Friday, October 31, 2008

If Every Day Could Be Halloween....

...I'd make it a lot like today. It's gorgeous outside. Comfortable, sunny, and loaded with fall colors. I worked only half a day — actually less than that, since we had our Halloween festivities at the office this morning. I read "Somewhere My Love" to a less-than-angry mob, trick-or-treated and got lots of chocolate, and then hit the road and went geocaching. Found a few at Chinqua Penn plantation (near Reidsville, NC), and I'm about to head out to have dinner with my friends, the Albaneses. We may watch Phantasm tonight for good measure.

After the long rough spell we've been having (let's call it 2008), this Halloween has so far been a much-needed bit of tonic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"It's in the trees! It's coming!"




Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE SOUND OF HORROR


Back in the early 70s, I remember watching on TV a 1964 Spanish monster flick called The Sound of Horror and thinking it just might be the worst piece of crap ever put to film. Except...it kind of left me feeling unnerved. A while back, I picked up the Alpha Video DVD for something like $3.99, watched it, and came out thinking exactly the same thing.

It's about an invisible dinosaur. I am not lying; it's true. The budget was so small, they made the dinosaur invisible. But you know what? It makes a hell of a scary noise. It shreds people in right gory fashion. And like some of the best SF/horror movies — The Thing and Alien coming foremost to mind it features characters confined within a location from which they cannot escape. As a bonus, it stars a young Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda (Lucy in Jess Franco's Count Dracula), who, in her day, was about the hottest thing on two legs. The moviemakers realized this and even stopped the film in its faltering tracks so that Pitt and Miranda could dance for the camera. No complaints from me.

Make no mistake, it's a dumb, DUMB film, but, in its way, it's also a little bit brilliant. A group of former Nazi fighters, along with the aforementioned beautiful women, meet at a remote location in Greece to seek treasure that was buried in a cave before the war. In the process of digging it up, they unearth both a remarkably preserved mummy (identified first as a "homo sapien neanderthal" and then as a fighter at the sacking of Troy) and a couple of very large, petrified eggs. The mummy stays dead, but the eggs hatch. One releases said invisible carnivorous dinosaur; the other provides us with a glimpse of a pair of creepy, glowing eyes, but their owner is bashed and burned before it can camouflage itself and join in the blood feast. Several of the treasure-hunting party are killed as the invisible horror continually attacks the house where they are trapped, until they finally figure out a way to best the noisy, unseen brute.

From scene to scene, the movie yo-yos from outright inept to chillingly atmospheric. The creature's murderous raids are surprisingly — and realistically— graphic. There's a rather poignant scene in which the household caretaker, a superstitious woman named Calliope (whose forecasts of doom are quickly borne out) is brutally savaged by the monster, and the others trapped in the house watch helplessly...almost casually. In reality, it was probably just a matter of lackadaisical direction, yet the scene comes across as depressingly authentic.

Overall, the characters are not terribly heroic, though the WWII veterans in the group evidently once fought with great honor. Their motivation is greed, yet they are played as mostly sympathetic and humane individuals. I can just imagine this movie being remade today, with every one of these folk portrayed as vile scum, each of whom deserve to die, and the sooner the better. I find it refreshing to be able to care about, and to some degree identify with, a group of not-quite-perfect people, depicted far more realistically than the despicable stereotypes that populate far too many of today's horrific features. For one thing, there's no annoying conflict-for-conflict's-sake between a bunch of foul-mouthed imbeciles, which is the main reason I so often want to strangle every character in most modern horror films, particularly when the protagonists are youthful.

Of course, the characters do some pretty dumb things, but by and large, they're smarter than most of their modern monster movie counterparts. The final scene, though, brings us to a mishmosh of cluelessness, heroism, and a display of one of the worst monster effects ever shown on the screen. It's the film's quintessential moment, where brilliance and ineptitude collide and create something like a cinematic black hole.

I watched The Sound of Horror tonight as a part of my regular pre-Halloween ritual, and I loved every dadblamed minute of it. If you haven't seen it...well, you just gotta. You might still be able to find it on DVD — Ebay is probably your best bet.

Crudbuster


Indeed I did stay home today instead of venturing to ZombieCon. Hate to have missed it, but I think it was for the best. Took it easy during the day and worked on a new short story. This evening, we ventured over to a friend's place for a fairly low-key Halloween gathering. Read a story to the good little boys and girls ("Demon Jar," which is coming up as November's featured story at HorrorWorld) and carved a jack-o'-lantern. Also threw back a few Buckshot ales, which are brewed here in Greensboro. I felt so much better after that, it had me wishing I'd thrown back a few sooner.

Oh yeah. Snagged a number of park-n-grab caches on the way over there, which was fun because my former co-worker and current geocaching nemesis, Cupdaisy, was at the party, and I got to rub it in.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Walking Zombie

I'm supposed to head over to ZombieCon in Chapel Hill in the morning, but I've been a bit under the weather this week, and I keep yo-yoing between feeling halfway decent and like I've been squashed by a giant walking stone statue. Not sure whether I'm going to have the oompf to make it tomorrow. The way I'm feeling right now, probably not...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Em, Damned-Ro


This past weekend, Mrs Death and I drove up to Waynesboro, VA, for Book Em, an event sponsored by the Waynesboro Police Department to promote literacy. It was a day-long affair, held at Kate Collins Middle School, where 60-plus authors—some local, some from as far away as the UK—gathered to sell and sign books. The early morning crowd was anything but—easily the smallest I've seen in the three years I've been an attending author—though I can't say as I was suprised, given the state of the economy. Hell, I can't afford to plunk down money to buy books. In fact, I probably would have been surprised to see a turnout as big as in past years. However, over the course of the day, patrons arrived in ebbing and flowing waves, occasionally pretty much filling the gymnasium where it it was held. I managed to move a few books—about the same number as I did last year—so, even after Book Em takes its 40%, I more than paid for my trip up there.

