Editor’s note: Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin edited FANGORIA from 1979 - 1986, and was the primary voice of Fango when I first read it. Back then the magazine had a punk-rock, outsider energy that I loved. Blazing its own trail and not taking things too seriously, it often felt like the horror-obsessed cousin of National Lampoon magazine. Uncle Bob was a big part of that. He did interviews, set visits, satirical features, was a model in the ads - his up-for-anything energy gave the magazine a scrappy quality that I try to honor in the new iteration of the mag (is anyone at the studios reading my captions, btw?). Bob was a funny, intelligent, and sometimes curmudgeonly presence in Fango -- I think it’s safe to say he was a big influence on me.
I’ve been trying to bring him back into the fold since last year, and today I’m proud to feature - hopefully as a regular column - Bob’s thoughts on what he’s watching on streaming from month to month. His musings and insights are presented here in their unfiltered glory, and it’s a voice that immediately takes me back to my early Fango-reading days. I hope it does the same for you folks.
Welcome back, sir. - Phil Nobile Jr.
Seoul Station (Amazon Prime)
Yeon Sang-ho directed two animated features prior to his live-action debut, Train to Busan. Busan is the story of a train-bound group of survivors trying to escape a zombie apocalypse to a rumored "safe zone" in the city of Busan. This film was a box office blockbuster in Korea, but few in the audience were even aware that Sang-ho had already completed work on an animated prequel to the film, Seoul Station, and would release it a month later.
Here in the States, we have both films available for streaming: Train to Busan is on Netflix and Shudder, but you'd be better advised to first view Seoul Station via Amazon Prime; by seeing these films in sequential order, you'll appreciate the escalating stakes as they rise in the manner intended. Then, too, there's the fact that live action demands a bigger budget -- Train to Busan plays out on a much larger scale, and shows greater care lavished upon a more complex script.
But resist any temptation to skip Seoul Station. The animation's limited scale demands that Sang-ho rely heavily on his characters to tell the story -- which results in a distinctively human tale of the zombie apocalypse.
As Seoul Station opens, a homeless man, who customarily passes his days in the confines of the train terminal, is suffering from a bite of unknown origin. A friend frantically tries to get him medical help, but when he finally returns, there is only a blood-stain where he had left his friend.
Meanwhile, a teen girl runaway resists a boy's attempts to pimp her out, as the homeless around them grow increasingly, unpredictably violent. In another part of the city, the girl's father is informed of his daughter's appearance on an adult website. He sets out to find her, and is soon joined in that mission by her would-be pimp.
As they progress in their search, the zombie outbreak also proceeds, until the rescuers and the teen runaway are contending with an army of feral homeless, and a police force uninterested in distinguishing between the infected and standard members of the underclass.
I won't disclose how it all plays out; suffice to say they do not stop the zombie apocalypse, which continues quite dynamically in Train to Busan.
We Are The Flesh (formerly streaming on Shudder; currently TBD)
It is films like We Are The Flesh (Tenemos la Carne) that make this list a true gauntlet, and if you quit right here, I won't fault you; in fact, I'll credit you with a certain amount of human decency.
But, having just completed my first viewing of this film as I write, I cannot guarantee that I won't be drawn to see it again. I give myself no credit for decency at all, and, in my world, I contend we're improved by the existence of filmmakers as gutsy as Emiliano Rocha Minter, the writer, director and editor of this wildly off-the-rails film, about a brother and sister scrabbling for survival after an undescribed apocalypse, who fall into the hands of a trollish philosopher who bends them to his malevolent will. If you predict incest, blood-drinking, and necrophilia will follow, you're batting a thousand today! The film's tone is nowhere near as light as mine is right now. but that's because I just survived Tenemos la Carne, and I feel good! Sad to say, however, there is no indication that Minter has another film on the way. Such is the way of the world.
The Greasy Strangler (Amazon Prime)
The most transgressive part of The Greasy Strangler is the prosthetic penises (though the plural of the Latin word penis is actually penii or penes. These do not pronounce well in English). Besides that, and all the simulated sex going on among the three principal characters, The Greasy Strangler is pretty much a normal strangler movie, but with eyes popped out of heads and eaten, and with lots and lots of extra grease.
Someone, I now forget who, complained to me that the movie doesn't seem to come to an ending, it just seems to stop. This complaint deeply annoyed me, because who in their lives ever experienced a moment that would make an appropriate movie ending?
This narrative doesn't have a single toe touching the ground, the whole movie is awash in unreality, yet this guy complains about the only aspect of the film that is at all real? I give up.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Shudder)
If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were made today, it's hard to say what the popular reactions might be. Without TCM's influence reverberating through the culture since 1974, it's doubtful that any of the current examples of extreme cinema would exist as they do today; the MPAA ratings system would be very different, and the UK's fit over "video nasties" might still be waiting to happen.
