Way back on Wednesday night I watched the Mockingjay double-feature at the Alamo; it was my first time seeing either movie, and it was, hands down, the best theatre-going experience of the year for me, at least until tonight when I go watch Santo and the Blue Demon Against the Monsters projected from a VHS tape.

I’ve never read the books, but Grace did, around the time the first Hunger Games movie was coming out, so I watched it with her. It was better than I expected, but the series didn’t really start picking up steam for me until the under-appreciated—I Am Legend notwithstanding—Francis Lawrence got into the director’s seat with Catching Fire.

I liked Catching Fire and I was excited to see Mockingjay, but I was not prepared. This is a tough review to write, if review it even really is, because it’s hard to separate Mockingjay the movie(s) from the experience I had in that theatre. I watched the films in what are almost certainly the optimal conditions: in a huge room filled with other people who were every bit as excited as I was.

Anyone who watches a lot of movies can tell you that each individual viewing is its own thing, especially in a theatre. The experience can be invested with the energy of the crowd, changing it for the better or the worse, and that definitely happened here, for the better. It’s tough to say how much different the movies would have been if I’d seen them some other way.

First off, though split into two and released roughly a year apart, Mockingjay is in fact and emphatically just one movie, with a gut punch of a cliffhanger intermission right in the center. I can’t imagine how the poor souls who watched the first half a year ago and had to wait ’til now to proceed managed all that time. To a greater extent even than other movies that have been split into two or more parts, the two halves of Mockingjay rely on each other to work. So if you’re planning to head out to see Part 2, I recommend refreshing Part 1 as immediately beforehand as possible.

And if you’re not going out to see Part 2, I recommend that you reconsider. Mockingjay is a triumph, full stop. Not that The Hunger Games franchise needs any help from me. The books sold all the copies, and the movies have consistently made all the money. But I don’t see people talking about them the same way they do franchises like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or the latest Marvel movie, and they should be.

There’s a lot to praise in Mockingjay, but I’ll focus on what maybe surprised me the most, and that’s the movie’s intensity. There are moments of peril—moments, plural—when I was literally on the edge of my seat, when I held my breath. I practically watch horror movies for a living, and yet that almost never happens. The sewer sequence is the standout, of course, and seems to at once go on forever and yet never feel interminable, just beat after beat of heart-in-your-throat tension until you’re pretty sure you’re going to need a defibrillator when it finally stops. But there’s also the tar trap, and a rescue sequence in the first movie. Would these scenes have had quite as much impact if the rest of the theatre hadn’t been holding its collective breath with me? Maybe not. Would they still have been a hell of an accomplishment? Absolutely.

Back to the sewer sequence, for a moment. I don’t think this counts as spoilers, since they’re in the trailer, but that sequence involves CHUDs. They’re not called CHUDs, but that’s what they are, for all intents and purposes. And while there are almost certainly better monsters in other movies that have been released this year—The Hallow, I am looking meaningfully in your direction—I have rarely seen any monsters anywhere deployed to such staggering effect as these. It’s a sequence reminiscent of Aliens but—and I say this as a huge fan of Aliens—dialed way, way up.

The fact that all of these moments are contained in a PG-13 movie ostensibly aimed primarily at a YA audience shows a couple of important things. One, that rating doesn’t have much to do with what a movie is capable of accomplishing. And two, that horror directors need to up their freaking game.

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

Of all the stories in Painted Monsters, the title novella was the most difficult to pair with an appropriate movie. Not because there weren’t plenty of options to choose from, but rather because there were too many! While the other stories in the collection may touch upon or are inspired by particular movies or periods in horror cinema, “Painted Monsters” is itself the collection in microcosm, a whirlwind tour of horror’s cinematic landscape, drawing inspiration from–and making overt reference to–dozens of movies from different eras.

For any number of reasons, any of the great Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe pictures would fit the tone and aesthetic of “Painted Monsters” perfectly. I’m personally fond of Pit and the Pendulum and The Haunted Palace (actually the first Lovecraft adaptation, with a Poe title tacked on to help it sell). Those hit the story’s Gothic flavor, certainly, but for its self-referential qualities, we may need to go to more modern fare. In the book’s afterword, I mention the 1988 Anthony Hickox film Waxwork, which not only has the “crash course of horror history” aspect down, but also brings in the wax museum setting.

