Tag Archives: gore

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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Looking Back: the First Issue of GOREZONE!

May 2016 marks the 28th anniversary of GOREZONE, the bi-monthly ‘sister’ publication of FANGORIA Magazine which made its debut in 1988. At the time, GOREZONE was intended to act as a sort of companion piece to its more well-known counterpart, covering the bloodier/weirder/more obscure stuff that Fango didn’t. Can you imagine? So many noteworthy horror films were being released, multiple magazines were necessary to cover them all. What a time to be alive!

GZ ran for a brief but bloody 27 issues, ending its run in 1994. Despite a short magazine stand life, it was a hardcore horror fan favorite. It was nastier, slimier, and darker than Fango, and it wasn’t afraid to showcase the splattery stuff, oftentimes as close-up and vividly as possible. Thanks to the powers of nostalgia, GZ was revived in 2013, albeit with one minor limitation – it is now only available via direct subscription. Continue reading Looking Back: the First Issue of GOREZONE!

“The Green Inferno” (2015) REVIEW

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In 2012, After 5 long years away from the director’s chair, ‘Splat Pack’ founding father Eli Roth announced he was stepping behind the camera once again to make The Green Inferno, his love letter to the ‘cannibal boom’ — a genre that took over Italian horror and exploitation cinema from the late-’70s to mid-’80s. This sub-genre of horror was known for it’s unrelenting brutality, unflinching violence, and in many instances the actual (and wholly unnecessary) slaughter of animals on film. It was a particularly savage and barbaric brand of horror that even the most dyed-in-the-fur horrorhound had trouble thoroughly enjoying. So who better than Roth, the godfather of “torture porn”, to take the helms and deliver a shocking and offensive kick in the butt that we, the horror moviegoing public, so desperately needed to get us out of the generic paranormal rut we’d found ourselves stuck in since he left the scene?

Alas, the finished film found itself in limbo after its distributor ran into money troubles, and there it waited indefinitely — a release date uncertain…if at all. In the meantime we sat, fidgeting, speculating the grand return of Roth and everything his mythical film had to offer. Enter Jason Blum, the indie horror producer wunderkind who, coincidentally enough, spearheaded the tidal wave of paranormal movies that began in 2007, the same year of Roth’s last release. Blum saved the day, using his Blumhouse Tilt production company to finally secure distribution for The Green Inferno. The cannibalistic gods smiled upon us!

The Green Inferno sees a group of American protestors heading deep into the jungles of the Amazon, trying to protect the tropical land from deforestation. They seem to succeed in halting the developers and celebrate their victory with beers on the plane ride home. Unfortunately, the plane crashes and the survivors soon run afoul of some sadistic savages hiding in the lush foliage. From there, the group of westerners must fight to survive, lest they wanna become the main course.

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Now, viewers new to cannibal films will probably watch this movie with hands placed firmly over their eyes, occasionally peeking through the slits in their fingers. But those more familiar with the genre (dare I use the term, “fans”) will notice a few of the more shocking elements associated with the boom missing from this film, notably the real animal slaughter and the requisite rape/sexual assault scenes. Gone, too, are the inventive, stomach-turning death scenes: what horror fan isn’t familiar with the horrifying and iconic imagery of the impaled people from Cannibal Holocaust, or the hooks through the breasts and the castration scene from Cannibal Ferox? There are nods to the impaled bodies in The Green Inferno, as well as references to several other cannibal films sprinkled throughout (in fact, Cool Ass Cinema has a great list of all the movies The Green Inferno references; I highly suggest checking it out), but other than paying homage to the films that inspired it, The Green Inferno really doesn’t offer much in terms of creative and awful ways to die.

In fact, I’d argue there’s not enough violence. The words “Eli Roth directing a cannibal movie” conjures up all sorts of ideas of relentless brutality. But aside from one specific scene (which seems to be the movie’s centerpiece, and to be fair, is exceptionally brutal) most of the violence is fairy tame by today’s standards, or is obscured by fast cuts. Eli Roth said during a recent AMA that the film released to theaters is the original film he created. Apparently, the notoriously scissor-happy MPAA didn’t request any scenes to be cut. I’m amazed at both of those statements, but I’ll take it as gospel. I’ll just say: I wish it had been more violent.

One element that kinda let me down was the handling of the American group who gets attacked by the cannibals. Leading up to its release, all I read was article after article boasting how Roth was taking on “the armchair activists and the social justice warriors.” The Green Inferno was going to take these loudmouth PC college types and stick them in a place they didn’t belong and show them the consequences of being involved in a cause they ultimately truly know nothing about. Since the ultra-PC thing is really hot right now, I was amped to see Roth take this fad on. But aside from only a few painfully predictable bits of dialogue (from both the activists and the anti-activists), there really wasn’t anything that I would consider a jab at the PC crowd. And actually, I even felt bad for the group that got attacked — well, maybe one or two of ’em deserved it! But for the most part, they seemed likable enough.

