Tag Archives: horror

RetView #64 – Death Line (1972)

Title: Death Line

Year of Release: 1972

Director: Gary Sherman

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee, Clive Swift

As this series of deep dives into the land of movies past has progressed, I’ve actually discovered a lot about myself. One thing I’ve found, as you might have gathered from previous entries like Severance, Witchfinder General, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The Descent, and 28 Days Later, is that I have developed a deep appreciation for British horror. I guess it’s not that remarkable. Being a Brit myself, it just feels more relevant and relatable. And the accents are funny. Death Line, lauded by Time Out as “One of the great British horror films,” and a classic example of what Hellraiser director Clive Barker calls ’embracing the monstrous’ is an undisputed classic of the genre. The stiff upper lip, ‘keep calm and carry on’ ethos is exemplified in an early scene where Inspector Calhoun (Pleasence) yells, “We’d better do something. Quick. And the first fing we’re going to do is get some tea!”

It might sound stereotypical, cliched, cheesy or even borderline offensive to some (in the current climate, virtually everything is offensive to some), but the thing is, that’s probably exactly what the majority of British coppers say at the beginning of murder investigations. Or at least they did in the early seventies. These days they probably prefer a glass of sparkling spring water.

Released in the US under the alternative title Raw Meat in a slightly edited form (in order to avoid a potentially-damaging X rating) Death Line was actually a joint US/British enterprise. It was directed by American Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried, Poltergeist III and the TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy) but as it has a predominantly British cast and is set in London, we are claiming it.

Much of the action takes place in and around Russell Square tube station in Camden, a Grade II listed building, but most of the underground sequences were actually filmed at Aldwych which was closed in 1994. There’s something iconic about the London Underground, like the Paris Catacombs or the ampitheatre in Athens. It’s broody, dark, and somehow menacing, something which has been put to good use in several movies, most notably in the black comedy Three and Out (2008) and that famous sequence in American Werewolf in London (1981). It also comes complete with a rather bloody and chequered history, something which is more than hinted at here, making it the perfect setting for a horror film.

The plot follows a couple of journalism students, Patricia (Gurney) and Alex (Ladd) who almost literally stumble across a man lying in a stairwell. Dismissing him as a drunk, they do the proper thing and report their finding to the police. Cue the aforementioned Inspector Calhoun, who discovers the drunk, revealed as a wealthy Conservative minister (no change there, then), has since disappeared. A colleague then tells Calhoun about an urban legend telling of a group of descendants from an 1892 cave-in who still live below-ground surviving on the flesh of commuters.

Cor blimey!

Unperturbed, the amiable Patricia and Alex continue to frequent the Underground and become separated one night, which leads to Patricia getting up close and personal with the chief cannibal (Armstrong) who is now on a murderous rampage having just seen his pregnant lover die. A brutal climactic showdown sees said chief cannibal, credited simply as ‘The Man’ incapacitated and left for dead, but we all know how that usually plays out. As movie villains go, The Man is a complex character who elicits both compassion and repulsion. When he abducts Patricia he is torn between eating her and caring for her, and despite his grisly antics the viewer can’t help feel a twinge of sympathy. Not least because he’s been lumbered with perhaps the weakest and least-threatening catch phrase in horror movie history. He does inject some impressive vigour into it, though.

Death Line was well received by both audiences and critics, with Robin Wood of The Village Voice writing that it, “Vies with Night of the Living Dead (1968) for the most horrible horror film ever. It is, I think, decidedly the better film: more powerfully structured, more complex, and more humanly involved. Its horrors are not gratuitous; it is an essential part of its achievement to create, in the underground world, the most terrible conditions in which human life can continue to exist and remain recognizably human. [It] is strong without being schematic; one can’t talk of allegory in the strict sense, but the action consistently carries resonances beyond its literal meaning.”

Interestingly, a 2017 article in Little White Lies claims that Death Line offers an, “Oddly prescient message about social inequality in London. From the very first scene, a member of the establishment (James Manfred, the wealthy conservative minister) is framed as corrupt, with Manfred’s perversion and hunt for flesh effective exposition to the cannibal horror that follows.” True, the only people the Man slaughters probably had it coming, which would make him a hero in most movies. The article goes on to use the film as a metaphor for the then-recent Grenfell fire, noting that, “The film’s soundtrack consistently features the haunting sounds of screams and digging; echoes of an industrial revolution that has benefitted one side of society more than the other.”

