Welcome to the Dark Playground, part two…
Onto the second issue of Fear, dated September/October 1988, this time with 84 pages, eight more than the launch issue. A bright pink marbled background supports a wonderful portrait of James Herbert and his rats by Oliver Fry.
A stellar list of names enticed us helpless disciples of darkness to part with our cash: Stephen King, Dean R Koontz and Clive Barker. And towards the bottom of the cover, a keyword from the end of the alphabet that today, pretty much guarantees I would purchase said item without a second thought – ZOMBIES! But 21 years ago this sub-genre didn’t hold as much interest or excitement for me, as my exposure to and knowledge of the flesh eating apocalypse was naively under-nourished; and these zombies were certainly not Romero’s gut-munchers anyway…
In his lengthy editorial, Dark Playground, John Gilbert discussed the lack of funding within the British film industry and the lack of entrepeneurial flair in the film-makers themselves. He wonders if there are people out there who can take advantage of the perceived new opportunities for the horror genre in film, and in fiction, ‘as several of Britain’s larger publishers are desperate to sign-up horror writers this year, ready to exploit another bubble in the genre which they believe has started to – yet again – expand and can only grow bigger during next year’.
Welcome to the Dark Playground…
When did you last stumble across something that was a complete surprise, something that you immediately knew, by instinct as much as through a quick once-over, was destined to be incredibly influential and almost perfect for you at a particular time of life? A something that you didn’t really know you needed until it showed itself to you?
Well, this happened to me in the Summer of 1988 as I came across the first issue of Fear magazine. Oliver Fry’s cover art was all I needed to find myself lost: a grinning skull with the dark side of the moon for an eye, a tongue of seemingly naked screaming people in a sausage-skin hell morphing into an old crone’s hand with faces where joints should be, and a pair of deep red lips, the hint of a tongue, growing from the palm. This was dark, and it was sexy. Inside I was presented with a combination of news, reviews and professional, horrific short fiction. At the time there was nothing else like it. This was ‘The World of Fantasy and Horror’ as compiled by John Gilbert, published by Newsfield Publications, ( a Ludlow-based publisher of games magazines), initially on a bi-monthly basis, and it simply shouted out at me: I am yours. And it certainly knew what it was talking about – this was MY magazine.
I grew up in Devon and nobody I knew obsessed about the horror genre in all its forms like I did. Films, music and books weren’t as important to them as they were to me. A mate would nip over to watch a video of Mausoleum when my parents were out, but that was about it. So when Fear appeared, it felt like a little vindication: I was reading these authors already, and now other people cared enough to share their obsessions and interests, producing a magazine that’s become an important artifact from that time in my life.
And 21 years on, Fear is still MY magazine. I have every issue of Fear in pretty good condition. I have the three issues of the short-lived fiction offshoot, Frighteners. They take pride of place on my shelves. Cumulatively, Fear showcased a stunning amount of high quality genre fiction – and if anyone wants to publish a Fear and Frighteners anthology I’m sure there would be takers.
Over the last few months I’ve been searching the internet for mentions of the magazine, and apart from a couple of forum discussions on the wonderful Vault of Evil, two entries on Bear Alley, a few cover shots on Flickr, a table of contents listing over at Locus, and a Wickipedia entry for the publisher, plus a liquidator’s report, there’s nothing comprehensive to be found. Which suprises me, given the value I place upon it, and the contributors who made it what it is.
So, as we thirty and forty somethings wallow in a pleasant wave of nostalgia, mostly enabled by the internet, I thought I’d do the same, and run a little series on Fear and Frighteners, showcasing some of Oliver Fry’s awesome exterior and interior artwork (much of which was based on the short fiction featured in that particluar issue); John Gilbert’s ground-breaking editorial direction, a few scans of author shots and interviews from days gone by, and possibly tracing where these creators are today. I’ll detail the books, videos and films reviewed, quoting a pertinent sentence or two; and with hindsight we’ll be able to see if those opinions have been deemed accurate.
