I’m not a historian or a military buff, so I had very few obvious reference points when I started writing THE FRONT: RED DEVILS (which was released this week, in case I hadn’t mentioned). Much of the second half of the book is set in the fictional surrounds of a concentration camp at Polonezköy, Poland. I had a very clear image in my head of how parts of the camp would look, and that got me thinking about a long-forgotten horror movie I’d always planned to watch but hadn’t been able to locate. That movie was MICHAEL MANN’STHE KEEP. Whilst not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, I certainly enjoyed it enough to recommend it to you here.
It is World War II in German-occupied Romania. Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress, but a nightmarish discovery is soon made. The Keep was not built to keep anything out. The massive structure was, in fact, built to keep something in…
I’ve only ever seen two dead bodies – those of my father-in-law and my father. Regardless of the emotional attachment, it’s always a sobering experience. I’m not a religious man (in fact, I’m as far from religious as you can get – anti-religion, if you like), so I don’t believe any part of a person survives past the point of death. My belief is that once you die, you’re done. You immediately stop being you and become, well… nothing.
But what about your shell? What about the husk you leave behind? What happens to that?
It’s a sensitive and often taboo subject, but it’s one journalist and writer Mary Roachtackles head on in 2003 book, STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS. Written in a hilarious style which feels at once both keenly respectful and also cheeky and impertinent, Roach looks at a large number of ways the human body is used after death. Let me give you some examples of the subjects of her chapters:
human crash test dummies
studying the process of decay
what the bodies of the victims can tell inspectors after a crash
the scientific search for the soul
human head transplants…
…and it goes on. It sounds grotesque, I know, and Roach often writes with an unflinching eye, but she achieves something remarkable with this book: in talking about death and decay, she somehow leaves you feeling happier about life and your inevitable end. I originally picked this book up for research purposes (you think I make this stuff up? I’ll have you know the decay of my zombies is medically researched!), but by the end of a couple of chapters I was just along for the ride.
My dad died just under a year ago, and I was with him at the end. I’d had STIFF part-read on my shelf for a number of years, but losing Dad gave me a surprising incentive to pick the book up again and finish it. And I’m glad I did. It helped put things in perspective. Highly recommended.
On 26 January THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS hits US cinema screens. Here in the UK we were lucky enough to get to see the film in September last year. My advice to those of you in the States? Go see this movie as soon as you’re able. Based on the acclaimed novel by M R Carey, it’s a superb zombie tale with an excellent cast, which echoes the works of George Romero and John Wyndham in equal measure. Below you’ll find a synopsis, the trailer, and a link to click to read my thoughts.
The near future; humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects.
At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell. Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. And while still being subject to the craving for human flesh that marks the disease these second-generation “hungries” are able to think and feel making them a vital resource in the search for a cure.
The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks. But one little girl, Melanie, stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favourite teacher Miss Justineau.
When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race.
You might remember that a couple of months ago I started looking back at Richard Matheson’s landmark novel, I AM LEGEND, and the various film adaptations which have followed. I wrote about LAST MAN ON EARTH here, and eviscerated THE OMEGA MAN here. Now it’s time to look at the version I was dreading most. Alex Proyas’ 2007 I AM LEGEND starring Will Smith.
It’s funny how time affects your perception and enjoyment of movies. I originally loved THE OMEGA MAN back in the day, but hated it following my recent re-watch. Similarly, whilst I despised I AM LEGEND first time around, it didn’t annoy me anywhere near as much when I watched it again. It’s still horribly flawed, it still takes huge liberties with Matheson’s story, it still stars Will Smith (and I still can’t stand him), but it was… well, okay, I guess.
Here’s the trailer. Click the link for my thoughts.
I’ve been looking back at Richard Matheson’s seminal I AM LEGEND and the various movie adaptations the book has spawned. This week, Charlton Heston in 1971’s THE OMEGA MAN.
My horror movie education began with double bills of Hammer classics and Universal monster movies which used to be shown late Saturday nights on the BBC. When my parents bought our first VCR, a whole world of possibilities was opened. For the first time I was able to record and watch films I’d otherwise miss because they were on too late on a school night or because my parents didn’t think they were appropriate (please remember – I was very young, and this was the height of the Video Nasties craziness which outlawed 99.9% of the films I wanted to watch).
I remember recording mainstream horror movies such as ALIEN and THE OMEN and watching them endlessly for as long as I was able (usually until Dad needed the tape to record something else – tapes were damn expensive back in the day, and we had the sum total of four of them).
THE OMEGA MAN was another film I watched again and again until I could pretty much recite the script, and until re-watching it for this feature, I hadn’t seen it in a long time. I expected it to have dated badly, but Charlton Heston’s post-apocalyptic antics really took me by surprise. I knew I’d watched the movie through the rose-tinted spectacles of innocence and youth, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is a clunky and horrendously dated film.
Chuck plays Robert Neville who, in this version of the story, lives an isolated life of relative comfort in a funky pad which, for some inexplicable reason, reminded me of Batman’s cave (and I’m talking Adam West Batman here, not Christian Bale or that Affleck person). More than any other I AM LEGEND adaptation, this film is a product of its time. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean, then click the link for my thoughts.
