Monday , 22 October 2018

Deep Red Magazine’s Bloody Return!

In these tumultuous times, one can’t help but think back to those whose voices rose above the maelstrom who were silenced too early, and wonder what fresh words of wisdom they could enlighten us with today. When it comes to civil rights and bringing us together as a people, one looks to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dynamic, eloquent speeches. For messages of peace and love, through the power of music, John Lennon immediately springs to mind. And when it comes to a no-holds-barred approach to balls-out, blood-soaked, brain-bashing horror, there was one man that stood above the rest. That man was the one and only Chas. Balun.

Balun was an author, film critic and purveyor and chronicler of horror cinema. Rising to gory, I mean, glory, during the 80’s heyday of splatter cinema, which began with the likes of George A. Romero’s zombie films, Friday the 13th and Italian gorefests by Bava, Argento and Fulci, Chas. turned his unabashed passion for horror films into a full-blown career. His first work was The Connoisseur’s Guide to Contemporary Horror Film, published in 1983 by Tom Skulan’s FantaCo Enterprises, and the two would go on to enjoy a fruitful collaboration for many years to come. Balun offered intelligent, witty critiques of horror films in a blunt, in-your-face style that was uniquely his own. Never one to hold back, he’d describe a film in all it’s gory and was unafraid to let you know if he thought a movie was nothing but a pile of dog sh*t. To this end, he came up with a double rating system – up to 4 skulls to measure the quality of a film, and a blood splatter rating up to 10 to describe how splatteriffic the movie was, with a 10 going to notorious classics like Dawn of the Dead and Cannibal Holocaust. A picture so irredeemable of even justifying a one on the gore scoreboard would get rewarded with a picture of a dog, representing a bow-wow of a movie unworthy of your time. Chas. even coined a term to describe the most blood-drenched and gore-filled films – the ‘chunkblower.’

Balun and FantaCo followed up The Connoiseur’s Guide with Horror Holocaust in 1986, then The Gore Score in 1987. It was then that the idea was hatched to launch a regular magazine, and that marked the beginning of Deep Red.  The 80’s were an incredible time to be a horror fan. This was the age of Carpenter and Cronenberg, Savini and Bottin. And there were plenty of publications that covered it all, from beloved fanzines like Donald Farmer’s The Splatter Times and New Jersey’s own, the late Rick Sullivan’s Gore Gazette, to the horror bible, Fangoria, and the godfather of them all, Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters. Balun managed to carve his own bloody niche with a sharp-edged axe by writing like only he could. Check out his description of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive:

The third act boasts nothing less than a jaw-dropping cavalcade of ambulatory intestines, bodies turned inside out, babies in blenders, decapitations, head-mashings and vengeful moms with p*ssies large enough to accommodate a ’63 Volkswagen.

Now, who doesn’t want to watch that film immediately? Anyone? Didn’t think so. In addition to Deep Red magazine, Balun would go on to publish additional works, The Deep Red Horror Handbook, his first novel, Ninth and Hell Street, Lucio Fulci: Beyond the GatesGore Score 2001, and a Deep Red 15th Anniversary Special in 2002. Not content to handle the workload himself, Chas. utilized the talents of a gore score of others, like Greg Goodsell, Bruce Holecheck and the legendary Stephen R. Bissette. Chas. would also write columns for Fangoria and its spinoff, GoreZone, where he offered readers his ‘Piece of Mind.’ Balun’s final work, alas, would be Beyond Horror Holocaust: A Deeper Shade of Red in 2003 by Fantasma Books. On Dec. 18, 2009, the world of horror lost one of its most outspoken champions to suck-ass cancer.

But wait! Is that a drop of blood seeping out of the corner of a gouged-out eye? It sure as hell is. Last year, it was announced that FantaCo, resurrected itself in 2013, was gathering the core group of Deep Red‘s original staff, intact and nary missing a body part, to bring back the greatly missed magazine. The splat pack is back! And so is print, at least we are declaring it so. (The just released return of Fangoria magazine adds further fuel to the flaming corpse of our assessment.) And to welcome Deep Red back from the living dead, a very special event was held at the legendary Forbidden Planet in NYC this summer to relaunch the magazine for mankind. Because face it, mankind needs this, badly. On hand were those bringing Deep Red back to life, including former collaborators of Chaz’, along with some fresh, new blood. Chief among them was Tom Skulan, Fanta Co’s founder and publisher, who had worked so closely with Chas. and his partner-in-crime, wife Pat, for so many years.  John Szpunar, who co-ran Barrel Entertainment, a DVD company, which, much like Balun, helped to bring hard-to-find arthouse horror and gore films from around the world to, well, people around the world, and is an accomplished author himself, having written Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine, a must read, and the more recent, Blood Sucking Freak: The Life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed, both available thru Headpress, seems like the perfect choice to serve as new editor-in-chief. He, along with managing and copy editor, Kaz Sanchez, were accompanied by contributing writers Dennis Daniel, Chris Poggiali, Nick Cato, Mike Hunchback and Art Ettinger. Also on hand were contributing artists, Matt ‘Putrid’ Carr, who did the incredible front cover shown at the top, and Eric Rot. In speaking with Carr, he relayed how he labored over creating a cover that not only captured Chas.’ own visage, but managed to showcase so much of what he was about. It’s pretty evident he succeeded on all levels.

