Sunday, March 12, 2023



As many of you folks know by now, I spent my formative teen years growing up in a Midwest landlock. Living in the 80’s. Overweight, misunderstood and glued to a TV, long before the home stereo ever factored in. Sports did not exist. Uncle Don’s Terror Theater and the Son of Svengoolie did. These silly local horror hosts, along with the glory days of video rental brought me new visions of terror weekly. When I wasn’t staring at the tube, drawing monster cars or sitting alone the dark, I was feeding my brains on whatever horror film magazines I could get my chubby/grubby hands on. Too young to hit the first wave of tween scream periodicals like Famous Monsters or the early hands-on/how-to digest Cinemagic; I sprouted up just in time to find Fangoria fresh and bleeding on the shelves. From this I learned the wonders of the straight up gore flick. Local mom-n-pop video stores may have been my temples for grue blasting creature features and slasher worship, but it wasn’t ‘til I picked up that Fango (sometime around the summer of ’83) that I got taught a little bit of history. And even then, I barely respected it. 

Inside these issues were the review columns of a certain "Dr. Cyclops". Mostly the Doc went on about old B&W flicks from Universal, Roger Corman produced drive-in schlock and Hammer-style imports. I would briefly glance over them, linger on the box art images for a minute, then move on to the more important stuff…full color pages of dripping entrails and zombie head explosions. Man, how well I remember the cover of issue #25. The first NEW copy I ever picked up. It had the Videodrome television on the front: guts strewn out, dangling like candy from a rotten and smashed piñata. A TV set, so engorged on this bloody organ buffet, it had burst open from the wet girth. Delightful. Dee-lish. This was what mattered. Who cares about that classical-class or the psychological horror? Not the plus-sized, sweat panted youth of America…that was for damn sure. 
 Dr. Cyclops (whereabouts unknown)

(issue 25, TV With GUTS where TOG stole their banner from)

 There was a local comic and games shop (called Tomorrow is Yesterday, for those who care) that I’d force my family to drive me to twice a week. Religiously. A ritual I continued to do solo, well into my college years. Here I snagged up the better digests that existed in the fantasy film realm. Stronger stuff than what mall shop booksellers could offer me. Not just magazines proper, but overzealous rants on xerox (or even mimeographs…remember them, grandpappy?) written by psycho-babbling nutbags like myself. Only older. And with better typing skills. Or at the least, with nicer penmanship. 

Zines enter my picture HERE. Not with music. Not with punk. But with horror and sci-fi fandom. The idea of music rags didn’t rattle my feeble brain ‘til my twenties. No stock pile of Touch N Go, Search and Destroy, or Forced Exposure in my cupboard. No sir. Not yet. It was all film related in the lame “Frankie Says”-era. Most importantly, these new cut-n-paste-ups were studies in the ghastly world of gore. I started to branch out into some classier fare (Midnight Marquee, Demonique) and nerdish lost film worship (Video Watchdog and Psychotronic) as time passed, but these early guts n’ gravy mags always found the soft spot between my ribmeats. And during these fruitful times, one scribe’s pen spoke to me and these vulgar interests more than any other. A big bear of a man, always pictured with disheveled hair and an evil glint in his eye. A man who looked uncannily as rabid as Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen himself. That man was Charlie “Chas” Balun.
Chas at Fango's Weekend of Horrors.

He was the demonic bruiser behind such sweetly sick pages as Deep Red and The Horror Holocaust, whose writing expressed such glee (and sometimes full-tilt hatred) for these trashy, often forgotten efforts, that it single-handedly jumpstarted my quest for certain holy grails and gutter flicks. A quest that has not ended, even to this day. There was no Leonard Maltin pussyfootin’ around in Deep Red. Films reviewed had accurately been said to “suck farts out of a dead cat's ass” from time to time. That is a direct quote. Look it up. I, as an impressionable youth, wholeheartedly agreed. Don’t mince words. Deliver the groceries. And his black and red offset printed pages did just that. Delivered these a bodybag. I still have my well thumbed Gore Score review guide. Battered, thumbed and hi-lighted to the point of being illegible. It’s going nowhere. 

