Tag Archives: review

RetView #50 – Jaws (1975)

Title: Jaws

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Steven Spielberg

Length: 124 mins

Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary

I wanted to do something a bit special for this landmark 50th RetView, and you could probably count on your fingers the number of movies, of any genre, that have had more of a cultural impact than Jaws. In fact, these days it is widely considered one of the best films ever made. It was based on the novel of the same name Peter Benchley was commissioned to write by Doubleday in the early seventies, though rumour has it that he was ejected from the film set for making a nuisance of himself. To date, the movie has spawned three sequels despite declining popularity and commercial performance, the franchise reaching its nadir in 1987 with Jaws: The Revenge which, conversely, is generally acknowledged as one of the WORST movies of all time. The Jaws franchise is a prime example of how to go from hero to zero in four easy steps. It’s probably fair to say that by 1987, the killer shark premise was beginning to wear a little thin. They probably did well to take it as far as they did. But while the series ended badly, upon its release in the summer of 1975 the original movie was nothing short of a revelation, terrifying beach-goers everywhere, raking in an astonishing $470 million at the Box Office from a $9 million budget, and going on to win no fewer than three Academy Awards, making it one of Universal’s biggest ever triumphs. All things considered, it’s well worth a closer look.

If, by some miracle, you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it’s pretty easy to swallow (sorry). When a giant man-eating Great White shark starts terrorizing a nondescript New England town called Amity, threatening not only swimmers but local businesses much to the chagrin of the local mayor (Hamilton), police chief Martin Brody (Scheider) is called into action. After getting slapped in the face and shouted at several times by affected locals, he eventually enrols a grizzled professional shark hunter called Quint (brilliantly portrayed by Shaw) and a witty marine biologist (a pre-Close Encounters of the Third Kind Dreyfuss) and together the trio head off into the open sea on Quint’s too-small boat called the Orca (named after the only natural enemy of the Great White) to hunt down the pesky fish. Incidentally, if you didn’t get the reference, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is a classic line from the movie delivered by Brody upon seeing the size of the shark they were dealing with and has been ‘meme famous’ ever since. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb later revealed that the line wasn’t scripted, but ad-libbed by Scheider.

The musical score, which went on to become a classic piece of music synonymous with impending doom, was composed by John Williams. Widely regarded as one of the greatest film composers of all time, Williams also wrote the music for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones films and, er, Home Alone. During his distinguished career he has won 25 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards (including one for the Jaws theme) and four Golden Globes. Discussing the piece that kick-started his career, he described the Jaws theme as, “Grinding away at you, just as a shark would do. Instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Jaws was the first major motion picture to be shot on the ocean, resulting in a troubled, prolonged shoot that far exceeded its budget. Among the issues the crew had to contend with were unpredictable weather, vessels drifting into shot, the effects of salt water corrosion on equipment, everyone getting seasick and problems with the life-sized mechanical sharks. There were so many problems the story goes that disgruntled crew members dubbed the film, “Flaws.”

So what made Jaws so popular? And why does it remain so?

In a nutshell, not only does it feature a great director, a solid plot, a memorable script, a brilliant cast, impressive special effects and an awesome soundtrack, but it appeals to our primal fears. People don’t belong in large bodies of water. We know this. The stuff living in there don’t like us and that particular environment is not conducive to having a good time. On re-watching the movie with a critical eye, it is noticeable how little screen time Spielberg actually gives the shark. This is testament to his unparalleled film-making skills and ability to ramp up the tension using only dialogue and, in one memorable scene, a drunken sing-a-long. Gottlieb would later reference the original 1951 version of The Thing, amongst other classics, where, “the suspense was built up because the creature was always off-camera.” This enabled the crew to concentrate on showing the ‘effects’ of the monster (or in this case, the shark) rather than the monster itself. Given the post-Watergate political landscape the movie was released into, it’s inevitable that critics drew certain conclusions. Perhaps overthinking things a bit, film critic Andrew Britton has suggested that narrative alterations from the book (Hooper’s survival, the shark’s explosive death) help make it “a communal exorcism, a ceremony for the restoration of ideological confidence,” and suggested that the experience of the film is “inconceivable” without the audience’s jubilation when the shark is annihilated, signifying the obliteration of evil itself. In his view, Brody serves to demonstrate that “Individual action by the one just man is still a viable source for social change.”

