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Pages of horror

10/3/2018

Des Moines man publishes Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine for 46 years…and counting.

I had heard rumors about a man who had been publishing his own horror fanzine in the basement of his Des Moines residence for four decades. Since I was 15, I have been reading Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound Magazine. So when someone tells me about some guy publishing a fanzine in his basement, I assumed he was just making Xerox copies, stapling them and mailing them out in a manila envelope to 20 guys in their 30s who lived in their parents’ homes. I had never been more wrong in my life. With a little research, I learned that, not only was this a legitimate magazine, but the publisher’s fan base consisted of names like Tim Burton. The man behind this horror
fanzine is Des Moines resident and Iowa native Dick Klemensen. The name of his publication is Little Shoppe of Horrors.

On the day I arrived to his Beaverdale home where he and his wife, Nancy, live, Klemensen gave me a tour which features more than 60 years of horror/science fiction memorabilia on display, from board games to autographs, to a vault filled from the floor to the ceiling with VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu Rays.

“I was a monster kid growing up,” Klemensen says. “Godzilla, Frankenstein, you name it.”

After the tour, we sat down in front of his big screen TV with some Maid-Rites and turned on the William Castle classic, “The Old Dark House.” We turned down the volume, and he preceded to tell me his story of how Little Shoppe of Horrors came about and why it has been such an important part of his life.

Klemensen was born in 1947 in Mason City, home of “The Music Man” and Meredith Willson. He lived a typical baby boomer lifestyle. As a kid, he would go to the movies every weekend.

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“Neighborhoods were safe back then, so I would just walk to the movies every week,” he remembers.

Dick Klemensen’s office is filled with autographs and horror emorabilia. Photo by Kristian Day

He watched movies like “Forbidden Planet,” “Rodan” and “Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His mind was blown. But it was the first Hammer film he saw that forever changed his life. The movie was called “Revenge of Frankenstein,” starring Peter Cushing.

“I had never seen anything like it before. All the colors and beautiful women. I felt like it was a dream.”

For the many of you who are unfamiliar with the term “Hammer film,” Hammer Film Productions was a British film studio mostly known for its gothic style movies such as “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966), “Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell” (1974), and “To The Devil A Daughter” (1976).

In 1963, Klemensen and his family moved to Waterloo after his father’s employer had the business relocated.

“It was the 1960s, and drive-ins were the place to be,” he says. “I graduated from Waterloo East, and when I turned 18 I could hop in the car and go to the movies. I remember it was September of 1969, I had mono all
summer, and I had just broken up with my girlfriend. I went out drinking with my buddy, and I got so sick my
mother yelled at me to never do that again. So instead of drinking or partying, I just went to the movies every
day.

“My mother packed up my old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines when we moved, so I got them all out again, but I saw them differently now. Everything was hitting me like I was looking at these images for the first time. Back then they were called ‘fanzines.’ Even John Carpenter (director of ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Fog’) had his own fanzine. Gene Simmons of KISS published his own under his name ‘Gene Klein.’ There wasn’t the Internet, so in order to find things you were into, you had to make it yourself.”

Inside the basement office of Little Shoppe of Horrors, 45 years of past cover art hangs framed on the walls. Photo by Kristian Day

In May of 1970, Klemensen was drafted and sent to basic training in Missouri.

“What saved me from going to Vietnam was that I could type,” he says. “Everyone else was going into infantry.

They called us ‘Remington Rangers,’ which meant I was a clerk. After basic training, I stayed down in Missouri for eight weeks to be trained on how to be a clerk. I got sent with another guy, who was from Belle Plaine, Iowa, to Richmond, Virginia. I spent my entire tour of duty sitting at a desk doing an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. No weekends, no base, no training… I felt guilty about it my whole life. All my friends are in combat, and I’m sitting in a chair or going to the movies.”

Klemensen received an early-out in January of 1972 and returned to college. He was a changed person.

“When I was a kid, I was this little hick,” he says. “You know the type that yells, ‘America, love it or leave it!’ Or ‘We have to fight those commies!’ I came out thinking this was a really stupid war that we cannot win.”

Dick Klemensen with his faux Black Sunday playset. Photo by Kristian Day

While in college, he decided to start his own magazine. He had his own humor magazine previously, and he enjoyed writing and publishing. They named it after the Roger Corman classic “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“Corman never copyrighted it, so the name was public domain. I loved it,” Klemensen remembers.

The first issue published in May of 1972. It was printed by two handicapped brothers who lived just outside of Waterloo. They printed the first three issues before they passed away. There was no advertising or any promotion other than word of mouth.

“I had to show my love for British horror films, so I started writing letters to the folks that made them,” he says.

To contact the actors, directors and producers behind these films, Klemensen would write to the unions, and they would pass the letters off to them directly.

“Most of the people I would write to would write me back,” he says. “Everything was done with a tape recorder taped to the back of a telephone, and it was so boring. Hit play, type, roll it back. We did that over and over again. Those calls overseas back then were so expensive.”

Dick Klemensen with the famous Hammer Film’s director, Terence Fisher (“Horror of Dracula”/“Curse of Frankenstein”) with his wife, Morag. Photo contributed by Dick and Nancy Klemensen

Klemensen has used his same transcriber, Dennis Lynch, since the mid-1970s.

“He finally told me, no more damn tapes,” he says.

In 1976, Klemensen married his first wife, and the magazine slowly faded away.

“The magazine was something you did when you weren’t getting laid, but the marriage didn’t last, and I told myself I wasn’t going to do this again,” he says.

