September is here, and September is basically the First of Halloween. I don’t have decorations up yet in my house, but it’s just a matter of time. Mostly, I’ve been keeping myself hopping with deadlines since I got back from Providence. However, I’ve also seen a few movies, and written about some of them, so let’s talk about that real quick…

In recent releases, I caught Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which I loved) and Ready or Not and Satanic Panic (which I liked) all at the Screenland Armour, not to mention the disappointing Itsy Bitsy via a screener and The Curse of La Llorona (which I didn’t review anywhere) on a plane.

At the risk of damaging my reputation as the guy who actually likes Conjuring movies, The Curse of La Llorona wasn’t anything to write home about, though Velma did her best and it was dark enough that “on a plane” was far from ideal viewing conditions.

What was an ideal viewing condition was seeing Satanic Panic in a crowded theatre of like-minded souls at the Screenland. Speaking of ideal viewing conditions, I also re-watched, for the umpteenth time, both Matango, which I was lucky enough to get to introduce, and Occult at NecronomiCon Providence.

Tomorrow night, I’m watching It: Chapter Two, which I’m excited about. Those of you who have been around for a while probably remember me being mixed on It: Chapter One, which I haven’t seen since I caught it in theatres a couple of years ago. But time has been kind to my memories of that movie and, even if it  hadn’t, Chapter Two is where the stuff that I’m more interested in starts to percolate to the surface, at least theoretically, and I’m hoping it gets real weird.

If nothing else, there’s a carnival midway in the trailer, and I am always on board for carnival midways.

I usually watch and review more older movies than newer ones, and while that hasn’t been the case the past few weeks, there have been a few, including the genuinely great Alice, Sweet Alice and the incredibly problematic but fascinating Cruising. Also The Legacy, to continue my parade of reviews of rich Satanist movies.

69534813_10156719537162947_5659868775516733440_nScreenland Armour has unveiled their Shocktober lineup for 2019, and tickets are supposed to go on sale sometime today, though I haven’t seen that happen yet. I’ll link when it does. There’s a bunch of stuff in there that I’m going to be a part of, including introducing a couple of my favorite Vincent Price flicks! I’ll post dates when I’ve got ’em.

I’ll also be attending some stuff that I’m not in charge of, including seeing Goblin score Suspiria and Deep Red live on the 8th and 9th, catching the Nerdoween Triple Feature (my annual tradition) on the 18th, going to Analog Sunday on the 13th, and attending the fourth annual (I believe) CarpenterFest on the 25th.

In non-movie-related news, I’ll also be co-hosting a shindig at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads on October 23. We’re calling it A Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey & Signal Horizon. Costumes are encouraged, there’ll be books and libations for sale, and more details to come as the event draws closer.

 

As I entered Providence I saw trees and water and then felt the wheels of the plane touch the tarmac. My flight in had taken me from Kansas City to Atlanta, where I was able to find a bottled Pepsi (a rare jewel in that land of endless Coke) and thence to the gabled roofs of Rhode Island.

As those who have traveled through it already know, the Atlanta airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world. By contrast, the airport in Providence (technically Warwick) feels like someone’s country house. Small and cozy, to the extent that airports can be, and sparsely populated.

Phil Gelatt picked me up from the airport and drove me in to Providence proper, where he and Victoria Dalpe let me crash in their guest room for the first night of NecronomiCon. I am happy to report that Providence looks today much like I picture it when I read Lovecraft. Hilly and beautiful and brooding, with plenty of old buildings and narrow streets.

68673330_10217195634057071_6145592798889377792_nTheir house is tall and old enough that it has a historic plaque on the outside. The rooms within feel old and yet are cluttered with modern and eclectic comforts, Phil’s attic office filled with movies and books and mannequin ghosts, as one would expect.

That first night we ate food and talked shop and dodged rain and the next morning I rose early and walked around the neighborhood, ducking into an old bookstore to browse. Phil drove me past the Shunned House, to make sure that I saw it.

