Category Archives: horror

Retview #47 – The Grudge (2004)

Title: The Grudge

Year of Release: 2004

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Bill Pullman, KaDee Strickland, Takako Fuji

First up, let’s address the big fuck off elephant in the room and put to bed any lingering speculation; this is the 2004 Hollywood remake of the 2002 J-Horror classic Ju-On: The Grudge, not the original (though both were written and directed by Takashi Shimizu). I was torn as to which version to write about for this series, this one winning on account of having Sarah Michelle Gellar in it who, when this first came out, was riding the crest of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-shaped wave. Yes, I’m that shallow. This project came at an interesting junction in her career as she was trying to capitalize on her Buffy fame but in serious danger of being typecast as a modern day scream queen after earlier roles in the teen classics I know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2 (both 1997).

Hiring Shimizu for this project was a masterstroke, as the movie largely keeps it’s Japanese flavour. Being filmed in Tokyo and featuring several notable Japanese stars also helped. Yuya Ozeki, Takako Fuji and Takashi Matsuyama all appeared in the two Japanese films upon which this was based, reprising their roles as the doomed Saeki family. The movie is also notable for an appearance by Ted raimi, younger brother of Sam, one of the film’s producers and creator of the legendary Evil Dead series. This version of The Grudge distributed by Columbia Pictures was itself followed by two sequels in Grudge 2 (2006) and Grudge 3 (2009), the latter going straight-to-video, but has very little to do with The Grudge (2020) which is known in the trade as a sidequel, a totally different movie (with the same name) taking place concurrently with events in the original series. Is that clear? Good. Let’s move on.

Somewhat unusually, the movie is told in a non-linear fashion and features several storylines that end up converging. The first thing we see is expat college professor Peter Kirk (Pullman) jump out of a window to his death, which instantly draws the viewer in and makes them ask WTF is going on. It soon transpires that a local housewife, Kayako (Fuji), had fallen hopelessly in love with him and been murdered by her jealous husband as a result, along with their young son, Toshio. From here on in, Gellar steals the show as Karen Davis, an American expat living in Tokyo with her boyfriend (Behr) charged with filling in for another worker, Yoko, who seems to have neglected her duties in looking after dementia-suffering patient Emma. At the house, Karen encounters the ghost of Toshio sealed up in a wardrobe and witnesses Kayako’s spirit descending from the ceiling to claim Emma. All very unsettling. When the police arrive they find the bodies of the Williams family who had unwittingly moved into the cursed house in the attic, along with Kayako’s jawbone, and the family of vengeful ghosts set out to tear it up some more. Watch out for the infamous shower scene which is probably second only to the original Psycho (1960) in the all-time list of infamous shower scenes. Now, if you found the above synopsis confusing at all, critic Roger Ebert simplifies things massively in his scathing 1-star review, “There is a haunted house, and everybody who enters it will have unspeakable things happen to them.” There you are, then.

Despite this, and a few other negative reviews, The Grudge was a huge initial success. On its opening weekend alone, it grossed $39 million, becoming the first horror film since House on Haunted Hill (1999) to top the Halloween box office and, until the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, had the highest grossing opening weekend in history for a horror remake. On May 17, 2005, the unrated director’s cut was released on DVD. Notably, this version included several scenes that were cut (including one where Takeo drags Kayako’s body through the house whilst carrying a box cutter, implying this was the instrument he used to kill her) from the original in order to achieve a lower rating from the MPAA. Incidentally, this version of the film was used on the theatrical run in Japan, which only goes to show just how hardcore Japanese audiences are. If you are a fan of J-Horror you might appreciate this or this.

Trivia Corner:

Jason Behr and KaDee Strickland met on set and began dating due to their mutual interest in Japanese culture (which is why they accepted their roles in the film) eventually marrying two years later despite not sharing any scenes together in the film.


Eyeless on Scare Street

A couple of months ago one of my short stories, Roach, about a cockroach farm in China (it’s a thing), appeared in the anthology Night Terrors 12 via Scare Street Publishing. I’m pleased to announce that as Scare Street continue their all-out assault on the world of horror fiction, this month sees the release of Night Terrors 14, which includes my creepfest Eyeless.

