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appearances

“It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf.”
Halloween 3 (1982)

However you feel about them, traditions are one of the ways we anchor ourselves – to the past, to our families and friends, to the world we know. From traditions that are part of cultural norms (presents at Christmas, fireworks at the 4th of July, the basic structures of weddings and funerals) to personal rituals that are bespoke for each individual, we all have them.

For me, one tradition that has settled in over the past decade is Nerdoween. It happens every October, hosted by the gents from the Nightmare Junkhead podcast. A themed triple-feature of horror movies, with the titles a mystery until the picture begins to roll. I went to the very first one, eight years ago now, and saw both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time. (The third film on the docket was Demon Knight, but by then it was early morning and I had just watched Demon Knight the week before, as it happened.)

My adopted brother, Jay, came with me to that first Nerdoween, and he’s been with me at every one since. Over the course of the intervening years, I’ve seen twenty more movies courtesy of Nerdoween, skipping out on only one, for similar reasons to why I missed Demon Knight that first time around. Of those movies, 22 in total, counting that first year, nine were first-time watches. Which, given how many horror movies I’ve consumed, is a pretty good average. Every year but two I saw at least one movie for the first time.

This year’s theme was eating, and the movie I saw for the first time was Gnaw: The Food of the Gods 2 (1989), which was an experience. I did that over this previous weekend, when I also partook of a somewhat less long-lived but equally vital Halloween tradition: an Analog Sunday double feature, this time watching Dead Inn (1997) and Witches Sabbath (2005).

For those who have been following along for a while, you’ll know that Analog Sunday has become an important part of my life over the last few years. Through it, I’ve seen all sorts of movies I would probably otherwise never have experienced and, even more importantly, made some of my closest friends. Recently, it has moved into the Rewind bar in the basement of the Screenland Armour, which has been accompanied by some growing pains, but this double-feature was back upstairs and felt like a return to old times.

After watching five movies at the Screenland in two days, I drove back just two days later and hosted a screening of House on Haunted Hill (1999), a movie that has been a favorite since I first saw it in its Halloween theatrical run. Back then, I had never seen the original 1959 version, which has since become my literal favorite movie of all time.

The screening was fun. Haunted Hill ’99 makes for good seasonal programming. Spooky and campy and occasionally genuinely deranged. We had a good crowd, including one person who was seeing her first horror movie in a theatre. I think she picked a good one to start.

Eli, who hosts Analog Sunday, loaned me his tombstone props, and so I was able to decorate the place for some ambiance – harkening back to when I first saw the much worse haunted house movie of 1999, Jan de Bont’s frankly terrible remake of The Haunting, on opening night in a Wichita theatre whose lobby was decked out in fog machines and fake headstones.

That’s almost it for me this Halloween season, when it comes to appearances and theatrical endeavors. There’s just one left – another thing that has become a monthly staple, hosting a movie followed by a live podcast at the Stray Cat Film Center. It’s something that we’ve only been doing for a short while now, but it’s going strong. Last month, we did Uzumaki, which had our best turn-out to date. For Halloween, on October 27, we’re showing the movie that I’m probably most excited about of anything we’ve done yet: the 1992 faux newscast Ghostwatch.

It’s going to be a special night. And, in a lot of ways, the culmination of what has felt like a special Halloween season, despite some behind-the-scenes things that have kept me busier and less engaged than I might otherwise be. And the season isn’t over yet. There should be some news about my next collection, How to See Ghosts & Other Figments, coming very soon now…

October is an important month to me. I’ve talked a lot about this before. As a horror writer and person who predominantly consumes horror media, it’s a big time of year for me. Most years for the past decade or so, I’ve had a new book coming out in October, and this year will (hopefully) be no different, assuming supply chain issues don’t kick How to See Ghosts & Other Figments a little later into the season.

None of that is really why I love October so much, though. I love Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year. I love the grinning pumpkins, the autumn leaves, the fake cobwebs, and all that jazz. I love the fun of it, the carnival curtain covering the morbid reminder of our own mortality. I love autumn, the time of year that feels most right to me.

Every October, in various ways and for various reasons, I try to make the month feel special. For myself, for my friends and family, and for those who follow me online. This year, some things have come up. Nothing bad. In fact, some possibly quite good. But they’re going to change the dynamic of how I spend my time over the coming weeks.

