Tag Archives: review

Beauty School – Happiness (album review)

I caught this Leeds-based 5-piece supporting The Dangerous Summer at Thekla in Bristol recently, and was so impressed I went back to my hotel and downloaded their album that very evening. Beer may have been involved. What I ended up with was this 13-track stonker, their first after a clutch of singles, on the recently re-launched label Slam Dunk Records, which is run by the same people behind the festival so you might have a decent idea of what to expect.

A consistent, solid album of authentic-sounding emo anthems infused with pop punk hooks, Happiness, produced by James Kenosha (Dinosaur Pile-Up / Pulled Apart by Horses) is bookended by two of its strongest tracks, the riotous feelgood sing-along Take it Slow and the soaring, slightly slower-paced and more reflective Junior, a song about paying your dues.

The singles Oak, Nightwalker, Drysocket and Pawn Shop Jewels, a mid-tempo rocker showcasing singer Joe Cabrera’s impressive vocal range, also stand out. It might not have spent 16 weeks at number one (does that even mean anything any more) but almost 45k plays on YouTube alone ina few short months is nothing to be sneezed at. Whoever chose those singles chose well, each one offering a pure, perfect slice of modern alt rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on any playlist. The musicianship is precise and textured, the twin guitars and wistful lyrics, more often than not referencing growing up and working class life, sit proudly atop a surging rhythm section. Also of note is Monster, the jaunty chorus striking a tense duality with the dark, intensely personal subject matter. It’s expertly done, and guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine. Cool video, too.

The members of Beauty School have been fixtures on the northern rock scene for years, playing in different bands with varying levels of success. Consequently, this is the sound of a band with direction, who have done their time, put in the graft, and now have a clear idea about their sound and what they want to achieve as a band. Best of all, they clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, which is refreshing to see. As the marketing bumph says: “Beauty School have interpreted sounds from pop-punk, alt-rock, and indie-rock and forged a record that finds a home in each genre without feeling out of place or over-indulgent.”

The influences aren’t hard to spot. The Wonder Years, Neck Deep, and A Day to Remember shine through, and there are tuneful touches of Funeral for a Friend, Feeder and even vintage New Found Glory. Hearing this album for the first time was like listening to the result of all my favourite bands getting together for an impromptu jamming session. I’ve spunked money on many worse things when drunk.

I wasn’t the only one who was impressed, Beauty School have been making a lot of friends recently and picked up a bit of airplay. Beauty School are out on tour again this month supporting The Wonder Years, another great band. See you down the front.


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 #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.


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.


RetView #57 – What a Carve Up! (1961)

Title: What a Carve Up!

Year of Release: 1961

Director: Pat Jackson

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Dennis Price, Donald Pleasence, Michael Gough

Okay, this isn’t strictly a horror film. It’s more of a comedy in the Carry On Screaming vein. By coincidence, it even features some of the ‘Carry On’ lot. Though leaning more toward comedy, it was effectively marketed as a comedy horror, and is therefore worthy of a place in this series, the purpose of which is not only to celebrate the classics, but also the derided, forgotten and overlooked. If anything, I lean more toward the derided, forgotten and overlooked in an effort to make them slightly less so. What A Carve Up! is intentionally crammed full of old-school horror tropes and cliches from misty moors and an old haunted mansion, to secret passages and clandestine murders, and is all done with that distinctively quaint English charm. The film was loosely based on the novel The Ghoul by Frank King, which had been adapted for the screen in 1933.

When affable yet unremarkable Ernie Broughton (Connor), who spends far too much time with his head buried in horror novels, recieves word that a distant uncle of his has died, he travels to a secluded country mansion for a reading of the will with flatmate Syd Butler (James). There, the duo meet an eccentric selection of distant relatives, a butler (Michael Gough in the same kind of role that later defined him in the Batman films), and a mad piano player. Soon after they arrive, one of their number is found murdered, forcing the others to spend the night in the company of the killer, who doesn’t stop at one. The night quickly descends into a riotously funny battle for survival, and a hunt to unmask the crazed killer. One of the funniest moments comes when someone calls the police and an Inspector accuses Ernie of not being as much of a fool as he makes out. “But I am!” he protests. All this leads to a predictably preposterous ending and final unveiling, but by then you won’t even care who the killer is because arriving at that point is such good fun.

The title itself works as a pun on carving up (dividing) the deceased family estate, and ‘carve up’ as in cutting meat, a reference to knife murder, one of the ways one of the victims are dispatched. In America, the title was changed to, “No place like a homicide!” which is obviously a play on the phrase “No place like home” which also works as its set in an ancestral family home. The phrase had been buried in the American psyche since popularized by the character Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939). I do love a good pun. Perhaps surprisingly, the movie didn’t fare so well in America, and wasn’t helped by a spate of indifferent reviews, like the one to be found in the New York Times on 13th September 1962, which stated, “The fact that a film of this degree of vulgarity and ineptitude should have managed a week’s booking at neighbourhood theatres throughout Manhattan demonstrates just how acute the motion picture product shortage really is.”

