INTERVIEW: Author SCOTT STINE
I loved Scott Stine’s book TRASHFIEND: DISPOSABLE HORROR FARE OF THE 1960s & 1970s out on HEADPRESS and Scott was cool enough to grant SHU-IZMZ an interview! He gave some great in-depth answers to a lot of questions and definitely makes for a wonderful read!
Having just read your book Trashfiend: Disposable Horror Fare of the 1960s &1970s published by Headpress, how would you define the word “trashfiend?”
I guess I would define it as someone who is obsessed with low-budget, “disposable” cinema. The term was more-than-likely coined by Richard Green with his highly influential mimeographed newsletter-style fanzine Confessions of a Trash Fiend, which was only available via mail-order during the 1980s. In general, I tend to use “trashfiend” in a broader sense, in order to include the whole of financially-challenged exploitation fare produced prior to the video revolution, but have stayed similarly focused on horror fare when it comes to the Trashfiend book and its counterpart periodical.
Similar to the aforementioned question, what is the criteria for defining a film as “trash”?
The term “trash” is not necessarily how I would define such films, but how mainstream society generally views them, often with disdain, as productions unworthy of the celluloid on which they were burned. “Trash” is a completely subjective term, as even the worst films, I feel, serve an importance to viewers worldwide. Their merit is entirely debatable, but even at their worst they reflect something of who we are. And, damn it all, they’re much more fun than many of the films churned out in the last thirty-odd years…
Do you feel that there are any current movies, from the 1980s and up to present years, that would be defined as modern-day disposable horror similar or following the same criteria as the films covered in TRASHFIEND?
The video revolution marked a distinct difference in the way exploitation films were made. Starting in the 1980s, many low-budget horror films―especially those deemed as more extreme alternatives to the mainstream―were produced as tongue-in-cheek excursions that tried to consciously reproduce the allure of earlier grindhouse fare. Although these gained a foothold with younger fans, they tended to alienate older aficionados like myself because they failed to realize that the charm of these cinematic knuckle-draggers was an unfabricated by-product of their ineptitude as well as the occasional outbursts of genius that resulted from necessity. Companies like Troma succeeded in tapping into this new trend―and all the more power to them―but such modern-day “trash” still leave me cold to this day as they capture an entirely different Zeitgeist. No one could replicate the deranged genius that was Ed Wood, Jr. or his reluctant predecessors and progeny, and any attempts to do so was a pointless endeavor at best.
As someone who is starting to create his own zine (only one issue in the bag), how difficult was it to get TRASHFIEND (the zine) off the ground?
Actually, Trashfiend lasted three issues, and was the end product of a series of horror film-related fanzines that I had been publishing since the mid-1980s. Prior to that I produced six issues of a much less-professional, but still internationally distributed pro-zine called GICK!, whose coverage wasn’t entirely limited to 1960s/1970s fare. This was preceded by Painful Excursions, which―save for the last issue―was a hand-stapled, Xeroxed fanzine, copies of which rarely made it outside of my area code. In turn, this was preceded by Confessions of a Teen-Age Gorehound and Sickoid, both of which were produced in my later high school years in order to hopefully entertain those students willing to plunk down a measly quarter to read my pithy and often pitiful “critiques” of slasher flicks and low-budget horror films. In short, Trashfiend was the end-product of a long-standing tradition catering to like-minded fans who found little value in mainstream publications that only touched upon low-end horror fare.
Was the transition from zine to book any easier or harder?
Actually, not so much. The Trashfiend book was just an extension of the magazine, both in content and format. I did make some attempts to be more “scholarly,” without sacrificing the humor that was an essential part of the periodical, as I wanted to give more context to the material that I was covering. I was also able to go into more detail on non-film horror-slash-monster fare of the 1960s and 1970s, as such nostalgia was just as important to me as cinema, but which I never had sufficient room to explore within the limitations of a 48-page, quarterly publication. Thanks to the growing resource that was the internet, I was finally able to better research much of what was nothing more than hazy childhood recollections.
One of the only problems was having to sacrifice some of my creative control over the presentation; not always a reflection on the publisher, my books (which also includes the two Gorehound’s Guides) proved to varying degrees frustrating, as prior to this I always had the last say. I entirely understand why my various publishers insisted on such changes, as they were catering to a larger audience and had a lot at stake, but as a creator who had always had the last say, it was occasionally frustrating. Do you find yourself spending more time watching trash films, reading trash comics, or reading trash film magazines? All those different formats were covered in the book and I personally found that to be one of the aspects of TRASHFIEND that made it so much more than just a book on film that covered one aspect of movies.
