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Just a week-and-change into October, and we’re already most of the way through our stock of Gardinel’s Real Estate, helped along by an appearance yesterday on Super Punch. So if you haven’t already picked up your copy, do it now before you see a big SOLD sign out on the lawn. It’s been a hectic start to October, trying to process all the orders and make sure every copy got to its intended recipients, but the first batch of orders are now out in the world, and people have already started receiving them, so if you ordered yours over the weekend or before, it should be winging its way to your mailbox directly.

Last week I did a guest post for author G.G. Andrew wherein I discussed my abiding fondness for haunted real estate. I threw out a few examples in that post, but I thought that I would get in my Countdown to Halloween requirement while also further exploring that angle by running down some of my favorite houses from horror movies. I got the idea–and several of the images–from John Rozum‘s Countdown to Halloween post from a few years ago, which is well worth checking out, along with a follow-up that he did the next year. This list is by no means exhaustive, and is in no particular order.

1. The Bates Motel

univ_psycho_frame_aYou can’t start out a list like this without a nod to one of the great horror houses, and one of the great sets of all time. Someday I’ll make it down to the Universal back lot to see it for myself.

2. The House from The Changeling

changeling

Also one of my favorite ghost movies, The Changeling (1980) boasts one of the best houses in horror history. Sadly, it was just a facade that was torn down after filming was completed, so you can’t actually go visit it, but there was supposedly a real house in Denver that inspired the story!

3. The House from Drag Me to Hell

drag-me-to-hellDrag Me to Hell (2009) was sadly not a great movie, but it had a great house, in the form of the Doheny Mansion in Beverly Hills.

4. House of Wax
Ext-House-of-Wax_web

I’ve made no secret on here that I love the 2004 “remake” of House of Wax a lot more than maybe I should, and a big part of the reason for that is the delightful wax town at the center of the film. And at the center of that is the titular House of Wax, a building constructed entirely out of, you guessed it. The whole shebang was designed by Red Circle Projects.

5. The House from Deep Red

DeepRed

Deep Red (1975) is one of my favorite giallo films, and at the heart of its mystery is this particularly striking house, which is actually the Villa Scott in Italy. At the time that the movie was filmed it was the location of a boarding school run by nuns (seems suitably giallo-ish, right), while now it is unoccupied. So who knows what secrets you might find walled up in there?

I could keep going with these all day, but I promised that I’d limit myself to five, so there they are. If you share my affection for spooky houses and ominous locales, pick up your copy of Gardinel’s Real Estate today!

Over on the official Hammer Films twitter, they asked what your top ten Hammer horror films would be, inspired by this list. The rules were: only one movie from each of their big franchises (Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy). Hammer horror films are my very favorite subset of any films ever, pretty much, and picking favorites is always nearly impossible for me. This time, though, I forced myself to dash off a response as quickly as possible, without giving myself undue time to become paralyzed by indecision, and I think I managed a pretty representative sample of favorite flicks.

Note: This is not, under any circumstances, to be considered a list of best films, and even then there are some staggering omissions, like any of the Mummy movies, or Seven Golden Vampires. Nevertheless, and in no particular order, here’s my list:

1. The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
The 1967 Quatermass and the Pit is generally better regarded, and is an amazing flick, but for me Brian Donlevy + undimensioned space vampire squid = one of the best movies ever.

2. The Witches (1966)
That witch doctor mask.

3. The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Yes, I’m a big Nigel Kneale fan. No one is surprised. Plus, this one has Peter Cushing in it!

4. The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Speaking of Peter Cushing, my sentimental favorite of the Hammer Frankensteins even though (maybe because?) it’s the one that feels most like a fanfic of the Universal films.

5. Night Creatures (1962)
The first Hammer film I ever saw, and still a favorite, even though it doesn’t actually contain monsters. It does however contain pirates, and secrets, and people dressed as glow-in-the-dark skeletons (complete with skeleton horses), and great physicality from Cushing.

6. Paranoiac (1963)
My favorite of the Hammer suspense thrillers, a genuinely unsettling bit of gaslighting that feels almost like a mesh between a Gothic and some kind of proto-giallo. Plus, Oliver Reed at his best.

7. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
I haven’t seen it in an age, but I remember loving it, especially Christopher Lee in a rare good guy role, and the wonderful protective circle sequence.

8. Plague of the Zombies (1966)
A great bit of colonial guilt cinema, and a missing link between flicks like I Walked with a Zombie and Night of the Living Dead.

9. Brides of Dracula (1960)
Yeah, yeah, my Dracula pick doesn’t contain Christopher Lee, doesn’t, in fact, contain Dracula, and almost forgets to contain brides. But it does feature that amazing bit with the windmill, which would win it a place on this list all by itself.

