Media Diet: Michael Weldon

Psychotronic Video zine's publisher on his trashy media obsessions

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Film lover, critic, researcher, collector, and publisher Michael Weldon’s long-running zine Psychotronic Video was one of the first, and remains one of the best, publications to mine the gorgeous and shocking world of horror, sci-fi, and other low-budget genre moviemaking. In fact, he was the first to use the word psychotronic to describe these films. He’s managed to turn his trashy obsessions into a media empire that includes books, calendars, and plenty more in addition to his magazine.

What magazines do you read? 

I read countless zines about movies and music, everything from Fangoria and Film Comment to Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, Video Watchdog, Dreadful Pleasures, and Exploitation Retrospect. I read a ton of foreign movie zines. Even if they’re in languages I don’t understand, they’re great to look at. I also genuinely like the media coverage in Entertainment Weekly. They review a lot of lesser video titles and today’s equivalent of B movies. I have no respect for Time and Newsweek, so I keep up on the news in U.S. News & World Report by default. 

What are the best books you’ve read lately? 

Stone Alone by Bill Wyman and the Pete Best book Beatle. The Wyman book is fascinating because Wyman had the guts to quit the Stones and didn’t care what the other guys thought. He manages to tell it like it is about stuff like what really went on with Brian Jones because he’s not worried about Mick’s or Keith’s feelings. I found the Pete Best book, which only came out in England, especially amazing after seeing Backbeat, a movie I liked a lot. The book’s all told from Best’s [who quit the Beatles just before fame struck] point of view. 

What TV programming do you watch? 

I love The Simpsons and The Larry Sanders Show. They’re very clever and keep getting better as they go along, something unheard of in the world of sitcoms, which I generally hate. A&E’s Biography is interesting to me: It’s on every night, they get their shows from a bunch of different places, it’s very inconsistent and swings between the really great and the absurd. They do a great job on political and showbiz people and then air these silly shows on Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. 

Which authors have had the greatest influence on you? 

William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was the first serious book I read as a kid. Its eye-opening sense of history affected me deeply. R. Meltzer, one of the first serious rock writers of the ‘60s, who wrote The Aesthetics of Rock, continues to have a big influence. His writing was serious and funny at the same time, scholarly but lowbrow all at once. His book opens with the lyrics to “Surfin’ Bird,” perhaps the best rock song of all time. I’ve read that book over and over again and whole sections of it still make no sense to me and probably never will. He was the first person I read who really understood what was good in our culture. 

Is there a movie you’d like everyone to see? 

Island of Lost Souls—the 1933 Erle C. Kenton one with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, not the remake. That movie haunted me as a kid, and it still stands out as an extremely disturbing horror movie that goes in directions that most horror movies never go. It’s surprising it was even made. Charles Laughton with a whip creating a woman from a panther—what more could you ask for? I’m also especially fond of movies from the early ‘60s by directors like Mario Bava, Michael Powell, and William Castle. That was a great time for filmmaking.

Is there a book you’d like everyone to read?  

My book, The Psychotronic Video Guide. It’s been many years in the making and it’s broken many a publisher, but St. Martin’s will be releasing it in early fall ‘95.

Which contemporary filmmakers’ work do you recommend? 

Few directors make more than a couple of good movies. If they make one or two great films, there are usually ten lurking around that stink. I like consistent filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento. Few directors today can produce a coherent body of work. Argento’s recent stuff has been underrated. His half of Evil Eyes was great and I loved Opera. Quentin Tarantino is taking a lot of heat lately, but I love his stuff, not just for the movies he’s directed, but also for the ones he wrote, too. 

In important matters, whose opinion do you trust? 

The people who work on the magazine with me—Akira Fitton, who does a lot of the layout, and Fred Brockman, who does the covers, and my wife, Mia. 

Where do you find inspiration? 

In the music I love, in my wife, Mia, and in our backyard. We’ve moved from the East Village to a town three and a half hours from New York City. We got tired of living in the same tiny efficiency apartment after 15 years. It was a two-room place with the tub in the only room that wasn't the bedroom. Now I live among farms and cows with a view of the Delaware River.