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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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, took 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 as a whole. 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 over the space of six tracks on the same album, but everything he did was still unmistakably Prince. That’s very much the case with TDS, who over the years have matured and fleshed out their signature sound while remaining true to their roots, flying their own flag and resisting the temptation to chase fashions or fads.
LA in a Cop Car keeps things ticking over in much the same vein, calling to mind classic Yellowcard or Something Corporate. TDS 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. This music is much more textured, and the lyrics have more of a soul-searching emo vibe. The EP is rounded off with Come Along, another epic-sounding chunk of polished power pop featuring Aaron Gillespie who now plays drums with TDS, 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, immaculate, and the layered production adds a sheen. TDS are one of the artists eager to capitalize on an ever-evolving music industry and seem very well-placed to do so. They can only move forward from here and I can’t wait to see how it pans out.
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.