Times New Keeferton Keef shows no signs of lethality or psychosis

2Oct/170

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017: THE UNINVITED (1944)

It's that time of year once again! Hello! Yes! I am the insane person who has both a toddler and a desire to watch 31 horror movies in the month of October! I decided I couldn't do it last year, but this year I'm going to give it a shot.

My rules are as follows: I'm going to try to watch at least one movie made during every decade from the 1920s through the 2010s. I'm going to try to watch at least 90% movies I've never seen before. I'm going to try to watch a combination of trash and arty stuff.

LET'S GET STARTED!

The first movie I watched this year was 1944's The Uninvited, a classic film noir mystery / ghost story / haunted house deal, starring Ray Milland. During the opening credits, I learned that the screenplay was co-written by Dodie Smith, which made me excited-- she's most famous for 101 Dalmations, but the thing I love her for is I Capture the Castle, a charming coming-of-age story about a girl whose eccentric family lives in a run-down old castle in 1930s England. That book is so great, and she weaves atmosphere so beautifully, that I was interested to see how that would translate to the screen.

The answer, as it turns out, is "fairly well." Her fingerprints are all over this thing, and it winds up being a bit like... well, call it "Shirley Jackson Lite." Here's the opening narration:

They call them "the haunted shores," these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and sea fog... and eerie stories. That's not because there are most ghosts here than other places, mind you. It's just that people who live hereabouts are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There's life and death in that restless sound... and eternity too.

Pretty damn good. It doesn't touch the opening paragraph of Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, but then again, nothing does. I'll put that here just because I love it so:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So, it's not Jackson, but it's in the same ballpark. Great opener.

One of the reasons I chose this movie was because it kept cropping up on "best-of" lists: best haunted house movies, best ghost movies, best movies that are actually scary, that sort of thing. "Actually scary" is a bit of a stretch, but this movie is atmospheric as all hell, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call it eerie or creepy, which is almost as good as "scary."

Milland plays Rick. Ruth Hussey plays his sister Pam. Rick and Pam, while vacationing on the seaside, find a massive empty mansion on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Their dog chases a squirrel inside, and they follow. While chasing him through the house, Pam falls in love with the old place-- despite a mysteriously locked room and the odd chills. They decide to buy it from "The Commander," a crusty old dude who warns them about "the wind at night," which "plays odd tricks in old houses." His granddaughter, Stella, tries to warn them off, but to no avail. THE DEAL IS DONE!

Once it's theirs, they unlock that room, and discover an oppressive dampness and cold spots, and Rick is swept with a spell of depression, wondering if they've "made the most howling mistake," and voicing his concerns that he'll ever be able to write any music ever again, or if he's just worthless.

Roses, brought in by Pam, wilt in the room immediately.

Despite their initial misgivings, Pam and Rick jolly it up again. Rick hangs out with the Commander's granddaughter, charmingly played by Gail Russell, and attraction blooms. Pam moves in, and Rick joins her a few weeks later, after moving all the furniture up to the joint. The first night he's there, he's awakened in the pre-dawn darkness by a disembodied weeping. He takes a candle into the hallway, where Pam is already waiting. This has been happening periodically, she says, and she's relieved that Rick can hear it too.

I watched this with Barb, and ten minutes in, she said, "Oh, so I guess this is the original 'white people get too wrapped up in their haunted house investment and stay beyond the point of all sense' movie."

That's about right, with a few twists and turns.

Ray Milland is excellent in this movie. He's charming and funny a lot of the time, and he plays frightened with a quiet bug-eyed terror that's remarkably effective.

I don't want to spoil it too much-- the plot is actually fairly engaging and intricate, with multiple moving pieces, fascinating secondary characters-- Miss Holloway, a lowkey lesbian character who runs a sanitarium where everything may or may not be on the level; the leads' housekeeper, Lizzie, an superstitious Irishwoman who's at turns hilarious and the only smart person in the entire movie; and Dr. Scott, the town doctor, played to perfection by Alan Napier, who was Alfred on the 1966 Batman series. Classy and charming, that one.

Along the way, there's some absolutely beautiful cinematography, a beautiful and haunting song, and perhaps the first ouija scene in any movie ever:

Oh, and a ghost or two.

