... Did you say that?

Greetings, Ghostwatchers! Following on from our recent piece on Samhain Magazine, we were lucky enough to speak to its creator, John Gullidge on how the publication came to be, his thoughts on our favourite Hallowe'en Hoax, and what he's up to now...

Hi, John - what are the origins of Samhain, and what did you personally set out to achieve with the publication?
Samhain came about when I was made redundant from my job as a reporter on a weekly newspaper in Exeter. I’d been passionate about horror movies from about the age of 12 and by the time I started Sam I had already amassed quite a collection of horror film books and magazines which I suppose were the key inspiration behind it. In addition, through writing the cinema column on the newspaper (which I coincidentally continued to write after I was made redundant) I had amassed quite a collection of press kits (which in those days were primarily made up of 10x8 black and white stills and 35mm colour transparencies) which would prove invaluable in illustrating Sam. I also had contacts at the various film distribution companies so it was relatively easy to get hold of info/press kits, etc. regarding forthcoming horror movies.

The name Samhain was a no-brainer given my healthy obsession with Halloween and I kind of liked the way it was obscure enough to not be obvious what the mag was about (on reflection, probably not a great selling point).

My then-girlfriend, who was a brilliant artist, did the cover art for the first 7 issues, but the inside of the early issues really was the most basic form of cut-and-paste, although thinking back, that was pretty much how the newspaper I worked on was put together. How times have changed! The very first print run of Issue #1 (I think, 500) were hand coloured on the cover (the dripping blood on the logo) by yours truly with felt pen!

I was also lucky with the first issue in that a dear friend of mine happened to be friends with the editor of the Pamela Armstrong Show, a daytime chat show that went out live from BBC’s Pebble Mill Studios so I was booked to appear with Clive Barker who at the time had just directed Hellraiser. The experience wasn’t great given that Armstrong (clearly the founder of the Kay Burley school of questioning) spent pretty much the whole interview turning it into a slanging match on the evils of horror movies, but Barker was great and of course eloquent, and said some very complimentary things about Samhain (which I used as quotes for years to come!). Also on the same show was the legendary Samantha Fox!

I don’t think I personally set out to achieve anything with [the magazine], just put something back into the genre that had given me so much pleasure but it’s nice to think it was at the forefront of that fanzine explosion that occurred around that period.

What was the reach for Samhain, and how was it distributed?

Initially it was just distributed to specialist shops (that sounds so dodgy!). We did pick up a distributor (Diamond Comics, I think it was) who got it slightly further afield but it was primarily mail order and subscription. Funny to see copies now going for quite a bit on eBay, so hopefully I’ll be sitting on a nice little nest egg when I eventually come back to the UK.

How was the layout for the magazine designed? Do you recall which software/methods were used to create each issue, and did this evolve over time?

The big change in the design came when my friend Scott Bartlett came on board. He was and still is a whizz with computers and he hooked me up with my first Apple Mac and I’m guessing we must have used PageMaker or something similar but my memory is pretty vague. We’re talking about literally half a lifetime ago!

The mag itself was printed and collated at this ancient printing press at the bottom of this dingy alley in the back streets of Exeter. Scott and I would often pull all-nighters in the days running up to press deadline and then I’d often be collating the pages together through the night. The machinery was very archaic and often the finished magazines would be trimmed at odd angles resulting in tons of rejected copies and some uneven ones (which I nicknamed, "Toblerone Copies"). Issue #8 saw a full colour cover introduced and as you rightly pointed out in the article, Issue #60 saw a completely different look as we changed printers. 

Rob Zombie, Singapore - John Gullidge

You've mentioned that you were a fan of Ghostwatch prior to the first DVD release in 2002. Did you catch it on the night of transmission? Did you personally find it scary, thought-provoking, or something else entirely?

I vividly remember the night Ghostwatch was transmitted as I was organising a haunted house for some friend’s children and their friends at a large house out in the country situated, suitably, right next to a church graveyard This was one of those milestone moments in my life in that it was the first time I put on anything like this, but this was the seed of what would become my career in later life. Because I was organising the event, I didn’t watch it on the night but taped it and watched it when I got home. I do remember some of the teenagers who were at the haunted house I had put on were watching it downstairs while waiting to go through the haunted house, and one girl in particular was very scared by it almost to the point of hysterics. 

How did Richard Middleton's Ghostwatch article for the magazine originate?

I’m afraid there’s nothing desperately exciting about how the article came about. We had a number of contributors (of whom Richard was one) who would often just say, “Do you want an article on...” and in the case of Ghostwatch as I was such a huge fan I do remember saying, "Yep, make it as long as you want and if need be we can run it over a couple of issues", which was something we occasionally did but very rarely did something run over three issues.

Why do you personally think Ghostwatch has endured for so long?

I think the remarkable thing about Ghostwatch was how ahead of its time it was. I think I’m right in saying this was way before the trend for shows like Most Haunted and indeed a lot of the reality GoPro and “event” kind of TV we now take for granted. The use of celebs playing themselves was also fairly unique, and in fairness to them, they did a pretty good job. And of course the setting, moving it away from a traditional spooky old house. This was back in the pre-multi channel days when people still talked about a show after transmission, and it also was pretty ahead of its time in the UK, at least for Halloween-themed television, which back in those days was limited to the occasional horror film.

Samhain was proudly described on the cover as being "Britain's Longest Running Horror Film Magazine" - what led to it going out of print, and how many issues were there in total?

There were 72 issues in total of Samhain spanning something like 13 years. Its demise came about simply because I had the opportunity to go backpacking around SE Asia for a year and I just felt like a change. Websites were all the rage and that didn’t hold much interest for me, so the appeal of travelling won the day! It was also ironic that I should have travelled around SE Asia as that is now where I’ve been living for the past 6 years, through a completely unrelated series of events.

For the past 6 years, I’ve been living in Malaysia where I manage a live are attraction at a theme park. I work for a company called The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company who produce live scary entertainment around the world and through the job I have worked in attractions in the UK (Warwick Castle), The States, Mexico, Indonesia and Australia.

The attractions are often based on licensed brands such as Van Helsing, The Mummy, Tomb Raider, Saw and this July we are opening a new live attraction based on the Ghostbusters franchise.

I’m also passionate about photography and take a lot of pictures of our cast in their makeup and costumes as well as attending numerous cosplay events in KL as a photographer, I recently made my cosplay debut as Walter White from my favourite TV show Breaking Bad.

Given that I’m something of a technophobe, a return to magazine publishing would probably not be something that would ever happen but through the job I am still very much involved in the horror genre albeit in a different line of work. I still watch horror movies avidly but as I don’t have a permanent home, my collecting has pretty much gone on the back burner, although I do still avidly pick up anything I can find here on my favourite movie, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (Asia’s great for picking up unusual unlicenced items).

I’m keeping the name of Samhain alive though through my photography, and last year I signed up on the crowd-funding for Rob Zombie’s new film, 31 (set at Halloween, of course). If you stay for the end credits, somewhere in the “thanks to” section, it should say, 'John “Samhain” Gullidge'.

Anyone from the Samhain days want to get in touch, please feel free to fb message me.

Just to say a big thank-you to John for his time in contributing words and photographs to this interview, and for helping out [in a roundabout way, as far back as 2011!] with our previous article, too. Cheers!

... And try not to have sleepless nights.