This time next week, I will be on the road somewhere between Boulder and Portland, on the second leg of my massive cross-country road trip to the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, where I’ll be a guest for my second year. Last year’s fest was probably my favorite con-going experience to date, and this time out I’m looking forward to catching up with all sorts of awesome people, some of them again, and some for the first time. There’s no full list of panels and other events yet, but I can tell you that I’m going to be moderating a panel with some very intimidating guests. I’ll also be signing books at the Carbload for Cthulhu author signing event, and I’ll be somewhere in the corner probably at the VIP party Friday night. Where else I’ll be is anybody’s guess.

issue13In addition to Never Bet the Devil–and maybe some copies of Fungi, since my co-editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia will also be in attendance–there may even be a few copies of the Kickstarter-exclusive “lost” 13th issue of Strange Aeons Magazine floating undimensioned around the premises, which has an original story by me alongside an avalanche of more talented folks. I haven’t held a physical copy yet, but from what I’ve seen it’s a sharp-looking production, and well worth getting your squamous appendages on.

In all, it promises to be an amazing experience, and I’m looking forward to meeting anybody there who’s going to be there, though given how many people that is, I’m bound to miss someone. I’ll be leaving for the trip on Monday, April 7 and not coming back until sometime near the end of the following week. Before the festival, I’m driving out to Boulder to pick up Jesse Bullington for cross-country road trip shenanigans that will hopefully end with us in Portland, and not in some dingy back-country jail cell, or the larder of a cannibal family. After the festival is over, I’m driving up to Seattle to meet with some of my editors at Privateer Press and get my picture taken with the Fremont bridge troll like a tourist, before braving the dark and Barron-esque wilderness between there and here on my own. Presumably I will run out of gas somewhere in the mountains and then wander into a hollow tree, never to be seen again.

Whatever form my untimely demise takes, I’m looking forward to the trip, and I will endeavor to contact you from the other side, by whatever means I can muster.

Over on the official Hammer Films twitter, they asked what your top ten Hammer horror films would be, inspired by this list. The rules were: only one movie from each of their big franchises (Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy). Hammer horror films are my very favorite subset of any films ever, pretty much, and picking favorites is always nearly impossible for me. This time, though, I forced myself to dash off a response as quickly as possible, without giving myself undue time to become paralyzed by indecision, and I think I managed a pretty representative sample of favorite flicks.

Note: This is not, under any circumstances, to be considered a list of best films, and even then there are some staggering omissions, like any of the Mummy movies, or Seven Golden Vampires. Nevertheless, and in no particular order, here’s my list:

1. The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
The 1967 Quatermass and the Pit is generally better regarded, and is an amazing flick, but for me Brian Donlevy + undimensioned space vampire squid = one of the best movies ever.

2. The Witches (1966)
That witch doctor mask.

3. The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Yes, I’m a big Nigel Kneale fan. No one is surprised. Plus, this one has Peter Cushing in it!

4. The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Speaking of Peter Cushing, my sentimental favorite of the Hammer Frankensteins even though (maybe because?) it’s the one that feels most like a fanfic of the Universal films.

5. Night Creatures (1962)
The first Hammer film I ever saw, and still a favorite, even though it doesn’t actually contain monsters. It does however contain pirates, and secrets, and people dressed as glow-in-the-dark skeletons (complete with skeleton horses), and great physicality from Cushing.

6. Paranoiac (1963)
My favorite of the Hammer suspense thrillers, a genuinely unsettling bit of gaslighting that feels almost like a mesh between a Gothic and some kind of proto-giallo. Plus, Oliver Reed at his best.

7. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
I haven’t seen it in an age, but I remember loving it, especially Christopher Lee in a rare good guy role, and the wonderful protective circle sequence.

8. Plague of the Zombies (1966)
A great bit of colonial guilt cinema, and a missing link between flicks like I Walked with a Zombie and Night of the Living Dead.

9. Brides of Dracula (1960)
Yeah, yeah, my Dracula pick doesn’t contain Christopher Lee, doesn’t, in fact, contain Dracula, and almost forgets to contain brides. But it does feature that amazing bit with the windmill, which would win it a place on this list all by itself.

