To mark the release of X5, my latest collection of short fiction, earlier this year I posted a line from one of the stories from it on consecutive days across my social media channels. Just for a laugh. As each of the X books contains 10 stories, that meant over the 10-day period I posted a total of 10 lines. I know that taken out of context they might not make much sense. The idea was just to give readers a deeper insight into each story than a standard synopsis would allow, and perhaps spark some morbid curiosity. Then I decided to collect all the extracts together here, because blogging.
“It looked like a giant moth/human hybrid, complete with a huge set of leathery wings folded behind it, and was covered in grey or black fur which had thinned in places to reveal skin so dry it resembled scales.”
“Its yellowing eyes were way out of proportion and had realigned themselves so they were on opposite sides of the head. The nose had elongated and extended into a snout, and the mouth was ringed by a pair of bulging, dark grey lips.”
“Her head was full of abstract images offering a tantalizing glimpse of some other existence, a distant life full of meaning, colour and joy. But each day the images faded a little more and now she wasn’t even sure if what she saw were snatches of memory or some manufactured product of her fractured mind.”
“When Sam was a child, he remembered thinking someone had been drawing on his grandad with a pen and spent hours trying to rub off the ‘ink’. Only later did he find out that the network of deep blue scars carved into his granite flesh were the result of a life spent on the coalfaces.”
“The guy in a white coat asked if I was getting sexually aroused. Just came out and said it. I mean, what the fuck? Who in this world could or would get turned on by pictures of mutilated bodies and severed limbs?”
Starring: Richard Crenna, George Kennedy, Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid, Saul Rubinek
I’d never even heard of this Bloodstar Films production until I read about it in an issue of the venerated Fortean Times magazine (FT396, if you’re interested). I’ve always had a thing for Nazi zombies, as referenced before in previous RetViews Shock Waves and Outpost. I also recently discovered that I have a thing for horror set on ships. I have no idea why that is. It could be something about the bleak, all-encompassing emptiness of being at sea, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that if some supernatural shit befalls you in a house, or even a cabin buried in the woods, you can always just count your losses and run. You can’t do that on a ship. You have to stay and face whatever evil shit is about to befall you. Anyway, the potential for Nazi zombies and an evil sea-faring vessel combo suckered me right into Death Ship. Throw in Richard Crenna from the Rambo films, Saul Rubinek from True Romance (and Frasier) and George Kennedy from, er, Cool Hand Luke and Earthquake, I was already sold. And if all that wasn’t enough, just look at this poster!
So what’s it all about?
Well, stuffy Captain Ashland (Kennedy) is on his final cruise before handing over the reigns to Trevor Marshall (Crenna) who has brought his wife (Howes, in her final film appearance) and kids along on the trip. At a glitzy on-ship party there’s a band playing, some drunk people, and lots of terrible dad dancing. Everyone is having a great time. Except Captain Ashland, who you doubt could have a great time anywhere. But all the decadence and debauchery comes to a sudden halt when the cruise liner smashes into something and sinks, leaving just a handful of survivors unfortunately including Marshall’s annoying kids, a lecherous young officer, and a near-hysterical passenger, floating around on a makeshift raft. The next morning they find the grumpy captain in the water, which is a stroke of luck, or maybe not, then they come across a massive, ominous-looking black ship anchored in the middle of the ocean with a ladder down ready to receive them, which seems like another mad stroke of luck but turns out to be quite the opposite. Thinking they’ve found salvation, the survivors board the strange ship to find it deserted. Still, it’s better than being on the raft, or so they think. The first sign that something isn’t right comes when ship’s entertainer Jackie (Rubinek) is suddenly scooped up by a possessed winch and dumped screaming head first into the sea. Bye, Jackie. It was fun while it lasted. Things degenerate from there. The remaining survivors, whilst trying to navigate this mysterious vessel full of disembodied voices, creepy shadows and inanimate objects that take on lives of their own, get picked off one-by-one, until only the good-natured Trevor Marshall, his wife, and those annoying kids are left and ultimately find themselves back where they started on another flimsy-looking rafty-thing in the water. There’s probably a message there.
Life and soul of the party Captain Ashland and the underlying friction between him and his would-be replacement Marshall is instrumental in all this.
“You don’t know how to handle a crew or passengers!” “Maybe so, Marshall. But I know how to handle ships.”
