The History of Cinefantastique Magazine

By Steve Biodrowski

The Jurassic Park cover story from 1993
The Jurassic Park cover story from 1993

Step into your Time Machine (or Stargate or Tardis, if you prefer), and take a trip back with me to a time long, long ago…before that galaxy far, far away had ever been discovered…
It is a strange era in which we find ourselves. From the hairstyles and clothing we can deduce it is the early 1970s. Science-fiction, fantasy, and horror films play regularly at local theatres and drive-ins but seldom in first-run “prestige” cinemas. There are good genre movies being made, but they are from smaller studios that specialize in this type of film (Hammer, Amicus, American International Pictures), and unless you seek these films out on your own initiative, you are unlikely to know the good ones from the bad, because reviewers in major newspapers tend to tar them all with the same brush, considering imaginative cinema to be somehow beneath their concern—a cinematic black sheep that is an embarrassment to the larger Hollywood family. In fact, it is not so very long ago that Roger Ebert, in a review of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, openly admitted it was the first horror movie he had sat through in years, and he spent most of the article working himself up into a moral rage over the film’s impact on unsuspecting viewers (including young children). Little is said about the film itself: Is it any good, and if so why? And how did a bunch of unknowns in Pittsburgh make something so effective that it could leave an audience virtually shell-shocked (at least in Ebert’s description)?
If you want answers to these questions, you might try magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein, or The Monster Times, among others. These are all entertaining, often filled with great still photographs and interviews, but they are fanzines—with the emphasis on the “fan.” Which is to say, they are reverential—even worshipful—of their subject matter. They sing hymns of praise; they do not do real journalism. They don’t probe; they don’t question; they don’t analyze. Sometimes, they don’t even confirm the information they print (thanks to Famous Monsters, an entire generation of fans believes that the ending of the American version of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was changed to make the giant ape the victor). In short, they treat the genre like kid’s stuff. In this they are not so different from their mainstream brethren; the only difference is that the fanzines like kid’s stuff.

And who can blame them, really? Film itself has started to earn regard as a serious art form only relatively recently, in the 1960s, thanks to the French New Wave, Cashier du Cinema, and the auteur theory (which champions films as works created by a single artistic vision, not as a factory product churned out on an assembly line by a faceless film studio). Distinctive filmmakers like Hitchcock, Chaplin, David Lean, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonionni, and even (ulp!) Jerry Lewis might warrant consideration as true artists, but would any magazine bestow such accolades on the directors, writers, actors, makeup men, and special effects technicians responsible for films like THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, ASYLUM, SISTERS, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Checking the local newsstands, the answer seems to be: definitely not.
Do not despair, fellow Time Travelers. Our quest into the past has not been in vain; such a magazine does exist, although at this point in time it is barely one-step more widely read than an esoteric alchemical text, written and distributed only for the chosen few: subscribers and those lucky enough to live near a bookstore that specializes either in movies and/or science-fiction. What is this rare and wonderful magazine—a magazine that treats horror movie directors as auteurs, that prods special effects magicians into revealing how they pull stop-motion dragons out of their hats, that treats the genre with an adult level of respect but not with mindless, childish adulation?
Fellow Time Traveler and esteemed CFQ reader, you are holding it in your hands now—at least, reaching through the mists of time, you are holding its great-great-great (and on and on) grandson. What you see before your eyes, although it may differ markedly in physical appearance, is the latest descendant of the original “magazine with a sense of wonder,” the most recent heir of a living legacy that is difficult if not impossible to overestimate—stretching, as it does, back to 1970, to a time before JAWS and STAR WARS transformed horror and science-fiction from a cult phenomenon into mainstream, blockbuster entertainment.
During a decade when many mainstream critics were dismissing THE EXORICST as sadistic pornography, and when Forest J Ackerman was filling Famous Monsters with puny puns (e.g., “A Clockwork Lemon,” referring to a malfunctioning robot in FUTURE WORLD), publisher-editor Frederick S. Clarke created a little magazine with a big ambition: to cover the genre better than anybody, and to do it with all the seriousness of Cashier du Cinema, American Film, or Film Comment. Some would say he succeeded too well (those who believe fantasy should be nothing but mindless fun), but in truth he created a magazine that set the standard for a generation. With that in mind (and without undue self-congratulation), we offer up this tribute to the magazine and the man who made it what it was.


cfq 1The first official issues of Cinefantastique (with a sketch of Alan Arkin from CATCH-22 on the cover) made its debut in November of 1970. Since 1967, Frederick S. Clarke had been producing an amateur mimeograph version while earning a Bachelor of Physics degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It was just a hobby back then,” Clarke told the Chicago Tribune (October 9, 1986), “just something I did because I loved to do it. I had a very consuming interest in the genre films. I was captivated by the imagination involved. I liked weird things, surrealism, and fantasy.”
The initial issue sold for $1. Approximately, 1000 copies were printed at a cost of $280. Over the course of the next few years, the price went up to $2.50, and the circulation expanded to 8,000, where it leveled off. During this time, the magazine was available only by subscription and in “direct order” stores (which purchase issues outright, rather than taking them on consignment).
For such a small magazine, Cinefantastique looked amazingly glossy and professional. From the very beginning, Clarke featured splashy layouts with lots of photographs. Each issue was filled with extensive reviews of current films, news and notes about upcoming productions, and in-depth retrospectives and interviews that glorified genre classics.
CFQ Terence FisherOne of the great achievements from this era was the cover story devoted to “The Films of Terence Fisher (Volume 4, Number 3), which featured a lengthy analysis of the director’s career (which include the Hammer horror classics CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA, among many others), plus an informative interview, which took up more than half of the magazine’s 48 pages. The importance of this issue is easier to understand if you realize that James Whale and Tod Browning (the director’s of the original FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, respectively) died without ever giving an extensive interview on their work; their stories and insights about the first great wave of horror classics during the 1930s are now lost forever. Thanks to Cinefantastique, the first-hand history of the second wave of horror, during the 1950s and 1960s, was being preserved.
This serious approach soon earned the magazine a devoted following, many of whom came to work for it. One of the first to climb on board was Dan Scapperotti, who wrote to Clarke to say how much he enjoyed the first issue. Scapperotti went on to become CFQ’s New York correspondent for twenty-eight years.
He recalls, “I loved the magazine because it was the first magazine that had a serious slant for horror films. You had Castle of Frankenstein and Monster Times and Famous Monsters, but this was really looking at the films from a rather adult perspective.” He adds, “It went in depth. Before that, you didn’t have any magazine really go in depth. Who was going to give twenty pages to a movie? Which actually, historically, is a foundation for research in the future, because there’s nothing else. Now of course on the special effects stuff you have Cinefex and things like that, but that’s even more specialized.”
Only one step behind Scapperotti was Randall Larson, who became a subscriber with CFQ’s second issue. “As a young fan of cinema of the fantastique, the magazine’s scope was right up my alley and I was eager for the kind of inside information that was presented – plus it had the appearance and layout of a professional magazine,” says Larson, who went on to write film music articles for CFQ. “I had grown up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantastic Monsters, Monster World, Castle of Frankenstein and others, which at the time were the only magazines devoted to horror and science fiction movies. But most of those magazines always approached their subject either with a tone of apologia, or by making fun of it all, as if they were really embarrassed about covering the fantastic film genre – which back then all the legit film magazines were distinctly scorning. But CFQ took its topic seriously, didn’t talk down to its audience or spend half of its magazines with pointless photo stories filled with joke captions and no more substance that a weak synopsis of the film’s story. You got inside information from cast and crew (significantly; not just the cast). Its scope of coverage was both seriously behind-the-scenes and seriously serious. I’d never seen this kind of depth in any of the monster magazines I was reading previously; plus it wasn’t just monsters – it was science fiction, fantasy, horror; the gamut.”

The Blade Runner cover story by Paul Sammon

Another writer who discovered the magazine in its formative period was Paul Sammon, who went on to pen a CFQ cover story on BLADE RUNNER (which he would later expand into the book Future Noir). “I think the first issue I stumbled across was either CFQ #2 or #3,” Sammon recalls. “What drew me to it was the high caliber of its writing. I’ve always had fairly lofty literary standards (forgive me), and CFQ met all those requirements, at least early on.” Sammon adds, “What made CFQ different was its point-of-view—tough, smart, and funny—as well as its ongoing inclusion of some of the finest film criticism available. The magazine’s changed so much over the years that it’s hard to understand this now, but in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Cinefantastique really was the Film Comment of genre magazines. CFQ was routinely magnificent during that period.”
During this era, Clarke established the tone and approach that would define the magazine. It was not a fanzine; it valued substantive, thoughtful stories over virtuoso displays of style and special effects; and it was not afraid to print negative remarks, even about its own most cherished idols (“You may not agree with everything we say, but you’ll never mistake us for a press kit,” became the motto). In fact, the magazine studiously refused to play a game that would come to be known, decades later, as “Access Journalism”—a rather unethical trade-off in which people who grant access to cover a film are “paid off” with favorable reviews, whether their work warrants it or not.
An early example is the cover story devoted to Ray Harryhausen’s SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Volume 6, Number 2), which contains lavish layouts and extensive interviews—along with a review of the film complaining that “the acting and writing are going downhill.” Clarke himself, in his “Sense of Wonder” column, acknowledges the magazine’s ambivalent response to Harryhausen’s latest effort (“we shout hosannas for his special effects, and…we damn him for not maturing in other areas of his craft), concluding, “The fact of his work just doesn’t measure up to the dream.”
In short, Fred Clarke believed genre filmmaking was capable of creating truly great and important works of art, and he was eager to champion these. Prehistoric monsters and/or futuristic spaceships were not enough; the films had to have something to say. When Clarke found a worthwhile message, he could be voluble in his praise (his assessment of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD—that it works because we fear other people, whose group identify represents a threat to our own sense of individual self—is dead on bulls-eye), but he could be dismissive of Hollywood blockbusters if he felt they were empty technical exercises. His Top Ten list of the best genre films of 1970s was eccentric, to say the least, but it revealed somebody willing to stand by his guns against a wave of popular opinion, selecting several films that were little seen or outright failures: THE EXORCIST, COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT, THE WICKER MAN, CARRIE, CAPRICORN ONE, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, SISTERS, THX-1138, and ZARDOZ.
This willingness to voice criticism and to snub current favorites won Cinefantastique many admirers. Inevitably, it also infuriated many hard-core fans and enraged Hollywood heavyweights.


Star Wars - Cinefantastique's first double issue
Star Wars - Cinefantastique's first double issue

With the advent of STAR WARS in 1977, science-fiction became big business, and the circulation of Cinefantastique expanded. In the spring of 1978, Clarke kicked off this new era with a magnificent double issue (at that time, 96 page) devoted to the making of the George Lucas blockbuster. The interview list seemed to include almost everyone involved in the film: producer Gary Kurtz; actors Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and David Prowse; special effects experts John Dykstra, John Stears, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Ken Ralston; production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie; makeup men Rick Baker Doug Beswick, and Laine Liska; animation and rotoscope designer Adam Beckett; and even stop-motion animators Jon Berg and Phil Tippett.
One name conspicuously absent was George Lucas, who was apparently upset by some negative comments that Clarke had made about the film in a previous issue. This led to the great myth that Clarke hated STAR WARS; actually, he regarded it much as the did Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion film: an entertaining effort thanks to some amazing special effects, propping up a weak story with thin characters. As he himself stated in the STAR WARS double issue, “I was born again in the Force and…I had fun watching STAR WARS and even saw it more than once….so why am I knocking it? I am not anti-fun. I am interested in balancing the hyper-euphoria with which the film has been received, and putting its fluke success into some kind of perspective.”
Thus began what might be considered the heyday of Cinefantastique, when the magazine and its writers regularly battled with studio publicists in the effort to cover the genre without giving up the right to form a critical opinion. Numerous double issues followed (devoted to films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, FORBIDDEN PLANET and, perhaps unfortunately, THE BLACK HOLE). The magazine made a greater effort to preview upcoming films in its cover stories, instead of devoting itself extensively to classics. In 1982, Clarke unveiled another innovation: a double-length issue with a double cover, one for STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN, one for BLADE RUNNER. At a time when the magazine came out only four times a year, there was no other way to be up-to-date with both high-profile summer releases, so the double cover treatment seemed justified (in later years, this gimmick would grow to be overused).
The FORBIDDEN PLANET issue (Volume 8, Number 2 & 3) is one of the highlights of CFQ history. Co-authored by Clarke and Steve Rubin, the cover story is practically a book-length making-of treatment that answers almost any question imaginable.
CFQ Forbidden PlanetDan Persons, who would eventually not only write for the magazine but also take over the editorial desk after Fred Clarke’s death, recalls that this issue was the “grail” he had been seeking ever since he fell in love with FORBIDDEN PLANET as a teenager. “Not only did it answer every question and every detail that I locked onto with that film, but it opened up so much more about the film for me,” he says. “That’s when my regard of CFQ locked in. It’s an unbelievable issue.” He adds, “With all the stuff that the magazine has done, that one is real special for me. Even looking at it now, it’s just amazing, the depth and the range that that story takes: from tracking the history of Roby the Robot post-FORBIDDEN PLANET to doing a rather detailed evaluation of a work print that was used by the composer. It’s a jaw-dropper. That one should go into the Smithsonian.”
Like other one-time subscribers who graduated to writing for CFQ, Persons admired the magazine because it “did not talk down to” its readers. “It didn’t regard its audience as this mass of fannish flesh that had to be approached in a certain way. The writing consistently was from the heart—was from people who felt the story and understood the story and wrote the story as they felt. I think that stands out. More importantly, the writers were consistently bringing their intelligence and their insight into the story.”
This attempt to tell the full story did not always endear the magazine to those it covered. “They were telling the story of how the film was made,” explains Persons. “Any good story has conflict; it has moral questions; and it has varying shades of drama. What the writing did was to acknowledge that the creation of a film is filled with momentous events—not all of them necessarily rosy or casting the people involved in a rosy light. [And] not always with friendly reactions from the subjects involved.”
