Tuesday, November 29, 2022

“Country of the Snake” — Recommended Reading

I’m very pleased to learn that editor Ellen Datlow has included my short story, “Country of the Snake” (Fright Train, Haverhill Press, 2021), on her recommended reading list for Best Horror of the Year Volume 14. Fright Train, edited by the Switch House Gang (Scott Goudsward, John McIlveenCharles Rutledge, and Tony Tremblay), is a wonderful book all around, so I’m in seriously great company.

Check out Fright Train here. And Best Horror of the Year Volume 14 here.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Merry Michigan Thanksgiving

It’s only been a couple of months since Ms. B. and I visited Michigan to see her parents and ramble about the Upper Peninsula (“Clusterfuckin’ Our Way to Michigan”), but with the holidays coming and Del & Fern no longer able to travel long distances, we decided to head northward to celebrate both Thanksgiving and an early Christmas with them. And rather than pay the exorbitant price of airline tickets for this time of year, we opted to motor up in the Ol’ Rodan mobile. We’ve made the trip in one swell foop before, but it’s at least a 12-hour drive, and we didn’t much care to do that again. So, we split up both the outbound and inbound trips by stopping overnight in Ripley, WV.

Friday, November 18–Saturday, November 19, 2022
Friday, after Kimberly got off work, we mounted up and hit the road. Once we put some distance between ourselves and NC’s Piedmont Triad, the usual highway insanity petered out, and we made it all the way to Ripley with only light traffic and nary a swear word from the driver (me). The temperature dropped steadily as we drove farther north, but we had excellent driving weather overall.

Saturday, we headed out fairly early. I snagged a token few geocaches, but we focused mainly on making steady forward progress. Just north of Toledo, OH, snow began to fall. At first, it was only scattered flurries, but as we drew nearer to Midland, the stuff began falling in earnest. The last 30 miles were slow and oftentimes slippery, but we made it to Casa di Brugger without mishap, the temperature at 22°F, the wind chill at or around –273°C. Yep.

Sunday, November 20, 2022
No more snowfall today, though several prior days of it have left a good three to four inches on the ground. This meant no going geocaching on the bicycle today — or probably this entire week. Sad. I spent most of the day working on a new editing project, the details of which will be forthcoming fairly soon. It’s safe to say it’s on the big side.

After lunch, Kimberly’s cousin, Chris, and his wife, Bonnie, whom we’d met on our trip here in September, popped by for a visit. Afterward, Ms. B. and I went downtown and hunted some serious dead critter for dinner, which we found at Molasses Smokehouse & Bar. A slab of brisket for me, some brisket tacos for the lady. They know how to smoke some critter at Molasses, and the portions are not wee. I brought some of that cow back in a box.

Afterward, we hustled a half a block through the bluster to Whichcraft Taproom, which offers exclusively Michigan-made spirits. Ms. B. had a glass of Gew├╝rztraminer (pretty good, I’m told), and I tried a red called Left-Foot Charley Bluefrankenfish. Er... Blaufrankish. For local wines, these were satisfying. Then I found a geocache. Happy me! Finally, we made the usual pilgrimage to Meijer to acquire supplies. We had much to buy, for I am cooking the Thanksgiving dinner — distinctly non-traditional, at Del & Fern’s request: Chicken Marsala, which I’ve cooked for them before. And Kimberly is cooking braised beef sandwiches for tomorrow’s dinner.

We concluded a pleasant, mellow day with our much-cherish family time, mostly watching cooking shows. Unfortunately, both Del & Fern have developed fairly severe coughs. Lord knows whether it’s something contagious. Kinda hoping not...
It was a dry red, one-footed, flying blue frankenfish — sure looks strange to me.
Monday, November 21, 2022
Ms. B. is on her regular remote work schedule, so she got up relatively early and commenced working remotely. I had plenty of work to do on my latest editing project, so I got up relatively early and commenced working on my latest editing project. Mid-morning, Kimberly started a lovely flank steak cooking in the crockpot for our dinner of braised beef sandwiches.

