Archive

monsters from the vault

Every now and then, I watch a movie that makes me lament that I am no longer actively writing Vault of Secrets columns or working on another volume of Monsters from the VaultShanks is definitely one of those movies.

Some time ago, I decided to try to watch some of the other films of William Castle that I hadn’t yet seen, specifically the ones that come after those contained in Indicator’s brilliant twovolume William Castle at Columbia boxed sets.

MV5BOGM0YTMxM2EtMDMwNS00OWQyLWIwOWUtM2M3NTgxY2UzZWViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

I started with Shanks, his final film as director, because I was fascinated by its logline. A showpiece for famed mime Marcel Marceau, Shanks sees Marceau playing dual roles – a deaf and unspeaking puppeteer, the eponymous Malcolm Shanks, and “Old Walker,” an eccentric scientist who invents a kind of galvanic machine to “puppeteer” dead bodies via remote control.

Old Walker hires Shanks as an assistant, only to die shortly after they have begun their experiments. After a nasty run-in with his wicked step-sister (Tsilla Chelton) and her alcoholic husband (Philippe Clay), Shanks decides to reanimate Old Walker using the same galvinic machine.

Because this is a borderline horror movie – the opening titles call it a “grim fairy tale,” and the film is heavily stylized, think Edward Scissorhands nearly two decades before – things go badly from there, and before long Shanks has a couple of other bodies to puppeteer around.

These bodies are, naturally, the centerpiece of the film, and the physical performances of Marceau and the other two actors playing puppeteered corpses is nothing short of mesmerizing. Their movements are played for comedy more often than not, but the sequence in which Shanks first reanimates Old Walker is a showstopper that reminds us of why horror films should – and often do – rely heavily on mimes, dancers, and the like.

In spite of this and a later sequence in which Old Walker comes out of the grave, Shanks is largely absent any of Castle’s “shock” scenes or usual gimmicks – but that isn’t to say that this is any less a Castle film. It just shares more in common with pictures like his version of The Old Dark House13 Frightened Girls, or Zotz! than House on Haunted Hill or The Tingler.

In fact, Castle does some genuinely impressive work here. Though it is a “talkie,” Shanks is built around Marceau’s silent performance as Malcolm Shanks – and the mummery of him and the other performers as animated corpses. As such, it is often filmed like a silent movie, complete with intertitles.

Though there isn’t a lot of dialogue, the use of sound is frequently incredible. The score by Alex North, was nominated for an Academy Award. It was also made up, partly, of his rejected score for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The music works like gangbusters, but it isn’t alone. All of the sound work is excellent. See a sequence in which the laugh track to a sitcom on TV is synced to the events in the film perfectly.

What prompted me to write this post about Shanks was that, when I posted briefly about it on social media, I was met with a litany of variations on “why have I never heard of this before?”

It isn’t exactly a lost gem, necessarily – it’s uneven and awkward and has a number of other problems that I’ll get into in a minute – but it is definitely a film that more people should have at least heard of. And, like most Castle films, in spite of its myriad problems, I loved it.

So, those problems. It’s uneven, like I said. The last reel of the film takes a hard left turn into some kind of PG-rated Last House on the Left territory, including an implied sexual assault on a young girl. Even before that, though, the semi-romantic relationship between fifty-something Marceau and said sixteen-year-old girl is already cringey in the extreme.

The magic of Shanks comes from its heavily stylized approach and from its incredible physical performances – and, yeah, a little bit from that macabre fairy dust that Castle seems able to sprinkle on even the most humdrum of his films.

As for why more people haven’t heard of Castle’s swan song, I couldn’t say. But they should. It’s a genuinely odd entry in an altogether odd canon. I watched it on VOD, but Olive Films apparently released a Blu-ray that I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on. I would love it if Indicator decided to continue their run of Castle boxed sets with a few of these later films from his oeuvre.

(The quote that I used in the title of this post comes from William Makepeace Thackeray and is used as a coda to the film.)

 

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be posting once a day through the end of the month, suggesting (usually) scary movies that pair well with all 14 stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. The posts are already written and scheduled because, frankly, the next 14 days are gonna be busy with work and watching countless movies of my own–I’ve got at least 8 on tap in the next three days, all at the theatre.

tod-brownings-mark-of-the-vampireSo, while my Countdown to Halloween duties may be adequately covered for the year, I didn’t feel right not leaving you with a little something extra during my absence. Since Revenge of Monsters from the Vault came out earlier this year, it only felt right to leave you with yet another movie list, this time slices of vintage horror that I covered in that book and its predecessor that make ideal viewing in the run-up to the big night.

