Tag Archives: horror

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

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Along with The Evil Dead (LINK), 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?

 

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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?

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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!


2018 in Review

2018 was a busy writing year, though I feel I didn’t really achieve much. Isn’t that always the way?

In the first quarter, I focused on writing some short stories and flash fiction, thrashing out over a dozen pieces ranging from an apocalyptic 100-word drabble to an 8000-word zombie splatterfest. Then I turned my attention to my Joshua Strange series of YA adventure books and wrote a third installment. That took all summer. I also went back and edited the first two books. I’m happy with the series so far, but still trying to find the right agent to rep them. I’ll be taking a step back from that project and waiting to see how things develop.

I released two books in 2018 – X3, the latest installment in my on-going series of short fiction collections, and a revised version of a novella called Dead of Night, which was first put out by Damnation Books in 2010. As both books were pretty much already written, they weren’t very time-consuming. I just had to polish them a little, format them, and commission some cover art. I also had short fiction published in Crimson Streets, Indie Writer’s Review, TwentyTwoTwentyEight, Deadman’s Tome and The Horror Tree, as well as the anthologies 100 Word Horrors, Digital Horror Fiction, and Terrors Unimagined. Perhaps best of all, from my perspective anyway, on the back of a Bookbub promotion I managed to scrape into the Top 40 of Amazon’s list of horror writers for the first time.

Finally, bringing you right up to date, I just finished my latest novella, Tethered, which explores the phenomena of Internet rituals. More news on that coming soon. Until then, I just want to express a heartfelt THANK YOU for all your support. I truly appreciate every like, comment, share and insult. If you’ve ever read any of my books, please think about leaving a short review on Amazon or Goodreads. It would really mean a lot.

Have a great 2019.

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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?”


Retview #17 – Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (2010)

Title: Tucker & Dale Vs Evil

Year of Release: 2010

Director: Eli Craig

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden

Tucker and dale

There haven’t been many films made in the past decade which I’ve been able to watch repeatedly. In fact, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is probably the only one. But even our happy co-existence didn’t get off to a great start. Some time in 2015 (I think), it came on the Horror Channel. As per usual, I had the Horror Channel on in the background while I did something else. Not being familiar with the film, I had it down as just A.N. Other low-budget gore fest. It is, of course. But it is much more than that. It wasn’t until about half way through that I actually stopped what I was doing and started paying attention. Even then, I was hit with a few “WTF?” moments before I was able to settle down enough to enjoy it. It was a lot funnier than I expected. Obviously, having missed the first half I made a point of catching it the next time it was on (which was probably about three days later) and then watched it another couple of times over the next two years or so just because it’s a fucking riot.

Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine) are two well-meaning redneck hillbilly types with a knack for getting it wrong. Awfully wrong. They also happen to be the unluckiest duo in movie history. Whilst on their way to their newly-acquired vacation cabin deep in the woods, Dale tries talking to a couple of girls at a truck stop but is hamstrung by crippling anxiety (“I hate my face!”). The group of college kids from the truck stop are camping nearby, and amuse each other by telling campfire stories about a psychotic hillbilly serial killer who slaughtered a bunch of college kids years previously and buried their bodies in the wilderness. This puts everyone on edge, and when one of the girls (Allison, played by Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock and the movies Sex Drive, Scary Movie 5 and Piranha 3DD) falls and knocks herself unconscious whilst skinny-dipping, she is rescued by Tucker and Dale who are out on a fishing trip, only for her friends to completely misread the situation and assume she was being held captive. They run away, leaving our calamitous duo to take her back to their vacation cabin. She awakes the next morning to Dale’s pancake breakfast and a slobbering dog. He persuades her to sit tight and play his favourite board game with him while they wait for her friends to come and pick her up. The friends, who prove to be even more of a liability than Rucker and Dale, then start accidentally dying. As Tucker notes, “There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”

Meanwhile, though her friends are convinced she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, could romance be blossoming between Dale and Allison? “I should have known if a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead.”

Written and directed by Canadian Eli Craig, who had a role in Carrie 2: The Rage (1999), Tucker & Dale Vs Evil was shelved before finally being unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and enjoying a limited theater run the following year. Labelled as a horror-comedy, it is much more of a comedy than a horror, bucking the trend set down by offerings like Dog Soldiers, Severance or An American Werewolf in London, and is full of killer (boom!) one-liners (“He’s heavy for half a guy!”). Upon release, and since, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil has garnered generally favourable reviews. Writing for Empire, Adam Smith said it was, “Genuinely funny. A life lesson in prejudicing a man just because he is skinning a squirrel,” while the Guardian called the film, “Ingenious.” It also won a slew of industry awards including the prestigious ‘Audience Award’ at the SXSW Film Festival and the Fangoria Chainsaw award for best screenplay.

