“It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.”
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

No sooner had the calendar flipped than the skirmishes began. September 1 is either still summer, or it’s the first day of Halloween. At least by observing the battle lines drawn up on Twitter and elsewhere across social media, you must choose a side.

Naturally, and to the surprise of no one, I am on the side of the Autumn People, described so evocatively by Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes: “For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.”

There is a story in Ian Rogers’ Every House is Haunted which argues that autumn is a uniquely magical season because it is the only one that doesn’t exist in perpetuity somewhere on Earth. There are places where it is, for all intents and purposes, always winter, always summer, or even, arguably, always spring. But there is no place where it is always autumn.

There is, in other words, no October Country (described again by Bradbury): “That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.”

Perhaps the only country where it can be autumn all year round is the one in our hearts.

On September 1, I put up my Halloween decorations this year. As the rough beast that is Christmas slouches ever earlier in the year, decorative gourd season is squeezed shorter and shorter each anum, so what harm if it bleeds a little into the summer?

Little enough else of my behavior changes with the changing of the season. I am one of those Autumn People, and I watch monster movies all year long. If anything, only the tenor of the movies I seek out changes with the leaves. As the season turns, I want movies that evoke that small-town, autumnal beauty that represents Halloween as much as grinning pumpkins or sheeted ghosts.

I reach back, even more than I do the rest of the time, to black-and-white horrors that feel delightfully stagebound. To films that crunch with dry autumn leaves underfoot. October proper has its own traditions. There’s Nerd-o-ween, which I will be attending once again this year at the Screenland Armour, making my eighth year in a row, never having missed an occurrence, even the year that I was dying. There’s Analog Sunday, which will be rolling out a double-feature, and the Horror Pod Class, where we’ll be hosting Ghostwatch at the Stray Cat Film Center. And then, of course, there’s the fact that my own new collection should be out in time for Halloween – or thereabouts.

While September is the first month of Halloween, though, it hasn’t quite reached the same saturation point for me. Monster movies are still the order of the day, wherever possible, or creaky thrillers replete with cobwebs. But the seasonal quality of them hasn’t yet solidified. Alien invaders and city-crushing kaiju are still fair game in September, as much as they are the rest of the year.

As I said, I keep the October Country in my heart year round, but I also watch a lot of other kinds of movies. In September and October, it’s monster weather. Ghost stories will come, as October ramps up and the winter gradually shakes the leaves from the trees. For the moment, though, give me rubber creatures or old dark houses, and I’ll be happy – a sentiment that I could honestly aver any time of year, without hesitation.

This will necessarily contain major spoilers for both Nightmare Alley (1947) and GDT’s remake. These are also raw reactions, fresh off watching the remake for the first time. They may soften as time goes on, as has been the case with many other GDT films.

Well, Nightmare Alley (2021) looks great, anyway. And normally, in a Guillermo del Toro film, the looks are more than just skin deep. GDT’s films are generally crammed with what he calls “eye protein,” and the visuals typically do more narrative heavy lifting than the script or the characters. With Nightmare Alley, though – a movie he has been talking about remaking for probably a decade or more – he is shackled to a narrative that already exists. A story that has already been told, better and more economically than it is here, which makes all the show-stopping visuals feel strangely superfluous, rather than integral.

For those who don’t already know, Nightmare Alley is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name – which is, itself, an adaptation of a novel from 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham, which I have never read. There are a few things holding the 1947 original back from genuine greatness, but it is built around one of noir’s more dynamite central premises, following a carnival performer turned mentalist named Stanton Carlisle as he teams up with a femme fatale psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

In the original, Carlisle is played by Tyrone Power, while the psychiatrist (with the very good villain name Lilith Ritter) is played by Helen Walker. In Del Toro’s version, they are Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, respectively. Honestly, the casting in the 2021 Nightmare Alley, like the visuals, is mostly great. The problem comes from that story.

As I mentioned, the story of the 1947 original is one of the better ones in noir. Del Toro and his collaborator Kim Morgan know that, and stick close to it. Perhaps too close, turning this new Nightmare Alley into a fascinating study of why modern movies are insufferably long, as it hits all the same beats as the original, but takes almost a full hour longer to do it.

It doesn’t help that the places where the remake chooses to deviate add little – and sometimes detract. Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle is not a patch on Tyrone Power’s, but that has less to do with any deficiency in his acting and more to do with how the character is written and directed. Given a traumatic backstory from literally the first scene, Cooper’s Carlisle is too much a damaged child to ever be the man with a hole where his soul should be that Power played so well.

In fact, one of the few places where the original film missteps is in not rolling credits soon enough. There’s a moment, near the end of the film, when Carlisle has fallen as far as he ever will, and is offered a job he once swore he would never take. When asked if he thinks he’s up for it, he replies, “Mister, I was born for it.”

