Frost Zone Zine #3

I’m happy to announce that my piece of flash fiction Alone, Or, is included in Issue Three of Frost Zone zine, a Canadian quarterly zine of horror, speculative, and literary fiction, and poetry.

Writers often draw from real-life experiences and incorporate them into their fiction, such is the case with Alone, Or. When I was a student, I worked a bar at Southampton Football Club. Like any pub, we had regulars who would come in before or after games. One day, a guy I knew well came in. I’d been serving him for a couple of years. He looked upset. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his best friend had died, “You know, my drinking partner, the guy I always come in here with?”

The thing was, I could’ve sworn that whenever I saw this guy, he’d been by himself. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the guy he was referring to. I’ve thought about that episode a lot over the years. It always makes me feel a bit weird. Was the regular confusing me with someone else? If not, why can’t I remember the guy who died? Was it all some kind of perverse practical joke? So many questions. Eventually, this story came out of the experience. Writing can be cathartic sometimes.

You can read Alone, Or, free HERE.

Oh, and I nicked the title (almost) from this Damned song.


Faces on the Walls

I’m excited to announce my story Faces on the Walls has been included in the first anthology released by Ghost Orchid Press, entitled Home. It features one hundred stories and poems of exactly one hundred words each, all riffing on the theme of “Home.”

As the blurb says, “These tiny terrors run the full gamut of horror, from body horror and blood-curdling fear to atmospheric, lyrical Gothic tales. You’ll find haunted houses, burrowing parasites and suburban nightmares aplenty to delight, amuse and shock—all in an easy bitesize format.”

Faces on the Walls is based on a real-life paranormal incident I first read about when I was a kid. In 1971, strange stains began to appear on the kitchen floor and walls of a house in Belmez de la Moraleda, a small village in Spain. Soon, the stains began taking on the likeness of faces, sparking a decades-long interest in the ‘Belmez Faces.’ This story is a homage to one of the most terrifying things I have ever read about.

Home is available now in paperback and e-book.


RetView #43 – Outpost (2008)

Title: Outpost

Year of Release: 2008

Director: Steve Barker

Length: 90 mins

outpost

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Michael Smiley

I talked about my fondness for undead Nazi films in my post about the 1977 Peter Cushing vehicle Shock Waves. There’s something fundamentally terrifying about the juxtaposition of two evils, and the unholy malevolence that just won’t die. Outpost is a great example of this creepy sub-genre, and has all the elements you would look for in such a movie; symbolism, violence, action, gun fights, violence, survivalism, machismo, and violence. And did I mention the violence? Shortly after its release, debutant director Steve Barker described it simply as, “A boy’s film. It’s a good old fashioned siege horror.” That pretty much sums it up.

The film opens in a bar (always a great place to start a film) in some unnamed, war-torn location where corporate engineer and scientist Hunt (Wadham) is recruiting a career-mercenary going by the name DC (Stevenson) and a crack team of ex-soldiers. The proposed mission is to protect Hunt as he ventures into an Eastern Europe war zone in search of Nazi gold. Sounds simple enough. But along the way, they stumble across a forgotten World War II bunker (the outpost) and decide to investigate. When they do, they discover that the outpost was apparently used by the SS to carry out experiments fusing science with the occult. The result of these shadowy experiments was the creation of a battalion of bloodthirsty, unkillable, vengeance-crazed Nazi zombies who begin hunting down the intrepid team of mercenaries and picking them off one-by-one. Heads are crushed, eye balls are plucked out, nails are hammered into flesh, and people are stabbed in the mouth with swords. That’s just for starters.

Of course, the discovery of the outpost is all-too convenient, and it soon becomes apparent that the entire purpose of Hunt’s mission was to recover the machinery developed by the SS at the behest of the company he worked for which ‘could be worth billions.’ Some of them discuss leaving. Which would have been a good idea. Except by then, of course, it’s too late and shit is going off.

Sample dialogue:

Q: Did you kill him?

A: Well, his brains are all over the wall. That’s good enough for me.

The clever thing about this movie is that fact that much like the SS experimenters it describes, it attempts to blend fact and fiction (or, in another sense, science and the occult). The Nazis were renowned proponents of the supernatural and allegedly did indeed conduct experiments to produce regenerating ‘super soldiers’ as well as lots of other gruesome stuff. Try a Google search using the term ‘Nazi human experiments’ and you’ll see what I mean. The film even references the Philadelphia Experiment, an alleged disastrous attempt by the US military to ‘cloak’ the SS Eldridge. However, logic seems to be the enemy here. At one point, we see the nasty unkillable Germans demonstrating the unnerving ability to spontaneously appear and disappear wherever they want. But later, they are held back by a door. Still, who needs logic, eh?