Quite.

Trivia Corner

The part of the cannibal was originally offered to Marlon Brando, but he had to pull out when his son Christian contracted pneumonia.


RetView #63 – Re-Animator (1985)

Title: Re-Animator

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Stuart Gordon

Length: 86 mins

Starring: Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs

It’s been at least a couple of months now, so I think it’s about time we had another 80’s cheese fest. Re-Animator, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator on account of being loosely based on Lovecraft’s 1922 work ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ fits the bill perfectly. Directed by Stuart Abbott, who also directed From Beyond (1986), Dolls (1987) and wrote Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Dentist (1995), it was originally intended to be a stage play, before given The Treatment, and that sense of intimacy has largely been preserved. With it’s a small cast, tightly-woven plot, and snappy dialogue, it’s easy to see why Re-Animator is now considered a bona fide cult classic. Shot in only 18 days, it is the first film in the Re-Animator series, and was followed by Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), neither of which hit the heights of the original.

After leaving his last place of education under something of a cloud, medical student called Herbert West (Combs) enrols at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts (a fictional educational establishment in a fictional town in a real state), moves in with fellow student Dan Cain (Abbott), and then proceeds to turn the apartment into a laboratory. His experiments include killing and then re-animating Dan’s cat Rufus several times, much to the horror of Dan’s girlfriend, Megan (Crampton). Don’t worry, cat lovers, Rufus gets his own back. Dan tries to tell the Dean of the university (who happens to be Megan’s father) about West’s experiments but he is ridiculed, and the pair kicked out. They then hatch a plan to sneak into the morgue to use the reagent they have developed on a human subject to prove it works. It does, except the dead guy returns as a zombie-like crazed person. That’s when the Dean stumbles upon the scene, and shit gets really wild.

Producer Brian Yuzna (who played one of the hospital corpses, largely for his own amusement) described the film as having the “sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of The Howling.” There are more than a few scenes to keep the gore hounds among you happy. My absolute favourite shows Dr Hill (Gale) in a role that the great Christopher Lee allegedly refused, removing skin from a corpse’s head on the way to extracting their brain, which he does with the words, “It’s very much like peeling a large orange.” According to IMDB, the special effects department went through 24-gallons of fake blood during the shoot, special-effects guru John Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past he had never used more than two gallons, which has to be some kind of compliment. Upon release, Re-Animator received an X (adults only) rating, and was later edited to obtain an R rating for video rental stores because some stores’ policies prohibited them from renting ‘unrated’ films with an MPAA rating of X. In the R-rated version, much of the gore was edited out and replaced with various scenes which had been deleted for pacing purposes, including a subplot involving Dr. Hill hypnotizing several characters to make them more suggestible to his will. A short scene was also added showing Herbert West injecting himself with small amounts of the reagent to stay awake and energized, which may have affected his thinking over the course of the film. On the other side of the pond, British Film Censors weren’t impressed with the scene where the severed head Dr. Hill attempts to rape Megan and refused to pass the film for release in the United Kingdom until the sequence had been cut. In Japan, the film is titled “ZOMBIO” though the title is dropped for the sequel because it translates as “Drifting Spirits” and makes no sense in the context of the film.

Re-Animator was received well, winning over many of the more arty critics. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary movie-going crowd.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said, “The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration,” and David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, an influential New York tabloid that closed in 2017, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list. In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write, “Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation!”

Trivia Corner

In December 1986, the year after Re-Animator was released, Barbara Crampton did a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine under the title, “Simply Beastly. Behind every successful monster, there’s a woman.” In an October 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the then 61-year revealed that she was only given a second round of auditions for the role of Meg because the girl who won the part the first time around turned it down after her mother read the script and said “Oh, no. You’re not doing this.”


Dead of Night (Extract)

Greetings!

Just in time for Halloween, below is an extract from Dead of Night (Revised edition).