In perhaps the most serious bout of overthinking ever, Fredric Jameson went even further, highlighting the polysemy of the shark and the multiple ways in which it could be taken, from representing alien menaces such as communism or the Third World to more intimate concerns like the unreality of contemporary American life and the vain efforts to sanitize the concept of death. He asserts that its symbolic function is to be found in this very “polysemousness which is profoundly ideological, insofar as it allows essentially social and historical anxieties to be folded back into apparently ‘natural’ ones … to be recontained in what looks like a conflict with other forms of biological existence.”

‘Kay then.

Trivia Corner:

According to Spielberg, the prop arm used in the scene where Chrissie’s remains are found looked too fake. So instead, they buried a female crew member in the sand with only her arm exposed. Simple, yet effective.


Back from the Dead – The First Review

And it’s a cracker! The only problem is, the review appeared on the Spanish version of Amazon which most people might not see. Unless you happen to be in Spain. Assuming that isn’t the case because we aren’t all that lucky, I’ve reproduced the review for you here.


Highly original take on the zombie trope

5*


“As I said above, these are some of the most original zombie stories I have ever read which is hard to say nowadays considering how many there are already written. In these six stories you will find everything from sword-wielding zombies, a return to the Bubonic plague and all its consequences, possible alien zombies, an elderly couple starving to death with eyes set on each other, a different take on roadkill, and a private detective with an unusual request.

The whole collection thoroughly well edited making each story flow seamlessly, I read through this collection in just two days, and was left wanting more, much more. I hope the author returns to this trope and writes some more short stories because I enjoyed them all that much.

For zombie fans, definitely worth grabbing a copy-you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

– Justin Boote, Amazon Espana

Link to original review HERE

Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Horror is available now on paperback and ebook.


X4 – Review

This could be my favourite review ever, so I copied it from Goodreads to share with you. Thanks, Bruce!

Getting this out of the way. I know C.M. Saunders can tell a good story. The X Omnibus is my bookcase. That’s a sign I’ve really loved what he wrote. He made the top 10 of books read last year from the GoodReads account. This is now volume #4 of stories which cover the mindscape of possibilities where individuals meet the weird/strange/terrifying. One is very short, and the others are short story length which you can catch in those brief moments the world allows you to think.

To help you understand how the stories run, think of this visual:

Two fireflies flitting around a central core, which is the story itself. One firefly is the character with who they are and their thought processes, as in how they think. The other firefly is the landscape they are connected to, the matte painting they become involved in. You get to know the character and landscape and it becomes a fun process in how they both mix together. Though it’s on the verge of the fantastic, something resembling an X File, it becomes a natural mix. And he offers an Afterword to tell you something of the background of the stories, good reader/writer connections. Good stories here.

Bruce Blanchard, March 4th 2020

You can find the original review HERE.

X4 is out now. 

X4


2020 in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


RetView #34 – Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

Title: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Year of Release: 1965

Director: Freddie Francis

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Neil McCallum, Alan Freeman, Max Adrian, Ann Bell, Donald Sutherland, Roy Castle.

dr terrors house of horrors

I love a good anthology film. It’s like getting four stories (or in this case, five) for the price of one. This little gem, not to be confused with the unrelated Dr. Terror and his Gallery of Horrors (1967), was the first in a series of horror omnibuses made by the Shepperton Studios-based Amicus Productions between 1965 and 1974.  Later, more accomplished efforts included The House that Dripped Blood (1970), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and the outstanding Vault of Horror (1973). One of the company’s founders, American Milton Subotsky, also wrote the screenplay for Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, among other things, and later in his career went on to work on several Stephen King adaptations, notably Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Sometimes They Come Back (1991).

Five men board a train at a London station and are joined by a mysterious sixth, the enigmatic and, quite frankly, scary as fuck Dr. Schreck (Cushing). The name, he helpfully explains, is German for ‘terror,’ like that’s going to make anyone feel better. Dr. Schreck then whips out a deck of tarot cards, which he calls his ‘house of horrors,’ and proceeds to reveal the destiny of each of the travellers in turn. Again, not creepy at all. By this time, you are beginning to think that this dude is an absolute riot at parties. The preamble provides the backdrop and framework in which to tell five separate stories, all connected by the aforementioned scenario.

