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.

 

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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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While I was in San Jose, Grace was doing some remodeling around the house. I knew this much already, though I hadn’t stopped to consider the thematic unity of it, what with me being at the Winchester House and all. We had talked before I left about some of it. Replacing the old TV stand, lowering the bar in the kitchen and putting some built-in shelves underneath it on the living room side. That sort of thing.

When I came home, I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, intentionally not looking around, because I figured she might want me to be surprised by the changes to the house. And when she was ready and I walked up the stairs, I expected to be surprised, indeed.

I didn’t know the half of it. Could not even imagine. I’m sitting in the midst of it now, and I still can barely imagine. I was so overwhelmed by what I came home to that my brain processed the information it was presented with backward. Hey, I thought, the TV is on the wall now! Only then, moments later: Wait, that’s not my TV…

The speakers are up in the corners of the ceiling, my brain informed me, translating information thrown to it from my widened eyes, pupils no doubt expanded in their attempts to process this new data quickly enough to make sense of it. Followed only later by the added information: There are speakers now.

My sound system went out some time back, and for ages now I’ve needed a new TV. Grace and I had talked about what my plans were in both regards, but they had been pipe dreams for me. “In a few years, when I finally get around to it, this is what I would like to do.” While I was in San Jose, Grace had done it. Done it all. But not alone. Her family had come to help, Steve and Bear, Jeremy and Jay, Darin and James and other friends had all pitched in, in various ways, to bring this project to fruition while I was away.

I write this now because last night, when I was too exhausted from my trip and a day spent flying that I couldn’t process any of this information, I promised an explanation. Even as I type these words, though, I feel enormously inadequate to the task of summarizing what all this means to me, just as I know this post should be accompanied by a photograph, but no photo can capture it all. It’s more than just the TV and the sound. New lights in the living room and kitchen. So many things. But it’s more than just the things, too. It’s the people who came together to help make them happen.

Perhaps this is not the part that I should share of this experience, but when I saw everything, I just sat down on the couch and wept. I was so touched, so overcome. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense, or maybe it makes perfect sense. I’m not sure I know which is which anymore; maybe I never did.

That’s the surprise that I came home to, what so many of the people closest to me were working on while I was in California, with some of the other people closest to me. I wish I had some better way to express how it makes me feel, but I don’t. Right now, this is all I have. There’s apparently a betting pool about what I’ll watch first. I haven’t decided what that’s going to be yet, but I’ll let you all know when I do.

I’m writing this from my hotel room in San Jose, California on the day after The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which was held at the Winchester Mystery House, of all places. But more on that in a moment…

The day before yesterday, I got up at 4 in the morning, after staying up until much closer to that point than I would have preferred, and got on a plane bound for Los Angeles. On the way, I watched Blade Runner 2049 for the first time, a movie probably better suited to a bigger screen than the back of the seat in front of me, but one that seemed thematically appropriate for an early morning flight into LAX, and one that was almost exactly the length of my flight.

Unfortunately, my flight was delayed by just a few minutes, and the shuttle system at LAX delayed me even further, causing me to miss my connecting flight to San Jose by a mere 5 minutes, which was still enough. I was booked onto the next connecting flight, which was scheduled to leave some three hours later. After some more juggling around from terminal to terminal, I settled in to wait. Being stuck in LAX for three hours was an adventure, though not always of the most pleasant sort, and those who follow me on social media may have already heard about the guy I was sitting next to who was on what was clearly a business call, discussing Google search results for how to kill a werewolf. “The public knows why they’re searching for how to kill a werewolf and not a leprechaun.”

After a handful of other misadventures, I finally made it into the San Jose airport, where I was picked up by Sam Cowan, of Dim Shores fame, who was also going to be my roommate for at least the first leg of the weekend. Before we could get settled into our room, however, we were given a key card and a room number, as is the style at the time, and when we swiped the card and opened the door we found a room in disarray. Fold-out couch partly folded out. Children’s water wings lying on the floor. Half-empty glasses strewn about the place. A very distinctive black cowboy hat perched in a position of prominence atop the half-folded-out bed. (Ross Lockhart later reminding us that a hat on the bed is, distinctly, bad luck.)

We backed out of the room that was, clearly, not ours, and explained the situation to the front desk. They apologized profusely, gave us another room that was, in fact, ours, and things went on from there, though I can’t help speculating on the whereabouts and, indeed, the fates of the people who once occupied that room. Thoughts of Lowlife and other movies about low-rent criminal enterprises gone terribly awry flitted through my mind. Mostly, though, I just kept kicking myself for not swiping that very specific and almost certainly cursed hat.

Friday night was readings and mind-expanding, sometimes mind-altering discussions. But the real festivities began on Saturday morning, when we all carpooled over to the Winchester Mystery House. It was my first time attending that fabled structure, though it has been one of the places in the world that I most wanted to go at least since reading about a (renamed and fictionalized) version of it in Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.

