Armagideon Time

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.

Recommended listening: I Monster – Lust for a Vampyr (from A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars, 2009)

…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.

“With a cold shiver he could not control, Polen was suddenly conscious of a single fly loose in the room, veering aimlessly for a moment, then beating strongly and reverently towards Beelzebub.”

– Isaac Asimov, “Flies” (1953)

Recommended listening: Alien Sex Fiend – Buggin’ Me (from a 1986 single)

I wish I’d held back the Wire jam for this perfect moment, but 2020 defies anticipation. Fortunately my bench of musical annotations is deep and broad.

Figure Two: And this pattern is always the same?

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.

Recommended listening: Wire – I Am the Fly (from a 1978 single)

It’s always the little things.

The weekend following the arrival of my unique treasure, I experienced a particularly violent sneeze which dislodged a small fragment of tissue in my left eye, causing a half-moon shaped blind spot right in the center of my vision.

It wasn’t anything serious, but just another one of the little nightmares that become the norm once our flawed sacks of flesh hit middle age. I couldn’t do much in the way of reading or videogame playing or movie watching while I waited for the microscopic gobbet to dissolve or drift to a less intrusive part of the affected peeper, so I decided to pass time with YouTube’s extensive archive of CBS Radio Mystery Theater episodes.

The series, which ran from 1974 to 1982, was a throwback to Inner Sanctum, The Whistler and other classic spooky-suspense series from the Golden Age of Radio. (CBSRMT was the brainchild of Himan Brown, who’d created Inner Sanctum three decades prior.) Hosting duties were handled by E.G Marshall, framing the main event with a more avuncular take on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone riffs.

The radio plays themselves? Well, they are definitive proof of Sturgeon’s Law, but sheer number of episodes — almost 1400 of them — means that the ten percent that isn’t crap offers a pretty rich vein of material to explore. There’s mystery, suspense, crime drama, psychological thrillers, Twilight Zone style “modern fantasy,” old-fashioned ghost stories, with an occasional bit of science-fiction thrown in to the mix.

I’m most partial to the direct adaptations of tales by likes of Bierce, Poe, Stevenson, Le Fanu and the rest of that old school spooky stories crew. The efforts to contemporize them were less successful, with a scfi-fi slanted take on “The Masque of Red Death” coming off as extra goofy during the present circumstances while a serial-killer noir interpretation of “The Cask of Amontillado” just feels overlong and gross.

The above doesn’t sound like a glowing endorsement, but I found it’s wiser to undersell, rather than oversell, retro entertainment artifacts. There a thick layer of not-so-finely aged cheese to the material, many of the plots are shallow reskins of familiar tales, and every female character under thirty sounds like they were voiced a chain-smoking great aunt who grew up in Toronto.

But if you have an hour to kill on either side of sunset, a comfy sofa to stretch out on, and a willingness to roll with the periodic bouts of goofiness, tuning (or rather “streaming”) into of the choicer episodes can be a sublime spooky season experience. So much so, in fact, that I’ve kept it as a Sunday afternoon tradition even after my eye problem cleared up.

Recommended listening: Peter Wolf – Lights Out (from a 1984 single)

Speaking of cheesy shit from the past I can’t help enjoying…

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, “Black Cat” (1923)

Recommended listening: UK Decay – The Black Cat (from The Black 45 EP, 1980)

Meow more than ever.

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” – Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842)

Recommended listening: Cabaret Voltaire – Spread the Virus (from Red Mecca, 1981)

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