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I’m not what I would call a fan of the Hannibal Lecter film series, though I like some of them and have watched all but Hannibal Rising repeatedly. (Once was enough for it, thanks.) I’ve never read any of the books by Thomas Harris, though I probably will one of these days. But there’s something about the whole thing that fascinates me. It’s what’s brought me back to the films time and again, even the ones I don’t care for. Something about watching a modern mythos get constructed, I think. Watching the way approaches change from one film to another. There’s something there for me, anyway.

But when a TV series was announced, I didn’t really think much of it. Then they said Mads Mikkelsen was playing Hannibal himself, and I thought, yeah, that’s a great choice, I’ll probably watch that. But still I wasn’t in any hurry. Then people started talking about how great it was–people whose taste I generally trust, and then I started seeing images from it pop up on my Tumblr dashboard. These striking, mystifying, indelible images. And I thought, yeah, I need to see that. Thanks to the generosity of Sean Demory, I got a crack at the first season on DVD, and proceeded to watch the entire thing in about three days. Which isn’t saying as much as it otherwise might, since that’s kind of how I watch TV shows, and why I don’t watch more of them than I do. I tend to either get addicted and mainline them, or I lose interest quickly and move on to something else. But Hannibal is something special.

I said on Facebook, when I was only two episodes in, that it was some of the best supernatural horror I’d seen in a while. Now that I’ve finished the series, I could easily strike “a while” and replace it with “a long time” or maybe even “ever.” And yet, like the movies, the show ostensibly isn’t supernatural, but it so so is, in every way that matters. Back when I was talking about boogeymen and slashers, I mentioned that Sean had introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, and yes, it’s the perfect description, here more than anywhere. And not just Lecter, either, but all the serial killers in Hannibal. Their supernatural properties–while never overtly regarded as such–are there, everywhere, and the imagery of their killings is steeped in numinosity, reminding me at times of the very best work of Clive Barker.

Speaking of killings, yeah, Hannibal is gruesome, probably as gruesome as any show I’ve ever seen, but, again, for me at least, there was something otherworldly about the corpses. Not transcendent, not exactly, but, yeah, again, going back to it, numinous. Teratological.

There’s Wendigo imagery galore, of course, deployed expertly, as pretty much everything in the show is deployed. There’s a stark sense of how terrifying it must be to hallucinate, especially if you work in a field where seeing weird and horrible shit is part of your daily life. There’s the fact that the killers can almost always identify each other uncannily, immediately. Like in a World of Darkness game, when two vampires meet and their inner beasts immediately recognize each other and react either by vying for dominance or by cowering in fear.

As if the show felt the need to woo me, in spite of all this, there are even human fungal beds, as early on as the second episode. Don’t worry, show, you already had me by then.

I was going to do this post as a list of things that the show does well, but then I realized it was just going to be one bullet point that said: Everything. The acting is all top notch. Mads Mikkelsen gets deserving note as a Hannibal Lecter who can somehow make me immediately forget that the Hopkins version ever existed. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham does a wonderful job showing a character who is actually tormented by his gift, actually teetering on the edge of a black abyss. All of the supporting cast is solid, and the guest stars are great. The shots are beautiful, the editing graceful, and the soundscape of the show is fantastic, a substantial contributor to its power.

The show’s biggest drawback–that the audience is well aware of who and what Hannibal is, of where this is all headed and where it must inevitably end–is actually made into one of its greatest strengths, as mundane scenes become freighted with terrible implication while we watch the characters become tangled more and more inextricably in webs that only we can see.

So yeah, I’m a fan. This was a big show for me, and I’m looking forward to the second season, though I can say that my one and only concern is that there’s only so far this train can go. The showrunners claim to have a seven season plan, which seems like a long one from where I’m sitting, but I’ll trust them until they start to falter. As long as they’ve got the sense to stop where the story needs to stop, rather than trying to run it past its expiration date, I’m along for the ride.

