Thank you, Fangoria

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Back when cool, unique places were still allowed to exist, before they got steamrolled and paved over by big-box stores and chain restaurants, I used to visit an enticingly strange local market. Housed inside a long row of windowless cinder-block barracks, the market offered Amish goods on the north end and, in the south end where I hung out, stall after stall of shops selling kitschy collectibles, illegal fireworks, candy, knock-off electronics (Alpline car stereos, for example), junky toys, and more.

fm-fearbook-68My prime destination was the magazine shop. Rather than sell new issues displayed vertically as in a bookstore, the proprietor had old magazines stacked on raised plywood. My target: the Famous Monsters of Filmland back issues he sold for a quarter each (!). I’d chose the issue and hand him the 25 cents, and he’d berate me for seeking such mind rot. “No, you can’t have a bag. Now scram!”

It didn’t matter that the Famous Monsters he sold were from the 1960s because, well, Famous Monsters in the mid-1970s, when this story begins, ran the same articles. And I was all of 7 or 8 years old, so what did I care? They were 25 cents.

I ended up subscribing to FM during that Star Wars phase when it turned into a sci-fi rag. But in collecting the back issues, I began to notice those old Famous Monsters seemed to exist in an alternate reality where Bela Lugosi was a hot topic year after year and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn’t exist.

Late in 1979, 11-year-old me once more dropped by that old magazine shop. The old fella was still selling ratty Famous Monsters back issues, but he also had a new magazine called Fangoria. Issue #2, to be specific, with a slimy mutant bear on the cover and a sidebar about that movie Phantasm my older brother had been gushing about.

The Famous Monsters stacked next to it presented, in contrast, a painting of Mr. Hyde from 1951’s Son of Dr. Jekyll. A beautiful piece of artwork by Basil Gogos to be sure, but having collected about 50 issues by that point, this lad who craved info about Alien and Dawn of the Dead found it less inviting than usual.

fangoria-2You change a lot between ages 10 and 15, probably more than any other time in life. I loved Famous Monsters (and still do), but Fangoria blew FM away in my mind (and in everyone else’s, it seems, for FM folded not too long after Fangoria’s debut). Instead of yet another jokey article about Son of Frankenstein, Fangoria wrote about new movies like Ghost Story and Evil Dead and even put them on the cover. Perhaps it sounds silly now, but being on the leading edge of the new horror boom felt important.

[To be fair, Famous Monsters did start covering the likes of Maniac and Friday the 13th, but they continued to run those pieces alongside cutesy articles for trite films like Heartbeeps, which suggests a flailing effort to find an audience]

The mix of new, gory movies, coverage of the burgeoning VHS market, and quirky, modern humor made Fangoria indispensable for teenage horror fans of the 80s.  And of course, their star-making treatment of make-up effects artists like Tom Savini and Rob Bottin became the magazine’s signature.

Later, when I got a car and began earning money, I started attending the “Fangoria Weekend of Horrors” shows in New York City. Suddenly I was shaking hands with Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, Elvira, Lucio Fulci, Robert Englund, Clive Barker, Bruce Campbell, Tobe Hooper, and other genre luminaries. This is the stuff that shapes who you are and inspires your own creativity.

I collected Fangoria though most of the 90s and into the early 2000s, but, just as with Famous Monsters, it began to lose its luster over time. In those later years, I often opened the envelope, slid out the magazine, and eyeballed the cover only to see another superhero movie, artless remake, or forgettable direct-to-video knock-off being promoted … and then stuck it on the shelf next to the others, unread. The editorial style stopped being quirky and clever and punk rockish and had become over-polished and drab, much like the big-box retailers that wiped out the weird and wonderful market inside the cinder-block barracks. One day the subscription ran out, and I tossed the renewal card instead of returning it with a payment.

fangoria-16Fangoria is probably a victim of its own success and longevity, as a lot of new magazines have sprung up in the past 15 years or so that tap into the nostalgia we Gen Xers have for 70s and 80s horror in general, and the video store experience in particular, leaving Fangoria to cover newer films that target Millennials, who don’t buy magazines. Hell, I was born in the late 60s, and I learn about new horror and sci-fi films from Twitter and IMDB now.

