An Entry from the Secret Life of Laird Barron

Lately, the Internet has been abuzz with people ousting the scandalous secrets of Laird Barron’s sordid life, but there’s one story that no one has yet told (at least, not to my knowledge). It’s possible that I’m the only person who has figured this out, since it hasn’t even shown up on IMDb yet.

You see, sometime before 2006, Laird secretly starred in a low-budget horror film. I can’t say why exactly he would cover this up, except maybe out of shame at the final product. It supposedly played a couple of small-time festival circuits under the unfortunate moniker “Ape Women from Venus,” in spite of containing neither apes nor women nor Venus. I’ve never been able to track down anyone who actually remembers seeing it at a festival, just a few people who remember the name on the programming, or who remember talking to people who had seen it at some 2am screening.

The copy I watched was a DVD screener, bearing the less evocative but perhaps more accurate title of “Monster Cabin” affixed to the outside of an otherwise blank box by a post-it note. This was back when I was still working in a video store, and one of my customers, aware of my penchant for unusual horror films, slipped me the screener one evening just before I closed up for the night.

The DVD inside was blank, the kind you buy at office supply stores, and the picture quality when I popped it into my DVD player was as lousy as you might imagine. As near as I could make out past the miserable camera work and out-of-sync soundtrack, the story concerned some hikers (two couples, so I guess there were some women in it after all) who were kidnapped by a crazy hermit and taken to his mountain cabin. There, he read to them from his latest manuscript, while outside the cabin’s one window lights flashed first red then green then blue, and some stagehands obviously shook the set from side to side. The screener I got was badly damaged, and began to break down near the end, but as near as I could tell the hikers started to change shape as they listened to the hermit’s reading, melting and reforming in claymation-like shapes. My memory tells me that the special effects in this section, while still smacking of stop motion and forced perspectives, were remarkably lifelike and much better than the rest of the film, though they were seen only in shadow and through a shaking camera. But the screener was already beginning to crap out by then, and it’s possible that I just imagined it. I tried to watch the film again, but the player said it couldn’t read the disc, and shortly thereafter I lost track of it, presumably in a move.

It wasn’t until several years later that I met Laird at Readercon and realized that he’d been, unmistakably, the crazy hermit from the mountain cabin. I didn’t press him about it at the time, but one night at the bar I did fish with some comments about low-budget horror films and mountain cabins, which caused Laird to clam up and shoot me a hard, cold look, in spite of the number of beverages I had by then seen him imbibe.

To the best of my knowledge, the film has never been released on DVD under any title, and no mention of it is made on IMDb or anywhere else on the Internet that I’ve been able to find. Clips occasionally surface on YouTube, where they can be found by searching for things like “crazy hermit” or “people turning into claymation,” but the clips seldom stay up for long and always disappear as mysteriously as they arrived.

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