Author Archives: cmsaunders

About cmsaunders

I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My dark fiction has appeared in Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Screams of Terror, Shallow Graves, Fantastic Horror, The Literary Hatchet, Gore and numerous anthologies. 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 five years where I taught English 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 and associate editor at Coach magazine, before leaving to chance my arm in the world of pro freelance. In recent times I've devoted more time to dark fiction, my latest offerings being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), Human Waste and X3, my third collection. I also edit, copy write, proofread and ghost write and drink far too much craft beer.

The Bell in Dark Moments

Without getting all preachy about it, one of the best things about writing fiction is that it gives me a platform to address, often indirectly, issues that I usually tend to shy away from. In the past I have used this medium to write about suicide (Those Left Behind) social decay and rising violent crime rates (Switchblade Sunday, Vicar on the Underground) and the decline of the print industry and the changing face of the rock scene (The Delectable Hearts). It’s not that I’m trying to be some kind of social justice warrior. In fact, sometimes I don’t know what themes my stories are addressing until after they are finished. It’s more cathartic than anything else. Maybe it’s my way of dealing with the shit. I believe that to some extent art should be like a mirror, held up to reflect us, and our lives.

The Bell, my fifth story published so far this year, is now free to read on Dark Moments, an online zine published by Black Hare Press. It’s a micro-fiction piece about cancer, so be warned it makes for uncomfortable reading.

That’s the point.

I’ve lost several family members to cancer, as we all have. I’ll be donating my fee to Cancer Research UK, and I encourage my readers to think about making a small donation to this or an equivalent charity because FUCK CANCER.

 

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RetView #26 – Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

Title: Quarantine 2: Terminal

Year of Release: 2011

Director: John Pogue

Length: 86 minutes

Starring: Mercedes Mason, Josh Cooke, Mattie Liptak, Ignacio Serrichio, Bre Blair, Noree Victoria

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Before we start, let’s clear up the inevitable confusion. Quarantine 2: Terminal is the sequel to Quarantine, which was the 2008 English-language remake of Spanish masterpiece REC (2007). REC also had a sequel. Three sequels, in fact. REC 2 (2009), REC 3: Genesis (2012) and REC 4: Apocalypse (2014). Quarantine 2 is none of those, and follows a totally different story arc. Geddit?

Good.

Unlike any other zombie flick, Quarantine 2: Terminal, written and directed by John Pogue (who had previously picked up writing credits on Ghost Ship and the 2002 remake of Rollerball) takes place on a commercial plane and later at a quarantined airport. In fact, you could argue that it isn’t even a zombie flick. These are the Infected, rather than the walking dead brand of zombie previously encountered in movies like 28 Days Later.

It is suggested through passengers listening to news reports that the events play out concurrently as those depicted in the first Quarantine film. It starts off as a typical domestic flight. But I guess they all do, until something happens to make them less typical. Things take a sinister turn when one of the passengers, Ralph, starts frothing at the mouth, throws up all over the place, freaks out and tries to storm the cockpit. Then, in a final flourish, bites half the face off one of the flight attendants before being forcibly restrained. Definitely not what you expect or want from your in-flight entertainment. Ralph has been bitten by a hamster, which in actual fact is a disease-carrying lab rat which has been brought onto the plane by teacher Henry (Cooke) for his students.

No spoilers here, but there’s something deeply suspicious about Henry and all is revealed in due course. Disobeying orders, the pilot radios for assistance and lands the plane at the nearest airport where the passengers disembark and encounter lowly baggage-handler Ed (Serrichio) while the pilots stay on the plane to look after Ralph, who is proving to be quite a handful. As is the rat, who duly escapes the plane and proceeds to make full use of his newfound freedom. Flight attendant Jenny (Mason) bravely attempts to takes charge of the situation, but her plans spiral out of control when a bunch of military types with hazmat suits and machine guns appear, and aren’t overly friendly. They try to administer drugs to the group, which later transpire to be experimental antidotes to the rabies-like virus which is apparently being spread through bites. With Ed’s help, the survivors soon realize that the only means of escape is via an old disused tunnel. If they can find it before the infected, or the military, find them.

