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painted monsters

“If it can happen to the gerenuk, it can happen to you.”

In case you were concerned that I was abandoning my core brand with all this recent talk about Dungeons & Dragons and board games, I lately learned that there was a 1962 episode of the show Route 66 in which Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr. guest star as themselves.

Better still, I learned that it’s currently on Prime. So, today I watched it. Please bear in mind that I have never seen even a single other episode of Route 66 – which a little sleuthing tells me was a show in the same “semi-anthology” format as series-creator Stirling Silliphant’s other famous series, The Naked City, with a couple of recurring characters but stand-alone stories driven by the guest stars – and, indeed, didn’t even know the basic plot of the show before I sat down to watch this episode.

The episode, which is set and shot outside Chicago, originally showed on October 26, 1962. Its dual plots involve our two ostensible protagonists (played by Martin Milner and George Maharis) taking jobs as “junior executives in charge of convention liaison” at a hotel where a secretary’s convention is being held along with a secret meeting between Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney (as well as Martita Hunt from Brides of Dracula playing their legal advisor) so that the trio can plan a new series of horror films they will be producing.

Peter Lorre is convinced that the old ways are the best ways and wants to create new movies in the classic gothic style, arguing in favor of monsters in which people can see themselves. Karloff, on the other hand, doesn’t think that anyone will be afraid of the creaky old monsters, and wants to create new, “adult” horror. (“My kind of horror is not horror anymore,” Karloff would lament just six years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. “No one is afraid of a painted monster.”)

In fact, this episode of Route 66 makes a good thematic double-feature with the much more serious Targets, which tackles a similar question with regards to the efficacy of classic horror and comes to very different conclusions. Dedicated readers no doubt remember me writing about Targets in the past, and recognize the above quote as the source of the title of my second collection.

This episode, titled “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing,” came out just six years before Bogdanovich’s film, but a world of difference has elapsed in those six years. If Targets is a film about how horror cinema – and the nation – changed from before the ’60s to after, then “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” is an episode that sees that change coming, but still takes refuge in the comforts of what was.

Not that this is a thematically-dense episode. It’s a confection, and mostly an excuse for Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney to have a blast – which they do, from Chaney’s weepy temper tantrums when people aren’t afraid of him to the recurring gag that people are afraid of Peter Lorre, even when he’s not trying.

“You’re the spitting image of Peter Lorre,” the desk clerk tells him, as he’s checking in incognito. “A bit insulting, isn’t it?” Lorre replies, as only Lorre can. Later, as Chaney in his wolf-man getup is frightening the secretaries and causing them to faint, three of them faint dead away upon catching sight of Lorre just standing there like normal.

“I think I resent that,” Lorre quips, aridly.

It’s also a piece of horror history – even while it’s really nothing more than a piece of horror ephemera. Karloff dons a cut-rate version of the Frankenstein’s monster makeup for the first time since 1939, and we get to see Chaney done up as the mummy, the wolf-man, and even a take on his late father’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As we all grope blindly in the dark for silver linings amid all the peeled grapes and cold spaghetti of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of people excited that we’re halfway around to Halloween – though I’ve seen an equal number wondering just what Halloween is going to look like this year, with a plague on and all.

In fact, we’re excited enough about the date that we did a special “halfway to Halloween” episode of the Horror Pod Class, where Tyler and I talked about the 2019 movie Haunt and he history of commercial haunted houses. It’s honestly worth it just for the bit from a pamphlet for parents organizing haunted houses back in the ’30s, which suggests, among other things, nailing raw liver to the walls.

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Whatever happens with the pox and all that, we keep Halloween alive in our hearts as much as in our celebrations, right? And we can all watch scary movies and read spooky books anytime, even when we’re in quarantine.

Speaking of which, since this is also Walpurgisnacht, I usually take this evening to talk a bit about the story I wrote of that name, which originally appeared in The Children of Old Leech and can also be found in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts – both from Word Horde.

