Well, 2021 sure was a year, huh? I guess it was better than 2020, all things considered, but I think we all also hoped to be someplace better than this by the time we bid 2021 adieu, yet here we are. I have a lot to be thankful for from the year gone by, and a lot to look forward to in the one to come, but that doesn’t mean that getting here was exactly a cake walk.

I’m not really here to rehash everything that happened in 2021. It was a lot. I stayed pretty into tabletop gaming, in spite of mostly not being able to actually play. I wrote a bunch more stuff for Privateer Press, including the contents of a couple of very successful Kickstarters, with another on the way. I didn’t publish a ton of stories, but I had a few come out, and I’m proud of them all.

I kept a daily aesthetic thread on Twitter every single day for the whole year. For the entire month of June, I wrote a tweet-length “story” about a giant monster every day. I got lampooned by the Midnight Society. I largely quit using Goodreads. I read a lot of old comic books and watched a lot of movies, and occasionally wrote about both. I read fewer books than either of those other things, but not none. I did a presentation for the Johnson County Library and peer-reviewed a book for a major university press. I wrote regular columns for Signal Horizon, Unwinnable, and Weird Horror.

It’s been a lot, is what I’m saying.

But a lot of it has been good. My freelance work has kept my nose to the grindstone for much of the year, but I can’t really complain. In all, things in my life have been pretty great, even as the world around me doesn’t always come out looking so rosy.

I said I wasn’t here to rehash the year, though, and I’m not. I’m here to do my usual roundup of things that I watched and read. If you want something more like a proper end-of-the-year list, you can find me writing up a few of these items in various places online, or listen to me chatting with Tyler Unsell about them at the Horror Pod Class.

Now, let’s do the numbers. In the course of 2021, I watched some 270 movies. Of those, 173 were ones that I watched for the first time. Of those, roughly 19 were actually released in 2021. My busiest month was October, at 40 movies. My least was May, with only 13. The first movie I watched in 2021 was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), the last was Zeiram (1991).

As I’ve done for a couple of years now, I kept an ongoing Twitter thread of my favorite new-to-me movies of the year, as I watched them. Of those, the highlights not released in 2021 included (in the order that I saw them) Nightmare in Wax (1969), Night of the Devils (1972), Anguish (1987), Opera (1987), Death Ship (1980), City of the Living Dead (1980), Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Spider Labyrinth (1988), The Boneyard (1991), Possession (1981), Frankenstein 1970 (1958), The Snake Girl and the Silver-haired Witch (1968), and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972).

My favorite books that I read in 2021 include Jonathan Raab’s The Secret Goatman Spookshow, Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw, and Richard Sala’s (sadly posthumous) Poison Flowers & Pandemonium.

My favorite movie released in 2021 (of the 19, remember, that I saw) was Malignant, which also gave us our Monster of the Year, that thing I do frankly sporadically because I don’t always remember to, what?

Gabriel is one of the best parts of a bonkers movie that I absolutely loved and that was definitely the best time I had in a theater all year – and I’m so glad I managed to see it in a theater, because damn.

There were a few other good monsters this year, to boot, many of them in horror movies. I also dug Antlers more than most people seem to have, and it had a great monster designed (at least partly) by Guy Davis. There are several other movies with promising monsters that I haven’t yet seen, including The Night House and The Green Knight. (Everyone else absolutely loved Raatma in V/H/S ’94, but it didn’t do that much for me, even though it looks a lot like a Trevor Henderson creep.)

Monsters also showed up in a lot of the big-budget movies of the year, too, with Starro from Suicide Squad deserving of a special mention, even though I haven’t actually seen Suicide Squad just yet. There’s stuff I’m looking forward to in 2022, but a lot of it isn’t necessarily new releases. Toward the end of the year, I got Severin’s All the Haunts Be Ours boxed set of folk horror movies, so I can’t wait to check those out, along with Arrow’s massive Shawscope boxed set. Plus, October of 2022 should see the release of my next collection from Word Horde, not to mention some other stuff that I can’t talk about just yet.

And that’s basically it for closing out what I inadvertently dubbed “the Year of Dumb Shit” over at Unwinnable. Here’s to hoping that shit in 2022 is maybe a little less dumb, even if the movies can stand to stay this dumb, that’s totally fine.

