Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, everyone!

Just a quick note before I head out to a burlesque show, and gladly leaving 2008 behind. I want to wish all my readers and friends the best of 2009. I'll be here, giving my news and views as I take things off my to-read list.

So have a great one, folks! And I'll see you in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Required Reading: The Bryant & May series by Christopher Fowler

A while back, I happened on Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, better known as the Bryant & May series, after the two lead characters. These novels are perfect reading for those of the Dust & Corruption persuasion. The two main characters, aging detectives whose partnership is more enduring than any other relationship in their lives, are compelling and enjoyable. (It almost qualifies as a gay love story, except there's nothing sexual. Is this what's called a "bromance" these days?)

So far, there's six books in the series, but I've completed the first four.

The first, FULL DARK HOUSE, introduces the pair and their squad, Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit. An explosion rips through the unit's HQ in the present day, apparently killing 80-year-old detective Arthur Bryant. His partner and best friend John May investigates, linking the explosion to the first case they investigated as a team: a series of grisly murders in a theater about to stage a production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, in the midst of the Blitz. There's a lot of humor, but also lots of twisted grotesquerie with all the backstage shenanigans. In the end, it's almost like a mix of Gaston Leroux with Dr. Phibes, and the story bounces between the 00s and the 40s smoothly. It's a load of fun, with so much darkness simmering under the surface to be slightly unsettling, as enjoyable as it is.

In THE WATER ROOM, an elderly agoraphobic woman is found in her basement, dressed as if to go out shopping. She's dead and her throat and mouth are full of water...not tap water, but river water. What happened? Who is responsible? This is a devilishly fun whodunit that mixes old-style grotesquerie with modern sensibilities. Who is the mysterious Egyptian and what treasure does he seek in the London sewers? Why has an expert on London's (real) underground rivers started hanging out with shady characters? The drowned woman is the first in a series of murders that start to seem like a ritual...there's a burial alive (earth), a smothering (air), and an immolation (fire). There's certainly some deviltry afoot. A fun read, and the relationship between the two characters is compelling as always.

And, naturally, it made me start thinking of the underground rivers here in Washington DC, especially Tiber Creek, and what sort of secrets could be lurking there....

Next comes SEVENTY-SEVEN CLOCKS, in which a series of bizarre murders hits 70s London, with the victims being members of an aristocratic family, or those connected to the family. One is found sitting in the Savoy hotel, dead from water moccasin venom. A man in Edwardian dress throws acid at a Waterhouse painting, then later is killed by an exploding watch. Other deaths involve throat-slitting, a poisoned compact, doctored drugs, and other weirdness. There's Pre-Raphaelite art, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, esoteric sects, and other fun, with a gloriously bizarre climax. As one character notes, it seems like something out of The Avengers. It verges on sci-fi, or steampunk. Lots of fun.

This time around, in TEN SECOND STAIRCASE, Bryant & May are back in the present day, investigating a bizarre killing, where a controversial artist is murdered and made part of her own installation. The only witness describes an eighteenth-century highwayman on a horse. In rapid succession, a series of D-list celebrities die under bizarre circumstances, with the Highwayman being seen at each sight, and rapidly becoming a folk hero. Meanwhile, the members of the PCU have to deal with the possibility of their unit being shut down, and pressures to finally solve the ongoing Leicester Vampire case (which has been mentioned in all the novels to date). One of the more thoughtful PCU novels...but I won't say in what way.

There are two more novels in the series, WHITE CORRIDOR and THE VICTORIA VANISHES. I don't know how many he plans on writing in the series, but I love them. They mix old-style murder-mystery conventions with modern ideas and sensibilities, in a way that few authors manage to do without seeming precious or twee. Check 'em out, folks.

A Dusty, Corrupt Christmas

Ugh...sorry I was away for so long. The holidays took their toll on me. Lots of wine, lots of food, lots of shopping, lots of wrapping, lots of other crap.

I spent close to a week at my parents' house in western Maryland. It wasn't all that bad, except for a bit of cabin fever after a while. It's set in the middle of a wild landscape of rock outcroppings and twisted trees, and from the kitchen windows you can spot a 200-year-old mansion, reportedly home to several ghosts and a secret room, cursed so that anyone who enters it dies. And a few hundred yards from the back door is the unmarked grave of a Union soldier. And the house is built on the site of a colonial brick foundry, of which almost no trace remains. Across the road are the ruins of a burned-out barn, and down the road a short way is a cemetery. In the other direction is a funeral home.

No wonder I grew up the way I did. When hearses and funeral processions are regular occurrences, it has an effect on you.

So let's see. I saw a cool movie, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a Swedish-language vampire film, that's all the rage right now. Everything the critics are saying is true; it absolutely rocks. I saw it on a quiet Sunday night at DC's Avalon Theater. It was very cold and windy that night, and I had parked my car a couple of blocks away. The cold and wind didn't bother me; I loved them. But it was great to be walking down a quiet residential street, everyone's at home, the lights were was one of those moments that's the ultimate winter memory.

And like I said, the movie rocks. An arty horror film that doesn't forget it's a horror film. There's some real arty material there, but there's also quite a bit of genuine gruesomeness and creepiness, and the final note is unsettling.

And avoid TWILIGHT. I am personally boycotting anything of that ilk.

I'm also working on an anthology, GHOSTS FOR CHRISTMAS, which is perfectly seasonal. And some other stuff. I'll be posting some stuff later.

I'm also trying to figure out what to do for New Year's Eve, and also preparing for a black-tie pre-inaugural gala in a couple weeks. (I actually bought a tuxedo today, for pity's sake.)

So stay tuned....there's more coming up...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dust & Corruption Goes Christmas Shopping

Yes, there's stuff out there for folks like me.

