100 Word Horrors 2

Back last year I contributed to an anthology of drabbles called 100 Word Horrors. I’d never written a drabble until then, but found it a lot of fun as well as a good exercise. When you only have 100 words, you have to be concise and make every word count. The format is one I enjoy, and I’ve dabbled (drabbled?) in it quite a lot since.

Here’s another one.

Fast forward a few months and editor Kevin Kennedy is at it again.

Introducing… 100 Word Horrors 2.

How’s this for an awesome cover?

100 word horrors 2

My contribution this time around, Hitori Kakurenbo, is a spin-off from my recently completed (and as yet unpublished) novella Tethered. It isn’t set in the same universe, nor does it feature any of the same characters, but the two stories are linked because they both concern creepy internet rituals. Translated from Japanese, Hitori Kakurenbo means ‘One person hide and seek.’ Or something along those lines. I’ll be giving the game away if I divulge too much here, but let’s just say it involves a stuffed doll, a knife and some blood. Wahoo! What more do you need for a fun night in by yourself?

Check out 100 Word Horrors 2 to read Hitori kakurenbo in its 100-word entirety, along with stories by lots of other, more talented writers including Amy Cross, Andrew Lennon, David Moody, Michael Bray, Shaun Hutson, Terry West and my spirit uncle Craig, to name but a few.

I’m just there for the shits and giggles.

And the stuffed dolls.

100 Word Horrors is available now on ebook and paperback.

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RetView #20 – Race With the Devil (1975)

Title: Race with the Devil

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Jack Starrett

Length: 88 minutes

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Switt, Lara Parker, RG Armstrong

RACEWITHTHEDEVIL

Race with the Devil is the rarest of things; an action/horror/road movie mash-up of epic proportions. American audiences loved their car chases in the seventies. For a while, that was the whole point of making films and often, any plot or storyline was aimed primarily at manufacturing situations where people got behind the wheels of cars (or in this case, motorhomes) and chased each other around. Just look at that poster. They witnessed an unspeakable act! It screams, stopping just short of adding, “And that’s why they got in the ve-hicle so we could have us a good ole chase!”

After some suitably ominous music, we are introduced to motorcycle dealership owner Frank Stewart (Oates) who, along with his friend and keen motorcross racer Roger Marsh (Fonda) is preparing to head out to Aspen, Colarado, on a ski holiday. Along for the ride are their wives (Switt and Parker) and a belligerent little dog called Ginger. After being on the road for a while they find a quiet, secluded place to spend the night. While drinking beer and shooting the shit outside the motorhome, Frank and Roger see a fire burning in the distance. On going to investigate, they find a bunch of people dressed in robes, dancing around said fire and chanting which is all very reminiscent of Maiden’s Number of the Beast (“I feel drawn toward the chanting hordes, they seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes”).

When half the Satanists get naked, Frank and Roger settle down to watch what they anticipate will be a vast, open-air orgy, but things take a sinister turn when one of the naked women is stabbed to death by a dude in a mask, and apparently offered up as a human sacrifice. Just then, the interlopers are discovered by the newly-naked Satanists and lo and behold, we have our chase. Frank and the gang drive the motorhome through a river, up a hill through a forest, and then cross country (it’s a motorhome, not a fucking tank!) before eventually winding up in a small town where they report the unspeakable act they witnessed to the local sheriff (Armstrong). But isn’t there something slightly off about that sheriff? Of course there is. You know the drill. In fact, everyone they meet seems a little ‘out there,’ from the librarian to the mechanic fixing their window, which riffs off the whole generational hippy paranoia thing that was going on at the time. Vietnam, Watergate, race riots, Jesus Christ Superstar, post-Woodstock America was a deeply troubled place.

Things escalate when the group leave town and spend the night at a camp site populated by yet more iffy individuals where Ginger comes a cropper and they find rattlesnakes in the cupboards. That’s enough to ruin anybody’s holiday. Before long, they really are engaged in a race with the Devil. Or, more accurately, the Devil’s mates. The last quarter is one long adrenaline-filled smash ‘em up as the increasingly frustrated cult members try their hardest to prevent the Frank and company making it the real police leading to some pretty impressive stunt driving. At one point, a Dodge pickup truck pursues them for about three miles on two wheels. I shit you not. The supernatural elements do feel a bit tacked on, giving you the impression that these people could be being chased by anybody – cult members, rednecks, bikers, hippies, rogue penguins, aliens. But nevertheless, it’s thrilling, and sometimes chilling, stuff.

