Category Archives: Pop Culture

At The Circulation Desk

Serious About Serials

Tearing Staples And Cracking Spines:

Reader’s Advisory For The Horror Movie Magazine

By James Johnson

It should be prefaced that current readers of either title might actually consider Rue Morgue punching down and out of it’s weight with this month’s Versus instalment. I would agree with them on one point: these two titles are unique organisms. Either has contrasting characteristics, features, style, contributors, and even political ideologies. However, they both share a media landscape that we have culturally coined, and subsequently use to categorize, as Horror and compete in a market with truly forgiving consumers. I’m not recommending one over the other. Read both. Read more serials! Objectively, either of these titles can satisfy some fans of horror. The point of this versus series is to highlight titles of the same subject to expose new readers wishing to explore the options available to them. Too few library professionals advocate serial readers advisory, and that’s a shame in our opinion.

It becomes obvious as soon as you pick up this Halloween’s copy of Rue Morgue that there’s a level of authority assumed in the general quality. Perfect binding (a new feature I believe, since every prior issue I have is saddle stitched), heavier paper poundage, and custom cover art. Whereas SCREAM lends this reader a particular reminiscence – the fanzine wave (and decline), the slick pages of medium to low poundage, saddle stitch binding, and tacit Gonzo-Journo obsessive contributors, mark it as a true genre classic, even though it’s only 11 years in publication compared with Rue’s 24. Obviously, these thematic mags play at different speeds. I can easily see a Rue Morgue reader picking up a copy of SCREAM, and vice versa. Horror genre film critiques in print are not as common as general interest serials, such as US, Harper’s, or Cosmo. I think it’s fair to say that both titles are most likely bunk-mates on the toilet tank of the Horror movie fanatic and that’s why they’re in focus.

SCREAM Magazine #68

ISSN: 2045-2128
Audience: Adult

Boasting the title of “the world’s no. 1 horror magazine” (unverified!), SCREAM serializes bimonthly “100 bloody pages of content”. The words include surface to mid-depth analysis of modern and classic horror movies, often focusing on European and British Cinema, such as the Hammer and Giallo classics. Generally, the cover art or layout has an emphasis or theme which will be featured in the principal article. This cover (like every other so far) is a collage of iconic movie imagery arranged in such a way to inform the reader of the contents. It’s standard for this level of production value, though the colour choices, fonts, and arrangements are pleasant and engaging.

I have always had issue with magazines that boast the number of pages of content they’re selling. In my opinion, I think at best it’s misleading and at worse misinformation. The front and back cover should not be consider “pages of content” yet they are. Quarter, half, and even full page Ads are also not “content” in my opinion. If you’re trying to sell me something I can’t buy with my attention, but actual cash, I’m probably not going to refer to it warmly as “content”. So be warned, it’s more like 80-90 pages of content. Not bad. Other than the featured articles (#68 is a revisit of two Slashics, Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors), readers can expect interviews, reviews of books and DVDs, retrospectives, and more. Standard genre fare.

The writing has a casual feel of an informed fan with experience in critiquing their favourite films. If you’re looking for a deep dive analysis, you’ll instead find an excellent though ultimately slim review of what the avid fan probably already knows. There’s no pandering, and the language meets the reader and the writer at eye level, increasing its accessibility and reach. SCREAM is a great title for explorers of the genre, eager to dip their toes in the world of horror cinema that’s not overbearingly esoteric. SCREAM wins with it’s gorgeous bright colours, full and rich border-less formatting, and clean presentation.

Pet Peeve: Recurring segments VHS Ate My Brain and Video Nasty are regrettably missing from this issue in favour of more retrospectives. These segments are often compelling and provide gritty insight for the casual consumer. Here is where SCREAM suffers from what most genre cinema zines suffer from at times: stale repetition. This issue continues a retrospective of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, where their competition in our spotlight has two solid features, Mexican Gothics and Folk Horror.

Kudos: The Halloween issue (Sept-Oct) could have been released at any season. There’s not a jack-o-lantern in sight. A horror movie magazine that keeps print’s version of click-bait out of its season of the witch issue? I’m impressed. Halloween is everyday in my world, and so it would seem at SCREAM.