Eyeless is a gruesome little tale about an elderly gent who is moved into a care home where the residents receive visits from a mysterious supernatural entity after lights out. My intention with this was not just to write a straight-forward horror story, but also a dressed-up disquisition on life and the slow-death ageing process that we all have to endure, if we’re lucky.

Also in this volume you will find a realtor desperately tries to sell a haunted house before it consumes her body and soul, a young couple’s vacation at a campground takes an ominous turn when something menacing lurks nearby, and a haunting melody leads a curious girl to a bittersweet tale of love and loss. Because when night falls, a dance of death begins. And once the music ends, the only sounds you hear are your own screams of terror.

As always, Scare Street have assembled a killer cast of authors, including my old buddy and peerless sick, twisted bitch (she likes it when I call her that), Renee Miller, the full table of contents reading something like this:


1. Marshmallow Murderer by Melissa Gibbo
2. Organ Manipulator by Justin Boote
3. Camping with the Carnival by Jason E. Maddux
4. Serenade by Craig Crawford
5. Sold by Renee Miller
6. Gram’s Garden by J. L. Royce
7. The Gift that Keeps on Giving by Peter Kelly
8. The Womb by Edwin Callihan
9. Eyeless by C. M. Saunders
10. Dark Home by Simon Lee-Price
11. The Wooden Box by P. D. Williams
12. The Limb Farmer by Caleb Stephens
13. Ouroboros by Melissa Burkley
14. Crow’s Books by Ron Ripley

Night Terrors 14 is out now on paperback and ebook.


RetView #46 – Threads (1984)

Title: Threads

Year of Release: 1984

Director: Mick Jackson

Length: 112 mins

Starring: Karen Meaghr, Reece Dinsdale

If you grew up in the 1980’s, you inevitably grew up in the looming shadow of the Cold War and all the associated bullshit. The prospect of nuclear Armageddon was never far from anyone’s thoughts, the tragedy being that none of us even knew it at the time. That highly-strung, stressed-out climate, the antithesis (or the antidote) to eighties excess and extravagance, was just normal to us. We didn’t know anything different. When Frankie Goes to Hollywood hit the charts with Two Tribes and the news was full of Thatcher and Reagan having crisis meetings, not many of us could put the pieces together and grasp the true implications. Only in retrospect are we able to put things into context, and see that we were born into a world of fear and oppression. This acclaimed BBC film does a pretty good job of depicting your worst nightmare in that it shows, “The full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath.” In many ways it served as a British version of The Day After, which had been released the year before and was nominated for no less than seven BAFTA awards, winning four of them.

Jimmy (Dinsdale, perhaps best known for his role in the Brit comedy classic Home to Roost, which debuted the following year) is a working class lad living with his parents and trying to scrape a living in Sheffield. Nothing glamorous about that. All he wants is to build a life for him and his pregnant girlfriend, Ruth (Meaghr). But rising tensions in the Middle East trigger the apocalypse, and soon World War Three between the US and the Soviet Union erupts. Britain is caught in the crossfire, with places like Sheffield in particular being targets because of their industrial heritage.

After an unremarkable opening sequence, despite its heavy use of stock footage the middle section of the film is gritty, fast-moving and harrowing, mirroring what (I imagine) it would be like if anything like this ever befell us in real life. On seeing a mushroom cloud in the distance, one of Jimmy’s colleagues looks up says, and in a tone filled with equal parts wonder and resignation, “They’ve done it.” Amidst the ensuing carnage, East and West trade blows in a seismic race to destroy each other and we are witness to widespread devastation, confusion, and blind panic, all summed up in a scene where we see a woman pissing herself in the street, which nicely demonstrates her newfound “who cares now?” attitude.

The scale of the carnage means that simply waiting for the emergency services to restore order is out of the question, chaos ensues, and it is up to those left in the wreckage to find ways to survive. For me, this is where the movie really comes into its own. Most of the population is dying slowly as a result of radiation poisoning, the power grid is down, and dwindling food stocks are controlled by a decimated central government typified by one official who says, “What’s the point of wasting food on people who are going to die anyway?”

