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I feel like I probably don’t need to explain why I was excited about Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (it’s always weird to me that his name is part of the title). Del Toro is one of my favorite contemporary directors and, more to the point, one whose sensibilities very often line up with my own. I love ambitious anthology horror series. This was a big deal for me.

And like any horror anthology series, it was hit and miss. I’d say the eight episodes that dropped on Netflix across four days were about 50/50 for me, but the good half were quite good, and even the ones I didn’t like as much were generally interesting. Of the eight episodes, I was most excited about “Graveyard Rats” going in, just because I love the story and think it would translate really well to film in the short form. And maybe it would, done another way, but this wasn’t it… at least for me. (I’m told there’s a black-and-white version available, and I’m very curious to check that out.)

A lot of other people seem to have loved it, so maybe my high hopes contributed to my disappointment. It’s certainly got a lot of critters in it, anyway. And that’s part of the thing with Cabinet of Curiosities; with the exception of Jennifer Kent’s “The Murmuring,” every episode has at least one or two monsters of some sort. And they’re usually quite good. “The Viewing” is another one I didn’t care for (not a Panos Cosmatos fan), but the monster in it was great.

So, which ones did I like? Well, I liked the first episode, “Lot 36,” and thought it started the series off on a strong footing, even if its lore was a little muddled and its monster relied perhaps too much on CGI. And I loved “Pickman’s Model” (that ghoul!), even though it doesn’t seem like most other folks dug it as much as me. Chalk that up to me liking the story, I guess, and also thinking it adapts well. But also, I mean, there are a lot of monsters and grotesques and such in this take on “Pickman’s Model,” and for striking imagery, it wins the show hands down, IMO. And I could listen to Crispin Glover’s Boston-ish accent all day long.

This is also reflective of something about this show, as a whole. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Masters of Horror. For some obvious reasons: both were pure anthology shows with each segment roughly an hour long and helmed by a different, generally well-established horror director. But there’s more to it than that. Like Masters of Horror, Cabinet of Curiosities has a certain amount of shared aesthetic from one episode to the next, even as the stories (and the directors) pull them in different directions.

In Cabinet of Curiosities you can lay that at least partly at the feet of showrunner Del Toro, most likely, but it also highlights some of the stars of the show, which are the people working behind the scenes. Guy Davis was a concept artist for pretty much the whole series, as I understand it, while Kevin McTurk puppeteered many of the monsters. And those are just two of the ones whose work I was already familiar with. For “Pickman’s Model,” for instance, you need examples of Pickman’s paintings, and in this case many of those were provided by Vincent Proce.

Besides the Masters of Horror of it all, there are some interesting decisions made in Cabinet of Curiosities. Of course, I am thrilled that GDT decided to go full Rod Serling and host the series himself. There’s also the fact that literally every episode is a period piece. Not all of them are the turn-of-the-century Victoriana of “Graveyard Rats” or “Pickman’s Model.” The first episode is set Stateside during the Gulf War. Panos Cosmatos’ segment is set in the ’70s. “The Murmuring” in the ’50s. And so on. But not one is set in the present, with the weird, indefinite period of Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Outside” coming closest.

There are probably lots of reasons for this – I’ve already seen at least one person online trot out the “no cellphones” cliche – but what I find interesting about it is that it taps (perhaps accidentally) into the antiquarian bent that informs so many classic ghost stories but also the cabinets of curiosities for which the show is named. These episodes, then, become artifacts from another time; capturing, in at least some cases, perhaps an older style of horror.

I haven’t yet mentioned “The Autopsy,” which was, for a lot of viewers, their favorite episode. It was my second-favorite. But if I’m being entirely honest, the first half of “The Autopsy” is my favorite episode of the entire series. It’s only in its second half that it falters. And that’s not really a condemnation of the episode itself. I’m just less interested in where the story goes than in the journey it takes to get there. That was true of the original short story by Michael Shea, as well, if memory serves. That journey, though? So good.

