As I write this, it’s still Friday the 13th for a few more hours, but I haven’t watched a Jason movie yet. May not, at this rate, more’s the pity. Still, it’s been a good, busy day. Grace accepted a new position at her job today, as a QA Auditor instead of a QC Supervisor. It’s a move that’s been in the works for a while, and one that we’re both really happy about. It also means that she should be able to work from home a little more over the next few weeks, until she’s back on her feet and able to go back to work.

GuignolYesterday, I turned in the page proofs for my third collection, coming later this year from Word Horde. It’s going to be called Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and it’s a little rougher than my previous collections. Not as far as story quality or presentation–hopefully that’s all still pretty polished–but as far as the tone and tenor of the stories. Don’t worry, I think I’m still writing fun horror, but some of these come from–and go to–a darker, harder place than I’ve gone before. I think there may also be more monsters-per-page in this book than in any of my others, so that’s something to look forward to.

It was good timing, because today the Publishers Weekly review of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales went live. They called it “a veritable smorgasbord of horrific thrills and chills” and “a must-read for hardcore fans of horror,” so it could be a whole lot worse. I’ll have more info about Guignol as the release date gets closer, and we should have a pre-order link coming hopefully very soon.

If you absolutely can’t wait, there’s also a flash sale going on right now at Strix Publishing where you can get Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings for 15% off!

Grace’s broken leg, page proofs, and freelance work have been keeping me pretty busy of late, but I have managed the time to knock out a couple of other projects, including writing about Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies for Unwinnable. I think that’s it for this Friday the 13th. Maybe I’ll watch that Jason movie after all…

MilpoolSo, this doesn’t quite meet the standard set by previous events at the end of last year and the beginning of this one which I dubbed “mean seasons,” but it’s certainly less than optimal. Just as both her health and mine were starting to get set to rights, Grace broke her leg last week, necessitating what was, by my count, our sixth or seventh trip to the emergency room within the last year.

As far as we know right now, it’s a nice, clean fracture that should heal well and shouldn’t require surgery. That’s the good news. She can’t put any weight on it for a couple of weeks, and will have to wear a robot-foot-looking walking boot cast thingy for probably another month after that, at least. That’s the less good news.

According to her Official Account, she broke her leg while fishing because she hooked a catfish of such monstrous size and strength that her attempts to land it caused these terrible injuries. Though I was present at the time, I can neither confirm nor deny this account. What I can say is that I also fell as a result of these events, and while none of my bones are broken, I managed to put my back/hip/side/etc all out of place.

Fortunately, unless we hear something new in the next few weeks, we should both heal up just fine, sooner or later. This is just another set of severe tire damage spikes on what has already been a long, long road to recovery for both of us. When this one is over, we could really use some time off.

TheDark37-220x340The latest issue of The Dark magazine just went live the other day, and with it, my story “The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene).” That may not sound much like one of my titles, but it’s definitely one of my stories, and one that I’m pretty proud of. Over on Facebook, Scott Nicolay said, “I don’t know another author who can make a story about a slasher film as simply and elegantly…poignant…as Orrin Grey does here.” While the first review of the new issue at SFRevu called it a “Good story which just comes together perfectly.”

It’s also the first time one of my new stories was available to read online in a long time. The story follows the daughter of an actress who made her debut–and, unfortunately, also her swan song–in a low-budget slasher flick. Think the 2015 film The Final Girls, but veering off in a very different direction.

When I was a younger horror movie nerd, I didn’t think I liked slasher movies much. It took the insights of friends and colleagues like Adam Cesare, Trevor Henderson, and Stephen Graham Jones for me to get to the place where I am today, where I could even write a story like “The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene).”

This isn’t the only story I’ve got coming out that deals with movies and, specifically, the act of watching them. My “haunted” movie theatre story “The Granfalloon” is being reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume 10 later this month! (You can preorder it right now!) “The Granfalloon” first appeared in Darker Companions late last year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it showing back up in the TOC of The Best Horror of the Year!

Back when I still worked at a video store, a woman came in with her young son–he was probably around 9 or 10 years old, but I am also notoriously terrible at guessing the ages of the children, so who knows? He badly wanted to rent the Brendan Fraser Mummy movie, which she had seen, but she was concerned that it would be too violent and scary for him. She wanted to show him Raiders of the Lost Ark, because she had watched it when she was about his age.

Overhearing all this conversation as they browsed the shelves, when she came up to the counter to ask my opinion, I reminded her of some of the stuff that actually happens in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The face-melting. The scene with the airplane propeller. Etc. They ended up leaving with both movies, and I felt pretty good about that day.

I tell this story now to illustrate that people have short, selective memories. People my age who ostensibly grew up reading comic books complain that comic books are “too political now” or whatever, handily forgetting how ludicrously heavy-handed the messages in comic books often were when I was a kid. Most recently, I have seen people picking at the notion of a sort of all-ages line of stuff for Warhammer and Warhammer 40K.

Now, leaving aside the fact that I, like a lot of people, first got into Warhammer and Warhammer 40K when I was a kid of about the age these books are probably targeted toward, sure, Warhammer may seem like an odd property to adapt for youngsters. “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war,” and all that. But it obviously appeals to kids, and it’s certainly not the first odd-duck property to get the all-ages makeover, nor the most unlikely. (Not to mention the fact that anything that acknowledges the obvious existence of kids in this setting is only going to be a big plus for more robust world building.)

I have said before that it was the height of irony to me that, when I was a kid, parent groups were freaking out about Dungeons & Dragons while Robocop was over here casually transitioning into an actual Saturday morning cartoon show. They made a cartoon of The Toxic Avenger, for Godzilla’s sake. And, for that matter, let’s talk about Godzilla. All children everywhere love Godzilla, the walking embodiment of the horrors of nuclear war.

If you are a nerd, then chances are your nerd shit appeals to children. That’s probably why you got into it when you were a kid. And anything that appeals to children is going to get marketed to them sooner or later, if it isn’t already. This is not only inevitable, it’s also fine. Calm down about it.

There is nothing wrong with politics in your comic books, or with Warhammer stuff aimed at middle-graders. We were all skimming issues of White Dwarf when we were middle-graders, and those of us who aren’t throwing a fit about this new development obviously turned out fine.

Introducing new people to the things you like is great, and if those people then come in and change those things, that is also great. You don’t have to like every iteration; they aren’t all going to be for you, and some of them are probably going to be overtly bad. But some of the ones you like are probably also overtly bad, so, again, calm down. The grim darkness of the far future is a big damn table. It has room for a lot of different seats.

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Illustration done by Matt Smith as cover art for an LP by the Minibosses.

 

As anybody reading this is probably already aware, I love Hellboy and all things Mike Mignola. To the extent that there’s any one person I want to be when I grow up, it’s him. Except for the part where I can’t draw, so I have to stick with writing, instead. (Which he is also better at than me, curse that handsome devil!) Anyway, what you may not already know is that I am also a huge fan of games with room tiles, even though they have let me down so many times in the past. Put those two things together, and you’ve got this Kickstarter that I backed within a few hours of it going live.

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As of my writing this, the Hellboy board game has already raised well over a million dollars, unlocked piles of stretch goals, and opened up an optional add-on in the form of one of my favorite Hellboy storylines, “Hellboy in Mexico.” Now I’ll finally have some luchador models to fight that tube of knockoff Universal monster figures I bought a couple of years ago. And it’s still got ten days to go!

Backers already get more than a hundred miniatures, several of them pretty big, as well as a Conqueror Worm expansion and tons of other stuff including, of course, room tiles. Honestly, I don’t know where they’re going to fit them all in the box, which, incidentally, also boasts a new piece of Mike Mignola art.

If this sounds like an advertisement for someone else’s Kickstarter, well, it kind of is. Not because they need my signal boost–did I mention they’ve already raised over a million bucks?–but because there’s a really big cross-section of the people who are likely to be reading this blog who are probably also interested in a Hellboy board game. If you’re in that cross-section and you somehow haven’t already heard about this before now, here’s your heads up. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’.

MV5BMTA4OWQ0NGYtNDgxNC00MzI4LTgzNzktYzAxMDcyMGI3OTFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTIyODMzMzA@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_Way back when I attended Panic Fest in January, I saw the trailer for Ghost Stories for the first (eight or so) time(s), and it instantly became pretty much my most anticipated movie of the year. If you want to know why, go check out that trailer. It’s a doozy.

Yesterday, I finally saw the movie, and, naturally, it couldn’t completely live up to my expectations. But that has more to do with me than with any failing on the film’s part.

Ghost Stories is an unnerving helping of existential dread, layered on thick. However, much of its effectiveness depends upon a deft bit of misdirection, so if you’re planning to see the movie and would prefer not to be spoiled, I recommend stopping now and going and doing that very thing, if you’re someplace where you can.

Still with me?

The bit of misdirection I mentioned up above is also a part of what will make the movie less satisfying for some. It’s not so much that the movie has a twist ending–though I suppose it does, and ultimately one of those infamous “twist endings” that are used in editorial guidelines as examples of the kind you’re no longer allowed to employ–as that the structure of the film makes it seem like the three ghost stories of the title are the main focus, when in fact they are little more than distractions filled with hints of the real story, which is playing out in the framing narrative.

I’ll try to avoid going into detail as to precisely what that “twist ending” is, but suffice it to say that the film ends on more of a spook-block than I would normally prefer. Here it was used to what I think was good effect, but it still isn’t my specific brand of poison.

That said, I also kind of wanted the film to spend more time with our debunker investigating the various stories, and less time with the unraveling of the debunker’s own narrative. A film that joins up my love of ghost stories with my love of movies about people digging through papers and looking at old photographs. But that’s not a failing on the part of the movie. That’s me asking a film to cater to my particular interests, and if I want that, I need to make my own movie, and not get mad when other people make theirs.

Like the ending or hate it, when Ghost Stories is firing, it fires quite well, and does a lot with very little. Shadows and shapes and strange sounds and nods to classic British horror, including an out-of-focus bit straight out of “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” In classic horror anthology fashion, there’s even a “comedy relief” segment that is frequently quite funny but not much of a relief, as it also layers on the discomfort pretty thick.

It also bears mentioning that Ghost Stories has a virtually all-male cast, and the handful of female “characters” who do exist are there mostly to haunt or torment the male characters. Of course, you can find justifications for this in the film’s framing narrative, and it could certainly be argued from the ending that the film contains fewer characters, period, than it appears to on its surface, but it still feels like an observation that needs to be made.

I had a good time with Ghost Stories–any movie that plays the “Monster Mash” over the closing credits is obviously in good standing with me–but perhaps one of the best things it did was to remind me of one of the many reasons I love Richard Matheson’s Hell House (and the cinematic adaptation of same) so much. Spoilers for a 47-year-old novel and a movie that is nearly as old follow:

When you’re telling a story specifically about a paranormal skeptic setting out to debunk frauds and the superstitiously credulous, you run the risk of painting yourself into one of two corners. Either you end up without a supernatural element in your story, or you end up inadvertently proving the superstitious people at least somewhat right, which seldom paints a terribly flattering picture of science and rationality. Of course, there are plenty of ways to dodge this particular trap, but all-too-many things over the years have fallen into it.

Hell House is particularly great for the way it manages to both have its cake and eat it, too. The skeptic and the true believer are both half right about what’s going on, and the only thing preventing either one of them from figuring it out 100% is their unshakable conviction that they already have.

For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed watching and participating in the Save Horror March Madness bracket on Twitter, where the best-reviewed horror films from the Save Horror website battle for dominance. The bracket has been going for five years now, with Halloween winning the first two and the original Nightmare on Elm Street winning the next two. Back in 2016, I posted about my pleasure at seeing Nightmare walk away with the prize, even if it isn’t necessarily the movie I would have chosen to lead the pack.

This year, at long last, The Thing took that coveted top spot, after a contentious and dramatic bracket, in which at least one movie won by only a single vote. While some serious mistakes were made in the course of the month, I’m very happy to see The Thing finally getting its due, for the same reason that I was pleased to see revisionism (rightly) elevating A Nightmare on Elm Street to the status of genuine classic. In fact, there are few films in history that have benefited as much from hindsight as The Thing, a box office underperformer widely panned by critics at the time of its release, which has since risen to a prominence of popularity and critical acceptance that it could not even have dreamed of some thirty-odd years ago, though it has always deserved.

As far as I know, every year the final battle has come down to Halloween and one other film. This, to my mind, is right and proper. While this was the year for The Thing to take its spot at the top of the pack, Halloween is, if not a better film, then at least a more representative one. In fact, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and if I had to show someone just one movie, with the knowledge that they would never see another, and use that movie to explain to them everything that horror cinema is, has ever been, and is capable of ever being, I would probably show them the original Halloween, a movie which predicts the future while sampling from the past in ways that make it feel like the perfect picture to encapsulate the spectrum of horror cinema, if any one film ever can.

Though they came out just a few years apart, and they’re by the same director, Halloween and The Thing are very different movies. Just as Halloween is very different from A Nightmare on Elm Street, even though they share a subgenre and are the genesis point for two of the big three slasher franchises. (The original Friday the 13th is also pretty different from either one of them.)

And that’s part of the point of these brackets, right? Part of the fun. We’re not really trying to pick the best movie, we’re enjoying the thought exercise that comes with putting some of our favorite movies next to one-another and seeing how we react. Seeing how it changes the way we think about them, and about their relationships, and our relationship to them.

So anyway, consider this a glass of J&B Scotch raised in honor of The Thing and, if you follow me on Twitter, in celebration of not having to watch me proselytize for it a couple of times a day anymore.

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