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Another one that’s not quite a horror film, but Cushing’s Holmes is delightful, and it’s a movie I can happily watch just about any time.

[Edit: As is inevitably going to happen with a no hesitation list, I had an absolute top ten entry completely slip my mind. Somehow, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974) was not on this original list, an omission which cannot be borne. Sub it in place of Hound of the Baskervilles, and put that one with the honorable mentions.]

So here’s my last year-in-review-type-post for 2013, and my attempt at a second annual unofficial Best Movie Monster of the Year post (here’s last year’s). It’ll also be the second year in a row (out of two!) that I gave the award to a whole movie, rather than any one particular monster. So I’m obviously good at this, is what I’m saying.

Normally I’d try to play coy, and save the announcements for the end of the post, but really, nobody who’s been paying attention is going to be surprised about this year’s winner, so I may as well go ahead and say it. The winner by a margin so substantial that all other movies may as well be competing in a different category altogether: Pacific Rim

Yeah, shock, nobody is surprised. First of all, any year with a Guillermo del Toro movie in the running, the competition had better be pretty fierce for anything else to have a chance. And Pacific Rim is maybe del Toro’s monsteriest movie, a lover letter to kaiju films and giant robots that is every bit as inspired and meticulous as the best of his other films, though it comes from a much more bombastic portion of his vast and monster-loving heart.

I’ve already talked about why Pacific Rim was a great movie, and the kaiju themselves are a big piece of that particular puzzle. Wonderfully designed, and beautifully executed, they are some of the most awesome (in every sense of the word) and lovely monsters ever put on film. The fact that del Toro carefully designed them to move with the feel of a man in a suit, while also feeling completely real, just makes them all the better. But the biggest win for me is the gorgeous use of bioluminescence, making for some unexpectedly striking moments in an always striking film.

As has been the case for a few years now, the movie monster landscape in 2013 was dominated by movies that weren’t actually monster movies. These days the vast majority of blockbuster fare contains some manner of (more or less inspired) creature, while horror films tend to trade in more mundane threats. 2013 saw at least one truly phenomenal horror film, in the form of James Wan’s The Conjuring, but it didn’t really have much that could be called a monster, just ghosts and a very creepy doll (naturally).

Monsters made appearances in just about every movie with a sizable budget, many of which I’ve yet to see. From the second installment of the (inexplicable) Hobbit trilogy to the Thor sequel to the execrable Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, there were no shortage of creatures at the multiplexes this year. Surprisingly, some of the better monsters I saw were actually in the raunchy comedy This is the End, which featured demons that, while looking like bosses from Darksiders, still had enough character to rise above the majority of the blockbuster creatures thrown our way.

But Pacific Rim‘s biggest competition in the monster category ultimately came from the corner of a little film called Frankenstein’s Army, which deserves an honorary trophy for the fact that its inspired array of spookhouse creatures were all accomplished using practical effects. And if the movie itself serves mostly as a showcase for Nazi Frankenstein’s monsters complete with propeller heads and saw arms, well, there are certainly worse things to be.

I only saw around 23 movies that came out in 2013. From those, I was asked to compile a top ten list for Downright Creepy, where I occasionally pen reviews. I managed to put one together, along with a pick for worst movie I saw this year, and a list of some of the movies that I’m most looking forward to next year.

You can find the lists here, but I thought that in lieu of just reproducing the lists here on my site to round out the year, I’d instead talk a bit about it. With only 23 movies to choose from, it wasn’t easy to make a top ten, and the genre rubric of Downright Creepy excluded a couple of titles that would otherwise have made the cut (The CroodsThe Heat). It also meant I had to make a second choice for worst movie of the year. My real choice for worst movie of the year was the insufferable A Good Day to Die Hard, though looking at some of the other lists, it seems like ABCs of Death, which I had thought came out in 2012, was a contender, in which case maybe it would have had a shot at top honors in the worst category.

I’m also bad at ranking much of anything, so while the top two slots are the definite winners by a substantial margin, the others could be put in just about any order you like and you’d probably still have a pretty accurate representation. As for the movies I’m looking forward to in 2014, those were done pretty well off the top of my head, and the only change I know of is that Fast and Furious 7, or whatever they’re calling it these days, would have made the list had it not been, again, for the genre restrictions I was working in.

There are a lot of movies that I wanted to see in 2013 that I haven’t gotten around to yet, so if you come back to me in six months, this list will probably look a lot different. Of all the movies I wanted to catch but didn’t get the chance to, tops on my list would be Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are, which I am eagerly awaiting!

This is pretty much it for the year-in-review posts for me, except for the (highly anticipated, I’m sure) second annual Year in Creatures post, which I’m planning to drop sometime in the next week or so.

I read around 40 books all the way through in 2013, not counting skimming individual short stories out of collections and anthologies, or re-reading graphic novels that I had just read (I tend to read any Mike Mignola stuff through two or three times in rapid succession shortly after getting them). Here’s a quick top ten, though putting them in any kind of order is a mug’s game.

  • The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, John Langan
    Probably my most anticipated book of this year, and one of my favorites. John Langan is one of the best writers working in the strange and dark fiction field right now, and this collection represents his best work to date. Sadly, his story from Fungi isn’t in here, so we’ll just have to wait for the next collection for that.
  • This Strange Way of Dying, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    My co-editor on Fungi is also a hell of a writer in her own right, as is demonstrated by this wonderful collection. It skips around from supernatural to science fictional to magic realism, but it’s always got a beautiful uniformity of voice and tone, and a flavoring of Mexican folklore, with dashes of Lovecraft and other traditions, to create an intoxicating batch of fantastic tales.
  • The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Laird Barrron
    As I said in my review, I don’t think I really need to sell anyone on Laird Barron at this point. The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is more of what we’ve all come to expect from one of the brightest stars in the horror/weird fiction pantheon.
  • Rumbullion & Other Liminal Libations, Molly Tanzer
    Molly Tanzer is a good friend, but she’s also one of my favorite contemporary writers. Rumbullion provides a great sampling of her talents, like one of those platters that lets you try a little bit of every kind of appetizer at a restaurant. If you like what you taste here, definitely pick up her other collection from last year, A Pretty Mouth, which is, if anything, even better!
  • Tales of Jack the Ripper, Ross Lockhart (Editor)
    This ripping (ahem) good anthology from one of the best editors in the genre does contain my story “Ripperology,” but it would have a home on this list regardless. Lockhart’s deft editorial touch gives it a consistency that few anthologies match, and great stories from some of the best names in the field, including standouts from Laird Barron, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, T.E. Grau, and Ennis Drake, do the rest.
  • Benighted, J.B. Priestley
    Technically I read this one in 2012, because I was writing the introduction for the Valancourt Books edition that was being released in 2013. This is the second book on this list in which I had some direct involvement, but nonetheless, Benighted is such a favorite of mine, and Valancourt did such a fantastic job putting this edition together, that I’d be remiss not to give it a place here.
  • Uzumaki, Junji Ito
    Another reissue. Junji Ito is one of the greatest practitioners the weird tale has ever seen, and Uzumaki is widely considered his masterpiece. This hardcover edition collects all three volumes into one attractive book that’s a must-own for any fan of the genre.
  • B.P.R.D. VampireMike Mignola & Others
    This was a good year for Mignola-related titles, and there were a lot that came out that could have made this list. Among them, B.P.R.D. Vampire was a clear standout. Continuing what has become one of my favorite Mignolaverse storylines from the B.P.R.D. 194- series, and expanding on the fascinating vampire mythos that they’ve been gradually building, this does much more than even that, creating a story that feels at once personal and as epic as anything that’s ever happened in the Mignolaverse titles, no easy feat in a series where current continuity has giant Lovecraftian god monsters destroying most of the world. The art from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is fantastic as always.
  • Baltimore: A Passing Stranger, Mike Mignola & Others
    I love the Baltimore comics so far, and this one is easily my favorite of the bunch. Partly that just reflects my preference for small, stand-alone spooky stories, but partly it’s because of the way this installment really begins to show the vast scope of the world that Baltimore inhabits. Ben Stenbeck’s art is fantastic as always, and shows why he remains one of my favorite artists working in comics right now.
  • Great Showdowns: The Return, Scott C.
    Not exactly a book, in the usual sense, this second collection of Scott C.’s fantastic Great Showdowns comics may not be quite as gobsmacking as the first, but he’s still one of the most brilliant artists around, distilling cinematic conflicts into strangely good natured–and amazingly iconic–images.

And now, a couple of books that were technically published at the tail-end of last year, but that I didn’t get around to reading until this year, and that deserve a spot on this list regardless.

  • Chick Bassist, Ross Lockhart
    I already mentioned that Ross Lockhart is one of our best editors, but he’s also a hell of a writer, and his debut novel is a propulsive, compulsive rock and roll novel that was hands-down one of the best things I read this year.
  • The Folly of the World, Jesse Bullington
    Jesse is another friend, and another long-time favorite writer. Folly isn’t my favorite of his novels, that plum goes to The Enterprise of Death, but it may be his most ambitious, and is filled with wonderful characters and untoppable scenes.