It’s a night for revels and devilry and old, black-and-white witchy movies like Night/Curse of the DemonCity of the Dead, or Haxan. Over on Facebook, I saw someone watching The Devil Rides Out, and that’ll also do.

* Image from a manga that I don’t know the name of, courtesy of Haunted Horror‘s Steve Banes.

I missed the official 100th anniversary of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by a couple of days – it was apparently February 26 – but it seemed wrong to let the occasion pass by completely without at least marking it in some way.

Caligari was a film that I became obsessed with years before I ever saw it. Two decades ago, when Mezco Toys was still called Aztech, they released a line of figures based on classic silent horror films, including one of Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, looking a bit like Robert Smith of The Cure.

Cesare was the only one of the so-called Silent Screamers toys I ever bought – a decision I regret to this day, when I would love to get my hands on a Graf Orlok or a Golem. But I also still have the Cesare figure by my desk.

The long, sharp shadows of German expressionism and early silent films have long had a major influence on my own aesthetic, even before I had ever actually seen most of them. Caligari, which I first saw in college, not long after buying that toy, remains a movie that I’ve watched only a few times, and yet one that sticks with me in everything I do.

In part, this is because Caligari is a film that can be enjoyed in still frames almost as much as it can be as a movie. I’ve said before that most entire films aren’t as gorgeous or potent as any given frame of Caligari, and I stand by that.

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A few years ago, I was asked to contribute a story to The Madness of Dr. Caligari, a deluxe anthology of stories inspired by the silent classic, edited by Joe Pulver. The story I turned in, “Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic,” concerns an ill-fated Poverty Row production of a 1946 movie called The Corpse Walks, which features some familiar figures.

But it’s far from the only story I ever wrote that had Caligari‘s long shadow over it. “Night’s Foul Bird” in Painted Monsters may be more concerned with Nosferatu and Faust and London After Midnight, but there’s no denying that Cesare is in there somewhere, or that the plot of Caligari (and its successors) runs like a dark vein through “Stygian Chambers,” the story I wrote for Pluto in Furs which, when I first started writing it, was going to be named for a line from the Robert Bloch-penned 1962 remake Cabinet of Caligari.

Even early stories like “The Mysterious Flame,” which anchors my first collection, are filled with the shadows of German expressionist cinema in general, with Caligari as maybe its most striking exemplar.

Nor am I likely to extricate myself from those painted-on shadows anytime soon. A hundred years gone by, and they’ve still never made another movie quite like Caligari – and it may be that they never will.

Unknown SkeletonAt the start of this decade, I made my first-ever professionally-qualifying sale. (Pro rates were somehow even lower then than they are now.) I had been writing since I learned how, and seriously attempting to publish since I graduated college not quite a decade before that.

In 2012, the first edition of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, came out. In five years it would be out of print, then back in print, in a new, hardcover deluxe edition from Strix Publishing.

Looking back, it came out too soon. Not that I’m not proud of the collection – I am, completely, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have allowed it to be reissued. I just wasn’t at the “first collection” stage in my career quite yet, but I didn’t know that then.

In the years since, I’ve published two more collections of stories, both with Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde press, not to mention two collections of essays on vintage horror films, both with Innsmouth Free Press. I’ve published more than fifty short stories, and been in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year three times.

I co-edited my first anthology with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which got translated into Japanese.

I’ve done work for Privateer Press, writing short fiction and in-game content, adventures, and even a licensed novel that is technically my first published novel-length work. In the last year alone I’ve written nearly fifty movie reviews for Unwinnable and Signal Horizon, where I also now co-host a podcast.

I’ve written introductions for reissues of some of my favorite books, including Benighted and collections by Robert Westall, from Valancourt Books, and introductions to collections by some of my favorite contemporaries, including Nick Mamatas and Amanda Downum. I have nonfiction bylines in places like Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare Magazine.

