Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Exists


I've gotta tell you, I'm a sucker for movies about Bigfoot and other cryptozoological beasties. During my teenage years, it was a rich time for all things Bigfoot, with movies such as... wait for it... Bigfoot, with John Carradine (surely one of the world's worst movies, yet such an all-fired hoot I can't help but love it); The Legend of Boggy Creek; The Creature From Black Lake; Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot; et. al. Exists hearkens back to just that kind of movie — both hokey and creepy as all get-out. It's directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who brought us The Blair Witch Project and others some years back. Not unlike Blair Witch, this one is largely seen through the eyes of various cameras — Go-Pros, cell phones, and such — though it isn't found-footage per se. The camera's eye views are not as erratic and shaky as Blair Witch or Cloverfield (the latter of which I refuse to watch again because the shaky-cam footage isn't just overdone, it's stupidly overdone). Exists, fortunately, is largely shown through a more traditional camera lens and features an honest-to-god score, composed by Nima Fakhrara.

The story is classic drive-in movie fare: five young adults — brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn), Dora (Dora Madison Burge), Todd (Roger Edwards), and Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) — take a weekend trip to a remote cabin, located somewhere in the wilds of eastern Texas. On the way, they run over some critter, which they take to be a deer until they discover some odd hair stuck in the radiator grill. It isn't long before something begins making scary squalling sounds out in the woods and then comes prowling around the cabin. Next thing you know, said something has smashed the youngsters' car, leaving them stranded and all but helpless. Matt decides to try fleeing on a bicycle so he can bring help. Alas, he never reaches his destination. And the remaining four young people become subject to a relentless assault by the thing — or things — out in the woods. There is much destruction, screaming, hollering, and even some blood. These young 'uns at last realize that their chances of getting out of the woods alive are mighty slim.

The wooded setting and cabin couldn't be more conducive to frightening things happening; happily, it's all filmed on location, without any dopey-looking sets or crappy CGI. There's an atmosphere of both serenity and strangeness about the woods that couldn't be more genuine. (As a matter of fact, the woods closely resemble those around what I call the Bigfoot Trail, just a few miles up the road, where I've done quite a bit of geocaching over the years.) Until just about the end of the film, the critters are shown only in silhouette or in quick cuts, and one scene, in which the monster is seen as a black shadow racing through the woods alongside a trail in pursuit of Matt on his bicycle, is actually pretty hair-raising. When, at the end, we have the big reveal, it's not disappointing. It's pretty damned good. I'd go so far as to say Exists offers a few of the best-staged Bigfoot scenes, well, maybe ever.

What Exists also offers... unfortunately... is a great big nasty-tasting, nausea-inducing, brick shit house full of stupid. Oh, my lord. The characters, to the last, are obnoxious, ever-swearing, hyper-screaming, pot-smoking, stereotypical boneheads who can't formulate a rational thought even when they're not panicking, and there's more than enough panic going on here for about four movies. Yes, it may bloody well be true that in highly stressful, likely deadly situations, many people will, in fact, lose their shit. But I think that segment of the population has been more than adequately represented in horror movies over the years, and I am weary beyond weary of them. (And even most of them would have a fair idea of when to actually get rid of the Go-Pro.) Why not make a movie with the same scenario but with characters who, between them, have more than a single functioning brain cell? Or at least make them colorful. Ever see Creature From Black Lake, with Jack Elam, Dub Taylor, Dennis Fimple, and John David Carson? Talk about enjoyable characters. Dopey, maybe, but what hoots! In The Legend of Boggy Creek, we have plenty of not-necessarily-bright characters, but the audience never looks down on them. They're kind of charming in their way. Hey, Travis Crabtree even had his own ballad written about him. It doesn't get much more charming than that. I tell you, the world is dumbed down aplenty as it is, and Exists, despite so many wonderful aspects that work, is insulting to an even marginally thinking audience. Mr. Sánchez, is it really, really true that your film won't make a buck unless your characters are idiots?

I believe you're wrong. Really, really fucking wrong.

That doesn't even begin to cover some of the contrivances, the hackneyed plot devices, and the almost note-by-note reproducing of scenes from The Blair Witch Project. Even these would be somewhat more palatable if it were possible to give a hoot about the people on the menu.

Four and a half Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis for the atmosphere and the Bigfoot scenes. One Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetini for the overall movie.

Shame on you, Eduardo. Shame on you for taunting me with all kinds of goodies and then throwing a rancid pie in my face.
A rare moment of non-panic, and not a bad one at that. (For this, you need to watch the deleted scenes.)
Nincompooper! Is upside down!
You'd think that with this beast in hand, Todd might not panic quite so badly. You would be wrong.
"If you say 'Where's my Go-Pro?' one more time, I'm gonna drown you."
That ain't Harry out there.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Face Your Phobia

I like snakes. They're neat creatures, and it really distresses me when people say things like "The only good snake is a dead snake," and other such nonsense. Without snakes, you personally would probably have to deal with all kinds of unpleasant pestilence you never even think about, and I'm betting that since you probably don't really have to deal with snakes all that often, you're better off leaving the snakes be than suffering the pestilence. I bring this up mainly because of a couple of Facebook posts from the past few days that included photos of snakes, and the sheer venom of some of the comments really showcased the irrationality of people's fears.