It’s unusual for me to forego lunch, especially after a light breakfast; however, for whatever reason, I never got hungry midday, so I pulled myself together and went geocaching. Over our many trips here, I’ve found the majority of the existing geocaches in Midland, at least those that are fairly close to home base — especially after today. I picked up 19 (ten of which were stages of a pair of Adventure Lab caches). It wasn’t exactly warm outside, but it wasn’t bitterly cold or windy either, so the weather proved perfect for getting out and about. A few of the caches got me out in the woods, and one Adventure Lab offered a tour of Midland Municipal Cemetery, which I found especially attractive under a layer of snow.

Ms. B.’s dinner turned out excellent.
Old fellow near the toboggan run at Midland City Forest
Midland Municipal Cemetery
Frozen stream running through one of Midland's wooded neighborhoods
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
A lovely morning it turned out to be for hitting the geocaching trail: temps in the upper 30s, only a light breeze, and plenty of sunshine. After a couple of waffles and a bucket of coffee for breakfast (plus taking care of some pressing editorial business), out the door, I went. This morning’s target was the expansive Chippewa Nature Center, a short distance southwest of Midland proper, where I hoped to find an Adventure Lab cache and several traditional hides. Since I started geocaching in early 2008, I have averaged about 1,000 finds per year, and to keep up that streak, I need to reach 14,000 total finds by year’s end. For a while, achieving that goal appeared iffy, but over the past couple of months, I’ve managed to close steadily on it. With this trip, I think I’ve sewed it up. At the end of today’s outing, my total find count stood at 13,990, so all I need to find now is ten more. I may well manage that before we leave here on Friday.

I put in about three miles on the trail. Snow still coated the ground, but it didn’t impede hiking at all. Well... I did cross a fairly small, hard-frozen pond, only to have a section of ice collapse under my feet — but it was less than a foot deep, and my boots are sufficiently waterproof to keep my feet bone-dry. I consider this fortunate because, although the temperature was above freezing, soaked feet still would have made for some mighty ugly hiking. And it is well that I did not attempt to cross an expanse of clearly deeper water (which I actually thought about), for my epitaph would have read “It was a stupid way to go.”

Back at home base, Del & Fern had picked up some Chinese food for lunch, which wasn’t shabby.

Late in the afternoon, Ms. B. and I ventured downtown to run errands and engage in tomfoolery. Errands done, we sought interesting spirit concoctions, which we found at Three Bridges Distillery. I tried a smoked Rye Old Fashioned — pleasing enough, dramatically presented (see photo below) — and Ms. B. had a raspberry hibiscus lemonade vodka thingummy, which she found delightful. We did settle for only one drink each because we wanted to sample a couple of vintages at Grape Beginnings winery, just next door. Those vintages struck us as very good... very good indeed. And, as it turned out, Kimberly shared some Midland history with the owners of the establishment, and lively conversation ensued.

And, once done with our spirit outing, we returned to home base for our customary, very lovely family time. So far, neither Kimberly nor I have succumbed to the old folks’ cough bug. I hope our good fortune holds out, though I am not holding my breath...
Observation deck overlooking the Meron and Muskrat Marshes at Chippewa Nature Center
Meron Marsh — a little icy! — viewed from the tower
The "Sugar Shack"
Log cabin at the Chippewa Nature Center

An entertaining cache at one of the overlooks along the trail
The smoky vault of rye at Three Bridges Distillery in downtown Midland
Spirit Quest
Midland's Christmas decorations — up in full force
Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Again, I was out the door not long after the eyelids creaked open. A perusal of the geocaching map showed me what looked like a good route to snag the caches I needed to reach the 14,000-find milestone. I knocked out a nice, compact Adventure Lab cache in Sanford, just a few miles west of Midland, grabbed a few stand-alone caches, and then set my sights on a specific cache in Sanford, which I hoped to make my 14,000th find.

But... horrors!... I was unable to turn up the little fellow. Based on photos posted on the cache page, I’m quite certain it’s missing. Finding a good alternate hide took a couple of attempts, but... at last! Find #14,000, thus assuring my annual find average. At the end of the day, I had put in four miles of hiking.

Back at the barn, Del & Fern needed their gutters cleaned, so I offered my services. Their house is larger than ours, but it’s single-story, so it wasn’t a difficult job (plus they don’t have as many trees in close proximity to dump leaves directly on the house).

