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countdown to halloween

Sunday, we went to our adopted mom’s house where we ate Halloween-themed cookies and carved jack-o-lanterns. Everybody else carved real ones, but I carved a couple of those carvable fake ones that you can get at the store, which, let me tell you, are the way to go.

I modeled mine on a little ceramic pumpkin that I got years back because it looked like Chris Sanders had carved it and then, when that one worked out much better than I had expected, I carved a second one inspired by the one that Stitch carves with a plasma gun in the closing montage of Lilo & Stitch which, honestly, turned out even better.

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I’ve never been a very crafty sort of person. I’m clumsy, as a rule, and not great at most stuff, so I’m really proud of these two jack-o-lanterns, and looking forward to putting them out on my front steps tomorrow night, even if I’m going to have to fill them with rocks or something because, while those carvable pumpkins from the store are great for carving, they are also light. They prompted me to change my user icon on Facebook and Twitter for I think the first time ever, if that tells you how excited I am about them.

Monday night I went to the Screenland Armour to watch the Are You Afraid of the Dark? marathon. Having never seen even a single episode of the show, and mostly only being familiar with its great title graphic, I was really excited, and I had a lot of fun, even if the show is Extremely ’90s in often not great ways.

Today is my birthday and, well, I guess you all know what tomorrow is. I kind of had to miss last October because of health issues, and the intervening year has not been easy or kind. As such, I tried to really enjoy myself this October, going to as many of the local horror movie events as I could, launching a brand new short story collection, and managing to watch at least one seasonally appropriate thing every single day for the entire month!

I had a good time. This has been a good October, this is a good birthday, and hopefully it marks a bookend to what has been a pretty tough year, kinda for everyone, if we’re honest with ourselves at all. No matter what tomorrow or the day after or the day after that may bring, here’s to a new world of gods and monsters!

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So, as you may have noticed by now, it’s October, albeit not for much longer. I kind of had to miss this season last year for health reasons, so this year I’m trying my best to celebrate accordingly. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a new book out this month.

One thing I do every year is attend the Nerdoween Triple Feature hosted by the guys from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast. It’s a themed mystery-movie threefer that is always one of the highlights of my year. This is the fourth year they’ve put it on, and I’ve never missed it. Plus, every time I’ve seen at least one new-to-me film.

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The first year the theme was demons and, accordingly, I caught Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time. The second year was sequels and introduced me to both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The third year may have had the best lineup. It was anthology films, which anyone who knows me knows that I love, and I finally caught Tales from the Hood. This year’s theme was sci-fi sleaze. They opened the gates with TerrorVision, followed that up with From Beyond, and closed out the night with the batshit fever dream that is Xtro, which I saw for the first time.

As a way to help keep myself in the holiday spirit, I’ve also been trying to watch at least one seasonally-appropriate thing per day, and counting down on the #31DaysOfHalloween hashtag on Twitter. So far the new-to-me highlights of the month include Island Claws (1980), Horror Island (1941), Forever Evil (1987), Apostle (2018), The World of Vampires (1961), and hands-down the best movie I’ve seen all month: The Company of Wolves (1984).

The end of the month is growing a little packed as freelance deadlines loom and various seasonal festivities approach. My birthday is still a few days away, though the celebration will probably take place on the weekend instead of the day itself, and I’ve got some cool stuff coming in the mail between now and then.

You can bet that you’ll hear from me on here at least once more before the Halloween season draws to a close, but in the meantime, stay spooky out there!

A lot has happened in the [checks watch] day or so since Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales first officially started to appear in the world where better books are sold or, if you pre-ordered direct from the publisher, in your mailbox. Before I get to anything else, let’s do some quick housekeeping:

First thing’s first: Now that Guignol is available, how about a contest? Just post a photo of your copy of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales to social media anytime in the month of October with the hashtag #Guignol, tag me, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a DVD or Blu-ray chosen more-or-less randomly from my own personal collection, along with a note about why I own that movie in the first place, and what, if anything, it has to do with my work. (U.S. only, unfortunately.)

Next up, while Guignol has officially hit streets already, the launch event is still happening in a little over a week. I’ll be at Driptorch in Manhattan, KS on Friday night, October 12 and then hosting a FREE screening of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday at the Tapcade in downtown KC at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, October 14. I’ll have copies of Guignol (and a few copies of Painted Monsters) at both events!

