Retro-View: Cinefantastique Volume 5 Number 2, 1976

CINFANTASTIQUE, the late Frederick S. Clarke’s film magazine with “a sense of wonder,” was the New Yorker of genre publications during the 70’s and 80’s, a conduit betwixt FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MONSTER TIMES and STARLOG, treating science fiction, fantasy and horror as legitimate subjects of study, with exhaustive detail and a sometimes too-critical eye that would later raise the ire of folks like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, among others. What I cared about as a child were the rare, cool photos of deleted scenes, stop-motion masters like Ray Harryhausen at work, or especially erotic images of gothic Hammer babes. The writers were excellent, from Steve Rubin to Foster Hirsch (who would later interview me for his book on Otto Preminger) to Tim Lucas to David Bartholomew, whose review of ERASERHEAD in the 1976 issue above was my first exposure to David Lynch: “I am not given to overstatement. See this thing.” Within the same pages were perfect capsule opines on INFRA-MAN, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW, and THE CRAZIES. Their major essay reviews were literate and insightful, and also inside Volume 2, Number 5 (never understood the need to volumize the magazine) are Ross Care’s prescient take on THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (“The whole thing simply screams, ‘Cult!'”) to the merciless take-down of AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976) with the caption on a particularly cheap image explaining, “That set must have cost Amicus at least $1.98.”

Better still, their production coverage was often the last word on the film subject, with entire issues devoted to all aspects of a single film such as FORBIDDEN PLANET; THE EXORCIST; ALIEN; WAR OF THE WORLDS; CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; THE THING; SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and their famous pimping of THE WICKER MAN, which helped spread the word in 1977 (Sir Christopher Lee later sent the magazine his only letter ever responding to a negative review while thanking the readers for their support). Our featured volume above obviously focuses on the year’s big cinematic release, LOGAN’S RUN, and despite CFQ’s on-set access and interviews, their four-part examination was titled, “The Science Fiction Boom Begins With A Bomb.” The editors compare the 1968 novel by William Nolan and George Clayton Johnson to various screenplay drafts (the first magazine I ever read that published script excerpts), accurately highlighting numerous flaws in the feature with an honesty that today’s publicists would not allow, ultimately pointing out that the new wave of sci-fi films had yet to come. Frederick S. Clarke was savvy enough to sense the genre sea-change around the corner, and it’s ironic that in this very issue the “Previews” section included a long blurb on an upcoming film called THE STAR WARS, about the adventures of Luke Starkiller that would include a “12 minute space battle.”

As if all that were not enough for an impressionable geek, Volume 5, Number 2 also featured a great piece by animation maven, Mark Wolf, on all the uncredited effects artists who dilligently brought the hit sex parody FLESH GORDON (1974) to life. We learn that Jim Danforth did a few of the beautiful matte paintings, plus animated the impressive “Beetleman” fight — though he asked his name be taken off the credits (the perverse producers merely spelled it backwards). There are nifty rare stills of unused shots and a generous list of all the technicians who worked on the film, almost a who’s-who precursor to STAR WARS. This volume also features a letter from Rick Baker explaining his role in the controversy around the effects of the KING KONG remake. And this is just one standard issue from the period, so you can see what a wealth of genre information the magazine provided. CINFANTASTIQUE would gain in popularity when the official science fiction boom hit in May of 1977, and I miss the days of comic-shop haunting when they were still wthin the counter-cultural realm, discovering the latest glossy issue and rushing home to be engrossed by the cinematic Sense of Wonders within.

10 Responses to “Retro-View: Cinefantastique Volume 5 Number 2, 1976”

  1. I remember thinking, when CFQ first hit the stands, that it was revealing too much about FX, like a magician revealing secrets. Outside of fanzines like Bill George’s THE LATE SHOW, Gary Svehla’s MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, Don Dohler’s CINEMAGIC and the Skotak’s FANTASCENE, FX were rarely talked about in print, almost never on TV. You’d get the occasional blurb about Harryhausen, but not much else. CFQ was, to my eyes, a fanzine that had successfully crossed over to the pros and, as such, the one took FX talk into the mainstream. STARLOG seemed almost pedestrian by comparison.

    As I recall, there were rumors of odd behavior with Clarke a year or two before his death. My attempts to find anything on Google have so far netted zero.

    • christian Says:

      I was down with the behind the scenes details, even though sometimes the technical jargon was incomprehensible. Their CLOSE ENCOUNTERS issues reveals so much interesting stuff, especially on all the footage that Spielberg shot and later cut — such as aliens flying, etc. CINEMAGIC was a good effects companion, but CFQ just had excellent reportage, and like Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, a definite point of view. Clarke seemed to become increasingly more interested in conflict, especially when he revealed the first spoilers from EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and other films. But the interviews with folks like John Carpenter are still some of the best and most honest ever. Their in-depth coverage of Carpenter’s THE THING was fantastic.

  2. Yeah, this mag put STARLOG to shame in terms of production info. Their in-depth coverage of CREEPSHOW still remains one of my faves as is their in-depth and very candid interview with John Carpenter when THE FOG came out. I’ve been snatching up old back issue on eBay whenever I get the chance. Amazing stuff.

    • christian Says:

      I was happy with both and they complemented each other. STARLOG was the first place I read of Harlan Ellison and David Gerrold’s columns were fascinating along with good solid essays, photos and interviews. I got to meet Kerry O’Quin when I interviewed Harlan and it was good to tell him how important the magazine was to me and his upbeat editorial stance as opposed to CFQ’s more critical insight. And the Carpenter interview is the best I’ve read. He trashes TAXI DRIVER!

      • I loved STARLOG growing up and their coverage of genre films was very, very good as was their no-holds barred 2-part interview with Ellison in issues #100-101 but sometimes their articles veered dangerously close to production notes with not much critical faculties which is what I liked about CFQ. But you’re right, the two mags complemented each other very well and I was bummed when STARLOG’s quality declined in the later ’90s and I pretty much stopped buying issues of it.

  3. THE FUTURIST! has a box FULL of CFQ. He loved it … loved it.

  4. […] couldn’t let this stunning teaser poster go to waste, so to follow up on the previous CINEFANTASTIQUE post, and since our time is limited as evidenced by my blinking red lifeclock, it seems apropos to […]

  5. […] surprise one if you’ve seen what is widely considered the Worst Godzilla Movie Ever. Cinefantastique trashed it as did kaiju fans, mourning the awful muppet-faced Godzilla suit, soundtracked by a […]

  6. […] is definitely your treat for being such bad li’l monsters. From the groundbreaking  magazine, Cinefantastique circa 1980, this is still the single best interview I’ve ever read with Carpenter, conducted […]

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