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We’re into the home stretch of our November Alfred Hitchcock marathon here at the Grey household. As I type this, we’re gearing up to watch Psycho. Which means that I should have a marathon wrap-up post coming to you very soon.

When I started this project, I’d hoped to have a variety of guest posts to carry us through the month, but various logistical difficulties meant that mostly didn’t happen. But I did get one guest post, anyway, from Pseudopod editor Shawn Garrett, who joins us to talk about one of the (many) aspects of Hitchcock’s career that I have completely neglected. So, without further ado, here’s Shawn Garrett on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Hitchcock Brand:

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When I was a child, growing up in the mid-70’s, as a fan of all things scary I was well aware of Alfred Hitchcock. How could that be, you ask – we’re talking about a period in which I was roughly 8 to 12 years old and Alfred Hitchcock made very adult movies. Well, you see, Mr. Hitchcock was a very savvy man and he naturally understood a little thing which marketers would later come to call “branding.”

First of all, Hitch’s movies were being constantly replayed on television at this time – and this was back in the day when you had to catch something when it was on, or you risked not having the chance to see it again for years and years (thus, every movie was an event – paid attention to closely and imprinted on your mind for dissection with your peers or on your own). I won’t bend the truth here – I’ll admit that most of the Hitchcock films I saw as a child did not hold my interest, or at least didn’t begin to until I hit my teens. Like a lot of Western movies, it would take an adult’s perspective for me to later grow to appreciate subtle nuances like character dynamics and plot development – at that age, I was looking to be scared. Understandably, certain ones did stick. The Birds, obviously, and I remember being severely discomfited by Marnie and the bits I saw of Frenzy (understandably so). Psycho was, like Night of the Living Dead, one of those rare cinematic grails that eluded me for quite some time. I saw more pop-culture references to Psycho (Anthony Perkins on Saturday Night Live and a particularly funny segment of Don Adams’ old game show Screen Test both leap to mind) than I had chances to see the actual film.

Then there were the paperback anthologies – Death Bag, Scream Along with Me, Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, Breaking the Scream Barrier and the like – all stuffed with stories culled from genre and pulp classics or the equally omnipresent Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (which must have been a favorite of my deceased Grandfather as I discovered a stash of them in my Grandmother’s back pantry in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn). Again, while I was a voracious reader of short fiction by this point in my life (thank you, bookmobile and Scholastic Scope), I didn’t have the maturity to grasp the point of crime and noir fiction but I would relish the creepy covers on the paperbacks and dip into them from time to time to discover a gem or two (in particular, I have vivid memories of a story about Jack The Ripper’s knife, and a longish science-fiction piece about an ever-growing blob of energy that prowls an isolated lake-shore community absorbing the inhabitants – this would have been “Dune Roller” from 1960 by Julian May, later filmed as The Cremators in 1972).

On top of all this, Hitch was savvy enough to brand himself for the children’s market, long before R.L. Stine and the like! Wondrous anthologies like Monster Museum (with truly creepy collage artwork by Earl E. Mayan) and Ghostly Gallery were right up my alley – introducing me to genre greats by assuming I was capable of reading stories originally written for adults (like the notorious “Slime” by Joseph Payne Brennan and “The Desrick on Yandro” by Manly Wade Wellman) which I’m still convinced is the best way to get kids reading short fiction. Equally important to my young world were the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, which grabbed my imagination when THE HARDY BOYS proved to be a bust (as Bart Simpson said re: the Hardy’s mysteries, it truly was “always smugglers”). I could wax eloquent about the intrepid trio (and their creator/author Robert Arthur, one of Hitch’s personal editors) but I do have a time limit here. Suffice it to say, in retrospect it surprises me there was no Alfred Hitchcock anthology comic book to compete with Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery.