Now on to the new stuff: Guignol got its second-ever review, so far as I know, from Signal Horizon, calling it “Old-School Horror with a New School Sheen,” and I sat down to talk with Logan Noble about monsters and movies and movie monsters and writing and a bunch of other stuff. (For those who may have missed it, I also talked with Signal Horizon at the Screenland Armour a little before the book came out.) I’ll have more interviews and other stuff coming up as the month progresses…

In the meantime, it hasn’t all been Guignol around these parts. A few months back, I got a pile of screeners in the mail and turned them into a sort of home-brew film festival, which I wrote up for Unwinnable. Part One is here, tackling midnight movies like Twilight People and Bruce’s Deadly Fingers along with more “legitimate” fare like The Ghoul (not the Peter Cushing one or the Boris Karloff one).  Part Two goes even more off the rails, featuring a Mario Bava film, an unusual anthology flick, a morally ambiguous western, and a dark biopic of Jeffrey Dahmer.

A little more on-brand for me, I was also a guest on the Classic Horrors blog for the Countdown to Halloween where I wrote about the 1965 film Dark Intruder. Classic Horrors is the blog of Jeff Owens, who owned the video store where I worked in college, so this was a bit of a homecoming for me. And Dark Intruder, well, it’s something else. You’ll just have to read the post.

That’s about it for now, or it would be if I hadn’t been listening to the commentary track on the new Scream Factory Blu-ray of Someone’s Watching Me! yesterday while I was chopping veggies. The commentary is by Amanda Reyes, author of Are You in the House Alone? a book of TV movies from 1964 through 1999. I was just enjoying listening to her talk about TV movies in general and one of my favorite John Carpenter movies in specific when all of a sudden she quoted my 2011 Strange Horizons article on John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”!!!

Let’s pull that out and sit with it for a minute: I got quoted on the commentary track of a John Carpenter movie!

Not sure my week can get much better than that, but if it would like to try, I’m open to the idea.

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Never Bet the Devil CoverAs you have no doubt gathered by now, the brand-new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing is a real, physical object that has actually happened and is currently sitting on my shelf. What you may not yet know is that it can also be sitting on your shelf, even if you missed out on the Kickstarter and/or didn’t see us at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Through the magic of something called “the internet,” you can now order your very own copy of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, featuring two (2) new stories not published in the previous edition, all new illustrations and header images for every story by the phenomenal M.S. Corley (who is also responsible for that amazing cover), and a new (and very kind) introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

(And hey, if you’re going to pick up a copy, now’s the time to do it, because you can get it at 15% off thanks to Strix’s Halloween sale!)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently wrote up a recommendation list of five vintage vampiric movies for you to watch on Halloween, which you can read over at Innsmouth Free Press? Why would I do that, you ask? The better question might be, Why wouldn’t I? But in this case it’s actually all part of an elaborate scheme meant to help promote Monsters from the Vault, my collection of essays on vintage horror cinema, collected from across more than five years of writing columns for Innsmouth Free Press. Why vampires, though? Well, that just kind of happened. But you’re certainly not limited to vampires. Pick up a copy of the book and you can find plenty of mad scientists, alien invaders, werewolves, mummies, murderers, unusually large insects and rodents, blobs, apes, skeletons, cults, and just about anything else you might want for your seasonal viewing pleasure.

The list also serves double duty by making me feel a little less bad about not being a very good contributor to the Countdown to Halloween. This October has been a little rough. It got off to a good start with the HPLFF, but there have been a variety of other setbacks that have kept me from celebrating the season with the same vigor that I might have on previous occasions. Fortunately, I have at least gotten Halloween decorations up, and tomorrow night I’m heading out to the Tapcade for a horror anthology triple feature courtesy of the Nerds of Nostalgia. I attended the first of these “Nerdoween” triple-features a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become an annual tradition. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered both Demons and Night of the Demons and, to a somewhat lesser extent, both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Since this year’s entertainment is anthology film-themed, the odds of me not having already seen all of them decrease sharply, but we’ll see what they can dig up!

Well, the last few days have been extraordinarily busy and draining for me, to the surprise of probably no one. On Saturday night, I stayed out way too late watching mystery horror movies with the fine folks from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast, thanks to whom I can now say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a thing that I have experienced. Then Sunday I was supposed to introduce a screening of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Richard Matheson adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland, but I got caught in a horrible traffic snarl, and so I ended up talking afterward. (Extroducing it?) I had a book giveaway and did a reading of my story “Guignol.”

