Tag Archives: C.M. Saunders

RetView #22 – The Descent (2005)

Title: The Descent

Year of Release: 2005

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Alex Reid, Natalie Mendoza, Saskia Mulder

SAW_1Sheet_Comps

Following the runaway success of Dog Soldiers, British director Neil Marshall was inundated with offers to make films in a similar vein. Anxious not to be typecast, he was initially reluctant but finally agreed to make The Descent because the two projects were, “Very different.” He did, however, insist on making drastic changes to the script to make them even more different. The film was originally to feature a mixed cast, but realizing how common that is, Marshall opted on an all-female cast instead. The decision proved to be a masterstroke, winning the film plaudits and instantly setting it apart from many of its contemporaries. Discussing the film after its release, Marshall says, “We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse, make it worse.”

In a bid to overcome a recent tragedy in which her husband and young daughter are killed, Sarah (MacDonald) meets a group of friends. They decide to go caving together in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Not my idea of a fun time, but ya know. No sooner are they underground, then a cave-in traps them there. Then it transpires that the cave system is unmapped, and that one of their number, Juno (Mendoza) had led them there deliberately so they could become the first people to explore it. This means rescue is impossible, and they are going to have to find their own way out. Whilst seeking a way out they make several discoveries that would indicate that all might not be as it seems, among them cave paintings, a mass of animal bones, and some old climbing equipment. So far, so weird. Things then take a turn for the gross when one of the girls takes a tumble and breaks her leg. I don’t know why open compound fractures (where the bone sticks out of the shattered limb) are so common in movies, but they are and the rest of us have to stomach them. While the rest of the girls are debating how to get themselves out of this mess, Sarah spies a pale, humanoid creature drinking from a subterranean pond. This, my friends, is our first glimpse of a ‘Crawler.’ Hideously deformed, carnivorous, cave-dwelling creatures who were once people, we are led to believe, but have been underground for so long they have mutated and evolved differently to the rest of us. Blind, they have enhanced senses of hearing and smell to compensate. They’re sprightly little fuckers, too. A bit like a cross between the inbreds in the Wrong Turn series and mini-golems. They aren’t very friendly, either, and soon attack our little group of transgressors. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well for the girls. Juno accidentally stabs Beth (Reid) in the neck and leaves her to die, before later running into Sarah and lying about the whole thing. It is also revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s husband before his death. After a confrontation, Sarah leaves her nemesis at the mercy of the Crawlers and makes good her escape, finding a way out of the cave and back to civilization. Except, in a brilliant twist ending, her ‘escape’ as actually a hallucination, and when she wakes up she’s in just as much trouble as her friends. More, in fact.

Whilst it is set in North America, The Descent was actually made in the UK. The exterior shots were filmed in Scotland, and the interior at Pinewood Studios, as it was deemed too expensive, problematic and risky to film in a real cave system. I don’t know what this says about different audiences, but it is interesting to note here that the US version ends with Sarah’s escape, leaving out the part where she wakes up still strapped in the caves. It was suggested in Entertainment Weekly magazine that this was done because after such an emotionally draining cinematic experience, American audiences wouldn’t appreciate the ‘uber hopeless’ finale. Evidently, however, British audiences prefer their endings to be uber hopeless. The more hopeless and depressing the better. Something else about this film that fucks with your head a little is the depiction of the Crawlers, who count females and vulnerable-yet-still-nasty children amongst their number which obviously means they’ve been multiplying down there. The Descent was followed in 2009 by a sequel, again staring Shauna MacDonald. However, despite having a much bigger budget, this was a comparative failure and struggled to break even.

Trivia Corner

The film’s marketing campaign in the UK was disrupted by the London bombings of July 2005. Advertisements on the city’s public transport system had included posters carrying the quote, “Outright terror… bold and brilliant,” and depicting a terrified woman screaming in a tunnel. The posters were recalled, and the campaign reworked to exclude the word “terror” from advertised reviews of the movie. The distributor’s marketing chief, Anna Butler, said of the new approach, “We changed tack to concentrate on the women involved all standing together and fighting back. That seemed to chime with the prevailing mood of defiance that set in the weekend after the bombs.”

 

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#RetView 21 – The Fog (1980)

Title: The Fog

Year of Release: 1980

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh

The Fog

Along with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, this is one of the films that shaped (or warped) my formative years. Following the success of Halloween two years earlier, John Carpenter was considered hot shit in Hollywood and virtually given free license to do what he wanted on the Fog, albeit on a pretty modest budget. He didn’t disappoint. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Escape from New York, the Fog is often overlooked, but remains one of the jewels in Carpenter’s crown.

As the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay nears its hundredth anniversary, paranormal activity mysteriously begins to rocket. When a huge chunk of masonry falls out of a wall in his church, town priest Father Malone (Holbrook) finds his grandfather’s journal hidden in the alcove. When he reads it, he uncovers a terrible secret. The original townsfolk, led by Malone’s grandfather, deliberately sank a clipper ship, the Elizabeth Dane, and plundered it for gold, which was then used to establish the town and build the church. Cut to the present day, and a fishing boat is out at sea when it is engulfed by a mysterious glowing fog. You guessed it, there’s something in there. Specifically, it’s the Elizabeth Dane, and her very angry (and very dead) crew.

