All Hallows’ Eve has arrived, and with it comes the conclusion of this regrettably interrupted countdown to doom.
The two week break did give me a chance to sample a bunch of seasonal distractions I wouldn’t normally have had the time for, though yesterday’s snowfall really harshed the high autumnal buzz I’d been experiencing once it was clear the Kid was out of the woods, medically speaking.
Oh, well, it wouldn’t really be 2020 without a wrench (or three) tossed into the works. The spooky season loses some mystique after nine months of existential terror.
Recommended listening: UK Decay – The Last in the House of Flames (from For Madmen Only, 1981)
He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut had been forced open; and, by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room, – a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku, and blowing her breath upon him; – and her breath was like a bright white smoke. Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him; and he saw that she was very beautiful, – though her eyes made him afraid. For a little time she continued to look at him; – then she smiled, and she whispered: – “I intended to treat you like the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you, – because you are so young…. You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt you now. But, if you ever tell anybody – even your own mother about what you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you…. Remember what I say!”
– Lafcadio Hearn, “Yuki-onna” (1904)
“Just a minor squall,” they said. “It will melt away by the afternoon,” they said.
Of all my cherished spooky season stand-bys, nothing comes remotely close to the November 1982 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine.
Despite the cover date, the issue was magazine’s second annual Halloween special, and special it certainly. It’s pages sport an embarrassment of riches to remind readers what a singular moment it truly was.
There’s Stephen King hyping an as-yet-undistributed indie flick titled The Evil Dead. John Carpenter shoots the shit with James Verniere. Tom Disch drags both John Gardner and Battlefield Earth. The great Gahan Wilson uses the rise of NHLs — “Non-Human Leads” — to frame his reviews of E.T (liked it), The Thing (enjoyed it), and Poltergeist (left him cold, though he could smell the creative politics involved).
On the fiction side, the issue includes three of my all-time TZM favorites. John Alfred Taylor’s “Hell Is Murky” is contemporary cosmic horror done right, ditching the mythos name-dropping for some paranoiac dread rooted in post-Manson Los Angeles. Jeffrey Goddin’s “The Smell of Cherries” pays grisly homage to classic ghost stories, while Katherine M. Turney’s “Night Cry” offers an efficiently compact jolt to the terror cortex.
There are also a trio of Halloween-themed tales which haven’t aged as well as the above, but still retain a good deal of sentimental charm.
I remember reading my original copy of the issue in the back of the family Cordoba during an afternoon dive to the Topsfield Fair, which is probably why I can’t leaf through the thing without hearing the Joan Jett cover of “Crimson and Clover” in the back of my skull. It, along with the rest of my TZM collection, fell victim to entropy or apathy over the years.
When I started to reassemble a fresh run of the magazine’s first few years during the mid-Aughts, the 1982 Halloween issue was at the top of my wishlist. Unfortunately, it was one of the more difficult ones to track down for a reasonable price, though I eventually lucked out and picked it up in a lot auction with a few other issues I was still looking for. While the rest of the collection has been relegated to a storage crate in the attic, I’ve kept the Halloween issue handy for periodic perusal.
Even though I’ve damn near memorized most of it by now, revisiting it always gives me a nostalgic thrill whenever spooky season rolls around.
Recommended listening: Magazine – Definitive Gaze (from Real Life, 1978)
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent,
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race.
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life,
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse.
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave,
Go—and with Gouls and Afrits rave;
Till these in horror shrink away
From Spectre more accursed than they!
– Lord Byron, “The Giaour” (1813)
I finally got around to watching The Kiss of the Vampire the other night. The 1963 film was one of Hammer’s attempts to keep the bloodsucker mojo going until Christopher Lee took up Dracula’s dark mantle again, and it’s a perfectly adequate period horror jobber done in the studio’s signature mildly titillating yet oh-so-mannered style.
