Modern genre history dictates that the internet replaced the ‘zine. To a large extent that is true but that didn’t kill the fondness that horror and exploitation fans have for the ‘zine format. Cinema Sewer carried the banner for this format during its lean years, cleverly mixing it with the comic book, and recent years have seen a print resurgence for classic zines (Cashiers Du Cinemart, Liquid Cheese) as well as new ones (Weng’s Chop). There was even a recent history of the horror zine in Xerox Ferox.
Sheer Filth arrives just in time to capitalize on this resurgence, offering a timely refresher on how the fan community spread knowledge and enthusiasm before the advent of the World Wide Web. It compiles an array of articles and reviews from the titular ‘zine, a U.K.-based publication from the late ’80s/early ’90s that drew its inspiration from the D.I.Y. xerox revolution happening across the Atlantic but put its own spin on the format.
Said ‘zine was the brainchild of U.K. writer David Flint, who currently runs the Strange Things Are Happening website, and incorporated the talents of a group of like-minded writers who would go on to important things in the U.K. genre/underground scene. Among the contributors here are Cathal Tohill, co-writer of the excellent foreign genre film study Immortal Tales, critic/author David Slater and future Headpress honcho David Kerekes.
The resulting reading finds its own interesting stretch of ground between scholarship and sleaze-loving fun. A profile and interview for David Friedman get the book off to a great start, both written in a fun yet well-researched style that sets the tone for what follows. Reliable interview subjects like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Johnny Legend make spirited appearances here. That said, the most interesting interviews might be the more-English centric subjects like U.K. nude pinup queen Pamela Green, pornographer and sexual activist Tuppy Owens and screenwriter turned sexploitation scholar David McGillivray.
Sheer Filth also includes a variety of in-depth film reviews, including impassioned treatises on Orgy Of The Dead and Horror Of Party Beach. There’s a surprisingly thoughtful appraisal of Salon Kitty that focuses on how it uses its extreme content to portray its opinion of the Nazi regime and a negative take on Behind The Green Door, which is usually considered a classic of adult filmmaking.
Other film-related highlights include detailed explorations of a few Cicciolina porn videos, which show just how artsy and transgressive European adult filmmaking can be from its American counterpart. Along similar lines the short-form book and film reviews that were a staple of any self-respecting ‘zine get extensive sections here, covering material of all types. Since its authors were also interested in underground culture, Sheer Filth also incorporates coverage of SPK’s infamous Despair video and Coil. The best piece in this area is a thumbnail history of extreme music penned by Phil Taylor.
However, the most interesting piece in the entire book might be a journalistic piece of the banning of a DeSade novel in England, an ugly effort that was spearheaded by an unlikely marriage of intellectual critics and moral-watchdog types. Flint wrote this piece himself: he has chronicled the moralistic, oft hypocritical nature of U.K. censors for decades and he explores the muddle-headed thinking and motivations behind the ban in a smart, incisive way. Railing against censorship is common in the genre film zine world but Flint does it with an impressive eloquence here.
Sheer Filth is rounded out by a zineography of all the issues it was drawn from, complete with a table of contents for each issue, and a brief set of updates on what has happened to the people and subjects it deals with since the zine was published. All in all, this collection offers a heady brew of sleaze scholarship, enlivened by the writing talent of the participants and a certain gallows wit that comes naturally to U.K. genre fans accustomed to dealing with the BBFC and Mary Whitehouse. Anyone interested in genre ‘zine culture will find it worth reading.