"COURSE, WE HAD IT TOUGH!"

A personal history of being a UK horror fan back in the seventies.

If you're in the first throes of horror film obsession at this current moment in time, or have been into them for a decade or so, then you are probably unaware of how lucky you are - and don't worry I am not being patronising here - but when you can go on the net, log on to a website and get Last House On The Left on DVD, delivered to your door in two days with a bunch of great extras and a copy of the film you can actually se OR walk into Borders and see Fangoria racked up alongside a bunch of other cult film mags OR go to something like "FrightFest" every year as a matter of course, then you may have little conception of how different things were for the generation that preceded you.

For us poor Forty-somethings, back when we were young, dumb and full of cum, and thirsty for the red stuff in print or onscreen, then things were radically different. This may not be as obvious a statement as it fist appears; imagine if you've just got into horror now and you're seeing all these re-issues of 60's 70's and early eighties horror movies, or all the books on the likes of Argento, Romero and even Fulci: it must seem like we were awash with amazing horror films all around us.

The reality of living in Britain back then as a horror fan was actually very different. In fact the UK was radically different. I was born in 1962 - I was already mad into horror films and books in the mid 70's. Here is a list of things we didn't have back in the mid seventies. See if it looks familiar to you:

Get the picture? On top of that we had power cuts and a reduction of the working week to three day a week due to industrial disputes. We had terrorist bombs exploding in cities across the UK (that may become popular again soon) and we had on average one Chinese takeaway per town if you were lucky. It was a very different time.

For me growing up in a small satellite town of Manchester, crazy about horror films and books, but under 18 years of age (and not able to get in to see "X" certificate films), I was dependant on seeing most of the films I wanted to see on television. (Paul writes about this in another part of the site). But then when I say that, you have to realise that a lot of the films didn't get any kind of release here. Take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Today you can go to your local HMV and buy a super-pristine DVD with knobs and whistles attached with ease. Or if you have Sky, you can see it on Film Four most months. Back then, it was rejected by censors and got shown only in London at one cinema for a limited run.

As we moved into the 80's then the good films we wanted to see, like, say Dawn Of The Dead, Suspiria or The Beyond would get released but in a severely cut version and then if it wasn't a mass release film like The Exorcist, then it would usually be only in one cinema in the city. I was lucky in as much as I lived three miles from Manchester City Centre - If you lived far out, then you might not be able to get to it in time.

Home video in the early to mid 80's was the massive change that meant we got to see these films for the first time in any form, but I am still talking about an era when if it wasn't on TV or at a cinema then you just didn't get to see it at all. Just take the time to think about this for a minute. Let's say there is a movie coming out this year you want to see, say 28 Days Later. It should run in a lot of cinemas, for at least one month. Then you know that it will definitely get a Video and DVD release next year, so there is no danger of not seeing it and a high possibility that you may be able to buy it, own it and watch it whenever you want to. Back then, if you couldn't see it at the pictures, then you didn't see it at all.

We were a bit more fortunate post '77; Films like The Omen, Carrie, Halloween and the other late 70's classics did get good releases, and those of us able to blag our way into cinemas underage got to see 'em.

I still remember seeing my first "X": it was The Omen and it as at The New Prince's Cinema in a small town called Monton near Eccles. The cinema manager actually loved horror films and turned a blind eye to a 14 year old fat kid queuing up and trying to talk deeper and look taller (not easy!). I'd been hyped up about the film via the mags (more on them next) and by clips on the two film shows that ran on UK TV back then. I'd even bought the book to get an idea of what to expect, which kind of took the shine off David Warner's now legendary decapitation by plate glass. That bit specially made half the cinema freak out and I remember me and my mates being absolutely adrenalised by it. I was so proud at having lost my "X" Cherry, that I went back the same week again to see it. Sadly a few months later when I tried to get in to see Carrie in a city centre cinema, I got turned away, so it wasn't all good news!

For most of us, our horror fix came from two sources: the TV and magazines. Neither was totally fulfilling. UK TV had a weird attitude to horror films. They obviously had to put them on late at night, but back in those days the gap between a film coming out at the cinema and appearing on TV was far greater than it is now: On average, 4 to 6 years. So in '75, we'd be getting films that were almost never made later than 70-73, and usually a lot older than that. There were lots of Hammer films (usually cut too) and lots of the "classic" Universal horrors. In fact, the first film I ever saw that scared me was Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, which incidentally, is the film Clive Barker credits with switching him on to enjoying being scared by movies. Luckily in the mid seventies, BBC 2 once a year would do a run of double bills of horrors, and usually you'd get an old classic with something more recent or culty in nature - I remember Romero's The Crazies being shown on one season. ITV similarly used to show horror films on Monday or Friday nights under various banners such as "The Haunted House of Horror" - again though, tons of Hammer films, with the odd 60's exploitation crossover slipping through.

