Before we begin, let me take you back to 1989. I was 13. It was the year of Tim Burton’s Batman, starring Michael Keaton. Comics were huge at the time. It was a great age to be a Marvel reader as The Uncanny X-Men was in the midst of one of its best runs. The Punisher and Daredevil were likewise in the hands of amazing creative teams. At DC, Detective Comics, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Hellblazer were pushing the boundaries of what comics were and what they could do and say.
I myself had stacks of comics that I’d been drawing and even bigger stacks of scripts. I banged out several books with my friends on typing paper and dreamed of the day I’d get my shot at writing Batman. I’d been going through some changes though, and not just puberty. My tastes in pop culture had been growing decidedly darker as I got deeper and deeper into horror films. One thing that fueled my hunger was Fangoria magazine. The dedicated genre fanzine that debuted in 1979 and featured frightening and gory images on every cover. This magazine captured my imagination and set it on fire. I was invited into a world of cinema that was generally banned in my Southern Baptist home.
I had been swept up by the 80’s slasher boom, particularly with Friday The 13th, but also by more cerebral horror from David Cronenberg-particularly The Fly. My personal comics work started to reflect these new tastes, but I was also still firmly entrenched in a love for capes and tights. So I started inventing horror-like villains for my heroes to battle. I fell so in love with these ideas and couldn’t wait to grow up and bring this dark madness to the world. Little did I know, there were already plenty of folks out there doing just that, but I had no access to that information.
Until I picked up an issue of Fango that had a feature about an independent comics company called Rebel Studios who published books like Darkstar, Springheel Jack, and a book that would change me and inspire me, for better or for worse, for years to come; Faust: Love Of The Damned.
Faust was a sexually explicit, graphically violent, highly detailed super hero comic that dived face first into lust, murder, obsession, and the occult. The panels and covers printed in the pages of Fangoria (some of which had to be censored) inspired a scavenger hunt that would take me through high school, tracking down every issue that I could get my hands on.
The second Knoxville Comic Con I attended at the age of 14 was memorable as my friend Jase and I went to every vendor asking if they had copies of Faust. The reactions were near universally negative.
“Get away from my table, demon kids!”
“No. We would never bring a book like that to a convention.”
“Even if I did I wouldn’t sell them to you, you’re too young.”
“I would never carry that trash in my shop.”
There was one guy though. When we made our query his eyes got wide and then he started laughing. He looked around and said, ‘yea, guys. I’ve got a few copies…’ He showed us to the proper long box and pulled out four copies, two #1’s a #4 and a #6. We split the four and traded off later.
“Don’t fucking tell your parents who sold those to you!”
We hid them under copies of Alien, Dr Strange, and X-men. And we didn’t dare even take a peek inside the sealed bags until we’d gotten safely to our houses and out of sight of our parents.
Faust didn’t disappoint, it was everything Fango had promised it would be; filthy, evil, fucked up, scary, weird. What I didn’t expect was the frustration at trying to collect a comic with no release schedule and no direct market distribution. The books basically came out when ever the hell creators David Quinn and Tim Vigil got around to releasing them. The book launched in 1987 under Northstar Comics, a great horror publisher that released work from Kelley Jones and James O’Barr and also published the Leatherface; Texas Chainsaw Massacre III movie adaptation based on David Schow’s far more violent screenplay. The book has ran for a total of 15 issues, the last of which finally came out in 2012. I never got to read the last two issues, because my local shops wouldn’t order them, I had no idea when they’d even come out, and by the time I was aware they’d been published I couldn’t afford them.
Erratic publishing aside, there’s another frustrating side to being a fan of Faust and that’s in the 2000 Brian Yuzna Spanish film. Yuzna had been a favorite horror artist of mine, with his directorial debut Society, producing Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, and directing Bride Of Re-Animator and Return Of The Living Dead III.
News of a Faust film started generating in the mid-90s and at one time Madonna was rumored to be cast in the part of the devious Clair, but turned the role down as she was winding down her Blonde Ambition, Like A Prayer, Sex phase. News got quiet for a while until production began in Spain. With a body horror heavyweight like Yuzna behind the camera and genre super star Jeffery Combs in front and special effects by the legendary Screaming Mad George, Faust; Love Of The Damned sounded like it was going to be a slam-dunk. One expected that the porno-level sex would likely be toned down, but surely the violence would mostly be kept intact.
What we got in 2000 was a barely comprehensible, boring mess of a flick. Somehow, what is essentially a pretty simple story gets completely lost in a weak script that leaves out the best bits of the comic, gets littered with awful dialogue, wastes Combs and Andrew Divoff, and essentially muzzles and neuters the comic in general. The R-rated version is just awful, but the unrated version with its pretty decent gore effects (which won an award in Spain) doesn’t add anything useful to the overall experience. The best part of the film is Screaming Mad George’s special effects. Instead of just wearing the suit, cape, and horned mask from the comics, it actually grows out of Jasper’s body, becoming a second skin. Very reminiscent of the Japanese anime Devil Man. This is the one improvement of the comic.
In the comic, the lead character, John Jaspers, is a highly trained assassin working for the mysterious and nefarious ‘M.’ Jaspers wears a fairly conventional superhero suit and cape with a horned mask and outfitted with gauntlets with two razor sharp claws that pop out Wolverine-style. I don’t know whose idea it was to have star Mark Frost not wear the suit, but Frost was absolutely miscast and treated the role like he was a villain in one of the Joel Schumacher Batman films, ruining an otherwise cool effect. Then there was the fact that the story was supposed to take place in New York City, but was very clearly shot in Spain-if the locations didn’t tip you off, maybe the thick accents of the cops and secondary characters would.
Faust the comic was never flawless. The sprawling narrative and tonal shifts sometimes felt as Quinn and Vigil weren’t 100% sure of where they were going with it all, but everything really gelled in issues 4-6 and 8-10, before it started to feel too drawn out, not bad, but after all these years, I wanted them to just get on with it. Faust the film just felt uninterested in its source material. Spending too much time on events that happened before issue 1 and then compressing much of the most interesting bits of the story. Like the whole reason Jaspers is so enamored with his psychiatrist Jade DeCamp (played by Isabel Brook in one of the better casting choices) or the journalist Balfour who is our guide into the story, but is completely cut from the film. The comic also has a cool sub-plot where M communicates with his organization and with Jaspers through a pirate radio DJ-non-existent in the film. The cult’s evil doings are white washed and toned down, M is less of a hellish force and more a cardboard cut out of a typical villain.
Faust had the potential to be an erotic-horror art film. It could have been scary and unnerving. And should have been. Before starting this article, I went back and re-watched the film twice, searching in vain for anything in it that I liked. I came away with nothing. The film is creatively bankrupt and not even worth watching in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. And it pains me to say that, given my admiration for Yuzna, and Screaming Mad George. Another thing that has always bothered me about the film, why was Faust such a prudish film when the follow up, Beyond Re-Animator, featured a zombie rat fighting a sentient severed dick? Did Yuzna just not care for the project or were his creative sensibilities simply a bad match for the material?
Maybe in a few years someone will take another stab at the film, because there is a lot of great material to pull from and content wise, the world is a much different place than it was in the early 2000s. A more artistic director willing to push the envelope in a Lars Von Trier/Gaspar Noe way could have a field day skewering the conventions set up by Marvel and DC with a hardcore horror hero who has no interest in saving day, just saving his one true love.