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I feel like I probably don’t need to explain why I was excited about Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (it’s always weird to me that his name is part of the title). Del Toro is one of my favorite contemporary directors and, more to the point, one whose sensibilities very often line up with my own. I love ambitious anthology horror series. This was a big deal for me.

And like any horror anthology series, it was hit and miss. I’d say the eight episodes that dropped on Netflix across four days were about 50/50 for me, but the good half were quite good, and even the ones I didn’t like as much were generally interesting. Of the eight episodes, I was most excited about “Graveyard Rats” going in, just because I love the story and think it would translate really well to film in the short form. And maybe it would, done another way, but this wasn’t it… at least for me. (I’m told there’s a black-and-white version available, and I’m very curious to check that out.)

A lot of other people seem to have loved it, so maybe my high hopes contributed to my disappointment. It’s certainly got a lot of critters in it, anyway. And that’s part of the thing with Cabinet of Curiosities; with the exception of Jennifer Kent’s “The Murmuring,” every episode has at least one or two monsters of some sort. And they’re usually quite good. “The Viewing” is another one I didn’t care for (not a Panos Cosmatos fan), but the monster in it was great.

So, which ones did I like? Well, I liked the first episode, “Lot 36,” and thought it started the series off on a strong footing, even if its lore was a little muddled and its monster relied perhaps too much on CGI. And I loved “Pickman’s Model” (that ghoul!), even though it doesn’t seem like most other folks dug it as much as me. Chalk that up to me liking the story, I guess, and also thinking it adapts well. But also, I mean, there are a lot of monsters and grotesques and such in this take on “Pickman’s Model,” and for striking imagery, it wins the show hands down, IMO. And I could listen to Crispin Glover’s Boston-ish accent all day long.

This is also reflective of something about this show, as a whole. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Masters of Horror. For some obvious reasons: both were pure anthology shows with each segment roughly an hour long and helmed by a different, generally well-established horror director. But there’s more to it than that. Like Masters of Horror, Cabinet of Curiosities has a certain amount of shared aesthetic from one episode to the next, even as the stories (and the directors) pull them in different directions.

In Cabinet of Curiosities you can lay that at least partly at the feet of showrunner Del Toro, most likely, but it also highlights some of the stars of the show, which are the people working behind the scenes. Guy Davis was a concept artist for pretty much the whole series, as I understand it, while Kevin McTurk puppeteered many of the monsters. And those are just two of the ones whose work I was already familiar with. For “Pickman’s Model,” for instance, you need examples of Pickman’s paintings, and in this case many of those were provided by Vincent Proce.

Besides the Masters of Horror of it all, there are some interesting decisions made in Cabinet of Curiosities. Of course, I am thrilled that GDT decided to go full Rod Serling and host the series himself. There’s also the fact that literally every episode is a period piece. Not all of them are the turn-of-the-century Victoriana of “Graveyard Rats” or “Pickman’s Model.” The first episode is set Stateside during the Gulf War. Panos Cosmatos’ segment is set in the ’70s. “The Murmuring” in the ’50s. And so on. But not one is set in the present, with the weird, indefinite period of Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Outside” coming closest.

There are probably lots of reasons for this – I’ve already seen at least one person online trot out the “no cellphones” cliche – but what I find interesting about it is that it taps (perhaps accidentally) into the antiquarian bent that informs so many classic ghost stories but also the cabinets of curiosities for which the show is named. These episodes, then, become artifacts from another time; capturing, in at least some cases, perhaps an older style of horror.

I haven’t yet mentioned “The Autopsy,” which was, for a lot of viewers, their favorite episode. It was my second-favorite. But if I’m being entirely honest, the first half of “The Autopsy” is my favorite episode of the entire series. It’s only in its second half that it falters. And that’s not really a condemnation of the episode itself. I’m just less interested in where the story goes than in the journey it takes to get there. That was true of the original short story by Michael Shea, as well, if memory serves. That journey, though? So good.

So, all in all, was Cabinet of Curiosities a triumph? Yes and no. It was not a perfect series. Few series are. It had episodes that landed with resounding thuds for me, but I almost always found them interesting, even then. But it was an absolute triumph in at least one sense. We need more well-funded anthology horror in the world, especially when it brings in the talents of some of the best in the business, both in front of and behind the scenes.

