I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over a hundred publications worldwide and my books have been both traditionally and independently published. My first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published back in 2003, and I've worked extensively in the freelance journalism industry, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Loaded, Record Collector, Maxim, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper.
I lived in China for over nine years where I taught English at universities in Beijing, Changsha and Guangzhou during my search for enlightenment, before moving back to the UK in January 2013 to work as staff writer on Nuts magazine. Later, I was senior writer on Forever Sports magazine, associate editor at a shortlived title called Coach, and I currently write business news for a trade magazine about the plastics industry. It's far more satisfying than it sounds. My latest fiction releases have been Human Waste (on Deviant Dolls Publications) and X5, my fifth collection of short fiction. I also edit, proofread, ghost write, and drink far too much craft beer.
MyDarkside(dot)com, quite possibly one of the most brutal short stories I have ever written, is included in issue 22 (Spring 2023) of Phantasmagoria magazine, lovingly edited, as always, by the irrepressible Trevor Kennedy.
The bumper 290-page issue also includes features on the finale of the much-loved Supernatural series and the movie Audrey Rose, an interview with Paul Tremblay, the usual mix of artwork and reviews, and fiction by Graham Masterton & Karolina Mogielska, David A Riley, Marion Pitman and Josh Strnad, to name but a few, so I am in some pretty esteemed company! I am especially delighted to share an issue with Rev Lionel Fanthorpe of Fortean TV fame.
MyDarkside(dot)com was jointly inspired by our obsession with the internet and the rise of the found footage movie genre. When I first started submitting it for publication, I stylised the title as the name of a website with an actual dot (.), instead of (dot), and the ‘www’ at the front. I thought I was being original, but soon found out why nobody else was doing it when a very nice editor pointed out that naming your story after a fictitious website was a one-way ticket into people’s junk mail folders. Fudge. At least it explained the lack of responses. As a writer you expect a certain percentage of rejections. It comes with the job. But to hear nothing at all, from anyone, for a couple of years, was a bit weird. Never mind. We live and learn, and the story found a suitable home in the end.
Few films can legitimately lay claim to being bona fide classics, though most of The Birds’ accolades came after the fact. In 2016 it was deemed to be culturally, historically or aesthetically significant enough to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the US Library of Congress. By then it had also won the Horror Hall of Fame award (1991) and been voted the seventh-scariest movie of all time by a poll carried out on the British public by Channel 5 (2006). The film has been tremendously influential, having been referenced by filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter, among others and on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes it has a 95% rating, the critics consensus stating; “Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history.”
All this praise is remarkable considering that the movie was panned by several notable critics on its release. Writing for the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann called it, “the worst thriller of his [Hitchcock’s] that I can remember,” while Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the famous director, “Was once widely quoted as saying he hated actors. After his 1960 ‘Psycho’ and now ‘The Birds,’ it must be fairly obvious that he has extended his abhorrence to the whole human race.”
On the surface the plot is simple enough, but the real beauty is hidden in the complicated interplay between the primary characters. The movie opens in a San Francisco pet shop, where carefree socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) encounters Mitch (Taylor) who is looking to buy some lovebirds for his sister’s birthday. For some bizarre reason she pretends to work there, and Mitch plays along, though he recognizes her from a previous court appearance. When the jig is up, Melanie asks how he knows her name, to which he replies, “A little birdie told me.” Brilliant.
At around 29-minutes, after being attacked by a legitimate angry bird, Melanie holds a cotton ball against her wound. The way her hand and forearm are positioned makes the appearance of a bird, with a ring on her finger forming the eye. Tippi Hedren later confirmed this, and said that Hitchcock had instructed her to insert subtle hints about the upcoming bird attack throughout the film.When Mitch leaves, Melanie buys the lovebirds and follows him all the way to Bodega Bay where he’s visiting his parents, only to give him the birds and tell him that she loathes him, none of which is remotely weird, apparently, even in the sixties.
Things get spicy when Melanie meets Mitch’s previous love interest, a schoolteacher called Annie (Pleshette) and his overbearing mother (Cartwright) who doesn’t think anyone is good enough for her son. Shades of Psycho there. Amidst all this simmering tension, it’s almost a relief when some birds go rogue and start dive bombing people to death. We never really find out why, though Hitchcock later said in an interview that the birds rise up against the humans as punishment for taking nature for granted. The only context we are given in the film is a radio report heard near the end which indicates the Bodega Bay attack is not an isolated incident and the problem is so bad that the military might be forced to intervene.