A particularly interesting aspect of these articles, (at least for me), is how we’ll be able to track how a ground-breaking magazine – its attitude, contents, emphasis, contributors, frequency and format evolved – during its 34 issue run across just over three years. (I’d actually sold an article on industrial music and horror to John Gilbert for issue 35, so maybe it’s my fault it folded at that point). Hopefully these posts will build up to give you a flavour of Fear, a magazine I am sure will still be of much interest to genre fans, young and old, well-read and new to the scene. And if you’ve never come across Fear, you could do worse than tracking down issues on Ebay or via specialist booksellers as copies are still relatively easy to come by, at prices below the cover price of £2.50…
Stanley Wiater, who interviewed Peter Straub for the first issue, now an award-winning author, consultant and creator of the Dark Dreamers television series (and available to watch on You Tube) was kind enough to say of his involvement with Fear: “…it was a wonderful, groundbreaking publication that tried to do it all – articles, overviews, interviews, short fiction, book reviews, film reviews, genre events – and more often than not, completely succeeded in its capacity of being a dark rainbow over it all. I was honored to be part of it.”
So what was in that seminal first issue?
In Dark Playground John Gilbert introduced the magazine and some of its many contributors, who were to come and go across the years – names some of you will recognise, I’m sure: Kim Newman, Stan Nicholls, Stanley Wiater, Philip Nutman, Di and Mike Wathen (both were part of the British Fantasy Society’s governing body at the time), amongst others. (Geeks will note that the above image is from the second issue, but it’s a better picture of John Gilbert).
Other articles were collected under the Phenomena heading, (rather than the regular set of fiction, interviews and the like), and include John Gilbert’s article on making movies – Tales of the Busy Auteur, David Keep asks the BBFC about their approach to censorship – Censorship or Classification?; and in The Unblinking Eye, Mike Wathen outlines fear and horror’s function within that emotion:
…”I don’t want to know – but I have to. I don’t want to look, but I must.” The reader comes to the horror story with an awareness that the rules which govern our societies and our standards of behaviour are not all that strong, and can crack and come unglued under the slightest stress. It is the task of the writer of horror fiction to try and widen those cracks, to break down the wall and provide at least a glimpse of that which lies behind and beyond. The reader brings the desire to see beyond the wall, not glancing away, however much he or she may want to. To gaze with unblinking eyes at what is revealed…
Fear Fiction: Fear‘s amazing collection of short stories kicked off with:
- The Prize, by Shaun Hutson – ‘a morbid newspaper-chain-tail’
- Eye of Childhood, by Ramsey Campbell – ‘children can be cruel’
- The Dandelion Woman, by Nicholas Royle – ‘the tick-tock clock’ (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above)
Interviews and features were in the Pro-Files and Location Reports sections:
- John Carpenter talks about my favourite of his films, The Prince of Darkness and the upcoming They Live: “I’ve made a bunch of Westerns, I just don’t put Cowboy hats on ‘em. Instead of cowboys, you have physicists.”
- The ‘founders’ of splatterpunk John Skipp and Craig Spector talk about their novel The Scream as it was about to be published in the UK via Bantam: “Splatterpunk is an angle of attack, a way of life, and just a phase we’re going through.”
- Film director Neil Jordan discusses his new movie High Spirits and other work such as The Company of Wolves in the first of a two parter: “I think every novelist wants to direct films…”
- Peter Straub is interviewed about Koko (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above): “I’m trying to explore what surrounds horror – what kind of feeling is fear really about? How does it work in normal life?”
- Ramsey Campbell examined his writing influences in the run-up to his newie, Ancient Images – even back then he was being referred to as ‘the greatest living influence in horror fiction’: “-the principle I tend to use is you show enough to suggest more.”
- Stephen Gallagher reveals how he researches locations for his novels (Article image below): “Making everything possible can drain a lot of interest and intricacy out of a story.”
Fan-File featured details of British-based fanzines and societies including notes on the ‘fast-growing British Fantasy Society’, and the Science Fiction Foundation, as well as descriptions of the latest issues of Dagon edited by Carl T. Ford, the awesome Samhain edited by John Gullidge, and Six of One (a fanzine centred around The Prisoner television series).