At some point, Nick dropped something, Maggie heard it hit the floor with a soft, hollow thud. She didn’t know what it could be, but guessed it must be pretty important because the moment it fell, Nick stopped in his tracks. They didn’t have time for this shit, they had to find cover. Now. It wasn’t safe outdoors, and Nick was fading fast. If he collapsed out here in the open, she would never be able to move him. They would be sitting targets for whatever prowled these fucking woods after dark.

She instinctively reached down to pick up the object Nick had dropped, then immediately put her hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. It was Nick’s severed hand. Pale now, almost translucent in the moonlight. It felt clammy to the touch. He’d carried it with him all the way from the camp.

It was still warm.

Dear God.

It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Pick it up and get going again. It’s just flesh and bone, just flesh and bone…               

Grimacing, she tucked the bloodied appendage into the waistband of her sweatpants, took Nick by the remaining arm and resumed the journey.

Bizarrely, cruelly, in her fractured state, Maggie found that she couldn’t stop wondering how the hell they were going to carry the tent and all the rest of their stuff back to the car if Nick only had one hand. It would definitely be a struggle. They might have to make two trips, or even leave some stuff behind. She started mentally listing all the things they had taken with them, and then the things they could afford to leave behind. Anything to keep her mind working, keep it sharp and focused. If she stopped to think about the nightmare they were in, she would go to pieces.

Under normal circumstances it would only have taken a couple of minutes to get to the cabin, but in the dark and with Nick the way he was, it would probably take three times that long. At any moment she expected to see movement in the trees, or feel an arm reach out of the undergrowth and claw at her feet.

Things were going too well.

It was almost too easy.

But if she remembered correctly, Nick had put a tent peg straight into that thing’s eye. And didn’t it only have one eye to begin with? In that case it was probably still walking around in circles a mile or so away.

Maggie could feel exhaustion setting in. The muscles in her back and arms were screaming in protest from shouldering Nick’s extra weight and her second wind had come and gone. Probably her third and fourth winds too, if such things existed.

With grim determination, she pushed on. No time to stop, not here, not even for a second.

Finally, they arrived back at the cabin.

Dead of Night is available now on paperback and ebook.

dead-of-night-reissue

Dead of Night is available now on ebook and paperback. If you’re interested in the book’s background and publishing history, check out this post I wrote about it.


RetView #62 – Little Devils: The Birth (1993)

Title: Little Devils: The Birth

Year of Release: 1993

Director: George Pavlou

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Russ Tamblyn, Marc Price, Nancy Valen, Wayne McNamara, Stella Stevens

Little Devils: The Birth is one of those films that got lost in the shuffle. Marketed as a comedy horror in the Gremlins or Ghoulies vein, it’s not really funny enough to be a comedy and not horrific enough to be a horror. It didn’t even have a hard rock soundtrack for Christ’s sake, and lacking big industry backing and a massive distribution deal, when it was released it fell between the cracks of the two genres and quickly became forgotten. In horror circles, just being aware of it granted you entry into some kind of exclusive club governed by knowing winks and secret handshakes. It doesn’t get more ‘cult movie’ than that.

It was reportedly conceived as a TV pilot for a new anthology series along the lines of The Hitchhiker and Tales from the Crypt, but when that plan fell through the makers decided to press on and turn it into a feature film instead. It received a timely boost when released by Shivers Entertainment on limited edition remastered DVD for the first time in 2017, but even then flew under the radar, the only media coverage being canned copy recycled from the press release churned out by bored journos with pages to fill. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy afoot to ensure the movie stays underground where it can build upon its growing reputation year on year until it eventually grows horns and takes over the world. I for one think it deserves a wider audience, so here we are.

Like all the best films, it begins when an unpopular, debt-ridden mad scientist. This one, Dr. Lionel (McNamara), literally goes to hell and back, and returns with a souvenir in the form of some runny mud that looks a lot like melted chocolate. Possessed and compelled to work, he sets about creating an army of tiny, impish figures who come to life, break out, and start terrorizing the apartment block in which he lives. First stop is the apartment downstairs which is home to Ed (Marc Price, of Trick or Treat fame – in which his character name was also Ed, weirdly enough) a frustrated writer reduced to producing smutty stories for a sleazy magazine to make ends meet whilst being pursued by strange, lust-filled landlord, Clara Madison (Stevens). Clara treats Dr. Lionel with complete disdain, yet has the hots for Ed. Ed isn’t interested, though. Especially after he meets exotic dancer Lynn (Valen) while researching a book at the local homeless shelter and the two begin a tumultuous relationship. Ed and his motley crew of friends, lovers and acquaintances then have to battle the rampaging horde of ‘little devils’ before things get (any more) out of hand.

Though very much a product of its time, given the pedigree of some of the people involved, it was something of a surprise that Little Devils: The Birth didn’t make a bigger splash. It was the brainchild of British director George Pavlou, who’d made his name on the Clive Barker vehicles Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), and writer Elliot Stein, fresh from the similarly-themed TV movie Gray Clay Dolls (1991). The biggest coup in front of the camera came in the form of the legendary Stella Stevens who had successfully made the transition from Playboy to the big (and small) screen, appearing in scores of movies and TV shows in a career spanning half a century including The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Manitou (1978) and Monster in the Closet (1986). Despite the lowbrow, tongue-in-cheek subject material, her star quality shines through in every scene she’s in and its a bitter disappointment when *spoiler alert* the little devils get her half way through. In fact, all the actors do a decent job and the script, though played mostly for laughs, is also surprisingly good (sample dialogue: “You write porno. That doesn’t necessarily make you a pervert, even though you are one”).

Yes, the plot is silly, the effects are cheesy, and at times the whole thing feels a bit like one of those early Ratt videos MTV would play after midnight back when they still played music, but all things considered this forgotten gem is well worthy of its cult status. The title suggests that at least one sequel was planned, but that never transpired. Not yet, anyway. We can but hope.

Trivia Corner

Before becoming an actress, Stella Stevens was a member of the five-voice vocal ensemble The skip-Jacks who performed the theme song from The Flintstones, among other things. She went on to forge a long-term relationship with famed producer and one-time Kiss guitarist Bob Kulick, which lasted until his death in 2020.


RetView #61 – Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Title: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Year of Release: 1954

Director: Jack Arnold

Length: 79 mins

Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning

There aren’t many movies that start with the big bang. Where can you go after that? In the first two minutes or so of Creature from the Black Lagoon we are treated not only to a massive explosion, but also a potted history of 15 million years of life on earth. And if that wasn’t enough, we end up tracking a team of explorers somewhere in the Amazon when they find a gigantic petrified claw which apparently belonged to some kind of amphibious creature they dub ‘Gill man’. In the wake of this discovery, the expedition shifts its focus to seeking out a live specimen, and then trying to escape when they realize the live specimen doesn’t much fancy a life in captivity and strikes back, a pivotal moment coming when the hunted becomes the hunter. It’s enough to make you dizzy. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that when this movie first hit cinemas, it did so in 3D. 1950’s technology was a far cry to what we have going on at the Cineplex these days, but let’s give them credit for trying. Upon release, the movie also broke several records for the amount of underwater filming it features, all of which is stunningly shot using a variety of (then) innovative techniques.

The story goes that producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Orson Welles’ 1941 classic Citizen Kane (in which he played a reporter) when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures living in the Amazon River. Alland wrote some story notes using the imaginative working title The Sea Monster, which eventually morphed into Creature from the Black Lagoon years later. Just as he did on the Incredible Shrinking Man, director Jack Arnold does a masterful job. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface (sorry). First we have the simmering sexual tension between Kay (Adams) and her two male leads, who are both competing for her affections in vastly different ways. There’s David (Carlson) who dotes on her, in an old-fashioned, wrap-you-up-in-cotton-wool, slightly controlling way, while love rival and pantomime villain Mark (Denning), seems to take a more preening, misogynistic approach, parading around in his tight shorts whenever possible and being vocally resentful of Kay’s mere presence, which seems a bit counterproductive. Let’s not forget that this was an era when it wasn’t unusual to see leading men in movies wallop their woman about the chops if she dared step out of line. To be brutally honest, this pair of numb nuts make Gill-man seem like a real catch (sorry again). He’s also a bit creepy, by the way. Not only does he have scales, big bulbous eyes and massive clawed hands, but he likes to swim underneath Kay mirroring her movements whilst she unwittingly frolics about in the water. Tellingly, though, at the end when he finally kidnaps her, the creature doesn’t literally puts Kay on a pedestal.

In some quarters, the creature has become a metaphor for repressed sexual tension, which must have been rife in 1950’s America, what with the twin threats of communism and nuclear armageddon hanging over everyone. He is forever lurking insidiously behind the scenes, always threatening to break through to the surface and create havoc but never quite managing. The cultural impact of Creature from the Black lagoon has long been debated, the discourse summarized here.

The subtext is clear, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. It’s those pesky humans messing about with nature again. The poor amphibious creature and his relatives and cohorts had been quietly pottering about minding their own business in remote parts of the world for millennia. And quite possibly would’ve stayed there, too, had a bunch of selfish assholes not turned up and ruined everything. Shades of King Kong here, and even The Thing. The plot could even be a thinly-veiled attack on colonialism, or marauding white people in general. Watching it now, you can’t help rooting for the monster. In a contemporary article on Tor.com, Ryan Britt writes, “You never wanted them to kill that poor sea monster. In fact, you kind of wanted to see him take every single person on that boat out.” Adams herself later said, “There always is that feeling of compassion. I think maybe it touches something in ourselves, maybe the darker parts of ourselves, that long to be loved and think they really can’t ever be loved.”

Despite it’s modest beginnings, Creature from the Black Lagoon was a monster smash (That’s the last one, I promise) leading to two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), and making an indelible mark on the movie-going public. Stephen King has said it was the first film he remembers watching. There has long been talk of a remake, mentioned in connection with such luminaries as John Landis, John Carpenter and Guillermo Del Toro, who credited the original for influencing his 2017 masterpiece The Shape of the Water, but it hasn’t surfaced yet (Okay, I lied).

Trivia Corner

After Universal had finished making the third and final film, a studio worker threw the creature’s costume in a dumpster, from where it was retrieved by a young man who repurposed it as a Halloween costume before selling it to Forrest J. Ackerman, a writer for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.


Dead of Night – Reviews

When it was first released back in 2010, my splatterpunk novella Dead of Night picked up some pretty awesome reviews. I’ve gone back through my files and dug up some highlights. Loved the bitch slap at the end of the last review.

“In his zombie-infested novella Dead of Night, C. M. Saunders draws a picture of horror and desperation for his readers as he unleashes a band of undead Confederate bushwackers on an unsuspecting and innocent couple. As I read, I found myself pulled into the action, rooting for the young hero and heroine to make it through the night.”

“This story is not just hacking and slashing and eating brains; there is a fair share of suspense in Dead of Night that I found to be quite effective. Mr. Saunders gives his readers a chance to get to know the hero and heroine before plunging them into mortal danger, and this makes us care about their fate. Dead of Night contains a sense of urgency that will definitely get the blood pumping. Mr. Saunders brings us into the minds of his two protagonists; we share their terror, their pain, their despair, and their hope for survival.”

  • Book Wenches

“Dead of Night is an obvious product of a great many horror films. The departure from realism, the horrendous injuries inflicted on the hero, the coincidences and lucky breaks – all lead directly from the late night horror screen. Evil Dead in particular seems to be a strong influence, especially with the besieged-in-a-cabin sequence.”

  • Dark Fire (UK)

“Although it has lots of gore, it isn’t all about the blood and guts. Instead it is suspenseful and atmospheric. The scene where Nick wakes up in the middle of the night and first spots a zombie is tense. And being in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from the rest of the world with no one to turn to for help, added to the creepiness.”

“At the beginning, C.M. Saunders takes time to establish the characters, and although some may find that part slow, I found their relationship and discussion of Michael Jackson interesting. Since Nick and Maggie were well-developed I cared about them and found the story more interesting.”

  • Little Miss Zombie

“If you are craving a zombie novel that deviates away from the typical “movie-style” theme – this will satiate your hunger. There are the normal horror elements: new love, remote setting, fight for survival, mass burial. However, C.M. Saunders’ Civil War zombies are intelligent; able to work as a team; possess fine motor skills; and cannot easily be killed. In fact, these “bushwhackers” peaked my curiosity. Would the psychological, mental, and physical aspects of fighting in a war end upon death? It is possible that these zombies are unaware that it is no longer 1861 – 1865. If this is the case, it would mean that they are denied the peace and solace they so richly deserve. The plot was very creatively written and flowed efficiently. I did not experience a single dull moment as I read the novel. Many of you will agree, a vast majority of horror novels have at least one character lacking a bit of common-sense. As others so eloquently state, “too stupid to live”. I feel that C.M. Saunders tried to weed the “stupidity factor” out, and he did a great job of it. The zombies were even spared this humility.”

