing skill and reporting talent - and are willing to pay for a subscription or purchasing issues at newsstands.  The whole notion of a monster or horror magazine is romantically linked to print.  Many horror fans collect monster magazines and cherish them as a cornerstone of their acquisitions.  They have a deep appreciation for the informative content they entomb, and a genuine fascination with the images they convey, be they publicity photos or illustrated horror stories.

Truth be told, even in 2013 there is not shortage of in-print horror magazines.  Go into any bookstore that sells them and you'll see a healthy heaping of horror periodicals.  Fangoria has never been out of print since 1979 - that's 34 years, folks.  Famous Monsters is still in print, but as mentioned previously it's a different incarnation.  Canada's Rue Morgue is a fan favorite, with excellent cover art and industry coverage of equal quality.  And there exist a plethora of more.  Tim Lucas's Video Watchdog is popular among fans - well written, introspective reviews, and a film theory perspective on horror makes this a thinking man's periodical.  HorrorHound caters more to the collector, and is another popular title among fans.  Like Video Watchdog, Videoscope - Phantom of the Movies features well-written reviews and contains rare interviews.  For the classic horror fan, it's tough to beat Scary Monsters/Monster Memories, Dennis Druktenis's loving homages to vintage horror of a more innocent age.  For the horror/cult movie reader who desires premium presentations, check out Thomas Eikrem's Filmrage magazine.  Actually, more like a high-end coffee table book, Filmrage is a hardbound masterpiece of cult cinema coverage.

Diabolique, Fangoria's recent resurrection of Gore Zone, Paracinema, Cinema Retro, Screem, Shock Cinema, Lunchmeat (for VHS collectors) - so many fantastic titles with outstanding writers, photographers and designers.  PLEASE consider subscribing to one of these print magazines.  Re-discover the joys of holding a monster magazine in your hands, not just on a computer screen.  eReaders are...adequate, but nothing beats the experience of collecting REAL PRINT monster magazines.  I guess what I'm saying is subscribe to an eMagazine if you must, but try like hell to possess the REAL THING - print!  So celebrate the past and support the present and future by buying/collecting old issues and supporting current publications!  Print magazines will never have a more supportive ally than Cult Movie Mania - and you too.

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