It looks like the print version of Fangoria is done, at least in the newsstand form I grew up loving. This love story has the typically banal, real-life ending: We simply drifted apart. But I will never forget those early days when Fangoria was my gateway to all things awesome in horror and somehow found a way to put me in the same room with Christopher frickin’ Lee, a moment I shan’t ever forget.

By the way, I still have that second issue of Fangoria with The Prophesy on the cover. I think I’ll hang onto it a little longer, like a secret snapshot of an old lover.

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Note: Fangoria magazine has not appeared in print form since 2015 (though it still maintains a web presence). Reports say the publisher intends to bring it back. Perhaps a print-on-demand compromise is in the works? I wish them luck!

Generation 0 now available for Kindle and Nook!

From Winlock Press: 

Generation 0, a tale of urban apocalypse by Alex Vorkov (that’s me, in case you somehow got this far by accident) is now available for Kindle and Nook. Print copies to follow…

“After the fall of civilization, in streets littered with five billion rotting corpses and ruled by warring gangs, the most precious commodity on Earth is hope…”

There be the cover —>>>>

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4-minute Blu-ray review: Count Dracula’s Great Love

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Title: Count Dracula’s Great Love

Starring: Paul Naschy & Haydee Politoff

Directed by: Javier Aquirre

Specs: 1973 / Spain / 83 minutes / 1.85:1

Blu-ray release: Vinegar Syndrome, September 27, 2016

The film

Count Dracula’s Great Love is basically a Waldemar Daninsky film with Dracula instead of the Wolf Man, using a familiar Paul Naschy set up: A bevy of beautiful, aristocratic-looking women traveling on a remote country road are forced to seek shelter when their stagecoach is disabled and their horses run off in a panic. In this film, however, it’s not the wealthy recluse Waldemar Daninsky/Wolf Man who offers the hospitality of his gothic estate but rather the wealthy recluse Dr. Wendell Marlow/Dracula offering the hospitality of a former sanitarium that only looks like a gothic estate.

If you’ve seen Hammer’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness, you know what happens next. And, if you know anything about the history of Spanish art, you’ll be aware it’s not known for its restraint. Which is good for fans of exploitation horror cinema, because Count Dracula’s Great Love offers plenty of lurid elements to keep us entertained through most of its 83-minute running time.

Strengths

Plenty of sex and violence, fluid camera work, a gothic setting, and a story that goes in unexpected directions during the final act.

Weaknesses

The same problem with nearly all early 70s Spanish horror films … pacing. A film should accelerate as it draws to a climax. This movie moves forward like your uncle drives; he’ll get there safely but probably could have passed on the right a few times to speed things up. Also, excessive sequences of women wandering around darkened hallways in nightgowns while carrying candelabras. That may be considered a strength, of course, depending on your fetish.

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Video

If you’ve seen previous iterations of Count Dracula’s Great Love on VHS or DVD, you will be stunned by the rich, warm colors and vivid contrast offered by this Blu-ray. Yeah, it’s grainy like a 70s exploitation flick should be, but that’s part of the appeal. There are a few minor warbles and print scratches within the first couple of minutes, but those quickly clear up. Here and there a few shots look fuzzier than others, likely attributable to the print, not the transfer. Overall, the video quality is quite pleasing and by far the best any of us have experienced with this movie.

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Audio

I’ve made it known in prior reviews that I have hearing loss and, therefore, am not the guy to discuss the fine points of sound mixing. This Blu-ray is mono anyway. The music and voices were all very present and punchy sounding, and the signal strength seems quite hot, because I had to keep the volume on 3 to avoid waking the neighbors at 1 a.m.

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Overall

Vinegar Syndrome did a bang-up job putting together a good-quality release with little to no fanfare. Let’s hope they issue more Paul Naschy titles in the future.

Final thought

Paul Naschy is the Tom Cruise of low budget Spanish exploitation horror. His acting ability and the quality of his films may be debatable, but the guy earnestly tried to deliver the goods every time and ensure his fans walked away satisfied.