Recently I’ve become sort of addicted to these Funko blind box Horror Classics figures. The first one I got was Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, who I ordered from eBay because I absolutely had to have him, and I wasn’t willing to keep trying blind boxes until I got one. After I got him, I was showing him off to some friends and one of us referred to the line of figures as “slashers,” to which another friend replied, “Is Sam a slasher?”

That stopped us all in our tracks for a minute. The conversation moved on, but the question stuck with me. Because the answer, of course, is no, whatever he is, he’s not a slasher. But at the same time, he’s obviously related to them in some way. If he’s not the same species as the other figures in that set, then he is at least in the same family or genus. Which then, of course, led me to the question, “What family or genus is that, exactly?”

Looking over the figures in the set, you’ve got a wide variety of characters, but it’s obvious that there’s something connecting them all together. (For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring the presence of Ash, maybe the one time in history that the protagonist in a horror film ever became more popular than the villain. Two if you count Pitch Black.) In trying to figure out what, I ended up going back to the oldest film in the set, Halloween. In that movie, Tommy Doyle sees Michael Myers standing outside and identifies him as “the boogeyman,” and I don’t think he’s wrong.

So yeah, what do all the villains in the Funko series have in common? They’re all the boogeyman. They’re functionally stripped of personhood, having become personas rather than people, rendered down to just a recognizable form (it’s telling that, in the script for Halloween, Michael Myers is simply referred to as “the Shape”) and a pathology. Almost all of them wear a mask of one kind or another, something that effectively erases their identity, that means that they could be anyone, or no one at all, the mask ripped away to reveal only a blankness. They’re impossible to reason with, because they don’t want anything that normal people want. They all have some kind of thematically-relevant “magic powers,” which are explained away in various ways, or sometimes not at all. (The guy from Scream, for example, has the “magic power” that he’s actually always more than one guy, allowing him to do things like be in two places at once.)

Perhaps most telling, though, is that pathology I mentioned. When reading up on the boogeyman before writing this, I came across the following line in the Wikipedia entry for same: “Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving.” Which, yeah, pretty much everyone on this list has their “thing.” With the slashers, of course, it’s generally the teenage “sin” trifecta of booze, drugs, and sex, but the others get more specialized. Hannibal Lecter kills people who are rude, Sam kills people who don’t respect the traditions of Halloween, Jigsaw (as represented here by Billy the Puppet) kills people who don’t cherish life enough, etc.

In a recent discussion about Manhunter and the Hannibal Lecter mythos in general over on my Facebook, fellow author Sean Demory introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, which, yes, is perfect. That’s exactly Lecter’s species, right there. And in that discussion I said how werewolves and vampires in most modern fiction have ceased to be monsters in the usual sense, have become instead a kind of Tolkienesque fantasy race, the contemporary equivalent of elves and orcs, and I said that the modern monster was the magical serial killer, which is also not really a modern monster at all, is it, because that’s pretty much just the boogeyman.

So that’s my argument, then, for the taxonomic nomenclature of these figures. It’d probably take some more deducing to decide whether what we were dealing with was family or genus, but whatever it is, that’s the one: It was the boogeyman.

Once again, Halloween has come and gone, and we’ve got a whole year to wait until it comes around again. Normally, this time of year leaves me feeling melancholy, but this year has been remarkably good. We’ve had an open house over the weekend, which has kept me busy and extended the feeling of the holiday through the beginning of November. Also, a realization that I had sometime last year is helping out a bit, too. In thinking about the tradition of ghost stories at Christmas, I realized that looking at Halloween as the end of a spooky season had it all backward. Halloween is the gateway to the spooky season, when nights are long and cold, and everyone huddles around the light and tells stories of why they’re afraid of the dark. November and December are ghost story weather, it’s as simple as that.

