This has been a rough year in the Grey demesne. We started 2018 on a raft of health problems that we rode well into the middle of the year. And even once they were (mostly) resolved–honestly, do health problems ever really get completely resolved?–we spent the rest of the year paying for them. I lost a big paying client. And in spite of my best efforts we still haven’t tunneled into the timeline where Howard the Duck is president.

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On the plus side, though we stand on the cusp of 2019 bruised, battered, and low on health potions, the teeth of the universe haven’t yet torn the charge from our atoms. I ran a game of Iron Kingdoms in 2018, and we just completed out last session. Two of the characters were incapacitated, and one of the two who remained standing was holding on by the narrowest thread. That’s kinda how it feels like we’re going into 2019.

Which is not to say that the year wasn’t full of good things, too. I went to Panic Fest and the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which meant that I got to visit the Winchester Mystery House for the first time. I watched a lot of movies and made some new friends. I found a weird board game in the trash and took a picture of In the Mouth of Madness that I had always wanted to take. I became the Monster Ambassador at Signal Horizon and published stories in seven different venues, including my second appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. I had a whole book come out!

Of all the things I’m proud of in 2018, however, I think I’m most proud of the small things I did that were steps outside my comfort zone. I carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, made a necklace that I love, and made divinity, an overly sugary candy concoction that I remember fondly from my childhood. I didn’t do any of those things entirely by myself. Grace helped me with all of them, sometimes overtly, as with the divinity, and sometimes just by giving me the confidence I needed to try something that I might not be good at right away.

I watched 269 movies in 2018, 163 of which were new to me, keeping with my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than not each year. Of those, roughly 35 were released in 2018. My biggest months were October with 39 movies and, thanks to a couple of marathon days, December with 33. My favorite movies that were released in 2018 were, in no particular order, ErrementariLowlifeTigers Are Not AfraidAvengers: Infinity WarBlack Panther, and Apostle. There were a lot of movies I really wanted to check out that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet. The last movie I watched in 2018 was The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which was a good way to close out this weird and crappy year.

I didn’t read very many books in 2018, but of those I did read my favorite was probably Caleb Wilson’s Polymer, which I recommend very highly. The first book I read in 2018 was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan and the last was Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting as I pen this end-of-the-year wrap-up, but honestly I’m just in a hurry to show this garbage year the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out, 2018!

 

 

Christmas is behind us now, for those who celebrate, though the New Year is still a few days away and we’re now locked in the holiday limbo period between the two. For myself, I’m playing catch-up around the house and trying to fight off a (hopefully minor) illness in time to go watch Full Moon movies on VHS all day this Saturday, a more exciting prospect than any mere holiday could ever provide.

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So, what better time for me to mention a few things that have been happening while I’ve been busy with this or that. For starters, I made a second appearance at the Legends of Tabletop podcast where I was interviewed by Leah Bond and I was a guest at the Horror Pod Class podcast along with Sean Demory where we all talked about Candyman, Jordan Peele’s forthcoming remake of same, Clive Barker in general, “In the Hills, the Cities” in particular, and lots of other topics.

(Speaking of Jordan Peele, the trailer for his next film dropped on Christmas day and it is glorious.)

The Horror Pod Class is put on by the folks at Signal Horizon, who are good enough to have me on staff as a Monster Ambassador. In my ongoing efforts to sully the sanctity of that title, I recently reviewed the Arrow Video Blu-ray of Bloody Birthday and before that the Blue Underground release of Maniac, neither of which I had ever seen before diving into them. I promise that I’ll have some more appropriately monster-iffic content coming in the near-ish future.

Speaking of the not-too-distant future, Panic Fest is somehow almost upon us again already and, as I do every year, I will be in attendance making the rounds and watching awesome movies. If you’re local to Kansas City or planning to come in for the Fest, let me know and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Then, in March, I’m going to be a guest once again at the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which is being held at the Silver Scream FX Lab in Atlanta, Georgia. First, though, I’ve got to survive the last few days of 2018…

 

Putting this here because I’m going to get asked more than once, and I need a place to point people back to for the next four months or so. The trailer for the new Hellboy movie just dropped and, yeah, it’s scored to “Mony Mony,” which, as I said on social media, is certainly a decision, anyway.

If you want my take, I think that the trailer is the wrong tone to start off with, but there’s also nothing in it that guarantees a misfire in theatres. I do like that most of the stuff we can only see for a few seconds is straight out of the comics but, beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

But I’m not here to talk about the trailer, not really. What I’m here to talk about is the existence of this movie at all. As someone who is at least on speaking terms with some of the principals involved, I can tell you with as much certainty as one can ever muster about a Hollywood deal to which one was not directly privy that there was never going to be a third Guillermo del Toro Hellboy movie, regardless of anything he might have said. If there was, the day when it was possible was in the months following the release of Hellboy 2, and that day is long behind us now.