Everyone involved was super stoked to be a part of keeping Chas. Balun’s legacy alive by recreating his most famous work. They promise to maintain the brutal honesty and hold the same sort of passion that Chas. did with unapologetic coverage of works of horror and championing the creative projects of others. Their battle cry says it all: We promise to remain true to the integrity and legacy of Chas. Balun and his groundbreaking magazine. The very first issue, labeled Volume 4, Numner 1, bears that out, with articles on filmmaker Tobe Hooper and George A. Romero, artist Basil Gogos, and a lengthy fond remembrance of Balun himself by none other than Stephen R. Bissette. Fans will no doubt be ecstatic to learn that the Gore Scoreboard is also back with its one-of-a-kind, and sometimes unkind, rating system. And that’s just scratching the surface. You know you gotta keep scratching to get into the guts.

For this particular Gore4er, what Chas. Balun did to further ignite my passion for horror films, it’s difficult to put into words. In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine a time without the internet and social media. But such was the case in the 80’s, and finding any information on certain notorious films, especially those made overseas, not to mention actually being able to see the films themselves, was an onerous task. That’s where Chas. came in. Not only did he write about films that hardly no one else did, but he did so in a way that made you want to see them even more. To that end, he also provided an invaluable service in the early days, actually dubbing over from foreign laserdisc to VHS,  extremely hard-to-find films and distributing them to fans for a nominal fee. I still have my tapes of Nekromantik, the uncut Intruder and Zombi 3. It warms my bloody heart to think of Chas., most likely himself, transferring these films from one medium to another and sending them out in the mail. I loved his rating system, and became determined to track those warranting 4 skulls and/or a 10 on the blood splatter scale. The Deep Red 15th Anniversary Special especially made an impact, as I would not rest until I saw the likes of Japanese horrors, Kairo, Versus, Stacy, and most of all, Battle Royale. In the 2000’s, I finally got to meet the man himself at a Chiller Theatre covention, in my hometown of Parsippany, NJ no less, as he signed my copy of the Gore Score 2001 as you can see above. I asked Chas. what current or recent horror films did he think came thru in the splatter department, and much to my delight, he named Final Destination, which I believe at the time, was 2 films into the franchise. As I was a huge fan of these films myself, I was glad to see that Chas. and I were on the same page. Of course, the ultimate thrill would have been to have actually shared the page on some published work, but getting to write about him here will have to suffice.

You can still get the incredible 100-page premiere issue of the relaunched Deep Red magazine at Amazon and follow the Officially Authorized Chas Balun Deep Red Page on Facebook. Issue 2 is due fairly soon and we can’t wait. Until then, in the inimitable words of Chas., Balun himself, Here’s blood (and a 14″ splinter) in yer eye!

— by Brian de Castro

About Brian de Castro

Brian worked at NBC in New York, writing and producing promotion for everything from Saturday Night Live to Letterman, Leno and Conan, as well as The Today Show and Nightly News. A graduate of Rutgers University, the New Jersey native, when he's not working on the Gore 4 website, can usually be found on a baseball field.

2 comments

  1. BRAVO BRIAN! Superb job. Chas. would have loved and appreciated it I’m sure! The next issue of DR will be out soon and it’s even more splattered than the last! Plus it will be in FULL COLOR GLOSSY!!! Holy shit balls!!!
    Thanks for the wonderful piece. See you at FB soon…for new DR2! I’ll also be there soon for the book signing of John’s new Joel Reed book, which…I am so humbled to say…he dedicated to me. Keep it RED! DD

    • Thanks, Dennis, much appreciated. Like all of you involved with Deep Red, I just wanted to do Chas. justice and show how much his writing and work meant to me, as well as all of you for keeping his legacy going. Can’t wait for the next issue – full color sounds almost too good to be true! And the Joel Reed book sounds cool too – awesome to have it dedicated to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*