Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back to Blogsville!

Ah, home at last and catching up. Apologies for the week away; it was impossible to post while amidst the CCS workshop experience, which seemed to go well for all. Posts to follow all day, on this and that, various and sundry, as I bring this all up to snuff.

In the meantime, check out Jane Wilde's trip to China blog. Jane is a dear friend and the erstwhile computer pro helping me construct my new website; I was hoping to launch the site before her departure, but alas, my own heavy work schedule prevented that.

Jane is now in China, and
  • here's her travel blog
  • and here's her China site.
  • Enjoy!

    My Montreal amigo Donato Totaro has just posted the latest issue of his online film zine
  • Offscreen,
  • featuring his piece
  • "Constructing The Wicker Man"
  • on that most Scottish of horror films and the most recent book on the subject. Check it out...

  • The Saturday, July 22nd post on Tim Lucas's Video Watchblog is worth a read --
  • -- as is Tim's blog whenever he posts! -- for its comments on the recent announcement of Michael Weldon folding up the tent on Psychotronic as a zine after almost 20 years and over 40 issues, and the comments that has prompted over on
  • Classic Horror Film Board & Forum.
  • Here's the announcement Michael Weldon has been sharing, FYI:

    "After 17 years and 41 issues - Psychotronic is finished for now as a magazine.

    This very difficult decision shouldn't have taken me so long to make but I was still trying to restructure and keep going. I had been planning to publish the very overdue issue #42 (pictured on our web site) but too many things have changed.

    The cost of everything (especially paper, postage and gas) has risen so much in recent years that self publishing (except as a hobby) has become harder than ever. I've been writing Psychotronic movie reviews now for indy publications (mostly my own) since 1977 in Cleveland. It was a struggle to self publish in the 80s and 90s but now its nearly impossible. When PV started (in late 89) issues were sold in many independent record, book and comic shops. Since then most of them have gone out of business. In an attempt to adapt and grow I started using more distributors to send more copies to several big national chain book stores. This works fine for high circulation glossy publications but it can be deadly for smaller lower budgeted ones. Even with a high % of sales, after returns you're lucky to break even.

    Meanwhile the larger distributors (including several that went bankrupt owing us large sums of money) have figured out how to alter their policies, rig their complex contracts, add in hidden costs and fees, and squeeze every penny from the publisher - just like banks, insurance companies, and credit card companies. It gets worse every year.

    Last year a distributor that I had been forced to use a lawyer to collect from went bankrupt and the one I thought would replace it turned out to be even worse.

    I love researching, editing and writing, and plan to continue, but can simply no longer afford to publish a magazine.

    I stopped processing subscription orders months ago but there are a number of you who subscribed (or re-subscribed), had cards charged or check cashed and have received nothing. As soon as possible you will receive full refunds. You also could take out your credit in back issues (#41 is sold out) or other items we sell through the magazine. Just ask.

    If you wonder how some other magazines that are maybe comparable to Psychotronic manage to continue - here are some reasons:

    Be backed by a company or corporation.
    Have a full time paid staff including ad sales people, bill collectors, and circulation, subscription, and shipping people.
    Have special insider deals with a printer.
    Be subsidized by a government (not the USA!).
    Be in full color.
    Have many full page full color ads.
    Give positive reviews to releases from advertisers.
    Run interviews and/or cover pictures that promote current releases (often from advertisers).
    Concentrate on and promote current releases.
    Concentrate only on nostalgia.
    Feature lots of nudity or gore.
    Have (usually unpaid) contributors write all or most of the reviews.
    Leave out politics and references to controversial current events.
    Censor swear words and anything else that might offend.
    Be independently wealthy and not care about profits and loss.
    Be a workaholic with little or no life outside of self publishing.
    Sell a LOT of your own self generated products (T-shirts, public domain dupes of movies...) and/or make % deals with advertisers.
    Promote and sell your publication frequently at conventions.
    Always publish on schedule.
    Be extremely well organized.

    I'm not knocking any surviving publications. I should have used some of these policies myself. Some publications practice several. I have practiced none of them (some by choice).