Afterward, Ms. B. and I made ourselves reasonably presentable and went downtown to Maru Sushi & Grill, which we’ve enjoyed on previous visits. I had the bulgogi donburi bowl, which was right good, but I was disappointed to find that their menu, particularly for sushi, has dwindled to bare bones. I suspect that supply issues and inflation have forced their hand here, but it seems a shame that this more upscale restaurant offers such a limited selection compared to their local, lower-priced competitors. Afterward, we headed over to the bar at nearby Gratzi Italian Restaurant and had a glass of wine each (a fantastic San Polo Tuscan for me, a Valpolicella Ripasso for the nice lady).

Still, Ms. B. and I are enjoying good health, though Del & Fern’s chronic coughing makes them sound like dueling Gaboras from Godzilla’s Revenge. Crossing fingers...
A recreated "village" at Sanford's Historical Museum
Old railroad cars in the village at the Sanford Historical Museum
Covered bridge at the museum. The horizontal sign to the right of the entrance marks the water level from the 2020 flooding following the collapse of two Tittabawassee River dams. Ms. B. and I were here at the time of the collapse.
Thursday, November 24, 2022
Old dude on the trail in Stratford Woods

As I mentioned above, geocaching in Midland is becoming more challenging simply because I’ve found almost all the caches in close proximity to Casa di Brugger. However, a few newer nearby hides still showed on my map, so this morning I went out to see if I could knock them off of it. One offered me a very nice walk through Stratford Woods, just a couple of miles down the road. I’ve cached there many times over the years, and today I found that, since my last trip there, at least some of the trails have been upgraded and there’s a new parking area at the trailhead. All good stuff. It was a pleasant hike, and the cache was a quick and easy find.

A couple of other caches lurked nearby, both a little more challenging, which I quite appreciated. My car might have been less happy about this, as it returned to home base considerably muddier than when it left.

As I mentioned somewhere in narrative above, Del & Fern had asked me to prepare something non-traditional for Thanksgiving, so I decided on Chicken Marsala over pasta. Once back from geocaching, I set right to work. Ms. B. served as sous-chef, and, between us, we whipped out one helluva good feast. We figure we’ll have turkey at Christmas, since we both quite enjoy our dead big bird.

After dinner, we exchanged early Christmas presents. Very generous goodies from the folks, and I hope they enjoy their offerings from us.

It’s our last full day for this Midland sojoun, and the plan as of now is to chill here with the family. I’m actually a little sore from several days of consistently rigorous exercise (I surely did need it). So far... both Kimberly and I show no sign of having caught the elder Bruggers’ bugs. They tested negative for the covidz, but I foresee doctor visits in the near future.

Anyhoo, I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving enjoy the most wonderful feasting, fellowshipping, and funking out, in whatever way makes you happy.
View from the trail at Stratford Woods Park
Do you see the cache?
On the way to "I'm Not THAT Sadistic" (GC5T42F)
In the works: our non-traditional Thanksgiving feast
Chicken Marsala, plated and ready for the ravenous

Monday, November 14, 2022

Spirits of Appalaccia and More

Due to our hectic pre-Halloween schedule, we ended up making our traditional Fall excursion to the Blue Ridge Parkway a bit late this year. Since daughter Allison is staying at Pleasant Hill, the old Martinsville homestead, she came with us this year. However, due to our weekend scheduling, we didn’t get up at the ass-crack of dawn for the traditional breakfast at Mabry Mill (sadness!). Instead, we headed straight for Villa Appalaccia Winery, which is, without question, our favorite winery in our region. We took a picnic lunch and settled ourselves in our favorite spot, the enclosed garden terrace. (No, we are NOT creatures of habit or anything like that.) Excellent wine (their 2020 Dolcetto vintage is superb) and an excellent lunch. The company could be sour on occasion, but that’s kind of a given. (Ducking, running, etc.)

Then, also following long-held tradition, we scooted over to nearby Chateau Morrisette Winery and sampled a few more vintages. Their restaurant is still closed, as it has been since the onset of COVID-19, but we talked at length with one of the owner‘s sons, and we were happy to hear that there are plans to reopen it — sooner rather than later. I can’t wait.

