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Dangerous Encounters: The Horror Film Fanzine as a Subversive Art

A single staple is the most primitive of zine bindings. Find out why Colton Cobb's Dangerous Encounters is as much about obscure films as it is damaged art.

Sometime in 2016, I began to solicit fanzines for review on the Headpress website. This project, the ‘Zine Suppository’, came with a downloadable questionnaire for zine creators to fill in, with the intention to try to map the physical zine in the digital age. I didn’t expect a tsunami in return, which is fortunate because there wasn’t one; zines tend to be stumbled upon, always have, which is part of their charm. The few zines that did arrive during my brief tenure as Zine Suppository curator were cult film related (understandably) and they shared an old school aesthetic. Which, many years later, is where Dangerous Encounters comes in.

Not all zine creators embrace the internet, and some avoid it altogether, which makes little practical sense given how the zine infrastructure and distribution channels are radically different now. The age of print catalogues and newsletters by mail is over. But that’s in some ways the point. Arguably the zine aesthetic is as much about ‘presence’ as it is layout and design. Zines as stasis, waiting to be found.

All images and film reviews in this article taken from Dangerous Encounters

My attempt to archive the small press in the Zine Suppository was long over when unexpectedly Dangerous Encounters arrived in the mailbox. This letter size film zine has none of the trappings of modernity. Issue number 9 comprises 46 pages that are held together with a single staple in the top left corner. (The most primitive of all bindings.) The blocky monochrome images throughout are so heavy on the page that few details are discernible and seem to flavour the text rather than illustrate it. The writing itself is loose and breezy.

Among the reviews of obscure movies are some names familiar to the underground press scene, circa 1990s through early 2000s: Full Force Frank, Joe Christ and Nathan Schiff all feature in this issue. The films themselves piqued my interest and conjured that sense of imminent disappointment common to any obscure-film scavenger hunt, my own included: obscure films are often more fun to read about than to track down and watch.

Editor/writer/designer/publisher of Dangerous Encounters is Colton Cobb.  The confrontational nature of the publication, he tells me, is as much a throwback to the old zine days as the movies he covers:

“The fanzine war waged on Chris Gore and Film Threat, for instance, Jim Goad’s pranks played on his detractors, and Randall Phillip’s general mischief and misanthropy. I dabble very lightly in the philosophy and theory of writers like Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Mark Fisher and Nick Land and try to apply some of it to my writing and take-downs on collector culture and the unusual state we’re in regarding freedom of expression and the blind consumerism of collectors.”

Film zines, specifically cult horror film zines, are largely absent from the pop culture landscape today. In some respect this is because horror fans tend to aspire to higher production values and their zines no longer look like zines (stand up the wonderful Little Shoppe of Horrors). But along comes Dangerous Encounters like a lost transmission, accompanied by a letter of introduction written on a typewriter.


DAVID KEREKES: When did the first issue of Dangerous Encounters appear?

COLTON COBB: I began writing Dangerous Encounters around late 2018/early 2019 following a brief hiatus running my grindcore label, Reanimated Miscarriage. While active in the harsh noise scene, I also accumulated some knowledge of obscure, outrageous, and twisted exploitation films, to apply to the music I was making, using dialogue for samples, and stills for artwork. I was unable to contain the urge to contain this ever-growing knowledge to my friends and the customers at the store I was working. (I worked the counter for five-and-half-years at the now closed Grindhouse Video, a one-of-a-kind brick and mortar shop specializing solely in exploitation and horror.) I felt it was time to finally compile my findings in the cinematic dregs and share them with people outside of my immediate circle. Thus Dangerous Encounters was born and issue 1 was released Halloween 2019, as a sort of  a “best of” everything I’d seen over the years. 

Dangerous Encounters issue 9 front cover

What is your circulation and how do you distribute?

Each issue’s first printing averages around 300 copies; prior issues were less, and recent issues #8 and #9 sold out in about six weeks. Having run my tape label and doing my own artwork and design, I’ve made friends at the local copy shop, and they don’t seem to mind me hogging up a photocopier for a few hours every once in a while. There’s a demand for back issues of Dangerous Encounters among collectors and physical storefronts. My distribution is solely private sales and by word of mouth. All the time I’ve been operating my label (five-plus years now), I’ve never had any kind of online store or website, I just never had the time to sit down, design and set up something properly. I’ve always been too busy working on several things at once and trying to manage my life. I have a mailing list to keep everyone up to date with whatever I’m releasing, what’s available, all with prices and a PayPal address to send payment to — it’s been quite fruitful. I suppose the private, dare I say “shady” or sleazy nature of business, as some might see it, adds to the allure. 

Clipping of obscure movie review, The Norwegian Drillbit Massacre

It’s safe to say you wear your influences on your sleeve: Gore Gazette, Slimetime, et al. Was there a eureka moment when you decided you must print your own zine?