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Another one that’s not quite a horror film, but Cushing’s Holmes is delightful, and it’s a movie I can happily watch just about any time.

[Edit: As is inevitably going to happen with a no hesitation list, I had an absolute top ten entry completely slip my mind. Somehow, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974) was not on this original list, an omission which cannot be borne. Sub it in place of Hound of the Baskervilles, and put that one with the honorable mentions.]

Mutagenesis is my second collaboration with Skull Island eXpeditions, the fiction publishing arm of Privateer Press, and it is now loose in the world. It’s also the longest finished thing I’ve ever written, clocking in at over 30,000 words. (And hey, as a bonus, it’s got three really fantastic, full-color interior illustrations that I didn’t even get to see until I was looking at my author copy!)

Mutagenesis_cover

Back when I talked about writing “Under the Shadow,” the first thing I did for Skull Island, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about Privateer Press and the Iron Kingdoms setting was how they handled dragons. IK dragons are beasts of such inhuman age and cunning that they approach the quality of Lovecraftian god-monsters, and of course that goes right into my wheelhouse. Apparently, my editors as Skull Island liked my take on dragons and the relationships that their mortal followers have with them in “Under the Shadow,” because I was allowed to play some more in that particular sandbox with this project.

With Mutagenesis I got to tackle a much more direct relationship between a character and a dragon, as I told the origin story of Thagrosh and, consequently, the Legion of Everblight. For those who don’t play the game, the Legion is one of the core factions, one based entirely around a dragon, and Thagrosh is their flagship warlock. So this was a lot of fun to do.

Mutagenesis was also an interesting experience for me in terms of the writing process itself. Since this was only my second time doing licensed work, I was definitely still learning as I went. Normally, when it comes to writing, I’m not much of a planner. I write stories by feel, sort of like walking through an unfamiliar room in the dark. I’ve never been someone who did a lot of outlines or note cards or that kind of thing. I take notes for stories, but they tend to be more disorganized; snippets, thoughts, sections of story written all out of order, kind of whatever I think of at the time.

With Mutagenesis, I was not only working from a fairly detailed outline, I had a lot of input from editors and writers at Privateer Press about everything from what should happen in the story, to where things were located, what people drank, etc. It was a different experience for me, but a lot of fun, and it let me work some muscles that don’t usually get much exercise in my writing. I also think that, like with “Under the Shadow,” I was able to bring a lot of my pet obsessions to the table as well, and I definitely consider this a part of “my” work, whatever that means, and I think that for fans of my stuff, there’ll be some familiar territory here.

I love the Iron Kingdoms, and I’m happy to be returning. There’s some more projects in the pipeline, and as soon as I can say more about them, you’ll hear it here.

Okay, maybe not so much beyond.

Here’s the thing: February has been a little crazy, as far as work goes, which is probably part of why I haven’t updated here since, um, the second day of it. But some stuff has been going on in the mean time that I really ought to mention, so: I’m going to be a guest, once again, at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland on April 11-13. I’m very pleased to be going back, as last year’s event was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a convention, and I love Portland and all the many awesome folks I know who live up in that area. Like last year, they’re doing a Kickstarter to help raise funds to make the fest even more awesome, so you might want to head over and check that out, because there are a lot of awesome pledge rewards up for grabs (even for those who aren’t going) and there’s only three days left to get in on it.

(It’s already more than doubled its initial funding goal, so we are well into “funded” territory at this point, but there are still some fantastic stretch goals, and plenty of eldritch rewards up for grabs.)

There’s another reason to back the HPLFF Kickstarter while you’ve got the opportunity. My story “Remains” will be appearing in the special all-fiction lost 13th issue of Strange Aeons Magazine, alongside a veritable who’s-who of weird fiction luminaries. The 13th issue is available exclusively to Kickstarter backers, and you can add it on to any reward tier for only $10. Seriously, you can check out a full table of contents here, and see how good the company I’m keeping in this one is.

I’ll have more info on what’ll actually be going on at the festival as the date draws closer, but it’s going to be a hell of a good time, so if you’re in the Portland area or can get there, I recommend coming out. And even if you can’t, back the Kickstarter for a few bucks and grab yourself an issue of the special Strange Aeons issue, and it’ll be like being there in spirit (or maybe as a disembodied brain in a cylinder).