Had the original rolled credits there, it would probably be unassailable. As it is, it runs on a few minutes more. Del Toro learned the original’s lesson, though, and does cut the film at those fateful lines – except that when Cooper’s Carlisle finally utters them, they hit completely differently than when Power’s Carlisle did.

More than anything, Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a film that struggles to justify itself. Why this, when we could just be watching the original? The production designs are certainly better here – the carnival looks great, as you might imagine, and Ritter’s office is a triumph of the production designer’s art – but they seem to add little of substance. And for all that Del Toro has been itching to make this movie for years, he only seems to come alive when the ghoulish parts are happening.

There’s a moment, in the last act, when a bloody “ghost” appears in a sequence that harkens to his work on Crimson Peak. It comes after a long span of relative “normalcy,” in which the carnival and its oddities have been left behind. There’s almost an audible “pop” when the moment happens, as the film suddenly snaps back into sharp focus, as though it’s been on autopilot for minutes and is only now paying attention once more.

All of this is extremely hard on Nightmare Alley, which isn’t quite fair. Del Toro has certainly made worse movies in his career, and I can’t shake the feeling that – had I never previously seen the original – this might have worked a lot better for me. In fact, as much as I love the guy’s work, Del Toro has a few movies that I kind of hate. But usually, with his movies, it’s one or the other. I love them or hate them, and even when I hate them, I’m drawn into them. Nightmare Alley may be the first time I just felt… indifferent, which is possibly more damning.

Ironically, Wikipedia identifies this 2021 version as a new adaptation of the novel, rather than a remake of the 1947 film. If it had been that, it might have been spared some of these problems. While the novel and both movies have the same central premise and most of the same broad story beats, the novel goes several places the movies never do. If Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley had followed the novel instead of the film, maybe it could have better carved a niche for itself where it felt less uncomfortable.

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.

This is one of those movies that was never going to live up to how long it had been sitting on my watchlist. Directed by Tobe Hooper; very loosely adapted from a short story by Mr. Rear Window himself, Cornell Woolrich; starring a who’s who of supporting players including Twin Peaks‘ Madchen Amick, Anthony Perkins, R. Lee Ermey, Dee Wallace, and others. The pedigree of I’m Dangerous Tonight is what makes it a curiosity, but the plot is what initially got my attention.

That plot is simple enough. Devil Fish‘s William Berger is a professor of something-or-other and he’s really into macabre stuff, including an Aztec sacrificial altar, which he has delivered to the museum at the university. The altar contains a hidden compartment holding the mummified remains of the Aztec priest, who is wrapped in his (still pristine) red ceremonial robes.

Knowing their power, the professor dons the robes, goes on a murderous rampage, and then offs himself. The robes are sold at an estate sale by accident, and bought by a mousy college student (Amick) who turns them into a red dress that renders her sexually uninhibited, and we’re into low-key erotic thriller territory in short order.

I’m a sucker for cursed objects, and the notion of Tobe Hooper doing a made-for-TV movie about a cursed dress made from the robes of an Aztec mummy was pretty appealing. With Woolrich’s name on the credits and nothing to go on but some of the key art, I was honestly expecting something more like a noir and less like the cozy Fear Street-adjacent plotting that we got.

Which makes a kind of sense. The movie is pretty different from Woolrich’s story. (The two writers credited for the teleplay were regulars on a variety of TV shows including Murder, She Wrote and Highlander.) For example, in Woolrich’s story, the whole Aztec robe idea isn’t there. In fact, the origins of the dress in that instance more closely resemble a more recent film about a cursed red dress, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric.

The synopses of the movie also all make it out like Amick’s character is the main focus of the various malfeasance caused by the dress, but she really only wears it once, and all she does during that time is try to steal her cousin’s shitty boyfriend, pretty much. (She also sort of kills her grandma, who is played by Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, but it really is an accident, albeit one that wouldn’t have happened if not for the dress.) Most of the rest of the movie involves other people getting ahold of the dress, which unlocks in them much more nefarious – and murderous – impulses.

Of all the legendary horror directors of the ’70s-’80s, there may be none with a more unlikely filmography than Tobe Hooper. From the elemental terror of Texas Chain Saw to the borderline-satire of Texas Chainsaw 2, from the scope and scale of something like Lifeforce to the exact opposite of something like this.

I’m Dangerous Tonight is certainly among the lesser entries in his canon, with only a handful of horror scenes that really pop (the introduction of the Aztec priest’s mummified body; flashbacks to the professor’s murder spree), but that unusual pedigree I already mentioned makes sure that it’s a singular one. It’s also a surprisingly cozy movie, filled with nooks you want to curl up and have tea in, and people wearing overlarge sweaters. And the university is yet another horror university that I really wish I could attend, and not just because it has not one but two professors who seem to specialize in cursed objects.

