Looking Back on some
I’ve long wanted to write a recommended periodical list, but am well aware that
would be an exercise in futility. Don’t most of us, after all, get most of our
info from the internet? I know I certainly do.
once upon a time I, like you, had to rely upon the printed word for edification
and entertainment. What follows is an overview of several magazines, self
published “zines,” catalogs and other ephemera that fortified me during the past
decade. Covering horror--and all manner of weirdness--in literature and film,
the following influenced me immeasurably, and by extension this web page.
the purpose of this survey isn’t mere nostalgia. Below you’ll find a slew of
wild, goofy, unpredictable and absolutely first rate reading. All the
publications outlined below are well worth tracking down, and all come highly
alphabetical order, they are...
For years this massive catalogue, issued in 1990 or
‘91, was my one-stop guide for weird and/or obscure books. A showcase for the
“extremes of information in print,” it contained entries for literally hundreds
of whacked-out tomes, from torture manuals to cyberpunk novels.
I was smart enough not to use the final page order form, as quite a few of
the listings were long out of print when this catalog was issued (I know many
people did try and order books from it--and were sorry). I always viewed it as,
in the words of John Waters’ back cover blurb, a “reading list from Hell,” and
tracked down the books listed on my own.
Incidentally, I’m assuming there were first, second and third dispatches,
but I never got a hold of them. I know a fifth dispatch was issued, but I
passed on it. The reason? Its issuers didn’t bother including a fiction
category--a HUGE mistake, as in my view the fiction listings of the Fourth
Dispatch were among its most vital.
AMOK, for those who don’t know, was/is an underground publishing company,
and operated one of the all-time cool bookstores. That store, initially located
in Silverlake and then Los Feliz, is now called Creation, and situated in one of
the skuzzier sections of downtown LA. I haven’t been there, although you
can always check it out...if you’re feeling lucky.
There were quite a few “transgressive,”
“envelope-pushing” publications during the nineties, but none more so than
ANSWER ME!, an outrageous, profoundly disturbing and plain ugly zine courtesy of
Jim and Debbie Goad. I know many people claim the Goads’ intent was satiric,
but I’m not entirely sure about that. What gives ANSWER ME! its edge is the
fact that it’s difficult to discern whether these two are sophisticated
satirists or social deviants.
Issues 1-3 (later issued as a book) were edifying but also plenty
repellant, with info on serial killers, Ray Dennis Steckler movies, the
possibility of Steven Spielberg being a pedophile, etc., all done with
characteristic bile-spewing rage. The fourth and final issue is something else
entirely: it may be the most offensive thing I’ve read, with lovingly detailed
articles on rape, molestation and murder.
Since then Debbie Goad has died and Jim has done time for battering his
girlfriend. Such hardship couldn’t have befallen a nicer couple of folks!
There have been several periodicals devoted to Asian
cult cinema, but this is the one to read, a colorful paperback book sized rag,
originally titled ASIAN TRASH CINEMA and then ASIAN CULT CINEMA. It featured
insightful reviews and commentary, and columns by critic Ric Meyers and novelist
Max Allan Collins.
ACC is still going strong, FYI, although I’ll admit I
largely stopped reading it once my subscription ran out in late ’99.
BEN IS DEAD
In my view the best of the thousand or so punk zines
that flooded the LA area during the nineties. BEN IS DEAD explored the
alternative music scene with gusto, yet had a disarmingly sweet, quirky edge.
This was courtesy of editor Darby (if she ever gave a last name I’ve forgotten
it), who didn’t try and affect the kind of phony “fuck you” stance of most punk
enthusiasts. Nor was Darby unafraid of alienating her more hardcore readers,
who were likely ticked by an admiring write-up on Weird Al Yankovich.
Stand-out issues included one called “Gross,” a fun and, yes, gross
overview of disgusting music, movies and bodily fluids, and the multi-issue
“Retro-Hell,” which flashed back on many seventies and eighties-era Gen-X
staples (Dixie cups, early Jackie Chan movies, BUCKAROO BANZAI, etc), and whose
contents later saw print as a book.
This mean-as-fuck zine was vile, bad tempered and
misogynistic--and damned if I didn’t love every page! I eagerly devoured all
three issues, and was very disappointed that a fourth never materialized.