So: Panic Fest.

I made it out yesterday, in spite of my car being covered in a lumpy sheet of impenetrable ice. It was my first time at the fest, and also my first time at the Screenland Armour, which was fantastic. There’s a poster for Fiend without a Face in the men’s room, and the arcade has Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so you know that it’s good.

I didn’t actually see many movies at the fest, though I did catch the short film block, including a couple of films made for the “M is for…” contest for ABCs of Death, and a nice one by local filmmaker Patrick Rea. Most of the time, though, I was in the vendor’s room, working the Downright Creepy table, chatting with folks, and buying and trading Funko Horror Classics figures, because I am hopeless. At this point, I have almost the whole set. Last night’s big coup was drawing Billy the Puppet out of a blind box, after striking out twice with duplicates.

I got to meet several folks from the local horror community, and see again several others who I don’t get to spend as much time with as I’d like. I sold a Freddy glove to a little girl, and discovered that someone at one point had the bright idea to make Blair Witch Project trading cards, which I assume are the most boring trading cards in the history of existence. I also figured out how to run the DVD projector system all by myself without breaking anything or catching anything on fire, which, in my opinion, counts as an accomplishment.

I’m already looking forward to going again next year!

I’m not what I would call a fan of the Hannibal Lecter film series, though I like some of them and have watched all but Hannibal Rising repeatedly. (Once was enough for it, thanks.) I’ve never read any of the books by Thomas Harris, though I probably will one of these days. But there’s something about the whole thing that fascinates me. It’s what’s brought me back to the films time and again, even the ones I don’t care for. Something about watching a modern mythos get constructed, I think. Watching the way approaches change from one film to another. There’s something there for me, anyway.

But when a TV series was announced, I didn’t really think much of it. Then they said Mads Mikkelsen was playing Hannibal himself, and I thought, yeah, that’s a great choice, I’ll probably watch that. But still I wasn’t in any hurry. Then people started talking about how great it was–people whose taste I generally trust, and then I started seeing images from it pop up on my Tumblr dashboard. These striking, mystifying, indelible images. And I thought, yeah, I need to see that. Thanks to the generosity of Sean Demory, I got a crack at the first season on DVD, and proceeded to watch the entire thing in about three days. Which isn’t saying as much as it otherwise might, since that’s kind of how I watch TV shows, and why I don’t watch more of them than I do. I tend to either get addicted and mainline them, or I lose interest quickly and move on to something else. But Hannibal is something special.

I said on Facebook, when I was only two episodes in, that it was some of the best supernatural horror I’d seen in a while. Now that I’ve finished the series, I could easily strike “a while” and replace it with “a long time” or maybe even “ever.” And yet, like the movies, the show ostensibly isn’t supernatural, but it so so is, in every way that matters. Back when I was talking about boogeymen and slashers, I mentioned that Sean had introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, and yes, it’s the perfect description, here more than anywhere. And not just Lecter, either, but all the serial killers in Hannibal. Their supernatural properties–while never overtly regarded as such–are there, everywhere, and the imagery of their killings is steeped in numinosity, reminding me at times of the very best work of Clive Barker.

Speaking of killings, yeah, Hannibal is gruesome, probably as gruesome as any show I’ve ever seen, but, again, for me at least, there was something otherworldly about the corpses. Not transcendent, not exactly, but, yeah, again, going back to it, numinous. Teratological.

There’s Wendigo imagery galore, of course, deployed expertly, as pretty much everything in the show is deployed. There’s a stark sense of how terrifying it must be to hallucinate, especially if you work in a field where seeing weird and horrible shit is part of your daily life. There’s the fact that the killers can almost always identify each other uncannily, immediately. Like in a World of Darkness game, when two vampires meet and their inner beasts immediately recognize each other and react either by vying for dominance or by cowering in fear.

As if the show felt the need to woo me, in spite of all this, there are even human fungal beds, as early on as the second episode. Don’t worry, show, you already had me by then.

