Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Here is Wisdom.

Found my 888th cache yesterday. Let him that hath understanding count the number, for it is the number of the wildebeest.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baby, You Can Drive My Car — Redux

Got up this morning and headed to Ferrum, VA, where I went to college in the late 70s. There's a beautiful hiking trail through the mountain forest there, and it turned out to be a warm, sunny day for hunting caches. Found them, of course, but as I've said before, you never know what other kinds of things are lurking out on the trail....


What you might expect to see on a mountain trail: trees and some dude


What I found on a mountain trail

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Most Wonderful

For me, the best thing in the world is spending quality time with my family, and the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays are our traditional gathering times. Mrs Death and I joined my mom, my brother, and several family friends yesterday for a big Christmas dinner — the largest crowd we've had here for many years. Sadly, our young 'un was absent, but we hope to remedy that in February. It turned out to be a beautiful, reasonably warm day, which is my second favorite kind of Christmas. We swapped some nice gifts and gave a lot of thanks for having the opportunity to do so, since so many people — many that we know personally — are in very dire straits at the moment. Though 2008 in general has thrown some fairly nasty challenges our way, for now, we're still doing okay, so we made a little extra effort to share what good fortune we could this year.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas, though, without some serious geocaching. Late yesterday afternoon, Mrs Death and I headed up to Rocky Mount, VA, about 30 miles up the road from Mom's, and went traipsing through parks and woods, snagging some really cool caches and taking in some picturesque locations. One of them was a memorial for WWII and Korean War veterans, which was a tranquil corner of an attractive little park. At one of the YMCA parks, the terrain was a bit much for Mrs Death, so I went out into the dark, very silent woods for a two-stage multi that would have made for a good Halloween night trek.

And speaking of...our final location for the night was a place called Piedmont Mill. Out in the sticks of Franklin County, this was the site of a grist mill built in 1870 and added to in 1922. Here they made a brand of flour called "Happy Maid," which was also the name of the cache. A creepy, creepy old place at night, portions of the original buildings still stand. The cache was located on an old trestle bridge that goes over the nearby river, and we spent a good while exploring the area — which is very near the fictional setting of so much of my scary fiction. It was an excellent end to a fun and meaningful day.

I hope all of you celebrated, in whatever way happens to be your own.


Damned Rodan on the bridge


Mrs. Death on the bridge


A spooky place!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kicking It Off


Yesterday was the last full day at the office till next Monday, so as far as I'm concerned, the holidays are hereby kicked off. Christmas shopping is done but for one particular item, which I'll pick up tomorrow. The family plans to be together for Christmas Day except for the young 'un, who can't get away from her job long enough to make the trip down — at least till February. She may grace us with her presence around Valentine's Day.

I do have approaching deadlines for three new writing projects, so there will be much writing going on over the holidays. A good thing, as it keeps me sane and almost out of trouble. I also anticipate a bit of caching, also to keep me sane — although last night, Sneaky Bulldog and I traipsed out in the freezing cold for over an hour to hunt for a new hide by one of our local evil geniuses (Newzerboy!!! [you should read the name aloud in a sinister voice that trails off into a rumbly growl]), all to no avail. The bulldog and I enjoyed ourselves, though, sharing the usual caching anecdotes and bitching about the cold.

It's my favorite time of year, though somehow it just doesn't seem like I'm quite in the middle of it. For some reason, I never got Halloween out of my system and moved on.

Sometimes life is complicated like that.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Red Skies at Morning

The only good thing about having to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to go to work is seeing something like this when I head out the door.





Saturday, December 13, 2008

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

I first saw it rising above the trees at 5:35 PM from U.S. 68, right around Stokesdale, NC. Big old moon. Huge. Half of it blood red, the other half silver. By the time I'd gone ten miles farther north, the whole thing was silver. By 6:00 PM, it dominated the eastern sky. I don't think I've ever seen a moon so big and bright.

It was a memorable ride to Martinsville tonight. I stopped off to hunt several caches along the way, one of them being a ways out in the woods, in one of those lonely areas where you almost expect to hear a chainsaw starting up, and if you hear it, you know it's on account of you, and you don't have long to stay in one piece. Fortunately, there were no chainsaws, but I had no sooner found the cache when a low-flying black helicopter came buzzing by, only to stop and hover directly above me. I'm thinking great, the geocaching police are coming to get me, but after a time, it glided away, and I headed back toward my car. Just before I got there, two beautiful silver-gray foxes came out of the woods, gave me a brief look that said, "Oh, it's just some dude," and then wandered off. I've never seen foxes that close before, and I swear, they were the prettiest animals I've ever encountered in the wild. Caching has a way of taking me to places I've never been before and showing me things I didn't expect. I'm always glad for it.

I ended up spending a quality evening with my friends, the Albaneses, drinking martinis and watching The Horrors of Spider Island. The martinis, at least, were excellent. Afterward, I stopped at a couple of my caches to drop off travel bugs and geocoins (see picture), and the silvery moon was up there lighting up the very cold night. To get to the caches, I had to hike fairly short distances in the woods, but the moonlight was so bright it was like walking around in daylight. No need for a flashlight.

At the one called "Give Me Liberty," something was in the woods nearby. Don't know whether it was a fox or something else, but it sounded damned large. Bigfoot, I reckon. And silly me, I left my Jack Links beef jerky in the car. I wasn't the least bit nervous, though, as I did have a nice whacky stick, and the other — whatever it was — didn't seem to have a chainsaw.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Out Yonder


You never know what you're going to find when you're out on the trail geocaching. This evening, I got together with a group of about a dozen cachers and hit the Greensboro watershed trails in search of a new and fairly complex multi-stage cache. It involved many miles of hiking, driving to several different trails, bushwhacking through some tough terrain, and, later in the evening, explaining ourselves to local law enforcement (again). Along the way to various stages, we picked up some other caches — one of which was hidden in the stylish conveyance you see above. The car is out in the middle of the woods, and there's no telling how long it's been there. Many decades, no doubt. How it got out there is really a question.

The lot of us started at for the big multi-stage at 6:30 PM and reached the cache called "Baby, You Can Drive My Car" around midnight, by which time our numbers had dwindled to three, with two stages of the multi left to go. Right about the time we found the car cache, a sheriff's deputy arrived to find out what folks were doing out in the woods at this hour. Turns out the officer was familiar with geocaching and, after making sure we weren't as dastardly as we surely looked, kindly wished us well on the hunt. Nice.

By now, though, I had one wet foot from a creek crossing gone slightly awry, it was below freezing, and my gloves had somehow taken their leave while I was in transit between locations (fortunately, I managed to find them). With several miles of hiking yet to go before the final stage, I opted to call it a night, and right now, I'm glad I did.

The technical term for it is "pooped."

The car pic is from the cache page and was taken by robgso.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Iron Heart"...

...is the title of my latest short tale, and it's finished. Finally. Done by deadline. Now I've got two more tales to write, with two more deadlines. They're pretty generous, fortunately, what with the holidays coming up here.

"Demon Jar," my story featured at HorrorWorld during November, may still be accessed here: http://www.horrorworld.org/Rainey.htm

And the new issue of Cemetery Dance, #59, features my story, "The Gaki."

Lots of short stuff happening around here. Which is fine by me.

And don't forget Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate, my audio drama coming out very shortly on CD, from Big Finish.

Out.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Caching Turkeys

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. I've been fortunate enough to spend most of my Thanksgivings with family, and in my old age, that feels more and more important to me.

