The movie really never gets as cool as this poster.

The movie really never gets as cool as this poster.

I’m a sucker for mole people, ask anyone. CHUDs, Morlocks, really any kind of (preferably ancient) subterranean race of humanoid monsters. Bonus points if they’re tied in with some sort of hollow earth stuff. If I know that a movie or a book or whatever has such creatures in it, then chances are I’m on board, even if I am also usually disappointed by their portrayal, especially when it comes to movies, which never take the concept far enough for my tastes. So of course when I saw the trailer for Deep in the Darkness, I knew that I was going to watch it, and I was just as confident that I was going to be let down.

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, the plot involves a doctor who moves out of Manhattan to take a job in a small town that’s under the thumb of an ancient race of subterranean “wild men” called Isolates. Apparently adapted from the Michael Laimo novel of the same name, which I’ve never read, Deep in the Darkness is pretty obviously part of a long-standing pulp tradition of regressed races of subterranean cannibals. Howard’s “The Worms of the Earth” and Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” number among this film’s ancestors, and there are even small threads of the ancient pre-human races that populated Manly Wade Wellman’s stories, and maybe just a pinch of Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train.” Don’t let any of that fool you, though. While Deep in the Darkness is obviously mining that vein, it never strikes out into any particularly novel or exciting territory. (The parallels with “The Lurking Fear” come farther to the fore in the film’s “twist ending,” and the stunt casting of Dean Stockwell makes the weird fiction connection overt, in case you might otherwise have missed it.)

Word has it that Laimo was inspired by the 1973 TV version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark when he was writing the novel, and the Isolates bear more than a little resemblance to the similar creatures in Neil Marshall’s superior Descent, albeit less Nosferatu-y.

I’m not really giving anything away by talking about the monsters, because the trailer makes their nature pretty clear, and even if it didn’t, the movie tells you what they are right away, in the first of several exposition dumps. While Descent is a vastly superior horror film, Deep in the Darkness does have the distinction of going a more interesting direction with its subterranean monsters, even if it never fully commits. Points to the filmmakers—or possibly to Laimo’s source material—for dipping their toes a little more deeply into the pulpy roots of the Isolates, but Deep in the Darkness would have been improved a hundredfold by even something as simple as a single scene with some giant ancient statue in one of the catacombs, some indicator of a grander civilization of which the Isolates were the degenerate remnants. (To see what I really, really want from a movie about a race of subterranean humanoids, see any given B.P.R.D. comic in which the hollow earth people show up.)

There are some good opportunities in Deep in the Darkness, though they are largely squandered. The town where something is amiss is always a good source of paranoia, but here it is used mainly as a way to push the plot along, and the town matriarch is all set up to be a good source of villainy, but she hardly appears in the film. And while the Isolates just sort of look like dirty humans who all bear a passing resemblance to Immortan Joe, the movie does a good job of having them haunt the edges of the screen, and the actors playing them move with a weirdly graceful rolling gait that does a lot to make them more monster than person. There’s a particularly good scene when the Isolates swarm into the doctor’s house where their sudden appearance from the shadows is decently chilling.

Unfortunately, any good qualities of the film are largely overshadowed by its fairly pedestrian execution. It makes the same mistake that I see a lot of contemporary horror films make, of starting in with the spooky music and camera work before anything actually spooky has happened. The town’s dark secret is revealed right away—both to the audience, and to our protagonist—but the reasons why people don’t just pack up and leave town are never made to feel as immediate as they need to be in order to sell this premise. There’s some foreshadowing about the reason for the wife’s weird transformation as a character, but not enough to carry you through to the reveal at the end, after she has already performed another about-face. There’s the deus ex machina delivery that our protagonist receives shortly after moving into his new house, for reasons that are never well explained, which telegraphs the film’s climax 100%. And of course, there are lots and lots and lots of sequences of people wandering slowly through houses looking for other people.

Ultimately, Deep in the Darkness occupies that horror movie middle ground that is often more damning than if it had actually been bad. It’s solidly made, with a few good qualities and a lot of problems that will work for some people and infuriate others, but probably be forgettable to most, myself included. It wouldn’t even bear reportage, were it not for my aforementioned affection for its tropes. It’s on Netflix instant right now, and if you’ve got a particular soft spot for Towns with Dark Secrets or subterranean monster people, then you could do worse than to check it out. Otherwise, probably give it a pass.

[This post previously appeared on my Patreon.]

About a month ago, at the urging of several different people, I finally took the plunge and started a Patreon account. I’m far from alone in this, as many of the authors and artists I know have them, and many others have strong opinions about why they’re a good idea or a bad one, depending on who you ask. I’ll admit that I’m still not completely sold on their practicality, but I like the concept. The patronage model has always appealed to me; the notion that people who like someone’s work will choose to pay a little bit in order to make certain that work continues to happen. It is, to some extent, an idea that everyone who sets out to write fiction, make music, or create art probably holds to at least a little. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t bother.