Actually, this is just an excuse to run a cool picture that was taken of me. I dropped by the Craft Mutiny Booty Market last Saturday, and one dealer, Kelly Rand, had the neatest pillows, embroidered with little bloodstains. They're about ten different kinds of wrong, so I just had to have one. Plus they're amazingly comfy. So after buying a few gifts, I treated myself to a pillow, and was photographed and briefly interviewed for the Hello Craft blog. So, for my readers who don't know what I look like, here I am, cuddling my Christmas pillow.

Ain't I just the cutest?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Short takes: More Clark Ashton Smith

I'm plowing through my Arkham House edition of A RENDEZVOUS IN AVEROIGNE, a candybox of Smith stories. There's a selection from each of his created worlds, plus a random section of non-mythos stories. Nicely, I can skip about half of it after my recent readings.

Of most interest are Averoigne selections. Averoigne, for the uninitiated, is a mythical region of medieval France, haunted by witches and demons and what have you. You know, the usual Smith dark stuff.


First off is "The Holiness of Azedarac." The title character is the bishop of the city of Ximes, and is in reality a diabolical sorcerer using his holy office for all sort of unholiness. (It's broadly hinted that he's actually immortal, and this is just his latest disguise.) Brother Ambrose has been sent by another bishop to investigate, and is rushing off with his report when one of Azedarac's servants slips a potion into his drink at a wayside inn, which doesn't kill him, but projects him 700 years into the past, where he's nearly sacrificed by druids. However, he's rescued by a pagan sorceress....

While it's mostly about Ambrose, the title actually has a function. The story's crowning irony is that Azedarac's holiness is a sham, and even after Ambrose returns (albeit a generation after he left), he finds that Azedarac is now regarded as a saint. And Ambrose ends up returning to the past, shedding his holy orders to live happily with the pagan sorceress.

Thus we have what appears to be a theme of the Averoigne stories, the battle between Christianity and paganism, with Christianity almost always coming out on the losing end in one way or the other. In "The Holiness of Azedarac," all Christian piety is a sham, and even the most sincere believer ends up abandoning his faith for earthy pleasures.

Next up is "The Colossus of Ylourgne," in which we have another unholy sorcerer, Nathaire, swearing vengeance on Averoigne's ecclesiastical community for various reasons, summons newly-dead corpses to a remote castle and using them to construct a corpselike giant, into which he projects his own soul. He despoils the various churches in Averoigne until another sorcerer, Gaspard du Nord, foils him with a clever plot.

Again, there's a strain of anticlericalism here, as the church is helpless and ineffectual in battling the giant, and only another sorcerer can defeat the menace. And he's the only sorcerer left alone by the church afterward.

After that is "The End of the Story." Law student Christophe Morand is traveling and takes shelter in a remote monastery, where he befriends a jovial monk whose has an extensive book collection. He finds a bound manuscript that the monk warns him not to read, claiming it will lead to his destruction. Kinda like the cursed video in RINGU, he just HAS to read it. It tells the story of a knight who disappeared while exploring the ruins of the Chateau des Faussesflammes, which just happens to be nearby, although the manuscript is incomplete, not telling just what happened to the knight. Naturally, Christophe is curious and goes to the Chateau the next day, and in the catacombs finds a lovely grove inhabited by a beautiful woman...

Of course, things are not as they seem, and Christophe is at first rescued by the monks. the end, he cannot resist the call of the pagan enchantress, and goes to her, a triumph of pagan earthiness over Christian piety. Also, the book-collecting monk has his own share of culpability. He shows Christophe the manuscript, and if not for that Christophe would never have gone to the Chateau. The monk's collection is also eyebrow-raising; a complete manuscript of Sappho, odes by Catullus, an unknown dialogue of Plato, an Arabian work on astronomy that prefigures Copernicus, and the "somewhat infamous Histoire d'Amour," of which there are two known copies, the rest destroyed upon publication. Obviously, this monk's studies are hardly of the approved variety! Brother Hilaire is obviously an unwitting enabler of the dark forces in the Chateau, and perhaps a long-distance puppet?

The last story in the section, "A Rendezvous in Averoigne," is well-written but ultimately shallow fluff about lovers on the run who end up taking shelter in the Chateau des Faussesflammes and being menaced by vampires. (Presumably this takes place long before the events of "The End of the Story" but who knows?) Everything's dealt with quickly and easily, so it's entertaining, but without the depth of the others.

The "Atlantis" section has three stories that are OK fantasies, with good twists of irony, but just not very noteworthy aside from that. No real common theme unites them except for the irony. "The Last Incantation" has a sorcerer summoning a dead love, only to find her less beautiful; the irony being that he failed to summon up his own youth, so he could see her with young eyes. "The Death of Malygris" has the same sorcerer apparently dying, and his rivals taking almost absurd precautions, waiting years before they finally venture in...only to be felled by a final booby trap. "A Voyage to Sfanomoe" gives us two brothers, scholars and scientists, who flee a sinking Atlantis in a homemade spacecraft and land on Venus...where, while exploring Venus' fields of flowers, they are transformed into plants themselves. Nice stuff, well-written, but lacking a certain oomph.

I can skip over the "Zothique" and "Hyperborea" sections, leaving only the grab-bag "Lost Worlds" part which I started today. I'll report on that later...

Friday, November 21, 2008


In rural Wisconsin, an elderly couple is found murdered, their bodies propped up in praying positions in a church. In Minneapolis, the partners of a computer game development firm are horrified when a serial killer starts bumping off locals in the style of the murderer in their newest game, Serial Killer Detective.