So this year I’ve tried to view the passing of Halloween as the beginning of the ghost story season, and that’s already helped to make the days a little brighter gloomier, and the nights a little spookier, so we’re off to a good start.

skritchMike Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews and things all the time, that when he first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. For me, that same moment came when I read Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy. Which is just one of the reasons that he is, was, and probably always will be who I want to be when I grow up.

I’d always loved monsters and ghosts and robots and weird stuff, ever since I was a little kid. Literally for as long as I can remember, in fact. It was always inevitable that I was going to write about monsters in one form or another. It’s not that Hellboy made me love monsters, it just showed me exactly how I loved them, the whats and the whys and the wherefores (which are really just whys again, but hey).

Most of the people reading this probably already know all of this. I’ve certainly made no secret of it. My first book is dedicated to Mike, and really, if there are any subsequent books, then they just as easily probably all could be, too. I bring it all back up because today is his birthday. I guess we normally reserve birthday celebration posts for more distant heroes; ones who have already passed on, or who we don’t have much direct contact with. And I’ll admit that it feels a little weird to write this about someone who could potentially come and read it. But I don’t have any bigger inspiration than Mike Mignola, and it seemed a shame to let his birthday pass without marking it in some way.

So today, go imbibe some great Mignola art and storytelling. It’s not like you need an excuse. If you’re having trouble deciding what to read, I recommend picking up a copy of The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects. It’s my personal favorite, so far.

For a week now, I’ve been trying to think of something to say about the passing of Richard Matheson, and all the words I’ve been able to muster have felt insufficient. Just a few weeks ago, we lost Ray Harryhausen, and the world became a slightly less wondrous place for his absence. Richard Matheson was another name of, at least in my opinion, equal stature, and the world is a worse place without him in it.

Matheson was a huge, if not always obvious, influence on me and my writing. I came to him early, starting with I Am Legend and Hell House, which were both extremely important novels, both to the genre, and to me, personally. Hell House especially had a big impact on me. It changed forever the way I would see ghost stories, haunted houses, and spiritualism, and is still my favorite haunted house story of all time. The movie is surprisingly good, too, and it’s amazing how true it stays to the book, while still somehow having a PG rating.

I never much got into Matheson’s short stories, but his novels and his screenplays were extremely influential to me. His screenplays are still some of the best around, and he’s responsible for many of my favorite movies. The Pit and the Pendulum and Comedy of Terrors alone are enough to make him a legend (no pun intended), and that’s not even mentioning The Devil Rides Out or his adaptations of his own work or his extensive writing for television and made-for-TV movies.

Matheson’s writing style was concise (but still poetic), dynamic, and cinematic in all the best ways. There are other writers who have had more influence on the content of my work, but few have had a bigger impact on my style. He was one of the greats, and he will be missed. I wish I had something more appropriate to say, but that’s all I got.

When I was very young (around 7, if I’m doing my math properly) I caught a few episodes of a syndicated horror anthology show called Monsters that I had to stay up late to watch. I don’t remember how many episodes of it I actually saw, but I know that I saw at least two of them, because those two remained stuck in my memory for years. Or, parts of them did, anyway. Recently, I tracked down the names of those two episodes, and last night I watched them both on YouTube before I went to bed.

Apparently, those two episodes (in spite of not being next to each other in the series) were once released together on VHS. That’s not how I saw them, though. For all that they seem to be the only two episodes I can remember, I know that I saw them both on TV. However, someone pulled the show off the VHS, and so both episodes are available together and in full on YouTube, which is how I watched them.

Monsters

Before I started, I remembered only a couple of things about each episode. The first, “Parents from Space,” I remembered almost nothing about. The story concerns a couple of raccoon-like aliens who come from space and take over the bodies of a little girl’s abusive foster parents. All I remembered was being really bothered and frightened by the ways the foster parents abused the girl (a specific scene in which her foster father kills a hamster really stuck with me, though in my memory it was a bird instead, for some reason) and being completely terrified of the initial appearance of the aliens. Upon revisiting, they are a little creepy, in a kind of muppet-y sort of way. (That’s them, in the top picture on the VHS box above.) Many a night, when young me was trying to go to sleep, I’d imagine seeing much scarier versions of them staring in my window.

