The hunger killer

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.

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In which I cross a very old item off my bucket list

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.

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Talking about Scream on the Fear of God podcast

On the Fear of God podcast, my friends Reed Lackey and Nathan Rouse are continuing their annual Spooky Season tradition of rewatching an iconic horror movie franchise. This year they are revisiting Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, and they invited me on, along with Brandon Grafius, to talk about the very first Scream from 1996.

This sort of nostalgia is catnip for me, especially coming on the heels of my birthday. One of the things about getting older is that you understand more and more how ephemeral culture really is: books, movies, songs, celebrities, and institutions that were once famous either fade into obscurity or, if they do manage to stick around, take on a very different meaning and significance than when they first appeared (hi, Miramax film logo!).

You can listen to our conversation here. And if you sign up for the Fear of God Patreon, you’ll get bonus content and well as early access to new episodes.

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RIP TweetDeck (2008-2023)

Yesterday afternoon I was messing around on TweetDeck when the screen refreshed and the dashboard was replaced by an invitation to subscribe to Twitter’s Premium service. TweetDeck, rebranded as “X Pro,” is now paywalled.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. Elon Musk announced last month that he was going to do this, but I had hoped that, as with his long-promised Mars colony, the deadline might get pushed back. I guess he needs the money.

The irony here is that TweetDeck is something I actually would have been willing to pay for, once upon a time. The ability to monitor multiple Twitter streams simultaneously is very useful, especially when I’ve got a new book out. But if I’m going to pay for something I’m used to getting for free, at a bare minimum I want it to work as well as it always has, and ideally the paid version would come with significant improvements. Instead TweetDeck, like Twitter generally, has gotten worse since Musk took over, and I see no reason to believe that that will change. It’s like being offered a chance to upgrade my cabin on the Hindenburg.

Oh well. It’s Musk’s site, he can do what he wants with it, and I remain morbidly fascinated by the ongoing apocalypse that was Twitter. But I will miss TweetDeck. RIP.

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Another MCU? Really?

As you may have heard, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which was released a week ago, has already grossed more than half a billion dollars. Over breakfast, my wife remarked that Hollywood executives should take the hint and start making more smart, original movies aimed at women. But a couple hours later, she sent me a link to this Variety article suggesting the execs are going with a very different takeaway:

In 2018, after a tumultuous period of declining toy sales, Mattel brought in a new CEO, businessman Ynon Kreiz, who had a vision to turn the storied toy company into an IP-driven machine, essentially creating a Mattel cinematic universe. Now, with the immense success of “Barbie,” the path is clear for Mattel to make whatever they want… With dozens of children’s toys on their film slate, 14 Mattel properties are in active development, including “Barney,” “Polly Pocket,” “Thomas and Friends” and “American Girl.”

If you’re familiar with the origin stories of any of my novels, you know I’m a big fan of the creative non sequitur. But even by my standards, “Barbie‘s success means there’s a market for an UNO movie” seems like a stretch.

Lisa and I did have fun going through the list of toy-related projects and speculating about which, if any, might actually make good films. If I were forced to bet, I’d put my money on Polly Pocket, not because it’s another doll movie but because Lena Dunham is attached as both writer and director, and she knows how to tell a story. J.J. Abrams’ Hot Wheels will no doubt look great and have plenty of lens flares, but without knowing the screenwriter’s name I can’t make a better prediction. Magic 8 Ball might work as a Blumhouse microbudget horror flick, but I doubt Mattel would sign off on that. As for the UNO movie, that would be my pick for least promising idea if the list didn’t also include View-Master.

That said, I do love a challenge, and I have a knack for making oddball story concepts work. So once the WGA strike is settled, if Mattel wants to hire me to write a treatment for a Scrabble trilogy, I’d be happy to take the call.

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A Return to the Second Life Book Club this Wednesday, July 12 at Noon Pacific

This Wednesday I’ll be returning to the virtual stage at the Second Life Book Club. If you’ve been dying to see me talk about The Destroyer of Worlds while cloaked in a Li’l Cthulhu avatar, this is your chance.

