So, I recently had cause to pull out an old piece I'd written a few years back for a book intro about H.P. Lovecraft. I've been in full-on Lovecraft mode for the last several months because I did an independent study about Lovecraft's development of a unique mythos and its comparison to the classical concept of man's place in the universe. I'm still trying desperately to get the paper I wrote published, so hopefully you'll be able to read it sometime too. But, on top of that, I ran a one shot Call of Cthulhu RPG with two friends about a week and a half ago, for the first time in like 10 years! So that's had me thinking about the Old Man from Providence as well. Anyway, back to the article… I pulled the article and cannibalized it because I answered the question on the Lovecraft Ezine forum, "When or how did you discover H.P. Lovecraft?". It was an interesting question, and one that I've examined before. I mean, obviously I've thought about it. I wrote a fucking article about it. But that also got me thinking about the larger question… why am I the way I am? Or, to put it another way, what is the origin of my unnatural obsession with all things horror and H.P. Lovecraft? It's a good question, a question that goes beyond my weird geekishness. As you can see, I'm moving intellectually and writing-wise into actual, serious literary analysis of weird fiction and - more specifically - the titans who defined the current horror universe. From the Victorians like Stoker, Shelley, or Stevenson; to the weird writers like Lovecraft, Machen, Derleth, or Chambers; or the sublimely American masters of early creepiness like Poe or Hawthorne - I'm reading, analyzing and trying to academically and professionally find the roots of literary horror. This in no way diminishes my love for all the other tropes and trappings of horror. Horror films, anime, Halloween, visiting the filming sites of classic horror films - my obsession knows no bounds. So - again - it asks the question… where did all of this madness begin? It all falls, I believe, on my late Uncle James.
He was only 10 years older than me and, after the death of my grandmother - when I was around 5 or so - he came to live with us. He was 15, a teenager, and cool... and I idolized him. It was through him that I learned to love horror, and - believe it or not - as an obsessed Lovecraft scholar, I didn't come to Lovecraft until I was in high school myself. But that seed was planted many, many years ago by James. His was a hard life. He lost his mother and father at an early age, and never recovered. He was raised for a time by my mother, who was only a few years older. He crawled in a bottle at a young age and never crawled out… and that addiction cost him his life at the relatively young age of 52. He died alone. His life came to an end sadly.
But for a time, when he was living with us, he was my favorite uncle and he introduced me to horror movies.
I grew up on a steady diet of horror.
Whether it was movies or books, I can remember always being fascinated by the
darker things in life. My Uncle James introduced me to the Universal monsters on Saturday afternoons, to The
Munsters, and to classic Hammer horror films when I was 4 or 5 years old. His
recent death made me reflect on how integral a part of me this early education
was, and I will always be grateful to him for that. It’s not much of a legacy,
but to me, he was solely responsible for the writer I am today.
I grew up in the 70’s, and as a combination
of my Uncle James’ love of horror films and the unique time period it was for
toys, movies, and pop culture -- I was
inundated with horror in all of its incarnations. I'd stay up late on Friday night watching creepy Hammer films, or Classic drive-in horror flicks on our local late night horror host show. Then I'd then wake up late on on the following Saturday morning and eat Count
Chocula and Boo Berry cereal while listening to albums of spooky
tales told by the deep baritone of Boris Karloff. Then I'd watch the Saturday afternoon creature features, Addam's Family reruns, and go to bed under my Frankenstein sheets -- under the watchful eye of of an Aurora Model of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s tragic Wolfman.
