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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 it can happen to the gerenuk, it can happen to you.”

In case you were concerned that I was abandoning my core brand with all this recent talk about Dungeons & Dragons and board games, I lately learned that there was a 1962 episode of the show Route 66 in which Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr. guest star as themselves.

Better still, I learned that it’s currently on Prime. So, today I watched it. Please bear in mind that I have never seen even a single other episode of Route 66 – which a little sleuthing tells me was a show in the same “semi-anthology” format as series-creator Stirling Silliphant’s other famous series, The Naked City, with a couple of recurring characters but stand-alone stories driven by the guest stars – and, indeed, didn’t even know the basic plot of the show before I sat down to watch this episode.

The episode, which is set and shot outside Chicago, originally showed on October 26, 1962. Its dual plots involve our two ostensible protagonists (played by Martin Milner and George Maharis) taking jobs as “junior executives in charge of convention liaison” at a hotel where a secretary’s convention is being held along with a secret meeting between Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney (as well as Martita Hunt from Brides of Dracula playing their legal advisor) so that the trio can plan a new series of horror films they will be producing.

Peter Lorre is convinced that the old ways are the best ways and wants to create new movies in the classic gothic style, arguing in favor of monsters in which people can see themselves. Karloff, on the other hand, doesn’t think that anyone will be afraid of the creaky old monsters, and wants to create new, “adult” horror. (“My kind of horror is not horror anymore,” Karloff would lament just six years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. “No one is afraid of a painted monster.”)

In fact, this episode of Route 66 makes a good thematic double-feature with the much more serious Targets, which tackles a similar question with regards to the efficacy of classic horror and comes to very different conclusions. Dedicated readers no doubt remember me writing about Targets in the past, and recognize the above quote as the source of the title of my second collection.

This episode, titled “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing,” came out just six years before Bogdanovich’s film, but a world of difference has elapsed in those six years. If Targets is a film about how horror cinema – and the nation – changed from before the ’60s to after, then “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” is an episode that sees that change coming, but still takes refuge in the comforts of what was.

Not that this is a thematically-dense episode. It’s a confection, and mostly an excuse for Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney to have a blast – which they do, from Chaney’s weepy temper tantrums when people aren’t afraid of him to the recurring gag that people are afraid of Peter Lorre, even when he’s not trying.

“You’re the spitting image of Peter Lorre,” the desk clerk tells him, as he’s checking in incognito. “A bit insulting, isn’t it?” Lorre replies, as only Lorre can. Later, as Chaney in his wolf-man getup is frightening the secretaries and causing them to faint, three of them faint dead away upon catching sight of Lorre just standing there like normal.

“I think I resent that,” Lorre quips, aridly.

It’s also a piece of horror history – even while it’s really nothing more than a piece of horror ephemera. Karloff dons a cut-rate version of the Frankenstein’s monster makeup for the first time since 1939, and we get to see Chaney done up as the mummy, the wolf-man, and even a take on his late father’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.

It’s hard to believe that it’s August 2nd already, as I write this. The pandemic – and with it the rest of the garbage fire that is 2020 – has been … having an effect on my overall life and output, to be sure, and rarely an altogether positive one. (When I told my therapist – via a Zoom call, of course – that I had spent a few days freaking out the prior week, she was like, “Only a few days?! Bravo!”)

As someone who already worked from home, I am far from the hardest hit by this slow-motion apocalypse, but it’s also impossible to be an even remotely empathetic human being and not feel the miasma of strain that currently grips the world.

I am proud and envious of the folks who have turned this time toward productive ends by writing their novel, carving through their to-be-read pile, or even just watching a lot more movies; even while my own TBR pile gathers an ever-deepening layer of dust and the very notion of putting words on the page carries a kind of low-key existential dread.

To my own surprise, I haven’t even watched that many movies during the lockdown. In fact, June was the lightest month since I started keeping score several years ago, with only ten movies watched. Part of that can be chalked up to the (hopefully temporary) death of movie theaters and breakdowns in the supply chain for new review titles, but a part of it is just how I’m coping with [gestures at everything].

July picked up a bit, thanks, in no small part, to Arrow Video’s Shinya Tsukamoto collection, my review of which should be dropping any day now. At ten movies all by itself, it basically guaranteed that I was going to at least eclipse June’s paltry sum.

I’ve still been writing, of course, just not a lot of fiction. My last post was partly about my new gaming column for Unwinnable, and I also wrote about getting into Dungeons & Dragons during the plague times for our local dirtbag/cool kid newspaper The Pitch. (Observant readers may recognize a thinly-veiled version of The Pitch as The Current in my story “The Red Church.”)

This is probably my first byline in an actual print newspaper since college. Like most writers my age, I entertained some fantasies about one day being a journalist, mostly when I was in high school and later a bit in college. Even by the time I was in college, though, the future of print newspapers was already pretty close to utter collapse, so I kinda wrote off the notion of that ever coming to pass. Every once in a while, we get a nice surprise, instead of just a box full of the plague.

As you may be able to gather from that, I’ve been spending a lot of the pandemic getting really into games that I mostly can’t play right now. In addition to D&D, I finally took the plunge on Descent: Journeys in the Dark, a game I’ve been wanting to try for years, just in time for it to probably go out of print, it looks like? (Speaking of, if anyone happens to have the Stewards of the Secret expansion for it, I would love to take that off your hands.)

So far, for a game that I basically haven’t played, I’ve really been enjoying my time looking at and thinking about playing Descent, anyway. I guess there are worse ways of coping…

No one knows where he comes from or where he’ll show up next, but apparently he’s been around for a long time and is to blame for all manner of trouble and problems.   Attempts to capture or kill him have been unsuccessful, so he remains on the loose and citizens are cautioned about approaching him or attempting to engage him in conversation. 
– “Skeleton Key No. 28: Death,” by Richard Sala

I don’t know how to put this into words in a way that won’t sound more heartless than I mean it to sound, but: it’s one thing to lose someone whose work meant a lot to you, but who hadn’t been doing much work for a while.

Just yesterday, I posted a sort of reminiscence about the passing of Ray Harryhausen. It hit me hard when it happened, but he was also 92 years old, and he hadn’t done work that I had seen in a long time. That doesn’t make it any less tragic that he died; but it made the news less immediate for me.

I can’t say the same for Richard Sala. It would be stretching the word to say that he and I were actual friends, but it would be even more disingenuous to say that he was merely a hero of mine, an inspiration.

Certainly, he started out that way, but thanks to the magic of social media, I actually got to know him a little bit. He would sometimes comment on my posts; I would sometimes comment on his. We usually talked old, weird movies, because he frequently turned me on to titles that I otherwise might have missed.

(Flip through Monsters from the Vault or Revenge of Monsters from the Vault and you’ll see his name more than once.)

This evening, I saw via the Fantagraphics Twitter account that he had passed away at the age of 61. For one thing, 61 is a lot younger than, say, 92. For another, Richard was working right up until the last. His latest book (an art book that you should really buy) came out just last year, and he was posting about his process on the next book as recently as last week.

On top of that, we were, as I said, something approximating friends – at least more-than-casual acquaintances. He was someone I turned to for his enthusiasm about old movies, especially, and as much as I’ll always remember him for his art and writing, I’ll also remember him because there are movies I would never have seen without his recommendation. Those movies will always be his, to me.

He was someone I hoped to work with someday. Someone whose work was so near-and-dear to my heart – and so close to my own aesthetics and obsessions – that I dreamed it might one day decorate one of my own books. But more than that, he was a person whose own dreams and passions glowed in the dark, and provided a creepily cozy light for all us other weirdos to gather ’round.

Hopefully someday we’ll meet on the astral plane. For tonight, I’m going to go read one of his books or watch one of those movies and remember.

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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…

 

As we all grope blindly in the dark for silver linings amid all the peeled grapes and cold spaghetti of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of people excited that we’re halfway around to Halloween – though I’ve seen an equal number wondering just what Halloween is going to look like this year, with a plague on and all.

In fact, we’re excited enough about the date that we did a special “halfway to Halloween” episode of the Horror Pod Class, where Tyler and I talked about the 2019 movie Haunt and he history of commercial haunted houses. It’s honestly worth it just for the bit from a pamphlet for parents organizing haunted houses back in the ’30s, which suggests, among other things, nailing raw liver to the walls.

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Whatever happens with the pox and all that, we keep Halloween alive in our hearts as much as in our celebrations, right? And we can all watch scary movies and read spooky books anytime, even when we’re in quarantine.

Speaking of which, since this is also Walpurgisnacht, I usually take this evening to talk a bit about the story I wrote of that name, which originally appeared in The Children of Old Leech and can also be found in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts – both from Word Horde.

It’s a night for revels and devilry and old, black-and-white witchy movies like Night/Curse of the DemonCity of the Dead, or Haxan. Over on Facebook, I saw someone watching The Devil Rides Out, and that’ll also do.

* Image from a manga that I don’t know the name of, courtesy of Haunted Horror‘s Steve Banes.

And I don’t mean the weird, clunky, Kirby-like grays that show up in Hellboy, nor Mike’s take on Martian tripods from his Year of Monsters series of covers. I mean aliens as in the movie Aliens. Or, to be somewhat more accurate, the various Dark Horse comic series that spun out from the movies.

Today is Alien Day (4/26), and a few years ago about this time I posted a little about what the Alien franchise has meant to me throughout the years. Today, I’m going to be too busy to put together anything that says it better, even if I could.

27253But I’ve also talked a lot, over the years, about what Mike Mignola’s work means to me, and to see the two things dovetail is a rare treat indeed. Mike drew the Aliens: Salvation comic (written by Dave Gibbons, himself perhaps best known as the artist on Watchmen) back in 1993.

It is an amazing comic; evocative, gothic, monstrous. But Mike’s style has evolved a lot in the years since ’93, and one of the great pleasures of my life was seeing his more recent take on the same material when he drew a new cover for the story’s hardcover reissue back in 2015.

Around that time, I posted something to the effect that the way other people must feel when they see a new Star Wars movie coming out is how I feel when Mike Mignola draws Aliens.

Plenty of other artists and writers have taken swipes at the Alien mythos to great effect. Recently, I particularly enjoyed James Stokoe’s Aliens: Dead Orbit. His hyper-detailed yet still stylized art is a perfect fit for the material.

For this Alien Day, I’m too busy to watch any of the movies, so maybe I’ll read Aliens: Salvation again instead…