So, all in all, was Cabinet of Curiosities a triumph? Yes and no. It was not a perfect series. Few series are. It had episodes that landed with resounding thuds for me, but I almost always found them interesting, even then. But it was an absolute triumph in at least one sense. We need more well-funded anthology horror in the world, especially when it brings in the talents of some of the best in the business, both in front of and behind the scenes.

And if anyone wants my opinions, I’ve got some suggestions for stories to adapt for season two…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me be clear, David Bruckner’s new Hellraiser does a lot of things well. The expansion of the Lament Configuration’s design, while unnecessary, is fun. The puzzle-box effects as the Cenobites arrive are great (there’s a sequence in a van that, as Trevor Henderson points out, is worth the price of admission) and the Cenobites themselves are well-designed and nicely performed throughout, even if they also all look like they’re already NECA action figures.

But, underneath all that, the film is so sterile and not even remotely horny, which are such weird things for a Hellraiser movie to be. As I said on social media, “I don’t know how to explain it but, despite having several sex scenes, this new Hellraiser emphatically does not fuck.” There is no passion underneath this machinery.

Ironically enough, David Bruckner’s last film, The Night House, which was, itself, rumored to be a repurposed Hellraiser spec script, is actually probably a better Hellraiser movie. Sure, it still doesn’t fuck either, but at least it kind of understands what fucking is. It’s not as grand as this film turned out to be, and if it had been released under the standalone title Hellraiser, as a reboot of the first film, as this one was, the fanbase would have been rabid. But it had a better handle on obsession, which is what you really have to get, even more than passion, to get Hellraiser.

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

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

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

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

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

The spirit, as they say, is willing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will necessarily contain major spoilers for both Nightmare Alley (1947) and GDT’s remake. These are also raw reactions, fresh off watching the remake for the first time. They may soften as time goes on, as has been the case with many other GDT films.

Well, Nightmare Alley (2021) looks great, anyway. And normally, in a Guillermo del Toro film, the looks are more than just skin deep. GDT’s films are generally crammed with what he calls “eye protein,” and the visuals typically do more narrative heavy lifting than the script or the characters. With Nightmare Alley, though – a movie he has been talking about remaking for probably a decade or more – he is shackled to a narrative that already exists. A story that has already been told, better and more economically than it is here, which makes all the show-stopping visuals feel strangely superfluous, rather than integral.

For those who don’t already know, Nightmare Alley is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name – which is, itself, an adaptation of a novel from 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham, which I have never read. There are a few things holding the 1947 original back from genuine greatness, but it is built around one of noir’s more dynamite central premises, following a carnival performer turned mentalist named Stanton Carlisle as he teams up with a femme fatale psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

In the original, Carlisle is played by Tyrone Power, while the psychiatrist (with the very good villain name Lilith Ritter) is played by Helen Walker. In Del Toro’s version, they are Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, respectively. Honestly, the casting in the 2021 Nightmare Alley, like the visuals, is mostly great. The problem comes from that story.

As I mentioned, the story of the 1947 original is one of the better ones in noir. Del Toro and his collaborator Kim Morgan know that, and stick close to it. Perhaps too close, turning this new Nightmare Alley into a fascinating study of why modern movies are insufferably long, as it hits all the same beats as the original, but takes almost a full hour longer to do it.

It doesn’t help that the places where the remake chooses to deviate add little – and sometimes detract. Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle is not a patch on Tyrone Power’s, but that has less to do with any deficiency in his acting and more to do with how the character is written and directed. Given a traumatic backstory from literally the first scene, Cooper’s Carlisle is too much a damaged child to ever be the man with a hole where his soul should be that Power played so well.

In fact, one of the few places where the original film missteps is in not rolling credits soon enough. There’s a moment, near the end of the film, when Carlisle has fallen as far as he ever will, and is offered a job he once swore he would never take. When asked if he thinks he’s up for it, he replies, “Mister, I was born for it.”

