Monday, 29 March 2021

The Joy Of Fango

I was aware of Fangoria magazine long before I finally found a copy, sometime in the mid-80s, most likely from mentions in Starlog magazine, the Young Ones episode Nasty and the furore around the Video Nasties.  Recently, I managed to re-connect with my past and picked up - from ebay - the first issue I ever read.

Fangoria magazine was launched in 1979 as a companion to Starlog, which covered sci-fi films.  The first issue, published in July, was edited by “Joe Bonham” (Ed Naha and Ric Meyers) after which Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin took over.  Initially focusing on fantasy films, the magazine didn’t really gain traction until positive audience response was noticed for an article celebrating effects artist Tom Savini (and his gruesome work for Dawn Of The Dead (1978)), at which point Martin was given the chance to shift focus.  The seventh issue, with a cover story of The Shining (1980), was apparently the first to achieve a profit and set a formula the magazine stuck with for at least as long as I read it.  Martin remained as editor until 1986 (he left to work with Frank Henenlotter on the screenplays for Frankenhooker (1990) - still a real favourite of mine - and Basket Case 3 (1991)) and was eventually replaced by Tony Timpone, who successfully steered Fangoria through to the 2000’s.  Chris Alexander took over in 2010 but the magazine was caught up in various strifes of the publishing company, leading to sporadic issues, radical design changes and lack of focus.  After being missing in action for a while, it’s apparently up and running again now but has never tempted me back.

I discovered the magazine in a newsagents on Newland Street in Kettering, popping in so often to check for new issues I ended up friendly with the man who ran the shop.  I bought almost every issue from there, so much so that Alison & I always referred to it as The Fango Shop (something Dude picked up too - he’d come in to buy “Dad’s horror comic” with me, though he never read it), though sadly the shop’s now under new ownership.  Much later, when I discovered The Cinema Store in London, I was able to pick up some back issues for reasonable prices but, sadly, that place has now long-since disappeared too (it's almost like there's a trend, eh?).

But back then, Fangoria turned out to be everything I ever wanted it to be - and more!
I think my first regular issue was Fango 58 (I wish I could be sure but, sadly, lent a friend my entire run, from 1986 to 1990 or so and have never seen them again) and it was just perfect for me - full of interesting behind the scenes articles, news, book reviews, wonderfully gory colour pictures and a complete love for the types of horror films that I adored.  It made stars of the make-up effects people (like Rick Baker, the afore-mentioned Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, the KNB boys and many more), the writers and directors of the types of films you’d see with gaudy covers in video shops and the lesser known actors who made those films so damned watchable.  

The 80s was also a boom time - the slasher cycle might have been running down slowly but horror was big news, with Freddy and Jason and Re-Animator (1985) and all else.  I was going to the cinema, watching these things on double bills with friends, catching up with titles I’d missed on VHS and often on the recommendation of Fango, whose articles had whetted my appetite.
Not that the magazine wasn’t misunderstood.  Since my kid sister Sarah was only about 3 or 4 at the time and frequently wandered into my bedroom to see what I was doing, I had to hide Fango away lest I scar her for life.  Years later, Alison tolerated it well but I remember my sister-in-law once asking me if a picture she saw was real.  I enjoyed the Fango sense of humour and community - I felt like I belonged - but it really wasn’t a mainstream gang by any means and I was perfectly alright with that.

The Bloody Best, I can see now, is a money-making compilation but as a greatest hits package, it worked brilliantly.  Just look at the articles in the issue - David Cronenberg, Tom Savini, Dick Miller, Brian DePalma, Wes Craven, George Romero, Elvira, Re-Animator, Nightmare On Elm Street (Englund and his make-up) as well as Stephen King and Peter Straub.  It’s difficult in this day and age, where everything is online and we know about films as soon as they’re announced, to fully convey the size of its impact but imagine being a teenaged horror fan, opening up a treasure trove like this.

As I mentioned, I found the magazine (in a bundle with Bloody Best 3 and 4 too!) on ebay and bought it with birthday money from my parents (I told them they’d bought me Fango and Dad, with a smile in his voice, said “is it still gory…?”) and re-reading it has been wonderful.  The magazine is filled with articles that instantly throw me back to 1986, that I read so often I could practically quote them and pictures so vivid they’ve never left my minds eye.  

While you can’t go back (and I have absolutely no intention of seeking out the latest Fango), occasionally you can visit the old days and sometimes that’s just as good.

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