I said last time that you might not hear from me until it was 2022 and, well, we’re pretty close. But I just needed to pop in and say a few things about what’s been going on around here since my last post, perhaps most notably to point out the culmination of that last surprise I mentioned back then.

My latest story went live at Pseudopod on Christmas Eve. Unlike most of the others that I’ve had performed there over the years, this one is an original that has never before been published anyplace else. It’s the result of my attempt to write something like a traditional “ghost story for Christmas,” one that takes place – or, at least, culminates – on Christmas Eve.

Except that this is me, and so it isn’t really a ghost story, in the proper sense, and is more of a monster story, about a weird bug that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. As always, Pseudopod has done a dynamite job of producing the audio, and Alasdair, as always, manages to tease out the themes of the story so elegantly in his intro and outro that I don’t really have anything to add. So, if you missed it, check out “The Humbug” at Pseudopod now.

If you don’t do audio fiction, no worries. You can also read it on their site and it’ll be in my next collection, which is due out from Word Horde in 2022. Aside from that, I haven’t gotten up to much since I last posted here, save for holiday stuff and the usual work. However, as the candle of 2021 gutters and burns its last, the days of Best of the Year lists have begun.

Due to the weirdness of the Plague Times, I once again won’t have the usual installments at various places, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t hear about some of my favorite things of the past year at Signal Horizon and Unwinnable. In fact, one has already appeared, as I wrote about Jonathan Raab’s The Secret Goatman Spookshow, which was my favorite read of 2021, among a bunch of other contributors over at Unwinnable.

To see the rest (including my favorite new movie that I saw in 2021 – I’ll give you three guesses), just keep an eye on my social media and until then, I’ll see you in the future!

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:

A few days ago, I posted to Instagram photos of the cover of an issue of Satan’s Six, a short-lived 1993 comic from Topps that – like so many other comics rolled out and just as quickly dispatched during that oft-unfortunate era – bore the name of Jack Kirby, if little enough else of the King remained in their pages.

I was dimly aware of the title prior to picking up the entire run on a lark at my friendly local comic shop, spurred on by that cover. But I had never investigated it any too carefully. As I said, such things were a dime a dozen at the time, and, as one person pointed out on Facebook when I posted the picture, Topps comics of its ilk, “were so hard to get rid of for a while that my neighborhood comic shop in the 90s gave one free away with every purchase.”

When I posted the picture, the comics were all still sealed in the bags that Topps comics of that era came in – accompanied by collectible cards that, likely, no one collects. However, curiosity is what had driven me to buy the comics in the first place, and it also drove me to open them up and read what was inside.

So I can safely say that the comics themselves are, in a word, terrible. Puerile and jokey while also attempting to be edgy and hip, the ’90s have much to answer for, and no touch of genuine wonder can be found within their pages. What few contributions Kirby does bring feel dated and at odds with the tone of the rest of the book and John Cleary’s art, while certainly matching the aforementioned tone, is decidedly chaotic and difficult to follow from a storytelling standpoint.

Which all serves to obscure something delightfully strange: the subject of that cover, tacked onto the fourth issue, that prompted me to buy the comics in the first place, and to post the photo that I did.

First, a little background: Satan’s Six, for those who would prefer to be spared looking the series up, concerns a quintet of characters all consigned to limbo who are trying to earn a place in either heaven or hell – and who have been employed by Satan to do the latter. (The sixth is rounded out by Frightful, a genuine-article demon sent to keep tabs on them.)

At the beginning of the fourth and final issue, their demonic master – not Old Scratch himself, but a middle manager – arrives to chastise them for not doing a better job, and brings along a little muscle in the form of none other than Jason Voorhees. Y’see, for those who haven’t already done the math, this was the same year that Jason went to hell in the ninth installment of the Friday the 13th franchise, and the comic seems to be after a little cross-promotion.

In fact, Jason’s demonic sponsor is about to utter that film’s title when he gets cut off with a glib, fourth-wall-breaking, “I can’t let you use this comic for such a blatant plug!”

So, not only does “ol’ dead-face himself” show up for a pointless brawl that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, he also crops up in the bullpen at the back of the issue, where then-editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup advertises not just the movie (which New Line claims will be the “very last, ain’t gonna be no more, no way, no how”) but the Topps comic adaptation of same.