3-minute movie review: BB

Jennifer Mae in BB

The hook for micro-budgeted indie film BB reads like many a B-movie thriller: A hard-up woman becomes a web-cam model to make some fast cash, only to find herself being stalked and harassed by an obsessed fan.

BB differs notably from typical direct-to-video genre fare, however, in its presentation. Filmed documentary-style, sans narration, fly-on-the-wall clips of heroine Leah (played by real-life web-cam model Jennifer Mae) are interspersed with found-footage style sequences of her #1 fan Hal (Kristian Hanson) being generally creepy and obsessive. Director/writer/editor CJ Wallis cleverly works around the absence of studio sets and effects through rapid cuts, parallel editing, and musical montages that show Leah’s life spiraling out of control while events build toward the inevitable collision between the protagonist and her tormentor.

According to press material, non-actors were deliberately chosen to lend a raw, real-world feel, and for the most part it works. Jennifer Mae acquits herself rather well in the lead role and gamely goes full-frontal several times, in addition to pounding lots of booze and drugs (we’ll assume that part was simulated) and freaking out a lot. Hanson isn’t quite as natural at emoting for the camera, but he’s far more believable, looks-wise, as a stalker than the generic hunk who would have been cast in a Hollywood production.

bb-poster-smallAs a filmmaker, Wallis is highly creative if still raw in terms of long-form storytelling. The multiple static shots of camera lenses suggest commentary on voyeuristic culture or perhaps the artifice of modern visual media, but neither theme is explored in much depth. Also, it’s hard to figure why Leah is “down on her luck,” stripping and abusing drugs when she seems to have a nice apartment, a relatively new car, and a loving relationship with girlfriend Alina (Victoria Fox). The causes for her life falling apart come across as slightly contrived when her backstory goes unexplained. These flaws are hardly fatal, but more signs of trouble from the outset would have lent credibility to a few of the story turns.

Readers interested in a gritty, raw character drama wrapped in the veneer of the low-budget thriller can check out BB here.

Happy viewing!

Review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 Blu-Ray by Shout Factory

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It’s almost pointless to review these 2K masters anymore, because they’re always the best version you’ve ever seen of whatever old splatter movie is being discussed. But fuck it, I’m going to anyway. I’ll talk about the film itself after I ramble about the disk for a minute:

tcm2 blu rayVideo – The color saturation is beautiful, almost glowing, especially in the “lair” scenes late in the movie when the viewer gets a chance to experience the cinematography as intended. There’s a bit of grain, as you’d expect in a low-budget film from 1986, but overall the transfer shows good depth and clarity. In a few dimly lit shots, the contrast is flattened by graininess, but this adds up to about 15 – 20 seconds of the 101-minute film. Furthermore, one or two shots suffer from fuzzy focus, though that may be the fault of the source material. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 has simply never looked good enough for me to notice before now.

Let’s put it this way: the worst moments on this 2K transfer are still better than the best moments in any previous version, including the theatrical release.

Audio – Fuck if I know. I’m half deaf. The screaming was loud and clear, that’s for sure.

Extras – If some asshole is seriously going to complain about 3 commentaries, a feature-length documentary, outtakes, set footage, and interviews from a 30-year-old flop of a B-movie, he needs the phrase “first-world problem” explained in no uncertain terms.

The Movie – OK, a lot of people dislike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (certainly the audience I saw it with in 1986, based on the shouts of “This sucks!” hurled at the screen throughout the showing). True, it lacks the pure, visceral power of the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest horror films of all time, after all. Tobe Hooper, while boasting a pretty strong horror resume, was never quite able to capture that lightning-in-a-bottle thing again. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the drive-in movie that transcends drive-in movies.

I didn’t like Part 2 all that much when I saw it those many years ago, either, and the film so disturbed one member of my small horror crew that she wouldn’t watch movies with us anymore, taking her boyfriend with her. Which left me.

Before you go trashing her, it was 30 years ago. We’re all good now.

So anyway, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 has grown on me considerably over the years, and I began to truly embrace it upon experiencing a recent epiphany: The relationship between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is exactly as that between Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. That is, the originals are the seminal, raw, visceral horror films of their respective decades, and both sequels are essentially comedic remakes beneath all the gore.