Trivia Corner:

Following the cult success of the first movie, a sequel was highly touted, However, this failed to materialize. Nobody was quite sure why, until someone asked Alan Tudyk in an interview. Apparently, the material just wasn’t strong enough. “I heard the synopsis,” Tudyk said, “And the general reaction from Eli was ‘No fucking way.’”

 


No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches – Extract

Just over a hundred years ago, fighting in the Great War came to an end following the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany.

What better time than to share an extract from my novella No Man’s Land?

No man’s land was deathly still and quiet. Nothing stirred.

As he and Sergeant Lewis made their way through almost complete darkness exasperated by a swirling ground mist, Harry’s heart hammered so hard in his chest he could almost feel it in his throat. Either as a result of nerves, anxiety, or the bone-numbing cold, he was trembling so much that several times his finger slipped onto the trigger of his Enfield. Despite having the safety switch being on, each time it happened he mentally checked himself, afraid he would loose off a shot by mistake and shoot the Sarge up the arse. That wouldn’t look good in the report.

The pot-holed, water-logged ground was soft and boggy underfoot. So much so that in some places, his feet sank past the ankles. Each time he pulled out his boot it made a disgusting wet squelching sound as the ground tried to suck him back in, possibly in an attempt to swallow him whole. Occasionally he would tread down on something hard and unforgiving, some foreign object trapped beneath the surface which felt almost brittle underfoot. He daren’t look down to see what it was, even if visibility allowed such a luxury.

It was far too risky to use lamps to light their way, which in Harry’s opinion made reconnaissance missions worthless. If they didn’t know what they were looking for, and it was too dark to see anything anyway, what was the bloody point?

But he wasn’t in charge. He had been a soldier long enough to know that very often, there were ulterior motives for being asked to do things. Sometimes the real reasons were hidden behind veils, and subordinates like him were rarely afforded a glimpse of the bigger picture.

He kept losing sight of Sarge, even though he maintained a distance of no more than three or four yards behind him. Each time he did so, he felt a small knot of panic begin to bubble up inside him and quickened his pace slightly to catch up. Then, the rugged outline of his NCO would drift back into view and the panic would be replaced by a surge of relief. If he could choose anyone he had ever met, or anyone from history for that matter, to be out here with him tonight, he would choose Sergeant Lewis. Or maybe Ghengis Khan.

The darkness and the unfamiliar terrain were disorienting. Even though Harry was sure they were heading diagonally away from the allied trenches, with no markers or even stars to light the way, there was no real way to be sure. For all he knew, they could be walking a path straight into enemy lines.

Don’t get lost, don’t get lost, don’t get lost, he repeated to himself. Keep calm, stay alert, follow the Sarge, and above all…

DON’T GET LOST!

If Sarge was suffering from nerves, it didn’t show. Instead, he just carried on moving silently across the ravaged landscape, crouching slightly to make himself a smaller target, and turning his head slowly from side to side as he went, constantly scanning their surroundings. He had substituted his standard-issue Enfield for a Vickers machine-gun. The Vickers was a fearsome weapon, and quite new to the battlefield. Harry had never even fired one, but he knew all about the reputation they had. Capable of firing up to five hundred .303 rounds a minute to a distance of over four thousand yards, they could literally rip men to pieces.

The Sarge’s choice of weapon sent mixed signals to Harry. Due to its sheer size and weight, the Vickers gun was usually manned by a crew of two; a gunner and someone to feed belts of ammo through it. The fact that Sarge carried the thirty-five pound weapon, plus ammo, as if it were a toy, suggested he was as strong as an ox. It also suggested he expected a fire fight.

As Harry pondered this Sarge suddenly stopped walking, holding his machine-gun steady with his right hand while signalling with his left.

Harry hurried to catch up, clutching his webbing tight to his body to stop it jangling. He had decided to leave most of his kit back in the trench, the whole idea of this mission was to be in and out quickly, then back inside an hour. Even so, there was a combat knife strapped to his leg, several ammo pouches scattered about his person, a number five grenade, and a water bottle clinging to his belt. He also found room for a mini-first aid kit, a box of matches, and some meagre rations. Without wanting to overload himself, he felt he should be prepared for anything.

Dropping to the ground and sinking into the mud next to Sarge, Harry squinted in the general direction that had caught his Sarge’s attention. The NCO made another hand signal and pointed a single, thick, callused finger. From his position, at first Harry could see nothing but swirling clouds of smoke mixed with ground mist. Then, to his horror, his eyes began to distinguish movement.

Something was out there.

There were figures approaching. Two, three, maybe more, moving swiftly and silently across the terrain like ghosts. They too moved without lights.

A German patrol.

Harry’s mouth suddenly lost all its moisture, and he felt his bowels shift uncomfortably. He had never been this close to a German before, having only spied them briefly across the length of the killing fields. The patrol undoubtedly consisted of Sturmmann. Stormtroopers. Specially-trained soldiers known to operate in no man’s land as merciless execution squads. Their mission was simple. To seek and destroy, and they took no prisoners.

