THE FANGO FILES: Issue #08 – Standing In Horror Country, Looking Back At Sci-Fi

Issue #8 of Fangoria represents yet another milestone for this soon-to-be-legendary horror magazine since it features what is arguably its first real “gross-out” cover.  It is dominated by a gut-churning closeup of one of the titular fiends from Zombie, the same shot used for the film’s attention-grabbing U.S. poster.  His dirt-encrusted puss is highlighted by worms squirming their way out of one eye socket and snaggly, rotten teeth.  His expression seems to say “Buy this magazine!  I dare you!  Gross out your friends!  Make adults frown with disapproval!”

Thus began a fine tradition that would make Fangoria leap out at potential buyers from the newsstands and get young readers in trouble with many a parent and teacher.  The contents of this issue aren’t quite as hard-hitting as the cover: out of 11 feature articles, only about six can claim a horror or mostly-horror focus.  The rest represent detours into sci-fi territory, some of them fitting and some of them confusing.

The articles on the horror tip are mostly fun stuff.  There’s a charming interview with Scatman Crothers to promote The Shining in which the beloved character actor reveals a song he wrote for Stanley Kubrick (lyrics are included) and, surprisingly, his candid thoughts about the suicide of Freddie Prinze, his co-star on Chico And The Man.  Jim Wynorski contributes the cover article, a piece on Zombie that includes interview snippets with Lucio Fulci, Fabrizio De Angelis and Gianetto De Rossi (amusingly misspelled as “Gianutto”).  Fulci spends a lot of time trying to dodge the film’s obvious debts to Dawn Of The Dead and there’s an amusing tale about the film’s “zombie vs. shark” scene.

One of the issue’s strongest articles is a retrospective piece on Horror Of Dracula that focuses on the contributions of fx man Syd Pearson and editor Bill Lenny.  Both men offer some fascinating insights in their respective work on the film, with Pearson describing the surprisingly practical techniques used in the finale’s gruesome effects and Lenny laying out his approach to assembling the film (plus a fun tale about interacting with Christopher Lee).  There’s also a worthwhile John Carpenter interview from Bob Martin in which Carpenter discusses Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween and The Fog in great detail.

The horror side of things is rounded out by a piece on The Hearse and an interesting interview with Irwin Yablans.  The latter interview is designed to promote the memorably offbeat Fade To Black (more an indie drama about the dangers of cine-obsession than a horror film) but he freely discusses his career as an indie producer who happened upon a horror goldmine with Halloween.  This piece also includes an interesting sidebar where he discusses plans for Halloween II that involve a completely different scenario where the Shape stalks Laurie in a high-rise apartment complex.

The remainder of this issue deals with predominantly sci-fi material.  Some of it is pretty interesting: an interview with stop-motion animators Jim Danforth and Dave Allen is designed to promote Caveman but spends more time illustrating how hard it is for guys in this field to find a good venue for their talents and the first half of a two-part with interview with B-movie monster maker Paul Blaisdell offers some fun tales from the frontlines of 1950’s drive-in filmmaking.  There’s also a heartfelt, well-written tribute to producer George Pal.  He had recently died and the piece pays tribute to his cinematic legacy while also illustrating how the studios he made money for often treated him with contempt.

Unfortunately, two of these sci-fi pieces stick out like sore thumbs.  The first is an interview with producer Gary Kurtz regarding The Empire Strikes Back.  It’s a nice enough read for Star Wars buffs but it is really Starlog fodder and its presence here suggest one of the powers-that-be was hedging their bets by slipping something uber-commercial into the mix, regardless of whether it actually fit in.  There’s also an article on a package of Japanese space-themed cartoons called Force Five.  After the last few horror-driven issues, stuff like this feels like a vestigial limb that needs to be chopped off.

As usual, things wind down with the Monster Invasion section.  News discussed includes producer Martin B. Cohen’s plans for Piranha and Humanoids From The Deep sequels (only the former happened and Cohen didn’t produce it) and a sneering, pre-emptive dismissal of the yet-to-be-released Flash Gordon.  There is also a thoughtful book review piece that covers Stephen King’s Firestarter and The Dead Zone.  Count Fangor turns up again, like a bad penny, with the expected third-rate horror humor gags.  Someone had their hopes riding high on this feature because there is also an ad for a Count Fangor mask.  The results of a previous Fangoria poll bring the issue to an end, with past features on The Fog and Kolchak: The Night Stalker getting high marks from the fans.

Ultimately, the verdict on Issue #8 is a split decision: the writing is rock-solid and the horror material goes over well but the magazine’s lack of focus regarding its subject matter detracts from the overall impact.  The magazine would return to toughening up horror-style in its next issue but this one represents a curious backwards glance in the midst of period that was otherwise distinguished by forward-thinking improvements.