Brewtality

My short story Grower is included in the new anthology Brewtality, out now on Evil Cookie, a new publishing company set up by the uber-talented K Trap Jones. All the stories in this book have a common them, which is something very close to my heart: alcohol.

Without giving too much away, Grower is about a guy who finds a tooth in his beer, and things just get weirder for him from there. It’s one of the most bizarre and flat-out surreal, stories I’ve produced in a long time. In fact, it’s probably one of the most bizarre and flat-out surreal, stories I’ve produced EVER. I wrote the original draft in the heady pre-COVID summer of 2019 whilst living in Guangzhou, and drinking far too much cheap Chinese beer. I was swigging on a can one night when I started thinking… what if?

This story was rejected by another prospective publisher I sent it to on the basis of being, “Too skin-crawlingly gross.” They also added, “The descriptions throughout this story were uncomfortably visceral and gruesome.” That’s a win for any horror writer, and I’m glad Trap wasn’t as squeamish and sensitive.

The original version featured a can of Budweiser as the vessel of doom, because I wanted to emphasise the discovery of something weird deep inside the ordinary and I hate Bud with a passion. Too gassy. But later I had a rethink, and decided it would be much more fun if I ditched the Bud in favour of a made-up brand of craft beer (just as I would in real life). Also, credit for that final killer line has to go to Trap himself.

Just look at this ToC!

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I am truly humbled to be in such great company.

Brewtality is out now on paperback and ebook on Evil Cookie publishing.


Retview #39 – They Live (1988)

Title: They Live

Year of Release: 1988

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 94 mins

Starring: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Peter Jason

they live

And now we arrive at yet another worthy entry in this series for horror maestro John Carpenter following The Fog, The Thing and Christine, and we haven’t even come to Halloween yet. Despite making back its entire budget of $3 million in its first weekend in theatres, upon release They Live offering was largely met with lukewarm reviews and indifference. Richard Harrington wrote in The Washington Post, “It’s just John Carpenter as usual, trying to dig deep with a toy shovel. The plot for They Live is full of black holes, the acting is wretched, the effects are second-rate.”

Ouch.

However, like so many other Carpenter films, They Live soon gathered traction and built a dedicated cult following further down the line. Since then, it has become known in underground circles as a bona fide sci-fi horror classic in the vein of Terminator and Robocop, containing all the elements essential for such an illustrious title such as satire, social commentary, a healthy dose of humour and, of course, some explosions. Its cultural impact is so profound that more than three decades after it came out, those perma-woke hipsters over at Rolling Stone are still writing articles about it.

The plot is pretty basic. Renowned wrestling star Roddy Piper, now sadly departed, plays Nada, a good-natured drifter who befriends construction worker Frank Armitage (David, who also played Kurt Russell’s sidekick in The Thing). Near a soup kitchen in a local shanty town he discovers a church full of scientific equipment, shortly thereafter the entire place is razed to the ground by police and Nada salvages a box of sunglasses. He steals one pair, and hides the rest in a dumpster.  Upon trying out the glasses the first thing he notices is that all the ads that surround us in our daily lives are really vehicles for hidden subversive messages or commands like ‘obey’ and ‘marry and reproduce.’ And that’s just the beginning. The glasses also allow him to see for the first time that the legions of yuppies populating Los Angeles, and presumably the rest of the world are, in fact, aliens. When the nasty aliens learn that Nada is well on the way to uncovering the truth, he essentially takes TV worker Holly Thompson (Foster) hostage, until she throws him through a window. Now a fugitive, Nada meets Armitage and, after a marathon six-minute street fight, finally succeeds in forcing a pair of sunglasses on his disbelieving buddy. Now alert to the truth, the two pair up to try to stop the alien invasion.

The idea for the movie came from a short story by Ray Nelson called “Eight o’clock in the Morning,” which was originally published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1963. It was later developed into a comic with the much snappier title Nada which was published in the Alien Encounters anthology in 1986. Carpenter acquired the film rights to both the original short story and the comic book, and used them as the basis for the screenplay which he wrote under the pseudonym Frank Armitage, which was also the name of David’s character. The name is actually an allusion to H.P. Lovecraft, one of carpenter’s favourite writers, who named a character in his classic The Dunwich Horror Henry Armitage. Ironically, most Lovecraftian horror involves a hidden or unseen world, a core element of They Live.

In the years since it came out, the movie has been taken as a metaphor for Reagan’s America, with Carpenter himself throwing fuel on the fire in various interviews. In a nutshell, the more political elements of the movie are derived from the director’s growing distaste with 1980’s commercialisation and consumerism, especially the economic policies promoted by the president which were dubbed Reaganomics. Carpenter once said, “I began watching TV again [and] quickly realized that everything we see is designed to sell us something.”

In keeping with the OTT eighties trend of cramming as many naff one-liners in each film as was humanly possible, Piper’s peak comes with the sublime, “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum,” second only to, “Life’s a bitch. And she’s back in heat.”

A remake has been mooted since around 2010 but details remain elusive. One thing is certain, if any cult movie would benefit from a big-budget, modern-day makeover, it’s this one.

Trivia Corner

Even politically-conscious pop punk stalwarts Green Day paid homage to They Live in the video for their single Back in the USA from the 2017 compilation Greatest Hits: God’s Favourite Band.


It Came From the Darkness

I’m proud to have been invited to contribute to It Came From the Darkness, an anthology put together by Red Cape Publishing and Philip Rogers to raise money for the Max the Brave fund.

Please follow the link to find out more about the cause.

(from the official press release):

“A huge number of horror writers, poets, artists, and film makers have come together to support the cause and offer the reader something special. Each piece of writing begins with the same five words, but the stories themselves are all wonderfully varied. So dig in, take each tale one bloody bite at a time, and beware of what comes from the darkness.

Includes stories from David Owain Hughes, Matthew V. Brockmeyer, Tim Lebbon, Lou Yardley, Cortney Palm, Lee Franklin, MJ Dixon, Singh Lall, and many, many more.”

The book is released on October 30th.


Sker House 2020

Like most other people, I am struggling to take any positives from 2020. One positive, however, is the fact that I’ve had more time to reassess things, and tackle some of those jobs I’ve been putting off. One of those jobs was revising my novel, Sker House, my attempt at the ‘Great Welsh Haunted House Story.’

I worked on it sporadically for five or six years, mainly because there was so much research involved because I wanted it to be as factually accurate as possible. Sker House, and many of the places I talk about in the book, are real, and so are some of the local legends I reference including that of Kenfig Pool and the Maid of Sker. Well, they are at least as ‘real’ as legends can be, anyway. The book also incorporates some documented historical events, like the awful practice of wrecking and the Mumbles Lifeboat Disaster, which didn’t actually happen in Mumbles, but here at Sker Point.

In 2016 I got to a point where I was just done with Sker House. I was so desperate to get it out there, I forewent the process of looking for a traditional publisher, commissioned my old mate Greg Chapman to design a cover (based on an old postcard I found of the original Sker House) and decided to publish it myself. Or more accurately, via a now-defunct writer’s collective I was then part of.

Sker House 3D

Though it became my biggest selling book and picked up some great reviews, truth be told, I’ve never been 100% happy with the version of Sker House I originally put out. The plot was a bit meandering and unfocused in places, and I slipped into using the passive voice a bit too much. The back end of the book felt a bit rushed, and there were a few silly grammatical errors and the odd missing apostrophe or comma. In places I forgot I was writing for an international audience, and referenced things like the Dissolution of the Monastries without actually saying what it was, or what the implications were and how it tied in with the story. From a more practical standpoint, the formatting was also a bit wayward. I was still learning the ropes then and experimenting with different techniques and software.