Race with the Devil was directed by Jack Starrett (perhaps best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and as asshole deputy Art Gault in First Blood) who made his name acting in a slew of biker movies in the late sixties and early-seventies. Conveniently, this dove-tailed with Fonda’s appearance in the legendary Easy Rider and several other notable contributions to the genre. It could have been preordained that these two were going to work together at some point, and when they did, motorcycles were going to be involved. Starrett even has a cameo role here as a gas station attendant. Interestingly, he later claimed to have hired actual, real-life satanists as cult member extras, though this statement may have been a publicity stunt. I mean, how the heck would he find them? You can’t just put out a call for satanists who wouldn’t mind being in a Hollywood movie. If it was a publicity stunt, it worked. Though it received mixed reviews, the movie tapped into the American psyche and was a huge success, drawing over $12 million at the Box Office from a modest budget of $1.75 million. It was released just when home video was taking off, bringing in another $6 million-plus in rentals, and was re-issued as a double feature in 2011 with another Peter Fonda film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It isn’t often talked about these days, which is a shame as it’s definitely worth a punt.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMDB, some of the chase scenes involving the motorhome and its steadily degenerating condition were used as stock footage in eighties TV classic The Fall Guy.

 


Where the ‘M’ Comes From

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and you may have noticed I use different names for different kinds of writing. For academic writing and more formal or serious stuff, I use my full given name. It looks more official. For sport, lifestyle and comedy writing, I use the slightly snappier moniker Chris Saunders. And for fiction, I usually use the name C.M. Saunders . There are practical reasons for doing this. I like to keep different facets of my writing career separate because it’s easier to get my head around. Besides that, the people who read my horror fiction would probably be deeply disappointed if they accidentally picked up one of my travel books, or the one I wrote about Cardiff City FC, and vice versa.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me why I use C.M. Saunders, especially since I don’t actually have a middle name, and so no middle initial. It’s kind of a happy coincidence that my boyhood nickname was Moony. Because I have a round face, apparently. I guess it could have been a lot worse. There was a boy in my street called Dickhead. Anyway, no. That’s not where the M comes from. It’s not as straightforward as that. But there is a very good reason for it and for the first time in public, I’m going to reveal what that reason is.

It’s for my grandfather on my mother’s side. Firstly, he’s probably part of the reason I grew up to be so into the whole horror thing. He was a big reader, and would go to the local library a couple of times a week. This was back when libraries had books. Whenever I went to visit him and my grandmother in his bungalow at the top of the village when I was a kid, he would always have the latest horror novels lying on the table next to his reading chair. I was too young to read them, or even remember much, I just loved looking at those covers. Stephen King, James Herbert, Graham Masterton.

A little word about my granddad, or Pop as we called him. His name was Stanley Martin. I couldn’t get my hands on a photo of him, but here’s where he lived, New Tredegar, south Wales. This place…

New Tredegar, South Wales

Like my other granddad on my father’s side, he was a coal miner almost all his life. Proper old school Welsh. This is Elliot’s Town colliery, where he used to work.

_45605014_elliot_colliery

Being a miner was a hard life. He would delight in telling me, my sister, and cousins horror stories. Some were things that really happened to him or his friends, some were local myths or legends, and he probably made the rest up just to entertain us. The man was covered in little blue scars where coal dust had got into his cuts when he was underground, and he was still coughing up black shit twenty years after he was pensioned off. He met and married a woman called Lillian and they had three daughters, including my mother. All three daughters grew up and got married. As per tradition, when they got married they took the names of their husbands so pretty soon, the Martin name vanished. I always thought that was a bit sad, and when I started taking fiction a bit more seriously and was looking around for a pseudonym to distinguish it from my journalism, I thought using the ‘M’ initial might be a cool way to keep the name ‘Martin’ alive. He died a long time ago, and when he did his surname died with him. Now, every time I have something published under the name C.M. Saunders, it’s a silent nod to the man who introduced me to horror.

