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appearances

This time, two years ago, I had recently been a guest on the Nightmare Junkhead podcast to talk about the then-new 2019 Hellboy movie from director Neil Marshall. Since then, I have not revisited the movie even once, which probably tells you all about the flick’s quality that you’ll ever need to know.

As has been a recurring theme of late, it feels indescribably surreal to discuss events at once so temporally near and yet which feel so impossibly distant. I saw Greg and Jenius (altogether too briefly) at Panic Fest, for the first time since October of last year and, before that, the last time I had seen them might well have been the October before.

This is all coming up because tonight is Walpurgisnacht, perhaps the closest thing we have to a second Halloween in the middle of the spring. “Walpurgisnacht” is also the title of one of my more popular stories, which originally saw print in the Laird Barron tribute antho Children of Old Leech and was later reprinted in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, which came out lo these six years gone by.

Interestingly, I was reminded of that story recently for reasons other than the date. I’ve been reading the latest Junji Ito manga to receive English-language release, Lovesickness, and the title story in that volume discusses the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre, which figures heavily in my tale, taking place, as it does, atop the peak from which the phenomenon takes its name.

I don’t have any big plans for the occasion this year. Maybe I’ll play a solo game of Cursed City if I become extremely ambitious. More likely, I’ll just work until late and then watch a witchy devil movie like Curse of the Demon, City of the Dead, or Curse of the Crimson Altar. How are you celebrating witch’s night?

So, Panic Fest happened without a lot of fanfare from yours truly – sorry about that. I did get out to a (very) few movies, for my first excursion to a (socially distanced) movie theater since October. Call it a celebration of my also getting the first jab of the vaccine (Pfizer, if it matters) with no discernable ill-effects save a marked absence of any eyeballs in my shoulder, more’s the pity.

I saw three whole movies this year, which is down considerably from last year, when I saw something like thirteen in a single weekend. But also it’s virtually impossible to imagine that last year was only last year. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Of those three, only one was a miss for me, and the other two were movies about watching movies, which I obviously love. Censor was my first night out at the Fest – a feverish flick about a film censor working during the “Video Nasty” era in Britain, who stumbles upon a film that mirrors the disappearance of her sister. It performs several impressive conjuring tricks, including successfully lulling you into some misplaced identification, before delivering a last act coup de grace that serves as a cautionary reminder to be wary of even the best intentions of those who wish to protect us from ourselves.

The highlight of the Fest, though, I saved for last – The Last Matinee, in point of fact, a giallo-throwback set in 1993 about a killer menacing a mostly-empty screening of a crappy Frankenstein flick at an aging Italian movie theater. The gore and stalking are all handled well, but what really sells the movie is the heart that it puts into its sense of place. I said on Letterboxd that I could have just watched these people watch a crappy Frankenstein movie for 90 minutes and been happy, and I wasn’t kidding.

The Last Matinee was also a reminder that the magic of Panic Fest – especially this year – isn’t really the movies at all. It was getting to see some of my Screenland family again, both those who so often go to movies there with me, and those who work behind the bar. As movie theaters themselves have experienced a new constriction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pathos of a film like Last Matinee, that is, as much as anything, a love letter to going to the movies, has a special resonance.

Here in Kansas City, our local Alamo Drafthouse has closed down (and good riddance to it, honestly, as it was apparently a wretched hive of scum and worker exploitation) and I’m sure even the bigger chain theaters are feeling the pinch. So far, though, the Screenland has managed to … not thrive, but at least drag itself on. I hope it will continue, because honestly, when it dies, a part of me truly will die with it.

Does anybody need me to tell them that nothing feels right or normal right now? Time passes in a blur, seeming to at once stretch and vanish. Godzilla vs. Kong is in theatres right now, and not only have I not seen it yet, I have no idea if I will, at least not on the big screen. Not because I’m particularly concerned about catching the virus or even to avoid gatherings and do the right thing, not really, but just because everything feels off and it’s impossible to know what to do anymore.

Next week is Panic Fest. The last time we had one, the pandemic hadn’t yet begun, which is wild because it feels like it was so long ago that trying to imagine it is almost beyond my capacity. I miss all my friends at the Screenland, I miss Analog Sundays, and I miss Panic Fest – does that mean I’m going this year? I’ll probably catch a movie or two, but I won’t be there as often as in the past, in part because only a portion of the fest is in-person while the rest is virtual, and in part because, well, see above.

My recent conversion into someone who actually lets myself be into tabletop gaming stuff is as surreal to me as everything else, but it’s also been a welcome lifeline over the past year. On that note, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City also comes out next weekend. It’s been my latest obsession for a bit now, and threatens to be even more so once it actually drops. So, steel yourselves for plenty of Warhammer Castlevania content.

I’ve kept busy for the past year. I’ve written recurring columns and done freelance work, published a few stories and penned a few others. I’ve been co-hosting the Horror Pod Class from Signal Horizon every other week this whole time (it was every week for a while, when the lockdowns first started) and we’ll have a special episode up as part of the virtual programming at Panic Fest. I wrote a large chunk of the new 5e-compatible Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game for Privateer Press, which launched with an enormously successful Kickstarter.

Yet, I also feel strangely disconnected from so much of the writing world. I’ve been a specter on social media, which doesn’t help, and while I have plans for a fourth collection in the works (and, indeed, more collections beyond that) thus far they are as ephemeral as everything else seems to be. Indeed, 2020 was the first year in half-a-decade that I didn’t publish a book with my name on the spine, and I can’t say for sure whether or not 2021 will be the second.

It isn’t just the writing itself that feels strange, though. I’ve lost touch with so many people, people whom social distancing shouldn’t affect because our relationships are – and always have been – principally online. If you’re one of those people, I apologize. It isn’t you. It’s me. Or maybe it’s just this plague year.

It doesn’t help that all the conventions have gone virtual, or gone entirely. I’m glad that NecronomiCon managed to push itself back to 2022. By then hopefully things will be on a more even keel, and I hope intensely to see and converse with some folks I have badly missed.

There’s a lot that I’ve missed. I’ve enjoyed the new (or newly rekindled) hobbies that have been helping to keep me together over the past year. While I am still not – and may very likely never be – a painter of miniatures, I have found the act of putting them together surprisingly restorative, even when I can’t play with them. I don’t intend to leave these new-old hobbies behind, but I hope very much to reconnect with some of the things and people I enjoyed before. And I hope I have not too completely forgotten how.

Way back when I was first getting started as a writer, before my first professionally-qualifying sales, I worked with editor Ben Thomas on a magazine that was his brainchild. It was called The Willows, and its purview was weird tales in the classic vein. In fact, more than just the vein, they had to actually be set not long after the turn of the century or before.

That’s actually how Ben and I met; I sent him a missive arguing about the necessity (or, indeed, the utility) of that requirement. I believed that weird tales could capture the magic of those classic stories without needing to mimic the time in which those tales were set. What could have been the kind of petty bickering that the internet is all-too-well known for instead became a long-time friendship, even though I never actually met Ben in person until shortly before the beginning of the pandemic, when we finally encountered one-another at the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird.

By then, Ben and I had … lost touch is perhaps too strong a term, but communications had become considerably more sporadic in the years that had passed, as our lives had carried us to very different places, both metaphorically and, in his case, literally, as he had spent several years traveling the world.

When I saw him in Atlanta for the Outer Dark Symposium, I had in the trunk of our rental car a set of pretty much every print copy of The Willows, which I had brought along because he needed to scan them for a project he was putting together – a hardcover reissue of the entire run of The Willows, including some unfortunate juvenalia from yours truly and also plenty of other, more respectable works.

For the occasion, he had also asked me (along with several other authors of the unknown and the eerie, including Jesse Bullington, Gemma Files, and Brian Evenson) to craft a few new tales for the hardcover. I contributed “Manifest Destiny,” perhaps the most overtly political story I’ve ever written, and one that had a lot to do with American politics of the moment, even while it was set during and shortly after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

It was an oddity for me, and I guess it’s only fair that it graces a book that contains some of my earliest published pieces, since those now look like oddities, too. Not long after, Ben invited me to contribute to another project he was putting together. This time it was an all-original anthology of tales concerning a fictional (or is it?) theme park that was open from 1977 until 2003. Surely I wouldn’t hand him another tonal oddity for this one, but of course I did.

“The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” is a story that I could only have written for Ben, and not just because it was from a story he told me (relating to OmniPark, actually) that I got the title, paraphrased, as it is, from my misremembered quotation of an essay that Ray Bradbury wrote in 1965 about Disneyland, of all things.

The story itself concerns everything from rocket science and Jack Parsons to Cameron and Thelema and thaumatropes and animatronic monsters and the nature of time – but what it doesn’t have is an overtly speculative element. Oh, there’s still some weird tales stuff lurking at the edges, mostly about the limits of knowledge and, again, the nature of time, but this is my most naturalistic story to date. So, again, another oddity.

The impetus for this (essay, as it turns out) is that I received my contributor copy of Tales from OmniPark in the mail today. It’s a nice-looking book, filled with ephemera related to the park, and accompanied by a reproduction of a 1986 guide map and brochure. And I’m glad that Ben found a home for my odd duck story, with maybe the weirdest title I’ve ever used.

It’s been a weird year, so I guess it only makes sense that it should have weird stories, even if they’re not weird in the same capital-W way that my stories usually are. In fact, the only other story of mine that has been published so far in 2021 is my flash piece, “The Last Day of Doctor Tillinghast,” which showed up in Curtains, a book edited by another friend of mine, this time as a charity antho to benefit #SaveOurStages.

It may seem like an odd fit for me – and it’s an odd, jokey little story, for sure – seeing as I never really went to concerts, but I believe in helping out artists and venues in need, and there’s not that much difference between concert venues and movie theatres, after all, and when the charity antho to save our screens instead hits, put me down twice.

Today and tomorrow are big days here at the Grey Crypt, for reasons that probably don’t need explaining here. While the pandemic makes the usual Halloween festivities prohibitive, there’s still stuff going on and not even 2020 can shake the Halloween spirit out of these bones entirely.

For those who may not be aware, today is my birthday, and if you feel like getting yourself a present to mark the occasion, it seems like a good time to remind you that (for a very limited time) both of my nonfiction books Monsters from the Vault and its sequel Revenge of Monsters from the Vault are on sale for cheap via Kindle. Plus, since electronic delivery is instantaneous, you can use ’em for reference if you need help planning your Halloween viewing.

Last night, I watched the dubious seasonal “classic” Hack-O-Lantern for the first time, live-tweeted it at the hashtag #HPCGoesDark, and then Tyler Unsell and I did an off-the-cuff live episode of the Horror Pod Class on it, which mostly amounted to us talking about everything from the Satanic Panic to bathrobe etiquette.

If you followed along live, thanks for joining us! If not, the episode will be up on YouTube and all the usual podcasting places in the near future. In the meantime, I was also a guest for a very special Halloween episode of the Haunted Hangover podcast, so check that out.

Plus, today marks the launch of Marta Oliehoek’s long-in-progress Horror in the Eye of the Beholder, which combines a series of colored pencil portraits of the eyes of horror writers (including yours truly) with in-depth interviews with same about horror practice, film, literature, and much more.

I’ll be doing a lot of festive stuff around the house this year – I already carved a pumpkin – and there’ll be some other announcements to celebrate the holiday, but for the most part I won’t be on social media a lot until after All Hallows.

(Which, incidentally, is going to be a full moon for what I hear is the first time in 76 years. So, I dunno, go worship the devil or something. Turn yourself into a werewolf. Whatever it is you do.)

If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit, though, I have a couple of recommendations. The Screenland Armour, my kickass local movie theatre that just got named the Best Theatre in KC by The Pitch, is struggling during the pandemic, but they have nonetheless put on some amazing, socially distanced October programming, including a special online Tricks and Treats edition of Panic Fest that’s happening all weekend long. The eagle eyed might even catch a glimpse of yours truly in a segment.

If that’s not your thing, Unwinnable is doing their annual Halloween subscription drive, including their Hallowstream event, where members of the Unwinnable crew do everything from a spoopy live-reading of The Importance of Being Dracula – like The Importance of Being Earnest, but with Draculas – to live games of Call of Cthulhu and a late-night viewing of bonkers flick The Boneyard (that’s the one with the zombie poodle), to name just a few.

Go, watch, subscribe. It helps them keep paying me to do things like writing about board games I haven’t played, movies that I have watched, and my recent “Dungeons & Dollhouses” article. Plus, Unwinnable is just an awesome publication put together by great folks, and the Hallowstream event should be a blast, even if I won’t be in attendance.

Living in the slow-motion apocalypse may make it a little harder than usual to get into the Halloween spirit, but even COVID-19 can’t completely eradicate the Nerdoween triple-feature, hosted each year by the fine fellows from the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts.

Now in its sixth year, Nerdoween has become as much a part of my seasonal traditions as grinning pumpkins or spooky movies. Indeed, it always shows a few spooky movies, and I’ve gone every year.

And every year – with one exception – I have always been introduced to at least one picture that I had never seen before. The first year’s theme was “demons,” and I saw both the Lamberto Bava film of that name and also Night of the Demons for the first time.

The theme of the second year was “sequels,” where I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fresh. The third year was anthologies and managed only a single new-to-me film in the form of the very great Tales from the Hood (the other two were both favorites, however – Creepshow and Waxwork).

They followed that up with “sleazy sci-fi,” where they again managed only a single new-to-me flick, in that case the absolutely wild Xtro.

Last year’s theme was “killer nouns,” and it was the first year where I had seen every movie on the lineup: Maximum Overdrive, Cooties, and Arachnophobia. Which brings us to this year and Nerdoween 6(66) – the triple feature that almost didn’t happen because the world was coming to an end.

Suitably enough, the theme of this year’s triple-feature was the figure who could have been the architect of 2020 himself; none other than the dark lord Satan. And the guys at Nightmare Junkhead nearly managed a hat trick, going two-for-two with movies I had never seen before with our first two features.

We started with The Car, from 1977. Prior to last night, I was (somehow) unaware that the eponymous evil car in this film is overtly demonic, even if they never make even the slightest pretense of explaining its presence in the film.

I was also unaware that, in addition to James Brolin, The Car also stars Ronny Cox, of cops both Robo and Beverly Hills fame.

Then they followed that up with Evilspeak from 1981. If The Car was Duel by way of Jaws by way of The Exorcist then Evilspeak is Carrie + Satanic panic + computers.

A good example of the “movies from the ’80s that go completely bonkers in the last act” subgenre, as near as I can tell the director of Evilspeak had two main interests: People getting eaten by pigs and making Clint Howard sweaty and/or otherwise damp.

In his defense, people getting eaten by pigs is scary and so is damp Clint Howard. This was also an inadvertent (?) double-feature of movies featuring R. G. Armsrong. If the third film of the night had been Warlock: The Armageddon they could have been three-for-three.

Alas (?) it was not, nor was it something I hadn’t ever seen before – and really, a triple-feature of things I hadn’t seen before seems like an awful lot to ask. Instead, it was recent subgenre entry Ready or Not, part of the mini boom of “rich people are literal Satanists, actually” movies of the last few years.

I saw Ready or Not when it first came out and liked it then. I still like it, for most of the same reasons. Underneath its many very modern sensibilities, it has lots of delightfully old-fashioned deal-with-the-devil stuff going on that I adore.

Getting into the Halloween spirit may be harder than normal this year, but three Satanic shockers from the Nerds of Nostalgia guys always makes it a little easier…

Yesterday was the official book birthday for It Came from the Multiplex, an anthology of stories inspired by ’80s midnight movies and the places where we watched them, edited by Josh Viola and released by Hex Publishing.

Back when I was first approached to contribute a story for this anthology, the plan was to release it in tandem with the Colorado Festival of Horror. Then 2020 happened. But, even if we’re stuck in our homes, menaced by an invisible threat and devastated by natural disasters, at least you can still read about movies and monsters and monster movies.

My story “Screen Haunt” follows a filmmaker whose best friend vanished years ago, making a movie inspired by notes in her missing friend’s journal, and maybe conjuring up more than just memories.

I’m far from the only name in the credits, though. My story is joined by tales from the likes of Betty Rocksteady, Stephen Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Steve Rasnic Tem, and others. Plus, the book looks amazing, with a cover by AJ Nazzaro and interior illustrations by Xander Smith.

While some copies have already made their way out into the world, you can order yours now by clicking right here.

Speaking of great-looking books, Word Horde always puts ’em out, and now you can try an impressive sampling of their titles, including my own Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, on the cheap – while also supporting Planned Parenthood, if you feel like it!

I haven’t read all of the books included in this impressive Storybundle, curated by Molly Tanzer, but I can vouch for Word Horde, in general, and tell you that everything I have read from them has been imminently worth your time. (And I’m not just saying that because they often publish my stuff.)

Paying just $5 gets you a pretty nice spread, including John Langan’s must-read epic novel of cosmic horror, The Fisherman, as well as Nadia Bulkin’s bombshell of a collection, She Said Destroy, and three other titles.

For the full effect, though, and to snag a copy of Guignol, you’ll only need to pony up $15, which will get you Kristi DeMeester’s Beneath, Tony McMillen’s An Augmented Fourth, Scott R. Jones’ Stonefish, Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Molly Tanzer’s Vermillion, and others. It’s a hell of a deal, and should keep you in good, shivery stories long into the night for many nights ahead.

Speaking, as I was back toward the beginning of this post, of film festivals, we’re coming up on the Halloween season, and with it the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. Normally, I try to make it out to the show, an event I love so much that it features prominently in the opening story of Guignol, but this year, the show is going online instead of in person, which has the advantage, for everyone who can’t make it out to Portland (which is currently on fire anyway), of being much easier to attend.

If you want to get your tickets and support some cool, weird cinema, you can do so by hitting up their Kickstarter, which is live as I write this. Because of the streaming nature of the event, airtime is at a premium, so I am not currently planning to do any panels or readings this year, though that’s subject to possible change.

What I am hoping to be involved in is the Screenland Armour’s annual Shocktober programming, which will be happening via a dynamic and mixed methodology in order to try to still have Halloween in the midst of social distancing.

I’ll have more news on that as it develops, but for Kansas City readers of “Screen Haunt” in It Came from the Multiplex, let’s just say that the Galileo theatre in that story may seem pretty familiar to devotees of the Screenland…

“We live in anxious but oddly well-lit times.”

Emperor Cupcake on Letterboxd

Is it deeply strange or merely apropos to be having the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in the midst of all this? [gestures around at everything]

Whichever it is, that’s what’s happening. The Symposium was originally slated for earlier in the year, right as the pandemic was getting into full swing. Naturally, the folks behind the Outer Dark were wise enough to postpone until August when, wouldn’t you know, the pandemic was still in full swing.

But when the going gets weird, the Weird go virtual, so we’re still having the Symposium, just remotely via Zoom calls and the like. Last night, Tyler Unsell and myself live-tweeted a viewing (my second in 48 hours, because I am good at things) of The Beach House, followed by a special live episode of the Horror Pod Class.

As bad of an idea as that sounds, it was actually a blast, and I think I enjoyed it more than a regular episode because it was really fun to interact with comments from the peanut gallery in real time. (If we missed your comment – like the person who wanted to know what we were drinking – sorry about that, we’re new to the format. I can’t speak for Tyler, but I was drinking boring water.)

Hopefully, we’ll be doing more live shows going forward.

In the meantime, the Outer Dark Symposium is going strong all weekend. Hopefully, you’ve already got your membership but, if not, you can get tickets, see the full schedule, and learn more at the website.

Aside from last night’s live-tweet and kickoff episode, the only thing I’m officially taking part in is a round table discussion on the State of the Weird, where I’ll be keeping my mouth shut and letting smarter people like Chesya Burke, JS Breukelaar, Larissa Glasser, Tonya Liburd, and Julie C. Day talk.

But there’s plenty of cool programming going on, including panels, readings, short films, and more. There’s even a virtual tour of the Silver Scream FX Lab which, having been there in person at last year’s Symposium, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

If you’ve never attended an Outer Dark Symposium before, this is your chance to see what all the fuss is about from the comfort of your own couch. And if you’re coming back for your second or third or more time, I’ll see you all on Saturday night, if not before!

(I won’t actually see you, but you’ll be able to see me, for which I apologize in advance.)

“If you make things too real, sometimes you bring it down to the mundane.”
– Ray Harryhausen

Seven years ago today, I was home from a very pleasant trip to Portland for an off-season H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, which had ended with me hearing about the passing of Ray Harryhausen. I was watching It Came from Beneath the Sea to mark the event.

A little less than three years ago, on December 2nd, 2017, I was in Oklahoma City for an exhibit of Harryhausen’s work, thanks to lots of help and patience from my wonderful spouse and partner. I made it on literally the last day of the exhibition, and barely that, due to recovering from emergency surgery that year.

The exhibit was life changing, and not just because I came so close to not being alive to experience it. Harryhausen has always been one of my biggest inspirations and, for my money, one of the greatest monster designers to ever live. It may be weird for a writer to cite such a visual artist, but Harryhausen was a storyteller, as well as an animator, even if his name wasn’t on the director or screenplay lines.

A little under two months from now would have been Harryhausen’s 100th birthday. In a century, cinema has changed a great deal, but its debt to Harryhausen hasn’t slackened one bit – nor has the debt that my own work owes to his.

Harryhausen - SkeletonWhile my licensed novel was dedicated to him, the place where his influence is probably most obviously felt is in my story, “Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet,” which is available in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

It’s there in less-obvious places, too, though. In the way that the monster moves at the end of The Cult of Headless Men, also available in Guignol.  In the dinosaur statues of “Prehistoric Animals,” my recent tale in the latest Weird Fiction Review.

Like so many of my inspirations, Harryhausen is also part of a thread that runs backward and forward. His own work is heavily inspired by King Kong and the engravings of Gustave Dore, and in his recent series of daily quarantine sketches, Mike Mignola drew a host of Harryhausen creatures, not to mention some other sketches that obviously owe a debt to Ray.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with any of this, save to mark Ray Harryhausen’s passing on what should have been his hundredth year on this plane. He is seven years gone now and, to the best of my knowledge, he still hasn’t gotten a tribute anthology. Maybe I need to start talking to someone about that…

 

Hey, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a pandemic on. About the only thing I can really say for it is that at least it has a name that sounds suitably like something that would have killed us all in a post-apocalyptic movie.

You, dear reader, haven’t heard much from me since it all started – I haven’t even been posting much on social media – but it’s not due to any sinister reasons.

My health is fine. The cough that has been malingering since October is even continuing to clear up at the most incremental pace you could possibly imagine. I wasn’t trampled in some kind of toilet paper-related stampede. Everything is going as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.

I just haven’t been online much, and when I have been, I’ve been working. There are much worse things.

20200316_200523

No one in my immediate orbit is sick. I’ve checked in with most at-risk friends and family members. I haven’t even had to practice much social distancing because, let’s face it, I’m a boring freelance writer who works from home – I usually go out about once or twice a month anyway, and that’s to the movies.

Even for people like me, though, I know that times have been rough. I was supposed to be at the Outer Dark Symposium in a couple of weeks, but that can has now been kicked down the road, thanks to the wisdom of the event organizers. The airline let me credit the cost of my ticket toward a future flight.

Small businesses are already struggling. My favorite local theatre, my home-away-from-home, the Screenland Armour is having a tough time, as all the big movie releases for the next few weeks and even months have been pulled. The people who work there are going to suffer, and there’s precious little that I can do to help.

So far, my work has continued to come in steadily, but who knows what the future holds, at this point? Pretty much everyone I know who can work from home is working from home. Schools are closing. The other day, I posted a photo of an entirely empty bread aisle at the grocery store.

I know that every few years there’s something for everyone to panic over, but I also know that we’ve never encountered anything quite like this in my lifetime. For the most part, I’m not fretting about it any more than I can help, but there’s a lot of free-floating stress in the world right now.

So, if you’re reading this, stay safe and take care of each other.