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“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.

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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.

That’s one more Panic Fest in the rear view. A few days ago I wrote about what Panic Fest means to me, but at the time I was only about a day in, so I hadn’t seen very many movies. I’ve since rectified that situation.

This year, I saw thirteen films at Panic Fest, which, if I’m counting correctly, marks the most films I’ve ever watched at one of these in the five or so years that I’ve been going. Of those, I liked all but a couple.

Measuring purely in terms of cinematic quality, this year may have been the best year I’ve ever attended. There weren’t any “killer apps” this year; obvious standouts that left their competition in the dust. Things like One Cut of the DeadTigers Are Not AfraidLowlife, and so on from previous Fests. But there were lots of films that I really liked, and hardly any duds.

Of the thirteen films that I saw, my favorites were Richard Stanley’s Color Out of SpaceExtra OrdinaryVHYesSea Fever, and Disappearance at Clifton Hill. That’s a … very broad cross-section of different kinds of movies.

Clifton Hill is a deliciously low-fi Niagara Falls noir with an unreliable protagonist and David Cronenberg as a retired rescue diver who hosts a podcast from the basement of a UFO-shaped diner. Purely naturalistic and perhaps frustratingly ambiguous at times, but possessed of a real ambiance and genius deployment of its compulsive liar of a main character.

Sea Fever is a straight-faced “The Thing on a boat” movie, only not really and also done remarkably well. The underwater photography is so breathtaking that I might not have minded if there hadn’t been a creature. But fortunately there is, and a big, weird, bio luminescent one at that. Plus, a not-so-subtle message about climate change, before all is said and done.

Extra Ordinary is the British What We Do in the Shadows, if you need me to boil it down to an elevator pitch. Part of what makes it so delightful, though, is how genuine the British ghost story elements it draws from feel.

VHYes, well, I wrote that up for Signal Horizon.

And Color Out of Space, as you’ve probably already heard from people who aren’t me, is one of the best “straight” Lovecraft adaptations we’ve ever gotten, even if it would have been better if someone had put their hand on Nic Cage’s shoulder a few times.

As for the rest, ArtikPornoThe Cleansing Hour, and Synchronic all fared well enough. Really, the only one I’m kicking myself for having seen was The Lodge, which it’s tempting to say got saved for the last night of the Fest so that word of mouth couldn’t poison it, but other people in the theater got more out of it than I did. Anyway, I wrote more about it for Signal Horizon, too, and it should go live on Monday.

I also saw Nightmare Radio, which was a mixed bag with a few really good segments, and The Perished, which tried to tackle a tough subject with seriousness and some strong performances and creature work, but ultimately … I’m not sure what the takeaway was supposed to be.

Now that the Fest is over for another year, it’s time to recover and play catch-up for a few days. I’ll see you all on the other side.

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eye_homepageIt’s that very special time of year again – Panic Fest time! Thursday night was opening festivities featuring Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, while yesterday (Friday) was the first full day of the Fest. Sadly, I’m out of commission today (Saturday), but I’ll be back at it Sunday and into next week.

I’ll be updating social media with one-sentence or so reviews of everything that I see, so if you want up-to-the-minute updates, keep an eye out there or follow along on my Letterboxd. So far, my favorites of the Fest are Extra OrdinaryVHYes, and the aforementioned Color Out of Space, but I’ve got a lot more movies to go.

I had hoped to be over this cough before Panic Fest rolled around, but it seems that isn’t in the cards. In spite of what several people have now tried to assert, this is not my new identity, and I am not going to become a consumptive Victorian dandy with decoratively bloodstained handkerchief. I will shake this cough eventually, but when is anybody’s guess.

I saw the doctor again on Thursday, and the prognosis continues to be that it’s nothing more serious than post-viral bronchitis – essentially minor nerve damage caused by coughing that is, in its turn, causing me to continue to cough.

Those who have been following along for a while now know that Panic Fest is an emotional time for me. It was years ago, at Panic Fest, that I got the call that began a series of tumbling dominoes that ended with my dad’s death – although, of course, that wasn’t the ending, just the beginning of a lot of work and therapy on my part over the intervening years.

But, thanks to that association, Panic Fest became the last weekend for a very long time that I got to feel “normal” for a couple of days. That isn’t the only reason it’s emotional, though. Not anymore, anyway.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a new family here in the KC area. They’re scattered and scattershot and they aren’t often in the same place at the same time, but if this new family has a living room, it’s the Screenland Armour. And the one holiday that they all gather for is Panic Fest.

