Psychotronic Video

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I was going to wait until the weekend to mention this but it’s too good to be lodged in a collection of links. Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983) has long been one of my favourite film books, a collection of reviews by Weldon and friends written for Weldon’s NYC fanzine, Psychotronic TV. “Psychotronic” was Weldon’s umbrella label for the low-budget fare that would usually be avoided by other reviewers: “horror, exploitation, action, science fiction, and movies that used to play in drive-ins or inner city grindhouses.” A small handful of actors were considered psychotronic enough (on account of their appearing in many psychotronic films) that Weldon claimed their presence in any film made it psychotronic even if it contained no overt genre or exploitation content. So the Encyclopedia lists Fellini’s 8 1/2, for example, simply because Barbara Steele appears in it. Likewise, Casablanca is psychotronic because of Peter Lorre. As I recall, the other psychotronic actors were John Carradine (“the greatest PSYCHOTRONIC star of all time”), Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

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The trouble with books of film reviews is that the passage of time makes them increasingly subject to omissions, so I was delighted when Weldon launched Psychotronic Video magazine in 1989. Not only was this a continuation of the encyclopedia’s film listings it was also filled with related features: interviews with character actors, cult figures and interesting stars; a regular music column which mostly covered the kinds of bands who would watch psychotronic films; a regular obituary feature; and pages crammed with bizarre and curious graphics: film ephemera, ads from old magazines, headers by comic artist Drew Friedman, and mermaid drawings by Weldon’s girlfriend, Mia. One of my favourite features, which ran from the first issue, concerned Weldon’s obsession with The Rivingtons’ Papa Oom Mow Mow and The Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird, an ideé fixe which had Weldon cataloguing as many cover versions or film inclusions of the songs as he could find.

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Psychotronic Video ran for 41 issues until folding in 2006. I bought the first 23 or so then lapsed after the one comic shop selling it in Manchester was closed down by the IRA bombing of the city centre in 1996. Back issues are increasingly scarce (and not always cheap) so it’s good to find all 41 issues at the Internet Archive together with 10 issues of the even more scarce Psychotronic TV. The quality isn’t perfect—some of the scanned pages are subject to blurring—but I can now see what was in the rest of the magazines, and finally get to read the Timothy Carey interview in the one issue I missed, no. 6. Many of the actors interviewed with enthusiasm by Psychotronic Video have since died so the magazine is even more valuable for its insights into careers ignored by other publications.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bikers and witches: Psychomania
The Cramps at the Haçienda

The Cramps at the Haçienda

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At last: something that has no connection with HP Lovecraft… This was one of several design jobs during a very busy summer, a long-delayed DVD release by Savoy of the Cramps playing Manchester’s trendiest club of the 1980s, the Haçienda. The posthumous reputation of the Hac (as it was locally known) has been inflated in recent years; you’ll hear much about its thriving dance nights but little about the early days when the huge and often chilly space was seldom even half full. The Cramps played there twice in 1984, and like many bands with a cult following, managed to fill the floor with eager fans; Savoy’s video captures the second performance on May 23rd. It was standard policy at the Haçienda to film every event, and some of the more popular performances—William Burroughs’ reading, a concert by The Birthday Party—were later released by Ikon, the video wing of Factory Records. Two cameras on either side of the Haçienda balcony covered the stage but on the night of the Cramps’ performance none of the Ikon staff wanted to assist Linda Dutton in filming the gig. So this recording is a rudimentary one—a single U-matic camera and mono sound—but Linda captured a tremendous hour-long concert with an outstanding Iggy Pop-like performance from Lux Interior.

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For my design I wanted to avoid Goth clichés and create something in keeping with the band’s trashy rock’n’roll aesthetic. All the portraits are by Kris Guidio from the comic strips he was producing in the early 1980s for Lindsay Hutton’s Next Big Thing zine; the lurid headlines are lifted from film posters found in back issues of Psychotronic Video magazine. The DVD has an 8-page booklet and an interface which I also designed although this is merely functional, nothing like the elaborate animated affair I created for The Mindscape of Alan Moore. When concerts such as this are routinely put onto YouTube for free it hardly seems worth going to all this trouble, but for Savoy it provides another connection to a favourite band. The PAL DVD is priced at £10, and may be ordered direct.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Haçienda ephemera
Lux Interior, 1946–2009
The Final Academy