Like I said, this one has been on my watchlist for some time, and the only reason I finally got a chance to see it now was because Kino Lorber recently put it out on Blu-ray. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really not missing anything but if, like me, that’s never stopped you before, you probably won’t regret your time with this oddity.

What if House on Haunted Hill had been made without a trace of camp, and shot like a cheap industrial film?

Anything I can say about Ghosts of Hanley House is going to come off as overselling it. Largely absent anything in the way of effects (or plot, or acting, or action), this regional riff on the Haunting/Haunted Hill formula is pure vibes. And if those vibes don’t hypnotize you right away, it’s dull as dishwater.

Let’s turn to some modern reviews to give you an idea, such as this one from The Spinning Image, which calls the film “so inept it turns Edward D. Wood Jr into Stanley Kubrick.” Reading on: “The acting, photography and lighting are wretched in the extreme, with talking heads gazing uneasily past the camera, uttering inane lines of dialogue while the plot lurches from the sublime to the painfully ridiculous, using visual references to The Haunting in search of any vestige of credibility.”

Ouch, right? And I can’t really say that he’s wrong about… any of that. So why the hell am I writing about it? It hypnotized me, like I said earlier. And you don’t have to look any farther than Letterboxd to see other people who had the same experience.

Ghosts of Hanley House wasn’t made by professionals,” begins one review, from Bleeding Skull. “But for me, this movie does something that the big-budget majesty of The Haunting never could – it makes me believe in midnight seances, eerie lights escaping from under darkened doorways, and a determined woman named Louise Sherrill who made a movie that no one else could.”

David C. Porter puts it more simply: “all-timer glacial doom piece.”

Making a movie, telling a story, is about more than mere competence. It’s even about more than the story. There is an (often accidental) alchemy that transforms the raw stuff of words, pictures, sounds, etc. into something more. Always has been. And I’ve written before about how sometimes even movies that are, undeniably, badly made contain a potency that would have been denied them had they been made any better.

Manos is a terrible film, but its very awkwardness contributes to its unease. The Zapruder-esque quality of Curse of Bigfoot makes it feel genuinely cursed. Similarly, Ghosts of Hanley House captures a sense of the uncanny more effectively than many better films simply by dint of that very rough-hewn unprofessionalism we mentioned before.

The sound effects grate and rattle, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. The score sounds like it is being performed deep underwater. The overblown lighting, the lack of any visual effects, the incoherent edits, and the fact that the actors aren’t really doing very much acting all give the film a different sort of verisimilitude, one that renders the events genuinely eerie, even when there… aren’t really any events, to speak of.

It’s not a movie that I necessarily loved, and it’s certainly not one I can recommend without hesitation. It’s not very good, by any traditional measure, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and basically nothing happens. But if, like me, you’ve been tuned to pick up these kinds of uncanny vibes and vibe with them, well, there’s definitely something here…

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.

Let’s start with the bad news: I won’t be at NecronomiCon Providence this year. Which is a bummer for any number of reasons, not least because I’ve been helping out (in very small ways) with the film programming, and I’m excited to see that come together. But alas, this year it just isn’t in the cards.

(Also, my contributions to the film programming are borderline nonexistent, so all the good bits are going to be Phil Gelatt’s fault. You can blame me whenever something goes wrong. I won’t be there anyway.)

There are a lot of you that I’m going to miss seeing, which makes me sad. But with any luck we will mostly survive until the next convention (though that seems more touch-and-go than we’d all like these days) and I’ll see you all again soon.

With that out of the way, here’s some better news: It has recently come to my attention that I have not been sufficiently vocal about the fact that I have a new collection coming from Word Horde later this year.

You can expect to hear a whole lot more about How to See Ghosts & Other Figments, my fourth collection of short, spooky stories and, somehow, my seventh full-length solo book in the weeks and months to come, including cover reveals, a table of contents, and other goodies. For now, though, I can let you know that it’s going to be my longest collection to date, with 18 stories from across my writing career.

Also, if you happen to be a reviewer and you’re interested in getting your hands on How to See Ghosts a little early, you can reach out to the folks at Word Horde by emailing publicity[at]wordhorde[.]com, and they’ll hook you up.

That’s about it for now but, if you haven’t already, head over and check out the Kickstarter for the latest thing I worked on at Privateer Press. It’s in its final days and it’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself. You can also read a little more about my involvement in it here.

All the way back in 2013 – nearly ten years ago now – I wrote my first story for Privateer Press. It was a novelette called “Under the Shadow,” a retelling of the Demeter portion of Dracula, centered on the Cryxian general Gerlak Slaughterborn.

