Monday, November 1, 2021

The Castle of Transylvania, The City of the Dead, The Low, Low Woods, and More

Things that brought me delight in October, 2021:

Jules Verne, The Castle of Transylvania

I have a lot more to say about The Castle of Transylvania, also known as The Carpathian Castle, on the newest episode of the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, but suffice to say that this is a very interesting foray into the Gothic from one of the authors who is frequently tagged as "the Father of Science Fiction." The late Victorian anxiety about new technologies is here, but given that Verne is generally more positive about scientific progress than, say, the Romantics, that fear gives way to deeper anxieties about a populace that can't be convinced to give up their plebian superstitions.

The City of the Dead

As is tradition, I've been consuming horror movies right and left this October, and they range from new disappointments to old reliable stalwarts. And then there are movies like The City of the Dead, a film I should have seen years ago. This style of horror movie is extremely my shit. Although it doesn't have a ton of action, I love the atmosphere and Gothic aesthetics. Also, call me crazy, but I would absolutely love to vacation in a small New England town that is overrun by Satanic witches. Yeah, okay, you might end up sacrificed, but...worth it.

Carmen Maria Machado, Dani, Tamra Bonvillain, The Low, Low Woods

El and Vee, best friends in a Pennsylvania coal town with a fire raging beneath its streets (in other words: Centralia), wake up in a movie theater with the suspicions that something happened to them while they were asleep. As they begin to investigate what's going on, they're pulled closer and closer to their hometown's dark secret history. The Low, Low Woods lulls you in; it feels quirky at first, even if it's clear that something isn't quite right, but by the end it's absolutely disturbing and brutal. I wouldn't expect anything less from Carmen Maria Machado at this point, so I definitely was not disappointed. One thing I really appreciate about this comic is that from the art to the story, it really captures a little of the magic that 90s-era Vertigo had.

Vampire: The Masquerade, Cults of the Blood Gods and Vampire Companion

God help me, I've been reading  Vampire: The Masquerade lore for fun. You can keep your Gloranthan cults, it's Cults of the Blood Gods for me. And since there isn't (yet?) a hardcopy of the Vampire Companion for the new edition (a mystifying choice), I went ahead and printed my own. You can do the same if you grab the free pdf of it here.

The Reflecting Skin

Back in the 90s I tried like hell to get a copy of The Reflecting Skin in stock for the video store I worked at, but it was impossible to track down. Luckily, tubi has it so I finally got to see it. For a movie with very little blood and very little violence, it is plenty disturbing in a Flannery O'Connor way. In The Reflecting Skin, the fantasy-filled innocence of childhood is a hell, but it's a hell that protects from the deeper trauma of adulthood and all the buried desires, moral culpability, repressions, and terrible secrets it entails.

Low Country Crawl, What's So Cool About Monster Blood?, What's So Cool About Vampire Hunting

Aside from quenching my Vampire: The Masquerade thirst, I also got a few rpg zines from Spear Witch in October. Low Country Crawl is a Southern Gothic-inspired setting; the particular issue focuses on pirate isles. I can probably make use of it to fill out some ideas I've had for Ravenloft's Saragoss. Monster Blood and Vampire Hunting are two very short games about playing monster hunters; to be honest, I probably could have made do getting only one of them, as they're essentially the same game with a thin veneer of difference, but I could see busting out either game with smaller groups when we don't have a quorum to play D&D or the like.

A Pale Horse Named Death, Infernum in Terra

Infernum In Terra may be A Pale Horse Named Death's most solid album yet. On the album's best tracks, the band fuses Type O Negative-style doom to a 90s-flavored desert wind and dark throes of drug addiction vibe. Alice in Chains, but drier. APHND never get as crackly, saturated, or hypnotically enveloping as most modern stoner doom bands; there is a crispness to their sound that provides a nice change of pace.

Barnes, Alexander, NCT, Sienkiewicz, Killadelphia vol. 2

My girlfriend passed me the second volume of Killadelphia when she was done with it and I waited until October to crack into it. Vampire slut Abigail Adams (yes, that Abigail Adams, the First Lady) is out to sow fear and destruction so that her legions of the undead can take over Philadelphia. The main character's dead pops is brought back from the grave to assist, mostly because his son is worried that the case will be handed off to Mulder and Scully. (No, really! Even Walter Skinner is there.) I wasn't expecting Killadelphia to go Gaimanesque with a tour of the afterlife, but I'm still here for the occasional stunning gore spread.