The second episode, “Pillow Talk,” I remember much better. It’s very much the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Tales from the Crypt, only less gory, of course, since it’s on network TV. It’s about a successful horror writer who gets all his ideas from an ancient Lovecraftian monster that’s masquerading as his bed. (Yes, it’s a killer bed story!) He has to lure attractive women to his bedroom in order to feed them to the creature, naturally. I remembered the bed monster, with its mouth-tentacles and rubbery maw, and I remembered the obligatory twist ending. In fact, I seemed to remember most of this episode, though I had forgotten how ridiculously awkward the main guy (played by John Diehl, one of the only other characters is played by Mary Woronov!) was. Jeffrey Combs would have completely owned that role, if that gives you any indication.

Revisiting these episodes, I have no idea why they stuck with me so intractably for all these years. They’re pretty standard horror television from the time period, though the monsters are actually pretty good for a low-rent horror TV show from 1988. Any show called Monsters is going to automatically have my attention, though, and the episodes are short, so maybe I’ll catch a few others on YouTube and see if I remember anything else.

(Because they are on YouTube, and recorded off VHS or TV, they look like crap, of course. But if you’re curious, or if you, too, remember these episodes from your own misspent youth, here they are below, if you want to sample.)

So, it’s now been 2013 for a little over twelve hours here. I slept most of those, and spent the others watching Castle, though we did ring in the new year last night with a handful of friends from college, all of whom are now paired up, even though at least one pair didn’t get together until years after we’d all graduated. That was very pleasant, and seems thematically appropriate for auld lang syne in a way that didn’t occur to me until I sat down to type this. So thanks everyone for coming over, and making a very nice new year for us. I’m glad that we’re all still friends, after all these years and, in at least one case, all these miles of separation.

Now is the time of year when a young man’s fancies turn to year-end recaps and best-of lists, so that’s what this post is going to be all about. 2012 was a big year for me, as anyone reading this probably already knows. My first two books both came out this year, one as author and one as editor.  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is my first collection of weird, spooky, and supernatural tales, and Fungi is the anthology of fungal stories that I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m extremely proud of both of them, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. You’ve already heard a lot about them, and you’ll hear more in the coming year.

In addition, I had a few short story sales this year, the biggest one of which was my reprint appearance of “Black Hill” (originally from Historical Lovecraft) in Ross Lockhart’s The Book of Cthulhu 2. I also got asked to write an introduction to a forthcoming Valancourt Books reissue of J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, which I’m extremely excited about both because it’ll be my first time writing an introduction and because I’m very excited about the release itself.

This year saw some major changes in my daily life, as I changed positions at my day job (a couple of times, actually) and we did some work on the downstairs floor of our house, which resulted in me having a fairly nice office, from which I’m typing this right now. There’s still a little work left to go on the office, but expect pictures when everything is done.

But that’s enough news about me, now it’s time for the obligatory year-end lists. I’m not going to do top tens or fives or whatever, in no small part because there’s too much stuff that I wanted to get to that didn’t happen, but I’ll mention a few high points, and apologies in advance for anything and everything that I leave out. Starting with movies, 2012 was a good year for me and the cinema. I saw a pile of good stuff in theatres, with a few of my favorites (in no particular order) being AvengersCabin in the WoodsLooper, and Skyfall. I was also surprised to really enjoy Men in Black 3, which I saw on DVD, and which was actually better than either of its predecessors. (Also, that makes two movies featuring time travel in the main plot that I saw this year and really liked. Mark it down, because it is unlikely to happen again.) I also saw The Innkeepers in theatres back at the beginning of the year. Though it technically came out in 2011, it might just be my favorite of the whole bunch, so I’m making it a point to mention it here.