The hangry masses are soon deposited in detention camps, Jimmy goes looking for Ruth and promptly disappears, while Ruth herself teams up with one of Jimmy’s old workmates and chows down on a dead sheep they find in the rubble. We never see Jimmy again. Instead, for the rest of the film we are left wondering what might have happened to him, this crude but effective plot device giving the viewer some insight into the uncertainty Ruth must be feeling. Months pass, Ruth has her baby, and the country struggles to achieve some sense of normality amid the misery and destruction. There is something to be said about the strength and resilience of the human spirit, yet there can be no escaping the futility to it all. The prize for survival is another day of hardship and despair.

Raw, powerful, and thought-provoking, Threads is a snapshot both of how things used to be and how things could have been, illustrating the latent fear that permeated society and, by extension, popular culture, in the heady eighties. This is grim in the extreme, but war is never glamorous or pretty and Threads does an excellent job of conveying that harsh reality. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw hailed it as a “masterpiece,” going on to say that, “It wasn’t until I saw Threads that I found something on screen that could make me break out in a cold, shivering sweat,” while Sam Troy of Empire gave the film a perfect score, stating that it, “Teaches an unforgettable lesson in true horror.”

Trivia Corner

As part of their preparation, writer Barry Hines and director Mick Jackson travelled extensively throughout the UK and US consulting leading doctors, scientists and psychologists gathering intel to help them recreate the most realistic depiction of nuclear war possible. At one point Hines visited a Home Office training centre for ‘official survivors’ which, he said, showed just, “how disorganised [post-war reconstruction] would be.”


Roach on Scare Street!

Roach, my ‘creature feature’ short story, is included in the new anthology, Night Terrors Volume 12 on Scare Street Publishing.

Here’s the ToC:

1. Cross Words by Peter Cronsberry
2. Hybrid by Justin Boote
3. Pipe Dreams by William Sterling
4. “For My Next Trick…” by Bryan Clark
5. Blood Debt by Susan E. Rogers
6. Smudge the Head by Kyle Winkler
7. See Me by Charles Welch
8. Half Larva, Will Travel by Andrey Pissantchev
9. Just We Two by Shell St. James
10. Caustic Whispers by Zach Friday
11. Roach by C. M. Saunders
12. Unarmed by Warren Benedetto
13. Gwen Speaks by Ron Ripley

I wrote the first draft of Roach in the autumn of 2019 when I was teaching at a college in Guangzhou, southern China. There are a lot of cockroaches in Guangzhou. The nucleus of the idea came from a news item I read about Chinese cockroach farms.

I ended up doing a ton of research and writing an article for Fortean Times magazine about it. fascinating stuff. These farms breed millions and millions of the little critters, the official line being that they are used in Chinese medicine. As a bi-product, they can also be used in waste disposal and even as a food source. Who knows? The whole thing, like most things in China, is shrouded in secrecy. This has led to speculation that these genetically modified insect armies could be weaponised, though probably not in the way described in the story.

As if cockroaches weren’t scary enough, right?

Night Terrors Vol 12 is out now on ebook and paperback.


Retview #45 – The Beast Must Die! (1974)

RetView #45

Title: The Beast Must Die

Year of Release: 1974

Director: Paul Annett

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Anton Diffring, Calvin Lockhart, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Peter Cushing

As regular readers of the world-renowned Retview series will know, I’m a sucker for a good werewolf movie. Or even a bad one. You could say werewolves are my favourite mythical supernatural beastie, as evidenced by previous instalments covering An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, and Hound of the Baskervilles. Okay, spoiler alert, that last one turned out to be more of a massive painted dog than a werewolf, but the viewer doesn’t know that until right at the very end when Sherlock Holmes helpfully breaks it all down. Ironically, Peter Cushing, the actor who played Holmes in that classic pops up again here in a role so fitting that it could have been (and perhaps was) written especially for him. Even before the opening credits kick in, the brief is laid bare with a bold voiceover proclaiming, “This film is a detective story in which you are the detective. The question is not, ‘Who is the murderer?’ but, ‘Who is the werewolf?’

Dum, dum, DUM!

And we’re off. Millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart) has invited an eclectic bunch of acquaintances including an artist, a famous pianist, an archaeologist and a diplomat to his mansion in rural England, every inch of which has been placed under surveillance by a high-tech security system featuring CCTV, motion-detectors and all manner of other (then) advanced technological wizardry. In time, Newcliffe and his wife (Clark) reveal to the group that one of their collected number is a werewolf, and the reason for the soiree is to find out who it is and then kill it, hence the title.

And so the fun begins.

All manner of lycanthropic lore is then called upon in a concerted attempt to uncover the beast in question, from using the wolfsbane flower to silver bullets. Needless to say a few suspects get eaten along the way, along with someone’s dog, when the werewolf goes on the rampage and starts steadily reducing the list of suspects. In fact, it probably can’t believe it’s luck. As intimated earlier, it is then up to the viewer to solve the mystery and unmask the beast.

Like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors almost a decade before, the Beast Must Die was made by Amicus Studios, a production company based at Shepperton Studios which flourished between 1962 and 1977, and came near the end of their reign. This was an era when horror movies were just beginning to come into their own, and many studios tried to be innovative and push the boundaries in a variety of ways. This particular effort was marketed as a horror mystery, and challenged the viewer to uncover the identity of the werewolf by picking up clues along the way and distinguishing them from the multitude of red herrings typical of 1970s cinema.

Conversely, near the climax there is a 30-second semi-interactive ‘werewolf break’ where viewers are encouraged to put their momney where their mouths are and name their suspect, which you can see would provoke some discourse between viewers. Though it also heavily features elements drawn from elsewhere, The Beast Must Die is based on the short story ‘There shall be No Darkness’ by American sci-fi writer James Blish, which was published in the pulp magazine thrilling Wonder Stories.

Despite a campy, seventies feel exasperated by a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in Shaft and some gloriously hammed-up acting, since it’s release, The Beast Must Die has enjoyed several re-issues, most notably in 2006, and garnered some generally favourable contemporary reviews mostly along the lines of, “Absolute Cushing classic,” and “Cracking little horror film that deserves a wider audience,” all of which which make it the very epitomization of a cult classic. An alternate version of the film omitting the ‘werewolf break,’ of which Annett was reportedly never a fan (he blamed the whole thing on producer Milton Subotsky), was later released under the title Black Werewolf (which rather gives a lot away) and you can watch the full movie, including the controversial ‘werewolf break,’ RIGHT HERE.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Due to the miniscule production budget, the ‘werewolf’ was played by a German Shepherd kitted out in shaggy dark fur to give it a larger, more ‘otherworldly’ look.


X4 – Review

This could be my favourite review ever, so I copied it from Goodreads to share with you. Thanks, Bruce!

Getting this out of the way. I know C.M. Saunders can tell a good story. The X Omnibus is my bookcase. That’s a sign I’ve really loved what he wrote. He made the top 10 of books read last year from the GoodReads account. This is now volume #4 of stories which cover the mindscape of possibilities where individuals meet the weird/strange/terrifying. One is very short, and the others are short story length which you can catch in those brief moments the world allows you to think.

To help you understand how the stories run, think of this visual:

Two fireflies flitting around a central core, which is the story itself. One firefly is the character with who they are and their thought processes, as in how they think. The other firefly is the landscape they are connected to, the matte painting they become involved in. You get to know the character and landscape and it becomes a fun process in how they both mix together. Though it’s on the verge of the fantastic, something resembling an X File, it becomes a natural mix. And he offers an Afterword to tell you something of the background of the stories, good reader/writer connections. Good stories here.

Bruce Blanchard, March 4th 2020

You can find the original review HERE.

X4 is out now. 

