So, last night I sat on couches detailed like the spacesuits from Planet of the Vampires and watched three John Carpenter movies that I have seen roughly 1,000 times each (and, in at least one case, been quoted in a book about) with a bunch of other movie nerds at the third annual CarpenterFest at the Screenland Armour and it was great. We saw Assault on Precinct 13 and Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. It was hosted by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia/Nightmare Junkhead podcast, who were kind enough to single me out for some praise before the last movie.

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Before the event, I called CarpenterFest the film fest that I am duty bound to attend while also being able to recreate it in my living room at a moment’s notice. That proved true in this case, but watching movies in my living room is a very different experience from watching them in a theater full of people. And in spite of the aforementioned having seen them 1,000 times, I had actually forgotten that Prince of Darkness ends on a “top still spinning” scene, just as The Thing does.

In the run-up to CarpenterFest, I had a couple of things drop that I haven’t gotten a chance to post about before now. My review of Torso and The Wizard of Gore went live over at Unwinnable, and while I’m not supposed to pick favorites from my own writing, I’m really happy with how this double-review turned out.

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Also, a little while ago, I was asked to guest-host an episode of Pseudopod. I was happy to do it, especially when they told me that the episode they wanted me to introduce was two stories by Manly Wade Wellman. As I say in the intro, there are three “old dead white guy” writers who I think are probably the biggest influences on the way I write today, and those writers are E.F. Benson, William Hope Hodgson, and Manly Wade Wellman. The two stories are “These Doth the Lord Hate” and “The Golgotha Dancers,” both pretty great, and the latter an excellent example of Wellman’s aptitude for weird creatures.

If you aren’t already familiar with Wellman’s work and this episode piques your interest, I cannot recommend him highly enough, and would suggest starting with his Silver John stories or the recent Shadowridge Press reissue of Worse Things Waiting, complete with the original illustrations by Lee Brown Coye.

It’s the first day of December, which means that I’ve finally started reading Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent, illustrated by Yves Tourigny, which has been sitting on my shelf, taunting me for some time now. The plan is to do it up like a proper advent calendar and read one story a day from now until Christmas.

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In the meantime, for those who can’t get enough of hearing me ramble about movies, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to be reviewing a lot more of them in the near future. Most of them won’t be here, however, they’ll be in various other venues, notably Signal Horizon, where I have the title of “Monster Ambassador,” maybe the best business title I have ever gotten, and Unwinnable.

Right now, you can read my recent reviews of the 40th anniversary Blu-ray of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (which I had never actually seen before) and the Unearthed Films Blu-ray of The Unnamable (which I had also never seen before) over at Signal Horizon, and a double review of Torso and The Wizard of Gore are coming soon to Unwinnable.

If you’re really eager, you can catch up on previous reviews of Blade of the Immortal and Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” that I wrote for Unwinnable while you wait.

I haven’t written a review for it anywhere, but if I only convince you to watch one movie in the immediate future, make it Errementari on Netflix. In a year without a Lowlife, Errementari would have no trouble being my favorite film of 2018 so far. As it is, the two are neck-and-neck. For some idea of what Errementari is like, think a Basque version of Pan’s Labyrinth set during the Carlist Wars, with suit actors playing devils that look like medieval drawings. In other words, it is extremely my jam.

As with most people, I’m sure, money is a bit tight as we head into the holiday season. If you happen to have anything to spare that you’d like to throw into my proverbial hat, this is my periodic reminder of my Ko-fi account, where you can help me pay for monster movies or (as is the more likely case of late) vet bills. Or, you can always buy yourself (or someone on your gift list) a copy of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales or one of my other books. Every sale helps!

Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday for all sorts of reasons, but just as the agnostic in me can enjoy Christmas or any other non-secular holiday (with its own freight of both Christian and pre-Christian baggage), I can also still take a day to spend time with the people I love and remind myself to be grateful for the things that I have.

This year I have lots of things to be grateful for. After a particularly tough year in the Grey demesne, the overall health of our populace seems to be returning to something more resembling “normal.”

More than perhaps anything else, I’m thankful for the people in my life. I am lucky enough to have friends who are closer than family. Some of them live near me, and some are very far away. Some I have already seen this holiday season, and others I have never actually stood in the same room with, but to all of you, wherever you are, you are, in so many ways, the best parts of my life. If it weren’t for you folks and dumb monster movies, there’d be very little to make any of this worth doing.

I’m grateful to have Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales out in the wild, and grateful to everyone who has purchased it, read it, reviewed it, and so on. I’m particularly grateful to be working with Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde once again and hey, on the subject, they’re having a Black Friday sale that runs through the weekend where you can get 25% off any of their very fine titles, including the aforementioned Guignol or Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

I’m thankful for the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird and everyone who makes it possible, which, more on that to come. I’m grateful for some story sales that I can’t announce just yet, but very soon.