 (The illustrious Gore Score (zoom in for clarity)

He taught me many things: Herschel Gordon Lewis was KING. The Italians could do ANYTHING better, and on even less of a budget. Dr. Butcher MD was a high bar that all must match in trash cinema. (Well, until I Drink Your Blood finally made its bootleg rounds). And so on. 

Looking back now, I can see we didn’t always gel in agreement. I’m pretty sure he’d rather carve up his own scrotum with broken glass shards than watch any Andy Milligan flick. Shit. Most would. He also burned some bridges with the folks over at Film Threat and the like, selling off unauthorized copies of rare J. Buttgereit films (Nekromantik, Der Todesking, etc.), but it didn’t faze me. I’m no businessman. I’m a fanboy. He wrote novels (Ninth & Hell Street) and screenplays (Chunk Blower) and as time charged on he even put in some hours at the Fango HQ, along with their upstart mags like GoreZone. From what I recall, this did not tame him. He was a frothing zealous creature who stuck out like a sore thumb in the clinically pure Q&A trappings of a national publication. His throw-it-all-in-yer-face style and attitude was so PUNK at the time for horror film reviewing. Or maybe metal. Crossover? Hard to remember these days. Drug out of the 42nd Street sewers and shoved into yer Kroch’s and Brentano’s shopping center mugs, horrifying parents of impressionable kiddies everywhere. Warped me fer good.
 (RF delivers the guts)

Chas - along with real punk/film buff extraordinaire, Chris D. - are really the only reason I sit here today blathering about movies, music, etc. Balun was an honest to God hero to me. One of the very few. And sadly, no longer with us. 

Just shy of a year by the time you’ll be reading this, Chas finally caved in on his battle with cancer. I was never even aware he was sick. I’ve been out of the loop with these mags and related zines for most of the past decade. I rarely even troll the proper websites ‘cept for when I wanna find out what’s hitting the DVD market. I was casually reading a mid-year issue of the Goth-horror digest Rue Morgue (on the toilet no less…where else?) when I saw his passing mentioned in the editorial. I felt sickly. Like when I found out Ed “Big Daddy” Roth had died. I never met him either, but both were so formative and integral to the genetic make-up of what I am today (not much, but still…). I was heartbroken. Another year has withered away and yet another of my idols had passed. Just like the lame mid-lifer I’m slowly becoming, I cling dearly to my fondest memories. This past that I don’t wanna let go of. I think back to sitting around in high school art rooms photocopying (or cutting up) these magazines for disgusting locker decoration. I think back to standing in the snow, waiting for Pittsburgh metro buses, thumbing through bent issues of Deep Red during my Art Institute years. Reading about the latest Tom Savini f/x blowout or some uncut Japanese laserdisc that offers seconds more splatter to a lost cannibal flick. Hoping to be interviewed by the main Chas-man himself one day. Sorry kid. Ain’t gonna’ happen. Very little effects work for me in these times. And now, worse yet…no Charlie to chat with tomorrow. So I guess this is just me saying goodbye (a year late) to a muse, of sorts. From an unknown friend, fiend, fanatic and follower. To a lesser-scale celebrity whose demise has been grossly overlooked. It’s totally understandable. A lot of genre related greats went down in recent times. Bill Landis of Sleazoid Express for one. Ugh. Ray Dennis Steckler too. Etc… Getting old is tragic and sad and not nearly as gory and violent as most of us gut-busters would have hoped for. I went and dug out the old Deep Red issues and stacked ‘em in the bathroom reading pile. To the left of the commode. Right where they belong. 

Cinema = Sewer.

Just like old times. 

Here’s blood in yer eye. 


Chas Balun is a legend.

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