Category Archives: History

RetView #2 – Shock Waves

Title: Shock Waves

Year of Release: 1977

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Length: 90 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine

Welcome to the second installment of my #RetView series, following last month’s Lost Boys feature, where I re-watch and review ‘forgotten’ horror classics. I love old horror movies, and it’s always fun to revisit them. Or in this case, belatedly discover them. I recently saw Outpost, and Outpost: Black Sun (aka Outpost II) on the Horror Channel, and decided I kinda like Nazi zombies. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the whole idea of twin evil. Total nastiness.

On watching the Outpost double-header, I realized that the whole Nazi zombie thing is an actual sub genre. Admittedly, this mini-revelation making me feel only marginally less of a freak. In recent years we’ve had the Dead Snow films, Blood Creek and several other notables that I can’t remember off the top of my head. This all reminded me of a film I saw when I was a kid which frightened the absolute shit out of me called Zombie Lake. The original plan had been to track it down and watch it again to see if it was still scary, or if the intervening three decades or so had lessened its impact.

Whilst searching for it online, I kept seeing references to this other film, which is credited with kick-starting the whole Nazi zombie craze long before Zombie Lake. When I saw that it starred Peter Cushing, I was sold. Come to think of it, unkillable Germans have been a ‘thing’ of mine for quite a while.

Carrying the impressively corny tag-line, ‘The deep end of horror,’ Shock Waves was directed by Ken Wiederhorn (best known for Return of the Living Dead Part II and Eyes of a Stranger) and unleashed on an unsuspecting public in the summer of ’77. For context, it came out just when serial killer Son of Sam (David Berkowitz) was at his peak, if that’s the right way to say it.

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The film opens with Rose (played by Brooke Adams, who is perhaps best known in horror circles as being Christopher Walken’s love interest in the Dead Zone) being rescued from a little boat in the sea. Slowly, she remembers how she got there. She’d been traversing some islands on ‘one of those small dive boats’ when the engine seized, stranding her with a bunch of other people including the captain (John Carradine) and his mate, Keith, who is afflicted with tragic hippy hair and a 70’s porno ‘tache. As the boat flounders in the water that night, it is stuck by a ‘ghost ship’ which isn’t really a ghost ship, not the supernatural kind anyway. It’s something much worse.

In the morning the captain inexplicably turns up drowned, which understandably sends the rest of them into a mild panic, and after finding the boat is taking on water decide to decamp to a nearby island which, conveniently, comes equipped with an abandoned hotel. Now you’re talking. When abandoned hotels are involved, you just know it’s gonna be zombie time soon. Except this one isn’t really abandoned, Peter Cushing lives there. Now the alarm bells would really be ringing, because murder, monsters and mayhem followed that guy around like herpes.

In Shock Waves Cushing plays the role of an eccentric recluse, who later reveals himself as a former SS commander who, during the war, was in charge of a fearsome bunch of misfit soldiers he moulded into an unkillable aquatic fighting unit. When they proved too difficult to control, he sank their ship. Or, he thought he did. Yep, it was THAT ship!

It all goes a bit south when zombies start coming out of the sea. Do you hear me? They come out of the sea! Eventually. I’m not sure why all needed diving goggles, but they otherwise seemed in extraordinarily good nick considering they’re supposed to have been literally dead in the water for thirty-odd years.

I was a bit disappointed to find that these aren’t the flesh eating kind of zombie. They’re more the throttling kind with a penchant for drowning people. In the sea, ponds, swimming pools, even, on one memorable occasion, a fish tank. Basically, if it has water, the fockers (sic) will find some way to drown you in it. This obviously limits their creativity somewhat. But still, I suppose any Nazi zombie is better than no Nazi zombie.

Things go down a predictable enough path from then on. The zombies slink about looking menacing, not saying much, and taking out the tourists one-by-one. They reserve an especially nasty demise for their old commander, who they presumably haven’t forgiven for trying to annihilate them. The film plays for atmosphere than shocks, which are few and far between, but one thing that really creeped me out is the musical score. For the most part, especially when the zombies are in attack mode, it’s a long, unbroken high-pitched whine, which is both annoying and unsettling. In the end, we come full circle to find Rose, rather the worse for wear, being rescued from the boat. The sole survivor. About those diving goggles, it’s revealed toward the end that if you remove them, the zombie dies. It’s never explained how or why this works, but fuck it, small details.

Shock Waves didn’t do much at the box office, and only really started receiving attention when it was released on VHS during the video nasty heyday of the 1980’s. Though it has attained cult status amongst horror movie aficionados, especially since being released on DVD in 2003, it has generally failed to impress in wider circles. Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict summed things up nicely when he wrote, “More concerned with atmosphere than with shocks, it avoids a number of what would become the cliches of the genre; the flip side of that coin is that it delivers little of what we want from a zombie film.”

