My quest to watch The World of Vampires began with a .gif on Twitter. A delightful image of a flying rubber bat cast in a verdigris sheen with glowing orange eyes, it quickly became my favorite rubber bat of all time. With a little digging, I was able to find other .gifs from the same film and, eventually, to track down that film’s title, thanks to the help of the Facebook hivemind.

tumblr_ndtv9lMx3w1s01qkyo1_500

Finding the film initially took me to the Tumblr of Rhett Hammersmith, who had a wonderful collection of .gifs from the movie, including the ones I had already seen. Where he got the oddly color-cast images I still have no idea, but his page gave me enough information to track down the film. Once I had found it on IMDb under its Mexican-language title El Mundo de los Vampiros, I was surprised to discover that my local library actually had a DVD copy in English.

Released by Beverly Wilshire Filmworks and/or Telefilms International, the menu for the DVD had two options, “Bite Me,” which played the film, and “Bite Me Harder,” which took me to scene selections, for some reason. The movie was an American cut produced by K. Gordon Murray, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Samson vs. the Vampire Women, which, like tonight’s film, was also directed by Alfonso Corona Blake, who obviously knows how to do vampires up right.

The version I watched was dubbed and featured plenty of long monologues about the night and the power of vampires and the kind of stuff that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear if you’ve ever seen Samson vs. the Vampire Women. What it didn’t feature was much in the way of ambient noise, to the extent that a scene of people clapping was absolutely silent. It also looked like it was recorded off television half a century ago, complete with missing frames and plenty of visual noise.

All of which is a shame, because the movie is kind of a goofy delight, as you might imagine if you’ve ever seen the .gifs that led me to it in the first place. It opens, as these movies so often do, with our lead vampire, Count Subotai, who looks like he just stepped out of a telenovela, rising out of his coffin. As most of us like to do when we first wake up, he goes down into the gigantic cave under his house and plays an organ made of bones and skulls, which would have been right at home in a playset from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

His playing wakes up the film’s various other vampires, who would absolutely be its best feature if those adorable rubber bats weren’t about to show up. While Subotai and the requisite lady vampires all look about like you’d expect vampires in an old black-and-white horror movie to look—which is to say, like people with fake vampire fangs—the incidental vampires are all just people in capes wearing completely immobile vampire masks. It is a conceit made all the more charming by its absolute lack of necessity—it would have actually been easier to just give them vampire teeth, but no, it’s exaggerated vampire masks from hell to breakfast.

Subotai talks at length, if occasionally contradictorily, about his plans to get revenge on the Colman family who apparently killed him a hundred years ago, and also killed his ancestor three hundred yeas ago in Hungary, I guess. The Colman family has been busy, and I like to imagine them as precursors of the Belmont clan in Castlevania. As luck would have it, the only three remaining Colmans in the world, the older Sr. Colman and his two predictably lovely nieces, happen to live right nearby and are already acquainted with Count Subotai, who shows up at their house unannounced to interrupt some piano playing and then immediately leave again.

The piano playing in question is being performed by Rudolfo Sabre, who has some sort of romantic attachment to one of the Colman nieces. He studies music that produces “peculiar effects” and, wouldn’t you know it, happens to know a song that drives away vampires.

From there, the film devolves into the usual sequence of vampires showing up at peoples’ bedsides, those wonderful rubber bats, underground rituals complete with sacrificial altars, and long vampiric monologues. One of the nieces, Leonor, falls almost immediately under Subotai’s sway and becomes a vampire, while the other, Mirta, takes on the role of the film’s damsel in distress. Rudolfo, our ostensible hero, also gets bitten by a vampire fairly early on, and for the rest of the film undergoes a slow transformation which primarily involves his hands getting progressively hairier.

There’s a lengthy fistfight between Rudolfo and the count’s hunchbacked assistant, who looks more than a little like Gomez Addams, before the film’s final reel. In addition to being disabled by that one particular melody, the vampires in The World of Vampires seem to be particularly weak against punching, as Rudolfo manages to beat up an entire room full of them in order to rescue Mirta from their clutches. I hypothesized that this was because their masks made it hard for them to see.

In the end, Subotai is defeated and the vampires all disappear, except for Leonor, who looks to be cured, though at the last moment she flings herself down onto the same stakes that destroyed her “master.” Our theory was that she couldn’t stand to return to her old life after seeing how much better her makeup and wardrobe were as a vampire. Also, who could give up being able to turn into such an adorable rubber bat?

A lot has happened in the [checks watch] day or so since Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales first officially started to appear in the world where better books are sold or, if you pre-ordered direct from the publisher, in your mailbox. Before I get to anything else, let’s do some quick housekeeping:

First thing’s first: Now that Guignol is available, how about a contest? Just post a photo of your copy of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales to social media anytime in the month of October with the hashtag #Guignol, tag me, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a DVD or Blu-ray chosen more-or-less randomly from my own personal collection, along with a note about why I own that movie in the first place, and what, if anything, it has to do with my work. (U.S. only, unfortunately.)

Next up, while Guignol has officially hit streets already, the launch event is still happening in a little over a week. I’ll be at Driptorch in Manhattan, KS on Friday night, October 12 and then hosting a FREE screening of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday at the Tapcade in downtown KC at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, October 14. I’ll have copies of Guignol (and a few copies of Painted Monsters) at both events!

Now on to the new stuff: Guignol got its second-ever review, so far as I know, from Signal Horizon, calling it “Old-School Horror with a New School Sheen,” and I sat down to talk with Logan Noble about monsters and movies and movie monsters and writing and a bunch of other stuff. (For those who may have missed it, I also talked with Signal Horizon at the Screenland Armour a little before the book came out.) I’ll have more interviews and other stuff coming up as the month progresses…

In the meantime, it hasn’t all been Guignol around these parts. A few months back, I got a pile of screeners in the mail and turned them into a sort of home-brew film festival, which I wrote up for Unwinnable. Part One is here, tackling midnight movies like Twilight People and Bruce’s Deadly Fingers along with more “legitimate” fare like The Ghoul (not the Peter Cushing one or the Boris Karloff one).  Part Two goes even more off the rails, featuring a Mario Bava film, an unusual anthology flick, a morally ambiguous western, and a dark biopic of Jeffrey Dahmer.

A little more on-brand for me, I was also a guest on the Classic Horrors blog for the Countdown to Halloween where I wrote about the 1965 film Dark Intruder. Classic Horrors is the blog of Jeff Owens, who owned the video store where I worked in college, so this was a bit of a homecoming for me. And Dark Intruder, well, it’s something else. You’ll just have to read the post.

That’s about it for now, or it would be if I hadn’t been listening to the commentary track on the new Scream Factory Blu-ray of Someone’s Watching Me! yesterday while I was chopping veggies. The commentary is by Amanda Reyes, author of Are You in the House Alone? a book of TV movies from 1964 through 1999. I was just enjoying listening to her talk about TV movies in general and one of my favorite John Carpenter movies in specific when all of a sudden she quoted my 2011 Strange Horizons article on John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”!!!

Let’s pull that out and sit with it for a minute: I got quoted on the commentary track of a John Carpenter movie!

Not sure my week can get much better than that, but if it would like to try, I’m open to the idea.

dark-intruder-1

Today is the big day! As you read these words, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is shipping from the publisher, making its way to your mailbox, or being deposited onto the shelves of better booksellers everywhere to prey upon the unsuspecting.

Guignol Spines

I’ve had a box of copies sitting on the floor of my office for a few days now, and I’m planning some book launch festivities in the coming weeks. If you happen to be in Manhattan (the one in Kansas, not the one in New York), I will be reading at the Driptorch Creative Performance Series at Arrow Coffee Co. on October 12. And if you’re a Kansas City-area local, the official book launch party will be October 14 at the Tapcade, where I’ll also be hosting a FREE screening of Mario Bava’s gothic classic Black Sunday. I will have copies of the book available at both events.

