Monday, February 24, 2020

It's a Book! Summer of Lovecraft

The Kindle edition saw the light of day just before the most recent New Year's, but the big old paperback edition of Summer of Lovecraft is now roaming about in the wild. My contributor copy arrived from Dark Regions today. This one features my tale "Short Wave," which, for my part, I consider one of my most eerie, unsettling works of short fiction.

In the summer of 1969, a couple of teenage boys find an old short-wave radio. Man has, for the first time, set foot on the moon, and although the boys realize it's a silly idea, they decide to try contacting the astronauts of Apollo 11 on their radio. To their shock, a voice responds to their attempts—but it is immediately clear to them that the voice is not of human origin. They soon realize that something—an intelligence not of this earth—has taken notice of them. And now, no matter what they do or where they go, they cannot escape the malevolent attention of this unknown intelligence from outer space.

CTHULHU MEETS FLOWER POWER in this weird, wild, trippy, far-out, cosmic, and horrific anthology. Summer of Lovecraft - Cosmic Horror in the 1960s, edited by Brian M. Sammons & Glynn Owen Barrass, published by Dark Regions Press.

Night Trippers by Lois H. Gresh
Operation Alice by Pete Rawlik
The Summer of Love by C.J. Henderson
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Sullivan by Lee Clark Zumpe
Dreamland by David Dunwoody
Lost In the Poppy-Fields of Flesh by Konstantine Paradias
Five To One by Edward M. Erdelac
Keeping the Faith by Samantha Stone
Mud Men by Sean Hoade
Misconception by Jamie D. Jenkins
No Colors Anymore by Joe L. Murr
Shimmer and Sway by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Short Wave by Stephen Mark Rainey
The Song that Crystal Sang by Tom Lynch
Through a Looking Glass Darkly by Glynn Owen Barrass and Brian M. Sammons
The Color from the Deep by William Meikle
The Long Fine Flash by Edward Morris
Just Another Afternoon in Arkham, Brought to You in Living Color by Mark McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr.
Crystal Blue Persuasion by Jeffrey Thomas

Order the paperback from here.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Off-Season Beachin'

A rarely seen scene: a beach empty but for seagulls
From time to time, Ms. B. enjoys going to these artsy-crafty-scrapbook-makey gatherings to do artsy-crafty-scrapbook-makey thingummies with a bunch of women. She's been to a few in Myrtle Beach, SC, and I especially enjoy these because I get to accompany her and go geocaching while she's doing her thing (see "Geo Artsy-Fartsying," November 11, 2018). The Sun N Sand Resort on S. Ocean Blvd., is one of the traditional settings for these events, which pleases me since it's only a couple of buildings down from Regency Towers, where I spent many a summertime week with my folks at our time-share condo from 1977 to 2000. The building that is now the Sun N Sand Resort used to be the Sheraton Hotel, where, sometime in the early 1990s, for two nights running, my brother and I won their bar's karaoke contests (good for $25 bar tabs—not at all shabby in those days). Unfortunately for us big people, the bar here has been remodeled to be a kids' arcade/ice cream parlor. What the hell kind of fun is that, anyway?

Alas, this may be the last of these Sun N Sand gatherings because, for whatever reason, a bunch of the women regulars are not altogether pleased with this facility. Personally, I find this both sad and mystifying, as it's a damned nice place at a very reasonable price, but then, it ain't my event. This morning, Ms. B. and I put in half a day at the office before hitting the road for the beach. Back home in Greensboro, there was reasonably serious snow in the forecast, but as we drove beachward, we encountered naught but rain. Now, at times, it was a pretty enthusiastic rain. Of course, this hardly put the brakes on the geocaching; I grabbed a small handful on the way. Once checked in at the Sun N Sand, we headed to dinner at Dirty Don's Oyster Bar, which was in the running and is now firmly in the lead for my personal favorite seafood joint anywhere. Steamed shrimp and oysters for me, and fried shrimp for the nice lady. I also had a couple of what may have been the spiciest Bloody Marys ever. Not necessarily the tastiest ever, but I'd still rate them pretty high on the Mighty Happy Drink list.

