It was, if I remember correctly, (and I’m worryingly likely to be wrong, if that’s the case), early 1992 and I’m upstairs on the school bus heading home. My best friend has an issue of a magazine I’ve never come across before – The Dark Side. This particular issue has a massive article on the special edition of Aliens.
Now, we were all HUGE Aliens fans – we played and loved the video games, I had the Dark Horse comics which we adored – so to read that there was a version of Aliens which showed Newt’s parents discovering the derelict and a whole load of other footage was a revelation. We’d read the Alan Dean Foster novelization of the film and always presumed the additional material was artistic licence, not scenes we’d been denied seeing.
This magazine was an intriguing publication – my only experience of film magazines at the time was reading the odd issue of Empire, and like its sister publication Q, it often felt a bit too dry for my teenage tastes and lacked any sense or irreverence or anarchic stupidity that I enjoyed so much in the video game magazines I read such as Zero and Your Sinclair. (I guess it wouldn’t be until the launch of Neon/ Hotdog in the latter 90s that there would be something covering mainstream cinema in a less dry approach.) Although this horror magazine wasn’t as loopy in tone as my gaming mags, it had a sense of humour to itself, from the daft captions on the letters page to a less than complete reverent approach to everything covered.
Coming across The Dark Side must have coincided with my teenage horror “awakening” – I’ve covered that in more detail on my previous blog post below but it was a strange combination of the purchase of a random horror movies book from an overstocks book shop* and reading Stephen King’s Carrie that opened this dark portal…and the discovery of The Dark Side magazine came at the right time, opening my mind to a whole new world of horror. To quote one classic horror movie monster, “We have such sights to show you” – indeed!
From purchasing my own copy of said Aliens special edition, I’d pick up every issue of The Dark Side on going. Around this time there was talk of "Opportunity Shocks", a short film competition they’d just run and as film making was just becoming something I was daydreaming of and focussing on, reading about Alex Chandon’s Bad Karma felt like something which, if not immediately within my grasp, was something I too could stretch towards. I’d eventually order from Alex a VHS copy of Bad Karma and his showreel for Drill Bit, which would get regular viewings with myself and my friends, entertaining us and inspiring us…and the line “STUPID CHAIR! MADE FOR STUPID PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAND UP!” continues to make me giggle to this day…
I would read about all night horror film screenings in London, events I wished I could attend, screenings of forbidden or rare films…and reminisces of double bill film screenings in flea pit cinemas, a far cry from the Mansfield or Nottingham Odeon which was the closest I mostly got to a silver screen experience.
This period also coincided with the revival of the Vipco video label and their reissue of Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. Encouraged by the enthusiastic words in the magazine, I hired this pan and scanned, censored edition from the video shop and my friends and I sat down to watch this film, which we were informed, was regarded as a classic. Being only used to Romero’s Dawn and Day of the Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters seemed at times laughable to us, at times incomprehensible (THAT underwater sequence) and ending abruptly. But in the days afterwards I had convinced myself that there was something there that I just hadn’t grasped yet and, if my new horror bible said it was a classic, then the problem must have been with me. The problem would very soon go away.
Another revelatory moment would occur, when following The Dark Side’s Troma movies special, I discovered a Bank Holiday flea market in my hometown which had a second hand VHS stall…and came home with a copy of Class of Nuke ‘Em High. This stall, hitting my hometown market twice a week became a mecca for me during school holidays and where I would visit in the hope of picking up copies of films I’d been reading about in The Dark Side.
My “Italian” problem went away and then some - I became entranced by the world of Italian horror, no doubt thanks to the articles written by John Martin (who would go on to be, and still is, my favourite film writer – his Seduction of the Gullible book remains a favourite!) I would search out films by Argento, Fulci, Bava, Margheriti and soon learn the pseudonyms used by the fly by night video companies to disguise the product. I’d take great delight in joining the dots and discovering that some of my nostalgic favourite video hits that my brother and I had watched at a VERY wrong and inappropriate age (Bronx Warriors, The Atlantis Interceptors) were from this same lineage.
(For a more indepth discussion of my adoration for Fulci, please see a blog post I wrote for a screening Creak had accompanying Fulci’s The Beyond…which also covers a “joining the dots” moment for Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions - http://kino-klubb.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/beyond-beyond.html?m=0)
As my knowledge or Euro “trash” genre cinema expanded, covering Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Paul Naschy and the likes as did the mavericks of the UK scene. I’d read about Norman J Warren’s 70s output and love the tales of him working with so little, desperate to see Prey, Terror and Satan’s Slave with only Inseminoid available to view. I’d read trashy tales of Pete Walker and his controversial attempts to goad moral majority shock and scandal from his films. I’d be forever curious about the work of Lindsay Shonteff, though the only film I ever managed to track down was Zapper’s Blade Of Vengeance (and I kick myself years later for not paying to download those films from the now taken down website – a whole output there which no current dvd label has been able to secure for reissue.) Although I remained stuffy about Hammer films (an attitude I’m only recently starting to turn around) there was plenty of other UK output from across the years spread across the pages of the magazine, to file away in my brain bank and hope I could spot on the VHS stall, or a late night screening on TV to be taped.
Although those early to mid 90s seemed a depressingly lean time for UK film makers who didn’t want to make social realism or period pieces – Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil seemed stuck in the collapse of Palace Pictures and the rest that seemed to come through seemed to be played more for laughs (Funny Man, Revenge of Billy The Kidd) or flowery goth pomp all of this newly found knowledge of those making films on the periphery (and certainly far from the periphery of mainstream taste) all encouraged my film making day dreams. If it wasn’t for The Dark Side’s fanzine focus section (from which I also latched on to John Martin’s Italia film magazine Giallo Pages) I wouldn’t have come across a little film fanzine called A Bag Of Sand, devoted to film makers exactly like myself – home movie enthusiasts hoping to somehow get a break. This fanzine was a lifeline to me, comforting me to know others were out there around the country in the same boat as myself or further along that road (especially for one film maker called Edgar Wright but I believe has done quite well for himself…) Hilariously I’d also later become the cover star of an issue when Steve Lawson, the editor, tootled up from Leicester to Nottingham to interview me about my ropey film work.
As a bonafide massive fan of The Dark Side I was honoured to get a letter printed in the magazine and it continued to raise a chuckle that my signing off of telling Allan, the editor, to get a haircut (based on his Mike Read-esque spiked mullet hairstyle on his editorial photo, which was obviously a shocking faux pas to my long hair teenage tastes) continued to run for several later issues with other readers suggesting the same thing. Sorry about that Allan :)
Other magazines would come and go in my life around this time – I’d pick up the odd issue of Fangoria, but could never get on with that magazine….I’d also collect Shivers, though it never seemed to hit the heights of The Dark Side. Aside from John Martin’s Giallo Pages, I’d also pick up other fanzines such as Necronomicon, European Trash Cinema and the odd issue of Video Watchdog…but for a long period time it was all about the Dark Side.
Much that my love for the magazine coincided with many things coming together in one go, as did the decline in my following of the magazine. The magazine had resorted back to a bi monthly schedule, which I worried was the alarm bell waking the death knell to get ringing, having seen it with the 8 bit video games magazines I once read. I’d also left college, I felt that it was very hard to make an effective horror film at the level I was operating – sure, you could repulse people, you could play for laughs, but it was hard to actually scare people – and the films I was wanting to make were to be more slices of life reflecting my own experiences of entering the adult world. I’d be going further into the world of Scorsese, Woody Allen, Lindsay Anderson…it felt like the magazine was slowly working through an inexhaustible A-Z of horror and everywhere you looked it was the X-Files. Sorry, it’s not you The Dark Side, it’s me…
I didn’t pick up an issue for years, though I would flick through the odd issue in a newsagent and be pleased to see it managed to avoid that demise I predicted – like an old friend, it felt comforting to know it was still around.
But then for some reason earlier this year I picked up an issue and found myself buying it regularly again. The aspects which appeal to me more these days (and to be fair, did when I originally bought it) are those personal touches that the writers bring – it’s those individual reminisces and opinions which seem to really work for me. A recent article about the Holborn Gothic Society felt like a real peak into a secret world yet one which is still very much alive today (and who would have expected Bob Monkhouse was such a fan of the fantastique!) Allan’s editorial pieces and Facebook posts looking back at his diaries, the films he saw on what day 40 years ago are such a sweet time capsule of a cinema world long gone. It’s things such as these which make the magazine a special place, a communal place where fans of horror can come together.
Sure, there are plenty of places where such people can come together on the internet in a far more instant and interactive manner, but for The Dark Side to still exist in PRINT form, in this day and age, is something to be applauded. I certainly never expected it to outlast a giant such as Fangoria. I appreciate this love in is turning a blind eye to controversies in the magazine’s history, namely accusations of plagiarism, and even now one particular forum seems focussed on continuing to rake the magazine over the coals. I’ve seen various arguments back and forth but for me, that’s a discussion for another time.
I have to smile about a certain circularity of events – when I first became a regular reader of The Dark Side I was reading about a no budget film maker receiving some promotion via the magazine, enviously reading about Shock Around The Clock and other all day horrorthons – and as I return to the fold as a regular reader we now we have the first ever Dark Side horror film event where they are screening my horror short film Creak (which was my first attempt at making a horror film since my teenage years) at Dark Fest. This will also be my first ever horrorthon so I no longer need to pine at film line ups and events and wish I could be there. Indeed it feels like things have come full circle!
I will always hold up Alex Cox’s Moviedrome series as opening my eyes to such a broad range of cult cinema, but it was The Dark Side which introduced me to such a huge other wave of fantastical cinema and helped join a massive amount of dots between important films and directors for me, some of which have gone on to become some of my all time favourites.
The largest of hats off to Allan for keeping The Dark Side going all these years through thick and thin and here’s to many more years. For those of you attending Dark Fest I hope to meet some of you there!
*Perhaps some eagle eyed Dark Side reader can help track down this said book – from my previous blog post “I think it had a main image on the cover along with 3 boxed out images on the bottom, all stills from the movies…one of which I’m sure was Klaus Kinski in the role of Nosferatu.
I can’t recall if Frankenstein’s monster was on the cover, but as I flicked through the pages I somehow found myself stopping on a striking image of Alice Krige’s frighteningly decaying corpse from the adaptation of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. It really was quite shocking. Amazing Dick Smith special effects. As I had the book open some classic cloth cap style Midlands pensioner shuffled behind me, looked over my shoulder, saw what I was looking at and declared “THAT STUFF WILL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES!” I also remember it had a full page of eyes from De Palma’s The Fury and also a full page picture of Carrie’s date with a splattering of blood on his face from the De Palma adaptation. There was also a double page spread of the different coloured “deaths” from the finale to Corman’s Masque of the Red Death film.