Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

As I mentioned before, I haven't been able to have quite as epic a Halloween season this year as last, mostly due to circumstances beyond my control. Still I've worked in a good many creepy movies, stories, comics, and such, so it hasn't been a bad one. Since tonight is the night I'm usually out with my friends Halloween's about done for me. Won't have time to fit in another movie or anything. Maybe I can work in one more short story or comic book between getting home from work and heading out with the gang. We shall see.
   I did pick up some candy, though it's unlikely I'll have any trick or treaters, but hey, you never know. I chose Three Musketeers this year because that was the candy my grandmother always gave out. I think it was her favorite candy, so she knew any that didn't get handed out wouldn't go to waste. Same is true at my place. Can't go wrong with Chocolate.
   Autumn continues to be beautiful here in Georgia, one of the nicest I remember in several years. Looks like the kids should have good weather for trick or treating tonight. Cool, but not unpleasantly so.
   Anyway, hope you all have a good Halloween. Keep an eye on the shadows and check your closet and under your bed before you go to sleep. Never know what's lurking in the dark...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Season More Than a Day

Well, it finally looks like Halloween out there. A front moved through last night, bringing cooler temperatures and a heavy cloud cover. The sky is gray and the ground is littered with leaves and a brisk wind is sending showers of more leaves past my windows as I type this. Bruce the cat is running back and forth at the windows, leaping and pawing at the leaves as they strike the glass.
   I was reading some horror stories from the 2002 collection October Dreams, and between the various stories, some of the authors had published short essays about their favorite Halloween memories. I tried to recall if I had a favorite such memory, but no single incident stands out. I mean, I remember trick or treating (it always seemed to be raining) and going to my grade school Halloween carnivals, but there's no one memory that stands out.
   For me, childhood Halloweens were much as they are now, a season more than a day. A time to watch scary movies, read scary books and comics and just enjoy the spirit of Halloween. I can recall reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and the Halloween Tree, and watching marathons of Universal horror movies. My Halloweens always featured Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney Jr.
   We always had Jack O'Lanterns. My dad, a big kid at heart, was always ready to carve a pumpkin and put it out on the front porch. Often we would turn the face toward the house's front windows so we could see the flickering candle lit features as we watched scary movies in the living room.
   I was watching a documentary on YouTube called The Sci-Fi Boys, where a bunch of Hollywood directors, writers, and special effects guys talked about how they were all influenced by Forest J. Ackerman's magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. That magazine looms large in my childhood as well, and at Halloween I definitely dug out my collected issues and read about horror movies from all eras. In those pre-VCR days, the pictures in those magazines were sometimes the only look I had at famous but obscure fantasy, SF, or horror films like Freaks, Metropolis, The Golem, or The Lost World. Heck, even King Kong was only a legend to me until someone set up a screen and showed it one night at my local library. Famous Monsters of Filmland was the only place you could see articles about special effects or movie make up. No wonder guys like Rick Baker and Peter Jackson were so enthralled by the magazine. You can probably see why I was so thrilled to have my novel Blind Shadows reviewed at Famous Monsters.
   Anyway, that was and is Halloween to me. A few days to revel in the darker side of the human imagination. To wander through moon lit nightscapes of shadows and fog, where things undreamed of in our philosophies lurk just beyond the borders of the fields we know.

Legend of Conan (Or here we go again)

A few posts back, I commented on my opinion of Arnold Schwarzenegger's viability for a new Conan movie. At that point, though I thought he could do it,  I really didn't think it likely, given the poor performance of the 2011 reboot starring Jason Momoa as Conan. However this weekend it's been revealed that Arnold has signed with universal to star in a new film, Legend of Conan. So, here we go again.
   "Legend of Conan" Producer Chris Morgan plans for the film to take Arnold's age into account and tell the story of the older King Conan. He says:

“This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story. We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s ‘Unforgiven.’”

   This is wise, and hopefully will make for an interesting story. It won't be a Robert E. Howard story, of course, but that leads me to the next part of this post.
   Believe it or not, I'm going to try and step away from my REH purist stance and give this movie a chance. "But why Charles?" You say, "You hate the first Conan the Barbarian movie."
   Yes I do. But I love the character of Conan and after 2011's reboot tanked so badly, I had little hope of anyone taking a chance on a Conan movie again in my lifetime. Like it or not, if anybody has a shot at making a successful Conan film right now, it's Arnold. And that will help bring the character back into popularity, which can only help to keep REH's books in print and available for future readers to discover.
   Plus, as my pal Al Harron has pointed out, this is a sequel to a movie that already wasn't faithful to Howard, so worrying about that particular issue is pointless. Let's just hope for a good movie.
   The downside, of course, is that if the movie does well, people will say "See, only Arnold is Conan." which will make me a bit apoplectic and I'll be subjected to more bad Arnold impressions until my dying day, but I'm willing to take one for the team.
   And if this movie tanks as well? Then I can say "See, you should have filmed one of Robert E. Howard's stories like I told you."

