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halloween

As any attentive reader already knows, I got sick on my birthday, which was twelve days gone now. I’m still sick. Most of the other symptoms have lessened with time, but I am stuck with a persistent cough that is painful, frustrating, and exhausting. Worse still, it won’t let me sleep.

This sleep issue is, at present, my chief concern. I’m also supposed to record for a podcast early next week, which could be … interesting, given how much coughing I’m still doing.

My second greatest concern is that tonight is Analog Sunday. This may seem a small concern compared to not sleeping, and, indeed, it is. But at the same time … this cold already functionally robbed me of one Halloween; Analog was something of a second chance.

About a week ago, I attempted to reason with this illness, offering it whatever it is that colds want in exchange for being gone by today so that I could go watch a movie about killer scarecrows projected off of a VHS tape. I have my priorities, after all.

Sadly, the pestilence has proven obdurate, and so now we are at an impasse. At this point, if I go to Analog, it will be to spite the malady, and not because I actually feel well enough to do so.

Also, I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway, apparently, though I don’t know how much my fellow Analog habitues would appreciate me coughing sporadically throughout the picture.

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As I write this, it’s my birthday, October 30, 2019. At least it is for another few hours. This year, I promised myself that I would do Halloween all the way to the hilt if it killed me in October. And I did. And it looks like maybe it did.

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Art by HamletMachine

No, it’s nowhere near that bad. I was hoping to have a few friends over and maybe watch a movie or two this evening, but unfortunately this morning I woke up with a sore throat and as the day wore on I began to feel more and more under the weather, so I just stayed in and drank tea and didn’t do much besides work today.

Which is okay, because I had a lot of work that needed to get done before the month was over and also because it started to snow today, anyway. Plus, if I’m going to get sick on Halloween, which is the pits, at least I didn’t get sick earlier in the month when I had ten thousand various social obligations to be met.

Knowing I was going to be exhausted, even if I was otherwise fine, I was already planning for a relatively low-key birthday/Halloween, so this works out, even if I’d still rather not get sick, thanks.

It’s been a good month. I had lots of work to do, some of it more fun than others. I saw a lot of movies in local theatres and even hosted a few of them.

I got to show two of my very favorite William Castle/Vincent Price flicks to packed houses, which was an absolute joy. I saw Goblin perform live not once but twice. I kept up my yearly tradition of going to the Nerdoween triple feature and even added in Dismember the Alamo for the first time. I went out to a local haunted house in Independence with my buddies from Magnetic Magic and Forever Bogus. I did a reading at Afterword Tavern & Shelves.

So far this month, I’ve only watched 28 movies. I’d have to watch three movies between now and midnight tomorrow to average out to a movie a day for all 31 days which is… unlikely, but not inconceivable. I guess we’ll just have to see.

It probably depends, more than anything, on how I feel when I wake up tomorrow. As of right now, though, if I’m too sick to do any Halloweening whatsoever tomorrow, I think I’ll still chalk this October up as a win. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons for next time…

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!

As promised, here’s the full schedule for the Screenland‘s SHOCKtober event, which is taking over the joint for the entire month of Halloween. I’ll be hosting screenings of The Tingler on October 14 and House on Haunted Hill on October 27. Both are FREE, and we’re going to have a hell of a time. There’ll be treats and prizes and maybe even a few Castle-style gimmicks, you’ll just have to come out and see!

I’ll also be attending Suspiria and Deep Red with live scores by Goblin on October 8 and 9, the Nerdoween Triple Feature on October 18, Analog Sunday featuring The Basement on October 20, and the CarpenterFest triple feature on October 26, plus as many of the others as I can cram in there.

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This has been a rough year in the Grey demesne. We started 2018 on a raft of health problems that we rode well into the middle of the year. And even once they were (mostly) resolved–honestly, do health problems ever really get completely resolved?–we spent the rest of the year paying for them. I lost a big paying client. And in spite of my best efforts we still haven’t tunneled into the timeline where Howard the Duck is president.