By then, I had already been a fan of the setting for… many years, and getting to play in that sandbox was a dream come true. A dream that I got to relive many times in the years that followed, writing additional short stories, novellas, and even a novel set in the Iron Kingdoms world, not to mention contributing plenty of content to the previous iteration of the Iron Kingdoms tabletop roleplaying game.

Then, back in November of 2020, I was asked to work on something new. Iron Kingdoms: Requiem would be the newest attempt to bring my favorite fantasy setting to the TTRPG sphere, this time powered by the popular 5th edition of the world’s oldest roleplaying game.

For that first installment, I wrote more than 50,000 words of mostly setting text, detailing the world and the ways in which it had changed since the last time such a book had been put out. I got a surprising amount of control over some of those changes, and the relationship I had with the material went from adapting it to, in many cases, inventing many aspects whole cloth.

About a year later, and the first expansion for Requiem hit Kickstarter, in the form of Borderlands & Beyond. This time I had written just as much, maybe more, but I also got even more freedom to add to the setting that I loved so much. Perhaps most notably, given that this is me, I got to design a bunch of weird fucking monsters from scratch. If you got the book, see if you can guess which ones I did.

We haven’t been sitting idle in the months since, either. Almost as soon as we had finished Borderlands & Beyond, the same team that had been working on Requiem all this time had already started work on the next installment, which just hit Kickstarter today.

In many ways, this is the most exciting one that I’ve worked on so far. For those who don’t know the Iron Kingdoms setting very well, it has primarily existed in the form of the tabletop wargames Warmachine and Hordes. And one of the four core factions of the former, since the game first launched back in 2003, has been the Nightmare Empire of Cryx.

Ruled by a dragon, Cryx is primarily occupied by the undead, which their necrotechs experiment on to create cyborg undead war machines. Despite its prominent position in the narrative of the game, however, there has never been a sourcebook released to bring Cryx to the table in roleplaying game form. Not in all the years that Privateer Press has been releasing books and games set in the Iron Kingdoms.

Certainly, Cryxians were available as antagonists in previous editions of the game, but there were precious few resources available to play as them, or to explore, in detail, their haunted and haunting empire. With the new Nightmare Empire expansion for Requiem, though, all that changes.

With each new iteration, I have gotten to leave more and more of my stamp on the Requiem roleplaying game and the world of the Iron Kingdoms – along with a talented and dedicated team of writers, artists, designers, and more, all headed up by Matt Goetz, who is as much the captain of this vessel as anyone.

This time around, I got to introduce new places and organizations, flesh out things that had been throwaway mentions in the past, and, most exciting for me, work on developing some of the new subclasses that are presented in the book. I’m very proud of my work there, and I can’t wait for fans of the setting to see it – not to mention newcomers to the world of the Iron Kingdoms, who I hope grow to love it just as much as I always have.

As we near the end of June, we are at the halfway point of what has already been both a very good and very bad year, sadly not always in equal measures. There have been some real high points, most of them personal, and plenty of low ones, many of them national.

I’m not here to talk about those, though. I’m here, as usual, to talk about movies. As of this writing, I have watched 158 movies so far in 2022. Of those, around 121 have been new-to-me, easily keeping to my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than re-watching ones I’ve seen before. In fact, I’m crushing that goal so far this year.

In spite of that, I’ve seen relatively few new-to-me movies that I really loved so far in 2022. The best new movie that actually came out this year that I’ve seen was Spider One’s Allegoria, which will be releasing on Shudder early next month and which I reviewed for The Pitch. As usual, I’ve been keeping a list of movies that I really dug that I saw for the first time over on Twitter, and while the list is relatively long already, I feel like the proportion of true favorites on it is fewer than would normally be the case.

Without much competition, the best new-to-me movie I’ve seen so far this year is almost certainly The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, which I literally just caught earlier this month. Other standouts for me include The Pyschic (1977), Ghoulies 2, and finally getting to see War of the Gargantuas and The Unknown Terror, both for the first time.

My biggest month for watching movies was May, when I managed to catch 40. Hopefully, this all bodes well for the second half of the year, with even more new-to-me movies hopefully making the list, and more new favorites discovered.

I’ll also be continuing to host movies and podcasts at Stray Cat Film Center, though we’re taking a break for July, as usual. When we come back, we’ll be discussing what we did on our summer vacation and the 1997 “classic,” I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Of course, I’ll be reviewing movies periodically but, more to the point, if you would like to review some movies, I’m still movies editor at Exploits until they kick me out, and I’d love to get something from you. I’m particularly looking for pieces from marginalized voices, so please feel free to hit me up with a pitch for any movie you’d like to write about. We have a hard cap of 350 words and pay $10 per essay. I’ve got essays locked in for July and August, but I’d love to put a bow on the rest of the year.

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…