Category Archives: horror

Misshapes, Rejects & Handmade Horror Stories

Every year when Halloween comes around, I wish I’d written a Halloween story. Obviously, it’s too late by then, so last year I surpassed even my own pre-planning capabilities and wrote one in January. Kaboom. That also gave me a few months to sell the fucker.

The story I came up with is called Misshapes & Rejects, and in a nutshell it’s about pumpkins. Not pumpkins in nutshells, that would just be weird. I’ve always thought there was something creepy about the treatment pumpkins get around Halloween. All the cutting and carving and stuff. I also wanted to make a bit of a point about isolation and anti-social behaviour, and like a perfect storm all these elements came together. It happened quickly, too. Once I had the germ of the idea, the story followed quickly and was finished in a single sitting. That feat isn’t as impressive as it might sound, in its entirety Misshapes & Rejects is less than 1000 words.

When I finish a story, I routinely go through it three, four, even five or six times, endlessly tweaking, polishing and modifying until there is nothing left to tweak, polish or modify. However, Misshapes & Rejects didn’t need much heavy lifting. Sometimes, you just know you’ve nailed it. It was accepted by the first place I submitted it too, a Halloween-themed anthology due to be released on [name redacted, like in the movies].

Then things got messy.

The would-be publisher refused to pay any contributors then eventually pulled the book from sale, but not before they pocketed funds they’d raised through crowd funding and pre-orders. Big scene. Long story short, the publishing rights on Missahpes & Rejects quickly reverted back to me and the dance began again.

Luckily, it soon found a new home, in the book Handmade Horror Stories put together by Frost Zone Press, the lovely people who just last year published my story Alone, Or… , and edited by the supremely talented MM MacLeod..

As the marketing material says, “Handmade Horror Stories is an anthology of art and craft-themed short horror fiction. From quiet horrors to chilling nightmares, these tales give new meaning to being creative.”


Harberry Close in Railroad Tales

I’m pleased to announce that my short story Harberry Close is included in the anthology Railroad Tales on Midnight Street Press.

Table of Contents:

THE TRACKS THROUGH THE FOREST John Kiste

AWAYDAYS Allen Ashley

THE HOOSAC TUNNEL LEGACY Norm Vigeant

RAILWAY MUTTON CURRY Nidheesh Samant

THE NUMBER NINE James E. Coplin

GHOST-WALKER Andrew Darlington

SPARROW’S FLIGHT Nancy Brewka-Clark

HARBERRY CLOSE C. M. Saunders

GEISTERBAHNHOF Saoirse Ni Chiaragáin

THE ANNIVERSARY David Penn

ACROSS THE VALE Catherine Pugh

WHERE THE TRAIN STOPS Susan York

THE NIBBLER Gayle Fidler

SHORT PLATFORM Gary Couzens

WILSHIRE STATION Caitlin Marceau

AND YOU HEARD THE RATTLING DEATH TRAIN Simon Bestwick

NOT ALL TRAINS CRASH Steven Pirie

BALLYSHANNON JUNCTION Jim Mountfield

CABOOSE Andrew Hook

THE TRACKS Michael Gore

THE DEVIL RIDES THE NIGHT TRAIN Curtis James McConnell

THE PIER STATION George Jacobs

THE SAMOVAR A. J. Lewis

Between 2013 and 2017 I lived in London. I was working long hours and commuting for up to four or five hours a day, so I didn’t have much time to write fiction. I think of Harberry Close as a good representation of my ‘London period,’ along with Vicar on the Underground and maybe Subject #270374. I don’t think its much of a surprise that two of those stories feature public transport prominently and the other is about an overworked and under-appreciated journalist who goes mental and decapitates his boss.

I wrote about the origins of Harberry Close, which was first published in Dark Harvest, in more detail here. Thanks to Trevor Denyer for giving it a new lease of life!

Railroad Tales is out now on paperback and ebook.


RetView #49 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Title: The Curse of Frankenstein

Year of Release: 1957

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 83 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urqhuart, Valerie Gaunt

Like Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Curse of Frankenstein was another Hammer Films production and, along with Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), is now seen as a cornerstone of the British institution’s considerable repertoire. The premise is obviously based on Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 tale Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. It was the first of the Frankenstein series, the very first Hammer movie to be made in colour, and has retrospectively been dubbed the first “Really gory horror film” by Professor Patricia MacCormac. It has also been credited with revitalizing a stagnating genre. All things considered, it makes perfect RetView fodder.

The story is told in flashback form when, in 19th Century Switzerland, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is on trial for murder and confesses his story to a visiting priest. The film then cuts to a newly-orphend 15-year old Victor who hires a private tutor, Dr. Paul Krempe (Urqhuart), to teach him science. Together, the pair start a sequence of experiments geared toward bringing dead animals back to life. The experiments are successful, but when his cousin Elizabeth (Court) moves in and Frankenstein suggests making a ‘perfect’ human being from scavenged body parts, Krempe opts out. However, he is brought back into the fold when the monster (Lee, who was awarded the role primarily due to his 6’5” frame and his modest £8-a day fee), now equipped with a damaged (ie defective) brain, escapes into the nearby woods and kills a blind man. What a blind man is doing in the woods by himself is anyone’s guess, but anyway…

Realizing it is out of control, Krempke shoots the monster and the men bury it in the woods. However, as soon as Krempke departs, Frankenstein digs it up again and reanimates it. The rotten bastard. Back at the house, his maid Justine, with whom he has been having an affair, reveals she is pregnant and threatens to expose his grisly experiments unless he marries her. This doesn’t sit too well with the rampaging Victor, and he quickly has the monster dispatch her which is what lands him in jail. The visiting priest doesn’t believe his story. Krempke and Elizabeth, who are now happily shacked up together, refuse to corroborate it, presumably in an attempt to stop the same thing happening again, and ***SPOILER ALERT*** Victor is led away to the guillotine.

The film was an immediate smash hit for Hammer, it’s comparatively low budget contributing heavily to its financial success as there were comparatively fewer costs to offset. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who adapted Mary Shelley’s book for the screen, was so anxious to keep costs down he didn’t write in scenes of villagers storming the castle as seen in other Frankenstein films, “Because we couldn’t afford it.” The ploy worked. The movie was produced on a budget of just £65,000, and some sources estimate the film recouped at least 70 times that figure. For many years, it held the distinction of being the most profitable movie to be produced in England by a British studio and has always been much-loved by the public, which is reflected in various contemporary reviews and its Rotten Tomatoes rating which currently sits at a respectable 77% from 3,815 ratings. However, it was given a luke-warm reception upon it’s original release, a review in the New York Times dismissing it as a “Routine horror film,” and the Tribune of London calling it, “Depressing and degrading.”

Okay, then.

A quick word on the fate of Hammer Productions; the company effectively ceased production in the mid-1980’s. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In May 2007 the company name, along with its entire library of some 295 movies, was bought by a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol which vowed to, “Take it back into production and develop its global potential.” True to it’s manifesto, the company financed a return to the fold in the form of contemporary horror Beyond the Rave (2008). That isn’t a typo, by the way. It really is a horror movie about a rave. That was followed by a steady stream of offerings including Wake Wood (2011) and, more recently, The Lodge (2019), which proved a surprise hit. In September 2019, hammer signed a worldwide distribution deal with StudioCanal for its catalogue, so after some uncertain times, the future is looking bright.

Trivia Corner:

Although Hammer’s two great stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had appeared in several pictures before, including Hamlet (1948) and Moulin Rouge (1952), their long-lasting friendship was cemented on the set of Curse of Frankenstein when Lee stormed into Cushing’s dressing room saying, “I’ve got no lines!” To which Cushing allegedly responded, “You’re lucky, have you read the script?”


Back from the Dead – The First Review

And it’s a cracker! The only problem is, the review appeared on the Spanish version of Amazon which most people might not see. Unless you happen to be in Spain. Assuming that isn’t the case because we aren’t all that lucky, I’ve reproduced the review for you here.


Highly original take on the zombie trope

5*


“As I said above, these are some of the most original zombie stories I have ever read which is hard to say nowadays considering how many there are already written. In these six stories you will find everything from sword-wielding zombies, a return to the Bubonic plague and all its consequences, possible alien zombies, an elderly couple starving to death with eyes set on each other, a different take on roadkill, and a private detective with an unusual request.

The whole collection thoroughly well edited making each story flow seamlessly, I read through this collection in just two days, and was left wanting more, much more. I hope the author returns to this trope and writes some more short stories because I enjoyed them all that much.

For zombie fans, definitely worth grabbing a copy-you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

– Justin Boote, Amazon Espana

Link to original review HERE

Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Horror is available now on paperback and ebook.


It’s HERE!!!

In the market for some creepy holiday reading? Good. Your timing couldn’t be better, because my new book, Back from the Dead, has just dropped on ebook and paperback.

Here’s the blurb:

A collection of zombie fiction from British journalist and dark fiction writer C.M. Saunders, featuring two complete novellas alongside short stories previously published in the likes of Morpheus Tales, Crimson Streets and the anthology Digital Horror Fiction Volume 1, plus a brand-new novelette.

Also includes an exclusive introduction and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.

Featuring:

Dead of Night: young lovers Nick and Maggie go camping in the woods, only to come face-to-face with a group of long-dead Confederate soldiers who don’t know, or care, that the war is over.

Human Waste: Dan Pallister wakes up one morning to find the zombie apocalypse has started. Luckily, he’s been preparing for it most of his life. He just needs to grab some supplies from the supermarket…

‘Til Death do us Part: When the world as we know it comes to an abrupt end, an elderly couple are trapped in their apartment. They get by as best they can, until they run out of food.

Roadkill: A freelance ambulance crew are plunged into a living nightmare when a traffic accident victim they pick up just won’t stay dead. He has revenge on his mind.

The Plague Pit: A curious teenager goes exploring the Welsh countryside one summer afternoon and stumbles across a long-abandoned chapel. What he finds there might change the world, and not for the better.

Dead Men Don’t Bleed: A gumshoe private eye is faced with his most challenging case yet when a dead man walks into his office and asks for help solving his own murder. Complete and unabridged version of the story previously published as ‘Dead Man Walking.

Drawn from a variety of sources, all these tales have one thing in common; they explore what might happen if our worst nightmares are realized and people came BACK FROM THE DEAD.

Back from the Dead is out now.


Retview #48 – Siren (2016)

Title: Siren

Year of Release: 2016

Director: Gregg Bishop

Length: 82 mins

Starring: Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn, Michael Aaron Milligan, Mayes Mercure, Randy McDowell, Hannah Fierman

As a rule, the RetView series focuses on movies a decade or more old, though I do break that rule from time to time for exceptional offerings. Siren (not to be confused with 2019’s THE Siren), a feature-length interpretation of Amateur Night, David Bruckner’s segment from the first V/H/S film (2012), is definitely that. You know the bit I’m talking about, where the three hopeless misogynists take a couple of chicks back to a hotel room for sex and shenanigans, not realising one of them is a scary AF supernatural entity which then proceeds to chase them down and rip them limb from limb. Coincidentally, Siren’s director Gregg Bishop made a splash in 2014 when he wrote and directed the Dante the Great section in V/H/S: Viral. Here, he takes the basic concept from the first V/H/S film and extrapolates it. There was always a danger that there might not be enough material to do this successfully, but I’m happy to report that isn’t the case. Reminiscent of the Species series, despite some indifferent reviews, Siren is one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. Happily, I wasn’t the only one to think so, with the LA Times dubbing it a, “Clever and confident expansion of a terrific short.”

A week before he marries his childhood sweetheart, Jonah (Chase Williamson from Beyond the Gates) and his bros go on a last drink and ‘shroom-fuelled bender. They end up in a dodgy strip joint, where they meet a stranger who tells them about a secret underground club, where they will be able to indulge their wildest fantasies. There, they find a waif-like beauty called Lily (aka ‘the Lilith’) who they assume is an innocent girl who has been unwillingly trafficked into the sex trade, thereby proving that even misogynists on drugs have hearts. Sometimes. The well-meaning dopes free her, only to realize she is, in fact, a succubus. And not a very nice one at that. In fact, she’s pretty fucking terrifying. The tag line, “No man can resist her. All men should,” is scarily apt.

The first poor Jonah sees of her angry succubus status is when Lily sprouts a massive tail and brutally slaughters one the guards where she’s being held captive. He and his boys wisely make a swift exit, but then find themselves pursued by both Lily and the bad guys. Bummer, dude. However, the twist is that Lily doesn’t really want to kill Jonah. She just wants to kill his friends because she feels they are standing in her way. She is attracted to Jonah because he showed her kindness, and even tells him so. Right before she does some unspeakable things to him with that massive tail of hers. Of course, being a stand-up guy about to marry the love of his life, Jonah isn’t interested in a romantic hook-up with a succubus. However, he might not have a choice.

A nice touch is the retaining of Lily’s character (again played by Hanna Fierman) which makes this film both a continuation and a spin-off of the original short. Despite her propensity for disembowelling people and eating their insides, you can’t help but root for her. She’s the archetypal damaged heroine. Actually, it’s quite hard to judge who the good guys and bad guys are throughout this film, something else that makes it more interesting than the usual horror-by-numbers. That and the sad fact that there just aren’t enough movies about succubuses (or succubi?). None of the bachelor party are what you might call likeable characters, and the club owners come across as a particularly cruel bunch, but in reality are doing a public service by keeping Lily away from the general populace. This, I feel, is a deliberate ploy designed to toy with the viewer’s emotions. Another example comes half-way through when some cops, who as we all know are supposed to protect and serve, turn out to be interested in doing anything but protect and serve. So yeah, Lily is the real star of Siren, which is why I feel we should have been treated to more of her mythology and back story. I bet she has a few tales (sic) to tell. An origin film would be brilliant. Maybe next time, eh?

Trivia Corner:

For the parts where Lily sings, the plan was to have Hannah Fierman lip sync to a guide track. But she impressed the producers so much they opted to stick with her vocals.


Cover Reveal – Back from the Dead

My latest release, a collection of Zombie fiction called Back from the Dead, is coming soon. More details, including a full table of contents, to follow shortly. In the meantime, I just wanted to share the awesome cover with you, as designed by Greg Chapman.

And here it is!

Back from the Dead officially drops on July 23rd and is available for pre-order now.


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.”


%d bloggers like this: