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This isn’t going to be a review of Midsommar, which I watched last night, but instead a discussion of one aspect of it. I don’t think it’ll really have anything in it that qualifies as spoilers, but on the off chance, y’know, watch out.

I didn’t love Midsommar and I didn’t hate it. I don’t think I liked it as much as Hereditary, and I don’t think it brought much that was terribly new to the folk horror table, besides a real meticulousness. But again, I said this wasn’t a review, and I don’t mean for it to be.

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The main character in Midsommar (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh) has an anxiety disorder. She has it before the traumatic events which propel her onto the ill-fated trip that makes up the meat of the movie. Probably she has always had it. Just like me.

And more so than maybe any other movie I’ve ever seen, Midsommar, in its first half-hour or so, nails what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder, at least for me.

When I got home from the theatre, I called its first 20 or 30 minutes “basically the tunnel-visioning run-up to a panic attack put on film.” I guess it would be easy to read that as “it’s scary,” but, while Midsommar is many things, it is emphatically not particularly scary.

“It’s definitely a horror movie,” one of the people I saw it with said afterward. “But it’s not a scary movie.” I’d be inclined to agree.

And yet, I took half an alprazolam about the time they got on the plane. This before the “horror” part of the movie had really kicked in.

Normally, movies don’t trigger my anxiety. Ever. At all.

My therapist used to find it ironic that I had a significant anxiety disorder and suffered from frequent panic attacks but that I also watched horror movies practically for a living. But movies–pretty much no matter how tense or shocking or disturbing–have always been my safe place. Horror movies especially.

And I didn’t pop an alprazolam because Midsommar was scary or shocking or tense. I took one because the film felt so much like the run-up to a panic attack that I could feel one of my own just starting to flutter its wings somewhere deep down in my ribcage, in the dark space behind my own eyes, tingling at the tips of my fingers.

Anxiety as a disorder–rather than simply a natural reaction that people have to traumatic or frightening situations–isn’t something that movies get right very often. Whatever your thoughts on Ari Aster’s approach to mental illness in his films so far (and I think there are a LOT of thoughts to have on the subject), this depiction of anxiety felt right to me.

(The scene of her stalking around, arms rigid, fists clenched at her sides to keep from scratching at herself, telling herself over and over again to, “Stop it. Stop it.” I have literally done that exact thing more times than I can count.)

So, if you don’t suffer from anxiety, or do and it takes a different form, and you want an idea of what it feels like to be me–sometimes more than others, of course, but never gone completely–watch the first part of Midsommar, everything up to the scene where Dani wakes up after they take the mushrooms. That’ll give you a taste.

This has been a rough year in the Grey demesne. We started 2018 on a raft of health problems that we rode well into the middle of the year. And even once they were (mostly) resolved–honestly, do health problems ever really get completely resolved?–we spent the rest of the year paying for them. I lost a big paying client. And in spite of my best efforts we still haven’t tunneled into the timeline where Howard the Duck is president.

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On the plus side, though we stand on the cusp of 2019 bruised, battered, and low on health potions, the teeth of the universe haven’t yet torn the charge from our atoms. I ran a game of Iron Kingdoms in 2018, and we just completed out last session. Two of the characters were incapacitated, and one of the two who remained standing was holding on by the narrowest thread. That’s kinda how it feels like we’re going into 2019.

Which is not to say that the year wasn’t full of good things, too. I went to Panic Fest and the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which meant that I got to visit the Winchester Mystery House for the first time. I watched a lot of movies and made some new friends. I found a weird board game in the trash and took a picture of In the Mouth of Madness that I had always wanted to take. I became the Monster Ambassador at Signal Horizon and published stories in seven different venues, including my second appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. I had a whole book come out!

Of all the things I’m proud of in 2018, however, I think I’m most proud of the small things I did that were steps outside my comfort zone. I carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, made a necklace that I love, and made divinity, an overly sugary candy concoction that I remember fondly from my childhood. I didn’t do any of those things entirely by myself. Grace helped me with all of them, sometimes overtly, as with the divinity, and sometimes just by giving me the confidence I needed to try something that I might not be good at right away.