Rue Morgue #202

ISSN: 1481-1103
Audience: Adult

Toronto based Rue Morgue sells a different story for our would-be horror readers and that’s not a bad thing! Rue Morgue’s subtitle reads “Horror in Culture & Entertainment”. Where SCREAM highlights modern and obscure films alike, Rue Morgue delves deeper and examines the cycles that Horror sub-genres naturally birth and die throughout time. There’s most certainly a firm hand in editorialship, where editor Andrea Subissati often acts as contributor to many segments. SCREAM seems to have a nice balance of freedom and control that I felt lacking in Rue Morgue. That’s their prerogative, of course, and I can respect the vision and commitment Subissati and the controllers of Rue’s assets have.

The content (articles and interviews) are insightful and creative, informative, and thoughtful. While written in plain-speak, the topics of discussion are often viewed through a post-modernist lens. This could quickly become tiresome, but the richness of the topics covered make it informative, albeit far from a place of neutrality. That may be indeed be fair, as the movie viewer brings with them their own biases and lenses, so why not reviewers themselves? By that metric I can agree, however, that does not mean Rue Morgue wouldn’t benefit from a broader spectrum of ideas and voices.

The advertisements for Rue Morgue products and third party toys and merchandise can get a little loud. Many fans love the exposure to horror collectibles and the latest trends, so this may be a feature many enjoy. The culture and entertainment of horror today is saturated with bits and bobs for the collector, and Rue Morgue advertises plenty of options for the consumer.

Pet Peeve: Over-hyped subscriber mailbag section. Publishing letters from subscribers describing why they’re glad they subscribed is cringe. Perhaps there aren’t many fan mail complaints, but certainly there must be some.

Kudos: Accessible depth. A true challenge with zine word restrictions. Rue Morgue’s in depth analysis and excavation of lost or unexamined relics of cinema’s past puts them at the top of their peers.

At the Circulation Desk

Reader’s Advisory: serious about serials, a periodical in peril

Joe Kane, The Phantom of the Movies, has passed away. Will His Page Turning Pulp Continue as a Must Read Resource for Exploitation Film Fanatics?
The Phantom of the Movies’ VideosScope Issue #115

Estimated reading time for article: 3 mins

By James Johnson

In a 2018 interview with James Rolfe, long time drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs of Monster Vision fame lamented the production rate of the film industry, saying the ease of access to equipment, software, and skilled labour in our modern world should bolster film production, not hamper it. We should, in fact, be seeing thousands of new guerilla-style, shoulder mounted shlock from maverick amateurs brave enough to carve a place for the next generation of exploitation reels waiting to be cherished, curated, and raised to the status of “cult”. Of course COVID-19 brought the industry to its knees, though Joe Bob couldn’t have predicted such a catastrophe.

Prior to COVID19, filmmakers coming out of the academy with five thousand dollars worth of Audio Visual equipment – the likes of which Corman, Cohen, and Adamson would have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s – were better set for success than their early predecessors. If new filmmakers are emerging, they do so with the tools of the old masters. These titles, colloquially known as “B” movies and not quite suited for mainstream tastes, provide an interesting challenge for users in our modern world of polished studio block-busters released straight to digital download: how can they discover them?

I must admit, with my schedule the way it is, I can’t keep my finger on the pulse of indie horror like I wish I could. Thankfully, there are numerous resources available both digitally and in print. I like to support print as much as possible, to feel the ink and paper, and to smell the pages.

That’s why this installment from the Circulation Desk highlights the “Phantom of the Movies'” magazine Videoscope, 2020 marking its twenty seventh year in print. If you’re running out of movies to watch in isolation during the quarantine, I recommend picking up any issue of this magnificent pulp.

Inside you can find over eighty different genre reviews of classic and contemporary exploitation movies. It provides a best of both worlds. The Italian film aficionado can read up on the rarely reviewed 1970’S Euro-Horror flicks of Amando De Ossorio. The modern horror-hound can whet his appetite with a look at the up-and-coming bright directors highlighted in Joseph Perry’s always enlightening column, “Best of the Fests” – a thoughtful examination of the newest films from future movers and shakers. What is concerning is The editor-in-chief, Joe Kane, has died leaving the publication without a leader or clear future. This has not been a kind year for most of us. We offer our prayers to his Wife Nancy and their family.

There is certainly something for everyone when it comes to movies. If you manage your expectations, you can be entertained forever thanks to publications like Videoscope. I hope that Joe Kane’s memory and the work he did continues in the form of a renewed Phantom of the Movies Videoscope so that readers can continue to discover great films and read interesting articles. As Joe Bob Briggs likes to say, the only sin a movie can make is to be boring. Happy reading/streaming.

