Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Scary Christmas and Happy Horrordays!

CHRISTMAS EVE MORNING... I got up fairly early, well before Ms. B., and made my usual Christmas Eve morning slapjacks. Tradition, don't you know. On a whim, I took a photo of the cast of the 1974 original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, the lot of whom are hanging out on the shelf in my office. Then I did a little Photoshop job to post as a Christmas greeting. And as you can see, these guys are sure having a great time!

Brugger and I had ordered a bar set a while back as a Christmas present to each other, so we spent most of the afternoon hammering it all together. It's really quite lovely, and I made an extra run to the liquor store to insure we had sufficient spirits to stock it up. We put it to good use during the evening, as friends Charles and Samaire came round for treats. We ended up going till the wee hours; a most enjoyable little gathering.
An absolutely lovely Christmas Eve at Casa di Rodan
CHRISTMAS MORNING... Quite early, our houseful of housecats set to hollering impatiently to get their gifts from Santa, so that was all she wrote for dad getting any more sleep. The afternoon weather forecast wasn't looking promising, though the temperature was lovely, so once Ms. B. was up and going, she and I took a pleasant walk around nearby Lake Lanier. Then she started dinner cooking — a big ol' pot roast in the crock pot to make shredded beef to go on jalapeno pasta a friend gave us a while back.
Wacky people taking a Christmas morning walk around Lake Lanier
Friends Terry & Beth recently picked up a brand-new huge-screen TV for themselves, so they very kindly donated their old one to us. Brugger and I spent the early afternoon getting it set up. Then I made mulled wine. Allison originally intended to come round during the afternoon, but she had gone to visit her mom in Greensboro and their festivities ran a bit late, so we'll be seeing her at some later time. Mid-afternoon, Kimberly and I opened our presents to each other, and there were good things. A new S.H. MonsterArts Gigan figure is a particular favorite, and he's now up on the shelf with the rest of the daikaiju figures that currently haunt our house. I took a photo of him and futzed around with the scenery. After all this, Brugger set to work building a chess pie for tonight's dessert.
The cats made out like bandits, by the way.
Our shredded beef on jalapeno pasta with roasted brussel sprouts turned out fantastic — amped up with a bit of Smoky Bourbon Ghost Pepper that Santa put in my stocking. And Brugger's chess pie for dessert was out of this world. For our second dessert, we watched Destroy All Monsters on the big-screen TV, which came purty near duplicating a fun theatrical experience (my most memorable Destroy All Monsters experience is detailed here: "A Random Godzilla Story," September 7, 2014).
And so ended another lovely Christmas Day. Christmas was my parents' favorite holiday, and I always find myself a bit wistful, since I am the last of the family I grew up with. I tend to not dwell on that fact, but at Christmas, it's easy — and, for me, desirable — to reflect on what a wonderful family I did have and to express my love and appreciation for my current family: Ms. B., my daughter, and, of course, our four lovable yet terrible catses. I could hardly ask for more.
L: There's nothing like relaxing with a hot cup of coffee and a bear hard on your trail.
R: My new coaster has bigger feet than your coaster.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Happy Horrorday Freebie — "Masque of the Queen"

Submitted for your approval: a sampling from my short story collection, Fugue Devil: Resurgence... a tale of eldritch horror titled “Masque of the Queen.” This one originally appeared in In the Court of the Yellow King (Celaeno Press, 2014), a volume of stories inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” — a play that brings madness, despair... or death... to anyone who reads it.

Masque of the Queen” follows a young actress slated to play Queen Cassilda in an off-Broadway production of “The King in Yellow.” Unaware of the play’s dreadful reputation, she finds herself desperate to escape the clutches of something intent on dragging her into a realm of madness and horror.

It’s downloadable as a PDF or ebook (mobi or epub file) from my website.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas Comes to Supper Club

Throughout the year, our good friends, Joe & Suzy and Terry & Beth, get together with Brugger & me for a regular, (almost) monthly dinner & drink gathering we simply call "Supper Club." We alternate hosting the gathering at our respective residences, but Terry & Beth pretty much have dibs on December, since it's Beth's favorite time to entertain. Last night was this year's Christmas Supper Club.

As it happened, friends Natalie and Scott, of the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars geocaching team, were both available for a day of geocaching (an all-too-rare event these days), so we met in Winston-Salem yesterday morning, hiked and drove, and drove and hiked, and found a good many caches. Then we split up and I buzzed over to Kernersville to Terry & Beth's place. It wasn't long before our dinner gathering was complete, and out came the wine.

So, so much wine, including several of the bottles that we brought back from our Pacific Northwest/Alaska trip back in the fall.

Beth's dinner, as always, rocked rockets. Onion tarts, ham & cheese sliders, BBQ chicken sliders, veggies, cheeses, and other small plate fare, plus eclairs and chocolate for dessert. Much later in the evening, we went out among the natives to gawk at the neighborhood's impressive Christmas decorations. It wasn't really a caroling outing, but some in the area might mention that they heard somebody belting out the happy strains of "Timothy," by the Buoys (1971), which is easily the best song about cannibalism ever to hit the American Top 40. Okay, it may not be a Christmas carol, but it's kind of about feasting and celebrating, and we were starting to get hungry again.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Everyday Walkies

One of the absolute highlights of having moved back to my original homeplace in Martinsville is that the neighborhood is so conducive to walking. There are lots of woods, beautiful homes, big hills (which I make a point not to shy away from), and some very nice folks. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Martinsville had a large industrial and commercial base — primarily furniture and textiles — which kept most of the town employed, and with a remarkably high standard of living. During those days, there were more millionaires per square mile in Martinsville than anywhere in the United States. Sadly, those big employers are long gone, and for many years, Martinsville was damn near a ghost town. The place is still largely a shadow of what it once was, but there are enough entrepreneurs and creative individuals who are dedicated to bringing a new renaissance to town that have helped reverse the negative trend. And there's still some old money floating around that has provided a bulwark against the influx of too many ghosts.

So, back to my original point, I walk two to three miles every day, usually mid-morning, and apart from occasional weather-related cancelations, I have managed to keep to the schedule religiously. Combined with a couple of weeks of barely being able to eat, thanks to complications from having a tooth yanked (see Fun and Games with Tooth Extractions," December 14, 2023), I've lost several pounds. Whether I can keep them off is the eternal question, but it would be nice to remain shed of some of that extra weight that just plain exercise doesn't excise.

Sometimes I walk in the woods, as there are a few decent trails around, some official, some less so. I own a plethora of geocaches in the area, and I try to keep them well-maintained. I've found a few entertaining decorative items in nearby yards, clearly indicating some creative residents (see photos). And the long walks are great for listening to audiobooks, which have about become my primary means of "reading," since my eyes don't hold up for long spells of usage the way they used to. I've gotten through Ian Fleming's entire James Bond 007 series, Stephen King & Richard Chizmar's Gwendy series, John Scalzi's Daikaiju Preservation Society, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peter Benchley's JawsWilliam Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, Mark Frost's Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, F. Paul Wilson's The Keep, and I'm currently listening to the second of four books in friend/fellow author Leverett Butt's Guns of the Waste Land series. Many of these are "re-reads," but they're books I've been looking to revisit for the longest time, and what an enjoyable opportunity to get back to them it's been.

Here's hoping a tolerable winter, walking-weather-wise.
About to embark on a chilly-weather excursion
A closer look, and you might see a few hundred turkey buzzards gathered around Lake Lanier, just down the street from home.
Another view of the lake

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Fun and Games with Tooth Extractions

More help from Frazier
The tooth extraction adventure continues (see "A Visit from the Tooth Frazier," Thursday, December 7, 2023). Apparently, the root was so close to my sinus that an inadvertent sneeze the other day blew out the membrane between the empty socket and the sinus cavity. This hurt like shit, as you can imagine, so I returned to the periodontist, and they stitched my tooth socket back together and warned me not to sneeze or blow my nose or anything. Still, despite being on an antibiotic, the sinus cavity has gotten infected. Currently, I've a bit of a fever, and if I'm so minded (in the words of friend Terry), I can blow my nose through my tooth socket. I'm not gonna, though, and you can't make me.

Anyway, I went back to the periodontist today. While things are uncomfortable, everything seems to be healing well. So, I'm to finish the antibiotic and take NyQuil and such for the feeling like shit.

So be it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Hellnotes Review of Deathrealm: Spirits

A very nice review of Deathrealm: Spirits by Carson Buckingham at Hellnotes!

“There is something for everyone here; so whether you enjoy splatter, suspense, or paranormal, you can’t go wrong with Stephen Mark Rainey’s DEATHREALM: SPIRITS...”

