Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Magazine That Bleeds!

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.


Franco Macabro said...

Things are better now for horror? I dont agree so much with your comments on this article about horror having it easier nowadays.

I mean, if anything horror is watered down because it is being systematically eliminated. Horror films are restricted more than ever. I mean, these new horror movies are very limited in terms of gore. They only show you seconds of a gory moment where in the 80's and 90's you'd get a whole lot more show to you on screen. And we all know thats thanks to MPAA asking filmmakers to snip snip snip away seconds of blood or gore in their movies.

Where are todays Hellraisers? Where are today's Re-animators? Hell, I remember a time when it was a new Freddy, Michael Myers and Jason movie every other year. And they all went theatrical. In fact, where's todays horror icons?

They've tried resurrection Freddy and Jason and even old Pinhead without success. I mean something is weird when both the Freddy and Jason remakes made money, yet we havent seen sequels for either of them have we? What gives?

Today we might have more horror product, but its mostly pretty bad and it doesnt go theatrical, it's all straight to dvd and for good reason. Have you seen the latest Hellraiser abortion? "Hellraiser: Revelations"? Wow, thats a sorry ass movie when compared to that franchise's glory days.

And of course, if you want to see anything thats worth a damn, you have to turn your heads towards foreign horror films, because American horror is dead on it's tracks, with few exceptions of course.

The days of Gorezone were awesome, I lived through them, I read the magazine. It was pretty graphic, I loved it. The real problem back then was there was no internet, and so less information was available. Magazines like these were needed to keep up with the world of horror all around the world. Now all that information is a click away.

The only way these magazines would survive is if they stuck more to editorials, instead of whats latest in the film world, sort of what Rue Morgue does.

Will Errickson said...

This is a fantastic post on a mag I really only read at the newsstand! Don't know exactly why I didn't buy it - probably because I "knew" I'd never be able to see the movies they were featuring. And this is spot-on:

"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."

Hells yeah.

Jeff Allard said...

FC, as far as horror having it easier these days, I think there's no way to argue that censorship isn't far more relaxed than it was twenty years ago. Just the Saw franchise alone is proof of that. None of those films would've seen the light of day in the late '80s.

And while there isn't much in the way of horror icons today, I think that's mostly to do with changing tastes of audiences. Supernatural boogeymen are out and movies that center on unspecified forces - like the Final Destination or Paranormal Activity films - are more in favor.

And as fondly as I recall the heyday of horror franchises in the '80s, it has to be said that most of those sequels were lousy and probably did more harm than good to the genre. Yes, we had a new Michael Myers, new Jason, and a new Freddy movie almost every year but what those films mostly did was run their respective series into the ground.

I agree that the lack of the internet was a huge factor in what made magazines so important back then. Especially when mainstream magazines rarely covered the genre at all, except to slam it. But I still think that magazines are still vital. Part of the answer may be to spend more pages on opinionated content but I think set visits and interviews shouldn't be left behind.

Will, thanks - glad you enjoyed the post. Sorry you didn't pick up GZ when you had the chance!

Franco Macabro said...

Here's an example though: Put any SAW movie against the first or even second entries into the HELLRAISER franchise, which is bloodier?

The SAW movies are gory, but they dont show as much as they make us think they do. It's all a lot of flashes, and fast forwards and lots of quick editing.

And maybe their being no new horror icons is because "they" dont want youngsters to have horror characters as their heroes these days? Maybe the powers that be thought this was not a good thing for young people to have so they elminated them from cinemas. Maybe this is the reason why new horror films dont have a main character like a Jason or a Freddy anymore.

But it's not for lack of trying, the Hatchet movies have tried creating a new one with their Crowley character, as well as the Laid to Rest movies with their Chrome Skull character. But they are obviously going nowhere.

It's funny you wrote this article because I had typed one up on "the state of american horror films" but decided to delete it for some reason. It was a pretty lenghty rant, but decided to not post it. It certainly is a debatable theme. Is American horror doing okay? Or eve good? The word I used to describe the state of the american horror film on my unpublished article was "anemic".

Unknown said...

I would argue that the horror genre has it easier today in some respects. Now, there are so many ways to get your film seen - VOD, direct to DVD, streaming, Netflix, iTunes, etc. So long as you can keep your budget down. Look at guys like Larry Fessenden who runs his own outfit and not only writes and directs his own films but is now producing others under his own label.

As Jeff pointed out, even more gore and violence is permitted now. Would a movie like A SERBIAN FILM been able to be shown let alone made in the 1980's? Highly unlikely. Films like HOSTEL and SAW are really pushing the boundaries of what you can show on screen.

But I do agree that we are missing the beloved horror icons of yesteryears. The younger generations coming up don't seem to care for the Freddys and Jasons and Michael Myers. Of course, it doesn't help that the remakes for all of these guys were pretty piss poor so no wonder! I wonder if any young moviegoers actively seek out the original versions on DVD or TV? That's why I'm glad that channels like AMC champion these older films pretty relentlessly around this time of year. Or that you see the Carpenter THING on TV quite a bit recently. Hopefully, people who were disappointed by the 2011 THING will check out JC's version on TV and appreciate what he did.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey J.D., I see what you mean about Hostel and SAW, because they are pretty graphic, but I see a lot theatrically released horror movies from the 80's and they were a whole lot more graphic than HOSTEL or SAW. For me it's been like I rewatch an old film from the 80's like say MANIAC or HELLRAISER and I go "they just dont make them like that anymore" because I can feel the difference in terms of violence and gore.

Even films like INSIDIOUS, which I personally love seem to be playing around the fact that they cant show gore, so they make a horror film like INSIDIOUS which doesnt have any gore at all, and is PG-13.

Now I applaud a film that can be scary and still be PG-13 (like THE RING) but you can tell that filmmakers are trying their best to be scary without the red stuff.

And Im talking mostly about american horror, foreign horror films dont have to worry about a ratings system, so they can show whatever the heck they want. Thats why we get films like MARTYRS, and INSIDE, FRONTIERS and A SERBIAN FILM.

Now foreign horror, those guys have no freaking restraints whatsoever, and this is why foreign horror films are usually better. They can go further.

Jeff Allard said...

"Put any SAW movie against the first or second entries into the HELLRAISER franchise, which is bloodier?"

I would say SAW III might be the most revolting R-rated movie I've ever seen (well, outside of PASSION OF THE CHRIST!). I don't know about how equal they are in terms of bloodshed but I know that SAW III struck me as graphically violent in a way that little outside of the unrated realm could compare. The first four Hellraisers were definitely bloodbaths but they were the rare exception to the rule. For some reason those films got away with more than other franchises.

Look at the ratings battle that LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) faced. The MPAA slapped that with an X and director Jeff Burr had to make multiple cuts to earn an R. But if you look at that film now, even with the uncut footage, it'd be an easy R today.

I think the difference is mostly that gore was a novelty in the early '80s and filmmakers tended to want to linger on it whereas now it would seem like clumsy filmmaking to do so. I rewatched the first EVIL DEAD not too long ago and one of the weakest aspects of it was how Raimi would just stop to gawk at an FX shot. That wouldn't be acceptable today - not because of censorship but because it'd be considered poor filmmaking.

Is MANIAC more violent than SAW or HOSTEL? Maybe, but remember that MANIAC was unrated. Look at the kind of cuts the MPAA called for on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII and then look at what HOSTEL got away with. You've got a full-on shot of a woman with her eye dangling out of its socket. That would've never gotten through in a R-rated film in the late '80s.

I mean, last year's PIRANHA remake couldn't have existed as an R-rated film in 1989 or so. The last twenty minutes would've had to have been cut.

As for the lack of new horror icons, I think it's just a matter of audiences wanting different things out of horror. Filmmakers have been trying since the '80s to launch the next Freddy or Michael or Jason but it never seems to happen. Horace Pinker, The Trickster (from BRAINSCAN), Dr. Giggles...none of them caught on. Not even Max Jenke! And like FC says, Victor Crowley and Chromeskull are going nowhere.

I think the lesson is that these icons have to catch on almost by accident. Whenever filmmakers try to create an instant horror icon right out of the box, it never works.

One exception to that might be Chucky. I have to think that the filmmakers saw a future in that mavelolent doll and they really caught lightning in a bottle with that character.

But in general, it's a matter of the public latching on to something and then filmmakers running with it. Clive Barker said that he didn't think that Pinhead was the character that the HELLRAISER films would revolve around. He thought that any sequels were going to be about Julia's character. But the look of Pinhead was so striking and Doug Bradley's voice so commanding that audiences demanded to see more of him.

And who could've predicted that Jigsaw would've been the horror star that he was? Instead of an implacable, indestrucible psycho killer, you had an old guy with one foot in the grave. There's just no formula for this stuff.

But that's one thing I love about following the genre - no one knows what the next trend or phenomenon will be.

Bob Ignizio said...

Gorezone was definitely my favorite mag at the time, at least until Deep Red, Psychotronic, and Video Watchdog came onto my radar (all from Gorezone contributors). But for the average kid living in suburbia with no access to small press mags like those, Gorezone was about as esoteric and incisive a horror mag as you were gonna' find. Back then even more than now, not everyone had access to the cool underground stuff, and Gorezone brought a lot of that mentality into the mainstream.

666 { Da Gorehound } 666 said...

Hi ... my name at Fangoria Forums was The Gorehound !
I silently had a hand in the resurfacing of GOREZONE ...
Ranted / Protested & Begged for it's return ...
For it was the greatest ever !!!
No Horror Mag had more to offer in it's time on newsstands !

I know some were shocked to see The Best Of comeout not too long ago ...

But did you know that it took me 2 years of begging & getting others on my bandwagon to bring back GOREZONE ... if only for one last time !?!

I am now working through Blackwoods Productions & The Roxy Theatre in Muskogee OK ...
Just recently helped them put on their 13th Annual Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival ... which they started a new award because of my dedication to Film & The Horror Genre !!!

Look for me on Facebook :
Bill Russell
Indie Horror Director

God Bless All Of Y'all
For Loving The Genre So Much

Please visit me at FB and findout about my first full length feature :

" Why Daddy Why ??? "

It's a female serial killer movie in the vein of
" HENRY : P.O.A.S.K. "

Till then this is :

666 { The Gorehound } 666

& Remember ......

One †♥† ; )