MyDarkside(dot)com, quite possibly one of the most brutal short stories I have ever written, is included in issue 22 (Spring 2023) of Phantasmagoria magazine, lovingly edited, as always, by the irrepressible Trevor Kennedy.
The bumper 290-page issue also includes features on the finale of the much-loved Supernatural series and the movie Audrey Rose, an interview with Paul Tremblay, the usual mix of artwork and reviews, and fiction by Graham Masterton & Karolina Mogielska, David A Riley, Marion Pitman and Josh Strnad, to name but a few, so I am in some pretty esteemed company! I am especially delighted to share an issue with Rev Lionel Fanthorpe of Fortean TV fame.
MyDarkside(dot)com was jointly inspired by our obsession with the internet and the rise of the found footage movie genre. When I first started submitting it for publication, I stylised the title as the name of a website with an actual dot (.), instead of (dot), and the ‘www’ at the front. I thought I was being original, but soon found out why nobody else was doing it when a very nice editor pointed out that naming your story after a fictitious website was a one-way ticket into people’s junk mail folders. Fudge. At least it explained the lack of responses. As a writer you expect a certain percentage of rejections. It comes with the job. But to hear nothing at all, from anyone, for a couple of years, was a bit weird. Never mind. We live and learn, and the story found a suitable home in the end.
Few films can legitimately lay claim to being bona fide classics, though most of The Birds’ accolades came after the fact. In 2016 it was deemed to be culturally, historically or aesthetically significant enough to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the US Library of Congress. By then it had also won the Horror Hall of Fame award (1991) and been voted the seventh-scariest movie of all time by a poll carried out on the British public by Channel 5 (2006). The film has been tremendously influential, having been referenced by filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter, among others and on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes it has a 95% rating, the critics consensus stating; “Proving once again that build-up is the key to suspense, Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history.”
All this praise is remarkable considering that the movie was panned by several notable critics on its release. Writing for the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann called it, “the worst thriller of his [Hitchcock’s] that I can remember,” while Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the famous director, “Was once widely quoted as saying he hated actors. After his 1960 ‘Psycho’ and now ‘The Birds,’ it must be fairly obvious that he has extended his abhorrence to the whole human race.”
On the surface the plot is simple enough, but the real beauty is hidden in the complicated interplay between the primary characters. The movie opens in a San Francisco pet shop, where carefree socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) encounters Mitch (Taylor) who is looking to buy some lovebirds for his sister’s birthday. For some bizarre reason she pretends to work there, and Mitch plays along, though he recognizes her from a previous court appearance. When the jig is up, Melanie asks how he knows her name, to which he replies, “A little birdie told me.” Brilliant.
At around 29-minutes, after being attacked by a legitimate angry bird, Melanie holds a cotton ball against her wound. The way her hand and forearm are positioned makes the appearance of a bird, with a ring on her finger forming the eye. Tippi Hedren later confirmed this, and said that Hitchcock had instructed her to insert subtle hints about the upcoming bird attack throughout the film.When Mitch leaves, Melanie buys the lovebirds and follows him all the way to Bodega Bay where he’s visiting his parents, only to give him the birds and tell him that she loathes him, none of which is remotely weird, apparently, even in the sixties.
Things get spicy when Melanie meets Mitch’s previous love interest, a schoolteacher called Annie (Pleshette) and his overbearing mother (Cartwright) who doesn’t think anyone is good enough for her son. Shades of Psycho there. Amidst all this simmering tension, it’s almost a relief when some birds go rogue and start dive bombing people to death. We never really find out why, though Hitchcock later said in an interview that the birds rise up against the humans as punishment for taking nature for granted. The only context we are given in the film is a radio report heard near the end which indicates the Bodega Bay attack is not an isolated incident and the problem is so bad that the military might be forced to intervene.
What many modern viewers may not pick up on are the hidden implications in the plot and nods to popular culture. The Birds was made shortly after Chinese leader Mao Zedong ordered all the sparrows in the country to be killed as part of the ‘four pests’ campaign during the Great Leap Forward because they ‘ate too much grain.’ Starting in 1958, hundreds of millions of birds were killed causing an unmitigated environmental disaster known as the Great Famine (1959-61) which ultimately led to the deaths of an estimated 45-million people. Too late Mao realized that he sparrows didn’t just eat grain, they were also nature’s pest control, and without them locusts and other insects were allowed to run riot decimating crops and disrupting the area’s fragile ecosystem. With this fresh in the news at the time, the insinuation was that though calling in the military to kill the birds might solve the immediate problem (angry birds) it would spark a similar chain of events in America which could lead to the downfall of Western civilisation. It is assumed that the movie does not finish with the usual THE END graphic, because Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of continuing, unending terror.
