Jessie Lilley has been publishing and editing small press magazines for 20+ years. She is the original publisher of the much acclaimed Scarlet Street: The Magazine of Mystery and Horror, Worldly Remains: A Pop Culture Review and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Mondo Cult Magazine and MondoCult.com. She also sat as Editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Jessie was only the fourth editor of FM since it first published back in 1958, and the only woman to hold that chair. Her freelance work has appeared in the pages of Los Angeles’ Valley Scene Magazine and Perth, Australia’s Messenger along with a host of small press publications and websites related to horror films, music and politics.
Jessie also edits biographies, including the memoir GLORIA by Bond-girl Gloria Hendry; an in-depth and candid look at the life of an African-American actress coming up in the extraordinary time known simply as ‘The 60s”. It is currently available at amazon.com. Another project which was completed in the fall of 2009 is the biography of character actor Paul Reed, Sr. by his son Paul, Jr. A delightful remembrance by a loving son and a retelling of the stories his father told him about making a mark in “the business” in early 20th century New York City. Entitled You Grew Up, the book is available from Bear Manor Media and amazon.com. Jessie is currently editing a series of children’s books called Rowdy and Me. The first in the series, Rowdy Comes Home, is due to hit bookstores sometime in 2013.
Jessie lives in Santa Cruz County, CA at the top of a hill at the end of the road with her husband, musician David Paul Campbell, four sleek, rescued cats and various, visiting doggies.
The Classic Horror Campaign was lucky enough to catch up with Jessie recently where she shared her views on the current horror scene, why she loves classic horror films and why she supports our campaign. If you’d like to order a copy of Mondo Cult 3 or buy any back issues check out the Mondo Cult website for details. Mondo Cult 3 goes on sale next week!
First of all Jessie, can you tell me a little about yourself and your career in genre writing and publishing?
My career began in 1990 when Richard Valley (Editor of Scarlet Street), called me at work one day, complaining about the Sherlock Holmes VHS tapes he had bought. It was the series from Granada Television in theUK that starred the now-legendary Jeremy Brett. It seems the original VHS release was missing bits and pieces from each episode and it was driving Richard to distraction. He asked me if I’d call the company and complain because by now they weren’t taking his calls anymore. So I did. Long story short, I introduced myself as the publisher of a Sherlock Holmes newsletter – which didn’t exist – and asked them for a quote as to what they were going to do about the missing segments. What they did was pull the tapes, remaster them at their own expense and send me a complete set at no charge. They then asked if I’d run an ad in my newsletter for the product. I called Richard and told him they now wanted to advertise and he said, “Oops.” So we gathered the crowd together, wrote some articles and printed the thing. We noticed though, that Holmes and mystery wouldn’t fill the book so we added some horror articles as well as we were all fans of the Universal classics, not to mention Hammer and Amicus.
I left Scarlet Street after 23 issues but stayed in the game. I’ve been a Managing Editor (RetroVision), Publisher (Worldly Remains), Editor (Famous Monsters of Filmland), Editor-In-Chief (Mondo Cult) and a writer for various publications both in the genre and out. I write about film, music, books, politics and also local businesses. I review restaurants and live music. I used to blog, but it took so much time that I had to stop. Blogging is fun but it doesn’t pay and in this economy, I can’t afford to give my work away – even if it’s to myself!
So, that’s my career. As to myself, I actually do make my living (such as it is) at this stuff. I work from home. Home is on the Monterey Bay in Central California, here in the States. My husband is musician David Paul Campbell and my evenings are often spent going with him to gigs and listening to him play and sing. We were in Los Angeles when we met, and after decades of sessions and touring he said he’d had enough and wanted to go someplace quiet, where the surfing was good. After 10 years at Universal Studios, I agreed. So we moved north, and here we are to stay. We share our home with four sleek cats. Remember we’re in the States here, so the name of one of our felines may startle you but—I didn’t name him and when he was named, it was in reference to graveyards, not anatomy. Ready? The cats are, in order of appearance: Ghoulie, Bluto, Frankie and Nigel.