Folks like Adam and Tim and Eli and Andrew and Steph and Bryce and Amy and Liz and Blair and Kaleigh and Adrian and Brock and Viv and Tyler and Greg and Jenius and many, many others. These folks have become my Screenland family, and they mean a lot to me, even if I don’t see them as often as I would like, or always know how to say it.

For a long time, Panic Fest represented the last time I was really happy. The last time I didn’t feel like my skin was just draped haphazardly over a jagged jumble of uncomfortable emotions. Now, though, things are better, cough notwithstanding, and I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever did before. And Panic Fest has come to represent something else, too. A new family, and a new place where I feel at home.

Unknown SkeletonAt the start of this decade, I made my first-ever professionally-qualifying sale. (Pro rates were somehow even lower then than they are now.) I had been writing since I learned how, and seriously attempting to publish since I graduated college not quite a decade before that.

In 2012, the first edition of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, came out. In five years it would be out of print, then back in print, in a new, hardcover deluxe edition from Strix Publishing.

Looking back, it came out too soon. Not that I’m not proud of the collection – I am, completely, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have allowed it to be reissued. I just wasn’t at the “first collection” stage in my career quite yet, but I didn’t know that then.

In the years since, I’ve published two more collections of stories, both with Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde press, not to mention two collections of essays on vintage horror films, both with Innsmouth Free Press. I’ve published more than fifty short stories, and been in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year three times.

I co-edited my first anthology with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which got translated into Japanese.

I’ve done work for Privateer Press, writing short fiction and in-game content, adventures, and even a licensed novel that is technically my first published novel-length work. In the last year alone I’ve written nearly fifty movie reviews for Unwinnable and Signal Horizon, where I also now co-host a podcast.

I’ve written introductions for reissues of some of my favorite books, including Benighted and collections by Robert Westall, from Valancourt Books, and introductions to collections by some of my favorite contemporaries, including Nick Mamatas and Amanda Downum. I have nonfiction bylines in places like Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare Magazine.

I’ve been a guest at several wonderful conventions and festivals, gone on a great many podcasts, introduced movies at the local movie theatres, and much more. There are so many things on this list that, had you told me about them ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Of all the many surprising things that have happened to me over the course of the last decade, though, perhaps the most surprising is that I quit my day job to write full-time all the way back in 2013, and I haven’t had to give it up yet.

Fiction writing certainly doesn’t pay the bills, so most of my time is dedicated to freelancing, but, as they say in Major League 2, a day of playing baseball is better than whatever most people have to do for a living.

It wasn’t until Grace was asking me if I was planning to do some kind of decade-in-review that I realized how much my life has changed in these past ten years, so it seemed worth taking note. I went from being virtually unpublished (I had sold a few stories, but not many) to having six or more books (depending on how you count) with my name on the spine and writing for a living.

Not too shabby, all in all.

I didn’t publish very much fiction this year, but I am proud of what I did publish. “Doctor Pitt’s Menagerie” in Bargains from Pine Float Press, “Stygian Chambers” in Pluto in Furs, and “The Splitfoot Reel” in the memento book at NecronomiCon Providence.

That’s it for new stories, although this year also saw my third appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, this time reprinting my story “No Exit,” which originally appeared in Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road. “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars,” which was one of the original stories in my third collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales last year, was performed on Pseudopod this year as well.

When it comes to new work, though, this was the year I really became a film writer. I’ve been writing about film – in both my fiction and nonfiction – for a long time, but this was the year that I started adding bylines at Signal Horizon, where I am the official Monster Ambassador, and Unwinnable. Where I started receiving Blu-rays for review, and critic’s passes to preview screenings of new films.

At Signal Horizon, I also took over co-hosting duties of the Horror PodClass, where Tyler Unsell and I talk about movies and academic theories or lesson plans every couple of weeks. Most recently, we chatted about Black Christmas – both the new and the old – and subtext.

I won’t link to all the many reviews I’ve written over the course of the year, but if you want to follow along you can find most of them here, with more to come in the future.

I also had a book come out this year, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault from Innsmouth Free Press. It’s the sequel to Monsters from the Vault, as you might have guessed, but where that book collected all the Vault of Secrets columns I had written for IFP over the years, this one is almost all entirely new material, never published anywhere else.

That book launched at NecronomiCon Providence, which I was finally able to attend this year. I was on a couple of panels, attended some others, walked the nighted streets of Providence – a city at once familiar and strange, as was only appropriate – and got to introduce a secret screening of Matango.

NecronomiCon was one of the only conventions I made it to this year. Of course, I attended Panic Fest here in Kansas City back in January, and I went to Atlanta for the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in March.

In fact, Tyler and I made the mistake of driving down overnight, which meant that I hit the Symposium having been awake for some 36 hours straight. Either the worst conditions for the event, or the ideal ones, even I’m not sure which.

I took a few out-of-town trips that weren’t directly related to work, such as a vacation to Myrtle Beach, where I got to assume that I was going to meet my Tethered in an abandoned spook house and get murdered. Of course, that didn’t happen – or did it?

This was also the year where I got to shelter-in-place when the Screenland was nearly hit by a tornado while we were watching the heavy metal horror movie Black Roses. Which, on that subject, this was also the year that I started regularly attending Analog Sunday at the Screenland, which has changed my life in all sorts of good ways.

When October rolled around, I hosted a bunch of stuff, and attended a bunch more stuff, as part of the local Shocktober programming here in town. And then, on my birthday, I got sick. And unfortunately, the cough that came with that illness has carried with me all this time.

The doctors say its post-viral bronchitis. I coughed so much that the nerves that trigger coughing got damaged, and now they just keep coughing. Unfortunately, the more I cough, the longer it will take them to heal, so I’m now taking measures to limit my activity in order to limit my coughing. Fingers crossed, and all that.70675603_10156706916314503_8400888024463835136_n (2)

As I write this, it’s my birthday, October 30, 2019. At least it is for another few hours. This year, I promised myself that I would do Halloween all the way to the hilt if it killed me in October. And I did. And it looks like maybe it did.

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Art by HamletMachine

No, it’s nowhere near that bad. I was hoping to have a few friends over and maybe watch a movie or two this evening, but unfortunately this morning I woke up with a sore throat and as the day wore on I began to feel more and more under the weather, so I just stayed in and drank tea and didn’t do much besides work today.

Which is okay, because I had a lot of work that needed to get done before the month was over and also because it started to snow today, anyway. Plus, if I’m going to get sick on Halloween, which is the pits, at least I didn’t get sick earlier in the month when I had ten thousand various social obligations to be met.

Knowing I was going to be exhausted, even if I was otherwise fine, I was already planning for a relatively low-key birthday/Halloween, so this works out, even if I’d still rather not get sick, thanks.

It’s been a good month. I had lots of work to do, some of it more fun than others. I saw a lot of movies in local theatres and even hosted a few of them.

I got to show two of my very favorite William Castle/Vincent Price flicks to packed houses, which was an absolute joy. I saw Goblin perform live not once but twice. I kept up my yearly tradition of going to the Nerdoween triple feature and even added in Dismember the Alamo for the first time. I went out to a local haunted house in Independence with my buddies from Magnetic Magic and Forever Bogus. I did a reading at Afterword Tavern & Shelves.

So far this month, I’ve only watched 28 movies. I’d have to watch three movies between now and midnight tomorrow to average out to a movie a day for all 31 days which is… unlikely, but not inconceivable. I guess we’ll just have to see.

It probably depends, more than anything, on how I feel when I wake up tomorrow. As of right now, though, if I’m too sick to do any Halloweening whatsoever tomorrow, I think I’ll still chalk this October up as a win. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons for next time…

I am not a person who has very many traditions. I don’t even manage to watch movies on a certain day every year, no matter how hard I may try to always catch The Fog on April 21 or Return of the Living Dead on July 3. But one tradition that I’ve managed to keep going for five years now–including the year I had an emergency appendectomy that nearly killed me–is Nerdoween.

Put on by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts, Nerdoween is an annual Halloween institution; one night, three horror movies that aren’t revealed until they’re shown, all following a theme. Nerdoween has been going for five years now, and I’ve been there every year, front row center. (That last part isn’t quite true. I sat in the second row this year because it was better for my shoulder. In other news, I am old.)

Every year, I’ve managed to see at least one film that I hadn’t seen before–until this year. The first year, the theme was demons, and I caught both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, believe it or not. The second year, the theme was sequels, and I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for the first time.

The theme for the third year was anthologies, which seems a likely place for them to strike out, but I actually caught Tales from the Hood for the first time that year. (The other two were a couple of favorites; Creepshow and Waxwork.) The fourth year was sleazy sci-fi, where I got to see Xtro for the first time.

This year’s theme, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, was “nouns that kill.” We started out with killer cars and Stephen King’s cocaine-fueled rampage Maximum Overdrive, which is really an ideal movie for this kind of event. We followed that up with killer kids and Cooties, which the audience seemed to go wild for.

The final film of the night would have been animals that kill in the form of Arachnophobia, but that was destined to fall victim to a one-two punch. My adopted brother Jay has gone with me to every one of these since I started, and this one was no exception. Thing is, though, Jay doesn’t do spiders. And me? I had literally watched Arachnophobia 14 days ago for work.

Even that might not have been enough to doom the enterprise, but I’m actually going out again tomorrow for Dismember the Alamo (it’ll be my first time), where I’ll be watching four movies. Then Analog Sunday the next day. Then probably another mystery movie night on Monday. Then possibly Horror Roulette. Then definitely a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey and Signal Horizon at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves on Wednesday. So an early night wasn’t a bad call for me.

Even if I had stayed for Arachnophobia, this would have been the first year that Nerdoween didn’t introduce me to a new flick that I hadn’t seen before. For someone whose movie viewing–especially in the horror genre–is as prolific as my own, that’s a pretty impressive feat. And I’ll be there next year, whatever the theme might be, front (or maybe second) row center.

Now it’s All Hallow’s Eve, the moon is full…66a66c6b3b1d962dbe2636ae80b9c675

Okay, it’s not quite All Hallow’s Eve just yet, but hey, as the song says later, every day is Halloween and today is October 1, the first day of the month-long celebration that is the spookiest (and therefore best) time of the year. The time when the rest of the world finally dresses up at least a little bit like how it is in my head all year ’round.

As I have intimated before now, this October is gonna be busy for me. I did the math the other day, and while I’ll be around most days so that I can, y’know, actually work, there are only eight nights in the entire month of October when I don’t have something booked. Some of those somethings are things I’m attending, others are things I’m hosting.

As I’ve said before, I’ll be hosting a special screening of The Tingler on October 14 and The House on Haunted Hill on October 27, both at the Screenland Tapcade. There’ll be food and drink and ghosts… plus prizes and some William Castle-esque gimmicks. You’re all invited.

Also at the Tapcade, I’ll be co-hosting a special Weird Wednesday screening of Lake Mungo. So special, in fact, that it’s happening on a Tuesday, October 29 – the day before my birthday. Those are the movies I’m hosting, but I’ll also be joining Tyler Unsell and Signal Horizon for a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads on October 23, and something else that’s brewing (pun possibly intended) on October 25 at the Big Rip Brewing Company.

That’s just the stuff I’m actually hosting. I’ll also be seeing Goblin live, scoring Suspiria and Deep Red, catching the infamous gore cut of Tammy the T-Rex, attending my annual tradition, the Nerdoween Triple Feature at the Tapcade, as well as Dismember the Alamo, which are on consecutive days meaning that, with Analog Sunday the day after, I’ll be watching at least eight movies on the big screen that weekend.

It’s all good stuff, but it’s also a lot. So hopefully you’ll hear from me throughout the month – as I said, I’ll be at home most of the time during the day, because I’ve gotta work sometime – and I’m doing the Countdown to Halloween, as always. But in case you don’t, know that I’m out celebrating and drinking deep from the Halloween season, and you should be, too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

As promised, here’s the full schedule for the Screenland‘s SHOCKtober event, which is taking over the joint for the entire month of Halloween. I’ll be hosting screenings of The Tingler on October 14 and House on Haunted Hill on October 27. Both are FREE, and we’re going to have a hell of a time. There’ll be treats and prizes and maybe even a few Castle-style gimmicks, you’ll just have to come out and see!

I’ll also be attending Suspiria and Deep Red with live scores by Goblin on October 8 and 9, the Nerdoween Triple Feature on October 18, Analog Sunday featuring The Basement on October 20, and the CarpenterFest triple feature on October 26, plus as many of the others as I can cram in there.

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