My fascination with the horrific grew as I
did. I taught myself how to read before I was five (and Sesame Street’s The
Count taught me my earliest arithmetic) and I remember sitting in the back of
the classroom while the rest of my first grade class learned how to read (my
parents wouldn’t let me skip grades). While they were learning that the snake
says, “Sssss…”, I was imagining myself
hiding in the dark of a cave with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, hiding from
Injun Joe in the stygian depths. Although Mark Twain hadn’t intended it, he’d
come up with a masterpiece of suspense and horror that resonated with my own
I remember being 8 or 9 and reading Stephen
King’s ‘Salem’s Lot; and it scared
the crap out of me. I still – to this day – glance at the windows on dark,
stormy nights and shudder as I imagine a soft tapping, or perhaps the quiet skree of a bloody fingernail on it. I’ve
obviously always had a great imagination, but that imagination is a detriment
when you’re in your 40’s and still give yourself the heebee-jeebees imagining
the deathly pallor of the Glick boy outside the bedroom window, asking me -
pleading with me - to let him in.
I devoured every book I could. My movie
tastes evolved as I came of age in the golden age of the 80’s slasher flicks
and amidst George Romero’s first holy trilogy of zombie films. I plunged into
the darkness and reveled in it.
And yet, against this rich background and
vast horror experience, I had never heard
of H.P. Lovecraft.
At least not until I was freshman in high
school, that is. I was in a health
class, ignoring the teacher and reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the fourth or fifth time, when the kid in the
desk next to me – his name was Sean -
commented on it. We started up a conversation, and as true geeks and purveyors
of the odd know, we can smell our own. We became fast friends and he invited me
to do something I’d always wanted to do – namely join in one of his and his
friends’ weekly role playing game.
He had a disdain for Dungeons and Dragons,
having long since played and evolved past that. Instead, my book being a clue
to him, he asked me to join him and a few other friends in playing Middle Earth
Role Playing (MERP). Surprisingly, I agreed, despite my usual quietness and
non-social tendencies. I told him I’d always wanted to do it, and was pleased
he’d asked me. The thing is, the more we talked, the more obvious my love for
horror became. After a few days, he made a decision.
“D.,” he said, “I think you’d totally love
MERP, but there’s something else I think you might like better. There’s a game
out there called Call of Cthulhu
that’s based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a horror game and, although
it’s probably not the best game to learn to role play with, I think you’ll
really, really like it.”
When he saw my quizzical look at the
strange name of Cthulhu and the name of the dark master, Lovecraft, he grew
excited and tried to explain to me the Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft’s strange
world. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it intrigued me nonetheless.
next day he handed me a dog-eared copy of a mass market paperback with the
most disturbing artwork I’d ever seen upon its cover. I held it at arm’s
length, shocked at the images upon it.
There were corpses, spiderwebs, and strange insect-like dog creatures
with clusters of ruby red, murderous, eyes. There were strange men standing
before bloody altars and drawn in such a way as to imply dark human sacrifice
and all manner of debauchery. In other words, it had all the things that still
warm my ghoulish heart.
I was speechless, and Sean rubbed his large
hands together in delight
“HP Lovecraft, my
man…” he said with absolute certainty, “Lovecraft is by far the greatest horror
writer of all time. He’s influenced more writers, artists, novels, stories, and
movies than any other writer EVER has. His influence is deeper than Edgar Allan
Poe’s; deeper than Shakespeare’s. I guarantee you you’ll never be the same
after reading Lovecraft. He’ll scare the hell out of you, brother. Seriously.”
withstanding, damn him if he wasn’t right. That night, as I lay in bed reading The Doom That Came to Sarnath, I
experienced true vertiginous terror. Never before had I experienced anything so
horrifying, so gooseflesh-inducing, so mind-numbingly terrifying in all of my
life. I came to realize that Lovecraft had a unique power, the power to see
into the dark, nebulous space between the stars over our heads and in the
shadows that lurk in the darkest corners of our homes and SEE things; things
that no one else can see. He opened my eyes to new horrors – horrors that are
all around us, and I was never the same.
