Archive for November, 2018

Bad Movie Diaries: Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home (1981)

Paste Magazine | Bad Movie Diaries: Home Sweet Home

Again, Jim has introduced me to a horrific crime against cinema. Having to watch this while on vacation should qualify me for some kind of hazard pay. It’s the unbelievably inept story of several horny couples, one obnoxious cockblock of a KISS-makeup guitarist whose literal name is “Mistake,” and the attempt of a guy known as a bodybuilding program pitchman trying his hand at becoming a Jason- or Michael Myers-style killer. (I goofed, attributing the former to John Carpenter before Jim justifiably chided me.)

I hope you enjoy our conversation on this, one of a vanishingly few horror movies centered on the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

The dice give a dark gift

From “The Secret of Kells”

I took a long hiatus from running my D&D campaign, and pitched a new idea to my players (among several): Set that shit in the 8th Century AD, the actual historical age of the Viking, but mythology is real. It removed a lot of the pressure on me to come up with some grand over-arching world-building and it also allows for tons of adventures with interesting angles.

I threw way more time and effort into designing modified rules for it, and then I warned my players that the world was going to be cruel, life short and sharp, and that they should have at least a couple extra characters on deck in case disaster befell them. Turns out that warning was valid: In our inaugural session this past Monday, one player died to a one-shot from a cultist (a very basic enemy) in the very first fight. He had rolled an Irish monk – that is, a scriptorium monk who learned Kung Fu from his Irish monastery, which as we all know is 100% historically accurate. I was looking forward to good times with this character, whose player really is a delight to have in the group because he really just puts his all into coming up with mannerisms and hang-ups for his characters. But no: his fightin’ monk bit the dust.

Fortunately, he had a new character ready to go, and as soon as the fight resolved, the party was astounded to witness a pooka (a child-sized rabbit fairy creature from Celtic myth) poof into being nearby, introducing himself as Sprinkle Honeystone (courtesy of a fantasy name generator program my group swears by).

Play needed to stop for like, five minutes for us all to laugh our reproductive organs off at this turn of events, and Sprinkle went on to spear a zombie to death and unleash a cloud of poison gas that annihilated a small group of enemies. It really is part of the black comedy of a D&D campaign run with maximum brutality and a group of players who are game to bury a player character or two. I’m hoping for such positive energy as we continue. I’m already altogether more excited about it than I have been in quite a while.

You meet the nicest cacti in your dreams

Katharine got a candid moment of me selecting hats for the trail. None of them fit that well.

I’m back in Illinois, and the snow is back here, too. I was glad to go see my cousin and her bouncy little toddler, but I’d be lying if I said the primary motivation wasn’t to take my pretty gf to introduce her to the saguaros, who were all delighted to meet her.

We went hiking up a trail I hadn’t been to the end of the first time I went – that one was the source of the last post’s charming flora. Funnily enough, it was the site where she messaged me – before we were dating – teasing me about not being in the office. I was able to respond with a photo of the sweeping desert at dawn.

The Sonoran is a unique place – greener than you’d think if you’ve never been there. I could really get used to it, I think, especially when the winters are no cooler than an overnight low of 40 or so.

The other major thing I discovered this time was that every video game designer and fantasy author should really go on a horseback ride. It’s pretty revealing how difficult and tiring the activity is, even for the dumb sap sitting on top of the horse doing none of the heavy lifting.

Hitting the trail.

The saguaro stood perfectly still. Maybe the tiny mammals would just skitter away from her if she didn’t move.

The chollas ambled up the hill, hooting and hollering into the noonday sun.

The saguaro was certain he was well-hidden. Besides, he thought, human sight is movement-based.

“This is saguaro turf, motherfucker! Barrelheads don’t come up here!”

“Uuugh,” came a cry, in unison, from the saguaros. “Turn the light off!!!!”

Among the saguaros once more


The hills near Cave Creek. | Kenneth Lowe 2016


I’m visiting family in the Phoenix area for Thanksgiving, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the country. People who aren’t from here tend to think it’s a flat and featureless stretch of desert, but it’s a mountainous and majestic one in reality. There are all sorts of flora unique to the area, including the strange and mighty saguaro. These guys are probably my favorite plant in North America (the South American Samán tree, which I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called, is my Other America favorite).

“Let me tell you why you should vote libertarian!!!”

Saguaros seem as if they have deep, idiosyncratic personalities. They are outwardly prickly, but can’t hide their expressiveness. They seem as if they are trying to tell us something, but that it just takes them a century or two to say it. It would be something, to stay here for a long stretch of time and bend an ear to them.

These photos are all from my trip two years ago, but I’ll see about posting some more after my hike today.

“Everybody have enough shade?”

The old lecturing the young.

Chollas, creeching real horrorshow as they go rolling into the night in search of the old ultraviolence.

All Quiet

Paste Magazine | Two Views of All Quiet on the Western Front

My latest from Paste Magazine is a look at the two major adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front, in honor of the century that now separates us from World War I.

The Great War is a kind of subject of fascination for me, because it really is the height of folly. It’s everything we all hate about humanity, and the terrible people who we agree to allow to lead us. It was so bad that we don’t tolerate any kind of true monarchy anymore. It made the heads of state realize that if we didn’t agree to specifically pull our punches, we could end humanity. I think those of us who ponder these things really look back at it and feel afraid that we didn’t truly learn anything from it. This was a difficult viewing for me, especially the 1930 version I detail in the article, blissfully ignorant as it is of just how terrifying the scenes of dumb, eager white boys gleefully signing up to wear fancy uniforms for no real reason would look a scant six or seven years later.

A really great video series on the debacle that led up to the war comes to us courtesy of Extra Credits, and you should totally watch the whole four-part series.

Death Bed is a thing

Paste Magazine: Bad Movie Diaries, by Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe | Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Jim Vorel is a good friend and now a year-long collaborator with me at Paste Magazine, where he was kind enough to help me get a foot in the door way back in 2015. Since last year, we’ve been working together on “Bad Movie Diaries,” in which we chat back and forth about truly terrible films.

Jim is a true connoisseur of bad movies, with an encyclopedic knowledge of them I’ll never be able to match. Our combined film knowledge is hopefully edifying and entertaining to folks. I’ll start posting more of these here. This one is a particular doozy: Strange Gothic trappings, ridiculous scenarios, incompetent camera work, and an utter failure even to capitalize on the exploitation they were clearly going for, maybe. Also the bed gets indigestion and drinks Pepto Bismol at one point. I’m not even making that up.

We are the dead

Soldats Inconnus. | Promotional image courtesy of Ubisoft.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae at

I don’t cry very often. This isn’t a brag or anything, I just don’t. But, as I prepare an article on All Quiet on the Western Front‘s cinematic adaptations, I think about the century that has passed since the Great War ended November 11, 1918, and I made the mistake of remembering and seeking out “In Flanders Fields,” the poem by John McCrae that has been set to music.

It gets me every time.

You should be reading Pete Nickeas

The Foundation: 006 | Blessed Are The Peacemakers

My friend Peter Nickeas, a stalwart reporter at the Chicago Tribune, has been covering crime and violence in the city for years. I won’t say he’s tireless because I think he’d dispute that he is. Among one of the many reasons he inspires the admiration of most people he meets is that he’s candid about the toll his work takes on him. Besides admiring his work, I attest to him being an all-around good guy. You should check out his writing.

Gato negro

If I’m not on Facebook anymore, I want to take time to celebrate the things in life that I otherwise would post there, but in a way that is better suited to this blog of mine. I went through my pics and remembered this fluffy moment. This handsome gato is Napoleon. He is the sleekest and blackest of cats. He looks like he wandered out of the Wakandan ancestral plane. He is, without any doubt, my girlfriend Katharine’s actual god damn witch’s familiar.

Napoleon possesses a grace and dignity (and indignant reaction to being manhandled) that really read as being human. He wandered out of the wilderness into Katharine’s life when she was leaving in the mysterious East, and he made the journey with her to Illinois. He is an outdoor cat and will be no other thing as long as he lives. He does not strictly belong to her, as I say to the children – he really just comes and goes as he pleases, occasionally deigning to privilege us with his presence. The kids are deeply bemused that I insist on maintaining that he is, in fact, a wizard who has chosen the form of a cat.

(“Do wizards drink out of the toilet?” asked Katharine’s youngest, without skipping a beat.)

I will relate one story which I think sums him up perfectly, besides the picture, in which he is simply sitting on my notebook in protest, demanding affection. I was approaching Katharine’s house in the dark on foot not long ago. It was temperate outdoors and quiet, and a good night for the short walk over there. The neighbors have a porch light which clicks on when the motion sensor detects somebody moving along the driveway. It was pitch black out, and as I walked up the driveway, that light came on and, boom, there was Napoleon at my heel, as if he’d just appeared there by magic. He’ll often slink out of the bushes two or three houses down the block and trot along to accompany me to the house, or the girls home from the school that is literally right around the corner.

Katharine says that if ever there was a cat who looked like more than a cat – a powerful mage in disguise, or a trickster god – that cat would look like Napoleon. He really has made me see why the oldest stories shroud cats in mystery.

Yup, I quit Facebook

See you around, kid. | Photo illustration by Sean Kelly.

If you’re just joining me here on my blog, it might be because I spoke about it in my very last post on Facebook.

I made the decision to leave after some long deliberation and some consideration of how it would seem to people. In Red Planet, Heinlein introduces us to the martian species, and one thing about their culture is that withdrawing from everybody is cause for concern. They can roll themselves up into balls, basically shun the entire world. It’s a statement that says they don’t even want to acknowledge you’re there. It’s the ultimate rudeness. It’s a warning sign, like finding out somebody listens to Alex Jones.

So, that’s not how I want to look. But also, like, I’m sick of Facebook. It actively harms discourse and democracy, it has annihilated the news business, and it won’t implement a night mode for fuck’s sake.

At the same time, now I’ve quit it, I realize how integral it’s become to my life. I am going to need to reach out to all the people on it that I otherwise would not have kept up with. Some people I will lose touch with entirely because, if I’m honest, I didn’t care enough to keep up with them apart from through Facebook, which trades on its ability to make those little moments easy to trumpet to everybody you’ve ever tangentially known. I realize I will miss other people’s moments, too.

People got by without that in the past though, didn’t they? They went to high school reunions, they picked up a phone, they sent a letter and hoped the address hadn’t changed. I’ve resolved to try to do more of that. I used to send people a sort of email newsletter, back before Facebook.

This will mean that I get less validation from people when I have one of the little successes in life. When my father died last year, lots of people knew about it because of Facebook, and sent me condolences. When I get a new job or publish another article, a few likes come in.

And then, of course, there was my magnum opus: The two-year-long campaign I mounted to basically post about nothing but why people should vote out Bruce Rauner, the now governor-un-elect of Illinois. I’m really not going to be sorry to see that guy leave office. This was a joke I hammered so far into the ground that I surfaced at the point between Perth and Madagascar that is Springfield, Illinois’s antipode. Some people loved it. Some (Republican) people on my friends list probably hated it. I will publish it here whenever Facebook bothers to give me my god-shitting data – asked for it days ago.

I am “on” Twitter, but there’s no good reason to keep up the same stuff there, really. My messages are all public (they are here, too), and I could say something that gets me fired from writing a comic book, I guess.

Faced with a lack of that kind of easy conduit to just blabber bullshit, I have to reach out to people individually. And that is my goal in doing this, beyond being a nasty old crank who just can’t stand heaving a sigh and staying addicted to the scroll. I’ll need to write a letter, make a phone call, send a text, compose an email.

I will also write here more often (I promise). People compliment me on my writing and tell me it is witty, or funny, or the kind of angry they need to hear. That’s nice of them. But it’s also a performance where I can’t be entirely genuine for fear of offending this person or that institution. I’m old now, and don’t care to be anything but candid when I actually bother to sit down and write stuff.

Asking everybody to come here when they already have a place to go is being difficult. I’m sorry about that. But you know, I didn’t ask for Facebook, and over the years have tried to leave it before, and every time I’m dragged back. Perhaps I will be again, but I don’t want to be.

Anyway. See you around.