Today has been a mighty good one. Up with the sun, or close to it. Interestingly, the sky around Mom's house was filled with huge turkey buzzards for several hours, so I watched them from the window for a time. An impressive sight. Then went on a nice hike with my brother at the Gravely Nature Trail just outside of Martinsville and dropped travel bugs into a couple of my geocaches. Came back to Mom's and had a great big feast of dead bird and other goodies, including some of Mrs Death's exquisite pumpkin pie. Then, while everyone else succumbed to the lure of beds and couches, I worked for several hours on my current story, titled "Iron Heart," and made substantial progress. Had a small supper of leftover Mexican food from last night. And then...a new cache listing popped up on the Geocaching Web site. What do you know...it's in Fieldale, not too far from here. So Mrs Death and I took off into the chilly evening and went hunting for it. Yep, we got first-to-find honors.

After we found the new one, I kicked back and let Mrs Death hunt the caches that I had hidden in the area last weekend (The Spooky Place, Route 666, etc.). It's kind of fun watching her try to think like the old man while she's out on the hunt. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Heh heh....

The Great Turkey was very kind to me today, for which I am very grateful. I hope he was kind to you too.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Count Gore DeVol's OTHER GODS Review

Awright. Other Gods has scared the breakfast cereal out of another one. As you may know, Count Gore DeVol, perhaps my all-time favorite TV horror host (from the old days of WDCA Channel 20, one of the early superstations, out of DC) runs a nice horror-oriented Web site, and reviewer J. L. Comeaux was kind enough to give Other Gods a big thumbs-up. Here's an excerpt:

"These stories possess an elusive sense of heft and weight, like a stealthy, deep-running undertow that slips around you, pulling you down and down. The tales begin disarmingly, with familiar people inhabiting a familiar world, going about their lives and business. But then, just one misstep, one small mistake, and they find themselves entangled in the ever-present, unseen, horrific undertow of terror that lurks beneath the fa├žade of normalcy. Rainey's prose is muscular and confident, like a friendly arm around the shoulders ushering us down the cellar stairs towards what lurks in the darkness below. Other Gods is the perfect volume to snuggle up with on these dark and wintry nights. Sweet dreams!"

You may read the whole thing here: www.countgore.com/gore/tomb.htm (scroll down a short ways).

Thanks, Ms. Comeaux, and I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to give you the shivers again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Joe, the Spooky Place, and Route 666

I'm seriously bummed this weekend because my friend Joe is in the hospital. By all accounts, it's not a life-threatening thing, but anytime a hospital is involved, I consider it serious. Joe and I were friends in high school; then our ways parted, and we didn't see each other again for twenty years. Once we got reacquainted — eleven-plus years ago — the two of us (and our respective families) have remained close ever since. Joe is one of those infectiously good people. I always feel better for having spent time in his and his family's company, and I have it on good authority that he only rarely projectile vomits after spending time in mine. That's not bad. Please send prayers and good thoughts out to the old dude.

I'm visiting me mum this weekend, so I spent most of this very cold day planting geocaches in and around Martinsville. Several of them have spooky themes. Yeah, I know, what a shock. One of them is at a place I've always called The Spooky Place. It's an old warehouse in Koehler where the local Jaycees used to have their haunted castle attraction at Halloween. Back in high school, and for a time thereafter, I helped them design the rooms and got to be one of the roving monsters that scared the bejezus out of you in the pitch-dark corridors. This was back in the good old days when you didn't get sued if you indavertently touched someone, so I really scared some folks. Probably scarred 'em for life, too.

Yeah, those were some of my favorite Halloweens.

And just up the road from there, we have route 666. You probably won't remember (I blogged about it somewhere), but a couple of years back, I went riding up that old country road to a little graveyard and scattered the pages of my homemade Necronomicon. As you may have guessed, there is now a geocache on route 666.

As there should be.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Such Deviltry


After an earlier false alarm, I understand the latest issue of Cemetery Dance (#59), which contains my story, "The Gaki," is now out. For real this time.

Is good news. What really made my day, though, was a nice note from Gary Braunbeck, who recently read "Fugue Devil" in Other Gods and found it unshabby. According to Gary, "'Fugue Devil' is a modern (if, alas, under-appreciated) masterpiece; the sense of place, the deceptively laid-back quality of the narrator's voice, the legend of the Fugue Devil itself, the hound, the familial disintegration, the feelings of alienation and guilt and helplessness, all combined to weave a genuinely...scary...story." I must say, there's something very, very gratifying about scaring Gary Braunbeck. After his work has engaged, jolted, disturbed, and kicked me the gut I don't know how many times over the years, I guess turnabout is fair play.

Take that, Gary.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

QUANTUM OF SOLACE


I went into Quantum of Solace not quite sure what to expect. I have purposefully avoided reading reviews because, particularly when it comes to Bond, I prefer going in with relatively few preconceived notions. The most I knew before seeing it last night was that it made a lot of money and many of the critics weren't terribly pleased with it.

Well, then. Overall, I must say I was pleased. Very pleased. It did have lots of niggling problems, a few of which were enough to make me more than raise an eyebrow (such as a building constructed with highly flammable fuel cells), but its strengths so far outweighed its shortcomings that I must give Quantum a very enthusiastic "Hell yeah." Reason number one being that Daniel Craig is so damned good. He is Bond through and through, and if it's possible, he may have done it better this time around than in Casino Royale.

No need to go into the plot, but one of the biggest critical complaints that I'm seeing is its lack of larger-than-life elements. Personally, I find it rather a welcome aspect of the movie; it's darker and dirtier than many of the Bond blockbusters because it's a tad closer to the headlines. Yeah, it's still high espionage fantasy, no doubt about it, but there's something more authentically creepy about Mathieu Amalric's malevolent leers than a scarred Donald Pleasance threatening to start WWIII.

The biggest issue I had was the rapid, dizzying jump-cutting during the action scenes (and sometimes even the more static scenes). This vehicle for sensory overkill has been too popular for too long, and rather than immerse you in the picture, it achieves quite the opposite effect. It's a pity Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) didn't direct this movie, for his talent is far superior to Marc Forster's, with a true understanding of how to rhythmically blend quick cutting and lingering views to draw you fully into the scene.

One of the things I most admire about Quantum's script is that it gives Bond some real human depth. The most powerful moment in the film is the death of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), in which Bond shows deep emotion, far more than he did with Vesper, with whom he had fallen in love in Casino Royale. Likewise, there's more dimension to the stone wall he erects around himself, which helps round out the character better than it ever has been. A lot of the credit goes to Craig's masterful portrayal, and I do believe he has proven himself the best of all the actors ever to wear Bond's dinner jacket. (Never fear, to me, Connery will still always be Bond. James Bond.)

I don't miss Q's gadgets, for their absence leaves Bond to handle deadly affairs with more "ordinary" high-tech acouterments. I do sort of miss the old, familiar byplay with Ms. Moneypenny and the traditional setting of Universal Export. Small things, though, given the darker, grittier drama of the new Bond universe. What I do miss, though, is a damn good, high-octane opening theme song. Good GOD, does "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys suck. It sucks. It's pitiful. I think it may have topped Madonna's Die Another Day as the worst Bond song of all time. It. Sucks.

Happily, David Arnold's orchestral score rates very highly. Probably his best work to date, with numerous, distinctive themes and some atmospheric arrangements of the original Bond theme. When the soundtrack album to Casino Royale came out, I was rather put out that it didn't include the title song by Chris Cornell. This time around, I'm more put out that the soundtrack album does include the title song.

I expect I'll be returning to the theater to see Quantum of Solace a second time before it leaves, and when it comes out on DVD, it will most certainly be number one on the wish list. I do hope that for the next Bond film, we get to see more of what's right with Quantum and less of what's wrong. And hopefully, a few new tricks altogether. If nothing else, the last two Bonds show that they can still do it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

DARK SHADOWS: THE PATH OF FATE

Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate, the audio drama I wrote for Big Finish, is now available for pre-order. The very sharp cover art is by producer Stuart Manning.