Some things seem fine the first dozen times you read them, but if you go back and read them a thirteenth time years later you’ll probably find some things you’d like to change. The beauty of self-publishing, apart from maintaining complete creative control, is that you can do just that. During this re-write I also added 4,000 words or so to the original. I’m not sure how that happened because my intention was to do the opposite, but there you go.

Helped largely by a succesful Bookbub promotion, the first edition is my biggest selling book which means a lot of my readers already have it. If you’re one of the few thousand who are in possession of the original (now substandard) version, get in touch and I’ll send you a free copy of the 2020 remaster.

If you still haven’t visited Sker House, why not take advantage of the special relaunch offer I’m running and do so now?

*I SHOULD POINT OUT THAT THIS INVITATION APPLIES TO THE BOOK ONLY. NOT THE ACTUAL HOUSE.*

I said something like that before and got a solicitor’s letter from the owner. I’d prefer that didn’t happen again. 

The revamped, revised, rewritten, and remixed Sker House is available on ebook and paperback.

Onwards and upwards


RetView #38 – Rabid (1977)

Title: Rabid

Year of Release: 1977

Director: David Cronenberg

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan

rabid 2

Before Scanners, Videodrome, and the 1986 remake of The Fly made Canadian writer and director David Cronenberg a household name, came this comparatively little-known cult classic. Despite the implications of the title, Rabid has nothing to do with sick animals, and everything to do with a woman who undergoes experimental surgery and spontaneously develops a strange penis-shaped appendage under her armpit. This instrument, though, isn’t for fun, it’s for sucking blood and spreading disease. Hence the ‘rabid’ of the title. Okay, I guess some more information is required.

Rose, played by porn star Marilyn Chambers in her first attempt at a ‘serious’ role, is riding pillion on a motorcycle driven, not very well, by her boyfriend Hart (Moore), when they take a nasty tumble. They both survive, but find themselves in a clandestine plastic surgery clinic overseen by the slightly creepy Dr Dan Keloid (Ryshpan) who decides to perform radical new surgery on the comatose Rose, who is the more badly injured. When Rose finally awakens from her coma, she inadvertently injures a fellow patient. It is then revealed that Dr Keloid’s experimental procedures have caused a mutation in Rose’s body, leaving her able to subsist only on human blood. Furthermore, anyone she takes blood from soon morphs into deranged, murderous zombie-like creatures, which isn’t really ideal for anyone. Understandably freaking out, Rose discharges herself from the hospital (but not before causing some more mayhem) and sets off on a cross-country hitchhiking trip whilst the police and medical fraternity try desperately to apprehend her in the face of a swelling epidemic. With the situation now out of control, a state of martial law is declared in Montreal whilst an array of scientists and doctors work feverishly to develop a cure.

Sure, as many films of this era were, Rabid is camp as hell in places and it takes a while to get going, but there is a lot to admire here. Not least the performance of Chambers, who plays the role of Rose with clarity and impressive depth. Her transition to mainstream movies, however, ultimately failed and she was back in the porn industry several years later amid claims she’d been ‘blackballed’ by Hollywood. Tragically, on 12th April 2009 she was found dead by her 17-year old daughter the cause of death determined to be a cerebral haemorrhage and aneurysm linked to heart disease. She was 56. In hindsight, it’s highly likely that Cronenberg cast her largely because of her porn background, rather than in spite of it. There is a raw sexuality bubbling beneath the surface throughout, from the penis thing growing out of Rose’s armpit to the almost orgasmic reaction she has when she feeds. Some of the special effects aren’t so special, but Rabid benefits from a cohesive narrative and a solid plot, something missing from a few more lauded Cronenberg movies. The bleak ending also sticks in the mind, which I won’t spoil for you here. When it was released, most of the Western world was being swept away on a tide of spit, vehemence and punk music, and some of that attitude bleeds through into the movie which when viewed in retrospect seems to portray Rose as a vulnerable, even unwilling, catalyst for change.

Rabid is seen by many Cronenberg aficionados to be inexorably linked with his 1975 offering Shivers and true, the two films do share many similarities. The Den of Geek website points out that if Shivers represented Cronenberg’s brief foray into zombie territory, Rabid can be seen as a tentative exploration of the vampire genre, if only for the blood sucking. There has been no shortage of discussion about Rabid in the forty-something years since its release, with the overriding opinion being that whilst it fades into mediocrity when compared to some of his later work, it marks an important junction in the then-fledgling writer/director’s career. A largely-faithful remake directed and co-written by Jen and Silvia Soska and starring Laura Vandervoort premiered at the London Frightfest Festival on August 26th 2019.

Trivia Corner:

Cronenberg has stated that he originally wanted the sassy Sissy Spacek to play the lead, but the studio vetoed his choice because of her accent. Okay, then. Interestingly, Carrie, Spacek’s tour de force, was released during the production of Rabid, and a poster can be seen when Marilyn Chambers, Spacek’s eventual replacement for this role, walks past a movie theatre.


Holiday in the Splatterclub

My short story Holiday of a Lifetime is included in the Splatterclub’s first anthology, out now on Blood Bound Books. BBB, who have previously published my stories The Devil & Jim Rosenthal in DOA, Subject #270374 in DOA III, and The Others in Burnt Fur, are without doubt one of my favourite small presses. It is always a pleasure to work with them, and I’m overjoyed to continue our association.

Splatterclub

I wrote Holiday of a Lifetime in 2017, shortly after I came back from a trip to Thailand. While not quite the holiday of a lifetime, it came close. What it really did was open my eyes to some of the decadence and debauchery that goes on there on a daily basis. I thought Ibiza and Benidorm were bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) but nothing could prepare me for Bangkok and Pattaya.

Holiday of a Lifetime is about an Average Joe who, after being made redundant, decides to take his wife on a trip to Thailand. There, the couple let themselves go and indulge in everything the country has to offer. In fact, they let themselves go too far and come to realize that when something is done, it can’t be undone.

I honestly thought I’d overplayed my hand with this one. Blood, gore, extreme sex, sexual violence, it’s all here. I didn’t think I would be able to find a publisher willing to touch it, so kudos to BBB.

My mother is usually my biggest fan. She reads everything I have published. But I don’t think she’ll be reading this one.

Welcome to the Splatterclub is out now on paperback and ebook.


Tethered: A History

Tethered, my novella about internet rituals, is finally out on Terror Tract Publishing LLC. Yay!

Here’s a helpful blurb.

Craig, a journalism graduate trying desperately to get a foothold in a fading industry, is going nowhere fast. While searching for a project to occupy himself, he stumbles across a blog written by a girl called Kami about internet rituals – challenges undertaken by those seeking to make contact with ghosts or other supernatural entities.

Craig becomes obsessed, and when Kami suddenly disappears he goes in search of her. From there he is powerless to prevent his life spiralling out of control as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a dark, dangerous world where nothing is quite what it seems. A world populated not just by urban myths and hearsay, but by real-life killers.

He thinks he is in control, but nothing can be further from the truth.

And a look at the awesome cover by Becky Narron

Tethered

Tethered ended up taking on a bit of a weird structure, and is quite experimental in parts. It starts with a conversation between two flatmates, and the first half alternates between conventional storytelling and a mixture of mocked-up blog entries and news articles, while the second half returns to a more tried-and-tested format. I couldn’t help but get bogged down in the details, and the whole process took a lot longer than I wanted. The first draft resembled a pile of puzzle parts that I somehow had to piece together. I think they came together pretty well in the end. But I’m biased, obviously.

