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2019Poster-Hyades1_rectToday is the birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and, by this time tomorrow, I’ll be on the (proverbial, airborne) road to NecronomiCon in the home of the Old Gent himself, Providence, Rhode Island.

I’m on a fair number of panels and other special events, and so without further ado, here’s my schedule as fully as it has thus far been figured out. New things may be added, but these are unlikely to move…

Friday
10:30 PM Secret Screening

Saturday
1:30-2:45PM Manly Wade Wellman and the American Folk Horror Tradition
6-7:15PM Pluto in Furs Book Release Party

Sunday
9-10:15AM Films Made and Unmade: Adaptations of Lovecraft’s Contemporaries
1:30-2:45PM The Weird Writ Large: Kaiju as Device and Metaphor in Weird Fiction

If you’re going, I hope to see you there. I’ll be hosting movies and hanging out on panels, haunting the dealer’s room and wandering witch-haunted Arkham and trying to catch up with lots of people. If you see me in the wild, be sure to come say hi!

For those who won’t be in Providence, not to worry; I’ve left you with a passel of movie reviews to keep you company. Just a couple of weeks back I caught the premiere of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which I loved, and just last night I saw a preview screening of Ready or Not, which was a lot of fun.

As is usual for me, I’ve also been watching a lot of older movies, and recently reviewed the Arrow Blus of Alice, Sweet Alice and Cruising. If I’m gonna see you at Providence, then I’ll see you soon. If not, hopefully those will tide you over until I meet you on the other side.

I got so wrapped up in the fulfilling of pre-orders and the like (not to mention the run up to NecronomiCon, which is in less than a week somehow) that I almost forgot to acknowledge the fact that today is actually the official book birthday of Revenge of Monsters from the Vault!

If you pre-ordered your copy direct form the publisher, it should be hitting your mailbox any day now, if it hasn’t already. If you didn’t, well, there’s not time like the present to correct that deficiency.

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I love writing spooky short stories, but I also love writing about monster movies – on my best days, I manage to smash the two together to relatively satisfactory results. In my freelance work, I am lucky enough to write occasionally about movies both modern and antique, but one of my favorite things to do is to just share the joy that I get from tracking down some moth-bitten old movie filled with cobwebbed sets and some painted monsters.

Those are the movies that, as Joe R. Lansdale hisownself once put it better than I ever could, “kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see”.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to write about a lot of them and, with any luck, I’ll get to write about a lot more before I go to wherever good skeletons finally go, but Revenge of Monsters from the Vault closes the door on a chapter, to be sure.

When I first started writing for Innsmouth Free Press, I wasn’t yet a very established voice in the field. Silvia Moreno-Garcia was kind enough to give me a soapbox from which I could share my love for these delightfully creaky old movies, and she was even kinder to add another step to that soapbox by re-publishing all those columns in Monsters from the Vault.

Now, together, we’ve gone a step farther yet. With any luck, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault won’t be the last time I write about these movies, but it will probably be our last trip to the Vault of Secrets. We’re sealing up that tomb and moving on to unearth another.

It’s not an occasion for mourning, however, but celebration. I got to write about Mystery of the Wax Museum and Horror Island and The Return of the Vampire and Zombies of Mora Tau and The World of Vampires and Yog, Monster from Space. And, what’s more, somebody put all of that writing into not one book but two.Most poor skeletons never even get half so lucky.

I hope, if you choose to read either of these volumes, that you come away from them with a new favorite movie that you otherwise might not have seen. I think I agree with Mr. Lansdale that that’s the purpose of all great art, and while I don’t think these books are necessarily great art, hopefully they can be your portal to some.

This isn’t going to be a review of Midsommar, which I watched last night, but instead a discussion of one aspect of it. I don’t think it’ll really have anything in it that qualifies as spoilers, but on the off chance, y’know, watch out.

I didn’t love Midsommar and I didn’t hate it. I don’t think I liked it as much as Hereditary, and I don’t think it brought much that was terribly new to the folk horror table, besides a real meticulousness. But again, I said this wasn’t a review, and I don’t mean for it to be.

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The main character in Midsommar (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh) has an anxiety disorder. She has it before the traumatic events which propel her onto the ill-fated trip that makes up the meat of the movie. Probably she has always had it. Just like me.

And more so than maybe any other movie I’ve ever seen, Midsommar, in its first half-hour or so, nails what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder, at least for me.

When I got home from the theatre, I called its first 20 or 30 minutes “basically the tunnel-visioning run-up to a panic attack put on film.” I guess it would be easy to read that as “it’s scary,” but, while Midsommar is many things, it is emphatically not particularly scary.

“It’s definitely a horror movie,” one of the people I saw it with said afterward. “But it’s not a scary movie.” I’d be inclined to agree.

And yet, I took half an alprazolam about the time they got on the plane. This before the “horror” part of the movie had really kicked in.

Normally, movies don’t trigger my anxiety. Ever. At all.

My therapist used to find it ironic that I had a significant anxiety disorder and suffered from frequent panic attacks but that I also watched horror movies practically for a living. But movies–pretty much no matter how tense or shocking or disturbing–have always been my safe place. Horror movies especially.

And I didn’t pop an alprazolam because Midsommar was scary or shocking or tense. I took one because the film felt so much like the run-up to a panic attack that I could feel one of my own just starting to flutter its wings somewhere deep down in my ribcage, in the dark space behind my own eyes, tingling at the tips of my fingers.

Anxiety as a disorder–rather than simply a natural reaction that people have to traumatic or frightening situations–isn’t something that movies get right very often. Whatever your thoughts on Ari Aster’s approach to mental illness in his films so far (and I think there are a LOT of thoughts to have on the subject), this depiction of anxiety felt right to me.

(The scene of her stalking around, arms rigid, fists clenched at her sides to keep from scratching at herself, telling herself over and over again to, “Stop it. Stop it.” I have literally done that exact thing more times than I can count.)

So, if you don’t suffer from anxiety, or do and it takes a different form, and you want an idea of what it feels like to be me–sometimes more than others, of course, but never gone completely–watch the first part of Midsommar, everything up to the scene where Dani wakes up after they take the mushrooms. That’ll give you a taste.

Lately, work has been a lot like slaying hydras. For every job that I finish, two more seem to take its place. This is what we in the business call “good problems.”

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However, it has still been a lot, and there’s every chance that something has fallen through the cracks. If you’re waiting on me for something, thank you for your patience, and please feel free to nudge me. I will, at worst, tell you that you’ll have to wait a little longer.

When I originally posted this yesterday, I didn’t realize (see above re: being busy) that today was the birthday of the late, great Ray Harryhausen, one of the best monster guys of all time. So, in honor of the occasion, take a break for me and watch a Harryhausen flick. They’re all good.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a link to a couple of years ago when I got to visit the Ray Harryhausen exhibit, in spite of being laid up from surgery.

Through it all, I did make it out to a few movies, including Annabelle Comes Home, which was great, and The Dead Don’t Die, which… probably wasn’t great, but I had fun. I also reviewed the second volume of Arrow Video’s American Horror Project, which is its own whole weird thing, and the Unearthed Films release of The Dark Side of the Moon, which is Event Horizon before Event Horizon and/or a Dennis Wheatley novel in spaaaace.

More soon, once these hydra heads stop multiplying…

Because I am me, I went to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters on opening weekend, and probably the best part was that it put me in a position to reconsider my opinion on the 2014 Godzilla. I don’t want to be one who piles onto a movie that’s already getting rather lackluster reviews, but I have to say that King of the Monsters let me down a bit. Now all I have left is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which at least got a delicious new trailer recently.

As I said in my review, I have found myself falling more and more in love with each subsequent viewing of Michael Dougherty’s other two features, and so there’s a possibility that the same may happen with King of the Monsters. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to listening to a commentary track one of these days.

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Lest you think that all I’ve been doing with my time lately is dodging tornadoes and watching kaiju movies, however, I’ve also had a few other recent movie reviews go live. Most recent of all is The Andromeda Strain, which I watched for the first time on the new Arrow Video Blu-ray. Before that, I had reviews of Takashi Miike’s take on Starship TroopersTerraformars and the delightful Sister Street Fighter collection over at Unwinnable.

Also at Unwinnable, I wrote up Showdown, a ’90s take on the Karate Kid idea starring Tae Bo inventor Billy Blanks, while at Signal Horizon I covered a wide range of mid-list (if that) horror product including KolobosStrip Nude for Your Killer, and Pigeons from Hell Scared Stiff, all from Arrow. Never heard of them? Not to worry; I’ve got you covered.

I’ve got a few more in the chamber, too, including looks at Svaha, a Korean cult film that just hit Netflix, and The Big Clock, a film noir from 1948 starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, so stay tuned. Or better yet, subscribe to Unwinnable and follow Signal Horizon to catch the latest stuff as it happens.

And if you can’t get enough of me rambling about (specifically old monster) movies, you’ll be happy to know that pre-orders are now back open on Revenge of Monsters from the Vault, at least in e-book form, where you can get it on your Kindle or Kobo or whatever device you so desire, as far as I know. The print edition will be out in time for NecronomiCon Providence, where I will be a guest and I just might be hosting a secret movie screening.

Not directly related to any of the above, but we’re about halfway through the Kickstarter for the hardcover reissue of The Willows magazine, which I mentioned earlier, and it still has a ways to go.  So if you’d like to see some old stuff by me and other writers, not to mention new stories from me, John Langan, Gemma Files, Jesse Bullington, and Brian Evenson, consider throwing a few bucks into the pot to get a cool book that your friends will envy and your enemies will covet.