I’ve been a guest at several wonderful conventions and festivals, gone on a great many podcasts, introduced movies at the local movie theatres, and much more. There are so many things on this list that, had you told me about them ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Of all the many surprising things that have happened to me over the course of the last decade, though, perhaps the most surprising is that I quit my day job to write full-time all the way back in 2013, and I haven’t had to give it up yet.

Fiction writing certainly doesn’t pay the bills, so most of my time is dedicated to freelancing, but, as they say in Major League 2, a day of playing baseball is better than whatever most people have to do for a living.

It wasn’t until Grace was asking me if I was planning to do some kind of decade-in-review that I realized how much my life has changed in these past ten years, so it seemed worth taking note. I went from being virtually unpublished (I had sold a few stories, but not many) to having six or more books (depending on how you count) with my name on the spine and writing for a living.

Not too shabby, all in all.

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.

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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.

Today is the big day! As you read these words, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is shipping from the publisher, making its way to your mailbox, or being deposited onto the shelves of better booksellers everywhere to prey upon the unsuspecting.

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I’ve had a box of copies sitting on the floor of my office for a few days now, and I’m planning some book launch festivities in the coming weeks. If you happen to be in Manhattan (the one in Kansas, not the one in New York), I will be reading at the Driptorch Creative Performance Series at Arrow Coffee Co. on October 12. And if you’re a Kansas City-area local, the official book launch party will be October 14 at the Tapcade, where I’ll also be hosting a FREE screening of Mario Bava’s gothic classic Black Sunday. I will have copies of the book available at both events.

More about what I’m doing for the rest of the month to come, but for now I wanted to talk a little (more) about Guignol, how it came to pass, and what you can expect to find between its covers. For those who are coming here fresh, Guignol is my third collection of short horror stories of the strange and supernatural, and my second from Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde imprint. From the cover art by Nick Gucker to the stories themselves, I think it makes a particularly good companion piece to my previous Word Horde collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

Guignol is slightly longer than my previous collections, and contains fourteen of my grimmest and darkest tales to date, though hopefully these “cruel stories” aren’t without their fun, too. It’s also probably got more monsters-per-page than anything else I’ve ever written, so there’s always that.

Of the fourteen weird stories in Guignol, four are appearing in print for the first time, while several others are out-of-print or difficult to find. The full table-of-contents is as follows:

Dream House
The Lesser Keys
Guignol
Shadders
The Blue Light
A Circle That Ever Returneth In
Programmed to Receive
The Well and the Wheel
Haruspicate or Scry
Dark and Deep
Invaders of Gla’aki
Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet
The Cult of Headless Men
When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars

Of course, all fourteen tales are accompanied by my usual author’s notes, plus the book features an introduction by none other than Gemma Files! All in all, I’m extremely happy with how Guignol has come together, and extremely grateful to Ross Lockhart for once again having me as a member of the Horde, and I can’t wait for it to make its way out into the world.

Guignol has already been reviewed at Publisher’s Weekly and Signal Horizon with more to come, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this and other suitably spooky topics throughout the month of October, but for now, happy book birthday to Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and if you didn’t already pre-order your copy, you can buy it direct from the publisher right here!

Well, the last few days have been extraordinarily busy and draining for me, to the surprise of probably no one. On Saturday night, I stayed out way too late watching mystery horror movies with the fine folks from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast, thanks to whom I can now say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a thing that I have experienced. Then Sunday I was supposed to introduce a screening of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Richard Matheson adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland, but I got caught in a horrible traffic snarl, and so I ended up talking afterward. (Extroducing it?) I had a book giveaway and did a reading of my story “Guignol.”

Yesterday was my birthday, though I didn’t do a lot more to celebrate than what I’ve already mentioned here, having kind of partied out the night before with the movie marathon. Today I’m not doing a lot either besides catching up from all the aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t going on. Since it’s Halloween, we’ve got some special Halloween treats for all of you, including a free story! Head on over to the Word Horde website to read my story “Strange Beast,” about ghosts and kaiju and maybe the ghosts of kaiju absolutely free! “Strange Beast” was one of the original stories I wrote exclusively for Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and this is the first time it’s ever been available anywhere else!