I’ve recently come off a pretty good October, and I’m grateful to the local Kansas City film community for helping to make that happen. Of special note, I appreciate the folks at Screenland who host great programming all year round, and to Elijah at Magnetic Magic Rentals who always shows us a great time at Analog Sundays, and, of course, the Nerds of Nostalgia who put on the Nerdoween triple-feature, which has been my annual tradition for four years now. I’m grateful that Panic Fest is only a couple of months away, and that I live in a place that has one of the best genre film fests around!

This could go on and on, and maybe it should, but I’m going to call it a night. Basically, it can be all-too-easy to get caught up in the agonizing hellscape that our current timeline often seems to be intent on contorting itself into, so sometimes it’s good to stop and remember what I’m grateful for. Which, if you’re reading this, is mostly you.

(And monster movies.)

Today is the day after the midterm elections here in the United States, so things are perhaps marginally better than they were yesterday. At least in Kansas we managed to replace Kevin Yoder with Sharice Davids and we got Laura Kelly for governor instead of Chris Kobach, so we could certainly have done worse.

I don’t talk a lot about politics on here, and that isn’t about to change now, but I did talk a little bit about politics on the latest episode of the Missouri Loves Company podcast with Brock Wilbur and Viv Kane (if that is her real name…). Of course, we also talked about fun horror, that video game of The Thing that they made years ago, what Jordan Peele is up to these days, Clive Barker’s Facebook tendencies, Venom greeting cards, why Brock hates art, and lots of other stuff.

One thing I want to mention, in that podcast I say that I try not to think about what’s going on in the world politically when I’m writing. To some extent that’s true, insofar as the day-to-day politics of the United States don’t specifically factor into most of my stories, but what I guess would be considered “my politics” definitely do make their way in, just in broader terms that I would think of more as ethics. The specter of racism hangs over several of my stories, classism plays a big role in tales like “Shadders,” anti-imperialism and anti-war sentiment shows up in “The Blue Light,” etc.

More than any of that, though, I try to write about characters who feel at least a little bit like real people, who deserve dignity from one-another, even when they don’t get it from an indifferent universe. Certainly, as someone who grew up feeling different, I have sympathy for the outsider, the Other, the monster. But I also just try to casually inject diversity into my stories, in a way that lays a groundwork for simple acceptance. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I do try.

There’s no such thing as a story that isn’t political, and I don’t want to get caught in the trap of saying that my stories aren’t. They are, often in ways that even I don’t realize, and I hope that they sometimes reflect what I think is important in the world, even when I’m usually not specifically thinking about what’s going on in the latest headlines as I write.

In other news, another glowing and thoughtful review of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales recently showed up, this time on Heavy Feather Review: “At the heart of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is a monster, and it might just be us. The real question is, are you willing to pay the price to find out?”

 

No other movie is ever going to be Suspiria.

The 1977 original is something of a miracle film, and I’m not at all confident that anyone, even the people who made it, have any idea how or why it is what it is. It’s the film I always use as an example of a movie that would be worse if it was any better; a movie that transmutes, by some intangible magic, its own weaknesses into strengths.

To its credit, Luca Guadagnino’s remake never tries to be the original Suspiria. From the earliest scenes, we are told quite clearly that he is using the blueprint left behind by the original film to fashion a very new edifice. As I said right after seeing it, the differences between Argento’s film and Guadagnino’s are neatly summarized by the distinctions between the buildings in which the two films take place: The candy-colored art deco interiors and Haus zum Walfisch exterior of the ’77 version replaced with dimly-lit Brutalist architecture facing directly onto the Berlin Wall.

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The 2018 Suspiria knows that we already know that there are witches in the walls, and so it doesn’t play coy, dumping us into the reality of the witchcraft early on, even if it still takes most of the film for anyone to react to it. Guadagnino also ties the witchcraft and the dancing much more closely together than Argento’s version ever did. In this Suspiria, dances are spells, and they have very real consequences. In one of the strongest (in most senses of the word) scenes in Guadagnino’s version, the effects of one such spell are graphically, grotesquely displayed in a bit of gruesome body horror that the film never really tops.

The academy in Guadagnino’s Suspiria is also a house divided. That view of the Berlin Wall is more than just a reminder of the times, or the different tones of the two movies. It serves as a metaphor for the divide among the witches themselves, with some wishing to continue following Mother Markos, while others want to throw their lot in behind Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc.

It is this division that drives most of the film to its climactic moments, where a plot twist that can be seen coming like a slow-moving freight train chugging down the tracks leads to an extremely bloody denouement, shot with music video artistic license, one presumes to cover up the fact that the CGI blood splatter effects which it leans on heavily are nowhere near ready for prime time.

Ultimately, Guadagnino’s film is a (sometimes) beautiful one and an ugly one; at times smart but never subtle; filled with horror touches that it doesn’t seem to know what to do with. There were audible gasps from the theatre I saw it in, hands covering eyes, shrinking back in seats, but the images on the screen were often more exploitative than scary. Gasps were more likely to be gasps of disgust than fear. While sitting in the theatre, I scribbled down comparisons to other things, including the video to “Invisible Light” and 120 Days of Sodom.

I will need time to sit with my feelings about this new Suspiria, and something tells me they won’t necessarily get better with distance. But whether the end result is good, bad, or indifferent, Guadagnino took this film’s relationship to the original and used it to forge something almost totally different using the same floor plan. That’s worth something, anyway, regardless of how the finished product may have turned out.

Another Halloween is behind us. We’ve put out the jack-o-lanterns, taken down the plastic skeletons and rubber bats, and brushed aside the cobwebs. But Halloween isn’t the end of the spooky season, it is the beginning. As the fallen leaves slowly decay and the trees become skeletal hands clawing up at a slate gray sky, we are reminded that the darkest, coldest nights are ghost story weather.

The year that we are leaving behind has been a tough one, both within the forbidding manor of the Grey household and likely for you as well, dear reader. As I’ve said before, I had to more-or-less miss last Halloween due to health reasons, so this year I celebrated hard. I watched a seasonally-appropriate thing every day for the month of October, and several days I watched more than one, clocking in a total of 39 movies, all but one horror-themed. That number would have been slightly higher, but a couple of those days were TV episode marathons rather than movies. I ended the season watching Nightbreed with Jay and Veronica, who had never seen it before.

That’s a tie for second place for the most movies I’ve ever watched in a month. (I am unlikely to ever beat my record, which was 47 movies in the month of October two years ago, when I had my tonsils out.) While I was doing all of that, along with carving pumpkins, seeing friends and family, launching a book, and so on, other things were happening, which I didn’t always report in a timely fashion. Let’s see if we can’t recap:

  • Test Patterns: Creature Features is out from Planet X Publishing, featuring my story “The Pepys Lake Monster” among some exalted company. For those who are unfamiliar with their previous volume, the Test Patterns anthology series is preoccupied with those weird old TV shows that used to dominate the airwaves, like Outer Limits or Night Gallery. As you can probably gather from the title, the theme of this latest installment is, well, Creature Features.
  • My story “Goblins,” which originally appeared as an original tale in the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil from Strix Publishing, went live on Pseudopod just in time for Halloween, read by no less a personage than H.P.L. himself, Leeman Kessler!
  • I don’t have a story in it, or, indeed, anything to do with it, but Jonathan Raab’s Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization is now up for pre-order and it is going to be really good, so I think you should buy it.
  • Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales made it onto Barnes & Noble’s list of “15 Harrowing Halloween Books,” so I have obviously hit the big time now, and I’m just gonna sit back and wait for the royalty checks to start rolling in.

Tonight, I’m getting paid to go see the new Suspiria, which feels like a pretty good way to transition from Halloween to November. The world can be hard and scary (not creepy monster scary, either), but sometimes life is pretty good. Whatever you’re doing for yourself today, don’t forget to keep Halloween in your hearts, and stay spooky out there. I’ll be reporting back in soon.

Family Fun Night

 

Sunday, we went to our adopted mom’s house where we ate Halloween-themed cookies and carved jack-o-lanterns. Everybody else carved real ones, but I carved a couple of those carvable fake ones that you can get at the store, which, let me tell you, are the way to go.

I modeled mine on a little ceramic pumpkin that I got years back because it looked like Chris Sanders had carved it and then, when that one worked out much better than I had expected, I carved a second one inspired by the one that Stitch carves with a plasma gun in the closing montage of Lilo & Stitch which, honestly, turned out even better.

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I’ve never been a very crafty sort of person. I’m clumsy, as a rule, and not great at most stuff, so I’m really proud of these two jack-o-lanterns, and looking forward to putting them out on my front steps tomorrow night, even if I’m going to have to fill them with rocks or something because, while those carvable pumpkins from the store are great for carving, they are also light. They prompted me to change my user icon on Facebook and Twitter for I think the first time ever, if that tells you how excited I am about them.

Monday night I went to the Screenland Armour to watch the Are You Afraid of the Dark? marathon. Having never seen even a single episode of the show, and mostly only being familiar with its great title graphic, I was really excited, and I had a lot of fun, even if the show is Extremely ’90s in often not great ways.

Today is my birthday and, well, I guess you all know what tomorrow is. I kind of had to miss last October because of health issues, and the intervening year has not been easy or kind. As such, I tried to really enjoy myself this October, going to as many of the local horror movie events as I could, launching a brand new short story collection, and managing to watch at least one seasonally appropriate thing every single day for the entire month!

I had a good time. This has been a good October, this is a good birthday, and hopefully it marks a bookend to what has been a pretty tough year, kinda for everyone, if we’re honest with ourselves at all. No matter what tomorrow or the day after or the day after that may bring, here’s to a new world of gods and monsters!

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