Here's the official scoop:

Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate is a new audio production written by Stephen Mark Rainey, based on the classic Dark Shadows TV serial, featuring the talents of original series actors David Selby (Quentin Collins) and Lara Parker (Angelique). The hour-long drama will be available on CD or as an MP3 download. Due in December 2008 from Big Finish.

"Over a century ago, the first Quentin Collins built a stairway to traverse time, opening the way to countless, unimaginable realms of past and future. To prevent his family's destruction, he dismantled his creation, but now a new, mysterious stairway has appeared at Collinwood. The present-day Quentin finds himself drawn to explore the shadows at its farthest reaches, only to discover that the power lurking there holds no love for any members of the Collins family — Quentin in particular. To save himself — and his family — from destruction, Quentin forges an unlikely alliance with Angelique, herself a dangerous agent of darkness. But if she uses her powers to help him, she risks her own eternal damnation. Can the two of them prevail over this new terror before it destroys them both — and ultimately consumes the entire Collins family?"

FROM THE AUTHOR:
For me, it is a thrill to return to Collinwood and again visit with its most enigmatic and secretive characters, played so unforgettably by David Selby and Lara Parker. Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate ventures into strange new territory, at once ominous and alluring, yet it remains a familiar place, inhabited by people you know — just like old friends. After more than forty years, Dark Shadows continues to haunt its longtime fans and charm new ones. Like so many who were captivated by the show during its original run, my enthusiasm for it has never waned, and immersing myself in its unique world is always an experience to savor. I invite you to visit that world again with Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate. Enter with caution, for the shadows here are dark indeed — but know that you are welcome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DEAD BUT DREAMING...Again


Back in 2002, the short-lived publisher, DarkTales, released a nice little anthology of Cthulhu Mythos tales titled Dead But Dreaming, edited by Keith Herber and Kevin Ross. It was the original home of my World War II/Lovecraftian horror tale, "Epiphany: A Flying Tiger's Story," as well as stories by Ramsey Campbell, David Barr Kirtley, Mike Minnis, Lisa Morton, Adam Niswander, Darrell Schweitzer, and others. About 75 copies of the book escaped into the wild before the publisher popped its rivets and went toes up, and I've seen copies of the book selling anywhere from $100 to $300 per copy. Anyway, Dead But Dreaming is looking at the light of day again, courtesy of Miskatonic River, a new small press devoted to producing supplements to Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu role-playing game as well as stand-alone Lovecraftian fiction. The book has been nicely repackaged, closely resembling the original release, but with a few updated extras. I received my contributor copy today, and it's nice to have one that's in pristine condition, as my original is somewhat battered and dog-eared.

It's a tough time for publishers, small pressers in particular, but it would sure be refreshing to see MRP fly in the face of it. The original DarkTales release of Dead But Dreaming received considerable critical acclaim, and I've always felt it was a damn shame that it suffered such an inglorious fate before it could hit the ground running. My story has since been reprinted in Delirium's Dark Homage series and in my collection from Dark Regions, Other Gods (yes, there is a very dark theme about this one, isn't there?), but it, as well as the other tales in the anthology, now have another chance to swat readers clean upside the head and make a powerful impression. By all means, if you're keen on otherworldly terrors wrapped in a dark sense of wonder, then Dead But Dreaming is most definitely for you.

You can visit it at the Miskatonic River Press Web site here.

Speaking of Other Gods, I see from the latest HWA Stoker rec list that it has several. Many thanks to you who have read it and treated it kindly. I plan on checking out the new Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, with Other Gods cover artist, Wayne Miller, this coming weekend. While the movie itself isn't likely to be scary, the audience is obviously going to be....

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cedarock

Cedarock is a fairly extensive park south of Burlington, NC, with several miles of hiking and biking trails and about forty geocaches. Mrs Death and I headed over there at the crack of dawn yesterday for camping/caching trip with our friend Beth (a.k.a. UNCGBogTurtle), her husband, and a couple of her students. We ate and drank exceedingly well (last night's steaks were Godzilla-sized), so to make up for it, I put in quite a few miles of hiking and found about 20 caches.

One of the neatest things was enountering not one but two trained red-tailed hawks out practicing maneuvers with their owners. Such beautiful birds, and absolutely fearless amid a crowd of people. Alas, didn't have the camera on hand at the time.

Couldn't have asked for a nicer weekend. It got right cold last night, but we built a fire big enough to have to wave off a couple of airplanes.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wacko

Particularly here in North Carolina, there have been some really ugly campaigns during this past election. I've never been so glad for the business to be over and done with, at least until the next go-round. The hideous negative campaigns run by the candidates themselves are bad enough, but this year in particular, the polarizations wrought by politics have become so extreme — and it's usually so damned petty.

I was brought up to have at least an ounce of class, and I try my best to maintain it, even when my wits and my temper are stretched to their limits. One thing that damn near set me off, though, was a sign in the yard of a neighbor, about how we've GOT TO STOP THE WACKO ENVIRONMENTALISTS and DRILL, DRILL, DRILL, which is the only way to lower the price of oil and become energy independent. There's no need for me to go into detail about the fallacy of the statement; that's a whole separate issue. What burns me up is the strident tone and the automatic labeling of a contrary opinion as "wacko." Most reasonable people, even if they hold a contrary view, understand — at least I hope so — that such inflammatory rhetoric simply isn't true.

But it's hardly limited to this sign, this issue, this election. What I find myself becoming increasingly intolerant of in my old age is the wholesale intolerance of conflicting points of view, no matter how well-informed they might be. Most left-leaning folks of my acquaintance are not tree-hugging socialists who love to kill babies and for whom the very mention of God sends into apoplectic fits, and few republicans I know are greedy corporate thugs who earnestly believe the rich should get richer and the poor should get poorer, all in the name of the Lord, and who will blast with their shotguns anyone who disagrees. In my experience, most of us want something akin to the same thing but have different ideas on how best to get there. Yeah, some ideas (and individuals) are indeed wacko — and it goes as much for one side as the other — but this immediate, extreme demonizing of others who hold different views, far more so than the actual issues on which we have different ideas, is what really tears us apart.

After this election, I've never been so proud to see so many Americans coming together under an umbrella of hope. I'd love to see that hope be borne out; time will tell. I will even break with personal tradition and be guardedly optimistic on this count. At the same time, I've never been so ashamed of being surrounded by so many folks (particularly in an online area I frequent) spewing bitter venom about the black Muslim socialist from Kenya who loves terrorists, and how, four years from now, we'll all be living in Marxist state.

Please. This country is in a fair mess just now. The democrats blame the republicans, and the republicans blame the democrats, but the one sure way not to fix things is to continue this ridiculous, divisive bitterness that still consumes way too many of us. Yeah, we're going to disagree, sometimes strongly, and sometimes rightly so. It's all a part of being who we are. But — to quote the King of Siam — too many a man will fight to prove that what he does not know is so. There's so much of that around that it really does make me tired. Lots of negativity for its own sake, as if it's in any way constructive.

You know, anyone is free to disagree with me. People do it all the time, as they rightly should. I disagree with others, and more frequently than I like. I usually try to get past it and figure out a way to dialogue, because I know that if we're just going to call each other wackos, idiots, etc., etc., and so forth, we're going to get done a whole lot of nothing, probably become enemies, and likely alienate others in the process.

And I hate hearing stuff like, well, that's just the way big people play. Actually, it's not. It's the way kindergartners who haven't learned better play. Many is the time that a reasoned argument, delivered without venom, has swayed me to see a different point of view. Never once in my life have I been convinced to entertain a contrary view by a bunch of insulting noise.

For all of our sakes, let us all make like we graduated kindergarten way back when we were children.

P.S. If you've read this far, you are totally, fucking, apeshit wacko. But that's okay. I forgive you.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Demon Jar" at Horror World


My short tale, "Demon Jar," is the featured story at Horror World for the month of November. It's free. It's scary. It's the story I read at our company Halloween fest last year and traumatized some former schoolteachers. It's the story I read at our friends' Halloween party last week and traumatized some former coworkers.

If you get the impression I enjoy traumatizing folks, you might be onto something.

I have no compunctions about traumatizing you, either. But you're not a weenie, are you. No sweat. For you, it's just a heap of fun.

So check it out.

"Demon Jar"

Friday, October 31, 2008

If Every Day Could Be Halloween....

...I'd make it a lot like today. It's gorgeous outside. Comfortable, sunny, and loaded with fall colors. I worked only half a day — actually less than that, since we had our Halloween festivities at the office this morning. I read "Somewhere My Love" to a less-than-angry mob, trick-or-treated and got lots of chocolate, and then hit the road and went geocaching. Found a few at Chinqua Penn plantation (near Reidsville, NC), and I'm about to head out to have dinner with my friends, the Albaneses. We may watch Phantasm tonight for good measure.

After the long rough spell we've been having (let's call it 2008), this Halloween has so far been a much-needed bit of tonic.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE SOUND OF HORROR



Back in the early 70s, I remember watching on TV a 1964 Spanish monster flick called The Sound of Horror and thinking it just might be the worst piece of crap ever put to film. Except...it kind of left me feeling unnerved. A while back, I picked up the Alpha Video DVD for something like $3.99, watched it, and came out thinking exactly the same thing.

It's about an invisible dinosaur. I am not lying; it's true. The budget was so small, they made the dinosaur invisible. But you know what? It makes a hell of a scary noise. It shreds people in right gory fashion. And like some of the best SF/horror movies — The Thing and Alien coming foremost to mind it features characters confined in a location from which they cannot escape. As a bonus, it stars a young Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda (Lucy in Jess Franco's Count Dracula), who, in her day, was about the hottest thing on two legs. The moviemakers realized this and even stopped the film in its faltering tracks so that Pitt and Miranda could dance for the camera. No complaints from me.

Make no mistake, it's a dumb, dumb film, but, in its way, it's also a bit brilliant. A group of former Nazi fighters, along with the aforementioned beautiful women, meet at a remote location in Greece to seek treasure that was buried in a cave before the war. In the process of digging it up, they unearth both a remarkably preserved mummy (identified first as a "homo sapien neanderthal" and then as a fighter at the sacking of Troy) and a couple of very large, petrified eggs. The mummy stays dead, but the eggs hatch. One releases said invisible carnivorous dinosaur; the other provides us with a glimpse of a pair of creepy, glowing eyes, but their owner is bashed and burned before it can camouflage itself and join in the blood feast. Several of the treasure-hunting party are killed as the invisible horror continually attacks the house where they are trapped, until they finally figure out a way to best the noisy, unseen brute.

From scene to scene, the movie yo-yos from outright inept to chillingly atmospheric. The creature's murderous raids are surprisingly — and realistically— graphic. There's a rather poignant scene in which the household caretaker, a superstitious woman named Calliope (whose forecasts of doom are quickly borne out) is brutally savaged by the monster, and the others trapped in the house watch helplessly...almost casually. In reality, it was probably just a matter of lackadaisical direction, yet the scene comes across as depressingly authentic.

Overall, the characters are not terribly heroic, though the WWII veterans in the group evidently once fought with great honor. Their motivation is greed, yet they are played as mostly sympathetic and humane individuals. I can just imagine this movie being remade today, with every one of these folk portrayed as vile scum, each of whom deserves to die, and the sooner the better. I find it refreshing to be able to care about, and to some degree identify with, a group of not-quite-perfect people, depicted far more realistically than the despicable stereotypes that populate far too many of today's horrific features. For one thing, there's no annoying conflict-for-conflict's-sake between a bunch of foul-mouthed imbeciles, which is the main reason I so often want to strangle every character in most modern horror films, particularly when the protagonists are youthful.

Of course, the characters do some pretty dumb things, but by and large, they're smarter than most of their modern monster movie counterparts. The final scene, though, brings us to a mishmosh of cluelessness, heroism, and a display of one of the worst monster effects ever shown on the screen. It's the film's quintessential moment, where brilliance and ineptitude collide and create something like a cinematic black hole.

If you haven't seen The Sound of Horror... well, you just gotta. You can still pick it up on Amazon.com for cheap.

Crudbuster


Indeed I did stay home today instead of venturing to ZombieCon. Hate to have missed it, but I think it was for the best. Took it easy during the day and worked on a new short story. This evening, we ventured over to a friend's place for a fairly low-key Halloween gathering. Read a story to the good little boys and girls ("Demon Jar," which is coming up as November's featured story at HorrorWorld) and carved a jack-o'-lantern. Also threw back a few Buckshot ales, which are brewed here in Greensboro. I felt so much better after that, it had me wishing I'd thrown back a few sooner.

Oh yeah. Snagged a number of park-n-grab caches on the way over there, which was fun because my former co-worker and current geocaching nemesis, Cupdaisy, was at the party, and I got to rub it in.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Walking Zombie

I'm supposed to head over to ZombieCon in Chapel Hill in the morning, but I've been a bit under the weather this week, and I keep yo-yoing between feeling halfway decent and like I've been squashed by a giant walking stone statue. Not sure whether I'm going to have the oompf to make it tomorrow. The way I'm feeling right now, probably not...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Em, Damned-Ro


This past weekend, Mrs Death and I drove up to Waynesboro, VA, for Book Em, an event sponsored by the Waynesboro Police Department to promote literacy. It was a day-long affair, held at Kate Collins Middle School, where 60-plus authors—some local, some from as far away as the UK—gathered to sell and sign books. The early morning crowd was anything but—easily the smallest I've seen in the three years I've been an attending author—though I can't say as I was suprised, given the state of the economy. Hell, I can't afford to plunk down money to buy books. In fact, I probably would have been surprised to see a turnout as big as in past years. However, over the course of the day, patrons arrived in ebbing and flowing waves, occasionally pretty much filling the gymnasium where it it was held. I managed to move a few books—about the same number as I did last year—so, even after Book Em takes its 40%, I more than paid for my trip up there.

Book Em made for only a small part of the trip, though. Of special note was getting to hang out again with good ol' Andrea Locke's face, Elizabeth Jones (pictured), who writes kiddie fiction—and quite well; she's an Edgar-award winner. Anybody remember Andrea Locke? She was the magazine reviewer for Deathrealm magazine. I think everyone knows at this point that Ms. Locke was actually no less than five individuals, and Ms. Jones was the only female in the bunch (and the only one who didn't actually write reviews). Back in the good old days when she and her family lived here in town, we used to do a lot of camping together. I think this was the first time we've seen each other in a decade. Gad.

Other highlights include hanging out with the Beth Massie/Cortney Skinner dynamic duo; Beth's sister, Barb Lawson; Matt and Deena Warner; and Joan Vander Putten and her husband Tom. Joan was—way back in the darkest 1980s—a regular attendee of Ms. Massie's infamous Pseudocon and a bona fide Deathrealm author. We attended a rather bizarre production, called the River City Radio Hour, in downtown Waynesboro,which featured an SF/comedy skit penned by Mr. Warner himself and a howlingly funny diatribe by the right-irreverent Ms. Lawson. All good fun, and the local talent is in no way lacking.

No trip would be complete without geocaching, and Mrs Death and I did some considerable hunting—on the way up, while there, and on the way back. Much to our delight, we discovered that the Warners have become involved in this most sublime activity, so we spent yesterday morning caching around Staunton, VA, which is one of the most beautiful little towns I've ever encountered. I think our total number of finds for the weekend came to 38, give or take a couple. And I must say, it's always heartwarming to be a couple of hundred miles away from home, find a cache, and discover in the logbook the signature of one "Night-hawk, Oak Ridge, NC." Night-hawk is a local State Farm agent.

It's true; he's not unlike a bleedin' good neighbor.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

R.I.P. Harry Fassl


I just found out that a good old friend has passed away — Harry Fassl, who provided countless photo-illustrations for Deathrealm as well as many book covers, including the cover art for my anthology, Song of Cthulhu. I don't have many details yet, but he evidently came down with flu-like symptoms that devastated his health, and he passed away on Sunday, October 12.

Harry and I hadn't had that much contact in recent years, but all through the 90s, we got together every time Peg and I went to Chicago, usually a couple of times a year. One unpleasantly memorable trip in the early 90s, he came to our rescue when Peg's car broke down on Lakeshore Drive — in the midst of the July 4th fireworks display. We had had dinner together and intended to spend that evening with him and his S.O. Diana at their place, but we ended up stranded in the parking lot of Soldier Field.

Harry put a lot of his heart into the oftentimes unsettling images of his art, though like so many people I know whose works can be most disturbing, his heart always seemed very big and very warm — despite the fact that sometimes wore the face of a crusty old curmudgeon (which makes him something of a role model).

It's a shame to me that my contact with Harry (like too many people I came to know well during Deathrealm's heyday) gradually became more and more infrequent over the years. Now it's too late. But we had some great times, appreciated each other's work no end, and among all the people I've known in my life, he occupies a distinct place of honor. I'd like to have been able to tell him that, but based on the way we used to talk, I'm quite sure he knew it.

Godspeed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dichotomy

One of the hallmarks of my fiction, so I've been told by more than one critical reader, is its graphic depiction of beauty, frequently in the setting, paired with an equally powerful but sometimes more subtle portrayal of horror. I think that's a very astute observation. I don't know about the horror, but I know precisely whence my appreciation of natural beauty sprang. Pics from my old neighborhood below, from today's walk around Lake Lanier. They could just as easily depict the area anytime from now back to 1961, when my family moved there. (Click on the photos for larger views.)


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of Buckwheat, Catalpas, and Geocaches



Mrs Death and I, along with our friends, the Albaneses (a.k.a. Team Alb), said the hell with economic crises, hit the road a good hour before dawn, and set out for Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, VA. For us, it's been a longstanding annual October tradition to go up to the mill, have buckwheat pancakes for breakfast at the little restaurant, wander about enjoying the beautiful mountain setting, and grab our Halloween pumpkins from a little produce stand on highway 58. We did all these things, and this year we had the added bonus of hunting several geocaches.

One of our stops was near the little community of Critz, at the R. J. Reynolds family homestead. There's a cache there named "The Old Catalpa," a reference to the rather imposing tree that stands next to the Reynolds' house. It's a gnarly old beast that could just about stand in for the mean tree in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, and while we were fortunate enough not to encounter it, judging from the photos taken by other cachers, it's also home to one of the biggest wolf spiders ever to lumber across the face of the planet. Big, big freakin' wolf spider. We ignored the piles of human bones strewn around the base of the tree and went on to find the cache, but when we heard trees falling in the distance, we got out of there fast, just in case the eight-legged freak was onto us.

I started going to Mabry Mill with my family (and sometimes other friends) when I was a wee young 'un, and I always enjoyed it; in my teenage years, it became just another boring family activity; but now, we really look forward to going every year. This outing was particularly enjoyable, as geocaching really do make everything mo better.

Even economic crises.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Naught for Norton

Customer service is just about a thing of the past, but the other night, I think I discovered the hole at rock-bottom. Back in the old days (you know, the 20th Century), I used to swear by Norton security protects, and my mom has been running the Norton Security Suite 2005 for some time with no problem.

Mom isn't exactly tech-savvy, so in my limited capacity, I've always helped her out on the computer as best I can. Over the past several years, I've renewed countless subscriptions to countless computer security programs, and as of early Saturday evening, I figured that just another program renewal at the Symantec Web site couldn't really be a major deal.

How wrong I was.

Okay, I go to the Symantec Web site, select the product I want, and choose to renew the subscription to the existing product rather than upgrade. Once payment is sent, they email the subscription key code that keeps Live Update active for another year, and you're good to go. And I would have been, had they bothered in their confirmation email to send me the subscription key code that they're supposed to.

Alas, that's apparently too much to ask.

Without the code, I have nothing to enter into the Norton program when I select "renew." So I go to their email support and try to explain the problem. However, without the subscription key code, the mail won't even get sent to them.

Then I go to their live chat area (which only works with Internet Explorer; Firefox is apparently right out), which advertises "virtually no waiting time," and am plunked into the queue at #37. Mind you, in the eastern United States, this is at 1:00 a.m., but guess where their customer support is located. So I wait 30 minutes and get down to #33 in the queue. I decide to try their phone support line. Estimated waiting time: 30 minutes.

Actual waiting time: one hour, 30 minutes-plus.

Fortunately, I had some things to occupy my attention while, every five minutes, the pleasant bitch interrupts the harp music to assure me that my call is very important and will be answered in the order it was received. I did nod off a few times, but there was no risk of missing out on the call being answered, that much was certain. Long about 3:00 a.m., an Indian chap finally answers, and it's at that moment that my cell phone battery gives up the ghost. Probably a good thing, as by this time, I was not going to be even slightly polite.

One thing the email option will allow you to do without the subscription key code is request a refund. So this I did (and in retrospect, I was far more polite than I meant to be), only to have it answered by some other inept Indian, who assured me that I didn't need a code because I was just renewing the Live Update subscription rather than purchasing a new product.

I do wish the bugger could have explained that to my mom's Norton program, which continued to stubbornly ask for a subscription key to continue the service.

And these fuckers are engaged to provide security for one's computer? Well, one guess as to who is no longer protecting Mom's.

While I've never had any significant technical problems with Symantec's programs, with me, it's customer service that makes or breaks a deal. These idiots have broken this one irreparably.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mr. Dickie Is Too Kind


In Ron Dickie's review of Other Gods in the October edition of HorrorWorld, he remarks that "There is nothing quite like opening a book by an author who fills you with confidence. When I read a Stephen Mark Rainey story or novel, I am confident I will be entertained, impressed, and left wanting more."

A most gratifying statement. Especially when he follows it up with "Sixteen stories spanning twenty years of terrorizing readers are what await between the covers of Rainey’s Other Gods, and once again, my confidence in his skills has been upheld."

Read Ron's entire piece here (scroll down to the fourth review). And if you're in need of something to read to get you in the Halloween spirit, well...Jeez...this just might do it for you.

Info here: www.stephenmarkrainey.com/othergods.htm

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The New Christy Minstrels and Gimme a "K"


The New Christy Minstrels (L–R): Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, Becky Jo Benson, Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, Clarence Treat

Back in the early 60s, The New Christy Minstrels were essentially my introduction to music. I didn't know folk music from classical, or rock n' roll from jazz, but I knew I loved the stuff on those New Christy Minstrels albums. Over the years, I've never lost an ounce of my appreciation for them, and if anything, I enjoy that music now more than I ever did. I still have all the original 33-1/3 LPs that my parents owned, and I also have the relatively recent CD issues of most of their albums. Off and on over the years, I've mucked about playing guitar and singing, and the one group whose music I could pretty much nail (insofar as an individual could do so) was the New Christy Minstrels.

In the early 60s, as music made fairly radical new strides with the British rock invasion, for many, it was easy to forget the significant contributions of contemporary folk groups, such as the New Christies, the Brothers Four, the Kingston Trio, the Journeymen (co-founded by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas), and more. Of them, the New Christies had the biggest following and the most longevity — and they launched musical careers for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and others. And who can forget Barry McGuire's single, "The Eve of Destruction"?

Dozens and dozens of individuals came and went during the history of the New Christy Minstrels, all under the direction of their mastermind, Randy Sparks. But for their first several albums, there was a core group of musicians and singers that gave them an unmistakable identity, and that was the group that I fell in love with as a kid, and that I'm still in love with today. Besides Randy Sparks and Barry McGuire, they included Gayle Caldwell, Dolan Ellis, Barry Kane, Jackie Miller, Art Podell, Larry Ramos, Clarence Treat, and Nick Woods.