The Birds was loosely based on the story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier which appeared in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. Coincidentally enough, on August 18th 1961, as Hitchcock was developing the movie, there was a mass bird attack on the seaside town of Capitola, which was substituted for Bodega Bay in the movie. It was an early purveyor of the much-overlooked genre known as ‘eco horror’ which usually feature animals or nature striking back and taking their revenge on humans. Other examples include Jaws (1975), Cujo (1983), Lake Placid (1999), Black Water (2007) and even Doomwatch (1972). Hedren was 33 years old at the time of filming (and ironically had a five-year old daughter called Melanie, as in Melanie Griffith. It’s unclear whether Hitchcock deliberately gave her character the same name) but was listed as being 28 in the press release because 33 was considered too old for a starlet to be making her big screen debut. Over the years numerous salacious rumours have come to light regarding Hitchcock’s treatment of her, the situation itself providing the storyline for a HBO movie called The Girl (2012) in which Hedren was played by Sienna Miller.
When audiences left the U.K. premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, they were greeted by the sound of screeching and flapping birds from loudspeakers hidden in the trees to scare them further.
Starring: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin
If you watch a thousand sci-fi horror movies, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else as bizarre and downright weird as this one. Tony (played with unsettling aplomb by a 10-year old Simon Nash who later wound up in Birds of a Feather) is a disturbed little boy badly affected by the sudden disappearance of his father three years earlier who he claims was taken by a bright light, the implication being that he was abducted by aliens. His mother (Stegers) and her new lover (Brainin), unwilling to accept the alien abduction theory, assume that he simply ran off. As you can probably imagine, everything is sent onto a tailspin when he reappears announcing ominously “I’m back.”
Truth be told, daddy (Sam Philips, played by Philip Sayer, who also appeared in The Hunger with David Bowie before tragically died of cancer just a few years later at the age of just 42) makes one heck of an entrance, bursting out of a woman’s horrifically distended belly fully-formed and chewing through an umbilical cord. All things considered, he makes a decent go of fitting back into the family, seemingly oblivious to the friction he causes, but his plans go somewhat awry when Tony finds him chowing down on his pet snake’s eggs. This isn’t long after the poor kid walks in on his mum bumping uglies with someone who wasn’t his dad, but he seems far more traumatised by this most recent event. And things only get weirder from there. When he makes amends with poor, traumatized Tony, Sam also sucks his blood, vampire-like, in the process passing on some rather impressive special powers which Tony uses to bring his toys to life. He then sends these toys, which are now magically life-size, to brutally murder an elderly neighbour who, upon finding Harry the pet snake in her salad, crushes it with a hammer and delivers it back in a plastic bag. He also sets them on Analise, the French au pair (d’Abo, who would go on to be a Bond girl in 1987’s The Living Daylights) and her boyfriend. In fact, Tony becomes increasingly belligerent as the movie progresses and is a right little twat by the end, when all the main characters converge at the holiday cottage where the initial disappearance occurred.
Upon its home video release in 1983, the film was subject of a prosecution case in relation to obscenity laws, and consequently got caught up in the whole ‘video nasty’ furore. Surprisingly, it had actually been passed uncut by the BBFC with a well-deserved ’18’ certificate. Several different endings were made, and which one you get depends on which version you see. A pair of sequels followed, Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1991) and Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995), neither of which bore any relation to the characters in the original. According to Wikipedia, in 2011, director Bromley-Davenport confirmed that a fourth instalment was in the works but 11 years on it is yet to be delivered, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing.
Writing for Starburst magazine, Alan Jones suggested that stegers had been ‘horribly mis-cast’ but went on to state that the special effects were “minor miracles of ingenuity” for their low budget and admired the movie for “trying so earnestly to resuscitate low budget exploitation sf/horror films in this country.” Variety found the film “too silly and underdeveloped in story values to expand beyond diehard fans” and that “Harry B Davenport builds little suspense and no thrills in a film devoid of stuntwork or action scenes. It’s just another “check out that makeup” exercise, consisting of brief scenes and poor continuity.”
Critic Roger Ebert absolutely panned the film, awarding it 1 of 4 stars, saying, “Most exploitation movies are bad, but not necessarily painful to watch. They may be incompetent, they may be predictable, they may be badly acted or awkwardly directed, but at some level the filmmakers are enjoying themselves and at least trying to entertain an audience. ‘Xtro’ is an exception, a completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness. It’s movies like this that give movies a bad name.”
Retrospectively, TV Guide went one better (or worse) in ‘awarding’ the film 0 of 4 stars, calling it, “A vile exercise in grotesque special effects” and “An excuse to parade all manner of perversities across the screen,” further stating that, “Not only is this disgusting, it lacks anything that remotely resembles suspense.”
Easy to see, then, how it warranted three sequels.
Despite never having met him, Queen guitarist Brian May was so affected by Swansea-born actor Philip Sayer’s premature death that he wrote the song Just One Life, which appeared on his 1992 solo album Back to the Light, in his honour.
After such a productive 2021, the pressure was on to replicate the effort in 2022. Realistically, that was never going to happen, especially after I started a new day job and took on a couple of large and very time-consuming freelance editing projects in the first quarter, but I had to give it a shot.
First on the agenda was to finish the second draft of Cuts, book two in my rapidly evolving series involving a character called Ben Shivers, a paranormal investigator who lives in a camper van with a cat called Mr. Trimble. In my experience, the second draft of a novel is almost as time-consuming as the first. The first draft is all about getting the words down anyway anyhow, while the second is more about choosing the right ones and putting them in the right order. There are always things you wish you’d said but didn’t, and other things you said but wished you hadn’t. All this suddenly becomes clear after you type THE END. On top of that, you have to further develop the characters and sub-plots and sharpen the story to a point. With the difficult second draft out of the way, it’s all about refining and polishing.
As I worked on the second book, I started submitting the first, The Wretched Bones, to some selected publishers. I pitched it as part of a series, and one of the first I sent it to, a publisher I highly respect, liked it enough to give me a contract. I’m resisting giving out too many details yet because anything might still happen, but all being well The Wretched Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery, will be out later this year.
This bit of encouragement brought the writing bug back, and in double quick time I thrashed out a horror Western novella featuring the same character I introduced last year in a to date unpublished novella called Silent Mine. This time, in a story provisionally entitled Meeting at Blood Lake, our intrepid drunken gunslinging hero, who’s name has now morphed into Dylan Decker, helps a remote village ward off a terrifying thunderbird/mothman-like creature.
I wrote half a dozen or so new short stories, too. I am very happy with them. I think some of them are among the best things I have ever produced. The thing is, they are also possibly among the weirdest things I have ever produced, so we’ll see if anyone is brave enough to publish any of them.
As far as publishing short stories goes, the year started with a reprint of an old story called Night Visitor in Siren’s Call. All Tomorrow’s Parties was included in SFS Stories, The Hiraeth Chair in Shelter of Daylight, Eeva in the anthology Trigger Warning: Speaking Ill, and The Whole of the Moon in Daikaijuzine. I love writing drabbles (stories exactly 100 words long) and contributed Cat’s Eyes to Heartless: Holiday Horrors and The Hungry to Drabbledark II. My fifth collection of short fiction, imaginatively entitled X5 also dropped, and picked up more pre-orders than any of the other X books. I call that progress.
In the realm of non-fiction, a couple of my reviews appeared in Phantasmagoria magazine, which was one to chalk off the bucket list as it has a great reputation in horror circles, I turned a bit introspective and wrote about how haunted my childhood home was in the anthology Out of Time and reflected on how my first book was published in Author’s Publish. I also wrote a piece for them about recurring dark fiction markets, which may be of use to other writers out there, and in Writer’s Weekly, one of my semi-regular outlets, I asked whether a frenemy of yours might be sabotaging your writing career. It’s more common than you think. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion.
The Whole of the Moon started out as a light-hearted study in romantic relationships, and ended up a sci-fi horror. It wasn’t that much of a leap, which probably says a lot about my love life. It’s written in the first person, from the POV of the female protagonist who shares an apartment with her long-term partner, Dan. They lead an unremarkable existence, at least they do until a meteorite crashes through their window one night while they are snuggled up on the sofa watching TV. It’s all downhill from there. Let’s just say it’s less Netflix and chill, and more Netflix and chills.
I didn’t plot or plan it at all. Not even I knew what would happen when I started writing. I love that feeling of freedom, and I believe readers pick up on that sense of excitement and discovery. That story might take you anywhere. Yep, I am aware I stole the title from the Waterboys song. It used to be called Down to Earth, but I wanted something that would resonate a bit more.
By the way, if you’re curious about the zine’s name, as was I, this is from the ‘about’ section:
“Take the word Kaiju, which means ‘strange creature’, add the prefix Dai, which means ‘large’, and you get Daikaiju, which means ‘Large strange creature’. Like Godzilla.”
So there you have it.
The latest issue of Daikaijuzine is free to read, and out now.
Starring: Arisa Nakamura, Asana Mamoru, Mayu Sugano, Asami Sugiura, Kentaro Kishi
Seven minutes into this movie I needed something stronger than bottled Stella and WTF because bottled Stella and WTF just wasn’t cutting it any more. Even in the bizarre realms of Japanese horror, I don’t think I’ve seen anything this wacky before.
The plot evolves around karate student Megumi (Nakamura) who, consumed with guilt and grief over the suicide of her bullied sister, accompanies a group of older friends on a camping trip into the woods. Things get weird when they go fishing in a river known for carrying ‘parasites that keep super models thin.’ The voluptuous Maki (who wants to be an idol) takes this on board and before anyone can stop her, swallows a massive tapeworm they find inside a fish they catch. Before you can say, “WTF? Where’s my Stella?” a zombie appears from nowhere and chews someone’s finger off, prompting Megumi to deliver a spinning kick to the head that snaps his neck.
“Megumi! That was too strong!”
“It was just a normal kick.”
Thoroughly freaked out, the group then leg it to a deserted village where poor Maki suffers a sudden diarrhoea attack and relieves herself in an outhouse, only to be molested by more zombies. The rest of the group, meanwhile, are rescued by an old villager who also has tapeworms. In a fit of despair he blows his head off with a shotgun and one of his eyeballs flies out, straight down the throat of the nerdy one of the group. And then, without so much as pausing for breath, its on to fight more pervert zombies. It’s okay, though, Megumi finds a double-barrelled shotgun and takes out a whole room full of them without reloading once, but let’s not be pedantic. Another of the unfortunate zombies is offed when someone sits on his head and crushes it (“I killed him with my butt!”), a scene which is replayed multiple times in case you missed it the first time. You get the feeling the makers were doing it to somehow stir the viewer’s loins, but my loins stayed firmly in place.
After a bit, a mad doctor turns up, kills a rogue tapeworm with a nail gun, and then they all have dinner together. The doctor reveals that the zombified villages are all riddled with tapeworms and the reason they bite is to lay eggs. Not good news for that bloke who had his finger chomped off. Let’s just say he has a very bad reaction. Phew.
Just so you know, by this point the movie is barely half way through. There’s another 45-minutes or so of this utter madness. Director Noboru Iguchi, who also wrote the screenplay, certainly knows how to keep up the pace. He started his career in JAV (Japanese Adult Video) movies, where he ‘explored’ several genres including bondage and incest, common themes in Japanese porn. Or so I am led to believe. Iguchi is best known for a film called Final Pussy which, as a result of a military experiment going wrong, has a lead character with guns bursting out of her boobs whenever she gets aroused. What a passion killer that must be. After crossing into the mainstream, Iguchi won plaudits for his work on various horror/comedy/gore films such as The Machine Girl (2008), Mutant Girls Squad (2010) and Dead Sushi (2012).
Incredibly, this cult offering has amassed almost 2,000 ratings on IMDB with an average rating of 4.7/10. Starburst magazine enthused “Silly, sure. But, when you have a theatre full of grown adults laughing and having a good time you know it’s going to be an instant cult classic.” Meanwhile, in their review, Variety said, “The title alone will help it worm its way into fantasy fests and Asian cult ancillary, to be seen by viewers who will need to be drunk or otherwise zombified to enjoy it.”
To be fair, they aren’t wrong. I’m tempted to say it got a bit outlandish towards the end, but that in itself would be a stupid thing to say. It was outlandish from the start. Even the poster is outlandish. But if you have a thing for farts, vomit, martial arts, giant parasites, exploding heads, shit-covered pervert zombies, or any combination of the above, this one is for you.
In the credits, an actor called Demo Tanaka is credited as ‘the shit zombie,’ presumably because he crawls out of a toilet all covered in shit, and then proceeds to sling it at people. Incidentally, the actress Asana (no, really) Mamoru had to control her bowels in the outhouse scene that made the shit zombie famous so she didn’t actually shit on him. Some of the farts heard are real, apparently, which must be a valued addition to anyone’s showreel.
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.
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.”
The part of the cannibal was originally offered to Marlon Brando, but he had to pull out when his son Christian contracted pneumonia.
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!”
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.”
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.
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.
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”).
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.