Quarantine 2: Terminal, apart from the genius play on words of the title, succeeds mainly because it carries over the same brand of claustrophobic terror and general believability so perfectly executed in both the original Quarantine and [REC]. Things are so tight, it could have been filmed in a cupboard. Bonus points have to go to the makers for attempting to do something different with the franchise, rather than simply taking their cues from the original REC films. Like the first Quarantine, the sequel is notable for its complete lack of musical score, which adds to the eeriness of it all.

Despite being a straight-to-DVD release by Sony Pictures, Quarantine 2: Terminal was well received by critics and at the time of writing boasts an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, far above the average for this kind of film. The website Horror Freak News said in its review, “Expectations were low for this sequel to a remake, but the film pleasantly surprises. The gore is great, the characters elicit some caring about what happens to them, and the resolutions to a few lingering mysteries from REC/Quarantine are quite welcomed.”

I concur.

Trivia Corner:

This is Mercedes Mason’s first role in a zombie outbreak production. It wouldn’t be her last, as she would later have a similar role from 2015 in Fear the Walking Dead. Ironically, the webisodes Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462 also centered on a zombie outbreak aboard a commercial passenger plane.


Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts, oh my!

I am pleased to announce that my short story, Down the Road, is featured in part two of the new twin-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts.

Here’s a sneak preview of the breathtaking cover art by Elle Rossi.

Vampires, Zombies, and Ghosts Volume2

I first wrote Down the Road, an alternate take on the phantom hitchhiker urban legend with one of my customary twists in the tail, several years ago. It was originally accepted by another publisher for a proposed new horror fiction magazine, but financial problems meant that project was put on hold indefinitely. After about two years in limbo, I finally accepted the fact that the project was probably never going to get off the ground, withdrew my story, started submitting it again, and here we are. It’s one of my more subtle, thought-provoking offerings. I am excited that thanks to the good people at SPP, it will finally see the light of day. Or the dark of night.

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts (Volume 2) is out now on paperback and ebook.


RetView #25 – 28 Days Later (2002)

Title: 28 Days Later

Year of Release: 2002

Director: Danny Boyle

Length: 113 mins

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Noah Huntley

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Few post-millennium horror movies have generated as much debate and column inches as 28 Days Later. Based on the novel by Alex ‘The Beach’ Garland, it is often credited with kick-starting an ailing zombie genre as well as breathing life into a British film industry which had become saturated with warm, fuzzy Love Actually cash-ins. In 2007, Stylus magazine voted it the second best zombie movie of all time (after Dawn of the Dead) while a poll in Time Out magazine a decade later ranked it the 97th best British movie of all time. Director Danny Boyle has been involved in some of the most iconic British movies in history. His career started in earnest with cult classic Shallow Grave in 1994. He then directed Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach, before slotting 28 Days Later on his cv. Afterwards, he went on to produce the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, as well as direct Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and the acclaimed biopic, Steve Jobs. He won widespread acclaim for making the zombies in 28 Days Later ‘fast,’ as opposed to the kind of shambling oddities popularized by George A Romero’s genre-defining zombie films, which proved all the more terrifying.

The film opens with archival footage of riots, chaos and atrocities, setting the tone nicely for what follows. The main story arc begins in earnest when a group of animal rights activists break into a research facility to free some chimpanzees. However, unbeknownst to them, the chimpanzees aren’t cute and cuddly any more. Far from it. They’ve been infected with a rage-inducing virus, and once freed they waste no time setting about the activists who then go on to infect everyone else. 28 Days later (geddit?) injured bicycle courier Jim (Murphy, allegedly third choice for the role behind Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling) awakes from a coma in a hospital to find it deserted. Walking out into London, he finds much the same state of affairs. The streets are empty, cars and shops have been abandoned, and there are no people. Anywhere. He finds a newspaper telling of an evacuation, stumbles across a church where a mass suicide seems to have taken place, and is then attacked by a priest, who he whacks upside the head with a carrier bag full of Pepsi cans, all of which must be very unsettling for the poor guy. He eventually runs into a pair of survivors (Harris and Huntley) who tell him of an outbreak which has led to a nationwide, and possible worldwide societal collapse. After a miss-hap during which one of the trio is killed, the others hook up with a taxi driver and his daughter and they decamp for Manchester, where they hope to find the, ‘answer to infection.’ They are eventually taken to a fortified compound by a group of soldiers, where the ‘answer to infection’ isn’t what they thought it was. Instead of salvation, they are faced with oblivion.

The last half an hour or so offers a bleak yet well-observed and perfectly plausible assessment of what life might actually be like if (or when) the apocalypse comes and people regress to ‘kill or be killed’ mode. It’s interesting to note that fellow survivors pose more of a threat than the undead, this theory being at the very core of survivalism. Boyle ingeniously inserts flashes of the narrative from The Beach here, in that the focus is on a fractious group struggling to establish an alternative society under constant threat of attack, whether it be from outsiders, sharks, armed drug dealers, or these ‘fast’ zombies.

28 Days Later is famed for its depiction of post-apocalyptic London, which was achieved largely by filming early on Sunday mornings and shutting off sections of the city for short periods to minimize disruption. The ending is a hastily re-hashed alternative. The original, which hinged on the death of a major character, was deemed by test audiences to be too bleak. It’s an apocalyptic horror film for crying out loud. It is, however, one of several available as bonus content on some DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Trivia Corner:

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, doubled for the interior of Wembley Stadium because at the time of filming, the ‘new’ Wembley was still under construction. Visual effects were used to turn the seats the right colour.


Feeder – Tallulah (review)

My introduction to Feeder came on 31st December 1999 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, at an event headlined by the Manic Street Preachers. Coming at the height of both the Britpop and Cool Cymru movements, it was billed as Manic Millennium and at the time was the biggest indoor music event ever. It was also Y2K, the night the world was supposed to end. It didn’t. In fact, nothing happened. But we didn’t know that at the time, and the tension-edged excitement and we really did party like it was 1999. There were several other bands on the bill that night; Shack, Super Furry Animals, as well as a spoken-word slot from Nicky Wire’s poet brother Patrick Jones, but even though they played a severely truncated set, Feeder stole the show for me. The energy they emitted during Insomnia and the raw emotion of High were definite highlights. I was hooked. Most of the material came from then-current album Yesterday Went Too Soon, but they didn’t really make it big until a couple of years later when Buck Rogers became a massive hit and exposed them to a whole new fanbase. Then came the usual array of ups and downs experienced by most bands who stick around for twenty-plus years, before their current resurgence saw them claim their rightful spot near the top of the rock tree, and near the top of the charts.

So, here we are.

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Always prolific, Tallulah is Feeder’s tenth album proper, not including compilations, EPs and Arrow, the album of new material released as part of 2017’s ‘Best Of’ collection. Their longevity is impressive, despite never being on a major label and benefiting from the associated financial clout. First single Fear of Flying, written through the eyes of a female rock star waiting for the bubble to burst, could almost be autobiographical. As you might expect, Fear of Flying is one of the standout tracks on what is undoubtedly a very strong album. Elsewhere, the lyrics touch on such themes as living in the social media age, nostalgia, growing old and the constant pursuit of happiness. In interviews, songwriter, guitarist and frontman Grant Nicholas has said opener and second single Youth deals, in part, with mental health and the 2002 suicide of former drummer Jon Lee which reduced the trio to a duo, something he is still coming to terms with. These sentiments might seem slightly at odds with the jangly, upbeat tempo, but the weighty lyrics tell the story. Elsewhere, as with the title track, Kite, and especially Guillotine, things are a bit more introspective and subdued. Truth be told, Feeder are at their best when treading the middle ground, as they do on Blue Sky Blue (which was reputedly written for Liam Gallacher because let’s be honest, he needs the help) and the radio-friendly Shapes and Sounds. The weirdest and downright heaviest track (and, conversely, the longest) here is the crunching Kyoto, which sounds as if the band are trying to recapture their Swim/Polythene period.