Even so, over the years What a Carve Up! has deservedly won cult status in the genre labelled ‘dark house’ by some. In truth, it’s a parody, and a very effective one, which is hardly surprising given that it was co-written by the king of the double entendre, Ray Cooney. Incidentally, the director Pat Jackson went on to lend his skills to The Prisoner and the Professionals, among other things, and it was a huge influence on the 1994 novel of the same name by Jonathan Coe which won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize, one of the oldest literary awards in the UK. Its current overall score on Rotten Tomatoes stands at a respectable 66% while it has been ‘liked’ by 91% of Google users. It’s also notable for a late, uncredited cameo from teen idol Adam Faith. You can watch What a Carve Up on YouTube.

Trivia Corner:

The butler Fisk is pictured reading a copy of DH Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” In 1961, this was a subtle, yet timely gag as its publishers Penguin Books had been prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in a widely-publicized trial at the Old Bailey the previous year.


RetView #55 – The Giant Claw (1957)

Title: The Giant Claw

Year of Release: 1957

Director: Fred F Sears

Length: 75 mins

Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Lou Merrill, Edgar Barrier

1947 was a pivotal year in the development of the human race in many ways. Two separate incidents occurred that had a profound effect on popular culture (in particular writers and filmmakers) and, if you believe some of the conspiracy theorists, science and technology. First, in June, there was the Roswell incident. Then, the following month, Kenneth Arnold made his famous UFO sighting and inadvertently coined the phrase ‘flying saucers’. These two seismic events, coming so soon after World War II was effectively brought to a sudden halt by America’s two-pronged nuclear assault on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had a wide-ranging influence on America’s psyche, and by extension, the rest of the world. It was a period of great change and infinite possibilities. Over the next decade countless movies tried to tap into this rich vein of fear, paranoia and uncertainty running through the public consciousness, and The Giant Claw (sometimes referred to as the Mark of the Claw) is a fine example.

Whilst engaged in a radar test flight, civil engineer Mitch MacAfee (Morrow, who also starred in the Twilight Zone episode Elegy) spots what he thinks is a UFO. Three jet fighter aircraft are scrambled to pursue and identify the object, but one goes missing. Officials are initially angry at MacAfee over the loss of a pilot and jet over what they believe to be a hoax. When MacAfee and mathematician Sally Caldwell (Corday) fly back to New York, their aircraft also comes under attack and crash lands in the mountains. A farmer (Merrill) comes to their rescue and tells them about a local legend speaking of huge birds. Again, MacAfee’s report is met with skepticism, but the authorities are forced to take his story seriously when several more aircraft disappear. They discover that instead of some alien craft, a gigantic bird “as big as a battleship” purported to come from an anti-matter galaxy, is responsible. MacAfee, Caldwell, Dr. Karol Noymann (Barrier), and General Considine (Ankrum) set to work finding a way to defeat the seemingly invincible creature before it wreaks havoc on America. They are partially successful, and eventually invent a weapon capable of killing the creature, but not before it strikes at the very heart of capitalism by attacking New York. This is when it becomes obvious that the giant bird is a damn commie (on a subliminal level, the monstrous entity also probably represents the looming, destructive fear of the unknown, which is arguably the same thing) because it wastes no time venting its fury on the United Nations building during a cheesy, yet fun-filled and strangely intoxicating climax.

The movie was distributed by Columbia Pictures as a double feature with The Night The World Exploded (1957) and was directed by Fred Sears, a legend of the B movie genre most famous for Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956) and Rock Around the Clock (1956). Tragically, shortly after The Giant Claw was released he was found dead by a security guard in the washroom of his office at Sunset Studios of Columbia Pictures at the age of 45. By then, he had directed over fifty films and acted in many more, usually in uncredited roles. According to Richard Harland Smith of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the inspiration for the story may have been taken from media reports about scientific discoveries in the field of particle physics, dealing with matter and antimatter. Other influences included the Japanese film Rodan (1956) and the Samuel Hopkins Adams story “Grandfather and a Winter’s Tale,” about a mythical bird-like creature prominent in French-Canadian folklore called la Carcagne, which appeared in the January 1951 issue of The New Yorker.

Critical reception was extremely negative, with the special effects in particular roundly mocked. Film writer and historian Bill Warren commented, “This would have been an ordinarily bad movie of its type, with a good performance by Jeff Morrow, if the special effects had been industry standard for the time. That, however, is not what happened. The Claw is not just badly rendered, it is hilariously rendered, resembling nothing so much as Warner Bros. Cartoon-character Beaky Buzzard. Once seen, you will never forget this awesomely silly creation.”

Wowzer.

Trivia Corner

Jeff Morrow later confessed in an interview that no one in the film knew what the monster looked like until the film’s premiere, since it was added later. Morrow himself first saw the film in his hometown, and hearing the audience laugh every time the monster appeared on screen, left the theatre early, went home and started drinking.


2021 in Review

Despite the unprecedented fuckery of 2020, it proved to be one of the most productive years of my writing career, certainly as far as fiction goes. I had to do something to fill those endless hours of lockdown. I like to see progress in the things I put my energy into, so while it was pleasing to have such a productive spell, I knew I had to maintain momentum. 2021 got off to a great start with the publication of my gross-out murder mystery Siki’s Story via The Splatter Club in January and my drabble (100-word story) Faces on the Walls appearing in the first anthology out out by Ghost Orchid Press. Alone, Or, a more traditional ghost story with a literary flavour, was included in the Spring edition of Frost Zone Zine on Cryoseism Press and shortly after the same publisher snapped up my Halloween-themed shocker Misshapes & Rejects for an anthology called Handmade Horror Stories.

I finished the first draft of the first Ben Shivers novel (working title: The Wretched Bones), about a paranormal investigator who lives in a mobile home with a cat called Mr. Trimble back in in 2019. The first draft of anything is always a mess, so I immediately set about writing a second draft and then a third in the first half of 2021. The intention was to bring the total word count down from 88,000 to a more manageable 80,000. However, that didn’t go to plan and after all the edits and rewrites, the final version ended up at just under 92,000 words. Life, eh? Whilst pitching the first book to agents and prospective publishers I wrote the first draft of the sequel and hope to have the second draft completed in the first quarter of 2022. I also put some time into finding a home for my Joshua Strange YA series, which is about a boy who inadvertently becomes a time traveller. That series, kind of my pet project, currently stands at three completed novels and a novella.

In 2021 I also completed a couple of novellas. Strzyga, about a warehouse worker on the nightshift who takes possession of a mysterious crate, stands at just shy of 10,000 which is a pretty weird length. Slightly too long for a short story, and not long enough for a novella. The other is a horror western called Silent Mine featuring a new character called Dylan Wilder who I like a lot, and might well involve in some more shenanigans in the future.

As the year progressed I had stories about genetically engineered giant cockroaches and a demon that sucks the eyeballs out of people’s heads while they sleep published in Scare Street anthologies, and a twisted little tale called Painted Nails in the extreme horror collection No Anesthetic on Splatter Ink Publishing.

Also on the extreme side, Eeva appeared in Books of Horror Collective Vol 3, Hell-bent was included in an anthology called Unleashed, and a reprint of Harberry Close was published in the the anthology Railroad Tales. In a bit of a departure, If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad, one of the few stories I’ve written where nobody dies, was published in the lit mag The Quiet Reader and I had other short pieces published in Every day Fiction, 101 Words, twentytwotwentyeight and Meghan’s superb blog, where I also did an interview. I did an interview with Willow Croft too, where we discussed everything from classic horror movies to eating brains in order to impress a date (hey, it worked!) and I also popped up on Dylan Roche’s blog. Most recently, reprints of earlier stories have appeared in the winter issue of Siren’s Call and the charity anthology The Colour of Deathlehem.

On the non-fiction front, I wrote about the Sai Kung mystery for Fortean Times magazine and podcasts, horror markets, alt fiction, and gothic fiction, for Writer’s Weekly. If you want to access my archive there, just search go to this search bar and enter Chris Saunders. Perhaps my biggest news of 2021 was releasing my latest book Back from the Dead: A Collection of Zombie Fiction which compiled half a dozen similarly-themed stories which have been published elsewhere, along with a brand-new novellette called The Plague Pit.

Surprisingly, my most popular blog post of the year was this one about live Bruce Springsteen recordings which got over 180 views in a single day. If you ever want to drive traffic to your blog, just say Winterland ’78 isn’t the best live Springsteen recording ever and post it in a fan group on Facebook where approximately 179 of those 180 people will disagree with you. Finally, my RetView series is still going strong, the most recent additions being Shutter and The Gorgon. You can access the entire archive of over fifty installments HERE. If you’re looking to explore some cult horror movies, that’s a good place to start. Lastly, you may have noticed I’ve updated this site and added a couple of new sections, including a place where you can purchase signed copies of my books and read some free fiction.

To summarize, I had 16 short stories published through various channels in 2021, which is a personal best. I also released a collection of fiction and finished a novel and two novellas, at least one of which will see the light in 2022. Also scheduled to drop very soon is the latest installment in my on-going X series and I have a few new short stories up my sleeve. A couple have already been commissioned.

And that’ll do it for one year. Remember, if you want to achieve your dreams you have to get out there and make it happen. Find solutions, not excuses.

Thanks for reading!


A Review of Tethered

My novella Tethered has been picking up some stonking reviews recently, like this one by E.B. Lundsford. By the way, you should check out her website if you know what’s good for you.

This is what she said:

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book, but I’ve read some of the author’s short stories and really enjoyed them, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad that I did! This novella blew me away. It was unique, the storytelling was good, the characters were interesting, and the twist ending was great.

A reporter stumbles across a young woman’s blog while researching for his next article and becomes hooked. He is fascinated by the girl and the rituals she posts about. When she goes missing, he decides to try and find her. To quote the book, “This wasn’t about sex. That would make it trite and cliched. It was about reaching out and taking a chance. Shining a light in a world of darkness and making a difference.”

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the ending was superb. “It’s quite simple, really. You see, people are gullible. They see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe. It would be a sin not to take advantage of such… stupidity.”

I can’t recommend this book enough. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Saunders work”

Tethered is available on ebook and paperback now on Terror Tract Publishing.


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.


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