The paperback edition of The Destroyer of Worlds is being published today. You can pick it up at your local indie bookstore or use one of the online order links below (the book is still available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook editions as well).
Written and directed by Stephen Cognetti, Hell House LLC concerns a 2009 haunted house attraction staged in the abandoned Abaddon Hotel in Rockland County, New York. On opening night, a mysterious disaster claims the lives of fifteen people. Five years later, a crew making a documentary about Hell House fall victim to the same dark forces that caused the original tragedy. The movie you end up watching is a meta-documentary that combines video from both 2009 and 2014.
This documentary framing helps Hell House avoid the pacing problems that bog down too many found-footage films. And while there are some jump scares, most of the tension comes from the very Lovecraftian sense of mounting dread as you watch these doomed people ignore danger sign after danger sign until it’s too late.
Cognetti followed up Hell House with two direct sequels that expand on the Abaddon Hotel’s mythology and change the scenario just enough that you don’t feel like you’re watching the same movie three times in a row.
Last year brought a spinoff sequel, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor, which shifts the setting to an isolated mansion in the same county as the Abaddon Hotel. The backstory here is that in 1989, Eleanor Carmichael and her daughter Catherine were brutally murdered in the manor, while her husband, Arthur, and her son, Patrick, went missing; police discovered a single set of footprints in the snow leading away from the house. The mystery of what happened remains unsolved.
Fast forward to 2021. An internet sleuth named Margo Bentley arranges to rent the Carmichael Manor for five days. She brings along her girlfriend, Rebecca, her brother, Chase, and some cameras to record the ghosts who are rumored to haunt the manor.
Like the original Hell House, Carmichael Manor is structured as a documentary, so we know from the outset that none of these three are getting out alive, but even without the upfront spoiler, it wouldn’t be hard to guess the ending. During her initial walkthrough of the property, Margo asks the rental agent what’s behind the locked pair of French doors in the upstairs hallway. “Old storage,” he replies, vaguely. “I don’t even have a key for it anymore.” After he leaves, Margo gets the doors open and finds that the stored items include a pair of life-sized clown mannequins:
This is the point where I’d be speed-dialing the rental office to find out whether it’s too late to get my deposit back, but Margo doesn’t want to leave, even after the clowns start moving around the house. And while Rebecca and Chase have a bit more sense, they wait too long to force the issue. Bad luck for them, but if you like scary movies about terrible decision-making, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The entire Hell House LLC franchise is streaming on Shudder and AMC+, and the first three films are also available free, with ads, on Tubi.
The paperback edition of The Destroyer of Worlds will be published on Tuesday, and to help celebrate, I’ll be appearing at a special event at the Woodinville Tasting Room of the Darby Winery in Woodinville, WA next Saturday, February 24, starting at 2 PM. Tickets are $45, which includes a signed copy of the novel and your first glass of wine. You can RSVP using the link on this page.
I will also be reading and signing at Queen Anne Book Company on March 13 starting at 6 PM. (Admission to that event is free.)
If you’re in the Seattle area and you’d like to get a book signed in person, I currently have two upcoming events scheduled:
On Saturday, February 24, I’ll be reading and signing at the Darby Winery’s Woodinville Tasting Room, starting at 2 PM. The $45 admission fee gets you a copy of the novel and your first glass of wine. Details here.
On Wednesday, March 13, I’ll be reading and signing at the Queen Anne Book Company starting at 6 PM. (Admission to this event is free.)
Thirty-three years ago, I began writing what would become my second published novel, Sewer, Gas & Electric, a science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged set in 2023.
At the time, 2023 seemed ridiculously far in the future—but not so far that I couldn’t reasonably expect to live to see it. Indeed, that was part of the fun, imagining Older Me comparing SG&E’s fictional future with the future that actually came to pass. And while one of the many things Younger Me failed to anticipate was the invention of blogging, if he had known about it, Younger Me would absolutely have said, “Yes—when the milestone year finally arrives, Older Me will reread the novel and write a comprehensive blog post about it!”
…and, well, I really did mean to do that, but as happens more and more frequently these days, time got away from me.
So before 2023 becomes history, let me at least mark the milestone by giving a shout-out to Younger Me way back there in 1990. You were right, man: It was an altogether different year.
A Murder at the End of the World— I’ve written before about how much I appreciate Brit Marling’s work, so I was excited to learn she had a new miniseries coming out, and it didn’t disappointment. Emma Corrin (young Princess Di from The Crown) plays Darby Hart, a hacker/amateur sleuth who gets invited to a tech billionaire’s retreat that quickly turns into an Agatha Christie murder mystery. As with Marling’s previous series, The OA, I’d advise you to avoid spoilers and just dive in; the opening is a masterclass in how to grab an audience’s attention, so you’ll know in the first five minutes whether it’s your kind of story. A Murder is currently streaming on Hulu.
The Fall of the House of Usher— The latest Netflix miniseries from Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House) is a sort of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest hits: Each of its eight episodes is inspired by a different Poe classic, which together tell the tale of the final reckoning of the wicked Usher clan. Great cast, great story.