For decades, I immersed myself in trash culture, but now find myself doing it less if only because there is little that I haven’t since discovered, or―in the case of collectibles―I don’t have the money to splurge on my various obsessions that I once had at my disposal. Of course, I drool like Pavlov’s dog every time a lost or forgotten film is unearthed, but these instances have become far and few between. I just recently went through several exhaustive books compiling lists of horror cinema in order to make a list of films that I have not seen made prior to 1980, or those that have eluded me since I was a child of the seventies staying up late Friday nights in order to catch a previously unseen monster movie on KIRO’s Nightmare Theatre, and was disheartened to find that there was literally only a handful of old shockers that I hadn’t already viewed two or three times in the last forty-odd years. As far as comics and magazines, I’m still working on my “archives,” but having had to sell large parts of my collection numerous times over the last few decades, it’s mostly a matter of replacing pieces that I already owned at some point in time. The main exceptions to this are pre-code horror comics and pulps, but considering what much of this goes for nowadays on the collectors’ market, it will be some time before I am able get my grubby paws on them.
Do you find that having the internet has made it much more easier for like-minded collectors to connect and find rare or forgotten films online via downloading or through websites like eBay and Amazon? Have any of the commercial sites hurt your own website, www.thetrashcollector.com , or has it helped to keep prices competitive?
Oh, most definitely. Early on in the late 1990s/early 2000s, the internet was a godsend, as I was able to track down and obtain quite a bit that eluded me in previous years, when local shops and conventions were the primary (and often only) source for collectibles. And I was able to get much of it for a steal. In recent years, it has been much more difficult, even in light of the American recession. I don’t think other online storefronts have hurt my Trash Collector website much―nowhere near as much as the aforementioned recession―as I have always striven to keep my prices competitive, especially since the website has been much more a labor of love than a substantial source of income. As for films, I’ve been able to track down the occasionally elusive offering through Netflix, Youtube and the like, but I’ve caught just as many (as few as they are) on cable over the last few years.
On average, how many films do you generally watch a week?
Jeez, I watch far more television/video than is probably healthy. I’ve seen so many films over the years that I’ve been recently focusing on television programs that I’ve missed, not only older shows which I haven’t seen since the 1970s, but also more recent programming. The quality of TV shows in general has progressed a great deal since I was a youngster (especially those produced for cable), and as a writer I appreciate the level of quality that is beyond the more superficial entertainment to which I was exposed to in my formative years. Not that anything could replace my profound love for such fare as Dark Shadows or Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but I do find myself surprised at just how much television has “matured.”
As far as horror films are concerned, I have found that the genre has reached something of a “renaissance” over the course of the new millennium; there’s still a whole lot of shite being produced in order to fulfill the growing demand for horror fare, but I’m finding an unexpected number of films that have elevated the material in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s. In my opinion, there are far more above-average productions waiting to be found by the diehard horror fan than the predominantly mediocre fare that predominated the previous two decades. Ultimately, though, it depends on what the viewer demands from filmmakers, and what horror fans look for in their poison of choice. But I digress…
Probably after horror films, are there any particular genres of film you go to first when choosing and picking out a film to watch?
Although horror is my first love, I love film, regardless of the genre. There are genres which I tend to avoid because they do little for me―musicals and dime-store westerns come immediately to mind―but as a whole, every genre is valid and has something substantial to offer. As much as I love and adore exploitation films, I am just as preoccupied with non-genre cinema; I just have more fun researching and discussing the former as a part-time occupation. More writers have expounded on the merits of Akira Kurasawa’s thought-provoking and artistically unsurpassed ouvre than on the questionable relevance of Andy Milligan’s catalog of self-indulgent celluloid atrocities, but I find myself much more drawn to the latter; as a writer, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity dissecting such “disposable” efforts. That may be a reflection of Yours Truly, but so be it. That doesn’t deter from my love for the highest levels of filmmaking, though; the only cinema that truly bores me is the mediocre. Give me trash or give me art, as either or will keep my interest for the better part of ninety minutes. Mainstream trite, on the other hand, I can give or take.
Myself being a collector of a little bit of everything, do you find it difficult to sell collectible items on your website that you only have one item of? Do you ever feel the urge to keep the really cool items for yourself instead of selling them for your business?
Undoubtedly. Over the years, due to my financial instability, I have sold a great many pieces which would have otherwise never left my hands. If things dramatically changed, for whatever reason, I would probably hold onto about two-thirds of what I currently offer for sale. I love outdated pop-culture, regardless of the genre, and I am often reluctant to part with those items that capture a time and a place long since passed. I am unabashedly nostalgic, and all of this wonderful detritus keeps me anchored to a past that I truly miss, even if I was too damn young to really appreciate it at the time.
