Okay, I guess I forgot to blog for half a year. Again.
It’s amazing how much teaching three courses a term plus taking care of two small children during a never-ending lockdown eats into your time to write very long blog posts about the things you’re into. So, I’ll keep this one short, just as a way to kick off what will hopefully be a much less verbose and much sloppier regular blogging practice.
Since I last posted, I have:
• Become enamored with Netrunner yet again, and then fell out of love with it yet again. It’s still a beautiful game, but one that I’m finding myself uncomfortable playing with the current community, so I think my days with it are finally largely over. I still have a paper or two on it I might get out in the next year or so, but otherwise, I think I’m moving on to other interests…
• Started rethinking my teaching accordingly — I’m offering a new version of my comics course in the fall, this time focusing on “Monsters.” Trying something different with it this time — looking at horror and “monsters” as a through-line that has permeated comics history from its earliest days to, well, just this year. I’ve also decided to break off any superheroic content from that course and put it into its own, industry-focused “Superhero Media” course, which I’m also going to teach in the fall. I’m having a lot of fun thinking about these classes and how they’ll evolve — the Superhero class in particular will be my first time teaching something film-adjacent, as well as something that focuses heavily on media industries. Should be fun, I hope!
• I’ve found myself wholly uninterested in teaching about games in the ways I have in the past, and am ramping down my existing games-centric courses, with a few exceptions. While I’m finding I don’t have as much interest in teaching about commercialdigital games as I once did, I’ve been having an absolute blast teaching my Interactive Storytelling course this year, and having students creatively engage with these media and stories they’re interested in telling with them. I’ve upped the RPG and “story game” content in that class, and I think to good effect — I’m now flirting with the idea of teaching a course entirely on the rise of non-digital games as a focus for media studies (using the Analog Game Studies journal and Paul Booth’s new Board Games as Media book as central readings). I’m rethinking my games instruction in the next academic year, and hope to have a few new, more exciting courses on the slate.
So, y’know, the usual. Lots about games and media in my life, much of it crossing over into my teaching. I’m fully vaccinated now and have been venturing out into the wilds of town a little more with the kids, but other than that, I’m content to stay in my little hole full of comics, books, Blu-Rays, and board games for a while longer.
In the last post, I spent a lot of words talking about a handful of games, and in this one, I think I’ll spend a few fewer words to talk about a great number of movies. And, uh, yeah, I own a great number of movies! October is time for me to finally dig into them and watch as many as I can.
I’ve spent the past twenty years collecting all sorts of physical, disc-based media but to be honest, I don’t have much time to watch them lately. I’ve got over 2000+ DVDs, I think, and at least 600+ Blu-Rays at this point, I suspect. And many are still in shrinkwrap! So, when the confluence of general societal collapse and a global pandemic have left me at home with the family 24/7, as well as terrified about the future of all of us, I have found myself drawn back to horror. Perhaps as a balm for my tormented soul; there’s some evidence that people who enjoy horror media are coping better with our current times. Now that it’s October, this obsession of the last few months seems to have lined up well with the season.
A caveat: I’ve never really been much of a “horror guy.” There are plenty of people I like and respect who have been (e.g., Patrick and Katie Klepek, who ran/run the excellent Til Death Do Us Part podcast), but this is still a new thing for me. Beyond the big titles/franchises, I’m still largely ignorant of great swaths of horror movie history, especially at the schlockier/grindhousier ends of the spectrum. I only recently — like, last year — started dipping my toes in these murky waters, and had a wonderful time at our local Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Dismember the Alamo marathon (the poster for which adorns my home office wall).
But, as I started writing about at the top here, I’m also a media hoarder. I’ve been sorting through my collections during the pandemic, and have several stacks of horror books, horror comics (both of which I’ll discuss in future posts), and horror movies. Here’s the one that was by my bed — a number still in shrinkwrap, and most of them still unseen.
The Vincent Price boxset has been sitting there since mid-summer, when I was briefly running my own little horror movie night over my personal Discord (let me know if you want an invite). We watched Tomb of Ligeia (not in that box, actually), which was fun enough but clearly a lesser Price/Corman movie. The movie series petered out shortly afterward, as people stopped attending and the feedback I received was “This is fun, but why do we have to watch horror? Let’s watch old French New Wave movies instead.” I conceded to that understandable desire but soon came to regret it; my tastes are inexorably drawn to the macabre, the schlocky, the dreadful lately, and so that’s what I’m watching exclusively now.