Despite the occasional plot hole, Outpost is widely acknowledged as a classic budget Brit horror in the vein of Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later. It’s a deliciously taught and atmospheric offering which ticks most horror fan boxes and gathered a sizeable cult following. The acting is decent, the writing (by Rae Brunton) tight, and though the dialogue is a little cheesy at times, the kills come thick and fast and all involved from the actors to the lighting engineers make the most of their limited budget. Most of the action takes place inside the bunker, giving an oppressive, claustrophobic feel to proceedings. The cinematography and is top notch, combining with the funky lighting and other special effects to make your skin crawl as if you were really in that grimy concrete-lined underground hole, waiting for death to find you. At times, it’s almost like you are playing a live action RPG rather than watching a movie.

Outpost spawned two sequels, Outpost II: Black Sun (2012), which was released direct-to-DVD, a medium where the first film did especially well, prompting a modest UK cinema run, and a prequel entitled Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013). The first film was largely well-received, with www.manlymovie.net saying, “Outpost is a minimalistic Brit horror film in all aspects, with a narrow scope and little in the way of flashy special effects. It’s also really, really damn good, and just as satisfyingly violent and gory as any contemporary horror picture.” However, both sequels were widely panned. Personally, I found both of them more than watchable. But then again, I’m easily pleased.

Trivia Corner

Scottish couple Arabella Croft and Kieran Parker re-mortgaged their Glasgow home in order to raise £200,000 to finance production, which they did via their company Black Camel Pictures.


Siki Goes to the Splatterclub

In that gloriously decadent pre-covid world, when I was working in Guangzhou, southern China, I met a girl through a dating app called Tantan. It’s a bit like a Chinese Tinder. The girl’s name was Siki, and she was fucking mental. That’s not an insult. She knows she’s mental. She takes medication for it, which doesn’t work. One way this mentalness manifests itself is through an addiction to extreme sex. It’s not quite as extreme as the sex I describe in the story which grew from that experience. At least, there were no beer bottles involved. But it was extreme enough for me. I had no idea I was so vanilla until I met Siki. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT??

An addiction to extreme sex combined with mental illness AND being the first and only Chinese satanist I’ve ever met was always going to make lively fiction fodder. Throw in a ghost that didn’t exist (thankfully) and an unsolved murder that didn’t happen, and you have the makings of what I hope is a pretty good, though definitely X-rated short story. The Splatterclub kindly agreed, and put their wholesome reputation at risk by using it on their website. It’s free to read, so you have nothing to lose except your respect for me and possibly your lunch.

In case you’re wondering, Siki’s cool with me using our brief fling as the basis for a horror story. She gave me her blessing, and didn’t even want me to change her name. It’s not her real name, anyway. It’s an ‘English’ name, which a lot of Chinese people take because most Westerners can’t pronounce their Chinese names. It’s typical Siki to take an English name that isn’t an English name.

This isn’t the first time I’ve drawn on my relationships for material. Last year I wrote about one of my exes who kept seeing massive animals dressed in ‘people clothes.’ So be warned that if you ever have a relationship with me, the odds are you’ll be immortalized in a story some day. Especially if you’re weird. If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die, as they say.

Here’s the real Siki, just to prove that she’s alive and well and the tattoo I talk about in the story is real. Picture shared with permission.

A lot of my fiction isn’t suitable for people who are easily offended. This time I really mean it.

Siki’s Story is live now at the Splatterclub. Try not to worry about her. She’s going to love it there.


2020 in Review

Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also read a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). I’ll hopefully find homes for them later this year. On the subject of drabbles, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.

Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).

Elsewhere, I sold non-fiction articles to Fortean Times about the Hong Kong protests and cockroach farming and a couple more instructional pieces to Writer’s Weekly including Writing the Perfect Blurb, High-Paying Flash Fiction Markets and How to Find Your Micro Niche, while I also picked up some work for a website called DaiSport, which allowed me to stalk Newport County legend Fraser Franks and pursue my two great loves; Wales and MMA. I’m still trying to find a way to incorporate beer into the mix.

In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.

In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.

