Two days ago, Grace had the staples removed from her back. That’s a pretty intense opening sentence, right? We were only dimly aware that she had gotten staples until the first time we had to change her dressing, and we revealed something from a low-rent Frankenstein flick. Getting her staples out hurt, though not as bad as it sounds like it would. She likened it to receiving a bunch of paper cuts. Fortunately, as soon as they were out she immediately started feeling much better.

So far her recovery seems to be coming along at a pretty good pace. She’s more independent now than she was just a few days ago. Because the first six weeks are the biggest risk for recurrence, she’s off work until sometime in the middle of February, but the days when I had to play full-time caregiver are probably behind us already, though there are still plenty of things she can’t do.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still too early to tell if the surgery really accomplished what we were hoping it would. While some people experience significant relief right away, for others it takes some time to know if the surgery did its job, and Grace appears to fall into that latter category.

Between my surgery back at the end of October, several visits to the emergency room, and now Grace’s surgery and recovery, it’s been a rough few months in the Grey household. Fingers crossed that we’ve seen the end of such excitement for a while. But if I owe you anything, or you’re waiting for me on something, please bear with me, and don’t hesitate to remind me if it’s been a while since you heard from me. We’ve had a lot going on.

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There’s really limited utility for a review here. By the fourth installment in a franchise, you’re either on board for what the Insidious series is peddling or you’re not, and The Last Key isn’t going to change your mind, one way or the other.

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The main reason to get excited about The Last Key prior to going in was Adam Robitel in the director’s seat. His debut feature, The Taking of Deborah Logan, was surprisingly great, with at least one indelible image that has made the rounds in .gif format so much that you’ve probably seen it by now, even if you’ve never seen the movie and didn’t know what it was from. Sadly, while Robitel sets some really nice mood early on, there is nothing in The Last Key to quite live up to that particular legacy, but there is a big, creaky ghost with skeleton keys for fingers, played by Javier Botet, of course, who has carved out a nice niche for himself playing big, weird, gangly ghosts.

Like all the previous installments after the first, The Last Key is guilty of not going big or weird enough in its final leg, though there are some welcome changes of direction midway through. And while the temporal shenanigans of Chapter 2 never make themselves apparent, there is a moment that feels much like one of them near the end of The Last Key, with one of those pesky red doors.

While engaging in many of the same kinds of jump scares that have been a hallmark of the series and its imitators, Robitel also resists the temptation of them more often than he is probably being given credit for, dragging out sequences of tension to almost excruciating length, occasionally to the point where the tension just dissipates rather than snapping.

What the film does do well is to remember that Elise is the beating heart of this franchise, and to give Lin Shaye (as well as screenwriter Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, playing Specs and Tucker) plenty of screen time. We also dive much more into Elise’s backstory. Which probably wasn’t strictly necessary, but doesn’t really do any harm, either.

I’m a notorious Insidious apologist, and I’ve loved every installment in the franchise so far, even the mostly forgettable third film. And I loved this one. But even I’m ready to hold up my hand and say that The Last Key should probably also be the last Insidious film. At this point, the snake has well and truly eaten its own tail, so it’s probably time to call it a night. Unless you want to give me the TV series where Specs, Tucker, and the ghost of Elise solve cute mysteries. I’d be down for that.

 

 

In my previous wrap-up of movies that I watched in 2017, I neglected to mention that I also attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland as a guest again this year, where I think I only saw one movie, but that was Philip Gelatt’s really excellent They Remain, which I talked about right after the Festival back here.  For various reasons, I didn’t consider They Remain for my top 10 movies from last year, but if I had, it no doubt would have made the list.

I’m very pleased to say that They Remain will also be showing at this year’s Panic Fest right here in Kansas City, with director Philip Gelatt in attendance! I think it will prove a divisive film, but one that’ll get talked about a lot as more and more people get a chance to see it. I’m especially happy to have it playing here in my own hometown, at our kickass local horror film fest at our kickass local theatre, because I played a small (but I’m going to pretend pivotal) role in helping it find a home at Panic Fest.

If you’re local to KC (or even relatively close), Panic Fest is the place to be the last weekend in January. I’ve already got my tickets, and I’ll be there all weekend, probably haunting the dealer room when I’m not watching movies. So come find me and say hi!

In 2017 I watched 245 movies. Of those, I watched 152 of them for the first time, only keeping ahead of my “watch more movies that I haven’t seen before than ones that I have” goal by about 30 titles.

Of those, I watched 32 movies that were released in 2017 (depending upon how you count release dates). That’s actually a higher-than-usual number for me, which also means that, for the first time in a while, I saw enough good movies that came out in 2017 that I feel comfortable assembling a top ten list without just including every movie that I didn’t hate on it. So, with the usual caveats that this is a list of my ten favorite movies of 2017, certainly not necessarily the ten best, and that at only 32 movies, there are lots more that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2017 as they stand right now:

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10. Better Watch Out
I saw Better Watch Out back in August during a special theatrical screening and it blew me away; a vicious, funny, frequently surprising take on the home invasion formula and also a chilling look at male entitlement. If I was still going entirely off of that initial experience, this would be higher on my list, but a second viewing took off some of the shine. Still, if you’re going to see this one, see it as cold as possible, And whatever you do, don’t watch the trailer, which gives away many of the film’s best reveals.

9. Kong: Skull Island
There are plenty of better movies that didn’t make this list, but pretty much no matter what else I saw this year, Skull Island‘s complete and unflinching dedication to being a two-hour pilot for a gory Saturday morning cartoon meant that it was always going to have a place here. Plus, lots and lots of monsters.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This slot could basically be a tie between Three Billboards and the Netflix original I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. But, gun to my head, Martin McDonagh’s third feature takes the edge thanks to incredible performances from its leads and an unexpected emotional through-line that takes the Coen Brothers-esque premise someplace perhaps less satisfying but ultimately more cathartic than it seems.

7. Gerald’s Game
When I initially watched Mike Flanagan’s passion project adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, I walked away with mixed feelings. But the more I thought about it, the more this intricate meditation on the long-term effects of trauma stuck with me. As someone who is still working through the aftereffects of childhood trauma, there were plenty of moments here that felt all-too-familiar.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
I’ve been waiting all my life for them to finally get a Spider-Man movie right. Guess it only took six tries.

5. Baby Driver
Baby Driver is an imperfect movie, especially in its last third where even its best elements begin to break down. But its central conceit — a musical in which the characters listen to the music rather than singing it — is so enjoyable that it carries the movie well beyond anyplace it might otherwise have crashed on its own.

4. The Shape of Water
It is maybe a little ironic that what is probably Guillermo del Toro’s most assured film to date is also the one that feels the least like a Del Toro film. In The Shape of Water, Del Toro channels his affection for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Abe Sapien, 60s Cold War paranoia, golden age Hollywood musicals, and a whole lot more into a love letter to outsiders that feels as much like a piece of French fabulism as it does any of Del Toro’s Spanish-language films.

4. Blade of the Immortal
For his 100th movie (depending on how you count), Takashi Miike combines the over-the-top qualities for which he is perhaps best known with the beauty and control of his more stately samurai films to create the bonkers and beautiful Blade of the Immortal. I watched it while recovering from surgery, and wrote up my slightly-drug-addled impressions at greater length for Unwinnable.

2. Thor: Ragnarok
There are lots of better movies lower on this list, but I probably didn’t have a better time at the movies all year than I did with Thor: Ragnarok. The various Marvel Cinematic Universe films have always done a pretty good job of feeling like they occupied an ever-expanding comic book universe, but Thor: Ragnarok may be the first one that actually feels like reading a four-issue comic book arc, in all the very best ways. For various reasons, I seldom see movies more than once during their initial theatrical run. In fact, I can almost count the number of times I have done so on one hand. Sadly, I haven’t yet gone to see Thor: Ragnarok twice while in the theatre (and probably won’t), but I really want to, which maybe says all I need to say.

1. Get Out
When I left the theatre after seeing Get Out, one of the first things I said was, “I’ve got to stop watching the best movie I’m going to see all year in February.” (Last year it was The Witch.) I said it partly as a joke, but I also wasn’t kidding. From the minute I finished Get Out, I knew I wouldn’t see a better movie in 2017 because, let’s be honest, how amazing a year would it have been if we got two movies as good as Get Out?

My least favorite movie of the year has also remained the same since the moment I walked out of the theatre, and let us hope that it shall always remain so, because if I see a movie that I hate more than I hated Alien: Covenant in the immediate future, I will be very sad.

Besides those movies above, I had a lot of great experiences in the theatre watching revival showings in 2017. Once again, I made it out to Panic Fest in January, this time attending as a civilian for the first time ever, and I’m planning to go again this year. I caught the Nerdoween mystery triple feature with the Nerds of Nostalgia at the Tapcade for the third year in a row, in what has rapidly become my Halloween tradition. This year I saw Tales from the Hood for the first time, and got to introduce Jay to both Waxwork and Creepshow. And if Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t the best time I had at the movies all year, then seeing The Deadly Spawn for the first time ever on the big screen at the Alamo definitely was. Not only did I love the movie, but there was just that magic in the air that made the screening a particularly special event.

The last movie that I watched in 2017 was either The Last Jedi or Terminator 2, depending on how you count. The first movie I watched in 2018 was The Debt (2010), but the next one I watch is likely to be the much more on-brand Hell Night.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve still got, like, a week left, but it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to publish anything more in those few days, so let’s go ahead and get this dumpster fire of a year behind us, shall we? (Remember when we all thought that 2016 was kind of the epitome of a bad year? We were so adorable.)