My biggest problem with the film is that Dr. Ravna, the suavely sinister leader of the vampire cult, kept reminding me of Henry Winkler playing Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development. That’s entirely on my media reference damaged head, but damn was it distracting.
…and we’re back, just in time for the closing stretch.
The Kid is doing fine, though things took a bit longer than expected. The same goes for getting back into my regular routine after eleven days of holding down the home front by myself while the ladies were at the hospital. At least my car got a bit of action after idling in the driveway for six months.
When in comes to such fraught moments, distractions become a greater necessity even as the act of choosing them becomes more complicated. Familiar standbys get pushed aside, lest they be permanently tainted should events take a turn for the crappy. Better to stuff oneself with “brain carbs” in bulk, which in my case was “whatever low-grade AIP drek I could find streaming somewhere.” Crab monsters and blood beasts and ghosts sporting invisible bikinis — the blessed white noise of cheap special effects and familiar character actors phoning it in for an easy paycheck.
Musically, I did fall into the familiar favorites rut by leaving Bauhaus’ Mask LP on the turntable for the duration. It’s a buffet of perfect seasonal soundscapes from a band managing to balance — if only for one darkly shining album — their goth pioneer gimmick with their unabashed Bowie fandom.
Recommended listening: Bauhaus – The Passion of Lovers (from Mask, 1981)
My plan for daily Countdown posts went into the shitter on Friday when we had to deal with the real-life nightmare of the Kid getting admitted to the hospital, where she and Maura have been since. It’s no COVID-related, but related to a preexisting condition. She’s doing okay though what happens next is still being hashed out.
Content will be thinner than usual until shit settles down.
Figure One: With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and it’s
themselves. And all we need do is sit back…and watch.
Figure Two: Then I take it this place…this Maple Street…is not unique.
Figure One: [Shaking his head.] By no means. Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we’ll
go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other…one
to the other…one to the other–
– Rod Serling, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960)
Recommended listening: Tot Rocket & The Twins – Employment Line (from a 1980 EP)
You know how it works now
But you don’t care
You’re not the victim of it all
So you think it’s fair
Real-life horror storytelling at its finest. Also the closest analog to The Clash that America ever produced.
When I opened the door into the elm-arched blackness a gust of insufferably foetid wind almost flung me prostrate. I choked in nausea, and for a second scarcely saw the dwarfed, humped figure on the steps. The summons had been Edward’s, but who was this foul, stunted parody? Where had Edward had time to go? His ring had sounded only a second before the door opened.
The caller had on one of Edward’s overcoats—its bottom almost touching the ground, and its sleeves rolled back yet still covering the hands. On the head was a slouch hat pulled low, while a black silk muffler concealed the face. As I stepped unsteadily forward, the figure made a semi-liquid sound like that I had heard over the telephone—“glub . . . glub . . .”
– H.P. Lovecraft, “The Thing on the Doorstep” (1933)
Recommended listening: Finitribe – Monster in the House (from a 1990 single)
I know I run the risk of alienating some folks by leaning hard on real life political horrors this time round, but I don’t give a flying fuck.
“We tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away.”
– Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)
Some virulent flu-like disease has been my go-to Horseman of Speculated Apocalypses for a long while now. I even did a couple of flash fiction posts about it (which I should really clean-up and repost).
It has nothing to do with The Stand (which I’ve never gotten around to reading outside the spin-off story in King’s Night Shift collection), but that such and event would find ample ground to run wild in contemporary society.
Invisible, gradual, and oh so deniable up until the point where it’s too late stave off collapse — why it’s practically tailor-made to fuck with a society which prioritizes commercial abstractions over people and managerial methods which discourage “unpopular” decisive action no matter how necessary it may be.
The incremental roll-out fosters complacency and resentment against any containment measures which might upset one’s personal status quo (or bottom line). It’s all alarmist nonsense until the Reaper comes for you, at which point you’ll just become another ignorable statistic.
There’s nothing dramatic or sexy about it, just a tedium which erodes an already exhausting vigilance.