The Amazon Prime Horror Binge

I was never going to pay for Amazon Prime. But then I accidentally signed up for a month’s free trial so I didn’t have to. First on the agenda was, obviously, ordering lots of crap which had been in or around my shopping basket for ages to take advantage of the free next-day postage. Then, being a huge horror movie nut, it was over to Amazon Prime Video to see what was what.

Hide and Go Kill (2008, 72 mins)

Hide and Go Kill

Stumbling across this was a pleasant surprise, and something of a coincidence because I’d just finished writing a story based on the same weird Internet ritual, hitori kakurenbo, which roughly translates as ‘hide and seek alone.’ Search for it if you want the grisly details. If you’re a fan of J-Horror as I am, you’ll know that all the most twisted shit starts in Japanese classrooms, and this is no different. Here, there’s a girl remembering her absent friend who, after being jilted by her lover and bullied at school, becomes obsessed with a mysterious blog about the aforementioned Internet ritual. Word of the blog spreads, and soon the horror takes hold. The film is an anthology of sorts, each segment following a different person’s experience with said blog. True, it’s a somewhat familiar template and in places is slightly derivative of certain other J-Horror staples, but it’s still worthy of your time.

7/10

Countrycide (2017, 69 mins)

OK, I wasn’t expecting much from this. Especially after reading some scathing reviews online. However, nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this no-budget affair would be. It starts with a torture porn scenario lifted straight out of a dodgy exploitation flick as we see a woman running (or trying to run) through the woods sporting a nasty bear trap injury to her leg. The film then flashes back two days and we discover she was on her way to a wedding with her new boyfriend when they decided to stop off and camp for a night. And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Hallucinations, rampaging rednecks, local wildlife, and the afore-mentioned bear trap all conspire to piss on their parade before it properly gets started. If any of that is appealing to you, don’t be fooled. Nothing about this film is appealing. Not least the fact that it appears to have been filmed on someone’s iPhone. Total crap. The only reason it’s getting two points is because someone went to the effort of making it, and hard work should always be rewarded.

2/10

Death Valley (2015, 94 mins)

A few criticisms here right off the bat. Firstly, there have been at least three other films with the same title. Some imagination would have been nice. Also, the description on IMDB and Amazon Prime is just plain wrong. Four strangers aren’t on a ‘drunken wedding dash’ at all. Four strangers are going to a music festival. Sigh. Anyway, when said strangers’ car breaks down they blag a lift with some more strangers in an RV who think it would be a good idea to take the RV off-road and into the desert. Now I’m not an expert, but I do know that most vehicles like to be on roads. Obviously, the RV comes a cropper and then they all take peyote and party on down in the middle of nowhere. I mean, the desert must be a dangerous enough place as it is without compounding things by being stupid as fuck. Within minutes one of them drops dead of an overdose, another one gets bitten by a snake, and the rest are hopelessly lost. And that’s about it. From there, everything just fizzles out. A lame plot is salvaged only by some breathtaking cinematography and generally high production values.

5/10

Our Last Weekend (2011, 82 mins)

Four minutes in and I have no idea what’s going on. There are two people arguing, a threesome, and someone’s making a salad. Despite what you may think, the most entertaining of these three threads is the argument. It’s a Spanish language film, and Amazon’s subtitling skills are woefully exposed (“I’ll break your teeth and pull your eyes off!”). Google translate would do a better job. Twelve minutes in, there’s someone peeing in the woods, someone else has been caught cheating, and we’re all off to a villa for a party. Things are looking up. It’s freezing, though. Not even sunny. Everyone’s walking around in shorts and bikinis trying to pretend otherwise, but it’s obviously the middle of winter. Probably cheaper to film in the off-season. Back to the plot, and despite the hedonistic atmosphere, all is not well. A creepy dude in a blue onesie keeps popping up everywhere and a drunken local lets slip that there’s a secret military base nearby. Then the group accidentally runs someone over (shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer) and things take a very surreal turn indeed. I think the makers were aiming for arty, but what we get is more weird and confusing. They do deserve some credit for at least trying to be original.

3.5/10

Webcast (2018, 92 mins)

webcast-movie-poster

Let’s be honest, there’s been a few missteps in this experiment. It’s partly my own fault. I was choosing films primarily based on the synopsis, without factoring in other pertinent information like their IMDB listing notes or their score on Rotten Tomatoes. Any decent writer can make a film sound good in a three-line synopsis. But as it’s my last chance (the free trial is ending) I made an informed decision, and opted for this one. It’s picked up some good reviews, and I’m a huge fan of the found footage format. Shoot me. So here, a young couple researching a missing person cold case become convinced that one of their neighbours has kidnapped a(nother) teenage girl and decide to run a surveillance operation on him. As you do. And that’s just the start of the shenanigans. In many ways, this is a typical British film; small town paranoia, suburban secrets, clandestine cults, general weirdness. If this film were an album it would be by Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Written and directed by Paul McGhie who, according to his website, usually specializes in wedding videos, this is another no-budget effort which has its moments but is ultimately let down by the ambiguous ending.

6/10

Conclusion: As a platform, Amazon Prime Video might be in its infancy and could well improve in the future but for now, Netflix doesn’t have much to worry about. The Zon would do well to invest in some real quality, rather than focusing on quantity in order to build their library. By the way, I was going to leave these reviews on the site, but apparently I’m not eligible to leave reviews, probably because I haven’t spent more than $50 in the past six hours and I don’t have a dog called Gerald.

So here they are.

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100 Word Horrors 2

Back last year I contributed to an anthology of drabbles called 100 Word Horrors. I’d never written a drabble until then, but found it a lot of fun as well as a good exercise. When you only have 100 words, you have to be concise and make every word count. The format is one I enjoy, and I’ve dabbled (drabbled?) in it quite a lot since.

Here’s another one.

Fast forward a few months and editor Kevin Kennedy is at it again.

Introducing… 100 Word Horrors 2.

How’s this for an awesome cover?

100 word horrors 2

My contribution this time around, Hitori Kakurenbo, is a spin-off from my recently completed (and as yet unpublished) novella Tethered. It isn’t set in the same universe, nor does it feature any of the same characters, but the two stories are linked because they both concern creepy internet rituals. Translated from Japanese, Hitori Kakurenbo means ‘One person hide and seek.’ Or something along those lines. I’ll be giving the game away if I divulge too much here, but let’s just say it involves a stuffed doll, a knife and some blood. Wahoo! What more do you need for a fun night in by yourself?

Check out 100 Word Horrors 2 to read Hitori kakurenbo in its 100-word entirety, along with stories by lots of other, more talented writers including Amy Cross, Andrew Lennon, David Moody, Michael Bray, Shaun Hutson, Terry West and my spirit uncle Craig, to name but a few.

I’m just there for the shits and giggles.

And the stuffed dolls.

100 Word Horrors is available now on ebook and paperback.


RetView #20 – Race With the Devil (1975)

Title: Race with the Devil

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Jack Starrett

Length: 88 minutes

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Switt, Lara Parker, RG Armstrong

RACEWITHTHEDEVIL

Race with the Devil is the rarest of things; an action/horror/road movie mash-up of epic proportions. American audiences loved their car chases in the seventies. For a while, that was the whole point of making films and often, any plot or storyline was aimed primarily at manufacturing situations where people got behind the wheels of cars (or in this case, motorhomes) and chased each other around. Just look at that poster. They witnessed an unspeakable act! It screams, stopping just short of adding, “And that’s why they got in the ve-hicle so we could have us a good ole chase!”

After some suitably ominous music, we are introduced to motorcycle dealership owner Frank Stewart (Oates) who, along with his friend and keen motorcross racer Roger Marsh (Fonda) is preparing to head out to Aspen, Colarado, on a ski holiday. Along for the ride are their wives (Switt and Parker) and a belligerent little dog called Ginger. After being on the road for a while they find a quiet, secluded place to spend the night. While drinking beer and shooting the shit outside the motorhome, Frank and Roger see a fire burning in the distance. On going to investigate, they find a bunch of people dressed in robes, dancing around said fire and chanting which is all very reminiscent of Maiden’s Number of the Beast (“I feel drawn toward the chanting hordes, they seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes”).

When half the Satanists get naked, Frank and Roger settle down to watch what they anticipate will be a vast, open-air orgy, but things take a sinister turn when one of the naked women is stabbed to death by a dude in a mask, and apparently offered up as a human sacrifice. Just then, the interlopers are discovered by the newly-naked Satanists and lo and behold, we have our chase. Frank and the gang drive the motorhome through a river, up a hill through a forest, and then cross country (it’s a motorhome, not a fucking tank!) before eventually winding up in a small town where they report the unspeakable act they witnessed to the local sheriff (Armstrong). But isn’t there something slightly off about that sheriff? Of course there is. You know the drill. In fact, everyone they meet seems a little ‘out there,’ from the librarian to the mechanic fixing their window, which riffs off the whole generational hippy paranoia thing that was going on at the time. Vietnam, Watergate, race riots, Jesus Christ Superstar, post-Woodstock America was a deeply troubled place.

