If you’re familiar with your global genre film fanzines, you’ve probably heard the name Michael Helms before. Back in the days when people still consumed their media from paper, Michael was producing Fatal Visions, one of the most influential cult film ‘zines in Australia and North America. Between the years 1988 to 1998, Helms serviced our community by critically documenting and examining the weird movies only we understand the appeal of. His writing has also appeared in People Magazine, Sci-Fi Teen, Cinefantastique, Gore Zone, Shivers, and Fangoria, so needless to say he’s an expert when it comes to genre cinema.
The ‘zine might not be around in its original print form anymore, but it’s far from over. With a brand new Fatal Visions compendium being unveiled at Monster Fest and set for imminent release, along with plans to re-introduce the brand digitally, the future is looking bright for the brand. And recently we got to chat with Michael to discuss his career, cool movies and his upcoming projects.
Oh – and did we mention that he played a zombie in Braindead? It doesn’t get any better than that.
TNC: When did you fall in love with trash cinema and what have been some of pivotal films to inform your tastes?
Michael Helms: It’s a long on-going thing that started to develop well before I’d heard the term trash cinema. Horror cinema is key for me but I have to hit you with two seminal TV influences. One was an industrial safety ad that featured a man and a large spinning circular saw. It took days to realise he didn’t actually saw his arm in half lengthwise but that’s what I saw or thought I did. The other was an episode of Space Patrol a precursor series to Thunderbirds. It was set on Mars but there were spider webs all over the alien landscape and very spooky & creepy aliens. A few titles: Freaks, Easy Rider, The Legend of Hell House, Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Alvin Rides Again.
TNC: Your native Australia has produced some of the finest horror and exploitation films in the history of mankind, but internationally Mad Max and Wolf Creek are the only ones which seem to get any recognition nowadays. That said, the country is still producing some wonderful films. What is your opinion on the current state of Australian genre cinema?
MH: Bloody great! I see more potential out there than ever before. Sometimes it even gets realised. See: Cat Sick Blues, Red Christmas, Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre, Scare Campaign, Under the Kaleidoscope, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, Sheborg Massacre, Primal and plenty more coming soon.
TNC: You made an appearance in Peter Jackson’s Braindead. How does it feel to know that you were a part of one of the most beloved splatter films out there to this very day?
MH: I still can’t believe Peter Jackson let me in the film. If you look closely I must be the only zombie in recorded history who runs around with his eyes tightly shut! I did not see eye to eye on my first encounter with contact lenses and was in pain and blind. Perhaps that dragged a performance out of me? It’s always gratifying and interesting to watch the look on Braindead fans when they work out my connection to it. Looking forward to its eventual Blu-ray release.
TNC: Is acting a venture you’d like to pursue further?
MH: It never was until now. I think this came about through making the two minute introductions to the Fatal Visions label film releases that Monster Pictures have been putting out this year. I’m now seriously interested in doing more and to all the directors out there I come with experience, am willing to wear prosthetics, squibs (and contacts), can do my own stunts and want to die for you.
TNC: You ran the influential genre film fan zine Fatal Visions for 10 years. How did that initially come about?
MH: In the early to mid-80s film fanzine culture boomed and I wanted in. It just took me until the late 80s to get my act together. Fatal Visions was designed to accurately document, provoke and perhaps insinuate a sense of love for trash cinema into mainstream media as much as possible, within Australia anyway.
TNC: In 2012, you published your compendium Fatal Visions: The Wonder Years and you’re about to publish your second at Monster Fest. What can we expect from it?
MH: Fatal Visions: The Golden Years 1990-1998 is a compilation extracted from the 15 issues that followed the first six fanzine issues. There’s a bunch of highly interesting interviews with filmmakers like Abel Ferrara, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Charles Napier. Articles on various subjects include Educational films, watching films in Asia and The Cramps. Hundreds of reviews of a variety of films, videos and laser discs.
TNC: Better yet, when do us international folks get to read it?
TNC: How do you feel about the current state of print journalism for horror and exploitation? Do you think it has a future?
MH: Shakey. I’d like to think there is a future especially for large perfect bound print media objects with hard backs that could be used as weapons. Literally and metaphorically.
TNC: Aside from good sales, what makes a publication or outlet worth reading?
MH: The writing, research, all aesthetic and critical considerations, humour, consistency, independence and (hopefully) credibility.
TNC: Is there any advice that would you give to budding editors and writers looking to launch their own ‘zines or publications?
MH: Stick with it but remain open to all opportunities and never lose sight of the subject matter.
TNC: Is there anything else you’d like to promote? And how can we keep up to date with your projects?
MH: Fatal Visions: The Golden Years 1990-1998 will be launched at Monster Fest 2016 which itself has been pushed to another level by the work of new director Kier-La Janisse. Check out the Monster Fest programme online and circle it as one of the most exciting genre fests on the planet. Come to Melbourne and check it out sometime.
Go to Ledatape.net for information on Fatal Visions and there will be a new Fatal Visions blog designed to continue our support of horror/exploitation films produced in Australia and New Zealand, coming soon…
Be sure to order your copy of Fatal Visions: The Golden Years 1990-1998 from Amazon if you have any interest in genre films, or even if you just like good reading.