Here’s the thing, though. This issue of Satan’s Six was released in July of 1993 – a month before the film hit theaters, and the same month as the first issue of the Topps adaptation. Meaning that this is, as near as I can tell, basically Jason’s first appearance in a comic book – even if they do manage to misspell his name.

So that’s something, anyway.

Not that long ago, I wrote about the original Universal Mummy sequels of the 1940s for Unwinnable. Specifically, I wrote about the odd fact that they are (inadvertently) set in the future. You can read the beginning at that link and buy the issue to get the whole story, but the short version is that the first sequel is set contemporaneously, and then the subsequent ones jump ahead by about a generation every movie or two, meaning that, by The Mummy’s Curse (1944) it would be around 1995.

I love that shit, so imagine my surprise when I discover that there’s a movie from 1958, that’s set in 1970, starring Boris Karloff as an aging descendent of the original Baron Frankenstein, who was tortured and disfigured by the Nazis during World War II and who is now continuing his deceased forebear’s experiments. Now compound that surprise with the fact that the movie’s plot concerns a film crew who are shooting a TV special to commemorate “the 230th anniversary of Frankenstein,” and who are using Karloff’s castle so that he can afford to buy an at-home nuclear reactor, which is definitely a thing we had by the ’70s.

If that sounds like a lot, well, you’re not wrong. Crammed into 83 minutes, fully 40 of which are Karloff flipping switches and looking at dials, Frankenstein 1970 feels, at times, like three or four screenplays, none of which were even remotely finished, all jammed together into one movie and then still not finished. I loved it.

What the hell is Karloff’s character’s plan? It is unclear, at best, and he never seems to have even the beginning of an endgame. At one point, when his creature doesn’t yet have eyes, he apparently sends it out to fetch somebody for him, and is then disappointed when it brings back the wrong person.

“You fool,” he says, or something to that effect, “I sent you to bring me Row.”

“Boss,” I wanted the monster to reply, “maybe you forgot, but I don’t have eyes.

Several times in the film, there are what seem to be missing scenes that might illuminate some of the confusion, but unlikely anywhere near all. The 1970 conceit is meaningless outside the existence of at-home nuclear generators, and, frankly, so too is the film crew conceit. Any excuse – up to and including the old saw of their car breaking down in a storm – to get some fresh bodies into the Baron’s castle would have served as well.

Yet, the film crew thing is great, and not just for the metatext of it all. There’s a nicely-shot cold opening that could only ever end with the director shouting cut, in-movie. As for the 1970 idea, it could have been any year at all, including 1958. In fact, working titles for the film included Frankenstein 1960 and Frankenstein 2000.

As it stands, everything looks just like 1958 – or, rather, like 1958’s idea of what an old castle would look like, using sets mainly leftover from John Barrymore’s house in Too Much, Too Soon, the biopic of his daughter Diana, adapted from her memoir.

Karloff, of course, steals the show, reminding us of his range as he is as sadistically sinister here as he has ever been warm and grandfatherly in any other picture. Under some impressive facial makeup and performing a dramatic limp and hunch, he oozes just enough charm to allow you to maybe buy that people wouldn’t just run screaming, while still casting a long, dark shadow over every scene he’s in.

And as for the monster, it’s the coup de grace. Before I even knew that this movie existed, I had seen a shot or two of the monster, and that’s what ultimately made me dig up the further information that was more than enough to justify a purchase. Played by 6′ 8″ actor Mike Lane – who also plays the actor playing the monster in the movie they’re making within the movie – the monster looks a bit like the mummy of an astronaut.

Always depicted in head-to-toe bandages, wrapped around a piece of headgear that makes it look like a robot, the monster is very different than any other Frankenstein monster you’ve ever seen. Lane’s considerable height, towering over even Karloff, certainly helps. Also helping this along is that the Baron apparently just lets it wander around, eyeless, which seems like a very poor way to keep your elaborate secret.

But then, see above about the Baron not being really amazing at planning.

“We got some goblins that’ll kill you, man.”

It’s NaNoWriMo and, for the first time in a year or two, I am not inadvertently participating simply by dint of having so much freelance work on my plate that I write well over 50,000 words in the course of the month – though I do still have a lot of work, so I may crack that number without breaking a sweat anyway.