Like most albums, there are a few tracks on Tallulah which pass by without saying or doing much, but to offset this there are several hidden gems. Rodeo calls to mind earlier single Idaho, and the utterly brilliant Windmills could grace any Feeder album. For the traditionalists, all the usual influences are there (Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Husker Du) and in that sense Feeder stay loyal to their roots and the spiky indie guitar sound that made them famous. However, some tracks are more Foo Fighters or Tom Petty, and there is very a progressive feel to many of the tracks. All in all, this is a great collection, and a definite contender for album of the year, even if it the title makes it sound like a homage to a Thai ladyboy.

Tallulah is available now, and is an absolute bargain at £5 for the digital download.


The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature (review)

It amazes me that The Dangerous Summer, named after the book by Ernest Hemingway, are still one of the current alt-rock scene’s best kept secrets. For those unfamiliar with the Maryland trio, a good approximation would be to take one part Jimmy Eat World, one part mid-era U2, one part Lifehouse and add a pinch of Maroon 5 or Savage Garden. The result is a sleek, tight unit producing tuneful, agreeable rock spearheaded by vocalist, songwriter and bassist AJ Perdomo, lone survivor from the original line-up. If it’s dense, multi-layered soundscapes with soaring melodies and wistful lyrics you’re after, look no further.

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Mother Nature, The Dangerous Summer’s sixth album if you include the 2011 acoustic re-working of their debut Reach for the Sun (and I definitely do) was released via Hopeless Records with little fanfare back on June 19th. It follows last year’s patchy self-titled album, their first release after a near-five year hiatus during which they surely must have thought about throwing in the towel. This band has experienced more tumultuous drama and difficulties than most.

The album opens with a moody spoken-word piece entitled, imaginatively enough, Prologue. I’m not adverse to these kinds of openings. They certainly help set the mood. But the timing is important. Anything over ninety seconds or so is pushing it. Luckily, Prologue just about fits the criteria and soon bursts into the first track proper, Blind Ambition, a fine mid-tempo anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s quickly followed by Bring me Back to Life, another understated slow-burner, which gives way to Way Down, the first track of the album which could conceivably be granted ‘classic’ status. Perdomo’s raspy vocals have never sounded so fresh and emotive. The next two tracks, Virginia and the near-six minute Starting Over/Slow Down are decent filler but offer nothing new. However, after the mid-album mini-slump, the pace picks up for the single Where were you when the Sky opened Up and the pop-infused Is it Real. The rest of the album is a slightly uneven affair. While certainly not mere filler, Violent Red and the title track again tread some familiar territory, while Better Light is a mood piece that sounds more like an unfinished afterthought. This minor indiscretion is soon forgotten when closer Consequence of Living kicks in, which has to be one of the strongest tracks in the band’s repertoire.

While not as immediate as some of their peers or indeed, some of their own earlier material, on repeated listens, Mother Nature proves beyond reasonable doubt that The Dangerous Summer remain a band of enormous scope and power as well as limitless potential, bursting at the seams with the kind of visceral, raw emotion that is so sadly lacking in most contemporary music. Their power and intensity are both impressive and contagious. Perhaps an argument could be made for the band attempting to push the boat out a little more and getting a little more experimental on future releases but if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t complain. If something isn’t broke, why try to fix it?

 


RetView #24 – War of the Worlds (1953)

Title: War of the Worlds

Year of Release: 1953

Director: Byron Haskin

Length: 85 minutes

Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne

war of the worlds

I know, I’m genre-hopping again. Much like The Fly the classic 1953 version of War of the Worlds isn’t as much of a horror film as it is a pure sci-fi flick. But it is considered one of the greatest of all time, and contains all the elements considered typical of horror movies – tension, suspense, conflict, and the threat of imminent death, right down to the spooky music. Not least, it was such a significant event in the history of cinema that I feel it would be a huge mistake not to include it in this series. So here we are.

