Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The world is like a ride at an amusement park. It goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly colored and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "Hey - don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride..." But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that?

-Bill Hicks

The “truth”. Do you remember it? Do you remember when you were a kid, when that word – TRUTH – meant a whole lot? Heck, it wasn’t even really a word so much then. It was like a universal constant. You couldn’t MAKE UP the truth; and, you KNEW when you were telling the truth, and you KNEW when you were lying. It made your inside feel all fuzzy with apprehension. It made your ears and cheeks warm, and it made a pit in your little belly. You’d be tingling, your sense of what’s right actually physically battling your body’s actions …

So … what happened?
Well that’s a long story. A story that’s likely different for everybody in some way; but if I were to GUESS, if I were to take a wild friggin’ stab in the dark – I’m thinking that what happened has A LOT to do those little green pieces of paper that we hear so much about. Bear with me here -

Without getting neck deep in the subject, I can say that one of the FACTS of our current existence is, whether you consider it legal or not, that large businesses and institutions own more of “things” (television, radio, print, etc.), both percentage-wise and quantity-wise, than they ever have. Ultimately, it's to secure profit. And somehow, the stronger the quest for dollars gets, the weaker our resistance to not telling the truth becomes; on both the side that’s selling AND the side that’s buying.

Well, it didn’t used to be that way. Really, it didn’t. Even in the greed-soaked excess of the 80’s there was some light at the end of the tunnel. There were still some unique opinions out there, some opinions not based on statistics or fear or payola. There were even companies – both good and evil – that allowed these opinions to be voiced. What was the result? Were these towering monuments of modern American “success” crippled? No, of course not. In fact, a lot of that openness to originality even made money. But as this ownership of “things” got further and further imbalanced, stakes got higher. WAY higher. In fact, the sheer chance of not turning profit began to spell out the potential loss of millions. So, with the strength of wealth, the aid of the US Government, and international renown, the powerhouses of American business all slowly began to eradicate anything but “well-researched”, “tested”, and “safe” practices … the result? Homogeneous tepidity. Look current magazines – the newsstand today is jam-packed with failing slicks. If a magazine is about the lives of famous people, each week’s cover will feature the same plastic faces; even the graphics and text look the same. If the magazine is about a genre of music, the cover again features whichever set of plastic faces are “supposed to” be of interest to the accurately programmed consumer. The problem doesn't exclude Horror Magazines. It’s unnatural selection at best; and at worst it’s a big part of America’s displacement from being a World Power.

The fun of this piece is of course that I can so easily prove my point on the strength of just one Writer / Editor. He edited Fangoria Magazine from 1979 to 1986, the "Splatter Boom Years", and he goes by the name UncleBob Martin (aka Robert Martin, and countless aliases) and in certain circles he’s regarded as a God.

“Why?” you may ask. “How can writing be THAT different or important? CLEARLY you’re just blowing things out of proportion to support your own taste!”

… Ah, the cry of the conditioned, one of the most familiar nature sounds of North America … Look – for me, one of the most aggravating aspects of existing is that some folks aren’t willing to notice the difference of certain things. I think that Fangoria; when it was edited by Bob Martin (and eventually both Bob and David Everitt, who sadly passed away last year), is a glaring and explicit example of Print’s infinite potential to be original, challenging, fascinating, and successful.

Just about any major Horror Magazine that's out now, with very little exception, is a copy of the classic Fango format OR a copy of the classic Famous Monsters format. These mags are willing to ape the template but NOT the attitude (in fact it's an easy argument that Bob's personal rejection of FM was one of Fango's strongest vertebrae). None of them seem to be willing to take the risks that Fangoria took while under UncleBob’s watch, the risks that without question made it revolutionary. As you’ll read about later in his “Fast Food of Horror” article, Bob was handed the helm of a sinking ship and told to "do whatever he wanted". What he wanted was obvious to him - he wanted to produce a magazine so good - so interesting - that he himself would actually fucking read it. I know, sounds complicated, right!?!

Not coincidentally, this is the recipe for success used by EC Comics, MAD Magazine, and of course PLAYBOY - not only market-changingly successful endeavors, but magazines whose creators prided themselves on creating material that appealed to their own tastes. This wildly sensible tone is absent from nearly all widely available print in America - you know, just about any Mag you can buy at 'Barnes and Noble', blecchh ...

You know what’s on the cover of Fangoria #23? A promo shot for "the EVIL DEAD" – a film that wouldn’t be released nationally until 6 months later. It clearly wasn’t Fango’s plan to capitalize on the upcoming release, quite the opposite. Fango’s coverage of the then-unknown "EVIL DEAD" (next to Stephen King’s quote praising the film) was one of the major factors in its success. That's the mark of a fearless Editor. Bob was also selfless and progressive in trying to bring in people like Underground cartoonist Howard Cruise, and especially Michael J. Weldon (of Psychotronic Video fame) and rockabilly singer Johnny Legend. At the time, I don’t know that any other mag with Fango’s level of distribution would have taken these guys on. Yet of course, they were truly experts; guys that were involved at the ground-level, seeking out of new, interesting things. These are the kind of guys who made and contributed to Fanzines, an area of fandom which Fangoria wisely payed close attention to, and even covered regularly.

Bob Martin’s Fangoria had a loving, focused mission: find out about the coolest stuff out there, and share it with their audience. Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” graces the cover of issue #8 (with an article on it written by Jim Wynorski); the next article is a write up of Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula”, a film released 22 years prior to that issue's publication. Gloriously and successfully so, Fangoria was a free-form project. Films like “Basket Case” were championed alongside big-budget studio fare without a second thought. Fangoria wasn't trying to follow what genre fans already liked - Fangoria was defining it.

Bob Martin's editorial reign at Fangoria changed the landscape of Horror Fandom. Much the same way Forry J. Ackerman's original Famous Monsters did in the 60's, Fangoria grabbed a butcher knife made up of passion and intelligence and psychotically cut their own gory niche into the brain of every literate Monster Kid that was tall enough to reach the newsstand. Gore was good between those pages - and not with an overblown adoration for negativity either - this stuff was fun. That era Fango can make you laugh out loud. But really, now I've gone on way too long - I can't it help it though, very few writers' work have the naked, unbridled passion of UncleBob Martin. I literally teared up a bit looking back on some of these pieces, they're so sadly from another era. An unprogrammed era, still lively with possibility and gore ... Now, finally, I'll let UncleBob speak for himself, first in an interview, then in one of my favorite pieces of his:

I was watching a documentary on Stanley Kubrick and they got into something that I found very interesting - apparently, Kubrick was certain that he was living in "end times" and that his lifetime would actually come close to the end of human race. No matter what time period one looks at, there's always folks like that around; and, of course, in some ways I even feel that way. Where do you stand on this kind of apocalyptic anxiety? Do we reach a point where it's not just paranoia anymore?

My opinion on this is very much shaped by my experience with Brother Theodore.

Throughout the last thirty years of his life -- perhaps even longer than that -- Theodore lived in anticipation of his end; not just of death, but of the slow breakdown of the physical shell that inevitably preceded it. He was not in terror of death at all, but he was in terror of incapacity, and of dependence on others; he hoped only to die standing on his own two feet, and by his own hands if incapacity was the only other choice.

The thirty years or more that Theodore spent on dying before he was actually dead struck me as a waste and a distraction from time he might otherwise have spent living.

Of course I have no basis to criticize Theodore, we all live our lives by our own means; Theodore's dread probably served him some useful purpose that was invisible to me. But I knew that Theodore's attitude toward death would not serve me well at all, and I have spent all my time since actively rejecting it.

So when Harlan Ellison announced his forthcoming demise to anyone who cared to listen back in the Fall of 2010 [http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=30610], I was a little disgusted. Grandstanding your own death betrays a lack of class. If you can't make a proper exit, you should not even venture onto the stage.

As a solipsist who believes that we all die alone because of the sheer impossibility of communication in any circumstance, I see no personal distinction between the death of an individual and the end of the universe. In either case, anticipating the end, and altering your behavior to accommodate the imagined cessation, is to rob yourself of time -- which is all that you really have.

But, since I also have faith in an objective reality that is not dependent on my observation for its existence, I do not see my personal death as identical with the end of the universe. While grandstanding your death may expose a lack of class, identifying your own death with the end of the universe betrays untrammeled egoism -- since Kubrick created our world in 2001 and destroyed it in Dr. Strangelove, I'm not too surprised that he had a godlike identification with the universe itself.

What I'd choose to communicate to anyone confusing their own demise with that of our 14-billion-year-old universe [or just the end of our 100,000-year-old species] is, 'It's not all about you.'

One of my favorite Fangoria pieces was your Brother Theodore article. While Brother Theodore was purely a source of comedy when he was on Letterman or other shows, you seemed to hone in on his unbridled passion for true "Horror". To me, that kind of approach was very endearing and represents one of the mag's strongest traits. Did you have a sense that you were appealing to "outsiders" at the time?

Nope, we were appealing mostly to teens/children -- kids who lived in suburbs and had enough cash to spend on stupid movie magazines and equally-stupid movies. Children aren't outsiders.

But I did believe that I was cultivating outsiders among those kids. I think that the implied message we delivered was that the worst that could happen was, they wind up in a 9 to 5 job, working for a paycheck instead of for the creative jollies caused by making something.

Can you tell me a little more about getting to meet Brother Theodore?  Did you spend time with him again after that article?

I considered Theodore a comic genius, but Fangoria was about horror.  I wanted the readers to love his work as I did, but I also wanted the readers to identify with him, not to regard him as a freak. I was always mindful that the magazine's audience was young people, at the point when you decide who and what you are, all of them facing the horrifying issue of working for a living ... finding something to do that justifies your existence. I still can't make a reasonable argument about why I should exist ... and I know it’s not really necessary, existence is its own excuse ... no one unlucky enough to be born should be obligated to explain themselves, but the world does insist that we work for a living, and so the work we choose becomes our excuse for existence, at least in our heads. I think the last job I applied for before Fangoria was supermarket checkout, and I was thirty at the time. The whole idea of spending 8 hours daily in thrall to an employer was always a horror to me. None of the people I interviewed were doing 9 to 5, but they all started out as regular folks who had to find a career, I always interviewed people with the idea, 'how come you escaped all of that?'

When Theodore and a handful of other Jews made it out of the concentration camp and wound up in California, Theodore worked on the custodial staff of Stanford University. This was horror for him; he was born wealthy and had planned to devote himself to a life of indolence, hedonism, and the spending of the family fortune. Instead he was spending his days "scraping up the vomit of some worthless college brat" ... he started out reading horror stories in concert venues, mostly Edgar Alan Poe. One of his recordings includes his reading of an Ambrose Bierce story, "Oleum Canis," (the title of the Bierce story is actually "Oil of Dog" but Theodore gave the Latin such a wonderful reading that I always think of the story as "Oleum Canis") which he recites as if it was a memoir of his own youth. It was many years after I first heard it that I realized it was not his own composition.  A wonderful story.

It took quite a while for him to be able to make a living doing this sort of thing, but ultimately it was his passion for horror literature, and his ability to dramatize it, that brought him escape from the horror we all face, of having to make a living; so that was what I saw as the readers' way into the topic of Theodore.

In relation to that, I just noticed that it was you that pointed out Colson Whitehead's memoir of Fangoria and Psychotronic in the New Yorker. I got ahold of Whitehead through Twitter, and sent him a copy of the Brain Damage book, one of the few I have signed by Frank ... I inscribed it, "All I wanted of Fango's readers is that they escape the 9 to 5. Good Job!"

Coincidentally, Fangoria would never have happened if not for The New Yorker. Around 1975, I fell into a bad crowd, and entered a writing workshop that was run by Henry Beard, one of the founding editors of the National Lampoon, and Tony Hiss (son of Alger Hiss), who at that time was on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. My very first writing jobs came through that workshop.

I once heard you explain your acceptance of gore in film and in print with the phrase "I have not yet died".  Can you elaborate on this?

I haven't died yet, so death remains interesting, even if it's only a cessation, as I strongly suspect it to be.

Death is the final mystery, the last taboo ... when my paternal grandfather, who lived with my family, died, my family sent me off to relatives that same day and I came back after all he ritual was over. I was expected to pick up my routine where I'd left it. I hope parents are more sensitive to that nowadays, and include their kids in their rituals ... but then, as I recall, my grandfather was pretty much a pain in the ass to my parents, so I don't know how much actual mourning occurred. Considering their attitude toward my grampa, they were probably pleased to die while relatively young, neither of them ever became a burden to anyone.

But death is fascinating, and portraying death in spectacular fashion raises the interest factor further. We associate physical harm with pain, but the over-the-top grisliness of the gore film overloads those circuits. When extreme pain really does happen, we're shielded, they say, by the state of shock, but I've never been in enough pain to verify that, and I hope never to be. Still, seeing a guy turned inside out in a film is about me, not about the guy on screen.


And one of my favorite of Bob's non-Fango pieces, with a brief introduction from the man himself:
I forgot that I had written the following essay about 20 years ago, upon leaving Fango. It appeared in "Toxic Horror," another mag from the same publisher, and I recently found it posted on the web under my pseudonym "Berthe Roegger."

It was full of typos; I've cleaned it up and added a Pulp Fiction reference that wasn't in the original. –UncleBob Martin

The "Fast Food" of Horror: Jason, Michael & Freddy
By Berthe Roegger
Toxic Horror #1

When I first started writing about horror films ten years ago there was no Freddy Kreuger, no Jason, and Michael Myers had appeared in just one film, John Carpenter's Halloween. At that time, graphically violent horror film was still a disreputable genre. Magazine articles and television critics would occasionally throw a sop to George Romero for Night of the Living Dead, but Cronenberg, Craven, Dante, Carpenter, and others had yet to make "respectable" films, embraced by the mainstream opinion makers.

A lot of things have changed since then, for a lot of reasons. Stephen King has become the world’s best-known, best-selling writer. Horror anthologies are the second-largest genre in syndicated television after game shows. It seems that another Fangoria imitator reaches the newsstands every other month. And all the directors named above have gained some measure of "legitimacy."

The "slasher" film is now a genre unto itself, one that seems to thrive on repetition and formula.

But the producers of these films are not solely to blame for the formula; in fact, the makers of the Halloween and Friday The 13th movies attempted to kill off their lead maniacs early on. It was in response to fan demand that Jason and Michael have been snatched from the grave again and again, ultimately to be absorbed by the mainstream. While the M.P.A.A has gotten tougher than ever in its vigilance against breaches of taste, horror itself has become a part of the mainstream.

So why do I miss the "good old days?"

When Fangoria was first launched, I remember how refreshing it was to present a magazine that did not go on endlessly about the superiority of the "classic" approach to horror. I never could share Forry Ackerman's enthusiasm for Lugosi, Karloff and the rest of the moldering corpses of horror's past. An exploding head, gouting blood, cascades of dripping phlegm---that’s what spoke to me, and it still does. So you are not about to read a rant from me about how the "unseen" is more horrifically subtle then the graphic.

No, what annoys me is that horror has become a franchise system. Say the words "horror movie" nowadays, and the crowd will think of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers.

To see how this has come about think about the rise of "fast food." I live in Hoboken, New Jersey. Ten years ago, there were about 6 different lunch counters on the main drag where you could get a decent hamburger for under two dollars. Today, there is only McDonald's and Burger King. How did these two close six different independent businesses by offering an inferior, more expensive product?

If you can answer that, you can probably tell me why Freddy, Jason and Michael rule the horror field today.

Fast food chains and mass-market maniacs offer brand name recognition and predictability.

A Big Mac tastes the same everywhere.

Jason remains an inarticulate bludgeoner

Michael is always a silent, single-minded stabber.

Freddy is an anarchistic wisecracking torturer.

In France, a quarter-pounder is a Royale. but you can still get it with cheese.

The popular films that first gave birth to the maniacal trio, by Carpenter, Cunningham, and Craven, were far from predictable, before each was killed, returned to life, and transformed into cash cows. All to please the fans.

But there are fans and there are fans. There's a big difference between the sort of fan I'm used to - the one who looks forward to the next Wes Craven or John Carpenter - and the fan that dominates horror today. He's the guy that thinks Jason is cool, and avidly awaits his next slaughter outing. Those fans were in minority ten years ago. Now they are the overwhelming majority. Why?

It used to be that horror films were given a slow, careful release; perhaps a dozen or so prints were initially struck, then more if success warranted it. A film would open first in New York or Los Angeles, and slowly roll out to other major cities. Word of mouth was the most powerful sales tool, and if a film was no good, it was word of mouth that killed it, quickly, before too much harm had been done.