Meanwhile, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing has fast-tracked a little Halloween treat for all those who’re waiting patiently for your copies of the new deluxe edition of  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. The book contains an all-new story that happens to be Halloween themed, and Mike Corley has been kind enough to show off the excellent illustration that he’s done to accompany it.

Meanwhile, Brian Lillie has assembled a whole passel of authors to make suggestions for suitably spooky Halloween reading. My humble contribution includes tales by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jon Padgett, and Daniel Mills, all of which have been podcast by Pseudopod. That wasn’t an accident, and one of the reasons I chose to do it was because Pseudopod is currently running a Kickstarter. As part of that Kickstarter, they’re also putting together their first-ever anthology, which includes classic reprints along with all-new stories by yours truly, Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and more! Here’s the newly-revealed table of contents, and we promise you, it’s true.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on lately, but I think for tonight it’s all I’ve got in me. Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit, have a happy Halloween, and always remember to check your candy…

I’ll leave you with what remains one of my all-time favorite Halloween illustrations by none other than the great Chris Sanders, and (unrelatedly) if you’re looking for something seasonal to do this evening,  you could do a lot worse than to plug a few hours into Halloween Forever!

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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…

Today kicks off the beginning of Word Horde‘s big Summer Solstice Giveaway over on Goodreads, where they’re giving you the chance to snag a handful of the latest Word Horde titles, including Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. If you’ve already got your copy of Painted Monsters, though, there are also giveaways for Mike Griffin‘s debut collection The Lure of Devouring Light, Livia Llewellyn‘s critically-acclaimed second collection Furnace, and even Ross Lockhart‘s Lovecraftian anthology Cthulhu Fhtagn!, which includes my story “The Insectivore.”

It’s not a part of Word Horde’s Summer Solstice Giveaway, but there’s also a Goodreads giveaway still running for Monsters from the Vault through June 17. Want to be sure you secure your copy? You can always pre-order it direct from the publisher at less-than-cover-price until June 3!

Speaking of pre-orders, they also just opened for Swords v Cthulhu, coming in July from Stone Skin Press and editors Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington, featuring my choose-your-own-adventure story “A Circle That Ever Returneth In.” That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more news on whatever is coming next! Otherwise, turn to page 217.

Well, so far this December I’ve posted all of one time, though, y’know, that was a write-up of Krampus, so at least I’ve got my priorities on straight. (Speaking of Krampus, the latest episode of the great Werewolf Ambulance podcast not only covers that very film, but also gives a great shout out to my own review!)

December has been pretty busy, with a variety of deadlines crowding around me like cats at feeding time, so I’ve been at least kind of keeping my head down and working on those, while also, y’know, distracting myself by getting vaguely addicted to buying those Funko blind box horror mystery figures again. This means that I haven’t done much else, including that I haven’t yet seen Star Wars Episode 37: Chewbacca’s Delight, though everyone’s enthusiasm for it has finally been infectious enough to convince me to try seeing it in theatres sometime after Christmas. (And after I see Hateful Eight in 70mm. Because priorities.)

do have several year-end write-ups in the works, including my annual Year in Creatures report, but those are going to have to wait until a little closer to the actual end of the year. I’ll be out of town for Christmas, so I may be a bit scarce online for a few days, though you’ll probably still see me on social media posting random observations or pictures of weird things I see along the side of the road.

In the meantime, I figured I should drop by here and mention that Painted Monsters continues to receive very kind reviews, including probably its most glowing review to date (and, honestly, if that is the most glowing review it ever receives, I couldn’t complain). And I got a pretty amazing Christmas present in the form of a Painted Monsters ornament, courtesy of my fantastic publisher Ross Lockhart at Word Horde.

Ornament

That’s it from me until after the holiday. In the meantime, stay warm, enjoy the lights, and have a pleasant time, whatever you may celebrate, if anything.