This Paramount Pictures production was the first in a slew of film adaptations based on HG Wells’ groundbreaking 1897 novel of the same name, which was also the source material of the controversial Orson Welles radio drama that sparked widespread panic throughout America in October 1938 because everyone assumed it was an actual broadcast rather than a play and legitimately thought it was the end of the world. At its core, War of the Worlds is a straight-up alien invasion story, which in a Cold War setting becomes a direct metaphor for the perceived threat of communism and the detrimental effect it could have on the Western way of life. This is perhaps what sets this version apart from subsequent adaptations and makes it such an interesting case study. That and the fact that the release exploited the deep impression left on the public’s psyche by the infamous radio play 15 years previously meaning that the market was already primed long before the film even came out.

If you aren’t familiar with the premise, it’s simple, yet terrifying. The aliens come. Martians, to be exact. You know, from Mars. At first, everyone thinks earth is simply being pounded by meteors, so groups of people head to the impact sites for a closer look. As you do. At a crash site near Linda Rosa, California, well-known scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Barry), who’d been on a fishing trip, meets star-struck young waif Sylvia Van Buren (Robinson). The shameless flirting commences instantaneously.

Sylvia: You didn’t wear glasses on the Time cover.

Dr. Forrester: They’re really for long distance. When I want to look at something close, I take them off.

*Takes off glasses and leans in, which isn’t creepy at all.

After the initial excitement of the crashed ‘meteorite’ subsides, everyone files off leaving three men to guard the crash site. No sooner has everyone gone, a hatch opens in what is now clearly NOT a meteorite, a futuristic weapon emerges, incinerates the guards, and simultaneously shuts down all the technology in the town via an electromagnetic pulse. Wowzer. And that’s just the start of it. Someone calls the army and they roll up all guns blazing only to be met with death rays a-plenty. Carnage ensues just as reports begin to filter through (it’s unclear how, given the tech-fucking effects of that pesky electromagnetic pulse) that similar objects have crash landed all over the world. The condition is now critical. Before we know it, a full-on war breaks out (yep, a war of the worlds). Mankind, even when using the atomic bomb, prove no match for the alien invaders and are soon reduced to running around in a blind panic trying to stay alive. Many of the world’s capital cities are now aflame, and in the chaos Dr Forrester and the God-fearing Sylvia become separated. They find each other again in a church, but just when they face certain death the Martians abruptly start keeling over and dying. Apparently, they are unable to deal with the germs and bacteria in the earth’s atmosphere to which people have ‘long since grown immune.’ A little bit anti-climactic but it was as easy as that, the quasi-religious take-away message apparently being that where man (and nuclear weapons) fail, the smallest and most innocuous things sometimes succeed, so we should never lose hope. The stupidly unlikely romantic sub-plot is maintained right to the bitter end, so I guess there’s also some observation to be made about the all-conquering power of love, something which went right over my head.

At the time, War of the Worlds was celebrated for its use of movie-making technology, winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Okay, there were no other nominees that year, but it still won. Producer George Pal originally wanted to shoot the entire final third in 3D, but that plan was blackballed for being too expensive. Instead, the alien ships were superimposed over stock footage. It might sound tacky, but there’s a lot to admire. Whatever trickery was used results in a beautifully dark, apocalyptic landscape against which people are portrayed as being awfully weak and vulnerable. Not least the US Marine who catches fire. You don’t often see people catching fire in movies from 1953. Many of the visual techniques used became industry standards for years to come, the echoes of which are still being felt today. A bona fide classic people will still be watching in another 65 years.

Trivia Corner:

As a homage to the 1938 radio broadcast, at one point voice specialist Paul Frees appears on-screen as a radio reporter and does a pretty convincing vocal impersonation of Orson Welles.

 


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