The photos above are from two or three years ago when I ran across this very friendly, six-foot-long black racer at Cedarock Park in Alamance County, NC. When I'm out geocaching, I'm often in their environment, and over the years, I've encountered just about every variety of slithering serpent that North Carolina has to offer. Make no mistake: even the venomous ones — around here, primarily Copperheads — would rather do their own things than mess with you, and most often, they'll make every effort to avoid dealing with you and your phobia. A while back, I was crossing a creek and inadvertently stepped on a Copperhead, and the fellow had the decency to vacate the premises with all due haste when he could have, had he been so inclined, just as easily given me a chomp on the leg. (Note that I call the snake "he" only because he had very masculine shoulders; nothing against the female of the species.)

I'll tell you something. Up until I started geocaching and found myself, not only in snakes' environments, but in spiders', I had a damn near debilitating case of arachnophobia. I was always fascinated but truly, deeply terrified by spiders of all types and sizes (of course, the bigger the more horrifying). Any spider I encountered was a dead spider, no ifs, ands, or buts. Awful, awful creatures; predators; alien-looking. Then I did a cache called Greensboro Underground, and the name says it all. To claim this cache, I had to go considerable distances through underground pipes, and at one stage, I was forced to confront my gravest imaginary dread.
Northern Black Widow (Lactrodectus variolus).
Don't mess with it, and it won't mess with you.

It went like this:

I was with a couple of gentlemen (who, I might add, are not wimps, in the technical sense of the word) that I will call Tom and Ethan. (To answer your question: yes.) To reach stage 1, we had to enter a very tight culvert, and Ethan had the good grace to go first. It wasn't moments before he was screaming in a panicked, high-pitched voice that led Tom and I to believe he must have been gravely injured. We're hollering, "What is it? What's wrong?" And he cries back, "This is the biggest spider I've ever seen! Wait — there's another one. And another one. Oh, Christ, the place is full of them!"

Tom and I debated a moment. There were spiders, and there was the geocache. All right, then; we do have our priorities, you know. The two of us wormed our way into the pipe, and — oh, my Christ — the confined space was absolutely crawling with big honking spiders, the smallest of which probably had a four-inch leg span. Our destination lay through a specific pipe, above which a huge wolf spider was resting on its laurels. Ethan put his foot down and declared that he was not going into the pipe with that spider hanging right there. Well, feigning the air of the undaunted, I took my hiking stick and knocked the spider off the wall — at which point it angrily began to scurry straight toward Ethan.

At this point, Ethan screamed a piercing scream and began a dance routine that would have shamed Gene Kelly. Tom and I took to chuckling, and since said spider had vacated its perch, I decided to take advantage of the moment, and go into the next pipe.

Oh, shit, did I really do that?

At this point, I did question my wisdom, for this pipe was also full of spiders. They were all just hanging around on the walls and ceiling, and not really bothering me. However, as I ducked to go in, something fell onto my shoulder with a distinctive plop.

"Tom, my dear, friend," I said. "Please tell me that was a not a big spider."

"Nope, just a hunk of grass and mud from the drain up there."

"You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

"Not about that."

All right then. On I went, past veritable walls of spiders that sat contentedly watching me. They didn't really do diddly but scare the living crap out of me. Yet, after Ethan's little dance there, it was hard for me not to go through that pipe overtaken by paroxysms of laughter.

From that moment on, I never again suffered a fear of spiders. They didn't want to bother me. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure they were all laughing at Ethan too.

For what it's worth, if you come upon a snake — or a spider, or some other basically innocuous creature — that for reasons anything other than rational make you want to kill it, try instead picturing its in its underwear or maybe a big old dude like Ethan break dancing inside a culvert filled with spiders. Really, it's funny as all hell.

You don't need to kill or otherwise antagonize the critters. Just give it some thought. Face your phobia. Fuck your phobia.

It worked for me.
A fun little black rat snake that was meandering about in the heat of winter, a couple of Decembers ago.
I'm sure he would rather have had cool weather and been taking a nap.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gravely Park Haunts


There are several geocaches in Gravely Park, in Henry County, VA, including three I hid myself some years ago. A few new ones have recently given me opportunity to return to the trail system, which I've enjoyed because it's a beautiful area with a quite a few scenic views of the Smith River, several historical structures, and an old graveyard. Despite having hiked all around there any number of times, I had never previously come upon what is surely the most haunted location in these woods. I've got to say, it was agreeably creepy back in there today, so I'm grateful to the cache owner for enticing us to come back here.

