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monsters from the vault

Tomorrow night, I leave for Atlanta to attend the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which is being held in the belly of a real-life monster lab, aka Silver Scream FX Lab. As I write this, there’s still a few hours left to get in on the IndieGoGo, with plenty of cool swag up for grabs. (I’ve got an essay in appreciation of Mike Mignola–along with some art by Mike himself–in the program book!)

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Because I’m gonna be otherwise occupied over the next few days, I managed to sneak into a preview screening of Jordan Peele’s latest last night, and I wrote up my (as spoiler-free as possible while still actually talking about the movie at all) impressions for Signal Horizon. It’s a movie I’m looking forward to talking about a lot more once other people have seen it.

I figured, since I’m headed out of town anyway, and I just posted a new film review for an actual new film, rather than something stumbling onto Blu-ray from the ’90s or the ’70s, it was probably a good time to talk about my film writing a bit. (There’s also the little fact that Revenge of Monsters from the Vault is currently up for pre-order.)

For various behind-the-scenes reasons, I’ve been doing a lot more film writing lately, and posting it places other than here, mostly Signal Horizon and Unwinnable. I think, in doing so, I’m also carving out, bit by bit, my own identity as a film writer, whatever that actually means.

I’m especially proud of the writing I recently did for Unwinnable about Audition, an incredible film that I hadn’t seen in almost twenty years. But I also wrote about kickboxing cyborg movies in general and Albert Pyun’s Nemesis in particular, and about the 1994 Double Dragon movie–which, I didn’t know until I was writing about it, was only the second live-action video game adaptation ever made. Which maybe explains some things?

I haven’t had as many things pop up at Signal Horizon lately, though you can go back and read my reviews of stuff like Bloody Birthday and Fulci’s Zombie. More recently, I wrote about the new Arrow Blu of Horror Express, a film that I also covered in the first volume of Monsters from the Vault. (Which, it bears repeating, you can get if you pre-order its sequel here.)

There’s lots more like that on the way, but that ought to keep you all occupied while I’m out of town. If you’re coming to the Outer Dark Symposium, I’ll see you there, and if we haven’t already met, come up and say hi. And if anyone wants to bring me any Hellboy Day swag, I’ll be tied up with Symposium stuff all day on Saturday, so it would be much appreciated!

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A large number of years ago (let’s not worry ourselves overmuch about how many) I started writing a column for Innsmouth Free Press. In it, I had the fairly wide charter of writing about “vintage” horror films, which meant, in practice, everything from the silents to the ’70s. We called it the Vault of Secrets, and I wrote it for five years.

Around the end of that time, Silvia, my publisher at IFP, approached me about the idea of collecting those columns into a book, and Monsters from the Vault was born. What we didn’t know, as we were putting the book together, was that the Vault of Secrets was about to shut down, as IFP ceased online publication. Hence, Monsters from the Vault collected every Vault of Secrets column that was ever published into one convenient tome.

However, being me, I didn’t write my Vault of Secrets columns one a month as they came out. Instead, I ran ahead, and there were several columns I had written before the publication of Monsters from the Vault that hadn’t ever seen the light of day.

For a while, I was unsure what to do with these columns. I considered publishing them on my own website or offering them as rewards on my short-lived Patreon, but ultimately nothing felt quite right, until I hit upon the idea of adding to them and putting out a companion volume to Monsters from the Vault.

Revenge of Monsters from the Vault collects those orphaned columns, sure, but they represent only a tiny fragment of its total page count. A few of the pieces collected here have even shown up online in one place or another, but not many. Most of this book is made up of totally new stuff, written specifically for this volume.

Beginning with a beautiful but underseen film released in 1926 and ending with Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of vampire movies from the 1970s, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault covers a lot of territory. There are sixty films packed into these pages, which is fewer than last time, but each entry is longer, on average, with the shortest entries in Revenge averaging about as long as the longest entries in the previous volume.

Within these pages you’ll find ape fiends, invisible dinosaurs, wax museums, devil bats, zombies, hunchbacks, haunted stranglers, cat people, flying serpents, creatures with an atom brain, terrors from beyond space, cities of the dead, snake women, men with x-ray eyes, and weirder things. There are four films from producer Sam Katzman, a couple from director William Castle, and an exploration of all four of the movies that spun out from Roger Corman’s purchase of the Yugoslavian crime film Operation Titian, to name just a few.

Pre-order today and you can get signed copies of both Revenge of Monsters from the Vault and its progenitor, not to mention some cool swag including a bookmark, postcard, and sticker, all for just $22 plus shipping!

