Posts filed under 'Fear Magazine'

The Dark Playground: Fear – Issue 2

fear-2Welcome 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’.

Gilbert then discussed the ‘advice’ he received when he set out to publish Fear. You just know what’s coming: don’t bother, it’ll never sell. Putting hindsight to one side, I firmly believe that if you can develop quality content, present it professionally in terms of copy and imagery, and find a distributor that believes in you, people will find it and follow. This is especially the case today when only a few minutes research can put the inquirer in touch with the creators, provide an overview of the product and enable a purchase. So different to the trek to the newsagents, or the bus ride to the next town, all in search of a paltry magazine – absolutely unheard of today! And I miss that search, for if I hadn’t religiously sought out each issue of Fear I feel I would be less of a fan, less of an obsessive, (aka collector), than I am today. And Fear is where my bug began.

Gilbert responds to fan letters telling him to encourage new writing talent: ‘The truth is this: I will publish at least one piece of fiction from a “newcomer” in every issue of Fear – that’s been the plan from the start. Hand on overburdened heart, I can say that I’ve had more than 40 short stories from readers since the magazine first appeared…’ Submission length was 1,500 to 4,500 words – not a bad end length at all methinks. And this approach resulted in first sales for several household names of today, whom I’ll mention in future Fear articles.

gilbert2In the final section of his editorial Gilbert looks at the current trends in the US film industry – sequels, prequels and remakes. How times haven’t changed – money motivates. His thoughts echo my own, and those of most of us I expect: ‘Sequels and remakes may be money-spinners, but they should only be made if Part II or III carries on the plot of the first movie forward – like Hellbound – Hellraiser II – or the remake adds something to the original – like Evil Dead II or The Blob… Just a few years ago film-makers were crying over falling box-office receipts and closing cinemas. Now the moguls responsible for churning out sequels past the trilogy stage could be responsible for a renewed decline when viewers get tired of the same old movie cliches. Let’s hope the movie producers see that the popularity of Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees is no excuse for lack of invention’.

Oh well, as news of the Alien remake/prequel begins to leak out; as we see the first shots of the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street; and as Hellraiser‘s remake gathers momentum we can only hope these classic and memorable experiences are injected with vigorous and convincing creativity and a humble repsect for their original visions; and I guess, we must appreciate that the majority of these ‘re-inventions and revisits’ are not for us, but for our children. And that they will forget them pretty quickly if they’re no good. One wonders if today’s teenagers will have the same sense of nostalgia, given today’s fast-paced society. (However, I do hold out great hopes for the Hellraiser remake, seeing as it’s gone to the director of Martyrs, Pascal Laugier). But it’s nice to be able to comment upon them knowing what’s gone before.

My memory is grainy, but the second issue of Fear was possibly my first relatively comprehensive introduction to the zombie film genre in the form of Philip Nutman’s excellent and timely overview, Dead or Alive? Nutman concentrated on the voodoo side of zombie lore, as it was around this time that The Believers, the second Return of the Living Dead, and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow were out and about in British cinemas, possibly inspired, or given new life by Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.

John Gilbert followed up his article on film-making from the first issue with Tales of a Lonely Scriptwriter: “No director is going to thank you for a description of a massive bedroom if all he can afford is a plywood shack.” Paddy McKillop traces the development of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger and the planned series, which at the time were a bit of a gamble: “King feared his mass-market readers might be disappointed with a story of sorcerers, magic and other worlds.” Time has certainly proven otherwise.

This issue’s Fear Factor featured the one and only Jonathan Ross gushing about his comic books and love of horror fiction. Remember his series Incredibly Strange Films? “I’ve been an HP Lovecraft fan for years, which is why I like Ramsey Campbell’s stuff so much; there’s a real Lovecraft feel to them. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood are very enjoyable… Shaun Hutson’s a lot of fun; his books are great tongue-in-cheek stuff.”


A new feature was the introduction of The Spook, a diary column from an anonymous lady possibly working within the world of genre publishing – or completely made up. She was also referred to as Lady Ligger, the Mistress of Gatecrashers. “Maggots, beetles, members of the living dead, parasites and the dregs of society. No, I’m not talking about John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, I’m talking about the party at London’s Limelight Club which promoted it.” In this issue she attends the opening of Forbidden Planet’s new London Megastore where she bumped into Willie Rushton – oh what a grand place that was – remember the weirdly round comic room at the back? And does anyone know who this quaintly titled Dame was/is?