Most years, I try to do a #31NightsofHalloween countdown on Twitter, running through what I’m watching, reading, and otherwise imbibing to celebrate the season. I’ll still be doing that, but there’s a real chance that I won’t be consuming quite as much as I otherwise would.

There are still some really exciting events happening in October. Nerdoween on the 15th, Analog Sunday on the 16th, and Tyler Unsell and I hosting Ghostwatch on the 27th at the Stray Cat Film Center. Not to mention my book which, hopefully, I’ll have more news about soon. And I’ll probably fit more other stuff in around that than even I am expecting. But if October is a little quiet this year, it’s not for any bad reason, and not for lack of enthusiasm.

The spirit, as they say, is willing.

In the meantime, I’ve seen a lot of folks asking for recommendations for movies to watch during the spooky season, and over on Twitter I’ve compiled a thread (two of them, actually) of some of the best ones I’ve ever seen that most folks never talk about. These are not just some oddities (that I love) that I have encountered over the years. These are, at least for my money, dyed-in-the-wool classics, every bit the match of their more famous counterparts, in various ways, and any one of them should be a guaranteed homerun for your Halloween viewing.

Starting last night, I began playing a game of the Alien RPG from Free League with Stu Horvath and the folks at Team Unwinnable. The game, a pre-gen “cinematic” scenario called “Destroyer of Worlds,” is a subscriber reward unlocked during the mag’s last subscription drive – and, incidentally, the next one is coming up soon.

We’ll be playing every Thursday night for at least the next couple of weeks and live-streaming the results, so feel free to tune in to Unwinnable’s Twitch channel, if you’re into that kind of thing. You can also watch not-live recordings of the previous game sessions, such as last night’s.

This is my first experience with live-streaming a roleplaying game – or anything else, really, although we did some live-streamed episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while. It’s also my first experience with the Alien RPG, which is more what I’m here to talk about.

Longtime readers will know that the Alien franchise – and Aliens, in particular – holds a special place in my heart, so playing a game based around it, and specifically one in which we play marines, feeds back into a lot of things from my early life.

The Alien RPG is one of those roleplaying games that presents a much narrower field of possibilities than something like D&D. You would think this limitation, combined with an extensive knowledge of the source material, might make for games that felt stagnant or free from tension. Last night, at least, we found the opposite to be true.

There’s a very famous quote, from an interview with Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, in which Hitchcock explains the difference between suspense and surprise. “Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us,” Hitchcock begins. If the audience doesn’t know it’s there, everyone is surprised when it goes off. However, if the audience does know that it’s there, but the characters do not, that creates suspense.

(That’s a very shortened version. The full conversation is in Hitchcock/Truffaut.)

Something that is easy to forget in a roleplaying game is that you are both the audience and the protagonists. If you’re playing it right, there will be things that you, the players, know that your characters do not.

In some ways, narrative-focused games like Alien are better at exposing and exploiting this tension between character and player than a game like D&D could ever be – and there are other games, more narrative-driven yet, that are better at it still, and that even make it their central mechanism.

In the case of last night’s Alien game, our previous familiarity with the subject matter acted as the audience’s knowledge of the bomb beneath the table, forcing us, as players, to push our characters into situations that we knew (or thought we knew) were going to be disastrous, because they had no way of knowing what we knew. It also allowed us (the players) to be taken in by red herrings – misdirects for the audience that are largely meaningless to the characters.

It’s a reminder that RPGs are capable of more than we often remember to give them credit for, and a very sharp demonstration of Hitchcock’s bomb-under-the-table theory of suspense, and I’m looking forward to more surprises, more tension, more comedy, and more carnage in future installments of this Alien RPG live-stream!

“It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.”
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

No sooner had the calendar flipped than the skirmishes began. September 1 is either still summer, or it’s the first day of Halloween. At least by observing the battle lines drawn up on Twitter and elsewhere across social media, you must choose a side.

Naturally, and to the surprise of no one, I am on the side of the Autumn People, described so evocatively by Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes: “For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.”

There is a story in Ian Rogers’ Every House is Haunted which argues that autumn is a uniquely magical season because it is the only one that doesn’t exist in perpetuity somewhere on Earth. There are places where it is, for all intents and purposes, always winter, always summer, or even, arguably, always spring. But there is no place where it is always autumn.

There is, in other words, no October Country (described again by Bradbury): “That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.”

Perhaps the only country where it can be autumn all year round is the one in our hearts.

On September 1, I put up my Halloween decorations this year. As the rough beast that is Christmas slouches ever earlier in the year, decorative gourd season is squeezed shorter and shorter each anum, so what harm if it bleeds a little into the summer?

Little enough else of my behavior changes with the changing of the season. I am one of those Autumn People, and I watch monster movies all year long. If anything, only the tenor of the movies I seek out changes with the leaves. As the season turns, I want movies that evoke that small-town, autumnal beauty that represents Halloween as much as grinning pumpkins or sheeted ghosts.

I reach back, even more than I do the rest of the time, to black-and-white horrors that feel delightfully stagebound. To films that crunch with dry autumn leaves underfoot. October proper has its own traditions. There’s Nerd-o-ween, which I will be attending once again this year at the Screenland Armour, making my eighth year in a row, never having missed an occurrence, even the year that I was dying. There’s Analog Sunday, which will be rolling out a double-feature, and the Horror Pod Class, where we’ll be hosting Ghostwatch at the Stray Cat Film Center. And then, of course, there’s the fact that my own new collection should be out in time for Halloween – or thereabouts.

While September is the first month of Halloween, though, it hasn’t quite reached the same saturation point for me. Monster movies are still the order of the day, wherever possible, or creaky thrillers replete with cobwebs. But the seasonal quality of them hasn’t yet solidified. Alien invaders and city-crushing kaiju are still fair game in September, as much as they are the rest of the year.

As I said, I keep the October Country in my heart year round, but I also watch a lot of other kinds of movies. In September and October, it’s monster weather. Ghost stories will come, as October ramps up and the winter gradually shakes the leaves from the trees. For the moment, though, give me rubber creatures or old dark houses, and I’ll be happy – a sentiment that I could honestly aver any time of year, without hesitation.

Let’s start with the bad news: I won’t be at NecronomiCon Providence this year. Which is a bummer for any number of reasons, not least because I’ve been helping out (in very small ways) with the film programming, and I’m excited to see that come together. But alas, this year it just isn’t in the cards.

(Also, my contributions to the film programming are borderline nonexistent, so all the good bits are going to be Phil Gelatt’s fault. You can blame me whenever something goes wrong. I won’t be there anyway.)

There are a lot of you that I’m going to miss seeing, which makes me sad. But with any luck we will mostly survive until the next convention (though that seems more touch-and-go than we’d all like these days) and I’ll see you all again soon.

With that out of the way, here’s some better news: It has recently come to my attention that I have not been sufficiently vocal about the fact that I have a new collection coming from Word Horde later this year.

You can expect to hear a whole lot more about How to See Ghosts & Other Figments, my fourth collection of short, spooky stories and, somehow, my seventh full-length solo book in the weeks and months to come, including cover reveals, a table of contents, and other goodies. For now, though, I can let you know that it’s going to be my longest collection to date, with 18 stories from across my writing career.

Also, if you happen to be a reviewer and you’re interested in getting your hands on How to See Ghosts a little early, you can reach out to the folks at Word Horde by emailing publicity[at]wordhorde[.]com, and they’ll hook you up.

That’s about it for now but, if you haven’t already, head over and check out the Kickstarter for the latest thing I worked on at Privateer Press. It’s in its final days and it’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself. You can also read a little more about my involvement in it here.

As we near the end of June, we are at the halfway point of what has already been both a very good and very bad year, sadly not always in equal measures. There have been some real high points, most of them personal, and plenty of low ones, many of them national.

I’m not here to talk about those, though. I’m here, as usual, to talk about movies. As of this writing, I have watched 158 movies so far in 2022. Of those, around 121 have been new-to-me, easily keeping to my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than re-watching ones I’ve seen before. In fact, I’m crushing that goal so far this year.

In spite of that, I’ve seen relatively few new-to-me movies that I really loved so far in 2022. The best new movie that actually came out this year that I’ve seen was Spider One’s Allegoria, which will be releasing on Shudder early next month and which I reviewed for The Pitch. As usual, I’ve been keeping a list of movies that I really dug that I saw for the first time over on Twitter, and while the list is relatively long already, I feel like the proportion of true favorites on it is fewer than would normally be the case.