Saturday, December 9, 2023

In Which We Talk Godzilla Minus One on the Lovecraft eZine Podcast

I dropped in on this past week's Lovecraft eZine podcast, hosted by Mike Davis, to talk about Godzilla Minus One and other fun, scary things.

My in-depth review of the latest Godzilla outing can be found here: The Blog Where Horror Dwells: Godzilla... Minus One.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

A Visit From the Tooth Frazier

Had to have a back tooth yanked out due to root decaying beneath a crown. Not as bad as all that, but Frazier settled in to help me feel better. Either that, or he was just cold.

Later, Frazier settled into bed with me because he takes his role as comfort cat seriously, which I very much appreciate. But then Droolie decided to find comfort by smushing Frazier, and the weight became unbearable. Adorable, but unbearable. Fat help, Droolie.

Monday, December 4, 2023

An Early Midland Christmas (or a Late Midland Thanksgiving)

Most every year, Ms. Brugger and I head to her folks' place in Midland, Michigan, sometime in the late fall or early winter for a dual celebration of Thanksgiving & Christmas. This week was it.

Thursday, November 30, 2023: Hurry Up and Wait
Getting a decent price on flights out of Greensboro usually means taking an ass-crack-of-dawn flight, and now that we're an hour (rather than 15 minutes) from Piedmont Triad International Airport, our pre-dawn wakey-wakey time has become pre-pre-dawn wakey-wakey time. Our United flight — Greensboro to Saginaw by way of Chicago — was scheduled to depart at 6:45 a.m., which meant getting to PTI about 5:30 a.m., which meant leaving Martinsville at 4:30 a.m., which meant getting up at 3:45 a.m. Both Brugger and I had gone to bed relatively early on Wednesday night, but thanks to a houseful of restless cats, neither of us bagged much sleep — less than two hours for the old dude, I fear.

We arrived at the airport with just enough time to get through security (already busy at an early hour) and visit Starbucks for coffee and a light breakfast. Boarding began right on time. As soon as we settled in our seats, some alarm on the plane started chiming nonstop, and there we sat for twenty minutes waiting for the crew to figure out what the hell. Eventually, the captain informed us that the issue required maintenance, and they would be there in about five or ten minutes (which, in airline lingo, means no less than half an hour).

Half an hour later—right on time!—the maintenance crew arrived, and after another twenty minutes, the captain called the all-clear. So, off we taxied to the runway, number one for departure... only to sit in place for another twenty minutes, probably waiting for an open window to Chicago. We had only a 45-minute layover at O'Hare, so to say things looked dicey for making our connection is fairly polite.

But our pilot hauled ass. The flight typically takes an hour and a half; this one lasted barely over an hour. There was no circling or holding around O'Hare — we barreled straight on in and were parked at the gate no more than ten minutes after touchdown (twenty-to-thirty-minute taxis in Chicago are far more common). Our connecting flight was at a relatively nearby gate, so Ms. B. and I made haste, this time without plowing over anyone (which might have happened on a hairy Chicago connection a couple of years ago). We arrived at our gate with a few minutes to spare before boarding. Whew!

Anyhoo... our flight to MBS was quick and easy, although a couple of bumps in the air raised a few wary murmurs onboard. No worries, though. Kimberly's parents, Del & Fern, were waiting for us at arrivals, and we made the easy drive back to their place in under twenty minutes. Still... wakey-wakey time to darkening their doorstep was a good six-plus-hour endeavor, and on less than two hours of sleep the previous night, Old Mark was a zombie for the rest of the day and evening. Regardless, come sunset, Ms. B. and I headed out for dinner at Molasses, a nice BBQ joint in downtown Midland, and the brisket sandwich mostly rocked (the meat was a tad dry, alas, but the flavor was still incredible).

Our typical evening with the Brugger folks consists of relaxing in the family room watching news and/or cooking shows. This evening's edition was slightly abridged, but all things considered, all's well that ends well.

The old dude finally got a good night's sleep.

Friday, December 1, 2023: And So It Begins...
It's rare to be in Michigan at this time of year and see no snow. There was none on the ground when we arrived, but shortly after we were up and at 'em, the white stuff started coming down in earnest...
Del & Fern regularly recruit Kimberly and me to play chef for at least one, usually several dinners on our trips here. I always enjoy this opportunity, and since the folks are particularly fond of my spicy meatloaf, I volunteered to provide today's midday dinner. I don't do the spice for the parents-in-law at the level I otherwise would, but it still has a wee kick via the chipotle ketchup and black pepper that I hit it pretty hard with.