One of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2014, Daniel Mills’ collection The Lord Came at Twilight, just dropped into my mailbox as an advance copy, so I’m going to dive into that just as soon as I finish the customary act of reading a few M.R. James ghost stories before Christmas.

It’s the time of the season when everybody starts trotting out their lists of favorite horror movies. I’ve tried doing those in the past, and maybe one day I’ll try an exhaustive one again, but this year I was just thinking about the problem with those lists, which is that they’re always populated by the same bunch of movies. The classics are classics for a reason, after all, and chances are they’re going to fill anybody’s list of favorites. So this year, I thought I’d focus on a few of my favorite horror movies that probably wouldn’t normally make anybody’s top-ten list. Are these the best movies out there? Probably not. Are they even my favorites? Maybe a few. But they’re all movies I love, and they’re all movies that tend to get forgotten. So here they are, in descending order by release date, to prevent me from having to pick favorites:

13. House of Wax (2005)
I am as surprised as anyone to have liked the 2005 remake of House of Wax. It’s really, really outside my wheelhouse, and while I’m admittedly a little obsessed with wax museum stories, that really shouldn’t be enough to get it a place on my DVD shelf, or on this list. But as I said at greater length around this time last year, it’s just surprisingly good. Director Jaume Collet-Serra brings a giallo approach and a Gothic sensibility to what is basically a backwoods slasher flick, and manages to come out the other side with a movie that I like way more than I probably should.

12. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Is it a horror movie? A martial arts film? A costume drama? It’s all of the above, and probably a little more besides. Brotherhood of the Wolf is one of those movies that hits almost all of my obsessions. It’s what would have happened if the weird martial arts Gothics like Captain Kronos (later on my list) had become an actual genre, and it manages to be even weirder by explaining away the seeming monster than it would have been had there actually been a werewolf or something, which is a feat not easily accomplished!

11. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Of all the movies on this list, this is probably the one that you’re most likely to see on some other favorite horror movie list, but I don’t see it on enough of them, so here it is anyway. Monster Squad director Fred Dekker’s first feature, and a movie that just gets better and better every time I watch it.

10. The Stuff (1985)
Hands down the best movie about killer yogurt that you will ever see!

9. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
John Carpenter does his best Hitchcock in this surprisingly effective–and charming–made-for-TV thriller.

8. Piranha (1978)
Any number of Joe Dante movies could probably go onto any list of my favorites, but Piranha holds a special place in my heart, and is nowhere near as well-regarded as other favorites like Gremlins 2. There are a lot of reasons why I love Piranha, but to sum it up in just a few words: unnecessary stop-motion fishman!

7. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
I love all Hammer films, pretty much without exception. Any list of my favorite films could almost always include all of them, and the only reason they don’t is usually because I’m incapable of picking favorites. When it comes to weird movies that I absolutely love, though, Captain Kronos is a special case. One of the most unusual vampire movies ever made, it’s also full of absolutely beautiful touches. My favorite is the part about the toads!

6. It! (1967)
Roddy McDowall does his best Norman Bates–while also sort of feeling like a Lovecraft protagonist–as a museum curator who stumbles upon a golem and uses it to do his bidding, in the second film in our lineup with an exclamation point in the title! There aren’t enough golem movies out there to begin with, so any one we get is a gem, and this one is a gem of unusual luster. It starts out pretty strange, and gets a lot stranger before the final credits roll.

5. The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Though not actually based on anything by Edgar Allan Poe, Comedy of Terrors certainly belongs in the same spiritual company as the Corman/Price/Poe films of which it is a contemporary. While a lot of Halloween lists do (and should) include great Corman/Price/Poe films like Pit and the Pendulum (my personal favorite), Comedy of Terrors is often unjustly overlooked. Which is a shame, because it is fantastic. Boasting a cast that includes Price, Peter Lorre, a hilarious Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone, with a script by Richard Matheson and the great Jacques Tourneur behind the camera, Comedy of Terrors isn’t exactly a horror film (as the title might suggest), but it’s a perfect flick for a rainy October evening.

4. Matango (1963)
It should be pretty obvious that I love fungus monsters, and if I could convince everyone in the world to watch one movie that they’ve probably never seen, it would be Matango, also known by the wonderfully lurid titles Attack of the Mushroom People and Fungus of Terror. 