Without much competition, the best new-to-me movie I’ve seen so far this year is almost certainly The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, which I literally just caught earlier this month. Other standouts for me include The Pyschic (1977), Ghoulies 2, and finally getting to see War of the Gargantuas and The Unknown Terror, both for the first time.

My biggest month for watching movies was May, when I managed to catch 40. Hopefully, this all bodes well for the second half of the year, with even more new-to-me movies hopefully making the list, and more new favorites discovered.

I’ll also be continuing to host movies and podcasts at Stray Cat Film Center, though we’re taking a break for July, as usual. When we come back, we’ll be discussing what we did on our summer vacation and the 1997 “classic,” I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Of course, I’ll be reviewing movies periodically but, more to the point, if you would like to review some movies, I’m still movies editor at Exploits until they kick me out, and I’d love to get something from you. I’m particularly looking for pieces from marginalized voices, so please feel free to hit me up with a pitch for any movie you’d like to write about. We have a hard cap of 350 words and pay $10 per essay. I’ve got essays locked in for July and August, but I’d love to put a bow on the rest of the year.

Twenty years ago, I did something that remains the best thing I have ever done: I married the love of my life, my spouse and partner, Grace. We celebrated our anniversary over the last few days, during which time we stayed in an adorable cabin next to a mountain stream, where we were greeted by a rare sight of a heron eating a fish (a good omen, as it turned out). It was a wonderful trip.

The time away from the online world was good for me, but it also means I was away from the computer when a lot of things happened, so let’s tackle a few of those. My new column on folk horror launched at Signal Horizon. I’ll be discussing the subject every month, through the lens (at least for the first year or so) of the All the Haunts Be Ours Blu-ray set from Severin Films.

For this first installment (and the next one; the doc is long) we’ll be going over Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the extensive folk horror documentary from Kier-La Janisse that opens the Blu-ray set.

Speaking of columns, my others are still moving along, and the latest installment of my board game column dropped at Unwinnable, where I’m writing about Tiny Epic Dungeons this month, a recent Kickstarter acquisition. Meanwhile, in proper “me writing for Unwinnable” fashion, I also recently covered some… very disparate films over there, writing reviews of a pair of kung fu pictures and a “classic” erotic thriller from the late ’90s.

I’ve also been movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication, for a couple of months now, and my latest acquisition was actually the cover story this month, as David Busboom wrote an unmissable review of one of my favorite weirdo flicks, The Monster Club.

Finally, this one hasn’t happened quite yet, but later this month, Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting a live screening of The Mask (1961) at the Stray Cat Film Center, followed by a live episode of the Horror Pod Class. Will it be sssssssssmokin’? No, it will not. But it WILL be in 3D, complete with special stereoscopic 3D glasses at the door and giveaways, trivia, and vaguely academic discussion to follow.

If that sounds like a lot, think how I feel? I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things this week and there’s a lot more to come but, for now, why not have a drink at The Monster Club. I’m sure a member of the wait staff will be with you shortly…

Well, another Panic Fest is more-or-less over. Technically, there’s another night or two of programming, and there’s a chance I may go out tomorrow night to catch Watcher or The Sadness, but give or take, it’s done.

I saw a few good movies, the best of which was probably Spider One’s Allegoria, and I saw a few bad movies, the worst of which was definitely Dashcam, which I described on Letterboxd as, “An absolute torrent of bafflingly terrible decisions wrapped around an adequate V/H/S segment.” Seriously, Dashcam is a piece of shit, and not in any remotely fun way. Don’t watch it, definitely don’t give it any money, and I’m done talking about it, because I don’t want to give it any oxygen.

As you can maybe guess from the Allegoria review up there, I was covering the Fest for The Pitch this year, and there are a few more reviews where that one came from, including a review of Midnight and capsule reviews for a few other highlights. Assuming I don’t make it out to any more, I’ll have seen nine films from this year’s Panic Fest, several of which I watched online rather than in-theatre for various reasons that include because there’s still a fucking pandemic on.

I also watched a few short films. I typically miss the short blocks at festivals, and I did this year, too, but I caught a few of the shorts online, including some where the filmmakers had reached out to me. A couple highlights include “The Pey,” about an Instagrammer who shares a gif and unleashes a monster, and “They See You,” which had its world premier at the Fest.

Something I did see in theatres was the new Doctor Strange, which I watched this morning and which I’m not going to talk about here because of spoilers and because we’ll be talking about it on the next episode of the Horror Pod Class, which is also why I saw it today. So tune in for that or, if you’re local, join us at the Stray Cat Film Center on May 24 at 7pm while we screen the very best Dr. Strange movie – the 1992 Full Moon classic Doctor Mordrid.

As you saw in my last post, a lot has been going on lately. I mentioned a few things, all of them adjacent to the movies, and now it’s time to talk about them a little more…

First off, Panic Fest starts next week. For those who aren’t local to the Kansas City area, Panic Fest is our own homegrown film festival celebrating horror, sci-fi, and thrillers, and it’s grown up a lot in the half-dozen or so years I’ve been attending. This year, I’ll be covering the fest for another Kansas City institution – our very own dirtbag newspaper, The Pitch.

I’m not sure yet which movies I’ll be seeing when, but there’s a number that I want to catch, including Allegoria, Dashcam, Malibu Horror Story, and Midnight, to name a few. If you’re going to be at the fest, drop me a line and maybe we can catch up sometime.

Or, if you’re in the area and can’t wait for Panic Fest to kick off, you could always come by the Stray Cat Film Center as Tyler Unsell and I host another live episode of the Horror Pod Class on Wednesday, April 27, where we’ll be watching a made-for-TV movie from very early in John Carpenter’s career – that just happens to also be one of my very favorite Carpenter flicks.

As far as news relating to movies goes, I saved the biggest for last. Recently, I became the movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication. At Exploits, what we basically do is provide short blurbs about movies, books, music, games, and so on that we’ve been enjoying lately. They can be new, they can be old, they can be mainstream, they can be weird.

As movies editor, my primary job is to source a 350-word essay each month about a film. It can be any film, from any era. With me in the catbird seat, the odds are it’ll usually be monster movies. But that’s far from a requirement.

The news got announced on social media a while back, so I’ve already received a number of pitches and, indeed, filled out my first few months worth of essays. But, if you haven’t already and you have any interest in writing a little about a movie, feel free to send me a pitch. The 350-word cap is firm and we pay $10 per essay and beyond that, just about everything is fair game. Send me a pitch before you write, though, in case someone else is already writing about Attack of the Crab Monsters, or whatever.

I’ve also been helping with the film programming for this year’s NecronomiCon in Providence, which probably means I will also be in attendance there. That’s a few months away yet, though, and there’s a lot that can change between now and then. Regardless, the film programming is very much still a work in progress, but hopefully there’ll be some news on that front soon, too…

It’s NaNoWriMo and, for the first time in a year or two, I am not inadvertently participating simply by dint of having so much freelance work on my plate that I write well over 50,000 words in the course of the month – though I do still have a lot of work, so I may crack that number without breaking a sweat anyway.

Instead, I am going to be talking about writing some. Specifically, I will be talking about writing licensed fiction and work-for-hire stuff and how to take inspiration from the movies over at the Johnson County Library Writers Conference. It’s my first time as a presenter at said conference – and my first time presenting online pretty much ever – so I’m more than a little nervous, but you’re all still welcome to come check out one or both lectures/workshops. Plus, there’s lots of other cool stuff going on!

The conference is all online, so you don’t have to be local to the Kansas City metro, and it’s totally free. You can learn more at this here link, and if you want to stop by for my sections, I’ll be talking about writing licensed fiction TOMORROW at 4pm CDT and doing a longer workshop on how to write from movies, rather than for them on Saturday starting at 3pm CDT and running until 5.

The former will be a pretty straightforward talk about how I got into writing licensed fiction (primarily for Privateer Press), its relationship to fan fiction, how it differs from my regular work (and how it’s similar), and what my experience with it has been. The latter will be a more in-depth discussion of both the similarities and differences between film and prose, and how the strengths of one can be adapted to fit the other.

Anyone who has read much of my fiction knows that I draw a lot of inspiration from film, and I at least seem to do an okay job of it. But translating film to prose isn’t a one-for-one process, and knowing how to borrow is perhaps more important than knowing what to borrow.

Both sessions will be recorded and available on the library’s website in the future, if you can’t make it this weekend. In the meantime, I dunno, wish me whatever the Zoom equivalent of “break a leg” is…