Friday, August 01, 2008

Shock Xpress - The essential guide to exploitation cinema

This post is the first in a series of posts inspired by Stefan Jaworzyn's exploitation film fanzine Shock Xpress. These posts will present to you YouTube videos of the films featured in the three books which collect the fanzine's best articles. First, however, some biographical information on Jaworzyn.

In the nineteeneighties and nineties, two worlds intersected in Stefan Jaworzyn: that of Noise Rock and that of exploitation cinema fandom. Jaworzyn was extremely active at the time: not only was he a Noise Rock guitarist, head of a record label, and music critic, but he edited the exploitation fanzine Shock Xpress, and co-organized the horror film festival Shock around the Clock.


Jaworzyn first collaborated with Matthew Bower in the Industrial Noise Rock band Pure. Pure evolved into Skullflower - one of my alltime favorite bands - and Jaworzyn would play on the 1989 Form Destroyer album and the 1990 Ruins and Xaman albums, as well as on several 12 inches. According to the biographic information on Monotremata, Jaworzyn quit Skullflower over a disagreement with Matthew Bower over the mixing of the Xaman album. Jaworzyn went on to join the guitar/drum duo Ascension. According to legend, Jaworzyn replaced a bassist in Ascension who was so horrified by Jaworzyn's audition that he quit not just Ascension but music altogether (sourced from Wire 276). With Jaworzyn on guitar, Ascension evolved into a band which - though still working within Noise Rock - was more explicitly influenced by Free Jazz than Skullflower ever was. In 1996, opening for Sonic Youth at Kentish Town Forum, the band practically caused a riot. Enriched by jazz musicians Simon H. Fell (double bass) and Charles Wharf (soprano sax), Ascension became Descension.

Furthermore, Jaworzyn worked together with many artists, the best known being his 1992 collaboration with notorious Noise outfit Whitehouse on the Twice Is Not Enough album.

Jaworzyn also ran Shock Records between 1989 and 1996, releasing albums by Ramleh, Skullflower and Sol Invictus, as well as 7 inches by Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound.

Horror film

From 1985 to 1990 Jaworzyn edited the Shock Xpress magazine, 'The essential guide to exploitation cinema'. Jaworzyn: "The idea was to write about the weird, obscure movies we were seeing and that nobody else seemed to be covering. There were only a couple of books dealing with them and a couple of US fanzines which were really hard to find. So we wanted to do a similar kind of thing but maybe get the magazine across to more people. The first two issues were a fairly shitty black and white thing then it slowly improved from there until it ended up as a book.". Three books in fact, published in 1991, 1994 and 1996.

From 1988 to 1990, together with horror film journalist and author Alan Jones, Jaworzyn organized the legendary "Shock Around The Clock" horror film festival at the Scala Cinema in King's Cross, London. Showing films such as Hellraiser, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Monkey Shines, The Stepfather, Slugs, Mongolitos, The Church, The Fly II and Bad Taste, the most notorious film shown was perhaps the UK premiere of Jorg Buttgereit's 1987 necrophile film Nekromantik. After Jaworzyn stopped, the festival would eventually transform into the London FrightFest Film Festival.

In 2003, Jaworzyn published The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Companion, a book on Tobe Hooper's brilliant horror film. After publishing this book, Jaworzyn seems to have dropped out of sight.


Perhaps Jaworzyn's attitude to exploitation film can be characterized best by contrasting it to that of the editors of Re/Search Publications' 1986 book Incredibly Strange Films. The editors - V.Vale and Andrea Juno - sought to recuperate exploitation films as a political instrument. The consumption of these films was presented by them as a strategy against class structure and the media's control of society and culture. For them, the value of low-budget films is that they are "transcendent expressions of a single person's individual vision and quirky originality". In Shock Xpress, we do not find such Icarian idealism and naive applications of cinematic auteur theory. For Jaworzyn, exploitation has no redemptive value. In his preface to the second Shock Xpress book, Jaworzyn wrote: "What a successful exploitation picture and/or publication should do is to so infuse the reader with glimpses into the weird and twisted that they become infected, that an overall perspective emerges which the viewer of reader is part of and can never escape...!". For Jaworzyn, consuming an exploitation film meant exposing oneself to virulent mental pollution, to a contagious psychological disease.

Jaworzyn's work as an exploitation film fan and as a noise musician seem to have fed into each other. Where his appreciation of exploitation film is far removed from the political strategies of the Incredibly Strange Movies book, his approach to Free Jazz is far removed from that genre's idealism. Even when Free Jazz is at it's most chaotic, dense and noisy, the musicians tend to justify the music in politico-spiritual terms "Silva saw broad extra-musical ramifications in his procedures. He believed that by rejecting all externally imposed constraints the inherent goodness in men would surface and enable them to function in absolute harmony with both nature and each other. "Man," he said to me once, coming off an especially vigorous set. "In another ten years we won't even need traffic lights we're gonna be so spiritually tuned to one another"." With Jaworzyn's music one senses no such idealizations: in his work, one hears music rotting, dissolving, pulverizing. His noise is filth, smut, dirt - like the movies he writes about.

The upcoming series of YouTube video posts is a tribute to Jaworzyn's work.

Post scriptum

Here is an interview with Jaworzyn.

Here is an interview with Derek Bailey by Jaworzyn.

Here is a review of a Descension concert by the Wire's Ben Watson.

Here is a review of the Shock Around The Clock festival.

Can anyone tell me if the Scum List still exists, and if so how to subscribe?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

as the original editor of shock xpress, i take some exception to stefan's comment that the first "two issues" were "a fairly shitty black and white thing", not least because there were three issues pre-stefan. but then i don't recall accuracy being his strongest point.

the whole initial aim of the fanzine was to delve in the underbelly of exploitation cinema, paying hommage to the low-budget american fanzine sector, rather than becoming yet another publicity outlet for modern horror movies...

dave reeder