2020 in Review

Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also raed a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). On the subject, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.

Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).

Elsewhere, I sold non-fiction articles to Fortean Times about the Hong Kong protests and cockroach farming and a couple more instructional pieces to Writer’s Weekly including Writing the Perfect Blurb, High-Paying Flash Fiction Markets and How to Find Your Micro Niche, while I also picked up some work for a website called DaiSport, which allowed me to stalk Newport County legend Fraser Franks and pursue my two great loves; Wales and MMA. I’m still trying to find a way to incorporate beer into the mix.

In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.

In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.

Terror Tract also published my novella, Tethered, the story of a journalism graduate who inadvertently gets sucked into a dark world of internet rituals, serial killers and strange disappearances. TT is fronted by Becky Narron, who is a living legend of the horror scene and it was an honour and a thrill to work with her. After the release of Tethered I entered into a promo cycle and did some interviews and guest blogs with the likes of Redrum Reviews, EB Lunsford and Kendall Reviews, where I took up the temporary post of warden, to add to the interview I did with Haunted MTL earlier in the year.

After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.

To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.


RetView #42 – The Blob (1958)

Title: The Blob

Year of Release: 1958

Director: Irvin Yeaworth

Length: 86 minutes

Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Olin Howland, Stephen Chase

the blob

This gets off to a thoroughly bizarre start with some bouncy, sax-led dance hall number called, imaginatively enough, Beware of the Blob by a group called the Five Blobs. All five blobs in this case were actually the same person, actor and singer Bernie Knee, who had his vocals overdubbed five times. The song was written by Mack Davis and a young Burt Bacharach, who would go on to win six Grammy Awards and three Academy Awards for his music, and became a surprise Top 40 hit in America. The nature of the theme tune was an indicator that the Blob never did take itself too seriously, and it can still be found on numerous horror and Halloween-themed compilation albums.

The premise is eerily reminiscent of War of the Worlds (the 1953 original, not the later Tom Cruise vehicle) and several other period classics. A courting couple, Steve Andrews (a 28-year old Steve McQueen in his first leading role) and Jane Martin (Corsaut) are out one evening when they see a shooting star and decide to go looking for it. Instead of finding it, they stumble across an old man (Howland) who has some weird jelly-like substance attached to his hand. Good citizens as they are, the young couple take him to the local doctor (Chase). As you can probably imagine, things escalate quite quickly after that. The Blob makes short work of the poor old man, increasing in size exponentially as it does so, then moves on to the nurse, and finally the doctor himself. Steve and Jane turn up just in time to see his grisly demise. In a panic, they go to the police, who dismiss them as pranksters.

Police Officer: They’re just kids.

Police Sergeant: Just kids? That’s the craziest argument I ever heard. Every criminal in the world was a kid once!

Both logical, and totally brilliant.

For me, this piece of dialogue, marks an interesting shift in cultural attitudes. This was the 1958, just three years after Rebel Without a Cause came out, when the battle between teenagers and various authority figures was still raging. In this not-untypical case, the film paints the teenagers as misunderstood victims who are basically good kids who just want to help, but are not given the opportunity to do so. Instead, they are unfairly judged and demonized, an attitude which tapped into the zeitgeist of the day.

Realizing that it is down to them to save the town, Steve and Jane recruit some of their friends and go about warning everyone about the (now) massive, shapeless blobby-thing going around consuming people. When the Blob appears and ransacks a movie theatre, they are vindicated and eventually work out that the best weapon against this slimy enemy is the cold. To cut a long story short, the air force then shows up and airlifts the Blob to the frozen wastes of the arctic. As the end credits begin to roll, it is acknowledged that the creature isn’t dead but has at least been stopped, to which Steve replies, in what is obviously an early comment on global warming, “Yeah, as long as the arctic stays cold.”

In keeping with its overriding theme of teen angst (for which, you can argue, the blob itself is a handy metaphor) the movie was aimed directly at the then-lucrative drive-in market, and released as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space. It was originally the B-movie, but soon proved so popular that the slots on the bill were reversed. Since then, it has gone on to achieve cult status. A sequel, Beware the Blob (aka Son of Blob, which indicates that the original blob was somehow able to procreate) was eventually released in 1972. Directed by Larry Hagman from Dallas, it used the tagline ‘The movie JR shot.” The original was remade in 1988, and yet another remake (at one time mooted to be directed by Rob Zombie) is in the works. Most impressively of all, since the year 2000, the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where most of the movie was filmed, has hosted an annual Blobfest in homage.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner

Steve (for the first and only time listed in the credits as ‘Steven.’) McQueen received a flat $3,000 fee for his role, turning down an offer for a smaller up-front fee in return for a 10% percent share of profits. He thought the film would never make money, and needed money quickly to pay for food and rent. However, The Blob ended up being a huge a hit, costing only $110,000 and grossing $4 million.


The Bookshelf 2020

As is customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) in 2020. This list is a bit longer than other recent reading lists, we can blame being in self-isolation half the year for that. I won’t bother counting the books I gave up on. There’s been a few. I’m disappointed with myself for not finishing Infinite Jest, though proud of the fact that I made it to about 30%. From what I gather, it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I fell into the latter camp. Too wordy, dense, and pretentious. I deserve some credit for persevering as long as I did with it.

To compensate, this list also a couple of shorter books. The Craft Beer Textbook is only 38 pages long. But it’s still a book, and I still read it so it counts. I finally got around to reading the second Secret Footballer book, which I remember buying at Heathrow airport a few years ago. It was great until he started talking about literature and quantum mechanics in an obvious attempt to show us he’s more than just a footballer. I made a conscious effort to branch out a bit and sample some work by authors I haven’t read before, and generally speaking I made some good choices. Pick of the bunch was probably Nick Cutter’s The Troop which, fittingly, is about a rogue virus. Kind of. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, but it’s epic. Stephen King, Amy Cross and Jason Arnopp were as reliable as ever, and Adam Nevill’s mini-anthology Before You Wake is well worth a look.

The Horror Collection: White Edition by Various Authors (2019)

Resurrection: A Zombie Novel (Book One) by Michael J. Totten (2014)

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp (2019)

Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, by Travis Barker (2015)

Bloody London: A Shocking Guide to London’s Gruesome Past and Present by Declan McHugh (2012)

After: Undead Wars by Various Authors (2018)

The Institute by Stephen King (2019)

I Was Jack the Ripper by Michael Bray (2017)

Wales of the Unexpected by Richard Holland (2005)

Sex, Marry, Kill by Todd Travis (2014)

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass incident by Keith McCloskey (2013)

Test Patterns: Creature Features by Various Authors (2018)

Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers (2014 ed)

Logging off by Nick Spalding (2020)

The Craft Beer Textbook by Jonny Garrett (2020)

Sunbather by Frank Floyd (2020)

The Lighthouse by Keith McCloskey (2014)

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (2020)

Ten Chimes to Midnight: A Collection of Ghost stories by Amy Cross (2019)

Haunted World War II by Matthew L. Swayne (2018)

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (2004)

The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014)

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts: Volume 2 by Various Authors (2019)

American Hoarder by Jason Arnopp (2016)

If Flies Could Fart by Justin Boote (2020)

Tales from the Secret Footballer by The secret Footballer (2014)

Walkers by Graham Masterton (1991)

The Haunting of the Lost Traveller Tavern by Cat Knight (2019)

Brewtality by Various Authors (2020)

Before You Wake: Three Horrors by Adam Nevill (2017)

The Ghost of Old Coal House by Amy Cross (2020)

My Christmas Story by Rayne Havok (2016)

You can read my 2019 reading list here.


Ho Ho Holy Sh*t!

A couple of months ago, I was about 700 words into this cool little Christmas horror story I was writing about a dude that finds an old Santa suit, puts it on, and then finds he can’t take it off. It starts to grow on him, fusing with his skin. Not only that, but his behaviour starts to change. He’s not the man he used to be. For starters (sorry) he’s hungry all the time. No matter how much he eats, he’s still hungry. He eats, and he eats, and he eats.

The story was going well. Right up until the point where I realized I’d subconsciously nicked the plot straight from the Eli Roth film Clown (2014) and just replaced the clown suit with a Santa suit.

Bugger.

I posted in a horror writing group on Facebook complaining about my wasted efforts, prompting Michael McCarty to PM me suggesting what he called a ‘quick fix,’ which between us we adapted into a killer (sic) twist. The resulting story, Finders Keepers, can be found in the new charity release from Terror Tract publishing, who put out my novella Tethered recently. Here’s the cover and ToC:

Jonathan Lambert
Thomas M. Malafarina
Aaron Lebold
Terry Miller
L.C. Valentine
R.C. Mulhare
Edmund Stone
Derek Austin Johnson
Craig Gerald Ferguson
David Owain Hughes
Eric Kapitan
Josh Davis
Andrew Lennon
Rob Shepherd
Dusty Davis
Mawr Gorshin
C.M. Saunders & Michael McCarty

Finders Keepers is a Christmas story, but there isn’t much festive cheer on display. In fact, it’s pretty damn sick and twisted, and might change your perception of what constitutes a family meal forever. Trust me, you wouldn’t want this Santa coming down your chimney. And what was that quick fix suggested by Michael McCarty? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

Ho ho ho Holy Sh*t is out this Christmas on Terror Tract Publishing.


Author Interview: C.M. Saunders

I enjoyed my appearance on EB Lunsford’s horror blog this week!

E.B. Lunsford

Hello. I hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty busy, but I managed to get quite a bit of writing done. I also tried to get caught up for this week’s interviews. The line-up seems to be growing by the day! Honestly, I didn’t expect so many authors to sign up, but it’s been so much fun, I’m debating making this an annual thing and hosting interviews here every December. Today, we have author C.M. Saunders joining us. He’s here to tell us all about his latest release, Tethered.

Christian Saunders, who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, began writing in 1997, his early fiction appearing in several small-press titles and anthologies. His first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair -A Supernatural History of Wales, was published in 2003. After graduating with a degree in journalism from South Hampton Solent University, he worked extensively in the freelance market…

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RetView #41 – Megan is Missing (2011)

Title: Megan is Missing

Year of Release: 2011

Director: Michael Goi

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

The story behind Megan is Missing is almost as remarkable as the film itself. Despite being initially released in 2011 it was shot in the found footage format made famous by the Blair Witch Project (1999) five years earlier on a miniscule budget of around $30k. Writer/Director Michael Goi claimed the reason for the gap between production and release was down to the objectionable subject matter. He simply couldn’t find anyone to distribute it until Anchor Bay stepped up. Due to the budgetary constraints involved, and to give the movie a ‘raw’ feeling, it was made over the course of a week by a crew of just five using only minimal equipment. It was claimed that this drive for authenticity was also the reasoning behind using largely juvenile, unknown actors, though it’s difficult to see many Hollywood A-listers (or even Z-listers) signing on to a project by a newbie director when those kinds of figures are being bandied around. It was originally marketed as an educational film about the dangers of the internet with Goi stating his desire for it to serve as a ‘wake up call’ to parents. However, it later found considerable traction in the teen horror market.

The story follows popular Californian high-school student Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) who meets up with ‘Josh,’ a boy she had been interacting with online, and subsequently vanishes without trace prompting her less-popular best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) to set out to find her. The first half of the film provides an unflinching snapshot into the complicated, overlapping lives of teens in the technological age where bullying and peer pressure is rife, interspersed with regular bouts of slut-shaming, social exclusion and a plethora of other disturbing yet apparently all-too common practices. It’s difficult to watch and not recognize something of yourself in there somewhere, and credit has to be given where it’s due for shining a light on some of the more damaging aspects of teenage life. If you have kids that age, this is what they deal with on a daily basis but never tell you about, and it’s fucking terrifying. All this occurs before the watershed point about two-thirds through where everything is ramped up several hundred notches. Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers stating: “Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words ‘photo number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”

As the movie is played out entirely on a screen (or a screen within a screen) through a clumsy combination of supposedly recovered video tapes, photographs, and news reports, it technically belongs to the Computer Screen (aka Desktop Film) genre, which has risen to prominence on the back of increased use of social media. In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on social media platform TikTok, where it found its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” To date, the hashtag for the film has over 84 million views, much of the attention seemingly stemming from persistent rumours that the footage is real. It’s not. But nevertheless, the movie has been dogged by controversey since its release, spawned no end of debate, and firmly divided opinion. An article on Thought Catalogue says, “Everyone has those scenes from the end of the movie etched into their mind forever. This is one of the scariest movies from the past 10 years and no one talks about it,” while HorrorNews.net said that the first portion of the film “really works,” although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes “went a little overboard.” Film critic Jamie Dexter perhaps puts it best saying, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do.”

That final third is definitely hard to watch. I think the most difficult thing to reconcile is the fact that **spoiler alert** he gets away with it. After being put through over 80 minutes of debilitating psychological trauma, the viewer is entitled to expect some retribution, some kind of payback because no evil deed goes unpunished, right? Right? Yeah, we all know that isn’t always the case in real life. But this is a film, dammit. Somebody had control over it. And that somebody could easily have made ‘Josh’ fall over a tree root and bang his head on a rock or something at the end. But no. This is the kind of nightmare scenario we read about in newspapers, presented to us in vivid, unflinching, excruciating detail. Indeed, Goi based the film on real life cases of child abduction. Most of the criticism, apart from that concerning the content, was directed at the unprofessional, ‘thrown together’ feel, completely missing the fact that this was the intention from the start. Goi was going for the kind of gritty realism you just don’t get with massive budgets and slick Hollywood production. He succeeded.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Viewer discretion is advised.

Trivia Corner

The movie was banned by New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification on the grounds of containing sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree that if it was released it would be ‘injurious to the public good’. The officials went on to say that the movie relished the spectacle of one girl’s ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene, and that it sexualized the lives of teenaged girls to a “highly exploitative degree.” Whilst I deplore censorship in any form, to be fair they weren’t far off the mark there.


The Dangerous Summer – All That is Left of the Blue Sky EP (Review)

It’s been a difficult year for most of us. In fact, 2020 has been a total fucking washout. It’s been a time of change and upheaval, uncertainty and angst, and with their sweeping melodies and emotive lyrics The Dangerous Summer make the perfect soundtrack to it all. Earlier this year, they left Hopeless Records when their contract expired and, despite being offered new terms, too the opportunity to turn officially indie. As lead singer and lyricist AJ Perdomo explains, “It got to a point where I was getting all of these calls and having these conversations and I just felt miserable. I hate talking about this sort of shit. This is what makes me fucking hate music. So out of anger I just said, ‘Let’s release this stuff ourselves. Screw all this shit’. Then we can go at our pace, release things whenever we want and do whatever the fuck we want. I just didn’t want to be owned any more.”

You can read my review of their last album for Hopeless, Mother Nature, here. The Dangerous Summer’s first independent release was the soaring single, Fuck them All, which sounds as if it might be a not-so-subtle message to the music industry. These lyrics speak for themselves.

Fuck them all
They want me like a light bulb
Blurred out with the sun
Swept under the rug again
Am I insane?
I think this is my moment
Yeah, nothing’s standing here in my way

Fuck them All kicks off this six-track EP in style before things are brought down a notch, a touch prematurely you could argue, for the piano-based slow-burner Come Down. Latest single I’m Alive follows, which sounds less like a departure and more like a cut from the aforementioned Mother Nature album. That’s not a criticism, by the way. As much as you have to admire any artist having the courage to branch out, try new things and develop their sound, all this has to be anchored in something tangible, solid and relatable. There has to be a thread of familiarity running through anybody’s body of work to tie it all together. Take Prince, for example. He would jump from hip-hop to dance to r n’ b to glam rock, often on the same album, but everything he did was still unmistakably Prince. That’s very much the case with DS, who over the years have matured and fleshed out their signature sound while remaining true to their roots and never chasing fashions or fads.

LA in a Cop Car continues in much the same vein as its predecessor, calling to mind classic Yellowcard or Something Corporate. DS often get tagged with the pop-punk label, which isn’t a bad thing, but not entirely warranted. They may have the energy and vitality so prevalent in pop-punk, especially during it’s early-naughties climax, but for me that’s where the similarities end. The EP is rounded off with Come Along, another epic-sounding chunk of polished power pop featuring Aaron Gillespie who now plays drums with DS, having made his name with Paramore and Underoath.

In summary, All That is Left of the Blue Sky is bold and fearless, the sound of a band finding their feet after finally being set free. The songwriting and musicianship is, as always, immense, and they can only move forward from here. DS are one of the artists eager to capitalize on an ever-evolving music industry and seem very well-placed to do so. I can’t wait to see how it pans out for them.

You can listen to this modern masterpiece here.


Scary Mary & The Jester of Hearts

I am pleased to announce that my short story, Scary Mary, appears in the new anthology Jester of Hearts from Terror Tract Publishing.

TT, who use the slogan HORROR WITH ATTITUDE to great effect, are the same beautiful people who recently published my novella Tethered. As the title suggests, this particular anthology is a collection of dark stories which all have a spiky thread of humour running through them. I don’t know why, but to me, horror and humour are often interlinked. It’s the absurdity of it all; the way your mind becomes unhinged from reality when faced with the horrible, horrific or horrifying.

My contribution, Scary Mary, is a flash fiction piece I wrote in early 2020. It’s based on a popular urban legend called the phantom hitch-hiker, whereby a driver picks up a passenger one night on a deserted stretch of road only to discover that it’s a ghost. The set-up is a bunch of guys chatting in a pub, and the whole story builds to what I hope is a worthy mic-drop stinger at the end. It probably won’t win me many literary prizes, not that my writing ever has, but it might send a chill down your spine and then make you crack a smile, which is the whole point of this anthology.

Jester of Hearts is available now on paperback and ebook from Terror Tract Publishing.


Loose Ends @ 34 Orchard

I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find my contribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.

The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:

“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check
We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks
Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when
Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”

The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.

Issue 2 of 34 Orchard featuring Loose Ends is available now.


RetView #40 – Mysterious Island (1961)

Title: Mysterious Island

Year of Release: 1961

Director: Cy Endfield

Length: 101 mins

Starring: Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Dan Jackson, Herbert Lom

mi

I remember seeing this film one wet afternoon as a kid, and being absolutely captivated by it. It’s the kind of boy’s adventure that just appeals to your sense of boldness and wonder. The original story was written by Jules Verne in 1874, and became an integral part of the so-called Voyages Extraordinaires, a sprawling series of no less than 54 novels published between 1863 and 1905 which included such classics as Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The book has been adapted at least eight other times over the years, most recently in 2012, but this 1961 version from Columbia Pictures is perhaps the most popular and enduring. It was directed by Cy Endfield, whose career highpoints came when he directed the seminal war film Zulu (1964) and wrote the sequel, Zulu Dawn (1979).

The year is 1865. It’s the height of the American Civil War, and a huge storm sweeps through a Confederate POW camp where a ragtag crew of Union soldiers led by Captain Cyrus Harding (Craig) are planning an escape. Using the storm as cover, they grab a couple of Confederates who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, pile into an observation balloon (the 19th Century equivalent of a stealth bomber) and make their getaway. The balloon carries them clean across America and over the Pacific Ocean, until another storm strikes and the balloon starts losing gas forcing them to land on, you guessed it, a mysterious island. The escapees quickly regroup and assign roles, with one poor bloke becoming designated ‘vegetable finder’ which must have looked great on his CV. It doesn’t take long before the intrepid group run into a giant crab. As you do. Now if you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of men fight off a giant crab with sticks, this is the film for you. They eventually succeed in tipping it over into a conveniently boiling geyser and eating it. Brilliant. At various points they also encounter a giant flightless bird and some massive bees, along with a couple of very prim, unconscious English ladies who have been shipwrecked. Apart from the volcanoes and all the crazy big animals running around, the island begins to resemble utopia, but the group are still determined to leave and make their intentions clear by building a big boat from scratch. Personally, I’d rather chill on the island with it’s plentiful supply of food and wait to be rescued than take my chances at sea with no supplies in a boat I made myself, but that’s just me.

Then things start turning weird. More weird, I mean. The group stumbles across a lovely cave and a treasure chest containing guns, maps, and other useful shit, and then they find the mother of all payloads, the Nautilus (Captain Nemo’s legendary submarine) hidden in a subterranean passage. But before they can investigate fully, they are attacked by a rogue pirate ship, which is promptly sunk in a mysterious explosion, and most bizarrely of all, Captain Nemo himself (Lom) walks out of the sea dressed up as a giant shellfish and delivers the best line of the whole film: “Contact with my own species has always disappointed me.”

Burn!

Over a nice meal aboard the Nautilus, Captain Nemo reveals to the castaways that the giant creatures are the result of a series of genetic experiments designed to solve the world’s food shortages. He also claims responsibility for sinking the pirate ship, and reveals the entire island is about to be destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Bummer. But not to worry, Captain Nemo uses his ingenuity to refloat the knackered pirate ship and help the group make their getaway.

Mysterious Island is now widely known for the (then) groundbreaking stop motion animation by Ray Harryhausen, which became known as dynamation. In many ways it paved the way for other Harryhausen vehicles like Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981). His first feature film, Mighty Joe Young (1949) won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The scene where the Union soldiers bust out of prison and escape in a hot air balloon were filmed in Church Square, Shepperton, Surrey, while most of the indoor scenes were filmed in nearby Shepperton Studios, and the beach scenes were filmed in Castell-Platja d’Aro in Catalonia, Spain. It would perhaps be too much of a leap to say this film still stands up today, especially in the special effects department. The truth is, it’s horribly dated. But the acting is superb and as slices of nostalgia go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Fifty minutes into the movie, Sgt Pencroft (Herbert) sings a song from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. However, Treasure Island wasn’t written until 1883, while the movie is set in 1865. Oops.


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