Tuesday, 15 April 2014
BOOK/MAGAZINES/DVD: XEROX FEROX by JOHN SZPUNAR, MONSTER!: 2, WENG'S CHOP: 5 (all 2014); CREATURE (2013)
For much of my life I had an uneasy fascination with horror movies which was hindered by my belief that I was too squeamish and often looked at the gory/scary bits over the tops of my glasses which meant everything over two feet away was a blur. That became pointless after two cataract operations about fifteen years ago which resulted in me only needing them for reading and, at first, only just. By then, however, I'd already discovered that I wasn't particularly squeamish anyway and was busy exploring all those films I'd never dared even watch before and discovering joys like The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and so many more. In the process I also developed an interest in cult and exploitation movies, things with an oddball, offbeat charm, though perhaps 'charm' isn't the right word.
What I missed out on during that period was the plethora of 'fanzines' (I've put the word in quotes because it has a different much more amateur meaning for me as a once active member of Science Fiction Fandom) dealing with horror/exploitation/cult movies. These fanzines do range from the admittedly, amateur but also include professional magazines like Fangoria and the UK's The Dark Side (i.e. they were printed on glossy paper and could be found in chains like WH Smiths). I did pick up a few related books, however, like the excellent four volume series DVD Delerium to enhance my knowledge and guide me to movies I'd like which DVD D still does even after multiple readings. So, having been a member of what is now called, and more respectfully (just), geek culture, it's no surprise that I'd be interested enough to pick up-
It's a massive 800 page volume consisting of interviews with 42 individuals who played a significant role -usually as editor/publisher/writer of horror film fanzines (with a considerable overlap with cult and exploitation as there's a definite mindset which makes it highly probable you'll be into all three to varying degrees. To be honest, it isn't the sort of book you sit down and read straight through. I did try that but eventually I moved it to my toilet and placed it near the loo seat so I could dip into it while having a crap. This isn't an insult as It's where I go through my DVD Deleriums over the course of a year.
(It's written/compiled by John Szpunar whose surname I pronounce in my mind as Spooner. Sorry, dude.)
It's interesting to me partly because there are clear links to SF fandom and also to Comics fandom. One of the earliest dabblers was the late SF fan Bhob Stewart and, much later as a reviewer of horror fanzines in The Dark Side, UK SF fan Steve Green. The very first interview is with writer/artist Steve Bissette who was part of the team on DC's Swamp Thing which helped transform Alan Moore into !Alan Moore!
As you'd expect if you have any knowledge of geek culture, most of the people involved are intelligent, talented, literary, and arty but basically normal ordinary people with a rather specialised interest. They are not weirdo freako neurotic oddballs, except for the handful that are. But shake any tree... So I found it interesting, learned a lot of new stuff and when I've finished this review will pop it on my Amazon Marketplace shelf (literally -I have a shelf in a cupboard of all the stuff I have available for sale on Amazon Marketplace) because while I enjoyed it it isn't the sort of book I'm likely to re-read.
It may be coincidence or I may be displaying my lack of knowledge, but publication of this has coincided with what may be a minor resurgence of the horror fanzine.
After a series of covers of varying effectiveness, they've hit the jackpot with this slick piece which hits all the right bases, especially in the background. (You'll have to trust me on this because I couldn't find a bigger sharper image.) Can you name all the movies referenced? I think I got about 70% of them, maybe more.
Anyway, Weng's Chop is more broad-based than just being a horror fanzine, though it doesn't short-change the horror fan either, as it covers cult, exploitation and just downright odd movies like the look at Jungle movie babes which is the opening piece in this issue. It also includes, along with a load more, the Johnny Wadd movies (porn starring John Holmes), Mexican monster movies, Indian exploitation, as eclectic a bunch of film reviews as you could find anywhere, and even stranger stuff. And all of it written by knowledgeable people who can write. Incidentally, the magazine has gone from being a slim smallish paperback to a large-format 260 page monster and it's still quite reasonably priced -I paid £7.47 for this issue (post free as I'm on Prime). Look like it's going to be a wild and crazy ride and I'm clinging on while it lasts.
Monster! is a spin-off from Weng's Chop. It is purely devoted to monster movies. That is MONSTERS pure and simple: monster movies. Got that? No slashers allowed. And this slim 60 page magazine could have been made for me. I loved monsters long before horror. I still remember, age around 9, seeing Ray Harryhausen's giant stop-motion octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea at a cinema in Scarborough while on holiday. I remember exactly where I was when I saw King Kong (still my favourite all time movie ever) for the first time -in a Liverpool cinema on a double bill with, bizarrely, Don't Lose Your Head (before it gained the Carry On hyphen prefix).
Despite being a slim little cheaply produced (printed by Amazon, as is WC) paperback with lots of photos, there is also plenty of reading material to enjoy. If they can get it out on a regular basis, it may have the honour of being kept in my loo.
It opens with a five page look at a cheapo 1959 ripoff of Creature from the Black Lagoon called The Monster of Piedras Blancas which I remember showing in Sunderland in the early 60's but never got to see. It's so cheap that you never see the monster in the water despite it being aquatic, though it is quite gory for the time. Needless to say that the piece made me want to see it immediately. And, at the back, is a list of all films mentioned and their availability. Or lack of it in this case. Then there's twelve pages devoted to last year's critical and audience flop, the widely despised Creature written by Steve Bissette which made me want to get hold of it and so I did from Amazon for the acceptable price of £2.46 (post free cos I'm on Prime) and see review below. There's Hong Kong and Indian monster movies. One of the former took my fancy but I could only find a single copy available for £36.00 so screw that.
Only three quid. Great magazine. More please. Now!
Creature opened just long enough for audiences to decide they didn't want to see it -Bissette was alone in the cinema when he saw it the first time and the audience doubled the second- and for critics to shit on it from a very great height. Bissette, while not pretending it's an undiscovered masterpiece, argues that it aint all that bad. And he's right.
There's is plenty in it to pick fault with if you decide you don't like it. But if you can go with the flow then it's quite reasonable fun. After a prologue in a which a young woman, strips naked and goes for a swim in the bayou and gets her legs bitten off, we meet three young couples who just got lost and shortly thereafter they meet a bunch of seedy and sinister locals, led by cult actor Sid Haig, who it soon becomes apparent have seedy and sinister designs on our six (six?) heroes. It's not long before they're being stalked by the creature who seems to be some kind of human-alligator cross. Who will survive? Spoiler 1: the likeable black dude and his likeable girlfriend. Usually the black guy is notoriously the first to go (standard rule in horror movies). Spoiler2: it wasn't an accident they got lost, it's a trap.
It's all done reasonably efficiently and it's certainly competently made in terms of production values, photography, and acting. The monster suit certainly looks good but it's here the budget shows its limitations. The jaw never moves. The headpiece is a complete unit so the mouth has to be open all the time. They also obviously ran out of money by the time they got to shoot the climax because -massive spoiler!- you don't see the hero kill the monster. Talk about breaking the rules of horror movies. You always see the monster die even if it comes back to life just as the credits roll. Oddly enough it kinda sorta maybe works if you've gone with the flow and quite like the movie, which I did. Or, you might want to wrench the disc from the player and jump up and down on it. I could cite other examples of dumb things but I really didn't care while I was watching it. As far as I'm concerned I got my £2.46 worth.
And soon: Godzilla 2014.
I feel faint with excitement.