Had the original rolled credits there, it would probably be unassailable. As it is, it runs on a few minutes more. Del Toro learned the original’s lesson, though, and does cut the film at those fateful lines – except that when Cooper’s Carlisle finally utters them, they hit completely differently than when Power’s Carlisle did.

More than anything, Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a film that struggles to justify itself. Why this, when we could just be watching the original? The production designs are certainly better here – the carnival looks great, as you might imagine, and Ritter’s office is a triumph of the production designer’s art – but they seem to add little of substance. And for all that Del Toro has been itching to make this movie for years, he only seems to come alive when the ghoulish parts are happening.

There’s a moment, in the last act, when a bloody “ghost” appears in a sequence that harkens to his work on Crimson Peak. It comes after a long span of relative “normalcy,” in which the carnival and its oddities have been left behind. There’s almost an audible “pop” when the moment happens, as the film suddenly snaps back into sharp focus, as though it’s been on autopilot for minutes and is only now paying attention once more.

All of this is extremely hard on Nightmare Alley, which isn’t quite fair. Del Toro has certainly made worse movies in his career, and I can’t shake the feeling that – had I never previously seen the original – this might have worked a lot better for me. In fact, as much as I love the guy’s work, Del Toro has a few movies that I kind of hate. But usually, with his movies, it’s one or the other. I love them or hate them, and even when I hate them, I’m drawn into them. Nightmare Alley may be the first time I just felt… indifferent, which is possibly more damning.

Ironically, Wikipedia identifies this 2021 version as a new adaptation of the novel, rather than a remake of the 1947 film. If it had been that, it might have been spared some of these problems. While the novel and both movies have the same central premise and most of the same broad story beats, the novel goes several places the movies never do. If Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley had followed the novel instead of the film, maybe it could have better carved a niche for itself where it felt less uncomfortable.

This is one of those movies that was never going to live up to how long it had been sitting on my watchlist. Directed by Tobe Hooper; very loosely adapted from a short story by Mr. Rear Window himself, Cornell Woolrich; starring a who’s who of supporting players including Twin Peaks‘ Madchen Amick, Anthony Perkins, R. Lee Ermey, Dee Wallace, and others. The pedigree of I’m Dangerous Tonight is what makes it a curiosity, but the plot is what initially got my attention.

That plot is simple enough. Devil Fish‘s William Berger is a professor of something-or-other and he’s really into macabre stuff, including an Aztec sacrificial altar, which he has delivered to the museum at the university. The altar contains a hidden compartment holding the mummified remains of the Aztec priest, who is wrapped in his (still pristine) red ceremonial robes.

Knowing their power, the professor dons the robes, goes on a murderous rampage, and then offs himself. The robes are sold at an estate sale by accident, and bought by a mousy college student (Amick) who turns them into a red dress that renders her sexually uninhibited, and we’re into low-key erotic thriller territory in short order.

I’m a sucker for cursed objects, and the notion of Tobe Hooper doing a made-for-TV movie about a cursed dress made from the robes of an Aztec mummy was pretty appealing. With Woolrich’s name on the credits and nothing to go on but some of the key art, I was honestly expecting something more like a noir and less like the cozy Fear Street-adjacent plotting that we got.

Which makes a kind of sense. The movie is pretty different from Woolrich’s story. (The two writers credited for the teleplay were regulars on a variety of TV shows including Murder, She Wrote and Highlander.) For example, in Woolrich’s story, the whole Aztec robe idea isn’t there. In fact, the origins of the dress in that instance more closely resemble a more recent film about a cursed red dress, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric.