A couple of weeks ago I kicked off a retrospective look at I AM LEGEND by looking at Richard Matheson’s landmark book and promising to re-watch the three film adaptations which have been produced to date.
To my mind, this first adaptation – the Vincent Price starring LAST MAN ON EARTH from 1964 – is the best by a long shot, and that’s surprising given the increasing budgets and advances in technology used to make movies in the fifty-or-so years since it was made.
Or maybe it’s not surprising at all?
Maybe it makes perfect sense that a small, low-budget movie like this should come closest to matching the claustrophobic tone of Matheson’s book. Without the distraction of summer blockbuster state-of-the-art special effects, all we’re left to focus on is Vincent Price’s intense portrayal of Robert Morgan (confusingly re-named from Neville in this version of the story). When the world outside has shrunk to one man’s area of reach, why would we want to look any wider?
At this point I’d usually include a trailer, but LAST MAN ON EARTH is in the public domain (according to some sources), so I’ve embedded the entire movie below care of the Internet Archive.
Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is a remarkable book. Do a straw poll of a hundred horror authors and ask them to name the single piece of fiction which most influenced them, and I’ll wager that a good number will cite I AM LEGEND. It’s not just authors – the same is probably true of film-makers too. You can’t read the book without having scenes from George Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play out in your head.
There’s no question, therefore, that this is an hugely influential novel, and the fact it’s been filmed on no less than three occasions is further proof of that. Interestingly, though, it’s also a remarkably slight book, coming in at less than 200 pages. So how does Matheson cram so much into so little? I decided to try and find out. There will unavoidably be spoilers ahead.
As I type I’ve literally just finished re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. I thought it would be interesting to give you my thoughts on the novel and then, over the next few weeks, to look at each of the film adaptations in turn (and if you’re not aware of the movies, they are as follows: LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN and I AM LEGEND).
I’m sure you know the basic plot by now but, just in case, here’s the back cover blurb: Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake…
A unique book recommendation for you today – one that’ll certainly appeal if you’re of a certain age (ie mid-forties, like me), and if you grew up in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. DISCOVERING SCARFOLK is hilarious and unsettling in equal measure, and that’s a great combination. To set the scene, here’s the back cover blurb…
“Scarfolk is a town in north-west England that did not progress beyond 1979. The entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. In Scarfolk children must not be seen OR heard, and everyone has to be in bed by 8 pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever…”
Part-comedy, part-horror, part-satire, DISCOVERING SCARFOLK is the surreal account of a family trapped in the town. Through public information posters, news reports, books, tourist brochures and other ephermera, we learn about the darker side of childhood, school and society in Scarfolk.
A massive cult hit online, Scarfolk re-creates with shiver-inducing accuracy and humour our most nightmarish childhood memories.
This stuff is so brilliantly produced that it catches you off-guard, and the detail involved is incredible. The DISCOVERING SCARFOLK book collects some of the best of these pieces and wraps it up with a narrative that’s part-LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN and part-WICKER MAN. The story is less engaging than the artwork, but that doesn’t matter. Author Richard Littler has produced something hugely original and not a little unnerving, and I can’t wait to see where he takes his creation next (rumour has it there’s a Scarfolk TV series in the works).
Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT was first published in 2000. Part-biography, part-toolbox and instructional manual, and part-something else entirely, it’s a unique read. But I’m guessing you already know that. I’m assuming many of you may have already read it. A lot of fellow horror/ suspense/ thriller writers visit here, and of those of you who are more interested in reading than writing, I’m sure a large proportion are die-hard King fans. So why am I recommending it now?
When I signed my first major publishing contract back in early 2008 (I’d worked almost exclusively by myself until that point, and the contract I signed for the first version of STRAIGHT TO YOU definitely was not major), I began to mix with a large number of fellow authors from many different walks of publishing life. A number of them suggested I should read ON WRITING, and I duly followed their advice. I ordered a copy and devoured it quickly. I took on board a lot of King’s sagely advice, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. And then I put the book on my over-crowded shelf and left it there.
A few months ago, though, while looking for summer holiday reads in advance of getting on a plane and doing bugger-all in the sun around a pool for a week, I picked it up again. I read it voraciously in a single day, and it was revelatory.
I guess we all have films we fully intend to watch on release but then, for one reason or another, we end up missing. I don’t know about you, but I have a ‘to watch’ pile that’s as big as my ‘to read’ pile. Today’s movie recommendation, Jim Mickle’s 2010 STAKE LAND, is one such film which I’d been planning to watch for years but only just got around to. STAKE LAND popped back up on my radar recently when it was announced that a sequel – THE STAKELANDER – has been filmed in secret. In these days of set reports and teaser images and trailers for trailers, it’s so refreshing to hear about a movie project for the first time once it’s in the can.
You’ve probably already seen STAKE LAND by now. In any event, here’s a synopsis and trailer. Click the link below for my brief thoughts.
America is a lost nation. When an epidemic of vampirism strikes and his family is slaughtered, young Martin (Connor Paolo) is taken under the wing of a grizzled, wayward hunter (Nick Damici) whose new prey are the undead. Simply known as Mister, the vampire stalker takes Martin on a journey through the locked-down towns of America’s heartland, searching for a better place to call home while taking down any bloodsuckers that cross their path.