Scream Greats: Fangoria Explores Satanism And Witchcraft

The horror movie magazine’s short-lived video series took a curious turn towards the Satanic in its second edition.

In 1986, Fangoria magazine – the Bible of the modern horror fan – was at the height of its popularity, and so it must have seemed a great idea to transfer the concept onto video. Rather than create a magazine format VHS series like the Gorgon Video series though, Fangoria set out to release a series of stand-alone documentary films under the Scream Greats label.

The first of these was, perhaps inevitably, a documentary about the magazine’s most beloved icon, the make-up artist, actor, stunt man and later director Tom Savini. So far, so predictable. But things took something of a left (hand) turn with Volume 2, Witchcraft and Satanism. While Fangoria had been a widely controversial title due to the incredibly gory imagery that it published, the magazine had steered rather clear of both nudity – a very mild and nipple-free shot from the film Breeders elicited angry letters about the corruption of young readers (exploding heads and gouged out eyes being just fine apparently) – and ‘real life’ horror. As odd as it seems, the Fangoria letters page revealed that more readers than you might have expected were Christians and there was never any hint of the magazine exploring the occult outside of the fictional world of cinema.

So the fact that the second Fangoria Scream Greats documentary was an exploration of Witchcraft and Satanism was rather odd – it had no connection to the magazine at all, beyond movie clips from occult horror films, and featured the sort of nudity that would have been unthinkable in the magazine at that time. It has all the hallmarks of an existing documentary that had been quickly re-badged as part of this series, but both instalments share the same director, Damon Santostefano, so who really knows? To confuse things further, the second episode was initially supposed to focus on Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper, but he was seemingly ‘indisposed’, presumably busy with the same extra-curricular activities that rather derailed his promising film career.

This tape emerged, of course, at the height of America’s Satanic Panic, which probably didn’t help it much. It’s hard to imagine many parents wanting to shell out $40 for a videotape that promoted Satanism to their teenagers. And oddly for a documentary of the era, this takes a somewhat even-handed, perhaps even sympathetic approach to the subject – while Christian fanatics and conspiracists like Ted Gunderson and Ed Warren get screen time to warn of the dangers of occultism and make fatuous claims, they simply look like the buffoons they were when countered by Hans Holzer, Owen Rachleff and Paul Valentine from newly-formed The Church of Satanic Liberation.

It’s a fascinating and brave attempt to open up the idea of the documentary series, but it was probably too soon – having this appear as the second volume might have announced an intent not to be restricted to the content of the magazine (indeed, there is no evidence that anyone involved in Fangoria had anything to do with this), but it almost certainly wasn’t what the readers wanted – and at a hefty price-tag and coming so soon in the series, you could hardly even rely on collectors buying it out of a completist mentality.

In the end, the publishers of Fangoria and the Paramount Home Video executives lost interest in the series very quickly. Neither edition sold especially well and that was what ultimately scuppered the whole thing. Looked at now, the Savini tape feels like a fluff-piece, a lightweight hagiography for the darling of the readership that is an amusing time capsule, but ultimately a very niche affair with limited appeal to anyone not endlessly fascinated by special effects. Satanism and Witchcraft, however, is altogether more fascinating.

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