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year in review

Odds are you don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a rough year. Even leaving aside any political… happenstance, we lost a lot of great people in 2016. Some were losses shared by the world, others hit closer to home. But if I restrict my sights to only those things that were localized entirely within the walls of my house, 2016 was actually a pretty good year. Freelance work picked up considerably from its low point in 2015, Grace got a new job that she is extremely happy with, and I published two books: Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press, and The Cult of Headless Men, a chapbook novelette from Dunhams Manor with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

Since my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings had fallen out of print at the end of 2015, this past year also saw the launch of a successful Kickstarter to get it back in print in a deluxe, fully-illustrated hardcover edition featuring killer art from my good friend MS Corley. The new edition is due out sometime this year from Strix Publishing, and should be available for order direct from them for those who missed the Kickstarter.

Following on the heels of the Kickstarter, the last few months of 2016 were a little hectic for me. I ended September with a tonsillectomy, which more or less put me out of commission for the month of October, and then spent November and December writing my first novel in only 53 days! For those who missed the previous announcement, that novel will be a Protectorate of Menoth novel set in the world of the Iron Kingdoms from Privateer Press. It’s the first in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, and the book itself is going to be called Godless. It’s due out later this year. I’ll be posting a lot more about it–and the process of writing it–once things have gone a little farther, but for now you can read a brief interview with me over at their blog.

Over the course of the year, I published only 6 new short stories (not counting The Cult of Headless Men), but I’m pretty proud of all of them. They showed up in venues like Autumn CthulhuSwords v. Cthulhu, Children of LovecraftEternal FrankensteinThe Madness of Dr. Caligari, and Gothic Lovecraft. (Lots of “Lovecraft” and “Cthulhu” titles this year.) Thanks to Children of Lovecraft, I finally got to check my lifelong dream of appearing behind a Mignola cover off my list, and my story from Autumn Cthulhu made the Bram Stoker Award reading list, which I think is a first for me. I also made my debut in the pages of Nightmare magazine, albeit in nonfiction form, writing an entry for their H Word column about creating and consuming horror that isn’t meant to be scary.

I didn’t read very many books in 2016 (a little less than 30, most of them graphic novels), but of those, a few were actually published in 2016 and were legitimately great, perhaps most notably Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves and Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. I was also lucky enough to provide blurbs for a couple of books that came out in 2016, including Pete Rawlik’s most recent addition to his rollicking Wold Newton-ish universe Reanimatrix, and Jonathan Raab’s The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. (Though really, with a title like that, why do you need a blurb from me to sell it to you?)

I did watch a lot of movies in 2016, however. 333, to be exact. 47 of those were in the month of October, which is what happens when you have a tonsillectomy and can neither sleep nor do much else besides lay on the couch and watch movies. In continuing my efforts to see more movies that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, 197 of those movies were new-to-me, though of those only about 25 actually came out in 2016. Nothing I saw in 2016 ever managed to beat the first movie that I saw in theatres last year, so The Witch is probably still my favorite movie of the year. Other good ones that I saw include Green Room, I Am Not a Serial Killer, Ouija: Origin of Evil (yeah, I’m as surprised as you are), Captain America: Civil WarThe Nice GuysZootopiaThe Shallows, and the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The last movie that I watched in 2016 was Blood Diner, and the first one that I watched in 2017 was Cellar Dweller, so that seems about right.

In breaking with my annual tradition, there probably won’t be a Year in Creatures this year because, frankly, I just didn’t see enough movies in 2016 that had creatures in them. The big alien in Independence Day: Resurgence was totally wasted, and besides it and a few ghosts there was, what, a shark and that thing from I Am Not a Serial Killer? I guess Black Phillip would about have to be the Monster of the Year in 2016, though if there are good creatures I’m missing in movies that I didn’t see do please let me know, because I want to track them down!

In 2017 I’m hoping to read more books, which may entail watching fewer movies, but we’ll see how the year pans out. I’ve already picked up my full-weekend pass for Panic Fest this year, so that’s a pile of movies I’ll probably be seeing later this month. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the works for 2017, including that aforementioned novel, so you’ll be hearing from me more down the line. For now, let’s finish kicking the detritus of 2016 to the curb, and set our sights on getting through the next few days, months, and then years.