The Gravely Nature Trail greeter today was, sadly, a dead bat hanging on the fence at the trail head. The poor little guy appeared to have gotten hung in one of the barbs on the fence. From there, Ms. B. and I went on into the woods, where we found the cache readily enough — and from which I happened to notice several crumbling structures some distance away through the trees. Being that such old relics are among my favorites things to discover in the woods, we decided to do a bit of exploring. Most pleasantly, we were the only ones in the woods today, and the afternoon was growing a little dark and breezy, with rain clouds beginning to gather. (At least the bottom was considerate enough not to drop out until after we got out of the woods.) At one of the old barns, we found another of my favorite things: a dead baby — okay, actually a rather ancient doll — tucked into the hollow of a near-collapsing support post. (I have a cache in the woods in Greensboro, called "No Dead Baby Jokes, Please," with a similar such doll at ground zero. Hey, it's a nice theme.)

Ms. B. talked me out of worming my way down into one of the old structures, which I suppose is just as well, as I'd have gotten filthy dirty, and I wasn't wearing my best clothes for getting filthy dirty. Still, it was all a nice bit of Halloween-style fun in the middle of spring, and that just can't be bad.

It wasn't all just skulking around in old haunted places, since we took Mum out for lunch after church, where she had been honored for fifty-plus years of singing in the church choir, from which she recently retired. That was all nice and everything too. Sometimes you just have to do that kind of thing.
An unfortunate bat hung in the barbed wire greeted us as we set out on the trail.
Ms. B. at one of the old collapsing barns. Take note of the base of the support post on the right.
A slightly more intact structure. The barn, I mean; not sure about the old geocacher.
Not quite so haunted — a nice Mother's Day lunch with Mum at the Dutch Inn in Collinsville.
That's one lucky son right there.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Return to the Mountains of Madness


"The umbrella has collapsed. The portal is open."


This one was sure a beast getting onto the street, but — finally, at long last — here it comes. Some years back, editor Robert M. Price approached me wondering whether I might be interested in writing a story for an anthology based on H. P. Lovecraft's short novel, At the Mountains of Madness, which is one of his better known — and one of my personal favorite — works of fiction. Of course I was, so I wrote a story, titled "The Danforth Project," which takes place in contemporary times. In it, a phenomenon in Antarctica reveals a mountain range that has never been seen — except by a number of individuals, specifically, those from Lovecraft's tale plus a handful of others over a long span of years. An air reconnaissance mission is hurriedly launched to investigate, and most of my story is an account of the pilot's experiences on his long excursions over the mysterious Antarctic continent. Solidly based on Lovecraft's epic work, I've also woven in a bit of lore from some of his other tales, "Dreams in the Witch House" being the most prominent of them.

Dark Quest Books was initially slated to produce the book, but over time, problems with the publisher began to mount. Some authors were paid, some were not. A few copies of the book were printed, but it was never put into official release, and for all intents and purposes, as a product, it died a cold, ignominious death — at least until Celaeno Press, which had recently come onto the scene with In the Court of the Yellow King (which includes my story, "Masque of the Queen"). Publisher Edward Lipsett and editor Price worked to get the book repackaged, using the same cover art and most of the same content, with two additional tales. At long last, the deal was done, and now the book is available for purchase. I can safely say this one is a winner, and my hat is off to all parties who worked hard to make this happen. There couldn't have been a more deserving volume to be rescued from the pit into which it had been shamefully discarded.

Besides myself, contributors include Ken Asamatsu, Glynn Owen Barrass, Pierre Comtois, Laurence J. Cornford, Cody Goodfellow, C.J. Henderson, Willie Meikle, Edward Morris, William Patrick Murray, Joe Pulver, Peter Rawlik, and Brian M. Sammons, with a special guest appearance by Weird Tales legend John Martin Leahy and an introduction by Robert M. Price.

Here's a link to the Amazon page: The Mountains of Madness

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The City Built on the Dead

My birthday was Saturday, and to help me cope with the number of candles on the cake*, Ms. Brugger and I made a long weekend of it in Savannah, GA. I'd visited that town a couple of times in years past, first during in my college days (where I had my introduction to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an experience I'm not likely to ever forget), and then again in 2009, which was the last trip Mrs. Death and I took before our permanent parting of the ways. Ms. B. had never been, and I've enjoyed my experiences there, so we settled on Savannah for a brief but invigorating Spring trip together. We headed down on Friday morning, naturally laying claim to a few interesting geocaches on the drive, and rolled into town early in the evening. We had made a reservation for a fairly late birthday dinner at Alligator Soul in the historic district, so we trucked down there from our hotel in Pooler, making a first stop at the nearby Jazz'd tapas and wine bar for a couple of glasses of vino. Both locations proved satisfying and then some. Alligator Soul is anything but inexpensive, but that is why we have really nice girlfriends. (Heavens, though — mine has an upcoming birthday too, so there will be fair turnabout.) When I saw that Alligator Soul had bison hanger steak on their menu, that pretty much sewed up my choice. The steak was perfectly prepared and presented, our server first-rate, and I don't think I could have been happier with a birthday dinner. Ms. B. was equally taken with the vegetarian fare she ordered (I don't even know). We spent the rest of the evening wandering about the historic district and grabbing a few caches. This part of Savannah is gorgeous at any time of day, but it is especially appealing by night. It's the ghosts, don't you know. More on that shortly.

