I’m saddened by the passing of Wes Craven, though I don’t think I ever followed his career assiduously enough to be considered a fan. Like any other horror buff my age, Scream was a big deal for me when it hit theatres, even though prior to it I’m not actually positive I had seen more than maybe one or two Wes Craven films. Of course, I grew up with Freddy, just as I did with Jason and Michael Myers, but, like with those other two, I grew up with the sequels to the original movies, and never saw the ones that started it all until I was already an adult. I’ve still never seen any of Craven’s pre-Nightmare films, except the so-bad-its-good Swamp Thing. Maybe this will be the impetus I need to finally check some of them out…

If A Nightmare on Elm Street was the only thing that Wes Craven had contributed to our collective mythology, that would have been enough to cement his position as a legend in the field. While its legacy may have been diluted by sequels, the original Nightmare on Elm Street remains one of the weirdest and most potent horror films ever made, with imagery as indelible as any ever committed to celluloid, and ideas that are more surreal and bizarre than you would imagine possible in something that launched a franchise and effectively built a movie studio.

Of course, Nightmare isn’t Wes Craven’s only legacy. He’d already made a name for himself by the time Freddy Krueger slunk onto cinema screens, and he continued to create horror flicks long after, giving him one of the most consistent filmographies in the business. And while that filmography is loaded with as many duds as gems, it’s difficult to deny Craven’s impact on the genre. As Kim Newman said on Facebook, “Wes Craven reinvented horror at least four times – most directors don’t even manage it once.”

It’s impossible to talk about Craven without talking about Scream and Nightmare, but a big one for me from his “lesser” works has always been The Serpent and the Rainbow, starring a pre-Independence Day Bill Pullman. And of course, we need to mention best/worst movie contender Deadly Friend.  As Ross Lockhart observed, who else would have given us this ridiculous thing?

So here’s to you, Wes. Given some of the dominant themes of your oeuvre, it seems somehow inappropriate to say “rest in peace,” so instead I’ll content myself with celebrating the work of a master of horror, and second Thomas Boatwright‘s suggestion that we consider this the official kickoff of Halloween for this year.

Cthulhu Fhtagn!Yesterday was the 125th birthday of that cantankerous Old Gent from Providence himself, HP Lovecraft. Today, just about everyone I know is at the NecronomiCon in Providence, a convention celebrating the works and influence of one of the most important writers in the history of weird fiction, even as debates continue to rage within the genre about his racism, and various other problematic aspects of his life and work.

My name is one that is, I think, pretty closely tied to Lovecraft’s, whether I want it to be or not. Of the fifty-plus stories that I’ve published or sold to various places over the years, more a dozen have been in explicitly Lovecraft-themed publications, the most recent being Ross Lockhart’s Cthulhu Fhtagn! which was just released from Word Horde. In October I’ll be attending my third consecutive HP Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest. I don’t guess I get to deny that I’m a Lovecraftian writer, but at the same time, I’ve worked very hard to avoid dipping more than just the very tips of my toes into what I think of as the Mythos, instead taking cues from Lovecraft’s themes, the atmosphere of his tales, and running with those.

For last year’s HPLFF, I drove from Kansas City to Portland, picking up fellow guest and good friend Jesse Bullington on the way. During the long drive through countryside that was at turns bleak and beautiful, we talked of many things, and one of the topics that came up was “Why Lovecraft?” What was it about the man that made his legacy endure, while others were, if not forgotten, then certainly not remembered with such fervor by so many? I hypothesized that Lovecraft’s lasting influence had a lot to do with the fact that he was a kind of crossroads where many prior traditions of weird and supernatural fiction intersected, and from whence they then spread out again to go their various new directions. It’s a thought that I expanded upon a bit for my contribution to last year’s online DelToroCon.

Like a lot of people–maybe most people, in this day and age–Lovecraft was essentially my introduction to weird fiction. I came to Lovecraft by way of Stephen King, whose obvious homages to him in stories like “Jerusalem’s Lot” led me inexorably to checking out the work of the Old Gent himself. From there, Lovecraft was both the key and the door to an entire pantheon, not of hideous and ancient god-monsters, but of other writers of weird and spectral fiction both before and since.

On that same long car ride with Jesse, while acknowledging that I was considered a Lovecraftian writer, I said that, in a more perfect–or perhaps simply more accurate–world, I would instead be known as a Bensonian writer, or a Jamesian one (MR, not Henry), or a Hodgsonian or a Wellmanian one, and so on. Lovecraft was my introduction to that world, and as such he will always have a place in my DNA, but as far as the shape that my own writing has taken, there are hordes of other names that share at least equal blame in making me the creator that I am today. Jean Ray, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, and countless others all threw their particular influences into the mix. And of course none of that is even mentioning movies, which have had a huge impact on my imagination and my writing, or the person who is undoubtedly my greatest influence, Mike Mignola.

Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews, about how it was reading Dracula that made him really realize that all he wanted to do was draw and tell stories about monsters. My similar clarifying moment came about as a result of reading Mignola’s own work on his ever-expanding Hellboy universe. The fact that Mignola–like Lovecraft–proved to be a portal through which I discovered many of the other writers and creators who have most influenced me was icing on the cake.

So here’s to you, Mr. Lovecraft. If you’re not already chilling with the ghouls in the Dreamlands, may our continued excavations leave you and all your forebears and descendants restless in your graves.

So. August.

Recently, I picked up a temporary part-time job helping out at a local college bookstore for a few weeks. I did this for a variety of reasons, partly because money has been a little tight, partly to see how a part-time job would impact my freelancing schedule without a lot of commitment. What was supposed to be a 12-hour-a-week job when I applied for it is shaping up to be more like 25-30 hours a week, so how it’s impacting my schedule is: a lot. That said, and as is inevitably the case, work has also picked up, and August is already looking to be a very busy month for a handful of different reasons. These two things together are putting a strain on my free time, to put it mildly.

Something more is going on, though. 2015 has been a rough year. Not exactly bad, necessarily, at least not all the way through, but rough. Lots of exceptionally good things mixed in with lots of exceptionally bad or difficult ones. I think I’m just now starting to really get the distance that I need from the things I learned and experienced at the beginning of the year in order to really understand the damage that it all did, and that’s taking some adjustment to get used to. Which I guess is all a long-ish way of saying that, if you don’t hear from me much this month, don’t worry too much about it. If August does manage to kill me somehow, I’ve already left instructions on social media for my corpse to be propped up in front of the computer so it can try to finish my deadlines, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. More likely, I’ll emerge from the other side of this month as I have emerged from most everything else up to this point: Battered, perhaps, but ready for another round.

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.


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