So, another gratifying outing to the Blue Ridge, and better late than never. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Owl Rock Revisited and I Say, Are You Blind?!

I’m sure it’s plain to those of you who pop by to visit now and again that many of my blogs are primarily for me to record events that I want to look back fondly upon, and this is one of those.

Actually, I wasn’t all that fond of the earlier hours of this morning, as a migraine set in soon after I dragged myself out of bed. On the upside, after the visual aura wore off, the headache was very mild, almost non-existent — which was good because I had geocaching on the schedule and lots of creative work to dive into afterward. I still have a bunch of that on the docket, so this won’t be a lengthy entry.

I was planning to hit the trail at Shallow Ford Natural Area to check on the presence/condition of one of my very old geocaches, which a geocacher had reported as possibly missing. However, a new cache was published this morning in Altamahaw, not far from Shallow Ford, so I detoured to it and claimed the almost-but-not-quite-coveted first-to-find honors. Then I made my way to Shallow Ford to check on “Owl Rock” (GC2HM9H), so named due to the stack of rocks someone put up along the trail many years ago; some say it doesn’t really look like an owl, but no comment. Happily, the cache wasn’t missing. It was right where it was supposed to be, but it did need a little cleaning up. Once I’d handled that chore, it occurred to me that there is an old hunting blind along the trail, and a cache had resided within it once upon a time. That one has been long archived, so I decided to put a new one in its place. It’s called “I Say, Are You Blind?!”, and I’m hoping the geocaching reviewer will be able to publish it sooner than later.

Afterward, since it was about lunchtime, I drove the short distance down to Simply Thai in Elon and tore into some delicious chicken lettuce wraps, which were screaming hot (I might have overdone the dumping of chili pepper oil on them). And then it was back to Casa di Rodan to continue taking care of business.

And now... see you later.
Old dude on the hunt in Altamahaw
I say, are you blind?!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Back at the Crossroad

Three long years it has been since I set foot in Stately Wilson Manor, in Hertford, NC — one of the longest, if not the longest, spells of Trish & David Niall Wilson deprivation on record. Since Dave and I became acquainted in the mid-to-late 1980s, getting together to conduct business, socialize, and terrorize the populace has been a time-honored tradition. Wilson Manor is the home base of Crossroad Press, which I’ve been thrilled to have as my publisher for the majority of my full-length works of fiction since the year 2010, there or about. 

Unfortunately, due to her work schedule, Brugger couldn’t accompany me on this trip, so the Wilson clan was forced to suffer me as me, not the “tempered-by-my-better-half” me. More’s the pity, for all of us; however, they survived, and I survived, and over the course of the weekend, I think we ended up committing only minor felonies (with no convictions).

I left Greensboro fairly early on Friday, November 4. Another crucial aspect of this long-running tradition is to hunt geocaches on the roughly 250-mile drive from Greensboro to Hertford (as well as on the return trip, naturally). My favorite location was somewhere east of Raleigh, on a dead-end road that went a good mile or so into what appeared to be deserted woods. Where it turned off from the main road, though, I discovered, hidden among the nearby trees, a handful of gravestones that dated back to the early 20th Century. It seemed an odd place to find graves, but at least no one was shambling about, moaning, and/or bitching. At the far end of the road, I discovered a jack-o’-lantern, complete with a candle inside (unlit in the daylight). Given the isolation of the area, I have no idea for whose benefit the jack-o’-lantern existed, but it sure made for a cool — and reasonably creepy — setting for a geocache.

I had to take an extensive detour near Rocky Mount, which I later learned was because a tractor-trailer truck carrying explosives overturned on US 64, forcing a long section of road to be closed on Friday. (I don’t think anything or anyone blew up, and they got the road reopened before I headed back on Sunday.)

Lunch at a place called Ribeyes Steakhouse (an excellent burger, fries, and drink, all for $9), a few more caches, and I arrived in Hertford a few minutes before 5:00 p.m. To my surprise, no one was home. But a ghostly voice bade me enter by way of a secret code, so I soon enough settled myself in at Stately Wilson Manor in the company of at least half a dozen cats, all of whom seemed excited as hell to see me.*

*Mostly, they ran and hid, except for Brother Tomas, who railed at me for having failed to visit him sooner. After a while, the lot of them came around and made me feel welcome, especially once I offered them treats.

