As someone who owns the entire twenty-six issue run of GOREZONE, the recently released compilation THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE wasn't an opportunity for me to rediscover lost memories but yet the many reminisces this issue includes from GOREZONE alumni - including editor Tony Timpone, managing editor Michael Gingold, and contributor Tim Lucas, along with a fond appreciation of the late Chas. Balun from new FANGORIA editor Chris Alexander - couldn't help but put me in a reflective mood about what GOREZONE meant during its tenure on the newsstands and how different the cultural climate is today from what it was in the late '80s/early '90s. It also couldn't help but make me feel too old, but that's another story.
For those who may not know, GOREZONE was the sister publication to FANGORIA, launched in 1988 by Fango publisher Norman Jacobs as a means to block any upstarts who might be looking to cut into FANGORIA's dollars. GOREZONE was essential meant to cut Fango's competition off at the curb and was effective at doing so, with Fango wannbes like Slaughterhouse never establishing an audience. But although GOREZONE was hatched with mercenary intentions, Fango head honcho Tony Timpone made sure the magazine was something special in its own right.
While Timpone had inherited a successful template for Fango from former editors Bob Martin and Dave Everitt when he came aboard that mag as editor and wisely stuck with that template, making his own tweaks along the way, GOREZONE was Timpone's from the start and it arguably represents an even more important genre legacy on his behalf than his long-lasting reign as Fango's editor-in-chief. A magazine that felt like a more muscular fanzine, GORZEONE was rowdier, more opinionated, and more personable than Fango. Fango was - rightly so - more even-handed in its coverage and more focused on mainstream offerings while GOREZONE was made for the more discerning, hardcore fan. When GZ's run was finished, its influence inevitably - and appropriately - bled into its parent mag, bringing more eclectic coverage into the pages of FANGORIA itself.
Embodying GOREZONE's style (almost single-handedly) was Chas. Balun. A writer who inspired many but remains unmatched by any, Balun practiced a more gonzo brand of genre journalism, creating a niche all his own with self-published books of reviews like The Connoisseur's Guide to The Contemporary Horror Film (1983). Although he had contributed to Fango, it wasn't until his "Piece O' Mind" column in GOREZONE that he really reached his apex. It's no exaggeration to say that Piece O' Mind changed the way many horror fans felt about the genre - or more specifically, it validated the way they felt about it and articulated that passion in a revolutionary way.
Equally revolutionary - maybe even moreso - were the contributions of Tim Lucas, whose Video Watchdog column was given space to grow in the pages of GOREZONE, eventually leading to Lucas launching his self-published magazine. Prior to those early Watchdog columns, I had never encountered anyone who looked at genre films with that kind of exhaustive attention to detail and it's no exaggeration to say that Lucas' writing permanently changed the mentality with which fans regarded films and also, in time, changed the way that films themselves are treated by studios. Most of Lucas' GZ columns focused on the ways that films were mistreated in their home video incarnations, suffering inexplicable edits and shoddy transfers. Today, people who were influenced by Lucas when they were younger now run specialty video labels like Blue Underground and Synapse. And, as Lucas notes in the new interview included in this BLOODY BEST compilation, "...we've also had longtime readers who were able to get into major companies like MGM and Sony and make a difference." Every time you see a DVD of a classic genre movie in which that film is in the most complete and pristine condition possible, some measure of thanks for that is owed to Tim Lucas.
But while Balun and Lucas were GZ's most famous contributors, the GZ masthead included plenty of other luminaries, like Psychotronic author Michael Weldon, Broken Minds/Broken Mirrors author Maitland McDonagh, and Swamp Thing artist and Taboo publisher Stephen Bissette. Given the amount of talent that was represented in GZ's pages, editor Chris Alexander has done a heroic job of compiling a proper Best Of. Like any fan would, though, I have my own personal nitpicks concerning pieces that I believe ought to have made the cut but didn't - such as Bissette's preview of Alejandro Jodorwky's Santa Sangre (1989) or McDonagh's review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (both examples of the way that GZ shined a light on fringe films well before any other publication).
Regardless of a few missing favorites, though, THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE is a more than worthy representation of GZ's greatness. And the new content from Timpone, Lucas, Gingold, and Alexander puts a welcome sense of context onto these old pieces, looking back on what was once a very different world for horror fans.
Part of Chris Alexander's stated intention with publishing THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE is to test the waters for a relaunch of the magazine. I hope he can pull it off but looking back on GZ, and the ways in which the culture has changed since the magazine closed shop in 1993, one has to wonder what a new GOREZONE's function would be in today's world.
As Timpone notes in his BLOODY BEST recollections, "audiences today don't know how good they've got it; no way a Saw film or a Hostel would have escaped with an R rating in the late '80s/early '90s." And that, in a nutshell, is why GOREZONE was so vital during its run. GZ was a magazine that was desperately needed by horror fans who were suffering through a restrictive, reactionary era. Even more than Fango itself, GOREZONE was a magazine that connected fans to the beating heart of horror at a time when the MPAA was doing its best to squelch it. Even TV shows like Freddy's Nightmares and Friday the 13th: The Series were being chased off the air by the Religious Right. Horror was fighting for its very existence back then and in the face of that, GOREZONE represented the voice of the unbowed horror masses.
Now cut to today. Just yesterday when I was shopping for Halloween decorations, right next to the kiddie costumes was a rack of horror movie DVDs, stocked with multiple copies of The Human Centipede (2009). No one who wrote for, or read, GOREZONE back in the day could've conceived of a day when a movie like that would be so readily available with barely a peep of outrage. Compare the kinds of films and shows that concerned parent groups would once lose their shit over with what gets released to no response today and, jeez, it's enough to make you wonder what happened to society. Bullshit controversies still erupt here and there but if you took any angry protester from back in the late '80s and timewarped them to today, their heads would explode. And if you took the MPAA panel from that time to now, they wouldn't believe what had become permissible just a few decades down the line.
It's a pretty low point for the genre at the moment, with the latest string of horror offerings getting lukewarm receptions at the box office (mostly with good cause) but yet it's still a more booming time than it was when GOREZONE was around. In the late '80s/early '90s, if you had maybe five genre films get a wide release in theaters in the entire year, you were lucky. But just in the past three months, Final Destination 5, Fright Night, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Apollo 18, Shark Night 3-D, Creature, Straw Dogs, Dream House, The Thing, and - coming this weekend - Paranormal Activity 3 have all hit screens across the country (with films like The Woman, The Human Centipede Part 2, and The Skin I Live In playing in limited release). And on TV, there's the return of Supernatural and The Walking Dead along with the premiere of new genre fare like American Horror Story and Grimm. There's so much horror product out there, I can't keep up with it all (granted, some of it I don't want to keep up with).
Not only is there a surplus of genre product, but it's not watered down. Aside from the fact that some of these films and shows are duds, it's not due to censorship but due to creative shortcomings. When I read about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in GZ, I had to legitamately wonder if I'd ever get to see that movie. Most of Tony Timpone's GZ editorials back then were about the struggles that filmmakers (especially indie filmmakers) faced with the intractable, and frequently small-minded, judgements of the MPAA. Today, not even the likes of A Serbian Film has to worry about distribution.
Honestly, as much as I appreciate filmmakers having more freedom and viewers having more access to movies, I miss those earlier days. GOREZONE was a magazine for an "Us Against Them" kind of time and that's, unavoidably, a romantic sort of thing. Horror fans were joined together in the trenches, railing against the imperious rule of the MPAA. Now, the MPAA pretty much lets everything skate by - we're not oppressed by any "Them" anymore. Not enough to care about, at least. I mean, Shark Night 3-D would've had to have been cut to earn an R in 1989. Today it gets a PG-13, with no pleas to the MPAA required. So things are better now, yes, but it's hard not to feel nostalgic for what once was and a huge cornerstone of that nostalgia will always be GOREZONE.
Best wishes to Chris Alexander and co. if they go ahead with a new edition of GOREZONE. The challenge, of course, will be to make it as relevant to the current genre scene as its predecessor was to its day but if any mag deserved a second chance, it's GOREZONE.
To see about getting a copy of THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE while they last (if they're not gone already), visit Fangoria's website.