In 1991, I was living not too far from Andover when an F5 tornado devastated the town. We could see the main tornado of the cell, which got to be around 600 yards wide. My house and the house right next to mine were largely undamaged; the house right next to that, however, was gone entirely, razed to its foundations. The only thing that was left was the dining room table, place settings still intact, with a vase sitting in the middle of the table holding roses, all their petals still on them. It’s something I would have struggled to believe if I hadn’t seen it firsthand.

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I’ve lived in Kansas all my life, and when I lived outside El Dorado, which I did for much of my childhood. tornadoes were a regular occurrence. Since moving to Kansas City, I haven’t encountered as many, but I am still somewhat accustomed to them. Last night’s was a unique experience, nevertheless.

Last night, I left the house and headed north toward the Screenland Armour theatre for a special heavy metal installment of Horror Roulette, a monthly event where a single horror movie is picked at random from a themed list. This one was co-hosted by Blair, its usual MC, and Eli, who hosts Analog Sunday, which has rapidly become one of my favorite monthly activities.

I was just crossing the river when the radio alerted me to the presence of a tornado on the ground near Lawrence, KS. I don’t expect readers to necessarily know where any of these places are, but Lawrence is maybe a half-hour drive from my house, and several of my friends live there. The tornado was headed my way.

As the night wore on, it skirted the edges of Lawrence, devastated Linwood, and hit several other small towns, making a beeline for the Kansas City metro. At present, I still haven’t heard a definitive estimate as to the scope of the tornado, but I’m hearing EF4.

At first, I was concerned for Grace and the cats, who were still at home, but once it became apparent that the tornado was going north of them, concern shifted to, well, me.

Fortunately, I was at the theatre by then, and I figured a brick building with no windows, surrounded by other people, was about the safest place I could conveniently think of. When it became clear that the storm was headed our way, the staff got all of us down into the basement for an impromptu tornado party.

None of it lasted very long, and thankfully the tornado blew itself out before it crashed into the KC metro. After a little time in the basement, we all headed back upstairs, and those of us who were there for Horror Roulette spun the wheel and watched Black Roses. It certainly made for a memorable evening.

Today, Grace was deployed by the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), of which she is a member, to help with cleanup, so she’s doing that while I’m here, working.

I haven’t heard much about the scope of the damages, and haven’t seen any damage at all firsthand, but I’m grateful that myself and everyone I know seems to be okay. Living in tornado alley all of my life may have made me used to them, but it hasn’t done anything to dull my awareness of how fortunate I am each time I dodge that big, windy bullet. If anything, I think it’s keener than it might otherwise have been.

 

Today, I finally made it out to the theatre to catch Avengers: Endgame, which means that I have now seen all 22 of the “Infinity Saga” (or whatever they’re calling it) films in the theatre, and I have done my duty by them (and they by me). I know that technically Phase 3 isn’t over until Spider-Man: Far From Home, but while I have every reason to assume I will see that in a theatre, too, this feels like the ending to me, and I’m good with that.

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I’m not really here to talk about Endgame, though. I’m here to talk about my books. Today is also the last day to pre-order Revenge of Monsters from the Vault direct from the publisher. The book will still be for sale through the regular channels when it launches in August, but we appreciate direct sales, and they put more money into my pocket. So if you’re thinking about buying Revenge of Monsters from the Vault (and I sincerely hope that you are) now is the ideal time to do it. But please hurry!

If you’re just coming here from… somewhere else, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault is the follow-up to my 2016 book Monsters from the Vault and, as such, it’s a collection of a whole bunch of essays about various classic (and not-so-classic) horror films from the silents to the ’70s, including such beloved and obscure titles as Condemned to LiveRevolt of the ZombiesThe Devil Bat, not one but two versions of The Black CatReturn of the VampireThe Giant ClawZombies of Mora TauDark IntruderX: The Man with X-Ray EyesBrotherhood of SatanThe Creeping Flesh, and lots more. If you’d like a taste of what you’re in for, you can read my essay on Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies right here.

Not already familiar with the previous volume? Not to worry, you can actually pick it up in a package deal with Revenge of Monsters from the Vault if you pre-order right now!

Today is also Walpurgisnacht. As most of you know, I wrote a story called “Walpurgisnacht” which originally appeared in the Laird Barron tribute anthology Children of Old Leech, and has since been reprinted in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. If you’ve already read that one, though, plenty of other seasonally appropriate stuff can be found in my latest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. I think “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars” would be particularly well suited to the evening’s festivities, don’t you?

Speaking of witches, I was also a guest on the latest episode of the Nightmare Junkhead podcast where I talked in some rambling detail about my feelings on the new Hellboy movie (which has more than a few witches), the comics, Brian Lumley, and lots of other topics of occult interest. Greg D. and Jenius McGee of the Nightmare Junkhead podcast are the same cool folks who put on the Nerdoween Triple Feature that has become my birthday/Halloween staple every year, so it was a real pleasure to finally sit down with them in their inner sanctum.