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monster_thriller_scifi_headerPanic Fest is something that I look forward to every year; after all, why wouldn’t I? A world-class horror/monster/sci-fi film festival right in my own backyard, put together by my good friends at Rotten Rentals and the Screenland Armour; what’s not to love? But for me, at least, Panic Fest has become something of a fraught weekend.

Two years ago, just as I was leaving the house to go to Panic Fest, I got a phone call about my dad’s declining health. It wasn’t the first phone call on the subject, but it was one of the ones that triggered the fall of dominoes which made up the end of his life, the realization of a lot of trauma and baggage, and various other things that I’ve been dealing with in one capacity or another for the last two years. As such, Panic Fest always feels like an anniversary: the last weekend where I got to feel normal for a while and just have some fun.

Every year since, when Panic Fest has come around it has brought with it a weird combination of emotions–fraught, like I said. This year was the first time I attended as a “private citizen.” In the past I’ve helped out with the fest in some capacity; manning the Rotten Rentals booth or whatever. This year I just bought my ticket like everyone else and showed up to watch movies and bullshit around in the (really nice) vendor loft. I picked up a copy of the really great-looking book Unsung Horrors, which contains a couple of essays by my friend (and former boss, way back when I still worked at a video store) Jeff Owens.

I also watched four movies over the course of the weekend, along with a handful of really good shorts. That is, I believe, fully twice as many movies as the most I ever managed at a previous Panic Fest, so I’ll call it pretty good. To make matters better, I enjoyed all four movies, which is always nice. Here are my brief thoughts on each, presented in ascending order of quality.

The Barn – An 80s-style VHS throwback, The Barn was funded at least partially via IndieGoGo, and it shows. Because of the film’s intentionally low-rent aesthetic, the budgetary limitations are never really a problem for it, and the result is something pretty charming for anybody who has a nostalgic yen for 80s slashers and monsters that are just guys in Halloween masks. What The Barn can’t do is rise much above that. It’s never quite funny enough to function as pure parody, nor strong enough to stand on its own as anything else. So what you get is a pleasant throwback that seems like it ought to be watched on an old tube TV, popped out of one of those clamshell VHS cases; but a surprisingly crowded theatre at a horror film festival is probably the next best thing.

Don’t Knock Twice – A few days before Panic Fest, I watched last year’s Lights Out for the first time. Don’t Knock Twice shares a lot of parallels with that film–minus its specific light-related central conceit–but Lights Out suffers every time by the comparison. Which is not to say that Don’t Knock Twice is any particularly great shakes, but it stands up better than most of the familiar ghostly fare that so often haunts our multiplexes these days.

The Void – Imagine if the Astron-6 guys couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a fan film of HellraiserThe ThingPrince of Darkness, or The Fly–so they just did all four. That’s pretty much The Void in a nutshell, and as such it manages to seem both inventive and derivative, while also feeling more like watching someone play Resident Evil than the Resident Evil movies ever managed. The visuals are strong, and there are plenty of gloppy monsters all done with practical effects, so I love that, but I also can’t help noticing that all of the effects feel like they would probably have been more confidently deployed in the hands of any of those other directors.

It’s been called Lovecraftian–as anything with cultists, tentacles, or horror on a larger-than-human scale will be (and The Void certainly has all three in spades)–but it owes a much bigger debt to Barker than to Lovecraft. Call it Hellraiser with the aesthetic of Carpenter and Cronenberg and you’re damn close. All this probably sounds a little down on The Void, but it absolutely isn’t meant to be–it’s sitting in my number two spot here, after all–it’s just that, for all its promise and its many great qualities, it never quite rises to what it almost is. (A problem that, honestly, seems to plague many of even the very best of our crop of contemporary horror movies.)

Train to Busan – In a year that has already been full-to-bursting with surreal moments, few were as jarring as walking out of Train to Busan to the news of Trump’s Muslim ban. Train to Busan is, essentially, a Korean zombie movie of the contemporary fast, swarming zombie school, and one that, as you’ve no doubt heard from other people than me, is handled brilliantly well. There’s a lot going on in it, but possibly its biggest and least subtle theme can be summed up as: Turning people away because you are afraid makes you into something worse than the monsters that scare you. As such, it has maybe never felt more topical than in this moment.

All that aside, though, it is also just an extremely solid movie. Like Frank Darabont’s adaptation of The Mist from a few years back–which was also very emphatically a product of its moment with a very heavy social message, but that still plays fine without that context–Train to Busan holds up amidst a sea of similar fare as one of the best of the modern crop of swarming zombie flicks.

Along with everything else, 2016 decided to give us one last kick in the teeth on its way out the door. Just a few days before the New Year, my adopted dad passed away. I should probably put adopted in quotes, since it wasn’t anything that was ever legal, but he was my dad as far as I was concerned, and I think as far as he was concerned, too.

JT was my friend Jay’s dad. Jay and I met in college. After we had graduated, he lived with Grace and I on a couple of different occasions, rooming with us both in our previous townhouse and in this one. He’s watched more godawful movies with me than anyone else on the planet, which would probably be enough to make him my brother, even if nothing else did. I’ve always been of the opinion that the family you make in life is more family than the one you’re born into, and Jay and his folks are the proof of that.

