Category Archives: Reviews

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.

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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.

chamber

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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UK LINK

US LINK


The J-Horror Movie Marathon

I have a thing for Japanese horror. It’s pretty unique, partly because ghost stories have permeated Japanese culture for millennia and been granted more respect and freedom to evolve than in most other societies. Other than that, Japan is one fucked up place. Have you ever seen Japanese porn? There’s more incest, rape, and sex with crustaceans than you can shake a stick at.

Because they so often work within limited budgets, Japanese film-makers are forced to rely on plot, atmospherics and pure acting ability to make their work shine. Things that are sadly often neglected in Hollywood these days. One recent Saturday night, with a pathetically empty social calendar and a storm raging outside, I decided a J-Horror marathon (with English subs, obvs) was in order.

 

5:55 pm

Title: One Missed Call

Year: 2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Running time: 112 mins

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On the back of successful fore-runners like Koji Suzuki’s classic Ringu (The Ring), Pulse, and Dark Water, in 2008 One Missed Call became the latest Japanese horror movie to be remade by an American studio for an international audience. I’d watched the remake for comparison a couple of days earlier, and though the basic storyline pretty much stays true to the original, it’s more of a sugary teen flick lacking any real resonance and emotional impact. In short, the movie stinks.

The original is something else entirely.

On the surface the premise is pretty standard fare; a young student receives a voicemail on her mobile on which she can hear herself screaming. Putting two and two together, she decides the message must be from her future self warning of her imminent demise. When the message proves prophetic, it soon transpires that it’s just the latest in a long line of similar events and the girl’s friend Yumi takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. The result is a pretty intense, suspenseful, psychological experience, rather than the kind of uninspired gore fest we are so often subjected to. Typically of J-horror, there is a curse involved, some rogue technology, and hot girls in danger. We’re off to a decent start.

7:48 pm

Title: Uzumaki (Spiral)

Year: 2000

Director: Higuchinsky

Running time: 90 mins

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No rest for the wicked, it’s straight into movie number two, which proves to be one of the weirdest, creepiest, most fucked up films I have ever seen. It was adapted from a Junji Oto manga series, so I should have expected as much. His other notable works include Tomie, about an immortal girl who is so beautiful she drives people insane, and Gyu, about killer fish with metal legs. Yep, that’s the kind of guy we are dealing with.

Uzumaki is about a town obsessed with spirals. To be ‘at one’ with uzumaki, one character commits suicide by crawling inside a washing machine. The result is not pleasant. His wife then becomes so anti-spiral that she chops off all her fingertips so as not to have anything resembling a spiral on her body. That plan falls apart when she learns that there is a spiral-esque vortex buried in the deepest part of the human ear. I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil it, but you can probably guess it doesn’t end well for her. Oh, and then all the students at the local school start turning into giant snails. What the absolute fuck? I’m glad I watched this early on in the marathon. It’s the kind of thing that can make a grown man go scurrying off crying for his mother.

9:20 pm

Title: Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Year: 2007

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 90 mins

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After a quick pit-stop to make coffee and grab some Dorito’s, it’s straight back on it. The subtitles were out of synch on this one. I didn’t know what people were saying until about three minutes after they’d said it, which made the whole experience even more surreal. Someone would do something, then you’d find out why they were doing it later. The name alone is enough to give you shivers. The Kuchisake-Onna (slit-mouthed woman) is a bi-product of a real playground legend. Those Japanese kids, huh? A tall, skinny woman wearing a long trench coat, pointy shoes and a surgical mask covering her horribly disfigured face is said to appear and ask ‘Am I pretty?’ before carting off unruly school kids and doing unspeakable things to them with a massive pair of scissors. So far, so creepy. But things take a nasty turn when the urban legend turns out to be real, and one-by-one kids start disappearing. A pair of intrepid young teachers then set out to uncover the truth, and reveal one shocking secret after another. Harrowing and atmospheric, The Slit-Mouthed Woman (aka Carved) contains most of the elements audiences have come to expect from J-Horror. Curses, vengeful spirits, abused children, disused buildings, a haunting musical score and cold, brutal violence. It’s all here. If one film sums up post-Ringu J-Horror, it’s this. The last scene will chill you to the bone.

Am I pretty?

10:50 pm

Title: Ju-on: The Final Curse

Year: 2015

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Running time: 90 mins

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More coffee and more Doritos.

You might not know this, but whereas the turgid American incarnation of the Grudge franchise was wisely curtailed after three instalments, the Japanese juggernaut just kept on rolling. And rolling. If you include that trio of western Grudges, this is the eleventh Ju-On (Grudge/Curse) film in the series originally created by Takashi Shimizu, and a continuation of last year’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, itself a reboot of the earlier films.

Phew. Now that’s all cleared up, on with the show. This latest (and allegedly last) instalment is a Paramount Pictures production, meaning it’s much more polished than you would normally expect. No shaky camera work or sub-par special effects here. Without getting too much into it, the plot evolves around Mai, who goes in search of her missing younger sister, the elementary school teacher from the last film (which is helpfully re-capped at the beginning). Let’s just say she gets more than she bargained for when Toshio, the terrifying little kid who makes those annoying cat noises, puts in an extended appearance. The plot is a bit stretched, as it would be after ten previous outings, but overall this film is pretty slick.

12:20 am

Title: Grotesque

Year: 2009

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 73 mins

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It’s that man again. Our friend Koji of the Slit-Mouthed Woman fame. To be honest, I don’t know what he was thinking with this. This film is banned in the UK, which is usually a good sign. I’m a horror fan, and I’ve seen some pretty far out shit. I’ve developed a reasonably strong stomach, or so I thought. Not this time. This is way out of my league. It’s downright fucking nasty, and I was soon sorry I munched all those Doritos.

I’m no prude, I believe violence has it’s place. In literature, art, films and even in real life. But there has to be a reason for it. This is exploitive torture porn, plain and simple, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Two young lovers are walking down the street, minding their own business, when they are kidnapped by a mad doctor who then proceeds to do the most awful, sadistic, depraved things to them. That’s the whole storyline right there, and it’s not fun to watch. In fact, it’s extremely fucking hard to watch. Which I guess is the point. If so, mission accomplished, Shi Shiraishi. You twisted fuck. This is the only film I’ve ever not been able to finish. I don’t know if that’s a criticism or an accolade.

This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.

 


Film Review – The Evil in Us

A police unit is called to a house party to find a bunch of dumb horny teenagers have literally torn each other to pieces. When the lone survivor is giving a police statement from her hospital bed, she pukes up someone’s finger. So far so good, right?

The police eventually work out that the party-goers had ingested some very, very sketchy coke, and through the magic of police work manage to trace the supplier who happens to be a very nasty individual indeed. What’s more, they find out he’s heading off to a secluded cabin by a lake with a pocketful of said sketchy coke and another group of dumb horny teenagers in tow. Just what would horror movies do if it wasn’t for dumb horny teenagers? Anyway, as you can probably imagine, things degenerate pretty quickly. As the genius dual-meaning tagline says: Worst. Trip. Ever.

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This film reminded me a lot of Eli Roth’s classic Cabin Fever. It has the same claustrophobic feel, and is shot-through with the same kind of smutty humour and devil-may-care attitude. It’s actually three story arcs in one: the police investigation, the bunch of dumb, horny teenagers at the cabin, and the obligatory origin thread about where this batch of coke came from. It gets pretty gruesome in places and if you can overlook some cringey dialogue and general predictability, there are certainly some shocks on offer. Considering what we essentially have here is a first-time director working with an unknown cast on a limited budget, the results are extremely impressive and could herald the start of at least one very promising career. Remember, don’t take drugs, kids.

Get the original version of this review, as well as many others, in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement.


No Man’s Land Review

Mallory Heart kindly reviewed my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches in The Haunted Reading Room.

Review copied below.

No Man's Land
Review: NO MAN’S LAND: HORROR IN THE TRENCHES by C. M. Saunders

Told as a series of continuing vignettes, NO MAN’S LAND relates the experience of Harry Doyle, a young Welsh soldier in the First World War. As terrifying as are the usual horrors of any war, Harry and his cohorts face additional horrors of an implacable nature. Harry is a wonderful protagonist, because he’s not a one-dimensional fearless hero, but rather he is a true human, fearing, loyal, emotional, introspective. NO MAN’S LAND is a literate and vivid narrative of an ugly war, a war which for Harry Doyle and his fellow soldiers extends beyond the boundaries of consensus reality.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


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