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Okay, it’s three days before Halloween, or will be by the time you read this. I’m writing it early, because I’m going to be busy the weekend of Halloween with one thing and another. For starters, the 30th is my birthday, and I’ll be hosting a FREE screening of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland Armour at 2pm that day, if you happen to be local and want to drop by.

Normally, I would post this on Halloween itself, but this year Halloween night is on a Monday, which is just insult to injury, so if anyone is going to be celebrating with late-night horror movie marathons (as is right and proper) they’re probably going to be doing it today or tomorrow.

To help you out, I’ve gone ahead and programmed one for you that’ll run from dusk til, well, pretty late, anyway. Starting in at 6pm, just as the sun starts going down, and running until around 2 in the morning, by which time it’s safe to extinguish your jack-o-lanterns and start drifting off to bed or whatever else you might be doing. (Just a few minutes shy of 8 hours, to give you time to grab snacks, pause to hit the restroom, and rewind to watch particularly great scenes.) The theme of this year’s movie marathon is: horror movies that take place on Halloween!

6pm: Halloween (1978)
Arguably the Halloween movie (I mean, it’s right there in the name), John Carpenter’s classic is a good, restrained lead-in to the night, and may be at its very best when capturing the feel of Halloween afternoon leading up to the night itself, even while Haddonfield looks suspiciously non-autumnal for a town that’s supposed to be in Illinois (but is actually in California).

7:30pm: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Few things capture the Halloween spirit better than an anthology film, and when that anthology film is about Halloween, well, all the better. Mike Dougherty’s directorial debut may be the most Halloween-centric horror film ever made, and is the perfect movie to watch during the trick-or-treating hours.

9pm: Halloween 3 (1982)
It’s time. Don’t forget to put on your Silver Shamrock masks while you watch the big giveaway at nine, or just the most bonkers Halloween movie ever made, complete with, well, just about everything, from robots to Stonehenge to druid plots and masks that fill kids with crickets and snakes. Plus, the most nihilistic ending of the evening…

11pm: Night of the Demons (1988)
We’re heading into the midnight hour now, and so it’s time to dust off Night of the Demons. If Halloween captures the atmosphere of the night and Trick ‘r Treat conjures its spirit, then Night of the Demons is the closest you’re going to get to hanging out at a crappy Halloween party in a haunted house. Let it carry you through the witching hour, and then…

12:30am: The Guest (2014)
Blow out your jack-o-lanterns and get ready for  your Halloween marathon cool-down with The Guest, a movie every bit as rooted in Halloween as any other film on this list, but also one that’s standing at the edges of the party, making everyone uncomfortable. It’s a blast to watch, and a perfect way to end the night, easing out of Halloween mode without leaving the holiday behind completely.

By now it’s 2am, but if you want to keep the party going, feel free to drop a couple of other movies into the mix. Adding in Creepshow (1982) and The Midnight Hour (1985) ought to be enough to get you an all-night horror-thon that runs from dusk til dawn.

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A few years ago, Neil Gaiman suggested this idea that he called All Hallow’s Read, in which we would all start a tradition of giving each other suitably spooky books on Halloween. I don’t think it ever really caught on, but I do know plenty of people who have annual traditions of reading a certain book every year around this time, whether it’s A Night in the Lonesome October or Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

So whether you’re looking for a scary book to give as a gift this Halloween, or just want something seasonal to read for yourself as the leaves start to turn, I thought I’d throw together a quick list of recommended Halloween reading, limiting myself pretty strictly to books by authors who are currently still alive and working.

Besides mostly avoiding books in which I had any hand (with one exception), I tried not to include books that I haven’t read myself just yet, though you can see that I missed the mark in some ways. That left out a number of books that might otherwise have made the cut, including John Langan’s The Fisherman and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts or Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. I also limited the list to prose books, though I bent the rules a little bit there too with the last inclusion, leaving aside any of the dozens of graphic novels that might otherwise have dominated the list, and preventing it from being an All Mignola, All the Time list, as it otherwise would have been…