This is basically an enjoyable thriller in the read-it-and-forget-it school. It's got some of the requisite People With Dark Secrets, Tormented Main Characters, and Brutal Evil Killer. It's cliched, to be sure, but it moves at a brisk pace and it plays enough with some of the genre elements to keep from being too tiresome.

It benefits from some pretty gruesome scenes and a perverse twist when it's found out that the most likely suspect is a hermaphrodite. The novel starts off very grotesque and horrific, but toward the second half becomes more of a police procedural. There are a few weaknesses, though. The identity of the killer is telegraphed a bit far in advance, and quite a few characters lack dimension. But there's quite a bit of humor to leaven the gruesomeness.

Still, if you're looking for a fun read, you could do worse. As I said, it's in the read-it-and-forget-it school.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pass the Punch

Just got home from another gruesome play....Dog & Pony DC's "PUNCH: That's the Way We Do It."

It's a live-action Punch & Judy show. No, really. Never thought that sort of thing could happen, eh? It's about 37 different kinds of wrong, but outrageously entertaining, if it doesn't give you the heaves.

There's a four-person cast: Josh Drew as clown/narrator Joey, the brawny Dan Van Hoozer as Punch, Niki Jacobsen as Judy and later as the doctor, and Lee Liebeskind as the policeman, the executioner, and later the Devil.

It's all totally batshit crazy, although sometimes shocking. It's funny to see puppets or cartoon characters beating each other up, but when it's suddenly actual human beings beating each other up....well, it still can be funny, but you're not as comfortable about it.

Screaming slogans like "Eat! Fuck! Kill!" over a soundtrack of punk-rock tunes, and ending in a general melee, flailing in a pool of blood at my feet (literally, at my feet), this was a memorable evening out.

Unfortunately, it closes Saturday night, so DC area folks only have a few days left to catch it. It's playing at Flashpoint DC, near the Chinatown metro stop, so make an evening of it. Tickets are $15, and there's free (!) Pabst Blue Ribbon for the taking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CLOSET LAND, from Molotov Theatre

On a cold, windy November evening, this play is a great choice.

CLOSET LAND, by Radha Bharadwaj, is an intense two-person play. In an unnamed country being ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, a nameless woman (played by Jessica Hanson) is under arrest. She's a children's book author, and is being accused of hiding inflammatory political messages in her books, to indoctrinate the young and alert adults to resistance activities. Her interrogator (Alex Zavistovich) plays all sorts of games with her, physically and mentally, in order to get her to sign a confession. She maintains her innocence even as dark secrets are revealed...and the interrogator may be more than he seems.

It's a chilling, effective play. The torture scenes are handled with a certain amount of subtlety, with cuts to black or sound effects standing in for various events, although some are pretty much up-front. And, depending on your frame of mind, there's a certain ambiguity. Is it all really happening? Is it all in her mind? Is the interrogator really who he claims to be? Or is he only using his knowledge of her past to trick her? Is she really a subversive? Or is she being turned into a subversive by the interrogator?

The acting is uniformly good. Jessica Hansen brings a lot of determination and vulnerability to her role as the author, while Alex Zavistovich exudes a bland, jovial complacency...until the mask comes off.

Performed in the back room of 1409 Playbill Cafe (1409 14th St NW, Washington DC), this is subtler in its approach to violence than some other Molotov fare, and also more overtly political. Still, seek it out. Molotov Theatre is waiting for you.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


OK, so I'm a James Bond fan. Have been since I was a kid. They've varied in quality, sometimes quite remarkable, sometimes almost painful.

I loved, loved, LOVED the last film, CASINO ROYALE. It had just the right mixture of action, intrigue, suspense, and character development to absolutely thrill me. I saw it three times in theaters. I pre-ordered the DVD from Amazon...and am now kicking myself since the Special Edition just came out.

I was quite interested to see where they went with the next one. I admit....I groaned, loudly, when I heard the announced title. Good grief, not QUANTUM OF SOLACE!!!! For those who don't know, it's one of Ian Fleming's short stories about Bond, actually quite a good one but devoid of any real action or intrigue; it's basically Bond hearing a story about a dysfunctional marriage and pondering how normal life can be more dramatic than his own. (The story uses the phrase to indicate a tiny amount of comfort.)

But c'mon...using that for a title? In this day and age? Holy crap. What the hell were they thinking? Some of my fears about public reaction to it were justified, as it seems most of the public who weren't fans of the literary Bond either had no idea what it meant, or thought the movie would deal with space travel or time travel (thanks a lot, QUANTUM LEAP), and critics used terms like "forbidding" and "pretentious" when describing the title.

Still, I hoped the movie would be good. I really did. I wanted to like it.

But alas. I am SO disappointed by QOS.

There's lots of action, to be sure, but most of the action scenes are so over-edited that it's hard to keep track of what's going on, or who's doing what to who. In the opening chase scene, for instance, Bond's car loses a door, and I have no idea how, because the editing is so frantic that it's almost impossible to make out. This has been pointed out by many critics and fans, and I went in feeling actually fairly skeptical that it could be so bad...and it was. It was just all wrong.

I guess some of the blame for that can be laid on the shoulders of director Marc Forster, who has never directed an action film before. Yup. He's good when it comes to exploring emotions and relationships (I thought his work with FINDING NEVERLAND was exceptional), but he was so out of his element with a Bond film. He seemed to be aping the style of the MATRIX films (which I detest, btw), and the Bourne series (which I think are OK) with the shakycam work and the frenetic editing. He often seems to be afraid of pulling back and just letting the camera sit and watch, so we can see for ourselves what's going on.