It wasn’t my favorite, but was pretty fun. It was garish and silly, but genuinely creepy in spots. Much is made of the garish sets and hammy acting in these films — those are its main appeal to me, as this one didn’t work as anything truly scary, just a fun diversion.
I also watched Price in the glorious Theatre of Blood in a watch party with members of the Shudder Discord (see their Twitter account for an invite link). It’s a fan Discord that exists primarily to run movie nights, I believe (so, right up my alley). This movie was really something else: Almost a thematic remake of The Abominable Dr. Phibes in some ways, Price plays a Shakespearean actor who is denied a prestigious award by a circle of critics, and then goes on a rampage, killing them one by one in ways that match specific deaths in the Shakespearean canon. With a supporting performance by Diana Rigg (?!) as his daughter, this was one of the funniest and weirdest early 1970s horror films I’ve ever seen. Here’s the trailer (but bewarned, there are a ton of spoilers in it):
Also, a couple of days ago, I finally watched House of Usher (or is it Fall of the House of Usher, as the original book was titled? IMDb and the title card differ from how several sites record the name). And I was totally blown away — the Richard Matheson screenplay is taut and creepy, Price’s performance is wonderful (and he’s blonde), and it has a pervasive, wonderful sense of dread. By far my favorite of these Price films, and now one of my favorite Gothic horror films ever. I was happy to learn that my favorite line and delivery in the film — “I can hear the scratch of rat claws within the stone wall” — was apparently also John Waters’ favorite line.
So, I guess I’ve become a Shudder fanboy. I’ve subscribed to this service for two years, but haven’t used it much, to be honest. I suspect they have a huge uptick in subscriptions in October anyway, but I’ve been reading (anecdotally) that many have been flocking to the service in recent, dread-filled months.
One very cool thing they’re doing is a weekly “Shudder hotline” on Friday afternoons in October. For one hour, and if you can get through, you can call a number and chat with the lead curator for Shudder, Sam Zimmerman, and receive personalized movie recommendations. I actually did this on Friday! As I’ve been working my way through these Price movies, as well as enjoying some cosmic horror (I really liked Color out of Space; a flawed film but really interestingly flawed), I asked Sam for suggestions on what to watch next.
Pretty cool. I knew of Ring 0 before, but haven’t watched it; it’s not a film I would have assumed fit any definition of “Gothic,” but I’ll definitely check it out now. The other two were movies I had never heard of — Voice from the Stone seems to have pretty bad reviews, but, sure, I’ll check it out, and Beach House has excellent reviews and is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Shudder original. I suspect this hotline is primarily to promote Shudder originals these days (as they seem to be adding a bunch lately), and I’m okay with being a vehicle for that promotion.
Speaking of Shudder originals, I’ve been a member for a couple of years now and can recommend a few other things that might help one get in the seasonal mood. First is Video Palace, a faux-investigative audio podcast about VHS collecting and the mysterious history of a now-defunct video rental store. I greatly enjoyed this whole series, and Shudder has them up on YouTube still. Here’s episode 1:
Also, the kids and I absolutely adore their “Ghoul Logs” — they’ve made three of them so far, one for the last three years, and each one is cute, often a little clever, and wonderful thing to have on the TV in the background as we proceed with our spooky quarantine days. Here’s the trailer for the latest one:
And finally, several months after everyone else watched it, I finally checked out Host — the Zoom-séance-gone-wrong movie — and I loved it. It was short (less than an hour!) and sweet, with some clever uses of everything from virtual backgrounds to a Zoom contact list as the credits. I love that these smaller streamers can be free to support little genre experiments like this.
This post is quickly turning into an ad for Shudder, so I’ll stop there and then redirect the rest of the post to something else. But I do think Shudder is worth checking out — especially at only $5.99/month — but I have heard that it’s a pain to cancel your subscription, so caveat emptor.
Since I’ve been watching a number of horror films this year, I found myself gravitating toward those “watch a bunch of horror movies in a month” challenges. This is an extra-big challenge given the kind of things one sees in these films and because I’m cohabitating with a seven-year-old and a four-year old. But drawn to them I am. Going back to September 11th, I’m actually at a very spooky 13 movies watched at 11 days into October (at the time of writing this; the list linked will change in the coming days). I’m ahead of the pace to do this.
I’ve looked into the details of some of these movie-watching challenges, and they do seem like a lot of fun, if not exactly for me in their current forms. Take, for example, Hooptober (named after Tobe Hooper, director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among other things). This was the one that seems to have started it all seven years ago. The current Hooptober challenge is:
QUICK EASY RULES:
7 2nd films of franchises
4 body horror films
2 films from this year
3 disease based films
The highest rated horror film from the 50s that you haven’t seen and can access.