Things escalate when the group leave town and spend the night at a camp site populated by yet more iffy individuals where Ginger comes a cropper and they find rattlesnakes in the cupboards. That’s enough to ruin anybody’s holiday. Before long, they really are engaged in a race with the Devil. Or, more accurately, the Devil’s mates. The last quarter is one long adrenaline-filled smash ‘em up as the increasingly frustrated cult members try their hardest to prevent the Frank and company making it the real police leading to some pretty impressive stunt driving. At one point, a Dodge pickup truck pursues them for about three miles on two wheels. I shit you not. The supernatural elements do feel a bit tacked on, giving you the impression that these people could be being chased by anybody – cult members, rednecks, bikers, hippies, rogue penguins, aliens. But nevertheless, it’s thrilling, and sometimes chilling, stuff.

Race with the Devil was directed by Jack Starrett (perhaps best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and as asshole deputy Art Gault in First Blood) who made his name acting in a slew of biker movies in the late sixties and early-seventies. Conveniently, this dove-tailed with Fonda’s appearance in the legendary Easy Rider and several other notable contributions to the genre. It could have been preordained that these two were going to work together at some point, and when they did, motorcycles were going to be involved. Starrett even has a cameo role here as a gas station attendant. Interestingly, he later claimed to have hired actual, real-life satanists as cult member extras, though this statement may have been a publicity stunt. I mean, how the heck would he find them? You can’t just put out a call for satanists who wouldn’t mind being in a Hollywood movie. If it was a publicity stunt, it worked. Though it received mixed reviews, the movie tapped into the American psyche and was a huge success, drawing over $12 million at the Box Office from a modest budget of $1.75 million. It was released just when home video was taking off, bringing in another $6 million-plus in rentals, and was re-issued as a double feature in 2011 with another Peter Fonda film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It isn’t often talked about these days, which is a shame as it’s definitely worth a punt.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMDB, some of the chase scenes involving the motorhome and its steadily degenerating condition were used as stock footage in eighties TV classic The Fall Guy.

 


Where the ‘M’ Comes From

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and you may have noticed I use different names for different kinds of writing. For academic writing and more formal or serious stuff, I use my full given name. It looks more official. For sport, lifestyle and comedy writing, I use the slightly snappier moniker Chris Saunders. And for fiction, I usually use the name C.M. Saunders . There are practical reasons for doing this. I like to keep different facets of my writing career separate because it’s easier to get my head around. Besides that, the people who read my horror fiction would probably be deeply disappointed if they accidentally picked up one of my travel books, or the one I wrote about Cardiff City FC, and vice versa.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me why I use C.M. Saunders, especially since I don’t actually have a middle name, and so no middle initial. It’s kind of a happy coincidence that my boyhood nickname was Moony. Because I have a round face, apparently. I guess it could have been a lot worse. There was a boy in my street called Dickhead. Anyway, no. That’s not where the M comes from. It’s not as straightforward as that. But there is a very good reason for it and for the first time in public, I’m going to reveal what that reason is.

It’s for my grandfather on my mother’s side. Firstly, he’s probably part of the reason I grew up to be so into the whole horror thing. He was a big reader, and would go to the local library a couple of times a week. This was back when libraries had books. Whenever I went to visit him and my grandmother in his bungalow at the top of the village when I was a kid, he would always have the latest horror novels lying on the table next to his reading chair. I was too young to read them, or even remember much, I just loved looking at those covers. Stephen King, James Herbert, Graham Masterton.

A little word about my granddad, or Pop as we called him. His name was Stanley Martin. I couldn’t get my hands on a photo of him, but here’s where he lived, New Tredegar, south Wales. This place…

New Tredegar, South Wales

Like my other granddad on my father’s side, he was a coal miner almost all his life. Proper old school Welsh. This is Elliot’s Town colliery, where he used to work.

_45605014_elliot_colliery

Being a miner was a hard life. He would delight in telling me, my sister, and cousins horror stories. Some were things that really happened to him or his friends, some were local myths or legends, and he probably made the rest up just to entertain us. The man was covered in little blue scars where coal dust had got into his cuts when he was underground, and he was still coughing up black shit twenty years after he was pensioned off. He met and married a woman called Lillian and they had three daughters, including my mother. All three daughters grew up and got married. As per tradition, when they got married they took the names of their husbands so pretty soon, the Martin name vanished. I always thought that was a bit sad, and when I started taking fiction a bit more seriously and was looking around for a pseudonym to distinguish it from my journalism, I thought using the ‘M’ initial might be a cool way to keep the name ‘Martin’ alive. He died a long time ago, and when he did his surname died with him. Now, every time I have something published under the name C.M. Saunders, it’s a silent nod to the man who introduced me to horror.

If there’s a heaven, I know he’s up there looking down with pride in his eyes.

 

 


X: Omnibus is out now!

Look what I did!

The complete published short fiction of dark fiction writer C.M. Saunders taken from the pages of Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Fantastic Horror, Siren’s Call, Screams of Terror, Gore magazine, the Literary Hatchet and many more magazines, ezines and anthologies in one bumper volume.

X-omnibus

Includes everything from the first three X collections of short fiction, the stand-alone Human Waste, and two bonus stories exclusive to this collection.

Contents:

Thin Disguise
A Hell of my Own Creation
Monkey Man
The Awful Truth
Mr. C
Fame / Infamy: A Deconstruction
Another False Dawn
The Night Everything Changed
The Devil & Jim Rosenthal
Club Culture
Little Dead Girl
Curiosities
Intruder
The Night Visitor
Hero of the Day
Embracing Solitude
Treat Night
Handsome Jack
Tiny Little Vampires (Flash Version)
Roadkill
‘Til Death do us Part
Gwraig Annwn
The Delectable Hearts
The Answer in Darkness
What Happened to Huw Silverthorne
What Happened Next
Altitude Sickness
Switchblade Sunday
Slots-a-Pain
The Elementals & I
Human Waste
Coming Around
The Forever Nameless
Afterword

Out now on paperback and ebook.


Allister – 20 Years and Counting (review)

Allister are one of the great forgotten pop punk bands. They had all the tools – cool image, solid musicianship, a great attitude, killer tunes, witty lyrics, tattoos – yet somehow got lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, they achieved modest commercial success, especially with their Last Stop Suburbia album in 2002, and cemented their place in pop punk folklore long ago (lest we forget they were one of the first bands signed to legendary label Drive-Thru records, also home to Senses Fail, Something Corporate, Newfound Glory, Halifax and Finch, to name just a few) but the big time always eluded them. In most places, anyway. Allister, and in particular bassist and singer Scott Murphy who for a long time sustained a solo career (I think he still does), was absolutely huge in Japan. No doubt a talented individual, Murphy’s charisma and boundless enthusiasm is admirable. I met him at a gig in London a few years back, and he was awesome.

allister

This album comes through necessity more than anything. They haven’t released anything since 2012 and wanted to mark what is essentially their 25th anniversary as a band, and 20 years since the release of their debut album which, incidentally, was recorded on a purported production budget of $700 and featured a cover of the Fraggle Rock theme. Kudos. Someone somewhere suggested a ‘greatest hits’ style compilation, but that proved problematic as it turned out Allister didn’t actually own the recording licenses for any of the tracks on their first few releases but owned the rights to the songs themselves. Hence, the solution was to re-record, and in some cases, ‘re-imagine’ them, and pad the thing out with a few new tracks. The pick of these is probably the high-octane Peremptory Challenge, ran a close second by the slightly more restrained opener Stay with Me.

As for the re-recorded tracks, most have been updated only in the sense that they’ve lost a lot of that energetic immediacy so prevalent in pop punk circles. The guitars are choppier, the bass section slightly higher in the mix, and most tracks have been brought down an octave or two in an effort, you feel, to ingratiate them with a mainstream audience who are rapidly forgetting what drums and guitars sound like, let alone pop punk. Some, like Moper and Flypaper benefit from this treatment, but others like Scratch and A Study in Economics seem to lose a little something. Or maybe I’m just too attached to the original versions and resistant to change. Dunno. Regardless, even at 50% capacity Scratch is approximately 50% better than 90% of other songs.

One of the biggest missteps is a wholly unnecessary remake of the ska-infused Stuck Powered On from the 2012 album Life Behind Machines. In my humble opinion it was one of the band’s weakest tracks anyway, and the 2019 version adds nothing to the original. Meh. All things considered, 20 Years and Counting is a somewhat patchy affair, but has enough quality to carry it through. Beyond the new material seasoned fans are unlikely to be overly impressed, but if this release exposes Allister to a new generation, it will have done its job.

To promote the release the band have made a cool new video for Somewhere Down on Fullerton, which you can catch HERE.


X: Omnibus – Cover Reveal

Greetings! I am excited to announce the imminent release of my next project. And this is a BIG one. Details to follow soon, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the stonking new cover art designed by the ludicrously talented Greg Chapman.

What do you think?

X-omnibus

The ebook is available for pre-order, and through some strange quirk of fate, the paperback is out now.


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