What many modern viewers may not pick up on are the hidden implications in the plot and nods to popular culture. The Birds was made shortly after Chinese leader Mao Zedong ordered all the sparrows in the country to be killed as part of the ‘four pests’ campaign during the Great Leap Forward because they ‘ate too much grain.’ Starting in 1958, hundreds of millions of birds were killed causing an unmitigated environmental disaster known as the Great Famine (1959-61) which ultimately led to the deaths of an estimated 45-million people. Too late Mao realized that he sparrows didn’t just eat grain, they were also nature’s pest control, and without them locusts and other insects were allowed to run riot decimating crops and disrupting the area’s fragile ecosystem. With this fresh in the news at the time, the insinuation was that though calling in the military to kill the birds might solve the immediate problem (angry birds) it would spark a similar chain of events in America which could lead to the downfall of Western civilisation. It is assumed that the movie does not finish with the usual THE END graphic, because Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of continuing, unending terror.
The Birds was loosely based on the story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier which appeared in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. Coincidentally enough, on August 18th 1961, as Hitchcock was developing the movie, there was a mass bird attack on the seaside town of Capitola, which was substituted for Bodega Bay in the movie. It was an early purveyor of the much-overlooked genre known as ‘eco horror’ which usually feature animals or nature striking back and taking their revenge on humans. Other examples include Jaws (1975), Cujo (1983), Lake Placid (1999), Black Water (2007) and even Doomwatch (1972). Hedren was 33 years old at the time of filming (and ironically had a five-year old daughter called Melanie, as in Melanie Griffith. It’s unclear whether Hitchcock deliberately gave her character the same name) but was listed as being 28 in the press release because 33 was considered too old for a starlet to be making her big screen debut. Over the years numerous salacious rumours have come to light regarding Hitchcock’s treatment of her, the situation itself providing the storyline for a HBO movie called The Girl (2012) in which Hedren was played by Sienna Miller.
When audiences left the U.K. premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, they were greeted by the sound of screeching and flapping birds from loudspeakers hidden in the trees to scare them further.
I can’t remember how I first discovered The Ataris, though it was probably through their cover of Boys of Summer, which was on heavy rotation on MTV at the time. I loved the original, but the cover was spiky, energetic, and had a harder edge. This was at the height of my pop punk phase, so I decided to take a punt and buy the album. That meant a trip to HMV in Cardiff, which was where you had to go to get anything cool if you lived in the south Wales valleys twenty years ago. That, or Spillers Records, which is still there and now the oldest independent record store in the world.
Kind of like weed, So Long Astoria was my gateway album, and for the next couple of years I feverishly set about collecting everything the Ataris had ever put out. I still do, though they’ve lapsed into a funk over the past few years and apart from the odd single, live recording and demo, haven’t released anything new since 2007, though they’ve been threatening a new album for a couple of years now. They’ve never been the most settled outfit, with lots of label and line-up changes, the only constant being singer/songwriter/guitarist Kris Roe.
So Long Astoria, which like all the best albums, is a snapshot in time. Whenever I play it, I am magically transported back to the summer of 2003. It was a special time. My first book had just come out to modest success, I’d left my factory job, which I’d held for almost a decade, and was on the verge of moving to Southampton to study journalism at uni. I’d been writing diligently for eight or nine years by that point, and the hard work was finally beginning to pay dividends. I was also trying to extricate myself from a very bruising three-year relationship that had turned decidedly toxic. In short, my whole world had been turned on its head. Whereas before, it was a world of drudgery and stifled dreams, now it was one of unlimited possibilities.
Looking back, that period felt a lot like a dream. Mostly, I felt a sense of freedom I’d never experienced before. I also felt lucky, and proud that my hard work was finally paying off. I was also slightly terrified. Change is always terrifying, especially when everything changes at the same time. It seemed like every day I had to make potentially life-changing decisions, and I was afraid of fucking things up. There was excitement for my new life, and a duty to navigate my ship responsibly, but there was also a yearning for the past, where my existence was more structured and conventional. I’d spent most of my life trying to break out of a box and when I finally managed it, I had no idea what to do next.