Nowadays, it's all or nothing. It's a small release if only 300 prints are struck, and most horror films open nationwide, unless they go straight to video. Word of mouth? Forget it. TV ads (and Fango articles) get all the Jasonmaniacs' and Freddyphiles' mouths to watering, and the bulk of the film's money is made in the first opening weekend; even if word turns out to be bad, the investors' money has already been secured. Financial security - sure money - is what sequelizing is all about. Unfortunately for moviegoers, financial security and creative risks seldom mix.

Some would say that the horror sequel is the only way for horror to survive at all in today's market. There are less then 25,000 movie screens in this country; in a summer like the one just past, major releases like Indy Jones III, Batman, Ghostbusters II, License to Kill, and others occupied an overwhelming majority of those screens for most of the summer. Without an identifiable figure like Freddy Kreuger, how could a new, unknown horror film get booked into theaters at all, let alone make any kind of a dent in the market? The American moviegoer has been thoroughly trained to catch every "big" movie that they "must" see.

For myself, and a lot of horror fans like me, it was the little movies that hardly anyone had seen that always had the most appeal. But Jason, Michael, and Freddy have changed all that.

Maybe you think I'm an old fogey, a stick-in-th’-mud, someone who resents, out of jealousy, the amalgamation of greater and greater power in Hollywood. Maybe you have a point. But it also occurs to me that one of the first people to raise a howl about this mass market was the man who started it all. John Carpenter, the writer and director who devised the unkillable maniac in his picture Halloween, fought long and hard to prevent its sequelization; he found that it's very hard to stand between Hollywood sharks and money to be made. Today, the Halloween saga continues without Carpenter's participation, while he continues to make worthwhile horror films, particularly They Live! , which all by itself is worth all the Halloween sequels lumped in one basket.

If Carpenter could do it, so can you -- "Just say no" to junk food horror movies. Only when Jason, Freddy and Michael finally and thoroughly die can horror films start anew.

Both the editorial above and the cover below prove it - Fango had guts! The "feud" with Siskel (and Ebert, it went on in later issues) is a powerful example of the brazen truth-saying fire that existed within Fangoria's pages. It wasn't a critic's place to actually interfere with the production of films, especially through blatant censorship, and it was part of Fangoria's mission at the time to bring down any institution that supported such insidious un-American activity.

Who's that handsome fella!? Much like Kurtzman's magazines, the staff at Fango often made uncredited and hilarious cameos in their house ads, and as we see above Bob himself was no stranger to this.

Below is Fangoria's first George Romero interview. This, like the other interviews included here (do yourself a favor - print and READ these!), are with artists whose careers were very much aided by Fango. Although the merits of their films are apparent enough, the rabid fandom and "vision" of what these artists did was put into a community setting through the pages of Fango. I'll preface this with a brief passage, probably written by Bob, from an intro to a contest announcement in Fango #13:

"We've featured well over 100 films in the two years and 12 issues behind us; but there is still only a handful of filmmakers that we consider the real reason for this magazine's existence; the foremost of these is George Romero. Not only is he one of the most talented screenwriter-directors working today; he has also proved the value of independence - time and time again bypassing formula, risking all on each of his features. And, to the benefit of every truly creative filmmaker, as well as moviegoers, he has made that policy work."

A beautiful editorial below, highlighting with relish the intent of Bob's editorship. I can't even remotely imagine reading something like that in a current national mag's opening notes ...

One of my personal favorite Fango covers. I love reading this on the subway and showing off Giovanni Lombardo Radice's acting talents ... "Drilling for Brains!"

An amazing early John Carpenter interview below; again the perception of these artists as part of a "world" or community is apparent.

For me this is one of the truly interesting special effects pieces. Tom Sullivan and Bart Pierce were totally unknown, and the story of their effects for "Evil Dead" is hardly ordinary.

And in closing, another masterpiece of a cover. I hope to write more on UncleBob in the future, but until then please - for your own sanity, seek out some of his writing. And if perchance there's any young writers out there - take UncleBob on as an influence, it's likely your writing will become more truthful because of it. And if you don't want to write the truth - please don't write at all.

-Mike Hunchback