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.
My 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.
You 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 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.
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!