To find the perfect cinematic pairing for “Painted Monsters,” though, I had to look to an unlikely source. Produced by Roger Corman himself–who has more than a little of his DNA in Kirby Marsh III’s grandfather–and directed by Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall), the 1989 horror spoof Transylvania Twist is my oddball pick to pair with the heart and soul of my collection. Just hear me out.

While Transylvania Twist is, at first glance, just another horror parody, with jokes at the expense of everything from Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hammer’s Gothic horrors, a closer examination finds some much weirder stuff going on here. Around Fourth Wall-breaking gags, music videos, and faux commercials, the movie makes direct references to Lovecraft through everything from its protagonist Dexter Ward to the ancient, evil tome that he’s trying to collect (The Book of Ulthar) to, ultimately, the apperance of a giant Lovecraftian monster (“The Evil One”), as played by the creature from previous Corman cheapie It Conquered the World. Not only that, but Transylvania Twist takes its title from the same song that provides “Painted Monsters” with its epigraph, while also paying homage to Targets with a character named for Boris Karloff’s Byron Orlok.

From its knowing tone to its “scavenger hunt through the old castle” plot to its references to movie monsters past and (at the time) present, Transylvania Twist is the perfect–albeit unorthodox–movie to close out our countdown, and the best double-feature I can think of for “Painted Monsters.”

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

While “The Murders on Morgue Street” was original to this collection, I had already written it before I started putting Painted Monsters together, it just hadn’t been published anywhere. “Strange Beast” is the first of a pair of stories I wrote explicitly to finish out this book. Its title is a reference to the actual definition of the word kaiju, a term that for most of us has long been synonymous with giant monsters.

The most obvious movie to pair with “Strange Beast” would be Pulgasari, the Korean giant monster flick whose real-life making of backstory inspired my tale. But I’ve never actually seen Pulgasari–somehow it seems like watching it could never live up to that behind the scenes drama–so I guess we’ll have to cast our nets further afield. The next most obvious place to look seems to be someplace like Cloverfield. After all, my “notes toward a book about a documentary crew making a movie about the tragic events behind the making of a movie” approach to “Strange Beast” obviously owes a lot to the found footage format that’s become popular in recent years, and there aren’t a lot of found footage kaiju movies. (This is probably a good thing.) But I also don’t much like Cloverfield, so instead I’d be more likely to suggest Troll Hunter, a movie whose monsters are somewhat more modestly-sized, but whose documentary conceit is much more credible. And just a much better movie, all around.

The biggest cinematic influence on “Strange Beast,” though, has nothing to do with found footage and nothing to do with kaiju. It’s an episode of the 1976 Nigel Kneale-scripted British horror anthology series Beasts called “The Dummy.” In it, a suit actor who plays a monster in a series of successful movies has a nervous breakdown in which he begins to identify with the monster that he’s playing. Take that episode, put it in a blender with the strange true events that led to the creation of Pulgasari, and you’ve got the genesis of “Strange Beast.”

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

Art by my good friend Trevor Henderson.

Art by my good friend Trevor Henderson.

“Persistence of Vision” may be my most successful story to date. Originally written for Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, for which I was an honorary Canadian, it also snagged me my first (and thus far only) appearance in Ellen Datlow‘s Best Horror of the Year. It’s also probably the most overt of the movie-influenced stories that I’ve done on the countdown so far, featuring a film blogger narrator who tells the story about the way I normally talk–by comparing everything to movies.

As such, there are a lot of references to films scattered throughout “Persistence of Vision,” but the big influences here come from a pair of films: Kairo, which we got as part of the J-horror boom kicked off by the success of The Ring, and its somewhat lackluster American remake from a few years later, Pulse. As the unnamed narrator says in the story, “starring that girl from Veronica Mars and that guy from Lost. Well-known prognosticators of the end of the world.” As such, I’d recommend Kairo to go along with “Persistence of Vision,” though if you’re completely allergic to subtitles, Pulse won’t hurt either.