Dick returned his attention to what brought joy into his life.

“If I am going to continue to do this, I really want to have a niche, which started out as Hammer Horror. We would do these full issue retrospectives. One film at a time, so one issue would be all about “The Curse of Frankenstein,” one would be on “Hands of the Ripper.” The issues would be backed with interviews from cast and crew, memos between studios, call sheets, behind-the-scenes photos — anything and everything we could find. If we were covering the movie, I wanted it to be complete.”

Around 1986, Little Shoppe of Horrors No. 9 was about to come out, and Dick lost his job with his company in Waterloo when the economy was collapsing.

“I remember reading about how Waterloo was recession proof,” he remembers. “Then all of a sudden, everything came crashing down at the same time. It was also around the time that the marriage was falling apart. But I have to say that it’s over 30 years later, and my ex-wife and I are on good terms. There is no reason to hold any type of grudge over people. Life is too short to get wrapped up in hate. It takes away from the joy that you could be having with the people you love. Besides, the one thing that can never be taken away from me was my magazine.”

Klemensen moved to Des Moines without 2 cents to his name. With the help of his family, he raised his two boys and kept the magazine going.

“The first issues we did in Des Moines were No. 10 and 11. We decided to do a double issue and pack them full of content,” he says. “Every issue could have been our last.”

Klemensen was writing to the actors and actresses. He developed a strong relationship with one actress in particular.

“We would have long talks in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, she had a drinking problem, and she just recently passed away. We were very close friends,” he says.

In 1999, Klemensen traveled to England to visit the studios where many of the Hammer Films were made. All this made it into his “Brides of Dracula” issue.

“I made that huge trip and realized that I didn’t need to do all this research the hard way,” he says. “Google was alive and well, so I was able to search for a lot of the information I was looking for. During that time, I met my wife, Nancy. On our first date, we went to the film ‘Enemy at the Gate.’ We started talking back in 2001, and we have been talking ever since.”

Klemensen and Nancy bought a house in Beaverdale, and he started working in the auto parts industry.

“By the time I met Nancy, I had been publishing the magazine for 27 years and had 14 issues under my belt,” he says. “I knew our relationship was a good one because, once we were together, I began publishing two issues a year. And now we have over 40 issues out.”

It’s 2018, and Klemensen still produces his magazine on layout sheets with tape.

“I still try to fit 5 pounds of crap into a 1-pound bag. I do everything the old fashion way. My sister has worked on it with me since the 1970s. She has since learned to use PageMaker and InDesign. She is the only person making any money on it. I never had the intention to make money on this thing. I did it because I loved it, and it’s a part of my life.”

After the movie we were watching ended, Klemensen handed me a handful of back issues of Little Shoppe of Horrors. One in particular was the issue covering Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”

“We had a real hard time tracking him down,” he says. “He didn’t want to do it. But he finally did it and later came back and said this was the greatest piece anyone had done on him.”

Klemensen is proud that his magazine has always been an “honest publication,” and he relishes the fact that it has profiled much of his life, too.

“I would write about my sons, my marriage, my divorce, jobs lost, retirement, etc. When I meet these people, they know me like I have been in their life forever. No matter the direction my life has gone, this little magazine has been there right beside me. I make each issue like it’s going to be our last, but it never seems to be.”

To learn more about Little Shoppe of Horrors, visit www.littleshoppeofhorrors.com. ♦

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRANKENSTEIN

This year marks the 200th birthday of Mary Shelley’s classic novel “Frankenstein.” A young scientist discovers a way to create life by reanimating the dead flesh of another man. Born from this is a creature with no past, no memories, and no reason to live. We are all aware of the famous big screen character that was portrayed by Boris Karloff in 1931. The story itself echoes messages of feminism, our moral and scientific responsibilities, and, above all, owning the decisions we make. We have the power to create life, but should we? We have the power to develop medicines that can cure life-threatening diseases, but is it our place to do so? Many of our social arguments over the past 100 years can be connected to this story: cloning, stem cells, #metoo, equal rights for everyone, and the list will continue to go on.

Back in the 1930s, Earl Bakken of Minnesota went to see the “horror show” down at the neighborhood movie theater. He saw the well-known Universal Picture with Boris Karloff and Colin Clive. After seeing the film, he was inspired by the idea that electricity is needed in everything. Without electricity, everything stops. Bakken went back over and over again. He was mesmerized. In 1957, he invented the first wearable artificial pacemaker, and he credits the 1931 horror film, “Frankenstein,” as his inspiration.

“Part of the fear of science comes from people who are not rational thinkers, who are motivated by emotion and fear and don’t have a good understanding of scientific processes,” Bakken said in an October 2014 article in MedCity News.

Since 1910, Frankenstein has been portrayed on the big screen by notable actors including Christopher Lee, Robert De Niro and Randy Quaid. Let’s not forget the more comedic efforts of Herman Munster played by Fred Gwynne. His image is recognized by most everyone, even if they are not a fan of horror films. We have also seen his creator, Frankenstein the man, as both a hero and a villain. His intelligence is blinded by his own selfishness. We point the blame at the monster, but who created it? The man. The man who refuses to take responsibility for his creation. This is a theme we see and hear every day.

In 1991, the Library of Congress selected the Boris Karloff film for preservation in the United State National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.” We cannot escape the influence that “Frankenstein” has had on our culture. When we see the monster’s face, we see ourselves and the creations we make. ♦

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