It wasn’t long before the more frightening inhabitants of the house arrived, with their son Bill in tow. There was much rejoicing, pouring of spirits, catching up, plotting, scheming, burying evidence, etc. Eventually, we made our way to dinner at Volcano, a decent Japanese restaurant we’ve enjoyed on several past trips. The sushi dinner was awesome. Once back at the house, more spirits flowed, and certain of us (not me, of course) built up formidable hangovers.

I don’t know what time we all wandered off to bed. It wasn’t early. Or maybe it was very early, I dunno.
A tiny graveyard at the entrance to a dead-end road through the woods
Cotton fields back home...
Giorgio Wilson upon catching a glimpse of the bar at Stately Wilson Manor
On Saturday, we spent the morning recuperating (well, those who needed to recuperate did so), talking creative business (with possible new plans set in motion), and recuperating (oh, wait...). Dave, Bill, and I killed lunch at a little joint called Currituck BBQ Company, where the food was great and the sound of banjos playing out back wasn’t too loud. I found a cache.
Dr. Dave and editorial assistant

Afterward, we headed back for more scheming, plotting, and businessing, all the while avoiding the need for any later recuperating. Come dinnertime, we hit Plaza Azteca in Elizabeth City, where, honest to Yog, I tore into some of the best Mexican food I’ve had since I don’t know when: birria tacos, which are corn tortillas soaked in birria broth and stuffed with beef, Chihuahua cheese sauce, and cilantro, topped with cabbage and cheese, served with broth and hot tomatillo sauce. For accompaniment, I had one margarita, which was big and tasty, but not very strong. Probably for the best, under the circumstances.

For the evening’s entertainment, we watched Nope, director Jordan Peele’s latest film, which we all loved. The Wilsons had already seen it, but this was my first time, and I would have to call it the best fright film I’ve seen all year — and better than most from many years prior. I’m looking forward to Ms. B. taking a look at it. I expect it’s going to be a keeper for us. After Nope, we watched Peter Jackson’s 1996 horror comedy, The Frighteners, which I saw when it first came out; don’t think I’ve seen it since. My impression then was none too positive, but this time around, I found it slightly more amusing. It’s not particularly funny, but it does have its moments. Michael J. Fox has always been a favorite of mine, and he’s fine in this movie.

Again, it was a very late night — all the more so because of the time change. At least some of us were still awake when it came time to roll back the clocks at 2:00 a.m....
Birria tacos at Plaza Azteca in Elizabeth City
Brother Tomas watching Nope
This morning — Sunday — I accompanied Dave to his office, where he kindly gifted me a copy of his latest fiction collection, The Devil’s in the Flaws & Other Dark Truths, which I’ll be reading and reviewing at the earliest possibility. Then it was time for this old man to hit the road to return to Greensboro. Today, there were no detours. I stopped for a few caches and got home around 3:00 p.m., to find a pile of business to handle. At this point, most of it is handled. Or at least in the early stages of handling. Whatever, it’s handled.

And so endeth another stay at Stately Wilson Manor, and I sure as hell hope the next gathering with Clan Wilson isn’t as far in the future as the previous one was in the past.

Yeah, I think that pretty much worked.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

NOW AVAILABLE! Ameri-Scares Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill

My newest novel in Elizabeth Massie’s Ameri-Scares series for young readers — Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill is now on the loose from Crossroad Press!

In the 1950s, Lake Sidney Lanier was built in northern Georgia. Since then, hundreds of deaths on and around the lake have given rise to legends that spirits of the dead haunt the area. Teenager Aaron Tate, who lives near the lake with his parents, doesn’t believe in ghosts. But after he witnesses a jet ski accident on the water, he begins to experience many strange things. At night, weird lights float through the woods near the lake’s edge. An eerie voice in the darkness calls to him. He begins having nightmares that involve a strange woman from the past.

Aaron meets a girl named Suzette Sellers, who has moved into his neighborhood. They become friends and, together, resolve to learn the truth behind the frightening events. Aaron learns that his family home was built on the site of an old mill that belonged to his ancestors. Suzette’s house stands on land once owned by a woman named Lula Cheshire—a woman who was rumored to be a witch. And Aaron discovers that his great-great-grandfather, Charles Tate, might have had a strange and secret relationship with Lula Cheshire.