At one point, Ashland even dons a discarded German navy uniform and appears to channel the ship’s long-dead and rather sadistic head honcho whilst embarking on a murderous rampage. It all leads up to the highly anticipated revelation, which ties things up nicely and makes for a nice, satisfying conclusion. Especially after the evil Captain Ashland comes to a suitably sticky end and, of course, good triumphs over evil.
It’s easy to see why Death Ship got lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have the immediacy of other popular horror flicks of the day like Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th or Prom Night. It could, however, be a distant cousin of The Fog. It has a much more brooding atmosphere and, dare I say, slightly more substance reinforced by some remarkable cinematography, an impressive plot, and a killer (sorry) cast. It’s picked up a few retrospective reviews like this one on Warped Perspective, which is a real indicator as to whether a movie is truly attaining cult status, and review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes gives it an overall score of 4.2 out of 10 based on 5 reviews, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. One review states, “Death Ship is a terrific, low-budget cheesy supernatural tale that should definitely appeal to midnight movie horror fans. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I feel that this is one of the most underrated films in the genre.”
It’s hard to argue with that, and those sentiments are echoed by Jeremy Blitz of DVD Talk, who said, “It isn’t a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one, especially for fans of the somewhat lower tier horror efforts of the late seventies and early eighties.” Its flaws, however, are plain to see. Many called it unimaginative or derivative, with a shower scene in particular said to mirror the famous one in Psycho a little too closely. Incidentally, the shower scene in Death Ship was shot in one take, as it was deemed too expensive and troublesome to clean up the blood and shoot it again. It wasn’t all plain sailing (boom!). Damningly, TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. It’s probably safe to say that despite its considerable merits, this won’t be something that many of it’s stellar cast will look back on with much pride. For one delightful moment whilst researching this piece, I thought I’d stumbled across a modern(ish) remake. But that turned out to be nothing more than the result of some artwork someone mocked up in Deviant Art. Good effort, though.
As the ghost ship collided with the cruise liner, brief scenes of an explosion, a grand piano falling between decks, and the engine room flooding were cut in from another movie entirely. The movie in question was The Last Voyage (1960).
Self-promotion is a huge part of being a writer in the technological age. It’s even more important if you’re self-published, because then you’re completely alone. If you don’t sell books, nobody else is going to do it on your behalf. But even if you have work traditionally published, you can’t expect the publisher to shoulder all the expense and responsibility of shifting books in a crowded market place. Especially small-to-medium sized publishers with limited resources.
I’ve noticed that when they sell the rights to a book, a novella, or even a short story, some writers just move on instead of doing a bit of promo to help the publisher shift copies. Don’t do that. Every bit of attention you can generate helps, while simultaneously raising your own profile and giving you something to shout about. So tweet the link a few times, write a promo post for your blog, share it in a few Facebook groups, mention it on your Insta timeline, in short, tell all your friends. You might even choose to invest in some paid promotion, which I investigated in depth before.
A lot of writers maintain blogs, and a lot of writers struggle for things to blog about. Writing a promo post about an anthology or other market that has accepted one of your stories is an easy win. You can even use the cover art to illustrate it. Throw in a few comments about where the idea for your story came from and some buying links and you have the makings of a decent, informative, entertaining post to keep things ticking over. Just try to be creative with it. Inform or entertain, rather than just telling everyone you have a new book out. Make a few jokes at your own expense, or share a few extracts or obscure facts you maybe unearthed while researching the book or story.
If you’re worried about being seen as needy, don’t be. You’re a writer, and you’ve achieved something. Be proud. If nobody else ever gets to hear about your achievement, what was the point?
If this really is a deal breaker for you, try shifting the focus onto other writers instead.
So happy to be rubbing shoulders with Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz in this brand new anthology from This Massive Publisher!
As if that would ever happen. It would make that antho the literary equivalent of Woodstock. But trust me, any other writers you credit, not to mention the publisher, will love you for it. Even the stellar names. It’s a great way to kick-start some cross-promotion, where other writers in your genre chip in give you some mentions, or at least the book you both contributed to. There’s no better way to take advantage of overlapping readerships. Over and above all that, if the publisher sees you are willing to make an effort on the promotional front they just might look at any future submissions of yours slightly more favourably. It’s all about networking and forging mutually beneficial relationships, so don’t neglect your responsibilities and leave all the hard work to other people.