Nevertheless, these double-bills became "Don't Miss" occasions, with us eagerly scanning the Radio Times to see what we were getting the next weekend. Paul and I used to delight in finding out first, and would even cut out the listing from the magazine to keep. (Sad F**kers!)

Beyond that, it was the odd showing here or there for the rest of the year - Xmas was usually good though, as they'd generally have a few on then, which meant once again scanning the double issue Radio Times to mark the ones you wanted to see. (We knew how to make our own fun in them days!)

Problem with all this was that by that time, although all these great film were coming out, you jut couldn't see em at the cinema or on TV. I don't think it is overstating the case to say that for us, the main source of horror fix addiction came from the horror film mags. I especially devoured these things. Finding them was part of the fun: they weren't racked up in WH Smiths. You'd mostly find them in local newsagents. Back then, magazines were even displayed differently: instead of long rows of beech-wood and glass shelving, most local newsagents had a strange wire contraption in their shop. Imagine a vertical pole on wheels with rectangular wire frames attached to it- the mags would be dropped into these and you could turn em round to inspect the vertical racks. A bit of searching would help you find them -they were usually hidden behind the American true crime magazines or above the Marvel and DC comics.

These mags were an insight into the films we wished we could see. Many of today's UK genre writers cut their teeth in these mags: Alan Jones and Kim Newman both used to write for these babies and they were usually edited by a bloke called Dez Skinn who always wore a werewolf mask in the picture by his by-line. It was in here I found out about such outré pleasures as Flesh For Frankenstein, Suspiria, Last House On The Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is also where I read about this amazing American film mag called "Cinefantastique" which I eventually found and then subsequently bought for 25 years.

Some of them would run for years, some for months and then some for one issue only. Plus they may only be one issue of the mag in your newsagent so you had to be quick. I'd just like to name check a few of them if I may…

Famous Monsters of Filmland

The daddy of them all: I have to confess though that I never ever found this In a normal newsagent - My friend's uncle had bought them in the 60's and sometimes he would let us browse through them. Written in a jokey, pun-laden style and mostly devoted to "classic" horror films, they were nevertheless a dedicated magazine for the fright-fan and the inspiration for many careers. They seem very restrained today but you have to hand it to the editor/publisher, Forrest J Ackerman who did it first.

Monster Mag

The first Horror mag I remember seeing in my newsagents. It ran from 1974-1976 and was edited by Dez Skinn, it was a fold out magazine with the inside full-image usually being a Hammer film poster. Around it on the pages were the goriest pictures they could find from the movies and it had an "Adults Only" tag on it, meaning my newsagent wouldn't sell it to me! Issue two was actually destroyed by its publishers for being too gory.

World of Horror

Again published from 1972, bi-monthly and only running for 9 issues, this magazine for me was just fantastic. It covered just about anything that could be classed as fantastic; Hammer, Dr. Who, Star Trek alongside the films like The Mutations and Flesh For Frankenstein (it was another 20 years before I finally got to see that one!). It always took some finding as some of the more gory covers meant old ladies would complain to their newsagent and they wouldn't stock it again. I still own every copy.

House of Hammer/House of Horror/Hammer Halls of Horror

Published first in 1974 and running through to the mid eighties with a couple of name changes, this mag was another Dez Skinn beauty. It began by having a comic-book long length adaptation of a Hammer movie and then reviews and articles on all sorts of Hammer movies and non-Hammer stuff too. The covers were also usually gorgeous (Except for number one bizarrely).


Movie Monsters

This was an American mag that only ran four issues from around 1974. But it was well above average - great writing and pictures, with a wide range of movies covered, plus it was on that grainy brown pulp paper which by the time it had been battered around on it's import journey, gave it a very underground feel.

Between these mags were a host of offshoots, one-offs and things like Starburst which might have the odd horror film review in But these were the ones I loved best and which fed my horror film thirst. I still have just about all the ones I bought back then and have never so much as even imagined getting rid of them or selling them, even when absolutely skint and in debt.

You can still buy most of them via eBay and specialist websites at daft prices, but the thrill of hunting and finding them, alongside the importance of them to a horror starved teenager can't be replicated now, I think. 20 years of Fangoria have dented that innocence!

I would add a wee postscript to this: around 1977, I found a small underground bookshop, long since demolished to make room for bars, near the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Alongside the head/hippie books, crime mags and back issues of Mayfair and Club international (a whole other article…), I finally found my first issue of Cinefantastique magazine. Wrapped in a see-through plastic bag-the first time I had ever seen that-it seemed a revelation. Not as slickly laid out but with L-O-N-G articles on great movies and no cheesey puns or picture captions, it became a pilgrimage once a month for me to enter that shop and search for a new issue and then also I began to buy the back issues I had missed. Outrageously expensive at the time - about 2 or three quid as opposed to the usual £1.00, Paul and myself used to go to each other's houses just to sit and read them. (Sad F***ers again!).

David Dunne. 20/11/2002

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