Werewolf: The title kinda gives this one away, except it doesn’t really, if you know what I mean. The narrative follows Jim Dawson (McCallum) who returns to his ancestral home on a remote Scottish island where he finds himself embroiled in the culmination of a family curse and a centuries-old feud. This isn’t quite as straight-forward as it sounds, and the twisty ending is really quite clever.

Creeping Vine: Bill Rogers (Freeman) and his wife (Bell) return from holiday to find a creepy (boom!) vine growing in the garden. Soon, the vine develops a life of its own, along with a killer instinct. This one could almost be lifted straight from a vintage edition of Tales from the Crypt.

Voodoo: Biff Bailey (Castle) is a jobbing musician who accepts a gig in the West Indies where he stumbles across a voodoo ceremony. He memorizes the tune they are playing, and despite being warned, goes back to London and plays it, thereby unwittingly unleashing all manner of fuckery. Plagiarism is not cool, kids. ‘Probably’ based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich who, ironically enough given the subject matter, is uncredited.

Disembodied Hand: This one is, ahem, hands down the grisliest, and probably the best, story of the lot. It follows the misadventures of pompous art critic Franklyn Marsh (Lee) who falls victim to karma after causing a tortured artist to lose his hand.

Vampire: Dr. Bob Carroll (Sutherland) returns to the states with his new French bride. Back home, a spate of killings occurs, which seem to have been carried out by a vampire. Bob’s friend (Adrian), convinces him that his pretty new wife is responsible for the murders and Bob kills her. However, as he is being led away by the police, the friend says to himself that the city isn’t big enough for two doctors, or two vampires, and turns into a bat. The bastard.

As you can see, all the stories have twists, and this tradition is continued within the wraparound story, as in the end it is revealed that all five men were already dead, having copped it when the train they boarded crashed, and Dr. Schreck was actually death himself. Wow, right?

As they did in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and just about every other film they ever appeared in together, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the horror film equivalent of Starsky and Hutch, put in a couple of truly memorable performances. In fact, the entire cast excels. A special mention should also go to the director Freddie Francis, who achieved most of his success as a cinematographer, winning two Academy Awards and working on classics such as The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984) and Cape Fear (1991). All this natural talent, combined with the overall tongue-in-cheek approach and clever, quirky writing, makes Dr. Terror’s House of Horror a worthy addition to any horror collection.

Trivia Corner:

Jazz musician Acker Bilk was originally cast to play the part of Biff Bailey, but he suffered a heart attack and was replaced by Roy Castle, later of Record Breakers fame, in his theatrical movie debut.


RetView #33 – The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Title: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Year of Release: 1988

Director: Wes Craven

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings

serpent_and_the_rainbow

We’re all familiar with brain-eating movie zombies like the ones immortalized in Night of the Living Dead, Train to Busan, and 28 Days Later, to name but a few. But what about real zombies?

“Wait up,” I hear you say. “Real zombies?”

Yup. This Wes Craven masterclass in terror is based on a non-fiction book by American anthropologist and researcher Wade Davis, who investigated Haitian voodoo at length before concluding that the process of ‘making zombies’ was rooted in reality. But alas, it has more to do with the ingestion of poisons and hallucinogenic plants than voodoo, hexes and black magic. The right concoction lowers the victim’s vital signs and metabolic rate to such an extent that they appear to be dead. They are then buried, only to be revived later using a different cocktail of drugs. By that time, they usually suffer some form of brain damage. If they have any memory of their ‘past life’ left at all, they believe that their soul has been stolen. As a case study, the book examined in depth the famous case of Clairvius Narcissi, a Haitian man who was supposedly placed into an induced coma by local witchdoctors as a punishment, before being ‘brought back from the dead’ and strolling back into his village years later.

Of course, his claims were later called into question, as were some of Davis’s conclusions, and all this is quite difficult to corroborate as Narcissi died again in 1964 and, as far as anyone knows, stayed dead that time. All we have left is a very strange, far-fetched story, along with the investigative efforts of Wade Davis. Davis is portrayed in the film (and re-named Dennis Allan) by Bill Pullman, who is approached by a pharmaceutical company and given the task of researching the real-life zombification of a man called Christophe (Clairvius Narcisse in disguise) and more importantly, securing a sample of the drug allegedly used in the zombie-making process. Given funding, he heads to Haiti. When he arrives, he finds the country in the grip of a revolution (inconvenient), and despite having an ally in the form of Marielle (Tyson), soon meets opposition from both the locals and what passes for the authorities who are keen to keep their secrets under wraps. Allan is kidnapped, tortured, stabbed in the balls, and given a stern warning by witch doctor extraordinaire Dargent Paytraud (Mokae). But when he still refuses to leave the country, he is framed for murder and just manages to get his sample before being bungled onto a plane bound for America. However, his nightmare is only just beginning.

