Happy Anniversary Video Watchdog!
I was a child of the Famous Monsters of Filmland generation. A late arrival granted but I still spent the majority of the 1970’s thumbing through my dog eared copies of this B&W treasure trove as a supplement to watching the movies it showcased on broadcast television. In 1979, on a routine supply run with my mother to the Pantry Pride grocery store, I discovered the premier issue of Fangoria on their magazine rack. Through its lurid pages, many in gore soaked color, I discovered a whole subset of the horror genre that had previously eluded me and my fascination with the works of directors like Herschel Gordon Lewis, Ted V. Mikels, Ray Dennis Steckler, and many others was born. Then in 1990, while visiting a small comic book store in Leesburg, I found the third and final entry in my movie magazine trinity. This was the one that tied everything that came before it together and blasted off into the future, Video Watchdog.
In the eleven years between to introductions of Fangoria and Video Watchdog, a fascinating phenomenon had completely revamped the playing field for monster movie lovers like me. The rise of home video that began in the early 80’s was now in full swing and film fans wielded the previously unimaginable power of being able to watch a wide variety of their favorite films and catch some obscure new ones any time they pleased. We could even own them if we wanted although that was generally cost prohibitive in the early years. That’s where a magazine like Video Watchdog, subtitled The Perfectionist’s Guide To Fantastic Video would prove invaluable.
In 1990, personal computers were still a rarity and the Internet was some vague concept the average person knew almost nothing about. A fright fan’s resources were extremely limited. Periodicals like Castle of Frankenstein had attempted to compile lists of horror and science fiction movies but the task proved almost impossible. Book’s like Michael Weldon’s recently (1987) published Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film had proven to be must haves on the bookshelf of any self respecting lover of creepy cinema but no matter how well researched these terror tomes were, they were outdated as soon as they were printed. The home video market was an unwieldy beast on its best day and fans needed something more dynamic that could keep up with its ever changing faces. As it turned out, Tim Lucas and his wife Donna gave horror film aficionados everywhere exactly what they had been burning torches for!
Lucas had been developing the concept that would eventually become Video Watchdog magazine with a similarly titled column in the pages of Fangoria’s off shoot publication, Gorezone. Many of the films that were becoming readily available to the ravenous home video market warranted more than single paragraph synopsis to educate and inform fans on their merits and detractions. With the help of his wife and friends with a similar interest in venting their obsessions for fantastic film, the first issue of Video Watchdog was born and it wasted little time crawling onto the shelves of specialty shops.
Following an increasingly irregular inoculation of Creature Feature that fateful Saturday, I hoped in my car and headed south from Ocala to the little town of Leesburg, Florida about thirty minutes away. It was an enjoyable ride on a sunny Saturday and since my hometown was somewhat lacking in resources to feed my interest in comic books that had recently been rekindled in college, this was my closest outlet. I discovered the little hole in the wall shop, the name of which, if it ever in had one besides “Comics”, eludes me, several months earlier. Todd, the proprietor, was happy to get my business and did everything he could within reason to help me stretch my comic dollar. As I stood at the counter that day haggling over prices, a small publication on the new issues shelf caught my eye. It was only slightly larger than a TV Guide and had an intriguing cover photo of an oddly attractive female zombie rising from the water. I asked Todd about it and he said it was a new magazine his distributor had shipped him a single issue of as a trial and beyond that he had not even opened it. I had no reservations about opening the issue and it didn’t take flipping through more than a few pages before it landed squarely on top of my purchase stack for that day.
The premier issue of Video Watchdog was a banquet for an information starved film fanatic like me. For my four dollars and fifty cents, I learned who filmmaker Jesse Franco was, the real deal behind the film that provided the cover photo – Carnival of Souls, and the different ratios films could be broadcast and transferred in. There were also reviews for videos of movies I had always wanted to see and many I had never heard of before. If that wasn’t enough to justify my cash outlay, there was also information on movies that had been dubiously retitled on home video and pages of trivia and lore on the types of films I loved. Needless to say, I was hooked from day one!
For reasons lost to time, I did not subscribe to Video Watchdog immediately. I suppose I was content that it would be their on my comic store’s shelf whenever I went in so the need to prepay in advance was negated. I quickly learned after a few early issues were printed in limited runs and my competition on the shelves began to increase, that home delivery was the only way to go and this is one of the few magazines, equaled only by Fangoria, which still follows me around to this very day.
Over the years I spent many an afternoon or evening devouring the pages of this publication after leaving a trail of manila envelope shards between my mailbox and the front door. My ceaseless fascination with fantastic films has been nurtured and expanded by the information within its pages and I have watched in satisfaction as it grew in popularity and eventually found its way onto the shelves of national bookstore chains. Today, one hundred and fifty-six issues later, Video Watchdog is now full color and far more stylized than its modest beginnings. Many writers have come and gone, the VHS and laserdisc formats that filled it’s early pages are now antiquated, and the focus has shifted to a much more global one as more and more products become available every day. Surprisingly, the one constant in the magazine, aside from Tim and Donna Lucas’s tireless efforts and personal touches, is the size. Video Watchdog is still the little magazine crammed full of information from cover to cover. It is an honor to congratulate them on twenty years spent entertaining and informing film fans everywhere and to wish them another double decade of success!