The group of songs on So Long Astoria all fit a certain mould. They are full of optimism, yet many are also tinged with sorrow or regret. It’s an album of new beginnings and second chances. It’s looking forward, but glancing behind with a plaintive, wistful gaze. That fits with the overall context of the album’s release, as it was the band’s major label debut (for Columbia Records) after spending their early career on smaller labels like Kung Fu and Fat Wreck Chords. The mood is encapsulated in the title, a reference to the classic eighties flick The Goonies which is set in a place called Astoria. Roe has said the album’s overall theme was inspired by the book Go Now by Richard Hell (who was a member of several notable punk bands including the Neon Boys, Television and The Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders) which alluded to the concept that memories are better than life itself. “I wanted this record to portray, that life is only as good as the memories we make,” Roe later explained, echoing the lyrics in the title track that kicks off the album.
The theme of escaping small town life and somehow making it big is carried onto the next song, Takeoffs and Landings, which is about the dissolution of a relationship and probably my favourite cut on the album. That and many other songs like Summer of ’79 and All you Can Ever Learn is What You already Know maintain the tempo and call to mind vintage Bouncing Souls or Sum 41. But they aren’t all spiky pop punk rockers. There is depth here, too. My Reply is about a hospitalized fan close to death and Unopened Letter to the World is an ode to American poet Emily Dickinson.
One of the key tracks is first single In this Diary, which was released on 11 February 2003 and later featured in teen heist comedy The Perfect Score. The below verse is pretty typical of the lyrical content:
I guess when it comes down to it Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up These are the best days of our lives The only thing that matters is just following your heart And eventually you’ll finally get it right
Some versions have a selection of bonus tracks on the end of the standard 13-track release. The pick of these for me is a remake of I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone, a song from the album Blue skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits, but A Beautiful Mistake, which came out as a b-side in some territories, and the cover of Rock n’ Roll High School by the Ramones are also worth checking out.
So Long Astoria was released on 4 March 2003 and was certified gold in America, selling over 700,000 copies. It sold 33,000 in its first week, debuting at number 24 on the Billboard 200. and charted at a slightly less impressive number 92 in the UK. I was hoping we’d get one of those deluxe 16-disc boxed set reissues, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. It wouldn’t really be necessary as the demos and live recordings from the era are available on the band’s Bandcamp page. After all this time, the album’s impact remains undimmed, especially among pop punk aficionados. The album was included at number 25 on Rock Sound’s 51 Most Essential Pop Punk Albums of All Time list. They later ranked it at number 97 on the list of best albums in their lifetime, and as recently as 2017 it was voted number 30 in Kerrang! Magazine’s list of Greatest Pop Punk Albums of all Time, the entry saying:
“While his powers have waned, Kris Roe’s skill with three chords and the truth was once second to virtually no-one. The Ataris’ So Long, Astoria is solid-gold evidence of that fact while their cover of Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer remains as good as (dare we say, even better than) the original.”
They are not wrong. Of all the album’s I have ever listened to, So Long Astoria is one I cherish most, and probably always will. If you’ve never heard it, go treat yourself.
Starring: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin
If you watch a thousand sci-fi horror movies, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else as bizarre and downright weird as this one. Tony (played with unsettling aplomb by a 10-year old Simon Nash who later wound up in Birds of a Feather) is a disturbed little boy badly affected by the sudden disappearance of his father three years earlier who he claims was taken by a bright light, the implication being that he was abducted by aliens. His mother (Stegers) and her new lover (Brainin), unwilling to accept the alien abduction theory, assume that he simply ran off. As you can probably imagine, everything is sent onto a tailspin when he reappears announcing ominously “I’m back.”