Read the article I refer to by Chris Lee here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

House of Dark Shadows

I meant to watch this 1970 feature film while I was watching the episodes of the Dark Shadows TV series a few  months back, but then decided to save it for Halloween season. I'm glad that I did now, because it was fun to see the cast of Dark Shadows again after a little time had passed.
   House of Dark Shadows is sort of an abridgement of the series, retelling events that took weeks or months to pass on the daily soap opera in less than two hours. The basic story is the same, vampire Barnabas Collins is released from his 150 year imprisonment in a chained coffin by handyman Willie Loomis who is searching the Collins family crypt for jewels rumored to be hidden there. Barnabas makes Willie his thrall and sets about establishing himself to the Collins family as a distant cousin from England.
   Here's where things go a bit off trail though, as the movie isn't a sequel to the series, but rather a re-imagining, almost a parallel universe to the show which was still on the air. Characters die who are still just fine on TV and plotlines run off in unexpected directions.
   What was rather strange for me was seeing the familiar faces in a whole new setting. The TV show Dark Shadows was notorious for its low budget and shaky sets. House of Dark Shadows is filmed mostly on location in a real house and in several outdoor settings. Not that house had a huge budget, but it looks so different as compared to the show that it comes as something of a shock.The movie is also much more gory than the show. There's a lot of blood.
   Another thing that struck me as odd was the fact that the actors were allowed retakes, so the constant flubbing of lines, which the show was famous for, doesn't occur here. Nice to see what the actors could do given time and a bit better production values.
   Now here's the weird thing. The movie was made because the TV show had become a runaway hit, but according to some Dark Shadows fans, it was the movie that ultimately killed the show because the principle actors were away from the show for several weeks filming the movie. The show lost momentum without its star, Jonathan Frid, and never quite got it back. Add that to a couple of weak storylines and the show faltered and eventually failed.
   Anyway, it was fun visiting the folks at Collinwood again, even in a slightly altered fashion. I haven't quite worked up the nerve to watch the Johnny Depp version yet. Maybe soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dark Night of the Scarecrow

I have some vague memories of watching 'Dark Night of the Scarecrow' back in the 1980s when it originally aired, but I didn't remember much about it. Picked up the DVD on the recommendation of John Hocking, who called the movie "the best made for TV horror film of them all." Have to say I'm in agreement. This 1981 TV movie manages to be that film rarity, a ghost story that works on all levels and does so with very little gore to speak of.
  The plot is simple. Four good old boys with a grudge against a local mentally challenged man called Bubba seize an opportunity to get rid of him permanently when it looks like he has savaged a little girl. They hunt the frightened man down in a field, where his mother has disguised him as a scarecrow, and shoot him. Only minutes after they've killed him they learn by CB radio that Bubba actually saved the girl from an attack by a vicious dog. The leader of the group, played with scenery chewing relish by Charles Durning, decides to make it look like Bubba came at the four with a pitchfork and that they shot him in self defense.
   The men are tried, but acquitted, and it looks like they've gotten away with murder until a familiar scarecrow starts showing up in odd places. The men are killed one by one until it comes down to Durning's character, who meets a suitable end.
   One thing I really liked about the film was that for the majority of the movie, it plays almost like a whodunit. The viewer doesn't know if the scarecrow is actually a ghost or if one of the three townspeople is stalking the killers. There are some genuine creepy moments and some good performances by various actors, Durning in particular. Oh, and it takes place near Halloween so there are some scenes at a school Halloween party.
   Definitely worth your Halloween time. Thanks, John!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Other Great Detective