There's a reason this movie is held up as a classic of the genre. While it never approaches the genuine scares of The Haunting of Hill House or The Innocents, it manages to be spooky and eerie throughout, with moments of humor, warmth, and suspense. The cinematography is outstanding, the music and score are fantastic and very well used-- when the film goes silent, you feel the hairs rise on your arm-- and the performances are very good. This is a perfect movie for a cold night, when the wind is howling outside and the lights are low.

28Sep/170

NOSTALGIA LANE: PHIL ELLIOTT’S TALES FROM GIMBLEY

After my folks split when I was a kid, I moved with my mother to Iowa, and spent time each summer visiting my father in Albuquerque. He worked on the University of New Mexico campus, and so on weekdays, when I was a bored adolescent, I'd walk down to campustown and spend hours milling around, visiting shops, getting coffee and loitering.

I had a full circuit of comics shops and bookshops that I'd try to visit regularly: The Book Case, The University Comics Warehouse, Birdsong bookstore, Living Batch bookstore, Newsland, Addicted to Comics, Salt of the Earth bookstore... all within about a half mile radius. Most of these are now defunct, sadly, but when I was in middle school I spent hours and hours in each of them, nurturing a love for science fiction, horror, and humor; and then more hours in The Frontier restaurant, reading what I'd picked up.

One of my favorite shops was a little gem called Best Price Books. It had a little cafe and coffee shop, where I was first introduced to the concept of the italian soda (my preferred was blueberry with cream) and the latte. They also had a good array of books... and a huge selection of super-cheap comics.

That wasn't uncommon in used bookstores, of course. The late 80s and early 90s were a strange time for comics, and there was always a lot of inventory to be picked up for pennies on the dollar. Most places had the same old stuff-- runs of subpar Marvel and DC books, or reams of kiddie comics (Richie Rich consistently occupied feet of space in ratty long boxes, ferreted away in bookstores' dark corners).

But Best Price Books had weird stuff. A full run of Star*Reach comics. Cerebus. Big chunks of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat. A few scattered issues of Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. Ted McKeever's brilliant and bizarro Eddy Current (which got me into trouble when I took it into my fifth-grade Art class and tried to show it off). Even a few copies of Zap and Raw and Weirdo, along with myriad underground one-shots, also-rans and never-weres. They had the usual Marvel and DC stuff too, but mixed in with the Justice League America and Marvel Tales you'd find stuff like Watchmen and Wasteland. They weren't always in good shape, but they were always cheap.

I bought so many weird comics. If my parents had known the depths of the art-house weirdness I was plumbing with these things, they would've either snatched them away in a heartbeat, or congratulated me on becoming a weirdo early on. I didn't let them know what I had.

(Tangentially, there was an Albuquerque video store I discovered a few years later called "Wavy Brain," that was unlike any Blockbuster or Hollywood Video in existence. That store had the craziest movies, bootlegs and international versions of things; stuff you couldn't find anywhere. I remember one weekend I had the house to myself, and I rented:

That late-nite movie marathon warped my fourteen-year-old brain into shapes previously unimaginable.)

I credit those outings-- those comics, those movies, those shops, those people-- with turning me into a weirdo in the best possible way.

One of the comics I found in the super-cheap bin at Best Price Books was a black and white comic from the UK publisher Harrier. I'd known about them already, because I'd already found-- in the same bookshop-- some issues of Deadface, Bacchus, and Avalon. This one was called Some Tales From Gimbley.

I picked it up, flipped through it as I sipped a beverage of some kind or another, and was immediately hooked.

Gimbley was different from almost anything I'd come across. It wasn't a superhero comic. It wasn't a funny animal comic (or a martial arts fighting-animal comic; those were rampant in those days, after the success of TMNT). it wasn't Science Fiction, it wasn't Horror, it wasn't sword & sorcery. The closest thing I had to compare it to were the slice-of-life stories in some of the black-and-white underground comics, but those leaned toward the edgy and dirty, and Gimbley was much more gentle. These were short little vignettes-- many of them only a single page long-- incorporating humor, magical realism, poetic language, absurdity, and a permeating wistfulness.

This was comics in a form I'd never seen before-- as sequential graphic poetry.

I fell in love with it immediately.

A few years after discovering Gimbley, while in high school, I went on a trip to Denver with my mother, and found a copy of John Porcellino's King-Cat Comix & Stories in a comic shop. King-Cat hits many of the same notes: wistfulness, clean linework, the incorporation of poetic language and imagery, zen calm. But Gimbley was absurd and funny, in a way that King-Cat usually isn't.

These were the days before the internet, and Harrier was a UK publisher, so it was years and years before I was able to track down more of Phil's work, but I carried that copy of Tales From Gimbley wherever I went, reading and re-reading it until it was in tatters. In high school, I used Elliott's Scenacre Cottage Gimbley short as the basis for a short-short story. I don't remember if I mentioned the inspiration to my teacher; knowing who I was 25 years ago, probably not. Sorry, Phil.

One of the things that amazes me every time I reread Gimbley is Phil's style, how malleable and fluid it is. Sometimes he uses incredibly clean linework, in the style of Joost Swarte or Hergé, but then the next page features thick and chunky slashes of expressionist cartooning, and I loved that he could bounce around between these styles, apparently effortlessly, so effectively.

A few years ago I became Facebook friends with Phil, and commissioned him to draw a family portrait. His work hangs up on the wall next to James Kochalka, Chris Onstad, Ivan Brunetti, Jeremy Bastian, John Porcellino, and Keith Herzik.

Recently, Phil posted on his Facebook. "I've decided that I can't keep lugging all my artwork around and am selling everything and anything."

I reached out to him immediately, and got two of my favorite single-page strips from the series. They arrived yesterday:

It's difficult to express the delight and excitement I had when I opened up the package and held the original art for those pages in my hands-- those pages I read in one of my favorite bookshops as an adolescent a quarter-century ago, those pages I'd re-read dozens of times over the years, those pages that informed, entertained, and delighted me.

I think I'll hang the first one in the guest room.

Phil recently collected all of the Tales From Gimbley in a self-published collection called In His Cups. You can get a copy from him, at an unbeatable price, here, and I'd recommend that you do so. You can also visit his website here, and if you want to read more Gimbley, he's put a bunch of them up online here.

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8Aug/170

AND NOW, A LOOK INSIDE MY HEAD


My left optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.


My right optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.

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8Jun/177

I Miss My Friend Bill

I miss my friend Bill. I am so sad that he has left this world, and I am so sad that the world doesn't get to have him in it anymore.

Bill was sweet. Bill was kind. Bill was extremely helpful. Bill was intensely funny. Bill was brilliant, and knowledgeable, and deeply sardonic, and gleefully dark, and fun. He had far-ranging, eclectic, and obscure taste in music, and he was always excited to share it and talk about it and make it.

He was a constant creative partner. From the old radio show, to zines, to art, to music, to short stories, he was always excited and delighted to take part in any number of ridiculous things.

We had so much fun over the years. I loved him so much.



Bill in bunny suit, 2009.

[CHAT LOG, March 31, 2009]
Keef: Let's rent a bunny suit and I'll take pictures of you for many hours on Thursday doing strange things.
Bill: haha. word. I'll wear a bunny suit for you.
Bill: what's the suit look like?
Keef: no clue. they have several "bunny" suits.
Bill: we're talking full body with a bunny head, right? Not "bunny suit" like the Christmas Story?
Bill: one of those is infinitely cooler than the other
Keef: correct, full suit and mask over the head
Bill: sweet
Keef: which will be uncomfortable and hot and awful
Keef: especially if you have to run, which i may ask of you.
Bill: no one said art was comfortable.
Bill: I'd have a fuck of a time saying no to this, dude.
Keef: ahahahaha saying no to what?
Bill: wearing a bunny suit for art.

We rented that suit, and took pictures; and, when it became apparent that we wouldn't get everything done in one day, I went ahead and bought the suit (it was cheap), and then we just kept doing photo shoots, resulting in one of the creative endeavors which I am most proud of having finished in my life.

There's no way in the world I could've done it without him.


Last year, Barb and Bill took Rosie on an outing to to some restaurant or other. Later, Bill posted this photo of himself and Rosie:

I beamed with pride. I was so happy for him. I was so happy for Rosie. I was so happy that they were close.

He loved doing bedtime with her. It often didn't work very well in terms of bedtime-- they'd be reading books and singing songs and she'd never get tired enough to go to sleep. I wish I'd kept some of that baby monitor audio of him singing to her. "Pancho and Lefty," or some esoteric Randy Newman thing, or the Eagles. A lot of old country music. Sometimes she'd wordlessly sing along.

I joked with him: "You're going to be the fun uncle she can call when she needs to get bailed out of jail."

He laughed.

Now, when I walk around the house, wherever I go, whatever I see, I remember Bill and Rosie doing something in that spot.

Posted up in front of the little chalkboard, scribbling together.

Bill pushing her really fast in her little cart down the lane that runs through the kitchen, her legs lifted up, with an enormous grin, squealing laughter.

In her miniature "kitchen" in the back room, demanding that he "sit!" and pulling on her miniature potholder to make him cookies (which were "really, really hot!").

Sitting at the back table, drawing together in a sketchpad.

Every single place I look, there's a memory of Bill and Rosie.

I treasure them all.


In 2001, I took classes at the Iowa City public access television station, and started working on making short films. One of the very first things I wanted to do was to go out to the Coralville dam. There's a spillway out there that's basically an enormous gray concrete plain, a third of a mile on a side. I wanted to film someone running from the opposite corner, so they'd be extremely tiny for a very long time, and then come into view and zoom by in a flash.

"Hey, Bill," I said. "How would you feel about running naked toward a camera for a third of a mile?"

He laughed. "That is hilarious," he said.

The first take went well, but I wanted to do a second one. He gave me a dirty look, but jogged all the way back out to the far corner and started running back. As he was about halfway back, an official Department of Natural Resources jeep crested the hill behind us, and he started yelling, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," out of breath, zooming past the camera and diving into the back of the car.



Bill, nude and running in the distance, 2002.

Here is a photo of the filming that my father took. (Yes, my father was there. He always really liked Bill, and Bill always really liked him.) That's Mike taking photos, me manning the videocamera, and, of course, Bill, nude and running, in the distance.


I maintain a list of every concert I can remember attending. A month ago, after a Facebook meme about concerts made the rounds, Bill messaged me:

"I'm now going through your show list to see which ones I went to with you, or which ones I remember... I'm leaving off Bassturd & Buglies performances and SXSW parties, because I've been to too many of them to be accurate or remember. 94 that I'm sure about. Realistically? definitely over 100. That's 17 years of show going. This was the first one: Sep. 21, 2000 - Gabe's, Iowa City - Alto Heceta / Joan of Arc / Jets to Brazil."

One hundred shows-- and that's a very conservative estimate-- out of five hundred total. One out of every five concerts I've ever attended during my lifetime, Bill attended with me. The most recent was Uglyfest, which was both a Buglies and SXSW show; before that, it was Drab Majesty, in February. They're a post-New-Wave band, playing that sad 80s synth sound, which was not Bill's cup of tea at all.

But I asked him if he wanted to go, and he was happy to go with me. He was almost always happy to go with me. And vice versa.


In 2000, I was going to live in a house near campus with my friend Mike. We each had a room in a three-room apartment, and needed a third.

"We should get my friend Bill to move in with us," he said.

"Who is this guy?"

"A friend from back home. He's in a band, the Corporate Donuts. He goes by 'Bill Donuts.' He'd be great."

I shrugged, and asked, "Yeah, but man, is he cool?"

The fact that I even asked that question is hilarious to me now.

Bill ended up living in the dorms, but he immediately became part of our tight group. I found an old blog he wrote about the first time we met. Here is that:

"I want to share the first memory I have of Keef. I was sitting in the apartment he and Mike shared in Iowa City on my first night in Iowa City, in August of 2000. Keef was out with Irving at the time. Suddenly, while we were watching Kids In The Hall episodes Mike had taped, Keef burst through the door with a gigantic sack full of frozen meats and tossed one to Mike, and another to their room mate of two weeks, Bob. He was talking sort of like Charlton Heston and Santa Claus and very excited about the gigantic sack of frozen meats. Then he hugged me. It was love at first sight."

I had forgotten about that completely. I'm so glad he remembered. I'm so sad about all the other things he remembered which have now been lost.