TitleThe Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope
ISSN1083-2920
Publisher PhanMedia, Ocean Grove, NJ, 1993-
Format:   Journal, magazine : English
Audience Teen – Adult
Subjects Motion pictures — Periodicals. Video tapes — Periodicals. Video tapes — Catalogs. View all subjects

Won’t somebody please think of the children…!?

Representation of horror culture in children’s media key to their strength, resolve, problem solving, imagination, and character development
“Can you tell us where we can find the Fear Street series?”

By James Johnson

It’s still possible that Halloween may be cancelled this year, as COVID-19 continues to batter us. But that doesn’t mean our kids shouldn’t entertain themselves with festive content this fall. Or does it?

In her 2018 book “Once Upon a Time in a Dark and Scary Book: The Messages of Horror Literature for Children”, K. Shryock Hood has laid out a concerted effort to identify contemporary youth horror fiction as hopeless fare which leaves our children vulnerable, perhaps susceptible, to the horrific realities of this world. That, no matter how hard your parents may try, sometimes there just isn’t anyone coming to rescue you. In fact, she argues that parents actively endorse access to these types of stories for their kids – books with repetitive hopelessness as recurring motif.

But what is hopelessness? Hopeless for whom? The reader? The character? Suppose the author failed to connect the reader to the victim as a result of lack-luster character development. I’m terrible at flushing out characters and my son actively seeks to destroy the NPC’s in our Dungeons & Dragons adventures because they’re just that unrelatable. But when he picks up a Goosebumps book, he gets scared, much like when he watches a movie that has a particularly difficult scene or two. He closes his eyes at the movie or puts the book down when it becomes too much.

Why bother with these books anyways, if they are clearly too much for our kids to handle? Is it traumatizing that I offer these options to our son? He knows I love horror culture. He is aware of the serials I review, and the movies I watch, though he doesn’t read or watch them himself. So why then does the sight of flesh eating zombies and monsters devouring the innocent make him giggle and cheer while a quiet, dark hallway awakens a sinister primal fear within him?

Horror becomes real when we make the horrific event entirely plausible. This is when the real fear creeps into the child’s psyche, when we lend credibility to the impossible. For example, a mask that a child wears for Halloween is haunted and turns them into a demon-monster that attacks their friends. This part of the book isn’t particularly scary, says our 7 year old son. It’s a mask that turns you into a monster. Pretty clearly fantastical.

Fast forward to the second half of the book and the story changes from killer masks to killer pumpkins. But the kicker is these pumpkins come for you when you’re all tucked in and snuggled under your blankets and it’s dark and the night is cold and no one believes you when you tell them the killer pumpkins are trying to kill you. This story freaked him out way more than the haunted mask because the night is endless with possibilities and the warm bed is so familiar.

Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

For her work, Dr. Shryock Hood uses examples like the left behind series for children. That’s the Christian series where the rapture leaves behind non-believers. I haven’t read or reviewed the children’s version of these books so whether or not this constitutes horror, or even children’s literature, I’ll leave that up to your discretion; but my thinking on the whole matter is as follows:

If, as a parent, you find yourself curating your child’s collection of books (the beloved children’s bedtime bookshelf is iconic), then it will be entirely up to you as to what you wish to censor, and what you will let them experience. For our home, It has always been our belief as parents that we would be honest and open with any queries our son would have. As a general rule, we follow standardized guidelines like the motion picture rating system, the comics code authority, and the entertainment software rating board (ESRB) to make quick, uneducated decisions when in a pinch. Of course, nothing can replace proper research and parental due diligence, but these guidelines are in place for a reason. This way, we believed we wouldn’t need to hide anything from him for protective purposes so long as we provided context and rationale behind whatever it was he consumed, witnessed, experienced, etc.

In addition to these important discussions and industry rating systems, selection and curation have remained two of the most important functions for successfully managing any potentially stressful or harmful content. So, with that being said, it’s my purview that dangerous, hostile, uncomfortable, and perhaps even deadly scenarios are important to understand and to contextualize. Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

The face of incurable trauma.

Of course, I agree that there should be some limitations to what children are subjected to in media. I’m not a complete monster. I also think that happy endings in horror books should be encouraged, so that children with softer resolves can enjoy the genre too. But I honestly encourage storytellers to aim higher, avoid patronizing solutions to pedestrian problems, and make the fear real. Our children are not as delicate as we think and challenging reads should be encouraged in order to diversify their emotional tool kits for when they need to face real world problems, in very real ways.

This season really brings out the frights!

Keep reading and happy horrors, kiddies.