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