Saturday, December 14, 2013

WE BELONG DEAD NO. 11


AND HERE WE HAVE ALREADY another issue of WE BELONG DEAD . . . and that is not a bad thing at all! Editor and Publisher Eric McNaughton has apparently been riding the wave of inspiration with a fusillade of monster goodness from “across the pond”. While the focus is on Hammer and other UK productions it is not myopically British, and includes material from the US, and indeed, anywhere else in the world where there is something of value to say about horror film history.

WBD is a fan magazine, and many of its articles are written from a fan’s perspective, which do not at all diminish its effectiveness and only illustrate the zeitgeist of the world in which the horror fan lives. But make no mistake, the ‘zine is capable of also serving up scholarly and learned material as well.



In “Confessions of a Hammer Lover”, Matt Gemmell shares his affection of Hammer films with WBD readers reminiscing about his personal history with the UK monster industry giant. Like many ‘a Monster Kid from the States who were similarly (and more than willingly) initiated by the Shock Theater TV package, he recounts his own exhilaration with watching Hammer films as a youngster and how they affected him throughout his life. The analogue is easily perceived and serves to only further liberate this unique pop culture phenomena from the insular to the international.

The “Keep My Top-Loader Open” Department offers up a review of GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE, one of those films that can be categorized as marginally-watchable, but nevertheless still maintains a nostalgic cult following. The main talking point here is the opening sequence, where, in a typical Drive-In trope, the vampire kills the boyfriend and then has its way with the girlfriend. In this case, it is taken to an extreme, and instead of being carried off to the monster’s lair, the girlfriend is raped in the vampire’s open grave. The suckling on blood instead of milk scene is another 70’s “shocker” that is still discussed today by critics. Columnist Julian Hobbs does a good job himself in milking whatever is worthy to be unearthed in GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE without falling into the familiar pitfall of turning a film into the proverbial silk purse by way of sentimentality.

Another personal reminisce is told by Peter Benassi in his “An Homage to The House of Hammer Magazine”. In 1976, the first issue of House of Hammer hit the newsstands. Published by überfan Dez Skin, it went on to a measured popularity with Hammer film fans. Benassi recounts the joy of the original run’s 23 issues and its lackluster return in 1982. He gives an often-heard reason from a monster fan that has roots in the classic (Hammer) years of horror cinema: “…the old magic was gone, sadly. Admittedly, we were in an entirely different era with any trend-setting horror films few and far between so it wasn’t exactly the fault of the magazine itself. During this period, we were being saturated with slasher films, video nasties and other 80s cinema shenanigans.”

Next up is WBD editor Eric McNaughton’s “Afternoon Tea with a Horror Icon”. Clearly, this is a scoop of an interview with Hammer Films Hottie and perennial fan-favorite (for obvious reasons), Caroline Munroe. I, myself, was smitten with Miss Munroe when I first saw her as Margiana in Ray Harryhausen’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973). How could any red-blooded male forget her scene with John Philip Law’s Sinbad, dark hair streaming, speaking in an exotic accent and ample bosom heaving under the firelight in her wispy eastern garb? Along with Harryhausen’s exquisite animation (which I was experimenting with myself at the time), Munroe was a major reason why I stayed in the Hollywood theater for a second viewing! Munroe she speaks fondly of her work on the film, saying outright that she “loved doing it”. She also mentions that Tom Baker, who played the villain, Khoura, was selected for the role of the fourth Doctor Who as a result of being spotted in GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. When asked about Harryhausen, she has this to say: “He was on the set all the time and I became a close friend of his. And I loved him and I miss him so much. I see his daughter and she comes down from Scotland and we go out and have a little girlie dinner. I miss him very much.” McNaughton conducts an excellent interview as he facilitates what must have been an extremely pleasurable conversation. Kudos also to Caroline Munroe who obviously enjoys her notoriety from this era, recognizes that her career is sustained largely by her past accomplishments, and embraces it instead of marginalizing or outright shunning it like we have seen so many other actors do.

Further on in the issue, Richard Gladman interviews another Hammer Hottie, Madeline Smith. A revered personality canonized in the halls of “Hammer Glamour”, she began her career in modelling, and, despite the demure attitude she professes seen in one of the special features on the recently-released Blu-ray of Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the large-eyed Smith is nevertheless seen quite often in provocative publicity poses showing more than enough cleavage to satisfy any vampire. The interview focuses on her recollections from some of the notable horror films she has played in over the years, beginning with TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. As for her role in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, she remembers Ingrid Pitt as being “formidable, but lovely to me” and Director Roy Ward Baker, who “cajoled a performance from me that nobody could have imagined.”

The issue goes on with a veritable parade of pleasing features, including remembrances of Ray Harryhausen (by film historian Tony Earnshaw) and Richard Matheson, a comparison of Joan Crawford’s TROG and Rick Baker’s SHLOCK, Hammer’s Mummy movies, collecting classic horror and sci-fi movie books, the Hammer Karnstein film trilogy, Mexican vampires, and tons more.

For all the reverie regarding Hammer films, the gem of the issue is about a movie rooted in Hollywood and directed by a Czech. However, it does star a very famous British actor and it is all the better for it. Matthew E. Banks’ retrospective, “The Black Cat: Re-examining a Horror Classic” delves deep into the perverse psyche of this unquestionably bizarre entry in Universal’s classic era of the 1930’s. Subtitled, “A Catalogue of Satanism, Sadism, Homoerotica, Necrophilia and Murder”, THE BLACK CAT (Universal, 1934) is not a “monster movie” at all in the conventional sense, and instead relies on the characteristics of the human monster and the limits of grief, guilt and suffering – along with a generous dose of the dark side of human nature. The film exudes decadence, and for good reason. Director Edward G. Ulmer, co-writing the film treatment with mystery author Peter Ruric, derived his inspiration from Polish decadent fantasist and mystic, Gustav Meyrink, author of Der Golem (1915), which Paul Wegener filmed as an early silent (Ulmer worked on the film as well, helping to design the sets). Along with Hanns Heinz Ewers, author of Alraune (a 1911 entry in the Frankenstein cycle that tells of the creation of a homunculus by fertilizing the womb of a prostitute with the semen of an executed murderer) and Karl Hans Strobl (a prolific writer of schauerromanen influenced by Poe and contemporary Ewers, and who later became a supporter of the Nazi party), Meyrink is the most notable of the Germanic supernatural and weird fiction writers. Once a member of the elite secret occult organization, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Meyrink immersed himself in the European mysticism and metaphysics that had its golden age during the mid-to late 1800’s, the same period that the Decadent and Symbolist movement in art and literature flourished. Ulmer capitalized on Meyrink’s perverse and unholy themes and turned one of his film’s subplots from diabolism into outright Satanism. THE BLACK CAT, even though once removed from its Universal gothic brethren of the times, transcends the comparative triteness of mere scary monsters into a world of true horror and human debasement. Themes of transgression and subversion abound in THE BLACK CAT. For instance, elements of homoeroticism in the film – both left in and edited out – are discussed using references by author David Skal, who has a knack for trolling through film history for these examples. Although other actors were considered, Karloff and Lugosi could not have been better choices for the two lead roles. Overlooking the usual (and thankfully brief) comic relief sequences that were needlessly added into otherwise serious horror films, THE BLACK CAT is infused with a dreamlike, no nightmare-like quality that at least equals Carl Dreyer’s celebrated horror fantasy, VAMPYR (1932), released just two years before. The essay is well-researched and written, but contains some errors. For instance, the spelling of author Gustav “Meyrinck”, while a being possible alternative, is more commonly spelled, “Meyrink”. Also, the reference to “Alister Crowley” is misspelled from Greg Mank’s source and quotation and carried on into the narrative – the correct spelling of the man’s name who was known for a time in the British press as “The Wickedest Man in the World” (and who, like Meyrink, was a member of The Golden Dawn) is “Aleister” Crowley. All things considered, Matthew E. Banks’ erudite and thoughtful work would not be lost in the running for a spot on the “Best Magazine Article” ballot of this year’s provincial but prestigious Rondo Awards.

I mentioned that WBD is a fan magazine. While this may be largely true, great care is evident in its production. The design, layouts, and reproduction make it a cut above rival publications. With a few issues under its belt, there is a sense of new life to WE BELONG DEAD, and considering the depth of material covered in each issue, I guarantee it is well worth your purchase. Click on the WE BELONG DEAD cover image on the sidebar for ordering information.

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