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halloween

Happy Halloween, one and all! I’ve been at work all day, and I’m going to a party this evening, so I’ll keep this short, but it wouldn’t be right to let Halloween go by and not say something. So I’ll give you some seasonally appropriate links.

For starters, however you feel about Trick ‘r Treat, there’s really no more seasonally appropriate movie around. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend giving it a look, and if you have, there are a plethora of short films from the same director produced by FearNET that are available on YouTube. There’s also the original animated short film that started the whole shebang off, which you can see right here:

If you’ve already seen Trick ‘r Treat, or are otherwise looking for more stuff to watch this most ghoulish of seasons, the Onion AV Club is doing their annual 24 Hours of Horror movie marathon list, this time with the great Joe Dante. And while you’re at it, you can also check out last year’s list with Edgar Wright. One of these years, I’ll do up my own list, but this year won’t be that year.

(I haven’t actually gotten to read all of Dante’s list yet, but I’m looking forward to finishing it up soon. And I think I own most of those movies, so if I was insane I could actually do the marathon!)

Maybe the most exciting thing to happen so far today, though, for me and anyone else who is unhealthily obsessed with the work of Mike Mignola, is that Dark Horse released a free 119-page digital sampler of a bunch of their horror titles, including a new Baltimore story, B.P.R.D. 1948, and, best of all, a new preview of Hellboy in Hell!

That’s pretty much it for me. Have a safe and happy Halloween, and I’ll see you back here in November for the start of my Hitchcock marathon, and more of the same. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a drawing that artist Chris Sanders (of Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon, among others) shared on his Facebook, and that has become my new favorite Halloween drawing of the moment.

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.

One of my earliest memories involves Monster Squad. I couldn’t have been less than six years old, because the movie didn’t come out until 1987, but I also couldn’t have been in third grade yet, because the memory takes place in Sedan, Kansas, and I moved away from there in my third grade year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sedan (I’m going to guess that’s all of you), it’s a little nothing town in southern Kansas, near the Oklahoma line. It currently has a population of around a thousand people. In 1990, the entire county had a population of around four-thousand.

We lived on the outskirts of town, about half-a-mile down the road from the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds were mostly old 4-H buildings, though the swimming pool and rodeo arena were right there as well. I spent a lot of time in those fairgrounds as a kid, but this one particular memory stands out.

It would have been Halloween night. I walked, alone, from our house to the fairgrounds. There, inside an old 4-H barn, me and a bunch of other kids sat on bales of hay and watched Monster Squad projected onto the wall. I’ve seen the movie a lot of times since then, so I don’t remember much about the experience of watching it. Was I scared? Exhilarated? I’d actually seen quite a lot of much scarier monster movies already by that tender age, so maybe it was nothing special in that department, but I remember that I loved it, and I remember the walk home, in the dark, down the barely-lighted streets on the edge of town, the night suddenly electric around me.

Years later, my brother would record a showing of Monster Squad off HBO onto VHS tape and send it to me, and I would watch it until the wheels fell off, until I could reliably quote the movie in its entirety, and could probably have accurately reproduced it from memory. If Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 future had come to pass and had included movies, I could have been the kid who safeguarded Monster Squad for future generations.

Monster Squad is a great movie, for all sorts of reasons. It’s written by Shane Black, for starters. The monster makeup by Stan Winston is phenomenal from the top down, and the movie’s version of the Creature is probably the only fishman on film that can hold a candle to the original suit from Creature from the Black Lagoon. Duncan Regehr’s Dracula is more intimidating than the majority of screen Draculas before or since. Tom Noonan’s Frankenstein monster is equally impressive. It’s quotable as hell, and the kids actually talk like kids did when I was one, including the cursing and the talking over one-another. And it holds up remarkably, even if you didn’t see it when you were an impressionable youth just falling in love with monsters. (Ask my friend and fellow-author Molly Tanzer, who only recently got the pleasure of seeing it for the first time.)

I watch it at least once every year, around Halloween. I probably would regardless, even if I’d just seen it for the first time yesterday, but I do it now in no small part because it’s a part of one of my earliest and best Halloween memories. This year, I was going to go see it on the big screen for the first time at the Alamo Drafthouse, but it closed for renovations for the month, so tomorrow a bunch of friends and I are getting together at my place to watch it and celebrate Halloween and monsters and the fact that “Wolfman’s got nards.”

The latest issue of the Lovecraft eZine is a tribute to Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and it features my story “The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After.”

Roger Zelazny isn’t quite the fabled “writer who made me want to become a writer,” but discovering his work marked maybe the biggest turning point in my journey from being a kid who wanted to grow up to be a writer to growing up to kind of be a writer after all. And while I discovered Zelazny through his Amber novels, A Night in the Lonesome October is, of course, the novel of his that speaks most to me. It’s a perennial favorite, and I try to re-read it about every year. So when the call for submissions to the Lovecraft eZine tribute issue came out, I knew I’d have to do something for it.