That was Thursday, when NecronomiCon proper began. Phil dropped me off at the Omni hotel–across the street from the Biltmore-cum-Graduate–where I met up with Amanda Downum and Joshua Hackett, with whom I was rooming for the weekend.

We had drinks in the hotel bar, ate Korean food, and wandered over to an Eldritch block party, complete with alien dancers and giallo-tinted lights in a parking lot behind the propped-up facade of a building next to one of the oldest malls in America.

In said mall, the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store, where I took photos of some of my books in the wild. Unfortunately, Thursday, the night of the block party, was a thousand degrees and dripping with humidity, which would break the next morning and the weather would remain pleasant for the rest of the trip.

Friday was the first day that I had any real obligations, and those not until late in the night.  We caught a panel on forgotten authors first thing in the morning and browsed the dealer’s room.

Amanda and Joshua caught a panel on mysterium tremendum, which I gather was phenomenal, while I signed books in the dealer’s room and tried to say “hello” to a whole lot of people. Mike Bukowski brought me the original artwork for the cover of The Cult of Headless Men.

Friday night, I introduced a secret screening of Matango and then poked my head into the Outer Dark room party, though by then it was after midnight, and exhaustion put paid to my enthusiasm relatively quickly.

Saturday morning I was a bit worse for the wear from the previous night’s debaucheries, so I missed some morning panels, but managed to slouch to my own first panel of the convention, in which Nathan Ballingrud, Mike Bukowski, Adam Bolivar, K.H. Vaughan, and I all talked about Manly Wade Wellman and American folk horror.

From there, I stuck around for a panel on creepy puppets, mannequins, and other simulacra featuring Messr. Bolivar again, Matthew Bartlett, Jon Padgett, Molly Tanzer, and teri zin.

My next obligation was also a pleasure (as were they all), the book release event for Pluto in Furs, where I read my story “Stygian Chambers,” and listened to readings from Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Adam Golaski, Clint Smith, and Jeffrey Thomas.

That night, we walked a very, very long way to a delicious vegan place where I had ramen (apparently I traveled to New England to have Asian food, which I ate at probably half my meals) and pleasant discussion before walking back to watch the late showing of Occult.

Sunday morning, I was on my next panel, ostensibly about cinematic adaptations of other weird writers besides Lovecraft. Despite the early hour and some less-than-optimal conditions, I think we managed to extract an adequate panel on the subject. A little later, I attended my final panel of the weekend, on “kaiju as device and metaphor in weird fiction.”

John “Deathginger” Goodrich moderated, introducing us all in pro-wrestling style, while I shared the mic with Larissa Glasser, Seia Tanabe, and Dempow Torishima. Given the fact that two of the panelists held forth through the intermediary of an interpreter, I would not have been surprised if the panel had been less-than-usually focused, but actually I think it was one of the smoother and more rewarding panels I have ever been on.

68938930_10217230781255729_4321960358001508352_nI missed a showing of Phase IV and instead walked up the hill to find the Ars Necronomica art exhibit and take another peek at the Shunned House. Then it was back to Phil’s place for a backyard hangout that was the perfectly understated cap on a perfectly weird and wonderful weekend.

Regrets? Sure, I have a few. There were panels I really wanted to see that I had to skip for one reason or another (one on cosmic horror in Warhammer being near the top of my list) and readings and screenings that I would have loved to attend.

Always, there are going to be people I miss who I had truly wanted to catch up with in three (or more?) dimensions. Tom Breen and s.j. bagley are high on the list of folks who I would have loved to have seen in what passes for “person.”

And there were many others I got to see only briefly with whom I would have loved to have discoursed at great length–Sam Heimer, Nick Gucker, Yves Tourigny, Jason Bradley Thompson, Dave Felton, the list goes on and on and on.

Even the people with whom I spent the most time all weekend felt much like ships in the night, and I came away missing Providence and all the weirdos I met there, whether briefly or for longer stints. If that isn’t the sign of a great convention, I don’t know what is.

