Content Warning: Body Horror

Wednesday I had my follow-up with the surgeon regarding my recent emergency appendectomy, where I received a clean bill of “healing adequately,” even while I was also warned that my recovery process might be slower than normal because of how much time I spent under the knife, and how much damage had already been done.

It seems that what happened was that I had acute appendicitis–the same kind you normally have, the same kind that sends people to the emergency room or sometimes just flat kills you–only I had it a couple of months ago. Because I didn’t display all the most common symptoms (apparently only about 40% of people do), nobody caught on to what it was until my CT scan weeks later. By then, my appendix had literally died inside my abdomen and had begun to rot, sticking various parts of my colon and other internal organs together with necrotic tissue, and slowly poisoning me, which explains why I had been feeling so bad for so long. The doctor said that my operation took roughly three times the normal length of an appendectomy.

The good news is that, all things considered, I seem to be healing admirably. The bad news is that, in the last two weeks, I’ve increased by fully a third the total number of times I’ve been to the ER in my life. Fortunately (?) only one of those visits was for my own emergency appendectomy. The other two have been in the last few days, as Grace has been visited by nosebleeds so severe that they seem to deserve another name. These are not the dramatic nosebleeds of film and television, the ones that indicate you’ve been overtaxing your psychic powers. These are like someone turned on a tap, only bright red blood came out, in quantities that you could readily measure.

Twice now these nosebleeds have sent her to the ER, though, ultimately, there is precious little that even they can do for her. The first time they attempted to cauterize the bleed, which, after a couple of tries, took for a few days. The second time, today, they had to pack her nostril, which doesn’t sound so bad, but I was present for it, and can attest that it was probably some of the worst pain I have ever watched her experience, and I have seen her go through some shit.

Between this and the back problems that she’s already been dealing with, not to mention my slow convalescence, it has been a rough few weeks, to put it mildly. But we’ve had friends who have been able to help, sitting with us in the ER. running to get groceries, helping me up the stairs, that kind of thing. Without them, I don’t know what we would have done, to be honest.

So, hopefully we’ll both be on the mend soon enough, and in the meantime, once again, if I owe you anything and you haven’t heard from me, feel free to remind me, but I also beg your indulgence. It’s been a mean season.

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Content Warning: Body Horror

Anyone who has been following along here or on social media is probably already aware that I have not been feeling 100% for a few months now, at the very least. On Friday, we somewhat abruptly discovered at least part of the reason. After two months (plus) of illness, including various gastrointestinal discomfort, my doctor ordered a CT scan. I went in for the scan expecting to come home right after, but before they performed it they let me know that I would have to wait up to an hour after it was done while they looked at the scan before they sent me home.

Not ten minutes after the scan was completed, someone came out to the lobby and informed me that I was being sent over to the emergency room and, it turned out, from there pretty much directly into surgery. I’m still waiting to get some of the details, but from what I understand my appendix had not burst, as I am led to believe appendixes generally do, but for whatever reason had been rotting inside my body for literally weeks, the necrotic tissue actually sort of gluing parts of my colon together. Which not only explains why I’ve been feeling poorly, but also makes it something of a miracle that I wasn’t doing worse. (This also means that, for the immediate future, that body horror anthology Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I keep half-joking about editing together may hit a little close to home.)

This also neatly solves my conundrum about which of the various movies playing at the theatre now and in the immediate future I’m going to go see. The answer is definitely none of them any time soon.

Surgery was, I gather, pretty serious, and I was under the knife quite a bit longer than is normal for an appendectomy. I spent Friday night in the hospital, and experienced literally the worst pain I have thus far felt in my entire life. I’m home now, and seem to be on the road to recovery, though I imagine that road is probably going to be decently long and more than a little bumpy.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday, a partial list of the indignities visited upon me include three (3) IVs in a single day, two (2) catheters in a single day (which, incidentally, is about five catheters too many), and no less than four different hospital bracelets, for various reasons. I still have a drain to help siphon off some of the unpleasant gunk left over from having a rotting organ in my abdomen for so long.

While this is not exactly how I was hoping to spend my birthday or Halloween, I have a feeling that it’s better than the alternative, and I’m grateful to have at least a partial explanation, finally, for why I’ve been in such bad shape for so long. If I owe anything to anyone, I’ll try to gradually start working through any backlog sometime after the start of November, though I honestly have no idea right now how quickly I’m going to bounce back from this.

Thanks to all the kind wishes from everyone, and to those local folks who have already helped out. I’m afraid that, with Grace recovering from a severe back injury, as well, we may be asking more of you in the future, too. It means more than I can say to have people in my corner at a time like this.

In the meantime, my birthday present to myself this year is, I guess, not being dead yet, which, I gather, might have actually been a possibility for a moment there, and at least seemingly being on the mend, finally, rather than getting worse, even if mending is maybe going to take a pretty long time. As birthday presents go, I’ll take it.