Needless to say, my
first taste of Lovecraft left me hungering for more. I began researching and
studying his work -- to the detriment of my own studies at times. I became
enamored with all things Lovecraftian; and that love of Lovecraft’s wild New
England and the hallowed, brown, ivied walls of Miskatonic University still
call to me.
weekend, in the midst of a howling, cold, Northern Ohio snowstorm -- I joined
Sean, and two other young men, Jason and Curtis, and we explored for the first
time ancient Arkham. Together, we three plumbed the depths of Lovecraft’s
mythology and, to this day, I look back at those many hours when the four of us sat in
Sean’s attic as some of the best times of my life. That tiny dark room, lit by
candlelight and filled with the quiet, but pervasive, sound of dark, eclectic
background music. I feel a tugging nostalgia when I recall the deep, melodic,
and mesmerizing voice of my friend Jason (our Game Master) as he led us to comb
the Miskatonic Library, or investigate a trapper’s shack in the middle of a
hoary, primeval Massachussetts forest. We played for years afterwards, and
gleefully lost sanity with the role of a die when confronted by one of
Lovecraft’s otherworldly monstrosities. Those afternoons and nights are part of
who I am today.
One chance encounter
in high school health class changed my life, and I will always be grateful to
Sean, Curtis, and Jason for making my life better, for introducing me to the
man I consider the master of modern horror -- the man whose tombstone reads,
simply, “I Am Providence.”
In addition to reading
all of Lovecraft’s works, and playing Call
of Cthulhu, we also immersed ourselves in the Brian Yuzna-helmed movies
that make up the best Lovecraft adaptations to date. I still shudder with
delicious pleasure to think of the depravity that is The Reanimator, and cannot look at the actor Jeffrey Combs as
anything but ‘that tow-headed freak, Herbert West’. I still devour Lovecraftian
moves, and hold dear those that truly capture Lovecraft’s vision; movies like Dagon, or The HP Lovecraft Historical
Society’s brilliant silent film, The Call
of Cthulhu. I almost wept when I heard that At the Mountains of Madness was not to be made into a film version
because of the idiocy of Universal Studios suits.
And, later, as I
became more literate, it was almost impossible to not see Lovecraft’s sinister
touch in the works of the giants of today’s horror writing world. Brian Keene,
Dean Koontz, Edward Lee, even New England’s other dark son, Stephen King. I
found out many years later that my first of his novels, ’Salem’s Lot, was his own attempt at a Lovecraftian tale. Lovecraft
can be found in music as well. From the overt work of Metallica and a myriad of
other heavy metal, industrial, and gothic bands; to the more subtle and
visceral musical scores of Nox Arcanum and Midnight Syndicate. Lovecraft is
Born in Providence,
H.P. Lovecraft himself lived a sad, lonely life. Laboring under a persistently
ill and quiet existence, he found solace in the writing of the type of stories
that had come into vogue in the pages of such classic pulp collections as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. He was a recluse, but he kept prodigious
correspondence with many of the writers of the time, writers like Robert Bloch
and Robert Howard.
We know much of
Lovecraft through these letters, and through the impressive body of his work.
When taken as a whole, we can maybe not forgive his patrician attitude, his
racism, his classism, and the other faults that were a product of his time and
breeding, but we can give them context. Much has been said of his persistent
racism; but now we can look back at the inappropriateness of some of his
portrayals and characters, of his representation of New England locals as
inbred, degenerate inferiors, as a failing that is eclipsed by his writing. His
own somewhat erroneously inflated upper class ideals pale when compared to the
brilliance in his imaginative mythos. He created a new world (two, if you
consider his Dreamlands) that still resonates through the membrane of the
horror genre to this day.
He died painfully, but
his legacy is left intact. Lovecraft was the first to imagine a cold, dark universe in which
we’re insignificant insects. He wrote about the darkest fears of man, and the
morphic thread that ties occult, magic, and science into one twisted Gordian
knot. They are not separate; instead they are inextricably linked.
And that is
Lovecraft’s greatest gift to mankind – namely, that WE ARE NOT ALONE. There are
things that science, and the occult, and the human mind can’t explain. He is
the progenitor of the horror concept that we are not – nor have we ever been -
And we’re all the more
terrified at the thought of that than anything else.