 

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Well, it took me a while to get to this, so here we are almost two months into 2016, but here’s a recap of how writing went in 2015. First off, it was my second full year as a full time freelance writer. It was also, by far, the hardest year as such, but unexpected factors came into play to help get us through it, and so far 2016 is looking up (knock on wood).

Of course, the big writing event in 2015 was the release of my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts from Word Horde. The second-biggest piece of writing news last year was probably my ghost apocalypse story “Persistence of Vision” getting reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 7, marking my first (and so far only) best of the year publication.

Besides Painted Monsters and the three original stories contained therein, 2015 saw the publication of six new stories by yours truly. I also continued to do freelance work for Privateer Press and started doing regular freelance gigs for The Lineup. Plus I got to check something off my bucket list by making my first sale to Clarkesworld in the form of a nonfiction piece about bugs in the films of Guillermo del Toro.

So in spite of being a rough year in a lot of ways, 2015 was also a pretty great year for writing in a lot of other ways. And 2016 is off to a promising start. I’ve got at least one book coming out this year, Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press. (More on that very soon.) I’m also in talks to get a new edition of Never Bet the Devil back into print sooner rather than later.

I’ve already got six stories in press that should be coming out in various anthologies in 2016. Some of them I’ve already talked about, others are still a secret for now, and there’s one that’s still under wraps that I’m very excited about. Besides that, I’ve also got four stories in various stages of progress for various anthology invitations, plus a project that I’m working on for Dunhams Manor. And I’m working on a pitch for an illustrated mid-grade book with Eric Orchard, among other projects. So 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year.

Well, 2015 may have been the big year of high-number sequels in long-running franchises, but it bucked recent tradition in one major way: For the first time in a long time, the majority of movie monsters on screen this year were not in multi-million-dollar blockbuster tentpoles (Star Wars notwithstanding), but in modestly-budgeted, honest-to-Godzilla monster movies. So regardless, really, of the ultimate quality of any of those movies, that’s something to be thankful for. When you also factor in that a majority of the monsters on screen this year were also primarily practical effects, it really is downright jaw-dropping.

While most people are probably expecting the titular creature from It Follows to take the crown for 2015–and while there are, admittedly, few more intriguing loglines in recent memory than that movie’s central conceit–ultimately I found the execution of said monster, while frequently chilling, to be too uneven and, yes, maybe too metaphorical for it to take the top spot among movie monsters in a year that’s actually crowded with contenders.

Up until literally the month of December, I really thought The Hallow would walk away with the prize. While the film itself is of mixed quality, its woody/fungal monsters, brought to unsettling life principally via practical effects, would have dominated most any normal Year in Creatures. What I didn’t expect was to find a contender in an unlikely Hollywood epic in November. While the C.H.U.D.-alikes in Mockingjay Part 2 may not have been the most inventive monsters ever to hit cinema screens, their deployment was one of the most effective I have ever seen, full stop. It helps that they’re in easily one of the best movies that I saw in a theatre this year.

Ultimately, though, for all the best intentions and incredible critters in such a ridiculous quantity of movies, there was no real competition for the top honor, not after Krampus hit theatres in early December. While my feelings about the film itself may not have been as unanimous as I had hoped, there’s no denying the sheer quantity and bravura of its creatures. Krampus is a film that could easily have gotten away with having only the titular Christmas demon, along with maybe an evil toy or two. Instead, it crams the screen with monsters, from Demonic Toys-like demonic toys (though director Michael Dougherty claims never to have seen that dubious classic) to dark elves to “Yule goats” to Krampus himself, almost all of them brought to life primarily through puppetry and suit effects. Even the movie’s snowmen–which, spoilers, don’t actually do anything besides appear creepily in the front yard–are almost enough to count as additional monsters.