Book Em made for only a small part of the trip, though. Of special note was getting to hang out again with good ol' Andrea Locke's face, Elizabeth Jones (pictured), who writes kiddie fiction—and quite well; she's an Edgar-award winner. Anybody remember Andrea Locke? She was the magazine reviewer for Deathrealm magazine. I think everyone knows at this point that Ms. Locke was actually no less than five individuals, and Ms. Jones was the only female in the bunch (and the only one who didn't actually write reviews). Back in the good old days when she and her family lived here in town, we used to do a lot of camping together. I think this was the first time we've seen each other in a decade. Gad.

Other highlights include hanging out with the Beth Massie/Cortney Skinner dynamic duo; Beth's sister, Barb Lawson; Matt and Deena Warner; and Joan Vander Putten and her husband Tom. Joan was—way back in the darkest 1980s—a regular attendee of Ms. Massie's infamous Pseudocon and a bona fide Deathrealm author. We attended a rather bizarre production, called the River City Radio Hour, in downtown Waynesboro,which featured an SF/comedy skit penned by Mr. Warner himself and a howlingly funny diatribe by the right-irreverent Ms. Lawson. All good fun, and the local talent is in no way lacking.

No trip would be complete without geocaching, and Mrs Death and I did some considerable hunting—on the way up, while there, and on the way back. Much to our delight, we discovered that the Warners have become involved in this most sublime activity, so we spent yesterday morning caching around Staunton, VA, which is one of the most beautiful little towns I've ever encountered. I think our total number of finds for the weekend came to 38, give or take a couple. And I must say, it's always heartwarming to be a couple of hundred miles away from home, find a cache, and discover in the logbook the signature of one "Night-hawk, Oak Ridge, NC." Night-hawk is a local State Farm agent.

It's true; he's not unlike a bleedin' good neighbor.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

R.I.P. Harry Fassl


I just found out that a good old friend has passed away — Harry Fassl, who provided countless photo-illustrations for Deathrealm as well as many book covers, including the cover art for my anthology, Song of Cthulhu. I don't have many details yet, but he evidently came down with flu-like symptoms that devastated his health, and he passed away on Sunday, October 12.

Harry and I hadn't had that much contact in recent years, but all through the 90s, we got together every time Peg and I went to Chicago, usually a couple of times a year. One unpleasantly memorable trip in the early 90s, he came to our rescue when Peg's car broke down on Lakeshore Drive — in the midst of the July 4th fireworks display. We had had dinner together and intended to spend that evening with him and his S.O. Diana at their place, but we ended up stranded in the parking lot of Soldier Field.

Harry put a lot of his heart into the oftentimes unsettling images of his art, though like so many people I know whose works can be most disturbing, his heart always seemed very big and very warm — despite the fact that sometimes wore the face of a crusty old curmudgeon (which makes him something of a role model).

It's a shame to me that my contact with Harry (like too many people I came to know well during Deathrealm's heyday) gradually became more and more infrequent over the years. Now it's too late. But we had some great times, appreciated each other's work no end, and among all the people I've known in my life, he occupies a distinct place of honor. I'd like to have been able to tell him that, but based on the way we used to talk, I'm quite sure he knew it.

Godspeed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dichotomy

One of the hallmarks of my fiction, so I've been told by more than one critical reader, is its graphic depiction of beauty, frequently in the setting, paired with an equally powerful but sometimes more subtle portrayal of horror. I think that's a very astute observation. I don't know about the horror, but I know precisely whence my appreciation of natural beauty sprang. Pics from my old neighborhood below, from today's walk around Lake Lanier. They could just as easily depict the area anytime from now back to 1961, when my family moved there. (Click on the photos for larger views.)


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of Buckwheat, Catalpas, and Geocaches


Mrs Death and I, along with our friends, the Albaneses (a.k.a. Team Alb), said the hell with economic crises, hit the road a good hour before dawn, and set out for Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, VA. For us, it's been a longstanding annual October tradition to go up to the mill, have buckwheat pancakes for breakfast at the little restaurant, wander about enjoying the beautiful mountain setting, and grab our Halloween pumpkins from a little produce stand on highway 58. We did all these things, and this year we had the added bonus of hunting several geocaches.

One of our stops was near the little community of Critz, at the R. J. Reynolds family homestead. There's a cache there named "The Old Catalpa," a reference to the rather imposing tree that stands next to the Reynolds' house. It's a gnarly old beast that could just about stand in for the mean tree in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, and while we were fortunate enough not to encounter it, judging from the photos taken by other cachers, it's also home to one of the biggest wolf spiders ever to lumber across the face of the planet. Big, big freakin' wolf spider. We ignored the piles of human bones strewn around the base of the tree and went on to find the cache, but when we heard trees falling in the distance, we got out of there fast, just in case the eight-legged freak was onto us.

I started going to Mabry Mill with my family (and sometimes other friends) when I was a wee young 'un, and I always enjoyed it; in my teenage years, it became just another boring family activity; but now, we really look forward to going every year. This outing was particularly enjoyable, as geocaching really do make everything mo better.

Even economic crises.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Naught for Norton

Customer service is just about a thing of the past, but the other night, I think I discovered the hole at rock-bottom. Back in the old days (you know, the 20th Century), I used to swear by Norton security protects, and my mom has been running the Norton Security Suite 2005 for some time with no problem.

Mom isn't exactly tech-savvy, so in my limited capacity, I've always helped her out on the computer as best I can. Over the past several years, I've renewed countless subscriptions to countless computer security programs, and as of early Saturday evening, I figured that just another program renewal at the Symantec Web site couldn't really be a major deal.

How wrong I was.