I watched 269 movies in 2018, 163 of which were new to me, keeping with my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than not each year. Of those, roughly 35 were released in 2018. My biggest months were October with 39 movies and, thanks to a couple of marathon days, December with 33. My favorite movies that were released in 2018 were, in no particular order, ErrementariLowlifeTigers Are Not AfraidAvengers: Infinity WarBlack Panther, and Apostle. There were a lot of movies I really wanted to check out that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet. The last movie I watched in 2018 was The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which was a good way to close out this weird and crappy year.

I didn’t read very many books in 2018, but of those I did read my favorite was probably Caleb Wilson’s Polymer, which I recommend very highly. The first book I read in 2018 was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan and the last was Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting as I pen this end-of-the-year wrap-up, but honestly I’m just in a hurry to show this garbage year the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out, 2018!

 

 

Putting this here because I’m going to get asked more than once, and I need a place to point people back to for the next four months or so. The trailer for the new Hellboy movie just dropped and, yeah, it’s scored to “Mony Mony,” which, as I said on social media, is certainly a decision, anyway.

If you want my take, I think that the trailer is the wrong tone to start off with, but there’s also nothing in it that guarantees a misfire in theatres. I do like that most of the stuff we can only see for a few seconds is straight out of the comics but, beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

But I’m not here to talk about the trailer, not really. What I’m here to talk about is the existence of this movie at all. As someone who is at least on speaking terms with some of the principals involved, I can tell you with as much certainty as one can ever muster about a Hollywood deal to which one was not directly privy that there was never going to be a third Guillermo del Toro Hellboy movie, regardless of anything he might have said. If there was, the day when it was possible was in the months following the release of Hellboy 2, and that day is long behind us now.

And, speaking from my own personal perspective, there never should have been. Hellboy 2 has many fine qualities, to be sure, but it fails as a sequel to the first film and even more as a Hellboy movie.

Guillermo del Toro’s first film was the best Hellboy movie that we could have gotten at the time, given the realities of comic book adaptations in 2004. In fact, I would argue that it played a big (and largely unsung) role in getting us from there to here. But things have changed a lot in the last decade, both in the movies and in the comics, and a Hellboy adaptation made now has the opportunity to cleave closer to the source material than Del Toro’s version ever could have.

Will this movie be the one to do it? Only time (and definitely not a brief teaser trailer) will truly tell.

Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday for all sorts of reasons, but just as the agnostic in me can enjoy Christmas or any other non-secular holiday (with its own freight of both Christian and pre-Christian baggage), I can also still take a day to spend time with the people I love and remind myself to be grateful for the things that I have.

This year I have lots of things to be grateful for. After a particularly tough year in the Grey demesne, the overall health of our populace seems to be returning to something more resembling “normal.”

More than perhaps anything else, I’m thankful for the people in my life. I am lucky enough to have friends who are closer than family. Some of them live near me, and some are very far away. Some I have already seen this holiday season, and others I have never actually stood in the same room with, but to all of you, wherever you are, you are, in so many ways, the best parts of my life. If it weren’t for you folks and dumb monster movies, there’d be very little to make any of this worth doing.

I’m grateful to have Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales out in the wild, and grateful to everyone who has purchased it, read it, reviewed it, and so on. I’m particularly grateful to be working with Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde once again and hey, on the subject, they’re having a Black Friday sale that runs through the weekend where you can get 25% off any of their very fine titles, including the aforementioned Guignol or Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

I’m thankful for the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird and everyone who makes it possible, which, more on that to come. I’m grateful for some story sales that I can’t announce just yet, but very soon.

I’ve recently come off a pretty good October, and I’m grateful to the local Kansas City film community for helping to make that happen. Of special note, I appreciate the folks at Screenland who host great programming all year round, and to Elijah at Magnetic Magic Rentals who always shows us a great time at Analog Sundays, and, of course, the Nerds of Nostalgia who put on the Nerdoween triple-feature, which has been my annual tradition for four years now. I’m grateful that Panic Fest is only a couple of months away, and that I live in a place that has one of the best genre film fests around!