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Even if there weren’t any other monsters in the mix, though, Krampus himself would probably be enough to steal the show. With enormous, heavy hooves, a hunched back, and more sheer scale than you might imagine, it’s actually the little touches the make Krampus work, from the bells that jingle on the chains he wears to the slipping mask of an old man face that he ultimately displays. While the character may lack the personality of Sam from Trick ‘R Treat–Dougherty’s previous contribution to the horror canon–as a monster he’s hard to resist.

When you get right down to it, though, whatever you think of any of my picks here, the real winner in 2015 is us. We haven’t had a year this crammed full of movie monsters in actual monster movies in a long time, so whatever your particular poison, make sure you enjoy it while it lasts!

I started 2015 with a modest goal: I wanted to watch more movies that I had never seen before than ones that I had. I think I accomplished that pretty handily. In 2015, I watch 255 movies, 156 of them for the first time. Of those 156, 25 of them were released in 2015. (Yeah, I don’t make it out to the theatres as much as I used to…)

For me, 2015 was a year full of movies that I liked but didn’t love. Since there’s no one twisting my arm to make a ranked Top Ten list this year, I’ll simply say that, of the movies that I saw that were released in 2015, a few of my favorites include: Mockingjay Part 2, Insidious Chapter 3, Crimson Peak, Krampus, and Mad Max: Fury Road. And before you ask, no, I still haven’t seen The Force Awakens, so you’ll have to wait to hear what I think of it. I did catch Hateful Eight just under the wire, watching it on New Year’s Eve in 70mm, but, while the experience was pretty amazing, I’m not yet sure how I felt about the movie. I also saw Bone Tomahawk over the weekend, and it was every bit as good as everyone’s been saying, though it definitely did drama better than it did horror.

There are lots of other likely contenders for a best of the year list that I just haven’t gotten the chance to sit down with yet. In spite of the best efforts of movies like Hellions and Run All Night, the worst movie that I saw that came out in 2015 remains Tremors 5, and I say that as a fan of the franchise, even its later entries.

When you only see 25 movies that came out in a year, you’re bound to miss a lot of good ones. So it probably comes as no surprise that I saw more older movies for the first time that left a big impression on me than I did movies that actually came out this year. A few highlights include: The Guest, The Canal, Nightcrawler, April Fool’s Day, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Resolution, The Warriors, Hide and Seek (2013), Kill, Baby… Kill!, Black Mountain Side, Blood and Black Lace, Night of the Demons, Phantom of the Paradise, Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos, Kiss Me Deadly, and Mockingjay Part 1.

While I didn’t make it out to the theatre very often this year, I did have several superlative theatre-going experiences. Back at the tail-end of January, I attended Panic Fest, where I got to catch a midnight double-feature of WolfCop and The Editor. I’ll be there again this year, on the weekend of February 5. In October, I was a guest at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, where I caught a bunch of movies, the best of which was probably Black Mountain Side.

On my birthday I attended a mystery horror triple-feature at the Tapcade, where I got to see both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, and then in November I saw the Mockingjay double-feature at the Alamo. Finally, just a few nights ago, I watched The Hateful Eight in 70mm, as I already mentioned.

In 2016, I hope to continue the trend of watching more movies that are new-to-me, and fewer re-watches, although going back to classics (or not-so-classics) that I haven’t revisited in a long time is also high on my list. I’m also hoping, though it seems that I say this every year now that I’m a freelancer, to read more books in 2016, so that may cut into my movie watching time. We’ll see…

This is as much for me as it is for you.

I started out 2015 with a modest goal: To watch more movies that I hadn’t seen before than I did ones that I had. Last year, I watched 269 movies, not including TV series, of which 123 were new to me, which means that I didn’t quite manage even a 50/50 split. So this year I’ve made a conscious effort to watch more movies that I’ve never seen before, and so far it seems to be paying off.

As I have for a couple of years now, I keep a notebook where I write down every movie that I watch, along with the year it was released and an asterisk if I’ve seen it before. As of the morning of July 1, I had watched 126 movies so far this year, of which 79 were new to me, leaving only 47 that I had ever seen before. I’m sure I won’t keep up exactly that divide for the remainder of the year, but that puts me off to a pretty good lead to hit my goal of seeing more movies for the first time than I do for the second, or third, or hundredth.