BLACKEST HEART was a lot like THE GORE GAZETTE (see below), only several
dozen times nastier. Articles of note included “I wanna See Bitches Get Jizzed
On,” “Wipe Your Ass with FILM THREAT,” “Ann Landers: Anal Whore” and (my
personal favorite) “If More Nuns were Lesbians I Might Go to Church.”
Seriously, though, what this too-short lived periodical did particularly
well was capture what glossier rags like SPY and ESQUIRE tried very hard (and
failed) at: guy talk, rendered without censorship or apology. Real guy
talk is, like this mag, sharp, nasty and politically incorrect--and probably
shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Bottom line: if you were to lock a gaggle of horror
movie nerds in a room, the transcript of their conversations would probably read
a lot like BLACKEST HEART.
Quite simply the premiere horror fiction magazine of
the nineties and beyond. All the top names in the field appeared at some point
in CEMETERY DANCE (King, Campbell, Ketchum, etc.), as well quite a few lesser
known but equally potent talents.
Yes, CEMETERY DANCE contained the expected reviews,
interviews, articles, etc., but it worked primarily because of its unwavering
focus on good fiction, and plenty of it!
A slicker-than-average sci fi/horror/fantasy film mag
(now an e-zine), but one with a definite point of view--i.e. unafraid to
bite the hand that feeds it! It also contains in-depth features on the flicks
it covers, as opposed to the brief studio-approved write-ups you get in most
Full disclosure: I prefer the earlier issues of CFQ--from the seventies,
eighties and early nineties--to the more recent ones...and don’t even get
me started on CFQ’s pathetic offshoots IMAGI-MOVIES and (gag) FEMME
THE DARK SIDE
A colorful British mag devoted to cultish and horror
cinema that illuminated quite a few once-obscure subgenres, particularly the
Italian Spaghetti Western cycle--in which an article from THE DARK SIDE first
piqued my interest.
One of this overview’s quirkier listings. DEEP RED, a
horror/gore movie mag, is the idiosyncratic brainchild of the fiercely
independent Chas Balun, who puts out a new issue every now and again, though not
on any kind of fixed schedule.
Equally mercurial are the films covered by DEEP RED. The mag started in
the late-eighties, when other genre rags were covering NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
sequels; DEEP RED by contrast lavished its attention on the likes of COMBAT
SHOCK and DR. BUTCHER M.D. The mag was also an early and vocal supporter of the
fiction of the great Jack Ketchum.
Such staunch nonconformity is rare and salutary--so too the writing by Chas and
others, which is spirited and fan-based.
Another British horror/cult movie mag that once
claimed my attention. EYEBALL was particularly hard to come by the US, but the
few issues I managed to procure remain treasured relics. One of them contains a
lengthy write-up on and interview with the Polish filmmaker
Andrzej Zulawski, which remains a key resource
for fans of this undeservedly obscure genius.
The only publication listed here that was around when
I was a kid and is still in the running. Well okay, the near 40-year-old
CINEFANTASTIQUE remains extant online, but I’ve largely lost interest. FANGORIA
on the other hand remains a big draw.
I’ll acknowledge that many of the criticisms people like to throw at FANGO
are valid: it focuses overmuch on shitty sequels and remakes, and the writing
too often seems aimed at a ten year old mentality. But FANGORIA, to use an
overworked expression, definitely has its finger on the pulse of the horror
community. Being very much of that community, I can’t help but pay
Very likely the best horror mag of the past decade:
knowledgeable, opinionated and all-inclusive. It explored horror-themed films
and books with equal aplomb in quite a few essential articles, reviews and
interviews with the top names in the field.
FEAR was a British publication, meaning it was difficult to find on these
shores. Whenever I did manage to track down an issue, though, I always made a
point of grabbing it--and was always left feeling enriched.
FILM THREAT VIDEO
This periodical, an offshoot of FILM THREAT, explored
the underground film scene with candor and enthusiasm. It was through FTVG that
I first became acquainted with off-off Hollywood filmmaking, so for that, if
nothing else, it deserves a nod. FTVG also distributed must-have films like
RED AND ROSY,
TRIBULATION 99 and NEKROMANTIK on VHS (back then the DVD revolution was still a
As for FILM THREAT itself, I was never that enamored with it. I’d put it
on the same level as its chief “rival” PREMIERE, in that I’d buy an issue now
and then if some article/review/interview caught my eye, but for the most part I
tended to pass it by. Its title notwithstanding, FILM THREAT never seemed too
threatening, and by the mid-nineties had grown downright annoying, catering to
somebody’s idea of a Generation X demographic with indifferently written
articles about, essentially, nothing. (To be fair, the pre-1991 issues of FT
actually delivered the sharpness promised by the title, but I didn’t discover
those until long after the mag had entered its glossy phase, and by then the
damage had been done.)