When Orrin asked if there was a Hitchcock film I’d like to write about, I asked in turn if I could compose this piece on Alfred Hitchcock Presents – probably the most important piece of Hitch branding there ever was. I loved anthology shows as a kid and while I tended to go for more fantastic fare like The Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond, it seemed like AHP was continually programmed in syndication throughout my youth. Watching the show with my mother or grandmother taught me how to appreciate subtly crafted stories of suspense and macabre humor. It stamped the figure of Alfred Hitchcock into my mind so strongly that I had no problem imagining him as a character when he showed up in the Three Investigator books – no “Hector Sebastian” (the ersatz figure they replaced Hitch with in later printings after the director’s contract deal had expired) for me!

Of course, Alfred Hitchcock did not direct every episode of Presents – in fact, he personally directed only 17 of the 200-plus shows – but that misses the point. Week after week, the entire show served to reinforce a brand character for Alfred Hitchcock – the catchy, limping “Funeral March of a Marionette” opening music by Charles Gounod, the memorable caricature/logo and, of course, the droll and macabre monologues which presented the whole topic of crime and murder (while also taking some stabs at the commercial sponsors) with deadpan humor and charm (“Good Eveeeening”). AHP could run the gamut from tough noir gangster pieces to suburban homicide comedies to “twist in their tale” yarns and you never knew what to expect. Some of my strongest memories of being seriously unnerved as a child come from episodes of the show:

Joseph Cotten paralyzed by a car accident and about to be autopsied in “Breakdown”

David Wayne menaced by a motorcycle cop as he’s trying to transport his wife’s murdered corpse in “One More Mile To Go”

The powerful doppelganger episode “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (as a rule AHP tended to not feature fantasy genre content, but every once in a while they would pitch a change-up to throw you off guard) this episode features one of the most chillingly matter-of-fact lines I’ve ever heard: “You’re mad, you know?”

“The Glass Eye” (one of a number of episodes about ventriloquism) has a twist most modern viewer will almost certainly guess, but the deployment of it is still very disturbing.

Lonely spinster June Lockhart marries a man through a lonely hearts club but begins to suspect he may be spending an inordinate amount of time in the basement towards devious ends in “The Second Wife”

And finally, perhaps the strongest memory I have of the show is catching a repeat (in broad daylight no less) of the fifth season episode “Special Delivery”, adapted from “Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!” by Ray Bradbury. As the plot of this episode began to unfold into the climax (a father suspects there may be something sinister in his son’s mushroom cultivating hobby), my young self began to sloooooowly and uncontrollably back out of the room, eyes fixed on the screen, fascinated but terrified of what might appear when a shadowed face came into the light. I stood in the hall doorway, ready to literally turn tail and run if the episode paid off on its suggested imagery, paralyzed but unable to not watch. It still remains one of my most pleasing memories of pure terror.

I would suggest anyone who desires to experience some quality television to consider accessing the series through Netflix – you’ll get great stories (adapted from the likes of Roald Dahl, Dorothy L. Sayers, Cornell Woolrich & Ray Bradbury, just to name a few), great actors (John Forsythe, Darren McGavin, Joseph Cotten and on and on and on – memorable character actor Henry Jones from The Bad Seed is in quite a few episodes) and great directors (Robert Altman, Arthur Hiller, John Brahm, etc.). While not every episode is a winner, the show is so consistently good that I feel secure in saying that you will not be disappointed.

My friends Richard Gavin and Ian Rogers both tagged me simultaneously as part of their Next Big Thing posts (which you can learn more about by following those links). The gist of the idea is that you answer ten standard questions about your next/newest book, and then tag five other authors who do the same a week later. Like both of them, I’ll be talking mostly about a book that just came out, rather than one that is on its way…