And NecronomiCon was, for me, a great convention. A reminder of why I do what I do, why this work and this world fill me with so much love and excitement. From my first moments on those fabled streets, Providence felt like the weird homeland, which makes sense, after all.

I’m back home now, with a bag full of books and strange little plastic critters and albino bats that hide behind their wings and lots of memories and snapped photos of a nighted city and people and places I already miss as though I have known them all my life.

A lot of other things happened over the weekend. It would be a fool’s errand to try to summarize them all. The people I met, food I ate, places I went, things I bought and wanted to buy and saw. Already, they are jumbled together in my mind. One thing I know, though; I will be back.

I may not be Providence but, after this weekend, it is at least a little bit of me.

2019Poster-Hyades1_rectToday is the birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and, by this time tomorrow, I’ll be on the (proverbial, airborne) road to NecronomiCon in the home of the Old Gent himself, Providence, Rhode Island.

I’m on a fair number of panels and other special events, and so without further ado, here’s my schedule as fully as it has thus far been figured out. New things may be added, but these are unlikely to move…

Friday
10:30 PM Secret Screening

Saturday
1:30-2:45PM Manly Wade Wellman and the American Folk Horror Tradition
6-7:15PM Pluto in Furs Book Release Party

Sunday
9-10:15AM Films Made and Unmade: Adaptations of Lovecraft’s Contemporaries
1:30-2:45PM The Weird Writ Large: Kaiju as Device and Metaphor in Weird Fiction

If you’re going, I hope to see you there. I’ll be hosting movies and hanging out on panels, haunting the dealer’s room and wandering witch-haunted Arkham and trying to catch up with lots of people. If you see me in the wild, be sure to come say hi!

For those who won’t be in Providence, not to worry; I’ve left you with a passel of movie reviews to keep you company. Just a couple of weeks back I caught the premiere of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which I loved, and just last night I saw a preview screening of Ready or Not, which was a lot of fun.

As is usual for me, I’ve also been watching a lot of older movies, and recently reviewed the Arrow Blus of Alice, Sweet Alice and Cruising. If I’m gonna see you at Providence, then I’ll see you soon. If not, hopefully those will tide you over until I meet you on the other side.

I got so wrapped up in the fulfilling of pre-orders and the like (not to mention the run up to NecronomiCon, which is in less than a week somehow) that I almost forgot to acknowledge the fact that today is actually the official book birthday of Revenge of Monsters from the Vault!

If you pre-ordered your copy direct form the publisher, it should be hitting your mailbox any day now, if it hasn’t already. If you didn’t, well, there’s not time like the present to correct that deficiency.

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I love writing spooky short stories, but I also love writing about monster movies – on my best days, I manage to smash the two together to relatively satisfactory results. In my freelance work, I am lucky enough to write occasionally about movies both modern and antique, but one of my favorite things to do is to just share the joy that I get from tracking down some moth-bitten old movie filled with cobwebbed sets and some painted monsters.

Those are the movies that, as Joe R. Lansdale hisownself once put it better than I ever could, “kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see”.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to write about a lot of them and, with any luck, I’ll get to write about a lot more before I go to wherever good skeletons finally go, but Revenge of Monsters from the Vault closes the door on a chapter, to be sure.

When I first started writing for Innsmouth Free Press, I wasn’t yet a very established voice in the field. Silvia Moreno-Garcia was kind enough to give me a soapbox from which I could share my love for these delightfully creaky old movies, and she was even kinder to add another step to that soapbox by re-publishing all those columns in Monsters from the Vault.

Now, together, we’ve gone a step farther yet. With any luck, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault won’t be the last time I write about these movies, but it will probably be our last trip to the Vault of Secrets. We’re sealing up that tomb and moving on to unearth another.

It’s not an occasion for mourning, however, but celebration. I got to write about Mystery of the Wax Museum and Horror Island and The Return of the Vampire and Zombies of Mora Tau and The World of Vampires and Yog, Monster from Space. And, what’s more, somebody put all of that writing into not one book but two.Most poor skeletons never even get half so lucky.

I hope, if you choose to read either of these volumes, that you come away from them with a new favorite movie that you otherwise might not have seen. I think I agree with Mr. Lansdale that that’s the purpose of all great art, and while I don’t think these books are necessarily great art, hopefully they can be your portal to some.

If you pre-ordered Revenge of Monsters from the Vault direct from the publisher, your copy will be shipping out as early as this week. For those who got e-book versions instead, or as well, the emails containing those have already gone out, and should be in your inbox forthwith.

If you didn’t get your pre-orders in, you can still pre-order from your favorite bookseller or right here. The book is technically out on August 15th which is… [checks watch] real soon. I’m told there will be copies at Lovecraft Arts & Sciences at NecronomiCon later this month, where I will also be.

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If you pre-ordered from Innsmouth Free Press, your copy will come signed. If not, and you want to catch me at NecronomiCon, I’ll be happy to put the ol’ skeleton Hancock on it for you.

Speaking of NecronomiCon, the full schedule has been released… or has it? I’ll be on a panel talking about Manly Wade Wellman (one of my favorite subjects) on Saturday at 1:30pm and one about cinematic adaptations of other weird fiction writers besides Lovecraft (another of my favorite subjects) at 9am on Sunday. I’ll also be participating in a group reading from Pluto in Furs, which contains my very strange story “Stygian Chambers” and is out now. The group reading is Saturday at 6pm.

There’s also a chance that I’ll be doing some suitably occult stuff that is currently under wraps, so if you’re coming, keep a weather eye.

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t love resort towns. I never got to go to them very often when I was a kid, but anytime I did I felt instantly enchanted. This goes double for resort towns along the beach, even though I’ve been to all of maybe three or four of them in my whole life.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is. I think it’s because they are such a combination of liminal spaces. Resort towns are ethereal constructions at best; built on a population that is temporary and ephemeral. They are made up of structures and infrastructures that feel theatrical. Like set-dressing rather than real places.

Resort towns that are built on the edges of the water are more liminal yet. Their boardwalks occupy that unclaimed space between the sea and the land; a space that transforms with the coming and going of the tide.

Or maybe I just watched The Lost Boys when I was really young and never got over it.

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Whatever the case, I was excited to go to Myrtle Beach for an actual vacation in July. I travel a couple of times a year, usually, but it’s to go to conventions. Traveling just to travel is a rarity indeed. And traveling with Grace is rarer still.

We flew in to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet up with two of our best friends from college, spent a day or two with them, then we all drove down to Myrtle Beach. It was fun, absolutely, but also disappointing. The hotel room was very nice, with a balcony that looked out over the beating waves, but many of the logistics of the trip didn’t work out as intended.

I loved being so near that strip of beach, even if the closest I came to going in the water was a midnight walk along the swash and beneath the piers as high tide rolled in. I wanted to ride the skywheel and never managed it, but I enjoyed it always being there, lit up at night and hanging over the boardwalk. I wanted to go to the haunted house down the way, but passed for various reasons.

We did go to an amusement park (basically a midway, another liminal space I have loved ever since I was a kid) down the beach, where we rode a dilapidated wild west-themed dark ride (the best kind of ride) where we shot light guns at outlaws.

I went with Grace on a chartered fishing trip that never actually managed to go out into the deeper ocean because the sea was too rough. The fishing was bad, though they caught flounder and a shark, but we nonetheless got to see a sea turtle and a ray and I got to hold a cannonball jellyfish which had a tiny little crab living inside it who came out to say hi.

Things never really got better than standing on the balcony at night, the lights of the boardwalk off to my right, a red, red moon rising over the waves as the surf crashed against the sand.

Then we drove back to Charlotte, played King of Tokyo, which I really loved and am going to have to buy, though I’m holding out for one of the original printings because I like the old artwork much better than the new, and then flew back to Kansas City.

