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Gory Days: Fangoria at 30

A baby picture.
by Rob Gonsalves

Peter Jackson read it as a kid. So did little Bobby Cummings, better known today as Rob Zombie. So did I. Maybe you did, too. Having made its debut in May 1979, "Fangoria" has now been around for thirty years even longer than "Famous Monsters of Filmland." [1]

If Famous Monsters was your kindly uncle Uncle Forry regaling you with campfire ghost stories and tales of the old Universal beasties, Fango (its affectionate diminutive nickname) was your older brother, maybe late teens, who would get you beer and smokes and tell you in loving detail about this totally gross horror flick he saw at the mall last night. Well, I guess Fango isn't a teenager any more.

On May 19, a special 30th-anniversary issue will hit the stands. Pretty much every major horror player who's had a mutual love-fest with the mag will be in it. I'll be picking it up, and I don't think I've bought an issue since the Kill Bill cover in 2003. Not that I was particularly offended by that issue; I just sort of drifted away from the magazine, I guess. This, after following it for something like 200 issues. For quite a while, I bought the mag out of habit, or out of some sense of nostalgic obligation. But other magazines, like Rue Morgue and Video Watchdog, began to take its place in my heart and wallet. Fango became a brand name, producing its own movies and conventions, branching out into radio and the web. It became, I guess, to the horror field what Premiere, once a scrappier magazine with top writers, became to general film mags.

But I'm here to praise Fango, not to condemn it. Whatever it became, it had to become. Suffice it to say that its interests and mine went off in different directions.

I will say that the era of Fango held fondest in my heart ran from roughly 1982 to 1986. 1982 was when I started reading it (with issue 20, the one with a roach-infested E.G. Marshall from Creepshow on the cover). 1986 was when Uncle Bob left. Uncle Bob's actual name was Robert Martin. Uncle Bob was, along with David Everitt, the co-editor of Fango during those halcyon years. Thirty-one at the time he came to the mag, Uncle Bob was really your older late-teenage brother in attitude and persona. Fango started out as a fantasy-film knockoff of Starlog. It had Spock on the cover of issue 4, for Christ's sake. The magazine was tanking, and Uncle Bob was given his head to do what he wanted with it. The readers had loved an article on gory special-effects maestro Tom Savini in the first issue, so Uncle Bob essentially said "More of that." He put the gore in Fangoria. "An exploding head, gouting blood, cascades of dripping phlegm that's what spoke to me, and it still does," he wrote twenty years ago.

Uncle Bob was cool. Uncle Bob appeared in Nick Zedd's Geek Maggot Bingo and wrote about it. Uncle Bob went through some sort of mid-life crisis, devoting much of a Dead Zone article to his feelings about not knowing what he wanted to do with himself. Uncle Bob staged some sort of weird editorial-page vendetta against David Letterman. Uncle Bob left Fangoria and wrote about why. Uncle Bob went on to co-write the screenplays for Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case 3 and the immortal Frankenhooker. At the moment, you can find his writing at Dread Central, including a just-posted, epic autobiographical entry on the great Brother Theodore.

When Uncle Bob left the building, it seemed to me that he took much of the magazine's personality with him, though it continued to be a savory resource for news on upcoming horror flicks in those pre-web days. It had lost a certain psychotronic touch there'd been issues during the Uncle Bob years that covered Mexican wrestling flicks, John Waters, Andy Milligan, and Tor Johnson. (And it was in Fango's pages that I found out about Michael Weldon's seminal Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, which Uncle Bob contributed to.) But it had firmly established its audience and its footing. Even the mighty Famous Monsters, in its declining years, tried to ape Fango with coverage of slasher flicks and accompanying bloody (if black-and-white) photos, for all the good it did.

Fango was always disreputable, probably starting from the then-infamous cover of issue 12, with Mrs. Voorhees' severed head in the fridge. Certain people were never going to take it seriously. Charles Tatum shares this anecdote:

Around twenty years ago, I was buying a copy of Fangoria at my now closed B. Dalton's. The busybody manager, a shrill fake blonde who could not keep her opinions to herself, was behind the counter. I was ready to pay, when instead of ringing up the magazine, she started flipping through it, gasping and saying "oh, my God!" Finally, she looked at me and said, "how can you look at this stuff?" I exhaled, and said "you know those pictures aren't real, don't you?" She became very quiet, and didn't even hope I had a nice day.

For my own part, I once had several Fangos confiscated by a busybody science teacher in junior high. I'd been showing the issues to some acquaintances in class (there was never an easier way to get the punks and potential bullies on your side than to show 'em gory photos from the latest Friday the 13th flick), and the teacher noticed and took 'em away. Somehow, I managed to get the issues back.

Fango was nasty and proud of it. By 1988 it had gotten so big it launched its own spin-off, Gorezone, notable for its attention to even grosser films as well as obscure or foreign flicks. Gorezone lasted for 27 issues and eventually made a comeback earlier this year; in its first incarnation it provided Chas. Balun (The Gore Score) and Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog) with some of their first glossy-page bylines. It was in the pages of Gorezone that I first saw the name Peter Jackson, in a piece about Bad Taste. Jackson, of course, learned much of what he applied on that film from the copious articles on gory practical effects in Fango. It could be argued that Famous Monsters made him a movie fan; Fango made him a moviemaker.

Fango might not be your cool older brother any more, not at age thirty; he's married now, with a kid or two he's almost respectable. Once you make it past twenty years in any entertainment field, you become an institution, like Saturday Night Live or The Simpsons, and many will say you were edgier back in the day, and sometimes they will be right. But it's also a testament to your quality when you outlast your competitors and your imitators.

I may have fallen away from the fold in the last few years (then again, I buy very few magazines at all these days), and I may unavoidably prefer the Fango that warped my fragile little mind back in the early '80s. But that doesn't lessen my gratitude that, three decades later, at least one part of my adolescence is still alive and splattering. Uncle Bob's monster is still terrorizing the villagers and scandalizing busybodies. So I raise a blood-filled goblet to you, Fango. Here's to another thirty.

[1] Technically, Famous Monsters returned from the dead in 1993 under the less-than-good auspices of one Ray Ferry, whose treatment of Forrest J Ackerman was notoriously shabby. So, out of respect for the late Forry, I hold Famous Monsters' death date to be 1983, when FJA left the mag.

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originally posted: 05/16/09 22:23:56
last updated: 05/17/09 01:05:30
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