Posted by Richard Harland Smith on June 20, 2014
Video Watchdog, for whom I first wrote in 1997 and for whom I have been writing regularly since 1999, has entered its 25th year of publication. A quarter of a century! Editors/publishers Tim and Donna Lucas have done great things with the medium since that first issue, refining the paper stock, adding full color, attracting world class writers (and, no, I don’t mean me – I’m in a class by myself) to the “Kennel,” and even going digital during the past year, and making that digital option free. The mag, as it is today, is a thing of beauty, and probably the loveliest periodical on the rack that doesn’t smell like perfume… and yet, and yet I find myself going back to the first issues from time to time, to revel in the old dinosaur format, to re-read the reviews illustrated with smudgy black-and-white photographs or ad slicks, and to relish the feeling of discovering this magazine back when Video Watchdog was not all that far removed from the mimeographed and Xeroxed ‘zines of the 70s and 80s. Yes, I said “‘zine” — do you even know what that word means? Chances are, if you’re receiving AARP mailers, are experiencing partial deafness and have knee and/or back trouble, then you do know that ‘zine is short for magazine and is the term for fan-published periodical sent out into the world by the eager and the obsessive back in the days before e-mail, newsgroups, Internet blogs, and YouTube subscriptions. The ‘zine was the bastard child of the religious tract and political pamphlet, something to slap into a stranger’s hand and say “This! And this!” I remember at some point early in my college years (1980-1984), when I was still living in the dorms, somebody passed me a copy of Bill Landis’ Sleazoid Express. It was a single piece of colored paper (I’m remembering a kind of mango hue) onto which was Xeroxed thousands of words in tiny print and I’m fairly certain some of those were written in support of Dennis Donnelly’s THE TOOL BOX MURDERS (1978). I must have turned that piece of paper over in my hands ten thousand times, drinking in the grimy, stepped-on splendor of sharing the company — if only in print — of someone who cherished weirdness as much, if not more, than I did. Receipt of that first ‘zine changed me, turned me from a passive horror movie fan into the freak I am now. Mind you, the change was gradual, and years in the making, but reading my first ‘zine was a Red Sea moment. Two years later and my Mom slapped The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film into my fat hands and, well, the rest is history.
I’ve been Facebook friends with Tim Paxton of Oberlin, Ohio, for several years now but, to be honest, I never really knew about his past history as a ‘zine publisher/editor/writer. An original desktop publisher back when that job title meant cutting stuff out with scissors and either Scotch taping it or glue-sticking it into ‘zine formation, Tim published a handful of fairly influential titles (influential in my circles anyway): Video Voice, Highball, NAKED SCREAMING TERROR and Monster. Monster had begun as a sidebar publication, a biweekly deviation that went sub-sub-genre to bill itself as “a cheap newsletter of only monster films.” This ‘zine was a reaction to the slasher school of horror films, which nixed (for the most part) fantastic elements from the horror experience to focus squarely on mutilation and murder as committed by wholly human antagonists (mind you, this was before Jason Voorhees of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series became undead and was considered, for all his shortcomings, at least vestigially human). Tim and his collaborators were able to see some kind of semi-pro realization of their labors in the early 90s before the crash and flame-out of the ‘zine scene, just prior to the rise of the Internet. Through the years, Tim has never really lost the faith and has been a contributor to the quarterly chapbook Weng’s Chop but he has recently busted Monster! out of camphor, returning to a monthly publishing schedule.
If you’re ignorant of Tim’s personal history, as I was, then issue no. 1 of Monster! will give you all the backstory you need, while also setting the stage for all that you are about to receive on a monthly basis. A joint effort co-edited and published by Tim and Steve Fenton (who has his own backstory as a publisher of the Canadian ‘zines Killbaby and Panicos), Monster! offers news and reviews and critical (and uncritical) insight into movies featuring non-human antagonists. (What qualifies as a monster? Essentially, a “wonderful beast.” Non-wonderful beasts need not apply. “Mad slashers are not. Crazy people who are cannibals are not. Politicians are not.”) The glorious color covers notwithstanding, the innards of this rebooted Monster! are strictly monochrome… and yay! The feeling I had paging through the first three issues of the new digest really bring back that old ‘zine zing, that joy at learning about new things, about strange and wonderful monster movies from around the world. So many pro horror magazines are worthless to me, full of studio-sanctioned puff pieces and set visits to craptacular films starring so-called horror icons you’ve probably never heard of. Monster! is small and personal and true and, if you’re into that, is like a breath of fresh air … straight out of the crypt. Articles in the first three issues include an overview of monster movies set on moving trains (HORROR EXPRESS, DEVIL’S EXPRESS, THE GHOST TRAIN, TRAIN OF THE DEAD … notice, no TERROR TRAIN); “Cave Rat for Dinner: My First Monster Movie,” an appreciation of THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956) by Brian Harris; C.T. McNeely’s “How I Learned to Love Monsters”; Steve Fenton’s review of the unsung THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959, and still one of the most seriously badass monster suits ever to come out of the pipe); retrospectives of horror movies set in the American south and of “Mexi-Monster Mayhem” from south of the border; and a monthly column (beginning in issue No. 2) by my Video Watchdog colleague Stephen Bissette, devoted to whatever particular monster movie is obsessing him of late. (His column in issue No. 3 is devoted to Bigfoot movies, which is well worth the exceedingly modest cover price right there.) It’s all good stuff, and there’s tons of Southeast Asian monster product reviewed, too, for those who have, in their quest for the grotesque and arabesque, crossed the International Date Line. If you have horror in your heart, Monster! is good company.
The bad news, if you want to look at it as bad news, is that Monster! is not available for subscription — you have to go out there and grab it. Luckily, Amazon.com makes it very easy to pick up back or current issues, all weighing in at a very affordable $4 and change. Issues 4 and 5 (which I do not have here in front of me for review) boast such awful offerings as rundowns of Bollywood and Filipino “Blood Island” monster movies, Steve Bissette’s Godzilla portfolio and a critique of GORGO comics, an interview with filmmaker Joe Dante, an overview of Greek zombie movies, and plenty more from such regular contributors as Blood Times writer/editor Louis Paul, John Harrison, Christos Mouroukis, VW alum Erik Sulev, and (among many others) writer John Walter Szpunar, author of the ‘zine history Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine (Headpress, 2013). These people know what they are talking about… and they’re talking about Monster!
To buy Monster! from Amazon.com (or enjoy a free preview), click here.
To buy Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine from Amazon.com, click here.
To read Tim Paxton’s Monster! blog, click here.
To buy/preview Weng’s Chop, click here.
To watch MONSTER FROM PIEDRAS BLANCAS on YouTube, click here.
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