The plot is OK...Dominic Greene, who hides behind a facade of environmental charity, is really part of a vast criminal network called Quantum, and is plotting to seize control of Bolivia's water supply and reap billions. Really, not all that bad a plot, esp. when you consider the concern in the scientific community about a potential water crisis in the real world, with parts of the world potentially becoming uninhabitable due to water shortages. It's a little spooky. But the film fails to focus enough on the plot; it's really secondary to the real plot. Bond is out for revenge on the criminal network that deceived the woman he loved in the last film, and drove her to commit suicide.

Now, I thought, since they called it QUANTUM OF SOLACE, we'd get some real exploration of Bond's feelings as he went after the villains. There is some, I'll admit...but not enough. It often seems perfunctory, especially coming from someone like Marc Forster. That sort of thing is his bread and butter; he SHOULD have done better with it.

The REAL emotional link in this film is the prickly relationship between Bond and his boss M, negotiating their trust for each other and dependence on each other. In fact, a much more appropriate title would have been A MATTER OF TRUST or something along those lines, as that's really as much a theme in this film as Bond's search for comfort. Early in the film, M is betrayed by her own bodyguard, and is angry over her trusting a traitor, even though there was no reason to doubt him, as they find out. M doesn't trust the CIA. Bond gives trust in Mathis. The CIA doesn't trust Bond. There's even issues of trust among the villains. It's everywhere in this film, and deserved more playing up than what it got. Even the film's final scene is more about trust than solace.

There are some good parts. The scene at the performance of Tosca, where Bond eavesdrops on a conference of Quantum officials, works well. There are flashes of nice scenery in Italy and Bolivia, although they're not used to best advantage. I did like the final bit with Bond confronting Vesper's lover Yusuf, who had played her and abused her trust. (See? Trust again!) Agent Fields' tripping of a henchman, followed by a wide-eyed "So sorry!" The imagery in the opening credits scene is often quite clever.

But when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. There's a lot more that's wrong. The horrible theme song from Jack White and Alicia Keys. A henchman who's more of a buffoon than a menace. A confrontation between Bond and Greene that lacks any real heft or impact. Gemma Arterton's negligible role as Agent Fields (we never actually hear her first name, but she's listed as "Strawberry Fields" in the credits, which had my friends gagging). A few overobvious homages to past films, that started to seem forced and clumsy. Bond's inexplicable ability to overhear a conversation several hundred yards away (the prelude to the big boat chase in the hell did he know what Greene had planned for Camille?) And the absence of the phrase "quantum of solace" from the film, and an accompanying explanation, that would help clue audiences in as to what the hell it all means.

In fact...a bit of trivia...the title was not settled on until the film had been shooting for a week or so. Not long after that we heard that the evil organization was called Quantum. Ah ha, I said, they must have named that after they figured out the title. No no no, said some other Bond fans, they had that figured out all along, really! But in the movie, the organization is not referred to as "Quantum" until almost the fact, that's the first time we heard the word used in the movie at all. Even if they had named it before choosing the title, it really looks like it was a last minute piece of retrofitting.

Well, I'm hoping the next one will be better. Ever since they rebooted the series with CASINO ROYALE, I've expected a few missteps and miscalculations as they find their way and redefine the series. I don't miss some of the slapstick comedy or overabundance of gadgets or cheesy one-liners that had come to dominate the series and turn it into a parody of itself. I do kinda miss the old opening gunbarrel visual, the presence of Moneypenny and Q (but please, don't bring back John Cleese, I hated him as Q), and some other bits, and I hope they come along. But I really think they lost their way somewhat with this film. It's not quite as bad as some reviews make it out to be (MOONRAKER, DIE ANOTHER DAY, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and LIVE AND LET DIE are the worst of the Bonds in my view, and QOS is better than them), but it's most definitely not a brilliant piece of art or the greatest Bond film ever. It's too confused and unfocused, the work of a director out of his element. Let's hope they fix what went wrong and get things back on track with the next film.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Useless Monday Blogging

Meaning, of course, that today was sort of a useless day. You're just coming off a fabulous weekend, and you have to go into work for a day....and then you're off again another day. Veteran's Day. It's also Martinmas, but that's not a big deal in the U.S.

Temperatures are dropping here in the DC area, thank goodness. It IS November, after all, it's SUPPOSED to be chilly. But considering some of the warm autumns we've had, where it's hard to get in the Halloween mood, or even do your Christmas shopping, because you're running around in shorts. Thanks, global warming.

The last week has been a haze. What with Halloween, the Zombie Walk, and then that momentous Tuesday that I'm still in state of semi-disbelief about, it's just been too much. On election night, I was to be part of a live webcast from a local bar-n-grill (actually, the same place the Zombie Walk left from), with some local folks, but there were "technical difficulties" and it didn't last long. Oh well. We had some good things to say about the campaigns and what we hoped would come along in the future. Too bad the video feed conked out before someone else popped up with "Nailin' Palin" on his laptop. Filming us reacting to that would have been precious.

This was a burlesque-heavy weekend for me, with a show up in Baltimore on Friday night, to honor my pal Trixie Little's birthday. And then another on Saturday night down at the Palace, an 80's themed show hosted by another pal, Li'l Dutch. Socialized with a lot of folks, and found out I had a couple regular readers (Hey, Gina!), and another friend wants to start contributing at some point (Hey, Bill!).

Sunday afternoon, I decided to be lazy. It was fairly chilly, so I did what chilly lazy Sunday afternoons are made for: I watched an entire 40s film serial, THE CRIMSON GHOST.