Afterward, we hoped to drop some coin at the nearby Coastal Wine Boutique, which has been a favorite wine destination on past beach trips. The one at 21st Ave. and Ocean Blvd. however, appears to have odd hours; last time we were here, they didn't open till well after their posted time of 5:00 PM. And tonight, after dinner, they weren't open yet again. Thus devastated, Kimberly and I decided to try the liquid refreshment at Soho, just down the street. We each had a glass of wine each (both just fair), and a spicy tuna roll (fabulous). Before heading back to the Sun N Sand, on a lark, we decided to check out Coastal Wine one more time. Lo and behold, this time, they were open. Go figure. On our entry, the friendly pup we remembered from our previous visit greeted us with his customary unbridled enthusiasm. The wine here, as expected, far surpassed the more muggle-oriented fare at Soho: a Gen 5 red blend for Ms. B. and a Bourdeaux blend pour moi.

A cache in the rain on the way back to the resort, and then some mellow time for Ms. B. and me.
Oyster and shrimp bones. All that's left of a Dirty Don's feast.
The goodest boy in the wine bar, according to Ms. B. I might have taken exception
except that she might have been right.
Off-season at the beach is the best.
Hoo-doggies, that was one killer wind this morning! It felt a lot more like Michigan than South Carolina. In November 2018 and January 2019, the temps here were far milder. Needless to say, the blustery bluster wasn't about to sway me from a good geocaching outing. As Kimberly made for her day's activities, I headed toward a few hides—though I did opt for some that required less hiking than those I had originally targeted. Regardless, I ended up with seven, and avenged a couple of DNFs (read as Did Not Find) from previous visits.

I've gotta say, I will never understand muggles who spend several eternities sitting in their cars—always right where the cache is hidden. Not once, not twice, but three times this morning, I entered parking lots that were completely bereft of vehicles except for cars parked right at my respective GZs. Un-freaking-believable. I mean, what the fuck, do geocaches have some kind of subliminal draw for people with nothing better to do than sit in their fucking cars? People, just go. Go away. Go somewhere. Do something. Something besides sit in your fucking car.

After geocaching, some lunch and mellow time back at the hotel—shattered for a brief time by a piercing, pointless fire alarm. I suspect some bored dingbat kid decided to make mischief. At so many fan conventions over the years, I experienced bogus fire alarms to the point that I came to expect them. As there is no fan convention here, I expected this one somewhat less.

We hunted down and killed dinner at Travinia Italian Restaurant, a short distance from our lodgings. The restaurant always appears crowded, and could be considered relatively upscale. The five-piece band playing was quite good, with jazzy tunes I found mostly appealing, though the volume was such that Brugger and I simply could not converse, even seated a fair distance away. Our bottle of wine—an Orin Swift Italian Red Blend, which we have had on any number of occasions—was pleasing enough, though at a 250% markup, not exactly inexpensive. Ms. B. ordered Pollo Isabella (grilled chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, lemon basil beurre blanc, & baby spinach), and I went for Short Rib Rigatoni (slow-braised beef, roasted garlic, mascarpone, & tomato cream sauce), both of which were just okay; both somewhat bland, requiring considerable salt & pepper to bring out the flavor. The service, I will say, was exemplary. I can't give Travinia more than a B– in the food and drink/value department, but I'll offer a solid A for the cordial, attentive service and general atmosphere. Given the typical crowds and overall good reviews, I might have hoped for somewhat more distinctive fare. Still, in the grand scheme, we're at the beach, we're not starving, and we've been able to take considerable joy in this respite from the ongoing bullshit of the real world. So let us call ourselves a couple of happy campers on this occasion.
Old Rodan at "A Walk Around the Block #19," avenging a prior DNF. Notice my look of pure joy.
So much for any "Cache In, Trash Out." I guess I won't be watching any Gilligan's Island out here.
Nice nighttime view from the balcony. It's cold out thar!
Serious hike requires serious attitude.

After a bit of a sleep-in, Ms. B. and I set out for one of our favorite breakfast destinations: Woodhaven Pancake House, just around the corner on Hwy 17. Now, this happy place offers 70-some different omelets, and I do love me an omelet on occasion; however, on my last visit, I had not just French toast but Paris toast, and this particular treat has its hooks in me. So, once again, I tore into Paris toast with a side of sausage links. C'est magnifique.

From there, Kimberly went to her sit-on-her-butt-all-day crafty thing while I sallied forth to Murrells Inlet and the Waccamaw Neck section of the East Coast Greenway. Before commencing the hike, I stopped off for a few hides scattered around Murrells Inlet, then parked at the trailhead for the approximately three-mile stretch of trail down toward Litchfield. Most of the caches were relatively easy to find; a scant few required more than a couple of minutes of hunting. None required any physical challenges beyond the hike itself. It started out mighty chilly, but by noon the temp started climbing. I grabbed all the caches on my outbound hike, so that on my return, I power walked the entire distance. Yes sir, as much as I love that Paris toast, I'm pretty sure my body will thank me for getting rid of as many of those nasty old calories as possible. I left a couple of handfuls scattered along the trail.