Just a handful of days before he passed away, Bill and I took Rosie to a park to play on the swings and the slides. Swings are her favorite. She's a two-year-old, and just reaching that point where she mimics and repeats things. As we got out of the car to walk to the park, Bill turned to her and said, "Come on, dude!" She ran after him and grabbed his hand, and they walked toward the playground.

As they got closer to the swings, she started running ahead, pulling him behind her. "Come on, dude!" she yelled. "Come on, dude!"

"Thanks, Bill," I said. "Thanks a lot for teaching her to sound like an episode of Full House."

He laughed and laughed and laughed. "Come on, dude!"


Bill and Rosie, May 21, 2017.

Last weekend, after Bill's funeral, Rosie wanted to show me something she'd set up in her little dollhouse. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. "Come on, dude!"

I teared up, but did so gladly.


Bill gave this to me on my birthday last year. It's a magnificent encapsulation of him: his generosity, his creativity, his humor.

I am so glad to have known him.

I am so sad that he is gone.

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6May/170

Profiles in Degeneracy

Bill and I recently knocked down a bunch of wasps' nests around my house, and I posted the following to social media:

Some folks laughed, and the rest had no idea what I was talking about. I got a few questions about it, and I realized that I never really talked about this in public, or at least not widely, so here it is. It's a very strange story.

In late May of 2010, I was in the now-defunct Austin location of the now-defunct Domy Books, which was run by my old Houston friend Russell. Domy was an amazing place, half art-gallery, half art-bookstore. I fell in love with the Houston location when we lived in Houston, and then was delighted when they opened another store in Austin. They had all the best zines, all the best art-books, all the best local and crazy art. It was great. The Austin location has been subsumed by Farewell Books, which continues the tradition, and still does amazing things.

But now I'm getting sidetracked.

Russell had told me that there were some great new zines, and I'm a giant 'zine nerd (obviously). I was flipping through them, and pulled out some great stuff. Give Up had put out a new 'zine, and King-Cat had put one out since I'd last been there, and I was piling up a small stack. Then something strange and unexplained happened.

I've had a small handful of genuinely supernatural or inexplicable things happen to me. I saw a man when I was six in Albuquerque who had to be dead, and yet he was walking through a vacant lot. The eyes of a bust in Davenport in 1987 briefly flashed red. I had an important dream in 2012 that came true (and, more importantly, gave me time to prepare).

In May of 2010, in Domy Books, I flipped through the box of 'zines. I got to the end. I saw the empty end of the box. Then, there was a strange flash, and the smell of ozone, and I got an electric shock in the knuckles of my right hand (the hand touching the box). Then, a small book appeared out of nowhere in the previously-empty spot in the box.

Profiles in Degeneracy Auction Catalog, Summer 2010.

At this time, I'd already been subscribed to a Hollywood memorabilia auction catalog, so I knew exactly what it was-- a small-run book, advertising the particular lots that would be auctioned off at a future date, usually accompanied by photos and short descriptions. Except instead of autographs, props, and movie posters, this auction catalog was full of memorabilia of an entirely different kind-- gruesome, horrifying, disturbing, titillating. The title was apt-- these were accoutrements to some of the most degenerate events, actions, and people I'd ever seen.

So, of course, I was intrigued. I asked Russell about it, and he said he'd never seen it before, and it wasn't anything Domy was selling. So I took it home with me without paying for it.

Once I got home, I discovered something even more bizarre. The memorabilia had titles, descriptions, and photographs regarding people, places and things I was familiar with-- but in an entirely different context. This auction catalog had appeared wholesale from an alternate dimension. In the world where this auction catalog was created, Dan Quayle was not the 44th Vice President of the United States, but a serial-killing taxidermist from Indianapolis (taxidermied raccoon with human teeth and hands sourced from his victims, estimated value $85,000). Ray Kroc was still the founder of McDonald's, but in this dimension he was also accomplice to Ed Gein, who contributed to the initial McDonald's franchise cookbook, before they were both arrested and executed in Milwaukee in 1974. (One of ten extant copies of that cookbook, est. value $300,000.) John Wayne Gacy was still John Wayne Gacy (Pogo the Clown Painting, $2800.)

And Wolf Blitzer... well I'll just share the relevant two-page spread with you.

Warning for the upcoming material, in case in wasn't clear already: this is Not Safe For Work.

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