Trivia Corner:

Alternative titles used in various overseas territories included Almost Human and Death Corps, both of which are probably better than Shock Waves.

Come back next month for more #RetViews!

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No Man’s Land Review

Mallory Heart kindly reviewed my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches in The Haunted Reading Room.

Review copied below.

No Man's Land
Review: NO MAN’S LAND: HORROR IN THE TRENCHES by C. M. Saunders

Told as a series of continuing vignettes, NO MAN’S LAND relates the experience of Harry Doyle, a young Welsh soldier in the First World War. As terrifying as are the usual horrors of any war, Harry and his cohorts face additional horrors of an implacable nature. Harry is a wonderful protagonist, because he’s not a one-dimensional fearless hero, but rather he is a true human, fearing, loyal, emotional, introspective. NO MAN’S LAND is a literate and vivid narrative of an ugly war, a war which for Harry Doyle and his fellow soldiers extends beyond the boundaries of consensus reality.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


An Unlikely Welsh Folk Hero

When people think of Welsh folk heroes, Twm Sion Cati and Owain Glyndwr invariably spring to mind, and rightly so. Not many people mention Will Cefn-Coch. In fact, I’d never heard of him myself until I recently read a book about Welsh murders. But his story is deserving of a much wider audience.

Until November 1868, plain old William Richards was an ordinary 28-year old bloke living a simple life in Cardiganshire. Times were hard in those days. There was a glaring gap between rich and poor, and lots of countryside folk took to poaching to feed their families. There simply wasn’t enough to eat, especially in winter. Although still technically a crime, most people considered sneaking onto privately-owned land to fish or hunt game a necessary evil. Except the rich landowners, obviously, who employed gamekeepers to combat the problem. These guys were not looked upon with much fondness by the locals, in much the same way I imagine Community Support Officers are these days.

One night, Will Richards (aka Will Cefn-Coch, that being the name of the village he was from) and two of his mates illegally ventured onto the estate of Trawscoed, the property of the Earl of Lisburne, to go hunting. Unbeknownst to them, gamekeepers were lying in wait. The gamekeepers, who were unarmed, tried to chase off the transgressors. The story goes that whilst running away, Will stopped and levelled his gun at them on three separate occasions. Each time, the gamekeepers begged for their lives, Will relented, ran off again, and the chase was back on. Eventually, a particularly determined gamekeeper caught up with one of the poachers and wrestled him to the ground. By this time Will had had enough, and shot the gamekeeper dead.

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One of the poachers was apprehended and prosecuted, while Will made his getaway and melted into the community. Some sources say he was held in quite high esteem by some of the locals, who sympathised with the fact that all he had been trying to do was feed his family. There was a lot of resentment against the upper classes. The locals hid and fed him, while the authorities alerted every port and city in the country and put a £100 reward on his head (over £8,000 in ‘today’s’ money). A tidy sum, because now it wasn’t just poaching Will was guilty of, it was murder. He was on the run for months, going from house to house and farm to farm, always on the move. He had a few close shaves, but always managed to evade capture with a little help from his friends.

Eventually however, the net began closing in. If he was caught, Will knew he faced death by hanging, so drastic measures were called for. Wary of using transport he walked (yes, walked) to Liverpool, where he put the most audacious part of his plan into action. The authorities were on the lookout for a man fitting his description, so he disguised himself as a woman, complete with heavy make-up. It is likely he drew inspiration for this from the Rebecca Riots thirty years previously, when farmers dressed in drag and attacked toll gates placed on Welsh roads in protest against unfair taxation. In any case, Will must have made a convincing femme fatale, because he succeeded in boarding a ship bound for America and somehow made it all the way to Ohio, where he met and married an Irish immigrant and lived a long and prosperous life.


Devil Dogs

My new novella, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches, tells the story of a young British infantryman called Harry Price at the Somme in World War I who ends up fighting not just the Germans, but also an unseen enemy that makes his friends ‘disappear.’ Amongst the usual death and destruction to be found in a war zone, the book features a reanimated corpse, unkillable death squads, and what I refer to as ‘Devil Dogs.’ In the story, these are vicious German Shepherds, symbols of the German war machine, who had their brains transplanted and replaced with those taken from dead SS soldiers. So in effect, they are dogs with people brains. Angry people brains. They are then sent out to prowl no man’s land, the area between the allied and German trenches, looking for victims.