The heart and soul of San Antonio is the local radio station, seemingly managed by Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) all on her lonesome. The radio station is set up in an old lighthouse, meaning Stevie is in pole position to see the glowing fog, which suspiciously moves against the wind, approach the town. Weatherman Dan helpfully calls to tell her about it, but unfortunately, Weatherman Dan could make a strong case for being the stupidest man in the world and is dead moments later. Instead of just calling it a night and going home, Stevie then takes to the airwaves to implore any passing strangers to go to her house, address provided, to save her son who is stuck there with the soon-to-be-dead babysitter. A short time later, she apparently gives up on him altogether and shifts her attention to saving the villagers instead who have gathered for a Centenary celebration. In an apparent attempt to help the crew of the Elizabeth Dane find them quicker, she tells them all to gather in the church where an epic showdown takes place.

As well as writing, directing, and even pulling off a brief cameo role, John Carpenter also composed the musical score. I didn’t notice the significance until I sat down and actually listened to it. It consists of the usual deep, ominous, brooding tones, which are then mimicked by lighter tones. Same chords, different tones. When I thought about it, that effect conjured up the notion of being stalked or followed, which I imagine to be an effective tool to use on the subconscious whether intentional or otherwise. The music is instrumental (boom!) in making the Fog such an atmospheric, satisfying, well-made chiller. The plot is ultimately a tad predictable, but there’s just enough gore and jump scares to keep things interesting.

The fate of the Elizabeth Dane is said to be based on that of an actual wrecking which took place off the coast of California near the town of Goleta in the 19th century. This particular kind of skulduggery appears to have been mercifully rare in America. However, it was a lot more prevalent in Britain.

John Carpenter also claimed to be partly inspired by a visit to Stonehenge with his co-writer/producer (and then-girlfriend), Debra Hill while in England promoting Assault on Precinct 13 in 1977. They visited the site in the late afternoon, and saw an eerie fog in the distance. Though carpenter and Hill worked together on The Fog, Halloween and several other projects, by the time the Fog came to be filmed Carpenter was married to Adrienne Barbeau. Unusually, both Carpenter and Hill were involved in the 2005 remake starring Selma Blair and Tom Welling, which managed to stay more-or-less faithful to the original.

Trivia Corner

Worried the film might flop, the distribution company, AVCO Embassy Pictures, spent around $3 million on advertising and promotion, mostly on TV, radio and print ads. They also spent a considerable amount installing fog machines in the lobbies of cinemas where the film was showing. That was almost three times the amount the film cost to make. However, the gamble paid off as it generated over $21 million at the Box Office.


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.

 


RetView #18 – The Slayer (1982)

Title: The Slayer

Year of Release: 1982

Director: J.S. Cardone

Length: 86 minutes (uncut)

Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae

The-Slayer-1982-bluray-cover

Along with The Evil Dead, this understated and often-overlooked cult classic is one of the original video nasties, meaning it was one of the 72 included on the infamous ‘banned’ list comprised by the British Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1983 in the belief that they contravened the Obscene Publications Act. Written and directed by J.S. Cardone (best known for The Forsaken, Shadowzone and the 2008 version of Prom Night), The Slayer can be seen as more than a simple slasher film following in the footsteps of Halloween and Friday the 13th, as it contains legitimate supernatural elements and a depth sadly lacking in most films of this genre. It is practically impossible to examine the intricacies and sub-plots without dropping the odd spoiler, so be prepared for that over the next couple of paragraphs.

Artist Kay (Kendall) is one half of a professional, upwardly-mobile couple. But all is not well. She suffers from terrible nightmares, usually involving the gruesome deaths of friends or loved ones. Concerned that the dreams are affecting her work, her family arranges a holiday for her, her husband, and another couple, on a remote island off the coast of Georgia. They are taken there by plane. Before leaving, the pilot, a thoroughly unnerving character called Marsh, serves up a cryptic warning which sets them all on edge. It then transpires that the island is the very place Kay has been dreaming about and further alarm bells ring about half an hour in when one of their number is killed when he gets his head stuck in a trap door. That scene is probably what led to the ‘video nasty’ classification. It’s pretty fucking gruesome. Over the next few days, everyone is slaughtered except Kay. But this is where it gets interesting. With every killing, alternate possibilities are put forward for the discerning viewer to decipher. Is Marsh the creepy pilot the murderer? Has the island somehow allowed Kay’s nightmares to merge with reality? Is a supernatural entity from her dreams, a la Freddy Kreuger, the culprit? Or is Kay herself the one doing the killing? If so, does she even know she’d doing it? Or is she plain crazy?