You know what? I love this stuff! And Ms. B.'s roasted veggies rocked.

After lunch, the rest of the crew sought and found treasures at local shopping areas. I busied myself blogging, promoting Deathrealm: Spirits, and otherwise spilling words into the pixel realm. For our evening drinks and vittles, Ms. B. and I headed to Three Bridges Distilleries & Taproom, which we've enjoyed in the past. It's loud as hell (it's that open industrial architecture that has not one sound buffer, which will no doubt result in total deafness for anyone spending more than two hours at a time there, particularly when they have live music, as they did tonight) but the interior is attractive and otherwise welcoming. A Rye Old Fashioned for me (decent), a red blend for Ms. B. (okay, I'm told), and smoked mixed nuts for the both of us (not bad).

From there, we wandered next door to Grape Beginnings Winery, another traditional Midland stop for us. Kim had a local shiraz, which she really liked, and I tried a spicy, pepper-infused white that, perhaps surprisingly, I loved. It was a blend of jalapeno, habanero, and ghost pepper in a sweet white, and the spice knocked out the sweetness that I otherwise would have poo-pooed. As an accompaniment, we had a bruschetta app that was, sadly, kind of meh.

For dessert, we wandered another door over, to Aviator Cookie Company and picked up an assortment of their homemade cookies to take back and share with Del & Fern. My favorite was this big honking cranberry-white chocolate monstrosity that made me holler for help to get out of my chair.

And we finished up the night with our traditional family time and episodes of Guy Fieri's Drive-Ins, Diners, & Dives to keep us hungry.

Saturday, December 2, 2023: Godzilla and Other Goodies
I preceded Ms. B. out of bed by an hour or so this morning (as I usually do!), had a lovely waffle & sausage breakfast, and wrote some words in my current horror tale. Once both of us were feeling lively, we hit the road for Live Oak Coffeehouse, another of our traditional happy stops, and caffeined ourselves. I'm cooking up yet more dinners over the next couple of days, so we hit the nearby Meijer to pick up the necessities. A quick geocache. Then back to home base for a brief spell before the day's big highlight: heading over to Saginaw for Godzilla Minus One, which has been on the highest priority list since the day I first heard it was going to be A Thing.
The show was at 3:05 at the Quality Ten Powered by Emagine Theater in Saginaw. I'd purchased tickets well in advance, just in case. Ms. B. and I left a bit early so I could grab a few geocaches on the way. Done and done. For Ms. B., the theater held some special personal significance because she and her old gang used to frequent the place (in an earlier incarnation) when they were wild and crazy young mutants.

I'll write a separate review of Godzilla Minus One (which is now here), so suffice it to say that I enjoyed it muchly. I've heard it from many quarters that it's the best Godzilla ever. I wouldn't go that far, but it was certainly a no-nonsense good flick, and it'll occupy an honorable spot in my personal Godzilla collection as soon as it's available.

Another geocache, and then dinner — at Veedu Indian Restaurant in Midland. Veedu used to be Whine, our favorite wine destination in this area, and damn, we were sorry to see Whine close down. However, Veedu serves excellent Indian fare, and the bar is still a lovely place. I had a super-spicy Biryani with goat meat (fantastic!), and Brugger had a Channa Masala (also fantastic!).

And then home for family time. Ms. B. and I traditionally watch A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve, but we have plans for Christmas Eve, and it was on TV this evening, so we watched it. Needless to say, Godzilla made my day. Not to mention the caching, the food, the drink, the company, the place... all these things.

Sunday, December 3, 2023: Christmas (or Thanksgiving) Piccata and the Lovecraft eZine Podcast
I spent most of the morning working on my fairly comprehensive Godzilla Minus One review (right here: Godzilla Minus One). I cooked again for the family, this time our "Christmas" (or "Thanksgiving") feast — Chicken Piccata — so I got that going a little before noon.

Damn if it didn't turn out merrily, monstrously good.
We were just finishing up our midday dinner when I received a shout from Mike Davis, the proprietor of Lovecraft eZine, letting me know they'd be talking about Godzilla Minus One on today's podcast, and would I care to join in? Why... sure! So, for the next couple of hours, the podcast gang and I carried on about monsters and such, and it was fun. (Link here: Lovecraft eZine Podcast 12/3/2023).

