RetView #51 – The Gorgon (1964)

Title: The Gorgon

Year of Release: 1964

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 83 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Jeremy Longhurst, Prudence Hyman

Methinks it’s high time we paid another visit to the Hammer Horror vault. The plot of this camp classic, which has more cheese than a stuffed crust Domino’s pizza (just look at that poster!) was based on an idea submitted by Canadian fan J. Llewellyn Divine after Hammer placed an advert in The Daily Cinema magazine reading (in part), “Got an idea you think would make a good film? One with an exciting title to match? Good, compulsive selling ideas with the right titles are what hammer are looking for right now.” The original story concept, which was based on ancient Greek mythology, was expanded into a screenplay, and the film eventually succeeded in reuniting the stellar partnership of Cushing and Lee after a four-year absence. It also marked the return to Hammer of director Terence Fisher, who hadn’t worked for the company since the failure of Phantom of the Opera (1962) several years earlier. This film is often listed as one of Fisher’s personal favourites, and is fairly typical of his work which is characterised as being a, “Blend of fairytale myth and the supernatural alongside themes of sexuality, morality, and ‘the charm of evil.’”

It’s the year 1910, and the setting is a picturesque German village called Vandorf, where a mysterious creature is attacking people and turning them into stone, which nobody thinks is weird at all. When his girlfriend falls victim, Bruno (Longhurst) becomes prime suspect and commits suicide. However, professor Maister (Lee) isn’t convinced of Bruno’s guilt and harbours suspicions that Magaera, a sister of snake-haired Medusa, is responsible, a creature so ugly that she turns everyone who lays eyes on her into stone (which might explain Cardiff City’s defensive frailties this season). He then sets out to help Bruno’s brother, Paul (Pasco) find her and wreak vengeance. Unfortunately, Magaera has the ability to disguise herself and could be any one of a cast of characters including the creepy Dr Namarov (Cushing) and his assistant Carla (Shelley) who, conveniently, work at the local mental hospital. What unfolds is an intriguing build on a simple, millennia-old premise, complete with hammy acting, lush scenery and period stage sets.

Though the name of The Gorgon character is “Megaera (Jealous),” in ancient mythology, Megaera is one of the three Erinyes (or Furies), the goddesses of revenge, not a proper Gorgon. According to Hesiod, the three Gorgons were, in fact, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. Film lore maintains that leading lady Barbara Shelley wanted to play The Gorgon using a special wig fitted with live green garden snakes woven into it for a more realistic effect, but her idea was vetoed due to budget restrictions. Which was a crying shame because I think that’s something many cinema-goers would love to see. In fact, a different actress altogether (Hyman) was brought in for the climactic Gorgon scenes with the producers blaming a tight filming schedule, though the real reason was probably an attempt to maintain an air of secrecy about who was playing which character amidst all the media speculation the film was generating. Strangely, Hyman is given the credit Chateline, a character not mentioned in either the script nor the film.

When producer Anthony Nelson Keys saw the abysmal Gorgon effects in the finished movie, he told Shelley that he should have listened to her and got her the snake wig. As it happened, the only snakes on show were mechanical prompting Sir Christopher Lee to later quip, “The only thing wrong with the Gorgon is the Gorgon.” True, after a big set-up, the final appearance of the monster is slightly deflating, something the Monthly Film Bulletin picked up on dubbing it, “Vague and insufficiently spectacular.”

By contrast, Peter Cushing loved working on the film, commenting during production, “Hammer have got to the heart of the matter. When so-called ‘horror’ films first came in, everyone got on the bandwagon and some awful stuff was churned out, but over the years Hammer have made better and better films.”

Trivia Corner:

During filming, Prudence Hyman was almost decapitated for real. She was supposed to duck when Sir Christopher Lee swung the sword, but forgot to do so at the critical moment. The Assistant Director pushed her aside just in time. The scene was then redone with a dummy, just to be on the safe side. The scene took over a month to shoot. Hyman and Lee had met years earlier when Hyman had been a travelling ENSA artist, and a young RAF lieutenant called Christopher Lee piloted the plane she was on through a terrible storm.

GO HERE for previous RetView installments.


AUTHOR INTERVIEW: C.M. Saunders

To mark the best month of the year, here’s a special halloween interview I did with Meghan Shena Hyden. Thank you, Meghan!

Meghan's Haunted House of Books

Meghan: Welcome back to the Halloween Extravaganza. It’s always wonderful to have you here at Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Books. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Christian: The fact that for a few days each year, everyone turns into mad horror fiends and I don’t appear quite so weird. Afterwards, though, most people go back to being normal and I just stay weird.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Christian: The movies! Okay, I watch horror movies all year round, but for as long as I can remember on Halloween night, no matter where I am, who I am with and what else I have going on, I’ve always made time for a horror movie marathon, much to the displeasure of various partners over the years. Some people just can’t handle it when shit gets real.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday…

View original post 1,529 more words


A Review of Tethered

My novella Tethered has been picking up some stonking reviews recently, like this one by E.B. Lundsford. By the way, you should check out her website if you know what’s good for you.

This is what she said:

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book, but I’ve read some of the author’s short stories and really enjoyed them, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad that I did! This novella blew me away. It was unique, the storytelling was good, the characters were interesting, and the twist ending was great.

A reporter stumbles across a young woman’s blog while researching for his next article and becomes hooked. He is fascinated by the girl and the rituals she posts about. When she goes missing, he decides to try and find her. To quote the book, “This wasn’t about sex. That would make it trite and cliched. It was about reaching out and taking a chance. Shining a light in a world of darkness and making a difference.”

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the ending was superb. “It’s quite simple, really. You see, people are gullible. They see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe. It would be a sin not to take advantage of such… stupidity.”

I can’t recommend this book enough. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Saunders work”

Tethered is available on ebook and paperback now on Terror Tract Publishing.


Back from the Dead!

Back from the Dead is a collection of zombie fiction featuring two complete novellas alongside several short stories previously published in the likes of Morpheus Tales and Crimson Streets, plus a brand-new novelette. Both paperback and ebook also include an exclusive introduction and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.

Praise for the stories in this book:

“This is very well written and not to ruin anything but the ending is amazing! Definitely check this one out. I am now a fan!”

(Dead of Night)

“C. M. Saunders does a fine job here with these long-lost Confederate dead in the North Carolina Piedmont. He manages a winning balance between gory horror and interpersonal relationship, between splatter and genuine human emotions.”

(Dead of Night)

“It’s a zombie story with an original twist that I appreciated. It’s well written, flows nicely, and both of the (live) characters are well developed and believable. Let’s face it – The woods are a creepy place even in the daylight sometimes and thanks to CM Saunders I won’t be camping anytime soon.”

(Dead of Night)

“Dan Pallister woke up one morning to find the world had gone to hell over night. The zombie apocalypse has arrived without warning. But wait… there is something odd about these zombies. Why do some of them seem to be going about their usual human habits? Oh well, Dan doesn’t have time to ponder all the gruesome details!”

(Human Waste)

“Freaky.”

(‘Til Death do us Part)

“Awesome read, a great story with a huge twist which I shall not reveal. Very enjoyable, very entertaining for lovers of splatterpunk and a great tale that draws the reader in as we see through the eyes of the zombie killer… I’m saying no more, find out yourself.”

(Human Waste)

“I found this story riveting.”

(Dead Men Don’t Bleed)

Back from the Dead is out now.


RetView #50 – Jaws (1975)

Title: Jaws

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Steven Spielberg

Length: 124 mins

Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary

I wanted to do something a bit special for this landmark 50th RetView, and you could probably count on your fingers the number of movies, of any genre, that have had more of a cultural impact than Jaws. In fact, these days it is widely considered one of the best films ever made. It was based on the novel of the same name Peter Benchley was commissioned to write by Doubleday in the early seventies, though rumour has it that he was ejected from the film set for making a nuisance of himself. To date, the movie has spawned three sequels despite declining popularity and commercial performance, the franchise reaching its nadir in 1987 with Jaws: The Revenge which, conversely, is generally acknowledged as one of the WORST movies of all time. The Jaws franchise is a prime example of how to go from hero to zero in four easy steps. It’s probably fair to say that by 1987, the killer shark premise was beginning to wear a little thin. They probably did well to take it as far as they did. But while the series ended badly, upon its release in the summer of 1975 the original movie was nothing short of a revelation, terrifying beach-goers everywhere, raking in an astonishing $470 million at the Box Office from a $9 million budget, and going on to win no fewer than three Academy Awards, making it one of Universal’s biggest ever triumphs. All things considered, it’s well worth a closer look.

If, by some miracle, you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it’s pretty easy to swallow (sorry). When a giant man-eating Great White shark starts terrorizing a nondescript New England town called Amity, threatening not only swimmers but local businesses much to the chagrin of the local mayor (Hamilton), police chief Martin Brody (Scheider) is called into action. After getting slapped in the face and shouted at several times by affected locals, he eventually enrols a grizzled professional shark hunter called Quint (brilliantly portrayed by Shaw) and a witty marine biologist (a pre-Close Encounters of the Third Kind Dreyfuss) and together the trio head off into the open sea on Quint’s too-small boat called the Orca (named after the only natural enemy of the Great White) to hunt down the pesky fish. Incidentally, if you didn’t get the reference, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is a classic line from the movie delivered by Brody upon seeing the size of the shark they were dealing with and has been ‘meme famous’ ever since. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb later revealed that the line wasn’t scripted, but ad-libbed by Scheider.

The musical score, which went on to become a classic piece of music synonymous with impending doom, was composed by John Williams. Widely regarded as one of the greatest film composers of all time, Williams also wrote the music for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones films and, er, Home Alone. During his distinguished career he has won 25 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards (including one for the Jaws theme) and four Golden Globes. Discussing the piece that kick-started his career, he described the Jaws theme as, “Grinding away at you, just as a shark would do. Instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Jaws was the first major motion picture to be shot on the ocean, resulting in a troubled, prolonged shoot that far exceeded its budget. Among the issues the crew had to contend with were unpredictable weather, vessels drifting into shot, the effects of salt water corrosion on equipment, everyone getting seasick and problems with the life-sized mechanical sharks. There were so many problems the story goes that disgruntled crew members dubbed the film, “Flaws.”

So what made Jaws so popular? And why does it remain so?

In a nutshell, not only does it feature a great director, a solid plot, a memorable script, a brilliant cast, impressive special effects and an awesome soundtrack, but it appeals to our primal fears. People don’t belong in large bodies of water. We know this. The stuff living in there don’t like us and that particular environment is not conducive to having a good time. On re-watching the movie with a critical eye, it is noticeable how little screen time Spielberg actually gives the shark. This is testament to his unparalleled film-making skills and ability to ramp up the tension using only dialogue and, in one memorable scene, a drunken sing-a-long. Gottlieb would later reference the original 1951 version of The Thing, amongst other classics, where, “the suspense was built up because the creature was always off-camera.” This enabled the crew to concentrate on showing the ‘effects’ of the monster (or in this case, the shark) rather than the monster itself. Given the post-Watergate political landscape the movie was released into, it’s inevitable that critics drew certain conclusions. Perhaps overthinking things a bit, film critic Andrew Britton has suggested that narrative alterations from the book (Hooper’s survival, the shark’s explosive death) help make it “a communal exorcism, a ceremony for the restoration of ideological confidence,” and suggested that the experience of the film is “inconceivable” without the audience’s jubilation when the shark is annihilated, signifying the obliteration of evil itself. In his view, Brody serves to demonstrate that “Individual action by the one just man is still a viable source for social change.”

In perhaps the most serious bout of overthinking ever, Fredric Jameson went even further, highlighting the polysemy of the shark and the multiple ways in which it could be taken, from representing alien menaces such as communism or the Third World to more intimate concerns like the unreality of contemporary American life and the vain efforts to sanitize the concept of death. He asserts that its symbolic function is to be found in this very “polysemousness which is profoundly ideological, insofar as it allows essentially social and historical anxieties to be folded back into apparently ‘natural’ ones … to be recontained in what looks like a conflict with other forms of biological existence.”

‘Kay then.

Trivia Corner:

According to Spielberg, the prop arm used in the scene where Chrissie’s remains are found looked too fake. So instead, they buried a female crew member in the sand with only her arm exposed. Simple, yet effective.


Misshapes, Rejects & Handmade Horror Stories

Every year when Halloween comes around, I wish I’d written a Halloween story. Obviously, it’s too late by then, so last year I surpassed even my own pre-planning capabilities and wrote one in January. Kaboom. That also gave me a few months to sell the fucker.

The story I came up with is called Misshapes & Rejects, and in a nutshell it’s about pumpkins. Not pumpkins in nutshells, that would just be weird. I’ve always thought there was something creepy about the treatment pumpkins get around Halloween. All the cutting and carving and stuff. I also wanted to make a bit of a point about isolation and anti-social behaviour, and like a perfect storm all these elements came together. It happened quickly, too. Once I had the germ of the idea, the story followed quickly and was finished in a single sitting. That feat isn’t as impressive as it might sound, in its entirety Misshapes & Rejects is less than 1000 words.

When I finish a story, I routinely go through it three, four, even five or six times, endlessly tweaking, polishing and modifying until there is nothing left to tweak, polish or modify. However, Misshapes & Rejects didn’t need much heavy lifting. Sometimes, you just know you’ve nailed it. It was accepted by the first place I submitted it too, a Halloween-themed anthology due to be released on [name redacted, like in the movies].

Then things got messy.

The would-be publisher refused to pay any contributors then eventually pulled the book from sale, but not before they pocketed funds they’d raised through crowd funding and pre-orders. Big scene. Long story short, the publishing rights on Missahpes & Rejects quickly reverted back to me and the dance began again.

Luckily, it soon found a new home, in the book Handmade Horror Stories put together by Frost Zone Press, the lovely people who just last year published my story Alone, Or… , and edited by the supremely talented MM MacLeod..

As the marketing material says, “Handmade Horror Stories is an anthology of art and craft-themed short horror fiction. From quiet horrors to chilling nightmares, these tales give new meaning to being creative.”


Harberry Close in Railroad Tales

I’m pleased to announce that my short story Harberry Close is included in the anthology Railroad Tales on Midnight Street Press.

Table of Contents:

THE TRACKS THROUGH THE FOREST John Kiste

AWAYDAYS Allen Ashley

THE HOOSAC TUNNEL LEGACY Norm Vigeant

RAILWAY MUTTON CURRY Nidheesh Samant

THE NUMBER NINE James E. Coplin

GHOST-WALKER Andrew Darlington

SPARROW’S FLIGHT Nancy Brewka-Clark

HARBERRY CLOSE C. M. Saunders

GEISTERBAHNHOF Saoirse Ni Chiaragáin

THE ANNIVERSARY David Penn

ACROSS THE VALE Catherine Pugh

WHERE THE TRAIN STOPS Susan York

THE NIBBLER Gayle Fidler

SHORT PLATFORM Gary Couzens

WILSHIRE STATION Caitlin Marceau

AND YOU HEARD THE RATTLING DEATH TRAIN Simon Bestwick

NOT ALL TRAINS CRASH Steven Pirie

BALLYSHANNON JUNCTION Jim Mountfield

CABOOSE Andrew Hook

THE TRACKS Michael Gore

THE DEVIL RIDES THE NIGHT TRAIN Curtis James McConnell

THE PIER STATION George Jacobs

THE SAMOVAR A. J. Lewis

Between 2013 and 2017 I lived in London. I was working long hours and commuting for up to four or five hours a day, so I didn’t have much time to write fiction. I think of Harberry Close as a good representation of my ‘London period,’ along with Vicar on the Underground and maybe Subject #270374. I don’t think its much of a surprise that two of those stories feature public transport prominently and the other is about an overworked and under-appreciated journalist who goes mental and decapitates his boss.

I wrote about the origins of Harberry Close, which was first published in Dark Harvest, in more detail here. Thanks to Trevor Denyer for giving it a new lease of life!

Railroad Tales is out now on paperback and ebook.


RetView #49 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Title: The Curse of Frankenstein

Year of Release: 1957

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 83 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urqhuart, Valerie Gaunt

Like Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Curse of Frankenstein was another Hammer Films production and, along with Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), is now seen as a cornerstone of the British institution’s considerable repertoire. The premise is obviously based on Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 tale Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. It was the first of the Frankenstein series, the very first Hammer movie to be made in colour, and has retrospectively been dubbed the first “Really gory horror film” by Professor Patricia MacCormac. It has also been credited with revitalizing a stagnating genre. All things considered, it makes perfect RetView fodder.

The story is told in flashback form when, in 19th Century Switzerland, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is on trial for murder and confesses his story to a visiting priest. The film then cuts to a newly-orphend 15-year old Victor who hires a private tutor, Dr. Paul Krempe (Urqhuart), to teach him science. Together, the pair start a sequence of experiments geared toward bringing dead animals back to life. The experiments are successful, but when his cousin Elizabeth (Court) moves in and Frankenstein suggests making a ‘perfect’ human being from scavenged body parts, Krempe opts out. However, he is brought back into the fold when the monster (Lee, who was awarded the role primarily due to his 6’5” frame and his modest £8-a day fee), now equipped with a damaged (ie defective) brain, escapes into the nearby woods and kills a blind man. What a blind man is doing in the woods by himself is anyone’s guess, but anyway…

Realizing it is out of control, Krempke shoots the monster and the men bury it in the woods. However, as soon as Krempke departs, Frankenstein digs it up again and reanimates it. The rotten bastard. Back at the house, his maid Justine, with whom he has been having an affair, reveals she is pregnant and threatens to expose his grisly experiments unless he marries her. This doesn’t sit too well with the rampaging Victor, and he quickly has the monster dispatch her which is what lands him in jail. The visiting priest doesn’t believe his story. Krempke and Elizabeth, who are now happily shacked up together, refuse to corroborate it, presumably in an attempt to stop the same thing happening again, and ***SPOILER ALERT*** Victor is led away to the guillotine.

The film was an immediate smash hit for Hammer, it’s comparatively low budget contributing heavily to its financial success as there were comparatively fewer costs to offset. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who adapted Mary Shelley’s book for the screen, was so anxious to keep costs down he didn’t write in scenes of villagers storming the castle as seen in other Frankenstein films, “Because we couldn’t afford it.” The ploy worked. The movie was produced on a budget of just £65,000, and some sources estimate the film recouped at least 70 times that figure. For many years, it held the distinction of being the most profitable movie to be produced in England by a British studio and has always been much-loved by the public, which is reflected in various contemporary reviews and its Rotten Tomatoes rating which currently sits at a respectable 77% from 3,815 ratings. However, it was given a luke-warm reception upon it’s original release, a review in the New York Times dismissing it as a “Routine horror film,” and the Tribune of London calling it, “Depressing and degrading.”

Okay, then.

A quick word on the fate of Hammer Productions; the company effectively ceased production in the mid-1980’s. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In May 2007 the company name, along with its entire library of some 295 movies, was bought by a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol which vowed to, “Take it back into production and develop its global potential.” True to it’s manifesto, the company financed a return to the fold in the form of contemporary horror Beyond the Rave (2008). That isn’t a typo, by the way. It really is a horror movie about a rave. That was followed by a steady stream of offerings including Wake Wood (2011) and, more recently, The Lodge (2019), which proved a surprise hit. In September 2019, hammer signed a worldwide distribution deal with StudioCanal for its catalogue, so after some uncertain times, the future is looking bright.

Trivia Corner:

Although Hammer’s two great stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had appeared in several pictures before, including Hamlet (1948) and Moulin Rouge (1952), their long-lasting friendship was cemented on the set of Curse of Frankenstein when Lee stormed into Cushing’s dressing room saying, “I’ve got no lines!” To which Cushing allegedly responded, “You’re lucky, have you read the script?”


Back from the Dead – The First Review

And it’s a cracker! The only problem is, the review appeared on the Spanish version of Amazon which most people might not see. Unless you happen to be in Spain. Assuming that isn’t the case because we aren’t all that lucky, I’ve reproduced the review for you here.


Highly original take on the zombie trope

5*


“As I said above, these are some of the most original zombie stories I have ever read which is hard to say nowadays considering how many there are already written. In these six stories you will find everything from sword-wielding zombies, a return to the Bubonic plague and all its consequences, possible alien zombies, an elderly couple starving to death with eyes set on each other, a different take on roadkill, and a private detective with an unusual request.

The whole collection thoroughly well edited making each story flow seamlessly, I read through this collection in just two days, and was left wanting more, much more. I hope the author returns to this trope and writes some more short stories because I enjoyed them all that much.

For zombie fans, definitely worth grabbing a copy-you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

– Justin Boote, Amazon Espana

Link to original review HERE

Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Horror is available now on paperback and ebook.


It’s HERE!!!

In the market for some creepy holiday reading? Good. Your timing couldn’t be better, because my new book, Back from the Dead, has just dropped on ebook and paperback.

Here’s the blurb:

A collection of zombie fiction from British journalist and dark fiction writer C.M. Saunders, featuring two complete novellas alongside short stories previously published in the likes of Morpheus Tales, Crimson Streets and the anthology Digital Horror Fiction Volume 1, plus a brand-new novelette.

Also includes an exclusive introduction and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.

Featuring:

Dead of Night: young lovers Nick and Maggie go camping in the woods, only to come face-to-face with a group of long-dead Confederate soldiers who don’t know, or care, that the war is over.

Human Waste: Dan Pallister wakes up one morning to find the zombie apocalypse has started. Luckily, he’s been preparing for it most of his life. He just needs to grab some supplies from the supermarket…

‘Til Death do us Part: When the world as we know it comes to an abrupt end, an elderly couple are trapped in their apartment. They get by as best they can, until they run out of food.

Roadkill: A freelance ambulance crew are plunged into a living nightmare when a traffic accident victim they pick up just won’t stay dead. He has revenge on his mind.

The Plague Pit: A curious teenager goes exploring the Welsh countryside one summer afternoon and stumbles across a long-abandoned chapel. What he finds there might change the world, and not for the better.

Dead Men Don’t Bleed: A gumshoe private eye is faced with his most challenging case yet when a dead man walks into his office and asks for help solving his own murder. Complete and unabridged version of the story previously published as ‘Dead Man Walking.

Drawn from a variety of sources, all these tales have one thing in common; they explore what might happen if our worst nightmares are realized and people came BACK FROM THE DEAD.

Back from the Dead is out now.


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