Death was practically within touching distance.

Luckily, the patrol was approaching from an angle. Harry and Sarge were not in their eye line, but to risk running for cover now would be suicide. The troopers would certainly be on the lookout for transgressors. Why else would they be prowling around out here in the middle of the night?

Slowly, Harry raised his Enfield, aimed it at the German patrol, and looked down his sights. He could take one out before they even realized that they were under attack, he was sure of it. He and Sarge had the element of surprise on their side.

But Sarge hissed at him through clenched teeth, and shot him a sideways look that didn’t need words to convey its meaning.

Don’t shoot!

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches is out now via Deviant Dolls Publications.

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Retview #16 – The Howling (1981)

Title: The Howling

Year of Release: 1981

Director: Joe Dante

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Elisabeth Brooks

1981-the-howling-poster1

I’ve already covered several werewolf movies in this series (An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers). However, previous entries tend to verge on horror/comedy. I don’t know why, but someone way back in movie history must have decided there was something knee-slappingly funny about people transforming into humungous wolf-like creatures and ripping innocent bystanders into bloody pieces. Not so the Howling. Despite a script dripping with satire (“You were raised in LA, the wildest thing you ever heard was Wolfman Jack.”) adapted from Gary Brandner’s novel by screenwriter John Sayles, who had previously worked with director Joe Dante on tongue-in-cheek classic Piranha, there are precious few chuckles here. Except right at the very end, which we’ll get to in good time. Even now, almost four decades after it was first released, The Howling is still a brutal, terrifying, and deeply disturbing journey into the dark heart of the lycanthrope legend which has long been considered a metaphor for the beast lurking inside all of us, something which is hinted at several times throughout the movie. If you’ve never seen it, that’s something you need to rectify post haste.

Karen White (Scream Queen Dee Wallace, star of horror staples Cujo, the original Hills Have Eyes and Critters, but probably best known for her role in E.T.) is a television news anchor in LA who is being stalked by a serial killer. In conjunction with the police and TV crews, she takes part in a sting operation, agreeing to meet the murderer in a sleazy porno cinema. In the ensuing kerfuffle, the serial killer is shot dead by cops, but Karen is left severely traumatized by it all and suffering from amnesia. Her therapist (Macnee, that bloke off the Avengers) suggests she and her husband (Stone) should spend some time at an exclusive retreat in the countryside to aid her recovery, something they are only too happy to do. Big mistake. The Colony, as they call it, is full of colourful characters, one of them being a nymphomaniac called Marsha (Brooks) who tried to bed Karen’s husband. When he rejects her advances, she follows him into the woods one night and scratches his arm, thereby ‘turning’ him. They later do it next to a bonfire (snigger) in one of those scenes that you probably rewound way too much as a horny teenager, before getting creeped out by the fact that by the end you are essentially watching a couple of Furries getting some. Anyway, Karen soon begins to suspect that something sketchy is going on not just with her husband, but at the retreat as a whole, and calls in a little help from her friends. That’s when things get interesting, if they weren’t interesting enough before.

There’s no getting around it, by today’s standards The Howling does seem awfully dated in parts. But the script is extremely well-written, the cast is a who’s who of the era’s acting talent and, though Rick Baker deservedly won an Oscar for his creature effects on An American Werewolf in London a year later, Rob Bottin’s work here is just as impressive. You can achieve quite a lot with tiny inflatable air bags under latex skin. He lets the side down somewhat in the final scene where Karen morphs into something resembling a cross between a Spaniel and a Golden Retriever live on air, but we’ll let that one slide. I prefer to think that particular scene (a late addition tagged on to the end while Wallace was filming Cujo) is meant as one of those tongue-in-cheek moments. An earlier section where the werewolf attacks Karen’s friend at a secluded cabin in the woods is utterly terrifying, as is the part where our heroine comes face to face with the monster for the first time and watches transfixed as he changes in front of her. The suspense is maintained throughout, and the action rarely lets up. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity which led to some reviewers, somewhat unfairly, dubbing it erotic horror. Dante (who also directed Gremlins, Innerspace and Burying the Ex, amongst others) fits all the pieces together nicely, and shows neat little touches like having Little Red Riding Hood playing in the background.

Unsurprisingly, due to its success, the Howling spawned a sequel (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) in 1985. What is surprising, however, is that despite the sequel being a total flop it then led to a bunch more, none of which were very good. The most recent was the eighth installment released in 2011. Word is that a ninth is in pre-production, a remake of the first, which you would think would round things off nicely. Just as long as they don’t decide to remake the other seven.

Trivia Corner:

Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone were married in RL, having met on an episode of CHiPs before filming started on The Howling. They were together until his death from a werewolf bite (not really. It was a heart attack) in 1995.

 


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