And if anyone wants my opinions, I’ve got some suggestions for stories to adapt for season two…

Starting last night, I began playing a game of the Alien RPG from Free League with Stu Horvath and the folks at Team Unwinnable. The game, a pre-gen “cinematic” scenario called “Destroyer of Worlds,” is a subscriber reward unlocked during the mag’s last subscription drive – and, incidentally, the next one is coming up soon.

We’ll be playing every Thursday night for at least the next couple of weeks and live-streaming the results, so feel free to tune in to Unwinnable’s Twitch channel, if you’re into that kind of thing. You can also watch not-live recordings of the previous game sessions, such as last night’s.

This is my first experience with live-streaming a roleplaying game – or anything else, really, although we did some live-streamed episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while. It’s also my first experience with the Alien RPG, which is more what I’m here to talk about.

Longtime readers will know that the Alien franchise – and Aliens, in particular – holds a special place in my heart, so playing a game based around it, and specifically one in which we play marines, feeds back into a lot of things from my early life.

The Alien RPG is one of those roleplaying games that presents a much narrower field of possibilities than something like D&D. You would think this limitation, combined with an extensive knowledge of the source material, might make for games that felt stagnant or free from tension. Last night, at least, we found the opposite to be true.

There’s a very famous quote, from an interview with Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, in which Hitchcock explains the difference between suspense and surprise. “Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us,” Hitchcock begins. If the audience doesn’t know it’s there, everyone is surprised when it goes off. However, if the audience does know that it’s there, but the characters do not, that creates suspense.

(That’s a very shortened version. The full conversation is in Hitchcock/Truffaut.)

Something that is easy to forget in a roleplaying game is that you are both the audience and the protagonists. If you’re playing it right, there will be things that you, the players, know that your characters do not.

In some ways, narrative-focused games like Alien are better at exposing and exploiting this tension between character and player than a game like D&D could ever be – and there are other games, more narrative-driven yet, that are better at it still, and that even make it their central mechanism.

In the case of last night’s Alien game, our previous familiarity with the subject matter acted as the audience’s knowledge of the bomb beneath the table, forcing us, as players, to push our characters into situations that we knew (or thought we knew) were going to be disastrous, because they had no way of knowing what we knew. It also allowed us (the players) to be taken in by red herrings – misdirects for the audience that are largely meaningless to the characters.

It’s a reminder that RPGs are capable of more than we often remember to give them credit for, and a very sharp demonstration of Hitchcock’s bomb-under-the-table theory of suspense, and I’m looking forward to more surprises, more tension, more comedy, and more carnage in future installments of this Alien RPG live-stream!

Pretty much the first anime I ever bought with my own money was Record of Lodoss War on VHS. I’ve since picked it up again on Blu-ray, for nostalgia’s sake, if nothing else, though I haven’t watched it in decades.

Probably my favorite video game of all time is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Over the years since, I’ve played a lot of games that have tried to recapture that particular magic, but I’ve never played another one that hit quite the same way and, given that I mostly don’t play video games anymore, I probably never will.

But recently, I discovered that there was a 2021 game that, unlikely as it sounds, combines these two early loves of mine – and it turns out that they’re two great tastes that taste great together! The game is Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth and, as you might expect, you play as the eponymous elf from Record of Lodoss War.

The gameplay itself is basically identical to Symphony of the Night, from how Deedlit controls to how levels are explored and unlocked by gaining new abilities to the way different weapons subtly alter the trajectory of your attacks. There are also little adjustments, such as the spirit system whereby you are constantly accompanied by a spirit of either wind or fire, and can switch between them to various effects. And I especially appreciate not having to knock out candles constantly.

The graphics look similar, complete with the little shadows of yourself that follow as you move. And, of course, Deedlit and Alucard could be twins, separated at birth. One of the main differences is in the enemies.