    I'd like to offer a brief THANK YOU for all the years of support from all of our readers, subscribers, contributors, advertisers, people and companies, who sent us review items, people, publications, radio and TV shows that promoted PV, retail outlets (except the ones that owe us money) and distributors (except the ones that owe us money). Some of you have been with Psychotronic since the original early 80s Manhattan Xerox version or my first book (1983).


    PSYCHOTRONIC WEB SITES - psychotronicvideo.com has lots of reviews and some good sample interviews to read. It has not grown as I had planned though and the mail section is currently a blocked up disaster. The new psychotronic.com is slowly under development. In the future I plan to post more articles, interviews and reviews - maybe (free) whole future issues. I'm currently taking night college computer classes but would still welcome a good affordable (or free) and reliable webmaster.

    For the past two years we rented out our storefront but we're back better than ever with a "mom and pop" shop at 4102 Main St. Chincoteague Island, Virginia, 23336. In this seasonal tourist area we are even attempting to stay open pretty much all year. Its like a free museum for many people of all ages. If you live nearby, drive nearby, or visit for a vacation, stop in. We sell affordable (used) movie (VHS, DVD, posters, lobby cards, stills, books) and music (LP, CD, books) material, comic books, hand crafted beads, jewelry and findings, and imported clothes and bags from Nepal and India. Some Psychotronic readers have sent us their used discarded and excess videos in the past. We still welcome them and we also welcome used LPs, DVDs, CDs, and comics. If you have excess stuff to give away, trade for or sell - send them here for recycling or get in touch first. We do not just sell what you might consider "Psychotronic."

    Eventually there will be a third Psychotronic movie review book. Hopefully it will include rewritten, updated and corrected reviews from the first two books plus many more from the 10 plus years since the Psychotronic Video Guide. I am also working on other more specific movie, music, and history related books.

    I have recently landed a disc jockey job at the local WCTG, 96.5 F.M. which can be heard up and down the Eastern shore from Ocean City, MD down to Exmore, VA. The plan is for me to be live on Sat, Sun, and Mon nights 7-10 playing what I consider the best music from the best era of popular music - basically from when Elvis made the national charts (56) until he died about 20 years later. I plan to play choice top 100 hits, B sides, and LP tracks. Live DJs are are a rarity these days. Most shows are 100% computerized and if they have a voice at all it's pre taped. I also am a frequent guest an Alan Handelman's syndicated (from North Carolina) radio talk show. We take calls and talk for hours mostly about cult movies. See ifitrocks.com

    Over the years I have been approached several times about doing syndicated or cable Psychotronic TV shows. I vetoed most ideas and even used lawyers to stop one (censored "bad" then recent movies with way too many commercials and lame comic hosts). Last year I was getting very close to doing a show that I approved of on IFC - then (typically) the exec who was behind the project left for another cable station. Some kind of Psychotronic TV show might still develop.

    POLITICS - Yes, politics effect everything. Not since WWII and maybe the height of the Communist scare era has our popular entertainment been so heavily backed and influenced by the CIA, FBI and DOD (Dept. Of Defense) and product placements have become so common that we may as well just pay to watch non stop commercials. Most people seem to not notice or care. Our current government is at war with pretty much everything and everybody (newspapers, columnists, TV shows, commentators, anchors, unions, scientists, democrats, liberals...) that do not agree with and support their policies. Major newspapers are laying off staff members and losing circulation. Fox News gets more bold and influential every year while fewer people read - or vote, and more are in jail. All of this is perfect for establishing a one party government. As long as people are scared, uninformed, ignorant, preoccupied, depressed, cynical... As one of the Beatles once sang: Keep you doped with religion and sex, and TV... Or as one of the Doors used to yell: Wake Up!

    I'm not very happy about the news this week - India terrorist bombings, N Korea missiles, Israel air strikes... New record oil prices. Our local utilities going up 25%. Syd Barrett dead. Meanwhile America's much publicized #1 wanted man is - A Muslim terrorist leader responsible for attacking America? No. - A Morman!

    If I declared myself and my magazine Republican and/or Christian Evangelical based I bet I could get financial backing, a lot of positive publicity, and many appearances on radio and TV talk shows. Not a bad idea actually. I was raised as both a Christian and a Republican and I have many moral objections to our pop culture these days. I could be born again, hope for the Rapture and become the Steven Baldwin of fanzine publishers!

    MONEY - We know that most of you are struggling with 21st Century financial realities in one way or another too - but if any of you who happen to be wealthy (except for porn producers) want to save Psychotronic magazine by investing (or even being charitable) please get in touch.

    Thank you for your patience and support.

    Michael J. Weldon - July 2006"


    Now, given all the discussion online to date, seems to me a key point has been missed. A comment no one has made as yet that I made a couple of weeks ago during a lengthy phone interview with John Szpunar for his in-the-works book on horror zines, Xerox Ferox, was how the impulse that used to spawn print zines now spawns entire DVD lines and imprints. I used John as an example, given his ongoing work with his partners at Barrel (for whom I painted the DVD cover for one of their early releases, Last House on Dead End Street) -- what would have been the impetus for fanzine efforts in the '70s and '80s has instead sired the Barrel DVD line, pure and simple. John had to agree.

    I believe we now have arrived at a new phase of zine culture, yielding lovingly-detailed and exhaustively complete releases of the kinds of films that used to be the centerpieces of zines. After all, we are in a new media environment, with online 'zines' on the one hand (like Donato's, noted above) and authorized DVD releases of once-obscure curio and classics on the other.

    In fact, many of these releases sport, as extras, nifty and sometimes expansive booklets that are, in fact, l'il fanzines in and of themselves. Add to those print mini-zines the tsunami of DVD bonuses, extras and 'easter eggs' we've come to take for granted, and you have digital fanzines en masse that clearly are 21st Century kith and kin to their 20th Century precursors, available from far more distribution venues than the mail-order-only-Monster-Kids of the '60s would have dared to imagine.

    Consider: in the past year alone, we've savored the back-to-back release of DVDs dedicated to the amateur monster movie makers of the past. These have, in just as short a time, spanned the industry range from truly indy releases to major studio involvement, and now a Criterion edition! Dig 'em, from the definitive collection of Ray Harryhausen's amateur shorts and fairy tales (Ray wasn't just the first "Monster Kid," he was the first to break into the pro filmmaking arena, too) to Monster Kids from an indy label, followed by the announcement of Don Glut's DVD compilation coming soon just as Universal drops The Sci-Fi Boys in our lap as a Best Buy exclusive tie-in with their release of Peter Jackson's King Kong and Criterion, the gold standard of DVD archival labels, gracing us with a glorious packaging of Dennis Muren's Equinox featuring its original 16mm feature incarnation and the theatrical release version I first saw at the Twin City Drive-In on the Barre/Montpelier road back in 1971!

    I could cite plenty of other examples, but this "Monster Kid" plethora of riches is the best example that comes to mind of how horror/sf fanzine culture has culminated in this new form of DVD fanzines -- the fodder of fan pages in Castle of Frankenstein and "The Graveyard Examiner" and "You Axed For It!" in Famous Monsters of Filmland now yields DVD compilations of the amateur horror films we thought we'd never, ever see with our own eyes, spawning an odd mini-industry. This is historic and as profound a change as the emergence of online zines in the chronology of this strange genre of fanzines.

    As Tim notes on his blog post on the topic (and note, too, that Tim & Donna Lucas continue to publish Video Watchdog under the very conditions Michael details: no corporate ads, funding, sponsorship, etc.), there are still plenty of print zines on the racks, and it's far too early to be singing threnodies for the format. Print is not dead.

    But the passing of Psychotronic -- which I snagged in its early NYC tabloid format in 1981, and have subscribed to in its zine format since its first issue -- is indeed worthy of note. I've been in Michael's shoes (when I decided to pull the plug on Tyrant and SpiderBaby as a self-publishing venue), and having been there must note (again, as Tim does) that frequency of publishing no doubt took a toll. Twice a year, tops, for Psychotronic simply couldn't have maintained sufficient income for self-sufficiency for the zine alone, much less the Weldon household. By the sound of it, Weldon is enjoying a better living from his Psychotronic record shop: brick-and-mortar retail is feeding him in ways the zine never, ever could. I went through my own variation on that transition, too (from comics to video-store-manager, 1998-2005), and can empathize.

    Now, I did and do love the zines that exist, from the days of my youth to the present. But I'm glad to have lived long enough to enjoy this new zine era of restored and majestically packaged DVD releases of films I never thought I'd see complete, or in their original language, or at all in any form.

    The abundance of DVD booty for all tastes is indeed the culmination of decades of zine culture -- the zines nurtured the market at a grass roots level, and whether you're considering the horror film DVD boom or the riches of anime labels in the US today, it all grew from the fanzines of the past. Sans the zines, none of this would exist. Michael Weldon, via two incarnations of Psychotronic as a zine and two seminal, essential Psychotronic books -- and everything else he had a hand in -- actively nurtured and midwived this transition from zine realm to booming DVD marketplace.

    Decades of home-made zines, bootleg black-and-gray market video venues, and the whole weird scene has blossomed impossibly into the fertile DVD market of today. This is a market where indy labels spring up monthly, some with the most peculiar focal niches; where once-despised filmmakers from Jess Franco to Andy Milligan are sales-worthy, even imprint-worthy, names to conjure with, earning their own multiple boxed sets; where stuck-in-the-vaults never-released gems like Mario Bava's Rabid Dogs can at last be completed and brought to market; where the likes of Universal, MGM and Paramount raid their corporate vaults with varying levels of interest and attention (from the sorely-missed MGM Midnite Movie line to Paramount's hit-and-miss archival releases, occasionally yielding reverently-packaged gems like their Danger: Diabolok); where the elite Criterion caters to a base hungry for their occasional Fiend Without a Face, Carnival of Souls and Equinox deviations from more rarified World Cinema classics.

    Paramount yielding to the demands of Mario Bava fandom; Universal acknowledging their Hammer Films package is worthy of release, and even indulging the love letter to Monster Kids that Sci-Fi Boys embodies; who'da thunk it? We've gone through the Looking Glass, and many of us couldn't be happier.

    We're at last able to see the films in their pristine state. Fanzines were, in part, about evoking/emulating/capturing the film experience once denied us: articles, photos, entire issues that were essentially souvenirs and mementos of films once-seen and forever-loved, but impossible to share as film experiences. The fanzines were the closest we could get, all too often, to rekindling a fleeting 90-minute experience that had changed our lives, or to tasting a film we simply could not see. Fanzines often detailed what was missing from the films we loved, cut for US release or trimmed forever for business reasons; now, DVDs of those very films feature restored, uncut transfers.

    I'll forever love the fanzines that nurtured this lifelong passion in me, but trade the zine experience for seeing the films themselves? Never.

    Luckily, that's not a choice I have to make: the DVD restorations are the new fanzines. I get my cake, and eat it too.

    Of course, the best zines did much, much more than that, Psychotronic among them. But dig, the interviews, the articles, the essays that provided context for more than just a single film -- those are now part and parcel of many of the DVDs we enjoy today, too. Ecco wrote about Mondo movies; Blue Underground put the very Mondo movies on shelves, complete with a full disc of interviews, documentaries, etc. -- Ecco Deluxe, plus the movies themselves.

    The best surviving zines (including Watchdog and Tim's canny online companion, the Watchblog) now dialogue openly with this new DVDzine culture, bringing the gems to our attention, noting the lost opportunities or "not really uncut" nature of some of these "uncut" new releases -- thus, indispensible (for some) companions to the new DVDzine culture. So it goes.

    Yes, it's sad to know Psychotronic #41 is the final issue of that venerable zine.

    But we're in a brave new era -- one that Michael Weldon actively midwived, though he chose to remain working on a level that eventually denied him the material rewards of this new age (e.g., no Psychotronic video label with Weldon as its mogul). That's how these changes and markets work, alas. Still, we owe Michael Weldon much for this brave new era, where the once-unimaginable, unreachable riches are all in reach for those who can afford to indulge their fondest tastes.

    From this vet Psychotronic reader and fan, thanks, Michael. Best of luck in all you do.

    More later...