A couple of years ago–just before Jay got married; I was the best man at his wedding–we made it “official,” and Grace and I adopted JT and Sandy as our parents, too. It just made sense. After all, whenever we were over there, we always got introduced as “and this is my other son, Orrin,” that sort of thing.

When we did that, JT was still vivacious and healthy. Still “just full of it,” as he always replied whenever anyone asked how he was doing. Still telling terrible jokes that Grace couldn’t get enough of. He remained that way after his cancer diagnosis, too. In fact, he kept telling bad jokes pretty much right up until the moment he couldn’t really talk anymore.

Luckily, we went to see them for Christmas this year. It was the last time I would ever see him alive. He passed away just a few days shy of what would have been his 37th wedding anniversary. I bought my first suit to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It was my first time carrying a casket, feeling the weight of it in my hands, solid and surprisingly light, with six of us sharing the load.

I haven’t said anything about any of this for various reasons, and I’m unlikely to say much more than this. Those who’ve been following along online probably didn’t notice anything except my increased absence, which largely went unremarked because I was already absent working on the novel for Privateer Press for the last couple of months.

I miss him, and I know that I’ll continue to miss him, but my grief is so much cleaner, so much purer than my grief when my biological dad died. Unencumbered by trauma or mixed feelings or repressed memories. I loved JT, and I miss him. Simple as that. And I’ve still got family in the form of Jay, Veronica, and Sandy. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it easier to carry, and that’s not nothing.

If you follow me on social media (or, heck, even if you follow me here) then odds are you won’t notice much difference, but nonetheless, I felt it needed to be said that for the next two-and-a-half months or so, I’m going to be diving hard into a big freelance project that’s clamped down tight under a non-disclosure agreement, so there’s a good chance that I won’t be posting a lot here until sometime early next year.

Given that I already don’t post a whole lot on here, the change may not be very substantial, and as I said, if you follow me on social media, you’re likely to continue to see me around, as I’ll need to come up for air from time to time. That said, if I follow you on social media, then apologies in advance if I miss a lot more of your posts than usual over the next couple of months. Things are going to be a bit hectic around here. (More on it as soon as I have the freedom to share.)

Considering how hectic things have already gotten over the last few days, I had a good birthday and a quiet but otherwise good Halloween, even if I did end up turning in before midnight for maybe the first time in my life. (My pumpkin stayed lit, though, so I’m okay.)

Also, perhaps a bit surprisingly, perhaps not, I watched more movies in the month of October than I ever have in a single month since I started keeping my movie journal. 47, all told, which is probably what happens when you spend most of the month recovering from a tonsillectomy and unable to do much of anything (including sleep) besides stare at a flickering screen.

Of those 47, 26 were new to me, keeping nicely with my “more movies that I haven’t seen before than movies that I have” goal for 2017.

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!

chris-sanders-halloween

Last year, just before I left for Panic Fest, I received a phone call about my dad’s failing health. It wasn’t the first such call, and it wasn’t the last, but that Panic Fest sticks in my mind as the last time for a long time that my dad’s illness, death, and the subsequent emotional and mental fallout therefrom wasn’t heavily on my mind. I didn’t really realize how much Panic Fest had become the symbolic anniversary of all those things for me until this weekend rolled around.

I had been planning to help work the fest, but for various reasons that didn’t come to pass. And it turned out to be a good thing, because I got buried in some quick-turnaround deadlines that kept me busy much of the weekend. I did make it out to say hello and pick up a couple of Funko minis, but I wasn’t able to stick around and enjoy the festival. Maybe next year.

What I did instead–besides work on the aforementioned deadlines–was have a rougher-than-expected weekend. It took me until this morning to figure out why, to connect the occasion of Panic Fest to my memories of all that I’ve been struggling with over the past year and change. I know that I’ve come a long way in that time, and that I’ll be all right, but it hit me hard today.

To the folks at Panic Fest itself: Sorry I wasn’t able to make it more, or stay longer. It was great to see everyone for the brief moment that I did, and thank you guys for being a pleasant memory in the midst of a lot of unpleasant ones.

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.

So. August.

Recently, I picked up a temporary part-time job helping out at a local college bookstore for a few weeks. I did this for a variety of reasons, partly because money has been a little tight, partly to see how a part-time job would impact my freelancing schedule without a lot of commitment. What was supposed to be a 12-hour-a-week job when I applied for it is shaping up to be more like 25-30 hours a week, so how it’s impacting my schedule is: a lot. That said, and as is inevitably the case, work has also picked up, and August is already looking to be a very busy month for a handful of different reasons. These two things together are putting a strain on my free time, to put it mildly.

Something more is going on, though. 2015 has been a rough year. Not exactly bad, necessarily, at least not all the way through, but rough. Lots of exceptionally good things mixed in with lots of exceptionally bad or difficult ones. I think I’m just now starting to really get the distance that I need from the things I learned and experienced at the beginning of the year in order to really understand the damage that it all did, and that’s taking some adjustment to get used to. Which I guess is all a long-ish way of saying that, if you don’t hear from me much this month, don’t worry too much about it. If August does manage to kill me somehow, I’ve already left instructions on social media for my corpse to be propped up in front of the computer so it can try to finish my deadlines, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. More likely, I’ll emerge from the other side of this month as I have emerged from most everything else up to this point: Battered, perhaps, but ready for another round.