Tor.com content by

Bridget McGovern

Should We Just Let Santa Die Already? (Asks L. Frank Baum)

Hearken unto me, little children. I grew up during the 1980s, when something called the Video Cassette Recorder was still the red hot, razor sharp, cutting-edge of technology. While it seems hard to believe nowadays, the bulky black rectangle, perched like a crude, mass-market facsimile of the Monolith from 2001 glowered ominously from the heights of our family entertainment center and was worshiped as a household god, which might be why my brother kept trying to feed it his Cheerios all the time (that did not end well). For me, the VCR was just a magical purveyor of Fraggle Rock and Cyndi Lauper videos; for my father, I now realize, it became a means of ruthlessly hunting down and capturing every single televised holiday special aired in the tri-state area between the late 70s and the mid-90s.

The amazing thing is that most of these tapes still survive to this day, having somehow escaped both the trauma of having soggy cereal dumped into the VCR and my manic Mystery Science Theater taping-sprees of yore (Hey! Joel said to keep circulating the tapes—if that meant recording a Gamera movie over some lesser sibling’s first baby steps, so be it. I have no regrets). The upshot of all this is that my siblings and I have had access to A LOT of really strange, Christmas-themed entertainment, and yet every year we return to one of our collective favorites: the 1985 Rankin/Bass adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, also known as The World’s Most Bizarre Animated Christmas Special…EVER.

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11 Odd, Campy, and Surreal Holiday Specials that Should be Classics

Several years ago around this time, I wrote a post about some of my favorite bizarro holiday specials to help ring in our very first Tor.com Cthulhumas/Life Day/Krampusnacht/Solstice celebration. While a lot has changed since 2008, my abiding love of strange and unusual holiday-inspired lunacy is as strong as ever, so please enjoy this updated guide to some classic (or should-be classic) yuletide entertainment….

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Beetlejuice: A Ghostly, Gothed-Out 80s Fairy Tale for the Ages

I’ve been rewatching Beetlejuice, a movie I’ve been madly in love with since I was 9 years old, and trying to figure out what makes it work as well it does. I think to understand Beetlejuice, and why it’s a high point of Tim Burton’s career, it helps to understand what it could have been: a much darker, less comedic film that comes off as the insane, creepy evil twin of the 80s classic that many of us grew up with.

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Game of Thrones Casting News: The Greyjoys Ride Again!

Exciting news for fans of House Greyjoy—it seems that Game of Thrones will be returning to the Iron Islands, after all. In an interesting bit of casting news, HBO has confirmed that Danish actor Pilou Asbæk will be playing Euron Greyjoy in the upcoming sixth season. Best known for his appearances in the sci-fi action thriller Lucy, Showtime’s decadent historical fever dream The Borgias, and the hugely popular Danish political drama Borgen, Asbæk joins Max von Sydow and Ian McShane as one of the major new additions to the series’ cast.

So, what does that mean for the show? (Spoilers follow for those who have not read the Song of Ice and Fire books….)

[What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.]

Presenting the Ten Best Horror Films of the 21st Century, According to the Internet

Mark Hofmeyer of Movies, Films, and Flix recently undertook the Herculean task of identifying the top-ranked horror movies of the 21st century, thus far. By reading through and aggregating scores drawn from critics and users of sites including IMDb, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes, as well as data from horror sites including Fangoria and Bloody Disgusting, he was able to come up with four separate lists ranking the most acclaimed horror films of the last 15 years according to both critics and audiences alike.

The entire process and resulting analysis and discussion over on MFF is fascinating and well worth an in-depth read—and then, of course, Hofmeyer decided to take things to the next level and asked readers to vote for the Best Horror Film of the 21st Century. The results of that poll are now in, so it’s officially time to FIGHT, INTERNET, FIGHT!!! (By which I mean, take a look at the list below and politely discuss our feelings and opinions about what does and does not belong in the top ten…)

[The post-millenial monster mash begins now!]

Traumatic SFF Movie Moments (That I Loved and Watched Repeatedly)

As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching a lot of weird stuff. My parents love movies, from glorious technicolor musicals (hi, mom!) and classic comedies to Westerns and all Kubrick films (hey, dad!), and as the oldest kid I was their pop culture guinea pig as they tried their best to figure out what kind of entertainment would fly with little ones, and what would just straight-up freak us out. But of course, they soon found that mileage tends to vary in a big way—spooky movies that amused me to no end gave my younger brother crazy nightmares, while other scenes that completely disturbed me had zero effect on him, and so on. Kids are fun like that.

Of course, having a strong emotional reaction to a movie or a particular scene isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes the moments we find most upsetting end up sticking with us long after we’ve processed those emotions. I’m sure everyone has a list of the movies that deeply affected them, growing up, and we’d love to hear your stories in the comments, if you care to share! In the meantime, here are my own personal top five trauma-inducing movie moments from childhood (mostly), in no particular order…

[Fight against the sadness!]

David Bowie Is Sci-Fi and Fantasy Personified

As an artist, David Bowie has spent a lifetime blurring the lines between performer and stage persona: after all, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was famously advertised with the slogan “David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust”—while, in smaller type, the words “Ziggy Stardust is David Bowie” ran across the bottom of the ad.

This confusion between creator and creation is something Bowie has played upon from the very beginning—and then there’s the fact that, over the last couple decades, he himself has become the direct inspiration for various fictional characters, from the Lucifer of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman to The Venture Bros. shapeshifting leader of The Guild of Calamitous Intent. So let’s take a look at a few of Bowie’s more interesting incarnations, both as an actor and as a character, the dreamer and the dream, beginning with his acting debut in the unsettling 1967 short film The Image.

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Hard Concepts, Passionate Things: The Sublime Art of Maurice Sendak

On June 10th, 1928, Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, and the world of children’s literature gained one of its greatest artists (although it would take a few more years before that fact became apparent…). At the age of twelve, Sendak walked into a movie theater to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia and walked out hell-bent on becoming an illustrator, and so he did—starting out by providing the art for a science textbook, Atomics for the Millions, and quickly becoming a sought-after illustrator of children’s books throughout the 1950s.

The best, as they say, was yet to come.

[Let the wild rumpus start…]

Series: On This Day

An Updated Mega-List of SFF Bunnies (and Other Strange, Rabbit-Type Creatures)

In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have represented a kind of Trickster figure. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. The Aztecs worshipped a group of deities known as the Centzon Totochtin, a group of 400 hard-partying rabbits who were the gods of drunkenness. And in a slightly more recent mythos, bunnies were the bête noir of a certain thousand-year-old former vengeance demon.

As we head into the weekend, I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to some of the more memorable bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures who have hopped, time-traveled, and occasionally slaughtered their way through science fiction and fantasy, beginning (in no particular order), with everybody’s favorite hard-drinking, invisible lagomorph….

[Follow me down the SFF rabbit hole]

What Changes To Expect in Game of Thrones Season Five

Thanks to the various casting news updates, set photos, teasers, and trailers released by HBO over the last several months, it’s become abundantly clear that the coming season of Game of Thrones is going to be diverging from its source material in the Song of Ice and Fire novels to a greater degree than ever before.

With the premiere of Season Five just a few weeks away, let’s pour out some Dornish red, roll up our heavily-embroidered sleeves and take stock of some of the biggest changes in store for fans of the series: which characters we won’t be seeing, which plotlines have been significantly altered or expedited, and which unexpected pairings and new partnerships we’ll be following as the show pushes forward into unfamiliar territory….

[Spoilers for all of the novels and seasons 1-4 of the HBO series]

Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Bastards with Fancy Accents

For better or worse, the stereotype of the “Evil Brit” is certainly nothing new; Hollywood has been using classically trained actors to class up its films since the dawn of the talkies, recruiting many of its early stars from the British stage. I was surprised, however, when we began planning Magnificent Bastards week, just how many of my favorite male villains fit into the category of Charming-Yet-Menacing Aristocrat. And, while this isn’t necessarily true of my favorite female villains, most of my favorite bad guys have English accents. I can’t be the only one who feels this way: check out the list below and tell me if I’m wrong…

[Having fun being evil, and looking good doing it]

Of Great Bastards, Lightning Lords, Blackfish, and Onion Knights: Why Game of Thrones Nicknames Are the Best

Nicknames can be a mixed bag—sometimes they signal affection, admiration, or acceptance, and sometimes they’re a form of taunting, a devastating insult that lingers like a malicious ghost, inescapable. In the Song of Ice and Fire series, nicknames can be obvious, or ironic, affectionate or scathing, incredibly apt or impossibly unfair, but whether merited or misleading, such names often provide a window onto a deeper understanding of the characters that bear them.

In a world where people are so often not what they seem, where identities are changed, hidden, lost, and invented out of strategy or necessity, the names people pick up along the way are often far more telling than given names. Nicknames can point to the messy complexities hiding behind the public persona, the accepted version of events, the official history—they are stories to be unraveled, posing as punchlines: they tell all the truth, but tell it slant.

[Nicknames can also be incredibly entertaining…]

Joy, Sorrow, Regret, and Reassurance: The Singular Beauty of The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, while sometimes categorized as YA, is generally hailed as a story for all ages. As much as I love the book, I didn’t read it until I was in college, so my initial introduction into Beagle’s world (like many fans my age, I suspect) came courtesy of the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated movie of the same name.

While I can’t speak to the experience of reading the novel as a child, I certainly believe that a story as beautifully crafted and enduring as this one will resonate with readers of various ages and experience. I’d argue that the movie also has plenty to recommend it to adult fantasy fans, and is far more advanced in its themes than the vast majority of animated children’s entertainment. And while it stays very true to the book in many ways, the film manages to foreground certain elements of the original story that give it a very powerful, very unique appeal for children. Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of a strange film, but therein lies its magic. It speaks to younger viewers in a manner that very few films ever do.

[“They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints…”]

Feuding Targaryens: A Non-Spoiler Review of George R. R. Martin’s “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother”

As one might suspect from the title, “The Rogue Prince” from the upcoming Rogues anthology is a companion piece to Martin’s “The Princess and The Queen, Or, The Blacks and The Greens,” which capped off last year’s Dangerous Women anthology. Once again, the story is framed as a formal history set forth by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown, whose dedication to the sober and serious task of recording the dynastic struggles of the Targaryen clan can’t entirely stifle the rich strain of scandalous rumor and gossip woven throughout the official record.

“The Rogue Prince” fills in much of the backstory leading up to the extremely bloody events of “The Princess and The Queen,” in which competing branches of the ruling house waged a violent war of succession which brought the Targaryens and their dragons to the brink of extinction, almost two hundred years before the events of A Game of Thrones. Chronicling the familial tensions and personal hostilities that eventually grew into the full-scale bloodletting known as the Dance of the Dragons, this new story is “a consideration of the early life, adventures, misdeeds, and marriages of Prince Daemon Targaryen,” who wreaked all kinds of sexy, swashbuckling havoc during the reign of his mild-mannered brother, King Viserys I.

[Prince Daemon was Trouble—with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “D” and that stands for DRAGONS.]

Even More SFF Bunnies (and Other Strange, Rabbit-Type Creatures)

In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have represented a kind of Trickster figure; in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. The Aztecs worshipped a group of deities known as the Centzon Totochtin, a group of 400 hard-partying rabbits who were the gods of drunkenness, and in a slightly more recent mythos, bunnies were the bête noir of a certain thousand-year-old former vengeance demon.

As we head into the weekend, I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to some of the more memorable bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures who have hopped, time-traveled, and occasionally slaughtered their way through science fiction and fantasy, beginning (in no particular order), with everybody’s favorite hard-drinking, invisible lagomorph….

[Follow me down the SFF rabbit hole]