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+.

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.

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.

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.

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: • 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: • AmazonB&NBook DepositoryPowell’s

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.

Ask the author on Goodreads after Sunday’s Lovecraft Country premiere

The HBO series premiere of Lovecraft Country is just three days away now. Starting Sunday night, and continuing throughout the series’ first season run, the Ask the Author feature on my Goodreads profile page will be switched on. So if you’ve got questions about the show, my books, or anything else within reason, you can post them there. Beginning on Monday, August 17, I’ll try to answer one or two questions a day.

Lovecraft Country: first reviews of the series

The premiere of the Lovecraft Country HBO series is just a week away now. The review embargo lifted this past Friday, and the advance reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

First out of the gate is this rave from Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone, who says Lovecraft Country is “one of the best shows HBO has made in a long, long time.” Time magazine calls it “stunning” and “an absolutely wild ride.” And there’s a lot more in this vein.

Needless to say, I’m over the moon about all this—and I can’t wait till next Sunday.

New Lovecraft Country trailer

Just in time for Comic-Con. Speaking of which, the cast will be doing a Comic-Con at Home panel discussion about the show tomorrow, July 25, starting at 4 PM Pacific. You’ll be able to watch it on YouTube once it goes live.

You can also join me online tomorrow at 5:30 PM Pacific, talking about my new novel, 88 Names, on a Zoom event hosted by Sunriver Books & Music. To sign up for this event, contact the bookstore by calling 541-593-2525 or email them at