But, oh, I'm sure I regained a calorie or two at dinner. I hadn't been back from Murrells Inlet for very long when we turned around and headed back that way for dinner. Our choice tonight: Nance's Creek Front Restaurant, which was a regular dining stop for my family when we came to Myrtle just about every summer in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I remember quite enjoying Nance's fare back then. And tonight, it was very good. Kimberly ordered sauteed scallops with baked potato and cole slaw. Very, very good little shellfish, those, although a few of them were a tad overcooked and on the tough side. Sadly, the kitchen had run out of fresh oysters on the half shell, so I settled for fried oysters, with baked potato and green beans. Good, not great. The dirty vodka martini hit the spot. Still in all, the food was a darn sight better than last night's Italian. Neither came close to our goodies at Dirty Don's from Thursday evening. Dirty Don's, once again, is the clear winner for this trip.

Now, at times, I feel compelled to indulge Ms. B.'s eccentricities. Like, sometimes—rarely, of course—she drinks wine. Last year, while she was doing her sitting-on-her-butt-artsy-craftsy-scrapbook-makey thingummy, I rather randomly decided to take her a glass of wine. I can safely say that I do such things because I love her dearly, and making her happy brings me joy. And I know she appreciates it. This evening, though, I get a text indicating her wine glass is empty. So, yes, I did slog down twelve floors (read push the elevator button) to take her some wine. The warmth of satisfaction I get from this service can no doubt be felt to the ends of the earth. (This is why, actually, the polar ice caps are melting.) However, this afternoon, after returning from a six-mile power hike, I get a request from the nice lady to hammer out the kinks in her back; this because she's been sitting on her butt all day. Now, while I might be happy to indulge Ms. B.'s eccentricities—and I am—I might suggest that she consider increasing my tips enough to put me into the next tax bracket. It seems only fair.
Bright but chilly morning at the beach
Have you seen the bridge? Where's that confounded bridge?
It's a swamp out there! By midday, the temp had risen sufficiently for the bugs to start stirring.
A nice evening view from our balcony
Last night, Ms. B. and I pulled a pretty late nighter (she insisted we sit up and drank wine once she came in from her activities), so we ended up sleeping in a bit later than we originally intended. Once marginally awake and alert, we packed everything up, checked out, and then went our respective ways for the next hour or so—she to her art, I to Surfside to grab a few more caches. I snagged four and spent quite a while looking for a newer, very tough one that eluded me.

We had lunch at Denny's (a place I probably haven't been to since I had hair), and then we hit the road for home. We did venture out a few intriguing country roads after a couple of caches, one of which I found, one of which I did not. All in all, it was a decent, uncomplicated trip back.

It sounds like Ms. B.'s future Myrtle Beach events will be at a different venue; nearby, though a bit pricier. And I've come perilously close to finding the majority of the geocaches at and around the beach. Holy cowz, who'd have thunk it? Hopefully, before the next one, somebody will repopulate the area with some new ones. Hopefully....

A lovely trip, it was. Although at times there were a good many people out and about, off-season at the beach is most definitely the best.

To close, here are a few photos of Ms. B.'s scrapbook pages she made this weekend. They're from our Europe trip back in the fall.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Spooky and the Train

What a happy bunch! Old Rodan, Fishdownthestair, Diefenbaker, Old Rob

Today's geocaching venture took Team No Dead Weight to the American Tobacco Trail in Wake County to finish up the Train geoart we had started a couple of weeks ago (see "Fun in All Directions," February 02/02/2020). Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob a.k.a. Bloody Rob a.k.a. Old Bloody Rob), and I headed out fairly early this a.m., hit the trail, and, after about a six-mile round trip, completed the geoart. The image is the shape of an oncoming train engine, although this one is surrounded by so many other caches, it's kind of difficult to discern its shape amid the jumble of cache icons on the Google maps overlay.

