countdown to halloween

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

“A Circle That Ever Returneth In” is, above all else, my ode to the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber, which remain my favorite sword-and-sorcery tales. But, in the course of trying to bring something new to them, and to the intersection of swords-and-sorcery and Lovecraftian Mythos tales, I pulled in elements from Poe and the King in Yellow, to name a few.

There are plenty of sword-and-sorcery movies out there, but most of them don’t manage to capture the rich weirdness of the actual stories. I could suggest something like Don Coscarelli’s Beastmaster, and was almost going to, when I remembered the existence of “El Bosque Negro,” aka “The Black Forest.”


An early short film from director Paul Urkijo Alijo, whose Errementari is one of my favorite flicks of the last few years, “El Bosque Negro” brings a low-rent version of Errementari‘s signature aesthetic in front of the camera, and also echoes, to at least some extent, my story’s leitmotif of what Nietzsche called “the eternal return of the same.”

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

This may have been the hardest one of these to pick a movie to go along with. I definitely didn’t have movies in mind when I was writing “The Blue Light,” a story that was penned to go into an anthology of fairy tales retold in a post-apocalyptic milieu. As far as I know, the anthology never happened, but I’m happy with the story. I like the weird setting with its ever-present dust, its decaying industrial aesthetic, and its perpetual war.

The fairy tale that I chose to retell was “The Tinderbox,” though it comes in a number of other variations. I picked it because it has good monsters–these giant dogs with saucer eyes that have haunted me ever since I first read the story as a kid. Besides the assorted versions of the fairy tale, and illustrations of same by the likes of H.J. Ford, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke, and others, I know that I was picturing a lot of the art of Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, while writing this story.


I wracked my brain trying to come up with the right movie to go along with “The Blue Light,” and I’m still not sure that I’ve done it. To capture the tone of the story, I imagine something like Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. If that’s not horror-y enough for Halloween, though, the rusting industrial aesthetic of the City is pretty well represented in Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill.

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

Originally written for a steampunk ghost story anthology that it (rightly) didn’t get into, “Shadders” is the first original story in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. It’s also another tough one to assign a movie to.

I didn’t really have films in mind when I was writing this story, which is essentially a retelling of “The White Wyrak” by Stefan Grabinski, though the titular “shadders” are inspired in part by the critters in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, especially the baby Otachi.


However, the story is more than its steampunk setting or its monsters. It is a story that is deeply suspicious of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, similar to my story “Black Hill” from many years before. In that way, with its monsters that are formed from the misery caused by industrialism, it would probably make a good double-feature with the much-maligned Tobe Hooper/Stephen King killer laundry press movie, The Mangler, which I have always liked, no matter how goofy it may be.

(He says, as though “goofy” is not pretty much always a selling point for him.)

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

This is probably the easiest one in the book. While plenty of other stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales owe moments or aesthetics to specific films, few of them have their roots sunk as deeply into one particular moment in one particular movie as the title story, “Guignol.”

The scene in question is one in the Stuart Gordon flick, Dolls, which also happens to be a favorite of mine. I love movies about creepy dolls, construct lifeforms, killer automata, you name it. And, of course, for anyone with those predilections, the various Full Moon flicks–the Puppetmaster series most notably, but there are plenty of others–are going to be significant.

Dolls feels of a piece with those, but also connected to Gordon’s early Lovecraft films, which were shot around the same time. And it also feels like a throwback to the old dark house films of the ’20s and ’30s. So it is my jam, is what I’m saying.

There’s lots of good stuff in Dolls, but the one scene in particular that formed the germ of “Guignol” is the fate of one of the film’s very British punk rocker girls, who is transformed into a doll via a particularly grisly process that has always stuck with me.


A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

“The Lesser Keys” was written for a collection of novellas and novelettes set in the Roaring ’20s called Jazz Age Cthulhu. I did a bunch of research to try to bring to life a Lovecraftian version of 1920s Kansas City, when this place was still called the “Paris of the Plains.”

A lot of what went into “The Lesser Keys” owes its origins to that research, and to wandering around Kansas City itself, and to the writing of folks like Dashiell Hammett. To whit, probably the best movie to do as a double-feature with this story is a genuine noir film from the ’30s or ’40s–say one of the various Thin Man movies that were adapted from Hammett’s own work.