*Hell no, there was no cake, and thus no actual candles.
On a nighttime walkabout in Savannah's historical district — near one of the caches I hunted.
Yesterday, the actual day of the dreaded birthday event, we left the hotel early and booked over to Bonaventure Cemetery, which is huge, a lot older than I am, and quite picturesque. We spent a good hour and half exploring its graves, crypts, and haunted corners, then headed back to the historical district, where we found a fair lunch at The Flying Monk Noodle Bar. I had a dish of spicy red noodles and calamari, while Ms. B. opted for spicy noodles with tofu. Service was a little spotty here, but the food was satisfactory. Then we wandered and cached, cached and wandered, and wandered yet some more. Our friends Terry and Beth from Winston-Salem had been on a Caribbean cruise and were heading through Savannah on their way back, so, early in the evening, we met them for drinks and dinner. Since Kimberly and I had enjoyed the atmosphere at Jazz'd and also found their tapas menu rather alluring, we decided to go back and give them a go for dinner. What a great choice this turned out to be. We had several different small plates, including shrimp spring rolls, chicken lettuce rolls, fried mushrooms, lasagne with goat cheese, and asparagus & prosciutto flatbread. Good food, good service, and good friends made for an unexpectedly fine second birthday dinner. From there, we headed over to In Vino Veritas wine bar, which offered an excellent selection of wines — all with a smile from our congenial server who than took better-than-good care of of us. Another Savannah winner, this. I'd go back just to get the grenache they served straight from the keg. Lovely stuff.


Finally, though the evening was wearing down, part of it was really just beginning. Ms. B. had booked us a late-night ghost tour of the historical district, and though we were starting to feel the effects of walking many miles over the course of the day, we perked up and trekked over to Colonial Park Cemetery, the oldest in Savannah — interestingly, also where Nathanael Greene, for whom Greensboro is named, is buried. Colonial Park is also filled with corpses of victims of Yellow Fever, which plagued Savannah just after the War Between the States. Back then, it was not common knowledge, as it is today, that malaria is carried by mosquitoes, and lying amid the marshes as it does, Savannah has more than its fair share (not to mention stinging sand gnats, which assailed us mercilessly over the weekend). With countless casualties of both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars also buried in areas that are now part of the historical district, Savannah truly is a city built atop the bodies of the dead — a fact that, according to our ghost tour guide — accounts for its plentiful hauntings. No, I'm not a believer in such things, but I do find the history and many of the decidedly grim stories of life and death from the past most intriguing.

One thing I did miss from my past trips to Savannah was the giant spider invasion, which occurs in late summer and early fall. Massive numbers of huge nephilim spiders invade the city and spin webs amid the buildings and trees, sometimes three or more stories high. I recall in 2009 seeing entire building facades covered by webs and these huge red and gold spiders, with leg spans up to five inches, hanging in their midst. I also recall, in no uncertain terms, hunting for a cache on the ground, standing upright, and finding myself face to face with one of the spiders, hanging just inches away. Now, I'm nowhere near as arachnophobic as I was in my younger days, but while these huge creatures are fascinating, they can also be a tad unnerving. Next time we go back, it's gotta be in the fall.


This morning, I made an intriguing discovery at our hotel. As I was returning to my room from the lobby area with a cup of fresh coffee, I heard a demonic child caterwauling. I know it was a demonic child because it had a really gruff, deep voice — gah-wooh-gah-wooh-oooh — and it was coming from behind a hotel room door that was padlocked from the outside. Really, honestly, I don't know what gives here, but given the town's character, this just seemed so Savannah. I'm sure there was a perfectly rational explanation for it; maybe the kid I heard was actually out in the courtyard beyond that room's window so it only sounded like the crying was coming from inside. Whatever, I don't know. Agreeably unnerving, that's what it was.

Finally, after a brief stop at the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force, both to get a cache and to satisfy this old military aviation fanatic, we hit the road again for Greensboro. It seemed a very long return trip; I did stop for a handful of caches, as usual, but our forward progress was twice impeded by very long, very slow funeral processions, which dragged on no end. I gotta tell you... it's one thing to show respect for the dead, but it's a whole 'nuther to stop the world so they can parade on by. Me, I want no such thing. When I go, get me cremated, put my ashes in a travel bug so I can see the world by way of geocaches, and fuck the funeral procession. I won't have it.

Despite it being just another day in the forward progress toward that funeral procession I refuse, it was a damned fine birthday. A bit different, I think, than what Kimberly and I had expected — whatever we might have expected — but I reckon that's just one of the great things about living, don't you think?
Yep.
Beth, Terry, Ms. B., and old dude at In Vino Veritas
Old Rodan with F4C Phantom at the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Young Blood: Evil Intentions — "Snack Attack!"


The Kickstarter campaign for the Young Blood: The Novel I wrote a while back has just over a week to go. Our illustrious producers, Mat and Myron Smith, have posted a sample chapter as a teaser, which gives you a fair taste of our lovely little tale. Myron Smith has done a series of wonderful illustrations to accompany the text, a few of which you see here. The perks for supporting the project include an autographed copy of the printed novel, a DVD of the movie, autographed pages of the actual novel manuscript, a signed copy of my novel, The Monarchs, and much more.

Here's a link to the sample chapter: "Snack Attack"

Please give it a look and feel free to comment. Hope you enjoy it — and, if you haven't already, do consider supporting the the project through one of the various pre-order options.

And here is the Kickstarter link itself: Project Young Blood: The Novel. Give 'er a go, friends.
Lloyd Kaufman as newscaster Lloyd Kaufman, enthusiastically reporting the latest startling news on the
hordes of vampire children that are taking over the town of Martindale. Illustration by Myron Smith

The infamous Count Smokula performing his original tune "Young Blood," as seen in the movie.
Illustration by Myron Smith


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Coming Soon: Black Wings IV


In the wake of an awful lot of sadness this month, I'm thankful to have a few nice things going on to help keep the balance. One of those nice things is that I received my contributor copy of Black Wings IV from PS Publishing in the UK — easily among the finest-looking books in which my work has been included, not to mention I get to share the contents page with some of the most illustrious names in the field. This one features a story I co-wrote with John Pelan called "Contact," which is one of my relatively rare forays into science fiction, with a deep, dark, decidedly Lovecraftian premise. This fourth installment of S. T. Joshi’s acclaimed Black Wings series features seventeen stories that "continue to elaborate upon the conceptions, motifs, and imagery of H. P. Lovecraft." The antho is available as a beautifully produced hardback, 339 pages, with cover art by Jason Van Hollander; the signed, limited edition (200 copies) comes with a slipcase.

Editor S. T. Joshi is the author of The Weird Tale, The Modern Weird Tale, and Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction. He is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, and has also won the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the International Horror Guild Award.

Black Wings IV Contents:
"Half Lost in Shadow" by W. H. Pugmire
"The Rasping Absence" by Richard Gavin
"Black Ships Seen South of Heaven" by Caitlín R. Kiernan
"The Dark Sea Within" by Jason V. Brock
"Sealed by the Moon" by Gary Fry
"Broken Sleep" by Cody Goodfellow
"A Prism of Darkness" by Darrell Schweitzer
"Night of the Piper" by Ann K. Schwader
"We Are Made of Stars" by Jonathan Thomas
"Trophy" by Melanie Tem
"Contact" by John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey
"Cult of the Dead" by Lois H. Gresh
"Dark Redeemer" by Will Murray
"In the Event of Death" by Simon Strantzas
"Revival" by Stephen Woodworth
"The Wall of Asshur-sin" by Donald Tyson
"Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount" by Charles Lovecraft

Check out Black Wings IV at PS Publishing.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

R.I.P. Taco "Bell" Rainey

What an unbelievably horrible month for the loss of life April has become. My mom's little dog, Taco, had to be put down — on April 16, the eighth anniversary of my cat Charcoal's death — due to complications from Lyme disease. Mom only had him for eight months, but he was sweet, smart, and all around good for Mom's mental and physical health. Apparently, he began having nonstop, uncontrollable seizures, and he was clearly suffering, at which point Mom opted to see that he got relief.

I met Taco numerous times, and I was quite taken with him. A friendlier, more affectionate dog I don't think I've ever seen. He loved to be rubbed, and if you stopped, he'd boop you with his paw to remind you that it was not your job to stop rubbing him.

Taco had previous owner, who had given him his name, but when she passed on, he went to the local animal shelter. Mom adopted him in August of last year, and even though I don't think Taco is the name she would have preferred, she opted to let him keep it. She nicknamed him Taco Bell, and that just stuck.

With April apparently being the month for passing on — my dad, my cat Charcoal, my friend Lew Hartman, and my cat Chester — it sure has been a sad time for me. Fortunately, there have been plenty of positive things going on as well; but every death takes a little something out of me, and that is sad, as well as difficult. It's also just part of our journey toward our light being extinguished.

We deal. Don't have much choice but to deal.

R.I.P., little fellow.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Farewell, Chester: ~2000–2015


April continues to be the roughest month of the year. Today, I had to send my precious little Siamese, Chester, over the Rainbow Bridge. His health had declined somewhat over the past couple of months, but most acutely just within the past few days, to the point that I knew what had to be done.

Here's his story, more for me than anything else, but please feel free to read along, especially if you ever made his acquaintance.

Chester wandered out of the woods to our house in early 2002 and told us he was moving in, no ifs, ands, or buts. He was already a couple of years old at the time and needed some veterinary care, but before we knew it, he was healthier than a horse and ruling the roost. I recall having a hard time coming up with a name for him; for a good while, he was known just as The Siamese (or "The 'Mese"). But he could move faster than a cheetah, so "Chester Cheetah" came to mind, and the name stuck.

Chester was always smarter than a whip, talkative, and very possibly the most demonstrably loving cat I have ever seen. I don't think he ever missed a morning waking up in bed with me, and on weekends, when I'd customarily sleep in a bit later, he would make sure I didn't sleep too late by pulling the covers off me with his paws and singing the song of his people. He could maneuver just about anything with his little front feet; I'm pretty sure he thought he had thumbs, and that was sufficient for him to be quite dexterous. Our regular morning routine consisted of him accompanying me to the bathroom, and while I was in the shower, he would wait patiently on top of the toilet tank, occasionally peeking in to meow if I was taking a particularly long shower. Then, while I was drying off, he'd stand up on his hind legs and try to boop me in the nose with his front paws. Sometimes he got me.

Back in the early 2000s, our little black cat, Charcoal — who passed away in April 2007 — loved her buddy Chester, and she snuggled with him every chance she got. At first he merely tolerated it, but over time, he seemed to actually enjoy having another kitty to smush up with. Later, when Frazier came round, the two of them ended up becoming good buds, and especially during the cold months, they'd be smushed up tight as well.

The other night, when he first appeared to be in his most serious decline, both Frazier and Droolie came and sat beside him for hours, as if to hold vigil. Now that he's gone, they do seem to know the house is somehow emptier. And it is. A lot emptier. I expect it'll be a good deal quieter around here, since neither Frazier nor Droolie are anywhere as talkative as he was.

Chester was a very special buddy to me, and while his last few days were very hard, I expect he had about the most spoiled life any cat could have had. I'm no believer in reincarnation, but if I were to be reincarnated, I think I'd want to come back as one of my cats, because I know I'd have it mighty good.

Below, I have assembled a few pics — out of hundreds I have — that kind of tell his story.

Goodbye, my beautiful little buddy. I will miss you so much, always.
Chester in 2002, when he first arrived at our house
Charcoal and Chester in one of their favorite hangouts — my suitcase
He'd always be into one thing or another.
There was never any mistaking when it was time to eat.
He loved his buddy Frazier, who is ridiculous.
For 13 years, this was my typical morning wake-up view.
The dreaded Siamese Cottonhead, lying in wait
Farewell, my little guy, from your daddy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

It Follows, and Too Good to Last?


Ms. Brugger and I went to see It Follows the other night at the RED Cinemas, formerly the Carousel, here in Greensboro. The owners of the Carousel sold the theater some time ago, much to the annoyance of many regular movie-goers in town, since it was  about the only movie house in the area that played indie and lesser-known current theatrical releases. The new owners, who own several eclectic restaurants in the area, have named the 15-screen theater the RED (for Restaurant Entertainment District) Cinemas. It was the first time Kimberly and I had been there since the changeover, and I have to tell you, I was impressed. Sure enough, they have numerous indie films in their lineup, the concession stand offers beer and wine (some pretty good red wine selections, at that), and — unlike at least one review of the place I saw — it was anything but filthy, overpriced, and poorly staffed. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. It was clean, the prices were comparable to any other theater in town, and the staff was capable and courteous. Once we entered the auditorium — the largest one in the building — we were not bombarded by endless advertising and interminable trailers; just a handful of previews before the movie started, and right on time.

Unfortunately, I must predict this theater won't make it, at least with its current setup, for the long haul. Any place that caters to an adult theater-going audience is just too damned good to be true. But you can bet that I'll frequent the place as long as I have the opportunity. I would love, love, love for my prediction to be proven wrong. Y'all local folk, please help me out here.

As for It Follows, I was quite taken with it. Directed by David Robert Mitchell, it's a quiet, not-at-all gory, well-acted little film, with a creepy, if rather bizarre premise, and an excellent musical score by Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace. It's also agreeably quirky — loaded with apparent anachronisms, vivid local color, and some lighthearted set pieces (but which are played quite seriously). It's presumably set in the present day, since there are e-readers, scenery in Detroit that could only be from the here and now, and the occasional 21st century car model. Yet there is 1980s-style clothing and fashion in abundance, 20th century push-button telephones, 1950s horror movies on TV, and cars primarily of 1970s and 80s vintage. The story revolves around a group of teenagers, and only occasionally do adults appear on screen. Most of those that do, such as the two main sisters' mother, have no speaking lines and appear only from behind. Having recently visited Michigan, I knew from the opening frame where the movie was set, and I tend to favor books and movies where the setting, almost as much as the characters, becomes an integral part of the story.

From the plot, one can assume that, at some indeterminate time in the past, a curse was cast by someone, with some occult power, somewhere, for some reason, that has brought forth a thing that follows you with murderous intent — until you have sex with someone else, who then becomes the chosen victim. However, if the thing kills that person, it comes back to you, and works its way back down the chain. So, even if you pass the curse on to someone else, you'd better hope they get laid quickly, and that everyone from he or she on fucks his or her living brains out.

The story follows Jay (Maika Monroe), a likeable young woman who lives in suburban Detroit with her mother and sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe). Her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), takes her out to the movies, where he exhibits certain paranoid behavior. Things progress as things will progress between teenagers, and the two end up having sex (in a station wagon). But next thing you know, Hugh chloroforms Jay, and she wakes up in an abandoned building, tied to a wheelchair, where he explains himself — he suffers the curse of being followed and has passed it on to her. Worst of all, a strange woman appears and begins walking slowly toward Jay. Hugh then drives her home and dumps her off in her front yard, where Kelly and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) rush to her rescue.

From that point on, Jay is subjected to being followed by various strange individuals that only she can see — in reality, all the same entity wearing different guises. As horror movie aficionados, how often have we been pissed off by the slow-walking pursuer who still manages to catch the fleeing victim? Here's the movie where the slow, inevitable tread of the pursuer is truly the source of fear. Jay's neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto), who doesn't quite believe in the curse but understands that she is desperate, offers to help by taking her and her friends to his family's remote lake house, which she believes will at least buy her some time. It's not too much time, alas, for the pursuer appears, at least to her, but its handiwork is evident to all: it smashes a hole in the barn door where she seeks refuge and takes a fair swipe at Paul, who is thrown into the air and left with scars resembling claw marks. Jay attempts to flee in Greg's car, but in her panic, she crashes into a nearby cornfield.

She wakes in the hospital, alone. But Greg, being all noble and such, is willing to take the curse from her by having sex with her — which he does, in her hospital bed. Days pass and nothing happens, reinforcing Greg's attitude that, whatever Jay's problem is, it's in her head. Well, yeah — until the thing up and kills Greg, disguised as his mother in a horny state.

The friends decide to attempt to kill the pursuer, in novel fashion, at an indoor swimming pool in Detroit. Here, though the thing is still invisible to all but Jay, it does reveal itself to her friends. And now their plan to destroy it is put to the test....

All through the narrative, as dark as it is, there are moments of whimsy, particularly in the swimming pool scene. Jay's friend Yara proves particularly quirky and several of her scenes bring on a good chuckle. It's kind of humor that makes the characters appear as real teenagers — unlike so many slash-and-burn-the-obnoxious-victim horror flicks, where one's natural inclination is to jump into the killer's shoes and off the idiots just for good measure. One of the best things about It Follows is that, while the movie is about young folk, almost exclusively, it isn't juvenile. That is refreshing.

Yep, I liked it. I'll rate it four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Maika Monroe as Jay Height, in a moment of relative calm
Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and Jay (Maika Monroe), trying to sort out the strange goings-on
One of the pursuers that only Jay can see

Friday, April 10, 2015

R.I.P. Lew "Moose" Hartman


I've dealt with the deaths of many friends and loved ones over the years, and when a death hits you so unexpectedly, as it just did with my old friend Moose, it's hard not to seriously resent those years as they march blithely on, their pace increasing as if they've been injected with caffeine, knowing one of them has got your number. I suppose it's better to treasure the time allotted; to be grateful to have had as many moments, days, years as I have; to consider that the alternative to watching their passing is to actually pass on. Sure, why not? For me personally, it seems that April is the month where the years gather up their meanest clout and just go to town. My dad died 14 years ago, on April 11. My sweet little cat, Charcoal, died on April 16, 2007. Right now, my oldest cat, Chester — the Siamese — is doing poorly, probably on his last leg. My mom's health has declined dramatically in just the past couple of months. And now the Moose is gone.

I met Lew at the University of Georgia in 1979, as I entered the BFA program there. He was several years older than me, pursuing his MFA. Lew was an artist, to be sure, with a special interest in fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Hard to fathom why we might have had anything in common, wot? We hit it off right away, and without even a moment's thought or hesitation, the Giving of Shit commenced. There were insults, epithets, threats, shaming, bullying, you name it. Never were two meaner people more meant to connect with each other. Quite by chance, in 1980, we ended up working the same rotating shifts together at the Dupont Nylon plant, and it was here, on our breaks, that we began to shoot the shit about our favorite writers, artists, movies, music... all things creepy and creative. It was Moose who introduced me to the work of Karl Edward Wagner, who, in later years, was to become a personal friend of mine and regular columnist for Deathrealm. Moose was perhaps the most die-hard fan of Roger Zelazny I was ever to meet, and he forced me, on pain of withholding bong hits, to read Zelazny's Amber series — which, to this day, is one of the single most memorable, pleasurable, and all-around inspiring pieces of fantastic literature I have ever read. At Dupont, we used to take smoke breaks perhaps a little too frequently, and we got called on it a time or two; but we didn't care. We didn't give a shit. We were talking about all things Zelazny, Lovecraft, Frazetta, Godzilla, the Atlanta Braves, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues — you know, things that mattered.

After leaving UGA, I only saw Lew a couple of times, quite a few years apart. But he became a regular contributor to Deathrealm. He provided the cover art for issue #23 (Spring 1995). Somewhere around then, at one convention or another — I think it was in Columbia, SC — we met up with Karl Wagner, and the three of us spent an entire evening drinking bourbon, shooting the shit, and generally having the time of our lives. A decade and a half before, if we had known we'd ever be hanging out with Karl — who was such a profound creative influence on both of us — we probably would have had coronaries and never lived to see the day. I think, of all those bazillion times together with Moose, that was my favorite. Now, both Karl and Moose are gone. And just for a second there — a very fleeting second — I think I felt some real gratitude for those long-gone years we had in each other's company.

Back in the UGA days, I knew Lew had seriously high hopes, and I have to admit I sometimes thought his reach exceeded his grasp. I also came to find out that reaching was the only way to ever get to where you could grasp what you desired. Lew wanted to paint rock-and-roll stars he admired. Well, he went out there, met them, painted them, and sold them his work. He wanted to meet and paint his favorite sports stars. He did that. Lew reached and reached. Now, make no mistake, Lew was a decent artist. But his art paled beside his ability to inspire his friends and acquaintances. I heard that more than once tonight, just a few hours since he died. "He inspired me." "He was my mentor." "He reached out to me." Yeah. That's what that man did.

These past few years, Facebook allowed Moose and I to reconnect on almost as close a basis as we had when we lived just a few miles apart from each other, and — even recently — there have been any number of instances where the slinging of insults reached the intensity it had back in the late 70s and early 80s. We actually had a mini shit-slinging session a week or so ago. I never, ever expected those to end. Not yet. Not yet.

I think Lew may have told me how he came to be called Moose, but I don't remember. It's probably better I don't. All I know is that Moose is gone, and I'm going to have a drink to him. Probably several.

Goddamn, man, your life went too fast. Our lives are going way too fucking fast. But in that bloody race of time there was excellence. Not enough of it, but a lot.

Lew leaves behind his wife, Cathy, and his son, John, both of whom I knew to some degree back in the day. It's gotta be the hardest time for them, and my heart is with them. With them, and with everyone whose life Lew touched. It was a big, tough, wonderful...gentle... touch.

Rest well, old friend.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Kickstarting Young Blood

Some of you Blue Blaze Irregulars may recall that, last year, I wrote the novelization of The Smith Brothers movie Young Blood: Evil Intentions (see "Young Blood: Evil Intentions — The Novel," May 24, 2014). Our inestimable producer-director team, Mat & Myron Smith, have begun a Kickstarter campaign to help finance its publication as well as a number of attendant perks. Depending on the rate pledged, you can get everything from just the e-book of the novel to two DVD movies (Young Blood: Evil Intentions and the Smith Brothers' second movie, Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, in which I play the part of the mad professor), a copy of the printed book, an autographed page from the original novel manuscript, and an autographed copy of my most recent novel, The Monarchs.

Here's the story: "Raised in a torn home, young Anavey discovers she has the ability to make big changes, with even bigger consequences. She, with the loyal help of her little sister Anastasia, form an army of young, blood-thirsty vampires to kill all the adults. No one is safe, especially the girls' mother, Olivia (Rebecca Kidd), and their abusive, overbearing stepfather, Dale Buckmeyer (Myron Smith). Will Anavey’s dreams become a reality? Will Anastasia escape the cult before it’s too late? Will the angry mob put an end to the insanity?"

The novel, which I wrote in close collaboration with the Smith Brothers, takes the events from the movie and delves deeper into the storyline and characters, all while retaining the crucial element of fun that makes Young Blood such a gem. Visit the Kickstarter site and please do consider offering your support.

For a bit more info from ye old author, here are links to a few blog entries I wrote for the original release of Young Blood: Evil Intentions back in 2012:

Many thanks for your support!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

October Horrorfest in Martinsville


Looky, looky! Coming up in October, I'll be a guest at the Martinsville (VA) Horrorfest, back in my old hometown. It's still a ways off, but fall will no doubt be here before we know it — and not fast enough, for my money. The fest will run from October 23–25 at the Dutch Inn in Collinsville, featuring scary movies, media guests, live music, costume contests, guest Q & A sessions...and me, ye old horror writer. I'll plan to have plenty of copies of my books and Dark Shadows audio dramas on hand to terrorize you further. (There's also a geocache on the premises, courtesy of old Rodan.) You can purchase tickets in advance at the Horrorfest website; prices go up $10.00 the week prior to the event. Mark your calendars, come on around, and prepare to be gleefully horrified.