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The Psychotronic Man

An interview with Michael Weldon

By Bob Ignizio

*** NOTE:  This article originally appeared in the Lakewood Observer in a very different form.  This is the way it was meant to be seen. ***

Some people are fans of B movies, and then there’s Michael Weldon.  Michael quite literally wrote the books on the wild, weird and wonderful world of horror, science fiction, and exploitation movies with The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983) and its sequel The Psychotronic Video Guide (1996).  Since 1989 he’s also self published Psychotronic Video Magazine.  What the heck is a psychotronic movie, you ask?  Michael defines the term thusly: “My original idea with that word is that it’s a two part word.  “Psycho” stands for the horror movies, and “tronic” stands for the science fiction movies.  I very quickly expanded the meaning of the word to include any kind of exploitation or B-movie.” 

Born in Cleveland in 1952, Michael Weldon spent most of his early years in Lakewood.  “I went through the whole Lakewood school system and lived in or near Lakewood until 1979,” says Michael.  It was as a kid growing up in Lakewood that Michael encountered many of the things that influenced his future career path.  “Ernie Anderson as Goulardi and The Upbeat show were both major shows for me, and both had national impact that some people don’t realize,” says Michael.  “I was also greatly influenced by Saturday matinees in the many movie theatres that used to be in and around Lakewood.  Double bills of really cheap horror and science fiction movies, Toho movies, Hammer films, things like that.  Old movies on television.  Incredible top 40 radio and, later on, great late sixties and early seventies FM underground radio.” 

Along with an early interest in movies, Michael also was interested in music.  Specifically, rock n roll.  He says, “Like a lot of other people my interest in playing music came along with the British invasion  Right after the British invasion started, I got an acoustic guitar and learned to play that.  By junior high school I got in my first band.  I was in a band around 1966, 67 which never recorded.  But it was a true garage band where we actually did garage rock covers.  We practiced in garages and basements.  We only played out a couple times, but it was a big deal to me.  And it was a lot of fun.  I was playing rhythm guitar at the time.”   

In 1971 Michael and his friend Craig Bell were asked to join a band called Mirrors.  Since the band already had two guitar players, Michael was asked to play drums.  The fact that he had never played drums didn’t stop Michael from accepting the gig.  He says, “It was a very minimal group.  We ended up doing a lot of original material, but to start off with the majority of the cover versions we did were by The Velvet Underground.  I like that stuff a lot, and the drumming was not hard.  I had a very simple stripped down drum kit and I never even owned it.  I never owned a drum kit.  It was one that had been left behind by some other guy that had auditioned for them or something.”   

Mirrors were part of what would later be recognized as an important “pre-punk” scene in Cleveland that existed more or less in obscurity for a few years in the early seventies and also included The Electric Eels and Rocket From the Tombs.  “It all ended in 1975,” says Michael.  “All three of those bands broke up about the same time after we played on the same bills together.   All three of us played the same club together I think twice, and got local publicity.  Peter Laughner had a lot to do with that.  Jane Scott wrote a nice article in the Plain Dealer about the underground scene. There was this little scene that was kind of leading up to something, and then all the bands broke up.  Before you know it, it’s time for punk rock.  That’s very connected, but it was different.”  While many of the musicians in these bands formed new groups or assembled new versions of their old bands, Michael never played drums again after 1975. 

Instead, Michael got a job at Drome Records, a store that had a significant impact on the Cleveland music scene in its own right.  Michael says, “It was in 3 different locations starting in Cleveland Heights, and then it was in Lakewood right next to the Phantasy Nightclub and the Homestead Theater just before I left town.  Then it was in downtown Cleveland for a little while before it finally closed.  But it was a real center for the sort of underground scene and the import scene and the punk rock scene.  That’s where the first Pere Ubu singles were sold, and what were then underground singles from New York like Patti Smith and Television and all that.”  It was also at Drome records that Michael started writing for fanzines.  Drome records owner John Thompson, Pere Ubu vocalist David Thomas, and Drome employee Jim Ellis started a publication named Cle.  Michael says, “It was a newspaper and then it became a magazine.  It came out on a very irregular basis for a couple years.  That’s the first place I got anything published, and where I wrote my first “movies on television” reviews.”   

Michael moved to New York in 1980 and decided to expand on his movies on television article.  Michael says, “That was the first version of Psychotronic Magazine.  It was smaller but it was a lot more frequent.  It was hand lettered, hand stapled, Xeroxed, hand delivered, hand everything.  The lowest possible budget.  It came out once a week, because my idea was this was an alternative TV Guide.  And I’m going to say what’s good about all these cult movies and B-movies and low budget movies that were on TV instead of just dismissing them like the other New York papers usually did.”  Michael managed to keep the magazine going for just over a year when he came to the attention of Ballantine Books who published ‘The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film’ in 1983. 

Promotion for the book kept Michael busy for a while, doing things like hosting film festivals in America and Europe.  Michael also did some freelance writing, but eventually the urge to resurrect Psychotronic Magazine became too strong to ignore.  Michael says, “I was just itching to write more and be my own boss again.  Other magazines would either assign you what to review or censor what you wrote or not pay you, whatever.  I just wanted to do it on my own again, and it was a good time to start a real magazine.  The fanzine scene still exists, but it’s been largely killed off by the internet.  When I started, though, the internet wasn’t as happening yet.  There was a lot of media buzz about fanzines at the time.  Newsprint wasn’t as expensive, and postage wasn’t as expensive, either.”   

Issue One of Psychotronic Video hit the stands in early 1989.  In addition to the movie reviews Michael was known for, the magazine also included interviews with actors and filmmakers best known for their work in psychotronic films.  Although Michael still publishes new issues, changes in the business have caused him to cut back on the frequency.  “Things have gotten more expensive, distribution has gotten harder.  So my magazine that at one time was quarterly is now once or twice a year.  You still want to keep doing it, but putting them out more frequently has just gotten harder if you’re not backed by a corporation or company.  Some people misunderstand and think what I do is on the same level as even Fangoria, which is a horror magazine that’s been around for years.  But they’re part of a company in New York that puts out a whole line of magazines.  They’re financially backed, which I never have been.  It’s still totally self financed and self just about everything.” 

Michael now lives with his wife Mia on a tourist island just off the Virginia Coast.  He says, “We bought an old bank building here which we live in and have a store front in.  That’s a continuation of what I did when I was in Cleveland.  My favorite jobs I had were working at record stores, and I also always loved book stores.  So we sell books and records and Hollywood collectibles and my wife makes jewelry.  So we always have that going on along with the publishing.  But I always loved living in Lakewood and think it’s a great town.  Lots of great memories and people and places.”   

You can check out what Michael is up to at www.psychotronicvideo.com

Michael is also looking for help finding a couple of old Lakewood friends; Mitch Sizemore and Craig Brush.  Anyone with any info can contact Michael by email at info@psychotronicvideo.com.