Okay, I go to the Symantec Web site, select the product I want, and choose to renew the subscription to the existing product rather than upgrade. Once payment is sent, they email the subscription key code that keeps Live Update active for another year, and you're good to go. And I would have been, had they bothered in their confirmation email to send me the subscription key code that they're supposed to.

Alas, that's apparently too much to ask.

Without the code, I have nothing to enter into the Norton program when I select "renew." So I go to their email support and try to explain the problem. However, without the subscription key code, the mail won't even get sent to them.

Then I go to their live chat area (which only works with Internet Explorer; Firefox is apparently right out), which advertises "virtually no waiting time," and am plunked into the queue at #37. Mind you, in the eastern United States, this is at 1:00 a.m., but guess where their customer support is located. So I wait 30 minutes and get down to #33 in the queue. I decide to try their phone support line. Estimated waiting time: 30 minutes.

Actual waiting time: one hour, 30 minutes-plus.

Fortunately, I had some things to occupy my attention while, every five minutes, the pleasant bitch interrupts the harp music to assure me that my call is very important and will be answered in the order it was received. I did nod off a few times, but there was no risk of missing out on the call being answered, that much was certain. Long about 3:00 a.m., an Indian chap finally answers, and it's at that moment that my cell phone battery gives up the ghost. Probably a good thing, as by this time, I was not going to be even slightly polite.

One thing the email option will allow you to do without the subscription key code is request a refund. So this I did (and in retrospect, I was far more polite than I meant to be), only to have it answered by some other inept Indian, who assured me that I didn't need a code because I was just renewing the Live Update subscription rather than purchasing a new product.

I do wish the bugger could have explained that to my mom's Norton program, which continued to stubbornly ask for a subscription key to continue the service.

And these fuckers are engaged to provide security for one's computer? Well, one guess as to who is no longer protecting Mom's.

While I've never had any significant technical problems with Symantec's programs, with me, it's customer service that makes or breaks a deal. These idiots have broken this one irreparably.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mr. Dickie Is Too Kind


In Ron Dickie's review of Other Gods in the October edition of HorrorWorld, he remarks that "There is nothing quite like opening a book by an author who fills you with confidence. When I read a Stephen Mark Rainey story or novel, I am confident I will be entertained, impressed, and left wanting more."

A most gratifying statement. Especially when he follows it up with "Sixteen stories spanning twenty years of terrorizing readers are what await between the covers of Rainey’s Other Gods, and once again, my confidence in his skills has been upheld."

Read Ron's entire piece here (scroll down to the fourth review). And if you're in need of something to read to get you in the Halloween spirit, well...Jeez...this just might do it for you.

Info here: www.stephenmarkrainey.com/othergods.htm

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The New Christy Minstrels and Gimme a "K"


The New Christy Minstrels (L–R): Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, Becky Jo Benson, Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, Clarence Treat

Back in the early 60s, The New Christy Minstrels were essentially my introduction to music. I didn't know folk music from classical, or rock n' roll from jazz, but I knew I loved the stuff on those New Christy Minstrels albums. Over the years, I've never lost an ounce of my appreciation for them, and if anything, I enjoy that music now more than I ever did. I still have all the original 33-1/3 LPs that my parents owned, and I also have the relatively recent CD issues of most of their albums. Off and on over the years, I've mucked about playing guitar and singing, and the one group whose music I could pretty much nail (insofar as an individual could do so) was the New Christy Minstrels.

In the early 60s, as music made fairly radical new strides with the British rock invasion, for many, it was easy to forget the significant contributions of contemporary folk groups, such as the New Christies, the Brothers Four, the Kingston Trio, the Journeymen (co-founded by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas), and more. Of them, the New Christies had the biggest following and the most longevity — and they launched musical careers for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and others. And who can forget Barry McGuire's "The Eve of Destruction," which was one of those songs that trespassed into that weird netherland between brilliance and unlistenable claptrap?

Dozens and dozens of individuals came and went during the history of the New Christy Minstrels, all under the direction of their mastermind, Randy Sparks. But for their first several albums, there was a core group of musicians and singers that gave them an unmistakable identity, and that was the group that I fell in love with as a kid, and that I'm still in love with today. Besides Randy Sparks and Barry McGuire, they included Gayle Caldwell, Dolan Ellis, Barry Kane, Jackie Miller, Art Podell, Larry Ramos, Clarence Treat, and Nick Woods.

Despite their longevity, the New Christies, as far as I knew, had all retired at some point during the past couple of decades, and I know a number of them have passed on. So imagine my delight when I discovered, a few short years ago, that several of the founding members had gotten back together and occasionally played at various venues around the country. In fact, if you had ample house space and could guarantee a number of attendees, they'd come and stay at your place and play and sing in your living room.

And now they're touring again.

So last night, Mrs. Death and I packed up our GPSrs and went down to Albemarle, just a ways south of here, and went to see The New Christy Minstrels play a three-hour show at the Stanley County Agri-Civic Center. We left plenty early and went geocaching all the way down, snagging several finds at some very neat and scenic locations (see the haunted house below). We had a good dinner at a little seafood restaurant, and then arrived at the civic center. I had expected maybe a medium-sized crowd, composed largely of people a bit older than I; well, most of the attendees were a bit older than I, but there was a fairly massive number of them. The parking lot was full, and the auditorium was packed, but Mrs. Death and I were lucky enough to get seats right in the center, in the ninth row, which was damn near a perfect spot. Four of the original members (Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, and Clarence Treat), were joined by relative newcomers Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, and Becky Jo Benson, all of whom showed that Randy Sparks can still grab some of the finest musical talent there is to grab. They played mostly my old favorites, and they sounded as good as they ever did. No creaky, groaning bodies and voices here — just as much vigor and enthusiasm as I would have expected from a troupe of thirty-year-olds. At the opening and between songs, Randy Sparks proved himself an all-around entertainer, relating all kinds of anecdotes about the musicians, the group's history, and the times whence they sprang.