For me, that history -- those throbbing, alien roots of cosmic horror -- inundated all that came after it. The movies, the music, the literature, they all owe a debt to Lovecraft and the others. And it is through my late Uncle James, and the horror movies and books he introduced me to, that I learned my love for them and came to appreciate them. It comes full circle.
Hey, decided to do a video blog update. Check it out below.
I review my first Box of Dread - a horror themed mystery box.
By the way... just to give you an idea of the value of this kick off mystery box, I mentioned it cost like $6.51 for shipping. A further breakdown of the cost of the stuff inside the box (based on a cursory ebay search):
- Army of Darkness trading cards - $2.99
- 1979 replica Ripley Action Figure - $19.99
- Insidious water bottle and lantern - Between $25 and $40.
So... obviously... a shit load of stuff for a mere $20 a month.
If you're a horror fan, this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
To my regular readers - sorry! I'm getting political, and I'm going local. I promise I'll post less neighborhood-oriented stuff soon!
When I went to vote today, I saw several people with 'Vote No on Issue 6 signs'. For those that don't know, we have a renewal levy on our ballot for our schools. It is critical as our schools are in bad shape physically and financially. Add to that the fact that our current superintendent inherited a mess from the previous administration and we have the perfect storm for our school – and children – to suffer. If the levy doesn't pass, all extracurriculars will need to be cut, all AP classes will be cut, band and music and art will be cut. This is partly a result of mismanagement on the part of the prior administration, failure to pass a levy on the last ballot, and partly the result of the recent economic downturn (Increased foreclosure in the communities means less tax money). To help with this, the teachers union has graciously forgone raises in their last contract negotiations. We NEED this levy to pass. However, we have the 'Vote No' group to contend with. We didn't pass a levy last election cycle because of their negative campaign and the wealth of misinformation they spread. I normally try to refrain from politics… but seeing these people this morning angered me.
The stated goal of this group is to call for 'accountability' of the board and the superintendent. They say the community can't afford more taxes (never mind that this is a renewal and will most decidedly NOT raise taxes). They say that the board is not spending the money correctly. They want to ask the hard questions and think of the tax-payers. Forgive me while I step well past calm and non-judgemental and tread squarely into the vulgar. They are full of shit.
Here's the simple truth: The group against the levy are rabble-rousers and are selfish douche nozzles. They are emblematic of the conservative, Tea-Bag obstructionists who so recently shamed all of us at a national level by holding the government hostage with a shutdown. They – Ted Cruz and his slavering minions, as well as the 'No on Issue 6' group - think they are being patriotic and somehow noble by 'standing up to the way things are done', pillaging the village, and salting the earth on the way out . There is nothing noble in this path. It is selfishness wrapped in the tattered rags of pointless jingoism. In their imagined and perfect world, nobody has to pay taxes and everyone is self-sufficient and life is wondrous and bright. Here's some news – taxes are a part of life. That's how it works. Taxes are an unavoidable side effect of a civilized, effective civilization. Everybody pays their tithe to the government and the government provides for the betterment of that same society.
A good school system is the bedrock of a good community. The value of your home, and the worth of your citizenry can be judged by how well you treat your children. When you are looking to buy a house somewhere new, the first question you ask is "What are the schools like". If the Anti-6 crowd had it their way, the answer would be, "Not good." This has a ripple effect on the community. Bad schools lower your property value, which means you lose money when you try to sell it, if you can at all. And, I don't want to hear the tired excuse of 'Well, my kids are grown" or "I don't have kids in the school district, why should I pay for it". Because that's what responsible members of a community do, you selfish dick. If you're retired, think of your poor kids who may have to sell your crappy house after you die to pay off your funeral and debts. Oh wait! They can't because nobody wants to buy a house that smells of old crotchety people in a city where they have shitty schools. I'd also like to note that some of the people involved in the Anti-6 group are in fact avowed home-schoolers. Now, don't get me wrong, home-schooling is a viable educational alternative. To each their own.But, because you think you can do a better job teaching your kid than professionals, don't penalize every other child in the district because you don't want to pay for something you're not using. It doesn't work like that.
