A forlorn Frankenstein on the cover of Bizarre no. 24-25, from 1962. Karloff in his Bride of Frankenstein makeup graces more book covers than any other Frankenstein Monster of the movies. Perhaps it’s simply a question of ready access to a cache of good studio photographs, but I think that the burn effects, the signed hair and exposed forehead clamps make this Monster the most photogenic of all.
Not to be confused with the current magazine of the same name, or the legendary fetish title published by John “Willie” Coutts, THIS Bizarre was an intellectual literary and arts magazine with a surrealist bent, first launched in Paris by maverick publisher Eric Losfeld in 1953.
Abandoned after just two issues, the title and concept were revived by editor Michel Laclos for publisher J.J.Pauvert in 1955 and ran until 1968. Subject matter ran from the provocative to the weird and profane, with special thematic issues devoted to such names as Boris Vian and Arthur Rimbaud, edgy cartoonists like Wolinki and Chaval, and pop culture subjects like Monsters in myth and real-life “freaks”, horror and mystery writer Gaston Leroux, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.
In the late summer of 1962, this double issue, numbered 24-25, was entirely devoted to the work of four men: James Whale, Tod Browning, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Midi-Minuit Fantastique editor Jean-Claude Romer profiled the directors, and avant-garde writer Jean Boullet handled the actors. The short bios were followed by exhaustive filmographies, including cast and crew, detailed synopsis and, when available, excerpts from contemporary reviews.
The filmographies have long since been improved on, but at the time, it was a stunning piece of research coming early in the new, nascent era of horror film study and criticism. The only disappointment with the issue lies with Boullet’s opinionated “biographies”. He gives short shrift to Karloff’s abilities, essentially reducing him to an interchangeable actor who “owed everything” to the genius of makeup man Jack Pierce. As for the Lugosi profile, it veers to the ridiculous, with the actor, in drugged old age, “becoming Dracula” and living in a house with live bats. Writing partner Romer, famously rigorous, was incensed by Boullet’s sensationalistic exploitation of “every cliché in the book” about Lugosi. The men remained friends, but there were no further published collaborations, despite editor Laclos’ introduction saying that Romer and Boullet were planning bio-filmographies of the Chaneys, father and son.
The 98-page magazine includes 36 pages of photographs. You can see 16 of those pages scanned here on the excellent zine blog. Once you get there, be sure to scroll around. The site reproduces wonderful covers and content from older French magazines devoted mostly to b-movies, science fiction and horror, and mild erotica. If you’ve never seen an issue, you can get eye-popping glimpses inside the legendary horror film magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique, like this interview and layout on Christopher Lee, and a great photo essay on actress Barbara Steele, from 1967.
Oh, and an anecdote about that issue of Bizarre… The day I bought my copy, late ’62, in Montreal, I went directly from the store to the Cinematheque Québécoise where film historian William K. Everson was appearing that evening. After his lecture, he stepped offstage to sign books and meet people. I went up and I pulled out my new copy of Bizarre Nos. 24-25 with the Frankenstein cover. Everson’s eyes bugged out. He looked inside and stopped on the Karloff filmography. Turning the pages slowly, he said, “This is incredibly complete!”. I offered him my copy, he wouldn’t hear of it, but he had me write down the name of the bookstore for him.
The French literary blog, l’Alamblog, ran a lenghty series of posts detailing the history of Bizarre magazine, with covers.