Naturally, there are skeletons and mummies and such that you would definitely find in Castlevania, but there are also plenty of fantasy RPG mainstays such as goblins, trolls, adorable kobolds that look a bit like hedgehog people, dragons, gnomes, dope-looking basilisks, and maybe the best take on a mimic that I have ever seen – here called a “chest imitator.”

Like Symphony of the Night, the game is filled with little touches that help to make it special. My favorite is that each of the levels (1-6) is represented by a d6, as are the resources that you draw from enemies to power up your spirit abilities. Even the various strengths and weaknesses of the enemies are d6s, with the face showing how strong or weak against a particular element the enemy is.

As of this writing, I haven’t quite beaten the game, after about 12 hours of play, but I’m a minute away from doing so. More or less standing outside the front door of the final boss(es). Beating a game or not is immaterial for me, though. I’ve loved playing it. To me, it’s the closest a game has ever come to recapturing the magic of Symphony of the Night – and the fact that it does so while also reimagining familiar Record of Lodoss War characters and classic RPG fantasy tropes is icing on the cake.

On August 2, Kansans will be voting on what many are considering the first major referendum on abortion rights since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Kansas Republicans force the misleadingly-named (and worded) “Value Them Both” amendment onto the ballot in an attempt to strip Kansans of their most fundamental rights. If you live in Kansas, I hope that you vote your conscience on August 2, but if your conscience is anything other than “no” to this grotesque and inhuman amendment, I hope you take a long, hard look at why that is.

Abortion is a human right. And yet, for decades, there has been a heavily-funded, highly-organized, and often overtly violent right-wing effort to strip this fundamental right from all Americans. It has led to numerous bombings and several outright murders, not to mention the deaths caused by limiting access to vital healthcare, and the constant, targeted harassment. All culminating in a corrupt and extremely partisan Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, leading many states to ban abortions altogether, while Kansas Republicans seek the ability to do so here through this new amendment.

Whenever the question of abortion access comes up, the bad faith arguments are sure to follow. We are distracted by questions of when life begins, of whether or not a fetus has “personhood.” These questions, however, are actually immaterial. There are, of course, reasons to argue that a fetus does not have “personhood” until viability, and that life does not begin until birth. However, those arguments are distractions.

In the United States, it is illegal to take an organ from a person, even after they are dead, without their express permission. Even though those organs would directly and concretely save lives. This is the purpose of registering as an organ donor. In fact, organs donated from a single person can save as many as eight lives, while seventeen people die every day awaiting transplants. Despite this, organ donation after death is not mandatory in the United States and barely more than half of all Americans are organ donors.

What’s more, we can donate kidneys and part of our livers while we’re still alive, yet no one is (or can be, or should be) forced to do so, even when it would save a life. You can also donate blood every 8 weeks or so, and just a pint of donated blood can potentially save three lives. Yet blood donation is not mandatory, even in cases of severe shortages, like those that we experienced during the pandemic.

Most of these are things that inflict absolutely zero harm and virtually no inconvenience, having little or no impact on a person’s life or health. As opposed to pregnancy and carrying a child to term, which can and indeed inevitably do have severe impacts on both, including a maternal mortality rate in the U.S. that hovers around 20 per 100,000 live births – the highest in the so-called “developed world.” In the case of organ donation after death, the harm and inconvenience are nonexistent as you are, after all, already dead.

Despite this, the right for people to decide what happens to their bodies is recognized as eclipsing the importance of saving a life, even when those people are already dead. Corpses in the United States maintain bodily autonomy greater than that which the government seeks to grant to a pregnant individual.

Yet, while there are certainly those who work to educate the public on the value and utility of organ donation, there is no organized movement to make organ donation mandatory, even after death. Certainly, there is nothing anywhere nearly as well-funded as the anti-abortion movement has been for the past 50 years. You will never find picketers outside a funeral home, calling the families of a deceased person murderers because their loved one was not an organ donor.

This is because the anti-abortion movement has no interest in being “pro-life,” as they claim, any more than this amendment in Kansas “values” either parents or children. The anti-abortion movement may be about many things: control, misogyny, racism, keeping poor people poor, and so on. But for many of its most ardent supporters, it is really about one thing: punishing “whores.” And if you press them even a little, they will usually tell you so, in just about so many words.