(EDIT TO ADD: This is not an indictment of home schooling in general. This is directed to a specific group of homeschool parents I know through activities with my kids here in Willoughby. In fact, I know of several exceptional home-schoolers, one of which I went to high school with. She is phenomenal and - despite the fact that her kids are home-schooled - she still understands the big picture of the impact any detriment to our school system is. Home schoolers may not have kids in the schools, but they have a stake as they pay taxes on it. I wanted to clarify that.)
And there's the important point, I think. The fact of the matter is that the Anti-6 crowd is in it to hurt our children. They have even moved beyond the 'Vote No on ALL THE LEVIES' schtick to trying to get several of their members on the school board. They want to expand their obstructionism to tying up the board who is tasked with balancing the needs of the community with the delicate tightrope – and thankless task - of funding the schools and ensuring that our kids receive the best advantages and education they possible can in an ever changing world. The insane Tea Party mantra of 'Burn it all down!" is being directed at our children and our schools.
And I cannot abide that.
Here's how it works: If you are on the school board, your first priority should be the children. You should be an advocate for the schools and for the kids who are attending. I'm not saying there should be no oversight or someone asking if we're doing everything we should, but I am saying that everything you do should be predicated on its benefit or impact on the children of the Willoughby-Eastlake School District. You are not there to obstruct, to challenge everything the Superintendent is doing, and you are most certainly not there to uphold the agenda of a political group who's purposes are at odds with the betterment of our kid's education.
Please go and vote if you haven't done so yet. Please think of the kids. Don't listen to the bullshit from a small, but vocal group of assholes who are trying to hurt our kids.
I think one of the best perks about having this blog is that I occasionally get contacted out of the blue to do reviews of products - music, movies, etc - that appeal to my horror geek nature.
Granted, I sometimes also get contacted by knuckleheads who have NO clue what this blog is about; but those aberrations are worth the hassle of discovering new, exciting horror stuff.
In fact, about two weeks ago, I received an email from a musician across the pond in England, asking if I'd review his album of horror themed electronic/dance music. Now being an old school goth, who also dabbled in the club scene and did the whole gamut of raves/EBM/dance music in another life - I was more than happy to give it a listen. I should add that - with it being October - I was especially excited to listen to it because Sam Haynes (the musician) said that it was "Inspired by 70s and 80s horror themes but with a new dark sound." 70's and 80's horror themes?!? Those are sexy words right there!
So I downloaded a copy. After listening to it more times than I can count, I can say that this album is absolutely, undeniably incredible!
On my first cursory listen, I was two songs in when I fell in love with it. The song that did it? The second track, 'Ghost House'. Imagine a John Carpenter theme - the plunking, synthesized perfection of a John Carpenter theme - that morphs and skews into a dark, melodic EBM dance beat. I know, right? Sounds fucking awesome, doesn't it? I can assure you it is.
Here, give it a listen...
My first thought, when I saw the initial email about horror dance music was that it was probably pretty hard to pull off without sounding really, really cheesy. I can say, without hesitation, that Sam Haynes is a crazy talented artist who has made a CD that is nothing short of amazing.
All of the tracks are perfect examples of Halloween music, but music that one could listen to all year round if they were a weird, sad, horror nerd like myself who loves this kind of shit.
Describing the style and influence as being inspired from the 70's and 80's could not be more accurate. There's traces of John Carpenter, the dark and ponderous excesses of an Italian Bava or Fulci score, the unstoppable stalking of serial killers in weird masks, the sexy seduction of vampires, the guttural moans of the undead, and the delightfully electronic nuances of Goblin. This music would not be out of place in a haunted attraction, or on the score of a good, quality horror film. In fact, I've been alternating between this and Midnight Syndicate - non-stop - for the last several weeks.
As we are sitting here, on the doorstep of Halloween, and as the leaves fall like brightly painted corpses from the trees to scatter about ghostlike in the chill Autumn wind; this CD makes the perfect soundtrack.