Truth be told, daddy (Sam Philips, played by Philip Sayer, who also appeared in The Hunger with David Bowie before tragically died of cancer just a few years later at the age of just 42) makes one heck of an entrance, bursting out of a woman’s horrifically distended belly fully-formed and chewing through an umbilical cord. All things considered, he makes a decent go of fitting back into the family, seemingly oblivious to the friction he causes, but his plans go somewhat awry when Tony finds him chowing down on his pet snake’s eggs. This isn’t long after the poor kid walks in on his mum bumping uglies with someone who wasn’t his dad, but he seems far more traumatised by this most recent event. And things only get weirder from there. When he makes amends with poor, traumatized Tony, Sam also sucks his blood, vampire-like, in the process passing on some rather impressive special powers which Tony uses to bring his toys to life. He then sends these toys, which are now magically life-size, to brutally murder an elderly neighbour who, upon finding Harry the pet snake in her salad, crushes it with a hammer and delivers it back in a plastic bag. He also sets them on Analise, the French au pair (d’Abo, who would go on to be a Bond girl in 1987’s The Living Daylights) and her boyfriend. In fact, Tony becomes increasingly belligerent as the movie progresses and is a right little twat by the end, when all the main characters converge at the holiday cottage where the initial disappearance occurred.
Upon its home video release in 1983, the film was subject of a prosecution case in relation to obscenity laws, and consequently got caught up in the whole ‘video nasty’ furore. Surprisingly, it had actually been passed uncut by the BBFC with a well-deserved ’18’ certificate. Several different endings were made, and which one you get depends on which version you see. A pair of sequels followed, Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1991) and Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995), neither of which bore any relation to the characters in the original. According to Wikipedia, in 2011, director Bromley-Davenport confirmed that a fourth instalment was in the works but 11 years on it is yet to be delivered, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing.
Writing for Starburst magazine, Alan Jones suggested that stegers had been ‘horribly mis-cast’ but went on to state that the special effects were “minor miracles of ingenuity” for their low budget and admired the movie for “trying so earnestly to resuscitate low budget exploitation sf/horror films in this country.” Variety found the film “too silly and underdeveloped in story values to expand beyond diehard fans” and that “Harry B Davenport builds little suspense and no thrills in a film devoid of stuntwork or action scenes. It’s just another “check out that makeup” exercise, consisting of brief scenes and poor continuity.”
Critic Roger Ebert absolutely panned the film, awarding it 1 of 4 stars, saying, “Most exploitation movies are bad, but not necessarily painful to watch. They may be incompetent, they may be predictable, they may be badly acted or awkwardly directed, but at some level the filmmakers are enjoying themselves and at least trying to entertain an audience. ‘Xtro’ is an exception, a completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness. It’s movies like this that give movies a bad name.”
Retrospectively, TV Guide went one better (or worse) in ‘awarding’ the film 0 of 4 stars, calling it, “A vile exercise in grotesque special effects” and “An excuse to parade all manner of perversities across the screen,” further stating that, “Not only is this disgusting, it lacks anything that remotely resembles suspense.”
Easy to see, then, how it warranted three sequels.
Despite never having met him, Queen guitarist Brian May was so affected by Swansea-born actor Philip Sayer’s premature death that he wrote the song Just One Life, which appeared on his 1992 solo album Back to the Light, in his honour.
Ryan ‘Not Bryan’ Adams has covered Bruce Springsteen‘s muted masterpiece Nebraska in its entirety. That came as a bit of a surprise. Not that it should. He has form in this area, having also issued song-for-song covers of both Taylor Swift’s 1989 album (2015) and Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (2022). Adams is nothing if not resourceful. After being cancelled and then (sort of) uncancelled when charges of sexual misconduct against him were dropped after an FBI investigation, Nebraska was his sixth album of 2022, and two of them were doubles. That’s some effort. Even more admirable is the fact that he made it free to download. That at least injects some integrity into the project and suggests he did it out of genuine respect rather than as a quick cash grab, and God knows he could do with the money. His output hasn’t always been consistent, veering wildly from the stone cold classic Rock n Roll (2003) to the unchained weirdness of his sci-fi metal concept album Orion, but he’s one of those artists you have to admire, if nothing else for his unwillingness to do things by the book.
Anyway, let me try to focus on the subject at hand. Nebraska. The original was recorded at home on a 4-track by a burned out Boss in early 1982. They were intended as demos for the E Street band, then riding the crest of a wave after the soaring success of The River album and tour, to work up as their next project, but were eventually released more or less as is. As Wikipedia says, “the songs on Nebraska deal with ordinary, down-on-their-luck blue-collar characters who face a challenge or a turning point in their lives. The songs also address the subject of outsiders, criminals and mass murderers with little hope for the future—or no future at all.”
