Tag Archives: 1980s

Looking Back: The First Issue of TOXIC HORROR Magazine!

In the late-’50s, when the Universal Monsters were wrapping up their run and giant atomic monsters started to take over the horror cinema, Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren began publishing the “world’s first monster magazine”, the highly imitable Famous Monsters of Filmland. It was, perhaps, the most important magazine concerning horror cinema ever published.

Naturally, a slew of spin-offs and copycats popped up soon afterward, all doing their best to cover what horror movies had to offer, all in a very similar style and tone.

But by the late-’70s, the type of horror that was showing at the local cineplex was vastly different than the fare that had been shown 20 years earlier: the kills were more violent, the sex completely uncensored, and the gore utterly gratuitous. The taste of the common horror fan had changed, and there needed to be a magazine which represented this new wave of cinema.

Enter Fangoria Magazine, “The First in Fright, Since 1979”.

From its debut, Fangoria pretty much dominated the horror movie magazine market. But by the mid-to-late-’80s, horror had become such a massively successful and popular genre, Fangoria decided to publish a few sister magazines to cover everything that was being released. In 1988, they debuted Gorezone Magazine (which I’ve covered before), a darker and more gruesome outlet which ran for 27 issues. And one year later, in 1989, they released the short-lived Toxic Horror. TH was canceled after just five issues.

Looking back, it’s clear that TH was the sort-of loosey-goosey experimental sibling to Fangoria’s trusted, name-brand output. Fango had fun, sure, but at times TH feels downright goofy. (Check out their fictional story, The Booger Man, below.)

Still, those of us raised on ’80s horror, we took what we could get when it came to paper mags which showcased the goopy, gory stuff. This was long before the Internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye; so the more horror magazines, the better.

Without further ado, let us hop in the family car, head to the local grocery store, b-line it to the magazine aisles, and go back to 1989, where the first issue of TOXIC HORROR awaits us. Enjoy these scans from a few select pages of my own personal copy of TH #1 (and forgive any blurred edges!)

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A Look at the Closetsploitation of the ’80s!

This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com.

The first apartment I ever lived in by myself overlooked a graveyard. I’m not exaggerating: you could go out on the back porch, do your best Camille Keaton impression, and literally spit on someone’s grave. So naturally, it wasn’t long before I – a horrornut living comically close to an abounding necropolis – convinced myself that the studio I had just rented was haunted by my new neighbors.

There were a few incidents early on that put this thought in my head – shelf items rearranged, the occasional unflushed toilet – but considering I was in my early 20s – and therefore often existing in a fog of inebriation – I dismissed these manifestations and chalked them up to my own doing. However, there was one thing I knew I wasn’t causing which was impossible to ignore, proof that my apartment was indeed haunted: the living room closet would occasionally smell like spaghetti.

Weird, I know. Silly, sure. But I’m telling you: that living room closet would reek of spaghetti regularly, far too often to be attributed to the downstairs neighbors’ cooking. And the smell was isolated to the closet! How do you explain that? So I assured myself it was haunted by some pasta-loving ghosts. (I liked to imagine they were stoner-type ghosts, specifically; it would explain the constant spaghetti eating and was a far more fun visual than some spooky old woman or Victorian-era child.)

And that’s the great thing about being an adult: I lived next to a graveyard, was convinced my closet was haunted, and it was all somehow very funny to me. But it’s different when you’re a kid. I can’t speak for kids today, but for me – a kid growing up in the ’80s – monsters were very much real, and their favorite places to hide were under the bed and in the closet. And Hollywood – especially during the ’80s – was acutely aware of this.

Prior to this, horror films had shown us closets were a place one might actually consider hiding from the monsters that were after us, but once the ’80s rolled around there was a proliferation of movies that made the closets themselves the genesis of evil – and made us, the viewer, want to avoid them at all costs.