Fear Fiction:

  • Uzzi, by Brian Lumley – ‘cuddly pets won’t be the same’
  • A Quarter to Three, by Kim Newman – ‘late at night in a sleazy bar’
  • Guilty Party, by Stephen Laws – ‘whose birthday is it anyway?’


Interviews and features were in the Pro-Files and Location Reports sections:

  • James Herbert talks about the origins of Haunted, the film versions of Rats and Survivor, and if he is seen as a corrupting influence: “I’d always liked horror. I was not a fanatic about it but I’d always liked it, and it seemed to fit like a glove.”
  • In the first of a two-parter, a very young Clive Barker discuss childhood influences, the Books of Blood and his imagination: “Somebody at Gollancz sent the first set of short stories back saying they were the most disgusting things she had ever read.”
  • Dean R Koontz on how he became a bestselling author, whilst avoiding falling into the ‘genre trap’: “Of the first three books I had on the bestseller list, two of them were under pen names.”
  • Ramsey Campbell‘s two-parter comes to a conclusion: “I wouldn’t ever go back to pre-plotting.”
  • A very serious suited and booted Christopher Fowler (image below) discusses the City as inspiration: “I’ve always lived in town – countryside has an agrophobic effect on me. It’s horrible. It’s full of cows and things.”
  • Fantasy author Sheri Tepper believes pessimism within fantasy and horror can lead to dire consequences for the young: “I come from an age which wanted the human spirit to be triumphant, and I still want that.”
  • Shaun Hutson discusses his works: “I don’t write horror I write comedy… I do sit down, obviously, with the intention of scaring the shit out of people.”


Fan-File featured the relatively new fanzine Skeleton Crew that dealt with one author or subject per issue. There’s a plug for the awesome Midnight Graffitti which includes journalism from Rick Kleffel who currently runs The Agony Column. Ghosts and Scholars, an MR James newsletter is given a mention – this is still published today. Shock Xpress, a magazine that focused on the sleazier side of horror is detailed. Years later I would write alongside editor Stefan Jaworzyn on the industrial music magainze, Music From the Empty Quarter. Dave Carson’s Haunter of the Dark portfolio is featured, published via Dagon Press, who appropriately enough published Dagon magazine.

Here’s an advert for James Herbert’s Haunted from Hodder and Stoughton. It’d be fantastic to see something like this on a billboard today.


Being a second issue there were 2 pages set aside for letters, under the heading Raising the Dead. Stephen Volk is a name I recognize and his letter is an interesting response to the article on censorship from the prevous issue. Another reader complains about the lack of Fantasy and SF in issue one – something that is put right in this second issue with the Tepper interview, the Gunslinger article and a higher percentage of Fantasy and SF book reviews.

Genre reviews were within the Revenants section, with a place for all media…

Film reviews were in the Movie Mainline section:

  • Phantasm II, directed by Don Coscarelli …not sure if they’d seen this as there’s no critique, rather a simple synopsis and a comment from the fx man, Mark Shoestrom.
  • Poltergeist III, directed by Gary Sherman …The most frightening factor about Poltergeist III is that nothing happens!
  • The Running Man, directed by Paul Michael Glaser …Admirers of Stephen King would do well to stay clear…
  • Return of the Living Dead Part II, directed by Ken Wiederhorn …the audience remained fairly titterless, as did I.
  • Dead Heat, directed by Mark Goldblatt …First-time director Goldblatt keeps the mayhem thick and fast, making the most of Terry Black’s wacked-out script.
  • 976-Evil, directed by Robert Englund …some pictures and synopsis of the forthcoming and uncompleted film.
  • Maniac Cop, directed by William Lustig …at once uneven and disappointing. It doesn’t live up to its potential. I’m still looking for a new twist of the knife.