1 film that is set entirely inside one location
1 Invisible Person film
1 Non Dracula Hammer Film
2 films with a black director or predominantly black cast or lead.
1 film with a movie theater in it.
And 1 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film).
There’s more, but you get the gist. 13 different categories to fill before the end of October. People participating on Letterboxd started in mid-September and many are already done or close to done! I’m not really interested in a lot of these bits of the challenges (7 2nd films of franchises seems like a great way to kill any enjoyment in this for me), so I haven’t done it.
But I do like the idea, and realized it could work for me with a few tweaks. I frankly have no interest in watching Tobe Hooper movies, but I am curious about a bunch of other directors. I don’t feel like watching a movie about an invisible person this year, but I do feel like watching a were-person movie. I feel like adapting this to my tastes and my collection, as an incentive to finally watch a bunch of these.
So, here’s my “Hooptober” list (sans the “Hoop”) of my own 13 categories, with what I’ve watched so far (13 movies in, having started in mid-September). Numbers are minimums, of course, and there are still a ton of blanks here:
1. One movie from each of the following seven decades:
• 1930s: The Old Dark House
• 1950s: The Curse of Frankenstein
• 1960s: Carnival of Souls; Blood and Black Lace; Masque of the Red Death; Fall of the House of Usher
• 1980s: The Changeling; Re-Animator; Cat People (1982)
• 2000s: The Devil’s Backbone
• 2010s: Color Out of Space
2. One movie I haven’t seen before from each of the following five directors:
• David Cronenberg:
• Ana Lily Amirpour:
• Guillermo del Toro: The Devil’s Backbone
• Jacques Tourneur:
• Mike Flanagan:
3. Five films not originally filmed in English: Blood and Black Lace; The Devil’s Backbone
4. Five watched via Criterion Collection DVDs/Blus: The Devil’s Backbone
5. Three movies with titles that include “Blood”: Theatre of Blood; Blood and Black Lace
6. Three movies prominently featuring a were-being (wolf, cat, dog, slug): Cat People (1982)
7. Three “classic” (Victorian-ish and actually haunted) haunted house movies: The Changeling
8. Three Lovecraft adaptations: Color out of Space; Re-Animator
9. One “Universal monsters” movie:
10. One movie primarily set in the American South: Cat People (1982)
11. One movie released in 2020: Host
12. One found-footage movie:
13. One Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan; there must always be Bava’s Black Sunday):
Plus: No more than five movies (excluding Black Sunday!) may be movies I’ve seen before. So far, that’s: The Changeling
That’s a bit more like it. My tastes lean toward “classic” horror of various sorts from before 1970s (Universal horror, Hammer, Amicus, Corman productions) and frankly the rise of slashers in the 1970s started ruining horror for me. (That didn’t, uh, stop me from ordering the ridiculous Friday the 13th box set from Scream! Factory, however).
So far, I’ve had a lot of fun digging movies out of boxes and off of the shelf that I’ve wanted to watch. And the kids are getting caught up in it a little, even if they are not allowed to watch some of them (yet). Well, I’m certainly not going to let them watch any more than the Blu-Ray menus for The Devil’s Backbone until they’re older.
Basically, I’m hoping to learn a lot and fill in some gaps in my horror movie knowledge, while watching some of the massive pile of movies I’ve amassed.
I’m forcing myself to watch almost entirely new things (to me), while also making myself watch Black Sunday yet again — some people watch Hocus Pocus every year, but Black Sunday has been my holiday tradition for years. I saw it at our local Alamo Drafthouse on the big screen last year, and even screened it over the summer in my Discord. It’s such an endearing movie to me — you can see where Roger Corman, Tim Burton, and dozens of others ripped Bava off.
Anyway, a horror movie per day for the rest of the month, at least. I’m still barely underway and would welcome anyone who wanted to join me! If anyone wants to coordinate watching over a Discord or social media, please let me know. Regardless, I’ll continue to update my progress on Letterboxd and post about my progress here at least one or two more times before the end of the month.
Next post, I think I’ll shift media again, and post about monster and horror comics. Be forewarned: There will be a brief discussion of the enduring power of Gomdulla, the living pharoah.
Whoa, I guess I forgot to post to this blog for a month? It’s suddenly October and lots… hasn’t changed. I’m still in quarantine with the family, still obsessed with horror, still plodding along and hoping that our nation/planet doesn’t completely collapse in the next few months. That said, the season has now aligned with my evolving sense of continual dread, and I might as well share that with whomever reads this.
So, this will be the first of several posts this month where I will talk about seasonal things of various kinds. Typically media-oriented, sometimes not, but all spooky/autumnal/horror-ish as that’s what I’m thinking about, like, all the time these days. I’m taking a major cue from Laura Hall’s wonderful 31 Days of Halloween newsletter — this is the sixth year she’s been sending off a seasonal email every day for the 31 days of October. I highly recommend it! Laura’s got great taste and an infectious attitude toward the creepy season, posting pictures, links, and (lately) online Halloweeny events to attend.
So, here’s my pale imitation in my own fashion… I’ll start off talking a bit about games, as, well, games have been on my mind. (When aren’t they?)
I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I’ve recently been obsessed with Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and have in recent weeks blinged out my Arkham game in some fun ways. I’ll have more to say about that, especially since the most recent big box expansion just arrived yesterday: The Innsmouth Conspiracy.
But rather than let this first spooky post be (s)hogg(oth)ed by that one game, I think I’ll start off discussing a variety of things I’ve been playing with the family.
We just received Horrified in the mail yesterday and have already played it a couple of times. I’m a bit surprised to say that it’s already become one of my favorite recent board games! Horrified is a completely collaborative board game themed around players stopping up to six different monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s monster)/the Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In other words, the classic Universal Monsters. I’m honestly surprised there haven’t been any other games (that I know of?) that have focused on these iconic horror movies, but I’m glad this one exists.
Horrified was designed by Prospero Hall, a Seattle-based studio who seems to employ a shockingly large number of people and whose design resume seems to be almost entirely media tie-in games with high production values. This game is no exception, clearly, and it wears its inspirations on its sleeve: It feels a bit like a simplified Pandemic mixed with, well, Arkham Horror. And that’s a good thing! It’s got monsters that inexorably hound you and will eventually kill you and/or the random villagers that spawn in the town. Unless, of course, you (playing the nameless Archaeologist, Scientist, Professor, Courier, etc.) team up, collecting weapons and bit characters from the classic Universal Monsters movies, and advance the tasks needed to get rid of them.
The way each monster is dispatched is something I absolutely love about this game. Each monster has its own little minigame you have to complete in order to beat them — each is unique, and uses unique mechanics. The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s is a bit like Candy Land, but in a good way: You expend resources of specific colors to move yourself on a little track toward the Creature’s lair. Dracula requires you to find and destroy (using only red resources) each of his coffins, dispersed across the board, before you can take him on. Wolf Man’s, shown below, makes you expend resources to find a cure for his lycanthropy before you can defeat him. It’s clever and I can see it making each matchup of two or three or four monsters really fresh and fun.
My son and I played the demo matchup (two players versus Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and it was pretty fun! Not too difficult on this setting, but still hard to complete completely unscathed. Horrified is just a charming little game — it’s, again, lighter than Pandemic and Arkham Horror: The Card Game by a long shot, but its love for the source material and refined, and its simplified mechanics are really nicely done. It’s a rarity: A thematic, media tie-in board game that I actually enjoy, and I anticipate we’re going to play it every Halloween from here on out (and perhaps more often in the short term, since quarantine appears to be never-ending).
A quick aside: I suspect we are the target audience for Horrified, as we are also fans of these original movies. Every Halloween, we dig out this beautiful Blu-Ray set I picked up a decade ago or so.
Horrified has some great connections to these movies, including a number of secondary characters from them as the villagers, and a bunch of the objects. Prospero Hall seems to have a lot of affection for the Universal Monsters, and included a lot of cute touches, including this amazingly cute bit printed on the back of the game board, which is the first thing you see when you open the box.
This is, of course, the cold open for Frankenstein, which you can see here:
And, incidentally, this is how Mark Gatiss opened his (generally excellent!) first episode of A History of Horror, a documentary series from the early 2010s about a, well, history of horror. The first episode focuses a great deal on the Universal Monsters, while subsequent episodes and the sequel Horror Europa focus on Hammer, 1970s American horror, and the rise of European horror. It’s worth a look, if you haven’t seen it before.
I would love to see Gatiss revive this series someday, focusing perhaps on Japanese and Korean horror, as well as whatever people are calling the movement of recent directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster. (Edit: I guess people are calling this “elevated horror?” Okay.)
Anyway, back to games: We’ve also been playing a lot of Ghooost! — yep, three Os. It’s a game by Richard Garfield, the brilliant designer of Magic the Gathering, King of Tokyo, the original Netrunner, RoboRally, KeyForge, Artifact, etc. This game ain’t as brilliant or as strategic as any of those other games, but it’s a fun enough way to pass the time. I picked this up years ago, when our oldest was still a baby and I was obsessed with finding out what other more obscure games Garfield had made. Hadn’t really played it until recently, and it’s… not terrible?
Basically, it’s a themely Uno with some special cards and twists, as well as clever naming of piles of cards that should be familiar to anyone who’s played Garfield’s card games. Though it took a few reads of the poorly written instructions to figure it out, it’s pretty simple: You have to put a card number higher than what was just played in the Graveyard, or you can take all the cards in the Graveyard, or take your chances that the top card of the Crypt is going to be a valid card to play. You play cards to the “graveyard” (a location on the fold-out box; a nice touch), draw cards from the “crypt” (a open-gravey looking card holder in the box) and then banish cards to the “discard.” Your goal is to get rid of all of your cards, plus all of the cards in your “mansion,” a reserved deck of cards that serves as a clock to end each round.
Each round is supposed to take only 20 minutes or so per round, but perhaps because I’m primarily playing with an almost-seven-year-old, they’ve taken a lot longer. That’s okay, the kids love it — it’s a game where an almost-seven-year-old and a four-year-old can easily figure out their way, as it’s, well, still basically Uno, and they just need to know what number is great than another. It’s a fun filler game for our family, and beyond how easy it is to pick up, it’s got cute spooky art, plus the kids love the idea that the box becomes the board you play in.
I’ve also been itching to dig out some old horror videogames that I haven’t played for various reasons. Perhaps because of my recent revisitation of Lovecraft, I’ve been drawn to finally check out Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. I’ll be honest — I bought this an egregiously long time ago. I think it was, along with the first Animal Crossing and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, one of the very first three console videogames I ever bought, way back in the autumn of 2002, though I didn’t play this very far in. (I can’t think of a better three games to encapsulate my early taste in games, either).
During quarantine, we converted a space at the bottom of one of our stairs into both a “play zone” for the kids initially and now it’s also become our eldest’s virtual classroom during the week. But it’s still full of my old games spanning the last two decades, and we just got a little cart to put a projector on, along with the old GameCubes, PS2s, Wiis, and N64. In the process, I found not just Eternal Darkness but the Prima guide I’d picked up from a Half-Price Books in the late 2000s — so, I really have no excuse to not play this, do I?
If you’re unfamiliar, this was the cosmic horror game for the GameCube. Many loved Resident Evil, sure, but this was a generation-spanning, cult-featuring, sanity-tweaking game that attempted to mess with the player in novel ways. Instead of simply mimicking Call of Cthulhu and other games explicitly adapting Lovecraft —where you’d have a decreasing amount of “sanity” level akin to health, mana, or some other simple metric — this game would also genuinely try to mess with the player, breaking the fourth wall. It would tell you that your save file was corrupt when it wasn’t, it might flash “VIDEO 1” repeatedly on the screen, making you wonder if your TV or remote was broken.
I’ll be playing on an old thrifted projector, so that last bit won’t be very effective for me, but I’m looking forward to finally digging into this game this month. And, perhaps, again on the Switch sometime soon, if Nintendo filing a new trademark this summer means what I hope it means.
Finally, speaking of Nintendo, it’s also time for a new update to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ll be honest that we haven’t played the game much in the past few months, having binged enough of it for a while back in April. But the opportunity to grow pumpkins, get new Halloween-themed costumes, and to give candy to island residents? Yeah, we’re down with that.
As you can see in this perhaps-too-dark picture here (also now the header image for this site), I hopped on this morning and redecorated one of my rooms in as spooky of a fashion as I could manage with what I already had. I look forward to further spookifying over the next few weeks with whatever comes my way. I have, sadly, partially dismantled my Victorian/Sherlock Holmes room to make this sparse little creepyhole, but sacrifices had to be made. Someday, I’ll write a longer post on how my summer obsession with Sherlock Holmes led me to spookier territory.
Oh, and one final, final thing: I couldn’t resist trying my best to bring John Carpenter into the lovely world of Animal Crossing. If you were playing Animal Crossing and trying to make it seasonal, what melody would you pick for your town theme?
I mean, can’t you just imagine this guy shopping at Able Sisters?
That’s all for now. More soon — probably in just a few days, when I’ll regale you with stories of how much I just want to watch Vincent Price movies.