Category Archives: Reviews

The Human Waste Blog Tour

Last year, I did a blog tour for my novel Sker House. It proved not only very successful, but a lot of fun. It was so much fun that I decided to do it again this year to support my latest novella, Human Waste. Below are the details. Please consider paying a visit and/or drop a comment or share a link to help support these awesome hosts!

Acclaimed writer and filmmaker Regina Saint Claire was first out of the blocks, reviewing an ARC for her site the Indie Horror Review.

Close behind was the delightful Irene Cole, who reviewed Human Waste for her Well Worth a Read blog.

Next up I did a guest post about the Top 10 British Comedy Horror Films for the Deviant Dolls. Purely subjective, of course, but you know I’m right.

Then, I dropped in at Teri Polen’s Bad Moon Rising site to give a quick lowdown on Human Waste and chat shit about aliens.

And forced fellow Welshman Andy Graham to host me on his site and let me talk about books, and books, and books. And not even my own books. Not all the time, anyway.

Next up, I was very excited to be part of The Gal in the Blue Mask’s Halloween 2017 Frivolities:

Just for good measure, I also did my first ever character interview with The Gal. And boy, was it fun!

October is a busy month for horror hounds. I dropped into Selene Kallan’s launch party for her novel Starlight on Facebook.

And was featured in P.J Blakey-Novis’ epic 31 Days of Horror event.

Human Waste is available now, exclusively on ebook format.

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RetView #5 – The Night Stalker

Title: The Night Stalker

Year of Release: 1972

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Length: 74 mins

Starring: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley

Note: This article concerns the original 1972 TV movie, not the unrelated 2016 release of the same name, or the 2002 movie Nightstalker, both of which focus on the activities of serial killer Richard Ramirez.

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It’s probably fair to say that despite coming out before I was born, this made-for-TV movie, and the popular series that followed it, had more of an effect on me personally and professionally than anything else committed to celluloid. I didn’t even realise how much until relatively recently. How? Because the film married my twin obsessions with writing and the paranormal, ensuring that to my young and impressionable mind, that the two things would forever be entwined.

Shortly after I first saw it as a kid, I remember telling my parents I wanted be a journalist when I grew up. They facilitated this childhood ambition by going out and buying me a ‘reporters kit’ comprising of a notebook and pen and a magnifying glass. Obviously, I immediately went out looking for monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural entities, hoping to look at them in fine detail through the magnifying glass and write about them in the notebook, because I wanted to be just like Carl Kolchak.

Damn it, I still do.

For the uninitiated, Carl Kolchak (brilliantly portrayed by the sadly departed Darren McGavin) is a jaded Las Vegas newspaper hack under unrelenting pressure from his shouty editor Vincenzo (Oakland) to turn over a constant stream of newsworthy articles. Luckily for him, though less-so for the victims, he uncovers a spate of gruesome murders and a wide-ranging cover-up. The general feeling is that Kolchak is particularly anxious to solve this particular case out of concern for his dancer girlfriend Gail (Lynley). An investigation reveals that the murders go back centuries, and the victims invariably suffer extreme blood loss. There is a suspect by the name of Janos Skorzeny who Kolchak believes is an ageless vampire, but can he convince the authorities and his difficult editor?

Ultimately, he doesn’t need to convince anyone because during a late-night showdown Kolchak manages to destroy the suspected vampire, thereby saving the city. But his actions come at a terrible cost. He is told to leave Las Vegas immediately or face a trumped-up murder charge, and is given the devastating news that Gail has already left. The lovelorn reporter then blows his savings placing ads in the personal sections of newspapers up and down the country in an attempt to find her. He never does, and the movie ends as it begins, with Kolchak lying on a bed in a sleazy hotel room listening to a playback of his account of the crimes which he has narrated into a Dictaphone. I guess matters of the heart were a lot harder to resolve before Facebook and What’s App.

The story ark was continued in a sequel, The Night Strangler (1973), where Kolchak finds himself in Seattle and is hired once again by Vincenzo to report on another series of bizarre murders. The second movie immediately preceded the 20-episode TV series, which became a fore-runner for such shows as the X Files, Supernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There was also a short-lived, and frankly pretty terrible remake which lasted for ten episodes in 2005.

When it first aired on ABC over 45 years ago, The Night Stalker set the viewing record for TV movies, winning a 33.2 rating (the percentage of all TV homes). I might be wrong, but I don’t think that figure has ever been surpassed, and in the age of Netflix and streaming, it’s unlikely to ever happen. The screenplay for The Night Stalker was written by sci-fi legend Richard Matheson (the man behind I am Legend, the Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes and many more), and adapted from an as-then unpublished novel called the Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice. Matheson and Rice collaborated on the sequel The Night Strangler but Rice, who often felt marginalized, then faded into obscurity, dying in 2015 at the age of 71.

Trivia Corner:

Producer Chris Carter is such a fan of Kolchak that he cast Darren McGavin in the X Files. The original plan was to have him play Kolchak thirty years on, but McGavin elected not to and the role was re-written to make him Arthur Dale, ‘Father of the X Files.’

 


RetView #4 – Phantoms

Title: Phantoms

Year of Release: 1998

Director: Joe Chappelle

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Rose McGowan, Ben Affleck, Liev Schreiber

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Dean Koontz film adaptations generally fair slightly better than those of Stephen King. Not commercially, of course. In that department King will always have the upper hand. This is why even his weakest short stories are deemed suitable for the Hollywood treatment. Dean Koontz adaptations usually have a bit more substance, possibly because the name alone won’t sell. They don’t come around so often, either. This is only the second adaptation in 13 years (the other being 2013’s quite brilliant Odd Thomas). The exact circumstances surrounding Koontz’s acrimonious departure from Martin Scorcese’s made-for-TV Frankenstein project in 2004 are shrouded with mystery, but evidently left scars.

Anyway, onward and upward.

The basic plot of Phantoms involves Dr Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) who, in the aftermath of some indiscretion, takes her younger, more precocious sister Lisa (Rose McGowan) to the small ski resort of Snowfield, where she works. When they arrive they find the town deserted, and matters come to a head (when you see the film you’ll get the reference) when they find a grisly collection of body parts in an oven. And other places. Along with mysterious piles of watches and pacemakers. Just when you find yourself in need a bit of help and guidance, in steps a post-Good Will Hunting Ben Affleck to save the day. Or not. He certainly isn’t able to save his deputies, who **spoiler alert** are taken out by some unseen supernatural force in double quick time. Well, actually, one of them gets murdered by a giant moth-like creature with a large protruding snout which is definitely not ‘unseen,’ but you know what I mean. Thoroughly spooked, the survivors decamp to an abandoned hotel where they come across a reference to a British academic by the name of Flyte (Peter O’Toole) scrawled on a mirror in a locked room. They eventually manage to find an old radio, which they use to contact the outside world and put out a panicky SOS. The next thing you know, the FBI roll up in force, backed up by the army, some scientists, and a reluctant Flyte. Then, carnage ensues as a plethora of dark, slimy creatures, all part of a considerably bigger whole, rampage through the town in search of flesh.

Dean Koontz novels are impeccably researched, and usually contain enough hard science to at least provide the illusion of plausibility. There are government experiments, conspiracies and serial killers galore. Phantoms focuses on an ‘Ancient Enemy’ being responsible for various mass disappearances throughout history, like Roanoke, the Mayans, and a group of 3,000 Chinese soldiers who supposedly went missing in Nanjing in 1939. In Phantoms, this ancient enemy is revealed to be some kind of shape-shifting, amoeba-like life form, which dwells in the deepest recesses of the earth and comes up, presumably, to feed. It does this by absorbing huge swathes of humanity, thereby explaining the mysterious mass disappearances. One of it’s favourite tricks is to mimic past victims to procure new ones, and when it absorbs people it also absorbs their knowledge. This is an interesting concept, linked to the theory of the collective unconscious. In the film a discussion takes place about the famed experiments in the 1950’s which found that if flat worms are taught to navigate a maze, then ground up and fed to other flat worms, the new worms would also know how to navigate a maze.

As a result of all the knowledge and information it absorbs, the ancient enemy begins to think of itself as a god, and tries to enlist Flyte as a mechanism to tell the world of its existence. Ultimately, this God complex proves its downfall. Theology (often boiled down to the good old-fashioned battle between good and evil) is a common theme in Koontz’s work. As he is a practising Catholic, that’s understandable and not entirely unexpected. The interesting thing is, as evidenced in Phantoms, he often approaches the topic from an angle, instead of ramming the same old fundamental shit down your throat. Ultimately, even though the Ancient Enemy is beaten by the ingenuity of man, it does achieve its objective as when Flyte leaves Snowfield the first thing he does is write a book about the episode, thereby telling the world about the Ancient Enemy.

I really like this film. It is atmospheric, the script is tight, and there’s enough in the plot to keep things interesting right up to the suitably satisfying climax. With such a solid cast you would expect the acting to at least be serviceable, and it is. The MVP award, perhaps surprisingly, goes to Liev Schreiber (of the Scream franchise) who plays Deputy Stu Wargle with a convincing dash of psycho. The special effects are also worth a mention, as they are born of an age (just) before CGI, and call to mind the classic creature features of the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a pity I seem to be the only person who likes it, because it only scores a 13% rating on Totten Tomatoes and the critic Roger Ebert gave it one star (out of four) stating, “If only we could learn to think more kindly of those who digest us, this movie could have ended happily.”

I fail to see how, but there ya go.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMBD, This film has a helluva lot of continuity errors and general fuck-up’s, which may be one reason why it isn’t very highly thought of.


RetView #3 – An American Werewolf in London

Title: An American Werewolf in London

Year of Release: 1981

Director: John Landis

Length: 97 mins

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

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Some films you see during those impressionable childhood years make an indelible mark on you. Others scar you for life. For me, An American werewolf in London undoubtedly belongs in the latter category, and not just because I was obsessed with Jenny Agutter.

It should need no introduction, but for the uninitiated, the film starts with a pair of American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) hiking across the Yorkshire Moors (actually the Black Mountains in Wales). When night falls they take refuge in a charming little pub called the Slaughtered Lamb, where they find Rik Mayall having a game of darts and Brian Glover in a particularly prickly mood, but leave when things turn frosty and find themselves lost on the moors. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things take a huge downward turn when Jack is ripped to pieces by a huge wild animal, later revealed to be a werewolf. There’s no helping Jack, but a crowd from the pub arrive and kill the werewolf just in time to save David.

David wakes up in a hospital in London. We don’t know how he got there, or why he was taken there rather than somewhere closer as it’s about 200 miles from Yorkshire to London. But let’s not focus too much on pesky common sense and practicalities. It’s a werewolf film for fuck’s sake. Jack returns from the dead to warn his friend that next time there is a full moon, he too will turn into a werewolf. The banter between David and Dead Jack, fast, witty, and shot-through with humour, form some of my favourite parts of the film (example: “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”).

The anticipated change does indeed occur in a gut-wrenching yet iconic sequence which won an Academy Award for special effects (creator Rick Baker went on to win six more from eleven nominations. A record) and David goes on a bloody rampage across London. One of the defining scenes was set and filmed at Tottenham Court Road tube station, and anyone who has ever used that particular transport hub will surely agree that the only time you are likely to see it quite so empty is when there is a blood-crazed werewolf riding the escalator. David wakes up naked in the wolf enclosure of the zoo, and then sets about piecing together the events of the night before with the help of Alice (Jenny Agutter), a nurse who he somehow managed to pull at the hospital. It has to be said that she takes all the werewolf stuff remarkably well, which was just one more reason to love the woman.

One of the most terrifying scenes ever committed to celluloid is the dream sequence where David witnesses his family being brutally slayed by a bunch of mutant Nazi demons with machine guns in a home invasion. It’s as weird as it is shocking, and has been the cause of endless debate over the years. Was it included just for the shock factor? An extra element of controversy (as if it were needed)? Or is it a remnant of a sub-plot which was otherwise edited out?

It’s interesting to note that earlier on in proceedings, nurse Alice and her friend make what appears to be an off-hand Jewish remark dressed up as a dick joke, and the movie has been lauded in certain circles as a significant piece of Jewish cinema. A little digging reveals John Landis was born into a Jewish family, and with that kernel of knowledge, the sub-text swims into focus. David (the name of the first monarch of the Israelite tribes) is a walking allegory for Judaism itself. A displaced, wounded hero, a stranger in a strange land, struggling to come to terms with a tragic past. This article does a pretty good job of further exploring the Jewish connection. Personally, I’d never even considered the possibility until I re-watched it recently and started wondering what the fuck those mutant Nazi demons with machine guns had to do with anything.

When it was released in 1981, An American Werewolf in London formed one third of a holy trinity of werewolf films, which all came out the same year, the others being Wolfen and The Howling. Director John Landis (who is more commonly associated with comedy having been involved with such seminal films as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places) claimed he was inspired to write the script after working on the film Kelly’s Hero’s in Yugoslavia. Whilst out driving, he stumbled across a group of gypsies performing a ritual on a corpse so it wouldn’t ‘rise again.’ At first he had trouble securing finances, with most would-be investors claiming the script was too frightening to be a comedy and too funny to be frightening, before PolyGram Pictures eventually put up the $10 million budget. Happily, their faith was repayed as the movie became a box office smash grossing over $62 million worldwide.

In contrast, a 1997 sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, which featured a completely different cast and crew, was a critical and commercial failure. As a curious postscript, in late 2016 it was widely reported that John Landis’s son Max would write and direct a remake. There’s been nothing but the sound of crickets ever since.

Trivia Corner:

In the Piccadilly Circus sequence, the man hit by a car and thrown through a window is none other than John Landis himself.

This is part three of my monthly #RetView series, following Lost Boys and Shock Waves.


RetView #2 – Shock Waves

Title: Shock Waves

Year of Release: 1977

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Length: 90 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivia Corner:

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

Come back next month for more #RetViews!


Film Review – The Chamber (2016)

Tension is the name of the game in this low-budget survival thriller from debut writer/director Ben Parker which premièred at last year’s Frightfest. The film opens with news reports that the nation of North Korea is becoming increasingly hostile, and has successfully test-launched ballistic missiles in an act of ‘clear provocation,’ conveniently playing on our newly-instilled suspicion of Kim Jong Un’s lot. Once it was the Russians, now it seems as though the North Koreans are the ones we should be scared of.

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With every other country in the world uniting in panic, an American special ops team led by the pragmatic Alice Edwards (Charlotte Salt) enlist the help of a research vessel in the Yellow Sea to help them complete a mysterious ‘mission.’ The research vessel is equipped with a submersible craft called the Aurora (yep, the ‘chamber’) reluctantly piloted by Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) which is dispatched to search for something. The special ops team won’t say what they are looking for, which is helpful, and as you can probably imagine doesn’t make for a good working relationship with the poor civilian roped into doing their dirty work for them.

All this is compounded when the mother ship is boarded by the North Korean navy, leaving them stranded hundreds of meters beneath the surface. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a serious error of judgement leaves them upside down on the ocean floor letting in water. Don’t ask.

Random dialogue extract:

A: That wasn’t part of the plan.

B: The plan’s coming loose.

A: You’re coming loose.

All the action takes place on board a tiny submarine, so you naturally get that icky sense of, creeping, claustrophobic dread, which is just as well because the military espionage-based plot is wafer-thin, and seriously lacking any of the twists and turns that usually make this kind of film worth watching. Instead, you get an insanely improbable love angle. Because when you’re trapped in a tiny submarine on the ocean floor facing certain death, everyone gets the horn. Don’t they? There are, however, a few shocks toward the end, and eventually justice is seen to be done. Kind of.

Another point of interest is that Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield did the musical score. It’s not exactly Motorcycle Emptiness, more of a dark, sinister plod, but it’s still pretty effective. Bradfield’s appearance isn’t a complete surprise, given that the movie was filmed in Pencoed rather than the Yellow Sea and was produced in association with Ffilm Cymru Wales, making it possibly the first ever underwater thriller made in the Principality. Something tells me it might also be the last.

The original version of this review can be found in the free Morpheus Tales supplement.


Apartment 14F – Collected Reviews

I recently released a new, updated and uncut version of my novella Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story. Here is a selection of reviews of the first release.

“Christian takes you by the hand and drags you deep into a world that most of us will never experience and then thrusts you headlong into a mystery we are never sure will be solved. The climax is a twisted view of love and needs unsatisfied, which leaves you wanting to keep the light on. The surrealism within this story is something I haven’t personally experienced in literature since H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood.”

– J.F. Taylor, The Monsters Next Door

“In this short story the author tries to illustrate what most humans are afraid of. We fear death and at times we are afraid of dying alone. Saunders also points out a belief of many, that when we die there is another side whether it’s good or bad. The author also great job does in showcasing the Chinese culture and their beliefs and traditions.”

– The Horror press

“Saunders has written a frightening tale full of thrills, chills and unabashed terror ready for avid horror readers to devour. The author shows amazing depth and realism supported by interesting and well developed characters as well as a plot that will require a night light after reading. You might also want to consider checking under the bed. For anyone interested in a chilling tale Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story is the way to go.”

-Bitten By Books

“Saunders needs to be credited for doing a professional and credible job in this short novella. His portrayal of China and its culture is top-notch.”

-Blood of the Muse

“I thoroughly enjoyed  Apartment 14F. It was a much more melancholy tale than I had expected going in, considering it was a ghost story. But this is not a bad thing. You won’t find any horrific slice’n dice special effects in this graceful and intelligently told tale; instead you will experience a story dripping with atmosphere, loaded with tension and just enough foreshadowing to shock you with its surprise ending.”

-Mark Edward Hall, author of the Haunting of Sam Cabot, The Lost Village, The Blue light series and others

“I liked that Saunders brought a little more depth to the classic Asian horror story. In a lot of Asian fiction, the story gets lost in translation, so the unfamiliar Westerner doesn’t see the whole cultural picture. Saunders kept the story clear and comprehensible.”

-Swamp Dweller Book reviews

“I quite liked Saunders’ writing – there is a slightly sarcastic sense of humour throughout, as well as a sort of modernity (one exposition scene is done through Facebook. It’s kinda cool. The future is now!) and real-ness. He doesn’t bull-shit around with unnecessarily complex weirdness, rather, the writing is straight and to the point, and the story is punctuated by some cool and accurate comments.”

-Sketchy Sketch Blog of Horror

“The way C.M. Saunders has written this book is pretty spectacular. I could almost feel myself in Apartment 14F.. The story gave me goosebumps and tears in my eyes. I give this book a 5 star review. Brilliant.”

-Amazon reviewer

“I first saw this book as a recommend in a magazine. I hadn’t read a book for a while and being a horror story fanatic, I was instantly intrigued by the write up. I read the whole book over 2 days. Quite an original story line, and for once I couldn’t double guess the ending! Well done. With a twist in the tale, I would even liken the style of writing to the master James Herbert.”

-Amazon reviewer

“ANYONE WHO LOVES ASIAN HORROR, NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK!!! EXCELLENT!!”

-Amazon reviewer

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