It was actually harder than I’d have expected. It came with a deadline, of course, and I was pretty busy, so the story was going to have to be short, and I found myself having trouble thinking of what I could contribute to Zelazny’s vision that was also still in keeping with my own stuff. I finally settled on a brief story, sort of a soliloquy, about what happens after the “bad guys” win the game.

Since my game was taking place after Zelazny’s (obviously), I decided to try to update the tropes a few years. Zelazny mined the great figures of gothic and Victorian literature for his characters, so for mine I went to the pulps and movies from the 40s and 50s. Hopefully I wasn’t too coy in my descriptions, and, if I was, there’s a handy illustration with the story that does them a bit more justice.

The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and there you have an author’s note that’s almost as long as the story itself!

The issue has a bunch of other stories in it too, from folks like William Meikle and Josh Reynolds, among others, and every story is illustrated and has an audio version (including mine!) and there’s an essay about the book itself, and even an introduction from Zelazny’s son Trent, now an author in his own right. So seriously, check out the issue, and not just for my little story. And if you’ve never read the book, I heartily recommend you track it down, at least from the library or something, because it is well worth getting to know, and especially appropriate for this eeriest of seasons.

Today is the first day of the best 31 days of the whole, entire year. And if I’m not quite ready for it, that doesn’t mean that I’m any less excited to see it arrive. My October plans are currently in a state of some flux. I had originally intended to hit some awesome screenings at the relatively new local Alamo Drafthouse, but they’re closed for renovations for the entire month, so that’s out. But I’ll be doing some cool stuff, still.

Plans are also in flux while I wait to hear some final information about release dates for my forthcoming collection from Evileye Books. I should know something on that front literally any day now, and I’ll be sure to post about it here as soon as I do.

I’m participating in the Countdown to Halloween again this year, as I have every year since I first heard about it, because, come on, it’s Halloween, of course I am! I don’t have any specific daily stuff planned, but I’ll try to make some pretty regular posts, and I know a lot of other great ‘blogs that do. I recommend spending some time going through the list of participants, and if you need a place to start, I can’t recommend Belle Dee’s art ‘blog Doo Wacka Doodles highly enough, and I know she’s got a lot of great stuff planned for the season. And while I don’t see them on the list (yet), I pretty much always recommend The Obscure Hollow, which is one of my favorite ‘blogs around any time, and becomes especially apt this time of year.

There’s a lot more seasonally appropriate ghoulishness coming up, but for now I just wanted to drop in and commemorate the beginning of my very favorite month. Stay tuned!

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.

Drazen Kozjan is an illustrator living in Toronto. His next picture book Working Mummies by Joan Horton will be released in 2012, but I first got to know his work from his brilliant webcomic The Happy Undertaker, which you can also follow on Facebook. He went above and beyond the call of duty for our Vincent Price Halloween countdown, providing not only our longest writeup so far but also a special illustration, which I’ll include at the conclusion of the post, all for The Pit and the Pendulum:

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The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), the second in in Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptions following the success of The Fall of the House of Usher, holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. Like the stories of Poe, which were the doorway to lifelong enthusiasm for macabre literature, watching this film on television as a youngster in the seventies was one of the first horror cinema experiences that impacted me. The films title and startling end set piece of a human being tied down in a bleary, blue drenched dungeon while a massive hatcheted pendulum swung inexorably down upon him impressed itself on my brain, ushering countless hours of horror movie viewing and a life long appreciation of Vincent Price, the mentally shattered, maniacal, wielder of this towering instrument of death and star of this movie.

The film also introduced me to one of my favourite “scream queens”, Barbara Steele, whose majority of movies I wouldn’t see till years later, and writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man and Twilight Zone episodes) as well as director Roger Corman. All to become future staples of a horror diet.

I re-watched The Pit and the Pendulum and by no means a writer of reviews, I did my best to briefly convey my thoughts on why the movie jarred me then and why it impresses me still. I guess there are spoilers if you haven’t seen it, if such things matter to you .

Poe’s terror stories never went beyond the short form, believing them the best vehicle for his theory of “unity of effect”. A reader, in a single reading, would be enveloped in a relentless mood of dread, despair, decay, and an escalating horror in the fevered mind and words of the narrator of of one of his tales.

Expanding one of Poe’s nightmare jewels into feature script is already a difficult (and probably losing) proposition but director Roger Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson do an admirable job that does justice to his bleak vision and tortured internal landscapes and creates a portrait of obsession and decay that I find hypnotic.

Opening with a suitably sixties psychedelic liquid gel title sequence and haunting, almost abstract music by Les Baxter, the movie already gives a hint that we are on shaky mental ground and headed for a colour soaked mind trip. A brief carriage ride by Francis Barnard (John Kerr) and a walk through a nondescript, eerily dreamy forest up to the door of the looming, gothic castle of Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) on the edge of ceaselessly turbulent sea are the only signs of the outside world that we will see during the course of the film .