That said, I’d be hard pressed to pick a single one to pair with “The Lesser Keys,” so here’s another possibility: Another story that combines hard-boiled aesthetics with Lovecraftian occult trappings, albeit this time to more comedic effect: The overworked, underseen, and frequently problematic Cast a Deadly Spell.

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

As the name might imply, Guignol is not as beholden to movies as Painted Monsters was, but this is me, after all, so there are cinematic threads running all through the films. And even when there aren’t, there are plenty of opportunities for me to find movies that will make a good pairing. So, without further ado, here’s the first of the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and I’ll be doing another every day until Halloween.

“Dream House” begins at the 2014 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, and follows the unnamed narrator (who is me) in my efforts to track down some “lost” episodes of a fictional Southern Gothic soap opera. As such, the story is crammed to the absolute gills with nods to various movies and TV shows, from Curse of the Crimson Altar to Virgin Witch to The Lurking Fear to that “Pickman’s Model” episode of Night Gallery and way, way, way beyond.


Honestly, the best double-bill with “Dream House” would probably be an episode of any of the TV shows that it mentions, whether that’s Night Gallery or Renegade. Put an old TV show on in the background while you read, preferably in a hotel room, and you’ve got the “Dream House” magic going. But I didn’t say I was going to recommend ambiance, I said I was gonna pair movies, and the movie I’d pair with this story is probably John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, another flick that gets referenced in the text, and has a similar logline to boot.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be posting once a day through the end of the month, suggesting (usually) scary movies that pair well with all 14 stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. The posts are already written and scheduled because, frankly, the next 14 days are gonna be busy with work and watching countless movies of my own–I’ve got at least 8 on tap in the next three days, all at the theatre.

tod-brownings-mark-of-the-vampireSo, while my Countdown to Halloween duties may be adequately covered for the year, I didn’t feel right not leaving you with a little something extra during my absence. Since Revenge of Monsters from the Vault came out earlier this year, it only felt right to leave you with yet another movie list, this time slices of vintage horror that I covered in that book and its predecessor that make ideal viewing in the run-up to the big night.

For those of us who watch and read horror all year round–or, at least, for me–not every horror movie is a Halloween movie. While I may watch the sun-baked nihilism of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the urban decay of Candyman during the month of October, the true Halloween movies are those that combine fun with fear. Those autumnal tricks and treats that take place in quaint little towns with dark secrets and in shadowed suburbs.

Halloween movies are the Gothic chillers of yesteryear, with fog-shrouded sets where rubber bats dangle on wires and painted shadows grow impossibly long. There aren’t many old horror movies that actually take place on Halloween, but that’s okay. There are plenty of overgrown graveyards and old dark houses, which are just as good.

Here are 14 (give or take) movies that I wrote up in either Monsters from the Vault or its sequel that will give you plenty of creaky chills for the long, dark nights until Halloween is here at last. Think of it as a haunted advent calendar, if you’d like. And stop back by every day for the remainder of the month for a devil’s dozen (plus one) of movies to watch on a double-bill with the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

On the 18th watch The Tingler (1959). I showed it to a crowded theatre at the Tapcade just a few nights ago, so I can vouch that it’s a good kick-off for the run up to Halloween. If you came out and saw it with me, feel free to substitute 13 Ghosts (1960).

On the 19th watch Fiend without a Face (1958), the most science fictional flick you’ll find in this list, which is why it’s positioned so far from the day itself. Those invisible crawling brain monsters can’t be beat, though.

On the 20th watch The Vampire Doll (1970). Any of Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies will do, but Vampire Doll is my favorite of the bunch.

On the 21st watch The Living Skeleton (1968), another Japanese import and an even weirder one than last night’s picture. There are mad scientists, rubber bats, and a chorus of skeletons. What more could you want?

On the 22nd watch Valley of the Zombies (1946), a Republic potboiler that’s just a short hop away from being a serial. There’s no valley and no zombies, but there is a great villain named Ormand Murks and, as if they were spoiled by that name, a guy gets killed off-screen whose name is Dr. Lucifer Garland.

On the 23rd follow that up with Night of Terror (1933), an old dark house picture from their heyday that features metafictional narration from its maniac killer and a guest turn by Bela Lugosi.

On the 24th we’re heading into the final weekend so it’s time to watch Blood Bath (1966), one variation on four movies all produced by Roger Corman. This version has a vampire, of sorts, and a particularly Halloween-y sequence in which the heroine and the vampire are both accosted by some costumed revelers.

On the 25th it’s Friday night so relax with a night at The House on Skull Mountain (1974), complete with voodoo and flashing skulls and one of the best matte paintings you’ll ever see.

On the 26th we head back into black-and-white territory with City of the Dead (1960). This chiller not only features a guest turn by Christopher Lee, but it’s got the foggiest little town you can think of, and plenty of witches and spooky graveyards.

On the 27th we’re winding down the last weekend with Return of the Vampire (1944). Bela Lugosi again in a film full of great bits, maybe most notable for the fact that it was made during the War and set in England in the midst of the Blitz. How many vampires were shaken from their tombs by falling bombs, after all?

The 28th begins our final countdown, and what better movie to kick it off than Mark of the Vampire (1935)? It’s cheesy, it’s creaky, it’s an unofficial remake of the classic lost silent film London After Midnight made by the same director. In short, it’s a treasure.

On the 29th watch House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (they’re both pretty short).

The 30th is my birthday, so you’d think I’d pick a favorite movie for you to watch on this day. I thought about it, but I feel like the night before Halloween is maybe the ideal night to watch Spider Baby (1967) if you’re going to. It’s got one foot planted in the films of the past and one in Rob Zombie’s films of the present, and the theme song alone should be enough to make it a Halloween staple.

On the 31st watch The Old Dark House (1932). It’s the one I would have picked for my birthday, if I was going to. And whatever you watch or read or do this season, have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September is here, and September is basically the First of Halloween. I don’t have decorations up yet in my house, but it’s just a matter of time. Mostly, I’ve been keeping myself hopping with deadlines since I got back from Providence. However, I’ve also seen a few movies, and written about some of them, so let’s talk about that real quick…

In recent releases, I caught Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which I loved) and Ready or Not and Satanic Panic (which I liked) all at the Screenland Armour, not to mention the disappointing Itsy Bitsy via a screener and The Curse of La Llorona (which I didn’t review anywhere) on a plane.

At the risk of damaging my reputation as the guy who actually likes Conjuring movies, The Curse of La Llorona wasn’t anything to write home about, though Velma did her best and it was dark enough that “on a plane” was far from ideal viewing conditions.

What was an ideal viewing condition was seeing Satanic Panic in a crowded theatre of like-minded souls at the Screenland. Speaking of ideal viewing conditions, I also re-watched, for the umpteenth time, both Matango, which I was lucky enough to get to introduce, and Occult at NecronomiCon Providence.

Tomorrow night, I’m watching It: Chapter Two, which I’m excited about. Those of you who have been around for a while probably remember me being mixed on It: Chapter One, which I haven’t seen since I caught it in theatres a couple of years ago. But time has been kind to my memories of that movie and, even if it  hadn’t, Chapter Two is where the stuff that I’m more interested in starts to percolate to the surface, at least theoretically, and I’m hoping it gets real weird.

If nothing else, there’s a carnival midway in the trailer, and I am always on board for carnival midways.

I usually watch and review more older movies than newer ones, and while that hasn’t been the case the past few weeks, there have been a few, including the genuinely great Alice, Sweet Alice and the incredibly problematic but fascinating Cruising. Also The Legacy, to continue my parade of reviews of rich Satanist movies.

69534813_10156719537162947_5659868775516733440_nScreenland Armour has unveiled their Shocktober lineup for 2019, and tickets are supposed to go on sale sometime today, though I haven’t seen that happen yet. I’ll link when it does. There’s a bunch of stuff in there that I’m going to be a part of, including introducing a couple of my favorite Vincent Price flicks! I’ll post dates when I’ve got ’em.

I’ll also be attending some stuff that I’m not in charge of, including seeing Goblin score Suspiria and Deep Red live on the 8th and 9th, catching the Nerdoween Triple Feature (my annual tradition) on the 18th, going to Analog Sunday on the 13th, and attending the fourth annual (I believe) CarpenterFest on the 25th.

In non-movie-related news, I’ll also be co-hosting a shindig at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads on October 23. We’re calling it A Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey & Signal Horizon. Costumes are encouraged, there’ll be books and libations for sale, and more details to come as the event draws closer.


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.


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!