1. What is the working title of your next book?

My debut collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings was just released by Evileye Books. It’s a collection of ten of my supernatural stories, including my previously out-of-print novella The Mysterious Flame. The title comes from the shortest story I ever wrote, a 150-word flash piece that opens the collection that was done as an entry into a contest  that Jeff VanderMeer held as part of his work on the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. (It didn’t win.)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Short story collections are my very favorite types of books, and short stories are pretty much all I write, so putting together my first collection has always been the plan. The ideas for the individual stories that make up Never Bet the Devil came from all over the place; old horror movies, comic books, other supernatural tales, etc. The specific influences of each story are discussed in the author’s notes that are included in the book, because I love that kind of stuff.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I always have a lot of trouble answering this question. In a bookstore, you’d find it on the “horror” shelf. “Supernatural horror” is what Richard Gavin said in his answer to this question, and I think that’s a true answer for mine as well. At other times I’ve used phrases like “weird fiction, “strange fiction,” and “dark fiction.” When people outside the field ask me what I write, I have taken to saying “ghost stories,” and while many of the stories I write don’t actually contain what are usually thought of as ghosts, it does seem to get the idea across pretty well.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I love movies, and I love fan-casting, but since this is a collection of different stories, all with different characters, it’s hard to answer this question. That said, I would try my mightiest to work Jeffrey Combs in there somehow.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m not good at this sort of thing, but here’s the (cheating!) two-sentence synopsis from the official ad sheet:

Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is the first collection of supernatural tales from acclaimed author Orrin Grey. These ten stories haunted by ghosts, ghouls, and other anomalies are a unique tincture of the classic sensibilities of writers like M.R. James, Lovecraft, and Poe, mixed with contemporary comic book and cinematic influences to create an elixir that is equal parts wonder and unease.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Never Bet the Devil was published by Evileye Books.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The stories in Never Bet the Devil were written variously over the course of the last ten years or so, though most of them were written in the last three or four years. The first draft of The Mysterious Flame, the novella that makes up a little over a third of the book and is the longest single thing I’ve ever written, took me about six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The comics of Mike Mignola, of course. (See the answer to question #9, below.) Lovecraft, Leiber, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, William Hope Hodgson, Jean Ray, etc. Comparing oneself to modern writers is always awkward, but since Ian Rogers and Richard Gavin both tagged me in this thing, I think it’s safe enough to say that I sometimes flatter myself that if you like their work, you might also like mine.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve got a lot of inspirations, and I tend to like to talk about all of them at great length. But the biggest one is Mike Mignola. This book is dedicated to him, and he’s the person who had the single biggest impact on my approach to supernatural storytelling. He tells a story in a lot of his interviews about how, when he read Dracula for the first time, he suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life. I had a similar moment, but for me it wasn’t Dracula, but Mignola’s own work on Hellboy that provided that jolt.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

In addition to my stories and author’s notes and assorted rambling, the book is fully illustrated by the great Bernie Gonzalez, who also provided illustrations for the hardcover edition of Fungi, which I just co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia for Innsmouth Free Press. (And which is presently available for pre-order for a couple more days!)

There you go. Sadly, I haven’t managed to tag five authors, since a couple of the people I tried to tag turned out to have already been gotten to by others first. So here’s a couple of authors, and my apologies for bodging: Molly Tanzer & John Hornor Jacobs.

Yesterday, on my bus ride home, I finished Ian Rogers‘ debut collection Every House is Haunted. I’d read it over the last three days, and I couldn’t have asked for better material to close out the Halloween season.

Full disclosure, before I get into the meat of this review: Ian and I are friends, though we’ve only met in person a couple of times. I’ve known him since we were both published together in Bound for Evil back in 2008, and we both did our first ever book signing at that year’s Readercon. You can rest assured, though, that while our friendship affects how excited I am to see him have such a handsome book in print, it wouldn’t be enough to make me be as effusive in my praise as I am about to be.

Every House is Haunted, in addition to having a great title, is about as assured a debut collection as you’re ever likely to find. Ian writes in the grand tradition of folks like Stephen King, Richard Matheson (albeit with fewer Twilight Zone endings), or Shirley Jackson, but he also manages to make the stories entirely his own. Many of the stories involve haunted houses, as you might gather from the title, but rarely are they haunted in the usual sense. Many other stories, including some of my favorites, feature a sort of blue collar approach to the supernatural. The agencies that deal with the occult in Ian’s world are believably bureaucratic, peopled with the kinds of folks you’d find working in cubicles in any office building.

In fact, a big part of what makes Ian’s stories so good is their very human heart. While often ominous or creepy (and occasionally very funny), the stories in Every House is Haunted never feel the least bit mean-spirited. There’s always a warmth and sympathy at the center of each story, no matter how grim the subject matter becomes.

I have favorites from the book, of course. “Cabin D,” “The Cat,” and “Inheritor” all jump to mind. But really, it’s not any one story or stories that makes Every House such a success, but the way they combine to form a whole that is more than the sum of even its (already quite exceptional) parts.

Tomorrow is my birthday. In spite of the subject line up there, I’m actually turning 31. But it seemed appropriate anyway, not only because tomorrow is the 30th, but because tomorrow is the end of my being 30. In some ways, it was a pretty big year for me. Probably bigger than I’ve yet realized, since I still feel kind of in the midst of it. It hasn’t really sunk in that it’s my birthday tomorrow, and that Halloween is only two days away. It still feels like the beginning of October, or maybe even earlier than that.

I don’t know how much time I’ll have for introspection or anything else in the next couple of days. With any luck, I’ll watch a movie or two, and maybe you’ll hear about that. Then in November I’m going to start my aforementioned experiment to try to rectify my ignorance of Hitchcock’s canon, and I’ll definitely be updating about that as it goes along.

I’ve been asked about presents, but I’m really doing pretty well and there’s not a lot that I need in that department right now. If you really want to get me something for my birthday, the best thing would probably be to go ahead and pre-order a copy of Fungi for yourself, if you haven’t already. As before, I recommend the hardcover. My collection isn’t up for order just yet, but I’ve turned in the final proofs, and so it should be heading to the printer. If you’d like to save up your birthday cheer for that, it should be available for order any day now.

If you already ordered Fungi, then thank you. And if you have an overabundance of goodwill toward me and more money to spend, then I’d recommend picking yourself up a book by one of my very good friends. It’ll make me happy, and you’ll have a fantastic book to read. You’ve probably already heard me talk about Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth, but it bears repeating that it’s one of the best new books I’ve read in a while, and I just got my copy of Every House is Haunted, the debut collection from Ian Rogers, and so far it is excellent (and is the first time, to my knowledge, that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements of a book). I haven’t yet gotten my copy of Richard Gavin’s latest, At Fear’s Altar, but his previous collections are among the best contemporary weird fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and this one promises to be his best yet.

You’ll hear from me again before then, but I hope that everyone has a happy Halloween, and those of you on the East Coast (and everywhere else, frankly), stay safe.

So I’m back from outer space from a week-and-change sabbatical from work and the Internet. June 2nd marked my ten-year wedding anniversary, and my lovely wife and I had company in the form of a couple of our best and oldest friends, Reyna and Gavin, down from Minnesota to help us celebrate it. The week was mostly filled with games, in-jokes, giggling, good food, the occasional bad movie, a lot of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and lots of us taking them around Kansas City. I’m happy to say that I seem to know the place pretty well by now, and their appreciation of it helped me to appreciate it even more. Hopefully we sold them on it enough that they’ll be moving down here at some indeterminate point in the (hopefully near) future.

Among the things we did that we hadn’t done before included attending our first First Friday at the Crossroads, which was an adventure. (Thanks to Gavin for actually fixing my car and preventing us from being stranded under some overpass and eaten by hobos.) Also, we finally made it to the new Sea Life Aquarium in Crown Center. It was pretty good, though mostly geared toward kids. Nothing in it is as amazing as this map, though. I hope they paid whoever drew that a billion dollars.

Over the week I also saw a couple of movies in theatres: Snow White and the Huntsman and Prometheus. Both were quite pretty, but I didn’t care for either of them. I should probably say more about why, but, really, everyone is talking about why they either did or didn’t like Prometheus, and I don’t really know what I’ve got to add. (Yes, Michael Fassbender was predictably great. And Charlize Theron did her best in both pictures, though she had a lot more to do in Snow White.)