This created an on-going battle in which Clarke fought to preserve the magazine’s independence, even if that occasionally meant burning bridges with certain publicists and production companies. Dan Scapperotti, who acted as Clarke’s go-between in New York, relates, “Every once in a while, I would run interference and calm people down. Fred was very protective of the magazine and the editorial integrity of the magazine. You could not say to Fred, ‘Don’t do that,’ because right away he would say, ‘Screw you!’ and find another source. For one of the James Bond films, he had gotten into an argument with the publicist in New York. Fred said, ‘You can’t tell me what to do; I can do whatever I want!’ In those days you could go up and see all the publicists, and they all loved the magazine. One guy said, ‘I can’t cooperate! What is he, crazy? He’s telling me he doesn’t care what I say!’ So I smoothed that over.”
In spite of (or perhaps, as Voltaire would have it, because of) this conflict between Clarke and the Hollywood titans, the magazine’s influence grew. In the early 1980s, Clarke signed a deal with a new distributor, helping to expand circulation to approximately 25,000. That was still small (Starlog, had a circulation of 200,000), but the magazine’s reach extended beyond those who purchased it. It was read by entertainment writers, industry insiders, and fans, who passed along what they read to their friends and colleagues. By the mid-1980s, several production companies (who seemed to consider genre magazines little more than an extension of their publicity department) had more or less boycotted CFQ—a fact that became the subject of a Calendar section cover story in the March 18, 1986 issue of the Los Angeles Times.
Written by Pat H. Broeske, the article quoted numerous Hollywood luminaries who at that time were refusing to cooperate with the magazine, but few if any of them could articulate a good reason for the blackout. Paramount publicist Sid Gannis vaguely stated that the magazine “has some questionable techniques about getting their stories,” and Joe Dante (director of GREMLINS) made the accusation that “they’re not above inventing things”—but failed to cite a single example.
In the same article, Clarke defended the investigative approach that ticked off the studios: “You know, people rap us for doing investigative-type stories. But we’re lazy—like every other reporter. Would Woodward and Bernstein have done All the President’s Men if people had been upfront and talked about things? No—they had to do it because everyone clammed up. That makes it harder, so you’ve got to work harder. When it’s that kind of atmosphere, what kind of information do you get? By holding everything in, what tends to escape is, well, it tends to be the negative stuff, doesn’t it?”
Seven months later, in the Chicago Tribune, Clarke would explain more about his approach to covering “the genre,” as he preferred to call it: “A lot of magazines in our field deal with horror and fantasy, but they do it on a juvenile level,” he told reporter Robert Cross. “We treat the genre the way a serious magazine on the art of film would treat filmmaking. Starlog, which is the biggest in the field…will do something like interview Lou Ferrigno and ask him how it feels to play the Incredible Hulk.”
This serious approach led some to accuse Fred Clarke of “biting the hand that feeds.” Too often, his critics would misinterpret his willingness to go negative as an emphasis on the negative. In fact, Clarke’s real emphasis was on avoiding a pack mentality, on going his own way, and on staying true to his judgment, whether or not it jibed with the prevailing wisdom.
Taylor White, who wrote several articles for the magazine in the 1980s and 1990s, emphasizes this point: “Many considered Fred to be a hard-nosed genre snob based purely on the magazine’s unseemly ability to dissect and eviscerate certain films that the rest of the world had embraced. He was staunch and passionate about what he liked and disliked and was known for rarely going with the popular flow. I admired that he was never afraid to heap praise on movies that the rest of the world was savaging. Case in point: in 1973, Mike Nichols’ THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN was being unanimously ignored by audiences and eviscerated by the critics, but Fred thumbed his nose at the wave of negativity and gave the film four stars.”
This openness to unpopular opinions also gave Fred’s writers a chance to praise films that were widely dismissed. “In 1987, Fred saw the silly, violent kids-vs.-monsters epic, THE MONSTER SQUAD and fell in love it,” White recalls. “Box office receipts were dismal; critics were savage, and even his own staff of writers thought it was an embarrassment. But rather than going with the flow, Fred held out until he found one writer who shared his fondness for the movie and who could help prove to the world that this wacky little movie had value and was worthy of the pages of CFQ and world at large. Check the byline. That writer was me.”


The on-going feud with Hollywood did little to impact the quality of the magazine. In fact, Cinefantastique continued to churn out excellent issues during the 1980s and 1990s.
Ask a dozen subscribers or contributors from this era to name their favorites, and you will get a variety of answers, but certain cover stories tend to come up again and again: 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, the Vincent Price career retrospective, the three-part (and long-delayed) Ray Harryhausen retrospective (which was filled with rare behind-the-scenes stills obtained from Harryhausen and those who worked with him).
Stephen Rebellos double issue on Psycho
One of the best cover stories was Stephen Rebello’s October 1986 double issue devoted to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (which Rebello later published as a book). Unfortunately, as the magazine’s circulation expanded, it became apparent that in-depth retrospective like this appealed to fans but not to mainstream readers. In fact, Rebello’s later March 1988 double issue cover story on movie posters of the 1950s was the first to go on shelves in B. Dalton books stores—and it was one of the worst sellers in the magazine’s history, despite being one of the most beautiful and well written. In response, Clarke began pushing the retrospective articles off the cover and tried, when possible to tie them in with current events, such as remake or a sequel, that would re-ignite interest in the classic films being covered.
A significant landmark was the March 1987 20th Anniversary Tribute to STAR TREK—an excellent retrospective that actually sold well. This initiated a new era of cover stories devoted to TREK in all its forms: the classic television show, the feature films, and the new series like THE NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE.
Writer Anna Kaplan came on board when an interview she had conducted with Walter (Chekov) Koenig while she was still in high school, found its way into a 30th Anniversary STAR TREK issue. She later helped writer Dale Kutzera on a double issue devoted to DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER, then went on to do most of CFQ’s TREK coverage until Fred’s death.
“Fred encouraged me to explore everything related to Trek,” says Kaplan. “He also referred people to me who had questions, sent me copies of books and games he received, The double issue we did every year with both a season of DS9 and a season of Voyager allowed me to get behind-the-scenes, in-depth coverage which was not the case with other genre publications. Fred asked for everything, and I got as much as I could.”
She adds, “Only in CFQ could I have written complete coverage of “Trials and Tribble-ations,” DEEP SPACE NINE’s homage to classic TREK on it’s 30th anniversary. I talked to all the writer-producers and many of the people behind and in front of the camera who contributed to that remarkable episode. David Hines also interviewed David Gerrold, who wrote the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” The November 1997 CFQ issue devoted 18 pages to that one episode. None of the other genre publications, not even official Star Trek magazines, provided that kind of coverage.”