After the show, much to my excitement, we got to meet the group, as they came out to the lobby to sign autographs and chat. Those folks have no idea how much the experience meant to me. Or maybe they do. I'm sure that, especially among people in my age group, my appreciation of the New Christies is not unique.

When Mrs. Death and I hit the road again, we made short work of about a dozen geocaches in Albemarle, most of which were named "Gimme a [insert letter of the alphabet here]." About the time we finished up (around 1:00 AM), a thick, blinding fog enveloped everything, and driving back to Greensboro, we felt like we were right in the middle of The Mist. Hell, for all I know, we were surrounded by monstrous critters all the way home, but we were fortunate enough not to be accosted. We pulled in our driveway about 2:30 AM, exhausted but still kind of giddy.

I haven't blogged much lately, or posted any writing news, because there have been some outside issues that have consumed virtually all of my attention for some time now. Not the kind of thing I care to blog about. But last night, the world was good; the show was exhilarating, and the caching got my blood fired up.

The haunted house was an extra freebie.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS


As I mentioned a wee while back, Toho's 1966 WWE extravaganza, War of the Gargantuas, is now available domestically on DVD, paired with 1957's Rodan (yeah, my namesake; make something of it!). It seems something of an odd combo, since the movies were originally released quite a few years apart, by different distributing companies; but since Classic Media owns the rights, and they're putting out the package—which features the U.S. and Japanese versions of both—for the price of a single movie, I have absolutely no complaints.

I haven't looked at Rodan yet, so I'll reserve comments on it for later. I did watch both versions of Gargantuas back-to-back, though, so you'll have to bear with me if I suddenly excuse myself to go smash a few buildings and chow on a few hapless bystanders.

Originally titled The Frankenstein Brothers: Sanda vs. Gaira, the film is a sequel to 1965's Frankenstein Conquers the World (released on DVD last year by Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock). The Japanese version makes the connection clear, though the English dialogue is altered to remove any references to Toho's Frankenstein. It's of little consequence, as the creatures are both "offshoots" of the monster in the preceding movie.

Over the years, the terms most often used by reviewers to describe War of the Gargantuas are "cheesy," "tedious," "insipid," "goofy," and so forth, though genre fans often rate the movie relatively high on the daikaiju scale. Me, I put it right at the top of the daikaiju scale, and I'll unabashedly state that it's one of my all-time favorite monster movies. I would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half or so.

It's a rare situation indeed in which the U.S. release of a Toho movie is superior to the original Japanese version, but War of the Gargantuas is one of them. Its running time is slightly longer; the editing job of the original work print is arguably more skillful; and, of all things, the alteration of Akira Ifukube's original score—usually one of the worst things a domestic releasing firm can do—mostly works to the film's benefit. While I am a diehard fan of Akira Ifukube's music—both his film scores and classical compositions—I just can't abide the monotonous military march that rambles on and on endlessly behind the action scenes throughout the original version. The generic music that replaces it may be nothing to write home about, but at least it punctuates the action in much more satisfying fashion. And the best of Ifukube's music—the eerie, theramin-based main theme and the re-orchestrated motifs from Frankenstein Conquers the World—are thankfully left intact. In some places, cues from Monster Zero have also been effectively inserted. My understanding is that Henry Saperstein, the U.S. producer (and Toho's co-financier), had no love for Ifukube's martial themes either and felt no shame in "fixing" them. Can't fault him for that!

For a Toho daikaiju pic, War of the Gargantuas is unique in several ways, one of the foremost being that Gaira, the green one, is shown devouring humans. In fact, the whole reason for his rampage is to find food. There's something far more menacing about a monstrous critter with an appetite for human flesh than one that comes to town because it likes to dine on fissionable materials. Secondly, the anthropomorphic monsters act and interact with distinct intelligence, unlike the reptilian monsters that generally attack like some impersonal force of nature. Relative to this point, the monster suits are constructed so that we see the actors' actual eyes, rather than painted Ping Pong balls; as such, the Gargantuas' faces are more than customarily expressive, and Gaira's face in particular can be quite horrifying. In numerous scenes, the lighting and camera angles imbue him with a demonic look, reminiscent of Linda Blair's makeup in The Exorcist. Let me tell you, if I were out geocaching one day and saw Gaira pounding through the forest toward me, my drawers would be shitting themselves.

At the movie's time, Eiji Tsuburaya's special effect work was at its pinnacle, and he and his crew outdid themselves for this one, particularly during Gaira's rampage through the mountainous countryside and the subsequent military attack. I find the well-staged, tactically sound counterattack on the monster(s) highly engaging, especially the all-out laser and maser-cannon assault on Gaira, just before Sanda's appearance (which, again, is better staged in the American version). It's one of those rare moments in Toho's monster history when the human forces very nearly come out on top, and the monsters suffer and express physical pain.

Toho's cast of regulars, including Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, Jun Tazaki, Yoshifumi Tajima, and others, are joined by Russ Tamblyn, who undeniably sleepwalked through his role as Dr. Stewart. However, he's perfectly acceptable in the part; he looks and sounds just like one of the physicians I knew back in my old hometown at the time. If anything, Dr. Southworth might have been less animated....

At any rate, this release of War of the Gargantuas actually had me excited about a giant monster movie again. That's certainly been a long time coming. There's not much in the way of Classic Media's customary extras in the package (though there is an hour-long documentary called "Shrinking Godzilla Down to Size," produced by Steve Ryfle and my friend Ed Godziszewski), but for two versions of two very worthwhile movies, it's damn near a steal. Today, I am a happy boy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Mystery!


I just watched Goldfinger for about the hundredth time because, with Quantum of Solace coming up in the not-to-distant future, I got a 007 hankering. And—the horror!—I just discovered that, before Oddjob knocks out Bond in the hotel suite, there are six bottles in the door of the refrigerator. When Bond wakes up, there are seven bottles. (The one he was holding when Oddjob knocked him out is still lying on the floor.)

So, evidently, someone placed an extra bottle in the refrigerator door while Bond was unconscious. What mystery!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Torture

There are those who believe that there is never justification for torture. I'm not so sure. In fact, I would not be deeply bothered if certain responsible parties were condemned to a lifetime of having to actually make use of that which they have wrought.

For instance, the designers of the runners on the doors to my garden shed. Suffice it to say that, on occasion, when I open the shed doors to remove the lawn mower, one of the doors falls off. Now I'm not Bob Vila, but I can deal with your average mechanical device without stumbling. When you look at how the doors hang on the runners, I don't see how the damned door falls off at all. Then it requires a small act of God to actually get it back together. I allotted just over an hour today for the usual mowing and trim work; I ended up spending half the day, mostly trying to get that damned shed back together. Oh, kyrie eleison.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Smashing


The compulsion to watch giant monsters trample Japan is, in my life, a chronic malady that I've long since learned to live with. From the day I first saw Godzilla, King of the Monsters, somewhere around age four, I've been hooked, and while my enthusiasm for daikaiju movies waxes and wanes somewhat, it never wanes very far. Thanks be to ye godz, the majority of Toho's monster flicks are available domestically on DVD—both English and Japanese versions—so these past few weeks, it has been necessary to plug in some of them. Last night, I even broke down and watched Gamera's first outing, Gammera, the Invincible (the American version, starring Brian Donlevy, Albert Dekker, and Dick O'Neill, just to be different).

One of the best bits of news I've recently received is that my all-time favorite, non-Godzilla daikaiju movie, War of the Gargantuas, is scheduled for DVD release by Classic Media next month—on a double-feature with the original Rodan. The DVD is supposed to include both the original Japanese and U.S. release versions, which in the case of Rodan is most welcome, since the original Japanese version is markedly superior to the 1957 King Brothers U.S. release. War of the Gargantuas is one of the rare cases in which the U.S. release trumps the original Japanese, the main reason being that it contains additional special effects scenes (including the infamous scene of Gaira, the green one, spitting out the clothes of the woman he just et at Haneda airport, which was excised from the Japanese version). While some might disagree, I also find Akira Ifukube's battle march, which plays endlessly during the military's attack on Gaira, monotonous to the point of tedium. The U.S. version replaces it with some stock action music (which actually works well) and a few passages from Ifukube's superior score to Destroy All Monsters.

It's no exaggeration to say that my first viewing of War of the Gargantuas, which came to town on a double-bill with Monster Zero, in 1970, was one of the pivotal moments of my youth. A good DVD release has been a long time coming, and I kinda can't wait.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Witness to One of Nature's Monumental Struggles...

It seemed like just the kind of afternoon to go on a three-mile hike on the Reedy Fork Trail when I got off of work, so that's what I did. Snagged a couple of caches and got in some good exercise. While on my way back, I heard the distinctive sound of a cicada chirping, as well as some furious disturbance in the nearby leaves. Going to check it out, I saw what appeared to be a strange, massive insect thrashing about wildly; turns out, however, it was two fairly massive insects engaged in a violent life-or-death struggle. One was the cicada I had heard; the other was a giant hornet, its legs wrapped around its prey, its stinger frantically trying to pierce the other's carapace.

Generally, my policy in such matters of nature is nonintervention. I have no fondness for insects of any variety, that I can tell you. However, in this case, it sounded for all the world like that cicada was screaming in agony. So, figuring what the hell, I gave one deft jab of my bamboo whacky stick, and the hornet fell away in two twitching pieces. The cicada continued to thrash for a few moments, then it shook itself like an annoyed, wet dog, and...for a second...it cocked its body as if it were looking at me and saying, "Dude, thanks." Then it wandered on off, seemingly little the worse for wear.

Of course, that poke of my whacky stick stood an equal chance of killing either or both. It was a the luck of the draw that spared the cicada. Frankly, I figured he was already a goner. After my recent experience with flying critters of the stinging variety, though, I'm kind of glad it went the way it did.

I reckon now the cicada has gone off to eat somebody's trees.

Little bastard.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nostalgia

Back in the good old dark ages of my youth (the orange and green plaid 70s), there was a sign by the nearby lake that said "No Dumping." So my friend Steve and I took some poster board, painted an "H" the same size and style as the type on the sign, laminated it, and attached it to the sign with with Super Glue so it read "No Humping." This was quality craftsmanship, and innocent passersby would never know without close examination that the sign had been cleverly altered. For most of the rest of the 20th Century, that sign remained in that state. In fact, it came down only a few years ago.

Now, on a nearby regulatory sign, someone has carved in crude letters, "No Fucking."

Mon dieu. Oh, but for the good old days of putting thought and care into your work.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Eleven...


...geocaches found between 0600 and 0900 this morning. Pretty good haul; I waded through bogs, briers, poison plants, and giant spiders to reach them. Now, and for the next 72 hours or so, it's feverish work on the outline for my upcoming project—the identity of which some of you have no doubt guessed.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Deadline Time Again...

So it'll be a working holiday weekend. Not that I mind. It's another goooood project.

For completely different reasons, I have to get up at 0500 in the morning, and by 0600, I'll be hard at some geocaching before settling down to work. So I'm hyped.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Occult Detective Tackles OTHER GODS...

...with devastating consequences.

Occult Detective Reviews Other Gods

I've been trashed, and I've been trashed, but this time, I've been really trashed.

Oh, wait, that's only because I've got me a big ol' habanero martini.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Matt Cardin's Daemonyx


A couple of months back at Mo*Con, I picked up from Matt Cardin a five-track CD sampler from his Daemonyx: Curse of the Daimon album. I've listened to it quite a few times since then, but alas, I'm only now getting around to commenting on it.

Bottom line is...the sampler just isn't enough. I gotta have more. (And not just more cowbell!)

This is electronica at its best. It's melodic with a distinctly dark edge; never just noisy but laden with pounding percussion, background sound effects, and voices speaking in ominous, hushed tones ("Is there someone inside you?" "Demons are taking over the world!"). The second track, "Daimonica," is probably my favorite, running about four and half minutes long, with a chiming melody somewhat reminiscent of the theme to Phantasm, and a layer of the aforementioned voices running behind the music through the entire track. Most of the lines are muted and difficult to understand, but certain key words occasionally come through—such as "the exalted flow of the time-space continuum"—and they draw your attention deep into the composition.

Track three, "The Face of the Deep," is a little harder edged, with what sounds like a genuine Hammond organ overlaying the repetitive rhythm about two-thirds of the way through the piece. Track four, "The Streets of Vastarien" (if you've read Thomas Ligotti, you'll recognize the title) has some of the distinctive, ethereal qualities of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks score, with deep, pulsing percussion in the background that's a bit unsettling.

There are a couple of free new tracks available at Matt's MySpace page; you can check them out here: www.myspace.com/daemonyx. If you're the least bit keen on mellow but dark electronica, this ought to delight you as much as it does me.

Yes, I want the whole thing. I gotta have it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fairystone Rocks!


One of the neatest things about geocaching is that it takes Mrs Death and me to all kinds of places that we would otherwise never visit. In the last four months, I've seen more of Greensboro than I've seen in twenty-plus years, and I'm getting out frequently into the surrounding environs, which has given me a whole new appreciation for the picturesque quality of much of the local country.

Today, Mrs Death and our goodest friends, the Albaneses, made a nice day trip up to Fairystone Park, Virginia. In my younger days, I spent a fair amount of time at Fairystone, as there's a lake for swimming, a decent campground, and an impressive number of hiking trails. And nowadays, a bunch of geocaches. Of course, it was the caches that brought us back to the park.

Fairystones are crystals of staurolite, which often form the shape of a cross (see the photo above, which is from the Stone Cross Museum). They're absolutely everywhere around the park. While on the trail to one of the caches, we found what looked like a fairystone fountain—a mass of the stones deposited along the trail by recent rains. Legend has it that this area was once home to a gaggle of wood nymphs, and when they heard of Christ's crucifixion, they wept, their tears crystallizing into stone crosses. Yes, it's an odd one, but back in the olden days, it was among the locale's most prominent stories.

While we were on the trail (one of many we discovered), we came upon a couple of iron mines, which I had no idea existed. They're tucked back in the woods, dug into walls of slate, their entrances now blocked by iron trellises. Looking into them, you can see where the ceilings have caved in, and being out here among them gave me a lonely, almost creepy feeling. Back in the early 20th century, the area was a thriving town called Fayerdale, and mining was the primary industry. We, of course, were there mining for caches, which took some dedicated hunting, but we finally made the finds.

Discovering this little remnant of history, so close to where I grew up, is just one of those things in life I consider downright cool. As always, it gets the mind working toward some new, scary tale. And, of course, I added a few numbers to the tally of caches found.

This was all part of the celebration of our 22nd wedding anniversary, which was today. Matter of fact, our daughter very thoughtfully called to wish us happy anniversary. Mrs Death said to her, "Just think, I've had to put up with your father for the past 22 years," to which she responded, "No, Mom, he's had to put up with you."

She is a good and acceptable daughter. I owe her a dollar.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

ISLAND OF TERROR


Busy weekend here; mostly domestic chores, vehicle maintenance, a spot of creative work. I tell you, though, tonight I found myself seized by an insatiable craving to watch a drive-in movie. Alas, as the drive-in was kind of out of reach, I settled for putting on my old VHS copy of Island of Terror, one of my favorite 1960s-vintage SF/horror flicks. Now, in my younger days, I never actually saw it at the drive-in; in fact, I don't think I managed to see it at all until I was well on my way to becoming an old fart. It showed up in TV Guide fairly frequently when I was a kid, but for whatever reasons, I never managed to catch it. I recollect turning a magnificent shade of green when good ol' Robert Cox (he was pretty much Linus to my Charlie Brown) saw it on Shock Theater and described it to me in very gory detail: "The professor, like, gets his arm chopped off and everything and, like, blood spews everywhere, you know?"

It really is the perfect drive-in movie, starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, and Niall MacGinnis (of Curse of the Demon fame). A team of scientists, hoping to find a cure for cancer, go to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to conduct experiments using radiation. Needless to say, it goes wrong. The scientists are all mysteriously killed, and people (and animals) suddenly begin turning up with all their bones missing. The local doctor, baffled, calls in renowned physician Peter Cushing, who, also baffled, calls in renowned researcher Edward Judd, who finds himself—perhaps not unpredictably—baffled by the deadly goings-on. Turns out that the experiments have created these huge, mutated, cell-like critters that snag you with a proboscis, liquify your bones, and then suck them out through said proboscis. Mayhem ensues, lots of people die, and the professor, like, gets his arm chopped off and everything and, like, blood spews everywhere, you know?

Great, great little flick. The island setting, both picturesque and gloomy, creates the perfect spooky atmosphere. The sound effect that precedes the creatures' appearance is an eerie, warbling, electronic whistle (created by Barry Gray, composer of the score to Space: 1999, et. al.), and it's used to unnerving effect, much like the scary sound effects in Fiend Without a Face, another of my favorite oldies. The critters themselves—described in the old TV guide listings as "turtle-like"—tread the line between silly and horrifying, though they're more like knobby starfish with long, tentacular appendages than turtles. They reproduce by fission, and there's a wonderful scene where the process is shown in grotesque detail. The occasional bits of gore may be primitive by today's standards, but they punch just the right buttons to accentuate the horror in the film.