   The last couple of days I've been reading Sexton Blake stories. If you're unfamiliar with Sexton Blake, he was an extremely popular fictional detective who has now fallen into obscurity to the average man on the street. And when I say extremely popular, I mean as in appearing in over FOUR THOUSAND  stories between 1893 and 1978, as well as in comic books, movies, a radio program, a TV series, games, etc etc.
   Blake is often referred to as the 'poor man's Sherlock Holmes', but I think that's an unfair generalization. True, he does share some superficial similarities to the great detective, but Blake's adventures had as much to do with H. Rider Haggard as with Conan Doyle. You will definitely find stories where Blake functions in the Holmes role, making dazzling deductions and solving bizarre crimes, but Blake was a much more active character, engaging in fist fights, shoot outs, car chases, and the like. He also traveled all over the globe in the pages of the cheap weekly magazines in which he originally appeared, battling savage tribesmen in Africa one week and facing down insidious oriental villains in the streets of London the next. in many ways, Blake was a forerunner of characters like Doc Savage.
   Unfortunately, Blake's adventures can be sort of hard to come by. Until recently not many of the Blake stories have been reprinted and the original weekly papers are both fragile and scarce. Probably the easiest collection to get is the Wordsworth Editions Casebook of Sexton Blake, which came out in 2009. It's still in print and it contains six stories which give a nice overview of the type of adventures Blake had and it has an excellent introduction by Blake expert Mark Hodder. I first encountered Mark over at Moorcock's Miscellany and he's a swell guy and a talented writer.
   A couple of days ago I picked up the other Sexton Blake collection that came out in 2009, Sexton Blake: Detective from Snowbooks. This massive volumes has over 750 pages of Blake adventures. Unfortunately it also has a ton of typos, but I can work around those. This book is out of print, but still fairly easy to get at a reasonable price. It has an introduction by my pal, Michael Moorcock, who once worked for the Sexton Blake Library and who credits Blake's arch enemy, Zenith the Albino, as a major influence on his own albino hero, Elric.
   More recently, Bear Alley Books is reprinting facsimile editions of Sexton Blake Annuals. The latest is the 1941 annual, containing 10 stories. I have that one on the way, so there are more thrilling Sexton Blake adventures in my future. Have a look at that cover. Boy, that's just got adventure written all over it. Check out the Bear Alley blog here:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumn Thoughts

Fall has finally arrived, and though it has brought my usual autumn restlessness with it, that's not as pronounced this year because I actually took a trip only a week ago. I should probably schedule all my vacations for fall. Still, the cooler weather and the sharp edged, stark shadows make me think of far horizons.
   For now though, I'll have to stick close to home. Work has turned insanely busy, and I'm working a lot of overtime, including this Saturday, so not much time the last week or so to read and do the things I usually do. Basically I just vege out once I get home. Not getting a lot of writing done either, but as the good book says, even this shall pass.
   Lord of the Rings Online got their latest expansion up this week, Rohan. Haven't gotten to play much, but from what I've seen the area is huge. That's good because you should have a feeling of great expanses of open land in Rohan. This is the expansion that introduces mounted combat. Since the kinship I belong to is the Windriders of Rohan, we've been waiting for combat from horseback. I've heard mixed reviews of it so far, but I haven't leveled up enough to actually try it. We'll see. Lore wise, I did get to witness the breaking of the fellowship and the fall of Boromir, which was suitably epic. I don't think we get to Helm's Deep  with this expansion, but we will go into Fangorn Forest.
   My DVD of Dark Night of the Scarecrow arrived, so I'll watch that this weekend. John Hocking was kind enough to recommend it in response to my last post about Halloween. I'll be trying to get into the Halloween spirit here, since the day is fast approaching. Got some more scary movies to watch and creepy stories to read lined up.
   On a melancholy note, the cool nights are reminding me of my cat Amelia who passed away two months ago. She always slept in the living room (on the center cushion of my couch) during the summer, but once the nights got cold she would come and sleep in my bed. Just as soon as my head hit the pillow she would pop up onto the bed and begin pawing at the edge of the blanket so that I would lift it up and let her get under the covers. She would sleep curled against my left hip until morning. Fortunately I still have my other cat, Bruce, who has his own nightly ritual of kneading my chest for five minutes before settling down by my knee.
   So anyway, those are my thoughts now that autumn has arrived. Hopefully I'll get some more interesting posts up in the next few days.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weekend Report

 My weekend wasn't overly eventful. Had to work late on Friday so it was also a bit shorter than normal. I spent most of the time catching up on things that had accumulated while I was in Santa Fe. Answered emails. Did a bit of house cleaning. Did some laundry. Hung out with Bruce the cat, who had definitely missed me. That sort of thing.
   Also did some reading. Finished up another of Peter Brandvold's Rogue Lawman books. Reread Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel School Days. Read Heath Lowrance's excellent story The Spider Tribe, which I reviewed below. I saw a lot of Mexican Day of the Dead stuff while I was out West so I dug out Ray Bradbury's shudder inducing tale about the day of the Dead, The Next in Line.
   Speaking of dead things, I need to get my Halloween mojo going. The last two years have been huge in terms of Halloween stuff, but I've fallen behind this year, what with vacation and such. I did manage to watch some Halloween themed movies and TV this weekend. Watched two Halloween episodes of Hercules the Legendary Journeys, one with a mummy and one with Dracula. Then I did a rewatch of the Mario Bava directed Hercules in the Haunted World, which has vampires, monsters, and zombies. I got a remastered wide screen version of this sword & sandal classic and it is truly a thing of beauty. Bava's use of color really comes through and the film has an almost hallucinatory quality to it. I was so impressed that I also watched Bava's science fiction/horror film, Planet of the Vampires. The sets are a bit dated but the brooding atmosphere and horrific happenings still hold up. Depending on who you ask, this one may or may not have influenced Ridley Scott's movie, Alien.
   Read through a big chunk of The Essential Thor Volume 6. This volume catches up to when I started reading Marvel Comics' The Mighty Thor, about 1973, so I remembered a lot of the stories in this collection. Most of the art is by the great John Buscema, but John's brother Sal and other artists like Rich Buckler also turn in some nice artwork.
   Hmmm, maybe my weekend wasn't as uneventful as I thought. Looks like I was pretty busy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hawthorne: The Spider Tribe

  Just in time for Halloween, another creepy horror tinged weird western featuring Heath Lowrance's cowboy phantom fighter Hawthorne. In the Spider Tribe, Hawthorne comes across the remains of a slaughtered tribe of Lakota Indians, The mutilated bodies are covered with spider webs. Hawthorne finds a survivor and that leads him to a gruesome discovery in a hidden cave. There he learns of the Iktomi, the titular Spider Tribe, who are an original and scary type of monster.
   That's one of the things that I like about Lowrance's stories, that he keeps coming up with new supernatural creatures and not just using the same old horror tropes. Combine that with his clipped, hard boiled prose and his skill at writing action scenes and you have just the sort of thing I'm looking for. This is my third visit with Hawthorne and I can't wait for the next one.
   I've said before that Ebooks have opened new markets for short fiction. The Spider Tribe is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. Highly recommended and available here:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Everything in Moderation

 I've been asked to moderate this year's short story challenge over at Moorcock's Miscellany, the official Michael Moorcock forum. I've contributed short stories the last couple of years and hope to have time to write one this year, though the deadline is fairly tight and I've got a lot going on.
   This year's theme is Steam Opera, which seems to be  to Steam Punk what space opera is to science fiction. This has generated a lively discussion of the definition of steam punk, kind of like the many discussions I've seen on sword & sorcery versus high fantasy. genres and sub genres. Always fun for fan boy ramblings. Anyway, I'm having fun.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Top Three H.P. Lovecraft Stories

One of the topics that came up this week at my weekly dinner with friends was 'What are your top three H.P. Lovecraft stories?' It was interesting to see who picked what. Here were my three.

The Dunwich Horror

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Call of Cthulhu

What are yours?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Child's Book of Scary Poems

 When I was a small child I was absolutely terrified by an illustration in a story book someone had given me and my brother. I don't have it anymore, but I remember the drawing was of a squat creature with long arms and far too many teeth. It was one of the drawings that accompanied James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem Little Orphan Annie. (Not to be confused with the comic strip character. She came later.)
   The poem was apparently written to scare children into behaving. One verse goes:

Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wasn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an' roundabout--
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you ef you don't watch out!
   Now why would you read that to a kid? Yeesh. Anyway, I don't recall being particularly frightened by the poem, but the illustrations sure gave me the creeps. I was talking about it last night at dinner with friends and that put us on to the subject of creepy poems. A couple of favorites of mine are Robert Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
   Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came has become famous as the poem that inspired Stephen King's multi-volume epic The Dark Tower, but long before King made use of it, the poem was creeping people out. It follows a knight on a strange quest into a vast wasteland where he eventually encounters long dead comrades in arms at the titular Dark Tower.

What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.

I can see why King was so taken with it. Its very structure invites adaptation, and I considered writing a sword and sorcery yarn based on it. Might yet.
   Another unfortunate knight appears in Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Mercy (The beautiful lady without pity.) The narrator finds him lying on a hill side. The knight tells the narrator of a strange fey woman he met in the forest.

I met a lady in the meads,
    Full beautiful - a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild.

   The lady leads the knight to a grotto where he sleeps and dreams horrible things.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried - 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
    Hath thee in thrall!'

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
    With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
    On the cold hill's side.