It's a great example of serial madness, and the villain's costume is something you've probably seen before. The image of the Crimson Ghost basically became the logo of the band The Misfits, and has been overused on all sorts of merchandise that you wade through at your local Hot Topic store. It's kind of annoying, really. I wonder if the kids buying that stuff have any idea where it came from. It's sad, but I've sometimes had to explain to people of my generation what the old serials were. They have no idea. This is something that was a vital part of pop culture from the 1910s through the 50s, and it's saddening to think people don't know about them.

Oh well. I've got several reading projects going on, including plugging away at Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for my book club. I'll post a review when I'm done; I think the occasional swashbuckler will fit in here. I'm also working on yet another volume of Clark Ashton Smith stories, an Arkham House tome dubbed A RENDEZVOUS IN AVEROIGNE, but luckily I can skip half of it because there's quite a bit that was included in the stuff I read earlier. And I picked up P. J. Tracy's MONKEEWRENCH at the library, which looked intriguing.

And I've got another busy weekend coming up. A concert with the Washington Sinfonietta on Friday, going to see QUANTUM OF SOLACE on Saturday with my best buds, and trying to fit in the new Molotov Theatre play, Closet Land, opening up this weekend, and I just found out about another play, a live-action Punch and Judy from Mead Theatre Lab. I'll be posting reviews as I see them!

And, of course, it's fall. Meaning I'll be taking some time to walk around and kick up the leaves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We did it.

OK, this isn't a political blog, but I'm over the moon.

We did it.

I'm so afraid I'll wake up in the morning and it will all have been a dream.

But we did it.

Sorry, this may bother some of my readers (if I have any), but I'm overjoyed right now.

Let's hope the next four years goes well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Zombie Walkin'

I went to my first-ever zombie walk last night....sweet Lucifer, it was a grand time.

We started by gathering in Silver Spring's venerable Quarry House tavern. The organizers had no idea how many would be showing up, and it ended up being jam-packed with zombies. After a few burgers and beers, we started to lurch north on Georgia Avenue. We'd startle locals by clawing at windows of open businesses, and any cars that slowed to watch the mayhem got surrounded. At one point, an ambulance went by, and I started yelling "Rrrrr! Mmmmmeatwagon! RRRRRRRRM!" which led to zombies clawing after it.

A bit further down the road, we came upon a stopped bus, and proceeded to claw at the windows, moaning for meat. We probably scared the living shit out of the passengers and the driver was rather alarmed.

We proceeded through Silver Spring's commercial strip, Ellsworth Avenue, where we terrified teens and traumatized tots. (I'm sure some kids were having serious nightmares last night.) It was a warm night, so folks lingering late at the sidewalk tables were treated to the sight of the walking dead. A teenaged girl coming out of Cakelove was screaming and running for her life. A group of us stumbled into Borders and lurched around. A crowd exiting the local multiplex was menaced, and a few more teen girls ran screaming back in.

We lurched toward the AFI Silver Theatre, and along the way clawed at the windows of various fancy restaurants, terrifying the servers and amusing the patrons. Everything ended at the AFI, which was showing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Rrrrrm. It was quite an experience, watching it amidst a group of zombies.

I had a chat with a gal while waiting in line for a beer. She observed how liberating it was, and I had to agree. It was amazing fun, dressing up and getting in character and creating all sorts of mayhem. (Really, some of us did start to worry that we'd get arrested for some of the stuff we were pulling, like impeding traffic.) But it was refreshing to have an implicit license to act like a complete maniac, to take part in what I later described as "feral street theater." It made me realize why I enjoyed trick-or-treating so much as a kid...dressing up, running around after dark unsupervised, and acting wild. An evening of freedom from the usual social constraints is probably very healthy psychologically, and drives home the point that holidays like Halloween serve a greater purpose than simply a chance to sell decorations and candy. It's not just for kids, folks. If there's a zombie walk, or some similar thing going on in your neck of the woods, take part. You won't be sorry.

Staggering back to my car after it was all over, I was momentarily alarmed when a group of tough-looking fellows approached me, but all they wanted was my picture. They thought I was the coolest thing around.

This is me when I got back:

I had to take a long shower to get the makeup off, and tossed my filthy old jeans and a bloodstained wifebeater top in the trash. Oy, what a night, but kudos to the Quarry House and the AFI for handling this rowdy crowd with grace.

More photos can be found here and videos here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

OK, so I originally wanted October to be a big blow-out for this blog, and I've barely posted anything at all. I'll be was busy, I had a nasty cold for a while, and when I wasn't blowing my nose and coughing out my lungs, I was out taking in all sorts of Halloween fun.

I've done things like go pick pumpkins at farm in the country, and gone with friends to the full production of Goatman Hollow. I had two parties last weekend, and attended Gaylaxicon in Bethesda a few weeks ago.

All in all, it's been a pretty good Halloween season, compared to a few I've had in the past, including one disastrous Halloween night where my boyfriend of the moment dumped me in the middle of Dupont Circle.

So, tonight I'm off to a party at a friend's; I had hoped to go to a big Halloween show at the Palace of Wonders, but I procrastinated getting tickets and, guess what, they were sold out. Well, poo. I'll just make the best of it.

And then tomorrow night I'll be participating in the first-ever Silver Spring Zombie Walk, which starts a local bar & grill and ends at the AFI Silver, for a late screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Should be fun....

So I hope all my readers out there are having a safe, spooky, and fabulous Halloween. And if you're just going to stay home and read, that's fine, just enjoy it!

HYPERBOREA, by Clark Ashton Smith

Some more fun from Klarkash-Ton, as he was known in Lovecraft circles. This time, instead of the far future, we've got the far-flung past, the lost continent of Hyperborea, slowly being taken over by glaciers.

While there are lots of similarities to the Zothique stories, there are some major differences. While the stories often have a sense of impending doom, it's not quite as relentless as Zothique. Hyperborea's doom is only one of a series of dooms; doom in Zothique is final. There's also a lack of Zothique's near-relentless decadence and frequent hints of necrophilia and carnal depravity.

The stories are, of course, great high fantasy. "The Seven Geases" is a classic of pulp fantasy, with a cursed man wandering the underworld, finding that every being that he's sent to isn't interested in him. "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" is a nice bit of supernatural revenge. "The White Sibyl" is more subtle, a tale of fairy-tale romance with a sharply mundane ending that calls up some of the truths of human nature. "The Testament of Athammaus" is one of the better ones for sheer grotesquerie, in which a criminal of strange ancestry takes a horrible vengeance on a city, seemingly for no real reason except for the sheer joy of evil. "The Coming of the White Worm" is fairly standard pulp fantasy with tinges of horror. "Ubbo-Sathla" is unusual for being a story that involves the contemporary world, in which a man finds an antiquity that allows him to travel into the distant past of Hyperborea. "The Door to Saturn" is a perversely humorous tale of two enemies from Hypberborea finding themselves transported to an alien world and having to cope. "The Ice-Demon" is a fun bit of heroic fantasy, with a team of thieves seeking a treasure in a glacier. And the last two, "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The Theft of Thirty-nine Girdles," are fun picaresque adventures of a master thief and his exploits.

The edition I have (Ballantine Books' Adult Fantasy line) also has Smith's "World's Rim" stories, which really are one actual short story, "The Abominations of Yondo," with a trio of brief vignettes. Nicely atmospheric but hard to put down in any sort of organized mythology or context. They just simply are.

This wasn't as tough going for me as the Zothique tales were...perhaps I'm getting used to Smith's style?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Greatest Show Unearthed

So, not long ago my new friend Bella Donna told me about an interesting-sounding show, a Halloween belly-dancing performance. I thought, yow. That's definitely something I should check out.

And it turns out it's the third annual show. How the bloody hell did I miss out on the first two?

At the Saturday night show, I had a terrific time. This was great spooky eerie fun, the perfect way to kick off the Halloween holiday season. And the lovely touches of decadence only make it better. Well, jeez, a belly-dancing show can't help but be decadent by its very nature.

(By the way, the title for this post was cribbed from one of the segments. Sorry, it was so good I couldn't resist.)

Performances ranged from a reflection on murder to a swivel-hipped Frankenstein to naughty trick-or-treaters to other stuff. Bella Donna did a terrific Little Red Riding Hood number with local drag king Ken Vegas. Two groups, Troupe 'Hip'notic and Mortifera, did effective sideshow/freakshow pieces. And the routine by Miss Joule and Surprise! was a fun B-movie inspired hypnosis piece (at one point ordering the audience to vote Obama, which roused the loudest cheers of the evening). Baltimore-based Shems did a very thought-provoking number, which switched between traditional belly dance music and combat sounds. But everyone was outstanding in their own way. I had a great time, not only with the show, but also hanging out with my growing circle of friends in the DC burlesque/performance community.

Alas, there were only two performances, and Saturday's was the last. So keep your eyes peeled for next year's show. I'll see you there!

(I can't believe this, but I forgot a link to the show's main site. Here it is: BellyHorror.)

Other notes...

My glaucoma turns out to have been caused by one of the nasal sprays I've been on, Nasacort. If anyone reading this is on a steroid nasal spray, I'd suggest you talk to your doctor as soon as possible. But the really good news is that it's responding to treatment amazingly well. My ophthalmologist said my reaction has been "ideal" which is heartening.

I'm currently reading THE GHOST IN LOVE by Jonathan Carroll which I'm reviewing for Amazon (!) and won't be reviewing for this blog, alas. And I've been approached to be an "artistic consultant" and do some writing for Houston's Opera Vista, albeit it'll be all by email. Being an urban bohemian on a limited budget, I can't afford to jet down to Houston for the performances. Sigh. But it is seriously cool that these things are happening!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Looking for the Goatman

So, naturally, our favorite season is coming, and I got a little headstart on the fun. Tonight, I was a Very Special Guest at the dress rehearsal for Goatman Hollow, a haunted attraction in Riverdale, MD. Goatman Hollow is not just another haunted house, with guys in black hoodies and dime store masks snarling at you or waving an axe with a visible Home Depot sticker, or indifferent ghosts who turn in your direction and intone, "Oh yeah. Boo." GH is a real theatrical experience, with great makeup and costumes, a storyline, and effects that are, well, effective.

Monday, September 22, 2008


This is a difficult review to write. I've met Daniel Stashower a few times. He's a local, he's a terribly nice guy, he's cute as a button, and some of his other works are grand. THE ADVENTURE OF THE ECTOPLASMIC MAN is a great romp featuring Sherlock Holmes teaming up with Harry Houdini. TELLER OF TALES is a well-regarded biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, and THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL is a very good analysis of the real-life mystery that inspired Poe's "The Mystery of Marie Roget."

But THE DIME MUSEUM MURDERS just doesn't work for me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Quick Look at Anthony Eglin

After a wild week getting my first bifocals and being looked over by an ophthalmologist (yup, glaucoma all right, and I'm on two different eye drops, one in the morning and one at night), and hurricane Hannah passing through yesterday (albeit rather unimpressively), I'm finally relaxing on Sunday night with a glass of a sprightly Gascon white by the laptop, Bartok on the stereo, and windows open to the buzz of crickets outside.

I don't garden. It's hard, having a small urban apartment, to garden, and even if I had a house, would I? I don't know. I slaved away quite a bit in my parents' garden, taking care of vegetables I didn't eat (I still abhor okra and bell peppers) or flowers I didn't care about (for a while, my mother had a passion for gloriosa daisies, a flower I found quite unattractive and still do). I do enjoy strolling through other gardens locally, like lovely National Arboretum, or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, or nearby Brookside Gardens. A few years ago a friend and I had a great time visiting Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and I keep meaning to go back at some point. I'm enchanted with the the idea of a garden, but I'm not sure I want all the work that goes with it. And currently there's no way in hell I could afford a gardener, even if I had the space.

Monday, September 1, 2008

More Smith and other stuff

For September, I'm getting back on the review wagon...

I finally, FINALLY finished the stories in Clark Ashton Smith's ZOTHIQUE collection. Nothing was up to the level of "The Dark Eidolon" or "Morthylla," but all were enjoyable.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Public Service Message

Well, folks, today I'm 43. I'm fairly upbeat about it, but I got some bad news recently.

I went in for an eye exam recently. I'm overdue, my glasses are in bad shape, but I've also been having problems with my right eye and I wanted to get a medical opinion. And my fears were confirmed: I have glaucoma. While I still can see out of my right eye, and there's been a minor loss in peripheral vision, I can still drive. But I'm to see an ophthamologist this week for a formal screening and he'll probably get me started on eyedrops. I was pretty bummed but I've had folks telling me all over, including an uncle, that lots of people have glaucoma for years and have been perfectly fine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late August update

Sorry I took so long to blog again. I got whalloped with a summer cold that bounced between my throat and my head and my chest. Lots of fun there.

The August Horrorfind convention was a bit of a letdown. It's become harder to get the "collector's market" DVDs these days as con managements are cracking down on that, and I've heard tales of law enforcement types wandering dealers' rooms looking for that stuff. I bought a few movies but overall I wasn't all that thrilled; there was a lot of mass-market stuff that I could buy cheaper on Amazon or Deep Discount, and there was quite a bit of straight porn, which was of little interest to me. I did get some books, too, that I'll be dipping into later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My wrist is sore

No, get those smarmy comments out of your heads. It's sore because I just did something that few people do these days. I actually wrote a letter.

By hand. On paper. With a pen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Catching up: Theater, film, and books

OK, my job's been a little crazy since the last time, and I've been busy with a couple of things; for one, I bought a new desk, one of those unfinished-wood things, that could look like something from a college dorm if you didn't do it right. But I did it right and after staining and polyurethaning it looks like an antique. It's now a cozy little corner of my living room for me to do my computing and other stuff.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

REQUIRED READING: Clark Ashton Smith's "The Dark Eidolon" and "Morthylla"

I first read these stories years, years ago, in the late 80s. And twenty years later, I still love them and consider them some of Smith's best work.

So here's a little spoiler-ridden analysis...

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Assorted stuff...

More views of Clark Ashton Smith's "Zothique" stories:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Report from the Capital Fringe Festival

OK, it was a hot steamy day here in DC, so naturally I went out, sweating like a freakin' horse, to catch two plays in annual Capital Fringe Festival.

The Fringe Festival is similar to ones that run in places like Philadelphia or Edinburgh; performers and theatrical troupes set up in various out-of-the-way venues. It's actually a fun way of sampling the works of different groups and seeing some stuff you might ordinarily miss.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I just got in from seeing HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY with a couple of friends, and let me tell you's good. Very good. It's a visual feast.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Smith, and Other Stuff

So, after completing last night's post, and checking some stuff online, I managed to find a halfway reasonably priced copy of ELEGANT NIGHTMARES on And it's mine, MINE, I tell you! The next-cheapest is $60 and it's all uphill from there. Check your library system.

Done some more reading of Clark Ashton Smith's "Zothique" stories, dark and decadent tales of a dying Earth hundreds of thousands of years in the future, when civilization is falling apart and sorcery has been rediscovered.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Wouldn't this be a great name for a blog? (I considered it for a while.) Sullivan's ELEGANT NIGHTMARES is a great critical overview of some of the essential ghost story writers for both the experience reader of supernatural fiction, and the neophyte just starting off on that fascinating and shadowy path.

I read this first many, many years ago. It was definitely before I went to college, probably while I was in high school. I remember jotting down all sorts of titles to hunt down, but had little luck until my mature years in finding them. Then again, many of the stories Sullivan discusses were, at the time, out of print and available only in libraries or absurdly expensive and absurdly rare editions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Report from Monster Bash

OK, it's been over a week, but I've had a wild time since getting back. I was unable to blog from the con, as I couldn't hook up to the wireless connection in my far-flung hotel room (I was waaaay in the back), and then I was busy at work catching up on stuff, and then had an insanely busy weekend (book club, volunteer work, big burlesque show, and lunch with one of my best buds). So finally tonight I'm getting down to it.

Monster Bash, for those who don't know, is a yearly horror convention in the Pittsburgh PA area (this year in the suburb of Butler), with a focus on classic monster movies (not much for slasher and torture porn there, thank goodness). It also functions as a sort of family reunion for a circle of friends who interact throughout the year via the 'net.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Xeethra" by Clark Ashton Smith

This short story is the first in the collection ZOTHIQUE, which was part of Ballantine's Adult Fantasy line, coming out in 1970. The story itself was first published in "Weird Tales" in 1936. I'm slowly working my way through ZOTHIQUE which may take a while, as a little CAS can go a long way.

Smith's Zothique is our own world, thousands of years in the future. Civilizations have risen and fallen, technology has been forgotten, and mankind is now dominated by sorcery and dark gods. Perfect for the D&C reader, eh? It's a ripe setting for Smith, who was one of the few American authors to successfully bring the European Decadent tradition to U.S. readers, and only quite a while after the Decadent movement sputtered out.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Quiet weekend least for this blog. The heat's ungodly, I've been busy with work, and I've had other stuff to do as well, including occasional volunteer work. Next weekend is DC's gay pride festivities, and the week after that is Monster Bash in Pittsburgh, so I'll be busy but I'll try to post when I can. If I can manage it, I'll do some posting from the Bash.