I wrote for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. Along with A Christmas Story, Ms. B. and I traditionally watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve, but we have plans for Christmas Eve, and it was on TV this evening, so we watched it. Then some cooking stuff, including Beat Bobby Flay, for which I have developed a fondness.

The weather has not been conducive to outdoor walking, and I miss it. A lot. I'll be cooking again tomorrow, but it might be a better day for walking and geocaching. Here's hoping.

Monday, December 4, 2023: Geocaching at Last!
Since the weather has not exactly been conducive to outdoor activities, I have only managed to snag a handful of caches since we've been here, usually while going or coming from someplace or another. Some snow came down overnight, but it was little more than a dusting that coated the layer that already covered the ground. This morning, the temps weren't bad, so it looked promising for those outdoor activities.

I had promised Del & Fern that I'd clean their gutters while we were here, and today was the first day since we arrived that this was even a conceivable project. So, bright and early (or, more like kinda dim and early), I bundled up, hauled out Del's ladder, and set to work. The leaves in the gutters were mostly coated with ice, so I found a crowbar and kind of scraped the gutters free of obstructions. My gloves are pretty heavy, but my fingers turned frigid nonetheless.

Then, since I'm cooking another family meal, I got a nice big pork shoulder going in the crockpot for BBQ tonight. I think it'll be good.

Del & Fern are kind enough to allow me to use the car when I go geocaching, so out I went. There were only a handful of caches near the inlaws' place that I hadn't already claimed, so I set my sights on these. Happily, three of the five were on trails through the woods, so I got a fair amount of walking in. It was still pretty chilly out, but by the time I was done, I'd worked up a fair sweat. Fun caches. Finally. Yay!

Ms. B. had to work her day job, so I spent the afternoon making progress on my latest horror tale.

For dinner, I believe I ate the best BBQ pork butt I've ever fixed. And believe me, I've fixed a lot of butt. The rest of the family went at it whole hog, so I think the cookin' for this trip was a big success.

Afterward, Ms. B. and I went out to have a couple of drinks at Whichcraft, which serves all Michigan-made spirits. I tried a rye and a bourbon, and, rather like the Michigan wine we've sampled, it was pretty damned good. Color me surprised. Kimberly ran into an old friend she hadn't seen in something like twenty years, so she enjoyed the opportunity to catch up.

On the way back to Casa di Brugger, we drove through some of the nearby neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights. They do Christmas up big time here, and I really enjoy the spectacle. Kinda gets the spirit flowing, don't you know.

Then there was the hanging out with the folks in the family room. We leave tomorrow morning — thankfully, not too early. Hopefully, the pilot will drive carefully, and y'all will hear from me again. Till then.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Godzilla... Minus One

As a diehard daikaiju fanatic since early childhood, I take my Godzilla movies seriously, no matter how serious — or not — the movies themselves might be. The original 1954 Godzilla is not just my favorite monster film, it's my favorite film of all time. Many monster movie fans have opined that Godzilla Minus One, Toho's newest entry into the venerable franchise, rivals or even surpasses the power and quality of the original. I think not, but this film offers plenty of appeal not only to Godzilla fans but to a far wider, more diverse audience.

There may be spoilers ahead.

As with most of the Godzilla films made during and since the Millennium era (1999–2005), Godzilla Minus One reinvents the monster, disregarding its cinematic history, retaining only the time-proven tropes. Even a number of the earlier films with disparate timelines hearken back to the 1954 original, using it as the jumping-off point for all-new continuities. Like Toho's prior Godzilla outing — Shin Godzilla (2016) — this Godzilla has an all-new origin story.

In a nod to the Godzilla origin story depicted in 1992's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, in which a "Godzillasaurus" appears to a regiment of Japanese soldiers on a remote Pacific Island called Lagos, Godzilla Minus One begins near the end of the war on Odo Island (the name of the island where Godzilla first appeared in the 1954 original) and also presents a "Godzillasaurus." Unlike in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, this Godzillasaurus is anything but gentle, and, rather than saving the lives of the encamped Japanese soldiers, it all but wipes them out in a ferocious fury.

In the 1954 film, Godzilla appears due to hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific, well into Japan's post-war recovery and ascension as a formidable economic power. Godzilla Minus One's story begins at the end of the war, and the narrative advances only a couple of years beyond. Its setting is a post-war Japan in which "recovery" barely qualifies as a pipedream for most. It is the detonation of the first atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll in 1946 that transforms this Godzilla into a true daikaiju.