Given the way the last few months of this year, especially, have gone, with various health crises and escalating stress, it’s easy to forget that I accomplished much of anything at all during the rest of it, but I actually published a few stories and, hard as it is to believe, two books in 2017! And by “a few” I mean roughly five new stories of mine came out in 2017, six if you count the one new story in the deluxe hardcover edition of Never Bet the Devil. I had stories in The Children of Gla’akiFor Mortal Things UnsungTerror in 16-BitsTales from a Talking Board, and Darker Companions. (For those keeping score at home, that’s actually two Ramsey Campbell tribute anthologies, and not a single overtly Lovecraft-themed one. Maybe a record?)

On top of that, 2017 saw the release of my first novel, in a manner that I would never have expected in a million years. Godless, the first volume in a proposed series chronicling the adventures of Tristan, nicest of all the Protectorate of Menoth warcasters, was released by Privateer Press back in April. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also got the distinction of being the first writer to permanently kill off a major in-game character, so that was pretty cool. The book was written in something of a rush to meet my deadlines, but it seems to have been received fairly well. I dedicated it to Ray Harryhausen, and earlier this month I got to visit an exhibit of Ray Harryhausen models, storyboards, concept art, and other ephemera in Oklahoma City, which was a rare pleasure indeed.

In non-licensed work, 2017 also saw the re-release of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, in a fancy deluxe hardcover edition courtesy of Strix Publishing. The (jaw-dropping) cover design and pitch-perfect interior illustrations are all the work of Mike Corley, one of my favorite artists in the business and pretty much my first and only choice to work on this book. Besides adding new illustrations by Mike, I wanted to make sure that the deluxe edition had some added value for those who had already purchased the (now out of print) paperback original, so we also included two additional stories that weren’t in the first release. One of them, “Goblins,” was entirely original to the collection, while the other, “A Night for Mothing,” is a difficult-to-find rarity that was originally published in The Mothman Files all the way back in 2011.

Besides heading out to the Ray Harryhausen exhibit in early December, I managed to make a handful of convention appearances throughout the year, despite my wretched health. I attended Panic Fest here in Kansas City back in January for the first time as a civilian (previous years I had helped out with booths and other odds-and-ends), something I plan to do again this year. I was a guest of the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta back in March and at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland in October, where we actually launched Never Bet the Devil & Other Warning. I’m told that no less a personage than Barbara Steele stopped by the booth to inquire about the book, but at the time I was out getting a burrito, which is probably just as well, so that I couldn’t pitch it to her by explaining that, “I think it’s got ghosts and stuff.”

In-between all of those, I also made a trip up to Minneapolis to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit At Home with Monsters, and a trip to the Boulder area of Colorado, mostly to accompany Grace to a low flutes retreat, though I also used the opportunity to meet up with some writing acquaintances and do a bit of writing myself, including penning a story that I’m pretty proud of which is part of a lengthier story cycle that I mostly finished during the course of this year, though none of the new additions to it have seen print just yet.

Lots more stuff happened in 2017. I watched a lot of movies, read a few books, was sick a lot, had an emergency surgery, spent my birthday recovering from that, and did a whole host of the other usual stuff that you do in a year, even one where everything is on fire. I’ll have most posts about the movies I watched in 2017, as well as a Year in Creatures, most likely, but those will have to wait until the year is actually over. For now, that’s most of what I accomplished as far as writing and publishing go, and that’s what we’re here for.

For a little while now, I’ve been running a Patreon on the side. At its best, I made close to $100 per month, though I let it languish as I slipped into illness over the last year, and before I closed it out I was making around $40. Both ends of that spectrum were fine by me. I never counted on it as a replacement for income or as an integral part of my business model, though I know many who did, and do, in both cases, and I wish them all the best. However, recently I have made the decision to shut my Patreon down.

For all that I just said I didn’t rely on my Patreon income, I am nevertheless incredibly grateful for my Patreon backers. They stood by me, even when I was producing next to no exclusive content, and that added jolt of a few hundred bucks every now and again was often a lifesaver, especially during lean times. Even if it hadn’t been, I appreciated the relationship that I had with my patrons. That appreciation is part of why I’m choosing to shutter my Patreon account.

Recently, Patreon announced a new fee structure rollout that would put the onus of fees not on creators but on patrons, in ways that I (and many others) found unconscionable. Now, to say that this fee change proved unpopular would be a massive understatement. It proved calamitous, as anyone could have predicted, had Patreon bothered to ask. And in short order Patreon issued a statement backpedaling and saying that they would not be rolling out the new fee structure after all.

By then, however, plenty of damage had already been done. I had already said that I would be shutting the doors, other creators, who relied much more heavily on Patreon as a part of their business model, had lost vital income, and Patreon had alienated much of their customer base, both on the creator side and the patron side.

In general, I’m a big fan of giving people a second chance when they mess up. But Patreon isn’t a person, it’s a company, and I feel like, in spite of their “change of heart,” their initial move to roll out the fee structure change in the first place shows that I can’t trust them the way I want to, and I no longer feel comfortable having my hat in their particular ring. I’ll be looking for some other way to interact with people who want to give me a few bucks now and again so that I can keep writing weird stories.

If you’re one of my Patreon patrons, keep an eye on this space. If you’re not, well, you probably keep an eye on this space already, if you’re reading this, so thanks for hanging around.

I know plenty of creators who are still using Patreon, and I’m happy for them, and grateful that Patreon saw the error of its ways, if too late for my comfort. This is a personal decision on my part, not some kind of moral stance. I still support all the creators who are using Patreon to help create their projects. I just won’t be one of them anymore.

20171202_104727Friday afternoon I left KC and headed south for what was supposed to be an overnight trip to visit the Ray Harryhausen exhibit at the Science Museum Oklahoma, on literally the day before the exhibit closed down. I was able to make the trip at all thanks to lots of help from my patient, affectionate, and extremely supportive wife. Up until that day, about the most strenuous excursion I had attempted since my surgery was a couple of trips to the movies (notwithstanding a couple of trips to the emergency room, which, while plenty strenuous, weren’t exactly voluntary).

I ended up overdoing it a bit at the museum, and what was supposed to be a one night trip turned into a two night one, but other than that I seem to have returned no worse for the wear than when I left. And I got to see the Harryhausen exhibit!

20171202_105835For those who may not know, Ray Harryhausen is one of my biggest inspirations, and, for my money, easily one of the greatest monster designers who ever lived. I own a book of his art and a book of behind-the-scenes stuff from his films, as well as just about every movie he ever worked on. My first novel was dedicated to him. So the opportunity to see some of the models and illustrations that had gone into five of his most famous films up close and in person was one that I didn’t want to miss, surgery or no surgery. (It is only thanks to Grace that I didn’t miss it, so she deserves another shout out here.)

 

It’s difficult to put into words what seeing these objects in person meant to me. Earlier this year, I got to go see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and while the influence of GDT on my own work is probably more immediately obvious than the influence of Harryhausen, I would be extremely hard pressed to say which exhibit affected me more.

On the car ride back, Grace and I were discussing the exhibit, and I talked about the magic that is present in stop motion animation, especially that animation done by Ray Harryhausen. How much personality he was able to breathe into all of his creatures, how watching his films is like watching your toys come to life. And that magic was in the air everywhere at the exhibit, all of the models seeming like they were just one moment away from stirring into motion.

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In spite of the books I’ve read, documentaries I’ve seen, and commentary tracks I’ve listened to, I learned things at the exhibit that I didn’t already know. I learned how some of the armatures were cannibalized and repurposed for other creatures in other films, I learned about them strapping a bunch of stuntmen together in order to capture the motions of the Kali statue. I was already aware of Harryhausen’s own debt to the engravings of Gustave Dore, but I was happy to see that debt laid out in detail, and to see illustrations done by Harryhausen that obviously owed a heavy debt to Dore.20171202_105608

I know that I didn’t see most of Harryhausen’s other films until I was older, but I saw Clash of the Titans on TV when I was just a kid, and it had the same impact on me that Star Wars had on other people around my age. Seeing creatures like Harryhausen’s iconic take on Medusa or the Kraken in person was amazing beyond my ability to put into words.

Sadly, since the exhibit focused on Harryhausen’s fantasy films, I wasn’t able to see my very favorite of his creations–Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth–who may not exist in any significant form anyway, since his armature got reused on other creatures later on.

The rest of the Science Museum was pretty amazing as well, and I probably could have spent easily twice as much time there as I did, had I not run completely out of energy. As it was, I missed a lot of what it had to offer, but was able to see a planetarium show, check out an exhibit on Cabinets of Curiosities and an exhibit on shoes, and watch a live chemistry show where they made things explode. Grace even got to be a volunteer and hold an explosion in the palm of her hand!

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There’s so much more I could say about the trip, about the exhibit, about the museum, about Harryhausen, but I need to catch up on the things that I didn’t get done while I was away over the weekend, so I should probably wrap this up. I promised lots of pictures, some of which I’ve already been posting over on Instagram, but I’ll leave a few more in this post for those who weren’t able to make it out to the show themselves. Do yourself a favor, and if anything like this ever comes anywhere near you, make it a point to go. (And if you live within traveling distance of the Science Museum Oklahoma, go even though this exhibit is no longer showing. It’s worth it.)

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