The event will be livestreamed on YouTube, and the video will be available on YouTube afterwards. You are also welcome to (virtually) attend the event—no VR goggles are required, just a (free) Second Life account. Click the “Join Now” button on the Book Club page to get started. (N.B., you’ll want to do this in advance, as it takes some time to create your avatar and get used to moving around the world.)

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Talk to Me

One of the lingering perks of having written Lovecraft Country is that I’ve ended up on production company A24’s list of People to Invite to Horror Movie Previews. Last year my wife and I got to attend a test screening of Alex Garland’s Men (Lisa liked it until it unexpectedly turned into a David Cronenberg film; I found the whole thing charmingly weird and laughed out loud at the eleventh-hour body horror). Then, a few weeks ago, I got an invite to an advance showing of Talk to Me, directed by Danny and Michael Philippou. The screening was last night, and I went solo, as it was clear from the trailer that this wouldn’t be Lisa’s cup of tea. But I loved it.

Talk to Me asks the question, “What if, instead of binge-drinking or taking drugs, a bunch of Aussie teens decided to record themselves fucking around with a cursed artifact?” The artifact in question is the mummified hand of a psychic, and the way it works is this: You light a candle, grip the hand firmly, and say “Talk to me,” and a ghost that only you can see appears in front of you. Then you say “I let you in,” and the ghost takes possession of your body while your friends make a Tik-Tok video. Possession is allegedly safe, as long as you limit it to ninety seconds or less—before time runs out, you need to let go of the hand and blow out the candle, or the ghost might decide to stick around.

It’s a goofy-sounding premise that succeeds on the strength of the acting and the storytelling. The cast are all excellent—I particularly liked the two leads, Sophie Wilde and Alexandra Jensen, and Miranda Otto has a great turn as the badass mom who’s not quite badass enough to keep the kids from playing with dead people. Zoe Terakes, the designated Explainer of the Rules who cracks jokes during the possession sequences, is also a standout. As for the storytelling, what impressed me is how much I cared about the characters, even though they spend most of the movie being selfish, stupid assholes. It works because the kids aren’t evil, just believably adolescent.

I think this is one of those horror movies that’s worth seeing in a theater. Watching it with a crowd definitely added to the experience. And the film’s most shocking turn, when the kids finally realize just how dangerous the hand is, is enhanced by a bit of bone-crunching sound design that probably wouldn’t come through as well on typical TV speakers.

Talk to Me releases on July 28.

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Episode 4: Reader Questions

This final episode of the Destroyer of Worlds podcast is devoted to reader Q&A. Questions include, “What are your plans for Lovecraft Country books three and four?” “Will you be writing sequels to any of your other novels?” and my personal favorite, “What would H.P. Lovecraft think of Lovecraft Country?”

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Twenty-five years

It’s hard to believe, but today is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Our wedding day was hilariously inauspicious. Lisa and I both had terrible sinus infections that made it hard to sleep the night before, and just to make things more interesting, my mother-in-law, who was more stressed about the event than we were, decided to work out her anxiety by vacuuming the house at 5 AM.

The weather was also against us. We got married in Bradley Beach, NJ, and the ceremony was supposed to take place on the actual beach, but it was raining heavily when we got there and the wind was driving the rain sideways, so the gazebo we’d reserved for the wedding didn’t offer any shelter. We scouted the town for alternate venues, and came up with two possibilities: the Bradley Beach laundromat, and the train station.

We opted for the train station. It was an open platform, but the roof was broad enough to keep the rain off us while we said our vows. Then, while I was kissing the bride, a commuter train arrived, horn blasting.

Even at the time, I recognized that in hindsight, this would make a much better wedding story than if everything had gone off without a hitch—and I also knew that, in the one way that truly mattered, it was the luckiest day of my life.

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