Category Archives: horror

Retview #16 – The Howling (1981)

Title: The Howling

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Joe Dante

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Elisabeth Brooks

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I’ve already covered several werewolf movies in this series (An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers). However, previous entries tend to verge on horror/comedy. I don’t know why, but someone way back in movie history must have decided there was something knee-slappingly funny about people transforming into humungous wolf-like creatures and ripping innocent bystanders into bloody pieces. Not so the Howling. Despite a script dripping with satire (“You were raised in LA, the wildest thing you ever heard was Wolfman Jack.”) adapted from Gary Brandner’s novel by screenwriter John Sayles, who had previously worked with director Joe Dante on tongue-in-cheek classic Piranha, there are precious few chuckles here. Except right at the very end, which we’ll get to in good time. Even now, almost four decades after it was first released, The Howling is still a brutal, terrifying, and deeply disturbing journey into the dark heart of the lycanthrope legend which has long been considered a metaphor for the beast lurking inside all of us, something which is hinted at several times throughout the movie. If you’ve never seen it, that’s something you need to rectify post haste.

Karen White (Scream Queen Dee Wallace, star of horror staples Cujo, the original Hills Have Eyes and Critters, but probably best known for her role in E.T.) is a television news anchor in LA who is being stalked by a serial killer. In conjunction with the police and TV crews, she takes part in a sting operation, agreeing to meet the murderer in a sleazy porno cinema. In the ensuing kerfuffle, the serial killer is shot dead by cops, but Karen is left severely traumatized by it all and suffering from amnesia. Her therapist (Macnee, that bloke off the Avengers) suggests she and her husband (Stone) should spend some time at an exclusive retreat in the countryside to aid her recovery, something they are only too happy to do. Big mistake. The Colony, as they call it, is full of colourful characters, one of them being a nymphomaniac called Marsha (Brooks) who tried to bed Karen’s husband. When he rejects her advances, she follows him into the woods one night and scratches his arm, thereby ‘turning’ him. They later do it next to a bonfire (snigger) in one of those scenes that you probably rewound way too much as a horny teenager, before getting creeped out by the fact that by the end you are essentially watching a couple of Furries getting some. Anyway, Karen soon begins to suspect that something sketchy is going on not just with her husband, but at the retreat as a whole, and calls in a little help from her friends. That’s when things get interesting, if they weren’t interesting enough before.

There’s no getting around it, by today’s standards The Howling does seem awfully dated in parts. But the script is extremely well-written, the cast is a who’s who of the era’s acting talent and, though Rick Baker deservedly won an Oscar for his creature effects on An American Werewolf in London a year later, Rob Bottin’s work here is just as impressive. You can achieve quite a lot with tiny inflatable air bags under latex skin. He lets the side down somewhat in the final scene where Karen morphs into something resembling a cross between a Spaniel and a Golden Retriever live on air, but we’ll let that one slide. I prefer to think that particular scene (a late addition tagged on to the end while Wallace was filming Cujo) is meant as one of those tongue-in-cheek moments. An earlier section where the werewolf attacks Karen’s friend at a secluded cabin in the woods is utterly terrifying, as is the part where our heroine comes face to face with the monster for the first time and watches transfixed as he changes in front of her. The suspense is maintained throughout, and the action rarely lets up. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity which led to some reviewers, somewhat unfairly, dubbing it erotic horror. Dante (who also directed Gremlins, Innerspace and Burying the Ex, amongst others) fits all the pieces together nicely, and shows neat little touches like having Little Red Riding Hood playing in the background.

Unsurprisingly, due to its success, the Howling spawned a sequel (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) in 1985. What is surprising, however, is that despite the sequel being a total flop it then led to a bunch more, none of which were very good. The most recent was the eighth installment released in 2011. Word is that a ninth is in pre-production, a remake of the first, which you would think would round things off nicely. Just as long as they don’t decide to remake the other seven.

Trivia Corner:

Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone were married in RL, having met on an episode of CHiPs before filming started on The Howling. They were together until his death from a werewolf bite (not really. It was a heart attack) in 1995.

 

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Coming Around (drabble)

Last year I was invited to contribute to an anthology of horror drabbles Kevin Kennedy was putting together. A drabble is a 100-word story. No more, no less. The antho was a huge success, and I thoroughly enjoyed branching out into another form of writing.

I’ve kindly been granted permission to share my contribution with you, so here it is.

Coming Around

By C.M. Saunders

He was being chased down a long, dark tunnel by a pack of dogs. He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them panting and snarling. They were gaining on him. His chest burned. Couldn’t catch his breath. Shooting pains.

Then the tunnel and the dogs began to melt away, and Duncan’s world was spinning into focus. That was a dream?

Where the fuck was he?

Then he remembered. The operation. The heart surgery. He tried to open his eyes. Couldn’t. Too soon. But he could hear noises, like someone tuning a radio. Voices.

“Too bad we couldn’t save him.”

Get it?

There was a lot to fit in, so let me explain a little. It started with hell hounds, who according to mythology, turn up to drag the evil to hell when they die. Then there was a tunnel, so often reported by people on their death beds, the heart surgery (chest pains), and finally the right hook at the end. Yep, our hero is dead. He died during the operation, hence the hell hounds and the tunnel. But I also tried to pose a question. If he’s dead, how can he still hear the doctors talking? Does that mean he’s a ghost? Or do your senses continue for a short while after your vital signs fade?

You decide.

In her review of 100 Word Horrors, Erica Robyn said of Coming Around:

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

Thanks, Erica!

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RetView #15 – The Fly (1958)

Title: The Fly

Year of Release: 1958

Director: Kurt Neumann

Length: 93 mins

Starring: Al Hedison, Vincent Price, Patricia Owens

“The more I know, the more sure I am I know so little. The eternal paradox.”

Andre Delambre

The fly 1958

Before the famed David Cronenberg effort in 1986, came the 1958 original. I’d never seven seen it until relatively recently. I was thinking about covering the remake for this series, but I have a feeling there might be enough 80’s flicks here as it is, and the series might benefit from an entry dating from the late-fifties. You know, for context and stuff. So, here we are.

The premise: Canadian scientist Andre Delambre (Hedison) is found dead with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press. His brother (Price) comes on the scene to try to make sense of what has happened. Was a freak accident? Suicide? Gulp. Murder? The scientist’s wife (Owens) readily accepts liability, but says she’d rather not say why she did such a terrible thing. Which is not only unhelpful, but pretty odd. She then takes to her bed, and starts acting weirdly. It’s especially disconcerting when the housekeeper swats an insect and she freaks the fuck out. Apparently, she is becoming obsessed with a particular white-headed fly which buzzes around the house. From that point, the film shifts from a murder mystery to flat-out sci-fi horror.

Through a series of flashbacks it is revealed that her dead husband was engaged in a ground-breaking series of experiments concerning the transportation of organic matter in an invention called the disintegrator/integrator. The basic idea is to eventually be able to send things through time and space instantaneously, thereby doing away with costly and time-consuming modes of conventional travel. He has great fun successfully transporting inanimate objects like ashtrays, then progresses to Dandelo the family cat. That doesn’t go quite so well, as Dandelo fails to reappear but can nevertheless be heard meowing somewhere in the ether. Oops. Despite the missing moggie, curiosity soon gets the better of Delambre. He constructs a pair of man-sized teleportation chambers and proceeds to try to transport himself. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, when he tries the experiment he is sharing the chamber with a house fly which has snuck in, resulting in their atoms becoming merged. Yes, Delambre is now part fly, and the fly is now part Delambre. Hence the scientist with the missing head and arm, and the fly with the white head. Geddit?

Ignoring the obvious plot hole, whereby Delambre somehow ended up with the head of a fly but with his old brain in it, and the flipside of that eventuality where the fly ended up with Delambre’s head, but with a fly’s brain, yet could still scream “Help me!” when threatened by a spider, something picked up on by critic Carlos Clarens (who noted that the film, “Collapses under the weight of many questions”) The Fly can still be considered a landmark in cinema. Of particular interest is the sub-text, which warns against the march of progress and the often terrible price of success. Remember, this was the late 50’s, and the decade had already brought television, transistor radios and passenger jets. UFO flaps were common. It was a time of such technological and scientific innovation, all heavily influenced by fractious Cold War politics and the continuous threat of nuclear war, that anything must have seemed possible. All this would have made The Fly terrifyingly plausible. Furthermore, it might be camp and funny now, but by 1950’s standards, the famous “Help me!” scene near the end must have been utterly horrifying. And speaking of campy goodness, do yourself a favour and check out the original trailer.

Producer/drector Kurt Neumann, who also worked on Kronos and She Devil (both 1957) died of ‘natural causes’ at the age of 50, shortly after attending the premier of The Fly, not knowing he’d just made the biggest hit of his career. Without him, film went on to become one of the Box Office successes of the year, raking in $3 million from a budget variously quoted as being $325,000 – $495,000. Much of this expense was due to it being produced in colour, another innovation which was just coming into its own. The film went on to spawn two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1966). Sadly, neither were able to replicate either the success or the cultural impact of the original and sank without trace.

Trivia Corner

The Fly was based on a short story by French/British writer George Langelaan, an interesting character who had been a spy in World War II and was allegedly a close friend of ‘The Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley. The original version of the short story appeared in the June 1957 edition of Playboy.

Go here for the previous entry in the RetView series.


Dead of Night

My latest release, an updated version of my 2010 novella Dead of Night, is available now!

dead-of-night-reissue

Young lovers, Nick and Maggie, decide to escape the city for a romantic weekend deep in the idyllic countryside. The excursion soon degenerates into a maelstrom of terror when one of them comes face to face with a centuries-old civil war soldier. Together, the couple flee into the wilderness, but soon find themselves engaged in a mortal battle with a group of long-dead Confederate bushwackers.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a story of extreme horror and is not suitable for children.

Dead of Night is available now on ebook and paperback.


Cover Reveal – Dead of Night 2018

Well, hello!

I have a brief announcement.

More than eight years on from it’s original release on Damnation Books, my novella Dead of Night will soon see the light of day once more. Completely re-edited and re-vamped, it features new and exclusive cover art by none other than the Dark Scrybe himself, Greg Chapman.

And here we are.

dead-of-night-reissue

Dead of Night is available for pre-order now on ebook and paperback.


RetView #14 – [REC]

Title: [REC]

Year of Release: 2007

Directors: Jaume Balaguaro, Paco Plaza

Length: 75 mins

Starring: Manuela Velasco, Carlos Vicente, Pablo Rosso

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Unlike near-neighbours Italy, with a few notable exceptions, Spain isn’t renowned for producing horror movies, something which makes [REC] all the more surprising. And terrifying. The whole thing is horribly realistic, a fact aided by utilising the much-maligned ‘found footage’ method of filming and a ‘shaky’ hand-held camera. If nothing else, [REC] proves than when done well, this can be an incredibly effective technique. Another contributing factor was the casting of Manuela Velasco (an actual TV presenter in her native Spain) as the lead, Angela Vidal, along with a bunch of unknowns. For comparison, this would be a bit like a ballsy little-known British independent filmmaker somehow persuading Lorraine Kelly to take on the starring role in his latest gore fest. Genius.

In [REC], Lorraine Kelly, sorry, Manuela Velasco, sorry, Angela Vidal, is sent to a fire station in Barcelona with her cameraman Pablo (whose real name is Pablo, just to add another element of authenticity) during a night shift to record a TV documentary. They crack some jokes and mess around, and it’s all going rather well, until a call comes in about a woman trapped in her apartment screaming. Even then, nobody panics. What might seem damn creepy to normal people is apparently nothing out of the ordinary to seasoned fire fighters, who head out to rescue the woman with the TV crew in tow. When they arrive at the apartment building they meet up with some cops, so far so good, but then the woman in question freaks out (even more) and bites one of the cops in the throat. The tension builds and the apartment block’s other residents, a motley bunch if there ever was one, gather in the lobby. Safety in numbers and all that. The fire fighters try to take the mortally injured bitten-in-the-neck cop outside to receive medical attention, only to discover that the entire building is in lockdown, having been sealed off by the military. Oh shit. Unable to escape, the TV crew then realize that many of the building’s occupants are showing signs of sickness and violent, psychotic tendencies, and it soon becomes apparent that they have landed smack, bang in the middle of a zombie outbreak.

From there, it’s a bloody thrill ride. There is a fantastic scene where Pablo the cameraman batters a zombie to death with a camera while we are looking through it and lots of spurting blood and frothing at the mouth. But far from being just another zombie flick, this one has a bit more bite to it (sorry). Near the climax, Angela and Pablo find themselves in the penthouse suite, where they discover the cause of the virus which until then they had believed to be some form of rabies. The occupant of the penthouse suite was an agent of the Vatican who was researching an enzyme he believed to be the biological cause of demonic possession. On locating a possessed girl, he unwisely takes her back to his penthouse to conduct experiments on her, but during the process the enzyme mutates and turns viral. Left with little option, the agent does a runner and leaves the girl to starve to death. Except, she, you know, doesn’t.

From relatively humble beginnings, [REC] became a huge international smash, generating over $32 million in revenue from a mere $2 million budget, and spawning a succession of sequels culminating in the last of the franchise REC 4: Apocalypse in 2014. It was remade in the US where it was re-titled Quarantine (2008) which itself bore a sequel, Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011). Both are very serviceable horror films, but neither can quite capture the intensity of the original Spanish language version. Reviewing the film for the BBC, Jamie Russell called it, “A runaway rollercoaster of a fright flick,” praising the, “faux-docu handheld style,” and the sense of claustrophobia and confusion, ultimately concluding that “[REC] will definitely jangle the nerves.” The film remains very highly regarded among horror junkies, and is regularly included in ‘best of’ lists such as Time Out’s 100 Best Horror Films of all Time, where it placed number 60 in 2016.

Trivia Corner

The actors were never given the script in its entirety, so none of them knew of their character’s fates. Sometimes until they were actually filming the scenes. This meant the actors were, more often than not, stressed out, nervous and apprehensive during filming, ideal qualities for a horror film.

Go here for the previous entry in the Retview series!

 


Review of X3 by Bloody Good Horror Books

Review of X3 by Renier Palland at Bloody Good Horror Books:

“X3” by author Christian aka C.M. Saunders is a short collection of short horror stories he had published over the years. He begins his anthology with a piece called “Introduction: The Final Curtain” where he muses over death and mortality, and how it permeates everything, including literature. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “Death Drive”. Oddly enough, this rather obtuse opening led to some rather interesting short stories. The first story, “‘Til Death Do Us Part” is zombie fiction without the zombies. It’s primal, brutal and asks us what we’d do to survive for one more second on this godforsaken planet. Saunders brought the point home with this valiant line: “They were fighting and fucking everywhere like animals”. This matter-of-fact method of writing immediately piqued my interest. I knew I was onto something good.

Throughout the good short stories – not the bad ones – Saunders weaves a tapestry of horrifically fun humour and below-the-belt madness. There’s even a short story about a troll, with a sequel to the short story about the troll! As with all short story writing, each piece has to end in a solipsistic finale, a final twist to end all twists. I liken it to twisting the knife in a piece of meat. It’s an extremely difficult, well-documented feat. There are essays written about how a short story should be structured, compiled and created. If a writer lingers on a paragraph for too long, the short story is ruined and ends up in the tried-and-failed dustbin. Aside from poetry, short story writing is the most difficult literary art form. When an author gets it right, he or she really gets it right. But a short story can also turn into a bizarre, self-indulgent and experimental freak show. My point being, Saunders’ short story anthology has a touch of Bipolar, with extreme lows (“Gwraig Annwn” and “Slots-a-Pain”) and manic, thrilling highs (“The Delectable Hearts”, “Switchblade Sunday” and “The Elementals and I”).

He is an extremely friendly guy who wrote exactly what was needed to get our attention for an immediate review. He is also an excellent writer, but I don’t agree with putting all of your eggs into one basket, i.e. Putting short stories together from over the years into one volume. He should have been much more careful with his choices. I understand what it feels like to have that specific short story you wrote, the one which didn’t get the recognition it deserved, finally published. I’m also an author and I understand that inherent need. However, as a reviewer I have to follow extremely harsh guidelines in order for my review to have any merit or credibility in the real world.

Saunders failed with some of his short stories. I wanted more. I needed more. But there was nothing except an experimental foray into death literature. The stories which did work were extremely well done, brilliant even. I can easily say that “‘Til Death Do Us Part” will stick with me (no pun intended – look out for the ending) for a very long time. It was interesting, tragically beautiful and filled with a post-apocalyptic essence akin to “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. “The Delectable Hearts” was a curious and interesting meta-commentary on the entertainment industry. I used to be a writer and reviewer for a worldwide entertainment media group, so I understood the character’s journalistic instincts to get the scoop on a new music band. The ending, as with the former, was both unsettling and optimistic – an awkward, albeit exciting paradox. I enjoyed every second of the better short stories in the anthology, but much like a music album, an anthology has to be structured in a specific way to maximise the audience’s interest. This was not the case with “X3”. It felt haphazard and loose, as I went from a high to a low. Perhaps Saunders intended for the anthology to read like a rollercoaster? It’s possible, not wise in my opinion, but possible.

The anthology was fun to read. I think Saunders’ dark humour played a role here and he managed to save several of the shorts by using the gallows’ humour literary mechanism. Technically, some of the shorts were ravaged by editorial oversights, e.g. “twist in the tail” instead of “twist in the tale”. Malapropisms shouldn’t be left untreated as they can easily infect a literary wound. However, for the sake of this review, I am willing to overlook the technicalities because everything else was written perfectly. Saunders didn’t make many mistakes. His tempo was fluid, his narrative structure was constrained enough to allow the short stories to develop on their own, and his literary mechanisms were used correctly.

Saunders is definitely a great writer with unparalleled potential. His shorts were good enough to make me seek him out when I’m looking for my next read-of-the-day. Imperfection is sometimes more beautiful than perfection. This is true in Saunders’ case.

And the fact that he knows how to truly imbed subtle humour into his work – something most writers are completely unable to do.

RATING: 4 out of 5

X3 is available now. Check out more from Bloody Good Horror Books HERE.

X3


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