  1. Creeping Waves, Matthew M. Bartlett
    Besides being perfect for the Halloween season, Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves is just one of the best weird/horror books I’ve read in years, full stop. And hey, it’s on a massive sale from the publisher for the entire month of October, so there’s no better time than the present to pick it up!
  2. All-Night Terror, Adam Cesare & Matt Serafini
    Really, pretty much any of Adam Cesare’s books could go on this list handily, and if you’ve already read All-Night Terror, I recommend subbing it out for Video Night. Either way, this nails that feeling of sitting down for a horror movie marathon with a big tub of popcorn and some of your best friends, while also bringing in a little of the feeling of those E.C. horror comics. Plus, it’s on sale for cheap on the Kindle for the month of October!
  3. Every House is Haunted, Ian Rogers
    The big news surrounding Ian’s short story collection from back in 2012 is that one of the stories from it, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” recently got optioned for an NBC TV series from the writers of Bates Motel and The Grudge! But long before that had ever happened, Every House is Haunted was already one of the best single-author horror collections out there, with an assured and enchanting mix of scary stories that are utterly perfect for autumnal reading.
  4. The Bone Key, Sarah Monette
    An old favorite, Sarah Monette writes some of the best contemporary ghost stories that you will ever read, and many of them are collected right here in The Bone Key, which bears the irresistible subtitle, The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth. Really, how can you go wrong with that?
  5. The Secret of Ventriloquism, Jon Padgett
    I’m cheating a little bit on this one, because I haven’t yet read the entire collection, and it’s not actually out yet. But it is available for pre-order, and it should be shipping soon, and while I haven’t read every single story in it, I’ve read enough to know how excited I am for this one. Creepy ventriloquist dummies, malformed skeletons, and plenty of Ligottian nihilism make this one a perfect fit as the days grow short and the nights grow tall.
  6. The Last Final Girl, Stephen Graham Jones
    What would Halloween be without a slasher flick or two? And Stephen Graham Jones delivers a slasher flick as only he can with his incredible novel, The Last Final Girl. When I first read it back in 2014, I called it “the book he was born to write, the book he’s been training for all this time.” I stick by that.
  7. Giallo Fantastique, ed. Ross E. Lockhart
    Speaking of slashers, here I am bending my rules just a little bit, this time by including a book that I’m featured in. And if I was gonna do that anyway and recommend a Word Horde anthology, I should probably be shilling the just-released Eternal Frankenstein, even though I haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself just yet. But for me, there’s no more brilliant concept for an anthology around than Ross’s incredible Giallo Fantastique, a vibrantly-colored mixture of crime, horror, and the bizarre that’s perfect reading for Halloween, or any other season.
  8. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, Amanda Downum
    And while we’re on the subject of things that are yellow: Think of Dreams of Shreds and Tatters as urban fantasy by way of The King in Yellow and Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Or think of it as the coolest World of Darkness game you could ever imagine playing. However you think of it, pick it up. While the setting may be a bit wintry for October, it’s a perfect read for the end of fall, as the air starts to get that extra bite of cold to it.
  9. Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters
    Designed as a companion to the exhibit of the same name that’s currently running at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, At Home with Monsters is another book that I haven’t quite read from cover to cover just yet, but I don’t need to in order to know that it’s also a great companion for monster season. Full of images and insights from del Toro’s collection, it’s a perfect book for any monster lover.

monsters-vaultYeah, yeah, it’s already been October for a few days now, but I’ve been recovering from a tonsillectomy, so this is the first time this month that I’ve felt well enough to post anything. So consider this the official kickoff of my Countdown to Halloween this year!

This year it seems like everyone has been doing these “31 movies for Halloween” lists, to help people to watch a horror movie a day for the entire month of October. Which, to be fair, is something I come very close to doing most months of the year anyway. I thought that it would be fun to throw together a list, but with so many people doing them, it seemed impossible to think of a way to make my list stand out. And with so many movies to choose from, narrowing them down to just 31 seemed like a daunting task. So I hit upon a solution:

I would limit my list exclusively to movies that came out before prior to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. Part of the impetus for this decision was to make my job a little easier, but part was also to help draw attention to the fact that Monsters from the Vault, my collection of columns on vintage horror films, is on sale for only 99 cents on the Kindle for the entire month of October! (And is currently already sitting in the #1 bestseller spot on Kindle for “video guides & reviews.”)

So, to that end, not only did I limit myself to movies made before ’78, I also pretty much used the same criteria that I used when selecting movies for my Vault of Secrets column. No movies that felt too “modern,” for whatever ambiguous and subjective definition of that I wanted to use. So while my ’78 cutoff would technically let me include things like The Exorcist or even Suspiria, I ruled those too modern, and stuck to the stagey movies that dominated the horror scene in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Which brings me to my other stipulation. I also tried to avoid the most usual suspects, so you won’t find many of the most respected “classics” on this list. No Nosferatu or Psycho, no Haunting or Rosemary’s Baby. If a title seemed to obvious, I tried to eschew it, with a few exceptions. That means you also won’t find some of the classic monsters on here. No Frankenstein, Dracula… not even a mummy. Instead, I opted for at least somewhat more obscure titles that felt like they captured that “Halloween spirit,” while also hopefully covering a pretty wide swath of different styles, tones, and sub-genres. (This also means that you won’t find many kaiju, 1950s atomic panic movies, or alien invaders here… though maybe a few.)

If you like my list, these are exactly the kinds of movies that I write about in Monsters from the Vault, and there’s no time like the present to pick it up. Anyway, without further ado, here are my 31 vintage horror films for the 31 days (and nights) of Halloween:

  1. Night Creatures (1962)
  2. Dead of Night (1945)
  3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
  4. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
  5. The Body Snatcher (1945)
  6. Night of the Demon (1957)
  7. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
  8. Black Sunday (1960)
  9. Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
  10. The Haunted Palace (1963)
  11. Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
  12. Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
  13. The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
  14. The Brainiac (1962)
  15. Santo and the Blue Demon Against the Monsters (1970)
  16. Fiend without a Face (1958)
  17. Curse of the Fly (1965)
  18. Matango (1963)
  19. Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966)
  20. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
  21. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
  22. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
  23. Doctor X (1932)
  24. Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
  25. The Thing from Another World (1951)
  26. The Undying Monster (1942)
  27. Return of the Vampire (1943)
  28. Mark of the Vampire (1935)
  29. Mad Love (1935)
  30. The Old Dark House (1932)
  31. House on Haunted Hill (1959)

 

I started 2015 with a modest goal: I wanted to watch more movies that I had never seen before than ones that I had. I think I accomplished that pretty handily. In 2015, I watch 255 movies, 156 of them for the first time. Of those 156, 25 of them were released in 2015. (Yeah, I don’t make it out to the theatres as much as I used to…)

For me, 2015 was a year full of movies that I liked but didn’t love. Since there’s no one twisting my arm to make a ranked Top Ten list this year, I’ll simply say that, of the movies that I saw that were released in 2015, a few of my favorites include: Mockingjay Part 2, Insidious Chapter 3, Crimson Peak, Krampus, and Mad Max: Fury Road. And before you ask, no, I still haven’t seen The Force Awakens, so you’ll have to wait to hear what I think of it. I did catch Hateful Eight just under the wire, watching it on New Year’s Eve in 70mm, but, while the experience was pretty amazing, I’m not yet sure how I felt about the movie. I also saw Bone Tomahawk over the weekend, and it was every bit as good as everyone’s been saying, though it definitely did drama better than it did horror.

There are lots of other likely contenders for a best of the year list that I just haven’t gotten the chance to sit down with yet. In spite of the best efforts of movies like Hellions and Run All Night, the worst movie that I saw that came out in 2015 remains Tremors 5, and I say that as a fan of the franchise, even its later entries.

When you only see 25 movies that came out in a year, you’re bound to miss a lot of good ones. So it probably comes as no surprise that I saw more older movies for the first time that left a big impression on me than I did movies that actually came out this year. A few highlights include: The Guest, The Canal, Nightcrawler, April Fool’s Day, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Resolution, The Warriors, Hide and Seek (2013), Kill, Baby… Kill!, Black Mountain Side, Blood and Black Lace, Night of the Demons, Phantom of the Paradise, Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos, Kiss Me Deadly, and Mockingjay Part 1.

While I didn’t make it out to the theatre very often this year, I did have several superlative theatre-going experiences. Back at the tail-end of January, I attended Panic Fest, where I got to catch a midnight double-feature of WolfCop and The Editor. I’ll be there again this year, on the weekend of February 5. In October, I was a guest at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, where I caught a bunch of movies, the best of which was probably Black Mountain Side.

On my birthday I attended a mystery horror triple-feature at the Tapcade, where I got to see both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, and then in November I saw the Mockingjay double-feature at the Alamo. Finally, just a few nights ago, I watched The Hateful Eight in 70mm, as I already mentioned.