Terror Tract also published my novella, Tethered, the story of a journalism graduate who inadvertently gets sucked into a dark world of internet rituals, serial killers and strange disappearances. TT is fronted by Becky Narron, who is a living legend of the horror scene and it was an honour and a thrill to work with her. After the release of Tethered I entered into a promo cycle and did some interviews and guest blogs with the likes of Redrum Reviews, EB Lunsford and Kendall Reviews, where I took up the temporary post of warden, to add to the interview I did with Haunted MTL earlier in the year.

After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.

To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.


RetView #42 – The Blob (1958)

Title: The Blob

Year of Release: 1958

Director: Irvin Yeaworth

Length: 86 minutes

Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Olin Howland, Stephen Chase

the blob

This gets off to a thoroughly bizarre start with some bouncy, sax-led dance hall number called, imaginatively enough, Beware of the Blob by a group called the Five Blobs. All five blobs in this case were actually the same person, actor and singer Bernie Knee, who had his vocals overdubbed five times. The song was written by Mack Davis and a young Burt Bacharach, who would go on to win six Grammy Awards and three Academy Awards for his music, and became a surprise Top 40 hit in America. The nature of the theme tune was an indicator that the Blob never did take itself too seriously, and it can still be found on numerous horror and Halloween-themed compilation albums.

The premise is eerily reminiscent of War of the Worlds (the 1953 original, not the later Tom Cruise vehicle) and several other period classics. A courting couple, Steve Andrews (a 28-year old Steve McQueen in his first leading role) and Jane Martin (Corsaut) are out one evening when they see a shooting star and decide to go looking for it. Instead of finding it, they stumble across an old man (Howland) who has some weird jelly-like substance attached to his hand. Good citizens as they are, the young couple take him to the local doctor (Chase). As you can probably imagine, things escalate quite quickly after that. The Blob makes short work of the poor old man, increasing in size exponentially as it does so, then moves on to the nurse, and finally the doctor himself. Steve and Jane turn up just in time to see his grisly demise. In a panic, they go to the police, who dismiss them as pranksters.

Police Officer: They’re just kids.

Police Sergeant: Just kids? That’s the craziest argument I ever heard. Every criminal in the world was a kid once!

Both logical, and totally brilliant.

For me, this piece of dialogue, marks an interesting shift in cultural attitudes. This was the 1958, just three years after Rebel Without a Cause came out, when the battle between teenagers and various authority figures was still raging. In this not-untypical case, the film paints the teenagers as misunderstood victims who are basically good kids who just want to help, but are not given the opportunity to do so. Instead, they are unfairly judged and demonized, an attitude which tapped into the zeitgeist of the day.

Realizing that it is down to them to save the town, Steve and Jane recruit some of their friends and go about warning everyone about the (now) massive, shapeless blobby-thing going around consuming people. When the Blob appears and ransacks a movie theatre, they are vindicated and eventually work out that the best weapon against this slimy enemy is the cold. To cut a long story short, the air force then shows up and airlifts the Blob to the frozen wastes of the arctic. As the end credits begin to roll, it is acknowledged that the creature isn’t dead but has at least been stopped, to which Steve replies, in what is obviously an early comment on global warming, “Yeah, as long as the arctic stays cold.”

In keeping with its overriding theme of teen angst (for which, you can argue, the blob itself is a handy metaphor) the movie was aimed directly at the then-lucrative drive-in market, and released as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space. It was originally the B-movie, but soon proved so popular that the slots on the bill were reversed. Since then, it has gone on to achieve cult status. A sequel, Beware the Blob (aka Son of Blob, which indicates that the original blob was somehow able to procreate) was eventually released in 1972. Directed by Larry Hagman from Dallas, it used the tagline ‘The movie JR shot.” The original was remade in 1988, and yet another remake (at one time mooted to be directed by Rob Zombie) is in the works. Most impressively of all, since the year 2000, the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where most of the movie was filmed, has hosted an annual Blobfest in homage.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner

Steve (for the first and only time listed in the credits as ‘Steven.’) McQueen received a flat $3,000 fee for his role, turning down an offer for a smaller up-front fee in return for a 10% percent share of profits. He thought the film would never make money, and needed money quickly to pay for food and rent. However, The Blob ended up being a huge a hit, costing only $110,000 and grossing $4 million.


The Bookshelf 2020

As is customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) in 2020. This list is a bit longer than other recent reading lists, we can blame being in self-isolation half the year for that. I won’t bother counting the books I gave up on. There’s been a few. I’m disappointed with myself for not finishing Infinite Jest, though proud of the fact that I made it to about 30%. From what I gather, it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I fell into the latter camp. Too wordy, dense, and pretentious. I deserve some credit for persevering as long as I did with it.