How would you define “classic horror”?
I would say that classic horror has little to no splatter. Now of course, fans of European horror will argue that point. Italian horror has, I believe, a lot more gore. But when did those films start coming out? I don’t think of the European splatter and cannibal flicks as “classic”. The 60s is too new for classic horror. And there’s a blurred line as to when my definition of classic closes and the modern era begins. It’s sometime in the 1960s—probably 1965, when Cushing did She and The Skull.
It’s difficult to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. I generally use music as an example. I view the latter part of the 20th century in terms of eras, rather than years: silly really, as although an era is a fairly arbitrary length of time, it is usually longer than 15-20 years. Nonetheless… At the close of 1963 the world changed. JFK was assassinated. In 1964 the music changed, and therein lies the blur. The mid-60s changed everything. The Rolling Stones’ first US tour was in June of 1964. The British Invasion, as we called it here, slammed the likes of Elvis Presley into the discount racks—quite unexpectedly. We had our own rebels as well: Hendrix, though not playing regularly until 1965 was out there honing his chops, along with Zappa and such—and of course we had the bluesmen; B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, et al. That ushered in the modern era of music as well as film. The horror films of the late 1960s and into the 70s had more blood & gore in them as a direct result of the slaying of our extremely popular President. The attempted sweetness and light that permeated the US after WW II died that day, and reality came, once more to the fore. Then, in 1975, Stewart crossed the Atlantic and all bets were off. Music once again exploded, in the wrong direction I might add. Disco was fun to dance to for awhile, but come on guys, I need me some rock ‘n roll! (That’s not to say our Rod was responsible for Disco. God no! His Atlantic Crossing album in ’75 used the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—wonderful stuff on that LP). Anyway, the horror films got bloodier, scripts slid into the dust bins in favour of formula and special effects so that by the 80s, there was precious little worth watching. The odd indie film would rear its head to great acclaim (ex: 1981’s The Evil Dead) but most of what Hollywood spewed forth wasn’t worth the price of admission.
Today it’s CGI, that mind-numbing effect that keeps techs busy but actors and extras in a frenzy trying to find work; and again, not much in the script department. That having been said, there are still the odd moments of brilliance in cinema. District 9, for example: why, oh why, can we not have more exquisite writing, performance and direction—not to mention special effects used to perfection? And why in the name of all that is holy did we have to get a film like that from South Africa and not Hollywood! It’s not right, I tell you. In fact, it’s downright depressing.
What are your views on the Classic Horror Campaign?
I love it. I’d say we should do something like that here in the States, but we really do get quite a number of classic horror films on TV, what with all the cable and satellite companies out there.
Frighten Brighton sounds like a blast. Were I in the UK, I’d be there with bells on.
Famous Monsters of Filmland has an important place in many classic horror fans’ hearts, especially those of our American readers. What kind of relevance do you think Famous Monsters has in today’s crowded monster magazine marketplace?
You really should be asking me what kind of relevance it could have in today’s market. Right now, I don’t believe it has any more relevance than Fangoria or Rue Morgue. FM is a legacy book. It should be leading the way in coverage of classic horror. There’s a lot of classic horror. Decades of films are available for in depth discussion. Photos and illustrations can be found for glossy coverage and there are writers of all ages who love the classics and would be delighted to sink their teeth into articles on the subject. Universal and Hammer have been done to death, but there’s Amicus, (of course, Philip Nutman did a spectacular job on Amicus for Richard Klemensen’s Little Shoppe of Horrors, but there is much more to be talked about.) there are silent films, and there are all those science fiction monsters from decades past. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One step along from classic are the TV movies from the 1970s, not to mention the anthology shows from the 50s and 60s… Sadly though, it would seem the market isn’t big enough to sustain a mainstream magazine that discusses these films. The publisher made the decision early on to include current films as well. So, Famous Monsters of Filmland, full colour and glossy though it may be, is just another horror magazine.
Mondo Cult is your “baby”. Tell us a little about the magazine, what inspired you to create it and its potential appeal to Classic Horror Campaign followers.
I didn’t create Mondo Cult. Mondo Cult almost created itself. It’s the bastard child of two other magazines of yesteryear: Cult Movies and Worldly Remains. In fact, it’s been described as a head-on collision of those two titles.
I published Worldly Remains with Ron Garmon in the Editor-In-Chief’s chair. He’s a wonderful writer (rapier-like wit and all that) and a natural as an editor. He is able to drop like pieces with like into an issue of music, film, books and politics to create a cohesive whole resulting in a thesis of pop culture. Worldly Remains, due in large part to Garmon’s work, was what I considered to be my crowning achievement—until Mondo Cult raised its hedonistic head.
Cult Movies was published by Buddy Barnett and edited by Mike Copner. It was a lovely study of classic films with an emphasis on Poverty Row, Universal and Bela Lugosi. Buddy and Mike eventually had a falling out. Mike kept on with Cult Movies, which expanded to include a lot of Asian cinema (among other things) and then it stalled. Buddy and Mike got back together and they asked me to be Editor of a new Cult Movies. I accepted with alacrity as Worldly Remains had folded after 8 issues due to lack of cash. It never happened. There was another argument. Buddy walked away, Mike hired someone else and they got one issue out before Cult Movies folded for good.
Then, one day, Brad Linaweaver called me and said, “Why aren’t we doing a magazine anymore? Let’s do a magazine again!” He said he’d publish if I would edit, and he wanted to bring Buddy Barnett in as a co-publisher. He envisioned a conglomeration of Cult Movies and Worldly Remains and eventually we would come up with a title. Edward Plumb of Irene Belle Films actually named it, thinking of Karloff’s Mondo Balordo and the old Cult Movies title. I liked it too, as one of the Italian translations of “world” is “mondo”, and cult is a reference to culture. As we planned to cover pop culture from all over the world, I thought Mondo Cult could work both ways.
At first we were going to do a quarterly magazine, then a yearly publication and well… it didn’t work out that way. 2006 saw Mondo Cult #1 and in 2007 we put out #2. It’s 2012 and we finally have #3 ready. #1 was a 64 page magazine, with an eye toward another one in 3 months. As #2 showed up over a year later, it had a lot more stuff so it was 120 pages. A little over 4 years later, there’s even more stuff so #3 is a whopping 160 pages plus cover. And it’s not a horror magazine. In fact, it’s not a magazine at all really. Brad calls it a book-a-zine.
There is, however, a large enough element of horror covered in the book that we would expect your followers to enjoy it. As Mondo is a conglomeration, it covers not only film, but books, politics, music and whatever else tickles our fancies. But with all that Cult Movies influence, this issue contains articles on Lugosi and Karloff, Herman Cohen, Rondo Hatton and more. So it will be worth the “price of admission”, if you will.
Finally, what are your views on the current horror scene and where do you think the genre is heading?
The horror scene is the same as it’s always been. The conventions are out there, people dress up and have fun and spend too much money on collectibles. I know because I’m one of them! The Chiller convention in New Jersey (on the East Coast) is huge. Kevin Clement, who runs it, has had to move at least four times in order to accommodate the crowds. I used to love going to that con when I lived back East. I miss it a great deal.
Fortunately, the West Coast convention, Monsterpalooza run by Eliot Brodsky, is just as much fun. It’s has its eye on the art of monsters: the makeup artists and costumers as well as the toys, paintings and special effects. This April will mark his third year. Instead of moving to accommodate ever-increasing crowds though, he has simply added a second convention, this one in October.
There are other conventions scattered across the country. Too many to name them all, but I will note two due to their association with the Rondo Hatton Awards. The Rondos are the brain child of the folks who run the Classic Horror Film Boards (CHFB) online. They are given out each year (beginning in 2003) in various categories, and proclaim excellence within the horror genre. The first awards were presented at the Monster Bash convention’s Old Dark Clubhouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since then, the awards have been presented in a ceremony at Louisville, Kentucky’s Wonderfest.
Where is it headed? Haven’t a clue. But wherever it is, I suspect it will always be one thing above all else. One hell of a lot of fun.