Yesterday was my birthday, though I didn’t do a lot more to celebrate than what I’ve already mentioned here, having kind of partied out the night before with the movie marathon. Today I’m not doing a lot either besides catching up from all the aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t going on. Since it’s Halloween, we’ve got some special Halloween treats for all of you, including a free story! Head on over to the Word Horde website to read my story “Strange Beast,” about ghosts and kaiju and maybe the ghosts of kaiju absolutely free! “Strange Beast” was one of the original stories I wrote exclusively for Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and this is the first time it’s ever been available anywhere else!

Meanwhile, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing has fast-tracked a little Halloween treat for all those who’re waiting patiently for your copies of the new deluxe edition of  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. The book contains an all-new story that happens to be Halloween themed, and Mike Corley has been kind enough to show off the excellent illustration that he’s done to accompany it.

Meanwhile, Brian Lillie has assembled a whole passel of authors to make suggestions for suitably spooky Halloween reading. My humble contribution includes tales by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jon Padgett, and Daniel Mills, all of which have been podcast by Pseudopod. That wasn’t an accident, and one of the reasons I chose to do it was because Pseudopod is currently running a Kickstarter. As part of that Kickstarter, they’re also putting together their first-ever anthology, which includes classic reprints along with all-new stories by yours truly, Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and more! Here’s the newly-revealed table of contents, and we promise you, it’s true.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on lately, but I think for tonight it’s all I’ve got in me. Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit, have a happy Halloween, and always remember to check your candy…

I’ll leave you with what remains one of my all-time favorite Halloween illustrations by none other than the great Chris Sanders, and (unrelatedly) if you’re looking for something seasonal to do this evening,  you could do a lot worse than to plug a few hours into Halloween Forever!

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Okay, it’s three days before Halloween, or will be by the time you read this. I’m writing it early, because I’m going to be busy the weekend of Halloween with one thing and another. For starters, the 30th is my birthday, and I’ll be hosting a FREE screening of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland Armour at 2pm that day, if you happen to be local and want to drop by.

Normally, I would post this on Halloween itself, but this year Halloween night is on a Monday, which is just insult to injury, so if anyone is going to be celebrating with late-night horror movie marathons (as is right and proper) they’re probably going to be doing it today or tomorrow.

To help you out, I’ve gone ahead and programmed one for you that’ll run from dusk til, well, pretty late, anyway. Starting in at 6pm, just as the sun starts going down, and running until around 2 in the morning, by which time it’s safe to extinguish your jack-o-lanterns and start drifting off to bed or whatever else you might be doing. (Just a few minutes shy of 8 hours, to give you time to grab snacks, pause to hit the restroom, and rewind to watch particularly great scenes.) The theme of this year’s movie marathon is: horror movies that take place on Halloween!

6pm: Halloween (1978)
Arguably the Halloween movie (I mean, it’s right there in the name), John Carpenter’s classic is a good, restrained lead-in to the night, and may be at its very best when capturing the feel of Halloween afternoon leading up to the night itself, even while Haddonfield looks suspiciously non-autumnal for a town that’s supposed to be in Illinois (but is actually in California).

7:30pm: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Few things capture the Halloween spirit better than an anthology film, and when that anthology film is about Halloween, well, all the better. Mike Dougherty’s directorial debut may be the most Halloween-centric horror film ever made, and is the perfect movie to watch during the trick-or-treating hours.

9pm: Halloween 3 (1982)
It’s time. Don’t forget to put on your Silver Shamrock masks while you watch the big giveaway at nine, or just the most bonkers Halloween movie ever made, complete with, well, just about everything, from robots to Stonehenge to druid plots and masks that fill kids with crickets and snakes. Plus, the most nihilistic ending of the evening…

11pm: Night of the Demons (1988)
We’re heading into the midnight hour now, and so it’s time to dust off Night of the Demons. If Halloween captures the atmosphere of the night and Trick ‘r Treat conjures its spirit, then Night of the Demons is the closest you’re going to get to hanging out at a crappy Halloween party in a haunted house. Let it carry you through the witching hour, and then…

12:30am: The Guest (2014)
Blow out your jack-o-lanterns and get ready for  your Halloween marathon cool-down with The Guest, a movie every bit as rooted in Halloween as any other film on this list, but also one that’s standing at the edges of the party, making everyone uncomfortable. It’s a blast to watch, and a perfect way to end the night, easing out of Halloween mode without leaving the holiday behind completely.

By now it’s 2am, but if you want to keep the party going, feel free to drop a couple of other movies into the mix. Adding in Creepshow (1982) and The Midnight Hour (1985) ought to be enough to get you an all-night horror-thon that runs from dusk til dawn.

