“There are still publications (all of which are, significantly, fanzines) that maintain the standards set by Bill Landis [editor of Sleazoid Express] — the ability to draw the reader into a kind of hermetically sealed world of sleaze: Subhuman and the early issues of Grindhouse in the USA and Sheer Filth in Britain come immediately to mind.”
– Stefan Jaworzyn, Shock Xpress 1 (1991)
The 1980s was a strange and bewildering decade for horror fans in Britain. Early on, the rise in popularity of the VCR and the unrestricted access to a whole galaxy of material previously thought beyond the reach of most fans was nothing short of miraculous. It’s far too easy to come over misty-eyed and nostalgic about this admittedly glorious period now but you really had to be there to fully appreciate how simply walking up to the counter of the local video store holding a copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters could turn the knees to jelly. However, these new-found freedoms would quickly be dashed, it was feared permanently, by the ‘video nasty’ panic and the subsequent introduction of the Video Recordings Act. Ironically, the ‘nasties’ would provide the necessary impetus for a burst of journalistic activity among Britain’s fan community. With the likes of Cannibal Holocaust and The Driller Killer swept clear of video shelves, there had to be a way of maintaining national interest and enthusiasm not only for the forbidden nasties but the sleazier end of exploitation cinema in general.
One way to do this was to publish a fanzine. Inspired by American publications, both glossily professional (Cinefantastique, Fangoria) and distinctively rougher in both style and content (Gore Gazette, Sleazoid Express), the UK fanzines tended towards a do-it-yourself mixture of the two varieties. Crucially, the journalism was often of a very high standard — Anne Billson, Alan Jones, Kim Newman, Julian Petley, Stephen Thrower and Cathal Tohill were just some of the contributors to the likes of Eyeball, Flesh and Blood, Sheer Filth and Shock Xpress. Although it ran to a mere nine issues over a three year period (1987 – 1990), David Flint’s Sheer Filth was one of the more eclectic fanzines, covering not only cutting-edge exploitation but incredibly strange music (Coil) and literature (Diderot’s Nun). FAB Press’ latest publication collects the bulk of Sheer Filth’s published material together with a selection of Flint’s features and interviews which either appeared elsewhere around the same time or else never made it to print at all. What is most striking about Sheer Filth is the depth and incisiveness of its features (essays on films as diverse as Robert Bresson’s Les anges du péché and Gerard Damiano’s Devil in Miss Jones) and, particularly, its interviews with the likes of Jörg Buttgereit (unheard of in Britain until Sheer Filth’s coverage of Hot Love and Nekromantik) and David F. Friedman. These aren’t the only high points: only Shock Xpress could really match the Filth for a review section that takes in everything from Italian horror and exploitation (Hitch-Hike, The Whip and the Flesh), Golden Age porn (Café Flesh, Forced Entry), 1950s horror and science fiction (The Brain from Planet Arous, The Neanderthal Man), American exploitation (Big Bad Mama, Carnival Rock), British hardcore (Shower Lust), Japanese sci-fi (The Mysterians), sleaze (The Gruesome Twosome, Torture Dungeon) and, inevitably, Russ Meyer (Mondo Topless, Supervixens).
There really was a sense of camaraderie among UK horror fans in the mid-to-late 1980s and into the early part of the 1990s, but unfortunately the magazines came and went in rapid succession. Sheer Filth gave way to Headpress and eventually Divinity, and Flesh and Blood would eventually grow bolder and glossier before developing into the excellent publishing house that it is now (it’s entirely appropriate that they’re the publishers of this book) before the Internet finally brought the days of the printed zine to a close. As with buying or swapping VHS tapes, the fanzines were fairly easy to get hold of once you knew where to look (I bought the launch issue of Samhain in 1987 after reading an ad in Starburst), but now it all seems so long ago…
SHEER FILTH! Bizarre Cinema, Weird Literature, Strange Music, Extreme Art is available now