In 2016, I hope to continue the trend of watching more movies that are new-to-me, and fewer re-watches, although going back to classics (or not-so-classics) that I haven’t revisited in a long time is also high on my list. I’m also hoping, though it seems that I say this every year now that I’m a freelancer, to read more books in 2016, so that may cut into my movie watching time. We’ll see…

Daniel Mills​ tagged me to name “seven things about my writing that you may not already know,” which is the sort of thing I would normally agonize over for several days before unceremoniously dumping it onto the Internet in the middle of the night. However, I don’t really have time for agonizing right now, so I’ll just skip straight to unceremonious dumping. Here are the first seven things that came to mind that might possibly qualify:

  1. While I don’t really have a process–it changes pretty drastically from story to story–I try, whenever deadlines permit, to write everything out completely at least twice. I find that in the course of writing it the second time, I catch things that I wouldn’t have noticed if I had simply been revising.
  2. I used to write to music compulsively, but these days I find that I can’t do it. Just about any kind of music seems to kill the rhythm of writing, with the recent notable exception of John Carpenter’s Lost Themes.
  3. Nathan Ballingrud once lamented that he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be William Faulkner or Robert E. Howard. (I believe I got those names right, Nathan?) I told him that I was pretty sure I just wanted to be Robert E. Howard (though Mike Mignola or E.F. Benson would probably have been better examples), and he basically told me to go out and do the best job of that I could. I’ve been trying to live by that advice ever since.
  4. I’ve known that I wanted to write pretty much forever, but probably the biggest turning point in my development as a writer came when I was introduced to Roger Zelazny through his Chronicles of Amber books. Something about Zelazny’s prose transformed me from someone who wanted to write, into someone who wanted to write better.
  5. Though it is, I think, somewhat unfashionable to admit such a thing right now, my writing is heavily influenced by film, though less, I hope, in the form of “here’s a thinly-veiled fanfic of my favorite TV show” or “here’s a story that I really wanted to be a screenplay but I figured I could sell it quicker this way” and more simply that years of watching and digesting movies has left an indelible stamp on my imagination. In his own version of this meme, Daniel mentioned that he was “critical of the influence of film on contemporary fiction,” and went on to enumerate a number of reasons, all of which made good sense. One of those was that “the first-person tense is eliminated.” A look over my stories shows that I am, at least, not in any danger of that, since I dearly love writing in both first- and the much more oft-maligned second-persons.
  6. I currently write for a living, but the majority of my income doesn’t come from fiction–licensed or otherwise–but from content work for various corporate websites and blogs. Which is not as much fun as writing about wax museums, lost films, and unlikely ghosts, but it does pay better, at least for now.
  7. If I were ever to print out some sort of motivational saying and have it framed above my desk to inspire me when I’m writing, it might well be a quote from Alan Moore’s introduction to the second Hellboy collection, Wake the Devil: “The trick, the skill entailed in this delightful necromantic conjuring of things gone by is not, as might be thought, in crafting work as good as the work that inspired it really was, but in the much more demanding task of crafting work as good as everyone remembers the original as being.”

The Oscars are tonight. I don’t really care too much about them any year, and this year is no different, mostly because I haven’t seen the vast majority of the movies that are nominated for anything, so I can’t have much of an opinion either way. About the only category where I have a horse in the race is Best Animated Feature, where I’m hoping Big Hero 6 takes home the statue it so richly deserves, though I’m thinking that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will probably win it as an apology Oscar for snubbing its predecessor back in 2010.

I’m not here to talk about the Oscars, though. I’m here to talk about the year in movie monsters. I’m a little late with what will be my third annual Year in Creatures, but I honestly held off this long because I just kept thinking that there must have been more good monsters in movies in 2014 than I had yet seen, and that any moment I would stumble upon them, but as the Oscars are upon us and we’re now well into 2015, I think I’ve just got to acknowledge that 2014 wasn’t a very good year for movie monsters, and call it a day. (We can’t have a Pacific Rim every year, after all.)

This year followed the established pattern that the majority of screen creatures were not in horror or monster movies at all, but rather in big budget sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy spectacles. There were a few non-ghost monsters in lower budget horror films, but of those, few were especially memorable, and even the fantasy epics this year tended toward generic critters, with some exceptions coming in the form of the aliens from Edge of Tomorrow, the surprisingly decent MUTOs from the otherwise lackluster Godzilla, and, if they can truly count as creatures, the future Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The only creature to really give this year’s winner a run for its money, though, was the breakout star of Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot. Who might have been monster of the year had it not been for…

The Babadook 

jennifer-kent-babadook-2014-05-06-004

While the film itself was one of the year’s better horror films, don’t get me wrong, it suffered a bit from overhype and a somewhat weak third act. But the titular monster stole the show, with its combination of silent movie aesthetics and a Pokemon-esque tendency to say its own name. (Particularly effective in a chilling phone call scene.)

Would the Babadook have been able to hold its own in a year with stronger monster representation? Who can say. All I know is, two months into 2015, it’s still my pick for last year’s Movie Monster of the Year.