So why does everyone love Evil Dead 2 while dismissing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, when in fact Hooper came up with the approach first? I’d go as far as to say TCM2 is a more substantial cinematic achievement. Stop grumbling and let me explain!

TCM2 013Evil Dead 2, which I love by the way, is a loopy, slapstick romp. It’s great that Sam Raimi made a comic send up of his own film. But it does not satirize the genre the way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 did a year earlier. Just as an example: We can agree that Tobe Hooper invented, in Leatherface, the first slasher-movie icon. This is four years before Michael Myers, eight before Jason Voorhees proper, and ten before Freddy. How clever, then, that the murderous family of terrifying backwoods cannibals in the first TCM had become local celebrities by the events of the second, as if their trajectory in off-screen life followed that of their cinematic horror brethren’s on-screen rise.

The two Chainsaw films, in a sense, are the bookends for an entire phase of independent horror cinema in which raw, high-energy violence was the signature attribute. By 1986, animatronic (and puppeteered) creature effects were becoming the selling point of horror films, no longer violent gore. Peruse the Fangoria covers of the age and see what I mean.

Whether he knew it or not, Tobe Hooper was putting a cap on the “chainsaw” era with violence that was so ridiculous it became ironic. TCM2 is certainly more self-aware and self-parodying than any other horror film of the time that purports to “play it straight.”

So. Yeah. Buy the damn movie. It’s good. And tell ’em Grandma sent you.

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My review of THE MUTILATOR Blu-ray

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by Alex Vorkov

The Movie

THE MUTILATOR (1984) is a fucking terrible film. That said, so is almost everything else in my DVD collection. As far as bad ‘80s slasher movies go, this one is pretty good.

Originally dubbed FALL BREAK, The Mutilator concerns a bunch of bored college kids who go to a beach house to get murdered. The first 35 minutes of the movie should be called Fall Break, because it wants to be a dumb teen comedy called Fall Break. In actuality, it’s an excruciatingly unfunny first act. A dumb teen movie, sans comedy.

Fortunately, director Buddy Cooper seems to have whacked his head at this point in the production and thought he was making a horror film. Either that or he realized just how much we all want these irritating fuckers to die, so he brought in FX wizard Mark Shostrom to kill them in satisfyingly gruesome ways.

The kills make your painful first-35-minute investment worthwhile. I won’t spoil them if you haven’t seen the film, but I will say there is one murder that is sure to make you squirm. I’d put The Mutilator next to THE PROWLER on the splatter scale. Certainly not in the Lucio Fulci class, but pretty gory for a throwaway slasher movie.

Plus: Great splatter; weapon variety; a good beach location

Minus: No likable characters; a gratuitous hairy chest; and the absolute worst theme song you ever heard in your life. Seriously, it’s like they took an adult-education songwriting class one night at the local high school and crammed every bad rock-pop cliché into one song. Remember how Kenny Loggins used to do all those catchy movie songs like Footloose and the one for CADDYSHACK? This song is to Kenny Loggins what I am to Wayne Gretzky. I mean, I can sort of skate in a straight line.

The Blu-ray

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy shit shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy this shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

I am so in love with Arrow Video I want to strangle it and violate  its corpse (we all have our own ways of showing affection). There’s are a lot of disappointing Blu-rays out there, but Arrow has a way of taking old, murky, grainy movies you thought were shot on garbage film stock by people with no talent and making them look like brand-new productions.

If you haven’t picked up an Arrow disk yet, their work is a revelation. The Mutilator suffered from a particularly bad pan-and-scan VHS dub back in the day, with many of its night shots lost amid a grainy, indecipherable haze. This Blu-ray is crisp and bright, and the contrast is excellent. The blood in the kill scenes flows a wonderfully vivid crimson.

You know what? In the context of micro-budget slasher films with bad acting and witless scripts, Buddy Cooper turns out to be a pretty good director. Now that we can actually see what he shot in the proper aspect ratio and on a 2k transfer, there are many well-composed sequences, the shot coverage all edits together nicely, and the cinematography is stronger and more creative than previously evident.

I’m not going to get into the audiophile stuff. I’m half deaf from playing drums for years and wouldn’t know the difference anymore. Suffice to say, the dialog, sound effects, and music are well mixed and up-front.