3. The Undying Monster (1942)
The first–and least–of three suspense flicks that John Brahm made for Fox in the 40s and that are available in this great collection. The other two are better regarded and, frankly, just better films. Hangover Square, in particular, is a masterpiece. But The Undying Monster is my unquestioned favorite, sending a host of arrows straight to my heart. There are paranormal investigators, a supernatural mystery, and little almost M.R. Jamesian touches with the family history and curse. It also boasts what might be the most delightfully ridiculous of all the “rational explanation” endings that plagued the movies of the time.

2. Doctor X (1932)
One of only a few movies filmed in two-strip technicolor, there has never been a movie that felt more like the cover of a pulp novel than Doctor X. The pre-code storyline involves cannibalism, mad scientists, “synthetic flesh,” a big creepy house on the cliffs, and just about everything else you could ask for. It’s like a Richard Sala comic come screaming to life!

1. The Old Dark House (1932)
Quite simply one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve talked about it over and over again, going as far as writing an introduction for the novel it’s adapted from, so I’ll refrain from talking about it here. The whole thing is available on YouTube, so if you haven’t watched it before, you should do that tonight:

When Frankensteinia announced their Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon, I knew that I would have to do something to participate, even though I also knew that May was going to be the busiest month I’ve had in, I dunno, maybe ever. But what could I do with my limited time and resources that would still fit the stature of such a great blogathon? I settled (perhaps not too wisely) on watching all six of the Hammer Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing in my favorite role he ever essayed, that of Baron Frankenstein himself. (I did not count 1970’s Horror of Frankenstein, which doesn’t feature Cushing anyway.) It turned out that I already owned all six movies, having acquired them all at various different times and not realizing until that moment that I had “caught them all,” as it were. And while watching them occupied the vast majority of my movie-watching time during the month, it was interesting to see them all stacked up together.

The Hammer Frankenstein films, like their slightly-more-famous Dracula counterparts, are not really sequels to one-another in the way that we’re accustomed to sequels working (with the exception of Revenge of Frankenstein, the second movie in the series, which picks up literally right where its predecessor left off). Instead, they’re more like, I’m not really sure, alternate universe episodes in the life of Baron Frankenstein, a character who is always more-or-less the same, but whose history and even personality seem to fluctuate to fit the needs of one script or another. Here he murders a guy in cold blood, there he says he’s never killed anyone, here he’s almost heroic, there he’s as cruel and sadistic a character as you’re likely to find.

There’s a fascinating quality to all of Hammer’s gothic horror films, one of many things that set them apart from their contemporaries and imitators, which is the way they all feel as though they take place in the same universe, while at the same time seldom sharing any continuity from one to the other. And even when they do share continuity–in the form, say, of recurring characters like Baron Frankenstein–they play fast and loose with it. It’s appropriate that one of the recent Hammer film logos mirrored the Marvel movie logo, since the not-quite-shared universe of Hammer’s classic horror films feels like nothing more than it does a comic book universe. And the Frankenstein movies are no exception to this rule.

Of all six movies, the only one that was entirely new to me was Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, which I have seen widely touted as the best of them. Certainly, it was extremely well put-together and dramatically satisfying, but it also features the Baron at his most cruel, and a completely unnecessary rape scene that Peter Cushing himself famously objected to filming, which resulted in my finding it more difficult to enjoy than I did many of the others, in spite of its other virtues. Of the other films a few I had seen repeatedly (Curse and Evil for sure), while for others this constituted only my second viewing (Frankenstein Created Woman, Revenge, and Monster from Hell). I found things to like in all of them, of course, and it was a great deal of fun to watch Cushing’s characterization of the Baron at once stay true to the basics and at the same time move all over the map, depending on the film.

But that’s probably enough generic blathering from me. When I mentioned doing this, I promised to list my favorites from the films, and so I’ll get on that, without further ado:

Favorite Assistant:
The vast majority of the movies feature the Baron being assisted by one stripe or another of eager young doctor (a couple of them, I believe, named Hans), and while each of them have their own strengths, they do sort of blur together after a while. Standing out more are the Baron’s Disapproving Friend Paul (as Gemma Files dubs him) from Curse and Thorley Walters’s boozy but kind Dr. Hertz from Frankenstein Created Woman. Ultimately, Dr. Hertz is the winner for me, with the combination of his bumbling performance and his genuine awe of Frankenstein.

Favorite Lab:
Hammer films pretty much unfailingly feature great sets, and the Frankenstein films are particular standouts of this, with every movie featuring one kind of spectacular laboratory or another. The lab in Revenge, in particular, has a great disembodied nervous system, while the lab in the opening of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is full of green lights and wonderful creepy things in tanks. But the hands-down winner of the best lab, for me, is easily Evil of Frankenstein, which contains not only my favorite lab (the one in the mill), but also my second favorite (the more extensive castle lab, which, like most of the rest of the movie, is Hammer’s take on the Universal version).

Favorite Creature:
Unlike the Universal Frankenstein films, which followed the adventures of the monster, the Hammer films all follow the Baron, who creates a new creature in every film. These range from a beautiful girl with her boyfriend’s soul in Frankenstein Created Woman to a giant caveman in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and just about everything in-between. Hands down the best of the bunch has got to be Christopher Lee’s iconic interpretation of the classic monster in Curse of Frankenstein, but I’ve got a soft spot for the creature in Evil of Frankenstein, with his giant shoebox forehead. He looks a lot like what I imagine would have happened if Jack Kirby had taken a stab at designing the famous Jack Pierce makeup from the 1931 original.

Favorite Baron:
This is probably the most difficult category, since Cushing is always playing some variant of the same guy, even though he wobbles from almost heroic in Evil of Frankenstein (ironically) to incredibly and needlessly cruel in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, with stops off on almost every destination in-between. Every performance is basically magnificent, for my money, but the best ones are the ones where Frankenstein is a little tired and a lot acerbic, and so I’m pretty sure Frankenstein Created Woman takes the cake. He’s also got some of his best lines in that one. “Of course I”m alive. Didn’t I say I would be?”

Favorite Movie:
It’s an unpopular choice, but my favorite movie of the bunch is Evil of Frankenstein, no question. It is the one that’s least like the others, in that it really feels like Hammer doing a best-of interpretation of the entire Universal Frankenstein series, from the carnival to the deaf/mute girl to the unscrupulous hypnotist to the design of the creature and the design of the lab. But rather than feeling like Hammer aping Universal, it all feels to me like the best of both worlds, and I love every minute of it, even the monster frozen in a block of “ice” that’s obviously just plastic sheeting. My second favorite is probably its immediate follow-up, Frankenstein Created Woman, which is way, way less sleazy or exploitative than you’d probably imagine given the title/premise.

A Hammer Film Production

Not actually from any of the Frankenstein films, but it’s my favorite of the Hammer Film Production logos.

[Spoilers here, for Cabin in the Woods, mostly, so heads up.]

If I live to be a hundred, publish ten-thousand bestsellers, and cure cancer, one of my proudest achievements will still and always be that John Langan once referred to me as “the monster guy.” I love monsters (it’s right there in my bio), and I love movies about them, and it’s always been my intention to have a sort of unofficial award for Best Movie Monster of the Year every year, though I’ve never managed it. This is me, trying that again.

There are an almost unprecedented number of monsters in the movies these days. If I were ten years old right now, my head would probably explode. Except that somehow the monsters in the movies these days don’t really feel much like the monsters that were in movies back when I was ten years old and in love with monsters. Maybe it’s their very ubiquity that makes them feel different, maybe it’s the fact that CG monsters, no matter how good, will probably never feel quite as “real” as practical ones did. Or maybe it’s that most of the monsters these days aren’t really in “monster movies.” The majority of monsters I can think of on film in 2012 are in movies like The Hobbit (which was chock-a-block with creatures large and small and mostly large) or Men in Black 3 or Snow White and the Huntsman or even Prometheus, which is closer to a monster movie than the others, anyway. There are even the aliens in The Avengers, along with their giant flying prehistoric fish creatures. Basically, almost every big-budget action movie of the year had some kind of monster or another. And none of that’s taking into account kids’ movies like ParaNormanHotel Transylvania, or Frankenweenie (of which I’ve only seen ParaNorman).

[ETA: Shit, John Carter came out this year too? There’s another one for the list of big budget action adventure movies that were packed to the gills with monsters.]

Of all those monsters, though, none of them really stand out for me, none of them have the kind of personality that I’m looking for in a Monster of the Year. So this year, the award is going to go, not to any one specific monster, but to all the monsters in one particular movie: Cabin in the Woods, specifically to one particular sequence, one that anyone who’s seen the movie will instantly be able to identify, which is basically everything I’ve been waiting for my entire life. A representative segment is embedded below, but, and I cannot possibly stress this strongly enough, do not, under any circumstances, watch it if you haven’t seen Cabin in the Woods. It will ruin the shit out of it.

There are, of course, movies that had a chance of being in the running that I just haven’t gotten around to watching yet. Off the top of my head, I can think of the aforementioned Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania, as well as the (terrible, I’m told) sequel to Silent Hill. If I’ve made any startling or distressing omissions, please do not hesitate to let me know.