Instead, I am going to be talking about writing some. Specifically, I will be talking about writing licensed fiction and work-for-hire stuff and how to take inspiration from the movies over at the Johnson County Library Writers Conference. It’s my first time as a presenter at said conference – and my first time presenting online pretty much ever – so I’m more than a little nervous, but you’re all still welcome to come check out one or both lectures/workshops. Plus, there’s lots of other cool stuff going on!

The conference is all online, so you don’t have to be local to the Kansas City metro, and it’s totally free. You can learn more at this here link, and if you want to stop by for my sections, I’ll be talking about writing licensed fiction TOMORROW at 4pm CDT and doing a longer workshop on how to write from movies, rather than for them on Saturday starting at 3pm CDT and running until 5.

The former will be a pretty straightforward talk about how I got into writing licensed fiction (primarily for Privateer Press), its relationship to fan fiction, how it differs from my regular work (and how it’s similar), and what my experience with it has been. The latter will be a more in-depth discussion of both the similarities and differences between film and prose, and how the strengths of one can be adapted to fit the other.

Anyone who has read much of my fiction knows that I draw a lot of inspiration from film, and I at least seem to do an okay job of it. But translating film to prose isn’t a one-for-one process, and knowing how to borrow is perhaps more important than knowing what to borrow.

Both sessions will be recorded and available on the library’s website in the future, if you can’t make it this weekend. In the meantime, I dunno, wish me whatever the Zoom equivalent of “break a leg” is…

The last few days of October found me – perhaps unsurprisingly – very busy, but I had a good month and, ultimately, a good birthday and Halloween, despite some setbacks, and the fact that we are now in the Second Year of the Plague. Even though I was frankly incredibly busy, I managed to watch a lot of movies during the month of October, with an average of just slightly more than half of them being first-time watches for me. Highlights from those include Antlers, Last Night in Soho, The Boneyard, Sweet Home, Fatal Frame, Possession, Seance, and the various Fear Street flicks.

Just in time for Halloween, my story “Screen Haunt” went live at Pseudopod. I’m proud of this one, which was originally published in It Came from the Multiplex by Hex Publishers. And, as always, the folks at Pseudopod did a bang-up job producing the story, with Alisdair Stuart pulling together themes maybe more eloquently than I ever could have in his outro, and Lalana Dara doing a perfect job on the narration.

Over the preceding month, we had a successful Kickstarter for the latest installment of the Iron Kingdoms RPG, for which I wrote… a considerable amount. And we also had a rousing subscription drive for Unwinnable (technically still going through the end of the day), where we unlocked not only a “monsters” themed issue (which I am, to no one’s surprise, thrilled about) but also a Doom issue and more. In fact, we’re only a tiny handful of subscribers shy of the final goal, so if you’ve been on the fence before now, go toss in a few bucks. It’s more than worth it.

On my birthday, in what I can only assume was a gift meant directly for me, my publisher opened an honest-to-Godzilla brick-and-mortar store selling all the best stuff in the world, including big piles of my books. Sadly, it’s all the way out in Petaluma, California, so I haven’t been there yet, but I am sure I will go someday.

For Halloween itself, I had a relatively quiet night with my adopted family, handing out candy, scaring trick-or-treaters, watching House on Haunted Hill, and playing Campy Creatures. On the drive home, I listened to ghost stories read by the mellifluous voice of Vincent Price himself. It was a good night.

Among those who share my predilections, the day after Halloween can be a somewhat dismal prospect. It is, after all, the longest possible time of the year before more Halloween. And yet, we would all do well to remember that Halloween is not the end of the spooky season; it’s the beginning.

We stand now at the gateway of a season in which the days are short, the nights are long, and spirits or branches or spirits that we tell ourselves are branches scratch at the windows. From now until the spring thaw, we are deep in ghost story weather. And we shall all remember Halloween, and keep it in our hearts all year long.

Each tick of the clock brings us ever closer to the Great Event, that grandest of all nights, Halloween. In the meantime, though, there are a few other things that are ticking down, too, and some will be over before that one comes to pass.

For those who have been following along, I’ve been doing a lot of work on the new, 5e-compatible Iron Kingdoms: Requiem books for Privateer Press. These tomes not only bring the classic Warmachine and Hordes setting to 5e for the first time, they also update the setting itself to the way it exists today, in the aftermath of the Claiming – also for the first time. And if you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry, the books will explain it.

