Approaching the Bloor Cinema I find myself surrounded by a zombie in punk rock threads and an affectionate couple gnawing on each other’s brains. Has a Hellmouth opened in the Annex? Will this bastion of peaceniks, bookish-types, and sport-utility-strollers be displaced by werewolves, vampires and mutants? But wait, these unseemly beings are eating buttered popcorn and Swedish Berries, not guts and gore. Turns out they are avid horror fans attending the monthly Cinemacabre night put on by Rue Morgue, North America’s premier magazine on horror in culture and entertainment.
Yes, horror film fans are a zealous breed whose devotion to their genre of choice is witnessed in their willingness to cake themselves in gruesome makeup for a night at the movies. Fortunately for such fans, Rue Morgue’s headquarters are in Toronto and their shriek-worthy events provide a major congregating place for the local horror community.
The monthly Cinemacabre nights are not your average cinema experience. Though categorized in a single genre, the films are amazingly diverse. Recent features have ranged from Undead, a wildly humorous low-budget Australian zombie flick, to the cult classic Lemora, a surreal vampire fairy tale. Zombie pageants, prize giveaways, and an enthusiastic, friendly crowd complement the films.
Even if you don’t think horror is quite your scene, the Cinemacabre nights may pleasantly surprise you. Though my previous ventures into horror were fairly limited to the Hollywood teen-targeted blockbusters starring the shrieks of Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and despite my accompanying roommate’s apt observation that we were probably the most preppy members of the audience, we had a rollicking good time at the Undead screening.
Repeated viewings of Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead, and The Night of the Living Dead are not a prerequisite to appreciating a zombie pageant where participants are wrangled for spilling their guts on the floor by Jen Vuckovic, the pink-haired managing editor of Rue Morgue, nor for enjoying the absurdity of a zombie fish, as featured in Undead.
Rue Morgue, launched two days before Halloween in 1997, is the brainchild of Rod Gudino, an alumnus of the literature and philosophy departments of U of T and former editor of The Newspaper. He can now be found in the most appropriate of lair-like offices just west of Jilly’s strip joint at Queen and Broadview. Behind the imposing doors where “Rue Morgue” is imprinted in Gothic font resides a secret wonderland for horror fans complete with shelves upon shelves of action figures, blood-red walls, a flying squirrel named Fangy and a pair of lizards named Romulus and Remus, who can often be found hanging out on Gudino’s shoulders. The building has actually been converted from a Traxx Cinema built circa 1912, though Gudino adds, “unfortunately, it isn’t haunted.”
For Gudino, his role as a maestro in horror culture is a natural progression from his studies in literature and philosophy. He has always been fascinated by morbidity, but his study of existentialist philosophy at U of T allowed him to recognize that simultaneous feelings of terror, angst, and fascination surrounding death is a broad phenomenon. This discovery led him to investigate how these feelings have manifested throughout history: what he found was horror in art, music, film and literature. Indeed, the title Rue Morgue tips its hat to this historical continuum of horror, deriving from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Thus Gudino goes beyond the dominant contemporary understanding of horror as nothing more than a Hollywood film genre, which serves to distinguish Rue Morgue from its horror magazine counterparts.
While most of the competition focus on film, Rue Morgue’s March/April edition exemplified their broader approach, with pieces ranging from an article on a series of paintings by Mark Ryden titled Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear, to one on the soundtracks of Italian horror movies, and a travelogue piece on the H.R. Giger Museum and Bar in Gruyere, Switzerland, home of the major works of futurist fantasy artist H.R. Giger (the art designer of Alien).
Gudino cites Rue Morgue’s Canadian location as a factor in the diversity of its magazine’s offerings, since unlike its American competition it does not have to cater to Hollywood commercial interests. Apparently this unique take on horror is appreciated, as the magazine has a healthy circulation of 50,000. Furthermore, this approach appeals to an older, more female audience than most horror magazines, with women making up one-third of the readership (a high figure for horror).
Not only does Rue Morgue entertain horror fans in Toronto, its events and its magazine section “Indie Terror Fest!” provide a venue through which local independent horror filmmakers can publicize and make contacts. At the Undead screening, the winner of the zombie pageant was not only there to suck people’s brains out-he was also seeking potential cast and crew for an indie flick being produced in Burlington by Rabid Dog Productions, a self-described group of horror-obsessed individuals. Needing a crew of 20 and a cast of 25, but only having a budget of $10,000, the Cinemacabre night provided an excellent means of networking with people passionate enough about horror to volunteer for up to four months of shooting.
Once Rabid Dog’s film is complete (working title: Vs the Dead), they will be able to send it to Rue Morgue for review in its “Indie Terror Fest!” section. If the review is positive it will catch the eye of horror fans and potentially the eye of a distributor, the ultimate dream of independent filmmakers.
The support network that Rue Morgue provides for independent horror films is important-according to Jeff Beckman, a producer at Rabid Dog, film lovers can relate to small independent features on a more intimate basis because they convey the sense that “anyone can do this-just try it,” whereas Hollywood features seem so unattainably distant, especially financially. Thus, independent films are more conducive to inspiring people to act on their creative impulses than Hollywood mega-budget movies.
And that’s the beauty of Rue Morgue-it’s able to nurture the horror community of Toronto in a variety of ways. It provides horror fans not just with entertainment, but also a place to meet those who share similar interests. They provide a forum for independent horror filmmakers to gain resources and publicity, and their Cinemacabre nights offer an approachable means for those uninitiated in horror culture to get involved. And, most importantly, Rue Morgue provides a place where zombies can watch a movie and eat popcorn in peace.
Rue Morgue presents Cinemacabre every third Thursday of the month at the Bloor Cinema. And just in time for that most important of spooky holidays, the magazine has launched its own in-house music label with the release of Nightmare Picture Theatre, a CD of “instrumental audio horror” by local composer James Fisher. For more info on the magazine, see www.rue-morgue.com.