  • Buyzombie.com

“I have this horrible OCD quirk. It’s doesn’t matter how boring a story is, I have to finish it. Fortunately, that didn’t kick in with Saunder’s Dead of Night. This is a fun, short read that carries on with the latest trend of zombie soldiers. While Saunders doesn’t really bring any new to the table, it’s a cool chapter in the great big scheme of zombie stories. This is a great story. It’s a quick read with great cover art, and I do have to say, it’s MUCH better than Saunders’ first novella from Damnation Books.”

  • Swamp Dweller

dead-of-night-reissue

Dead of Night (Revised edition) is available now on paperback and ebook.


X5 x 10 x 10

To mark the release of X5, my latest collection of short fiction, earlier this year I posted a line from one of the stories from it on consecutive days across my social media channels. Just for a laugh.

As each of the X books contains 10 stories, that meant over the 10-day period I posted a total of 10 lines. I know that taken out of context they might not make much sense. The idea is just to give readers a deeper insight into each story than a standard synopsis would allow, and perhaps spark some morbid curiosity. Later, I decided to collect all the extracts together here. Because blogging.

Demon Tree:

“It looked like a giant moth/human hybrid, complete with a huge set of leathery wings folded behind it, and was covered in grey or black fur which had thinned in places to reveal skin so dry it resembled scales.”

Revenge of the Toothfish:

“Its yellowing eyes were way out of proportion and had realigned themselves so they were on opposite sides of the head. The nose had elongated and extended into a snout, and the mouth was ringed by a pair of bulging, dark grey lips.”

Surzhai:

“Their life force and vitality came from the blood of the vanquished, which they collected on the battlefield and doused themselves in or even drank, vampire-like.”

The sharpest Tool:

“Her head was full of abstract images offering a tantalizing glimpse of some other existence, a distant life full of meaning, colour and joy. But each day the images faded a little more and now she wasn’t even sure if what she saw were snatches of memory or some manufactured product of her fractured mind.”

Something Bad:

“If I stay long enough, shivering in the doorway, mouth hanging open and facial muscles twitching, I see the stringy black stuff on the bathroom floor begin to take shape.”

Down the Road:

“She couldn’t believe she was doing this. Picking up a hitcher? If dad found out he would kill her, if her passenger didn’t kill her first.”

Coming Around:

“He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them panting and snarling.”

Where a Town once stood:

“When Sam was a child, he remembered thinking someone had been drawing on his grandad with a pen and spent hours trying to rub off the ‘ink’. Only later did he find out that the network of deep blue scars carved into his granite flesh were the result of a life spent on the coalfaces.”

The Last Night Shift:

“Something dark was smeared around his mouth, and I noticed he was holding something in his hands. Gradually, horrifyingly, the full implications of what I was seeing dawned on me.”

Subject #270374:

“The guy in a white coat asked if I was getting sexually aroused. Just came out and said it. I mean, what the fuck? Who in this world could or would get turned on by pictures of mutilated bodies and severed limbs?”

X5 is out now


RetView #60 – Death Ship (1980)

Title: Death Ship

Year of Release: 1980

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Length: 85 mins

Starring: Richard Crenna, George Kennedy, Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid, Saul Rubinek

I’d never even heard of this Bloodstar Films production until I read about it in an issue of the venerated Fortean Times magazine (FT396, if you’re interested). I’ve always had a thing for Nazi zombies, as referenced before in previous RetViews Shock Waves and Outpost. I also recently discovered that I have a thing for horror set on ships. I have no idea why that is. It could be something about the bleak, all-encompassing emptiness of being at sea, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that if some supernatural shit befalls you in a house, or even a cabin buried in the woods, you can always just count your losses and run. You can’t do that on a ship. You have to stay and face whatever evil shit is about to befall you. Anyway, the potential for Nazi zombies and an evil sea-faring vessel combo suckered me right into Death Ship. Throw in Richard Crenna from the Rambo films, Saul Rubinek from True Romance (and Frasier) and George Kennedy from, er, Cool Hand Luke and Earthquake, I was already sold. And if all that wasn’t enough, just look at this poster!