Anyway, the latest installment is currently on Kickstarter and it’s entering its final hours. In fact, as I write this there’s only about a day left. It’s already funded, so at this point we’re just blowing away stretch goals, and while the stretch goal that’s a new adventure written by yours truly isn’t likely to materialize, there’s still some pretty cool stuff within reach. So, if you’ve been on the fence about it, now’s the time to get involved.

Plus, if you head on over to the Kickstarter page and check out the updates, you can get a gander of artist’s renditions of just a tiny handful of the many weird creatures I got the pleasure of designing this time around. And there’s plenty more (and plenty weirder) waiting in the wings where that came from.

And that’s not all. While the Kickstarter for Iron Kingdoms: Borderlands & Beyond closes up shop in about a day’s time, the Unwinnable subscription drive runs through the end of the month. For those who don’t know, Unwinnable is an incredible indie publication that pays its writers and publishes some of the best, smartest crit, essays, and cultural appreciation around – all based on an ad-free model that relies on your subscriptions.

We’ve already done really well on the drive, unlocking the “monster” theme issue that I absolutely had to get unlocked in order to survive, but we’ve still got more cool stuff up our sleeves, including a Doom-themed issue that’s about a minute away from unlocking. Besides movie reviews and my regular column on board games over at Unwinnable, I’ve also written long-form essays on everything from Monster Squad to my love of dungeon crawl games to, most recently, the weird fact that the original Universal Mummy sequels are actually set in the 1970s through the ’90s.

Few other publications would give me such free reign, so if you like reading the random nonsense that comes pouring out of my head, toss a coin to the folks at Unwinnable, who help to prop up such bizarro “journalism” from me and plenty of other incredibly talented writers and artists.

That may be the last you hear directly from me in this space before the one-two punch of my birthday and Halloween, but I’ll be very active on social media over the next few days, and there’s still a whole lot going on, so stay tuned…

The last of these Crestwood House books I found is also the other one that covers a movie I’ve never seen. In this case, that’s Joe May’s 1939 film House of Fear, itself a remake of Paul Leni’s 1928 film The Last Warning, which was an adaptation of a stage play of the same name that was, itself, an adaptation of a story with this film’s title, written by Wadsworth Camp, who was the father of Madeleine L’Engle.

[deep breath]

“The people who bought tickets probably thought they were going to see a horror film,” the authors say in the book, by way of introduction. “They knew that most of the films with similar names took place in haunted houses. In addition, Universal was famous for movies about monsters, vampires, and werewolves.” (Less the werewolves in 1939, since only Werewolf of London had hit screens by then, and The Wolf Man wasn’t coming until the following year, but we’ll let them have it.)

“The audiences must have been surprised,” the authors continue. That seems somewhat unlikely, given the fare that surrounded House of Fear was frequently of this “murder mystery by way of Scooby-Doo variety,” and such old dark house films and plays had been de rigueur for years by ’39. It’s a good way to distinguish House of Fear from the other books in this set, though.

This isn’t a monster movie, nor even a gothic in the House of Seven Gables vein. Instead, this is very much a whodunit, just that the “who” in question wants the characters – just as the filmmakers want the audience – to believe that there’s a ghost loose in the theatre, until the mask is pulled off the proverbial Old Man Withers at the end.

It starts with a murder during a live production of a stage play. Then, the corpse vanishes, as corpses were so often wont to do in these old movies. “A dead body can’t walk away, can it?” one of the characters says. From there, the action jumps forward a year. The theatre has been sitting empty, because anytime anyone tries to put on a play in it, there are ghostly happenings that scare everyone off.

We’re treated to some of these spectral goings-on, such as an impossible phone call from a disconnected phone (“You didn’t talk to anyone on this phone,” the phone company rep tells our lead. “It’s as dead as a graveyard.”) We just hear about others, such as the genuinely creepy story of an actor looking through the keyhole into the murdered man’s dressing room and seeing the body “rolling around on the floor.”

Because this is a whodunit with an ultimately naturalistic explanation (even if they never bother to explain how the bad guys pulled off things like the phantom phone call), we have to establish a number of possible motives for potential perpetrators, while also telling both the story of the detective pretending to be a Broadway producer in order to catch the killer, and sprinkling in the eerie happenings that are meant to convince us there really is a ghost.

All of which means that House of Fear actually feels unusually dense compared to the other books in this set, even though I don’t think it’s any longer.