When events in Aaron’s life begin to mirror those of his great-great-grandfather, he wonders: do ghosts truly exist? What if Lula Cheshire really was a witch? And has the long-dead woman’s spirit returned from the grave to wreak vengeance for some crime his great-great-grandfather, Charles Tate, committed against her? He and Suzette must learn the truth—and send Lula Cheshire’s spirit back to the grave—before death comes to claim both of them!

The Ameri-Scares books are aimed at the younger set, but they're also great fun for those of us who might be considered... uh... a bit more seasoned.

Available in ebook and paperback. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

I’ve been looking forward with guarded optimism to Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, of which all eight episodes are now available on Netflix. The series’ anthology format — mostly adaptations of existing short fiction, with del Toro presenting them in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery-esque fashion — struck me as highly appealing. I learned early on that the two H.P. Lovecraft adaptations — “Pickman’s Model” and “Dreams in the Witch House” — were anything but true to their source material, so, inasmuch as possible, I set my expectations accordingly. Over three evenings, starting the night after Halloween, Ms. B. and I binged on the episodes. On the whole, I will say that my guarded optimism was warranted, and in the case of at least one of the HPL adaptations, my slimmer-than-slim expectations were met.

Without delving deeply into the plots of each, here is a rundown of the episodes, ranked — as objectively as I can manage — from the bottom to the top. Naturally, your mileage may vary.
#8: Episode 6: “Dreams in the Witch House” (adapted from the story by H.P. Lovecraft)
Putting aside preconceived notions when viewing an adaptation of a work with which I am intimately familiar can be difficult. Having written numerous stories specifically for Lovecraftian anthologies and magazines (including a story that is an indirect prequel to “Dreams”), I’ve been steeped in Lovecraftian lore for going on forty years. Given its structure and setting, this story could have been beautifully adapted with minimal tinkering. For its myriad shortcomings, Stuart Gordon’s adaptation (2005) for HBO’s Masters of Horror series succeeded better than this one on every level but the visual. As with every entry in Cabinet of Curiosities, vivid atmosphere and spectacular visuals rate highly in the overall presentation. Here, at least visually, both Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin — two of Lovecraft’s most memorable characters — are done more-than-adequate justice. Sadly, rather than a chronicle of unsettling, even disturbing events rooted in Lovecraft’s famed “pseudo-science,” this one has been turned into an at-best marginally engaging ghost story featuring only character names, such as Walter Gilman (Rupert Grint) and Frank Elwood (Ismael Cruz Cordova), and a few superficial events swiped from HPL tale.

Now, Ms. B., who has never read the original story and is only slightly familiar with HPL’s body of work, enjoyed the episode considerably more than I did. But even overlooking the Lovecraft connection, apart from the impressive — and scary — Keziah Mason, I found this entry overly reliant on spooky tropes and, for what it offers, more than a little padded (a shortcoming not unique to this episode). Thus, sadly, I must rate “Dreams” as the least successful entry in the series.
#7: Episode 1: “Lot 36”
Now, I would not consider even the “worst” of Cabinet of Curiosities in any way terrible. None of these episodes fail on every level, and some succeed on many, even when they fall short in the final reckoning. At the very least, most manage to be entertaining. Such is “Lot 36,” based on an original del Toro story. Here, we have an unlikable opportunist, Nick Appleton (Tim Blake Nelson), who purchases lots from various estates in hopes of procuring treasures (primarily to pay his creditors, who are themselves anything but savory characters). Despite Appleton being the consummate lout, he delivers a barrage of clever quips throughout the episode, which serve to render him amusing if not exactly sympathetic. Enter potential buyer Roland (Sebastian Roche), who takes an interest in Appleton’s most recent acquisition because it contains some exceedingly rare — and highly valuable — articles of occult-related paraphernalia.

Do you believe things could possibly go well for the characters at this point? I didn’t think so.

With its focus on distinctly devilish books and other occult items, “Lot 36” at times feels reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a film I enjoy and admire. For a time, there's an intense buildup that heralds some genuine chills... only to peter out and end on an underwhelming note. (Again, “Lot 36” is not unique in this regard.) I would rate this entry considerably higher if the conclusion felt more like a genuine payoff than a lazily dangling thread.

