Sunday, January 14, 2024

David J. Skal, R.I.P.

Several horror icons whom I admire have died these past several months. I just now learned that David J. Skal (1952 - 2024) died after being hit by a drunk driver in Los Angeles.

I first encountered Skal through his book, The Monster Show. A self-described "cultural history of horror," his book is informative, filled with original insights, and well written; a breezy, entertaining read, mercifully free of academic jargon. The prose is literate yet accessible to lay readers, the way film criticism should be always.

I later read his Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, as part of my research for a class I taught at The Learning Annex about Halloween haunted houses. It was great preparation for my lecture.

I only met Skal once, in the fall of 2001, at Burbank's Dark Delicacies horror bookstore. Several writers were there for a book-signing, including me and Skal. I had brought The Monster Show for him to sign, which he did. I still prize that book with his inscription.

To my surprise, he bought a copy of my book, Halloween Candy and asked me to sign it. I took it as his way of encouraging a fellow writer and fan who was hardly in his league.

Overall, Skal was a fine historian, a skilled writer, and a gracious man.





Sunday, July 23, 2023

First Halloween Sighting in 2023 on July 22

Every year Halloween (and Christmas) starts earlier. For some time now, my first Halloween sightings have been around mid August. But this year, Halloween began in July.

On Saturday, July 22, I received the Fall 2023 issue of Westways magazine (published by the California AAA. In it was ad advertisement for Knott's Scary Farm.

That makes July 22 my first official Halloween sighting of the year.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Loscon 47 Canceled Due to Covid-19

Today I received the following email:

Members and Friends,

With the effects of the Covid-19  pandemic being felt in many sectors, we are not immune I'm sorry to say. The fallout of these effects sadly means that we will be postponing Loscon 47 until next year. We are rescheduling Loscon 47 for Thanksgiving weekend (November 26th through November 28th 2021).

We will be rolling Guests, members, and dealer room participants over to next year. Writer Guest Dr. Gregory Benford, our Artist Guest Jeff Sturgeon and Fan Guests of Honor Dennis and Kristine Cherry have all agreed to be there and are looking forward to being there next year.  

There will be more info as we re-assemble our teams to bring this to fruition in November of 2021.

A general meeting to discuss this will be on Friday 6/19/2020 at 7:30 via jitsi meet. This will be a very brief meeting just to touch base with members and staff. The link is from most web browsers. You only need to download an app if you are on IOS or Android.

As always you may ask questions at and I look forward to seeing you all Thanksgiving weekend 2021

Loscon Chairman, Scott Beckstead

This is disappointing. I attend Loscon most years. While I understand some members' concerns, I think this is overkill. Loscon 47 was to meet at the end of November. Surely Covid-19 will quiet down by then? Plus, Loscon 47 can always requires masks, gloves, and social distancing for those who choose to attend.

If you agree that Loscon 47 should go forward this November, please let them know. Offer to help in whatever you can to make Loscon 47 happen, and happen safely.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Horror Films Screening at Loscon 46

Come this November, I will once again be returning to Loscon, Los Angeles's premiere science fiction & fantasy convention, to host a screening of select horror films on the night of Friday, November 29th.

Films will be chosen from among the winners of the 2019 Tabloid Witch Awards, which I manage.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A panel of guest filmmakers. So far, Justin Head (Queen of the Dead) and Shannon Brown (The Potluck) have agreed to attend.

I invite all horror film fans to come!


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Harvey Weinstein Raped Horror Actress Lysette Anthony

British actress Lysette Anthony has announced that she too was raped by producer Harvey Weinstein.

According to the Daily Mail [October 14, 2017]:

British actress Lysette Anthony has told police that Harvey Weinstein raped her, the Sunday Times reported, becoming the fifth woman to level such accusations against the disgraced Hollywood mogul.

The 54-year-old actress, who currently appears in British soap Hollyoaks, told Metropolitan Police last week that she had originally met Weinstein in New York, and agreed to meet him later at his rented house in London, according to the paper.

"The next thing I knew he was half undressed and he grabbed me. It was the last thing I expected and I fled," she told the Times.

Anthony, who appeared in Woody Allen's 1992 film "Husbands and Wives", said that Weinstein then began stalking her, turning up unannounced at her house.

"He pushed me inside and rammed me against the coat rack," she said of the attack in the 1980s. "He was trying to kiss me and shove inside me. Finally I just gave up."

Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

Anthony first came to my attention when she played Angelique Bouchard in the short-lived 1991 Dark Shadows remake. While Anthony is not especially known as a scream queen, her extensive body of work (she has 89 acting credits on IMDB) does include many horror films and TV shows.

My favorite horror work by Anthony is Trilogy of Terror II (1996), in which she played the lead role in all three tales of that horror anthology sequel. This was in the tradition of Karen Black playing the lead in all three of the original Trilogy of Terror's stories.

The original is justly considered a horror classic and Black's performance was a tough act to follow. But while the remake is little remembered, Anthony's performance was a worthy successor to Black's. Especially in "Bobby" (the middle story), wherein Anthony plays a mother who turns to witchcraft in an attempt to resurrect her dead son. By all means, watch it.

Horror is a tight-knit community, composed of passionate fans. Although all of Weinstein's victims should be supported, reading about Anthony felt personal, as though "one of our own" was attacked. Let's hope Anthony and the other women find peace and justice.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Remembering the Mass Hysteria Over Princess Diana's Death

Princess Diana died 20 years ago today in a car accident. Unless you were alive at the time, you can't imagine the mass hysteria that swept the British public over her death.
I never understood the adulation she attracted. She seemed rather ordinary to me. A pretty face, but lacking any great accomplishments other than marrying into the royal family at age 19. One of those celebrities who are famous simply for being famous.
It wasn't my imagination. Major newspapers today are recalling the mass hysteria. Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:

It has become an embarrassing memory, like a mawkish, self-pitying teenage entry in a diary. We cringe to think of it. It is our collective moment of madness, a week when somehow we lost our grip. A decade on, we look back and wonder what came over us.
There were some who felt that way at the time, but they were the minority. Indeed, they complained they were a marginalised, even oppressed, group - gagged dissidents in a new totalitarian state of the emotions. Some looked at the mountain of Cellophane-wrapped bouquets that piled up outside Buckingham Palace - a million of them, it was said - and sniffed "floral fascism" in the air. Later, Christopher Hitchens wrote that in the week after Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash, Britain became a "one-party state", such was the coercive nature of the public reaction. He sought out the Britons who had been forced to close their shops or cancel sporting events on the day of the funeral, lest they feel the rage of the tear-stained hordes outside. The writer Carmen Callil was more specific: "It was like the Nuremberg rallies."

Such was the crazy, cultish, worship of Princess Diana, that I wrote an essay at the time, entitled Deification of a Princess.
My predictions mostly failed to come true, apart from foreseeing the explosion in conspiracy theories. Many "murder of Diana" conspiracy books are available on Amazon. One book even attributes her "murder" to a plot involving both the CIA and MI6. But the Diana worship died down. It turned out to be a mere temporary insanity rather than full blown madness.
However, I dug out my old essay (I still have computer files going back 31 years), and reprint it here, as I wrote it 20 years ago.

Deification of a Princess 

Born a Lady. Lived a Princess. Died an Angel. 
So said one of the thousands (millions?) of eulogies to Princess Diana written on posters, uploaded onto web pages or inscribed in registers around the world. Aside from the one in London, the British consul here in Los Angeles provided a register for the public, and I heard of a register sighting in Chicago.
So as we approach the new millennium do we witness the consecration of a new messiah. By contrast, Elvis can only compare to John the Baptist. James Dean and Marilyn were mere prophets. Sure, Diana died before the millennium but Christ was born before Year One. Note the symmetry. New Agers have another term: synchronicity. When seemingly unrelated events coincide it must all mean something.
Diana died at age 36, which is when Mother Teresa, whose rosaries were buried with Diana and in whose shadow she died, founded her mission. Marilyn, too, died at 36. Don't laugh. The First of the Ten Insights in the bestselling New Age book, The Celestine Prophecy, is that coincidences are never merely coincidence.
Not that any of this is necessary. Diana cultists will believe in her divinity because, as UFO buffs candidly admit, I want to believe. The numerological mental gymnastics are rationalizations, not rationale. In New Age terms, everyone has their own truth, and everyone's truth is as true as anyone else's.
Diana's cult will sprout innocently, almost unnoticed. As with so much modern loopiness, it will initially be justified and expressed in psychobabble. People will erect personal shrines to Diana in their homes and offices, maybe a photo and a candle. It will make them "feel better." All part of the "healing process." No one will ask, why the need to heal?
But it won't stop there. Soon people will associate their nicely healed good feelings with whatever good luck comes their way. After reaching-out to Diana at work by meditating (or daydreaming) on the smiling Diana photo on their desks, the boss gives them a raise. Surely, Diana must have interceded for them in some heavenly afterlife.
Eventually, emotional and financial healing will extend to the physical Miracle cures which will be attributed to Diana. Expect to see weeping Diana portraits, busts, and statues. Most Dianas will cry water. The better ones will weep saltwater. A few will go the limit and shed tears of blood.
Diana's likeness will be seen and photographed in cloud formations. Her image will appear in waffles, flapjacks, scrambled eggs, and hash browns. No item on America's roadside café breakfast menu will remain unblessed. Savvy proprietors will keep ready rolls of film and cans of shellac, for no one knows the day or hour of her next appearance. The People's Princess, ever the democrat, won't discriminate. She will appear on barn doors, in crop circles, and even in bathtub water stains.
As though sensing the people want more than her image, Diana sightings shall come to pass. The Princess of Hearts shall visit hospital rooms and bowling alleys, often bathed in white light. People returning from near death will report seeing her at the end of that ubiquitous blue tunnel of light, whereupon she sends them home with a smile and a message. She will appear in deserts and on mountaintops, in Third World slums to comfort the poor and in suburban basements come for a quick game of ping pong.
Confusing matters will be those conspiracy theories claiming Diana and Dodi faked the accident and fled to Egypt to escape the all-powerful Royal Family. Conspiracy buffs and LaRouchites will be intrigued, but Diana cultists will eschew Cairo and instead make their pilgrimages to the weeping statues and pancake houses, some in wheelchairs. They will arrive to find merchants selling Diana talismans, good luck charms, healing crystals carved in her image, and glow-in-the-dark Princess Posters.
Naturally, the New Age will embrace Diana. They need a new sales item. By now, pretty much everyone who wants a crystal has one. Santa Monica's Phoenix Bookstore closed this year. Diana might reverse this trend. She can provide bases for whole new religions, or she can be incorporated into existing neo-pagan belief systems. To the Romans, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and of the moon. That Diana was a bloodthirsty virgin. Nevertheless, revisionist goddess worshipers will strain for a connection. To each her own truth.
Christians shall also claim Diana. Diana may have to share Catholic affection with Mary, but she has the Protestant field to herself. The mainline churches are so empty and squishy that anyone with charisma, especially a woman espousing what sounds like a touchy-feely social gospel, is easily sucked into their vacuum. And even some Catholics will elevate Diana to a manifestation of Mary, just as some Christians interpret Elvis as a second Christ. (I am not making this up; I saw Elvis fans say so on TV).
I suppose this must all mean something. I don't know what. Maybe that post-modern civilization suffers from a great spiritual void, people made desperate and angst-ridden by a ravenous and parched thirst for transcendent meaning that goes unquenched. Or maybe just that people are stupid.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Historical Origins of the Term "Politically Correct"

The term "politically correct" is bandied about so much as to have become meaningless. But what really does it mean? Here's a history of the term (as best I know it).

"PC" has gone through four stages of meaning. "Politically correct" was initially coined by Leon Trotsky to refer favorably to those whose views remained in sync with the ever-shifting Bolshevik Party line. This was important, as "not PC" people risked prison or death.

"Politically correct" was revived (and again, used favorably) by 1960s New Left radicals who fancied themselves revolutionaries in the mold of Che, Castro, and Mao.

"Politically correct" was first used negatively by 1980s conservatives, following the publication of Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind. Conservatives embraced the term "politically incorrect" as a badge of honor to contrast their championing of free speech against campus leftists who used speech codes to suppress debate on sensitive topics. This was also when the term first became widely known by its acronym, "PC."

In these three previous stages, everyone agreed that PC meant Left, and "not PC" meant Right. But because liberals don't like a reputation of being anti-free speech, within a few years they did a turnabout, and called their opponents "PC" and themselves "not PC." Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect is representative of this fourth stage, creating the odd result of a self-proclaimed "not PC" show winning a very PC environmental media award.

However, despite liberals' turnabout, conservatives continued to refer to themselves too as "not PC." Thus "PC" has lost any specific meaning in this fourth stage, since everyone defines their position as the now chic "not PC," and their opponents as "PC." (A far cry from the days when Russians dreaded the Chekists who executed "not PC" people.)