More about what I’m doing for the rest of the month to come, but for now I wanted to talk a little (more) about Guignol, how it came to pass, and what you can expect to find between its covers. For those who are coming here fresh, Guignol is my third collection of short horror stories of the strange and supernatural, and my second from Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde imprint. From the cover art by Nick Gucker to the stories themselves, I think it makes a particularly good companion piece to my previous Word Horde collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

Guignol is slightly longer than my previous collections, and contains fourteen of my grimmest and darkest tales to date, though hopefully these “cruel stories” aren’t without their fun, too. It’s also probably got more monsters-per-page than anything else I’ve ever written, so there’s always that.

Of the fourteen weird stories in Guignol, four are appearing in print for the first time, while several others are out-of-print or difficult to find. The full table-of-contents is as follows:

Dream House
The Lesser Keys
Guignol
Shadders
The Blue Light
A Circle That Ever Returneth In
Programmed to Receive
The Well and the Wheel
Haruspicate or Scry
Dark and Deep
Invaders of Gla’aki
Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet
The Cult of Headless Men
When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars

Of course, all fourteen tales are accompanied by my usual author’s notes, plus the book features an introduction by none other than Gemma Files! All in all, I’m extremely happy with how Guignol has come together, and extremely grateful to Ross Lockhart for once again having me as a member of the Horde, and I can’t wait for it to make its way out into the world.

Guignol has already been reviewed at Publisher’s Weekly and Signal Horizon with more to come, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this and other suitably spooky topics throughout the month of October, but for now, happy book birthday to Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and if you didn’t already pre-order your copy, you can buy it direct from the publisher right here!

A very long time ago, when LiveJournal was still a thing, my standard user icon there was an old convention sketch that Mike Mignola had done of what would later become his signature skull-head guy. I used it so often, in fact, that I came to sort of be known for it.

Back then, I was also doing some work for a now-defunct magazine of classic-style weird fiction called The Willows. Ben Thomas, editor of The Willows, was putting together a masthead for the magazine that included little portraits of all the staff, done by my old friend Reyna. I asked if I could have her draw her own take on the skull-head guy to use as my staff portrait, and Ben agreed.

To go along with the portraits, we were all supposed to contribute a short bio. I’ve never enjoyed writing bios for myself, and so I was dragging my feet, as usual. In order to do layout, Ben composed a one-sentence bio for me as a placeholder. It read, simply, “Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters.” It has been my bio ever since.

Because the skull-head portrait was now sort of made official by its inclusion in the bio, when it came time to publish my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, I decided to check with the publishers at Evil Eye Books to see if I could stick with it. They agreed, and Reyna drew up a new version, which decorates the back cover of the first edition of Never Bet the Devil. By then, my identity as a skeleton was cemented, and there was no going back.

I used a version of the portrait on my website and my business cards. Before I started using it officially, though, I felt like I had to make sure it was okay. I reached out to Mike Mignola, told him the story, and asked him if he’d mind. He was kind enough to give me his blessing.

A few years later, I asked Mike Corley to do up a new version of the skeleton portrait, which currently decorates my website and business cards. Mike Corley would also illustrate the Strix Publishing reissue of Never Bet the Devil, where another take on the skeleton portrait appears as my “author photo.” A stand-in for my skeleton persona has since appeared on the covers of just about all of my books, with Nick Gucker handling the art duties on both Painted Monsters and Guignol and Thomas Boatwright doing me up for Monsters from the Vault.

TattooAll of this sort of came full circle recently when I saw someone post a photo of their tattoo on a Mike Mignola appreciation group that I’m a member of on Facebook. I recognized the tattoo immediately as… my author photo! The individual in question had never heard of me or Mike Corley, and didn’t know where he had gotten the image. He had made a couple of minor changes and embellished the whole thing with some tentacles, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

We had a nice conversation about it, and I sent him a copy of Never Bet the Devil, because it’s not every day that someone gets a tattoo of me, even by accident.

It’s not the only time that the resemblance between my skeleton persona and Mike Mignola’s skull-head guys has been noted, and it probably won’t be the last. It isn’t something I did on purpose, but I’m pretty happy about it. After all, Mike is probably my single biggest influence and inspiration, when it comes to the kind of work I do, and it’s nice to have my infatuation with his work tied up in my authorial persona this way.

Today is his birthday and, because I am good at stuff, I didn’t plan anything for it like I normally would, but the tattoo thing happened not that long ago, so I’m telling this story now, to mark the occasion.

So, of course, the big news is that my latest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is less than a month away! It’s currently available for pre-order from Word Horde, not to mention on all your favorite electronic devices! I’ll be talking a lot more about it as we get closer to release, but in the mean time, other things continue to happen, too…

My story “No Exit” appeared in Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road from Crystal Lake Publishing not too long ago. “No Exit” is another in my very loose story-cycle of tales that take place in the same world–or, perhaps more accurately, the same version of this world–along with “Hollow Earths” in Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth from Martian Migraine Press and a few others that haven’t actually seen print yet and some that have before I knew that I was writing a story cycle. More on that as it develops.

Speaking of stories, I have a very short one called “Masks” in the latest issue of Forbidden Futures, a magazine inspired by (and featuring) the art of Mike Dubisch. “Masks” tells the tale of what waits in the cluttered townhouse of an old makeup artist who has passed on, but left a few things behind.

Aside from writing stories, I spend most of my time on various freelance content jobs. Not too long ago, one of my freelance clients put me on retainer to write original mysteries for a sort of monthly murder mystery box called The Murder Chronicles. The contents will include “found documents” like newspaper articles, journal entries, notes, photographs, and more, all painting the story of a new mystery every month in the fictional Kansas town of Baker City. So far I’ve written a few months worth, and the first one should be shipping as I write this!

Murder Chronicles

Because they’re work-for-hire you won’t find my name on them anywhere, and because they’re written to order, the results are much more your typical “cozy mystery” than the weird horror stuff that you’re used to from me. But if a monthly murder mystery sounds like your cup of poison, it would probably help keep me gainfully employed if you were to subscribe and see how you like it.

A few months ago I was also a guest on the Lit KC podcast with my friend and former co-worker Jason Preu. The episode went live today as the show’s season finale, and in spite of the fact that I recorded it in the midst of the various stresses that have been my last year or so, I actually seem relatively coherent throughout, though my facts about Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales are necessarily somewhat dated. For one thing, it is actually going to have no less than four (4) original stories, though it’s still only 14 stories long. (Ah, the mysteries of publishing!)

That’s about it for now, but the Halloween season has officially begun, with stores starting to stock suitably spooky doodads, so there’ll be lots of seasonal content coming from me, not to mention lots more about Guignol in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned!

 

The day night has finally arrived, dark and stormy, as is only appropriate. A skeletal usher shows you the way into a moldering old movie palace, the seats hard and smelling of dust and old libraries. Above, in the darkness, something stirs, and you hear the rustling of a thousand leathery wings.

gost-cov300In front of you there is only a faded rectangle of light, the silver screen, waiting to show you its dreams and nightmares. You turn just a bit in your seat, trying not to draw attention to yourself, hoping to make out the faces of the other theatregoers, but you can see only blotchy shapes in the waiting dark behind you. Then your eyes are drawn back to the screen as the projector rattles to life. Up there are letters nine feet tall, written in crawling, shivering font that is now black, now purple, now red.

What do the letters say?

They say that Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, my latest collection of weird stories, is now up for pre-order from the fine and fiendish folks at Word Horde! Fourteen tales of terror and torment and, yes, more than a few monsters, all specially prepared with author’s notes and an introduction by Gemma Files, all for your delectation, nestled within a cover by Nick Gucker. What’s more, four of those tales have never seen print before, while several others are little-read or hard-to-find, including my out-of-print novelette The Cult of Headless Men.

Alongside those new tales are stories that previously appeared in Autumn CthulhuChildren of Gla’akiEternal FrankensteinGothic Lovecraft, and more! There are stories of ghosts and wizards, demonology and dark deeds done in the dead of night, stop-motion monsters and the lost episodes of old television shows, hidden passages in old houses and unusual methods of communicating with the dead. There are stories that take place in far-off and imaginary lands, on phantom planets and in times gone by, and there are stories as close as your own back yard.

I’ll be talking more about Guignol as it gets closer to publication, but in the meantime, if you really want to see what’s going to happen next on that sleeping silver screen, you’ll just have to buy your ticket and take your chances

 

There’s been a link making the rounds on Film Twitter lately alleging that 1994 was the Best Year For Movies Ever, or somesuch. I haven’t actually read it yet, and any time I’ve seen it posted it’s been in the form of someone indignantly asserting that, in point of fact, it wasn’t even the best year of that decade, etc. I’m not really here to talk about that.

Here’s what I am here to talk about: As I’ve watched people debating the merits of specific years in the ’90s, I’ve come to the realization that 1999 may be the most important year in film for me, personally, at least when it comes to seeing movies in the theatre.

I’ve loved movies for literally as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to regard loving movies as a part of my identity, for lack of any better way to put it, and seeing American Beauty in 1999 is probably the moment that made me realize that I liked movies, not just movies about ghosts and monsters–that I loved the form, as well as the content.

I’ve got clear, sharp, important memories of seeing movies in theatres prior to 1999: TremorsMonster SquadAlien 3Jurassic Park, an ill-fated attempt to take a date to see Screamers, which may go a long way toward explaining why I didn’t have more dates. But in 1999, I went to the movies just about every weekend, and I may have seen more movies on the big screen than any other year, before or since. (A more accurate portrait would extend this timeline both backward and forward, including parts of 1998 and 2000.)

American BeautyLake PlacidHouse on Haunted HillThe Mummy, the list goes on and on. I already liked movies before that year, but the movies I saw on the big screen in 1999 played a role in setting the stakes of my taste in movies, and letting me know that I had a taste, that there was something to the movies I liked that was distinct from them necessarily being “good” or “bad.” There was something about them that drew me, specifically.

I went to see The Haunting on opening night, through a theatre lobby filled with fake fog and cheap Halloween decorations. I had friends wave away my warnings about The Haunting and drag me back for a second showing, after which we went to see Lake Placid as penance. I drove with a bunch of other friends all the way to the other side of the city to see Princess Mononoke, the first anime I had ever seen on the big screen. I saw The Blair Witch Project on opening night, when the hype around it was still fresh and seeing it felt like an experience. I learned that I liked House on Haunted Hill more than ostensibly better movies like The Sixth Sense.

I also got to familiarize myself with the phenomenon of hype and disappointment, as I joined every other nerd on the planet standing in line for Star Wars Episode 1 only to get, well, Star Wars Episode 1.

Not everything I saw that year was something I liked, even then, and not everything that I liked then has stayed with me in the years since, but I learned a lot about myself, and my relationship to film, and to moviegoing, that year, and a lot of that has stuck with me, even as specific films faded away.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot more movies on home video than I ever did–or likely will–in theatres, and movies from a lot of different decades have had a huge impact on me at various times. If I had to pick a favorite year for movies, I have no idea what year I would decide on, and if I had to pick a favorite decade, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the ’90s. But if there’s one year of going to the movies that “made me,” then 1999 would probably be it, for better or for worse.