Despite their longevity, the New Christies, as far as I knew, had all retired at some point during the past couple of decades, and I know a number of them have passed on. So imagine my delight when I discovered, a few short years ago, that several of the founding members had gotten back together and occasionally played at various venues around the country. In fact, if you had ample house space and could guarantee a number of attendees, they'd come and stay at your place and play and sing in your living room.

And now they're touring again.

So last night, Mrs. Death and I packed up our GPSrs and went down to Albemarle, just a ways south of here, and went to see The New Christy Minstrels play a three-hour show at the Stanley County Agri-Civic Center. We left plenty early and went geocaching all the way down, snagging several finds at some very neat and scenic locations (see the haunted house below). We had a good dinner at a little seafood restaurant, and then arrived at the civic center. I had expected maybe a medium-sized crowd, composed largely of people a bit older than I; well, most of the attendees were a bit older than I, but there was a fairly massive number of them. The parking lot was full, and the auditorium was packed, but Mrs. Death and I were lucky enough to get seats right in the center, in the ninth row, which was damn near a perfect spot. Four of the original members (Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, and Clarence Treat), were joined by relative newcomers Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, and Becky Jo Benson, all of whom showed that Randy Sparks can still grab some of the finest musical talent there is to grab. They played mostly my old favorites, and they sounded as good as they ever did. No creaky, groaning bodies and voices here — just as much vigor and enthusiasm as I would have expected from a troupe of thirty-year-olds. At the opening and between songs, Randy Sparks proved himself an all-around entertainer, relating all kinds of anecdotes about the musicians, the group's history, and the times whence they sprang.

After the show, much to my excitement, we got to meet the group, as they came out to the lobby to sign autographs and chat. Those folks have no idea how much the experience meant to me. Or maybe they do. I'm sure that, especially among people in my age group, my appreciation of the New Christies is not unique.

When Mrs. Death and I hit the road again, we made short work of about a dozen geocaches in Albemarle, most of which were named "Gimme a [insert letter of the alphabet here]." About the time we finished up (around 1:00 AM), a thick, blinding fog enveloped everything, and driving back to Greensboro, we felt like we were right in the middle of The Mist. Hell, for all I know, we were surrounded by monstrous critters all the way home, but we were fortunate enough not to be accosted. We pulled in our driveway about 2:30 AM, exhausted but still kind of giddy.

I haven't blogged much lately, or posted any writing news, because there have been some outside issues that have consumed virtually all of my attention for some time now. Not the kind of thing I care to blog about. But last night, the world was good; the show was exhilarating, and the caching got my blood fired up.

The haunted house was an extra freebie.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS


As I mentioned a wee while back, Toho's 1966 WWE extravaganza, War of the Gargantuas, is now available domestically on DVD, paired with 1957's Rodan (yeah, my namesake; make something of it!). It seems something of an odd combo, since the movies were originally released quite a few years apart, by different distributing companies; but since Classic Media owns the rights, and they're putting out the package—which features the U.S. and Japanese versions of both—for the price of a single movie, I have absolutely no complaints.

I haven't looked at Rodan yet, so I'll reserve comments on it for later. I did watch both versions of Gargantuas back-to-back, though, so you'll have to bear with me if I suddenly excuse myself to go smash a few buildings and chow on a few hapless bystanders.

Originally titled The Frankenstein Brothers: Sanda vs. Gaira, the film is a sequel to 1965's Frankenstein Conquers the World (released on DVD last year by Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock). The Japanese version makes the connection clear, though the English dialogue is altered to remove any references to Toho's Frankenstein. It's of little consequence, as the creatures are both "offshoots" of the monster in the preceding movie.

Over the years, the terms most often used by reviewers to describe War of the Gargantuas are "cheesy," "tedious," "insipid," "goofy," and so forth, though genre fans often rate the movie relatively high on the daikaiju scale. Me, I put it right at the top of the daikaiju scale, and I'll unabashedly state that it's one of my all-time favorite monster movies. I would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half or so.

It's a rare situation indeed in which the U.S. release of a Toho movie is superior to the original Japanese version, but War of the Gargantuas is one of them. Its running time is slightly longer; the editing job of the original work print is arguably more skillful; and, of all things, the alteration of Akira Ifukube's original score—usually one of the worst things a domestic releasing firm can do—mostly works to the film's benefit. While I am a diehard fan of Akira Ifukube's music—both his film scores and classical compositions—I just can't abide the monotonous military march that rambles on and on endlessly behind the action scenes throughout the original version. The generic music that replaces it may be nothing to write home about, but at least it punctuates the action in much more satisfying fashion. And the best of Ifukube's music—the eerie, theramin-based main theme and the re-orchestrated motifs from Frankenstein Conquers the World—are thankfully left intact. In some places, cues from Monster Zero have also been effectively inserted. My understanding is that Henry Saperstein, the U.S. producer (and Toho's co-financier), had no love for Ifukube's martial themes either and felt no shame in "fixing" them. Can't fault him for that!

For a Toho daikaiju pic, War of the Gargantuas is unique in several ways, one of the foremost being that Gaira, the green one, is shown devouring humans. In fact, the whole reason for his rampage is to find food. There's something far more menacing about a monstrous critter with an appetite for human flesh than one that comes to town because it likes to dine on fissionable materials. Secondly, the anthropomorphic monsters act and interact with distinct intelligence, unlike the reptilian monsters that generally attack like some impersonal force of nature. Relative to this point, the monster suits are constructed so that we see the actors' actual eyes, rather than painted Ping Pong balls; as such, the Gargantuas' faces are more than customarily expressive, and Gaira's face in particular can be quite horrifying. In numerous scenes, the lighting and camera angles imbue him with a demonic look, reminiscent of Linda Blair's makeup in The Exorcist. Let me tell you, if I were out geocaching one day and saw Gaira pounding through the forest toward me, my drawers would be shitting themselves.

At the movie's time, Eiji Tsuburaya's special effect work was at its pinnacle, and he and his crew outdid themselves for this one, particularly during Gaira's rampage through the mountainous countryside and the subsequent military attack. I find the well-staged, tactically sound counterattack on the monster(s) highly engaging, especially the all-out laser and maser-cannon assault on Gaira, just before Sanda's appearance (which, again, is better staged in the American version). It's one of those rare moments in Toho's monster history when the human forces very nearly come out on top, and the monsters suffer and express physical pain.

Toho's cast of regulars, including Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, Jun Tazaki, Yoshifumi Tajima, and others, are joined by Russ Tamblyn, who undeniably sleepwalked through his role as Dr. Stewart. However, he's perfectly acceptable in the part; he looks and sounds just like one of the physicians I knew back in my old hometown at the time. If anything, Dr. Southworth might have been less animated....

At any rate, this release of War of the Gargantuas actually had me excited about a giant monster movie again. That's certainly been a long time coming. There's not much in the way of Classic Media's customary extras in the package (though there is an hour-long documentary called "Shrinking Godzilla Down to Size," produced by Steve Ryfle and my friend Ed Godziszewski), but for two versions of two very worthwhile movies, it's damn near a steal. Today, I am a happy boy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Mystery!


I just watched Goldfinger for about the hundredth time because, with Quantum of Solace coming up in the not-to-distant future, I got a 007 hankering. And—the horror!—I just discovered that, before Oddjob knocks out Bond in the hotel suite, there are six bottles in the door of the refrigerator. When Bond wakes up, there are seven bottles. (The one he was holding when Oddjob knocked him out is still lying on the floor.)

So, evidently, someone placed an extra bottle in the refrigerator door while Bond was unconscious. What mystery!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Torture

There are those who believe that there is never justification for torture. I'm not so sure. In fact, I would not be deeply bothered if certain responsible parties were condemned to a lifetime of having to actually make use of that which they have wrought.

For instance, the designers of the runners on the doors to my garden shed. Suffice it to say that, on occasion, when I open the shed doors to remove the lawn mower, one of the doors falls off. Now I'm not Bob Vila, but I can deal with your average mechanical device without stumbling. When you look at how the doors hang on the runners, I don't see how the damned door falls off at all. Then it requires a small act of God to actually get it back together. I allotted just over an hour today for the usual mowing and trim work; I ended up spending half the day, mostly trying to get that damned shed back together. Oh, kyrie eleison.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Smashing


The compulsion to watch giant monsters trample Japan is, in my life, a chronic malady that I've long since learned to live with. From the day I first saw Godzilla, King of the Monsters, somewhere around age four, I've been hooked, and while my enthusiasm for daikaiju movies waxes and wanes somewhat, it never wanes very far. Thanks be to ye godz, the majority of Toho's monster flicks are available domestically on DVD—both English and Japanese versions—so these past few weeks, it has been necessary to plug in some of them. Last night, I even broke down and watched Gamera's first outing, Gammera, the Invincible (the American version, starring Brian Donlevy, Albert Dekker, and Dick O'Neill, just to be different).

One of the best bits of news I've recently received is that my all-time favorite, non-Godzilla daikaiju movie, War of the Gargantuas, is scheduled for DVD release by Classic Media next month—on a double-feature with the original Rodan. The DVD is supposed to include both the original Japanese and U.S. release versions, which in the case of Rodan is most welcome, since the original Japanese version is markedly superior to the 1957 King Brothers U.S. release. War of the Gargantuas is one of the rare cases in which the U.S. release trumps the original Japanese, the main reason being that it contains additional special effects scenes (including the infamous scene of Gaira, the green one, spitting out the clothes of the woman he just et at Haneda airport, which was excised from the Japanese version). While some might disagree, I also find Akira Ifukube's battle march, which plays endlessly during the military's attack on Gaira, monotonous to the point of tedium. The U.S. version replaces it with some stock action music (which actually works well) and a few passages from Ifukube's superior score to Destroy All Monsters.

It's no exaggeration to say that my first viewing of War of the Gargantuas, which came to town on a double-bill with Monster Zero, in 1970, was one of the pivotal moments of my youth. A good DVD release has been a long time coming, and I kinda can't wait.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Witness to One of Nature's Monumental Struggles...

It seemed like just the kind of afternoon to go on a three-mile hike on the Reedy Fork Trail when I got off of work, so that's what I did. Snagged a couple of caches and got in some good exercise. While on my way back, I heard the distinctive sound of a cicada chirping, as well as some furious disturbance in the nearby leaves. Going to check it out, I saw what appeared to be a strange, massive insect thrashing about wildly; turns out, however, it was two fairly massive insects engaged in a violent life-or-death struggle. One was the cicada I had heard; the other was a giant hornet, its legs wrapped around its prey, its stinger frantically trying to pierce the other's carapace.

Generally, my policy in such matters of nature is nonintervention. I have no fondness for insects of any variety, that I can tell you. However, in this case, it sounded for all the world like that cicada was screaming in agony. So, figuring what the hell, I gave one deft jab of my bamboo whacky stick, and the hornet fell away in two twitching pieces. The cicada continued to thrash for a few moments, then it shook itself like an annoyed, wet dog, and...for a second...it cocked its body as if it were looking at me and saying, "Dude, thanks." Then it wandered on off, seemingly little the worse for wear.

Of course, that poke of my whacky stick stood an equal chance of killing either or both. It was a the luck of the draw that spared the cicada. Frankly, I figured he was already a goner. After my recent experience with flying critters of the stinging variety, though, I'm kind of glad it went the way it did.

I reckon now the cicada has gone off to eat somebody's trees.

Little bastard.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nostalgia

Back in the good old dark ages of my youth (the orange and green plaid 70s), there was a sign by the nearby lake that said "No Dumping." So my friend Steve and I took some poster board, painted an "H" the same size and style as the type on the sign, laminated it, and attached it to the sign with with Super Glue so it read "No Humping." This was quality craftsmanship, and innocent passersby would never know without close examination that the sign had been cleverly altered. For most of the rest of the 20th Century, that sign remained in that state. In fact, it came down only a few years ago.

Now, on a nearby regulatory sign, someone has carved in crude letters, "No Fucking."

Mon dieu. Oh, but for the good old days of putting thought and care into your work.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Eleven...


...geocaches found between 0600 and 0900 this morning. Pretty good haul; I waded through bogs, briers, poison plants, and giant spiders to reach them. Now, and for the next 72 hours or so, it's feverish work on the outline for my upcoming project—the identity of which some of you have no doubt guessed.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Deadline Time Again...

So it'll be a working holiday weekend. Not that I mind. It's another goooood project.

For completely different reasons, I have to get up at 0500 in the morning, and by 0600, I'll be hard at some geocaching before settling down to work. So I'm hyped.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Occult Detective Tackles OTHER GODS...

...with devastating consequences.

Occult Detective Reviews Other Gods

I've been trashed, and I've been trashed, but this time, I've been really trashed.

Oh, wait, that's only because I've got me a big ol' habanero martini.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Matt Cardin's Daemonyx


A couple of months back at Mo*Con, I picked up from Matt Cardin a five-track CD sampler from his Daemonyx: Curse of the Daimon album. I've listened to it quite a few times since then, but alas, I'm only now getting around to commenting on it.

Bottom line is...the sampler just isn't enough. I gotta have more. (And not just more cowbell!)

This is electronica at its best. It's melodic with a distinctly dark edge; never just noisy but laden with pounding percussion, background sound effects, and voices speaking in ominous, hushed tones ("Is there someone inside you?" "Demons are taking over the world!"). The second track, "Daimonica," is probably my favorite, running about four and half minutes long, with a chiming melody somewhat reminiscent of the theme to Phantasm, and a layer of the aforementioned voices running behind the music through the entire track. Most of the lines are muted and difficult to understand, but certain key words occasionally come through—such as "the exalted flow of the time-space continuum"—and they draw your attention deep into the composition.

Track three, "The Face of the Deep," is a little harder edged, with what sounds like a genuine Hammond organ overlaying the repetitive rhythm about two-thirds of the way through the piece. Track four, "The Streets of Vastarien" (if you've read Thomas Ligotti, you'll recognize the title) has some of the distinctive, ethereal qualities of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks score, with deep, pulsing percussion in the background that's a bit unsettling.

There are a couple of free new tracks available at Matt's MySpace page; you can check them out here: www.myspace.com/daemonyx. If you're the least bit keen on mellow but dark electronica, this ought to delight you as much as it does me.

Yes, I want the whole thing. I gotta have it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fairystone Rocks!


One of the neatest things about geocaching is that it takes Mrs Death and me to all kinds of places that we would otherwise never visit. In the last four months, I've seen more of Greensboro than I've seen in twenty-plus years, and I'm getting out frequently into the surrounding environs, which has given me a whole new appreciation for the picturesque quality of much of the local country.

Today, Mrs Death and our goodest friends, the Albaneses, made a nice day trip up to Fairystone Park, Virginia. In my younger days, I spent a fair amount of time at Fairystone, as there's a lake for swimming, a decent campground, and an impressive number of hiking trails. And nowadays, a bunch of geocaches. Of course, it was the caches that brought us back to the park.

Fairystones are crystals of staurolite, which often form the shape of a cross (see the photo above, which is from the Stone Cross Museum). They're absolutely everywhere around the park. While on the trail to one of the caches, we found what looked like a fairystone fountain—a mass of the stones deposited along the trail by recent rains. Legend has it that this area was once home to a gaggle of wood nymphs, and when they heard of Christ's crucifixion, they wept, their tears crystallizing into stone crosses. Yes, it's an odd one, but back in the olden days, it was among the locale's most prominent stories.

While we were on the trail (one of many we discovered), we came upon a couple of iron mines, which I had no idea existed. They're tucked back in the woods, dug into walls of slate, their entrances now blocked by iron trellises. Looking into them, you can see where the ceilings have caved in, and being out here among them gave me a lonely, almost creepy feeling. Back in the early 20th century, the area was a thriving town called Fayerdale, and mining was the primary industry. We, of course, were there mining for caches, which took some dedicated hunting, but we finally made the finds.

Discovering this little remnant of history, so close to where I grew up, is just one of those things in life I consider downright cool. As always, it gets the mind working toward some new, scary tale. And, of course, I added a few numbers to the tally of caches found.

This was all part of the celebration of our 22nd wedding anniversary, which was today. Matter of fact, our daughter very thoughtfully called to wish us happy anniversary. Mrs Death said to her, "Just think, I've had to put up with your father for the past 22 years," to which she responded, "No, Mom, he's had to put up with you."

She is a good and acceptable daughter. I owe her a dollar.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Island of Terror


Busy weekend here; mostly domestic chores, vehicle maintenance, a spot of creative work. I tell you, though, tonight I found myself seized by an insatiable craving to watch a drive-in movie. Alas, as the drive-in was kind of out of reach, I settled for putting on my old VHS copy of Island of Terror, one of my favorite 1960s-vintage SF/horror flicks. Now, in my younger days, I never actually saw it at the drive-in; in fact, I don't think I managed to see it at all until I was well on my way to becoming an old fart. It showed up in TV Guide fairly frequently when I was a kid, but for whatever reasons, I never managed to catch it. I recollect turning a magnificent shade of green when good ol' Robert Cox (he was pretty much Linus to my Charlie Brown) saw it on Shock Theater and described it to me in very gory detail: "The professor, like, gets his arm chopped off and everything and, like, blood spews everywhere, you know?"

It really is the perfect drive-in movie, starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, and Niall MacGinnis (of Curse of the Demon fame). A team of scientists, hoping to find a cure for cancer, go to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to conduct experiments using radiation. Needless to say, it goes wrong. The scientists are all mysteriously killed, and people (and animals) suddenly begin turning up with all their bones missing. The local doctor, baffled, calls in renowned physician Peter Cushing, who, also baffled, calls in renowned researcher Edward Judd, who finds himself—perhaps not unpredictably—baffled by the deadly goings-on. Turns out that the experiments have created these huge, mutated, cell-like critters that snag you with a proboscis, liquify your bones, and then suck them out through said proboscis. Mayhem ensues, lots of people die, and the professor, like, gets his arm chopped off and everything and, like, blood spews everywhere, you know?

Great, great little flick. The island setting, both picturesque and gloomy, creates the perfect spooky atmosphere. The sound effect that precedes the creatures' appearance is an eerie, warbling, electronic whistle (created by Barry Gray, composer of the score to Stingray, UFO, Space: 1999, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,et. al.), and it's used to unnerving effect, much like the scary sound effects in Fiend Without a Face, another of my favorite oldies. The critters themselves—described in the old TV guide listings as "turtle-like"—tread the line between silly and horrifying, though they're more like knobby starfish with long, tentacular appendages than turtles. They reproduce by fission, and there's a wonderful scene where the process is shown in grotesque detail. The occasional bits of gore may be primitive by today's standards, but they punch just the right buttons to accentuate the horror in the film.

A few slow moments impede forward progress now and again, such as the apparently suspense-building scene, filmed in real time, of Cushing and Judd putting on radiation suits, from top to bottom, including gloves and air hoses. (This is the time to make popcorn.)

Despite these little hitches, Island of Terror stands out as a superb example of 1960s British SF/horror. I recorded it many years ago from American Movie Classics, when they still aired movies with no commercials. It's hard to find gems like this on TV anymore, though; so many of the oldies but goodies are no longer broadcast, those slots having been given away to the latest crop of rancid CGI monstrosities of Sci Fi channel caliber. Fortunately, it's easier than it ever has been to find a lot of these marvelous flicks on DVD, oftentimes cheap, sometimes with extra features aplenty. Unfortunately, I don't believe Island of Terror is one of them. It's available on Region 2-encoded PAL DVDs, the standard in the UK, but unplayable on most US systems.

Alas.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

KEEPERS OF THE DEAD


Bob Freeman's Keepers of the Dead continues the saga of Cairnwood Manor and its resident population of werewolves, vampires, zombies, gargoyles, and sorcerers, introduced in his first novel, Shadows Over Somerset. Though some prior knowledge doesn't hurt, Keepers qualifies as much as a standalone novel as it does a sequel.

Cairnwood Manor, an ancient seat of magical power, and the Cairnwood family, who are charged with preventing that power falling into darker hands than theirs, are under seige by a rival clan—not to mention those insidious others who would play both sides against the other for their own purposes. Michael Cairnwood, the new lord of the manor, has made a painful return from brink of death and found that circumstances on the homefront are anything but what he might desire, particularly since he and his enemies happen to share a common ancestry.

The first thing I discovered is that Keepers, much like its predecessor, is loaded with characters—almost too many to keep track of—and they just keep coming over the course of the book. To his credit, Mr. Freeman devotes enough space to the primary players to define and hone their personalities; also to his credit, he renders none of them in pure black and white. It's often difficult to delineate protagonists and antagonists, since all have their unique motivations and none fall easily into the cliched role of hero/villain. It's refreshing to find that the ostensible protagonists are hardly creatures of goodness and light and the antagonists aren't simply wicked because being wicked is just so much damned fun.

The downside of all this is that, particularly in the opening chapters, there's a lot more telling than showing, with characters' personalities and purposes simply described rather than developed naturally. For a time, it's difficult to distinguish who belongs to which clan and whether he or she is going to be important to the plot. Characters come and go, oftentimes killed off before their relevance seems firmly established.

Conversely, once the main characters begin to become real and have evoked some reader sympathy, Freeman pulls no punches and establishes a sense of tragedy when their fates are less than happy. I admire the fact that not everyone who meets a bad end does so because they're just too nasty to live, and a few of these fateful moments prove to be rather poignant.

Make no mistake, there are unhappy ends aplenty. The novel's pace is oftentimes breakneck, and vicious fighting between supernatural beasties abounds. Some of it manages to be exciting, yet it tends to overshadow the plot's more subtle intrigue, which is really what holds this book together. Freeman has a capable hand for suspense, and I would like to have seen a tad more of it, rather than another knock-down-drag-out altercation.

The edition I read was an uncorrected proof copy, and I hope some of the rough edges will be ironed out in the regular edition. A lot of the errors consist of subject-verb tense disagreement, various grammar usage issues, and other such problems, which are at best distracting and at worst exasperating. Writers do need good editors (yours truly, without question); I trust Black Death Books has one on hand...?

There's no question that Keepers is a better novel than Shadows Over Somerset. Knowing that Mr. Freeman is more than a little dedicated to his craft, I foresee bigger and better things on the horizon for him. I'll be curious to see where he goes from here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

OTHER GODS Scares BQueen Out of Her Bonnet


HorrorWatch's BQueen has just given Other Gods the royal review treatment. The HorrorWatch review site isn't working properly at the moment, so she's put the review on her blog until it can be posted at its regular home.

I'm rather fond of this line: "I wouldn't recommend you read Other Gods before bedtime unless your significant other actually likes being woken up by you telling them you just read a scary story and can't sleep and did they hear that noise and why are they looking at you like that?."

I concur.

I'm not sure whether it's available to the public at large or just MySpace members, but it's worth checking out the whole thing here:

BQueen Reviews Other Gods