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It’s here! The Kickstarter for the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is now live from Strix Publishing! Including all ten stories from the original printing, my hard-to-find story “A Night for Mothing” which originally appeared in The Mothman Files back in 2011 and has never before been reprinted, and a brand new story about kids, graveyards, undertakers, and Halloween night called “Goblins,” along with author’s notes by yours truly and a brand-new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud.

When Never Bet the Devil unexpectedly went out of print last year, I wanted to get it back into print without just dumping it unceremoniously onto ebook or something, but I also knew that if I was going to release another edition, I wanted to make sure it was something special enough that people who had already bought the previous printing from Evileye Books wouldn’t feel like they were being cheated when they put down their hard-earned money for this one, too. That’s why Strix and I put together this Kickstarter, to bring Never Bet the Devil back into print in a deluxe edition that’s worthy of the name.

For me, that started with artist M.S. Corley. I first encountered Mike’s work in some fan-art covers he did for book series like Harry Potter, and we quickly became fast friends. I think he’s one of the best artists and best cover designers in the business, and I’m proud to have introduced him to the guys at Valancourt Books, where he’s done a whole pile of breathtaking covers. Fans of Gardinel’s Real Estate, the chapbook that Mike and I did together, already have an idea of what he’s capable of.

When I started talking with Strix about re-releasing Never Bet the Devil, I already knew that Mike was my first and only choice to do the new cover and interior illustrations. If you’re already familiar with Mike’s work, then you already know why. If not, head over to the Kickstarter page to get just a taste of what he’s done with the interior illustrations and cover design for this new edition of Never Bet the Devil.

Aside from that, Strix Publishing puts out beautiful books. This edition of Never Bet the Devil will be hardcover, cloth-bound, and gold foil stamped. Plus, if by some chance the Kickstarter funds with some to spare, we’ve got some exciting stretch goals waiting in the wings including more stories and other goodies! So if you’ve been waiting for Never Bet the Devil to come back into print, or if you recently picked up my second collection Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts from Word Horde or my essay collection Monsters from the Vault from Innsmouth Free Press and want to see where I got started, this is the definitive edition of my debut collection, and now’s you chance to get it at the cheapest price it’s ever going to be.

New to Never Bet the Devil or my writing? You can read fan-favorite story “Black Hill,” which was previously published in Historical Lovecraft and reprinted in Ross Lockhart’s Book of Cthulhu 2 online right now! Or listen to it in audio form at Pseudopod!

[Edited to add: And just as I posted this, I got the email from my publisher letting me know that Kickstarter had officially selected Never Bet the Devil as one of its “Projects We Love,” which is pretty exciting for me!]

 

As she does every year, Ellen Datlow has posted the long list of honorable mentions for The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8, and I’m very proud to say that five of the stories that I published in 2015 made the cut! (That’s the most I’ve ever gotten, if I’m not mistaken.) Three of those five stories are in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. Two of them, “Strange Beast” and the title novelette, are original to the collection. The other is “The Red Church,” which originally appeared in Giallo Fantastique, also from Word Horde. Which seems like a good reason to buy Painted Monsters, if you haven’t already, right?

Here’s all the stories of mine that made the list, and you can see the full list at Ellen’s website:

“Guignol,” The Burning Maiden 2.
“Painted Monsters,” Painted Monsters.
“Programmed to Receive,” Resonator.
“Strange Beast,” Painted Monsters.
“The Red Church,” Giallo Fantastique.

“Guignol” and “Programmed to Receive” should be appearing again in my next collection, which is still at least a year away. But not to worry, there’s plenty of new stuff coming between now and then, including the Kickstarter for the new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil, which is starting in just a couple of weeks!

ego1So, while I was out of town for the weekend, the San Diego Comic Con happened. And given that these days it could be more accurately called the San Diego Movie Con, that means a lot of movie news and trailers dropped that people have been opining about while I’ve been gone, but because I was someplace with spotty internet, you’ve all had to do without my takes on any of it… until now!

Before I get into trailers, some bits of news that dropped. Probably lots of other stuff did too, and I missed it in all the noise, but these are the ones I saw, mostly thanks to following Birth.Movies.Death on Twitter. First up, the new MST3k is gonna be streaming on Netflix once it launches, which makes me happy because, honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it, so it’ll be nice to get a taste before I have to make a commitment. Next up, a few reveals about the new Spider-Man movie, mostly that the villain is going to be the Vulture. Finally, some preview footage from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 apparently screened, featuring new stuff like a tiny Groot and various other things, but the big news out of it was that Kurt Russell is going to be playing Ego the Living Planet, who is also apparently (spoilers!) Star-Lord’s dad. Also, Sylvester Stallone is going to be in the movie, which means that he and Russell will be re-teaming, possibly for the first time since Tango & Cash.  Okay, now on to trailers!

Dr. Strange – Anybody who has talked to me knows that Dr. Strange is going to be a make-or-break movie for me when it comes to the Marvel cinematic universe, which has so far made… I’ll not say nary a misstep, but very few of them. Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like break. I hate to prejudge in this case, and I’ll certainly still be going to see the movie, but this trailer left me just as underwhelmed as the teaser, and while the fractal stuff is certainly used a lot more here, it’s still not the Steve Ditko magic that I demand from my Dr. Strange. The “shamballa” gag at the end is funny, though.

Justice League – DC has finally figured out that if they want to ape Marvel’s success, they need to just ape Marvel. This could have been a Marvel movie trailer every single beat of the way, but it still looks good. Last I heard Zack Snyder was off this movie and George Miller was on board, but IMDb still has Snyder as director and Miller as producer, so who knows? The trailer certainly has plenty of Snyder’s trademark slo-mo and speed-ramping. Really, though, “Icky Thump” playing in the background can make anything seem awesome, so time will tell.

Wonder Woman – Speaking of aping Marvel, DC is going to beat them to the punch by at least one thing, which is having a female hero headlining a movie. And by all accounts Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the best thing in Batman v Superman. As such, a lot has been made of the trailer for DC’s Captain America Wonder Woman, but I have to admit that it does look pretty great. And hey, the guy who wrote Pan no longer has his name in the screenwriting credits, so that bodes well!

Kong: Skull Island –  Probably the last thing we need is another gritty (let alone modern-ish) reboot of King Kong, but if we’re going to get one anyway, Skull Island might actually be my favorite trailer out of this bunch. Maybe it’ll wash the taste of Peter Jackson’s version out of our collective brains. Plus, John Goodman is a better choice for Carl Denham than Jack Black, even if that’s not who he’s playing.

American Gods – As a big, big fan (to put it mildly) of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, I feel like I ought to be more excited than I am about American Gods. It’s got some great casting, and the trailer looks good. I think the ultimate problem is that I had mixed feelings about the book in the first place, so I’m concerned about the show. That said, I wasn’t excited about Hannibal until I watched an episode of it, so we’ll see.

Blair Witch – What seems like it should be the most controversial of all these reveals, though I haven’t actually seen any controversy, everyone in my feed seems to be embracing it wholeheartedly. It turns out that the next mystery project from Adam Wingard (You’re NextThe Guest) that has been called The Woods up to now is actually a direct sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (probably ignoring the 2000 sequel Book of Shadows). I don’t really know how to feel about this. As a fan of Wingard’s previous stuff, I still want to be excited, and the trailer has some bravura moments, even if a lot of it looks a little too Evil Dead remake for my tastes, but I’m pretty sure I would rather have had another original project than a seventeen-years-later Blair Witch sequel, no matter how good it turns out to be…

There was probably a bunch of other stuff that I missed, but those are my not-all-that-hot, several-days-late takes on the stuff I saw coming out of SDCC this year. For those of you who were clambering to know my opinion on early commercials for billion-dollar tentpole movies.

 

So, as you may already know, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, my first collection of short horror stories, went out of print around the end of last year. Originally published in 2012, Never Bet the Devil prompted no less a luminary than Laird Barron to call it “a creepy foray into the realm of the weird and the sinister.” It’s been out of print since December of 2015, and copies on Amazon marketplace are currently listed at upwards of $200. (Please don’t pay that.)

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That’s the bad news. Here’s the good: Thanks to the fine folks at Strix Publishing, there’s a new deluxe hardcover edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings on the way. One so amazing that I don’t think any of you who bought the original version will mind double-dipping. (At least, I hope you won’t.) Besides a couple of new stories, including the heretofore hard-to-find “A Night for Mothing,” which originally appeared in The Mothman Files back in 2011 and a brand new, never-before-published tall called “Goblins,” this new edition of Never Bet the Devil is the collection as it was always meant to be.

It’ll be illustrated throughout by the amazing Mike Corley, who many of you will remember from our collaboration on Gardinel’s Real Estate and his many fine covers for Valancourt Books. Besides a host of interior illustrations, Mike also produced the amazing (preliminary) cover that you can see above, which will be cloth bound and gold foil stamped. All that, plus a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

The whole shebang is coming to a Kickstarter near you on August 15, and there’ll be a lot more details coming between now and then, plus cool rewards and stretch goals once the Kickstarter actually gets off the ground, including the chance to add more original stories to the whole package. So for those of you who have been asking how to get copies of Never Bet the Devil, this is the news you’ve been waiting for. And for everyone else, I think we’re putting together something exciting enough that it will whet your appetites as well…

ShallowsI wouldn’t normally go see a survival picture about a shark in theatres, but I love Jaume Collet-Serra and I’ve been having a shitty week, so I needed something nice to do for myself.

Collet-Serra has sort of made a habit of making movies that I like but wouldn’t have expected to, starting with 2005’s House of Wax. He also made the surprisingly good Orphan in 2009, before going on to helm a string of mostly undistinguished Taken-alikes (though Non-Stop has the distinction of being maybe the best of that breed). I’ve seen all of his movies at this point, except for the 2007 soccer film Goal IIThe Shallows marks the first time that he’s waded into the waters of the horror genre since Orphan.

The Shallows isn’t Jaws, the movie to which it is most likely to be compared. It’s more like the movie that people who have never seen Jaws assume that Jaws is. (Actually, that’s probably Jaws 2.) A more apt comparison to The Shallows might be 2003’s Open Water, a film I never actually saw for the same reasons that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see The Shallows were it not for Collet-Serra’s name in the credits (and one really good trailer).

With an almost insanely stripped-down premise and a lean running time of only 86 minutes, The Shallows is a trifle where Jaws is an epic. It’s a film of modest scope and modest ambitions that ekes out plenty of tension from its core concept and allows Collet-Serra to indulge his aesthetic touch in gorgeous shots of the secret beach and plenty of nice underwater camerawork.

Don’t get me wrong, The Shallows gets plenty big and ridiculous in its final reel. Whether it gets too ridiculous or not quite ridiculous enough will probably depend on where your tolerance for Collet-Serra’s previous work lies. After all, taking a premise that doesn’t really need to be amazing and pushing it past where most people would (perhaps wisely) stop is sort of his stock in trade (see the ending of, well, most of his films). I love that about his movies, and if you love it, too, then you’ll probably be on board with The Shallows‘ final conflict.

Even if you’re not, though, there are moments throughout this movie that would not have been there had anyone but Collet-Serra been behind the camera. See an early shot with a whale carcass, or an underwater moment featuring jellyfish. For me, The Shallows is a movie that’s better than it needs to be, from a director who has pretty much made a career out of making movies that are better than they need to be, but never quite as good as I want them to be. I feel like Collet-Serra still has a horror masterpiece in the chamber somewhere, if he can find the right project. The Shallows isn’t it, but if you want to see Blake Lively and a wounded seagull fight a shark, and are ready for things to get a little silly before they’re done, then it’s a good way to spend 86 minutes.

 

Neon Demon

So, what did I think of Nicolas Winding Refn’s A Very Giallo (But Not Actually As Giallo As I Was Hoping After That Blood and Black Lace Trailer) Black Swan? Er, I mean, The Neon Demon? (A title that, admittedly, I wish I had come up with before Winding Refn did…)

The short answer is that I felt like it was a lot of good moments, scenes, images, and ideas looking for a movie to inhabit and instead being tossed the bones of a bunch of tired tropes to hang themselves on. And if that sounds harsh, I don’t necessarily mean for it to, but I also don’t think it’s inaccurate.

The Neon Demon is an experience that is going to take some time to digest (rimshot), and I’ll once again paraphrase Guillermo del Toro when he said that watching a movie once is a flirtation, twice is a date. Though in this case I don’t know that I’m intrigued enough to ever go back for that date.

It’s a film that is already polarizing people, but it didn’t really polarize me. I neither loved it nor hated it. It looked good and sounded great, it had moments that really worked but overall it really didn’t. How much it works for you will likely depend upon how you react to this sort of thing. For some, it will be your jam, for others, you will completely hate it. Me, I’m just along for the ride.

Prior to watching this, my only experience with Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography was Drive, which I liked, but not as much as everybody else did. I’m told that, if you liked his follow-up Only God Forgives, you’ll probably like The Neon Demon. One of these days I’m going to watch Only God Forgives, even though I don’t expect to like it, because its aesthetic looks very appealing. This is also emphatically true of The Neon Demon.

Going any further is going to require me to dip into some spoilers, which I will try to keep pretty mild. I’ve seen this movie described as “confrontational,” which is probably a good description to use, but it felt to me like it was trying way too hard to confront me, rather than actually having anything to confront me with. It doesn’t commit enough to its horror premise to really become a horror film, but also goes too far to be much of anything else, and so it’s left in this awkward in-between state that will work for some people and infuriate others.

I had a lot of problems with this movie, even while there were a lot of things that I liked, but I don’t think most of them were the problems that I was supposed to have. I kept thinking that it was headed in the direction of Black Swan‘s transformative body horror, and it kept stepping back. Which is fine, but what it opts to do instead is stumble pretty badly in its last legs and end up in places that are both absurd and laughable–no one walked out of my screening that I noticed, not even during that scene, but plenty of people did laugh, especially in the film’s closing moments. Whether that’s a feature or a bug will probably depend on you. And if this is the most evasive “review” ever, well, that’s just the kind of movie that The Neon Demon is…

Yesterday was the official release day for my first nonfiction book, but I was still feeling a bit under the weather, and too overwhelmed to post anything about it until today, so here’s the official announcement: Monsters from the Vault collects more than five years worth of the Vault of Secrets column on vintage horror cinema that I wrote for Innsmouth Free Press, including a few columns that haven’t gone up on the website just yet, so you can read ’em here first!

Movies range from the 1932 classic Doctor X (filmed in two-strip Technicolor!) to the 1976 Bert I. Gordon “classic” Food of the Gods, filmed with a bunch of rats on tiny model cars and houses. A few of the columns that are in the book but haven’t yet gone live on the website include pieces on The Monster That Challenged the WorldThe Invisible RayThe Mummy’s Curse, and even the great William Castle masterpiece The Tingler, to name just a few.

Short on cash at the moment but still want a copy of Monsters from the Vault? There’s a Goodreads giveaway of it running for the next few days, but act now, because it ends on June 17! (And speaking of Goodreads giveaways, you can still enter for a chance to win a copy of Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts as part of the Word Horde Summer Solstice Giveaway, ending June 20. Already got Painted Monsters? There are plenty of other amazing Word Horde titles up for grabs, including John Langan’s new novel The Fisherman!)

There’s more promotions and other stuff in the works for Monsters from the Vault, and I’ll be live-tweeting a suitably creaky old horror movie sometime soon, so keep your eyes on this space or on my various social media presences for more info. And if you already ordered your copy, it should be on its way to you directly! As always, reviews (whether positive, negative, or indifferent) are much appreciated, and if anyone knows how you go about getting a book into consideration for a Rondo Award, drop me a line…

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