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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!

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.