When Profit Is Not Enough

The Witch still image

Wouldst thou profit… reasonably?

Lately I’ve been watching more films, a large portion of them horror (classic and modern), and some big budget tentpoles. Months after watching, they blend into the overall stew of stories, with some standing out more than others. Star Wars: the Force Awakens was a delight to watch, and I’m so glad to have seen it in the theater. It made me very happy to watch, but it wasn’t better than The Witch, which was tremendously effective, and about which I’m still thinking.

There are a number of articles going around lately about how profitable horror movies are, and it’s not news that horror is generally cheaper to produce than blockbusters. Unfortunately, however, solidly, reasonably, or even outstandingly profitable films are not particularly meaningful to studios if they don’t have the potential for shareholder-exciting, Star Wars-level success. This comes at the expense of thousands of lost opportunities for brave, exciting, new stories that are flushed down the toilet.

cover for paranormal activity

“That door! It cost 1/345 what a Star Wars door costs!”

The Witch, in spite of slow pacing that drove nimrods to wonder whether it could even be called a horror movie (“Bro, do you even scare?”), has made back its budget more than ten times over. The original Paranormal Activity made back its budget at roughly a zillion percent. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in the ballpark of the same rate of return as The Witch, and will presumably pass that, if it hasn’t already. Those sexy, sexy returns are huge for Star Wars, though, in ways The Witch can’t match, but for every Star Wars there’s a dozen failed reboots or lackluster big movies.

This post could also be titled “What’s Wrong With America, Part [X],” given how widely this tiresome, destructive phenomenon repeats itself. Folks in the worlds of horror and speculative fiction publishing have been talking about the lawsuit Hachette has brought against the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for failing to deliver on his next novel. So many problems there, but in the theme of this post, consider how many books could have received modest advances, instead of millions of dollars pumped in the direction of a gimmick, in hopes of massive profits. I don’t begrudge the author his awesome contract, but as part of the general scheme of huge money driving out adventurous, or even modestly successful, money, it’s unfortunate.

There are workarounds, fortunately: sometimes it’s Indiegogo, sometimes self-publishing, sometimes Vimeo. I just wish the natural rate of have/have-not in the arts weren’t being exacerbated simply in order to placate shareholders. Lots of people hustle hard just to get the word out about projects so that they can see the light of day, let alone make a buck. To wit, congratulations to Orrin Grey, whose Kickstarter for a deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil funded yesterday. Whatever the market looks like, art finds a way.

The Horror That May or May Not Be Horror

Cover of Paul Tremblay's a head full of ghostsThis spring I gave a paper at ICFA37 about the life of horror fiction after the boom of 1970-1995, wherein I talked about different waves of authors, nomenclatures of horror, and about the appearance of books like Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. That paper has been revised and slightly expanded for publication as “The Life and Afterlife of Horror Fiction,” and you can read it over at Postscripts to Darkness.

Looking for a more cinematic flavor of horror, but text-y? Try Orrin Grey’s new book, Monsters from the Vault, which collects his monster movie columns from Innsmouth Free Press. I haven’t read it yet, but I did pre-order it, and Orrin on movies is always a pleasure.

Looking for a chapbook celebrating the bicentennial of Frankenstein’s conception? Coming June 18, Selena Chambers has you covered via Tallhat Press.

Looking for carnal fiction, penned by authors with the blackest of hearts? Molly Tanzer’s new mag, Congress, is alive and kicking.

Monster Appreciation 201

paintedmonstersThree years have passed between the publication of Orrin Grey‘s first story collection, Never Bet the Devil, and his latest, Painted Monsters, and I have to say this was one of my most anticipated reads of last year. In 2013 I called his first collection a Monsterghostoccultapalooza, and while that description could arguably also be applied to Painted Monsters, I think it’s perhaps more accurate to say that this book is a manual of monster appreciation.

This book is built around the monsters of film, from Caligari to kaiju. They are delivered in an Orrin-style bow, with a panoply of framing devices to enjoy while reading. That said, it strikes me as a pleasure for those who do or don’t go in for horror on film. I was mildly surprised to realize just how many of the stories here I’d read previously, and this was actually a happy surprise. I’m biased, but I do think Orrin’s work tends to stand out in anthologies where it appears, and I’m glad to have all these stories between two covers. It’s hard to pick out favorites in the bunch, as each is a delight, but for now I’d say my top three were the titular story, “Painted Monsters,” along with “Persistence of Vision” and “The Red Church.”

Do you like to read external-to-the-story matter? Orrin does a lovely job of this, writing stories about the stories that are themselves delightful, and I don’t want to spoil any of that for you, but I will say to read the general author’s note, and John Langan’s monsterful introduction. Orrin talks about the collection over at The Outer Dark, if you’re looking for more, and elsewhere. Word Horde did a nice job with this book, and I’m particularly delighted by Nick Gucker’s cover art, as it wonderfully evokes the tone of the collection, and it makes me smile every time I see it.

Painted Monsters is a dark love letter that should appeal to anyone with an interest in the creatures that have haunted our days and nights, our books and movies, games and televisions, for the last hundred years. Check it out. [Amazon|B&N|Publisher]

Giallo Fantastique

book coverGiallo Fantastique [Amazon|B&N|Copperfield’s] is a high-concept anthology from Word Horde that’s built on the premise that two great tastes are going to taste great together. The authors whose stories Ross Lockhart assembled for this volume took that idea in very different directions, resulting in an anthology that’s truly varied in type. Some are fantasias with nods in the direction of giallo, some are giallos with a hint of the fantastic, and some few strike a middle path that seems to incorporate both influences equally. Anthologies that play it too safe in terms of topical adherence usually end up mediocre, and this  is one case where that happily didn’t occur. This book has delights and surprises throughout, which led this usually slow reader to finish the book in a couple days.

“The Red Church,” by Orrin Grey, is a story that I was predisposed to like, because it’s Orrin, but it turned out to be even better than I would have hoped. As with a number of his stories elsewhere, the narrative focuses around an artist, and in this case the journalist investigating him. The details of giallo are deftly woven into an uneasy narrative that partakes equally of the unknown and the unknowable. I’m now looking forward even more to his second short story collection, Painted Monsters.

Anya Martin‘s “Sensoria” is a piece that I had the pleasure of hearing in part in person at World Fantasy last year. Because I’m more visual than auditory, I took in the plot better this go-round (the imagery is intense), and it was an interesting story, built around an intriguing concept. On the “fantastique” end of things more than giallo, it builds through hallucinatory prose that would make it stand out in any company.

John Langan‘s “The Communion of Saints” is a very John Langan story. Rich in character development and atmosphere, playing with genre as it carefully builds terror, this is a master class in writing. None of that was a surprise, but as happens occasionally when you encounter something you expect to be good, it exceeds even your own high expectations of it. As Orrin has said, this story alone would have been worth the price of admission.

I’d only planned to talk about three pieces from this book, but I have to mention Ennis Drake‘s “We Can Only Become Monsters.” This story shouldn’t work, and I actually groaned aloud when the penny dropped and I understood what was going on. From footnotes in a story that doesn’t clearly replicate a footnote-bearing genre, to the excruciating closeness to the facts of Manson, Polanski, Tate, Gailey, etc., this story’s premise is a recipe for disaster. In a less capable author’s hands, it would have fallen apart, but it’s actually excellent—among the strongest in the book. I found myself carried along by the tale and its prose, to the extent that I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author in future.

Having seen almost zero gialli, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, though Ross’ introduction nicely set the stage. As it turned out, Giallo Fantastique is a fine anthology that features stories taking the imagery and plots of the genre(s) and looking at them from new and strange directions. Everything in here fits together to make a pleasing whole, and I recommend it to those who love horror, but who are looking for something off the beaten path. If you want to know more about the authors in this volume, check out the associated interviews over at My Bookish Ways.

Reading for the Holidays

To say that I have too many books on my to-read pile is among the feeblest attempts at humor ever made, but I have nonetheless added a couple more. In no particular order…

  • The first anthology edited by noted poisoner and blackguard Jesse Bullington, Letters to Lovecraft, from Stone Skin Press
  • A trio of novellas from Innsmouth Free Press entitled Jazz Age Cthulhu, which contains work by Mr. Bones himself, Orrin Grey
  • A short story collection entitled Love & Other Poisons, from the proprietor of Innsmouth Free Press, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • A collection of inimitably Lovecraftian tales that tend experimental, published by Innsmouth Free Press, from Nick Mamatas: Nickronomicon
  • Of Parallel and Parcel, S. J. Chambers’ chapbook from Duhams Manor Press, shipping in December
"The Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him."

“The Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him.”

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to one and all.