As well as access to many kinds of movie via my job, I also had access to many fanzines and magazines. Early on, working at Grindhouse, I spent my days reading original issues of Gore Gazette, Sleazoid Express, [Steve] Puchalski’s Slimetime and Shock Cinema, and of course [Chas.] Balun’s Deep Red and his many books. I wasn’t exactly sure how I could write my own zine and whether anyone would care about my opinions, let alone share my interest enough to check out the movies. I remember picking up the Bleeding Skull! 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey book and was surprised — and I mean that endearingly — at how amateur it felt. Like, these weren’t professional writers, [authors Joe Ziemba and Dan Budnik] were just guys who loved movies and couldn’t shut up about them. Bill Landis and Rick Sullivan [Sleazoid Express and Gore Gazette] were in that same boat, but they were in the cinematic trenches, carrying pad and pen into 42nd Street grindhouse at the risk of getting their asses kicked for being nerds, unlike today, when you get to watch something like Cannibal Holocaust in the comfort of your own home, stoned out of your mind and gobbling fast food. So, that was my epiphany. If they could do it, I could do it, too. 

Distressed image for obscure movie, Vermillion Eyes

To say that Dangerous Encounters has an old school look would be an understatement. How do you put each issue together and is there a secret to making images look so grainy in this day and age!

The modus operandi is one of postmodernism, as corny as it might sound … and also laziness and stubbornness. In an age where websites like Letterboxd exist, which everyone treats like Twitter for movies and posts snarky scant-sentence reviews hoping to go viral, I thought the movies I wanted to cover warranted more attention; as bad as some may be, I considered them worth discussing in the typewritten form. In the horror movie “community” everyone seems to have a real hard-on for physical media anyway, so it just made sense. There’s plenty of blogs, and not enough zines. To write a blog, website or even reviews on sites like IMDb or Letterboxd is one thing, but to write, design, assemble, and distribute your own zine takes a little more dedication and perhaps reinforces what you have to say.

I own and repair close to a dozen vintage photocopiers that I’ve used for artwork and design for my tape label, as well as work for hire outside of my own projects. Since Dangerous Encounters’ inception, I’ve gone through three Smith Corona electric typewriters and managed to kill as many photocopiers as well. There isn’t any trick to getting the texture [of the images] easily. With three or more different models of copiers running at once, I mix textures from each machine to create something vintage-looking. My process is simple, although maybe a bit unnecessary. I write everything on my cellphone, copyedit and transcribe these notes to the best of my ability on my typewriter, take photos from my television with my cellphone, print them and photocopy each one. Then everything — the typewritten review and images — is copied again to a sheet of paper, making a page, with Elmer’s glue, a sharpie marker and ruler to make the frames and margins. I’ve gone twenty-five years designing and writing my zine without a computer, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!

Clipping of obscure movie review, A Nightmare on Sesame Street

That’s admirable in an age when an app can probably do all of that for you, with the press of a button. Moving on: You have a zine roundup in Dangerous Encounters. I confess, I had no idea there were so many zines devoted to ‘freaky’ film still being published on an underground level. Most look like they are mail order only, with no web presence that I could find. What’s the state of film zines today? Is Dangerous Encounters part of a ‘revival’ or something more?

Your guess is as good as mine! Regardless of what’s going on, I’m happy there are other likeminded freaks creating something, and most importantly, sharing their work and working together. I don’t see what’s going on right now so much as a revival of classical fanzine culture. For me, I saw what was made thirty-or-so years ago and wanted to do exactly that myself, so it’s more a response to zines like Gore Gazette and Sleazoid back in the 1980s, and this probably goes for others, too: an independent media boom of innovators and imitators based around the zines of that decade.

With the current explosion of cult cinema preservation and restoration on physical formats, courtesy of companies like Vinegar Syndrome, people have a newfound appreciation for holding something in their hands again, be it an esoteric movie on Blu-ray or 4K or a fanzine discussing those movies. With the nostalgia among the millennial demographic for, say, old Disney movies, comic books, and VHS tapes, the nerd lifestyle becomes the predominant mainstream culture, at least in popular media.

There’s no question that the planet is in a predicament it hasn’t been in before and the best way to cope is to regress to a time when people were happy; when that seems to coalesce into a cultural movement, other people are going to capitalize on it —pop Dead Alive into the VCR, get your blanket, and feel the warmth of the analog mother!

That said, much like the mission of my noise-music tape label from the beginning, the format of Dangerous Encounters is the vehicle of the message; its presentation is timeless, but more than anything I want it to be representative of a time much like the “golden age” of the 1980s, when the people making zines weren’t worried about anything other than doing what they wanted, with their friends, for their friends, and having a good time while doing it. 

Distressed photo of Joe Spinell, H G Lewis and Rick Sullivan

Outside of the zines discussed, what are some of your favourites and can you recommend any newer ones?

The originators cover enough entry level cult cinema to still serve as great starting points for anyone either just getting into cult cinema, or zines about cult cinema. As an avid collector, some of my favorites from yesteryear are some of the more mean-spirited in nature, like Answer ME!, Blackest Heart, Randall Phillip’s Fuck, and lesser-known or forgotten classics like 3AM, Happyland, Killbaby, Sheer Filth, Slimetime, Subhuman, Trashola, and mainstays: Deep Red and Psychotronic. Honestly, many of today’s zines pale in comparison to those of yesteryear, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way. A lot of what’s coming out right now can be considered a somewhat original take on a tired old format. I really enjoy Strange Tapes, which covers bizarre and esoteric private release family entertainment, instructional, and self-help videos; Skum Kulture is a relatively new effort from a young writer in Germany that takes the postmodernism of my own work a step further with typewritten text on classic cult cinema, xeroxed collages, and Balun-esque illustrated skull’n’bones page borders and margins. There are also varied efforts by one of my closest associates and best friends, Vince Albarano, who’s worked on several standalone projects on collector culture critique, including an in-depth look at the subjects of Craig Smith’s film, Psychedelic Glue Sniffin’ Hillbillies, as well as a few collaborative projects the two of us are working on.

Cover of Dangerous Encounters issue  8

Some of the content of Dangerous Encounters will be familiar to readers with a knowledge of the counterculture, circa 1990s. But you have also turned up stuff that was off the radar even back then. I’m particularly impressed that you include a feature on the shot-on-video films of Brian Davies, which rarely got a mention even in contemporary zines (Davies’ own one-shot zine being the exception!). How easy is it to track this stuff down? Is there a new video underground, like the old video underground?

I believe there is some sort of underground network alive today, much like there was back in the heyday, times have just changed, and instead of VHS tapes traded in the mail, it’s done digitally. There aren’t many under-the-table private mailing lists, nor are there police raids over some goofy slob sending a copy of Driller Killer to a buddy over in the UK. However there are people I know trading movies on VHS, and I think it’s for nostalgia more than anything, but then again, I spent my high school years trading death metal demos on cassette instead of downloading rips of them, and regarding the resurgence in physical media, there is just something satisfying about the way a thing was intended to be and holding it in your hands.

I’ve discovered and made good use of the advanced search features on websites like IMDb, and though I’d rather not bore anyone with my trade secrets, the search functions are rather easy — it just requires effort and patience. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Not everything is out there; Some elusive movies just don’t ‘exist’ for the time being — my friends and I keep a list of those! I don’t own my own computer, so a few close friends with access to sites will download some films and make DVDrs for me; Dangerous Encounters would be nothing without them and their invaluable support.

Distressed picture of what might be Smurfs

We live in a weird time where almost every stone has been turned, thanks to the internet. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but people tend to get comfortable real quick. People in search of ‘new’ obscure movies will happily settle with whatever their favorite outlet has reported on, doing the footwork. Call me cynical, but my formative years as a record store clerk cum video store clerk gave me this ability to see right through people and their interests and tastes. Rather than being another High Fidelity-like snob, I grew bored of the same eighties cheese-horror romps as much as I did the regurgitated handful of “most disturbing movies of all time”. Amassing this library-like knowledge of some extremely grotesque and unusual movies, I felt it just had to be shared. I couldn’t be the only person bored with what was easily accessible. From unsettling after school-specials, TV movie-of-the-week cautionary tales, to the hysterical religious propaganda of Russ Doughten and Mark IV Studios, unsung grindhouse one-man-band actor, writer, producer, and directors like Earl Owensby, deathly obscure and prolific shot-on-video directors like Brian Davies, Louis Ferriol, Scott Allen Nollen, and John Henry Timmis IV, the gruesome pornography of John Blakemore, to the now rising in popularity hardcore triple-x rated roughie. It all goes back to reading Killing For Culture years ago and opening my mind to what else constituted ‘extreme’ cinema beyond the typical tripe. I knew that the films reviewed in Dangerous Encounters were out there waiting to be found, and many others. I knew the sole mission of Dangerous Encounters from the beginning was to curate and redefine bizarre, perverse and violent for my friends just the way it was for myself reading Killing For Culture

Clipping of obscure movie review, Doctor Death

I should take that as a compliment, thank you. So, where should people go who want to pick up a copy of Dangerous Encounters?

Anyone intrigued enough to check out Dangerous Encounters or even ream my ass for whatever impression they got of me in this interview can reach me and order via email at: diseaseofthespirit@gmail.com

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