I’ve seen a lot of people argue that the film itself is a minor effort, especially compared to its silent predecessor, but I love these kinds of spooky whodunits, and the book makes it sound like something I’ll really enjoy, whenever I finally get to see it! Until then, I’ve got this nice little book…

Happy Halloween!

“Frankenstein’s Monster has had more lives than a cat!”

So begins the prologue of the Crestwood House book on Ghost of Frankenstein, the 1942 film that was the fourth in Universal’s Frankenstein series. The authors go on to give us an extremely condensed history of the franchise, starting with Mary Shelley’s novel and continuing through the previous three Universal films, devoting about a sentence to each one. (They also incorrectly identify the Frankenstein of the book as “the mad Dr. Heinrich Frankenstein,” rather than Victor Frankenstein.)

“Was that the end of Frankenstein’s Monster?” they ask, after their recap of 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. “Perhaps it should have been. But the Monster was still selling movie tickets.”

That “perhaps it should have been” may have been intended by the authors as a nod to the tragic – for himself and others – trajectory of the Monster’s life, but given that we’re about the read about Ghost of Frankenstein, it sounds a bit like they’re lamenting that the franchise has staggered on this long.

Indeed, there are several points in the narrative when it seems like the authors’ hearts simply aren’t in it this time around, even though this is one of the volumes copyrighted in 1985 rather than ’87, meaning there were still several more to come. Also, it’s a bit hard to tell whether they were just less into retelling Ghost of Frankenstein or whether that sensation is because, let’s face it, Ghost of Frankenstein is a bit of a hot mess.

Everyone changes their mind at the drop of a hat, the literal ghost of Frankenstein shows up at one point and begs to have his creation not be destroyed which… doesn’t seem in keeping with the events of the previous films, let’s say. And that’s not getting into how this movie really doubles down on the idea that the problem with the Monster is that it has a criminal’s brain – never mind that the Monster is pretty uniformly gentle and good-natured until people attack or betray it.

Which is not to say that the novelization isn’t occasionally able to rise to a kind of poetry, even with its simplistic language. “Now I see,” Ygor says, when lightning strikes the Monster and revivifies it. “Dr. Frankenstein was your father, but the lightning was your mother!” You can virtually hear Bela Lugosi’s unmistakable voice uttering the lines, even if you haven’t watched the movie lately, and even though – as has been the case with most of the rest of these books – the actual lines in the film are subtly different.

Indeed, re-watching Ghost of Frankenstein after reading the book, the authors once again make a host of sometimes inexplicable changes. For example, in the book, it’s Ludwig Frankenstein’s daughter who suggests the rather grisly idea of performing vivisection on the Monster in order to destroy it, while in the movie it is Frankenstein himself who proposes it, and she never offers anything remotely as bloodthirsty.

Once again, perhaps the most striking deviation is left for the (relatively muddled, even on screen) ending, however. The broad strokes are mostly the same, as Ygor’s brain is secretly switched at the last minute and implanted into the monster. However, in the movie we get the explanation that Ygor’s blood type is different from the Monster’s, meaning that the blood won’t feed the sensory organs and leading the “Ygor-Monster’s” sight to fail, before he is ultimately consumed in a fire that destroys the house, as fires are wont to do in movies like this.

The book… makes less sense. “I forgot that the Monster’s blood won’t feed a normal brain,” Frankenstein crows as the Ygor-Monster goes blind in the book. “Ygor’s brain is dying!”

That’s… there’s a lot to unpack there. What does he mean by a “normal brain” in this context? Given that the movie version of Frankenstein’s Monster received a criminal brain, are we to assume that criminals – or possibly the mentally ill – have different blood than other people? And given that Ygor is probably both a criminal and mentally ill, shouldn’t he be fine?

The movie also gives no such indication that Ygor’s brain is “dying,” merely that he can’t see. He dies – or is implied to – when the house burns down, though, of course, the Monster will be back the following year in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

In the movie, Frankenstein’s daughter and her love interest walk silently away from the burning house and into a sunset as the end titles come up. In the book they do that, too, but the authors put some condescending dialogue in the mouth of the male lead. “Don’t look back,” he tells Frankenstein’s daughter. “Your grandfather died in the same kind of fire that has killed your father. Now it is up to us to go on with our lives.”

Sure, guy, that follows.