Genre reviews were within the Revenants section, with a place for all media…
Film reviews were in the Movie Mainline section:
- Beetle Juice, directed by Tim Burton …I cannot stress too strongly how much of a mistake it would be to miss this movie.
- The Unholy, directed by Camilo Howard …starts off with a punchy, stylish opening but soon loses its focus…is proud to wear its horror colours on its chest, and is unashamedly gross in parts.
- The Monster Squad, directed by Fred Dekker …Dekker…has the Universal gruesome chewsome off pat…will appeal to anyone who’s ever watched a black and white monster B-movie…
- The Hidden, directed by Jack Shoulder …simply the most enjoyable crowd pleaser since Robocop…a near perfect mix of amped up action and pulp science fiction silliness.
- Bad Dreams, directed by Andrew Flemming …a horror movie that wants to be something else…is worth watching, alebit as an interesting failure…
Video reviews in Video Vibes:
- Retribution, directed by Guy Magar … John Gilbert only comments on the plot and does not actually review the film.
- Werewolf, directed by David Hemmings …Watch it if you see nothing else.
- Creepozoids, dircected by David DeCocteau …there’s bad and there’s bad, but this is worse…avoid like the plague.
- Masters of the Universe, directed by Gary Godard …Fast, fanciful, and fun.
- Dead of Night, directed by Deryn Warren …as the old saying goes, if you want gore you certainly won’t want more.
Off the Shelf covered book reviews, divided by format, and with an introductory article about the history and trends in fantasy literature, including horror), from Di Wathen:
- Lightning, by Dean Koontz; Headline HB …You’ll go through a whole alphabet of mini-climax as you notch your way up to the biggie – and it’s special…
- 1998, by Richard Turner and William Osborne; Sphere HB …it left me as lightly as a dandelion seed, wishing for something of more substance.
- The Awakeners, by Sheri S. Tepper; Bantam Press HB …There’s something of the child in her latest novel, though it comes from a dark wonder within the story, rather than any immaturity in style…
- Swansong, by Robert R. McCammon; Sphere HB …as broad as its characters and you’ll find enough images to keep you thinking about it for weeks after its conclusion.
- Oktober, by Stephen Gallagher; Hodder & Stoughton HB …shows why Hodder and Stoughton is one of the biggest British publishers. It keeps picking winners.
- The Scream, by John Skipp and Craig Spector; Bantam HB …You want to rock? This is the book to give you the roll. And then some.
- The Influence, by Ramsey Campbell; Century HB …It is the sort of supernatural ending you could attach to Miss Haversham’s life in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations…
- Sepulchre, by James Herbert; New English Library HB …to be read with relish – as red as you can get.
- Fiend, by Guy N. Smith; Sphere PB …the storyline is unusual enough to make you pluck it off the bookshelf…
- Spellbinder, by Colin Wilcox; WH Allen PB …shows how brittle human reason can be and how it can reverse into forms of perverted logic. Brilliant.
- The Wrym, by Stephen Laws; Souvenir Press PB …an excellent, breathtaking, morbid read…
- Tread Softly, by Richard Kelly; WH Allen PB …does nothing for the horror genre…
- Valley of Lights, by Stephen Gallagher; New English Library PB …The moment you get serious with this book you’ll be hooked into a compulsive read…
- Watchers, by Dean R. Koontz; Headline PB …As excellently crafted as all Koontz’s books, the story is long, involved and chillingly possible in today’s scientific climate.
- Deliver Us From Evil, by Allen Lee Harris; Bantam PB …a book of character rather a slasher’s party… Keep an eye on this man.
A truly stellar line-up of repsected creators, most of whom are still producing amazing work today. From this issue I tracked down Swansong, The Influence, The Wyrm, Watchers and Tread Softly (not sure why, on re-reading the review). I’ve still got them on my bookshelves today, (as I have all my titles from the later 80s and early 90s). As a result of the film reviews I watched Creepozoids (although the review was negative the monster looked great), The Hidden and The Monster Squad on video, and avoided Masters of the Universe at all costs, and have continued to do so.
And that was Fear Issue 1, dated July / August, 1988. 76 glossy pages. The beginning of a wonderful period of dark enlightenment.