   This is a haunting and beautiful poem and one of my favorites. Definitely a high creep factor though. Anyway, those are some of my favorite scary poems. Something to read on a cold October night when the wind whistles in the eaves and the fire throws strange shadows on the walls.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Out of the West

 Sorry I've been quiet the last few days but I've been out of town in far off Santa Fe New Mexico. Those of you who've been reading the blog for a while may recall that a few years back I went West to visit my friend Laura. She and her husband were kind enough to invite me back for a second trip, this time to see the fall colors. (My previous visit was in June.) Couldn't have come at a better time, since I've been reading a lot of Westerns and I'm maybe going to write one. This trip gave me ample opportunity to see the Real West up close.
  Plus, this trip also included a special guest star, my pal Beth, whom you may have seen commenting on various posts here. Here's the cool thing. Laura, Beth, and I have known each other Online for over a decade, but while I had met both of them in real life, the two of them had never actually come face to face, so I got to witness the meeting of two friends and it was a blast.
   This trip wasn't as heavy on the sight seeing as my first visit. We spent one day wandering the art galleries and shops of downtown Santa Fe. I mentioned a couple of times that if I ever take up painting again, I'm moving to SF. Not only does it contain amazingly inspiring vistas and a unique quality of light, but there are more galleries there than I've ever seen anywhere else.
   Beth had the awesome idea of taking the overnight train from her home in Chicago to Santa Fe and we picked her up at a small, rustic train station in the small town of Lamy. The station, with its iron ticketing cage and massive benches would have fit right into a Western movie. And get this. There's a small used book store inside the station. Now I want to take a night train somewhere.
   At the gift shop of the Governor's Palace (the only building I know of where both Robert E. Howard and I have visited) Laura and I gave in to our mania for reference books. Laura got more books than me, but I got some great ones, including what is considered the definitive book on Billy the Kid and The Lincoln County War.
   Highlights of our day of actual sightseeing included a visit to the home of Kit Carson and a surprise trip to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a vertigo inducing span of epic proportions, We walked out into the middle of it and though I have no fear of heights, I must say it was a loooong way down. We also visited an ancient church in Taos, which is older than Atlanta. An amazing place.
   Since all three of us are writers, we spent a lot of time talking writing and just hanging out. Laura and her husband David took us to some wonderful restaurants and I got to meet Laura's parents, who are just terrific people.
   Western wise I got to see sagebrush and Ponderosa pines up close, as well as many other examples of other New Mexican plants. Plus a big helping of buttes, mesas, arroyos, dry washes and all those things Western writers like.
   All and all it was a great trip and I hope to go back again. I did hit a slight snag getting home, but I'll blog more about that later. For now it's back to real life.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Writing Report

   Finished the final edits on Blind Shadows last weekend and sent those off to Miskatonic Books. It's October so I'm in the mood to write something creepy. Haven't quite got a handle on the plot for the Lovecraftian story I was messing with Sunday morning so I've turned back to my Sword & Sorcery horror yarn, The Dead Abide, which I stopped work on to write the novel Congregations of the Dead.
   I had left off right before a major scary scene, so I wrote that tonight. Managed to creep myself out just a bit, which is always a good sign.
   Had a couple of problems with my Weird Western, The Devil You Don't know, so I've put it aside for a rethink. I try to have several projects in the works because if one goes 'cold' I can switch to another. Often the break solves whatever problem I was having.

Conan the Geriatric

   A recent news clip mentioned that Arnold Schwarzenegger had shown some interest in playing Conan again. Now we know what I think of the first two films, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, so obviously I have little to no interest in seeing Arnie return as Conan. However there's been some discussion on whether or not he even could, given his age and the current state of his physique.
   Being a weightlifter, and knowing a bunch of other weightlifters, my answer would be yes, as long as it's understood that he's playing an older version of the Cimmerian and people don't expect him to go shirtless for the whole film.  Arnold is 63 and he's not ever going to be in the shape he was for the first two movies. Gravity affects us all. However, he could get in good enough shape to play the older King Conan if he's willing to put in the time and work. Sylvester Stallone, who's about the same age as Arnie, has shown that a man of that age can still be cut and ripped, and so have many other weightlifters and bodybuilders. In fact Arnie ought to train with Stallone for a while.
   I'd suggest that they put Arnold into a costume much like the one that he wore in Red Sonja. Trousers and a sleeveless tunic. he could certainly get bulked up enough to make that work.
   Not that I think anyone in his or her right mind would actually fund a Conan movie after last year's flop, and again not that I ever want to see Arnie in the role again. But yeah, I think he could do it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Long Black Train Redux

   Okay, Heath Lowrance's horror/Western The Long Black Train, which I keep raving about, is available again for free on Kindle until October 3rd. Seriously, if you haven't given this one a shot, go download it now. Highly recommended.