Never Bet the Devil CoverAs you have no doubt gathered by now, the brand-new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing is a real, physical object that has actually happened and is currently sitting on my shelf. What you may not yet know is that it can also be sitting on your shelf, even if you missed out on the Kickstarter and/or didn’t see us at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Through the magic of something called “the internet,” you can now order your very own copy of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, featuring two (2) new stories not published in the previous edition, all new illustrations and header images for every story by the phenomenal M.S. Corley (who is also responsible for that amazing cover), and a new (and very kind) introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

(And hey, if you’re going to pick up a copy, now’s the time to do it, because you can get it at 15% off thanks to Strix’s Halloween sale!)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently wrote up a recommendation list of five vintage vampiric movies for you to watch on Halloween, which you can read over at Innsmouth Free Press? Why would I do that, you ask? The better question might be, Why wouldn’t I? But in this case it’s actually all part of an elaborate scheme meant to help promote Monsters from the Vault, my collection of essays on vintage horror cinema, collected from across more than five years of writing columns for Innsmouth Free Press. Why vampires, though? Well, that just kind of happened. But you’re certainly not limited to vampires. Pick up a copy of the book and you can find plenty of mad scientists, alien invaders, werewolves, mummies, murderers, unusually large insects and rodents, blobs, apes, skeletons, cults, and just about anything else you might want for your seasonal viewing pleasure.

The list also serves double duty by making me feel a little less bad about not being a very good contributor to the Countdown to Halloween. This October has been a little rough. It got off to a good start with the HPLFF, but there have been a variety of other setbacks that have kept me from celebrating the season with the same vigor that I might have on previous occasions. Fortunately, I have at least gotten Halloween decorations up, and tomorrow night I’m heading out to the Tapcade for a horror anthology triple feature courtesy of the Nerds of Nostalgia. I attended the first of these “Nerdoween” triple-features a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become an annual tradition. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered both Demons and Night of the Demons and, to a somewhat lesser extent, both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Since this year’s entertainment is anthology film-themed, the odds of me not having already seen all of them decrease sharply, but we’ll see what they can dig up!

I flew out to Portland for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival (for the third or fourth time now) in large part because I knew that Strix Publishing would have the new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil there. (And they did, and it is glorious, and I’m looking forward to sharing order links with everyone who wasn’t able to back the Kickstarter or make it out to the Festival very soon.)

Apparently, while I was out getting a burrito, Barbara Steele actually came by the table and asked about the book, which is honestly probably better than had she come by while I was around, given that, earlier in the course of events, when confronted by a potential customer who wanted to know what the book was about, I replied, almost word-for-word, with, “It’s a collection of short stories; I think there’s ghosts in it or something.” From then on, I was banned by Simon from attempting to interact with customers or otherwise make sales pitches concerning my own book. I had to avoid eye contact with all future customers, and if they had questions for me they had to ask them of Simon, who would then relay them to me. It was really for the best.

Even had I not been flying out to help hinder Simon’s attempts to promote Never Bet the Devil, however, I would have made it a point to attend on the strength of the fact that this particular HPLFF was the world premiere of Philip Gelatt’s They Remain, the first official adaptation of a Laird Barron story, since Kill List and Sicario don’t count, no matter how much they might feel like they do.

Astute readers may have noticed that I asked Phil to blurb Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and that he was generous and patient enough to do so. If I didn’t already consider Phil a friend before I got to this year’s HPLFF, I definitely would after the events of the Festival. So there’s no way for me to render an unbiased take on They Remain, I say as if there is any such thing as a completely unbiased take on any movie, ever.

With all that in mind, They Remain is a triumphant, beautiful, meticulous, difficult, challenging, intentionally abstract and recursive film. As such, it’s likely to also be a divisive one. For those who didn’t have the patience for, say, The WitchThey Remain will probably drive you nuts. But for those who are willing to meet the film where it is, rather than expecting it to come to them, I think that you will be amply rewarded.

dome-at-sunset

I hesitate to even call They Remain a slow burn. The words “slow burn” give the implication that it takes a while for things to get started, that they smolder for a long time before finally bursting into flame. When the first frame of They Remain flashes up on screen, things have already gotten strange, and that strangeness just continues to accrete on every surface, on every character, on everyone and everything for the remainder of the film’s running time. It’s a recursive movie, as I said, which means that it doesn’t have a typical movie’s build to some sort of satisfying (or unsatisfying, for that matter) climax. It turns back in on itself time and again. Do things get stranger? Sure. But do they really, or have they been that strange the whole time?