Aside from working on zines, writing books, and running your online website, do you supplement your income with any other businesses?
That’s pretty much it, save for my work as a fiction writer (under the nom de plume of Reginald Bloom) and my “fine” art (as Mortimer Dempsey). By the early 2000s, I had a number of short stories published in magazines and anthologies (primarily horror, naturally), some of which won awards. Unfortunately, health reasons made it difficult for me to pursue that for much of the last decade, but I am currently attempting to re-establish myself as a fiction writer, and am currently compiling a collection of short stories and novelettes for which I hope to find a publisher before the end of the year. As art is concerned, I supplemented my income over the years with my experience in Graphic Design, producing comic books, magazine illustrations, logo and t-shirt designs for local bands (including some album cover work), sign work, and less illustrious freelance work. Aside from a handful of book covers in recent years, my artistic focus has been on the aforementioned fine art, much of which is available as prints through Saatchi online.
Aside from those outlets, I’ve worked countless unfulfilling day jobs over the years with which to pay the bills, but if I had my way, my art, writing and music would be the priority, with the online storefront being a sideline with which I could use as an excuse to obtain and archive memorabilia. I have been a serious collector since late childhood, and I couldn’t imagine not having a plethora of nostalgia within arm’s reach at all times. My artistic endeavors fulfills those goals that cannot be obtained solely with “neat stuff,” but they are no less important to me.
If you had to choose one film that really meant the most to you, what film would that be?
Geez, there are so many films that have made a substantial impression on me throughout the years that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Of course, as a pre-adolescent, monster movies were an obsession. But, as a science geek, science fiction films followed a close second; anything that caught my youthful imagination was pivotal. I was (and still am) fixated on anything related to Dark Shadows, even though I was just a tad too young to ever see the actual series, so House of Dark Shadows had an impact on me. Some of the early Hammer Studios’ offerings like Curse of the Werewolf and Brides of Dracula still hold a certain importance that cannot be denied. Universal’s stock monsters were no less important. In my teenage years, I began obsessing over more extreme fare, so films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were what moved me most at the time. This continued throughout the 1980s and early-1990s, and so films by such iconoclasts as Jorg Buttgereit (Nekromantik and it’s superior sequel, Der Todesking, Schramm) became my cinematic grails. (Elias Merhige’s Begotten is another of my favorites from this period, as is his much-more “accessible” Shadow of a Vampire, which is the perfect marriage between the underground and the mainstream.) Alas, when all is said and done, there are just too many damn films to recount everything that impacted, influenced, inspired me throughout the years.
How many films do you personally own in your collection?
Prior to my last move, I had about three-thousand videos in my personal collection, most fantastic cinema but a smattering of other genres represented like film noir, soul cinema, foreign films and other arthouse fare. These days, the numbers are much smaller, with the perpetual hope that I would and will be able to replace sold films, preferable with later, definitive releases on DVD. I still have hundreds of extremely rare videocassettes in my own collection, but most are currently boxed up or otherwise inaccessible, and most of the DVDs I still have probably number at around three hundred, at best.
What is your most prized trash collectible?
Again, it depends on what considers “trash,” but I am still attempting to fill the holes in my various comic and film magazines, particularly the Warren and Eerie Publication runs that were particularly important to me during the 1970s. I would venture to guess that the signed Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins 8×10 holds a particularly special place, as it has adorned the wall above my workspace for many years now, but such items as the Carnival of Blood/Curse of the Headless Horseman theatrical one-sheet and the unused Terrible Tubbles soapdish in its original box both hold a special place in my putrified heart as well. I also have an original sketch of Vampirella by artist Esteban Maroto that desperately needs to be framed languishing on a nearby shelf. One of the most valuable pieces I have is a Captain Marvel jigsaw puzzle depicting the usually pacifistic superhero gunning down nazi planes, but this is also lovingly stored just out of reach. There’s so much more, but much of it I haven’t seen in years, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, but hopefully one day I will be able to excavate and properly display my various treasures.
Personally enjoying watching so many films that some may deem “shitburgers”, do you find that there are any films classified as classics or “great films” that you have a hard time admiring or enjoying due to them being a much higher caliber of a script with much better acting performances, and much more notable directors? I guess what I am getting at is how do you go from judging a “trash film” that is good versus critiquing a “good film” such as say something from Akira Kurosawa or Alfred Hitchcock (in my opinion, two incredibly talented and respected directors of film)?