So, I’m jumping the gun a bit on this, as we’ve still got a couple weeks of 2014 left, but there’s pretty good odds that I won’t see any movies or read any books or publish anything that I don’t already know about or anything else of note between now and then, and if I do, I’ll put up an addendum to this entry. So, looking back at 2014, what’s the biggest thing on my mind, besides how amazingly fast it went? Well, the main thing is that this means one full calendar year of me running my own business as a full-time writer, and it’s been pretty great. There have been periods that were financially lean–we’re actually in the midst of one right now–and ones that have been fairly flush, but all in all, it’s been a ride, and even if everything goes pear-shaped from here, I’ll at least have known what it was like for a while.

It turns out that having nothing else to do all day–and having your mortgage depend on your doing it–does wonders for your productivity, and I’ve sold and published quite a lot of fiction in the past year, even while it wasn’t my main source of writing income. I published seven stories in 2014 and one reprint, as well as selling several others that have yet to see print, and writing a decent body of licensed work for Privateer Press, some of which has seen print and some of which remains to be announced. I got to see my name in an actual core rulebook for Hordes, which was a pretty fantastic feeling. All told, I sold or published around two dozen pieces of fiction, including licensed work, over the course of the year. That’s a pretty big jump, especially considering that in 2013 I only published two stories, three if you count licensed work.

I also put out Gardinel’s Real Estate with my friend M.S. Corley, which sold out in only a couple of weeks, though you can still get a digital version via Gumroad. I participated in the online Deltorocon convention, attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest for the second year in a row, and wrote my first introduction for a collection by a contemporary writer, The Nickronomicon. Along with a host of other stuff that either hasn’t been announced yet, or that I’m forgetting to mention.

My goals for next year are mostly more of the same. I want to diversify the revenue streams for my business, so that slow months don’t hit as hard, and I want to keep on keeping my head above water, which, only a little over a year in, still feels doable, but like a big enough goal, thanks. The one really big piece of news on the horizon that I already know about is that 2015 will see the publication of my second fiction collection, this time through Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde imprint, where you can expect some really big things in the coming year. The collection is tentatively titled Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and you’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn too much more, but I can tell you that I just recently wrapped the first draft of a brand new novella for the book, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Another goal for 2015 is to read more. I’ve actually seen a big dent in my reading time since I quit my day job. Previously, I spent the couple of hours a day that were otherwise consigned to the limbo of the city bus reading, and without that bracket of pre-loaded time, I’ve found it harder to put away the books at the pace I once could. I only read about 20 books in 2014, and as usual for me, most of those were graphic novels. Of the non-Hellboy stuff I did read, some of the standouts include the first collection from Daniel Mills (The Lord Came at Twilight), the latest collection from Slivia Moreno-Garcia (Love & Other Poisons), a couple from Adam Cesare (Video NightAll-Night Terror), and The Children of Old Leech, which also contained my story “Walpurgisnacht,” but hopefully that doesn’t make me too biased.

Movies, on the other hand, I had no trouble watching in 2014, though I still only managed to catch 21 that were released this year. My top ten list is currently live at Downright Creepy, but there are literally piles and piles of almost certainly great stuff that didn’t make the cut simply by virtue of my not catching it yet. Of the ones I did see, though, that’s a pretty accurate representation, and I didn’t have to leave anything on the cutting room floor due to DRC’s rubric of only allowing horror, thriller, sci-fi, and comic book flicks. (It was, as you can see, a great year for comic book flicks!) I may do some kind of total movie watching metric once the year is actually closed out, but we’ll see.

At this rate, I may have to wait until we’re a ways into 2015 before I do a Year In Creatures roundup, because while there were plenty of creatures in at least some of the movies I watched in 2014, very few of them really stood out. It seems that, whatever the best creature of the year was, it must have been somewhere outside of my experience so far.

The end of my first full year as a full-time writer is a big milestone, and I’m hopeful–if also a little anxious, as is usual and customary for me–for more good things to come in 2015. As I finish out the last few days of December, I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, and for all the friends and family who’ve stood by me. One of the best things about doing what I do is that I get to meet and work with some of the best, coolest, and most exciting people I can think of, and I couldn’t have done it without the lot of you. Thanks to all of my friends both online and off, particularly to my dear friend Jay, who this year honored me immeasurably by asking me to be his best man at his wedding. Perhaps most of all, though, I couldn’t have done it without my loving and supportive wife, Grace, who has always believed in me, even and most especially when I myself did not.

Here’s to the end of 2014, and the beginning of bigger and better things for all of us in 2015! Soupy twist!