tv

The Fear of God podcast: Talk to Me + bonus House of Usher content

This week I pay another visit to the always entertaining Fear of God podcast to talk about Talk to Me, the Philippou brothers’ breakout horror film. You can listen to the episode here; for Patreon subscribers, there’s also a bonus segment about Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series, The Fall of the House of Usher.

And next Wednesday, March 13, starting at 6 PM, I will be live and in person at Queen Anne Book Company, reading from The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country.

The Fear of God podcast: Talk to Me + bonus House of Usher content Read More »

A short list of things I enjoyed in 2023

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.

Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor — And finally… I’ll have more to say about this in a future Lovecraft binge-watch post, but if you want to end the year with something good and creepy, this latest installment in the Hell House LLC series should do nicely.

A short list of things I enjoyed in 2023 Read More »

Lovecraft binge-watch: Archive 81 (+1)

This post is #7 of a series.

I thought about including Archive 81 in my “cursed media” binge-watch, but like it enough to give it its own post. This eight-episode series is a Netflix production, developed by Rebecca Sonnenshine, based on Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger’s podcast of the same name.

Mamoudou Athie plays Dan Turner, an archivist at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. A corporate executive named Virgil Davenport offers him $100,000 to restore and digitize a set of fire-damaged videotapes. The tapes were recorded by a cultural anthropology student, Melody Pendras, who was compiling an oral history of the Visser Apartments when the building mysteriously went up in flames; Davenport believes that the video archive may provide answers about exactly what happened.

Dan takes the job, but the deal is fishy from the start. Claiming that the tapes are too fragile to be moved, Davenport insists that the restoration work be done at an isolated research compound in the Catskills. The place has no internet access or cellphone service, the landline makes funny clicking sounds whenever Dan uses it, and despite Davenport’s suggestion that he’ll be alone on the property, it soon becomes clear that he isn’t. Dan also learns that Davenport didn’t just hire him for his technical skills: he’s got a personal connection to the story. Dan’s family died in a house fire that occurred around the same time that the Visser burned, and Dan’s late father, a psychiatrist, appears on one of the restored videotapes. It turns out Melody Pendras was his patient.

A lot of folks would cut and run at this point, but like any good horror story protagonist, Dan decides to stick it out. Having found a spot on the property where his cellphone works, he enlists his friend Mark back in New York to act as a remote research assistant and sets to work solving the mystery. The narrative jumps back and forth between Dan and Mark’s investigations in the present day and Melody Pendras’s adventures in the Visser in 1994. One of the series’ many neat touches is the way the videotapes (and later, Dan’s father’s session tapes) serve as a literal medium for moving between the timelines: we’ll see Dan watching the restored footage, and then the perspective will switch to the location where Melody is recording and stay with her even after she lowers the camera. Very late in the game, a film archive recovered by Mark becomes a gateway to the 1920s, where we learn the backstory of a demon-worshiping cult, the Vos Society, whose headquarters once occupied the same site as the Visser.

Archive 81 is not without its flaws. Although the series generally does a great job of maintaining a tense atmosphere, the demon at the heart of the mystery manifests as a laughably bad CGI effect. Another, bigger problem is the series’ conclusion: although we do learn what caused the fire at the Visser, what happened to Melody Pendras, and how Dan’s father was involved, the final episode ends on a twist/cliffhanger that is meant to set up for a second season. Unfortunately, Netflix has canceled the series, leaving poor Dan stranded in limbo. It’s a measure of how much I enjoyed the series that I’d still recommend it, but you should know going in that you won’t get a full resolution of the story.

If you’d rather watch something with a definitive ending, let me point you instead to Marc Carreté’s Asmodexia, a Spanish-language horror film set in and around Barcelona in the unseasonably hot December of 2012. As the film opens, exorcist Eloy de Palma and his teenaged grandaughter Alba set out on a cross-country trek to the site of “the Resurrection,” which is due to take place in three days. To say any more would risk spoiling things; just trust me, it’s good. Currently streaming on Shudder and AMC Plus.

Lovecraft binge-watch: Archive 81 (+1) Read More »

Lovecraft binge-watch: two from India

This post is #6 of a series.

The two stories I want to highlight today aren’t inspired by the official Lovecraft canon, but they do fit thematically into the Lovecraft ethos, and they’re both very good.

Ghoul, a Netflix original three-part miniseries written and directed by Patrick Graham, is set in a near-future India where sectarian violence has led to a military crackdown on civil liberties. Radhika Apte plays Lieutenant Nida Rahim, an intelligence officer in training. Despite being a member of the Muslim minority, she’s a true believer in the system who reports her own father for subversive activity, naively believing he’ll be “reeducated” and released unharmed.

This act earns Nida a surprise posting to a government black site, Meghdoot 31, where she’s told she will assist in the interrogation of a notorious terrorist, Ali Saeed. But the “Ali Saeed” who arrives at the site is something far more dangerousa flesh-eating shapeshifter in human form, summoned from the unseen realm to hold sinners to account.

As the ghoul uses its powers to turn the torturers against each other, Nida becomes a target: Major Das, the second-in-command, is convinced that she’s somehow responsible. Meanwhile Nida, having recognized the monster for what it is, tries to figure out which of the prisoners is responsible for summoning it, even as she fights to stay alive and to protect the one true innocent at the site. It’s a wonderfully creepy cat-and-mouse game.

Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad stars Sohum Shah as Vinayak Rao, whose mother was the mistress of the wealthiest man in Tumbbad village. Fifteen years after his father’s death, Vinayak returns to Tumbbad to seek the fortune in gold rumored to be hidden beneath the decrepit fortress where his father once lived. Vinayak’s paternal grandmothera literal monsteroffers to share the secret of the treasure in exchange for a merciful death. But she warns him: “Not everything you inherit should be claimed.”

The treasure is guarded by a god, Hastar (not to be confused with Hastur of the Cthulhu Mythos), who as punishment for his insatiable greed was cursed by his divine mother to be forgotten by men and never worshiped. Hastar possesses an infinite supply of gold coins, and it’s possible to steal from him, but the method is extraordinarily dangerous and only yields a handful of coins at a time. Vinayak is willing to take the risk; he returns to the fortress again and again, and becomes a wealthy man. But as his grandmother warned, the wealth is a curseit slowly robs him of all happiness, and, in the film’s final act, threatens to do the same to his son.

Here’s an interesting fact about Indian cinema that I learned from watching Tumbbad: under regulations passed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all depictions of tobacco use must be accompanied by a visible health warning. As Vinayak sinks further into a dissolute lifestyle, the phrase “SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH” begins popping up in the corner of the screen. It’s true, but ironic in contextlung cancer is the least of Vinayak’s worries.

Tumbbad is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Lovecraft binge-watch: two from India Read More »

Lovecraft binge-watch: children of the Yellow King

This post is #5 of a series.

One of H.P. Lovecraft’s inspirations was Robert William Chambers (1865-1933) an author of weird fiction whose most famous creation, The King in Yellow, is a play in book form capable of driving readers insane. The narrator of Chambers’ story “The Repairer of Reputations” describes his experience with the play this way: “I remembered after finishing the first act that it occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on the hearth in the fire-light. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet.”

Books that harm the reader remain a popular subject in horror, though modern versions of the trope often substitute other media. In John Carpenter’s excellent “Cigarette Burns,” an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series, the medium in question is a film, La Fin Absolue du Monde, whose premiere ended in a deadly riot. Norman Reedus plays a ne’er-do-well theater owner and cinephile who is hired by Udo Kier to track down the movie. (La Fin‘s sole print was reportedly seized and destroyed after the riot, but Kier knows this isn’t true, and he’s willing to pay handsomely to see it before he dies.)

The phrase “cigarette burns” refers to the changeover cues that let projectionists know when a film reel is nearing its end. As Reedus gets closer to his quarry, he starts seeing flashes of these cues superimposed on reality—a sign that the film’s spell is already taking hold of him. As the protagonists of such stories invariably do, he ignores the warning and keeps going.

The entire Masters of Horror series is currently streaming for free, with ads, on Tubi; “Cigarette Burns” is the eighth episode of season one. For a double feature, you might try pairing it with John Carpenter’s other entry in the cursed media subgenre, In The Mouth of Madness.

David Amito and Michael Laicini’s Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, is a mock documentary about another supposedly cursed movie. A brief introduction gives the history of the film: At a 1988 screening in Budapest, the theater spontaneously combusted, killing everyone inside. A number of programmers at film festivals to which Antrum was submitted died shortly after watching it. When a 1993 showing of Antrum in San Francisco also ended in tragedy, the movie was withdrawn from circulation. Until now.

A liability disclaimer then appears on screen:

…and after a thirty second countdown, the cursed film is shown in its entirety. It’s a clever gimmick—undercut, in my case at least, by the fact that not only did Antrum fail to kill me, it never came close to making me believe that it could. But it did get me wondering whether there’s a version of this film that would make me believe, and what that would look like.

Antrum is currently streaming on Tubi and Freevee. (Note: if it does kill you, please don’t @ me.)

My current favorite example of the cursed media trope is Graham Reznick’s Deadwax. Hannah Gross plays Etta Price, a record hunter who becomes obsessed with finding the Lytton Lacquer, a legendary LP whose producer, Lyle Lytton, died during its creation; the sound of Lytton’s death is said to be encoded in the grooves of the record.