I wish I knew the answer. But the truth is, I have no fucking clue. I loved the way all these possible scenarios, and probably a few more that I missed, overlap and are presented to the viewer leaving he or she to make up their own mind about what’s happening. It’s much better than being spoon-fed information and then left to digest it. The last few minutes, where you think everything will be revealed, are as close to genius as you would expect from a so-called video nasty. Kay barricades herself in the holiday home, Marsh appears and she kills him. But it isn’t revealed whether Marsh is there to save her or do her harm. The house catches fire, she opens the door to make her escape, and is then confronted by the monster from her dreams. Mind. Blown. Oh, but there’s more. Because then she wakes up. Yes. One of the crappiest plot devices in the history of plot devices, the old ‘it was all a dream’ chestnut, is wheeled out. Or is it? You see Kay is a little girl again, it’s Christmas morning and she’s in her parent’s house. What the absolute fuck. We are never told whether she’s having a flashback or if she really did dream the whole thing. This final refusal to offer any kind of resolution is the most frustrating aspect of all. Until that point, you were willing to withhold judgement and wait and see what transpires. We are the audience. Sure, fuck with us all you want, that’s what we are here for and some of us like it, but don’t insult our intelligence. Also, am I the only one who wanted to see more of the monster?

The Slayer (also known by the frankly much better title, Nightmare Island) wasn’t a big hit with reviewers, with most criticizing not only the non-committal approach to storytelling but also the film’s pacing. However, most praised it for the well-made kill scenes and generally good production. The director does a great job of instilling a sense of trepidation and isolation, which later turns into desperation and despair.

Trivia Corner.

The scene which caused most concern with the censors is one where a female victim is stabbed through the back with a pitch fork, the prongs emerging from her chest. In most versions it was cut completely, but restored to the 2001 UK DVD release (weirdly, it has never been released on DVD in the US). It’s comparatively innocuous by today’s standards, and surely every 1980’s slasher flick needs a pitch fork, right?

 


The Bookshelf 2018

Below is the now-customary list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2018. I know I am cheating a little by including a couple of novellas, and even the odd short story. My rule is, if they stand-alone, they are eligible. Besides, to even things up I also devoured a couple of absolute monsters. Reviews are linked.

And this isn’t my actual bookcase. I stole this image from Pinterest. But it’s still cool, right?

coffin

Extreme Survivors: 60 Epic Stories of Extreme Survival forward by Bear Grylls (2012)

100 Word Horrors by Various Authors (2018)

Craven Manor by Darcy Coates (2017)

Just a Bit of Banter, Like by Chris Westlake (2017)

Wales and its Boxers: The Fighting Tradition by Peter Stead & Gareth Williams (2008)

The Ritual by Adam Neville (2011)

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and One Man’s Ultimate Test by Matt Lewis (2014)

Friend from the Internet by Amy Cross (2018)

Craigslist Horror by Max Hess (2017)

The World’s Most Haunted Places by Jeff Balanger (2004)

Call Drop by John. F. Leonard (2017)

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)

Eat the Rich by Renee Miller (2018)

The Outsider by Stephen King (2018)

The Chase by J.L. Rose (2018)

Lost Highways by Various Authors (2018)

Fearful Fathoms (Volume 1) by Various Authors (2017)

Black Shadows Under a Blood Moon by Roma Gray (short story) (2018)

Haunted Cardiff and the Valleys by the South Wales Paranormal Research Group (2007)

Spree Killers: The World’s Most Notorious Gunmen and their Deadly Rampages by Al Cimino (2010)

Everyone Loves You When You Are Dead (And Other Things I learned from famous People) by Neil Strauss (2011)

Tales from the Murenger by Michael Keaton (2017)

Classic Rock Unseen by Various Authors (2013)

Quad by Toneye Eyenot (2018)

Tales from the Lake 5 by Various Authors (2018)

Readers’s Digest: Great Mysteries of the Past by Various Authors (1991)

Please see HERE for last year’s expansive list!


The New Job (Drabble)

Earlier this year I was invited to contribute to an anthology of horror drabbles Kevin Kennedy was putting together. A drabble is a 100-word story. No more, no less. You can find my contribution elsewhere on this blog. The antho was a huge success, and I thoroughly enjoyed branching out into another form of writing. I enjoyed it so much I’ve knocked out a few more drabbles (and even a few dribbles). My Tormentor was included in The Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear, and here’s a new and exclusive one. Just for you.

 

The New Job

By C.M. Saunders

Derek was nervous. As he settled into the chair he flicked on the desktop monitor and scanned the office. People were looking at him and whispering. Or was he just being paranoid?

He wanted to stand up and shout, “Hello? New guy here!”

Maybe that would satisfy their curiosity.

There was a voice in his ear. “Help you?”

Derek turned. He recognized the speaker as Paul, the man who had interviewed him two weeks previously. “Reporting for work, sir!”

Paul frowned and retreated a step. “But… you didn’t get the job. Sorry.”

“Then why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me?”


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