Hitchcock and Kurosawa remain the pinnacle of filmmaking (and two of my absolute favorites as far as filmmakers are concerned), regardless of the material they decided to pursue, and I adore their films as much as I do by far talented filmmakers such as Herschell Gordon Lewis and Andy Milligan. That said, I use different criteria when judging “good” films from the “bad” that I enjoy. Each strikes a completely different chord, so they must be appreciated on their own, very distinct merits. And then there are the films of the inimitable John Waters, which are in a class of their own.
As far as quality films, the key for me is the writing; I can even overlook, to some degree, production values if the source material is exemplary. But, if the writing is lackluster―or worse―I have some difficulty overlooking everything else. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television series) is a perfect example. I was almost immediately smitten with Joss Whedon’s series, despite the destitute special effects and restraints inherent to a syndicated series; the above-average writing and amazing performances kept it pertinent throughout for me. (Whedon has yet to disappoint me as a writer and creator, with Firefly and The Doll House being two of the best science fiction series I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.)
To the contrary, I tend to enjoy “trash” filmmaking because they lack the resources available to better productions; the inherent humor that results from their destitute origins offer an entertainment value that just cannot be found with more competent productions. Their failings appeal to me almost as much as the artistic credibility of their polar opposites. Again, “good” films and “bad” films appeal to completely different sensibilities, but neither is any less valid in my eyes. Film, at its core, is entertainment, and although it can reach profound heights as any other artistic medium, it is ultimately subjective.
Do you go to conventions that showcase horror, sci-fi, or exploitation films such as Fango, HorrorHound, Flashback Weekend, Crypticon, Goblinhaus, and other conventions of that nature?
Because of my current situation and related impracticalities, I rarely attend such conventions, even though I enjoy to revel in such festivities when the opportunity arises. In my parts (the Pacific Northwest), there are very few cons these days that are within my financial and logistical means. I used to attend NorwestCon and other local sci-fi cons when I was appreciably younger―which I miss immensely―but the only horror-related gatherings in these parts (that I know of) has been Crypticon, which was something of a disappointment the one year in which I was able to attend. I hope though that, in the future, as I re-establish myself as a writer of genre fiction, I’ll be able to start attending such gatherings on a more frequent basis.
What are your thoughts on the growing amount of movie theaters that play films on actual film versus the digital movie theaters and all the 3D fare that is coming out from Hollywood?
I love 3-D, although I will be the first to admit that such a presentation does not make a film. As long as the digital format can replicate the feel of shot-on-film fare, I have little or no qualms; to me, the technology is not important, only the quality of the presentation itself. I only get to the theaters three or four times a year on average, and only for what I deem to be cinematic “events,” such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson’s remake of King Kong, The Avengers, and the like. With most everything else, I can wait until it is released on DVD. Some spectacles demand the large screen treatment, but I am typically content with seeing most films in the comfort of my own home.
Any thoughts on movie remakes in Hollywood? Are you a fan of them?
In general, I deplore them. Occasionally, though, some filmmakers offer something new to the mix. As much as I revere John Carpenter’s Halloween, Rob Zombie’s remake had a lot going for it, if taken in an entirely different context. (The sequel, not so much.) King Kong was absolutely amazing (I think I saw it theatrical two or three times, something which I rarely do), as it made me feel like a kid again, when I saw the groundbreaking original for the first time. I was not a big fan of the original , but I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley’s reinterpretation of Robert Englund’s iconic boogeyman (if only because I think Haley is an amazing performer). Nothing else comes immediately to mind, but I’m sure that there’s a couple of others that―in some way―improved upon the original, or at least offered an original slant that made them worthwhile. Most, though, are unnecessary reiterations that strip the originals of any and all things that made them so worthwhile to begin with. (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, and countless others proved mostly fruitless attempts to update films that should never have been “reinvented” by Hollywood’s relentless movie machine.)
What is your favorite media to watch films on? Film, DVD, Blu-ray, VHS, Laserdisc, Beta?
DVD is great, as it can offer a much better representation of the originals than what was originally offered on VHS, but I was a child of the video revolution, so VHS (or Beta, which was my primary source during the late 1970s/early 1980s) will always hold a special place in my heart. Quality of content aside, it was the packaging that did and always will appeal to me, if only for the sake of nostalgia. It will be many years before I can invest in a Blu-Ray player, but so far I am not particular impressed with the “improvements” it offers, as the high-definition treatment I’ve seen tends to alter the overall look and feel that were an integral part of the celluloid process.