Skepticism, Companion

When I think of doom metal, I think of downward motion, a plunge into the abyss. The first track on Skepticism's Companion bucks this tend; somehow, "Calla" feels like an upward emergence, the triumph of crawling one's way out of purgatory on bloody hands and knees. Don't despair, though, as Skepticism get back to the business of funereal doom in short order. In fact, "The March of the Four" feels like the most quintessentially funereal doom track I've heard in quite some time. 

Brom, Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery

Although I've been a fan of Brom's art since the 90s, probably through those first Dark Sun covers, I never ventured into his fiction. Slewfoot was a good entry point, it seems. Slewfoot is witchy folk horror with a side order of body horror, set in Puritan New England. Do not enter if you've got a bug up your ass about "historical" characters speaking in modern ways because you will have to endure early modern New Englanders talking about "snacks." Also, I don't mean this as an insult, but Slewfoot could make a pretty decent horror film. Events are cinematic, the main roles feel ready to be cast, and the empowerment vs. patriarchy themes are broad enough not to get lost on the big screen.

Kraus, Shehan, Wordie, Campbell, The Autumnal

Good horror can make anything the occasion to be unsettled, even something as mundane and welcome as the falling of leaves in the autumn. A trouble mother and her troubled daughter return to the mother's hometown after inheriting a house from the estranged grandmother; the town is a little too perfect, and the mother's memories of her early life there a little too clouded in mystery. There's a price to be paid for life in the Mayberry-esque town and aww-shucks-isn't-our-town-so-quaint doesn't come cheap in The Autumnal.

The Curse Upon Mitre Square A.D. 1530-1888 and The History of the Whitechapel Murders

This tome is a strange compendium of two books about Jack the Ripper that were published in 1888, the year of the murders. It's a self-published book, with all the usual quirks of sloppy formatting that can entail. The first part, The Curse Upon Mitre Square by John Francis Brewer, is a Gothic novel that supposes that the Jack the Ripper murders are the result of a curse upon that area of London in the aftermath of a lusty monk murdering his sister upon a sacred altar. The second part, The History of the Whitechapel Murders, is a contemporary attempt to write the history of the Ripper killings. It's fairly worthless as a piece of history, but it's pretty interesting to see how people viewed the events without any historical remove. 

Daniel, Moreci, Hixson, Russell, Campbell, The Plot: Part Two

The general consensus seems to be that the second part of The Plot is not as strong as the first. While I enjoyed the conclusion of the comic, I have to agree. The problem is that since the story is separated into two volumes, all the subtlety is sequestered in the first one, leaving the second to function like the final reel of a horror film. That works in a movie since a film is meant to be digested in a single sitting, but it's less successful in a two volume comic. Still, I liked the art style and the gribbly dank horror of it all.


Although I like to keep my attention focused on spooky shit during the Halloween season, there was no I way I was going to miss out on watching Dune when it came out.'s good! Yes, it is slow. One glance at the runtime should alert you to the fact that it's going to be slow. But, overall, this is a solid adaptation of the first bit of Frank Herbert's novel. Do keep in mind that it's only the first bit; it does end a little abruptly. Hopefully it does well enough that we get a part two. We're getting a part 2!

Cassandra Khaw, Nothing But Blackened Teeth

You can't always be sure of what you're going to get with a ghost story. Will it be a tale of psychological ghosts, a classic specter rattling its chains as a dire warning of a doom to come, or something more akin to a b-movie haunted house? I was surprised to discover that Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth falls into the latter category. A group of friends (who don't seem to like each other much at all) converge on an ancient mansion in Japan that has been rented out to celebrate the marriage of two of their party. Unfortunately, the mansion is the abode of a ghostly woman whose husband died before be could make it to the altar, which makes it a terrible place for the occasion. Like many an enjoyable horror flick, the characters are generally unlikeable and the words that fall out of their mouths are often insane. And, like a solid example of the kind of horror movie it emulates, it has a s short runtime. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is just short enough to take you along for the ride without overstaying its welcome.

Ram V, Kumar, Astone, Bidikar, These Savage Shores

In These Savage Shores, an ancient evil ventures to India for revenge amid political maneuverings, war, love, colonialism, and betrayal, only to meet with a monstrous force that is perhaps even older still. These Savage Shores has it all, a Hammer-style vampire hunter, beautiful dancers, and really fantastic drawings of full-mast ships. I'd say that These Savage Shores was one of the best comics I've read recently, and I've read a lot of funny books in the past few months. Highly recommended to anyone who might be interested in a Gothic tale far removed from the usual locations and sites of the milieu.

The Night Stalker

Do they still make made-for-tv movies on the major networks? If not, it's a shame we won't get something like The Night Stalker. The Night Stalker introduced the world to Carl Kolchak, an intrepid reporter fated to tangle with the supernatural. In this film, he investigates a series of killings that lead him to encounter a vampire. (The real villains, as in real life, are the cops, who are portrayed as both inept and corrupt.) The Night Stalker isn't particularly deep, but it is extraordinarily fun...the kind of fun that I'm not sure really exists in the basic cable package these days.

Old Horror Comics

Over the course of the year, I've been picking up old horror comics whenever I happened to stumble across them for a decent price at antique stores, comic shops, and random weird stores. I made a point of not reading them until October, which gave me a nice little stack to work through in the spooky season. They aren't all winners, of course, but the high points are extremely high!

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is one of the many absolutely dependable Hammer horror movies. It hits all the expectations: Dracula does indeed rise from the grave (and he's played with aplomb by Christopher Lee), there are a couple beautiful, buxom women to be imperiled, and the overall costuming and set design nail the aesthetic perfectly. If you like the Hammer flavor of horror, you can't go wrong with this one. Also, that poster ain't half bad, right?

Cradle of Filth, Existence is Futile

Existence is Futile came in the mail a couple of days before Halloween--perfect timing, if you ask me. A new Cradle of Filth album is always welcome, but before it drops you always find yourself wondering what flavor of Cradle you're about to get. Existence is Futile is actually a good mix of all the stuff Cradle does well. The riffs are prominent and catchy. The orchestration and choir elements are appropriately over-the-top and Gothic. (Anabelle Iratni is such a fantastic addition to the band.) Dani Filth has a new vocal effect that reminds me of the undead father in the first segment of Creepshow--and I like being reminded of Creepshow.

Monster of the Week and Tome of Mysteries

Monster of the Week is an rpg designed for the experience of playing a group of supernatural investigators. Think Kolchak, the X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Penny Dreadful. The game is "Powered by the Apocalypse," but one thing I really appreciate about it is that it avoids the pitfalls of many similar games in the genre. For one, it isn't laser-focused on emulating a particular media property. None of the playbooks scream that they are meant to approximate a specific character. The game is more interested in giving you the tools to play in a particular genre, rather than judiciously filing the serial numbers off of what would otherwise need to be a licensed game. A couple of the rules stick out as things I might want to house rule or change, and I don't love all the art in the game, but I could definitely see myself running this.

I also picked up Tome of Mysteries, a supplement for Monster of the Week. Tome of Mysteries includes brief premade scenarios and villains, four new playbooks, new moves for paranormal abilities, and a whole lot of advice about playing the game.

Midnight Syndicate, Bloodlines

It is very nearly tradition that every October either Midnight Syndicate or Nox Arcana puts out a new album. I guess it was Midnight Syndicate's turn this year. Bloodlines is another album of "Halloween ambiance": music as suitable for a haunted house attraction at the state fair as it is to just chilling out at home with some candles lit and a bone-chilling book by your side.

Forsaken System Player's Guide

The Forsaken System Player's Guide is the first supplement for Cubicle 7's revision of the Wrath & Glory game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. The book reminds me a bit of WotC's supplements in that it combines fluff with mechanical elements so that there's something between the covers for everyone. It functions as part setting guide (with details about several planets and factions), part additional widgets for character creation (potential patrons, new species, and additional archetypes to expand the offerings in the core book), and additional mechanics for "endeavors" (essentially downtime actions that can be taken between adventures). Overall, really solid additions, absolutely does what a first supplement should do.

Archspire, Bleed the Future

I've been looking forward to this one, and Bleed the Future does not disappoint. If you've heard Archspire before, you should know what to expect: murderously technical death metal with percussive vocal blasts that feel like taking a slug in the chest from a shotgun. Of course, the burden that Archspire has chosen to bear is that ever album has to be more technical than the previous one. Somehow, they pulled it off without sacrificing clarity or brutality.

The Red Room Riddle

I had quite strong memories of watching The Red Room Riddle one afternoon when I was all of eight years old. As part of their initiation into a club, two young boys are supposed to venture into an eerie abandoned house and report back about what is inside. Led in by a strange lad in antiquated clothes, the duo encounter the dreaded red which a boy and his dog died in a fire. I was able to watch this again thanks to the archiving efforts on Youtube, and you know what? The Red Room Riddle is still good, creepy fun.

Halloween Stuff

Truly the most magical time of the year: