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So, it’s been a minute. (Approximately 28,800 of them, actually.) What have I been doing with myself during quarantine? Not what I would have expected, necessarily.

For example, unlike a great many people, I haven’t been watching a lot more movies or television, though, like, I gather, a great many other people, I also haven’t been reading any more books than I was before, maybe less.

Mostly, I’ve been working, and while that’s occasionally been on fiction, more often it’s been on, more or less, the same kind of freelance stuff that I was doing before the pandemic. I’ve also increased the frequency of my appearances on the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve been doing weekly episodes due to the lockdown.

Recent episodes have included talking with author Max Brooks about bigfoots and the reassuring quality of Peter Graves, chatting with Pitch editor and semi-professional podcast haver Brock Wilbur about how, where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see, and just our usual bullshit about cursed films.

None of that new fiction stuff is in any fit state for public consumption just yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some news on that front, too. My story “Screen Haunt” will be showing up in mailboxes and bookstores (if there are still such things) later this year in It Came from the Multiplex, a fun-looking antho from Hex Publishers themed around ’80s horror. My contributor’s copy came the other day, and the book looks fantastic, even if I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Speaking of reading, I somehow managed to swallow down my anxiety enough to perform the narration of my story “Dream House” for Pseudopod recently. (Listen to the story and you’ll hear why.) You have my apologies for the narration, but the story has always been a favorite, and it brings back good memories.

The lockdown means that I haven’t been out to the theater in a while, and there’s been a commensurate slowdown in my reviews of other titles, as well. But I haven’t been idle! Earlier this month, I kicked off the first in a new recurring column that I’ll be writing at Unwinnable in which I talk about the eternal allure of board games … especially those that we pretty much never play.

The first installment talks about playing Horrified in the midst of a global pandemic, which has naturally limited my playing options. I have plans for future installments that will hopefully include, y’know, playing them with actual other people. We’ll see.

On a similar note, I’ve also been digging into 5e D&D for the first time in a while and … enjoying it a lot more than I would have expected. While the lockdown has put certain necessary constraints on my actual playing options, I’ve really been enjoying what we have done, and just paging through the books and acquainting myself with setting and rules. I’m surprised, but happy to be so.

Oh, and I did that Penguin Classics cover generator thing that was going around for a minute there with my books, too. So that’s fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tonight, I recorded an episode of the Horror Pod Class with Tyler (my usual co-host) and Adam Roberts, owner of the Screenland, which you’ve no doubt seen me talk about a lot. I’ll edit this to put up a link when the episode goes live later this week. (The current most recent episode talks about Noroi, another of my favorite films.)

[ETA: Here’s the link to the Legend of Hell House episode!]

As we always do on the Horror Pod Class, we discussed a horror movie. Because he was the guest, Adam got to pick, and so we talked about The Legend of Hell House*, which is one of my favorite haunted house movies, and the adaptation of literally my top number one favorite haunted house novel, Richard Matheson’s Hell House.

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If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please stop reading this right now and go do so. Both are really quite good, and if you like my work, or if you and I share relatively similar tastes in horror, you are unlikely to regret heeding my advice on this, even if the tale doesn’t hit you where you live quite like it does for me.

For those of you who have read it or seen it and are familiar with my work, you may be unsurprised to know that Hell House had a huge influence on me, and on a lot of my stories. Like Clive Barker, the sadistic and psychosexual themes of the novel aren’t what hooked me or what were reproduced in my fiction, even though they are certainly what’s laying around on the surface.

You can find echoes of Hell House in the figure in the chair in “The Granfalloon,” in the history of the house in “Nearly Human,” and countless stories featuring hauntings that aren’t what they appear to be.

Matheson had a keen scholarly interest in spiritualist beliefs, and his fictionalized depictions of those beliefs factor into just about every story I’ve ever written that features spiritualism or seances or anything of the sort. His uncompleted novel Come Fygures, Come Shadowes, about a family of mediums, was the keystone to my as-yet-unpublished short story “On Blueberry Hill.”

I’ve read plenty of other Matheson novels and short stories. I Am Legend is, of course, a classic, and I remember being quite fond of his locked-room magician mystery Now You See It…

And, of course, Matheson was responsible for the screenplays of many of my favorite films. Not just adaptations of his own work, but movies like The Pit and the PendulumThe Devil Rides Out, and so on.

But it was Hell House with its matter-of-fact treatment of the supernatural that nevertheless stripped it of none of its gothic grandeur that left the biggest imprint on my own fiction, and continues to do so to this day. Re-watching and talking about Legend of Hell House just reminded me of how much that was true.

* Not to be confused with The Haunting of Hill House or The Haunting or House on Haunted Hill.

So, I guess I posted yesterday’s update a day too soon. No, none of us are sick, still, but last night the Kansas City metro area enacted a mandate to shut down all restaurants (except for take-out and delivery), bars, and movie theaters.

That last one, naturally, is the one that I’m here to talk about, though I have friends and loved ones who work at restaurants and bars who will be directly and irrevocably affected by this.

Please note that I’m not saying that it’s not the right thing to do. I’m not an epidemiologist, and I’m not sure anyone knows what the right thing to do is right now. But I do know that local businesses – as well as those who are employed by them and non-local businesses alike – are going to have a tough time in the coming weeks. Hell, we all might.

The Screenland is more than a movie theater for me. It’s a home-away-from-home; a place where found family congregates. The relationships that I’ve made at the Screenland are some of the best ones in my life right now, and the Screenland is one of the best things about living in Kansas City.

Last night, they closed their doors, and right now we’re not sure when they’ll be able to open them again. If you’re local, help out one of the best theaters I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a movie at by buying a gift card that you can use when this thing blows over. If you’re not, consider donating to help them through a hard time.

We’re all in this together, and hopefully we’ll all pull through together. The Screenland and its people mean a lot to me, so please consider helping them out in this difficult moment.

February has been extremely busy for me so far, and I’m still behind on lots of things from the cough that has kept me a prisoner since the end of October (it’s still here, by the way, but it is gradually weakening). Which is why you haven’t heard from me much in the last couple of weeks.

But last Saturday I went thrifting with Eli (of Analog Sunday fame) for his birthday, then back to his place to watch some weird tapes, as we are wont to do. Thrifting was a huge success, and I’ve been posting some of my loot over on Instagram, if you wanna go be jealous.

I’ve made a few other stops various places while I was out running this or that errand lately, and had similarly great luck, as has Grace in her efforts to track down rare and unusual dice. So, while February has still been extremely busy, it has also been nice.

I’ll take busy and nice. And today, I got an email from a client telling me that I was getting an unasked-for raise on my regular freelance rates from them due to the “consistent positive feedback from our editors in regards to your work.” Which is always a nice thing to hear.

So, not every day is great, but today is pretty good. I’ll take it.

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eye_homepageIt’s that very special time of year again – Panic Fest time! Thursday night was opening festivities featuring Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, while yesterday (Friday) was the first full day of the Fest. Sadly, I’m out of commission today (Saturday), but I’ll be back at it Sunday and into next week.

I’ll be updating social media with one-sentence or so reviews of everything that I see, so if you want up-to-the-minute updates, keep an eye out there or follow along on my Letterboxd. So far, my favorites of the Fest are Extra OrdinaryVHYes, and the aforementioned Color Out of Space, but I’ve got a lot more movies to go.

I had hoped to be over this cough before Panic Fest rolled around, but it seems that isn’t in the cards. In spite of what several people have now tried to assert, this is not my new identity, and I am not going to become a consumptive Victorian dandy with decoratively bloodstained handkerchief. I will shake this cough eventually, but when is anybody’s guess.

I saw the doctor again on Thursday, and the prognosis continues to be that it’s nothing more serious than post-viral bronchitis – essentially minor nerve damage caused by coughing that is, in its turn, causing me to continue to cough.

Those who have been following along for a while now know that Panic Fest is an emotional time for me. It was years ago, at Panic Fest, that I got the call that began a series of tumbling dominoes that ended with my dad’s death – although, of course, that wasn’t the ending, just the beginning of a lot of work and therapy on my part over the intervening years.

But, thanks to that association, Panic Fest became the last weekend for a very long time that I got to feel “normal” for a couple of days. That isn’t the only reason it’s emotional, though. Not anymore, anyway.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a new family here in the KC area. They’re scattered and scattershot and they aren’t often in the same place at the same time, but if this new family has a living room, it’s the Screenland Armour. And the one holiday that they all gather for is Panic Fest.

Folks like Adam and Tim and Eli and Andrew and Steph and Bryce and Amy and Liz and Blair and Kaleigh and Adrian and Brock and Viv and Tyler and Greg and Jenius and many, many others. These folks have become my Screenland family, and they mean a lot to me, even if I don’t see them as often as I would like, or always know how to say it.

For a long time, Panic Fest represented the last time I was really happy. The last time I didn’t feel like my skin was just draped haphazardly over a jagged jumble of uncomfortable emotions. Now, though, things are better, cough notwithstanding, and I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever did before. And Panic Fest has come to represent something else, too. A new family, and a new place where I feel at home.

I am not a person who has very many traditions. I don’t even manage to watch movies on a certain day every year, no matter how hard I may try to always catch The Fog on April 21 or Return of the Living Dead on July 3. But one tradition that I’ve managed to keep going for five years now–including the year I had an emergency appendectomy that nearly killed me–is Nerdoween.

Put on by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts, Nerdoween is an annual Halloween institution; one night, three horror movies that aren’t revealed until they’re shown, all following a theme. Nerdoween has been going for five years now, and I’ve been there every year, front row center. (That last part isn’t quite true. I sat in the second row this year because it was better for my shoulder. In other news, I am old.)

Every year, I’ve managed to see at least one film that I hadn’t seen before–until this year. The first year, the theme was demons, and I caught both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, believe it or not. The second year, the theme was sequels, and I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for the first time.

The theme for the third year was anthologies, which seems a likely place for them to strike out, but I actually caught Tales from the Hood for the first time that year. (The other two were a couple of favorites; Creepshow and Waxwork.) The fourth year was sleazy sci-fi, where I got to see Xtro for the first time.

This year’s theme, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, was “nouns that kill.” We started out with killer cars and Stephen King’s cocaine-fueled rampage Maximum Overdrive, which is really an ideal movie for this kind of event. We followed that up with killer kids and Cooties, which the audience seemed to go wild for.

The final film of the night would have been animals that kill in the form of Arachnophobia, but that was destined to fall victim to a one-two punch. My adopted brother Jay has gone with me to every one of these since I started, and this one was no exception. Thing is, though, Jay doesn’t do spiders. And me? I had literally watched Arachnophobia 14 days ago for work.

Even that might not have been enough to doom the enterprise, but I’m actually going out again tomorrow for Dismember the Alamo (it’ll be my first time), where I’ll be watching four movies. Then Analog Sunday the next day. Then probably another mystery movie night on Monday. Then possibly Horror Roulette. Then definitely a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey and Signal Horizon at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves on Wednesday. So an early night wasn’t a bad call for me.

Even if I had stayed for Arachnophobia, this would have been the first year that Nerdoween didn’t introduce me to a new flick that I hadn’t seen before. For someone whose movie viewing–especially in the horror genre–is as prolific as my own, that’s a pretty impressive feat. And I’ll be there next year, whatever the theme might be, front (or maybe second) row center.