A few slow moments impede forward progress now and again, such as the apparently suspense-building scene, filmed in real time, of Cushing and Judd putting on radiation suits, from top to bottom, including gloves and air hoses. (This is the time to make popcorn.)

Despite these little hitches, Island of Terror stands out as a superb example of 1960s British SF/horror. I recorded it many years ago from American Movie Classics, when they still aired movies with no commercials. It's hard to find gems like this on TV anymore, though; so many of the oldies but goodies are no longer broadcast, those slots having been given away to the latest crop of rancid CGI monstrosities of Sci Fi channel caliber. Fortunately, it's easier than it ever has been to find a lot of these marvelous flicks on DVD, oftentimes cheap, sometimes with extra features aplenty. Unfortunately, I don't believe Island of Terror is one of them. It's available on Region 2-encoded PAL DVDs, the standard in the UK, but unplayable on most US systems.

Alas.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

KEEPERS OF THE DEAD


Bob Freeman's Keepers of the Dead continues the saga of Cairnwood Manor and its resident population of werewolves, vampires, zombies, gargoyles, and sorcerers, introduced in his first novel, Shadows Over Somerset. Though some prior knowledge doesn't hurt, Keepers qualifies as much as a standalone novel as it does a sequel.

Cairnwood Manor, an ancient seat of magical power, and the Cairnwood family, who are charged with preventing that power falling into darker hands than theirs, are under seige by a rival clan—not to mention those insidious others who would play both sides against the other for their own purposes. Michael Cairnwood, the new lord of the manor, has made a painful return from brink of death and found that circumstances on the homefront are anything but what he might desire, particularly since he and his enemies happen to share a common ancestry.

The first thing I discovered is that Keepers, much like its predecessor, is loaded with characters—almost too many to keep track of—and they just keep coming over the course of the book. To his credit, Mr. Freeman devotes enough space to the primary players to define and hone their personalities; also to his credit, he renders none of them in pure black and white. It's often difficult to delineate protagonists and antagonists, since all have their unique motivations and none fall easily into the cliched role of hero/villain. It's refreshing to find that the ostensible protagonists are hardly creatures of goodness and light and the antagonists aren't simply wicked because being wicked is just so much damned fun.

The downside of all this is that, particularly in the opening chapters, there's a lot more telling than showing, with characters' personalities and purposes simply described rather than developed naturally. For a time, it's difficult to distinguish who belongs to which clan and whether he or she is going to be important to the plot. Characters come and go, oftentimes killed off before their relevance seems firmly established.

Conversely, once the main characters begin to become real and have evoked some reader sympathy, Freeman pulls no punches and establishes a sense of tragedy when their fates are less than happy. I admire the fact that not everyone who meets a bad end does so because they're just too nasty to live, and a few of these fateful moments prove to be rather poignant.

Make no mistake, there are unhappy ends aplenty. The novel's pace is oftentimes breakneck, and vicious fighting between supernatural beasties abounds. Some of it manages to be exciting, yet it tends to overshadow the plot's more subtle intrigue, which is really what holds this book together. Freeman has a capable hand for suspense, and I would like to have seen a tad more of it, rather than another knock-down-drag-out altercation.

The edition I read was an uncorrected proof copy, and I hope some of the rough edges will be ironed out in the regular edition. A lot of the errors consist of subject-verb tense disagreement, various grammar usage issues, and other such problems, which are at best distracting and at worst exasperating. Writers do need good editors (yours truly, without question); I trust Black Death Books has one on hand...?

There's no question that Keepers is a better novel than Shadows Over Somerset. Knowing that Mr. Freeman is more than a little dedicated to his craft, I foresee bigger and better things on the horizon for him. I'll be curious to see where he goes from here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

OTHER GODS Scares BQueen Out of Her Bonnet


HorrorWatch's BQueen has just given Other Gods the royal review treatment. The HorrorWatch review site isn't working properly at the moment, so she's put the review on her blog until it can be posted at its regular home.

I'm rather fond of this line: "I wouldn't recommend you read Other Gods before bedtime unless your significant other actually likes being woken up by you telling them you just read a scary story and can't sleep and did they hear that noise and why are they looking at you like that?."

I concur.

I'm not sure whether it's available to the public at large or just MySpace members, but it's worth checking out the whole thing here:

BQueen Reviews Other Gods

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sometimes Geocaching Yields Unexpected Horrors


When I’m out geocaching, I’m very careful about where I put my hands. I’ve encountered all kinds of nasties out in the wild, black widow spiders being among the most common. Found a half dozen of them, just last week.

Yesterday, I happened upon something a little different. I lifted a stone and unearthed both a geocache and some kind of prehistoric-looking arthropod of considerable size, the likes of which I have never seen. All legs, pincers, and feelers, and fast-moving as hell. Thankfully, it vacated the premises quickly, knocking over a few trees and smashing a car in the process, clearing the way for me to claim the cache unmolested.

Don’t know what it was, but I hope to never see such a thing ever again.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sometimes Geocaching Yields Unexpected Fruits


Today, on my way back to Greensboro from Virginia, I stopped off at a few geocaches, and—lo and behold—out from one of them popped one of the worst movies since Plan 9 From Outer Space. Needless to say, this gave me a rare thrill of ecstasy.

I saw Santy Claus at the theater when I was four or five years old. I have vague recollections of a big snowfall and being certain that there were Martians lurking in the snow-covered woods. (There probably were, you know.)

Something tells me that, this Christmas season, the Martians will be coming back.

Tom Piccirilli, eat your heart out.

Otherwise, it was a very fine weekend, mostly hanging out with my friends, the Albaneses; eating way too much food; and hollering, "I gotta have more cowbell!" just because it seemed the thing to do at the time. Today, I think I pretty much worked off the extra goodies, by going after a few caches that took some significant exertion...to put it mildly.

Oh my aching body.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bummed


Our next-door neighbors of the past four years, Paul and Jamie (whom I've mentioned many times hereabouts, pictured), left today to move out west, so a big old wave of depression has fallen upon me. They're a young couple — about the same age as our daughter — and Jamie is well on her way to becoming a psychologist, as she passed her dissertation last month. When they moved in back in 2004, we hit it off right away, and we've good friends ever since. Since March of this year, they've been our regular geocaching partners, and we've had a slew of great adventures out on the trail (not to mention underground). We knew they were going to be moving at some point, but it always seemed somewhere off in the future. Not anymore.

In all the years Peg and I have been married, we haven't really had neighbors that we could just pop in and out with, share dinner on one of our respective patios whenever we felt like it, look after each other's critters, watch movies on weekends, and all that nice stuff. They are just good, good people, and I'm glad we had these past few years to spend together. I really hope their move is everything they want it to be.

Last night, we had a final dinner together. They left us a photo of them and a really beautiful note, so we have that reminder.

I am so going to miss these folks.

I did get a little cheerer-upper this evening; a noteworthy and well-paying publication wants to use one of my older stories in an upcoming issue, so that's one of those deals I can't rightly refuse. No details just now, but definitely later.

And I hiked four miles on the trail this afternoon. A wee bit pooped, yes we are.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yellowjacket Hell

That was our front porch for the past couple of weeks. We've had this old chair sitting out there, which should have been dumped years ago, but Mrs Death has always enjoyed sitting in it when going out to have a smoke. Several days back, she sat down, and a couple of very rude yellowjackets came round and stung her on the arm. I took a look at the chair, and sure enough, a horde of the little bastards had made a nest underneath it. I hit the nest with some Raid, but that was only sufficient to kill a handful; the rest of them got riled. Four stings on the leg for me.

So I let them be for a time, but the nest got bigger and bigger, and after a time, the porch pretty much no longer belonged to us.

Last night, we hosted a surprise party at our place for Sir William Bill Trotter, so I made up my mind to wage all-out war on the interlopers before our guests arrived.

Phase 1: Removing the Nest
I have to get dangerously close to the nest to loop a long cord around the legs of the chair, and several buzz by on a recon mission, but I just smile and wave, allaying their suspicions. "Stupid human would not have audacity to meddle in yellowjacket affairs," and all that. Guess what, rabble.

Giving myself a good twenty feet of slack, I go out into the yard and began pulling. I drag that chair clean off the porch and into the yard, and now the horde is all abuzz, zooming here and there, creating one helluva dark cloud over the chair. I tug that chair to the edge of the yard, now having to dodge the occasional angry scout.

Phase 2: The Garden Hose
With the chair and the main part of the nest now a good fifty feet from the house, I hit the nest with a high-pressure stream, which in no time dislodges it from the chair and stirs up yet another cloud of critters, which soon cover up the whole sky. I'm about thirty feet from the chair, but one of the fuckers finds me and zaps me on the shin. An ugly war wound.

After about ten minutes, the chair is a sopping mess but appears critter-free. Now I return my attention to the front porch, which is alive with the things, and I realize there was a second nest (or perhaps an outpost of the first) in a big cardboard box that had been behind the chair. I turn the water on the box for a full half hour and watch streams of dead and dying yellowjackets gushing over the edge of the porch into the shrubs. But the main cloud shows little sign of thinning, and I realize that, in order to turn off the water, I must get within ten feet of the furious horde.

I make a fast dash to the spigot, then a quantum leap back out to the yard. No stings this time.

Phase 3: First Raid!
For good measure, I bring out the bug spray and hit the chair, which actually still contains quite a few very angry vescula squamosas. Five minutes later, there appears to be nothing left alive. However, there are still plenty crawling around the devastated nest on the ground — which is now surrounded by thousands of larva that have fallen out of it. Ants are carrying away larva by the score, and though I'm tempted to let them have their way, I'm taking no chances. A few good barrages of Raid, and this corner of battlefield is a graveyard: nothing, absolutely nothing is left alive.

Phase 4: Second Raid!
The porch remains abuzz for another four hours. With guests on the way, I know it will be bad news if they come to the front door, so I put up a sign directing them around back. Then, as the sun begins to set, the yellowjackets retreat into the drenched but evidently still functional box. Let no mortal combat interfere with the regularly scheduled beauty sleep!

WIth the garden claw, I open up the top of the box and am stunned — STUNNED, I tell you — to see that THOUSANDS of the enemy still survive, and are arranged in the most beautiful, symmetrical rows in the bottom of the box. Their numbers make my heart tremble, for if they should suddenly converge on me...

But no...they're right where I want them.

I close the box except for one corner, which I bend upward to create an opening. Then, through it, I apply a constant stream of Raid until the can is almost empty. A few of the beasts come buzzing out and attack the porchlight, making themselves relatively easy targets for the remaining spray. They weave in the air and then plummet. Others stagger out of the box and keel over, and as more and more of them pile up on the porch, the floor becomes a vast, mass yellowjacket grave. This is a grim but awe-inspiring sight.

Within ten minutes, no sign of life remains.

Later, a few solitary survivors zoom around the house in confusion. Before bedtime, I take a final look at the porch.

It is done.

The Aftermath
This morning, I take a look into the box. It's loaded with corpses, and thousands of them litter the floor. The chair is removed to the street, where it will be picked up with the trash this week.

But now I am hearing a constant buzzing, somewhere in the distance. I'm not sure I like the suggestion of airborne shapes that flicker past my window or even through the living room. I've seen a couple of wasps watching me suspiciously, as if aware that I might have had something to do with the wanton destruction of a number of their distant kin. Now and again, I feel the creepy-crawlies, as if something is walking around the back of my neck.

If something happens to me, I want you to know I only did what I had to. It was a righteous battle, and I regret nothing.

I fear I must soon visit WalMart to buy more Raid.

Yes. I must have more.