Anyway, after a “soft opening” and a trial run through the end of June, my Patreon is now up and running for realsies, and you can head over there anytime you like and throw some money into my hat in exchange for exclusive, behind-the-scenes access into my creative process, such as it is. You can expect mostly snippets of works-in-progress that you’ll get to see well in advance of the general public, as well as the occasional original piece exclusive to Patreon backers, and insights into whatever oddball movies I’ve been watching lately. As my number of patrons continues to grow, so too will the amount of involvement that I have in the site, and the amount of patron-only content that shows up.

I’m still learning my way around the whole Patreon concept, and so the endeavor is still something of a work in progress. I’m working on Milestone Goals that will hopefully go up soon, and I’m very open to any input that anyone might have as to good options for those, or even alternate pledge tiers and so on. I want this to be a pretty flexible and fun undertaking, both for me, and for my patrons, so feel free to leave comments here or there or wherever. And, of course, the more patrons I get, the happier I am, so please share this post or the link to my Patreon far and wide.

This is as much for me as it is for you.

I started out 2015 with a modest goal: To watch more movies that I hadn’t seen before than I did ones that I had. Last year, I watched 269 movies, not including TV series, of which 123 were new to me, which means that I didn’t quite manage even a 50/50 split. So this year I’ve made a conscious effort to watch more movies that I’ve never seen before, and so far it seems to be paying off.

As I have for a couple of years now, I keep a notebook where I write down every movie that I watch, along with the year it was released and an asterisk if I’ve seen it before. As of the morning of July 1, I had watched 126 movies so far this year, of which 79 were new to me, leaving only 47 that I had ever seen before. I’m sure I won’t keep up exactly that divide for the remainder of the year, but that puts me off to a pretty good lead to hit my goal of seeing more movies for the first time than I do for the second, or third, or hundredth.

I’m not really trying this goal for any special reason, besides that there are lots and lots of and lots of movies out there that I’ve never seen, and that I want to see, and I know that I’ll never have enough time, even in a long lifetime of watching lots and lots of movies, to get to them all, so I figure I’ll take an active role in trying to knock out a few more of them.

(For those who’re curious, so far in July I’ve seen 8 movies, at an average of a movie a day, which are thus far evenly divided between new-to-me and not, so that doesn’t really skew our data one way or the other at all.)

Come September, I will have been working full-time as a freelance writer and editor for two years. When I first started out, I had more work than I could really keep up with, but since then I’ve had a couple of my bigger clients reduce the amount of work they’ve been asking for, which means that I am currently actively seeking new clients for just about any kind of freelance writing, editing, critiquing, or content creation. I’ve done SEO work, blogging, written websites, done licensed fiction and RPG writing for Privateer Press, critiqued and proofread both fiction and nonfiction, as well as producing lots and lots of short stories. So if you or anyone you know is looking for fast, reliable, and high-quality freelance work in any of those areas, drop me a line at orringrey [at] gmail [dot] com for rates and specifics.

I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I’m a fan of the Insidious franchise, so I was looking forward with both interest and trepidation to series writer and co-creator Leigh Whannell’s debut in the director’s seat. After all, while the prior films had more than just well-timed scares going for them, there’s no denying that much of what set them apart from the rest of the ghost movie crop was director James Wan’s sure hand behind the camera. (He does make a brief cameo in this film, in that absolutely jaw-dropping theatre that you can see in the trailers.) Fortunately, while Insidious: Chapter 3 may not stack up quite as well as its predecessors, it’s a solid installment in what is definitely my favorite currently-running horror franchise.

The heart and soul of this series is Lin Shaye’s Elise, and fortunately this movie knows it. While the trailers make this out to be the story of a young girl (Quinn, played by Stefanie Scott) who tries to communicate with her dead mom and instead gets more than she bargained for, this is actually Elise’s movie. She’s the clear protagonist of the picture, and the storyline gives Lin Shaye more room to show her range than in previous films, since this time her character’s got an arc, rather than simply being the film’s Van Helsing. (Don’t worry, she’s still that, too.)

Making the decision to craft a prequel to the other two Insidious movies sounds like a poor choice on paper, but it gives Whannell an opportunity to go in and flesh out not only Elise’s character, but her relationship with Specs and Tucker who, along with Elise, comprise probably my favorite paranormal investigators. Maybe ever. Whannell and Angus Sampson reprise their roles as Specs and Tucker, suitably dressed and coiffed to make this that odd period film that takes place sometime in the early 2000s or thereabouts.

While this is pretty clearly Elise’s show, Quinn and her family get plenty of screen time, and continue the Insidious tradition of featuring protagonists who you rarely want to slap. Dermot Mulroney, in particular, acquits himself nicely as Quinn’s father, who is clearly in over his head but just as clearly wants to do the right thing. Like previous installments, Insidious 3 does a lot with very little, and boasts some great locations. (I want to live in pretty much every house that’s ever shown up in one of these movies.) Also like the others its got a very effective main ghost, though I’ll admit that I kinda wanted the Man Who Can’t Breathe to proclaim something “Mediocre” at some point. It’s not quite as scary as I remember its forebears being, but it does deliver a few very effective jolts, including one that comes from an almost entirely un-supernatural source.