And, speaking from my own personal perspective, there never should have been. Hellboy 2 has many fine qualities, to be sure, but it fails as a sequel to the first film and even more as a Hellboy movie.

Guillermo del Toro’s first film was the best Hellboy movie that we could have gotten at the time, given the realities of comic book adaptations in 2004. In fact, I would argue that it played a big (and largely unsung) role in getting us from there to here. But things have changed a lot in the last decade, both in the movies and in the comics, and a Hellboy adaptation made now has the opportunity to cleave closer to the source material than Del Toro’s version ever could have.

Will this movie be the one to do it? Only time (and definitely not a brief teaser trailer) will truly tell.

I had actually never heard of The Magician prior to seeing a .gif of it on Rhett Hammersmith’s Tumblr. The .gif—a sculpture of a devilish faun collapsing onto actress Alice Terry—was enough to get me to track down the film. Long considered lost, The Magician didn’t get any kind of home video release until it was put out on DVD by TCM in 2011, which is the version I watched.

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It’s a shame that The Magician isn’t better known. While it may never quite reach the gothic heights of such silent horror classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Faust, Haxan, and so on, The Magician is, at worst, one rung beneath those, and at its best can give them a run for their money.

Directed by Rex Ingram, who was once called “the world’s greatest director,” The Magician was shot on location Paris and Monte Carlo, and in Ingram’s studios in Nice, France, giving it an unshakably European feel and a sense of scope and modernity that is denied to many of its stagebound contemporaries and even the talkie horror films that would follow it.

Ingram adapted The Magician from the 1908 novel of the same name by M. Somerset Maugham, who was, in his turn, purported to have based the titular magician on Aleister Crowley. In fact, Crowley actually wrote a critique of The Magician the year that the novel was released, in which he accused Maugham of plagiarism. Perhaps ironically, the critique appeared in Vanity Fair under the pen name “Oliver Haddo,” the name of the magician from Maugham’s novel and Ingram’s film.

Both film and novel tell the story of Haddo (played by Paul Wegener, of The Golem and others), a “hypnotist and magician” who is attempting to use an alchemical formula to create new life. In order to complete his experiment, however, he needs the “heart’s blood of a maiden.” Enter sculptor Margaret Dauncey, played by Alice Terry, Ingram’s wife and frequent collaborator. We are introduced to Margaret before any of the other characters, in the scene that produced the .gif which drew me to the film in the first place.

The massive satyr sculpture that crushes Margaret is the first of many indelible images in the film. Others include an almost Boschian scene of Dionysian revelry which also would have been right at home in Haxan, complete with a “dancing faun” who ravishes a girl in front of a decidedly yonic archway, reminding us all that there wasn’t a Hays Code yet in 1926.

When Aleister Crowley was accusing Maugham of plagiarism, he listed a variety of works, including The Island of Doctor Moreau. Conspicuously absent from the list is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, yet the shadow of that novel falls heavy over the cinematic version of The Magician. While the definitive film version of Frankenstein was still several years away, many of the elements of it are already present here, including a climax in an “ancient sorcerer’s tower” on a dark and stormy night, not to mention the eponymous magician’s diminutive assistant.

Haddo’s laboratory may lack the modern amenities and galvanic equipment of James Whale’s Frankenstein, but the bones of the monster are already in place. Most Frankenstein films don’t end with quite such a brawl as this one does—making good use of Paul Wegener’s somewhat hulking physique—though they do often feature the climactic inferno that we see here.

So, last night I sat on couches detailed like the spacesuits from Planet of the Vampires and watched three John Carpenter movies that I have seen roughly 1,000 times each (and, in at least one case, been quoted in a book about) with a bunch of other movie nerds at the third annual CarpenterFest at the Screenland Armour and it was great. We saw Assault on Precinct 13 and Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. It was hosted by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia/Nightmare Junkhead podcast, who were kind enough to single me out for some praise before the last movie.

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Before the event, I called CarpenterFest the film fest that I am duty bound to attend while also being able to recreate it in my living room at a moment’s notice. That proved true in this case, but watching movies in my living room is a very different experience from watching them in a theater full of people. And in spite of the aforementioned having seen them 1,000 times, I had actually forgotten that Prince of Darkness ends on a “top still spinning” scene, just as The Thing does.

In the run-up to CarpenterFest, I had a couple of things drop that I haven’t gotten a chance to post about before now. My review of Torso and The Wizard of Gore went live over at Unwinnable, and while I’m not supposed to pick favorites from my own writing, I’m really happy with how this double-review turned out.

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Also, a little while ago, I was asked to guest-host an episode of Pseudopod. I was happy to do it, especially when they told me that the episode they wanted me to introduce was two stories by Manly Wade Wellman. As I say in the intro, there are three “old dead white guy” writers who I think are probably the biggest influences on the way I write today, and those writers are E.F. Benson, William Hope Hodgson, and Manly Wade Wellman. The two stories are “These Doth the Lord Hate” and “The Golgotha Dancers,” both pretty great, and the latter an excellent example of Wellman’s aptitude for weird creatures.

If you aren’t already familiar with Wellman’s work and this episode piques your interest, I cannot recommend him highly enough, and would suggest starting with his Silver John stories or the recent Shadowridge Press reissue of Worse Things Waiting, complete with the original illustrations by Lee Brown Coye.

It’s the first day of December, which means that I’ve finally started reading Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent, illustrated by Yves Tourigny, which has been sitting on my shelf, taunting me for some time now. The plan is to do it up like a proper advent calendar and read one story a day from now until Christmas.

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In the meantime, for those who can’t get enough of hearing me ramble about movies, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to be reviewing a lot more of them in the near future. Most of them won’t be here, however, they’ll be in various other venues, notably Signal Horizon, where I have the title of “Monster Ambassador,” maybe the best business title I have ever gotten, and Unwinnable.

Right now, you can read my recent reviews of the 40th anniversary Blu-ray of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (which I had never actually seen before) and the Unearthed Films Blu-ray of The Unnamable (which I had also never seen before) over at Signal Horizon, and a double review of Torso and The Wizard of Gore are coming soon to Unwinnable.

If you’re really eager, you can catch up on previous reviews of Blade of the Immortal and Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” that I wrote for Unwinnable while you wait.

I haven’t written a review for it anywhere, but if I only convince you to watch one movie in the immediate future, make it Errementari on Netflix. In a year without a Lowlife, Errementari would have no trouble being my favorite film of 2018 so far. As it is, the two are neck-and-neck. For some idea of what Errementari is like, think a Basque version of Pan’s Labyrinth set during the Carlist Wars, with suit actors playing devils that look like medieval drawings. In other words, it is extremely my jam.

As with most people, I’m sure, money is a bit tight as we head into the holiday season. If you happen to have anything to spare that you’d like to throw into my proverbial hat, this is my periodic reminder of my Ko-fi account, where you can help me pay for monster movies or (as is the more likely case of late) vet bills. Or, you can always buy yourself (or someone on your gift list) a copy of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales or one of my other books. Every sale helps!

Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday for all sorts of reasons, but just as the agnostic in me can enjoy Christmas or any other non-secular holiday (with its own freight of both Christian and pre-Christian baggage), I can also still take a day to spend time with the people I love and remind myself to be grateful for the things that I have.

This year I have lots of things to be grateful for. After a particularly tough year in the Grey demesne, the overall health of our populace seems to be returning to something more resembling “normal.”

More than perhaps anything else, I’m thankful for the people in my life. I am lucky enough to have friends who are closer than family. Some of them live near me, and some are very far away. Some I have already seen this holiday season, and others I have never actually stood in the same room with, but to all of you, wherever you are, you are, in so many ways, the best parts of my life. If it weren’t for you folks and dumb monster movies, there’d be very little to make any of this worth doing.

I’m grateful to have Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales out in the wild, and grateful to everyone who has purchased it, read it, reviewed it, and so on. I’m particularly grateful to be working with Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde once again and hey, on the subject, they’re having a Black Friday sale that runs through the weekend where you can get 25% off any of their very fine titles, including the aforementioned Guignol or Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

I’m thankful for the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird and everyone who makes it possible, which, more on that to come. I’m grateful for some story sales that I can’t announce just yet, but very soon.

I’ve recently come off a pretty good October, and I’m grateful to the local Kansas City film community for helping to make that happen. Of special note, I appreciate the folks at Screenland who host great programming all year round, and to Elijah at Magnetic Magic Rentals who always shows us a great time at Analog Sundays, and, of course, the Nerds of Nostalgia who put on the Nerdoween triple-feature, which has been my annual tradition for four years now. I’m grateful that Panic Fest is only a couple of months away, and that I live in a place that has one of the best genre film fests around!

This could go on and on, and maybe it should, but I’m going to call it a night. Basically, it can be all-too-easy to get caught up in the agonizing hellscape that our current timeline often seems to be intent on contorting itself into, so sometimes it’s good to stop and remember what I’m grateful for. Which, if you’re reading this, is mostly you.

(And monster movies.)