April 1999
s m u g
back issues
by Joshua Allen


When I was a little lad - the scamper, the hyperactivity, the shrill voice, the sinister portents - I would read this magazine called Starlog on a fairly regular basis. It was the source I turned to when, for research or personal enrichment purposes, I required in-depth information on, say, Krull, or The Last Starfighter, or perhaps even Heartbeeps. Starlog would give me exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes photographs from all the latest fantasy and science-fiction films, and, more importantly, it never waned in its childlike enthusiasm over even the most wretched, unwatchable piece of filth. It spoke my language; it held my hand; it whispered beautiful and happy secrets into my pre-pubescent ear.

Fangoria, on the other hand, was Starlog's scary older brother. It dealt with horror movies. And in those days I had a low-to-nil tolerance for graphic violence (let us not even dwell on that awful night I had after seeing Raiders) and even just accidentally glancing at the cover of Fangoria gave me headaches, pericardial effusion, arthralgia, and sometimes, especially when there wasn't merely a horrific monster but actual severed limbs and bloody holes and exposed bones, well, I'd suffer from renal and hepatic dysfunction. I'm not trying to "show off" or anything, but rather impart to you how scary Fangoria seemed to my young mind - so scary, in fact, that I never dared to even pick up a copy until yesterday.

The magazine finds me, all these years later, a much older man, my heart black and deadened to the manipulative effects of on-screen gore, and so I found the photos inside of gruesome decapitations and mega-toothed creatures only mildly diverting, noteworthy only from a technical standpoint. The scariest things about Fangoria these days are its headlines and captions: "Evil never dies - but you will!" "Gym Nauseum," "You'll literally bet your life when Wishmaster invades a casino," "A skinhead gets one more trim - real close to the shoulders." You know.

But possibly the most disturbing thing about Fangoria is how comforting its world is to me. Opening its pages is like walking into a hug from a fleshy-limbed, delicately scented woman. It contains, in its own little way, everything that is benevolent about movies, and after staggering my way through the tepid wreckage (picture two shopping carts getting entangled, so, like: annoying, but not in an interesting way) of 1998 cinema and the hearty celebration of mediocrity that is the Academy Award, a reminder of this benevolence was sorely needed. I mean this: Fangoria is quite possibly the most genuine film publication available today.

Because, see, Fangoria deals with the lowest of the film castes. Horror movies, with very few exceptions, are almost all stomach-churningly bad and despised by a wide assortment of demographic groups. They are cheap and derivative. But Fangoria doesn't care about that. In fact, that's the way they like it. Who's the cover star of this month's issue? Some young hottie from Carrie 2? Elder statesman Stephen King? No, friends, it's the evil genie from Wishmaster 2, a straight-to-video sequel to a movie I'd never heard of. But this is exactly where Fangoria likes to dwell, because in Straight-to-Video Land, people just don't give a fuck and producers will let the FX crew go to town and make a big pus-spewing demon monkey or a nurse with exploding intestines. For the readers and writers of Fangoria, getting to make a demon monkey and put it in a movie is all they need to be happy. They're not dealing with film theory or the exploration of themes or even, really, celebrities. It's all about physicality. It's all potently visceral. It's about people doing actual labor and being creative with this labor, accomplishing small goals for mean ends, and that level of honesty and purity is just about unheard of in other movie magazines.

Thus, Fangoria has sort of quiet disdain for the current glut of high-gloss, high-budget teen horror pictures, this horror film revival single-handedly brought about by Scream. It's sort of like when your favorite obscure little band suddenly makes it big and you get complexly bitter about their success. Fangoria likes to be marginalized and low-class. They like their lighting grainy and their actors slumming. They like having a small, juicy slice of Hollywood, a parallel universe where you see someone familiar like Mira Sorvino, but this is not the Oscar-winning Mira Sorvino. No, this is "Mira Sorvino of Mimic." This is a universe where Heather Langenkamp, who survived several Nightmare on Elm Street movies, is in the Hall of Fame along with Vincent Price, David Cronenberg, Clive Barker, and FX luminaries like Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Stan Winston. This is a universe where John Carpenter is treated as a crown prince: "Carpenter takes the stage to introduce the film. Cheers rips through the auditorium and Vampires rolls. Needless to say, the movie fulfills the expectations of the assembled throngs." Needless to say? This is the abysmal James-Woods-chews-scenery-as-the-vampire-killer movie, right? The one that disappeared after about a week? That's the one, but in Fangoriaville, it's a masterwork, a "return to form" for the horror auteur and minimalist composer.

And you know what? I'd rather live in Fangoriaville than in Entertainment Weeklyville or American Cinematographerville or Sight and Soundville. Even though the movies that Fangoria obsesses over are, by a large, forgettable and tawdry, at least their love is pure. In an era when Titanic is seen as a high water-mark for cinematic achievement, it's reassuring to know there is a community of people that only know James Cameron from Piranha II: The Spawning, and that can take pleasure in a film solely because it convincingly portrays a spear going through somebody's head. This is the machinery of filmmaking, and right now there is little to admire in Hollywood save the smooth pumping of its pistons.




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