In 1982, Steven Spielberg released two films that featured closets, one more prominently than the other: E.T., which he directed, and Poltergeist, which he only produced. While E.T.‘s closet dealings were charming, cute, and brief, the closet in Poltergeist was anything but. It was a literal door to Hell. Sure, the infamous staticky T.V. was spooky and all, but let’s not forget: The Freeling’s troubles really began once poor little Carol Anne was sucked into her bedroom closet. And look, once Steven Spielberg does something unique (and quite successfully, I might add), a string of imitators are guaranteed to follow. And follow they did.

Long before J.J. Abrams learned to purloin from the king, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) was doing his best Spielberg impression with Making ContactAKA Joey, a film littered with references to Close Encounters of the Third KindE.T. and Poltergeist: broken suburban family, toys that spring to life, telekinesis, creepy puppets, good vs evil. Oh, and spooky closets. Here again, the closet acts as a portal to another dimension, one wherein our lead, Joey, is able to communicate with his dead father. Watch the trailer and I’m sure you’ll agree: this is the most Spielberg movie ever made (that Spielberg didn’t actually have any involvement with).

Unlike Making Contact, Monster in the Closet is a low-budget offering (from schlockmeisters Troma) which is more spoof than imitation Spielberg, paying homage to the creature features of the ’40s and ’50s – but make no mistake, this is pure closetsploitation. The film finds a small town being terrorized by a monster who accesses their homes via their closets. The only way to stop it? Destroy every closet in town, naturally.

The beloved Fred Dekker/Shane Black film The Monster Squad sees our titular club of preadolescents saving their small town from a group of invading monsters straight off the Universal Studios backlot circa the 1930s. All the big names are present: Dracula, Frankenstein (‘s Monster), The Wolf Man, The Creature, and of course, The Mummy. Dekker – no stranger to cramming as many horror tropes as he can into his films (see: Night of the Creeps) – doesn’t miss the opportunity to insert the ol’ monster in the closet gag in Squad, with a youngster trying to convince his half-awake dad that The Mummy has taken up residence with his empty hangers.

If Making Contact is the most Spielberg movie that Spielberg never made, then Lady in White is easily a close second. It, too, features many allusions to Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and E.T. – including a scene where a kid on a bike seems to defy gravity and “fly” over a ravine. And yes, it even features an other-worldly closet, this time in a school, in which our young lead Frankie (Lukas Haas) finds himself locked after hours. It is here that he has ghostly visions of a girl being murdered by a strange man in the very same closet he’s trapped. Frankie spends the rest of the film trying to solve the crime, and revisiting the creepy closet for clues.

And finally we have Cameron’s Closet, a movie in the same vein as Making Contact and Lady in White, albeit it a tad more violent (and a lot racier). Unbeknownst to our telepathic protagonist Cameron, his favorite toy is actually a possessed Mayan doll – one that comes to life (due to Cameron’s active imagination) and begins residing in his closet. And wouldn’t you know it? The doll begins killing people who come near the closet, turning them into demon zombies. Typical. As I said, this is a bit more brutal than your average closetsploitation fare, but the Spielbergian hallmarks – telekinetic kid, toys springing to life, flashing lights – are all there. Oh, and Oscar-winning special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi – who worked on both Close Encounters and E.T. – did the special effects for Cameron’s Closet. There’s no denying the intentions of the filmmakers.

The decade saw many other inclusions of closetsploitation – some of it brief, some of it not even in the film but merely used in the marketing. Even television shows got in on the excitement. And while there have been nods at closet horror in the decades since, nothing compares to the boom of the ’80s.

This is only a brief rundown of some of the films from that era that made our closets terrifying. Which ones am I missing?

The Cardigan-sploitation of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4!

I recently attended Screamfest’s 30th Anniversary screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 at Hollywood’s famed Chinese Theatre, and to say it was amazing would be an understatement. The whole cast was there, director Renny Harlin and legendary producer Bob Shaye were both there, and a fun Q&A with everyone followed the film. Sitting in the moderately-sized – but PACKED – theatre, watching the film with the stars of the film – well, that’s just a dream come true for any horror fan.