So, even if you believe that abortion ends a human life, and that preventing access to abortion would save it, ask yourself why you’re so concerned only with this specific instance of saving a life. Ask yourself why you’re not, instead, working to ensure that they pass legislation to increase (or even mandate) organ donation or blood donation that would save vastly more lives while doing less harm. Ask yourself why you’re not pushing for measures to reduce maternal mortality rates in the U.S. Ask yourself why bodily autonomy applies to corpses, but not to those who are pregnant.

I don’t think you’ll come up with any very good answers.

I never actually owned a copy of HeroQuest, the 1989 game that introduced a generation of young nerds (myself included) to the idea of the dungeon crawl and TTRPGs. A neighbor owned one, instead, and it entrhalled me. Still does, a bit. I now have the board and box cover hanging on my office wall.

A few years later, after I had already gotten into Warhammer, Games Workshop (who had worked on the original HeroQuest) released the very first version of Warhammer Quest in 1995 and I did have that. It had many problems, but for a long time it was my favorite game. And it remains, in some ways, my ideal of the dungeon crawl board game.

There are plenty of aspects I could point to that are, for me, elements that have never really been surpassed, at least when it comes to how such a game is designed, played, and sold. The variety of floor tiles. The dramatic, clip-on plastic doors. The way the dungeon was randomly generated (and populated) by turning over cards in a deck. Even the expansions, which offered new adventurers who could be purchased individually, each with their own little rule books and miniatures.

Of course, the game itself was only part of it. I was already in love with the idea of the dungeon crawl, and the fact that it took place in Warhammer’s Old World, the first fantasy setting with which I was ever obsessed, made it irresistible.

Like any well-loved game, my copy grew decidedly worn over the years. Gradually, I lost bits of it piecemeal – selling or trading or breaking them over time and moves and life changes. Finally, I parted with the last remaining bits justĀ  few years ago. I almost regret it, but by then there was not really enough left to play, and I had acquired newer versions of Warhammer Quest, all of which boast their own charms, even while none are quite what the original was.

Recently, a stack of old White Dwarf magazines made me nostalgic for the game that meant so much to me, so I did a cursory search to see what it would cost to collect the original game again in, um, less-loved condition.

The answer was exorbitant. Just… beyond the pale, even as these old games go. I’ll give you an example: One person was trying to sell the box – not any of the contents, mind, just the box – on eBay, and not in pristine condition, either. They were asking $80 for it.

So, collecting that old game again is probably never going to be within reach. Which may be okay. Delightful as it was, it had its problems, too, as I mentioned, and some things are better left in the past.

Still, a skeleton can dream…

Twenty years ago, I did something that remains the best thing I have ever done: I married the love of my life, my spouse and partner, Grace. We celebrated our anniversary over the last few days, during which time we stayed in an adorable cabin next to a mountain stream, where we were greeted by a rare sight of a heron eating a fish (a good omen, as it turned out). It was a wonderful trip.

The time away from the online world was good for me, but it also means I was away from the computer when a lot of things happened, so let’s tackle a few of those. My new column on folk horror launched at Signal Horizon. I’ll be discussing the subject every month, through the lens (at least for the first year or so) of the All the Haunts Be Ours Blu-ray set from Severin Films.

For this first installment (and the next one; the doc is long) we’ll be going over Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the extensive folk horror documentary from Kier-La Janisse that opens the Blu-ray set.

Speaking of columns, my others are still moving along, and the latest installment of my board game column dropped at Unwinnable, where I’m writing about Tiny Epic Dungeons this month, a recent Kickstarter acquisition. Meanwhile, in proper “me writing for Unwinnable” fashion, I also recently covered some… very disparate films over there, writing reviews of a pair of kung fu pictures and a “classic” erotic thriller from the late ’90s.

I’ve also been movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication, for a couple of months now, and my latest acquisition was actually the cover story this month, as David Busboom wrote an unmissable review of one of my favorite weirdo flicks, The Monster Club.

Finally, this one hasn’t happened quite yet, but later this month, Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting a live screening of The Mask (1961) at the Stray Cat Film Center, followed by a live episode of the Horror Pod Class. Will it be sssssssssmokin’? No, it will not. But it WILL be in 3D, complete with special stereoscopic 3D glasses at the door and giveaways, trivia, and vaguely academic discussion to follow.

If that sounds like a lot, think how I feel? I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things this week and there’s a lot more to come but, for now, why not have a drink at The Monster Club. I’m sure a member of the wait staff will be with you shortly…

Tonight, I watched Men, a movie that is more awkward to write/talk about than anything since Us (2019). I had a good time and liked it fine. I’m not here to write a review, though you may be able to extrapolate something of a review from what I’m about to say, if you want that.

As I was watching it, something clicked into place. Something I’ve been trying to get at in conversation and on episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while now. There have been a lot of people complaining, lately, about horror movies being “too political,” or about there being metaphors in their horror movies, as if this is a new thing. We’ve talked about this several times on the pod.

For the most part, these people end up getting dragged (and often rightly so) on Twitter, at least in the circles where I hang around. Horror has always been political, obviously, and pretty much every story contains metaphors. Despite the oft-shared joke from Garth Marenghi, all writers, indeed, use subtext (whether they know it or not) because text without subtext is virtually impossible. And yet, for all that we may disparage these positions, they’re obviously complaining about something.

In many cases, that’s simply that they’re no longer the center of the universe – or that they’re realizing they never were. It’s people who could blissfully overlook the politics of films from yesteryear suddenly being confronted with things that no longer privilege them. But that’s not the whole of it.

There genuinely is a difference (perhaps many of them) between much of the horror of yesterday (classic or otherwise) and the so-called “elevated” or prestige horror films of today. There’s something there that people are seeing, but they’re misidentifying it, calling it by the wrong name. Watching Men, I think I finally figured out what it is.

Most horror films of the past can be read literally. No matter how rich they may be in metaphor, if you read them as a purely literal chain of events, without subtext or theme or added meaning, they still make sense. Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, you name it – you can recite the particulars of those films as a literal chain of events that make sense, without taking into account whatever metaphorical weight they may also possess.

In Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a group of young people run afoul of a cannibal family in the sticks. This is true, regardless of what metaphorical reading you then apply to the narrative – but that isn’t to suggest that those metaphorical readings aren’t there. Indeed, they are, just as rich and robust and important to the functioning of the film as the literal reading. Merely that the film can be read without them.

Even ambiguous films like The Innocents or The Haunting are ambiguous only in the sense that they support a handful of competing literal readings. A literal reading is still possible, without delving into subtext or metaphor.

Many of this more modern crop of films, however, make almost no sense without their metaphors. Read as a series of literal events, they are gobbledygook. It is only once the metaphors are applied that the films can be read at all. If you simply attempt to read them literally, as a sequence of events, they are basically incomprehensible.

This is what people are complaining about, when they ask for movies that “aren’t about anything.” Because of course no one wants a movie that isn’t about anything. They would hate that. Just as they don’t actually want movies that can’t be read as metaphors. Rather, they want movies that can be read literally.

And, to head off some angry replies, I’m not advocating for either side here. I have my own personal preferences, but I think there’s room at the table for both kinds of stories. Call them poetry and prose, if you like. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that people are identifying a real phenomenon – good, bad, or indifferent – but they’re misidentifying it. And I think it leads to confusion and hurt feelings and strawman arguments on both sides.

This isn’t really here to sway anyone. Rather, it’s to have something that I can point back to when, inevitably, this comes up again and again in the future, as it has so many times in the past.

I never really collected comics. Oh, I had comics aplenty – some of them ones I had inherited from my older brothers, others that I bought myself, from back-issue bins and garage sales and, yes, sometimes even brand new. I got them, I read them, I bagged and boarded them, and I kept them, but it was never really a collecting thing for me. I didn’t have specific “white whales” I was in search of, and I didn’t keep anything for its value down the road (thank goodness).

I just bought what I wanted to read, read it, and, eventually, years later, sold it, rather than move a box of comics one more time. By the time I sold those earliest issues, I had largely fallen out of the world of the tights and capes crowd, and when I did read comics, I was what they call a “trade waiter,” meaning that I tended to wait until a collected edition came out and pick that up, rather than reading individual issues as they were released.