Cinefantastiques first Star Trek cover - a 20th anniversary retrospective of the original series
Cinefantastique's first Star Trek cover - a 20th anniversary retrospective of the original series

The steady stream of STAR TREK cover stories alienated many long-time readers; however, in retrospect, these stand out as important issues, useful for those doing research. As Dan Scapperotti says, “I was never terribly interested in STAR TREK, but those issues paid the bills. Every year you had to come out with [at least] one, because they were really hot issues. Looking back twenty years later, that’s interesting stuff.”
Eventually, CFQ bestowed similar treatment on other shows such as THE OUTER LIMITS and THE X-FILES—which, like the TREK issues, included complete, and very detailed reviews of each season’s episodes. “Those episode guides—whoever wrote those things was just brilliant!” Scapperotti enthuses. “The patience it takes to go through all of them! As research, they’re fabulous! You had BABYLON 5 and all that stuff, which at the time I didn’t care about, but now they’re more relevant.”
The success of the magazine, and the desire to provide as much in-depth coverage as possible, led Clarke to launch several “joint ventures,” magazines like Femme Fatales, Imagi-Movies, Visions, and AnimeFantastique. Only the first of these proved successful, but in 1995 Imagi-Movies was essentially folded into Cinefantastique, allowing CFQ to jump from a bi-monthly to a monthly schedule—which it continued to do until 1999.
This period was truly the best of both worlds for Cinefantastique. Publishing monthly allowed CFQ to keep on top of all the new movies and television shows, with preview articles and cover stories, while leaving room in the back of the magazine for retrospective articles (a good example being the MIGHTY JOE YOUNG issue, which covered both the remake and the original).
CFQ Harryhausen Suspended AnimationIn February of 1999, the magazine even got around to publishing the third and final installment of Ted Newsom’s Ray Harryhausen career retrospective—in an issue entitled “Suspended Animation” that covered the gamut of stop-motion: Jim Danforth, Phil Tippet, Will Vinton, Rankin/Bass, the Chiodo Brothers, Dave Allen’s PRIMEVALS, Henry Selick’s MONKEYBONE, and Aardman Animations’ debut feature film CHICKEN RUN. (Consumer alert: I had the honor of editing this issue, so my assessment of it is more than a little biased.)
Unfortunately, economics necessitated a return to a bi-monthly publishing schedule after the June 1999 issue (which featured a STAR WARS cover story timed to the release of THE PHANTOM MENACE, plus a preview of Universal’s summer blockbuster THE MUMMY, not to mention extensive retrospectives of classic Mummy films starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Christopher Lee). After that, the magazine settled into a groove of covering commercially safe subjects: James Bond, The X-Files, and Disney’s animated TARZAN.
In 2000, Frederick S. Clarke died. His last hurrah was the double issue devoted to FARSCAPE, which had been quietly developing a reputation and a following during its first two seasons on the air. Anna Kaplan recalls, “It took some time before Fred would think a show was important enough to warrant the full treatment. It took me the better part of a year to convince him to cover FARSCAPE. Both creator/executive producer Rockne S. O’Bannon and executive producer David Kemper wanted CFQ to feature FARSCAPE. The result was a double issue covering the first two seasons. That issue could easily have been a book by itself, and it is often listed as one of the best references for people interested in Farscape. Unfortunately Fred did not live to see this issue published.”
Fred’s widow Celeste Casey Clarke kept the magazine going for a year and a half, hiring Dan Persons to take over as editor. Person accepted the assignment with enthusiasm but admits he also felt the weight of history pressing down on his shoulders.
“Oh my god, yes! At that point a lot of things had changed in the magazine, to some extent, but I tried to bring some things back that I felt it had lost in the last few years,” Persons recalled. “I will leave it to others to judge how well I succeeded, but my genuine goal was to live up to what Fred started and to ideally uphold his legacy. That was the main thing that I would try to keep in mind while in the captain’s chair. I wanted to keep the journalistic ideal alive.”
Cinefantastique put out some good issues during this time (including cover stories on the first SPIDER-MAN and LORD OF THE RINGS films), but the magazine was perhaps beginning to show its age. It needed a facelift, an infusion of new blood, and that is more or less what it got when Celeste Clarke opted to sell the franchise to Mark Gottwald and Mark Altman. The new CFQ had a radically different look, but it was nice to know that the legacy of Fred Clarke, begun thirty-five years ago, survived in some form, even if that means regenerating (a la Dr. Who) into something with a new face and even a different personality.


And what is this legacy that is worth upholding? In short, it is maintaining a standard that other genre magazines seldom aspire to, let alone achieve.

The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea retrospective issue
The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea retrospective issue

Says Dan Persons, “The great thing that I’ve always felt about CFQ is that it’s not a strictly technical journal and it’s not an out-and-out fannish journal. It does have the love that a fan brings to the genre, but it also brings a—for want of a better term—a journalist regard to it. That comes directly from what Fred did. I do believe that Fred regarded this as a journalist enterprise, to be taken with the same level of regard as any news journalist would. Its lasting contribution is to treat genre films as an art worthy of serious consideration and the stories of the creation of these films as stories worth dealing with honestly and in the full range of the drama of what it takes to put these films together, both good and bad. Can you think of another publication that does it? Certainly not a publication specifically devoted to genre filmmaking.”
Randall Larson opines, “CFQ set the tone for every specialty film magazine that followed. It avoided the fanboy attitudes of the science fiction mags that sprouted up in the wake of STAR WARS and STAR TREK and, though it wasn’t perfect (it had a bad habit of trying to provide ‘scoops’ in the way of advance plot points – it’s notorious early reveal of Darth Vader’s being Luke’s father in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was completely inappropriate and improper) it remained, through Fred Clarke’s direction, the best genre film magazine available, bar none. CFQ paved the way for serious, intelligent, and legitimate reporting on science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, which I believe helped to legitimize the stature of these films in the general public and within film magazines as a whole. CFQ made it appropriate and laudable to cover these kinds of films with the same professionalism and in-depth reporting that were previously reserved only for mainstream pictures. The result, directly or indirectly, coupled with the resurgence of genre film’s popular and critical acceptance in the 1970s, was that these films began to be taken seriously – as seriously as mainstream cinema.”
Dan Scapperotti thinks much of the magazine’s legacy lies in providing a research goldmine for current and future film historians. “Every once in a while I’m sitting down watching a DVD, and I think, ‘I’m going to pull out that issue!’” he says. He also points out that CFQ raised the bar for other publications. “The legacy is also Starlog and some other magazines that, since then, have taken a serious look at the films. They took a page out of CFQ and became mainstream. They sell not only to those thirteen-year-olds but to adults.”
Paul Sammon credits Fred Clarke not only for setting high standards in CFQ but also for providing a Roger Corman-like training ground for young film journalists to get started. “Fred and CFQ accomplished two important things. First, Fred was wide open to freelancers and newcomers—although you had to have the writing chops to find yourself in the magazine itself. He paid next to nothing—of course—but people like me and Tim Lucas and Don Shay and too many others to list found our first homes at Cinefantastique, in a sense. We were all just starting out on this bizarre, heretofore uncharted journey called ‘genre criticism,’ and CFQ allowed some of the best and brightest practitioners of that specialized field to hone their talents in its pages, before moving on to bigger and better things. CFQ second contribution was the high standards it imposed on its writers and, by default, on its readership. Fred was very much a “no bullshit” sort of guy, unswayed by hype or publicist pressure, who took great delight in both deflating overblown studio productions and extolling the virtues of some small yet intrinsically worthwhile work. Moreover, Fred demanded that we be serious and intelligent and discriminating in our approach to genre criticism, and at the time that attitude was thin on the ground, believe me. Like Castle of Frankenstein before it, Cinefantastique helped usher in an entirely new approach to writing about “monster movies”. No longer were we the children of Famous Monsters, enthusiastically swapping our love for this Boris Karloff film or that Peter Lorre one. Instead, CFQ insisted that we write like adults, for adults. That approach, and the impressive roster of truly gifted writers Fred nurtured during the magazine’s first two decades will, I think, be Cinefantastique ‘s most enduring legacy.”
And finally, Taylor White waxes poetic when trying to sum up his feelings for the “magazine with a sense of wonder,” the magazine that told so many behind-the-scenes stories and immortalized so much film history that might have been otherwise lost. “Its lasting legacy stems from Fred’s crusade to give our genre the proper respect,” he says. “How many of us spent the bulk our youth staunchly defending the movies we loved to the rest of the world? Before STAR WARS, everyone scoffed. Before THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the Academy snubbed. But not Fred. He was our champion, our voice, our crusader. Within his pages, we were right. And we belonged.”

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

3 Replies to “The History of Cinefantastique Magazine”

  1. I started reading CFQ in the early 80’s and really got into it with the double Star Trek issues. I have a bunch of them among my collection.
    You guys did the most in depth stuff at the time and I treasure those issues.

  2. I grew up in the Chicago area, and as a young teen I started reading CFQ in the mid-’70s, because my older brother Mark Milano was a huge genre fan (he even knew Fred Clarke) and I’d steal his mag when it arrived and pore over it. Even then, as just a kid, I knew there was something very different about what I was experiencing as I read each issue. I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but it had something to do with the fact that CFQ took me deep into the world of art and literature, while covering something that others might have regarded as “goofy” or “shallow.” I saw the possibilities for thinking about things in a more than superficial manner, and it influenced my thinking greatly. Then one day, after years of bragging that he knew Clarke (I always doubted him), Mark put Clarke on the phone with me. I was nearly speechless when he said “Hey Phillip this is Fred Clarke and your brother Mark wanted me to get on the phone with you to prove he knows me.” That was quite a thrill.

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