After some setbacks, it looks like we managed to finish our Alfred Hitchcock marathon within the confines of the month of November after all, coming in, guns blazing to a three-movie pile up over the long Thanksgiving weekend. We still haven’t made it out to see Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock. We still hope to (though I hear that it plays pretty fast-and-loose with actual history), and after seeing a trailer for the HBO movie The Girl I’d love to catch it as well. (I also like Toby Jones quite a lot, so it’s nice to see him getting some meatier roles.) Maybe we’ll wait until they both hit DVD, and see how they stack up next to one-another.

For those who maybe weren’t around for the beginning of this, I’d somehow managed to live my entire life without ever seeing an Alfred Hitchcock film up until a couple of months ago, when Grace and I watched Dial M for Murder. Suitably impressed, and with a big Hollywood biopic on the way, I thought that November would be a good time to at least make a dent in salvaging my cinematic literacy by seeing some of Hitch’s more famous films, as many of them as I felt I could cram in. We ended up doing eight (nine if you count Dial M). There’s of course a lot that could be (and has been) said about Hitchcock, and probably a lot I could say about this experiment, but I’ll confine myself to talking a bit about each movie, and then doing a little wrap-up at the end.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) – The most different of the films that we watched, I talked more about my initial impressions of it here. Looking back, I can definitely see a lot of earmarks of Hitchcock’s work in it, but it’s also lighter fare than anything else that we watched, though I’ve heard some of his other movies are more in its line, or lighter yet.

Rope (1948) – One of my favorites out of the whole bunch, Rope shares a delightfully stagebound quality and a sort of dinner party murder atmosphere with later entries like Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. It’s also got a lot of very impressive cinematic sleight of hand going on, though I’ll cop to having missed much of it the first time through. I talked more about my initial impressions of it here.

Strangers on a Train (1951) – Pretty much all of the movies that we watched this month contained a lot of familiar elements, mostly because they’d been copied by other movies and entered into our common cinematic lexicon, to be absorbed by me and even Grace via cultural osmosis, sometimes without us ever being aware of where they were coming from. But Strangers on a Train managed to surprise me more than most of the others, in part because it wasn’t actually about what I had always assumed it was about, based on the synopsis. I talked a little more about it here.

Dial M for Murder (1954) – Cheating a bit here, since I actually watched this one back in October, though I didn’t say much about it then. After watching all the others, it remains one of my favorites, and is one of Grace’s favorites still as well. Dial M looks beautiful, and may meld charm and menace better than any of the other movies on the list, and Ray Milland gives an inspired performance. The scene in which he ropes his old schoolmate into the plot, putting the screws to him bit by bit without ever changing his congenial appearance, is one of the favorite moments in all these movies. Maybe in all movies, ever.

Rear Window (1954) – With Rear Window we begin the string of what are probably Hitchcock’s five most famous movies. Made the same year as Dial MRear Window has a lot in common with both it and Rope, especially in terms of tone. A lot about Rear Window was, of course, familiar, from various remakes and references (including the “Bart of Darkness” Simpsons episode), and I think the movie was one of the ones I enjoyed the most, but I’d honestly have to watch it again to say much about it for sure, because I was so completely floored and distracted by the absolutely jawdropping set on which it was filmed. I linked to this on social media back when I first watched the movie, but here it is again for posterity, a video showing the entire set and all the events of the film that occur there, in one frame. It is seriously probably the most impressive set I have ever seen.

Vertigo (1958) – Of all the movies on this list, Vertigo is probably the one I knew the least about going in. As such, it kept me on my toes more than some of the others, but in spite of its reputation, it wasn’t one of my favorites, though it was cool to see the origins of the “Vertigo zoom,” which is maybe the most copied shot in all of cinema ever. (Probably not, really, but it’s certainly ubiquitous.) The last half-hour or so, though, literally did floor me. (Pretty much everything from the famous nightmare sequence on.) Less because it kept me guessing, though it did that in some spots too, and more because it just really did create a terrible feeling of disorientation and tension, and James Stewart, impressive in all his Hitchcock roles thus far, really knocked the ball out of the park with his slow descent into, well, whatever the hell it was he was descending into, exactly. (The scene in the department store literally made me feel uncomfortable, which is something movies rarely do, and more rarely still movies from 1958.)

North by Northwest (1959) – As I said elsewhere right after I finished watching it, North by Northwest is basically just the template for every action/adventure-type movie that has been made since. As such, again, it feels very familiar in a lot of places, though never stale for all that. The most impressive moments for me weren’t any of the by-now famous set pieces (though I can see why they would have been when I wasn’t familiar with a hundred thousand re-iterations of them since), but the less-famous explosive end of the well-known crop duster scene, and the incredibly sultry dialogue between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. I have seen actual sex that contained less sex than that dialogue!

Psycho (1960) – I had steeled myself to be disappointed by Psycho. While almost all the other movies on this list were full of familiar elements, Psycho was a movie that I had, for all intents and purposes, already seen. Every frame and moment and line and shot of it has been called out in other movies, rehashed, reiterated, dissected, reproduced. I’ve even seen the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, which I’m told is very close to shot-for-shot. (I don’t really remember it well enough to say for certain how closely it hews, though I can safely say that it’s nowhere near as good.) But I wasn’t disappointed, at all. Psycho is magic, an absolute masterpiece, maybe the most impressive movie on the list, and a stunning film that no amount of familiarity could dull. Anthony Perkins was a particular standout, giving one of the best performances in a month of movies full of fantastic performances. Pretty much every movie on this list is a classic, and probably every one of them rightly so, but Psycho might be the classicest.

The Birds (1963) – The Birds, on the other hand, I was disappointed by. Which isn’t to say that the movie is bad, at all. It’s filled with great stuff, and Hitchcock’s technical virtuosity is still well on display. The shots of the birds flocking are justifiably famous, and lose none of their punch. And of course I love that there’s no real explanation given for what’s happening. (Who is surprised that I love that?) But The Birds also stumbles for me more often than any other movie on this list, and begins to contain more elements that I’m used to seeing and not particularly liking in horror movies, especially in some of the attack sequences, as the victims flail about and roll themselves around on things.

So that’s the list. There are, of course, a ton of other great Hitchcock pictures I could and should and someday will watch, but that’ll keep us for now. I think my favorites of the bunch were probably Dial M for Murder and Rope, simply for their stagebound, talky style of storytelling. Grace’s favorites were probably Dial MThe Lady Vanishes, and maybe an honorable mention for Strangers on a Train. We both agreed that the best of the bunch, by any kind of cumulative standard, was Psycho. Rear Window gets some kind of honorary statue for Best Set.

I said earlier that I had originally hoped to post a book recommendation a day for the entire month of October. Part of the impetus for this was to have something to do for the Countdown to Halloween, but part of it was also Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read. The gist of All Hallow’s Read is to start a new tradition where you give people scary books to read on Halloween. I think that’s a great tradition, and it’s something I wanted to support. So, since I can’t actually give everyone a scary book, I was going to suggest a bunch of them.

Again, that’s not going to happen, at least, not in the depth I would have liked. But while I may not be able to go all out, I did do some thinking about what I would have suggested, had I had the time, and while I can’t do a suggestion a day, with explanations of why, I can still suggest 31 great scary books. To make it a little harder on myself, I restricted it no more than one book by the same author, and to no books by Mike Mignola. (Do I still need to suggest books by Mike Mignola? If so, this is me suggesting all of them.) To make it a little easier on myself, I let myself do whole series, rather than picking individual installments. Beyond that there’s no real rhyme or reason here, besides that these are spooky books that I like.

Without further ado (and in no particular order):

31. Tales, H.P. Lovecraft
30. Count Magnus & Other Ghost Stories, M.R. James
29. The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson
28. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Robert E. Howard
27. The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, William Hope Hodgson
26. Owls Hoot in Daytime & Other Omens, Manly Wade Wellman
25. The Ghostly Best Stories of Robert Westall (2 volumes)
24. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
23. A Night in the Lonesome October, Roger Zelazny
22. Hell House, Richard Matheson
21. A Coven of Vampires, Brian Lumley
20. Cabal, Clive Barker
19. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
18. The Courtney Crumrin books, Ted Naifeh (4+ volumes)
17. Gothic!, edited by Deborah Noyes
16. The Bone Key, Sarah Monette
15. The Monstrumologist books, Rick Yancey (3 volumes so far)
14. The Dylan Dog Case Files, Tiziano Sclavi
13. Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson
12. The Enterprise of Death, Jesse Bullington
11. Uzumaki, Junji Ito (3 volumes)
10. Occultation & Other Stories, Laird Barron
9. The Darkly Splendid Realm, Richard Gavin
8. Mr. Gaunt & Other Uneasy Encounters, John Langan
7. The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists, Norman Partridge
6. Basic Black, Terry Dowling
5. Worse Than Myself, Adam Golaski
4. Saga of the Swamp Thing hardcovers, Alan Moore & others
3. Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson
2. Jack Kirby’s The Demon
1. Creatures, edited by John Langan & Paul Tremblay*

*Yeah, this is skirting my rule about no two works by the same person. Also, I haven’t finished reading this one yet. But hey, it’s my list, and monster anthology!