There was something about the organization and completeness of trades that appealed to me – still does, really. But recently, when I started thrifting with Eli from Analog Sunday, I got back into single issues. Old horror comics, mostly, and movie and video game tie-ins. Weird one-offs that only ran for a few issues. Things that were never collected into trades, and probably never will be.

And as I started picking those up, I was reminded of the other thing that gets lost when you only read comics in collected form. Not just the forgotten titles that disappear into the dustbin of history. The ephemera that goes along with a single issue. The ads, sure, that’s part of it. I recently read a Darkman comic from 1993 and virtually every ad in the thing was either for Dungeons & Dragons or DragonStrike, which was a trip. But also inserts and other oddities that are probably still ads, really, but take on other dimensions.

Recently, I picked up a random issue of Time Masters from 1990 out of a back-issue bin. What drew my attention was that the cover looked, at a glance, like early Mignola. But when I flipped through it, I found an unexpected treasure. A stapled-in fold-out guide to Nightbreed, which had only just hit theaters.

This delightful piece of forgotten marketing ephemera was much more interesting to me, personally, than the comic – and also worth the price of a cheap back-issue. And it would never have found its way into a collection.

I’m not here to talk about nuScream (2022) but I’m going to have to, a little, so here we go: I hated it. First Scream-branded thing ever that I didn’t enjoy. But I also seem to be alone in that – as I am in hating the new Halloweens – so if you loved it, I am legitimately happy for you.

(Also, it didn’t have time travel, as per the gag in Scream 4, and so it is dead to me.)

Because we’re going to be talking about nuScream, January has been Scream Month at the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve covered Scream 4 (my actual favorite) and Scream 2 and, as such, there’s been a lot of talk about the franchise, including which ones are best, worst, etc.

And here’s the thing, when I say that Scream 4 is my favorite, which is absolutely true, I always feel like I need to caveat that with the acknowledgment that the original is still probably the best, for any number of obvious reasons. But there’s another layer to that. Scream (1996) is not only the original, the standard from which all the others must deviate, it is also fundamentally different from the others.

The original Scream is a number of things, and while the vast majority of the ink that gets spilled over it is about how metafictional it is, that’s only one small part of what makes it work. Ultimately, though, metafictional or not, Scream is a deconstruction of – and love letter to – slasher tropes.

The sequels pay lip service toward being the same thing, but they aren’t. Because they can’t be. Because they made a decision that other slashers didn’t, and they stuck to it in a way that few other horror franchises ever have. Scream is not, fundamentally, a franchise about Ghostface. He may be the face (no pun intended) of the series, but it’s always someone different under the mask. What stays the same, movie to movie, is Sidney and, to an only slightly lesser extent, Dewey and Gail.

Rare indeed is the horror franchise that runs this long while keeping its focus so squarely on the survivors, rather than the killer. As a result, groundbreaking or not, after the first movie, the series is no longer about what the first movie was about – both lampshading and upending the cliches of the slasher genre. Instead, it’s about these three survivors. About what this does to them, about what they do in response. About how they come together and what pulls them apart.

The metafictional elements may have been what made the first movie stand out (we can debate that; for my purposes here, though, it doesn’t matter) but after that, what makes the series unique is its dedication to those three characters. That’s why I love Scream 4 and hated Scream 5, even though they are, on paper, practically the same movie.

4 understood what this series was really about. 5 doesn’t – at least for my money.

There’s another thing that happens as a result of this focus on the survivors – another aspect of the Scream franchise that we rarely get to see play out in horror films, at least in this way. There is an organic growth to the scale of the film’s central mythology. Sidney is a celebrity, even at the end of the first picture. By the opening of the second, there is a movie-within-a-movie that parallels the events of the first film. By the third, they are in Hollywood, on the set of a movie about their lives, with actors who are playing them.

This is a franchise where the world knows what happened, and has changed as a result. In small ways, sure, but still. This isn’t supernatural evil or whatever, so the changes don’t have to be big. But they’re still there. Other franchises have often gestured in similar directions, over the years, but few have ever been as committed to the bit.