FOR DICKHEADS ONLY
A handmade zine dedicated to Philip K. Dick. These
days you can find more than enough PKD info on the web, but in the early
nineties this was the premiere resource for Dickheads.
I’m not sure how many issues were printed. I’ve got
the first three, all of which are solid compendiums of reviews of Dick’s books,
biographical info on the man, and various other fun stuff (including PKD
Issued as two large format paperbacks, FUNERAL PARTY
explored nearly all things weird and/or scary. Featured were interviews with
Jack Ketchum, Chas. Balun, the “Torture King,” EXTREMITIES writer William
Mastrosimone and other interesting folks, along with plenty of freaky artwork
and photographs. Fun!
These days GAUNTLET is known as an independent
publisher. Too few folks are aware, however, that the label began as a magazine
dedicated to “Exploring the Limits of Freedom of Expression.”
GAUNTLET magazine, which lasted from 1990 to 2003, was never very widely
read, and that’s a shame, as it was among the most provocative periodicals on
the scene. While staunchly anti-censorship, GAUNTLET was also frank about the
fact that free speech is a far pricklier and more complicated issue than
something like the smarmy “Free Speech Week” (in which we’re encouraged to pat
ourselves on the back for saving HUCKLEBERRY FINN and CATCHER IN THE RYE from
the flames) would have us believe.
Editor Barry Hoffman fearlessly and unflinchingly
explored the wildest, freakiest reaches of Americana, including pornographers,
prostitutes, environmental and animal rights activists, out-of-control
politicians, etc. The point, of course, was if we’re to have freedom of speech
it has to apply to everyone, even the freakiest of us.
Most people, I’ve found, take the view “I believe in
free speech, but...” It was GAUNTLET’S mission to illuminate that “but...”
THE GORE GAZETTE
In many ways the granddaddy of horror zines, a
celebration of horror/exploitation cinema from the New York based Rick Sullivan
that began sometime in the early eighties and lasted until 1994. I didn’t get
to it until 1991 or ’92 (when it began appearing on the Tower Records magazine
racks), but since then I’ve been exploring the 100-plus back issues.
The GORE GAZETTE was the anti-FANGORIA: rude, funky, foul-mouthed and funny
as shit! Sullivan’s voice was a unique and instantly recognizable one, a bit
like the genre’s answer to Howard Stern. I’m mighty sorry Sullivan’s no longer
around...though I am liking those back issues!
The sister publication of FANGORIA, and an even better
mag overall. It had a funkier vibe, with a more independent-minded focus--it
even featured a column by Chas. Balun.
Of course it didn’t last very long!
This literary-minded journal, co-published by
bookseller/publisher Mark V. Ziesing, only had three installments, but they were
memorable ones. Featured were in-depth interviews with writers like William
Gibson and Iain Banks, a top-of-the-voice column by the inimitable Lucius
Shephard, and original fiction by quite a few fine writers.
Among the latter was a young Jonathan Lethem, who I
never forgot after encountering his work for the first time in JOURNAL WIRED.
THE KEELER NEWS
A neat little zine devoted to the late Harry Stephen
Keeler, the wackiest mystery writer of all time.
I’m fully aware that not everyone will be interested in
HSK’s correspondence with Anthony Boucher, or the annual Imitate Keeler
competition, but for Keeler-philes (which I most certainly am) TKN is a
THE MARK V.
In the days before the internet, Mark V. Ziesing was
the go-to guy for books you couldn’t get through mainstream channels. He ran a
mail-order business for which he put out a one-of-a-kind catalog.
I came in on said catalog in 1991, with issue #94, and stayed with it for
the next thirty or so installments. Oftentimes I’d order books from Mark just
to keep the catalogs coming.
These catalogs were utterly unique, packed with voluminous info on various
rare books. Mark has a definite talent for spotlighting the strangest and most
intriguing tomes imaginable (in this regard he was second only to the AMOK
Fourth Dispatch outlined above). Plus his catalogs had a personal touch that
was unmistakable (Mark’s introductory rants were priceless) and a real homemade
One of several horror-themed fiction magazines that
appeared in the wake of THE TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE’S dissolution, MIDNIGHT
GRAFFITTI was itself very TWILIGHT ZONEish, only tougher, meaner and more
It only lasted a few years, but they were fulfilling
ones: MG published two of my all-time favorite stories, David J. Schow’s “Bad
Guy Hats” and Steven R. Boyett’s “Emerald City Blues,” and a transcript of an
incredible 1985 radio conversation between Harlan Ellison and Clive Barker,
which I’ve quoted from more times than I can count.
MURDER CAN BE FUN
That title (taken from a Frederick Brown novel) is
misleading. This zine, written and published by Johnny Marr, was a literate and
erudite look at interesting fiction (Charles Willeford, Cornell Woolrich and Jim
Thompson were all lovingly profiled), disasters and famous crimes.
Of the first ten issues Marr now says “they weren’t
that good anyway.” I beg to differ! It was in MCBF that I first learned of the
late Sylvia Lykens and her horrific fate (dramatized in
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR)
and the loony fiction of Harry Stephen Keeler (see THE KEELER NEWS profiled
Also included in MCBF was Marr’s essential “Read Hard
or Die” book review section. More fun was had in an issue entitled “I Hate
Sports!” and a daring take on the infamous Irish cannibal Sawney Beane, who Marr
(convincingly) argues didn’t actually exist!
Along with CEMETERY DANCE and TEKLI-LI!, NECROFILE was
THE place to go for literate and knowledgeable info on horror fiction. Its
reviews were voluminous, and far more in-depth than most. Plus it ran
informative columns by Fred Chappell and
I shamefully ignored this short-lived digest-sized mag
when it was on newsstands during 1985-87...and so have spent the succeeding
years scrambling for back issues. This for me makes NIGHT CRY a nineties
publication, since I never really bothered reading it before.
It was an offshoot of THE TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE focusing strictly on
horror. In other words, it was precisely what I feel TZ should have
been--or, put another way, NIGHT CRY was like TZ only better!
THE PHANTOM OF THE
Another mag I’ve stopped reading in recent years,
although for a time I enjoyed it immensely. It contains reviews of various
horror and cultish flicks by “The Phantom” (a.k.a. New York Daily News
columnist Joe Kane) and several other writers, along with the requisite
interviews and features.
Of course it can’t hold a finger to SHOCK CINEMA (the
publication it most resembles), which is probably why I no longer bother with
THE RED NEWSLETTER
Surely you know of the legendary “Red Tape”? It’s the
Holy Grail of prank phone calls, being a series of taped calls to a New Jersey
watering hole called the Tube Bar. The hot-headed proprietor, a guy named Red,
answers the phone each time, and boy oh boy, do the callers get him wound up!
Sample response: “Ya lousy muthuh-fuckuh cock-suckuh!! Why don’cha come down
here ya fuckin’ bum?? I’ll cut ya belly open!!!”
This newsletter was put out by the Red Fan Club (of which I was a
proud member!), and featured info on the tape’s origins and explanations of
many of Red’s more esoteric utterances (like the term “Z.Z.,” which was
apparently old-time gangster slang). It also contained a classified section
that among other things had info on a planned “pilgrimage” to the Tube Bar. I
wanted very much to go, but unfortunately the Newsletter only lasted two issues,
and the pilgrimage never occurred. Bummer.
Not merely a publishing company, but a trusted brand
name and attitude unto itself.
RE/Search began as a San Francisco based periodical that grew into a series
of large format paperbacks on subjects like William Burroughs,
the Survival Research Laboratories, bodily fluids, weird music, and (in the
pioneering volume INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS) cult movies. RE/Search also
reissued classic novels like THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION and THE TORTURE GARDEN in
eye-popping illustrated editions.
The format and layout of these books, courtesy of publishers/editors V.
Vale and Andrea Juno, was utterly unique and distinctive. For a time RE/Search
actually accomplished what every fringe publisher secretly dreams of: it brought
alternative culture into the mainstream, and to the attention of squares like
That all ended, alas, when Vale and Juno broke up in the mid nineties.
Sure, the two continued publishing like-minded books under the imprints V/Search
and Juno Books, but the magic was gone (although Vale’s publication of Daniel P.
Mannix’s MEMOIRS OF A SWORD SWALLOWER is a must).
My discovery of issue #4 of SHOCK CINEMA during a 1992
trip to New York City was a revelation. It was the first of the cult movie mags--including
FILMFAX (which I found too slick), VIDEO WATCHDOG (too nerdy), CASHIERS DU
CINEMART (too uneven), FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND (too old mannish) and
PSYCHOTRONIC (too pleased with itself by far)--that really resonated with me.
Edited and largely written by Steve Puchalski, it was admirably straightforward
and unaffected in its approach, and covered everything from forgotten Hollywood
horrors to obscure foreign films.
But getting back to that fateful NYC trip, I was happy to have stumbled
upon SHOCK CINEMA, as back then it was difficult to come by. These days you can
get it at any good newsstand, yet it retains all the verve and individuality
that initially drew me in. And yes, I now write for it...but don’t let that
put you off!
A little trivia: I once seriously considered putting out a cult movie zine
of my own, but scrapped that idea upon concluding that my prospective zine would
very likely look and read a lot like SHOCK CINEMA--but probably wouldn’t be as
good. And if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em!
A British mag that was compressed into two book length
compilations that appeared in the mid nineties. Focused on horror/cult cinema,
these were priceless packages, packed with interesting articles and interviews
by top names like Ramsey Campbell, Kim
Newman, Stephen Jones and many others. It was through SHOCK XPRESS
that I first learned of obscure gems like
MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING and
FREAK ORLANDO, the
work of Walerian Boroczyck, and the appalling “films” of Steven Poster.
SIGHT AND SOUND
A surprise: going through my old magazines I found
dozens of back issues of this long-running British film rag. I’m not too
enamored of it these days but was evidently quite the fan back in the
I’ll say this for SIGHT AND SOUND: it’s reliable, with a never-changing
layout and attitude. True, that attitude is a mite highbrow (given the choice
between an Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective and one by George Romero, it’s a safe
bet S&S will go with the Tarkovsky), but at least with S&S you know exactly what
A graphic journal edited by the famed “cineterologist”
and graphic artist Steven Bissette. TABOO went through 7 or 8 installments, and
featured comic book tales from quite a few top artists, scripted by just as many
top writers. Of course, as the title makes clear, the contents are strictly of
the adults-only variety.
Particularly memorable contributions include several
chapters from the (then still in progress) Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell masterpiece
FROM HELL, a selection of mesmerizingly repugnant drawings from the demented S.
Clay Wilson, a comic dramatization of Ramsey Campbell’s autobiographical essay
“At the Back of my Mind: A Guided Tour,” and (a major coup) the first and
thus far only English language version of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’
legendary EYES OF THE CAT.
Truly a one-of-a-kind journal from a one-of-a-kind
For those wanting a serious and scholarly approach to
horror fiction, TEKIL-LI was a great place to look. This jam-packed publication
contained knowledgeable tributes to the authors Joseph Citro and Thomas Ligotti,
along with the expected array of interviews, essays and reviews. Read any issue
of TEKI-LI and your IQ is bound to increase--really!
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Once my favorite magazine, this is one of the oldest
publications listed here (it closed up shop back in 1988), but its influence on
my writing cannot be underestimated.
My feelings about TZ are mixed these days. Certainly I like and admire its
overseers’ commitment to quality fiction, but the mag was a bit
all-over-the-place tonally. The problem, I believe, is that nobody has ever
adequately defined just what the hell Twilight Zone is supposed to mean, and so
TZ tried to encompass horror, fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a
bit overly mainstream for my tastes. Once again, the problem seems to be a lack
of focus; rather than target a single demographic, TZ tried to hit ‘em all.
Still, I worshipped TZ as a youngster, and without it this survey very
likely wouldn’t exist...
...but I’m really glad it does, as it was great getting reacquainted with
these terrific publications. Sadly, all but a handful are now dead and buried.
Of those that aren’t, most--CINEFANTASTIQUE, MURDER CAN BE FUN, THE KEELER NEWS,
GAUNTLET--are extant online. I strongly advise looking them up--maybe they can
fuck you up like they did me!