For those of us who watch and read horror all year round–or, at least, for me–not every horror movie is a Halloween movie. While I may watch the sun-baked nihilism of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the urban decay of Candyman during the month of October, the true Halloween movies are those that combine fun with fear. Those autumnal tricks and treats that take place in quaint little towns with dark secrets and in shadowed suburbs.

Halloween movies are the Gothic chillers of yesteryear, with fog-shrouded sets where rubber bats dangle on wires and painted shadows grow impossibly long. There aren’t many old horror movies that actually take place on Halloween, but that’s okay. There are plenty of overgrown graveyards and old dark houses, which are just as good.

Here are 14 (give or take) movies that I wrote up in either Monsters from the Vault or its sequel that will give you plenty of creaky chills for the long, dark nights until Halloween is here at last. Think of it as a haunted advent calendar, if you’d like. And stop back by every day for the remainder of the month for a devil’s dozen (plus one) of movies to watch on a double-bill with the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

On the 18th watch The Tingler (1959). I showed it to a crowded theatre at the Tapcade just a few nights ago, so I can vouch that it’s a good kick-off for the run up to Halloween. If you came out and saw it with me, feel free to substitute 13 Ghosts (1960).

On the 19th watch Fiend without a Face (1958), the most science fictional flick you’ll find in this list, which is why it’s positioned so far from the day itself. Those invisible crawling brain monsters can’t be beat, though.

On the 20th watch The Vampire Doll (1970). Any of Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies will do, but Vampire Doll is my favorite of the bunch.

On the 21st watch The Living Skeleton (1968), another Japanese import and an even weirder one than last night’s picture. There are mad scientists, rubber bats, and a chorus of skeletons. What more could you want?

On the 22nd watch Valley of the Zombies (1946), a Republic potboiler that’s just a short hop away from being a serial. There’s no valley and no zombies, but there is a great villain named Ormand Murks and, as if they were spoiled by that name, a guy gets killed off-screen whose name is Dr. Lucifer Garland.

On the 23rd follow that up with Night of Terror (1933), an old dark house picture from their heyday that features metafictional narration from its maniac killer and a guest turn by Bela Lugosi.

On the 24th we’re heading into the final weekend so it’s time to watch Blood Bath (1966), one variation on four movies all produced by Roger Corman. This version has a vampire, of sorts, and a particularly Halloween-y sequence in which the heroine and the vampire are both accosted by some costumed revelers.

On the 25th it’s Friday night so relax with a night at The House on Skull Mountain (1974), complete with voodoo and flashing skulls and one of the best matte paintings you’ll ever see.

On the 26th we head back into black-and-white territory with City of the Dead (1960). This chiller not only features a guest turn by Christopher Lee, but it’s got the foggiest little town you can think of, and plenty of witches and spooky graveyards.

On the 27th we’re winding down the last weekend with Return of the Vampire (1944). Bela Lugosi again in a film full of great bits, maybe most notable for the fact that it was made during the War and set in England in the midst of the Blitz. How many vampires were shaken from their tombs by falling bombs, after all?

The 28th begins our final countdown, and what better movie to kick it off than Mark of the Vampire (1935)? It’s cheesy, it’s creaky, it’s an unofficial remake of the classic lost silent film London After Midnight made by the same director. In short, it’s a treasure.

On the 29th watch House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (they’re both pretty short).

The 30th is my birthday, so you’d think I’d pick a favorite movie for you to watch on this day. I thought about it, but I feel like the night before Halloween is maybe the ideal night to watch Spider Baby (1967) if you’re going to. It’s got one foot planted in the films of the past and one in Rob Zombie’s films of the present, and the theme song alone should be enough to make it a Halloween staple.

On the 31st watch The Old Dark House (1932). It’s the one I would have picked for my birthday, if I was going to. And whatever you watch or read or do this season, have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I got so wrapped up in the fulfilling of pre-orders and the like (not to mention the run up to NecronomiCon, which is in less than a week somehow) that I almost forgot to acknowledge the fact that today is actually the official book birthday of Revenge of Monsters from the Vault!