29571133_10213283720221670_1687390744750188255_nBecause of our special status as part of the Symposium, we entered through the gift shop, rather than exiting that way, and literally the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was a Drunkard’s Dream-style penny (actually quarter, in this case) arcade. One of those animatronic dioramas, this time a drunkard in a cemetery, sprawled atop a grave as devils and witches peered at him from behind the tombstones. For those who have read my story in Terror in 16-Bits, you’ll have some idea of why this delighted me so very much.

Ross (whose perspicacity is, you may have noticed, a running theme throughout this account) was perhaps the first to point out the… irony? The dissonance? Of having a symposium in a house built from a fortune generated by America’s history of gun violence – and, perhaps, if you believe the (probably apocryphal but always compelling and narratively satisfying) legends about the origins of the strange structure, built by the guilt or the ghosts or both that came from those deaths–on the very day that the March for Our Lives was kicking off. I don’t think the juxtaposition was lost on any of us, especially when, right outside the window of the room where the symposium was held, we could watch the public play at a shooting gallery, or pose in front of a green screen with what I assume were prop rifles, though I never looked close enough to find out for sure.

The Symposium itself: Like last year, it was as if you took a normal, weekend-long convention and compressed it, leaving behind something midway between a writing convention, an academic summit, and a discussion salon. Call it the essence of a con; convention extract. Or, perhaps it was just a writing convention run through Cody Goodfellow’s ingenious literary vaporizor, so that we could all inhale its most potent elements and get them delivered into our bloodstream that much more quickly.

I moderated a panel on the Weird in film, television, and video games; a panel in which I found myself in the unusual position (where discussions of cinema are concerned, at least) of being hopelessly outclassed, surrounded by actual filmmakers and those who labor behind the scenes to get movies made or distributed or both. It was a fascinating discussion, I think, and perhaps even an illuminating one? Time may yet tell.

After the panels and the readings we all filed through the house itself on an abbreviated tour. I took a number of photos from outside, which you can find on my Instagram, but photos inside the house were, sadly, forbidden. It was strange, as promised, with stairs and doors leading to nowhere, though some of the more extravagant items of legend were nowhere to be found, at least in the part of the tour through which we were conducted. (The seance room, for instance, was quite small, and lacked the thirteen fireplaces with which Alan Moore’s story populated it, though there were plenty of instances of the number thirteen throughout the rest of the house.)

It was also not the least bit spooky, which was both disappointing and not. Partly, it felt like what it is: a tourist attraction, whatever air of mystery or menace it might once have held dispelled by years of gradual conversion to a sort of amusement park. More, though, I think that it is just that there is perhaps nothing ominous to feel within the walls. The story that Sarah Winchester built the house at the behest of the spirits is a good story; compelling and filled with thematic potential. And of course that beautiful line, “The sound of hammers must never stop,” which has been used so well by so many over the years.

But the other explanation, that Sarah Winchester was a frustrated amateur architect, prevented from expressing herself in any other way than through the constant modifications and experiments of her own home, a form of expression that her vast wealth afforded her even while society denied others, tells a story that is just as compelling, and within the walls of the house, feels more likely, more real.

By the time we left the Winchester House, night had fallen over San Jose. We drove back to the hotel, had a few drinks at the bar, and retired to one of the rooms to continue our rambling discussions long into the night. Then, finally, we all slept, we all awoke again, and most departed, leaving me to type these recollections in my hotel room while they are still fresh. As is always the case in a situation like this, it was a delight to see everyone, and a shame, always, not to see everyone more. Thanks to Scott and Anya for putting this one-of-a-kind experience together, and to everyone who supported it, who attended, who read or did panels, and anyone else who in any way helped this happen. It is unique, and it is special, and it is, above all, Weird.

Now it’s time to get ready to go home, to get back to writing, reinvigorated by the thoughts and words that have passed through me during this time, in this place. Typing is not unlike hammering, after all, and the sound of hammers must never stop.

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In just a few days, I’ll be at the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Not counting a brief layover at LAX, this will be my first time in California, the only state west of the Mississippi that I haven’t visited, excepting Alaska and Hawaii, the “freak states.” At the time of this writing, you still have just over ten hours to support the Outer Dark Symposium’s IndieGoGo campaign, where you can snag copies of Never Bet the DevilThe Book of Starry Wisdom, and other, rarer delicacies while supplies last.

I’ll be around for the whole shebang, assuming that I don’t sneak off into the Mystery House early and get eaten by a ghost, never to be seen again. I’m not scheduled for any readings, though I will be present for the Friday night pre-party stuff sponsored by Word Horde.

On Saturday, when the actual Symposium itself kicks off, I’ll be moderating a panel on the Weird in movies, TV, and even video games. (Which, fortunately, there are some other panelists who seem eminently capable of tackling that last one, because I am way out on a limb there.) We’ll talk about some of the recent ones, and what they (hopefully) mean for more Weird on the big (and small) screen, but knowing me, we’ll probably also talk about some older stuff, too.

There are going to be a lot of great guests at this year’s Symposium, and if the last one was any indication, it should be a hell of a time. If you’re already headed there, I’ll see you in San Jose this weekend. If not, you can still support a cool program and pick up some great weird literature (or Kino Lorber DVDs or other stuff) by backing the IndieGoGo sometime in the next few hours!