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If I have one gripe, it’s with the two lead cannibals, the ones who’ve been featured prominently throughout the promotional material (y’know, nosering cataract lady and yellow-faced bald dude.) They’re so cartoonish, they look like they should be sitting in the waiting room at the end of Beetlejuice. I kept expecting the bald guy to growl “Kali-maaaaaa!” I get that they’re the lead cannibals and supposed to be scary and ‘savage’, but it coulda been toned down just a bit. The tribe of red-painted cannibals are more subtle and realistic (because they actually are a real tribe) and therefore inherently more scary.

Despite my minor criticisms, I gotta say: it’s an enjoyable flick. I was glad to see it up on the big screen, and it’s a nice respite from the glut of ghost movies we’ve been inundated with the last few years. Roth’s strange sense of humor (think the “Pancakes!” kid from Cabin Fever) occasionally slows the momentum, but hey, that’s kinda his thing — so be prepared for it. In the end, this isn’t a movie you’ll watch and then take to the police, thinking actual crimes were committed, but this is a great starting place for someone interested in the cannibal genre — and if a movie can encourage viewers to seek out the films that inspired it, that’s a win all-around.

REDNECK ZOMBIES – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#10)

With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.

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I’ve said this many times before, but SOV horror movies are not for everyone. One of the biggest factors in deterring the average viewer is the overall aesthetic: bad editing, even worse acting, junky sound, and just a general aura of cheapness. Redneck Zombies is sort of the exception to the rule, however, as it was released by Troma Entertainment — the film company who prides themselves on their no-budget, laughable productions. So in a way, Redneck Zombies was safeguarded from the usual expected shortcomings that plagued the average SOV horror movie; suddenly, those limitations were now strengths. I assert that Redneck Zombies just may be the crossover hit that bridged the gap between shot-on-video and the collective hip consciousness. I can’t name many (if any) friends who have seen SOV gems such as Sledgehammer or Killing Spree, but all of my friends know what Troma is and have seen many Troma films, and even a handful have seen Redneck Zombies. Whodathunk. Redneck Zombies, a vanguard film! Continue reading REDNECK ZOMBIES – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#10)

I Love Practical Effects!

Until a few weeks ago, I had totally forgotten that my first obsession as a kid — before I started making home movies, before I started making zines — was special effects. More specifically: the latex-laden, gore-filled, squib-bursting effects I was consuming via every horror film I watched on a daily basis.

I was talking with a buddy recently (super talented and humble Todd who runs Junk Fed – buy all his creations; follow all his media outlets), and he had mentioned how, as a kid, one of the first things he wanted to be when he grew up was a special effects guy. And that’s when my memory was jogged, and all those long-buried similar hopes and dreams of my own came flooding back. I, too, wanted to be a special effects guy!

I remember once filling a ziplock bag with red food coloring and water and then taping it to a little square of Styrofoam, and then taping that contraption to my chest. I threw on an old white t-shirt, grabbed a sharpened pencil, and ran into the kitchen where my mom was. “Hey, mom, look!” I shouted. She turned around to see me thrusting the pencil into my chest – into the DIY squib – and having blood splatter out of the wound, soaking the shirt in red. The pencil, buried deep in the Styrofoam, stood erect from my chest like a little diving board. Boy, was I proud of that one. Later, I would see the movie F/X and it made me realize that if there was a Hollywood movie based around the art of creating effects, it must be pretty well-regarded.

Besides being inspired by the films I was watching, my fascination with gory make-up was also fueled by my regular intake of Fangoria Magazine. And it was in this magazine that I came across ads for the Joe Blasco Make-up Artist Training Center. I was convinced this is where I had to go. Thankfully, I strayed from that path because upon doing some research on the school for this article, I’ve found nothing but atrocious reviews for it. Dodged a bullet there!

Eventually, my serious interest in pursuing make-up effects as a career waned as I got older, but my fascination with the craft never dulled and my love of horror films has only grown as the years have gone on.

With all that said, there are certain ‘Masters of the Craft’ – guys who created some of the most memorable special effects from the mids-70s to the late-80s, the heyday of practical horror effects. So with this list, I wanna point out who they are and what my favorite work from them has been.

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The late Dick Smith was the godfather of make-up effects. He was the king. He invented the now standard method of using multiple facial prosthetics versus one single face mask, which was a less restrictive approach and allowed actors to use more facial expressions underneath their make-up. One of his specialities — and something I don’t anyone has come near to perfecting the way Smith did — was age make-up. He made Dustin Hoffman look 120-years-old in Little Big Man and made David Bowie look 150-years-old in The Hunger. He’d use his unbelievable knack for age make-up in several films, like The Godfather and Carnal Knowledge, and even won an Academy Award for his work on Amadeus. But it was his contributions to the horrific The Exorcist that changed the special effects game forever. As his protégé (the recently retired) Rick Baker tells it:

The Exorcist was really a turning point for make-up special effects. Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda Blair’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes.

He also wrote The DIY Monster Make-Up Handbook, something I’d check out from the library religiously as a kid. In 2011, he was awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his life’s work — the first ever make-up artist to be so honored. I implore even the toughest brute with the blackest heart to watch that video and not get a little misty.

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Something I feel most of the young FX dudes from the 80s share is a wild streak: long hair, scruffy faces, heavy metal t-shirts. Rob Bottin, in my opinion, was the epitome of the insane special effects guy from the 80s — not only displayed in his look, but also his work. And there was that one time he caused an explosion on set, and it doesn’t get more insane than that.

He got his start by sending drawings to then-established FX guy Rick Baker, who loved what he saw and agreed to hire him. And how old was Bottin at the time? He was just 14-years-old. Bottin would go on to create some of the most mind-bending, wet and wild effects of the 80s and 90s: All the creatures from The Thing (1982); He designed the legendary look of RoboCop (1987), a movie which includes the infamous ‘toxic waste melting man‘ scene; Jack Nicholson’s bizarre transformations in The Witches of Eastwick (1987); All of the eye-popping, head-unfurling, conjoined-baby effects from Total Recall (1990); and the trippy lizard scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1997). But the scene I love the most that Bottin created is from The Thing. It’s perhaps the most tense, horrifying, and unbelievable (and memorable!) sequences in horror effects history:

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Kevin Yagher is one of the lucky few FX people to make it out of the 80s unscathed, working with regularity and even transitioning into doing make-up and effects for TV. And though he’s stayed continuously busy, it’s three of his contributions to the genre during the 80s that literally changed the face of horror.

Prior to Yagher’s involvement, Freddy Krueger’s face was mostly obscured by darkness in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). But after joining the crew on the sequel, Freddy’s face became noticeably more menacing, the burn patterns more realistic and intricate. It became ‘the Freddy Krueger look’, one that was a fan favorite during Yagher’s run for ANOES 2, ANOES 3, and ANOES 4. Note the differences between the original Krueger make-up on the left and Yagher’s Freddy on the right.

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Yagher would also create two more pieces of horror history during the 80s: Chucky, the doll from the Child’s Play series, and The Cryptkeeper from the Tales from the Crypt TV show. Kevin Yagher’s contributions to horror have been historic to say the least.

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For the uninitiated, K.N.B. is an acronym for Kurtzman (Robert), Nicotero (Gregory), and Berger (Howard), the three dudes who created what would end up being (still) the most prolific special effects company ever. Launched in 1988, the group has worked on almost any relevant film project, horror and otherwise, not to mention a multitude of TV programs. It’s no exaggeration when I say ‘every production’; a quick peek at Greg Nicotero’s IMDB page shows a glimpse of just how massive their scope has been. Robert Kurtzman left the group in the early 2000s, but even his solo career has matched the enormity of what Nicotero & Berger continue to do. I could write pages upon pages about their contribution to the genre, but the one that immediately comes to mind – the one that actually truly shocked me when I first saw it (pardon the pun) – was Intruder (1989). The “last great slasher of the 80s”, Intruder is full of humor and horror, the way slashers oughtta be. And boy, those special effects. Look at the gif below and then find a copy of Intruder to watch, immediately.

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Another anonymous magician who dreamt up some of the most memorable imagery and characters from the 80s (and pop culture’s collective childhood), Chris Walas is responsible not only for creating the look of the Gremlins, but also the unforgettable ‘melting Nazis’ in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also gave everyone the heebie-jeebies with his spider creations in Arachnophobia (1990) and would go on to direct the criminally underrated The Vagrant (1992). His greatest contribution however, would have to be the effects he supplied for David Cronenberg’s 1986 masterpiece, The Flyeffects that won him an Academy Award.

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Dealing more with puppets and puppet design and stop-motion claymation rather than all the aforementioned splatter, The Chiodo Brothers stick out on this list – but I’d be remiss not include them. They created the Crites from Critters; they created the Killer Klowns from Outer Space; they created the goblins from Ernest Scared Stupid. Oh, and they created this purdy lady right here:

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TOM-SAVINI

Much like K.N.B., I feel like Tom Savini’s contributions to the genre are too vast to itemize here. Plus, I mean, c’mon! It’s Tom Savini! The Sultan of Splatter! You know what he’s done. To compartmentalize his career into 3 sections, he:

  1. Made headshots look real and gruesome
  2. Made zombies pulling people apart and eating their guts look real and gruesome
  3. Made Jason Voorhees as a kid look real gruesome.

My favorite work of his is from Day of the Dead (1985). Everything Savini became notorious for was put on full display in this movie: the headshots, the eviscerations, impalements, the zombie puppets, the half-bodies, the rounded machete-blade trick. All of it! Like most of his brethren, Savini slowly transitioned out of SFX in the early 90s to focus on other things, mainly acting and occasionally directing.

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When it came to providing effects for the big guns – Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, to name a few – the late (great) Stan Winston was the go-to guy. Giant, realistic dinosaurs? Liquid metal bad guy from the future? Lubed up Xenomorphs spitting deadly acid? No problem. As the tide began to turn and as computer animation and effects started to become more commonplace, even though Stan Winston’s initial work was very traditional, he was still able to make a fluid transition and work harmoniously with the new technology. And it’s because of his respect and understanding of these new ways, combined with his old-school approach that his resultant effects were some of the most believable things captured on film. Watch this pissed off T. rex attack a car full of small kids. Then watch the trailer for Jurassic World. Then come back and look me in the eye and tell me modern CGI doesn’t suck a big one.

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Last but certainly not least, the man of the hour, Rick Baker. The man is as big a legend as the rest of them, but somehow more. He created the blueprint of the now-standard look of werewolf transformation scenes in An American Werewolf in London (1981). He did the zombies in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. He made bigfoot for Harry and the Hendersons. He made Eddie Murphy white in Coming to America and made him obese in The Nutty Professor. Men in Black, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Hellboy. Rick Baker did it all. His imagination was limitless, his skills and abilities unmatched. It’s hard to pick one thing of his that stands out because it’s all so different. But I’ll end with a classic.

To all the special effects people – past and present – like the schoolteachers, garbagemen, and social workers of this world you’re often shamefully overlooked and underthanked. But to the effects wizard of the late 70s and 80s who helped shape my warped and wonderful mind: I can’t thank you enough!

“Starry Eyes” (2014) REVIEW

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I was compelled to write this critique after seeing so many glowing, positive reviews for the film – a feeling I did not share.

First, the positives:

Technically, the film is sound. It’s easy to watch, nice to look at. Nothing boring or distracting about the visual compositions. It was shot by a competent cinematographer. Same for the editing and sound/music – it was well done.

As for acting, the lead, Alex Essoe, does a solid job as well. It can’t be easy to bounce between meek and sweetly optimistic, to terrified and revenge-filled. She does it all without ever going over-the-top (though, she does come close).

So what don’t I like? Well, two things stick out to me – things I can’t ignore enough to be able to enjoy the film.

First: as the film progresses, the deterioration and degradation of the lead character, is almost beat for beat identical to a film that came out just one year prior, “Contracted”. Now, in the name of fairness, the fact that I HATED (loathed, despised, abhorred) “Contracted” really doesn’t have any sway on my opinion of the merit or worth of “Starry Eyes”, but what happens to both leads is so goddamn identical I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the former film, and that was distracting. I’m talking identical scenes. In the way that you can only see so many night-vision-nanny-cam-ghost-in-the-room scenes before your brain shuts off automatically whenever it sees another one, I just immediately checked out due to the similarities. “Contracted”, boy. I can’t write a bad enough review for that mean-spirited, aimless, derivative drivel.

The other thing that got me tangled about this movie was that it just doesn’t add up. Look, I am all for suspending disbelief when watching a horror flick. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is people who pick apart the believability of some horror films. (Y’know, films about zombies and monsters and ghosts – they need to be believable.)

However, this film uses a logic to get the lead from point A to point B by any means necessary that ignores (and hopes the audience will ignore, too) any sensible conclusions that could have/would have occurred in the meantime that might’ve led the film in a different, exciting direction.

Take an amazing movie like “Rosemary’s Baby”, which this film seems to borrow from heavily. In “Rosemary’s Baby”, the fertile Mia Farrow is conditioned and lulled into a false sense of security by the sweet, loving old neighbors in her new apartment. Little does she realize she’s being set up to be the incubator for the second coming of baby Satan. The warning signs Rosemary sees are dismissed by her husband (a co-conspirator) as just imagination. And we, the audience, aren’t 100% sure, either – until it’s too late, of course. And that’s what makes it such an effective, well-made film.

However, everything about “Starry Eyes” is so…naggingly off and predictable. Every new scene screams at the lead, “Stop what you’re doing. Why are you doing that?”

It’s hard to enjoy a movie when there’s no one to root for.