They Remain isn’t a movie that offers easy answers. In fact, it isn’t even a movie that offers difficult ones. It’s a film that opens itself up to myriad interpretations, all of them potentially valid, without ever offering even the most astute observer one particular “solution” to seize upon. For some viewers that may prove infuriating, but when a movie tells you repeatedly that you won’t understand it, even as early as in the quote that shows up before the first shot of the film actually appears, you may only have yourself to blame if you walk out of it unsatisfied.

NBtD_FancyThe hours are condensing down into minutes and ticking away until I will be on a plane and headed for Portland and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. This will be my third or fourth year as a guest, not quite consecutively, at what has rapidly become my favorite convention. To make the whole thing sweeter, we’ll be celebrating the launch of the new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. Copies arrived at the Strix Publishing offices yesterday. I have now seen photographic evidence that the book is a real thing and have been assured that it will be present at the Festival!

I’ll be participating in the mass author signing, and also hanging around the Strix Publishing booth in the upper theatre lobby to sign books probably sometime on Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time I’ll be watching movies, jawing with people, or participating in panels and readings. I believe I’m on two panels, one dealing with foreign horror films so that I can annoy all the other panelists by jabbering about Matango and Noroi, and one on fungi (where I can also talk about Matango)!

Unfortunately, I’m not feeling as much better as I had hoped to by now, but unless I take a massive turn for the worse in the next day or so, I’m better enough to head to the Festival. If you see me and I’m looking paler or more uncomfortable than usual, apologies in advance. I’m not contagious or anything, just stuck with a bunch of lingering symptoms that seem to have no intention of vacating the premises in a timely fashion.

In spite of my slow decay, I am extremely excited about the Festival, and especially can’t wait to see the world premiere of Phil Gelatt’s They Remain. For those who are coming out to the HPLFF, definitely track me down and say hi! I’m on the schedule, so I shouldn’t be too hard to find. And for those who won’t make it out, I’ll be posting to social media from the proverbial road, but you probably won’t hear from me on this here blog until I get back, so I’ll see you then!

 

First off, I have never read Stephen King’s doorstop of a novel, and I didn’t see the 1990 TV miniseries  until I was already an adult, so it didn’t leave a huge impression on me. Which is basically a long way of saying that I don’t have any special investment in Andy Muschietti’s 2017 version of It besides that it’s a big budget horror movie and I like horror movies, and also that I don’t know, beyond the broadest strokes, what elements are unique to the movie and what belong to the book.

I was excited to see It less because of anything I knew or had heard about the movie itself–though the trailer looked fine (sans one really dumb scene) and I’d heard mostly good stuff–than because I have been too sick to go anywhere, even to a dumb monster movie, for two weeks, and I had promised myself a trip to the theatre once I was finally feeling up to leaving the house. Luckily, It was a fine enough way to spend most of three hours (once you factor in the obligatory 20 minutes of trailers).

That’s maybe not a very compelling review, but for a movie that is being hailed as the highest grossing horror film of all time (which depends both on how you do your math and what you count as a horror film) and garnering a whole lot of praise, It is mostly just that: fine. For everything that It does great, there’s something else it does that’s lousy, but for each thing that It does that’s lousy, there’s something else that it does great. And in between there’s mostly a bunch of good ideas that it doesn’t completely carry off, that sit somewhere in the acceptable middle ground between great and lousy, which is the ground that most of the movie occupies, to be honest, made notable mainly by the times it ventures into the territory to either side.

Really, the whole film is kind of a seesaw of contradictions. Much has been made of how great the child actors are, which is accurate, they’re pretty fantastic, and they need to be, because their characters are all pretty thinly drawn, so that the actors have to do all the heavy lifting to get any kind of meat on their bones. (And that’s not even getting into the problematic elements of Beverly’s role, which others have covered better than I would.)

There are scare scenes that work wonderfully (whether you find them scary or not), while others fall flat. Even if you don’t have my distaste for the “scary thing rushes haphazardly toward the camera while shrieking” technique that shows up in the trailer, after the 90th time that it happens in two hours, you’ll probably have developed a callus. You get the idea.

ithouse

In a lot of ways, the ridiculous cartoon haunted house that would sit at the center of the movie if the movie’s structure allowed it to have a center (it doesn’t, really, just an episodic series of similar-feeling scares that cascade more than they flow into a necessarily anticlmactic climax), is unintentionally emblematic of both what’s right and wrong in the film. The house is too perfectly stylized (I really loved the sunflowers in the yard), looking like a Halloween haunted attraction, like the backlot construct that it is and not like something that’s connected to the rest of the town that we see.

Similarly, even when the film’s set pieces work, they often feel orphaned in the midst of its coming of age storyline, while that story feels thin; stretched, as it has to be, across so many characters and around so many scares.

There’s a lot that doesn’t gel in It, but those moments that do work sometimes really work, including the entire sequence with the slide projector in the garage. (It works pretty well in the trailer, too, but the movie, happily, takes it quite a bit farther.) I’ll talk more about that scene some other time, because that kind of playing with scope and scale is something that horror needs a lot more of, and it was a welcome addition to the trappings here.

Also welcome is Bill Skarsgard’s jittery, animalistic portrayal of Pennywise. I’ve been vocally critical of the basic design of the new Pennywise, which looks, in still photos, like a Joker henchman, even while also appearing more accurate to what I remember of the character’s turn-of-the-century roots, at least as portrayed in the miniseries. I know that Tim Curry’s turn as Pennywise is beloved by those who saw it when they were young, but I don’t recall it leaving a huge impression on me. Skarsgard’s Pennywise, helped along by the occasional rolling eyes and maw of ragged needle teeth, is almost always unnerving once set in motion,  and really sells the idea of a monster that is just wearing a person-shaped disguise.

The decision to move the action of the film to roughly the era in which the novel was released was probably a good one, though it is executed with Stranger Things subtlety, making it clear time and again that the movie really, really, really, really wants you to be very clear when it is taking place. (Weirdly enough, the action begins in 1988, the exact same year as the inciting events in Channel Zero: Candle Cove, which I had just watched while I was too sick to go see It.)

So that’s It: A fun enough way to spend a couple of hours, with a solid central monster and set pieces that work almost as often as they don’t. It’s a pretty good movie, and one that seems to get better with distance, as the parts I liked stick with me while the parts I didn’t fade from memory. It made all the money in the world, which really isn’t all that surprising, all things considered, and I’ll be curious to see what they do with the sequel. More importantly, though, I’m happy for its success, and hope that it means we’ll start seeing more big-budget (for a horror movie, anyway) horror movies at the multiplex.

But if you are one of the many people I’ve seen who say that they love this version of It but hate movies like Insidious or The Conjuring or what-have-you, then you may want to reexamine one or the other, because they are really not all that different, except some of them are a lot less uneven.

So, good grief, I guess it’s been four years ago  already that I wrote a blog appreciation post on Mike Mignola’s birthday that said just about everything that I’m going to say here again, today. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Mike several times in person, and chat with him frequently on Facebook. (I think I had already met him a time or two by then, as well.) In fact, there’s a fair-to-middling chance that he’ll read this, although maybe not, because he’s on the set of the new Hellboy reboot movie (!) right now, which probably means that he’s got better things to do.

In that four-year-old post, I mention a story that Mike often tells about how reading Dracula as a kid made him realize that all he wanted to do was draw monsters, and I say that it was Mike’s work on Hellboy that made me have a similar realization. That’s all still just as true today as it was four years ago. I’ve been in a lot of Lovecraft-themed anthologies over the years (more than any other kind). I came to Lovecraft early on, along with Barker and others, and he definitely had a big impact on my work. But if you really want to understand what I’m trying to do in my stories, you’re better off looking at guys like Manly Wade Wellman, William Hope Hodgson, and E.F. Benson. And I came to most of those guys through Mike.

More than just an artist, I was inspired by Mike as a storyteller. When someone asks me who my favorite artist or my favorite writer is, the answer is pretty much the same. His approach to the supernatural. His way of repurposing his own inspirations. His ability to make surrealism approachable, to make horror both creepy and fun. Those are what I aspire to in my own work.

If I had an inspirational quote tacked up above my desk (instead of a framed Mignola print), it would probably be this line from Alan Moore’s introduction to Hellboy: Wake the Devil, “… the trick, the skill entailed in this delightful necromantic conjuring of things gone by is not, as might be thought, in crafting work as good as the work that inspired it really was, but in the more demanding task of crafting work as good as everyone remembers the original as being.”

That or perhaps this perfect line from Joe R. Lansdale’s introduction to Baltimore: The Curse Bells, “Isn’t that the job of all great art, to kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see?” Put those two together, and you have a pretty succinct summary of what makes Mike’s works so brilliant, and what I strive toward whenever I sit down in front of the computer.

In that previous blog post, I mentioned that my first collection was dedicated to Mike, and that, if there were any others, they just as easily could be too. Since then, there has been one other, plus a variety of chapbooks, a collection of essays on vintage horror films, and even a licensed novel for Privateer Press. None of them are dedicated to Mike (I already used that dedication up early on), but most of them probably could be. And maybe it’s no coincidence that my first collection is due back in print in a new deluxe edition sometime in the next few weeks, with pre-orders closing literally tomorrow. When it’s released, that dedication to Mike will still be there, front and center.

So happy birthday to my favorite creator and my biggest creative inspiration. If you are (somehow) reading this and are unfamiliar with Mike’s staggering body of work, do yourself a favor and go pick up one of his many books. They’re all good.

Why can't they all be that easy