After that, we decided we needed some bison. Lots of it, with fries and Bloody Marys and nachos and hot jalapenos. We found all this and more at Ted's Montana Grill, a few miles north in Durham. It's been a favorite dining destination over the years, particularly when it's a group of us out geocaching. On our drive, though, we noticed a nearby cache called "SPOOKY 3" (GC194GB) placed by Vortexecho (a.k.a. Christian), who is one of our favorite cache hiders because of the extreme nature of many of his hides. In this case, getting to the cache didn't require anything too extreme, although the host was a big, huge, Ent-like beast that stood out above all other trees in the forest. It's no great spoiler to reveal that the cache was hidden deep inside a cavernous opening in the tree's base. I made the venture into that dark chamber, which required some serious wriggling and stretching. Later, as we left the restaurant, dear friend Scott spoke up and said, "Hey, Mark, do you realize you look as though you might have been crawling around inside a big old tree?"

Well, the thought had occurred to me, though a little forewarning before heading into a nice restaurant might have been preferable. At least it was almost as dark in the restaurant as it was in the tree.

A fine day on the trail. Cache count after this trip stands at 11,736. That is all.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Smashing Valentine's Day

After a mighty nice Valentine's Day dinner at The Third Bay in Martinsville, Ms. B. and I are stopped at a red light. Car comes from the left, makes a wide turn to the right, and — wham! Dumb-ass slams right into the front of my car. Crunches up the fender and headlight pretty good.

The fellow claimed his brakes locked up. However, he did appear impaired, and when the police arrived — happily, in short order — they arrested him immediately after running his credentials. He claimed he had insurance, but it appears to have expired. I expect he'll have a rough ride coming up, and it would seem deservedly so. Fortunately, Ms. B. and I are fine, but getting the car taken care of may take a while.

In any event, my takeaway from this is to never stop at a red light.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Now Brewing: Ameri-Scares New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies

Around 2:00 AM on September 3, 1965, a young man named Norman Muscarello was hitchhiking to his home in Exeter, New Hampshire from nearby Amesbury, Massachusetts. With so few cars traveling at that hour, he was forced to walk most of the way. About five miles south of Exeter, he saw strange, flashing lights appear in the sky. Naturally enough, he at first believed the lights must be from a plane or a helicopter. However, the airborne object made no sound, and its unusual, erratic movements resembled those of no conventional aircraft. When the object suddenly zoomed toward him, he became frightened and dove into a ditch to hide. Eventually, the brilliant object soared away to the east, toward Hampton. When a car finally came along, he flagged it down. The driver took him to the police station in Exeter, where Muscarello told the officer on duty, Reginald "Scratch" Toland, everything he had seen.

A short time earlier, a police officer named Eugene Bertrand had met a woman on the road who also claimed to have seen a mysterious, brilliant object in the sky. She told Bertand this UFO had followed her for several miles down a dark, deserted highway. Bertrand initially dismissed the woman's claim, but now intrigued, he decided to take young Muscarello back to the place where he claimed to have seen the flying object. Soon after the two men arrived, the lights reappeared, this time rising from behind a grove of nearby trees. It wasn't long before another police officer, David Hunt, appeared on the scene. As the three men watched, the object hovered, zoomed, and fluttered wildly in midair. All three witnesses agreed that the object's aerobatic maneuvers surpassed the capabilities of any conventional aircraft.

For several weeks afterward, numerous people in the area reported seeing strange lights in the sky. US Air Force investigators offered a variety of “natural” explanations for the UFOs. They suggested that witnesses might be seeing airplanes they simply didn’t recognize, or strangely magnified stars — due to unusual atmospheric conditions — or even lights from nearby Pease Air Force Base (now closed). However, in the face of so much evidence and no satisfactory answers, the Air Force filed the Exeter sightings under "Unexplained."

* * *

The passage above is a summation of an article titled "Outer Space Ghost Story" by John G. Fuller, which I discovered in the pages of Reader's Digest — the May 1966 issue — when I was about seven years old (right about the time the issue came out). My grandmother owned a huge collection of Reader's Digest issues, and I loved perusing them, especially the ones with stories about ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, and flying saucers. Needless to say, I have since acquired a copy of the issue in question, as well as several others of special interest. The image above illustrates the Reader's Digest story. Fuller's piece originally appeared in Look magazine, and his bestselling book, Incident at Exeter, is one of the most well-known chronicles of UFO phenomena.

When researching legends, folklore, and historical events from the various states for the Ameri-Scares series, the Exeter story is one that came foremost to mind. After revisiting the myriad UFO stories from that time period, I felt it would be the perfect background for the Ameri-Scares New Hampshire book. I recently turned in my latest entry — Ohio: Fear the Grassman — and I'll be moving on to the New Hampshire book in short order. I'm tentatively titling it New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies.

