One of the many negative effects of the downsizing of the print publishing industry, besides giving my career a one-two punch, is the disappearance of the smaller, niche publications. I'm speaking in particular of horror movie magazines, some of which were around in the sixties (Famous Monsters, House of Frankenstein, etc.) and really hit their peak of popularity in the 1990s. It's these later mags that this post is about.
Filled with stories on any number of strange movie-related topics, they fulfilled my lust for the useless information I couldn't find anywhere else—or live without. These magazines were written with a streak of perverted humor in a voice that spoke directly to me as an "insider," a fellow weird movie freak. In addition, advertisers in these publications allowed me to locate and—gasp!—actually order videos of the strange movies I'd been pining to see for years.
Psychotronic Video was the granddaddy of these specialty pubs, starting out in 1980 as a xeroxed guide to weird movies airing on television. I discovered its existence when I bought the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film in 1984. Although my interest in strange movies was already burning bright, publisher Michael Weldon not only put a name to my mania (psychotronic), he also helped me to understand why such a bizarre combination of film genres—horror, sleaze, Italian gore, juvenile delinquency, Mexican wrestling, nudie cuties, roughies, drive-in trash—sent me into paroxysms of joy. PV also showed me that there were other weirdos out there like me.
I still have the complete library of issues, except for No. 1 (always a challenge among collectors of any kind of magazines), and I probably re-read each one every couple of years. Packed with movie reviews, rare photos and interviews with cult celebrities, they never lose their interest.
It was in the pages of PV that I first discovered the bizarre world of Coffin Joe (the alter ego of Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins), whose films are now frequently shown on IFC! Boy, are they strange. Steeped in religion, sex and hallucinogenic drugs, they're in turns shocking, hilarious and delightfully mind-boggling. Most surprising is their consistently anti-religious themes, made in such a thoroughly Catholic place. Marins, whose most prominent features are fingernails that are several inches long, is well-known and even celebrated in his home country. And he's still making Coffin Joe movies more than forty years after his debut.
Scarlet Street was another favorite. Slicker and glossier than PV, it concentrated on more mainstream fare, such as the Universal horrors of the 1930s and '40s, but still managed to provide remarkable insight as well as landing rare interviews with the surviving performers and people behind the production of these timeless classics.
Scarlet Street was often accused of having a "gay agenda," and it's true that articles frequently touched on the subject's sexuality, but it was always presented in context and never done with malice or an attempt to "out" that person. And we're talking about the performing arts industry, for God's sake! More fondly remembered for me was its unique sense of humor. See the cover on the left? "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "special swimsuit issue"? Hilarious.
When Bill Condon's wonderful "Gods and Monsters"—about the last days of director James Whale—was released, Scarlet Street devoted an issue to "Bride of Frankenstein" and the talents behind it. Even Ernest Thesiger, the bizarre, birdlike actor who played Dr. Pretorius in the film, was profiled. An extremely eccentric character who enjoyed a long life on the stage (and needlepoint!), he was reported to have asked Somerset Maugham why he never wrote any roles expressly for him. Maugham replied that he did indeed, but they kept being played by "somebody called Gladys Cooper"!
The magazine ceased publication upon the death of its publisher, Richard Valley, in 2007. His friends and co-writers have attempted to pick up the mantle and continue it as simply Scarlet magazine, but only two issues have been printed so far. It's a tough business—I wish them well. I have every original issue of Scarlet Street except No. 1 and that's a reprint.
Cult Movies was my hometown publication. Written and published in Los Angeles, it was often affiliated with Hollywood Book and Poster, a great film collectibles store on Hollywood Boulevard. Its subjects were far-ranging: Hollywood classics (not necessarily horror); fifties shlock; rock and roll; spaceman and gladiator films; even classic porn. Since I could easily visualize the places the magazine's subjects lived and worked in, it brought their stories closer to home. Cult Movies writers and celebrities were fixtures at local conventions and collector's shows, so I had the opportunity to meet and converse with them quite frequently.
And when Cult Movies wrote about Ed Wood (which it did frequently), its descriptions of the bad movie auteur's milieu was always colorful, gritty and—surprise—told me something new. Bela Lugosi's story, especially as it intersected with Wood's, was always heartrending and the people the magazine uncovered to interview on these two subjects never failed to astonish me. Best of all, after reading one of these pieces, I could jump in the car and head for Hollywood to steep myself in the sleaze and feel how Wood must've felt after a three-day bender on $1.95 bottles of vodka.
The horror fanzine market has been reduced to a determined few. Filmfax and its sister publication, Outré, are still cranking along. Steven Puchalski's marvelous Shock Cinema, with its 42nd Street grindhouse vibe, keeps hopping. And the Canadian Rue Morgue is as slick as the long-lived Fangoria but far more substantial. They're available at Borders and via mail order, but I miss walking down to Tower Video in Sherman Oaks (also late and lamented) and picking up the latest issues of those old favorites.
Maybe I'll have to start one of my own.