BOOK REVIEW: “XEROX FEROX”
XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE
John Szpunar’s Xerox Ferox was my most highly anticipated book last year, and at a mammoth 800 pages it was even more dense and obsessive than I imagined it would be. Rather than relying on lengthy prose, Xerox Ferox is an oral history, but as an interviewer, Szpunar’s longtime zine collecting arms him with all the knowledge needed to draw out stories from the scene’s colourful roster of characters. The book contains 40+ in-depth interviews with almost every major player in the horror fanzine scene from Castle of Frankenstein (whose editor Bhob Stewart passed away as I was writing this) to Cinema Sewer, and while the pro zines are given their due, emphasis here is on amateur fanzines – made cheap and often on the sly on workplace photocopiers. Regrettable omissions are 2nd wave pioneers Psychotronic’s Michael Weldon and Gore Gazette’s Rick Sullivan, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Szpunar’s part. It also would have been great to hear from European Trash Cinema’s Craig Ledbetter and more of the British crew like John Martin of Giallo Pages and 1-Shot Publications. Still, their spirit lives on within these pages through the tall tales, confessions and admirations of those interviewed, and Headpress editor David Kerekes even steps in to round out coverage of the British zines through interviews with Fanzine Focus’ Steve Green and Shock Xpress’ Stefan Jaworzyn. Unless Sullivan and Weldon come forward to contribute to a future edition of the book, it’s safe to bet that this is will remain the final word on the history and development of the independent horror film fanzine before the internet age.
The earliest horror fanzines tie into the ‘monster kid’ culture that erupted when Universal released its back catalogue as a television package in the late 50s, spawning not only Famous Monsters and Castle of Frankenstein but also making superstars out of TV horror hosts like Vampira, Zacherley and Ghoulardi. The second wave of horror fanzines coincided with the emergence of punk and its many DIY culture offshoots, from home recorded cassettes to public access TV. Fanzines were (and remain) a staple of punk culture, and this attitude bled into that generation’s horror zines as well (underground comix had a hand too). But despite the nihilistic overtones and the preponderance of gore as the 80s wore on, one of the reasons this subculture remains so historically vibrant is because it oozed nerdy enthusiasm. And it was a way for fans to directly engage and become integral parts of a culture they loved.
It wasn’t until the late 80s, when I was in my late teens that I was confident enough to start mail-ordering (after a few mishaps as a kid where I sent away for things by putting my allowance in the mail – in change – never to be seen again!). I started buying Fangoria with issue #13, and eventually got my hands on Chas Balun’s The Gore Score, Horror Holocaust and issues of Deep Red through a local comic shop, but it wouldn’t be until the late-90s that I expanded to reading Ecco, European Trash Cinema, Eyeball, Giallo Pages and others (by then I was fully into the European stuff, with Eyeball my favourite of the bunch). I started my own fanzine in 1997 called Cannibal Culture – later renamed CineMuerte Magazine to coincide with my horror film festival of the same name. I wanted it to be like Eyeball but I was a shitty writer and an indiscriminate editor, and I just didn’t know enough – the zine is full of egregious factual errors. I first met Xerox Ferox author John Szpunar when he and his Barrel Releasing partner Brian Krueger came to CineMuerte in July 2000, to talk to festival guest Jorg Buttgereit about the DVD release of Schramm. Szpunar even covered the festival and fanzine in a rambling article that made its way into Headpress # 23.
The fact that Szpunar reprints full pages from many of these fanzines, preserving their (often crude) layouts so that we can experience them first hand is also a bonus. Xerox Ferox is an incredibly important document – I know the word ‘essential’ gets tossed around a bit much these days, but given the amount of info I knew needed to be in here (and was), combined with the amount of info that was new to me, it is fairly safe to say that this book is a comprehensive study of an independent movement that gradually coalesced and cross-pollinated to create not only some of the foremost voices in film criticism, but also shaped countless film directors, producers and publishers. It’s also important to recognize the agency that fanzines gave to kids – both the kids who read them and the kids who created them – baptizing them in the black waters of the underground to wreak havoc on tastemakers everywhere.
Five Things I learned Reading XEROX FEROX:
1) Chas Balun did not coin the term “chunkblower”
Balun’s often been credited with this visually potent descriptor, a longtime favourite of mine. I actually had someone once attribute this word to me because I used it so much in my writing, which is completely the influence of reading Balun’s enthusiastic reviews. So imagine my surprise when – on page 262 – Balun attributes it to Rick Sullivan of Gore Gazette! A myth shattered!
2) Fanzine Wars
Flame wars didn’t start with the internet, there were plenty of enemies, grudges and barely-veiled disses in the fanzine landscape – including Jimmy McDonough’s love-hate relationship with onetime writing partner Bill Landis, Temple of Schlock’s tussle with Factsheet 5, Shock Xpress’ panning of John Gullidge’s Samhain as “a pile of shit”, John Martin’s now-infamous rant against his zine-scene colleagues in one of the last issues of Giallo Pages and Rick Sullivan’s mockery of Fangoria’s then-editor Tony Timpone in Gore Gazette (which resulted in Gore Gazette deliberately being left out of Mike Gingold’s pioneering ‘Fanzine Roundup’ in Gorezone #2). Writer Greg Goodsell (Deep Red, Subhuman) and Violent Leisure’s Ant Timpson detail other examples of bad behaviour, but you’ll have to buy the book to get the dirt!
3) Cereal Fanzines
Um, excuse me…what?? In his interview about Temple of Schlock, Chris Poggiali refers to his hometown of Syracuse, New York being a test-market for new breakfast cereals, which led to the creation of cereal fanzine Flake and a subsequent subculture of similarly-obsessed zines. Now, there were many times while reading that Xerox Ferox that I wanted to put the book down to investigate some tangent or other, but I resisted – until this interview confirmed my suspicions that there was a cereal underground. Looking up Flake led me down a multi-colored rabbit hole that led me to other fanzines Planet Q and Freakie Magnet, as well as a wealth of cereal fan websites. I’d long known about cereal box collecting, but it was great to know that ‘cereal culture’ in a larger sense is in fact a real thing and it is thriving beyond just my imagination. (BTW Chris, is that Jack Starrett biography ever coming out?)
4) Not everyone thought Chas Balun was a genius
Jack Ketchum called Chas Balun the Lester Bangs of horror critics. But one of my favourite interviews here is with the now-reclusive and rather bilious Stefan Jaworzyn of Shock Xpress, the only person in the book with the balls to say he thought Chas Balun was a shit writer – calling him “The Deep Red Dingleberry”, and accusing him of infantilizing the genre with his jokey writing style. Of course, Jaworzyn is right that in the context of 1980s Britain – in the grips of the Video Nasties panic – irreverent writing wouldn’t help the situation.
5) Ferox is a real word
Did I actually make it through four decades without ever looking up the word “Ferox”? I always thought it was some nonsense word that only made sense to horror fans because Umberto Lenzi couldn’t spell or something, but it is actually a Latin word meaning ‘fierce’. Boy do I feel dumb.
Buy the book from HEADPRESS here: http://www.headpress.com/ShowProduct.aspx?ID=126
Or from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Xerox-Ferox-World-Horror-Fanzine/dp/1909394106