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On the plus side, though we stand on the cusp of 2019 bruised, battered, and low on health potions, the teeth of the universe haven’t yet torn the charge from our atoms. I ran a game of Iron Kingdoms in 2018, and we just completed out last session. Two of the characters were incapacitated, and one of the two who remained standing was holding on by the narrowest thread. That’s kinda how it feels like we’re going into 2019.

Which is not to say that the year wasn’t full of good things, too. I went to Panic Fest and the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which meant that I got to visit the Winchester Mystery House for the first time. I watched a lot of movies and made some new friends. I found a weird board game in the trash and took a picture of In the Mouth of Madness that I had always wanted to take. I became the Monster Ambassador at Signal Horizon and published stories in seven different venues, including my second appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. I had a whole book come out!

Of all the things I’m proud of in 2018, however, I think I’m most proud of the small things I did that were steps outside my comfort zone. I carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, made a necklace that I love, and made divinity, an overly sugary candy concoction that I remember fondly from my childhood. I didn’t do any of those things entirely by myself. Grace helped me with all of them, sometimes overtly, as with the divinity, and sometimes just by giving me the confidence I needed to try something that I might not be good at right away.

I watched 269 movies in 2018, 163 of which were new to me, keeping with my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than not each year. Of those, roughly 35 were released in 2018. My biggest months were October with 39 movies and, thanks to a couple of marathon days, December with 33. My favorite movies that were released in 2018 were, in no particular order, ErrementariLowlifeTigers Are Not AfraidAvengers: Infinity WarBlack Panther, and Apostle. There were a lot of movies I really wanted to check out that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet. The last movie I watched in 2018 was The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which was a good way to close out this weird and crappy year.

I didn’t read very many books in 2018, but of those I did read my favorite was probably Caleb Wilson’s Polymer, which I recommend very highly. The first book I read in 2018 was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan and the last was Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting as I pen this end-of-the-year wrap-up, but honestly I’m just in a hurry to show this garbage year the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out, 2018!

 

 

Another Halloween is behind us. We’ve put out the jack-o-lanterns, taken down the plastic skeletons and rubber bats, and brushed aside the cobwebs. But Halloween isn’t the end of the spooky season, it is the beginning. As the fallen leaves slowly decay and the trees become skeletal hands clawing up at a slate gray sky, we are reminded that the darkest, coldest nights are ghost story weather.

The year that we are leaving behind has been a tough one, both within the forbidding manor of the Grey household and likely for you as well, dear reader. As I’ve said before, I had to more-or-less miss last Halloween due to health reasons, so this year I celebrated hard. I watched a seasonally-appropriate thing every day for the month of October, and several days I watched more than one, clocking in a total of 39 movies, all but one horror-themed. That number would have been slightly higher, but a couple of those days were TV episode marathons rather than movies. I ended the season watching Nightbreed with Jay and Veronica, who had never seen it before.

That’s a tie for second place for the most movies I’ve ever watched in a month. (I am unlikely to ever beat my record, which was 47 movies in the month of October two years ago, when I had my tonsils out.) While I was doing all of that, along with carving pumpkins, seeing friends and family, launching a book, and so on, other things were happening, which I didn’t always report in a timely fashion. Let’s see if we can’t recap:

  • Test Patterns: Creature Features is out from Planet X Publishing, featuring my story “The Pepys Lake Monster” among some exalted company. For those who are unfamiliar with their previous volume, the Test Patterns anthology series is preoccupied with those weird old TV shows that used to dominate the airwaves, like Outer Limits or Night Gallery. As you can probably gather from the title, the theme of this latest installment is, well, Creature Features.
  • My story “Goblins,” which originally appeared as an original tale in the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil from Strix Publishing, went live on Pseudopod just in time for Halloween, read by no less a personage than H.P.L. himself, Leeman Kessler!
  • I don’t have a story in it, or, indeed, anything to do with it, but Jonathan Raab’s Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization is now up for pre-order and it is going to be really good, so I think you should buy it.
  • Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales made it onto Barnes & Noble’s list of “15 Harrowing Halloween Books,” so I have obviously hit the big time now, and I’m just gonna sit back and wait for the royalty checks to start rolling in.