So what’s it all about?

Well, stuffy Captain Ashland (Kennedy) is on his final cruise before handing over the reigns to Trevor Marshall (Crenna) who has brought his wife (Howes, in her final film appearance) and kids along on the trip. At a glitzy on-ship party there’s a band playing, some drunk people, and lots of terrible dad dancing. Everyone is having a great time. Except Captain Ashland, who you doubt could have a great time anywhere. But all the decadence and debauchery comes to a sudden halt when the cruise liner smashes into something and sinks, leaving just a handful of survivors unfortunately including Marshall’s annoying kids, a lecherous young officer, and a near-hysterical passenger, floating around on a makeshift raft. The next morning they find the grumpy captain in the water, which is a stroke of luck, or maybe not, then they come across a massive, ominous-looking black ship anchored in the middle of the ocean with a ladder down ready to receive them, which seems like another mad stroke of luck but turns out to be quite the opposite. Thinking they’ve found salvation, the survivors board the strange ship to find it deserted. Still, it’s better than being on the raft, or so they think. The first sign that something isn’t right comes when ship’s entertainer Jackie (Rubinek) is suddenly scooped up by a possessed winch and dumped screaming head first into the sea. Bye, Jackie. It was fun while it lasted. Things degenerate from there. The remaining survivors, whilst trying to navigate this mysterious vessel full of disembodied voices, creepy shadows and inanimate objects that take on lives of their own, get picked off one-by-one, until only the good-natured Trevor Marshall, his wife, and those annoying kids are left and ultimately find themselves back where they started on another flimsy-looking rafty-thing in the water. There’s probably a message there.

Life and soul of the party Captain Ashland and the underlying friction between him and his would-be replacement Marshall is instrumental in all this.

“You don’t know how to handle a crew or passengers!”
“Maybe so, Marshall. But I know how to handle ships.”

At one point, Ashland even dons a discarded German navy uniform and appears to channel the ship’s long-dead and rather sadistic head honcho whilst embarking on a murderous rampage. It all leads up to the highly anticipated revelation, which ties things up nicely and makes for a nice, satisfying conclusion. Especially after the evil Captain Ashland comes to a suitably sticky end and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

It’s easy to see why Death Ship got lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have the immediacy of other popular horror flicks of the day like Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th or Prom Night. It could, however, be a distant cousin of The Fog. It has a much more brooding atmosphere and, dare I say, slightly more substance reinforced by some remarkable cinematography, an impressive plot, and a killer (sorry) cast. It’s picked up a few retrospective reviews like this one on Warped Perspective, which is a real indicator as to whether a movie is truly attaining cult status, and review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes gives it an overall score of 4.2 out of 10 based on 5 reviews, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. One review states, “Death Ship is a terrific, low-budget cheesy supernatural tale that should definitely appeal to midnight movie horror fans. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I feel that this is one of the most underrated films in the genre.”

It’s hard to argue with that, and those sentiments are echoed by Jeremy Blitz of DVD Talk, who said, “It isn’t a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one, especially for fans of the somewhat lower tier horror efforts of the late seventies and early eighties.” Its flaws, however, are plain to see. Many called it unimaginative or derivative, with a shower scene in particular said to mirror the famous one in Psycho a little too closely. Incidentally, the shower scene in Death Ship was shot in one take, as it was deemed too expensive and troublesome to clean up the blood and shoot it again. It wasn’t all plain sailing (boom!). Damningly, TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. It’s probably safe to say that despite its considerable merits, this won’t be something that many of it’s stellar cast will look back on with much pride. For one delightful moment whilst researching this piece, I thought I’d stumbled across a modern(ish) remake. But that turned out to be nothing more than the result of some artwork someone mocked up in Deviant Art. Good effort, though.