If you’re already a proud owner of Monsters from the Vault, you can always pick up just the new one, which boasts matching cover art from Thomas Boatwright, and keep them both on your entertainment system for quick reference as you’re unearthing old, spooky movies to watch on a dark and stormy night…

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Panic Fest is in the rear view and everything else is up ahead, so it’s been a week or so of catching up around here. There’s been a lot to catch up to, as well, as a lot has been going on kind of while I wasn’t looking.

For starters, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales received a very generous review from Christine Morgan over at The Horror Fiction Review, which refers to my “consistently excellent quality and skill,” so of course I appreciate that. I also learned that my story “The Granfalloon,” which originally appeared in Darker Companions before being reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume 10, is being taught in an Advanced Creative Writing workshop that’s being offered by Richard Thomas!

Speaking of stories doing well for me, my story “The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene)” made the Locus Recommended Reading List. I think this may be my first time on the list, and right now you can vote for my story (along with stories and books by lots of other authors) right here. (You don’t have to have a subscriber number, just a name and email address.)

I was interviewed by author Gwendolyn Kiste (whose novella Pretty Marys All in a Row I really enjoyed) at her website, and I was able to sneak in the first official mention, I think, of my next book-length project, which is a sequel to Monsters from the Vault called (of course) Revenge of Monsters from the Vault. It should be out later this year, covering 60 more classic (and not-so-classic) horror and monster movies from the silents to the ’70s including devil bats, ape fiends, space invaders, old dark houses, haunted stranglers, invisible dinosaurs, and a whole lot more!

(On the subject of my film writing, I also unwittingly discovered that I am cited extensively in the Wikipedia entry for John Carpenter’s The Thing. This thing I wrote eight years ago is getting me a lot of traction lately. It was also mentioned in the commentary track for the Scream Factory Blu of Someone’s Watching Me! and quoted in the Devil’s Advocate volume for In the Mouth of Madness.)

Most recently, the full table of contents was announced for Pluto in Furs, an anthology forthcoming from Plutonian Press, which will feature my story “Stygian Chambers” alongside tales by Gemma Files, Jeffrey Thomas, Adam Golaski, Richard Gavin, and many more.

That’s what’s been going on in the last few days, and there’s more on the way. I have other story sales that I can’t announce just yet, not to mention my appearance next month at The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta. I’ll also be a guest at the NecronomiCon in Providence in August, but more on that later…

 

I had actually never heard of The Magician prior to seeing a .gif of it on Rhett Hammersmith’s Tumblr. The .gif—a sculpture of a devilish faun collapsing onto actress Alice Terry—was enough to get me to track down the film. Long considered lost, The Magician didn’t get any kind of home video release until it was put out on DVD by TCM in 2011, which is the version I watched.

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It’s a shame that The Magician isn’t better known. While it may never quite reach the gothic heights of such silent horror classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Faust, Haxan, and so on, The Magician is, at worst, one rung beneath those, and at its best can give them a run for their money.

Directed by Rex Ingram, who was once called “the world’s greatest director,” The Magician was shot on location Paris and Monte Carlo, and in Ingram’s studios in Nice, France, giving it an unshakably European feel and a sense of scope and modernity that is denied to many of its stagebound contemporaries and even the talkie horror films that would follow it.

Ingram adapted The Magician from the 1908 novel of the same name by M. Somerset Maugham, who was, in his turn, purported to have based the titular magician on Aleister Crowley. In fact, Crowley actually wrote a critique of The Magician the year that the novel was released, in which he accused Maugham of plagiarism. Perhaps ironically, the critique appeared in Vanity Fair under the pen name “Oliver Haddo,” the name of the magician from Maugham’s novel and Ingram’s film.

Both film and novel tell the story of Haddo (played by Paul Wegener, of The Golem and others), a “hypnotist and magician” who is attempting to use an alchemical formula to create new life. In order to complete his experiment, however, he needs the “heart’s blood of a maiden.” Enter sculptor Margaret Dauncey, played by Alice Terry, Ingram’s wife and frequent collaborator. We are introduced to Margaret before any of the other characters, in the scene that produced the .gif which drew me to the film in the first place.

The massive satyr sculpture that crushes Margaret is the first of many indelible images in the film. Others include an almost Boschian scene of Dionysian revelry which also would have been right at home in Haxan, complete with a “dancing faun” who ravishes a girl in front of a decidedly yonic archway, reminding us all that there wasn’t a Hays Code yet in 1926.

When Aleister Crowley was accusing Maugham of plagiarism, he listed a variety of works, including The Island of Doctor Moreau. Conspicuously absent from the list is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, yet the shadow of that novel falls heavy over the cinematic version of The Magician. While the definitive film version of Frankenstein was still several years away, many of the elements of it are already present here, including a climax in an “ancient sorcerer’s tower” on a dark and stormy night, not to mention the eponymous magician’s diminutive assistant.

Haddo’s laboratory may lack the modern amenities and galvanic equipment of James Whale’s Frankenstein, but the bones of the monster are already in place. Most Frankenstein films don’t end with quite such a brawl as this one does—making good use of Paul Wegener’s somewhat hulking physique—though they do often feature the climactic inferno that we see here.

Never Bet the Devil CoverAs you have no doubt gathered by now, the brand-new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing is a real, physical object that has actually happened and is currently sitting on my shelf. What you may not yet know is that it can also be sitting on your shelf, even if you missed out on the Kickstarter and/or didn’t see us at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Through the magic of something called “the internet,” you can now order your very own copy of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, featuring two (2) new stories not published in the previous edition, all new illustrations and header images for every story by the phenomenal M.S. Corley (who is also responsible for that amazing cover), and a new (and very kind) introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

(And hey, if you’re going to pick up a copy, now’s the time to do it, because you can get it at 15% off thanks to Strix’s Halloween sale!)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently wrote up a recommendation list of five vintage vampiric movies for you to watch on Halloween, which you can read over at Innsmouth Free Press? Why would I do that, you ask? The better question might be, Why wouldn’t I? But in this case it’s actually all part of an elaborate scheme meant to help promote Monsters from the Vault, my collection of essays on vintage horror cinema, collected from across more than five years of writing columns for Innsmouth Free Press. Why vampires, though? Well, that just kind of happened. But you’re certainly not limited to vampires. Pick up a copy of the book and you can find plenty of mad scientists, alien invaders, werewolves, mummies, murderers, unusually large insects and rodents, blobs, apes, skeletons, cults, and just about anything else you might want for your seasonal viewing pleasure.

The list also serves double duty by making me feel a little less bad about not being a very good contributor to the Countdown to Halloween. This October has been a little rough. It got off to a good start with the HPLFF, but there have been a variety of other setbacks that have kept me from celebrating the season with the same vigor that I might have on previous occasions. Fortunately, I have at least gotten Halloween decorations up, and tomorrow night I’m heading out to the Tapcade for a horror anthology triple feature courtesy of the Nerds of Nostalgia. I attended the first of these “Nerdoween” triple-features a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become an annual tradition. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered both Demons and Night of the Demons and, to a somewhat lesser extent, both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Since this year’s entertainment is anthology film-themed, the odds of me not having already seen all of them decrease sharply, but we’ll see what they can dig up!

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)

 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve acquired a lot of new Facebook friends and Twitter followers, thanks, I imagine, in no small part, to the recent Kickstarter to launch a deluxe second edition of my debut collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings through my friends at Strix Publishing. Whatever it is that brought you here, though, I figure all these new faces are as good an excuse as any to stop, take a step back, and sort of remind everyone of who I am and what I do.

As my bio says, I’m a skeleton who likes monsters. I’m also a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. (Before you ask, yes, skeletons are born, where else would we come from? We hatch out of coffins, just like everyone else.) I’m a full time freelance writer, and when I’m not doing content marketing work or writing licensed stuff for Privateer Press or penning articles about true crimes and other weirdness for The Lineup, I write stories about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters.

My stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected into two collections, with a third on the horizon probably sometime in early 2018. Right now you can pick up Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, my second fiction collection, from Word Horde, and that aforementioned deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings should be available to those who missed out on the Kickstarter very soon.

I have had stories recently published or forthcoming directly in Children of Lovecraft, which managed to cross two items off my bucket list (be in an original Ellen Datlow antho, and have something of mine appear behind a Mike Mignola cover), as well as Eternal Frankenstein, which you can pre-order now from Word Horde, The Children of Gla’aki which is nearing the end of a pre-order campaign at Dark Regions Press, and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, which you can pre-order from Fedogan & Bremer, to name just a few. I’ve also got a new novelette, The Cult of Headless Men, which is being released as a chapbook by Dunhams Manor, with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

For a relatively succinct summary of my philosophy regarding my own work and my relationship with the genre of horror in general, check out my essay for Nightmare Magazine’s The H Word, “But Is It Scary?

I also spend an inordinate amount of time writing about horror movies, which you can find right here on my blog, as well as at my Patreon and occasionally other places, like the forthcoming October issue of Unwinnable, where I will be nattering on once again about Monster Squad, while all of my literary betters show me up by discussing more intellectual things, I have no doubt.

And if you can’t get enough of reading my rambling opinions on especially creaky old monster movies of yesteryear, all five-or-so years of my column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press have recently been collected into an affordable volume that you can buy right now, Monsters from the Vault.

So, for newcomers or those who just have a tough time keeping up, I think that’s a decent crash course in who I am and what I’ve been up to. There’s a lot more announcements in the works, so keep your radio tuned to this dial until long after you hear the static. That’s where the good stuff lurks…