As good as 2012 was for movies, it was even better for books. I read a pile of great books in 2012, an unprecedented number of which actually came out during the year. My top reads (from books released in 2012) were Molly Tanzer’s bizarre debut A Pretty Mouth and Ian Rogers’ superlative collection Every House is Haunted, along with the aforementioned Book of Cthulhu 2 and the latest book in Holly Black’s Curse Worker series. 2012 was also the year that I was introduced to the crime writings of Dashiell Hammett for the first time, and I’ve devoured pretty much all of them in the course of the year, and loved them all.

As many great books as I read in 2012, though, there were more that I didn’t get the chance to crack open yet. Chief amongst them Richard Gavin’s latest collection At Fear’s Altar, Jesse Bullington’s The Folly of the World, Ross Lockhart’s Chick Bassist, and Stephen Graham Jones’ Last Final Girl. 2013 is looking just as impressive (and damaging to my bank account), with a plethora of exciting releases on the horizon, including a new collection by Laird Barron, a long-overdue debut collection from Nathan Ballingrud, a YA novel from John Hornor Jacobs, and a brand new book by Holly Black. There’s also a new collection by John Langan on the way, entitled The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, which I don’t have a way to link to yet, but am very eagerly awaiting. And that’s all just off the top of my head.

I have high hopes for 2013, and while I’m not really a resolutions kind of person, I think that as close as I have to one this year is to remember that what I’m getting to do is pretty awesome, and to behave accordingly. Thanks to everyone reading this, to everyone who picked up a copy of either of my books, to everyone who left a review somewhere or sent me some kind words, to all my friends and everyone who helped make 2012 a pretty great year. Here’s to hoping that 2013 is even better, for all of us. Soupy twist!

For yesterday’s Next Big Thing post, I focused mainly on Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, but today I’m going to talk a little about my other book that’s coming out in just a couple of weeks, Fungi. I needed to talk about it anyway, to remind everyone that the pre-sale for it ends tomorrow, so if you want to pick it up at a 20% discount and ensure your copy of the extra-content hardcover, now’s the time! But a fortuitous circumstance occurred to go ahead and prompt this post, which is that (as the Internet informed me, it’s good about that sort of thing) today is the birthday of William Hope Hodgson.

For those who may yet be unfamiliar with Hodgson, he’s the single writer most responsible for inspiring Silvia and I to put Fungi together and, in fact, for there being a thread of weird fungal fiction in the first place. Here’s a link to a post I made some time ago about Hodgson and fungal fiction and his influence on Fungi.

Hodgson is pretty well known in weird fiction circles, but his praises remain undersung elsewhere. His prose style can get pretty stilted at times, but he writes about the best stuff. He was an early practitioner of cosmic horror, and he wrote about monsters better than just about anyone else before or since. In addition to kicking off my love of fungal fiction, he was a big influence on my own writing in a lot of ways, and specifically my story “The Labyrinth of Sleep” in Future Lovecraft owes a lot to Hodgson’s weird novel The House on the Borderland. If you want to check him out and never have, I recommend beginning with “The Voice in the Night,” which is available here in audio form from Pseudopod, and if that whets your appetite, Nightshade Books just put out an attractive-looking best of volume.

One of my earliest memories involves Monster Squad. I couldn’t have been less than six years old, because the movie didn’t come out until 1987, but I also couldn’t have been in third grade yet, because the memory takes place in Sedan, Kansas, and I moved away from there in my third grade year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sedan (I’m going to guess that’s all of you), it’s a little nothing town in southern Kansas, near the Oklahoma line. It currently has a population of around a thousand people. In 1990, the entire county had a population of around four-thousand.

We lived on the outskirts of town, about half-a-mile down the road from the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds were mostly old 4-H buildings, though the swimming pool and rodeo arena were right there as well. I spent a lot of time in those fairgrounds as a kid, but this one particular memory stands out.