Trivia Corner

As the ghost ship collided with the cruise liner, brief scenes of an explosion, a grand piano falling between decks, and the engine room flooding were cut in from another movie entirely. The movie in question was The Last Voyage (1960).


RetView #59 – 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Title: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Year of Release: 2016

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Length: 87 mins

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallacher Jr.

10 cloverfield

Apart from Quarantine 2 – Terminal I haven’t covered any sequels in this series thus far. There are reasons for that, but it might change in the not too-distant future. For now, you’ll have to make do with this, that rarest of things; a sequel on a par with the original. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a bona fide sequel at all. In the words of uber-geek producer JJ Abrams, it’s more of a ‘blood relative’ of Cloverfield. The original script was called The Cellar, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the original movie. It was written by Josh Campbell and Matt Steucken back in 2012 before being acquired by Abram’s production company, Bad Robot, and adapted to suit.

When the first Cloverfield movie, a found-footage monster flick, was released in 2008, it became an unexpected smash hit, prompting Abrams to turn it into a loosely-connected franchise which, to date, consists of three films all taking place in the same universe, known as the, ahem, Cloververse, with a fourth in production. Each movie deals with creatures from different dimensions attacking earth as a repercussion of experiments carried out aboard the Cloverfield Station in outer space.

If it’s monsters you’re after, though, you may be disappointed with this particular instalment as it would be more accurately defined as a very effective psychological thriller. It follows twenty-something Michelle (Winstead, who previously starred in Final destination 3 and the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, also called The Thing, confusingly enough ) who, after splitting up with her boyfriend, is involved in a car accident. She wakes up in an underground bunker with a broken leg and is told by the bunker’s owner Howard (Goodman) that he took her there for her own protection because the air outside has been poisoned as a result of earth coming under some kind of attack. Suspecting Howard deliberately ran her off the road and abducted her, Michelle is immediately suspicious but has little choice but to play along. The mystery thickens when she is introduced to the bunker’s third occupant, Emmett (Gallacher Jr), who tells her he had been employed by Howard to help him build and stock it. He saw an explosion in the sky and, fearing for his safety, forced his way inside, injuring his arm in the process.

Still dubious, Michelle makes up her mind to steal the keys to Howard’s truck and make good her escape. But before she can open the hatch leading to the outside world, she sees a woman outside covered in skin legions and begins to think Howard may be telling the truth. Bunker life isn’t THAT bad. They have plenty of food and water, and enough books, DVD’s and board games to keep them occupied. However, as the unlikely trio settle down to ride out the metaphorical storm, certain troubling details begin to emerge about Howard. What happened to his missing daughter? What kind of ‘waste’ is he disposing of in that vat of acid in the bunker? What made him flip out playing charades? And why does he dislike Emmett so intensely? All this, added to the tension, growing cabin fever, and general air of paranoia, makes for a powerful movie with a nerve-shredding climax. I’m not going to give away the ending here, but suffice to say it’s one of the most unexpected and breathtaking in recent memory.

Perhaps surprisingly, the movie was met with generally favourable reviews, levelling out at an impressive 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Guardian said it was “More Hitchcock than Xbox” and Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times praised the cast and cinematography, saying, “Sneakily tweaking our fears of terrorism, ‘10 Cloverfield Lane,’ though no more than a kissing cousin to its namesake, is smartly chilling and finally spectacular.” Its critical success was replicated at the Box Office, where it grossed over $110 million from a $15 million budget. Not quite as impressive as the first instalment, but close enough.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner

In one scene, Howard is watching the 80’s classic Pretty in Pink. In this movie, Molly Ringwald’s character has a hobby of making dresses. This is a subtle reference to Michelle, who had earlier confided to Howard that she dreams of being a fashion designer.


Drabbledark II

I’m pleased to announce that my story The Hungry is included in Drabbledark II: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles, out now on Shacklebound Books. The anthology, edited by Eric Fomley, promises, “A ton of amazing dark horror, science fiction and fantasy drabbles.”

The Hungry was inspired by Dan Simmons’s The Terror, itself a fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the arctic. I’ve always thought they should’ve known better than to get on a ship called HMS Terror. They may as well have called it HMS You’re Fucked.

Check out the amazing cover art:

Go here for the full ToC.

Drabbledark II is out now on ebook and paperback.


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