#6: Episode 7: “The Viewing”
Despite being thoroughly captivated for most of this episode’s running time by the almost David Lynchian visuals, the offbeat characters, and — most notably — the mesmerizing musical score, at the conclusion of this one, it felt not unlike being yanked out of an alluring dream on a bungee cord.

The enigmatic — and very wealthy — Lionel Lassiter (Peter Weller) invites a group of accomplished young people to his inner sanctum, where he surprises them with his intimate knowledge of their personal tastes and vices, and then proceeds to encourage them to indulge in the best drink, drugs, and sensory stimulation that his wealth can provide. All this leads to his revealing an unearthly motivation for his bewildering actions.

It’s no exaggeration to say that “The Viewing,” directed by Panos Cosmatos, feels like a dream come to life. From the throbbing, hypnotic techno soundtrack to the Twin Peaks red room–like setting, this is the most sensually immersive episode of the series. And for that part, I loved it. Yet, following the visually gripping climax, “The Viewing” simply says “Take THAT, you!” and then wanders off without addressing... well... much of anything. Now, David Lynch can often get away with exactly this because exactly this is what David Lynch excels at. The writing here, however, felt less intentionally ambiguous than simply half-ass.

Ms. B. and I about needed seatbelts to keep from being hurled through the proverbial windshield when this one hit the brakes. Boo!

#5: Episode 4: “Outside” (adapted from the webcomic “Some Other Animal’s Meat” by Emily Carroll)
It took me some little while to recognize Kate Micucci, whom I know from the rather raunchy duet, Garfunkel & Oates, as Stacey, a homely, insecure young woman who desperately desires to fit in, even if it’s with her gossiping, beauty-obsessed, air-headed co-workers at the local bank. Micucci was really uglied up for the part, and she chews up the scenery in this episode. At a Dirty Santa party, her “friends” gift her a beauty product called Alo Glo, which is supposed to contain the magic ingredients to transform any woman into a desirable beauty queen. Stacey tries it, but the results are not quite what she expected...

Stacey’s husband, Keith, played by Martin Starr, does his best to understand his wife’s obsession, but things slide downhill to the point they can’t really go any farther.

This episode plays very much as a character study. It’s wacky, funny, and ultimately unsettling. It carries on longer than necessary, but at least it never turns boring. Ultimately, Stacey undergoes a transformation all right, but there’s a cost, and it might not be what she — or we — expect. The quirkiness of the story and Micucci’s portrayal of Stacey give this episode an agreeable shine.

#4: Episode 5: “Pickman’s Model” (adapted from the story by H.P. Lovecraft)
This adaptation of “Pickman’s Model” is so not Lovecraft’s story, and my initial impression ranked it near the bottom. However, as time passed, I found elements of it lingering in ways I did not expect. The episode’s dark heart might not be the one Lovecraft crafted in his story, but it exudes an air of cosmic horror that none of the other series’ entries quite manage. Like the “Dreams in the Witch House” adaptation, “Pickman’s Model” features some of the names and settings from the story; however, whereas “Dreams” departs radically in the theme from its source, “Pickman’s Model” retains at least a smidgen of the otherworldly dread that permeates Lovecraft’s fiction.

Crispin Glover plays Richard Upton Pickman, the “eccentric” artist of the title, and in Crispin Glover fashion, he is a presence to be reckoned with. The character, however, resembles Lovecraft’s Pickman to approximately the same degree that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resembles a black velvet Elvis. They’re both fine, in their way, I suppose. Most of the characters speak with an exaggerated New England accent, and Glover pushes his so far over the top that it makes one wonder if, well, maybe he’s somehow related to those weird, horrific creatures from the underworld featured in his paintings.

There’s a little touch of Lovecraft shortly before the denouement, which made me smile. Initially, the final scene didn’t sit right with me, but after a little time and consideration, I felt it more and more apt — kind of the same way that time and a little air bring out the better qualities of a good red wine.