I was going to do this post as a list of things that the show does well, but then I realized it was just going to be one bullet point that said: Everything. The acting is all top notch. Mads Mikkelsen gets deserving note as a Hannibal Lecter who can somehow make me immediately forget that the Hopkins version ever existed. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham does a wonderful job showing a character who is actually tormented by his gift, actually teetering on the edge of a black abyss. All of the supporting cast is solid, and the guest stars are great. The shots are beautiful, the editing graceful, and the soundscape of the show is fantastic, a substantial contributor to its power.

The show’s biggest drawback–that the audience is well aware of who and what Hannibal is, of where this is all headed and where it must inevitably end–is actually made into one of its greatest strengths, as mundane scenes become freighted with terrible implication while we watch the characters become tangled more and more inextricably in webs that only we can see.

So yeah, I’m a fan. This was a big show for me, and I’m looking forward to the second season, though I can say that my one and only concern is that there’s only so far this train can go. The showrunners claim to have a seven season plan, which seems like a long one from where I’m sitting, but I’ll trust them until they start to falter. As long as they’ve got the sense to stop where the story needs to stop, rather than trying to run it past its expiration date, I’m along for the ride.

Recently I’ve become sort of addicted to these Funko blind box Horror Classics figures. The first one I got was Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, who I ordered from eBay because I absolutely had to have him, and I wasn’t willing to keep trying blind boxes until I got one. After I got him, I was showing him off to some friends and one of us referred to the line of figures as “slashers,” to which another friend replied, “Is Sam a slasher?”

That stopped us all in our tracks for a minute. The conversation moved on, but the question stuck with me. Because the answer, of course, is no, whatever he is, he’s not a slasher. But at the same time, he’s obviously related to them in some way. If he’s not the same species as the other figures in that set, then he is at least in the same family or genus. Which then, of course, led me to the question, “What family or genus is that, exactly?”

Looking over the figures in the set, you’ve got a wide variety of characters, but it’s obvious that there’s something connecting them all together. (For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring the presence of Ash, maybe the one time in history that the protagonist in a horror film ever became more popular than the villain. Two if you count Pitch Black.) In trying to figure out what, I ended up going back to the oldest film in the set, Halloween. In that movie, Tommy Doyle sees Michael Myers standing outside and identifies him as “the boogeyman,” and I don’t think he’s wrong.

So yeah, what do all the villains in the Funko series have in common? They’re all the boogeyman. They’re functionally stripped of personhood, having become personas rather than people, rendered down to just a recognizable form (it’s telling that, in the script for Halloween, Michael Myers is simply referred to as “the Shape”) and a pathology. Almost all of them wear a mask of one kind or another, something that effectively erases their identity, that means that they could be anyone, or no one at all, the mask ripped away to reveal only a blankness. They’re impossible to reason with, because they don’t want anything that normal people want. They all have some kind of thematically-relevant “magic powers,” which are explained away in various ways, or sometimes not at all. (The guy from Scream, for example, has the “magic power” that he’s actually always more than one guy, allowing him to do things like be in two places at once.)

Perhaps most telling, though, is that pathology I mentioned. When reading up on the boogeyman before writing this, I came across the following line in the Wikipedia entry for same: “Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving.” Which, yeah, pretty much everyone on this list has their “thing.” With the slashers, of course, it’s generally the teenage “sin” trifecta of booze, drugs, and sex, but the others get more specialized. Hannibal Lecter kills people who are rude, Sam kills people who don’t respect the traditions of Halloween, Jigsaw (as represented here by Billy the Puppet) kills people who don’t cherish life enough, etc.

In a recent discussion about Manhunter and the Hannibal Lecter mythos in general over on my Facebook, fellow author Sean Demory introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, which, yes, is perfect. That’s exactly Lecter’s species, right there. And in that discussion I said how werewolves and vampires in most modern fiction have ceased to be monsters in the usual sense, have become instead a kind of Tolkienesque fantasy race, the contemporary equivalent of elves and orcs, and I said that the modern monster was the magical serial killer, which is also not really a modern monster at all, is it, because that’s pretty much just the boogeyman.

So that’s my argument, then, for the taxonomic nomenclature of these figures. It’d probably take some more deducing to decide whether what we were dealing with was family or genus, but whatever it is, that’s the one: It was the boogeyman.

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