If that sounds depressing, that’s because it is. Music critic William Ruhlmann called it “one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label” and the release was seen by many Springsteen fans as a reaction to the generally sunny, positive vibes running through the majority of previous album The River. There’s no Sherry Darling or Ramrod here, though I’ve always thought Stolen Car and The Price You Pay could easily be transplanted onto Nebraska. That’s a conversation for another day.
It isn’t just the cover. The running order on Adams’ version mirrors the original too, so the first thing we here is the title track, a first-person narrative sung from the perspective of Charles Starkweather, who went on a killing spree with his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. The story goes that Springsteen was inspired to write it afters seeing the biopic Badlands, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. In fact, he liked the movie so much he’d already nicked the title and used it for a song on his seminal Darkness on the Edge of Town album. Most long-time Boss fans name either that or Born to Run as his career-defining album. Me, I’m in the former camp. Adams makes a good fist of it, and drops in a few subtle chord changes which lift the track slightly above the low-fi original. The album in general benefits from a proper production process. Granted, the original has charm and character in spades, but there’s no escaping the fact that it sounds like the set of demos it was intended to be.
Adams echoes Springsteen’s stark, often plaintive vocal delivery much of the time, but many of the tracks have been revamped or, ahem, reinterpreted to some extent. This can be quite a shock to the system on first listen, but I don’t hate it. What would be the point in faithfully adhering to every chord and nuance? If nothing else, the expression on offer gives this release a sense of identity and makes it its own animal. Johnny 99, one of my favourite tracks on the original release, is given a new breath of life as a rockabilly anthem, while Open All Night receives the opposite treatment, slowed right down with mournful vocal tones layered over the customary acoustic and harmonica accompaniment. The length is extended accordingly from 02:58 to 04:25. My Father’s House handled in a similar way, this version being longer and slower, the composition seemingly given more space to breathe.
State Trooper is perhaps given the most drastic reconstruction, this new version built upon a grungy, driving electric guitar riff which at its climax descends into an orgy of manic howls, distortion and angry reverb reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain. If you only listen to one track off this album, let this be the one. Reason to Believe is another track that has been completely reworked. Gone is that spiky three-chord acoustic riff that carries the original, to be replaced by a minimalist piano. This track is perhaps best suited to RA’s vocal range, and it’s a fitting way to close out the album. Parts of the album reminds me of the way Springsteen himself reinterpreted the tracks on his 2005 Devils & Dust solo tour where he turned multi-instrumentalist and innovator. Strangely, Adams’ version of Atlantic City, one of the tracks you would think offers itself up for reinterpretation more than any other (Springsteen himself has played numerous different versions in concert, more recently with a full band backing), largely adhere to the original.
Critics might call this self-indulgent but I quite like it. Covering a classic song takes balls, covering an entire classic album takes bigger ones, and its difficult to see what Adams can really gain from it. It seems to me he’s on a hiding to nothing. It’s getting something of a mixed response, but I kinda like it. Besides, it’s free, and it’s not often you get something for nothing. Nebraska is available to download free.
After such a productive 2021, the pressure was on to replicate the effort in 2022. Realistically, that was never going to happen, especially after I started a new day job and took on a couple of large and very time-consuming freelance editing projects in the first quarter, but I had to give it a shot.
First on the agenda was to finish the second draft of Cuts, book two in my rapidly evolving series involving a character called Ben Shivers, a paranormal investigator who lives in a camper van with a cat called Mr. Trimble. In my experience, the second draft of a novel is almost as time-consuming as the first. The first draft is all about getting the words down anyway anyhow, while the second is more about choosing the right ones and putting them in the right order. There are always things you wish you’d said but didn’t, and other things you said but wished you hadn’t. All this suddenly becomes clear after you type THE END. On top of that, you have to further develop the characters and sub-plots and sharpen the story to a point. With the difficult second draft out of the way, it’s all about refining and polishing.
As I worked on the second book, I started submitting the first, The Wretched Bones, to some selected publishers. I pitched it as part of a series, and one of the first I sent it to, a publisher I highly respect, liked it enough to give me a contract. I’m resisting giving out too many details yet because anything might still happen, but all being well The Wretched Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery, will be out later this year.