Scream wasn’t the first place I saw this kind of storytelling, though. Another of my favorite horror/comedy franchises does this too – perhaps even one better. As with Scream, the original Tremors (1990) is a self-aware horror movie that at once pays loving tribute to and lampoons a largely-defunct (at the time) subgenre of horror – in this case, the giant monster movies of the ’50s.

It’s also easily the best movie in the series. But the first of its sequels do something that, at the time, I had never seen any other horror movie do: they present a world in which the public is aware of what happened in the first movie. There’s a Graboids-themed arcade machine, and the survivors of the initial film are minor celebrities who appeared in a Nike commercial.

That sensation, of allowing the world to expand organically with the events of each prior film, is something that many franchises struggle with, and it is that, as much as anything else, that helped both Scream and Tremors remain something special into sequels that couldn’t replicate what the original had accomplished, and so chose to accomplish something else, instead – at least for a while.

One week from today, it’ll be Christmas. A week after that, it’ll be 2022. It feels surreal to type that, just as it feels surreal for it to be true. I’m not really prepared for either, but these days, who is?

I’m typing now because there’s a very real chance that I won’t get much else added here until the New Year. I’m coming out of several months of high-intensity work, and staring down the barrel of at least one more. In the course of January, I’ll be writing close to 50,000 words on a project that has to stay somewhat under wraps right now but if you know what I’ve been working on and skim this article, you can probably guess.

Tuesday night, I’ll be recording an end-of-the-year episode of the Horror Pod Class with Tyler Unsell, where we’ll be talking about some of our favorite things from this extremely weird year. I actually saw some new stuff this year, albeit not as much as I would in a more normal year. I’d love to pretend that next year is going to be better – I hope that it will – but with Omicron barreling down on us and everyone just deciding that they’re done acting like we’re in a pandemic, I guess, I don’t know how realistic those hopes are.

Even while I wasn’t necessarily going to theatres very often, I still spent the year watching plenty of movies, playing plenty of board games, and writing the various columns that I now tuck under my belt every month or so. I reviewed The Spine of Night over at Downright Creepy and a couple of different first-run movies for Signal Horizon, not to mention the usual host of retrospective movie reviews at Signal and Unwinnable.

Speaking of Unwinnable, they’re doing a special holiday subscription drive right now, and if it’s successful, we get to do a Gremlins-themed issue! So, go subscribe, is what I’m saying. And all that’s in addition to my column on Friday the 13th: The Series at Signal (which wraps up this month, to be replaced with Tales from the Darkside in 2022) and my recurring board game column at Unwinnable – check out the latest installment of that here.

I haven’t published a ton of stories in 2021, but I’m proud of the ones I did. A jokey flash piece called “The Last Day of Doctor Tillinghast” showed up in Curtains, an anthology to benefit Save Our Stages, while the extremely weird “Anum’s Fire (1987) – Annotated” was in Beyond the Book of Eibon, a tribute anthology to Lucio Fulci – both of which had covers by none other than Trevor Henderson. “The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” was published in Tales from OmniPark, edited by Ben Thomas, while “The Cult and the Canary” appeared in the King in Yellow-themed anthology Y from Stygian Fox. And last but certainly not least, my timeloop giallo “Chanson D’Amour” broke into Nightmare, while my story “Screen Haunt” was podcast at Pseudopod.

There should be one more surprise coming this year – even though there is precious little of this year left – so keep an eye on my social media for that, when it comes.

I’ll probably do some sort of post-mortem of the movies I watched this year sometime in early January, but I’ve also been keeping (as is my new habit) a Twitter thread of movies that I loved that I watched for the first time in 2021.

We put up decorations and all that jazz, but the holidays feel… odd this year, and not only because it was 70 degrees in the middle of December the other day. Blame it on the Second Year of the Plague, I guess. I am one of those people for whom the holiday season is always bittersweet, at best, anyway, but there are certainly things I’m looking forward to this year and hoping for in the year to come.

Until that moment arrives, here’s a Yule Cat: