Category Archives: horror

Those Left Behind

My latest short story has just been published on a very cool multimedia platform called twentytwotwentyeight. Those Left Behind is  an urban horror story with a twist, and a surprise ending I hope you don’t see coming. It addresses mental illness, in particular suicide, which is something close to my heart. Depression and mental illness is a big issue for young men, and Wales has the second-highest suicide rate in the UK. There aren’t many people here who remain unaffected. The sorry state of affairs was brought to the public’s attention a few years ago with the mysterious Bridgend Triangle business.

There are many reasons for it, not least the current economic climate. Not so long ago, the towns and villages of south Wales were thriving as the steel and coal money rolled in. Black gold, we called it. it was dangerous work, but there was money to be made. Then the steelworks and coal mines closed, and an entire generation was put out of work almost overnight. I found this great article about it on the Washington Post, of all places. Not that I need to read about it, I lived through it.

The end result of the closures was that young people living in Wales today have little education and few prospects. Poverty is steadily increasing, and in relation to that drug abuse and crime rates are still soaring. This, combined with other factors like isolation, has a debilitating effect on a person’s mental state. That’s my theory, anyway. How can we solve the problem? Who knows. All I can do is write about it and raise awareness a little. I hope you like the story.

You can read Those Left Behind now, free.

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RetView #9 – The Evil Dead

Title: The Evil Dead

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Sam Raimi

Length: 85 mins

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Hal Delrich

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I remember the first time I saw The Evil Dead. I was in my early teens, and my folks had one on holiday leaving me home alone. I scared myself so much that I stayed awake the entire night with every light in the house switched on. Apart from an early encounter with An American Werewolf in London, that was my first experience of being absolutely shit scared by a film. During subsequent viewings, I learned to appreciate the crude humour as well as other aspects like the kick-ass script and innovative cinematography. But that first time, it was all about pure, unadulterated fear. I was absolutely terrified, and traumatised for weeks afterwards. It was brilliant. If I had to pin down the single most frightening aspect of the whole movie, it would be the trapdoor leading to the cellar. It still gives me chills thinking about it now. I’d love to live off the grid in a secluded log cabin in the woods. But if it has a trap door leading to the cellar, you can fucking keep it.

Wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a little. If you haven’t seen Evil Dead (why?), it goes something like this…

Five college students go on vacation to a secluded log cabin in the woods which, as I mentioned, has a trapdoor leading to the cellar. You could probably attach any kind of metaphor to this. It could represent hell (the underworld), our subconscious mind, or any number of other things. But for the sake of argument, let’s just call it what it is. Obviously, the college students go exploring, and find some audio tapes made by a researcher who talks about something called the Book of the Dead, a book of spells and incantations bound in human flesh and written in human blood. The tapes summon demonic entities which, one by one, possess the students. The next thing you know, people are speaking in tongues and getting raped by trees left right and centre. The scene where Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) initially falls under the influence, levitates, and stabs her friend through the ankle with a pencil before being locked in the cellar is utterly horrifying. She keeps pushing her hands through the gap in the trapdoor and making gurgling noises. Ew. As you can probably imagine, things deteriorate drastically from that point on and pretty soon Ash (Bruce Campbell) is locked in a nightmarish battle for survival. Things don’t improve much when he realises the only defence against his possessed ex-friends is dismemberment with a chainsaw. Needless to say, it gets messy. Real messy.

The only thing letting the side down is the quality of the special effects, which though innovative for the time, sometimes come across as cheap and tacky. But you have to remember The Evil Dead was made almost forty years ago and cost around $350,000. Finances were such an issue that the crew consisted almost entirely of Raimi and Campbell’s family and friends. Largely as a result of an appearance at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival (where it was seen, and later emphatically endorsed by one Stephen King) the movie did manage to generate around $2.6 m, small potatoes in comparison with the $212 m raked in by that year’s biggest hit Raiders of the Lost Ark. In Germany, it was released in theatres and on video at the same time, and dominated the charts only to be banned shortly after. A heavily-censored version was released in the nineties but the ban on the original wasn’t lifted until 2016. This version is still preferable to the 2013 big-budget re-boot, largely because of the unpolished, rough and ready approach. It’s no surprise, either, that none of the original cast with the exception of Campbell went on to have much of an impact on Hollywood.

Trivia Corner:

At the end of filming, the crew put together a time capsule and left it inside the cabin’s fireplace. The cabin was later destroyed (Sam Raimi has claimed to have set it on fire himself, but he might have been joking) but the time capsule was discovered by a couple of Evil Dead fans. Hooray!

 


Dead Man Walking the Crimson Streets

My latest short story ‘Dead Man Walking’ is now live on the website (and future anthology) Crimson Streets, “An over-the-top homage to the pulp and adventure magazines of the 1930s through 1950s. Where the detectives are more hard boiled, the dames are leggier, the scientists are madder, and the horrors are more horrible.”

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I started writing Dead Man Walking a few years ago, the title stolen from a Bruce Springsteen song. At one point, it had the alternative title Dead Men Don’t Bleed. But having thought about it a while, and watching a lot of CSI episodes, I decided that in certain situations, dead men WOULD bleed, and that made the title redundant. Anyway, my aim was to involve a classic noir detective-type character, maybe in the vein of Mike Hammer, in some kind of straight-up horror tale. I only had the opening; a guy walks into his office and proclaims to be dead. But is he? If so, the obvious question is, how the heck is he still walking around?

I didn’t know either, so the story ground to a halt after a couple of thousand words. Then I tucked it away in my bulging ‘unfinished’ folder and left it to rot. Late last year I came across it again, had a read through, and decided to have a bash at finishing it. It flowed really well. A little too well, because when I finished, it stood at just over 9,000 words. Too long for a short story, and not quite long enough for a novella. Technically, it would be a novelette, and still too awkward a length to do much with. I liked it, though. I was planning to put it out myself, and thought I might as well send it off to a couple of publishers before I did so primarily to gauge interest.

Janet Carden, editor at Crimson Streets, got in touch and said she liked it. But as anticipated, it was just too long and far exceeded their submission guidelines. However, she kindly invited me to edit it and re-submit, which I did. It was no easy task, because the first draft of Dead Man Walking had very little in the way of padding. After a few frustrating days and long nights, I eventually managed to cut around 2,500 words off without compromising the actual story too much. It’s still one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. You can read it for free HERE.

Artwork by Tim Soekkha.


RetView #8 – Demons

Title: Demons (aka Demoni)

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Lamberto Bava

Length: 88 mins

Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey

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This film is 1985 to the bone. You can tell the moment the awful tinkly synth pop soundtrack kicks in over the opening credits. You don’t even need the long, lingering shots of shoulder padded, pink-haired punks riding the Berlin subway but you get that anyway, just in case you were in any doubt. Cheryl, a pretty college student (Hovey), disembarks the train, and is pursued down the platform by a mysterious masked man. Not really what you want. But when Strange Dude catches up with her, instead of assaulting her he gives her free tickets to a film showing that evening at a local cinema. Crisis avoided. You would think. Cheryl then meets her friend Cathy, persuades her to cut class, and off they go to the cinema together. Little do they know they are setting themselves up for a whole lot of freakish, bloodthirsty fun and games.

In one of those cool film-within-a-film sequences, the film they are watching is revealed to be a gross-out horror about a group of teens who go in search of the tomb of Nostradamus and end up turning into demons and butchering each other. As we find out the teenagers fate, the cinema is revealed to contain a cast of colourful characters including two guys who hit on Cheryl and her friend (one of them being George, played by Barberini, who turns out to be the star of the show), an elderly couple, a blind man, and a pimp with some prostitutes. One of the prostitutes tries on a mask in the cinema lobby and scratches her face, mirroring what happens in the movie they are all watching. A short while later she breaks into full-on demon mode and bursts through the cinema screen sparking a stampede for the exit as the cinema-goers begin to realise that somewhere along the way, the movie has morphed into reality.

*shudder*

To make matters worse, when they try to flee the cinema they find the exits blocked, meaning that the punters are all trapped inside with the demon, which goes around ripping off faces, slashing throats, and infecting them with the demon-virus.

That would perhaps explain why the tickets were free.

Those infected with the demon-virus also turn into bloodthirsty thugs, and pretty soon George and Cheryl find themselves locked in a mortal battle for survival as all hell breaks loose around them. A perfect first date this isn’t. As the demons run amok, the face melting, scalping, and flesh-chewing is relentless, subsiding only long enough to cut to a bunch of muscle-vested Latino punks at irregular intervals who are driving around Berlin off their tits on coke (which they hilariously snort out of a Coke can) and listening to Go West. Really. At one point they drop their stash and then have to painstakingly pick it all up again. Luckily enough, some of it falls over the girl of the gang’s exposed breasts. She even gets some inside her knickers, apparently. Bizarre. Predictably enough, the horny, drug-addled punks eventually come to a suitably sticky end. Keep your eye open for the reappearance of the masked man from the subway station, tying things up nicely. But the final shock is kept for the last few frames. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. And that’s AFTER a massive helicopter crashes through the roof.

Overlooking the Go West abomination, elsewhere Demons benefits from a thumping metal-oriented soundtrack featuring choice cuts from Motley Crue, Saxon, Billy Idol and Accept. It is a rare English/Italian production, spawned no less than seven sequels (though few have any relation to the original, sharing the same name only as a tediously transparent marketing strategy) and is widely regarded as horror writer/producer extraordinaire Dario Argento’s tour de force. However, 30-plus years on, the sad truth is it hasn’t aged very well. The writing still holds up, just, and the cinematography should be applauded. There are also some inventive and gore-tastic kills, as you would expect from one of the masters of horror. Let’s not forget this is the guy who will always be remembered for THAT scene in Zombi 2 where he has a woman’s eyeball slowly impaled on a thick wooden splinter. Ouch. But by the mid-way point of Demons the camp, OTT acting gets a bit tiresome and it is further let down by some truly awful special effects. Given that the budget was a measly $1.8 million (compared to the $28 million shelled out on Rocky IV, which came out the same year) that’s understandable I guess. It would be interesting to see what a large American studio with some hefty backing would be able to do with this. If any movie deserves a remake, it’s Demons.

Trivia Corner:

Between leaving his job at a newspaper and making his name in the horror biz, Argento worked with Sergio Leone as a scriptwriter on the classic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West (1969).


Where did that Human Waste come from?

I was going to use this post to explain a few things about my recent release Human Waste. In particular, I was going to clarify exactly what my intention was. It shouldn’t be necessary, but in this case it kinda is. I get that fucked up ending could throw a few people. They do say the best art is art you have to think about a little, but I wanted to make it crystal clear.

But then I realized I can’t pull it apart and lay it bare without dropping spoilers left and right. And if I do that, there would be no reason for anyone else to read it. The secret would be out. So rather than break it down for you, I’ll have to let you do that bit for yourselves and tell you why I wrote it instead.

Anyone who knows my fiction will know that I usually prefer to stay in the shadows. By that, I mean most of it is old-school. Traditional. Haunted houses, alternate realities, creepy ghosts, the odd dude going mental and not realizing it. You know, the usual stuff. I always tended to shy away from the more explicit, in-your-face kind of horror, the same way I used to shy away from writing explicit sex scenes.  Reading a lot of other authors, I came to realize that most of it was unnecessary. Schlock, gore and sex for the sake of schlock, gore and sex. Not much of it advanced the story very far, or added to it in any way, which is what I‘ve always been most invested in.

But I must admit there was always a small part of me that longed to get my freak on from time to time. I often put graphic scenes in my stories, only to have a change of heart and remove them afterwards. Then I saw a submission call from Blood Bound Books for an anthology called DOA 3, which actually invited writers to get freaky. As freaky as they could and then some. I let the shackles off and knocked out a story called Subject #270374 which is, admittedly, fucking gross, and afterwards I realised how much I enjoyed that walk on the wild side. I began to think I’d gone as far as I could with the ‘traditional’ horror route, and splatterpunk was my new vocation. At least for the time being.

I’d had a few ideas floating around for a while. I’ve always been interested in prepping and survivalism. Not just the practicalities of it all, but the ethos behind it, too. There are a lot of people getting ready for the end of the world, whether it be the result of a solar flare, a world war, a meteor strike, another ice age, a global financial meltdown, an alien invasion, or a zombie uprising. As well as getting ready for a mass extinction, I get the impression a lot of them are also getting ready to say, “Look! I told you so!”

When I finished Human Waste, I didn’t even bother submitting it to any publishers. I wanted to self-publish it. That way, I could maintain complete control. I am aware of the stigma often attached to self-published writers. We self-publish because our work isn’t strong enough to be traditionally published, right? Wrong. My first six books were traditionally published. I turned indie through choice, not necessity. I haven’t submitted a novels or novella to a traditional publisher since 2012. One bad experience too many . This way, I might get slightly fewer sales and less respect, but at least I know where the money is going.

For argument’s sake I’ve called Human Waste a short story, but at around 10,000 words it’s technically a novelette. Stories of this ‘middling’ length are notoriously hard to place, anyway. The bonus content was selected on a thematic basis. Til Death Do us Part is a short story revolving around a similar end of the world scenario originally published in Morpheus Tales magazine, while I also include a short extract from my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches, which substituted WWI-era German soldiers for modern-day zombies. War is war, regardless of the arena it’s played out in, and to those fighting in the trenches it must surely have seemed like the end of the world.

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Human Waste: A Short Splatterpunk Story is available now via Deviant Doll Publications.

And why not check out a few stops on Human Waste Blog Tour?


RetView #7 – Severance

Title: Severance

Year of Release: 2006

Director: Christopher Smith

Length: 95 mins

Starring: Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens

To non-British readers this might be one of the more obscure entries in the ongoing RetView series, but its inclusion is entirely justified. Severance mixes humour, bravado, and some of the most brutal body horror this side of the Saw franchise to great effect, making it one of the stand-out Brit Horror films of the past two decades. It’s actually a British/German/Hungarian collaboration, but is quintessentially mainly due to the casting. Danny Dyer, perhaps best known for roles in Human Traffic, the Football Factory, The Business and, er, Eastenders, is a bit like Marmite. You either love him or hate him. Me, I think he’s a fackin’ legend. By his own admission, he’s banged out more than a few stinkers in his time. But as he says, he has to get paid somehow. He isn’t perfect, and has suffered from typecasting in the past, but he’s a criminally underrated actor. Severance, while probably being the best of his horror films, isn’t the only one. He also starred in Devil’s Playground, Basement, Dead Cert and Doghouse, none of which were quite as well received as this often-overlooked little gem.

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The plot revolves around a group of office staff from a weapon manufacturing company who are sent to Hungary on a team building exercise. As you would find in any office, there is an eclectic and varied cast of characters, all living up to certain long-held stereotypes. True to form, Danny Dyer plays everyman Steve, in a kind of reprisal of his role in Human Traffic (1999) who sees the weekend getaway as the perfect opportunity to get off his tits. He’s munching magic mushrooms and puffing on a spliff in the coach toilet before they even arrive (“Have I pissed meself?”). A spanner is thrown into the works when they find their route blocked and their driver fucks off with the bus, leaving the team meandering through a remote bear-infested forest. When they finally find the lodge they are supposed to be staying at, which offers very little in the way of home comforts, they discover it may or may not have been a lunatic asylum for war criminals and the ‘welcome pie’ has a human tooth in it. Then follows a wince-inducing scene with Gordon (Andy Nyman) and a bear trap, which is made all the more harrowing by the use of an actual amputee as a stunt double, and just when they think things can’t get any worse, the hapless office team start falling one-by-one to a progressively brutal spate of vicious attacks. But who is doing the attacking? And why? Surely those stories can’t be true…

If it hadn’t been for the presence of Dyer who positively excels, Tim McInnerny (perhaps best loved for his roles in Blackadder) would have stolen the show as insufferable jobsworth manager Richard. Shades of David Brent in The Office here (“I can’t spell ‘success’ without ‘u’). In fact, Severance is a kind of mash-up between that and Hostel. The humour is as black as you can imagine, and the gore comes by the bucket load. The ingenious tagline ‘Another bloody office outing’ sums things up pretty well. Suffice to say, not many of the office workers show up for work the following Monday.

Written and directed by Christopher Smith (Creep, Triangle, Black Death) and filmed largely on location in Hungary, Severance was met with generally favourable reviews across the board. Except high-brow whingers the Guardian where Peter Bradshaw gave it only two stars, bemoaning “the basic implausibility of the setup, (and) that weird, niggling wrongness for which there are not enough compensatory laugh-lines.” Ho-hum. This treatment could be partly attributed to the divisive nature of Dyer himself who has never been the broadsheet’s favourite son. The fact that we never find out what the killer’s motivations were also became a point of contention. Never-the-less, in 2012 Total Film named Severance the 36th best independent horror film of all time, and stands as one of the best British comedy survival horror films you are ever likely to see.

Trivia Corner:

Media interest in Severance was revived in 2008 when one of the kill scenes was (allegedly) recreated in the real-life murder of 17-year old student Simon Everitt, who was tied to a tree and forced to drink petrol before being set on fire. Lovely.

 


100 Word Horrors – An Anthology of Horror Drabbles

Late last year, I was asked to contribute to an anthology. It wasn’t themed like so many are these days, the interesting thing about it was that it was to consist entirely of drabbles (a piece of fiction exactly a hundred words long, not including the title). This is something I had never even attempted before, so I initially did it for the challenge. After banging my head against the wall for a few days, I eventually came up with a story called Coming Around. I can’t say writing it was easy, but it was a lot of fun. As the project grew legs and started running, it turned into a who’s who of horror, and something I am very proud to be a part of.

100 words updated

Kevin J. Kennedy, has once again brought together the best of the horror world to bring you an anthology that is packed with creepy tales. Between these pages you will find over one hundred drabbles, written by a wealth of talented authors. From the best indie horror authors to Bram Stoker award winners and Amazon top sellers. We have monsters, mayhem and madness. Come join us.

Contains drabbles by Amy Cross, William F. Nolan, Lisa Morton, Gord Rollo, Michael A. Arnzen, Mark Lukens, Richard Chizmar, Rick Gualtieri, Jeff Strand, Kevin J. Kennedy, P. Mattern, Lee Mountford, Ike Hamill, Michael Bray, Andrew Lennon, Craig Saunders, Matt Hickman, Glenn Rolfe and many more.

In her review, Erica Robyn had this to say about my contribution:

Absolutely terrifying!! This one is a straight up nightmare! 5/5

Thank you, Erica 😉

100 Word Horrors is out now.


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