But we could also suppose that culture might have evolved in a parallel way without writer-director Tobe Hooper's help. Perhaps the IndieWire and Cineaste of this parallel universe would fall over themselves in a rush to praise the self-mutilating hitchhiker's monologue about cattle slaughter and the preparation of head cheese. Perhaps the film's final minutes, when we see the full dimensions of the hillbilly cannibal family, then witness the escape of Marilyn Burns as the "final girl," would be appreciated as they deserve to be.
But I doubt it. And that's why, when we again view this venerable classic, we need to view it with fresh eyes that integrate it with the modern cinema landscape.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Amazon Prime)
(Disclosure: BRAWL was produced by Cinestate, which owns FANGORIA. This was news to Uncle Bob. Also, MASSIVE SPOILERS follow - PN)
What doesn't S. Craig Zahler do? He plays in a speed metal band, he's written several novels categorized as crime, science fiction and western (though none of his work sits comfortably in any category); his most recent novel, Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child, comes closest to bring a horror novel, though the Dallas Observer called it "a Dickensian fable with elements of gothic horror and Christian apologia," and "a daring, evocative work that defies categorization."
"Defies categorization." That's a good description of Zahler himself because, though all his works are in some way rooted in category, he often subverts the categories he works in, in surprising ways.
Genre films, as a rule, are best when told efficiently. Three acts, in and out in no more than 90 minutes.
For Zahler, that rule is out the window; he takes the time at the outset of each of his films to wholly enwrap you in his characters, story. and mood. Where most genre films come close to 90 minutes in length, his weird western tale Bone Tomahawk is 2 hours, 12 minutes long; his crooked cop drama Dragged Across Concrete is over 2 and a half hours long, and Brawl in Cell Block 99 matches Bone Tomahawk in length exactly, at 2 hours, 12 minutes.
What Zahler does with this leisurely pace depends on the film; in the case of Brawl in Cell Block 99, the film lingers over the barely-contained rage of Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), an ex-boxer turned drug mule who wants nothing more than a decent life for himself and his wife, Lauren. But circumstances conspire against him; he loses his honest job at an auto repair shop, and his wife has lost emotional connection with him since the miscarriage of their first child, and has taken up with another man. Pushed to his breaking point, Bradley attacks his wife's car, dismantling it with his fists in a way that erases any lmage we may retain of Vaughn as a comic actor, and convinces us that Bradley can do a great deal of damage if he ever gives that contained rage a focused target.
After the incident with the car, Bradley forgives his wife, and they agree to try for another child, while Bradley temporarily returns to his previous job as a drug mule. Eighteen months pass; Lauren is once again pregnant, the couple is again happy, though Bradley is still an outlaw.
His boss enlists him for a job transporting crystal meth; but one of the men on the crew looks like he's using, and Bradley tries to refuse the assignment. The boss insists though, and convinces him to play along by promising three months off from work when his baby is born. Bradley is persuaded.
We now find ourselves a half-hour into a movie that we know is a prison movie, and we haven't seen a cell yet. The protagonist is breaking his own rules for how a job should be done. The whole audience knows this is going to go wrong.
Bradley feels it too. The night of the job, he dumps the goods he is carrying when they arrive at the exchange point. He orders the men in his crew to do the same, but is ignored. In the shootout that follows, cops and crooks alike are gunned down. Bradley assists the cops, but he is nevertheless taken into custody for his crimes. A quick trial and Bradley is sentenced to seven years in medium security; more than half an hour into the film, we see a jail cell. Prison is no holiday spa, but it's livable.
But that will change, and fast. His first night in prison, Bradley is visited by the Placid Man (Udo Kier, great as usual); because of Bradley's actions, the Placid Man's boss has lost a great deal of money and demands payback. If Bradley isn't cooperative, he is promised that a Korean abortionist will clip the limbs off of his unborn child, and these will be delivered to his cell.
To avoid the unwanted surgery, Bradley needs to kill a guy. The trick of it is, the guy is in a different, max security prison; to get transferred, Bradley has to break some bones; then, when he gets to that prison, he'll need to break more bones to gain entrance to the bad boys' cellblock, number 99.
For the rest of the film, Bradley tortures and is tortured, fighting for his child, his woman, and his life; one hell of a trip. Fans of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky will approve, though this time they won't be laughing.
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In the 1970s, while working in the distribution department of a major book publisher, Robert Martin enrolled in a writer’s workshop conducted by Henry Beard, one of the founders of National Lampoon magazine, and Anthony Hiss, an editor at The New Yorker.
With their training, and a resume that (falsely) claimed a Liberal Arts degree from Brown University, along with some freelance writing samples from newspapers and “men’s entertainment” magazines, he gained the assignment from the publishers of STARLOG magazine to edit their new sister magazine, FANGORIA. By emulating the horror film magazines that he loved, The Monster Times and Castle of Frankenstein in particular, he was able to make FANGORIA the most successful magazine of its kind in publishing history. After leaving the editor’s chair in 1986, he began working with his most admired filmmaker, Frank Henenlotter, first adapting Henenlotter's screenplay Brain Damage into a short novel, then co-writing the screenplays for the films Frankenhooker and Basket Case 3. He now lives in semi-retirement in Las Vegas, Nevada.