The title has a loaded meaning. In the traditional sense, ‘tethered’ means being being fixed or attached to something else (like reality), but a more modern usage it can be applied to using your smartphone to connect to the internet. Or something. This dual meaning made it the perfect choice, not just the respective definitions (both of which are relevant to the plot) but also because the title itself functions on multiple levels, which I hope the book also does.

After getting burned a few times over the years by rogue publishers, I’ve self-published my last few books, not just my X series which basically consists of fiction I’ve had published elsewhere, but longer original works, too, like Human Waste, Sker House and Dead of Night. There are many reasons why I do this, rather than go the traditional route. The process is much faster and I get to retain control over every aspect of the process from setting the price to the content and cover art.

The thing is, self-published authors get very little respect in the industry because there’s this attitude that anyone can do it, and you HAD to self-publish because your book wasn’t good enough to get published traditionally. There might even be some truth in that assumption, given the questionable quality of some self-published work out there. But without sounding too smug about it, I don’t think it strictly applies to me because my first half a dozen books were traditionally published. However, after a while out of the trad game, something approaching self-doubt crept in and I began to miss the competition.

Am I really good enough?

Is this book really good enough?

With the help of Terror Tract, I hope to answer some of those questions, and ask a few more.

Tethered is out now on paperback and ebook through Terror Tract Publishing LLC.


Unknown Pleasures – Post Mortem Press: The Early Years (Volume One)

One of the first short stories I had accepted after my return to writing fiction after a long hiatus was a story valled Curiosities, which was included in an anthology called Uncanny Allegories on Post Mortem Press back in 2010.

Curiosities, which was later included in X2, is about an antique shop on the south coast of England. It’s a shop with a difference, and more than a few secrets. The original plan was to write a series of stories about the same place and central character, but I never got around to it. I guess there’s still time. 

Anyway, Post Mortem Press has just compiled all the stories from Uncanny Allegories and many others into one handy, specially-priced volume called Unknown Pleasures – Post Mortem Press: The Early Years (Volume One).

unknown pleasures

The book contains over 1800 pages and includes over 80 stories and novellas, including ‘secret classics’ by Jack Ketchum and Jonathan Maberry, among many others. 

Check it out that awesome cover!

I think somebody over there must be a Joy Division fan.

 


RetView #37 – The Thing (1982)

Title: The Thing

Year of Release: 1982

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 109 mins

Starring: Kurt Russell, T.K. Carter, A. Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Joel Polis,

the thing

This is the third entry in this series featuring the work of John Carpenter, following The Fog and Christine, and I haven’t even got to the most obvious one yet. I remember having this particular movie on VHS as a teenager. I’d recorded it off the TV, so my copy was without the swears and a fair bit of gore had been subtly edited out. I thought it was brilliant then, but with all the swears and gore included, it’s ten times better. Coming immediately after his career-defining turn as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (yet another Carpenter film), this is undoubtedly a Kurt Russell vehicle. He was involved in the production from the very early stages in helping Carpenter develop his ideas, though strangely he was the last to be officially cast. It’s pretty difficult to imagine anyone else playing MacReady, but early discussions reportedly evolved around using Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte or even Jeff Bridges as the lead.

In the frozen wastes of Antarctica, a Norwegian helicopter is shown chasing a sled dog, which runs into an American scientific research station. The helicopter lands, and is accidentally blown up by the passenger (doh!). The surviving pilot, in between stamping his feet and shooting at the poor dog, is yelling something in Norwegian, but the Americans can’t understand him, see him as a threat, and shoot him dead. ‘Murica! So then, the investigation begins. A delegation is sent to the Norwegian base, which is found to be deserted, though evidence suggests they may have found something buried in the ice. Meanwhile, the surviving sled dog is left to mingle in the kennels with the other dogs. However, it soon transforms into a gore-tastic alien creature, and is eventually killed by Childs (David) with a flame thrower. Data recovered at the Norwegian camp leads the team to a remote excavation site containing a massive partially-buried flying saucer. Now things start swimming into focus. However, it might already be too late. The team medic Blair (Brimley) autopsies the incinerated creature, and the group finally realize that they are dealing with a shapeshifting alien entity capable of assimilating not just into a sled dog, but into any of them, too. This knowledge sends Blair round the twist, and he sabotages all the vehicles to stop ‘The Thing’ escaping and locks himself in a shed in a huff. Coming to the conclusion that nobody will be safe until they categorically know they are all human, the group try to devise a test, but obviously the alien doesn’t want to be found and takes evasive action. In the end, there are just MacReady (Russell) and Childs left, and as the camp burns around them it becomes abundantly clear that one way or another, their days are severely numbered.

First, let’s talk about that ending, which has been the source of much discussion over the years, in a little more depth. It was left deliberately ambiguous, leaving the viewer to pretty much draw their own conclusions as to which one The Thing actually is; MacReady or Childs (or both, or neither). My own feeling is that Childs was looking decidedly sheepish at the end there. Carpenter actually filmed two alternative endings, one showing The Thing transform into a dog (again) and running off into the snowy wastelands, presumably to be picked up at another arctic research facility, and the other depicting MacReady being rescued and given a blood test, which he passes. Told you I was right about Childs.

In essence, the movie explores themes of paranoia and mistrust, and examines what could happen when people’s belief systems are compromised. Several critics have since suggested that it is also influenced by a latent fear of homosexuality which, in the early Eighties, was still something to be afraid of. It is indeed interesting to note that there are no women in the film, and an awful lot of phallic tentacles.  The screenplay was based on the story Who Goes There by John W Campbell, Jr (writing under the pseudonym Don. A Stuart) which was first published the August 1938 edition of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. It was actually adapted once before, for the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, but the John Carpenter version is much more faithful to the source material. Pointedly, Carpenter and his team originally wanted to film in black and white  to further replicate the 1951 version but were discouraged from doing so by Universal who feared for the commercial repercussions of such a bold move.

Amazingly, upon release The Thing was ravaged by critics and, compared to Carpenter’s other films, became a relative failure, barely managing to recoup its $15 million budget. Carpenter later said: “I take failure hard. The one I took the hardest was The Thing. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit… the movie was hated.” He reputedly lost out on directing the 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter due to its poor performance. Which could have been, in part, a reaction to the feelgood success of ET, which showed alien visitation in a completely different, altogether more encouraging, light. However, in the years since, The Thing has become the archetypal cult hit. It is often cited among one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever produced, and now regularly receives the kudos and plaudits it so richly deserves. Despite being almost 40 years old, it still holds up well and spawned a decent prequel in 2011.

Trivia Corner

The infamous ‘chest chomp’ scene, The Thing’s equivalent to the ‘chest buster’ sequence in Alien, where Dr. Cooper tries to revive Norris with a defibrillator following a suspected heart attack, were filmed using a double amputee fitted with prosthetic arms which are then ripped off.


The Facebook Album Cover Challenge

I usually try to avoid these things. They are a drain on my time and resources, and more often than not completely pointless. This challenge, though, caught my attention. So much so, that I want to share it here. My Facebook page is a shit show. Things get buried and I often delete stuff without warning – usually when two or more of my acquaintances start arguing on one of my threads about Bigfoot or something. But this is my permanent record. It’s where things are kept for posterity, which is why you will find a near-complete record of everything I’ve ever had published here.

I was nominated by Douglas Sutherland (a madcap Canadian I first met when I worked at Southampton FC a lifetime ago – we later became house mates) to share one album per day for 10 consecutive days that influenced my taste in music – no explanations, no reviews, only the covers. It was pretty hard not to explain myself sometimes. I found the first few albums came easily, but the less choices I had left the harder it became and by day 10 there were five or six albums vying for a mention. 

So here they are for your perusal, in the order I posted them (which wasn’t in order of preference).

dark

word

once upon a time

whitesnake 87

ad2

astoria

enema

 

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