Nightmares and hallucinations are a key element of the Serpent and the Rainbow. I usually find dream sequences in books and movies boring and somewhat redundant, but here they are so terrifying and immersive you can’t fail to be sucked in, even when you know you are in the middle of a(nother) dream sequence. The film has aged remarkably well compared to most eighties outings. A post-Spaceballs Pullman turns in an impressive all-round performance, and is well supported by Cathy Tyson in her pre-Emmerdale days. There’s barely a trace of a scouse accent, despite being brought up in Liverpool and suffering the ignominy of being married to Craig Charles. Zakes Mokae also deserves a mention as he is thoroughly menacing as Pullman’s nemesis.

Much of the movie was shot on location in Haiti (Or at least it was until it got too hairy and production was moved to the Dominican Republic) giving it an authentic feel, which is reinforced by spliced TV footage featuring the dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier being ousted. In a favourable review, the film critic Roger Ebert said. “In most voodoo movies, voodoo itself is taken only as a backdrop, a gimmick. This movie seems to know something about voodoo and treats it seriously as a religion, a way of life, and an occult circle that does possess secrets unexplored by modern medicine.”

Ultimately, it’s the fascinating subject matter that sets The Serpent and the Rainbow apart from its peers. Perhaps what it does most effectively, much the same as movies like Ringu and Turistas, is remind us that beyond the sanctity of our comfort zones lies a crazy, crazy world.

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

Unlike most of his other movies the original cut was three hours long, but Craven thought this too long and talky. It was eventually cut down to 98 minutes.


RetView #32 – Alien (1979)

Title: Alien

Year of Release: 1979

Director: Ridley Scott

Length: 117 mins

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronoca Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm.

Alien-intro_3064438b

Stone cold classics don’t come much colder or more classic than Alien. Widely regarded as one of the best films ever made despite being produced on a comparatively small budget, it was a smash hit and a critical success, even winning a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Visual effects, along with numerous other accolades. Every aspect of the film has been scrutinized and invariably come to be revered, even the above poster. However, had it not been for the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the film would probably never have been made. Eager to capitalize, 20th Century Fox rushed to produce a movie in a similar vein. Alien was shot in just 14 weeks in the second half of 1978, primarily at Shepperton Studios, and Bray Studios in Berkshire, where many Hammer Horror films were made before the site was redeveloped into luxury apartments.

Alien follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo in the year 2122, which is returning to earth with its seven crew members in an induced hyper sleep. Upon detecting a distress signal from nearby a Moon, the ship’s computer, Mother, awakens them and they send a search party out to investigate. On the mission, one of their number, Executive Officer Kane (Hurt) is attacked by an alien creature which attaches itself to his face (hence the name ‘facehugger).’ Kane is taken back to the Nostromo where, some time later, he wakes with seemingly no ill effects. That is, until the crew are all sharing a meal and the iconic chest bursting scene goes down. That’s enough to put anyone off their food. Now beginning to realize that the Nostromo has been infiltrated by a killer alien entity, the surviving crew set out to seek and destroy the now fully-grown, and scary as fuck, transgressor who, of course, picks them off one by one. As if this isn’t bad enough, Ripley (Weaver), now in command as ship’s captain Dallas (Skerritt) is one of the first to bite the dust, is attacked by another crew member, Ash (Hulme) who is then revealed to be an android with a pre-programmed agenda which is vastly at odds with the rest of the crew. And common sense. The whole thing climaxes in sole survivor Ripley destroying the Nostromo, taking Jones the resident cat, and escaping in a mini shuttle. Until she’s called upon to go back to work in the 1986 sequel, imaginatively titled Aliens.

In the years since its release, one of the most interesting aspects explored by critics is the film’s supposed sexual overtones. The adult xenomorph bristles with sexual imagery and a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas was scripted (though never filmed) to illustrate how crewmembers dealt with long periods of abstinence. Several critics have compared the fecehugger’s exploits with male rape, and Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the original screenplay under the working title ‘Star Beast’, has said that the chestburster scene is a metaphor for the male fear of penetration, and that the oral invasion of Kane by the facehugger functions as payback for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. This would seem to be in keeping with the rest of the movie, which contrary to the (then) norm, boasts a strong female lead in Sigourney Weaver who would go on to star in The Year of Living Dangerously, Ghostbusters, Working Girl and a host (sorry!) of others. Even the Alien is female. To go one step further, it has been suggested that Alien is a movie ALL about rape, as the driving force behind the antagonist is reproduction by non-consensual means.

Alien certainly struck a nerve, perhaps tapping into the late-seventies zeitgeist which encouraged people to ask fundamental existential questions such as what is, and what could be. Alien was an unprecedented success, raking in an estimated $104 to $203 million from a measly $11 million budget and spawning three direct sequels, as well as a series of crossovers with the Predator franchise. In 2003 when 20th Century Fox released the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box, which included the original Alien plus the three sequels, it was decided that the box should also include alternate versions of all four films. The alternate version of Alien, labelled the ‘Director’s Cut,’ has been re-edited to restore several deleted scenes (such as one where, during her escape from the Nostromo, Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett cocooned) but omits several others meaning the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the original. Scott explained, “The traditional definition of the term ‘Director’s Cut’ suggests the restoration of a director’s original vision, free of any creative limitations. Such is not the case with Alien: The Director’s Cut. It is a completely different beast.”

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner

The newly-dead facehugger that Ash autopsies was created using shellfish, oysters, and a sheep kidney, while the ‘egg tube’ section is actually a piece of sheep intestine and the ‘slime’ used on the aliens was K.Y. Jelly.


RetView #30 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Title: Night of the Living Dead

Year of Release: 1968

Director: George A. Romero

Length: 96 mins

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner, Kyra Schon

night of the living dead

Few films have had anything like the same impact on the horror genre as Night of the Living Dead. It was the brainchild of New Yorker George A. Romero who, until then, been involved mainly in producing short films and TV commercials. In his late-twenties, he and a group of friends (many of whom appear in the film) decided to form a company called Image Ten Productions, Night of the Living Dead being one of their first projects.

According to Romero, the story was inspired by the post-apocalyptic Richard Matheson novel I am Legend, about vampire-like creatures roaming the earth after a plague, and was designed to capitalize on the film industry’s ‘thirst for the bizarre.’ Produced on a shoestring, the film had an original budget of just $6000, raised by the ten members of the newly-formed production company, before additional funding was found to stretch the budget to $114,000. It became an instant drive-in hit, and soon recouped over 250 times its budget. However, Romero himself saw little of this, thanks to his lack of industry knowledge regarding distribution deals.

The plot follows a brother and sister, Barbra (O’Dea) and Johnny (Streiner), who travel to Pennsylvania to visit their father’s grave. In the cemetery, they are attacked by a ghoulish stranger. He makes short work of poor Johnny, and chases Barbra on foot. The understandably shaken woman makes her way to a nearby remote farmhouse where she is attacked again (not her day) before being rescued by Ben (Jones) who fights off the assailants and takes Barbra inside the farmhouse. The pragmatic Ben then sets about boarding up the doors and windows, while Barbra has a not-so-quiet meltdown in the corner. They then discover a family hiding out in the cellar and are joined by a teenaged couple who turn up seeking refuge after hearing an emergency call about a series of brutal murders, and the cast is complete.

But not for long.

As you’ve probably guessed, the zombie hordes spend the rest of the movie trying to break into the farmhouse and picking off the small gaggle of survivors one-by-one. Obviously, that’s a drastic oversimplification, but you get the drift. As things develop, the horror gradually, and terrifyingly, shifts from those on the outside trying to get in, to those already inside, not least the daughter, Karen (Schon) who has been bitten by a ghoul (Romero’s original name for what we now know as zombies) and spends most of the film in a catatonic state. Until the end, and if you’ve ever seen a zombie movie before, you can probably guess what happens then. This is the mechanism that poses many of the questions which make the final third of the film so effective. To what lengths would you go to save a loved one? Where would you draw the line? And what do you do when you realize that innocence and beauty mask a ruthless monster? And you’re stuck with it? As Jones says in one of the most memorable lines of the film, “It must be tough for a kid when her old man is this stupid. Now go and be boss down there [in the cellar]. I’m boss up here.”

Add to the mix a satisfyingly gory, ruinous climax and a twist ending and you have a piece of cinematic history. That said, I imagine modern audiences, raised on the sequels and rip-off’s, might be a touch disappointed with what they find here. This is the archetypal indie movie; raw, gritty, and about as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as it’s possible to get. That, for me, is part of its strength. It might seem predictable now, but only because you’ve seen the best parts replicated so many times in other places from likes of Shock Waves and Train to Busan to the Walking Dead. Imagine seeing this back in 1968, when the Vietnam War was still raging and the American political landscape was still struggling to come to terms with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter, forever associated with the civil rights movement, makes the casting of Duane Jones as Ben even more interesting. At that time, it was highly unusual to see a black male lead dominating a cast of white folk. While some saw the choice as controversial, Romero distanced himself from any controversy by maintaining that Jones ‘simply gave the best audition.’ Jones’ performance is certainly remarkable, and it’s a surprise to me that he didn’t go on to greater things. That could be because he was also a director and teacher, and maybe that was where his true passions lay. Tragically, he died from a cardiac arrest on July 22nd 1988 at the age of just 51. It is also worth noting that Night of the Living Dead was released at the height of the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union which was still very high in the public consciousness, and various allusions are made to Venus probes and radiation as being possible causes of the zombie apocalypse.

Despite its being heavily criticized upon its release for allegedly being exploitative and excessively gory, Night of the Living Dead quickly garnered critical acclaim and became a much-loved horror classic, birthing many of the familiar horror tropes we still see today. Its success led to five sequels between 1978 and 2000, all directed by Romero (along with two remakes and scores of imitations) and it was eventually selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

GO HERE for more RetView entries.

Trivia Corner:

In the scene where the zombies are eating bodies in the burned-out truck, they were actually eating roasted ham covered in chocolate sauce, which was used as a substitute for blood. This was obviously only possible because the film was shot in black and white. Elsewhere, entrails used in the film were donated by one of the actors who owned a chain of butcher shops.


2019 in Review

It’s that time of year again…

Another one ‘in the books,’ so to speak. And time for another quick review.

2019 kicked off in a high gear for me. In January I finally finished the final edits of my novella Tethered and started punting it around carefully selected publishers, and placed drabbles in 100-Word Horrors volumes 2 and 3, to follow-up my appearance in the first volume.

Saunders for the hattrick.

I also finished compiling X: Omnibus, a collection of all three of my short story collections to date, plus some other odds and ends. I’d already commissioned a cover from the sublime Greg Chapman, but even though most of the stories have been published before in various places, many of them still needed a bit of spit and polish. That process complete, I then had to format both the paperback and ebook versions and set about the task of marketing the sucker. I try to do a couple of guest posts at horror blogs and sites around every release. I find it beneficial, as well as fun. Most notably, this time around I popped up on Kendall Reviews discussing why I write horror.

In the first quarter of the year I had a couple of ‘quiet horror’ stories accepted into anthologies. Specifically, Down the Road appeared in a two-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts, and Where a Town Once Stood was included in the Corona Book of Horror Stories. Obviously, I couldn’t stay ‘quiet’ for long and indulged my wild side in Trigger Warning: Body Horror from Madness Heart Press which included my surrealist skit Revenge of the Toothfish. Tiny Little Vampires was in a similar vein, and that was published by Tell Tale Press and elsewhere, The Bell showed up in Dark Moments.

With seven (count ’em!) new short stories being published, 2019 was probably my most successful ever calendar year in fiction. I also wrote seven or eight more shorts of various lengths and made a start on a new novel about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) and his cat I’ve been planning for a long time. For the most part, my fiction has taken a slightly surreal turn. There have been disembodied fingers poking through plugholes, giant cockroaches, and assassins with supernatural abilities. Still, most of the time, I’ve been living in China and writing non-fiction under a pseudonym. There are a lot of good reasons why I use a pseudonym when I write about my adventures and misadventures in the Middle Kingdom, which I won’t go into here. Let’s just say what happens in China is often best left in China, and written about by some other dude with a fake name. But it’s no big secret. If you want to know who this guy is, PM me and I’ll probably tell you, as long as you’re not the thought police.