X4


Frost Zone Zine #3

I’m happy to announce that my piece of flash fiction Alone, Or, is included in Issue Three of Frost Zone zine, a Canadian quarterly zine of horror, speculative, and literary fiction, and poetry.

Writers often draw from real-life experiences and incorporate them into their fiction, such is the case with Alone, Or. When I was a student, I worked a bar at Southampton Football Club. Like any pub, we had regulars who would come in before or after games. One day, a guy I knew well came in. I’d been serving him for a couple of years. He looked upset. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his best friend had died, “You know, my drinking partner, the guy I always come in here with?”

The thing was, I could’ve sworn that whenever I saw this guy, he’d been by himself. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the guy he was referring to. I’ve thought about that episode a lot over the years. It always makes me feel a bit weird. Was the regular confusing me with someone else? If not, why can’t I remember the guy who died? Was it all some kind of perverse practical joke? So many questions. Eventually, this story came out of the experience. Writing can be cathartic sometimes.

You can read Alone, Or, free HERE.

Oh, and I nicked the title (almost) from this Damned song.


Faces on the Walls

I’m excited to announce my story Faces on the Walls has been included in the first anthology released by Ghost Orchid Press, entitled Home. It features one hundred stories and poems of exactly one hundred words each, all riffing on the theme of “Home.”

As the blurb says, “These tiny terrors run the full gamut of horror, from body horror and blood-curdling fear to atmospheric, lyrical Gothic tales. You’ll find haunted houses, burrowing parasites and suburban nightmares aplenty to delight, amuse and shock—all in an easy bitesize format.”

Faces on the Walls is based on a real-life paranormal incident I first read about when I was a kid. In 1971, strange stains began to appear on the kitchen floor and walls of a house in Belmez de la Moraleda, a small village in Spain. Soon, the stains began taking on the likeness of faces, sparking a decades-long interest in the ‘Belmez Faces.’ This story is a homage to one of the most terrifying things I have ever read about.

Home is available now in paperback and e-book.


RetView #43 – Outpost (2008)

Title: Outpost

Year of Release: 2008

Director: Steve Barker

Length: 90 mins

outpost

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Michael Smiley

I talked about my fondness for undead Nazi films in my post about the 1977 Peter Cushing vehicle Shock Waves. There’s something fundamentally terrifying about the juxtaposition of two evils, and the unholy malevolence that just won’t die. Outpost is a great example of this creepy sub-genre, and has all the elements you would look for in such a movie; symbolism, violence, action, gun fights, violence, survivalism, machismo, and violence. And did I mention the violence? Shortly after its release, debutant director Steve Barker described it simply as, “A boy’s film. It’s a good old fashioned siege horror.” That pretty much sums it up.

The film opens in a bar (always a great place to start a film) in some unnamed, war-torn location where corporate engineer and scientist Hunt (Wadham) is recruiting a career-mercenary going by the name DC (Stevenson) and a crack team of ex-soldiers. The proposed mission is to protect Hunt as he ventures into an Eastern Europe war zone in search of Nazi gold. Sounds simple enough. But along the way, they stumble across a forgotten World War II bunker (the outpost) and decide to investigate. When they do, they discover that the outpost was apparently used by the SS to carry out experiments fusing science with the occult. The result of these shadowy experiments was the creation of a battalion of bloodthirsty, unkillable, vengeance-crazed Nazi zombies who begin hunting down the intrepid team of mercenaries and picking them off one-by-one. Heads are crushed, eye balls are plucked out, nails are hammered into flesh, and people are stabbed in the mouth with swords. That’s just for starters.

Of course, the discovery of the outpost is all-too convenient, and it soon becomes apparent that the entire purpose of Hunt’s mission was to recover the machinery developed by the SS at the behest of the company he worked for which ‘could be worth billions.’ Some of them discuss leaving. Which would have been a good idea. Except by then, of course, it’s too late and shit is going off.

Sample dialogue:

Q: Did you kill him?

A: Well, his brains are all over the wall. That’s good enough for me.

The clever thing about this movie is that fact that much like the SS experimenters it describes, it attempts to blend fact and fiction (or, in another sense, science and the occult). The Nazis were renowned proponents of the supernatural and allegedly did indeed conduct experiments to produce regenerating ‘super soldiers’ as well as lots of other gruesome stuff. Try a Google search using the term ‘Nazi human experiments’ and you’ll see what I mean. The film even references the Philadelphia Experiment, an alleged disastrous attempt by the US military to ‘cloak’ the SS Eldridge. However, logic seems to be the enemy here. At one point, we see the nasty unkillable Germans demonstrating the unnerving ability to spontaneously appear and disappear wherever they want. But later, they are held back by a door. Still, who needs logic, eh?

Despite the occasional plot hole, Outpost is widely acknowledged as a classic budget Brit horror in the vein of Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later. It’s a deliciously taught and atmospheric offering which ticks most horror fan boxes and gathered a sizeable cult following. The acting is decent, the writing (by Rae Brunton) tight, and though the dialogue is a little cheesy at times, the kills come thick and fast and all involved from the actors to the lighting engineers make the most of their limited budget. Most of the action takes place inside the bunker, giving an oppressive, claustrophobic feel to proceedings. The cinematography and is top notch, combining with the funky lighting and other special effects to make your skin crawl as if you were really in that grimy concrete-lined underground hole, waiting for death to find you. At times, it’s almost like you are playing a live action RPG rather than watching a movie.

Outpost spawned two sequels, Outpost II: Black Sun (2012), which was released direct-to-DVD, a medium where the first film did especially well, prompting a modest UK cinema run, and a prequel entitled Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013). The first film was largely well-received, with www.manlymovie.net saying, “Outpost is a minimalistic Brit horror film in all aspects, with a narrow scope and little in the way of flashy special effects. It’s also really, really damn good, and just as satisfyingly violent and gory as any contemporary horror picture.” However, both sequels were widely panned. Personally, I found both of them more than watchable. But then again, I’m easily pleased.

Trivia Corner

Scottish couple Arabella Croft and Kieran Parker re-mortgaged their Glasgow home in order to raise £200,000 to finance production, which they did via their company Black Camel Pictures.


Siki Goes to the Splatterclub

In that gloriously decadent pre-covid world, when I was working in Guangzhou, southern China, I met a girl through a dating app called Tantan. It’s a bit like a Chinese Tinder. The girl’s name was Siki, and she was fucking mental. That’s not an insult. She knows she’s mental. She takes medication for it, which doesn’t work. One way this mentalness manifests itself is through an addiction to extreme sex. It’s not quite as extreme as the sex I describe in the story which grew from that experience. At least, there were no beer bottles involved. But it was extreme enough for me. I had no idea I was so vanilla until I met Siki. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT??

An addiction to extreme sex combined with mental illness AND being the first and only Chinese satanist I’ve ever met was always going to make lively fiction fodder. Throw in a ghost that didn’t exist (thankfully) and an unsolved murder that didn’t happen, and you have the makings of what I hope is a pretty good, though definitely X-rated short story. The Splatterclub kindly agreed, and put their wholesome reputation at risk by using it on their website. It’s free to read, so you have nothing to lose except your respect for me and possibly your lunch.

In case you’re wondering, Siki’s cool with me using our brief fling as the basis for a horror story. She gave me her blessing, and didn’t even want me to change her name. It’s not her real name, anyway. It’s an ‘English’ name, which a lot of Chinese people take because most Westerners can’t pronounce their Chinese names. It’s typical Siki to take an English name that isn’t an English name.

This isn’t the first time I’ve drawn on my relationships for material. Last year I wrote about one of my exes who kept seeing massive animals dressed in ‘people clothes.’ So be warned that if you ever have a relationship with me, the odds are you’ll be immortalized in a story some day. Especially if you’re weird. If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die, as they say.

Here’s the real Siki, just to prove that she’s alive and well and the tattoo I talk about in the story is real. Picture shared with permission.

A lot of my fiction isn’t suitable for people who are easily offended. This time I really mean it.

Siki’s Story is live now at the Splatterclub. Try not to worry about her. She’s going to love it there.


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