What Insidious 3 adds to the mix is a surprisingly understated portrayal of grief and loss and moving on, as played out in both the characters of Quinn and Elise. While it’s more than a little lumpy, and some elements seem like they maybe wound up on the cutting room floor, or were stuck in at the last moment, Lin Shaye’s central performance carries it through any rough patches. It’s a welcome third installment to a wonderful and uneven and wonderfully uneven franchise. Insidious movies, you can stop now, while you’re ahead. If they do continue making sequels, I hope it’s just Specs and Tucker and Elise’s ghost going around solving cute mysteries, as implied by the end of the second film.

Slow Boat to Fast CityStarting tomorrow, I’ll be joining Sean Demory and the rest of the Pine Float Press crowd to celebrate the launch of Slow Boat to Fast City at ConQuest in KC. I’ll be doing a handful of panels, and a reading on Saturday. Here’s a link to my full schedule, which I’ll also reproduce below. Slow Boat to Fast City is a shared-world “raygun Gothic pulp sci-fi” anthology of stories about Mars, and features my Edgar Rice Burroughs by way of L.A. Confidential story “The House of Mars,” which you can also pick up as a standalone (with amazing cover art by the extremely talented Bernie Gonzalez) in either electronic or chapbook formats. If you want the full experience, though, Slow Boat to Fast City will be available in person at ConQuest, or you can order it in one of three affordable formats: electronic, Lulu-edition pocketbook, or paperback.

Besides launching Slow Boat, I’ll be talking about Gothic stuff, body horror, and reading scary stories. Here’s my full schedule:

Friday, May 22
5pm – Is it REALLY Gothic?
10pm – Body Horror: The Last Ewwww

Saturday, May 23
12:30pm – Reading
2pm – Anatomy of an Anthology (along with all my Pine Float partners in crime)
10pm – Late Night Scary Stories

Whenever I’m not at one of those things, I’ll probably be hanging out at the traveling Pine Float Press floating VIP lounge, where you’ll pretty much always be able to find me. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot, as we’ll probably be pretty loud, and at least two of us are really tall.

This year, ConQuest is being held at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which is just across from where Spectrum will be happening at the same time. I’ve heard rumors that there might be West Side Story-style dance battles between the two cons, but even if there’s not, if you’re going to be downtown for one, feel free to stop on over to the other and say hello. In the immortal words of Sean Demory: “You’ll pay for your whole seat, but you’ll only use the edge!

The World Horror Convention in Atlanta has been in the rearview for almost a week now, though I feel like I’m the one who’s still catching up. I hadn’t originally planned to attend this year, but local writing compatriots Bear Weiter and Steve Scearce decided we should get our road trip on and head on down to Atlanta for the weekend, which made the trip not only a lot more feasible, but a lot more fun. On the way down, we discovered cologne dispensers in truck stop bathrooms, saw lots and lots and lots of billboards for sex shops, and briefly got lost in St. Louis.

This year’s World Horror was held in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which is by far the most striking location for any of the World Horror’s that I have yet attended, with an interior straight out of an HR Giger painting. We got in Wednesday night, and left on Sunday morning. Since we were technically just crashing the party, we didn’t get to see much of the convention itself, though we met up with folks at the mass author signing on Friday night, and we had lots of drinks and food and good conversations in the bars and restaurants around the hotel.

I don’t want to start listing the people I got to spend time with, for fear of leaving anyone out, but it was fantastic to see everyone I saw, and this convention is notable for marking the first time that Jesse Bullington, Selena Chambers, J.T. Glover, Molly Tanzer, and myself were all in the same place at the same time, an event that was commemorated with a guerrilla reading on Saturday morning, staged in John’s hotel room.

Aside from the great people and great conversations, the highlight of the adventure for me was a trip out of the con proper to the Center for Puppetry Arts, where we were shown around by my friend Jordan. As a life-long aficionado of puppets and other simulacra, it was a blast to see a lot of puppetry history, and there were several Henson items on display, including a full-size Skeksis. If you’re ever in Atlanta, I cannot recommend a trip out to the Center highly enough.

On Sunday we spent the entire day driving back, during which time I was plagued by some kind of soda fountain curse, as I hit three gas stations before I found one that worked. Aside from that, a brief but intense rainstorm, and a particularly dramatic accident along the highway that shut the whole thing down (not the plane that crashed on the highway in Atlanta, which happened while we were at the convention, prompting text messages from people back home who had seen it on the news) our trip home was otherwise uneventful. This was my fourth World Horror Convention in the last five years, and it was a good time, as they all have been. I doubt I’ll make it out to next year’s, though I’m hoping to be at the HPLFF again this October, and in about a week I’ll be at ConQuest here in KC, where I’m actually going to be on panels and shit. More about that next week.

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