This could go on and on, and maybe it should, but I’m going to call it a night. Basically, it can be all-too-easy to get caught up in the agonizing hellscape that our current timeline often seems to be intent on contorting itself into, so sometimes it’s good to stop and remember what I’m grateful for. Which, if you’re reading this, is mostly you.

(And monster movies.)

Today is the day after the midterm elections here in the United States, so things are perhaps marginally better than they were yesterday. At least in Kansas we managed to replace Kevin Yoder with Sharice Davids and we got Laura Kelly for governor instead of Chris Kobach, so we could certainly have done worse.

I don’t talk a lot about politics on here, and that isn’t about to change now, but I did talk a little bit about politics on the latest episode of the Missouri Loves Company podcast with Brock Wilbur and Viv Kane (if that is her real name…). Of course, we also talked about fun horror, that video game of The Thing that they made years ago, what Jordan Peele is up to these days, Clive Barker’s Facebook tendencies, Venom greeting cards, why Brock hates art, and lots of other stuff.

One thing I want to mention, in that podcast I say that I try not to think about what’s going on in the world politically when I’m writing. To some extent that’s true, insofar as the day-to-day politics of the United States don’t specifically factor into most of my stories, but what I guess would be considered “my politics” definitely do make their way in, just in broader terms that I would think of more as ethics. The specter of racism hangs over several of my stories, classism plays a big role in tales like “Shadders,” anti-imperialism and anti-war sentiment shows up in “The Blue Light,” etc.

More than any of that, though, I try to write about characters who feel at least a little bit like real people, who deserve dignity from one-another, even when they don’t get it from an indifferent universe. Certainly, as someone who grew up feeling different, I have sympathy for the outsider, the Other, the monster. But I also just try to casually inject diversity into my stories, in a way that lays a groundwork for simple acceptance. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I do try.

There’s no such thing as a story that isn’t political, and I don’t want to get caught in the trap of saying that my stories aren’t. They are, often in ways that even I don’t realize, and I hope that they sometimes reflect what I think is important in the world, even when I’m usually not specifically thinking about what’s going on in the latest headlines as I write.

In other news, another glowing and thoughtful review of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales recently showed up, this time on Heavy Feather Review: “At the heart of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is a monster, and it might just be us. The real question is, are you willing to pay the price to find out?”

 

A very long time ago, when LiveJournal was still a thing, my standard user icon there was an old convention sketch that Mike Mignola had done of what would later become his signature skull-head guy. I used it so often, in fact, that I came to sort of be known for it.

Back then, I was also doing some work for a now-defunct magazine of classic-style weird fiction called The Willows. Ben Thomas, editor of The Willows, was putting together a masthead for the magazine that included little portraits of all the staff, done by my old friend Reyna. I asked if I could have her draw her own take on the skull-head guy to use as my staff portrait, and Ben agreed.

To go along with the portraits, we were all supposed to contribute a short bio. I’ve never enjoyed writing bios for myself, and so I was dragging my feet, as usual. In order to do layout, Ben composed a one-sentence bio for me as a placeholder. It read, simply, “Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters.” It has been my bio ever since.

Because the skull-head portrait was now sort of made official by its inclusion in the bio, when it came time to publish my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, I decided to check with the publishers at Evil Eye Books to see if I could stick with it. They agreed, and Reyna drew up a new version, which decorates the back cover of the first edition of Never Bet the Devil. By then, my identity as a skeleton was cemented, and there was no going back.

I used a version of the portrait on my website and my business cards. Before I started using it officially, though, I felt like I had to make sure it was okay. I reached out to Mike Mignola, told him the story, and asked him if he’d mind. He was kind enough to give me his blessing.

A few years later, I asked Mike Corley to do up a new version of the skeleton portrait, which currently decorates my website and business cards. Mike Corley would also illustrate the Strix Publishing reissue of Never Bet the Devil, where another take on the skeleton portrait appears as my “author photo.” A stand-in for my skeleton persona has since appeared on the covers of just about all of my books, with Nick Gucker handling the art duties on both Painted Monsters and Guignol and Thomas Boatwright doing me up for Monsters from the Vault.