Tonight, I’m getting paid to go see the new Suspiria, which feels like a pretty good way to transition from Halloween to November. The world can be hard and scary (not creepy monster scary, either), but sometimes life is pretty good. Whatever you’re doing for yourself today, don’t forget to keep Halloween in your hearts, and stay spooky out there. I’ll be reporting back in soon.

Family Fun Night

 

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!

So, of course, the big news is that my latest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is less than a month away! It’s currently available for pre-order from Word Horde, not to mention on all your favorite electronic devices! I’ll be talking a lot more about it as we get closer to release, but in the mean time, other things continue to happen, too…

My story “No Exit” appeared in Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road from Crystal Lake Publishing not too long ago. “No Exit” is another in my very loose story-cycle of tales that take place in the same world–or, perhaps more accurately, the same version of this world–along with “Hollow Earths” in Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth from Martian Migraine Press and a few others that haven’t actually seen print yet and some that have before I knew that I was writing a story cycle. More on that as it develops.

Speaking of stories, I have a very short one called “Masks” in the latest issue of Forbidden Futures, a magazine inspired by (and featuring) the art of Mike Dubisch. “Masks” tells the tale of what waits in the cluttered townhouse of an old makeup artist who has passed on, but left a few things behind.

Aside from writing stories, I spend most of my time on various freelance content jobs. Not too long ago, one of my freelance clients put me on retainer to write original mysteries for a sort of monthly murder mystery box called The Murder Chronicles. The contents will include “found documents” like newspaper articles, journal entries, notes, photographs, and more, all painting the story of a new mystery every month in the fictional Kansas town of Baker City. So far I’ve written a few months worth, and the first one should be shipping as I write this!

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Because they’re work-for-hire you won’t find my name on them anywhere, and because they’re written to order, the results are much more your typical “cozy mystery” than the weird horror stuff that you’re used to from me. But if a monthly murder mystery sounds like your cup of poison, it would probably help keep me gainfully employed if you were to subscribe and see how you like it.

A few months ago I was also a guest on the Lit KC podcast with my friend and former co-worker Jason Preu. The episode went live today as the show’s season finale, and in spite of the fact that I recorded it in the midst of the various stresses that have been my last year or so, I actually seem relatively coherent throughout, though my facts about Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales are necessarily somewhat dated. For one thing, it is actually going to have no less than four (4) original stories, though it’s still only 14 stories long. (Ah, the mysteries of publishing!)

That’s about it for now, but the Halloween season has officially begun, with stores starting to stock suitably spooky doodads, so there’ll be lots of seasonal content coming from me, not to mention lots more about Guignol in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned!

 

I know that we’re not even quite to the halfway point on our trip back around to Halloween just yet, but if you’re already jonesing for a taste of the spooky season, Jason McKittrick recently turned me on to the existence of a little show called The Witching Season, which is streaming on Amazon Prime or available to watch on YouTube.

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While the show’s humble origins and limited budget are apparent everywhere in its production, that doesn’t stop it from evoking the season better than most more expensive movies ever manage. The episodes themselves range from 9 minutes at their shortest to around 30 at their longest, and you could easily watch all five episodes in the time it would take to watch a regular film.

The end result is a series of short subjects that would feel right at home in the shorts block at any given horror film festival, connected together by a nostalgic yearning for Halloween and a shared style and tone, even as their subject matter ranges from high strange horror to masked killers, possessed toys, and haunted houses.

None of the episodes are necessarily any great shakes in the story department, though most feature a “twist in the tale” that is probably easy enough to predict going in, but satisfying for what it is. Where the show more than makes up for any ground that it loses in production value or originality, however, is in its Halloween atmosphere, which is effortlessly captured in lingering shots of decorations, pumpkin patches, and dead leaves.

There are some nice touches of local color, as well, as certain episodes bleed into each other, often through radio shows or late-night TV vaguely reminiscent of the WNUF Halloween Special or the wraparound segment of Ti West’s The Roost. Honestly, The Witching Season is worth your time for the opening titles alone, which summarize the season beautifully, in a series of shots vaguely (and, based on the rest of the series, probably intentionally) reminiscent of the great opening titles of Halloween 4.