The synopses of the movie also all make it out like Amick’s character is the main focus of the various malfeasance caused by the dress, but she really only wears it once, and all she does during that time is try to steal her cousin’s shitty boyfriend, pretty much. (She also sort of kills her grandma, who is played by Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, but it really is an accident, albeit one that wouldn’t have happened if not for the dress.) Most of the rest of the movie involves other people getting ahold of the dress, which unlocks in them much more nefarious – and murderous – impulses.

Of all the legendary horror directors of the ’70s-’80s, there may be none with a more unlikely filmography than Tobe Hooper. From the elemental terror of Texas Chain Saw to the borderline-satire of Texas Chainsaw 2, from the scope and scale of something like Lifeforce to the exact opposite of something like this.

I’m Dangerous Tonight is certainly among the lesser entries in his canon, with only a handful of horror scenes that really pop (the introduction of the Aztec priest’s mummified body; flashbacks to the professor’s murder spree), but that unusual pedigree I already mentioned makes sure that it’s a singular one. It’s also a surprisingly cozy movie, filled with nooks you want to curl up and have tea in, and people wearing overlarge sweaters. And the university is yet another horror university that I really wish I could attend, and not just because it has not one but two professors who seem to specialize in cursed objects.

Like I said, this one has been on my watchlist for some time, and the only reason I finally got a chance to see it now was because Kino Lorber recently put it out on Blu-ray. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really not missing anything but if, like me, that’s never stopped you before, you probably won’t regret your time with this oddity.

What if House on Haunted Hill had been made without a trace of camp, and shot like a cheap industrial film?

Anything I can say about Ghosts of Hanley House is going to come off as overselling it. Largely absent anything in the way of effects (or plot, or acting, or action), this regional riff on the Haunting/Haunted Hill formula is pure vibes. And if those vibes don’t hypnotize you right away, it’s dull as dishwater.

Let’s turn to some modern reviews to give you an idea, such as this one from The Spinning Image, which calls the film “so inept it turns Edward D. Wood Jr into Stanley Kubrick.” Reading on: “The acting, photography and lighting are wretched in the extreme, with talking heads gazing uneasily past the camera, uttering inane lines of dialogue while the plot lurches from the sublime to the painfully ridiculous, using visual references to The Haunting in search of any vestige of credibility.”

Ouch, right? And I can’t really say that he’s wrong about… any of that. So why the hell am I writing about it? It hypnotized me, like I said earlier. And you don’t have to look any farther than Letterboxd to see other people who had the same experience.

Ghosts of Hanley House wasn’t made by professionals,” begins one review, from Bleeding Skull. “But for me, this movie does something that the big-budget majesty of The Haunting never could – it makes me believe in midnight seances, eerie lights escaping from under darkened doorways, and a determined woman named Louise Sherrill who made a movie that no one else could.”

David C. Porter puts it more simply: “all-timer glacial doom piece.”

Making a movie, telling a story, is about more than mere competence. It’s even about more than the story. There is an (often accidental) alchemy that transforms the raw stuff of words, pictures, sounds, etc. into something more. Always has been. And I’ve written before about how sometimes even movies that are, undeniably, badly made contain a potency that would have been denied them had they been made any better.

Manos is a terrible film, but its very awkwardness contributes to its unease. The Zapruder-esque quality of Curse of Bigfoot makes it feel genuinely cursed. Similarly, Ghosts of Hanley House captures a sense of the uncanny more effectively than many better films simply by dint of that very rough-hewn unprofessionalism we mentioned before.

The sound effects grate and rattle, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. The score sounds like it is being performed deep underwater. The overblown lighting, the lack of any visual effects, the incoherent edits, and the fact that the actors aren’t really doing very much acting all give the film a different sort of verisimilitude, one that renders the events genuinely eerie, even when there… aren’t really any events, to speak of.

It’s not a movie that I necessarily loved, and it’s certainly not one I can recommend without hesitation. It’s not very good, by any traditional measure, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and basically nothing happens. But if, like me, you’ve been tuned to pick up these kinds of uncanny vibes and vibe with them, well, there’s definitely something here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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