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.

suspiria-2018-2.png

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.

Pumpkin

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!

pumpkins.jpg

So, as you may have noticed by now, it’s October, albeit not for much longer. I kind of had to miss this season last year for health reasons, so this year I’m trying my best to celebrate accordingly. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a new book out this month.

One thing I do every year is attend the Nerdoween Triple Feature hosted by the guys from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast. It’s a themed mystery-movie threefer that is always one of the highlights of my year. This is the fourth year they’ve put it on, and I’ve never missed it. Plus, every time I’ve seen at least one new-to-me film.

TerrorVision.gif

The first year the theme was demons and, accordingly, I caught Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time. The second year was sequels and introduced me to both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The third year may have had the best lineup. It was anthology films, which anyone who knows me knows that I love, and I finally caught Tales from the Hood. This year’s theme was sci-fi sleaze. They opened the gates with TerrorVision, followed that up with From Beyond, and closed out the night with the batshit fever dream that is Xtro, which I saw for the first time.

As a way to help keep myself in the holiday spirit, I’ve also been trying to watch at least one seasonally-appropriate thing per day, and counting down on the #31DaysOfHalloween hashtag on Twitter. So far the new-to-me highlights of the month include Island Claws (1980), Horror Island (1941), Forever Evil (1987), Apostle (2018), The World of Vampires (1961), and hands-down the best movie I’ve seen all month: The Company of Wolves (1984).

The end of the month is growing a little packed as freelance deadlines loom and various seasonal festivities approach. My birthday is still a few days away, though the celebration will probably take place on the weekend instead of the day itself, and I’ve got some cool stuff coming in the mail between now and then.

You can bet that you’ll hear from me on here at least once more before the Halloween season draws to a close, but in the meantime, stay spooky out there!

Launch02Sunday evening we had the official launch party for Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. It’s the first time I’ve ever done an official launch party for one of my collections and I think it was mostly a success. I introduced a free screening of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday in what turned out to be the AIP cut, and afterward I went out to the Screenland Armour for Analog Sunday, where I caught Deadly Tales and Forever Evil projected onto the big screen from VHS tapes, so that was an experience and a half!

Unfortunately, my weekend festivities seem to have taken a lot out of me, and I’ve been playing catch up for the past few days, and also trying to conserve my strength because I still have the annual Nerdoween Triple Feature to attend this weekend!

In the mean time, however, the launch party means that Guignol is as real and out there in the world as it’s going to get. I still have a few copies, so if you’re local and don’t already have yours and would like to get it direct from me, just drop me a line, especially if we’ll be seeing each other at the movies this month. And if you do already have your copy, don’t forget that you can enter for a chance to win a movie from my collection simply by taking a picture of your copy of Guignol, posting it to social media sometime between now and the end of October with the hashtag #Guignol, and tagging me. Winners will receive a DVD or Blu-ray from my collection, along with a note about why I owned that movie in the first place.

While all that was going on, an interview that I did with Gordon B. White of Hellnotes went live, in which I discuss the secret connection between Katamari Damacy and my creative process. Gordon also posted a positively glowing review of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

Reviews have also started to show up at Goodreads and Amazon, including one that calls Guignol “the perfect October collection,” and another that says, specifically of my story “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars,” that it is, “Sort of like taking a walk with Ray Bradbury, and winding up at Laird Barron’s house.” If you already finished reading, why not leave a review of your own?

I’ll keep this short, because I’m bushed and still have a lot to do before this weekend is over. Yesterday, after getting up early so I could watch Apostle (more on that later, maybe) I drove out to Manhattan, KS to participate in their Driptorch reading series, where I was joined by a couple of other writers who read really great pieces. I read “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars,” maybe not the most crowd-pleasing story to choose, but it seemed to have the desired effect. After that, we drove through Silent Hill fog to discuss horror stuff at IHOP, which seems about right.

Today it’s downtime and catching up, and then tomorrow I’ll be hosting a free screening of Black Sunday at the Tapcade here in KC as part of the official book launch party for Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales! The festivities start at 4:30, though I’ll probably be there a little before. If you’re local, or local-ish, feel free to drop in.

If you want a teaser of what you can expect in Guignol, or if you’ve already got your copy and want to read a little about what went into the making of some of the stories, I wrote up a list of fourteen movies that, in one way or another, influenced the fourteen stories in the book for Heavy Feather Review, the sponsors of the aforementioned Driptorch reading series.

Also, if you picked up a copy of Guignol, or if you’re about to, don’t forget that you’ve got until the end of the month to enter to win a movie from my own personal collection. Just post a photo of your copy of the book on social media, tag me, and use the hashtag #Guignol, and you’re entered for a chance to win!

More soon, but for now it’s time to recuperate before tomorrow’s big event!