How much of your day is devoted to watching films and looking for films you may have not seen from the ’60s or ’70s that are deemed “trash films”?
As I said earlier, this has waned because I have already seen just about everything that (to my current knowledge) was produced during these years and earlier. Now, it’s only a matter of catching versions of said films in their “definitive” states; seeing them full-screen and uncut is profoundly beneficial, as so many of the versions I’ve viewed were edited, poorly transferred, full-screen presentations, which can and often make a difference. But as far as content is concerned, there’s not much new awaiting me, so it is rarely a priority these days, but is much welcome when such opportunities present themselves.
Whom is your favorite actor in film? Whom is your favorite actress in film?
Geez, where to start. Jonathan Frid will probably always be my favorite, as he portrayed a character that proved iconic to me as child and young adult. I was once obsessed with John Ashley simply because he appeared in a slough of films that were “trash” gold. I was once smitten with Barbara Steele as well, but much of my fascination with her was undoubtedly due to her associations as well. I was also enamored with many of the earlier films starring Paul Naschy, as he was one of the more “recent” performers who attempted to try his hand at all of the traditional monster-oriented roles previously owned by the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christoper Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. (Karloff, Cushing and Price will always remain three of my absolute favorites when discussing horror fare, and will never be topped in my book. Karloff’s presence continues to garner my attention, regardless of the genre to which he contributed.) Toshiro Mifune as always been one of my favorite actors, and I’ve spent years tracking down all of his films, as his talents are remarkable. (His collaborations with Kurosawa remain some of the best outings that cinema as a whole has to offer.)
There are a number of modern performers who appeal to me considerably, like Johnny Depp, in spite of his embarrassing and unforgivable contribution to Tim Burton’s inexcusable rehash of Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows. At this time, I will continue to watch any production involving Depp; even though the films themselves will occasionally disappoint me, his performances rarely do.
Is there any actress or actor that you have always wished would shed some clothing in a film that never has?
Of course, being the pervert that I am, such things are inevitable. Alyson Hannigan (Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was a temporary obsession of mind at one time, but nothing substantial ever surfaced. (Sigh…) With most actors/actresses these days, if there is anything available, it can almost always be found with a simple web search, through Google and the like. Such erotic fancies become less pressing as I get older, though, as they probably should… (By the way, I sincerely appreciate the sexual ambivalence of your question, as it is a welcome alternative to the usually straight presumptions that still predominate the general mindset.)
In terms of nudity and sleaze in trashy films, what film or films do feel best fit the bill? Are there any directors you normally go to when in the mood for those types of films?
In addition to horror, I love antiquated sexploitation, and throughout the years I have collected vintage erotica almost as rabidly as I accumulate horror-related fare. (I became a huge Bettie Page fan in the early 1980s, and once had a substantial collection devoted to her, but it has since diminished considerably.) As for films, Roberta Findlay (and her late cohort hubby Michael) produced a handful of utterly insane softcore efforts during the 1960s and 1970s that never fail to amuse me; the “Flesh” outings are among some of my favorites , and I have yet to track down some of their seventies outings which have since become readily available. (The Findlay’s A Thousand Pleasures is, for me, the pinnacle of the nudie/roughie trend that peaked in the 1960s and then became obsolete once hardcore pornography became the mainstay of the sex circuit.) I’m also fond of Lee Frost’s early films, as well as Doris Wishman’s deviant offerings. These and many others were all a product of their sexually repressive environment, and stand as a monument to a nearly forgotten era of cinema.
In an age where most are getting there info and facts from the internet and various websites, how important do you feel it is to conduct research through reading whole books that have been published (such as yours) through a publisher instead of hopping on to a website such as Wikipedia or similar sites to it?
In recent years, I have been unable to invest in books as I was once able; in the recent past, books were generally more reliable than what one might casually find scouring the world wide web, but this is changing. The main problem is that it is infinitely more difficult to update printed matter than websites, blogs, and the like, which creates more problems for authors such as myself. Ultimately, though, it is the reliability and accuracy of the information that is important, so as much as I regret the inevitable passing of a medium that will always dominate my attentions, I cannot objectively argue with the benefits that the Internet offers.
Do you find that you will ever grow tired of watching trash films, Scott?
Never, but it gets progressively more difficult to find films that have eluded my attention over the last three decades. As they say, hope springs eternal, so I am always vigilant for anything which may have escaped me. Cinema, “trash” or otherwise, will remain one of my obsessions until my eyes and ears interfere with my ability to enjoy such luxuries…