If you pre-ordered your copy direct form the publisher, it should be hitting your mailbox any day now, if it hasn’t already. If you didn’t, well, there’s not time like the present to correct that deficiency.

monsters single cover (2)

I love writing spooky short stories, but I also love writing about monster movies – on my best days, I manage to smash the two together to relatively satisfactory results. In my freelance work, I am lucky enough to write occasionally about movies both modern and antique, but one of my favorite things to do is to just share the joy that I get from tracking down some moth-bitten old movie filled with cobwebbed sets and some painted monsters.

Those are the movies that, as Joe R. Lansdale hisownself once put it better than I ever could, “kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see”.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to write about a lot of them and, with any luck, I’ll get to write about a lot more before I go to wherever good skeletons finally go, but Revenge of Monsters from the Vault closes the door on a chapter, to be sure.

When I first started writing for Innsmouth Free Press, I wasn’t yet a very established voice in the field. Silvia Moreno-Garcia was kind enough to give me a soapbox from which I could share my love for these delightfully creaky old movies, and she was even kinder to add another step to that soapbox by re-publishing all those columns in Monsters from the Vault.

Now, together, we’ve gone a step farther yet. With any luck, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault won’t be the last time I write about these movies, but it will probably be our last trip to the Vault of Secrets. We’re sealing up that tomb and moving on to unearth another.

It’s not an occasion for mourning, however, but celebration. I got to write about Mystery of the Wax Museum and Horror Island and The Return of the Vampire and Zombies of Mora Tau and The World of Vampires and Yog, Monster from Space. And, what’s more, somebody put all of that writing into not one book but two.Most poor skeletons never even get half so lucky.

I hope, if you choose to read either of these volumes, that you come away from them with a new favorite movie that you otherwise might not have seen. I think I agree with Mr. Lansdale that that’s the purpose of all great art, and while I don’t think these books are necessarily great art, hopefully they can be your portal to some.

Today, I finally made it out to the theatre to catch Avengers: Endgame, which means that I have now seen all 22 of the “Infinity Saga” (or whatever they’re calling it) films in the theatre, and I have done my duty by them (and they by me). I know that technically Phase 3 isn’t over until Spider-Man: Far From Home, but while I have every reason to assume I will see that in a theatre, too, this feels like the ending to me, and I’m good with that.

MV5BZDhiMDkxY2ItODg3NS00ZWZjLWEwOTctYTQwMmU2NDA5NWE1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_

I’m not really here to talk about Endgame, though. I’m here to talk about my books. Today is also the last day to pre-order Revenge of Monsters from the Vault direct from the publisher. The book will still be for sale through the regular channels when it launches in August, but we appreciate direct sales, and they put more money into my pocket. So if you’re thinking about buying Revenge of Monsters from the Vault (and I sincerely hope that you are) now is the ideal time to do it. But please hurry!

If you’re just coming here from… somewhere else, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault is the follow-up to my 2016 book Monsters from the Vault and, as such, it’s a collection of a whole bunch of essays about various classic (and not-so-classic) horror films from the silents to the ’70s, including such beloved and obscure titles as Condemned to LiveRevolt of the ZombiesThe Devil Bat, not one but two versions of The Black CatReturn of the VampireThe Giant ClawZombies of Mora TauDark IntruderX: The Man with X-Ray EyesBrotherhood of SatanThe Creeping Flesh, and lots more. If you’d like a taste of what you’re in for, you can read my essay on Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies right here.

Not already familiar with the previous volume? Not to worry, you can actually pick it up in a package deal with Revenge of Monsters from the Vault if you pre-order right now!

Today is also Walpurgisnacht. As most of you know, I wrote a story called “Walpurgisnacht” which originally appeared in the Laird Barron tribute anthology Children of Old Leech, and has since been reprinted in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. If you’ve already read that one, though, plenty of other seasonally appropriate stuff can be found in my latest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. I think “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars” would be particularly well suited to the evening’s festivities, don’t you?

Speaking of witches, I was also a guest on the latest episode of the Nightmare Junkhead podcast where I talked in some rambling detail about my feelings on the new Hellboy movie (which has more than a few witches), the comics, Brian Lumley, and lots of other topics of occult interest. Greg D. and Jenius McGee of the Nightmare Junkhead podcast are the same cool folks who put on the Nerdoween Triple Feature that has become my birthday/Halloween staple every year, so it was a real pleasure to finally sit down with them in their inner sanctum.

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!)

Us-Movie-Director-Cast-Interviews-Sxsw

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!

image1 (2)

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…

monsters single cover

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…