I think it will be a fun one — hopefully as much for readers as for me.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

From Danville to Durham: Big Flood, Big Fun

I headed to Martinsville after work on Friday, spent a relaxing evening, and on Saturday morning, headed back to Greensboro by way of Danville, where I hoped to snag a relatively new geocache. As I was heading into Danville by way of US 58, I found the highway closed at a point very near the cache location. After some massive storming on Thursday, apparently the water levels in the area have risen well past flood stage. After a considerable detour, on my approach to the cache, down a long hill, I could see the Dan River rising higher and rushing faster than I had ever seen it. It's hard to make out the water level in the photo above, but the bridge on the left typically has about double the clearance above the river that you see here.

At ground zero, which is near a medical facility barely above the river level, I saw that the river had flooded a portion of the parking lot. This was more than 24 hours after the big storms, and the water had evidently receded somewhat. The hint for the cache indicated I needed to look for a small evergreen at the edge of the parking lot, and, to my chagrin, I could find no small evergreen at that location. What I did find was lots of cut evergreen branches littering the ground. Well... fart! I figured at this point, the cache must have vamoosed. However, about that time, a young lady who worked at the nearby facility, who was obviously on a smoke break, wandered over and asked if I was looking for "the little bottle somebody had placed out here." I said I was. She told me the evergreen tree had been cut down a few days earlier, but someone had moved the "bottle" to a different spot. She then pointed it out to me. Well, what do you know! Saved by a muggle! And I had been on the verge of writing off this side trip as a wasted venture. I explained geocaching to her, which she appeared to find amusing, and then off I went.

I took a different route back toward US 29 to head south to Greensboro. But... hang it all! Just shy of the exit to the highway, I come upon several feet of standing water and a bunch of cones blocking the road. From here, the only way to the highway was another lengthy detour. So, I decided to bite the bullet and see if I could make it through the water obstacle. Suffice it to say I did, though I ended up having to perform a slight — and fortunately simple — repair to the trusty Toyota once I got past this new, temporary lake.
From near the geocache site, the view looking east
The view looking south
The view looking west
The obstacle I faced on the way to US 29. Made it!
After successfully quitting Danville, I headed back home to Greensboro for a brief respite between travels. Then I picked up Kimberly at Casa di Brugger, and off we went, bound for Durham and long-overdue visit with my former next-door neighbors and fellow geocachers, TravelinFarmFam, a.k.a. Paul & Jamie. Since they left Greensboro, their family has grown by two much younger members. During the intervening years, I've seen Paul several times, when he's come to deal with issues at their house next door, but I haven't seen Jamie since they left here in 2013, and I had never met their wee little offspring before.

It would be safe to say it wasn't long after our arrival at Casa di FarmFam that the first bottle of wine popped its cork. Things haven't changed too much with Paul & Jamie because, way back when, they owned magical wine glasses. Those are glasses that magically refill themselves when one is looking away. Apparently, they still keep some of these marvelous items on hand because, even after drinking a prodigious amount, the wine level in my glass never really diminished. I must have looked away several times. Wonderful and strange, isn't it?

For dinner, Paul grilled some of his famous burgers — bison, this this go-round. Paul has always been an admirable grill master, and he once again proved his prowess, as did Jamie with some delicious roasted vegetables and risotto. And I must tell you that these fine youngsters up and introduced me to Paqui ghost pepper tortilla chips. For them, the Paqui chips were a little too hot to enjoy, and Ms. B. got the hiccups after trying her first sample. However, I found these to be the most perfect chips I've ever enjoyed, and I was happy to finish the bag for our friends, so that none of these incredible contents should go to waste. The Paqui people sponsor the "One Chip Challenge," and I've actually craved the opportunity to try one of those hot-ass bastards. In fact, I just ordered a sampler package of Paqui chips from Because, well, I kind of had to, didn't I? Anyhoo, we ended up watching some YouTube show with a hot, HOT chicken wing challenge, featuring numerous hot sauces, most of which I have already tried and survived. The viewing made for good fun. And it has done flung a cravin' on me... hence the ordering of the surpassing hot goodies mentioned above.