Video reviews in Video Vibes:

  • The Lost Boys, directed by Joel Schumacher …despit the criticism I’m liable to get for saying it, the movie was one of my favourites last year.
  • Prison, directed by Renny Marlin …The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the special effects are over the top…and the acting is efficient.
  • Maximum Overdrive, directed by Stephen King …don’t expect a tour de force by the man who still remains the master of modern horror.
  • HP Lovecraft’s The Unnamable, directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette …If special effects ever swung a movie from bad to mediocre these are they.
  • The 13th Floor, directed by Chris Roach …I’m not against lifts, mind you, but when you’ve seen one disgusting thing in a lift, or splatty lift accident, you’ve seen them all.
  • The Witches of Eastwick, directed by George Miller …The object I mourned the loss of most in the translation from the book was the Jacuzzi…
  • Close Your Eyes and Pray, directed by Skip Schoolnick …Close your eyes and pray the silly end doesn’t really mean a sequel.

Off the Shelf covered book reviews, divided by format:

  • Haunted, by James Herbert; Hodder & Stoughton HB …glows softly, but consistently, with menace rather than a curb on ghoulish happenings – there are plenty of those.
  • The Player of Games, by Iain M Banks; Macmillan HB …a book to be savoured… a book I’ll be reading again, and soon.
  • Why Not You and I?, by Karl Edward Wagner; Dark Harvest HB …shows what pyschological horror really involves… a zest and finesse which make all his contributions to the genre essential reading, and this collection is no exception.
  • Interzone – Second Anthology, edited by David Pringle, John Clute and Simon Ousley; New English Library PB …full of surprises, and no matter what sort of fiction you read it will provide some chilling, humorous, and ironic tastes for you to savour.
  • Swords and Sorceress II, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley; Headline PB …It’s difficult to express which are the best stories in this wonderful collection.
  • Lords of the Middle Dark, by Jack L Chalker; New English Library PB …The scene is set for one blockbuster of a fantasy series.
  • The Mask of Cthulhu/The Trail of Cthulhu, by August Derleth; Grafton PB …There stories still – literally – give me nightmares and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
  • The Zenda Vendetta, by Simon Hawke; Headline PB …apparently targeted at easy-to-please teenagers with a couple of hours to kill and nothing better to do with them.
  • Weaveworld, by Clive Barker; Collins PB …a remarkable combination of fantasy, horror and a bit of Clive Barker erotica. It hits hard and draws deep.
  • A Malady of Magicks, by Craig Shaw Gardner; Headline PB …Mythological beasts, Cuthbert the magic sword who can’t abide bloodshed, plus the 500 ferrets.
  • Space Rangers/Pirates of the Asteroids, by Isaac Asimov; Lightning PB …Methinks they’re meant for children and teenagers, but adults will equally get a quick, exciting, read from them.
  • Swamp Thing Volume Six, by Alan Moore; Titan Books Large Softcover …Dark side; light side; the book is like one of those yams, full of Moore’s familiar touches of contrast…
  • Wildwood, by John Farris; New English Library PB …sensual and sentimental… brutal and fascinating reading…
  • Alfred Hitchock’s Book of Horror Stories Number 8, by Various; New English Library PB …A book of horror stories? Who are New English Library kidding? … contains only one piece of closet horror fiction…
  • The Deluge Drivers, by Alan Dean Foster; New English Library PB …reeks of Star Wars technology…Excellent science fiction.

stan-mug-1So that was issue two of Fear. Stan Nicholls who interviewed Christopher Fowler in this issue, and now a best-selling author himself, says of Fear: “It was a good magazine with decent content and quality production values, and its demise certainly left a hole in the horror market. It’s a real pity it went down when and as it did.”

And from that issue? Well, I became a devout fan of the Phantasm films, sourced The Unnamable in my local video store and enjoyed it immensly; eventually I tracked down The Believers (wonderful) and put The Serpent and The Rainbow on my list of films to see, and it’s now one of my all-time favourites. I chased down the August Derleth re-issues, and comsumed Wildwood by John Farris, and Barker’s Weaveworld. I read Haunted years later, and I think I’ve missed Prison somehow, so will have to get to that in due course – only 21 years too late!

Mathew F. Riley

[This article originally appeared on in June 2009]

2 comments July 4th, 2009

The Dark Playground: Fear – Issue 1

fear-11Welcome 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.

gilbertAnd 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…

wiater2Stanley 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.

Mathew F. Riley

[This article originally appeared on in May 2009]

2 comments June 9th, 2009



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