It’s always fun watching a horror film you’ve only ever seen on VHS or DVD up on the big screen. You seem to notice things you never really took note of before. For example, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, during the classroom scene where Freddy sucks all the air out of Toy Newkirk’s asthmatic little body, I always thought Robert Englund actually peeled the apple (which had been sitting on the desk) using a real bladed-glove. However, seeing it play out 50 feet wide, I was able to see that the apple was actually pre-peeled and simply stuck back together. It was a small thing, but my insides still went “whoa, cool.”

The other thing I noticed – and maybe this just comes from having seen the movie one hundred times – is the absurd amount of cardigans. I mean, everyone wears one at some point – even Alice’s drunken dad gets in on the action! While sitting there watching the film, I took a mental note of every cardigan I saw. I eventually stopped counting and just told myself to rewatch the DVD when I got home.

I took a screen grab of all the cardigans I spotted – which is to say, there could actually be more. I’ve posted them below.

Who knew, 30 years ago, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 would be creating a whole new genre: cardigan-sploitation?

HORROR NERD OF THE MONTH: Tom & Terry!

This is it, mutants! We’ve made it to the final entry in my year-long serial, Horror Nerd of the Month. I want to extend a big thank you to those of you who have faithfully followed over the past 12 months, commenting, liking, sharing, and all that other good stuff. And can that really be true? 12 months already? It feels like just yesterday that I posted the first entry in this exercise of monthly moronics; CV’s introductory nerd was poor Jerry, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I can hear his virginal death shriek in my head as I type this.

There wasn’t technically a horror nerd for November, but I wouldn’t dare slight you which is why I’m doubling up this month. That’s right: December’s HNotM is a twofer! And what a twofer!

May I present Tom (Tom Casiello) from Woodchipper Massacre, and Terry (Louis Tripp) from The Gate. It only makes sense that I’d pair these two up: both are bespectacled redheads with a penchant for rock. But despite their love of flaming solos and killer air guitar, these guys are absolute zeros on the Cool Dude scale.

Below I offer visual evidence of their cringe-inducing flopping about whilst in the privacy of their own respective rooms. We’ve all been there, sure. But these guys, well, it’s not helping their cases.

Until next year, mutants!

ARTISTS BEHIND THE IMAGE: Bob Larkin

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ARTISTS BEHIND THE IMAGE is intended to put a name (and sometimes face) to the talented men and women who created the most iconic images to adorn horror VHS boxes and posters from ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Their art is vital; it’s the reason I (and many of you, certainly) fell in love with horror movies in the first place. This is not only intended as a tribute, but also a minor compendium, meant to collect their works in one single spot. Corrections, additions, or other info? Email me.

I know what you’re thinking: Bob Larkin? The Bob Larkin? The same Bob Larkin that played Martin the gravedigger in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives? No, this is a different Bob Larkin.

Now I realize I say this every time I do one of these, but I really think Bob Larkin may be the most prolific artist I’ve featured yet. Continue reading ARTISTS BEHIND THE IMAGE: Bob Larkin

The Weird World of WATCH AND WEAR!

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I love talking about the ’80s for nostalgic reasons of course, but more and more I find that I like talking about that decade because I’m awed at just how archaic it seems now; compared to today’s Instant Everything culture where omnipotence is just a click away, the 1980s feel downright Paleolithic. And it’s especially hard for me to remember that the ’80s were 30+ years ago while we as a culture are stuck in this perma-’80s & ’90s closed circuit loop. I’m sure people in 1970 felt light years ahead of 1940, but 2016 feels like it could still be 1983-1997. It’s all very weird. Okay, okay, this old man’ll stop yelling at you to get off his lawn and get to the point. Continue reading The Weird World of WATCH AND WEAR!