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman suggested this idea that he called All Hallow’s Read, in which we would all start a tradition of giving each other suitably spooky books on Halloween. I don’t think it ever really caught on, but I do know plenty of people who have annual traditions of reading a certain book every year around this time, whether it’s A Night in the Lonesome October or Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

So whether you’re looking for a scary book to give as a gift this Halloween, or just want something seasonal to read for yourself as the leaves start to turn, I thought I’d throw together a quick list of recommended Halloween reading, limiting myself pretty strictly to books by authors who are currently still alive and working.

Besides mostly avoiding books in which I had any hand (with one exception), I tried not to include books that I haven’t read myself just yet, though you can see that I missed the mark in some ways. That left out a number of books that might otherwise have made the cut, including John Langan’s The Fisherman and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts or Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. I also limited the list to prose books, though I bent the rules a little bit there too with the last inclusion, leaving aside any of the dozens of graphic novels that might otherwise have dominated the list, and preventing it from being an All Mignola, All the Time list, as it otherwise would have been…

  1. Creeping Waves, Matthew M. Bartlett
    Besides being perfect for the Halloween season, Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves is just one of the best weird/horror books I’ve read in years, full stop. And hey, it’s on a massive sale from the publisher for the entire month of October, so there’s no better time than the present to pick it up!
  2. All-Night Terror, Adam Cesare & Matt Serafini
    Really, pretty much any of Adam Cesare’s books could go on this list handily, and if you’ve already read All-Night Terror, I recommend subbing it out for Video Night. Either way, this nails that feeling of sitting down for a horror movie marathon with a big tub of popcorn and some of your best friends, while also bringing in a little of the feeling of those E.C. horror comics. Plus, it’s on sale for cheap on the Kindle for the month of October!
  3. Every House is Haunted, Ian Rogers
    The big news surrounding Ian’s short story collection from back in 2012 is that one of the stories from it, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” recently got optioned for an NBC TV series from the writers of Bates Motel and The Grudge! But long before that had ever happened, Every House is Haunted was already one of the best single-author horror collections out there, with an assured and enchanting mix of scary stories that are utterly perfect for autumnal reading.
  4. The Bone Key, Sarah Monette
    An old favorite, Sarah Monette writes some of the best contemporary ghost stories that you will ever read, and many of them are collected right here in The Bone Key, which bears the irresistible subtitle, The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth. Really, how can you go wrong with that?
  5. The Secret of Ventriloquism, Jon Padgett
    I’m cheating a little bit on this one, because I haven’t yet read the entire collection, and it’s not actually out yet. But it is available for pre-order, and it should be shipping soon, and while I haven’t read every single story in it, I’ve read enough to know how excited I am for this one. Creepy ventriloquist dummies, malformed skeletons, and plenty of Ligottian nihilism make this one a perfect fit as the days grow short and the nights grow tall.
  6. The Last Final Girl, Stephen Graham Jones
    What would Halloween be without a slasher flick or two? And Stephen Graham Jones delivers a slasher flick as only he can with his incredible novel, The Last Final Girl. When I first read it back in 2014, I called it “the book he was born to write, the book he’s been training for all this time.” I stick by that.
  7. Giallo Fantastique, ed. Ross E. Lockhart
    Speaking of slashers, here I am bending my rules just a little bit, this time by including a book that I’m featured in. And if I was gonna do that anyway and recommend a Word Horde anthology, I should probably be shilling the just-released Eternal Frankenstein, even though I haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself just yet. But for me, there’s no more brilliant concept for an anthology around than Ross’s incredible Giallo Fantastique, a vibrantly-colored mixture of crime, horror, and the bizarre that’s perfect reading for Halloween, or any other season.
  8. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, Amanda Downum
    And while we’re on the subject of things that are yellow: Think of Dreams of Shreds and Tatters as urban fantasy by way of The King in Yellow and Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Or think of it as the coolest World of Darkness game you could ever imagine playing. However you think of it, pick it up. While the setting may be a bit wintry for October, it’s a perfect read for the end of fall, as the air starts to get that extra bite of cold to it.
  9. Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters
    Designed as a companion to the exhibit of the same name that’s currently running at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, At Home with Monsters is another book that I haven’t quite read from cover to cover just yet, but I don’t need to in order to know that it’s also a great companion for monster season. Full of images and insights from del Toro’s collection, it’s a perfect book for any monster lover.