It is survivor Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a "failed" kamikaze pilot, whose story propels the human drama. After the war, having moved back to a fire-ravaged Tokyo and bearing the burden of survivor's guilt twice over, Shikishima feels that he may already be dead, and his shattered existence is some kind of dead man's dream. On one hand, there are those around him who consider him a disgrace, the personification of weakness; essentially the reason that Japan lost the war. On the other hand, Shikishima meets a young woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe) whose determination to survive, to thrive, is so great that she unilaterally chooses to take in an orphaned little girl named Akiko and settle in with him as an informal family unit. This all but forces Shikishima to reevaluate his outlook, to consider that his life has a purpose. That he can dare to dream again.

One can hardly argue that this depth of characterization is typical of Godzilla films of any era. Certainly not of the contemporary Monsterverse Godzilla franchise, whose token nods to characterization barely reach the level of the old Saturday morning Godzilla Power Hour cartoon. As Shikishima's life stabilizes, he takes a job as a "mine cleaner" — a position that puts him on a ship with a team whose job is finding and destroying the 60,000-some active mines in the ocean around Japan, placed by both the Japanese and US military forces. His shipmates, overall an engaging and sometimes humorous bunch, bring both depth and liveliness to the character interactions. They serve as motivators for Shikishima, whose desire to live has finally taken solid root. While he, Noriko, and Akiko might not have become a true, traditional family unit, it's clear that they are bonded by a deepening love.

As one might infer, the mine cleaners' day job comes with a few unique hazards. Deadly hazards. But living so close to the edge brings these men both self-awareness and passion. Shikishima finds his niche among these men. Understandably, Noriko doesn't much like it. Especially when crewmember "Doc" Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka), a former weapons specialist and now liaison with the Japanese government, informs the men they've been ordered to check out an American destroyer that has been attacked by... something... and left adrift.

From here, a long stretch of delicious, fairly graphic monster action ensues. This, of course, is what moviegoers have come to see. Like some kind of ultra-powerful Megalodon, Godzilla proves himself a daunting — and genuinely frightening — aquatic enemy, captured by brilliant cinematography. Of course, Godzilla is hardly relegated to water-based antics, and when he makes landfall, the onscreen spectacle is in many ways unrivaled by any daikaiju film made since the advent of CGI. Certainly better (with perhaps a handful of exceptions) than most of the graphics presented in the Monsterverse franchise, whose budget exceeds this film's by many, many, many times. (Godzilla vs. Kong's budget was reportedly between $155 and $200 million; Godzilla Minus One's was $15 million).

Without diving too deeply into spoiler territory, it's fair to say that the character and monster stories converge in meaningful ways, further developing the individuals as well as propelling the action. Unlike so many prior Godzilla films, particularly of the Heisei era and, later, Shin Godzilla, there is very little focus on the Japanese government's and military's responses to Godzilla's attacks. Ostensibly, the Imperial government and military have been stymied by the tumultuous US and Soviet presences in the Pacific and the restrictive terms imposed on Japan following its surrender. Instead, a ragtag band of initially unaffiliated individuals come together, loosely under the direction of Doc Noda and a former Imperial Navy Admiral, who rely on their ingenuity and limited resources to formulate a plan.

In the context of the film, the logistics of the ultimate plan might be debatable, but there's no denying the sheer energy of the action and the portrayal of courage on the parts of our protagonists.
Fuck with this monster? Is bad idea.
"Doc" Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka) and Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) meet for their first run as minesweepers
Noriko (Minami Hamabe) suddenly realizes there's something out there...
A graphic recreation of Godzilla's attack on the Tokyo train from the 1954 original
Director Takashi Yamazaki (The Fighter Pilot, Always: Sunset on Third Street, Parasyte: Part 1) proves himself accomplished in every aspect of a character-driven monster story. Here, we have no long, lagging people scenes, where interest wanes as soon as mouths open (2019's Godzilla - King of the Monsters, anyone?); instead, these characters share with us passion, humor, believable conflict, and grief when appropriate. The combination of directing and acting brings to life the most engaging group of characters in a Godzilla movie for many, many years. I would probably have to go back to the Showa era (1954–1975) to find an ensemble of cast with such effective chemistry as here; certainly, no Godzilla movie apart from the 1954 original has conveyed a human story as compelling. Or that might make me (and my wife) feel a bit weepy (it did).