#3: Episode 8: “The Murmuring”
I had the hardest time figuring out how to rank this episode. It was very slow, very moody, and full of traditional ghost story elements. “The Murmuring” of the title refers to the unique flight patterns of Dunlins, a type of wading bird not unlike Sandpipers. While studying the birds, ornithologists Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) and Nancy (Essie Davis) Bradley take up residence in an old house with a mysterious past. Nancy, in particular, is troubled by disturbances in the night: the pattering of feet, mournful cries, thumps, bumps, and occasionally whispery voices. While Edgar and Nancy seem happy enough at first, there is trouble brewing, and the root of it is not supernatural.

There are supernatural forces at work, though. Lincoln and Davis are terrific in their roles, and the episode’s increasingly eerie atmosphere manages to be gripping. I found myself surprisingly moved by the story’s resolution — which was far more definitive than most in this series. Still, to my mind, it was a lovely episode that was effective the first time through; I’m not sure I’d have the desire or patience to do it all over again.

So, I’ve rated it #3 for all that’s right about it, and no higher for all that’s not. Again, kind of a tough call.

#2: Episode 2: “Graveyard Rats” (adapted from the story by Henry Kuttner)
It had been many years since I read Kuttner’s “The Graveyard Rats” (in Chaosium’s Book of Iod), and my memory of the tale was vague. (I’ve since reread it.) When this episode aired, Brugger and I had only watched the first episode (“Lot 36”), which wasn’t bad but also less than satisfying. We hoped for better here. Happily, we got it.

David Hewlett stars as Masson, a seeker of treasures by way of graverobbing. Like Appleton in “Lot 36,” Masson has come up short of paying his debts to his unsavory creditors, so his unpleasant get-rich-quick scheme is rooted in necessity. He learns of the perfect benefactor — recently deceased, of course — and when the time is right, he sets out to collect his rightful reward.

Things do not go entirely as planned.

Kuttner’s story is short and sweet, a bare-bones, straightforward supernatural thriller. For this adaptation, del Toro and director Vincenzo Natali take the ball and run with it, with far greater success than either of the Lovecraft entries. The embellishment of the story works well, providing elements both amusing and chilling while remaining true to the events of Kuttner’s tale. Hewlett’s portrayal of Masson engages by way of well-timed humor and, eventually, pathos. The subterranean scenes play convincingly enough to possibly trigger a claustrophobic response in certain sensitive persons.

So, “Graveyard Rats” earns considerable favor from both Ms. B. and me.

#1: Episode 3: “The Autopsy” (adapted from the story by Michael Shea)
I’ve enjoyed the late Michael Shea’s fiction, particularly “Fat Face,” which features a unique take on the Lovecraftian Shoggoth, but I’ve never read “The Autopsy.” So, I can’t compare the adaptation to the original tale, but I can say that the episode is top-notch and easily the best of the series. Based on the critiques of the show I’ve read so far, this verdict seems to be nearly unanimous.

The accomplished and frequently brilliant F. Murray Abraham plays Dr. Carl Winters, the coroner responsible for autopsying the victims of a mysterious mine explosion. His meticulous post-mortem investigations lead him down a maze of corridors that first surprise and then mortify him. Not surprisingly for this series, it turns out that something inhuman is behind the carnage, and its purpose is anything but benevolent.

This episode features the most visually graphic scenes of the series, and the lengths to which Winters is willing to go to discover the truth — and then conquer his adversary — are not for the squeamish. At our house, there was some reasonably loud hollering accompanying a few of these scenes.

It’s a pity that more of the adaptations failed to satisfy to the extent that this one did. I would go so far as to call this one of the best episodes in virtually any horror anthology series I can think of. So... an easy winner for the number one slot.
Although Cabinet of Curiosities hits on all cylinders relatively few times, I would still call it anything but an abject failure. Even the worst of the episodes offer some impressive visuals and at least a minimal degree of engagement. Across the board, the acting is impressive, and occasionally — especially in F. Murray Abraham’s case — it captivated both Ms. B. and me. Even the series’ failures usually offer at least competent if not admirable moments.

So, overall, I’m awarding Cabinet of Curiosities three and a half out of five Damned Rodan’s Dirty Firetinis, with a whole extra shot of gin (or vodka, if that’s your preference) for “The Autopsy” and “Graveyard Rats.”

I have spoken.