Category Archives: Reviews

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


Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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Film Review – The Darkness (2016)

Last summer, I attended what was billed as the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance.’ What happened? Nothing much. It was hosted by ‘celebrity medium’ Mistica Maria Louisa and Britt Griffith, the volatile gun nut who once got himself fired from the cast of Ghost Hunters. Britt invited virtual participants to ask questions, which Madam Mistica would then attempt to answer. I ask who killed JFK. Disappointingly, my question was ignored. Other, equally valid questions from curious observers included, ‘Is Hillary Clinton the antichrist?’ ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Can ghosts use Facebook?’ ‘Am I going to get laid tonight?’ ‘ ‘Should I wear my black shoes or the brown ones?’ and, hilariously, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Another participant doesn’t ask anything, instead typing I WANT BLOOD into the comment box repeatedly, which was a bit worrying.

One of the few questions Madam Mistica did choose to answer read, “My mother just died from lung cancer. Is she doing good?”

Personally, I don’t think a medium is needed to answer that particular question. And on it went. The point of the exercise? It was a publicity stunt for this movie.

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As a marketing ploy, the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance’ seemed to work. For a while, at least. It generated a lot of online discussion, even if most of it was tongue-in-cheek, and I wrote about it for Fortean Times. But the fact that the broadcast lost almost 50% of it’s viewers before it ended, and the organizers didn’t seem to know what a séance actually entailed, meant that ultimately the event had to go down in the ‘epic failure’ column. I couldn’t wait to see if the movie itself would join it.

The short answer is no. It’s not the best film ever made, as we all know, that title will forever belong to Lost Boys, but the Darkness isn’t as bad as feared, or as some critics would have you believe. Starring Kevin Bacon as the patriarch of a family who inadvertently take something else home with them after picking up a rock as a souvenir from the Grand Canyon, it’s a bit like a mash-up of Poltergeist and Stir of Echoes. On their return to the family home, mysterious events start to occur. Taps turn on by themselves, there are disembodied shadows all over the place, hand prints keep appearing everywhere, their slightly-weird son Mikey has conversations with ‘Sky People’ and most bizarrely of all, what appears to be a portal to another dimension opens up in the middle of Weird Mikey’s bedroom.

Finally accepting that something might be amiss, the family discover that the Anasazi Indians believed demons could be bound to rocks hidden in underground caves. Rocks just like the one they’ve brought into their house. Director Greg McLean claims the story is a true account relayed to him by members of the family in question, but we only have his word for that. The Anasazi certainly existed, they are the ancestors of several Native American tribes and are most famous for living in fortified cliff dwellings and suddenly fleeing their homeland sometime around the year 1200 for reasons unknown. Few events have provoked as much discussion and controversy amongst scholars of American history. Traditionally, it’s also not uncommon for visitors to want to return objects taken as souvenirs from supposedly cursed places because they feel some negative force has invaded their lives as a result. So, silly portal aside, this film is slightly more believable than a lot of other supposedly true stories given the Hollywood treatment.

The original version of this review appears in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available free HERE.


The Forsaken (2016) – film review

K, lets get one thing straight right off the bat. This isn’t the 2015 western starring Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore. Neither is it the 2001 Australian vampire movie starring, well, nobody you will have heard of. It is, in fact, a brand-spanking new release from Justin Price, best known for last year’s Dark Moon Rising. You might say it’s a new film with an old title, but let’s try not to get judgemental. Not yet, anyway. They had to call it something. On review sites and message boards it has been drawing comments like ‘Completely unwatchable,’ and ‘Worst movie ever!’ which kinda piqued my interest a little. Surely it can’t be that bad? Folk on the internet can be really mean sometimes. I thought at the very least, it might fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

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As a rule I’m not a big fan of possession films. Boring. Every single one of them follows the Exorcist blueprint – Person gets possessed, someone calls a priest, priest unpossesses person. They usually have a touch of difficulty along the way, just to fill the paper-thin plot out a little. There is invariably some swearing, vomiting, flying Bibles, and more often that not, some walking backwards up walls and shit. But in the end, good triumphs over evil, you breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.

This latest Forsaken stars David E Cazares as a priest with jowls and sad puppy-dog eyes, a rebellious daughter, and a gravely ill wife who may or may not be possessed. I know, just what you need, right? I mean, the guy comes home one day and finds his missus cooking pieces of her arms in a frying pan for dinner. Obviously, something has to be done. But this is where the priest gets it completely wrong and starts looking for help in some of the sketchiest places imaginable. There are a few jumpy moments, and for a low-budget flick the make-up and effects are pretty impressive. However, even for one so simple, the plot is a bit muddled. All the flashbacks and dream sequences are distracting and worst of all, sad, puppy-dog eyed priest insists on fumbling around in the dark, whispering all his dialogue and crying all the time. Come on, dude! Put the damn light on, have a shit, shower and a shave, sort yourself out and man the fuck up. In days of old this would be a straight-to-video release. Now it’s probably going straight to your nearest streaming device, where it will no doubt stay, neglected and Forsaken.

This review originally appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement


Sker House and the Angry Reader

So I managed to upset a couple of people last month when I ran a free promo on my novel Sker House. How can giving something away piss people off? Because in the run-up to the free promo, Sker House experienced some weird inexplicable sales spike. It happens. Not nearly often as I would like, but it happens. And the book sold a few copies at full price, $4.99/£3.99.

Then, the free promo kicked in.

Quite rightly, a few people (okay, one person) contacted me through Facebook and voiced their displeasure because they’d paid for something that was then made free days later. It’s probably fair to assume that if this one person felt cheated, others probably did too. I would. So maybe I should explain a couple of things.

Why do writers run free promos? Why do we work tirelessly for six months or more, then pay for artists to design our covers and editors to make us sound good, only to give the result away for free?

Because we are dumb, that’s why.

Not really. The simple truth is, we do it for exposure. Amazon uses magic algorithms to determine your book’s ranking. The higher your ranking, the more love  Amazon will give your book, in the form of recommending it to potential readers and what-not. Of course, writers also want to attract new readers, in the hope that they’ll like our work and perhaps buy another of our books at some point. We hope this works by the same principal as a drug dealer giving away the first hit for free. It doesn’t work like that at all, but that’s what we hope.

And then there are the reviews. Indie writers like me can never get enough reviews. The good, the bad, and the indifferent. We love them all. Reviews sell books. Most of us would beg, steal, kill or maim for an honest review.

The Sker House free promo was probably the most successful promotion I’ve ever done. In four days it was downloaded a total of 1,012 times. It peaked at #14 in Amazon’s Top 100 free horror books, and #3 in it’s sub-category (occult). Judging by the habits certain other indie writers display, I’m pretty sure that practically qualifies it as an ‘Amazon bestseller.’ So in that respect, even though I gave away about four grand’s worth of free books, the promo was a resounding success. Yeah, I know the majority of people won’t read it. It’ll sit on their Kindle, phone, or computer unopened for all eternity with all the other free books they’ve collected. But if only 1% of the people who downloaded Sker House read it then left a review on Amazon, the exercise would be more than worth it.

Be special. Be the 1%!

Weirdly, immediately after the promotion ended, Sker House enjoyed another unprecedented spike and sold more copies in three days than it had at any time since it’s release. This is another benefit of running free promos. Your book stays ‘visible’ for a while before sinking without trace again. We’re not talking thousands of sales here, or even hundreds. The harsh truth is that for most indie writers, to sell double figures of one title in one day is considered an achievement. To do it two or three days running represents the height of success.

Anyway, back to Angry Reader, I explained the situation to her and I think I made amends. Now I feel bad for everyone else who might think I pulled a fast one on them and I want to make it right. So if you also bought Sker House at full price between August 1st and August 25th 2016, send me proof of purchase, and I’ll let you choose any of my other indie titles for free. How’s that? Are we good?

Good.


Spring – Film Review

How on earth have I not seen this movie before? The Internet says it’s been around since debuting at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014. It did have a very limited theatrical release, then went direct to streaming, though, which is where a lot of things tend to get lost. More’s the pity, because it’s an exceptional piece of work. Part of the attraction is that it’s so many things, and yet at the same time none of them. At it’s core it’s a love story, but it’s also a sci-fi flick, a monster movie, a mystery, a comedy, and one of those meaningful coming-of-age dramas like The Beach. It’s a huge risk trying to do so much within the confines of a single movie. So much can go wrong. But the directing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson (who also wrote it) have done a magnificent job of crossing boundaries and meshing those genres together into something that is captivating, original and truly unique.

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A directionless young American, Evan Russell (Lou Taylor Pucci, who starred in the recent Evil Dead remake) loses his mother and his job within days of each other. He also gets in a spot of bother with da police and some local hoodlums, so decides to skip town and use his inheritance to fund a voyage of discovery to Italy. Once there, he meets two hilarious Englishmen in a hostel, and hooks up with a local hottie called Louise (Nadia Hilker). And that’s where the fun begins. Louise slowly reveals herself to be a 2000-year old murderous genetic freak, who gets herself pregnant every twenty years so her body can ingest the cells in her embryo and keep her young. Yup. She regales Evan with tales of 17th Century witch trials, erupting volcanoes, and surviving the Great Plague that swept Europe, all of which Evan takes remarkably well (“At least you have the same back-story as Harry Potter. That’s pretty cool”). Such is the power of love, I guess. Louise then reveals that she can only return to anything resembling a normal state if she falls in love. But does she really want to and risk giving up the life to which she has become accustomed?

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot compelling, and the Italian setting stunning. Spring is much more than a mere comedic sci-fi flick. The subtext throws up some interesting existential questions and addresses some pretty fundamental moral dilemmas. Overall, this is a supremely creative, entertaining and imaginative movie. Go watch it right now.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement. Available FREE.


Sker House – Collected Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of indie writers. Good, bad, or indifferent, we’ll take what we can get. We make no demands. Reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads can make or break a book, but those featured on websites and blogs can be even more valuable because of the potential exposure they get.

I am truly thankful to those below and truly appreciate the time these wonderful people invested in Sker House. And I hope I scared their pants off. Just a little bit.

The Horror Cabin

Metallic Wolf

The Haunted House Project

Americymru

The Acid Burn Horror Show

Frank E Bittinger

Dark Comedy Productions

Sci-fi & Scary

Lurking in the Shadows

Shh.. I am reading

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