On its own, the Lacquer is worse than useless. Listening to even a fraction of it causes madness; listening to the whole album is fatal. To employ the Lacquer “properly,” the would-be listener must first be “tuned” by hearing three other Lytton records—Keys One, Two, and Three—played in synchrony, after which the Lacquer becomes a door to another reality. It goes without saying that this is one of those quests where success will leave you wishing you’d failed. But by the time Hannah realizes that, it’s much too late to give up.

Deadwax is billed as a series, but the episodes are short (the total running time is less than two hours), which gives it an overall structure and feel very much like that of a concept album—one that I would highly recommend. It’s available to stream on Shudder and AMC+.

Lovecraft binge-watch: children of the Yellow King Read More »

Fear of God podcast, featuring Killer Klowns from Outer Space

This week I return to the Fear of God podcast, where Nathan Rouse and Reed Lackey have been hosting a month-long ’80s party. Join Nate, Reed, me, and fellow guests Blake Collier and Steve Beckley as we talk about the Chiodo brothers’ 1988 classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space and the latest season of Netflix’s ’80s nostalgia-fest Stranger Things.

You can listen to the podcast episode here. If you want more 1980s goodness, you can check out Reed and Nathan’s discussion of Lost Boys here, and their take on Hellraiser here. And they’ll be wrapping up the ’80s fest next week with a more in-depth look at season 3 of Stranger Things.

Fear of God podcast, featuring Killer Klowns from Outer Space Read More »

Lovecraft Country at the Golden Globes tonight

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony starts this evening at 5 PM Pacific, and Lovecraft Country is nominated in the Best Television Series — Drama category. I’m told it’s a long shot — we’re up against The Crown, and the lack of individual actor nominations is also a bad sign — but for me personally, it’s thrilling to even have a horse in this race.

And while we’re on the subject of horse races, there are still a few hours left to vote for Lovecraft Country in the Polish Readers’ Choice Book Awards. Details here.

Lovecraft Country at the Golden Globes tonight Read More »

This weekend: Crypticon, Christopher Moore, and Lovecraft Country

I’ve got a bunch of online events scheduled this month (full list here), including two this weekend that I wanted to spotlight:

On Saturday, October 17 at 8 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be reading from and answering questions about Lovecraft Country as part of Crypticon Seattle’s 2020 online convention. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased here.

On Sunday, October 18 at 5 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be in conversation with my friend and fellow author Christopher Moore, as part of San Francisco’s 2020 Litquake. Admission to this event is free, but with a suggested donation of $5-10. You can sign up here.

And immediately after the Litquake event, I’ll be tuning into HBO for the season finale of the Lovecraft Country series. If you’ve got things you want to ask about the show or the book, and you can’t make it to any of my live events, I’m still taking questions over at Goodreads.

This weekend: Crypticon, Christopher Moore, and Lovecraft Country Read More »

Lovecraft Country tie-in edition drops today

Today is the on-sale date for the TV tie-in edition of Lovecraft Country. It’s the same text as the original Harper Perennial paperback edition (including the P.S. section at the back), but with a sexy new cover and a new ISBN:

Bookshop.org • AmazonB&NBook DepositoryPowell’s

If you are a fan of the original Jarrod Taylor cover art, not to fear, that edition is still available too:

Bookshop.org • AmazonB&NBook DepositoryPowell’s

Lovecraft Country tie-in edition drops today Read More »

Couldn’t have asked for better

Last night some friends of ours set up a projection screen and sound system in their yard so we could have a socially distanced group viewing of the Lovecraft Country premiere. Lisa and I had already gotten a sneak preview of the show courtesy of HBO, but it was great to watch it with other people and see their reactions. (Mostly tense silence once the road trip started—during the encounter with the sheriff in Devon County, everyone got so quiet that I could hear the neighbors in the surrounding houses.) I also had a blast, before and after the show, tracking other viewers’ responses on Twitter.

I have lots of thoughts about the show but the title of this post sums it up. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had Misha Green leading the creative team that adapted my novel. It’s a wonderful translation of the story and I really couldn’t have asked for better.

I also owe big thank-yous to Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, without whom this would not have happened, to Yann Demange, who did an amazing job directing last night’s episode, and to the cast and crew, who in addition to doing great work were incredibly welcoming during my visits to the set. Shout out to my agent Matthew Snyder at CAA. And last but not least, thanks to HBO, for going all in on this.

Through the remainder of the show season I’ll be available to answer questions over on Goodreads. Just visit my profile page and look for the Ask the Author feature.

Couldn’t have asked for better Read More »