Quite a lot happened out in the world and on the Internet while I wasn’t looking, and there’s no way I’ll ever catch up on all of it. Probably the piece of news that shook me the most upon my return was that Ray Bradbury had passed on. Of course Bradbury was a giant to me, a person who was hugely influential on my path as a writer and as a reader, and probably on myself as a person, and the always-eloquent Richard Gavin has posted a better reminiscence of the man than I ever could, even if I weren’t busy playing catch-up.

In other and less sobering news, Ross Lockhart has posted the final table of contents for The Book of Cthulhu 2, and there I am, in the enviable (and somewhat daunting) position of being smack in the middle between Fritz Leiber and Michael Chabon. (A place, I’ll admit, that I never, ever expected to see my name in all my wildest imaginings.)

I also missed a couple of exciting launches while I was away. Eric Orchard unleashed the second issue of his brilliant all-ages horror comic Marrowbones, which you can pick up here (along with the first issue, if you missed it). And Ian Rogers launched the website for his forthcoming debut collection Every House is Haunted, complete with pre-order info. I’d recommend plunking down the extra coin for the limited edition hardcover because, frankly, the extras that come with it sound amazing.

There’s probably quite a lot more that I should mention, and even more that I don’t even know about. I haven’t really talked about Spectrum, for instance. But I think this is probably long enough for the time being. Hopefully it won’t be quite so long until the next installment.

I forgot my hat when I left the house today, which was an unusual and discomfiting experience for me. As such, I of course posted about it to various social media, explaining how, if I were a character in a turn-of-the-century book, this would be indicative of panic or emergency of some kind. It was generally agreed upon by my commentors that even in this enlightened era, it could not be looked upon as anything less than a dire omen. So traumatic and far-reaching was the experience, that it was actually immortalized in art by the supremely talented Drazen Kozjan, as can be seen below:

Well, it looks like, due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ve dropped the ball on the last installment of my Vincent Price Halloween countdown. If I’m able to run John Langan’s piece in the next couple of days, I’ll definitely put it up and let everyone know. In the meantime, I hope everybody enjoyed the Vincent Price Halloween festivities, and my sincere thanks to all the great creators who participated.  In case you missed any installments, here they all are, in link form:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia on The Tingler
Richard Gavin on The Tomb of Ligeia
Gemma Files on Dr. Phibes
Jesse Bullington on Witchfinder General
S.J. Chambers on The Last Man on Earth
Drazen Kozjan on The Pit and the Pendulum 

When I started all this, there was one thing I didn’t take into consideration: What a tough act I was setting myself up to follow. So, what’s my call for a Vincent Price movie suggestion for Halloween? It’s a tough choice, as you can see by the wide variety of films covered here already. I could list a ton, many of which have already been talked about at length by my other contributors, and it’s pretty safe to say that any movie with Price in it is a pretty safe bet. But if I had to pick just one movie from Price’s oeuvre to suggest for Halloween, it’d be Comedy of Terrors.

For me, Halloween is about more than just scariness. We do that all year round. There’s a certain fun to Halloween, too. A certain mixture of scariness and silliness. And while most of Price’s films might well be considered to fit that bill, Comedy of Terrors is one of a comparatively few overtly comedic outings.

It’s got quite a pedigree, both behind the camera and before it. Screenplay by Richard Matheson (showing he knows comedy as well as horror). Directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Night of the Demon, etc). A cast including Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. It works nicely as a companion piece with similar comedic outings (with pretty much the same casts) The Raven and the comedic “Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. For my money, though, Comedy of Terrors is the sharpest of them. Not beholden to any Poe story, though shot through with many elements native to Price’s many Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, it is freed up to tell the delightfully dark story of a murderous undertaker (Price) who kills his clients in their own homes in order to keep himself in business.

All the actors are joys to watch, and Tourneur and Matheson bring enough wit, adroitness, and enough Gothic trappings to make for a truly spectacular Halloween foray.

So, barring a late-falling installment, this’ll be it for the Vincent Price Halloween. You can expect to hear more from me about my weekend’s festivities and the like very soon, and you can expect to see some changes made around this website come November. For now, though, I’m off to return to seasonal celebrations, and I hope everyone out there has a great day on this spookiest time of the year.