This bit of encouragement brought the writing bug back, and in double quick time I thrashed out a horror Western novella featuring the same character I introduced last year in a to date unpublished novella called Silent Mine. This time, in a story provisionally entitled Meeting at Blood Lake, our intrepid drunken gunslinging hero, who’s name has now morphed into Dylan Decker, helps a remote village ward off a terrifying thunderbird/mothman-like creature.
I wrote half a dozen or so new short stories, too. I am very happy with them. I think some of them are among the best things I have ever produced. The thing is, they are also possibly among the weirdest things I have ever produced, so we’ll see if anyone is brave enough to publish any of them.
As far as publishing short stories goes, the year started with a reprint of an old story called Night Visitor in Siren’s Call. All Tomorrow’s Parties was included in SFS Stories, The Hiraeth Chair in Shelter of Daylight, Eeva in the anthology Trigger Warning: Speaking Ill, and The Whole of the Moon in Daikaijuzine. I love writing drabbles (stories exactly 100 words long) and contributed Cat’s Eyes to Heartless: Holiday Horrors and The Hungry to Drabbledark II. My fifth collection of short fiction, imaginatively entitled X5 also dropped, and picked up more pre-orders than any of the other X books. I call that progress.
In the realm of non-fiction, a couple of my reviews appeared in Phantasmagoria magazine, which was one to chalk off the bucket list as it has a great reputation in horror circles, I turned a bit introspective and wrote about how haunted my childhood home was in the anthology Out of Time and reflected on how my first book was published in Author’s Publish. I also wrote a piece for them about recurring dark fiction markets, which may be of use to other writers out there, and in Writer’s Weekly, one of my semi-regular outlets, I asked whether a frenemy of yours might be sabotaging your writing career. It’s more common than you think. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion.
Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, Harry Lauter
In typically dramatic fashion, this B-movie classic begins with a bristling voiceover about nuclear submarines culminating in the sensational pronouncement, “The mind of man had thought of everything! Except that which was beyond his comprehension!”
We are then transported to one such submarine captained by Commander Pete Mathews (Tobey) on exercise in the Pacific Ocean, where the crew pick up a mystery object “bigger than a whale” on their sonar. Uh-oh. The sub comes under attack by this massive unknown creature but manages to limp back to Pearl Harbour where it is examined by a team of marine biologists (headed up by Domergue, who sticks around to provide the love interest – more about that later). Subsequently, some tissue is discovered and is found to belong to a giant octopus. The scientists conclude that the creature is from the Mindanao Deep, a submerged trench eat of the Philippines said to be more than 10,500 metres deep, and has been forced from its natural habitat by that pesky H-bomb testing.
When a spate of disappearances are reported in the area, the U.S. Military have to act before the creature makes its way to San Francisco (because that’s what giant cephalopod do, apparently). They are only partially successful, and in the climax we witness a titanic showdown between the creature and the Golden Gate Bridge during which, let’s face it, neither side is likely to be covered in glory. Despite being an inanimate object, the bridge actually holds its own. The rumble is enough to spark panic in the streets, the city’s residents apparently ignorant to the fact that simply being on dry land would ensure their safety from sea monsters. Though, that said, the local sheriff (Lauter) was on dry land when he was attacked so it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. We don’t actually see the monster ‘in the flesh’ until the second half of the film, but the suggestion is there, the constant threat, which makes it a neat little metaphor for nuclear war. When the giant man-and boat-eating radioactive octopus does make an appearance in order to pick on a Canadian freighter, the order is to abandon ship which makes total sense. There’s a giant octopus nearby, let’s all just jump in the water.
This is pretty standard Fifties fare, with people’s post-war insecurities and pervading nuclear fear being played out regularly on the silver screen. It must have been absolutely terrifying to be a crewman in those early experimental submarines when you weren’t just unsure whether the engineering and technology that was supposed to keep you alive would hold up, but you also weren’t sure what else was in the water. To add an element of cold realism, key scenes were filmed in and actual sub (the diesel-electric USS Cubera) with the help of serving navy personnel in supporting roles. The movie was developed in the wake of the first Hydrogen bomb explosions partly as a retort to Universal Studio’s (Columbia’s great rival) hugely successful It Came from Outer Space (1953). It Came from Beneath the Sea was even more of a success, as it was produced on less than a quarter of the budget and made more at the Box Office where, upon release, it was paired with Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), widely acknowledged as one of the first true zombie movies.
One of the most fascinating aspects of It Came from Beneath the Sea is the clumsy love triangle subplot involving Professor Lesley Joyce (Domergue), her colleague Dr. John Carter (Curtis) and Commander Pete. At one point, when they all should really be more interested in the big monster terrorizing the ocean, Carter patiently explains to Commander Pete that Lesley is representative of a “new breed” of women who, “Feel they’re just as smart and courageous as men.” Well, I’ll be damned. It’s almost as awkward as the set-up in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Despite his having all the personality and charm of a tennis ball, Joyce is clearly attracted to the more macho Commander Pete, and doesn’t resist when he comes on to her. She then goes back and asks John what she should so about it. Incredibly, Beau Numbero Dos doesn’t get mad about it, and simply encourages Joyce to explore the emotional implications of the kiss. Okay, mate, Ta. For the rest of the film Lesley flits between both leading men, stating that when all the octopus business is cleared up she’ll be embarking on a lengthy tour of Egypt with John, before turning around and accepting commander Pete’s impromptu and quite unexpected marriage proposal. So yeah, while adding a human element, all that malarkey was confusing and somewhat unnecessary. Stick to the monsters, please.
Whilst the acclaim wasn’t universal, upon release the film was met with generally favourable reviews. Radio Times called it a, “Classic monster flick,” while contemporary resource Allmovie (previously All Movie Guide) wrote that it, “Utilized elements of the documentary, with a narration that makes the first half of the movie seem almost like a newsreel, which gives the action a greater immediacy. This is all presented in a cool, clipped realistic manner, with a strong but convincingly stated macho tone…It all served to make the first quarter hour of the film almost irresistibly suspenseful, and gave Harryhausen one of the best lead-ins that one could ask for, for his effects.”
The stop-motion creature effects were designed by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, who also worked on Mysterious Island (1961). To save money, he was only allowed to animate six of the octopus’ eight limbs, leading him to jokingly name the creature “his sixtopus.”
The demands of my day job meant that I read fewer books in 2022 than I have in previous years. I know that’s no real excuse, but it’s the only one I have and I’m sticking to it. That and Barkskins, which crawled by at a snail’s pace and took me about three months to finish. I must admit I was slightly disappointed with Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, too, given that I’d heard so many good things about it. There were just too many characters who kept popping up willy-nilly and then disappearing just as fast.
Pick of the year is probably Florence De Changy’s The Disappearing Act: The Impossible case of MH370. Things like that just shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Unless they are supposed to happen.
Stranded by Bracken Macleod (2016)
The Legend of the Dogman by David C Posthumus (2022)
Terror Peak by Edward J McFadden III (2022)
HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer (2019)
Springsteen: The Mojo Collector’s Series by Various Authors (2021)
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (2021)
The Purisima Hauntings by Hazel Holmes (2022)
The Disappearing Act: The Impossible case of MH370 by Florence De Changy (2021)
The Very Best of Classic Rock by Various Authors (2022)
Mothman: Return to Point Pleasant by Scott Donnelly (2022)
My Life in Dire Straits by John Illsey (2021)
The Ghosts of Hexley Airport by Amy Cross (2022 version)
The Whole of the Moon started out as a light-hearted study in romantic relationships, and ended up a sci-fi horror. It wasn’t that much of a leap, which probably says a lot about my love life. It’s written in the first person, from the POV of the female protagonist who shares an apartment with her long-term partner, Dan. They lead an unremarkable existence, at least they do until a meteorite crashes through their window one night while they are snuggled up on the sofa watching TV. It’s all downhill from there. Let’s just say it’s less Netflix and chill, and more Netflix and chills.
I didn’t plot or plan it at all. Not even I knew what would happen when I started writing. I love that feeling of freedom, and I believe readers pick up on that sense of excitement and discovery. That story might take you anywhere. Yep, I am aware I stole the title from the Waterboys song. It used to be called Down to Earth, but I wanted something that would resonate a bit more.
By the way, if you’re curious about the zine’s name, as was I, this is from the ‘about’ section:
“Take the word Kaiju, which means ‘strange creature’, add the prefix Dai, which means ‘large’, and you get Daikaiju, which means ‘Large strange creature’. Like Godzilla.”
So there you have it.
The latest issue of Daikaijuzine is free to read, and out now.
Starring: Arisa Nakamura, Asana Mamoru, Mayu Sugano, Asami Sugiura, Kentaro Kishi
Seven minutes into this movie I needed something stronger than bottled Stella and WTF because bottled Stella and WTF just wasn’t cutting it any more. Even in the bizarre realms of Japanese horror, I don’t think I’ve seen anything this wacky before.
The plot evolves around karate student Megumi (Nakamura) who, consumed with guilt and grief over the suicide of her bullied sister, accompanies a group of older friends on a camping trip into the woods. Things get weird when they go fishing in a river known for carrying ‘parasites that keep super models thin.’ The voluptuous Maki (who wants to be an idol) takes this on board and before anyone can stop her, swallows a massive tapeworm they find inside a fish they catch. Before you can say, “WTF? Where’s my Stella?” a zombie appears from nowhere and chews someone’s finger off, prompting Megumi to deliver a spinning kick to the head that snaps his neck.
“Megumi! That was too strong!”
“It was just a normal kick.”
Thoroughly freaked out, the group then leg it to a deserted village where poor Maki suffers a sudden diarrhoea attack and relieves herself in an outhouse, only to be molested by more zombies. The rest of the group, meanwhile, are rescued by an old villager who also has tapeworms. In a fit of despair he blows his head off with a shotgun and one of his eyeballs flies out, straight down the throat of the nerdy one of the group. And then, without so much as pausing for breath, its on to fight more pervert zombies. It’s okay, though, Megumi finds a double-barrelled shotgun and takes out a whole room full of them without reloading once, but let’s not be pedantic. Another of the unfortunate zombies is offed when someone sits on his head and crushes it (“I killed him with my butt!”), a scene which is replayed multiple times in case you missed it the first time. You get the feeling the makers were doing it to somehow stir the viewer’s loins, but my loins stayed firmly in place.
After a bit, a mad doctor turns up, kills a rogue tapeworm with a nail gun, and then they all have dinner together. The doctor reveals that the zombified villages are all riddled with tapeworms and the reason they bite is to lay eggs. Not good news for that bloke who had his finger chomped off. Let’s just say he has a very bad reaction. Phew.
Just so you know, by this point the movie is barely half way through. There’s another 45-minutes or so of this utter madness. Director Noboru Iguchi, who also wrote the screenplay, certainly knows how to keep up the pace. He started his career in JAV (Japanese Adult Video) movies, where he ‘explored’ several genres including bondage and incest, common themes in Japanese porn. Or so I am led to believe. Iguchi is best known for a film called Final Pussy which, as a result of a military experiment going wrong, has a lead character with guns bursting out of her boobs whenever she gets aroused. What a passion killer that must be. After crossing into the mainstream, Iguchi won plaudits for his work on various horror/comedy/gore films such as The Machine Girl (2008), Mutant Girls Squad (2010) and Dead Sushi (2012).
Incredibly, this cult offering has amassed almost 2,000 ratings on IMDB with an average rating of 4.7/10. Starburst magazine enthused “Silly, sure. But, when you have a theatre full of grown adults laughing and having a good time you know it’s going to be an instant cult classic.” Meanwhile, in their review, Variety said, “The title alone will help it worm its way into fantasy fests and Asian cult ancillary, to be seen by viewers who will need to be drunk or otherwise zombified to enjoy it.”
To be fair, they aren’t wrong. I’m tempted to say it got a bit outlandish towards the end, but that in itself would be a stupid thing to say. It was outlandish from the start. Even the poster is outlandish. But if you have a thing for farts, vomit, martial arts, giant parasites, exploding heads, shit-covered pervert zombies, or any combination of the above, this one is for you.
In the credits, an actor called Demo Tanaka is credited as ‘the shit zombie,’ presumably because he crawls out of a toilet all covered in shit, and then proceeds to sling it at people. Incidentally, the actress Asana (no, really) Mamoru had to control her bowels in the outhouse scene that made the shit zombie famous so she didn’t actually shit on him. Some of the farts heard are real, apparently, which must be a valued addition to anyone’s showreel.