Yamazaki also directs most of the monster action with a masterful hand. It's safe to say that this was the first time ever in a Godzilla movie that I felt an honest-to-god chill when the full extent of the monster's power is initially revealed. The director showcases Godzilla's attack on Tokyo using everything from panoramic to character-level views, allowing us an intimate sensory experience of the violence and terror of such a brutal rampage. Most memorably — in a scene similar to one in the original 1954 film — a group of reporters is narrating from a high rooftop as Godzilla advances through the city. As the monster passes, the building collapses, and the camera view is on the reporters as their world comes down. It's a particularly harrowing moment, expertly executed.

While the CGI occasionally announces, "Hey, look at me, I'm CGI!," the better part of the effects work is impressive, presenting a lifelike monster and environment rather than a world rendered with an exaggerated palette, such as in the Monsterverse films. Not to denigrate the characteristic "oil-painted" look of the Monsterverse's effects work, but its busy, overly vibrant colors and compositions, as impressive as they might appear on the screen, also build a wall between that world and me as the viewer. I can't get immersed in that environment because it doesn't feel like a living environment. It's more a vivid cartoon. This is mostly not true in Godzilla Minus One, so it offers a far more immersive experience.

While there are the expected Akira Ifukube musical cues in the Godzilla Minus One, which are inserted to good effect, the original score by Naoki Sato offers a very different kind of background from either the classic Ifukube cuts or any other Godzilla movie score. Largely, it weaves, pulses, and throbs in the background, an ambient sound wave that builds atmosphere and tension. With ethereal, eerie tones, it heightens the sense of the unknown that Godzilla represents. The various character themes include everything from deep, rich orchestral tones to mellow melodies played on acoustic guitar. It's one of the most effective scores — maybe the most effective — that I've heard for any modern daikaiju movie. Interestingly, Godzilla's roar, which sounds familiar yet unusual, is a recording of the original Godzilla roar — created by composer Ifukube by rubbing a leather glove over contrabass strings and slowing down the recording — amplified via loudspeakers.

As a longtime Godzillaphile, I have adored the franchise since the first film, regardless of whether the movies are serious and grim or light and whimsical. At the end of the day, Godzilla Minus One portrays the monster as the impressive, terrible, essentially demonic thing my youthful brain imagined. And that I still want to imagine.

That is a big win.
"Doc" Kenji Noda (Hidetaka Yoshioka) contemplates the consequences of failure.
A stroll through the countryside
It's clobberin' time.
All that remains of the Wako Building clock tower after Godzilla's stroll
A display of incredible power

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Deathrealm: Spirits — Joe R. Lansdale, Errick Nunnally, Bridgett Nelson, Heather Daughrity, Jessica Amanda Salmonson


Joe R. Lansdale — "Ghosts in the Cells": A theoretical discussion between friends around a campfire becomes a battle for survival against the ultimate primal horror.

Errick Nunnally — "Driving James Cole": "How did we get on this road with someone like that in the car? And what the hell is that coming up behind us...?!"

  Bridgett Nelson — "Dying River": A mother's love is sometimes said to be the most powerful force in the universe. Is it? Is it really?

 Heather Daughrity — "A Shadow Slowly Shifting": Is that shadow on the floor? Or a shadow within a haunted mind? The distinction becomes crucial.

 Jessica Amanda Salmonson — "The Ivory Bed": She might have been Lilith’s most privileged daughter; Princess of the Esoteric Night; Goddess of ghosts in violent places...

And much, much more!

Friday, December 1, 2023

Deathrealm: Spirits — Elizabeth Massie, Ronald Kelly, Patricia Lee Macomber, Maurice Broaddus, Richard Thomas


Elizabeth Massie — "The Campsite": Geocaching is a kind of treasure hunt that frequently leads seekers into deep, remote woods to locate their quarry. Some treasures, once found, can never be forgotten...

Ronald Kelly — "Prayers from the Mouth of Hell": There's nothing frightening under this house. Nothing there at all...

  Patricia Lee Macomber — "Nothing Bad Can Ever Happen to You Here": This guardian will protect you for all the days of your life — however long that may be...

 Maurice Broaddus — "The Running People": How can life and love survive — and thrive — in this bleak, horrific world that we ourselves have wrought? One must run to discover the answer.

 Richard Thomas — "Ripples in a Pond": Some thoughts, words, and deeds can resonate into time and space far beyond the limits of a lifetime. But to what end?

And much, much more!