If there’s a heaven, I know he’s up there looking down with pride in his eyes.

 

 


X: Omnibus is out now!

Look what I did!

The complete published short fiction of dark fiction writer C.M. Saunders taken from the pages of Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Fantastic Horror, Siren’s Call, Screams of Terror, Gore magazine, the Literary Hatchet and many more magazines, ezines and anthologies in one bumper volume.

X-omnibus

Includes everything from the first three X collections of short fiction, the stand-alone Human Waste, and two bonus stories exclusive to this collection.

Contents:

Thin Disguise
A Hell of my Own Creation
Monkey Man
The Awful Truth
Mr. C
Fame / Infamy: A Deconstruction
Another False Dawn
The Night Everything Changed
The Devil & Jim Rosenthal
Club Culture
Little Dead Girl
Curiosities
Intruder
The Night Visitor
Hero of the Day
Embracing Solitude
Treat Night
Handsome Jack
Tiny Little Vampires (Flash Version)
Roadkill
‘Til Death do us Part
Gwraig Annwn
The Delectable Hearts
The Answer in Darkness
What Happened to Huw Silverthorne
What Happened Next
Altitude Sickness
Switchblade Sunday
Slots-a-Pain
The Elementals & I
Human Waste
Coming Around
The Forever Nameless
Afterword

Out now on paperback and ebook.


Allister – 20 Years and Counting (review)

Allister are one of the great forgotten pop punk bands. They had all the tools – cool image, solid musicianship, a great attitude, killer tunes, witty lyrics, tattoos – yet somehow got lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, they achieved modest commercial success, especially with their Last Stop Suburbia album in 2002, and cemented their place in pop punk folklore long ago (lest we forget they were one of the first bands signed to legendary label Drive-Thru records, also home to Senses Fail, Something Corporate, Newfound Glory, Halifax and Finch, to name just a few) but the big time always eluded them. In most places, anyway. Allister, and in particular bassist and singer Scott Murphy who for a long time sustained a solo career (I think he still does), was absolutely huge in Japan. No doubt a talented individual, Murphy’s charisma and boundless enthusiasm is admirable. I met him at a gig in London a few years back, and he was awesome.

allister

This album comes through necessity more than anything. They haven’t released anything since 2012 and wanted to mark what is essentially their 25th anniversary as a band, and 20 years since the release of their debut album which, incidentally, was recorded on a purported production budget of $700 and featured a cover of the Fraggle Rock theme. Kudos. Someone somewhere suggested a ‘greatest hits’ style compilation, but that proved problematic as it turned out Allister didn’t actually own the recording licenses for any of the tracks on their first few releases but owned the rights to the songs themselves. Hence, the solution was to re-record, and in some cases, ‘re-imagine’ them, and pad the thing out with a few new tracks. The pick of these is probably the high-octane Peremptory Challenge, ran a close second by the slightly more restrained opener Stay with Me.

As for the re-recorded tracks, most have been updated only in the sense that they’ve lost a lot of that energetic immediacy so prevalent in pop punk circles. The guitars are choppier, the bass section slightly higher in the mix, and most tracks have been brought down an octave or two in an effort, you feel, to ingratiate them with a mainstream audience who are rapidly forgetting what drums and guitars sound like, let alone pop punk. Some, like Moper and Flypaper benefit from this treatment, but others like Scratch and A Study in Economics seem to lose a little something. Or maybe I’m just too attached to the original versions and resistant to change. Dunno. Regardless, even at 50% capacity Scratch is approximately 50% better than 90% of other songs.

One of the biggest missteps is a wholly unnecessary remake of the ska-infused Stuck Powered On from the 2012 album Life Behind Machines. In my humble opinion it was one of the band’s weakest tracks anyway, and the 2019 version adds nothing to the original. Meh. All things considered, 20 Years and Counting is a somewhat patchy affair, but has enough quality to carry it through. Beyond the new material seasoned fans are unlikely to be overly impressed, but if this release exposes Allister to a new generation, it will have done its job.

To promote the release the band have made a cool new video for Somewhere Down on Fullerton, which you can catch HERE.


X: Omnibus – Cover Reveal

Greetings! I am excited to announce the imminent release of my next project. And this is a BIG one. Details to follow soon, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the stonking new cover art designed by the ludicrously talented Greg Chapman.

What do you think?

X-omnibus

The ebook is available for pre-order, and through some strange quirk of fate, the paperback is out now.


RetView #19 – Train to Busan (2016)

Title: Train to Busan

Year of Release: 2016

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Length: 118 mins

Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an

traintobusanposter-701000

South Korea have done quite well off the back of the whole J-Horror explosion, making several good additions to the wider Asian horror genre. Among the standouts have been Don’t Click (2012), I Saw the Devil (2010), Thirst (2009), and the Wailing (2016). What really put South Korea on the map, however, was Train to Busan. This is one of the more recent examples in the #RetView series, only premiering at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. I generally lean toward movies more than a decade old, and I only make exceptions in special cases. Train to Busan is certainly one of those. It went on to be nominated for a slew of awards, even winning a couple, filled theaters, and became a surprise hit all over the world. Sold.

The film starts predictably enough with a ‘minor leak’ at a biochemical facility. Always a concern. You know the situation isn’t going to improve from there. It certainly doesn’t improve much for a deer we see mown down by a truck driver. But don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this movie because the very dead, very milky-eyed buck is soon back up on its feet. This prologue gives enough clues as to what’s happening, and going to happen, that you don’t even have to turn on the subtitles if you don’t want to. Oblivious to the zombified deer, Seok-woo (Yoo), a divorced workaholic fund manager, is asking his disinterested colleagues what to buy his young daughter, Su-an (really Su-an) for her birthday. Apparently, he has a ton of money but is low on parenting skills. It’s eventually decided that for her birthday, all Su-an wants is to visit her mother in Busan (South Korea’s so-called second city, putting it on a par with Birmingham, I guess). Seok-woo reluctantly agrees, and they board a train at Seoul station with a random assortment of other passengers including a tough, working class husband and his heavily-pregnant wife, a nasty, self-centered CEO, and a baseball team who, luckily enough, have brought their bats. They’re going to need them.

As the train departs the station we see a young woman with a wound to her leg convulsing who then turns into a zombie. The virus quickly spreads throughout the train, and indeed the country, one memorable scene showing the (so far) unaffected glued to their smartphones watching news reports and footage uploaded onto social media. From there, the film turns into a survival horror as the survivors not only have to protect themselves from the zombies trapped on the train with them, but also those on the outside as everywhere they stop seems to be overrun.

An interesting point comes in the first third when the snarling, blood crazed zombies storm through the train. The few citizens who are left lock the doors of the carriages, and for a few moments we see that the only thing separating the people from the zombie hordes is a sheet of glass. The contrast is stark. They are so close together, yet so far apart. I couldn’t help wondering if this was a handy metaphor not just for rich and poor, but for North and South Korea. In fact, you could go one step further and see the mindless zombies as representing the creeping threat of communism as a whole. Zombies have always been good for metaphors.

On paper it’s hard to explain what makes Train to Busan so good. You can point to certain elements like the cinematography and the musical score, which certainly contribute, along with the fine acting and superb special effects. But I think the one thing that sets it apart from most other zombie movies, and most other movies period, is its energy and vitality. And I do realize how ironic that might sound when talking about the undead who generally speaking, apart from the 28 films, aren’t exactly renowned for their energy or vitality. Despite the bulk of the action being confined to a couple of train carriages, director Yeon Sang-ho, who made his name in animation, does a superb job of picking you up and sweeping you along with the flow. It’s icky and claustrophobic, but only when it has to be and more by design than necessity. There is gore a-plenty, but a strong sense of morality pervades with an even mix of good guys and bad guys, and lot of fun to be had, too. Word is that the movie is currently being remade in English by Gaumont. Because apparently, what the world needs right now is yet another English-language zombie film.

Trivia Corner

Shortly after Train to Busan dropped, an animated prequel, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho was released. Featuring an entirely new cast of characters, Seoul Station explains how a homeless man was the source of the infection. Not the deer, then. Seoul Station currently boasts a 100% approval rating on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.


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