TattooAll of this sort of came full circle recently when I saw someone post a photo of their tattoo on a Mike Mignola appreciation group that I’m a member of on Facebook. I recognized the tattoo immediately as… my author photo! The individual in question had never heard of me or Mike Corley, and didn’t know where he had gotten the image. He had made a couple of minor changes and embellished the whole thing with some tentacles, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

We had a nice conversation about it, and I sent him a copy of Never Bet the Devil, because it’s not every day that someone gets a tattoo of me, even by accident.

It’s not the only time that the resemblance between my skeleton persona and Mike Mignola’s skull-head guys has been noted, and it probably won’t be the last. It isn’t something I did on purpose, but I’m pretty happy about it. After all, Mike is probably my single biggest influence and inspiration, when it comes to the kind of work I do, and it’s nice to have my infatuation with his work tied up in my authorial persona this way.

Today is his birthday and, because I am good at stuff, I didn’t plan anything for it like I normally would, but the tattoo thing happened not that long ago, so I’m telling this story now, to mark the occasion.

There’s been a link making the rounds on Film Twitter lately alleging that 1994 was the Best Year For Movies Ever, or somesuch. I haven’t actually read it yet, and any time I’ve seen it posted it’s been in the form of someone indignantly asserting that, in point of fact, it wasn’t even the best year of that decade, etc. I’m not really here to talk about that.

Here’s what I am here to talk about: As I’ve watched people debating the merits of specific years in the ’90s, I’ve come to the realization that 1999 may be the most important year in film for me, personally, at least when it comes to seeing movies in the theatre.

I’ve loved movies for literally as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to regard loving movies as a part of my identity, for lack of any better way to put it, and seeing American Beauty in 1999 is probably the moment that made me realize that I liked movies, not just movies about ghosts and monsters–that I loved the form, as well as the content.

I’ve got clear, sharp, important memories of seeing movies in theatres prior to 1999: TremorsMonster SquadAlien 3Jurassic Park, an ill-fated attempt to take a date to see Screamers, which may go a long way toward explaining why I didn’t have more dates. But in 1999, I went to the movies just about every weekend, and I may have seen more movies on the big screen than any other year, before or since. (A more accurate portrait would extend this timeline both backward and forward, including parts of 1998 and 2000.)

American BeautyLake PlacidHouse on Haunted HillThe Mummy, the list goes on and on. I already liked movies before that year, but the movies I saw on the big screen in 1999 played a role in setting the stakes of my taste in movies, and letting me know that I had a taste, that there was something to the movies I liked that was distinct from them necessarily being “good” or “bad.” There was something about them that drew me, specifically.

I went to see The Haunting on opening night, through a theatre lobby filled with fake fog and cheap Halloween decorations. I had friends wave away my warnings about The Haunting and drag me back for a second showing, after which we went to see Lake Placid as penance. I drove with a bunch of other friends all the way to the other side of the city to see Princess Mononoke, the first anime I had ever seen on the big screen. I saw The Blair Witch Project on opening night, when the hype around it was still fresh and seeing it felt like an experience. I learned that I liked House on Haunted Hill more than ostensibly better movies like The Sixth Sense.

I also got to familiarize myself with the phenomenon of hype and disappointment, as I joined every other nerd on the planet standing in line for Star Wars Episode 1 only to get, well, Star Wars Episode 1.

Not everything I saw that year was something I liked, even then, and not everything that I liked then has stayed with me in the years since, but I learned a lot about myself, and my relationship to film, and to moviegoing, that year, and a lot of that has stuck with me, even as specific films faded away.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot more movies on home video than I ever did–or likely will–in theatres, and movies from a lot of different decades have had a huge impact on me at various times. If I had to pick a favorite year for movies, I have no idea what year I would decide on, and if I had to pick a favorite decade, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the ’90s. But if there’s one year of going to the movies that “made me,” then 1999 would probably be it, for better or for worse.