To compensate, this list also a couple of shorter books. The Craft Beer Textbook is only 38 pages long. But it’s still a book, and I still read it so it counts. I finally got around to reading the second Secret Footballer book, which I remember buying at Heathrow airport a few years ago. It was great until he started talking about literature and quantum mechanics in an obvious attempt to show us he’s more than just a footballer. I made a conscious effort to branch out a bit and sample some work by authors I haven’t read before, and generally speaking I made some good choices. Pick of the bunch was probably Nick Cutter’s The Troop which, fittingly, is about a rogue virus. Kind of. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, but it’s epic. Stephen King, Amy Cross and Jason Arnopp were as reliable as ever, and Adam Nevill’s mini-anthology Before You Wake is well worth a look.

The Horror Collection: White Edition by Various Authors (2019)

Resurrection: A Zombie Novel (Book One) by Michael J. Totten (2014)

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp (2019)

Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, by Travis Barker (2015)

Bloody London: A Shocking Guide to London’s Gruesome Past and Present by Declan McHugh (2012)

After: Undead Wars by Various Authors (2018)

The Institute by Stephen King (2019)

I Was Jack the Ripper by Michael Bray (2017)

Wales of the Unexpected by Richard Holland (2005)

Sex, Marry, Kill by Todd Travis (2014)

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass incident by Keith McCloskey (2013)

Test Patterns: Creature Features by Various Authors (2018)

Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers (2014 ed)

Logging off by Nick Spalding (2020)

The Craft Beer Textbook by Jonny Garrett (2020)

Sunbather by Frank Floyd (2020)

The Lighthouse by Keith McCloskey (2014)

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (2020)

Ten Chimes to Midnight: A Collection of Ghost stories by Amy Cross (2019)

Haunted World War II by Matthew L. Swayne (2018)

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (2004)

The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014)

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts: Volume 2 by Various Authors (2019)

American Hoarder by Jason Arnopp (2016)

If Flies Could Fart by Justin Boote (2020)

Tales from the Secret Footballer by The secret Footballer (2014)

Walkers by Graham Masterton (1991)

The Haunting of the Lost Traveller Tavern by Cat Knight (2019)

Brewtality by Various Authors (2020)

Before You Wake: Three Horrors by Adam Nevill (2017)

The Ghost of Old Coal House by Amy Cross (2020)

My Christmas Story by Rayne Havok (2016)

You can read my 2019 reading list here.


Ho Ho Holy Sh*t!

A couple of months ago, I was about 700 words into this cool little Christmas horror story I was writing about a dude that finds an old Santa suit, puts it on, and then finds he can’t take it off. It starts to grow on him, fusing with his skin. Not only that, but his behaviour starts to change. He’s not the man he used to be. For starters (sorry) he’s hungry all the time. No matter how much he eats, he’s still hungry. He eats, and he eats, and he eats.

The story was going well. Right up until the point where I realized I’d subconsciously nicked the plot straight from the Eli Roth film Clown (2014) and just replaced the clown suit with a Santa suit.

Bugger.

I posted in a horror writing group on Facebook complaining about my wasted efforts, prompting Michael McCarty to PM me suggesting what he called a ‘quick fix,’ which between us we adapted into a killer (sic) twist. The resulting story, Finders Keepers, can be found in the new charity release from Terror Tract publishing, who put out my novella Tethered recently. Here’s the cover and ToC:

Jonathan Lambert
Thomas M. Malafarina
Aaron Lebold
Terry Miller
L.C. Valentine
R.C. Mulhare
Edmund Stone
Derek Austin Johnson
Craig Gerald Ferguson
David Owain Hughes
Eric Kapitan
Josh Davis
Andrew Lennon
Rob Shepherd
Dusty Davis
Mawr Gorshin
C.M. Saunders & Michael McCarty

Finders Keepers is a Christmas story, but there isn’t much festive cheer on display. In fact, it’s pretty damn sick and twisted, and might change your perception of what constitutes a family meal forever. Trust me, you wouldn’t want this Santa coming down your chimney. And what was that quick fix suggested by Michael McCarty? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

Ho ho ho Holy Sh*t is out this Christmas on Terror Tract Publishing.


Author Interview: C.M. Saunders

I enjoyed my appearance on EB Lunsford’s horror blog this week!

E.B. Lunsford

Hello. I hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty busy, but I managed to get quite a bit of writing done. I also tried to get caught up for this week’s interviews. The line-up seems to be growing by the day! Honestly, I didn’t expect so many authors to sign up, but it’s been so much fun, I’m debating making this an annual thing and hosting interviews here every December. Today, we have author C.M. Saunders joining us. He’s here to tell us all about his latest release, Tethered.

Christian Saunders, who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, began writing in 1997, his early fiction appearing in several small-press titles and anthologies. His first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair -A Supernatural History of Wales, was published in 2003. After graduating with a degree in journalism from South Hampton Solent University, he worked extensively in the freelance market…

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RetView #41 – Megan is Missing (2011)

Title: Megan is Missing

Year of Release: 2011

Director: Michael Goi

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

The story behind Megan is Missing is almost as remarkable as the film itself. Despite being initially released in 2011 it was shot in the found footage format made famous by the Blair Witch Project (1999) five years earlier on a miniscule budget of around $30k. Writer/Director Michael Goi claimed the reason for the gap between production and release was down to the objectionable subject matter. He simply couldn’t find anyone to distribute it until Anchor Bay stepped up. Due to the budgetary constraints involved, and to give the movie a ‘raw’ feeling, it was made over the course of a week by a crew of just five using only minimal equipment. It was claimed that this drive for authenticity was also the reasoning behind using largely juvenile, unknown actors, though it’s difficult to see many Hollywood A-listers (or even Z-listers) signing on to a project by a newbie director when those kinds of figures are being bandied around. It was originally marketed as an educational film about the dangers of the internet with Goi stating his desire for it to serve as a ‘wake up call’ to parents. However, it later found considerable traction in the teen horror market.

The story follows popular Californian high-school student Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) who meets up with ‘Josh,’ a boy she had been interacting with online, and subsequently vanishes without trace prompting her less-popular best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) to set out to find her. The first half of the film provides an unflinching snapshot into the complicated, overlapping lives of teens in the technological age where bullying and peer pressure is rife, interspersed with regular bouts of slut-shaming, social exclusion and a plethora of other disturbing yet apparently all-too common practices. It’s difficult to watch and not recognize something of yourself in there somewhere, and credit has to be given where it’s due for shining a light on some of the more damaging aspects of teenage life. If you have kids that age, this is what they deal with on a daily basis but never tell you about, and it’s fucking terrifying. All this occurs before the watershed point about two-thirds through where everything is ramped up several hundred notches. Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers stating: “Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words ‘photo number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”

As the movie is played out entirely on a screen (or a screen within a screen) through a clumsy combination of supposedly recovered video tapes, photographs, and news reports, it technically belongs to the Computer Screen (aka Desktop Film) genre, which has risen to prominence on the back of increased use of social media. In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on social media platform TikTok, where it found its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” To date, the hashtag for the film has over 84 million views, much of the attention seemingly stemming from persistent rumours that the footage is real. It’s not. But nevertheless, the movie has been dogged by controversey since its release, spawned no end of debate, and firmly divided opinion. An article on Thought Catalogue says, “Everyone has those scenes from the end of the movie etched into their mind forever. This is one of the scariest movies from the past 10 years and no one talks about it,” while HorrorNews.net said that the first portion of the film “really works,” although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes “went a little overboard.” Film critic Jamie Dexter perhaps puts it best saying, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do.”

That final third is definitely hard to watch. I think the most difficult thing to reconcile is the fact that **spoiler alert** he gets away with it. After being put through over 80 minutes of debilitating psychological trauma, the viewer is entitled to expect some retribution, some kind of payback because no evil deed goes unpunished, right? Right? Yeah, we all know that isn’t always the case in real life. But this is a film, dammit. Somebody had control over it. And that somebody could easily have made ‘Josh’ fall over a tree root and bang his head on a rock or something at the end. But no. This is the kind of nightmare scenario we read about in newspapers, presented to us in vivid, unflinching, excruciating detail. Indeed, Goi based the film on real life cases of child abduction. Most of the criticism, apart from that concerning the content, was directed at the unprofessional, ‘thrown together’ feel, completely missing the fact that this was the intention from the start. Goi was going for the kind of gritty realism you just don’t get with massive budgets and slick Hollywood production. He succeeded.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Viewer discretion is advised.

Trivia Corner

The movie was banned by New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification on the grounds of containing sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree that if it was released it would be ‘injurious to the public good’. The officials went on to say that the movie relished the spectacle of one girl’s ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene, and that it sexualized the lives of teenaged girls to a “highly exploitative degree.” Whilst I deplore censorship in any form, to be fair they weren’t far off the mark there.


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