January 8, 2008

The Covers of Frankenstein : Midi-Minuit Fantastique No. 24

Dave Prowse is the heavily stitched, axe-wielding Monster in the pseudo-comic The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), a glaring misfire in Hammer Films’ otherwise excellent Frankenstein series.

It was the second of three times the actor was cast as The Monster. Prowse had appeared very briefly as a generic, stiff-legged Karloffian type in the multi-director James Bond gag-fest Casino Royale (1967). He returned to Hammer as the brutish, gorilla-like Monster in the elegiac Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

The imposing, six-foot six Prowse is best known as Darth Vader, no less, in the original Star Wars trilogy, a part he shared with voice actor James Earl Jones and Sebastian Shaw, who played the unmasked Vader.

Midi-Minuit Fantastique was the first serious film magazine entirely devoted to horror films, a revolutionary development when the first issue appeared in 1962. Maverick publisher Eric Losfeld was constantly at odds with France’s then repressive censorship laws, courting controversy with works on surrealism, politics and erotica. Major book titles published included the French translation of Lotte Eisner’s The Haunted Screen and Ado Kyrou’s Amour, érotisme et cinéma. Losfeld also published innovative graphic novels by Philippe Druillet, and Jean-Claude Forest’s irreverent and sexy Barbarella.

Midi-Minuit Fantastique’s first issue was widely criticized because of its unworthy subject — horror movies! — and its scandalous cover, a photograph from Terence Fisher’s Curse of the Werewolf (1961) showing the transformed Oliver Reed throttling Yvonne Romain. Howling monsters and deep cleavage did not sit well with authorities and distribution was hampered.

In 1964, MMF issue number 8, dedicated to “Eroticism and Horror in English Cinema” was insidously banned, a decree forbidding its promotion, advertising or display. Losfeld sold copies “under the counter" out of his bookstore/office, Le Terrain Vague.

Midi-Minuit Fantastique was edited by Michel Caen and Jean-Claude Romer, and featured a who’s who cast of film critics and experts. Romer was a pioneer in the serious study, analysis and research of horror films, eventually earning himself a rare honorary presidency of the SFCC, the French Syndicate of Film and Television Critics. He has written a number of important books, notably a best-selling series devoted to film genres (including titles on horror, fantasy and science-fiction) and Cannes Memories: 1939-2002. Romer also wrote for and appeared in the films of Jean-Pierre Mocky. In the 80s, Romer became a TV celebrity, a sort of French Leonard Maltin. As a film historian, Romer’s numerous discoveries include the 1921 Hungarian-made version of Dracula that predates Nosferatu, as well as uncovering Bela Lugosi’s original stage name of Arisztid Olt.

Early issues of Midi-Minuit Fantastique were digest-size, with black and white covers. With issue number 14, in 1966, MMF was enlarged to conventional magazine size and repackaged with an elegant layout and color covers.

Issue number 24 was MMF’s only Frankenstein cover. Unfortunately, it was also the magazine’s last issue as Losfeld’s perpetually vulnerable empire collapsed under the repeated bannings, seized stocks, fines and ceaseless harassment of the government.

After his untimely death in 1979, Losfeld’s wife, and then his daughter continued the family publishing tradition. As for the legendary Midi-Minuit Fantastique, it was the inspiration for numerous horror and fantasy film magazines, notably Frederick S. Clarke’s Cinefantastique, and the ongoing L’écran fantastique, now in its 38th year of publication.

See all the Midi-Minuit Fantastique covers. Clicking reveals individual issue content (in French).

Examples of MMF’s layout.


Tim Lucas said...

Not a very good Frankenstein movie, but I've always thought that the last issue of M-MF had a GREAT cover. It makes you want to see the movie, if you haven't already.

Karswell said...

I agree with Tim, not so great or even as entertaining as Frankenhooker which comes out on DVD today in Special Edition.

FYI: I have a loosely based pre code Frankenstein post for Thursday too, check it out.

ARBOGAST said...

In Paris a number of years ago, I found many back issues of the magazine in a cute little shop on the Rue Saint Germaine but couldn't travel with them and had to leave them behind. Which is okay, as my French blows. But all those pictures!