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

This is a weird one…

I wrote “Lovecrafting” in response to Jesse Bullington‘s invitation for me to submit something to Letters to Lovecraft, a Lovecraftian anthology with a particularly unusual logline. Rather than drawing our inspirations from Lovecraft’s stories or beasties, we were asked to read his seminal essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” select a passage, and write a story in response. As I was reading back over the essay, I was struck more than I had been previously by Lovecraft’s racism and racial essentialism, but also by this odd streak of what I can only call proto-geek pride, as he continually asserted that there was something very unique and special about people who loved supernatural literature. So the passage I ultimately chose was:

“The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from every-day life.

… and “Lovecrafting” was the result. Weird less for its plot than for the manner of its telling, a story with a jumbled chronology, done in a combination of film-treatment-like-segments broken up by portions of fictional weird tales, complete with intentionally incorrect uses of five-dollar-words. At first glance, that might appear to produce a story too mired in its own literary antecedents and gimmicks to pair well with film, but in this case just about any Stuart Gordon Lovecraft adaptation would fit the bill perfectly. And while From Beyond might match better with the odd and ephemeral monsters of “Lovecrafting,” I think I’m going to have to go with the original Re-Animator as my official pairing pick.

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

I don’t write a lot that could be considered science fiction, as you may have already noticed if you’ve been reading through Painted Monsters up to this point. My obsessions tend to be rooted in the past rather than looking toward the future. So when Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula Stiles asked me to contribute something to Future Lovecraft, I started and rejected several ideas before finally settling on the one that would become “The Labyrinth of Sleep.”

I’m a fan of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories, and I feel like they don’t get enough attention, even in today’s incredibly Mythos-saturated publishing environment, so the idea for “The Labyrinth of Sleep” was basically to combine those tales with the dream-entering technology posited by a variety of movies over the years. Probably the first one that most people think of will be Inception, and certainly there are elements of Inception‘s heavily-armed dream heisters in the “dream hounds” of “Labyrinth,” but I’d say that this story probably owes more to stylized J-Lo vehicle The Cell or even 1984’s Dreamscape with its stop motion snake man, which left an impression on me as a kid, though I haven’t seen it in over a decade.

While I had intended to write a story evoking the Dreamlands, the titular Labyrinth itself–and certainly the structure at its heart–probably owes more to William Hope Hodgson’s House on the Borderland than to anything that Lovecraft himself ever did. Since that’s never been adapted to film, however, try the 1971 adaptation of Jean Ray’s Malpertuis for a similar feel.

While I know that I’m supposed to be pairing movies here, not recommending additional reading, if, like me, you can’t get enough of Dreamlands stuff, it bears mentioning that I recently read Amanda Downum‘s incredible Dreamlands/King in Yellow novel Dreams of Shreds and Tatters and it was everything that I could have asked for and more. Highly recommended!

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

“Remains” was originally going to appear–under a different title–in my previous collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. You can read about why it didn’t in the author’s notes at the back of the story. It eventually did show up in the “lost” 13th issue of Strange Aeons Magazine, available only to backers of the 2014 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Kickstarter. Besides that, Painted Monsters is its only time in print. As such, it probably owes less to movies than any other story in this collection, besides maybe “The White Prince.”

The biggest debt in “Remains” is to Clive Barker’s story “The Last Illusion,” which was my first introduction to the notion of using a previous supernatural experience to prime a character for their current predicament. “The Last Illusion” was adapted (and expanded) to film as Lord of Illusions, a project both much more ambitious and much less successful than its source material. It also proved to be Barker’s last directing gig–at least so far–possibly because it was frequently kind of terrible, in spite of moments of great promise, hampered in no small part by its Lawnmower Man-esque CGI segments. Still, it’s not a bad companion piece to “Remains,” especially in its opening moments.

For a more successful film that also maps onto “Remains” in ways that hopefully become obvious after reading the story, we only have to go a step to the left to Clive Barker’s first feature-length attempt at adapting his work to the screen, Hellraiser.


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