Filmfax: High-brow taste in low-brow pop culture

"Monsters Crash the Pajama Party"?


"Werewolves on Wheels"?


How about "Teenagers From Outer Space" and "Evil Brain From Outer Space" and "I Married a Monster From Outer Space"?

Yes, yes and yes! You can buy all of these timeless classics of the modern cinema on DVD from those wonderful folks at Filmfax magazine, each for only 15 or 20 bucks!

But wait, there's more! You can also buy "Fiend Without a Face" and "Devil Girl From Mars" and "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

I'm supposed to be writing my usual scholarly analysis of the articles in Filmfax magazine and here I am getting all excited about the ads. Filmfax has page after page of ads for DVDs of the kinds of films you just don't see on Turner Classic Movies — movies like "Monster A-Go-Go" and "Saturn Avenger vs. the Terror Robot" and "They Saved Hitler's Brain."

But the thing is: In Filmfax, the articles and the ads are, as they say in the quality lit-crit biz, all part of an organic whole. Filmfax, which bills itself as "The Magazine of Unusual Film, Television & Retro Pop Culture," is the bible of B-movies, Kama Sutra of kitsch, the Bhagavad-Gita of so-bad-it's-good cheesiness.

For 23 years, Filmfax has been covering the auteurs who created movies such as "Invasion of the Bee Girls" with the same reverence that Cahiers du Cinema reserves for Jean-Luc Godard.

In the current issue, which is the 117th issue of this influential cinematic quarterly, the cover story is an interview with actor William Shatner about his role in the 1962 Roger Corman film "The Intruder." It's an unusual piece for Filmfax because Shatner is actually, you know, famous. Most Filmfax interviewees are utterly obscure, except to the kind of fans who know everything there is to know about the cast and crew of "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism."

The best article in this issue is a six-page homage to William Smith, the actor who appeared in "The Ghost of Frankenstein" and "High School Confidential" and "Grave of the Vampire," but who really built his reputation as a brawling biker in such classic motorcycle movies as "Angels Die Hard" and "Chrome and Hot Leather."

The high point of the piece is a description of the legendary fight scene between Smith and actor Rod Taylor in the 1970 noir film "Darker Than Amber," a scene that Filmfax hails as "a benchmark in screen violence."

Also in this issue is an interview with Caroline Munro, a beautiful British actress who made a career playing terrified and/or dead women who wear extremely low-cut outfits in such movies as "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" and "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter."

Munro has nothing but nice things to say about legendary horrormeister Vincent Price:

"He was so gentle and so funny, and what a fantastic cook! He used to come into the make-up room at about seven o'clock in the morning with some of his homemade pate, so the make-up girl, the hair-dresser, Vincent, and myself stuffed ourselves with pate. Then I sort of lay there in the coffin, trying hard not to burp."

Apparently, Price wasn't the only gourmet cook in the horror movie community. Filmfax reviews a new book called "It Came From the Kitchen" — a collection of recipes by scary-movie celebrities that includes Rod Serling's German potato pancakes, Bela Lugosi's stuffed cabbage rolls and Janet Leigh's lamb shanks.

Filmfax doesn't just focus on the actors and directors of schlock movies. It also covers makeup artists and special-effects wizards and the composers of the ominous music that lets viewers know that the girl is about to get eaten by the monster.

Here, for instance, is how Filmfax's reviewer summed up the career of Herman Stein, who composed music for "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars": "Stein was a bit of a chameleon, capable of turning his hand to various musical genres, even turning out drivel when the occasion demanded."

You don't have to be an obsessive pop-culture fan to love Filmfax. No red-blooded American could fail to be moved by the pure poetry contained in the titles of the movies advertised in Filmfax for the low, low price of only $8 or $15 or $20: "Don't Open the Door," "Don't Look in the Basement," "Beware the Blob," "Run, Angel, Run," "When Worlds Collide," " I Bury the Living."

And "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things."

Of course!

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