The critical response to Starfield— Starfield is an open-world science-fiction roleplaying video game from Bethesda Game Studios. It debuted in September, three days before my birthday, and as a longtime fan of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, I of course had to check it out. Long story short, I ultimately found Starfield to be mediocre—but as often happens when something I expected to like doesn’t work for me, I then started thinking about why it didn’t work, which led me to YouTube and its many, many videos dissecting Starfield’s flaws. A lot of these are unhinged rants (which can be entertaining), but there are also some really thoughtful critiques that get into the weeds of game design and storytelling, like this one and this one.
No Man’s Sky — Another open-world sci-fi game that clearly inspired some of Starfield’s mechanics. I bought No Man’s Sky on sale back in 2020, but only got around to playing it a few weeks ago after I got tired of Starfield, and despite the similarities, I’m enjoying it a lot more. I’m still mulling over exactly why that is, but to borrow a point from one of the critique videos I linked to above, No Man’s Sky is a more focused game with a much clearer sense of what it wants to be.
Reacher — This Prime Video series, based on Lee Child’s novels, follows the adventures of an itinerant ex-military policeman who wanders America with nothing but the clothes on his back, dispensing justice to bad guys who are unlucky enough to cross paths with him. I decided to check the show out after one of my Twitter follows described Reacher as “an autistic savant in the body of a silverback gorilla.” I’m really digging it, and surprisingly, so is my wife, who ordinarily wouldn’t be into this sort of thing.
This is your annual reminder that signed copies of my novels make excellent holiday gifts.
You can get signed and custom inscribed copies of any of my novels from Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle (206-789-5006 / firstname.lastname@example.org). Tell them what you want and they’ll order it, get me to sign it, and ship it anywhere in the world, usually within a few days.
Happy Thanksgiving. Here at the Ruff-Gold house, we’ll be having the traditional lamb-and-pita holiday dinner. But a couple days ago, I decided to experiment with something different: an Argentine dish called matambre (“hunger killer”).
As my South American cousins are sure to remind me, the original matambre is a beef dish, but flank steak is $18 a pound at the local QFC right now, so I opted for a cheaper variant that uses pork loin. You butterfly the meat to a uniform thickness of about half an inch, then roll it up around a filling of hard-boiled eggs, sliced meat, olives, roasted red peppers, and chimichurri sauce. Roast for about two hours and serve.
It’s really good, and it looks cool. The only problem is that the name is accurate: one slice of this stuff is enough to fill you up, so while it’s a great party dish, with just two people you’ll have more leftovers than you know what to do with.
If you’d like to try it yourself, the recipe I used is here. N.B., I substituted salami for capicola in the filling and it worked just fine. Also, unless your knife skills are really good, you’re going to need a meat tenderizer to pound the pork to an even thickness—I used a heavy bottle of vinegar as a mallet, but you probably want to go with something that isn’t made of glass.
The black comedy Arnold, directed by Georg Fenady, was released in 1973, when I was just eight years old. I still vividly recall the TV commercials for it. They featured a number of the film’s more gruesome murders and put Arnold on the list of ’70s horror flicks whose advertising campaigns made me afraid to close my eyes at night—a list that also included Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Phantasm, and The House That Dripped Blood (whose title alone was enough to inspire nightmares).
Once I’d gotten a little older and become a full-fledged horror fan, I of course made a point of going back and watching all those movies. The sole exception was Arnold. Though it did get a VHS release, I never came it across it in a video store, and it’s one of the many films of that era that didn’t make the leap to streaming. But recently I discovered that someone had uploaded a copy of the full movie to YouTube, and last week I finally crossed it off my bucket list.
The Arnold of the title is Lord Arnold Dwellyn (Norman Stuart), recently deceased. The movie opens not with a funeral, but a wedding. As his lawyer helpfully explains, Arnold’s death has made his wife (Shani Wallis) a widow, thus freeing the dead man to marry his mistress, Karen (Stella Stevens). The ceremony is held in the chapel of the Dwellyn family cemetery, with the minister (Victor Buono) drinking his way through the vows to help cope with his shame at being a part of this.
After the “I do’s,” the members of the wedding party return to Dwellyn manor for the reading of the will. Arnold has left a recording of the text, which is played back on the tape machine installed in the side of his casket. The widow gets to keep her title and her Rolls Royce, but not much else. Arnold’s devoted sister (Elsa Lanchester) gets a small monthly pension, while his ne’er-do-well brother (Roddy McDowall) gets nothing. The bulk of the estate, including “an enormous hoard of cash… the location of which I shall reveal in the near future,” goes to Karen, on condition that she “keep me with you, always, just as you see me now, for as long as you shall live.”
Nobody is happy with this—least of all Karen, who has no intention of spending the rest of her days shacked up with a corpse. But Arnold is (or was) a master at predicting other people’s behavior, and as Karen and the rest of the cast hunt for the aforementioned hoard of cash, they start getting killed off, their deaths accompanied by Arnold’s pre-recorded taunts.
It’s an enjoyably demented mix of comedy and suspense, and while the horror elements are tame by my current standards, I can see how my younger self would have been creeped out. But the real reason I’m glad I waited to see Arnold is that the adult nature of the humor would have gone completely over my head back then.
If you’d like to check out Arnold for yourself, but don’t feel like wading through dozens of Schwarzenegger videos on YouTube to find it, there’s good news: I just found out that a new Blu-ray edition of the film is being released on Halloween. Fingers crossed that a digital release won’t be far behind.