I’m not really trying this goal for any special reason, besides that there are lots and lots of and lots of movies out there that I’ve never seen, and that I want to see, and I know that I’ll never have enough time, even in a long lifetime of watching lots and lots of movies, to get to them all, so I figure I’ll take an active role in trying to knock out a few more of them.

(For those who’re curious, so far in July I’ve seen 8 movies, at an average of a movie a day, which are thus far evenly divided between new-to-me and not, so that doesn’t really skew our data one way or the other at all.)

The Oscars are tonight. I don’t really care too much about them any year, and this year is no different, mostly because I haven’t seen the vast majority of the movies that are nominated for anything, so I can’t have much of an opinion either way. About the only category where I have a horse in the race is Best Animated Feature, where I’m hoping Big Hero 6 takes home the statue it so richly deserves, though I’m thinking that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will probably win it as an apology Oscar for snubbing its predecessor back in 2010.

I’m not here to talk about the Oscars, though. I’m here to talk about the year in movie monsters. I’m a little late with what will be my third annual Year in Creatures, but I honestly held off this long because I just kept thinking that there must have been more good monsters in movies in 2014 than I had yet seen, and that any moment I would stumble upon them, but as the Oscars are upon us and we’re now well into 2015, I think I’ve just got to acknowledge that 2014 wasn’t a very good year for movie monsters, and call it a day. (We can’t have a Pacific Rim every year, after all.)

This year followed the established pattern that the majority of screen creatures were not in horror or monster movies at all, but rather in big budget sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy spectacles. There were a few non-ghost monsters in lower budget horror films, but of those, few were especially memorable, and even the fantasy epics this year tended toward generic critters, with some exceptions coming in the form of the aliens from Edge of Tomorrow, the surprisingly decent MUTOs from the otherwise lackluster Godzilla, and, if they can truly count as creatures, the future Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The only creature to really give this year’s winner a run for its money, though, was the breakout star of Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot. Who might have been monster of the year had it not been for…

The Babadook 

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While the film itself was one of the year’s better horror films, don’t get me wrong, it suffered a bit from overhype and a somewhat weak third act. But the titular monster stole the show, with its combination of silent movie aesthetics and a Pokemon-esque tendency to say its own name. (Particularly effective in a chilling phone call scene.)

Would the Babadook have been able to hold its own in a year with stronger monster representation? Who can say. All I know is, two months into 2015, it’s still my pick for last year’s Movie Monster of the Year.

Two years ago, I started keeping a notebook where I write down every movie that I watch. Not really any notes about them, just the movie, the year it came out, and an asterisk if I’ve seen it before. This has proved immensely helpful to me in all sorts of ways, not least when it comes to stuff like making end of the year best of lists. It also lets me do things like track how many movies I watched in a year, and so, if anyone is at all interested in that kind of minutia, here are some metrics on the movies I watched in 2014.

In 2014 I watched a grand total of 269 movies. In spite of the fact that I was working from home that entire time, that is actually down 31 movies from 2013. Of those movies, I watched 123 of them for the first time. Of those, 22 came out in 2014. You can still find my top 10 list at Downright Creepy, though in the days that followed its original posting I saw The Babadook, which would have slotted in somewhere around the 6 or 7 mark and pushed Snowpiercer off the bottom. Some of the worst movies I saw include Blood GlacierTusk, and Maleficent, though I watched I, Frankenstein last night, and if I’d actually seen it in 2014, it would totally be on that list.

My biggest month was May, where I managed to watch 35 movies, clocking in somehow at just over a movie a day. September was the smallest number, with only 13 movies total.

In 2015, I’m hoping to read more, which will probably mean watching movies less, but we’ll see. I’m also hoping to institute some kind of monthly Monster Movie Night where I watch some old cheesy monster movie with whatever friends happen to be free that night and inclined to watch lousy B movies about giant crabs or some such. More on that if and as it transpires.