Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Famous Monsters Underground: The Good, The Bad and the Unfocused

1958: Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren start Famous Monsters of Filmland. This magazine will inspire many, will define horror for over two decades and introduce us all to the monsters we have come to know and love.

2010: Famous Monsters of Filmland is revived at the Famous Monsters Convention in Indianapolis.

2011: A group of some pretty fucking amazing writers will reinterpret what Famous Monsters of Filmland means by ditching the “political correct” magazine format to find the roots of horrors seedy underbelly. Famous Monsters Underground is breach birthed into the world amid some questionable circumstances, and its possible immediate demise.

If you asked me to recount the facts as I know them to be true concerning the future and controversy surrounding Famous Monsters Underground, I would know nothing. I would only know that I was able to go to Barnes & Noble and purchase a magazine that a couple dear friends have had the chance to write for only to find out that its going nowhere fast. Does this sadden me? Yes and no. Let’s figure out why that is. You’d think that an entire magazine dedicated to the darker, bloodier films of the 1980’s would be like Mountain Dew to this nerd, but when it comes down to it there’s just something… missing.

Love the newsstand cover. It pretty much screams Famous Monsters only messy… sloppy… more “underground” even. Inside you’ve got your typical horror advertisers selling their wares and a highly image loaded lay out. Nothing new here. The poster spread inside is just a rehash of the cover and only two pages; this is hardly something to get excited about. Not the art work itself… its presentation in the magazine is lacking. After getting down and dirty with something as fresh and novel as Mad Monster recently, it’s hard to find most other periodicals as more than one sheets for Hollywood big productions.

Where this puppy shines is in some intelligent articles and some exceptionally cerebral interviews. Interviews by Kristy Jett and Florence Kremmel are insightful and clearly beyond the “what’s your favorite scary movie” interviews of your veteran mags. How often do you read the word “diametrically” in a horror interview? The answer is not e-fucking-nough. Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum seemed to enjoy themselves in both interviews. Definitely good reads. The Frank Henenlotter interview as performed by John W. Bowen is a fun read for fans. It’s fun to relive Basket Case and Brain Damage through Henenlotter’s eyes. To find out where he’s been and what he might have planned is exciting. If nothing else it’s forced me to realize that I need to get my ass in the seat for Bad Biology.

The articles themselves are somewhat informative but a few read more like blogs than actual pieces of literature designed for a magazine. That may be personal preference, but I’m not looking for five editorials surrounded by a smathering of content. Highlights include JA Kerswell’s “Well Done: The Making of The Burning “which is both informative and exciting with good visual presence. “Video Killed the Drive-In Star” as written by Rob Hauschild is a funny look at the video market in the 80’s and has both stunning direct to video cover art and provides the novice reader a good synopsis of the transition to video from theatres. Clever title, old chap. Clever. Two articles by Mike Howlett stand out and are both well written and informative. The first piece looks back on the strong foundation Italian filmmakers supplied for the undead by keeping the zombie genre alive through an age of flash and high budget action/horror. It almost reads like the book, How the Irish Saved Civilization which is obscure I realize, but the similarities are uncanny. The second article delves into the post-comic code era of horror comics. Everything from Alien Worlds to the infamous Gore Shriek. It’s nice to get a non-movie perspective on 80’s horror culture. I’m quite certain these comics set up my beloved Puppet Master books shortly thereafter and I thank them kindly for the lessons these comics taught me. We probably could have used a piece on music in film ala Demons and Return of the Living Dead, but I’ll just go listen to some Cramps and pout.

A somewhat disheartening read was the interview with Fred Dekker, creator of Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad. To find out he’s not the world’s biggest horror fan and was underappreciated due to a lack of box office support really blows my mind. I guess growing up with both of these films as staples in my horror nostalgia might bias me, but boy would I love to read that Monster Squad 25 years later comic discussed in the interview. Still a little sad though. John Carpenter too. It feels like he’s moved on to his post-film making years even though he’s shooting his first film in about ten years. I get weepy for shit like this. I’m a mush puss and overly sentimental. I would hold John Carpenter’s cigarette in his trachea tube later in life…. No really!

The “Repressed Memories” lesser known films of the 80’s compilation is a great way to find some movies you may have overlooked when you were nine years old (as I was in 1989). For me it’s Curtains and The Keep that need to be added to the mile long list. I remember the VHS covers well in my local video store and despite the fact that I never thought I’d actually get to watch them, I’ll make it a point to hunt them down per this entries recommendations . Also good to see Phenomenon referred to as Creepers; that’s how I saw it. One of the best VHS covers/posters in the history of cinema. It took me years to get up the balls to watch it. I’d pass it at Shoprite (Shoprite had a video rental section before Red Box existed). I always wondered why those buggies were all over that nice young ladies face (the young lady from Labyrinth, oh my!) Glad to see it featured here. Also enjoyed seeing the Beast Within get a nod. I remember the stills from this picture as featured in my Illustrated Book of Horrors from the local library. Terrifying to a young pup who stayed up as late as me. Maybe not as terrifying as Peter Cushing in his undead, Grimsdyke role featured on the back cover but close enough.

What I love about this mag is also what I despise about it. It’s chock full of 80’s horror. To the brim. To an unfocused brim. I feel like quite a bit of what I love about this magazine I can find in HorrorHound with more appropriate direction and formatting. There’s a certain degree of formality you expect from a magazine with the Famous Monsters name on it. This doesn’t exactly have it all the time. Never mind the negative things I’ve heard about the publisher for who shall remain unnamed (he’s in the front cover if you’re curious). Wanna know what bothers me? I can’t figure out who wrote quite a few of the articles. There’s no writing credit given. That seems a bit unorthodox and … well… reprehensible. Is that word too strong? Time will tell.

Buy it to support your favorite authors and to get some good interviews and a few great articles. Not recommended for format dorks like myself. It will uninspired you.

-Dr. Jimmy Terror

Also, that avoid the article on horror tattoos if you have any money in your bank account and a persuasion toward needles. My finger is itching to press my artist’s phone number on my cell. OH IT BURNS!!!


  1. I own curtains on vhs......and have a digital copy.
    I could burn you a copy.....message me on facebook if your interested....jyerkes

  2. Thanks for the offer. I'll let you know if I run into any trouble picking it up.