This morning, Jamie prepared a fabulous breakfast, and then the lot of us took off to do a little geocaching. Kind of like old times, except for the pair of wee young additions to the gang. We found a few caches, didn't find a couple, and then, with great sadness, we parted ways. About the time Ms. B. and I hit the highway, we decided we would need some lunch before we got home. So, we hauled ourselves over to Hillsborough BBQ Company, which has long been a favorite lunchtime destination, particularly for those of us out geocaching. And  — how fortuitous! — there is a relatively new geocache (Kiersten's Birthday Cache [GC8J2DD]) just across the road from the restaurant, which of course I have now claimed.

There's a new Ameri-Scares novel brewing upstairs, this one for the state of New Hampshire, chronicling a reprise of the famous UFO sightings near the town of Exeter in the year 1965. I first learned of these events when I was about six or seven years old, from an issue of Reader's Digest that my Grandparents owned (my grandmother collected years and years' worth of Reader's Digest issues). It was an article called "Outer Space Ghost Story," by John G. Fuller, and it immediately caught my youthful attention. A while back, on eBay, I found that particular issue plus a couple of others, which featured articles on the Loch Ness Monster and the Haunting of the George & Dragon Inn in England. So, of course, I now have copies of my own. "Incident at Exeter" seemed a perfect subject for a new Ameri-Scares novel, so I may take some of the brainstorming I've already done and begin composing an outline this evening.

So, this weekend saw me relaxing in the extreme to being remarkably productive. But it's about zoomed past now, and tomorrow it'll be back to the office and a full week of work. I so need a break from the break.

Till tomorrow and beyond.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Color Out of Space

As a wee young'un, I was an avid reader, especially of scary literature, but until I went off to college, I had never read H.P. Lovecraft's work. And what a transformative experience that turned out to be. For the first time since I was a kid, after a couple of marathon reading sessions, I found myself reluctant to turn the lights off at night. Lovecraft's best stories established an atmosphere of dread to which I related very personally — particularly in tales such as "Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," "The Whisperer in Darkness," "Haunter of the Dark," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "Dreams in the Witch House," "At the Mountains of Madness," and, of course, "The Colour Out of Space." At the time, it seemed the author had reached forward through the years to tweak my most personal "fear" nerves. The concept of unimaginable cosmic forces and intelligences that rendered humankind inconsequential, combined with the eeriness of geographic and personal isolation, affected me like no other works of dark fiction ever had.

Few filmmakers have successfully adapted Lovecraft's fiction for the screen. Stuart Gordon, with Reanimator, From Beyond, Dagon, and Dreams in the Witch House (from the Showtime series Masters of Horror), succeeded in capturing at least a smidgen of the source materials' respective essences. Some of the most impressive adaptations have been low-budget, independent efforts, such as The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's Call of Cthulhu and The Whisperer in Darkness, and the German adaptation Die Farbe (The Color). I personally enjoy AIP's The Dunwich Horror (1970, directed by Daniel Haller) because it's a fun film, with a few enjoyable nods to the original story. However, one would be hard-pressed to argue that it's a truly worthy adaptation. AIP's Die, Monster, Die! (1965, also directed by Daniel Haller and starring Boris Karloff and Nick Adams), is ostensibly based on "The Colour Out of Space," though the liberties it takes with a story render the source material almost unrecognizable. Now, back in 1987, I wandered into a movie called The Curse, directed by David Keith, mainly because it was the only horror flick I could find at the cinema that weekend. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was, in fact, based on "The Colour Out of Space." This adaptation boasts a few effective moments, but beyond those, it is overall rather dreadful.

With 2019's Color Out of Space, director Richard Stanley takes on the task of adapting one of Lovecraft's most celebrated tales. In the original story, a meteor falls to earth, landing on a remote farm owned by Nahum Gardner. Soon, the family's well becomes the center of a kind of plague, which mutates plant life and — eventually — human beings. The alien force, which arrived on Earth via the meteorite, manifests itself as a kind of "indescribable colour," exhibiting properties more akin to atomic radiation than your typical marauding extraterrestrial. In the new film, Nahum Gardner becomes Nathan Gardner, played by Nicolas Cage. The Gardner family — Nathan, his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), sons Jack (Julian Hillard) and Benny (Brendan Meyer), and daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) — has moved to a secluded farm outside of Arkham, MA. A hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) arrives to survey the area in preparation for a planned hydroelectric dam. In the original story, the surveyor narrates the events years after the fact, while in the film, he becomes mostly an observer to the events as they happen. One may note with some satisfaction that Phillips is played by an African American, which might well have mortified Lovecraft, who wasn't exactly known for his appreciation of races other than Caucasian.