There are so many wonderful touches here and there. From the aforementioned Ghost House, to the 4th track 'Zombie'; which mixes the newscast audio from Romero's Diary of the Dead with driving EBM beats. The track '31-13' is a chilling mix of The Haunted Mansion and the creepy tones of a funeral home organ. The track 'Halloween' has a playful quality reminiscent of the background music on the Plants Vs. Zombies game, but also captures the feel of a Goblin track. 'Endless Night' is a personal favorite and I dare you to not get out of your chair and pogo around the room when listening to it! In fact, every gorram track is eminently listenable, and every track is a spooky insight into the heart of a fellow horror and Halloween fan.
I've said it many, many times on the blog... I love to meet and promote other artists through my small corner of the blogosphere here at the Midnight Theater of Terror. This is one of those times. Sam Haynes is one of us, dear undead readers. This is someone with an incredibly talented ear for classic horror movies and a love for the dark. That Sam Haynes has so easily melded the unique sounds of Halloween and horror with ridiculously awesome electronic music is amazing.
While emailing with Sam, he had this to say when I gushed to him about how incredible the CD was, "I wanted to do something a little different to the usual music I hear for halloween. It's part orchestral and part dance music." I'd say you did it, Sam. You did it admirably! And - because Sam is so kick-ass - he's also added, "I can offer your readers a 20% off discount code for the bandcamp store if you want it all they need to do is enter the code - Halloween - at the checkout stage at this link...www.samhaynes1.bandcamp.com" So, I guess it's Happy Halloween to you, dear readers - from Doctor Zombie and Sam Haynes! Please take some time to download Sam Haynes' CD. You will not regret it!
A little quick addendum to my update from the other day. While in LA, I got to visit one other horror filming site and took a couple quick pictures.
So -- if you find yourself in North Hollywood, you can start on North Orange Grove at the filming site of the Wallace and Doyle house (from Carpenter's Halloween), go one block over, and two blocks south (crossing over Hollywood and Sunset) to North Genesee Avenue.
There, amidst the quiet tree lined neighborhoods of close, but beautifully maintained homes, you'll find yet another house of horror.
That's right, my lovely undead zombie minions... there you'll find the Thompson house from Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Nightmare on Elm Street was such a great horror movie. If Halloween kickstarted the serial killer/slasher genre of horror films, A Nightmare on Elm Street and its red and green sweater-wearing fiend - Freddy Krueger - reimagined it. It was part supernatural horror, part serial killer, and all grotesque horror.
I first saw it in high school at a girlfriend's house. We watched it in the dark and I remember the geekish thrill I got when Wes Craven's terrifying tale unfolded on the screen before me. Even in high school, I was a jaded horror film veteran. It had been a long, long time since I'd seen a truly scary movie that made me jump and make my skin dimple with goosebumps. Nightmare did that.
It remains a classic even today.
Sadly, much like Michael Meyers, Freddy became a gross parody of himself as the endless sequels dragged on - and the Nightmare series is remembered mostly for the almost vaudevillian slapstick and one liners of the later efforts. However, one should always remember how truly scary and dark the original was.
It was only natural that I should seek out this North Hollywood home, so I added it to my list.
I actually stopped there first thing as it was on my way back from the airport, and I snapped a few quick pictures.
I should note that, a few months back, the house was on the market. I saw that it was for sale on one horror site or another and, of course, sent Mrs. Zombie an email begging to buy it and move to LA. I still live in Ohio, so you can see how that argument turned out.
Anyway, it's been obviously purchased recently as there was a 20 yard dumpster in the side yard and workers going in and out and renovating it.
It still maintains most of the features from 1984 when Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp fought the smarmy evilness of Freddy Krueger - everybody's favorite knife-gloved dream killer!
Check it out...
As it appeared in the original film...
And how it looks today...
The door's been replaced.
Of course, if I was the owners, I'd probably replace the door as well. Especially after how horrible the ending of Nightmare was - when Freddy dragged Nancy's mom through its tiny window headfirst? That scene, and the horrible effect, marred what was in every other respect a brilliant horror film.