There are shit-tons of extras, including 2 commentaries and a lengthy making-of documentary as well as a booklet and reversible artwork.

The Mutilator is recommended for lovers of ’80s horror and slasher films and for people who like to torture themselves with godawful theme songs.

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“Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, Part three: Issues 11-15

To start from the beginning, click here.

Famous Monsters of Filmland #11

fm11For the first time since issue 4, Famous Monsters went with a non-humanoid cover monster, and the result is quite successful.

Basil Gogos‘ rendition of the Godzilla-like reptilian giant Gorgo is a seminar in blending texture, color, modeling, and composition to create a superior magazine cover. The lighting effects lend a three-dimensional quality to the image, and the pockets of shadow cast by the light playing across the creature’s bumpy skin effectively suggest size. The 1/4-turn pose, coupled with the extended claws, further activate the image by creating a diagonal plane running from upper right to lower left.

The graphics are wisely limited in color palette and the cover space they consume. The yellow lettering pops against the blue background yet does not compete with the cover subject. This layout is a win all the way around

Overall: 10/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #12

fm12Out of context this cover might seem a bit odd, with it’s sparse image and graphics, but in terms of grabbing eyes form the newsstand and avoiding repetition from previous cover designs, it is successful.

Wisely seeing no need to deviate at this point, FM once again retained the services of painter Basil Gogos, who rendered a rather furious looking Oliver Reed from Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf. With a modern eye, we may look at old Famous Monsters covers and think of the magazine as stuck in the old-school monster movie era, but it’s important to remember that Gorgo and Curse of the Werewolf were new films at the time they graced their respective covers.

Anyway, Gogos went with a limited (but not limiting!) color palette of black, red/orange, and yellow, and the minimal graphics match it note for note, save for the hint of green in the masthead. The floating head composition is somewhat weird and lacking in geometry, but the effect is striking nonetheless.

Overall: 7.5/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #13

fm13Some online sources credit Basil Gogos as the cover artist, and other sources say the artist is unknown. I do not own a copy of this issue and cannot confirm either way.

If the artist is Gogos, it’s not one of his better works. The quality is rather more on par with that of previous cover artist Albert Nuetzell, which is to say it’s done in a respectable painterly style with good colors, but the composition is unremarkable otherwise. It’s recognizable as Frankenstein’s monster but seems slightly cartoonish, and the top half of the monster’s face is out of proportion to the bottom half.

The simplistic graphics do little damage to the overall effect, and the colors of the masthead connect well with the depiction of the cover subject. The font of the sidebar plugs is rather too large and clunky, though. Three plugs in a smaller font would probably foster a more harmonious balance.

Overall 4.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #14

fm14This issue features another Gogos depiction of Vincent Price from an A.I.P. Poe film (see issue 10), though this one isn’t nearly as successful, perhaps owing to a wishy-washy color palette.

Regarding the positives, Gogos once again proves his skill as a portrait artist. This is definitively Price, right down to the musculature of the mouth and the wrinkled skin around the eyes. The slight head turn further livens the image by suggesting Price is reacting to something within his painted universe that we cannot see.

On the other hand, Gogos chose a fairly bland moment to depict. Furthermore, the colors are drab, and green and mustard-yellow lettering over the blue-green background gives the overall impression that the magazine is under water.

Overall: 4/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #15

fm15There’s a lot to like about this cover art, and there are personal biases of mine that negatively influence my reception to it.

The painting by Basil Gogos is a portrait of TV horror host Zacherly, the second time FM used his likeness for a cover. The rendering is much more detailed than Albert Nuetzell’s schematic rendering from issue 7, and you either love the kitschy “detached head floating in nightmare ether” effect, or, like me, you think it’s weird. Perhaps it’s a reference to events on Zacherly’s TV show, but out of context I see it as goofy. I also question whether a regional horror host warrants two covers in a little over a year.

On the plus side, the red and white backdrop is eye catching, and the masthead stands out nicely. The color palette shared between the artwork and the graphic is pleasing and smartly chosen, and the layout is  uncluttered.

Overall: 6/10

See you next time!

[image source: comicvine.com)