It would have been Halloween night. I walked, alone, from our house to the fairgrounds. There, inside an old 4-H barn, me and a bunch of other kids sat on bales of hay and watched Monster Squad projected onto the wall. I’ve seen the movie a lot of times since then, so I don’t remember much about the experience of watching it. Was I scared? Exhilarated? I’d actually seen quite a lot of much scarier monster movies already by that tender age, so maybe it was nothing special in that department, but I remember that I loved it, and I remember the walk home, in the dark, down the barely-lighted streets on the edge of town, the night suddenly electric around me.

Years later, my brother would record a showing of Monster Squad off HBO onto VHS tape and send it to me, and I would watch it until the wheels fell off, until I could reliably quote the movie in its entirety, and could probably have accurately reproduced it from memory. If Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 future had come to pass and had included movies, I could have been the kid who safeguarded Monster Squad for future generations.

Monster Squad is a great movie, for all sorts of reasons. It’s written by Shane Black, for starters. The monster makeup by Stan Winston is phenomenal from the top down, and the movie’s version of the Creature is probably the only fishman on film that can hold a candle to the original suit from Creature from the Black Lagoon. Duncan Regehr’s Dracula is more intimidating than the majority of screen Draculas before or since. Tom Noonan’s Frankenstein monster is equally impressive. It’s quotable as hell, and the kids actually talk like kids did when I was one, including the cursing and the talking over one-another. And it holds up remarkably, even if you didn’t see it when you were an impressionable youth just falling in love with monsters. (Ask my friend and fellow-author Molly Tanzer, who only recently got the pleasure of seeing it for the first time.)

I watch it at least once every year, around Halloween. I probably would regardless, even if I’d just seen it for the first time yesterday, but I do it now in no small part because it’s a part of one of my earliest and best Halloween memories. This year, I was going to go see it on the big screen for the first time at the Alamo Drafthouse, but it closed for renovations for the month, so tomorrow a bunch of friends and I are getting together at my place to watch it and celebrate Halloween and monsters and the fact that “Wolfman’s got nards.”

The latest issue of the Lovecraft eZine is a tribute to Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and it features my story “The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After.”

Roger Zelazny isn’t quite the fabled “writer who made me want to become a writer,” but discovering his work marked maybe the biggest turning point in my journey from being a kid who wanted to grow up to be a writer to growing up to kind of be a writer after all. And while I discovered Zelazny through his Amber novels, A Night in the Lonesome October is, of course, the novel of his that speaks most to me. It’s a perennial favorite, and I try to re-read it about every year. So when the call for submissions to the Lovecraft eZine tribute issue came out, I knew I’d have to do something for it.

It was actually harder than I’d have expected. It came with a deadline, of course, and I was pretty busy, so the story was going to have to be short, and I found myself having trouble thinking of what I could contribute to Zelazny’s vision that was also still in keeping with my own stuff. I finally settled on a brief story, sort of a soliloquy, about what happens after the “bad guys” win the game.

Since my game was taking place after Zelazny’s (obviously), I decided to try to update the tropes a few years. Zelazny mined the great figures of gothic and Victorian literature for his characters, so for mine I went to the pulps and movies from the 40s and 50s. Hopefully I wasn’t too coy in my descriptions, and, if I was, there’s a handy illustration with the story that does them a bit more justice.

The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and there you have an author’s note that’s almost as long as the story itself!

The issue has a bunch of other stories in it too, from folks like William Meikle and Josh Reynolds, among others, and every story is illustrated and has an audio version (including mine!) and there’s an essay about the book itself, and even an introduction from Zelazny’s son Trent, now an author in his own right. So seriously, check out the issue, and not just for my little story. And if you’ve never read the book, I heartily recommend you track it down, at least from the library or something, because it is well worth getting to know, and especially appropriate for this eeriest of seasons.