*Nervous grin.*

I’m quite excited about this coming year. My RetView series of blog posts where I re-visit classic horror movies is picking up more readers and going from strength to strength, the latest installment of my X series of short fiction (imaginatively entitled X4. I like to keep things simple) is set to drop soon, and I’ve already had a couple of stories accepted into anthologies penciled in for 2020 releases. Hopefully, I’ll also have some new material which I’ve been working on for a while out in the second half of the year, so watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

2018 in Review.


RetView #29 – Turistas (2006)

Title: Turista (Paradise Lost)

Year of Release: 2006

Director: John Stockwell

Length: 95 minutes (uncut)

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Max Brown

Turistas

A lot of horror movies play on mankind’s basic fear of the unknown. Some do it with more flair and panache than others, and manage to tick another box by catering to the kind of inherent xenophobia seemingly prevalent in the vast majority of cinema goers. Foreigners bad! Anything can happen over there! Ain’t you done heard the stories? This is why such classics as Severance, Hostel, Train to Busan and any number of Japanese offeringsJapanese offerings end up being so revered by western audiences. Not only do they exploit our dove-tailing fears of foreigners and the unknown, but they also provide a welcome splash of the weird and exotic, the colourful and vibrant. If we’re lucky. In any case, we can console ourselves with the fact that you won’t find any of that stuff over ‘ere, mate. This effectively creates a welcome sense of distance and separation between you and your horror. It makes the whole thing not only more believable but more enjoyable, because it’s never going to happen to you. Is it?

Turistas (Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian for ‘Tourist,’ in case you couldn’t work it out) follows the adventures of a group of hip young American backpackers trekking through Brazil. As soon as the premise is established, you know bad shit is soon going to befall them. The only question is, what kind of bad shit are we talking about? It all becomes a bit more clear a few minutes in when their coach crashes and they hook up with a couple of wise-cracking English blokes (Askew and Brown) and an Australian girl (George). Together, the newly-expanded group of wayward thrill-seekers find a beach bar and proceed to get wasted. They mix with the locals and much cavorting and hilarity ensues, until they all wake up the next morning and find they’re drinks were spiked and they’ve all been robbed (bloody foreigners!). With no phones, no money, and very little hope, they start walking. They soon find themselves in a tiny village, but incur the wrath of the locals when they chase down a kid they see sporting one of their baseball hats. An ally called Kiko, who may or may not be on the level, takes pity on them and whisks them away to a safe house deep in the jungle. Whether he has their best interests at heart or not is rendered immaterial when he dives into a river and bangs his head, knocking himself unconscious. The turistas carry him to the ‘safe house,’ which is deserted, but not for long, as pretty soon some crackhead hoodlums arrive by helicopter. Chief among them is a power-mad physician who proceeds to drug the unfortunate travellers (again), strap them to beds or lock them in cages, and extract their organs one-by-one to sell on the black market. The trip of a lifetime to Brazil then turns into a horrifying battle for survival.

On its release, Turistas (re-named Paradise Lost in the UK, Ireland and France) was met with mixed reviews. Fangoria magazine claimed it was, “Better and scarier than Hostel,” while the New York Times dismissed it as, “Plain stupid.” Being filmed on location in Brazil means it is visually breathtaking, and there is some stunning underwater photography on show. Gore hounds will be happy with the surgery scenes in the unrated version, which leave little to the imagination and are definitely not for the squeamish. According to IMBD, these scenes were performed by an actual surgeon for authenticity. Most of the sequence was cut for the theatrical release, as was an earlier eye-gouging scene.

Turistas uk edition

Interestingly, Turistas was largely boycotted in Brazil because of the negative image it portrays of the country, and star Josh Duhamel, who later found a home in the Transformer films, was coerced into offering the Brazilian government and people a grovelling apology during a subsequent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Perhaps owing to the mixed reviews and the associated controversy, Turistas was only a modest box office success, bringing in a reported $14.7 million from a budget of $10 million. But don’t let the figures sway you, this is a cut above average.

Trivia Corner:

Desmond Askew (who plays Finn) first shot to fame as a naughty schoolboy in the promo video for Wham’s 1983 hit single Bad Boys. Sticking with the same theme, he later starred in legendary British school drama Grange Hill.


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