The plot generally follows Lovecraft's, with a slow, taut buildup as it becomes clear that the fallen meteorite is having a fairly nasty impact on the local environment. The produce from the family's garden grows too fast and too large, and proves inedible, to put it mildly. Insects and other specimens of the local wildlife mutate into barely recognizable life forms. And the members of the family begin to exhibit signs of having been infected by something exceptionally virulent.

It's no great spoiler to reveal that, true to your typical H.P. Lovecraft story, things in this film do not end well.

Not for anyone in the film, at least. For the audience, the slow, creeping storyline increases in velocity until it becomes a wild, runaway train. Now, Lovecraft is not known for his runaway trains, but in this movie, for the most part, the pacing works. It did take some time to warm up to the film. In the beginning, the Gardner family fails to engage, with young Lavinia not altogether convincingly playing the eccentric teenager, the rest of the gang falling somewhere between colorless and annoying. I've never been much of a Nicolas Cage fan, although his performance in Raising Arizona is nothing less than classic. However, once the "colour" manifests itself, it becomes easier to relate to the characters. Cage, far from annoying me, as he often has on film, becomes endearing. The occasional moments of humor come off as natural and genuine; rather ironic, since humor cannot be said to be one of Lovecraft's characteristic devices. A favorite scene is when a news crew interviews the Gardners at their home about the strange goings-on. As the camera focuses on a disheveled Nathan, who appears to have just crawled out of bed, he realizes his hair has gone completely awry. Here, amid the mounting grimness, he cries, "Could no one think to bring me a comb?" Lavinia, who aspires to be a white witch, owns a copy of the Simon Necronomicon. As a visual joke, it's subtle but amusing as hell, since the Simon Necronomicon really is a joke. The Gardners' neighbor is an octogenarian hippie named Ezra, aptly played by Tommy Chong. Not surprisingly, he has a few words of wisdom to offer about the cannabis plant.
Once the color overruns the farm in earnest, the cinematic spectacle becomes impressive. Now, since an "unidentifiable, imperceptible" color doesn't exactly play well on screen, what we have is a vivid, altogether lovely shade of violet/magenta. The lighting effects, the entire color palette of the film, evoke an atmosphere absolutely worthy of Lovecraft's most vivid descriptions. But beyond the visual eeriness, sounds from the Gardners' well indicate that there's more than just an innocuous, unidentifiable color at work. Squire Ezra makes a tape recording of the sounds, which he claims are living things moving underground.

As plant and animal life succumb to the warping influence of the color, imagery reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing abounds. One could rightly call it derivative, yet in the context of this film, it feels right. Like, maybe there could actually be some tenuous connection between these disparate properties. This was merely a passing thought I had while watching the film, but I rather enjoy indulging it.

It's to the film's credit that, after initially presenting a somewhat less-than-engaging family unit, the Gardners elicit sympathy — a sense that they are victims of a genuine tragedy, as opposed to a gaggle of obnoxious ciphers whom you cannot wait to see painted out of the picture. The fate that befalls Theresa and young Jack is grotesque, repulsive, yet strangely powerful. Moving, in its way. The middle act of the film does hit on all cylinders far more than it misses.

The same cannot necessarily be said of the final act. As the film hurtles toward its climax, the train comes dangerously close to derailing. Thankfully, it stays on the tracks, but only just. The visual effects finally hit overload stage, where everything that might have remained subtle comes on full bore. And as the film moves toward its resolution, finally, a little bit of the original, Lovecraftian mood, the eeriness, makes a brief and welcome return.

I suppose it's a small thing, but one of the most personally disappointing aspects of the movie was the absence of what I consider the original story's most striking imagery: the trees around the Gardner farm moving of their own accord, the tips of their branches blazing with the unearthly color. That image, rendered in the text so vividly yet so suggestive in its implications, struck me more deeply than any other in the tale. I kept hoping to see that money shot in the film. Alas, it never came. Also, I rather missed references to "The Blasted Heath," an epithet which, in the story, described the devastated remains of the Gardners' land.

Lovecraft's prose, overwrought as it might be, remains impressionistic. However grotesque or monstrous or lurid the events in his tales, his prose merely sketches the details for the reader. You never get Barker-esque descriptions of gore, or intimate, camera-eye views of screaming madness. More often, Lovecraft offers the reader an emotionally charged yet detached, distant narrator. Lovecraft suggests what your eyes should be seeing. He rarely describes it for you.

Stanley's movie shows you everything — and then some — that Lovecraft suggests.

So, Color Out of Space, while in most ways radically different from anything Lovecraft ever would have written, mostly succeeds as an adaptation of something he did write. The film's striking, atmospheric imagery — despite the absence of that money shot I wish had been there — creates a rare, convincing sense of the otherworldly. Until the finale, it doesn't hammer you with lurid CGI, which has become the bane of virtually every film with a single special effects shot. Over the course of the film, enough humor and tragedy come into play sufficiently to snuff that initial sense of ennui.

Yes, there's flaws aplenty in this film, yet, overall, it maintains a solidity (barely) that, for me, makes it a keeper. I'll rate Color Out of Space 3.5 out of 5 Damned Rodan Dirty Firetinis, with an extra hot pepper or two for good measure.
Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson and director Richard Stanley on the set of Color Out of Space
Hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage), and
Mayor Tooma (Q'orianka Kilcher) of Arkham
The "Colour" has come to Earth via meteorite.
Jack (Julian Hillard) tries to figure out what's moving down in the well.
Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) takes a shine to hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight).

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Fun in All Directions

02022020: a palindrome, a sequence that reads the same backward and forward — today's date, for example. So, the brain trust at, as it is inclined on certain, usually random occasions, offered a virtual "souvenir" to geocachers who log a geocache find or attend a geocaching event on February 2, 2020. I believe there were a handful of events in the area, but to earn the day's souvenir, I joined the Usual SuspectsCupdaisy (a.k.a. Shoffner), Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Old Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) — for one of our regular Sunday geocaching outings. This time, we hauled ourselves out to the American Tobacco Trail in Wake County to see how much of a new train-themed geoart series, placed by friend NCBiscuit (a.k.a. Linda) we could claim. Geoart simply means that the geocache icons form a specific pattern on the geocaching overlay on Google maps. This particular example resembles the front of a steam engine barreling right at you. There are forty caches in the series (plus a bonus), which occupy about a nine-mile stretch of the American Tobacco Trail. Mind you, that's one-way, start-to-finish, so since we were hoofing it, we were pretty sure we would not be completing the entire geoart. (Some of us are old. Some of us are really old.) And we didn't. But we did put in a good eight-mile round trip, and we did make a fair dent in the numbers (we claimed 28 out of 40). By the time we arrived back at Ms. Fishdownthestair's cache mobile, we were traveling on some reasonably sore dogs.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided that, rather than go by our usual team monkers, such as Team No Dead Weight or The Usual Suspects, we should call ourselves Groundhogs. So we did.

Much to my surprise, at the end of the day's geocaching, my total cache count turned out to be a palindrome as well: 11711. Figure that!

After our big old trail hike, we stopped at a nearby cache called "The Jackelope" (GC8GH1V), which provided us with a nice chuckle. Then we procured a very late lunch at The Carolina Brewery in Pittsboro, which has become our regular stop for vittles when we're caching in that area. Decent stuff, to be sure.

Now, lord knows this old fellow needs the hoofing-it mileage more than the brewery fare, but I can testify that by this time we were sure enough suffering from The Great Starvation. (Just ask my cats how awful this condition is.) When I first started geocaching, in early 2008, I was still smoking and carrying around something in the neighborhood of 210 pounds — which, I can tell you, is about 30 pounds too much for this weenie frame. As I dove whole-heartedly into geocaching, with the associated hiking and various physical challenges, I stopped smoking and lost over 20 pounds. For a good five years, I kept the weight off, maintained a reasonably healthy diet (wine doesn't have any calories, does it?), and exercised constantly (even above and beyond the geocaching, at least on occasion). However, in more recent days, since I have to travel farther and farther afield to claim caches, the exercise is a bit less frequent, although — most often — just as intense as ever. Still, I fear I have not correspondingly reduced my calorie intake or maintained a regular non-geocaching exercise regimen. Thus, some of that old weight has found its way back onto these old bones. As much for vanity's sake as for my health, I figure I really should shed some of this re-accumulated bulk. At least I'm still hovering  just under 200 pounds; still a a good bit less than my maximum, least-healthy weight.

Okay, so I had a beer at the brewery. OKAY, SO I HAD TWO BEERS AT THE BREWERY. I promise won't do it again.

Well, at least until I'm back in Pittsboro.
The Groundhogz! Left to Right: Old Man, Old Rob, Old Scott, Ever-So-Slightly-Less-Old Natalie,
Older'n-Fookin'-Methuselah Shoffner