By setting the story entirely within the confines of the castle, Corman makes a great decision. The castle, its memories and ghosts, shadows and corridors, opulent furnishings and netherworldly dungeons become a reflection of Price’s anguished mind and the tumultuous relationships, past and present, of the story.

Francis is here to find out more about the mysterious death of his sister, Elizabeth, who was Nicholas’ wife. Greeted at the door by Catherina Medina (Luana Anders) , Nicholas’ sister,
he is being led to her tomb when the castle erupts in monstrous groanings and creaks from somewhere behind the stone walls and heavy doors. Investigating, Francis is greeted by an obviously high-strung Price, whose startled face leaps from behind a door anticipating Francis’ entry. I love Price’s delivery of a line here as he explains away the mysterious sounds as “It’s an apparatus that must be kept in constant repair.” … what kind of apparatus makes noises like these, we wonder.

From his first appearance Price’s performance is a spectacular one. Moving effortlessly between romantic reminiscence of his dead wife to frayed nerve despair, he plays the character to the hilt but never so much that the tragedy of his character is not evident or taking one out of the story (at least not me).

Elizabeth Medina (Barbara Steele) first appears in blue tinted flashbacks over Price’s narration, relating the story of the initial joy of their union to the gradual disintegration of Elizabeth as she becomes tortured by the oppressive history of the castle and the memory of Price’s father, a infamous inquisitor who tortured innumerable people in the castle dungeon. She eventually becomes sickly, not eating and dies after a illness succumbing to the horrors of her mind.

Elizabeth’s brother, skeptical, is told Price’s story in a flashback by his sister attempting to justify his questionable behaviour. She tells of how Nicolas as a boy, was witness to the murder of his mother and his Uncle by his father Sebastian (also Price) in the dungeon after confronting them with their adultery. After pummelling the uncle with a hot poker, Price tortures his wife and puts her in a iron maiden. Thus Price is consumed with guilt, he watched the death of his mother, as well as being helpless to stop the death of his own wife.

Price’s friend, Doctor Leone (Antony Carbone) who has arrived and stays to comfort Nicolas, attempts to alleviate the brother’s suspicions but to no avail.

The brother continues to be skeptical as the memory of Elizabeth seems to take on supernatural, material existence , her voice is heard through the castle, her room upheaved and her painting torn, all bringing Price closer and closer to collapse, fearing Elizabeth is coming to avenge her death on him, as we then learn, because she has been possibly buried alive. Upon opening her crypt, this in fact appears to be the case. Price is terrific through all this, at first denying he has anything to do with Elizabeth’s apparent haunting, as Francis accuses him, to then wondering if he is in fact doing this destruction and is so far gone he doesn’t realize it.

Price’s exuberant performance is wonderfully enhanced by Roger Corman’s direction, Floyd Crosby’s cinematography, and Daniel Haller’s art direction. Corman composes beautiful Panavision shots, drenched in colour or submerged in shadows. There is a feeling of hugeness, vast rooms and endless hallways juxtaposed by a claustrophobia within that same space, like it’s all closing in no matter how big the castle,or luxurious the furnishings, and mirroring the character’s psychic upheaval and decline. All the while outside the storm rages and builds.

My favourite section of the movie is the resurrection of Elizabeth. A real tour de force. The camera follows the haunted Price as he is pulled by Elizabeth’s ethereal call of his name, he moves anguished, through cobwebbed , mazelike corridors , her voice eventually leading him to her tomb. Here, as her bloodied hand appears from her stone casket, Steele gets an amazing entrance. Rising, she is kept in shadow as she stalks the fracturing Price through the halls . Only when he collapses on the dungeon floor, his mind broken, do we see her appear from the shadows. A beautiful “corpse” hovering demonically over her shattered husband . As the the doctor enters revealing the adulterous affair between them Steele is a joy to watch as she revels in torturing Nicolas, who stares vacantly, and talks of how she waited “a eternity for this” invoking the spirit of Nicolas’s dead mother and perhaps other victims of the dungeon as well.

Nicholas’ mind now gone, in turn becomes inhabited by the spirit of his father Sebastian who sees not Elizabeth but Price’s mother, and begins to exact his revenge on the adulterous couple!

The music of Les Baxter during this whole sequence is remarkable as well. Baxter doesn’t’ go heavy on anticipating or heightening moments, playing the viewer easily, but instead the music seems to hover underneath reinforcing the dread, eventually breaking apart as well, in stabs, bursts and echoes, musical bats flying out of the darkness.

From here on Price is at his deliriously sinister best, the last vestiges of tender hearted romantic, Nicholas obliterated he is fully possessed by the apocalyptic spirit of Sebastian, and wearing his inquisitor garb, he lets loose the hell at his disposal, taking the movie to the delirious pendulum climax. At one point in sadistic glee speaking the lines, “… the razor’s edge of death, the pit and the pendulum, thus the condition of man, bound on an island from which he can never hope to escape, surrounded by the waiting pit of hell , subject to the inexorable pendulum of fate, which must destroy him finally.”

Hell yeah!