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Guy's name has been there at every major point in modern horror fiction in the UK. He was there in 1974 when James Herbert's The Rats found itself launching a new movement, because he published Werewolf by Moonlight that year. He was there as the seventies became the eighties, writing for Hamlyn as they pioneered the "nasty novel". And he was there a decade later when horror fiction found its way into newsagents.
I was buying all the horror fiction I could find during the eighties and it was a time when authors had plenty of fanzines to which to pitch their short stories. However, as the eighties turned into the nineties, it was something else entirely.
Fear had launched in 1988 with a July/August double issue, a gorgeous quality magazine that went on to cover as much fiction as it did movies; in fact John Skipp & Craig Spector got top billing above John Carpenter on that first issue, which also had fiction from Ramsey Campbell, Shaun Hutson and Nicholas Royle. The Dark Side turned out to be the survivor, focusing mostly on film, but it paid attention to fiction at this point too. Zines like Peeping Tom found themselves able to pay authors and others like Skeleton Crew grew from amateur zines to pro magazines with distribution. This was the heyday of the indie comic in the UK too, with all sorts of creative juices flowing from pens across the country and reaching an audience.
Enter Frighteners, which only managed three monthly issues from July to September 1991 but generated a great deal of attention during its brief lifetime, because the first issue was removed from shelves after complaints from the public, due to Graham Masterton's highly controversial lead story, Eric the Pie.
Frighteners was a Newsfield publication, produced by the same company who produced Fear, but this one was entirely dedicated to horror fiction, describing itself as "the monthly collection of tales to scare".
As Jeremy Briggs explains over at Bear Alley, Newsfield had been founded in 1983 by Oliver Frey, his brother Franco and a friend named Roger Kean, as a software mail order house. They did well enough within a few months to start up Crash, a magazine dedicated to the Sinclair Spectrum, which launched in January 1984 and sold in W. H. Smith. Later, they expanded into horror with Fear, edited by John Gilbert and with much cover art by Oliver Frey, who was Editorial Director.
Frighteners was as straightforward as Fear was ambitious. Frey painted each lurid cover and contributed a number of other black and white illustrations to each issue. Each lead story was given to a name author and it was backed up with a set of obscure names across 48 pages of stories, 52 pages all told with contents and covers. It was shorter and squatter than most magazines and cost £1.50. At the time, Fear cost £1.95 and ran 84 pages including covers.
The fact that it was published out of Ludlow, a mere thirty miles down the road from Guy's house on the Black Hill, was entirely coincidental!
The contents of the premiere issue were:
Rand Soellner's Mud is three times longer than anything else in issue one but it, along with everything else in that issue, was overshadowed by the lead story, Graham Masterton's Eric the Pie. It's a simple tale of a boy who believes that you are what you eat, but its six brief pages include not only the expected cannibalism but scenes of animal rape and torture, all in a non-judgemental tone.
Masterton has said in an interview that he "wanted to write a story up to the edge of acceptable taste", something that he later did with another story called Sepsis. With Eric the Pie, he may have led to the demise not only of Frighteners, as it was being born, but Fear and the whole of Newsfield Publications with it. It merely took a few more issues for entropy to have its full effect.
It's notable that the price of Fear went up as of issue 32 in August 1991, from £1.95 to £2.20. I wonder why...
The contents of the second issue were:
The furore over Eric the Pie was highlighted in issue 2 by Newsfield running the first part of Oliver Kean's Blood of Satan again, given that most readers wouldn't have seen it in the previous withdrawn issue. They explained in the contents page, like this:
"Due to complaints from the public about the contents of the story ERIC THE PIE by Graham Masterton, issue one of FRIGHTENERS was removed from the shelves of most newsagents, virtually killing all sales. In order not to spoil your enjoyment, we have decided to run part one of BLOOD OF SATAN again. We apologise to those of you who did manage to get issue one.
We have a limited stock of the offending issue: if you want to find out what the fuss was all about, send £1.50 to us at the address below and a copy of FRIGHTENERS 1 will be in the post to you."
By comparison, Brian Lumley's lead story in this issue, The Statement of Henry Worthy proved to be uncontroversial and it's been included a number of times in collections of his fiction.
The contents of the third issue were:
Guy's story, The Executioner, is at heart a chase between two men to see who will murder a third, though given that the latter is a high ranking Nazi who was responsible for the infamous massacre in the Katyn Forest, the inhumanity of the chase is somewhat lessened. It plays into the edgy nature of this magazine well, but controversy was the last thing on the mind of Oliver Frey and his staff at Newsfield as they were concentrating on staying alive.
This was the final issue of Frighteners, though it certainly didn't seem like it to readers at the time. The back cover promised another issue on 26th September with a lead story from Steve Harris and the next instalment of Blood of Satan.
In fact, what's oddest about the third and final issue in hindsight is that, for the first time, the inner cover includes a full page advert for subscriptions. "Take a bite at low price frights!" it suggests, offering twelve issues for only £12, so a third off. Talk about optimistic!
The magazine's bigger brother, Fear, also continued to put on the same front, running their regular half page ad for Frighteners as if nothing was out of the ordinary. However that was in issue 34, which would be the final issue for Fear in October 1991. That was all she wrote.
The Real Story
I was able to buy my copy of issue one without any trouble, probably because I bought it as soon as it came out, so I don't remember much about it being withdrawn from circulation. I remember reading Eric the Pie on the bus but not because anything untoward happened because of it.
It was a strange time, because the mainstream and the niche were coming face to face. The video nasty era may have begun it, but metal bands built it in the eighties and horror fiction continued it on, until we witnessed the insanity of the ritual satanic abuse scandals. I bought my copy of Megadeth's LP Killing is My Business... and Business is Good at W. H. Smith, where they looked at me like I was a serial killer. And then I ordered Bloodcum's Death by a Clothes Hanger at Boots the Chemist with a gift voucher I'd been given for Christmas. It nearly gave the old lady behind the counter a heart attack!
Newsfield ran an op-ed in issue 33 of Fear to explain what had happened with the first issue of Frighteners and I actually remember reading this at the time! After mentioning that the issue had been "withdrawn from sale after legal advice", Graham Masterton explained to Fear editor John Gilbert that "Eric the Pie was written as a satire to show the grisly realities of human diet. The story is no more disturbing than the meat counter at Sainsbury's." He continues to spin an anti-meat industry take on the story, which is a real stretch.
Back to that Jeremy Briggs article and he references an extract from the liquidator's report (crashonline.org.uk) which explains that, "a Menzies customer found offence in a Graham Masterton short story and the news trade pulled issue one out of circulation, which meant that Newsfield had to virtually write the first issue off." While Briggs does highlight that there's nothing specific on the cover to suggest that the magazine was for "mature readers only", Frey's artwork is enough to describe what lies within with relative accuracy.
I'd never read a liquidator's report before, but it makes for an interesting read. It suggests that Newfield may have been in trouble anyway, with lackluster sales during the summer that may or may not have picked up during the winter. Frighteners was enough difference to render the question moot, however, and, 'Subsequent issues were distributed under counsel's clearance.'
It's a shame that Frighteners went away so quickly, as I enjoyed it immensely, but it's fair to say that Fear was the bigger loss. I felt that for a number of years. The Dark Side was a worthy read, but it was film-centric and talked mostly about movies that I couldn't see. Nowadays, it's an invaluable resource but, back then, Fear was more urgent because its pages talked about writers whose books I could buy on the high street. It was a long gap between issue 34 of Fear in October 1991 and my first tentative steps online in early 1998.
I wrote this article, in early August 2016, because I was scanning covers to accompany the bibliography of Guy's short stories on this site, which has remained static since the turn of the century.
What I hadn't realised was that something must surely have been in the air. Fear, whose demise back in 1991 I lamented, is back! By an amazing coincidence, it launched (in print) three days before I wrote this piece, on 1st August, 2016, with the same masthead and the same breakdown of contents. There aren't too many details on the Fear Magazine (fear-magazine.com) website, but it certainly appears that it's in the hands of its former editor, John Gilbert.
I discovered this when sharing in the Guy N. Smith Appreciation Society (facebook.com) group on Facebook and Chris Hall pointed out that he has a full index of both Fear and Frighteners over at his site, DLS Reviews (dlsreviews.com). Clearly, those Newsfield Publications titles were impactful on more than merely me and I'm very glad to hear that Fear is back. Now, do they need any writers?
Last update: 4th June, 2019