So, what I've got going on...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

TO WALK THE NIGHT by William Sloane

The Maila Nurmi-esque photo on the cover, and the lurid copy on the back, would make one think this was a story of some supernatural temptress. ("From those who inexplicably survived her loathesome evil comes this terrifying story of a time when men's souls and bodies were hideously tortured to sustain the life of a fiendish woman." Seriously, it says that on the back.) But TO WALK THE NIGHT (1937) is far different, an almost delicate and definitely tragic story that walks a line between horror and science fiction. And it's one of the few novels I've encountered that deal with spontaneous human combustion.

The story is told in flashbacks by Berkeley Jones (called "Bark" by his friends) to his best friend's father, who he often calls "Dad." Jerry Lister, the best friend, has committed suicide, and his wife had something to do with it.

In flashbacks, we hear the story of how Bark and Jerry go to a football game at their alma mater, and after the intense game, pay a visit on their friend Prof. LeNormand in the observatory. But when they arrive, the prof is dead, burning to death with no apparent cause. All the questioning and investigation turns up nothing, until the two go to visit the prof's widow, of whom they're shocked to learn, thinking he was never the marrying type. And thus we meet Selena.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Your Sinister Summer

It's Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. (The REAL start is the summer solstice, coming in a few weeks.) And it's our job to make summer as sinister as possible.

What is a sinister summer?

A sinister summer is where the shadows are still found in the corners, where you're sure that eerie adventures are lurking around the next corner as you explore and sniff out something new. It's taking time out on a hot afternoon to read a shuddersome novel, or retreat back into the air conditioning to watch a favorite horror film. Or taking a less stifling afternoon to do a little touring and exploring.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I first learned of William Sloane's work from an article about "weird mysteries" I read in college. I'll be damned if I remember the author or the book it was in, but I did copy down a list of titles and authors that I still have somewhere. And that was over twenty years ago. Sheesh.

The cover looks promising, but the lurid promise isn't carried out too well. (The edition I have is a 1967 paperback; the novel itself was published in 1937.) The story is the account of Richard Sayles, a college professor from New York, who visits a former colleague in an isolated house in coastal Maine. His friend, Julian Blair (rather Dark-Shadows-ish, that) has been engaging in some strange, secretive experiments. He just hasn't been himself since his beloved wife died, y'see. And staying with him are his young sister-in-law and the surly, arrogant, and mysterious Mrs. Walters.

The foreshadowing is laid on thick in the opening chapters. There's a lot of "had I but known!" stuff going on, and several paragraphs are dedicated to breathless, purple gloom-and-doom prose. He writes of the town near the house, "How can they look down their own streets and across the river to the point where Julian's house once stood without feeling the hairs lift on the backs of their necks?" Yeesh.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Go Out for a Walk

It's May, it's a lovely Saturday evening. Go out for a walk in the neighborhood, and let your imagination roam. Look for some of the dark and mysterious landmarks around where you are.

Walk by that small apartment building that's been condemned and has been standing empty for months. An recycling container stands empty on the porch. A doormat, now thick with pollen, is draped over a railing, abandoned. The bushes are growing high against one of the windows, where the blinds hang in a tangle.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grande Dame Guignol: Reflections on BABY JANE

So Friday night I got together with some fellows and saw that 1962 masterpiece WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on the big screen for the first time.


I have to say that I am a bit of a fan of Bette Davis, and I always felt the movie belonged to her. Sure, she was shrill, over-the-top, and theatrical; that was her character, a batshit crazy relic of a time gone by. Joan Crawford is more restrained but her facial expressions often seem more comical than anything else, and her famous scene of twirling around her room in her wheelchair is uproariously silly.

So, of course, it's all about how cruel Jane Hudson (Davis) is to her poor crippled sister (Crawford), and how Jane begins to slide into insanity. And the film's now-famous final confession turns everything on its head.

OK, so if you're spoiler sensitive, ignore the rest of this bit.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

First review! SATAN'S CHILD by Peter Saxon

Peter Saxon was a house name used by a clutch of British writers in the 60s and early 70s. The name was most notably used on a series about a team of supernatural detectives called "The Guardians," and for writing a novel called THE DISORIENTATED MAN that was filmed as that cinematic classic SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

This particular novel, written by Wilfred McNeilly in 1967, is a totally batshit crazy example of quasi-porno-gothic excess. It opens in Scotland, presumably in the 1700s, as the people of the village of Kinskerchan are parading Elspet Malcolm through the streets naked, on her way to be executed for witchcraft. Elspet is innocent, of course. She's merely a beautiful and free spirit who's being railroaded by the resentful and jealous women and priggish, self-righteous men of the village. Even her repressed, holier-than-thou husband is condemning her.

The book lingers almost lovingly on the descriptions of Elspet's torments, which only gives a hint of what's coming up. Her children Iain and Morag witness their mother burning and Iain swears revenge....REVENGE!

And then the fun begins.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008



OK, so it's a phrase I stumbled on and borrowed. (It's from one of the Psalms, ironically enough.) But it suits.

DUST AND CORRUPTION will be primarily a blog for reviewing horror and mystery fiction, with a major accent on the gothic, as well as decadent literature, and any other lit that strikes your bloggers' fancies. I'm also leaving open the possibilities for discussions of movies, music, and any number of related topics.

The reviews should start hang in there!

And it's fitting to kick this off on Walpurgis Night!