Probably the best parts of the trip actually happened in Charlotte, not Myrtle Beach. We went to an exhibition of Tony DiTerlizzi artwork at the Mint Museum in Charlotte which was absolutely amazing.

My first ever exposure to D&D was through DiTerlizzi’s artwork in Planescape and the 2e Monster Manual, and he was probably one of my first ever favorite artists. Seeing that art, which I had grown up with, in person was a rare pleasure.

Now I’m back, chopping my way through the thicket of freelance deadlines that sprang up while I was away. On the other side of them, I hope to make some time to watch a few movies – I had a lot of good mail just before I left and waiting for me when I got back – before I get ready for my next trip, which will be to NecronomiCon in Providence in the second half of August.

Even though I just got home and am generally a pretty sedentary person, I’m already looking forward to that next trip. I can’t wait to see a bunch of my favorite people who I see altogether too rarely and, in several cases, have never actually met in person before.

In a rarity for me and conventions, I’m actually looking forward to many of the panels being presented, and I’m on a couple of them, where I’ll be talking about Manly Wade Wellman (one of my favorite topics) and film adaptations of weird fiction authors (another of my favorite topics). I’m also participating in a group reading for the recently-released anthology Pluto in Furs, which includes my very weird story “Stygian Chambers.”

There’s a lot to be done between now and then, though, so I had better get back to it.

 

 

This isn’t going to be a review of Midsommar, which I watched last night, but instead a discussion of one aspect of it. I don’t think it’ll really have anything in it that qualifies as spoilers, but on the off chance, y’know, watch out.

I didn’t love Midsommar and I didn’t hate it. I don’t think I liked it as much as Hereditary, and I don’t think it brought much that was terribly new to the folk horror table, besides a real meticulousness. But again, I said this wasn’t a review, and I don’t mean for it to be.

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The main character in Midsommar (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh) has an anxiety disorder. She has it before the traumatic events which propel her onto the ill-fated trip that makes up the meat of the movie. Probably she has always had it. Just like me.

And more so than maybe any other movie I’ve ever seen, Midsommar, in its first half-hour or so, nails what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder, at least for me.

When I got home from the theatre, I called its first 20 or 30 minutes “basically the tunnel-visioning run-up to a panic attack put on film.” I guess it would be easy to read that as “it’s scary,” but, while Midsommar is many things, it is emphatically not particularly scary.

“It’s definitely a horror movie,” one of the people I saw it with said afterward. “But it’s not a scary movie.” I’d be inclined to agree.

And yet, I took half an alprazolam about the time they got on the plane. This before the “horror” part of the movie had really kicked in.

Normally, movies don’t trigger my anxiety. Ever. At all.

My therapist used to find it ironic that I had a significant anxiety disorder and suffered from frequent panic attacks but that I also watched horror movies practically for a living. But movies–pretty much no matter how tense or shocking or disturbing–have always been my safe place. Horror movies especially.

And I didn’t pop an alprazolam because Midsommar was scary or shocking or tense. I took one because the film felt so much like the run-up to a panic attack that I could feel one of my own just starting to flutter its wings somewhere deep down in my ribcage, in the dark space behind my own eyes, tingling at the tips of my fingers.

Anxiety as a disorder–rather than simply a natural reaction that people have to traumatic or frightening situations–isn’t something that movies get right very often. Whatever your thoughts on Ari Aster’s approach to mental illness in his films so far (and I think there are a LOT of thoughts to have on the subject), this depiction of anxiety felt right to me.

(The scene of her stalking around, arms rigid, fists clenched at her sides to keep from scratching at herself, telling herself over and over again to, “Stop it. Stop it.” I have literally done that exact thing more times than I can count.)

So, if you don’t suffer from anxiety, or do and it takes a different form, and you want an idea of what it feels like to be me–sometimes more than others, of course, but never gone completely–watch the first part of Midsommar, everything up to the scene where Dani wakes up after they take the mushrooms. That’ll give you a taste.