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I wish I could lay claim to making this shit up. But rumour has it that this area of research was part of the infamous Nazi human experiments of the 1940’s during which all manner of cheerful things took place, from sewing sets of twins together to making people drink nothing but sea water so they could study the effects. Some of these experiments also included forced amputations and limb transplants. Yep, just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Most of this stuff was inflicted on POW’s during World War II, but I moved it to the trenches of World War I to suit my purposes. During war time, or even outside war time, people do such incredibly fucked-up shit to each other you don’t have to make it up. Just read a bit of history.

I couldn’t find any online sources for the transplanting-people-brains-into-dogs thing, so maybe I did make that bit up. Who knows? However, there is some literature relating to Soviet experiments along similar lines concerning the pioneering ‘work’ of Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov in the 1950’s which supposedly led to the first heart transplant in 1967. One of his greatest achievements was bringing a dead dog’s head ‘back to life.’ There’s even footage on YouTube. Some sources suggest this was a continuation of research started by the Nazis a decade earlier, and it’s anyone’s guess what really went on at those sketchy Unit 731 camps.

Ultimately, nobody knows how far they want or if the experiments were successful. Probably not. I imagine it came down to size in the end (doesn’t it always?). I mean a man’s brain wouldn’t fit inside a dog’s head, would it? Unless these particular dogs were genetically engineered or something to make them bigger than the average canine. And the Nazis would never do that, would they? By the way, I took the term Devil Dogs from a nickname the US Marine Corps were given by the Germans. According to Marine Corps legend, they fought with such ferocity at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 that they were likened by the enemy to ‘Dogs from Hell.’

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?


Rolling the Dice, Man

I don’t know how many people reading this would be familiar with the now-defunct British magazine Loaded. For men of a certain age, it was something of a lifestyle bible, and told you everything you needed to know about, well, life and style.

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In a 1999 issue they named an obscure (to me, anyway) American writer by the name of Luke Rhinehart, ‘Novelist of the Century.’ He was awarded this accolade largely due to a book he wrote called The Dice Man, which carried the rather catchy tag (on some editions) ‘Few novels can change your life, this one will.’ Until that point, I’d thought Stephen King was ‘Novelist of the Century.’ Still do, actually. So this was news to me. Loaded were very rarely wrong about such important things, so I went out and found a copy of said book in HMV. Then I stuck it on my ever-expanding book shelf and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and I’m a mature student with a lot of free time on my hands. Enter The Dice Man.

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In a nutshell, the book tells the story of a psychiatrist called Luke Rhinehart (which makes it kind of a mock autobiography) who, feeling bored and unsatisfied with life, decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he rolls a dice, and lets fate decide which path he should take. As far as I remember, the rule of the ‘game’ is that you give yourself six options, one for each number on the dice. Five reasonably attractive things that you wouldn’t mind doing, and one thing you don’t want to do. But you have to be prepared to do it.

On the surface, its a book about freedom, the search for adventure, and fucking the system. I’m sure many of the deeper psychological concepts and themes were lost on me at the time. You kind of grasp most of them, but not with much clarity. The result is that they linger in your subconscious for years after.

I was so taken with the book that one summer I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and decided to live by the dice for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let the dice decide anything important. That would be stupid. I just let it dictate the little things like which places I should travel through and in what order (as it tuned out, it was Alicante, Benidorm, Murcia, Granada and Malaga, in that order), and when I got there which tapas bar I should I stop at, which hostel should I stay in, and whether or not I should hit on the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair. Nothing remotely negative happened, apart from the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair saying no. But even that wasn’t a total blow-out. The two of us got talking to a Spanish gypsy girl called Estrella (Star) and I took her home instead.

Playing the dice was a liberating experience, and I spent most of the time strolling through the sunshine wallowing in a carefree attitude sadly missing from my daily life. But at the same time, it was slightly unnerving. I wasn’t in control of my life anymore. Something else was, some higher force. Call it what you want; fate, destiny, the Cosmic Joker, God, whatever. After a while you begin to wonder what path you are on, and why. Is it really all random? Or is there some kind of plan involved? Interesting times, indeed. It’s also kind of dangerous, in the sense that the dice allow you an excuse to be reckless.

Why did you do that stupid thing? 

Because the dice told me to do it.

Ironically, it was Tim Southwell, writer and one-time editor of Loaded, who said:

“A man without responsibility is like Genghis Khan.”

Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonym of George Cockroft, who has written numerous books and essays, including several other ‘Dice’ books. The original, first published in 1971, has attained cult status, and been published in over 60 countries. In 2012 he pranked his own death, the mentalist, but in reality is still going strong at the age of 83. Throw a dice for him. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might. But that’s part of the fun.

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