Punishment Park

Punishment Park posterAt this point in time, when news about my books is thin on the ground (I am busy writing, honest!), I’d like to try and keep your interest by making regular book and film recommendations. So here’s another submission to my ‘Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club’ (click the link for previous films), and it’s one that’s a little more obscure than some of the others I’ve posted about.

Peter Watkins is a fascinating, controversial and, in my opinion, unfairly overlooked film-maker. Click here to be reminded of my thoughts on one of his earliest films – THE WAR GAME – a 1965, Oscar-winning BBC film which portrayed the effects of a nuclear attack on Kent and which, due to it’s unflinching treatment of the subject matter, remained largely unseen for over twenty years. Today I’d like to introduce you to another of his films, PUNISHMENT PARK. A movie made in 1971 which, at the time, was effectively buried and given only the most cursory of releases.

Here’s the trailer. Click the link below to find out more.

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BEFORE DAWN – Dominic Brunt interview

Last week I promised you a quick interview with Dominic Brunt – writer, director and star of the brilliant BEFORE DAWN – and here it is.

DOMINIC-BRUNTDom’s a huge fan of the horror genre, and that definitely shows. But as I mentioned in my piece last week, there’s far more to BEFORE DAWN than a by-the-numbers zombie story. It has a real depth to it. I asked Dom if he’d always had a burning desire to make a zombie movie, or whether the project came about as a result of finding a story he wanted to tell. He told me nothing was planned initially, and that it began as “a purely hypothetical argument between myself and my wife about what was wrong in her view with the zombie genre. I love a big, loud, shallow crowd pleaser of a zombie flick while Jo likes to delve a bit deeper into a situation and is a huge fan of European and specifically French cinema. It bothered her that there was no one she could relate to and that British zombie/horror films were still trying to copy American cinema styles. The idea was then built around a couple with similar problems and differences to our own and we tried to portray a very realistic world but with a sense of drama and intrigue at its core. We then built on this adding to the tension and tightening the screw before introducing the twist and indeed the undead with all the resulting blood, gore and violence.”

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BEFORE DAWN

L_Mtd414Dominic Brunt is a name more familiar to UK readers as a long-running cast member of the even longer-running ITV soap, Emmerdale. But there’s another side to Dom – he’s an obsessive horror fan. As well as being one of the organisers of the annual Leeds Zombie Film Festival (click here for information on the 2013 event), he’s also the director, co-writer (along with his wife, Joanne Mitchell) and star (also with Joanne) of an excellent zombie movie, BEFORE DAWN. Here’s the trailer. Watch the clip, then click the link to read why I think Before Dawn is, for me, one of the best zombie movies to come along in a long time.

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The Impossible

Most of the film recommendations I share here are post-apocalyptic movies, but today I’m making an exception. Kind of.

Back in 2008, just after Guillermo del Toro’s involvement in the planned Hater movie had been announced, other names soon became attached to the project. Glen Mazzara (late of AMC’s The Walking Dead) wrote a script and Juan Antonio Bayona was lined up to direct. I immediately got hold of a copy of Bayona’s debut feature – The Orphanage – and was very, very impressed by the film. If you haven’t yet seen it, I suggest you check it out. Bayona was also kind enough to blurb Hater, saying ‘Be careful with Hater; chapter by chapter it will make its way into your soul ‘til it finds the seed of evil which lurks within.

The Impossible

For one reason or another (and I still don’t know exactly why), the Hater movie didn’t happen. And just for the record, because I seem to get asked several times every day, I don’t know what the current status of the project is.

Fast-forward to now, and J A Bayona’s second feature – The Impossible – has recently been released. I’m sure you’ve already heard plenty about it. The film is based on the true story of a Spanish family of five who, despite being split up and scattered by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, all managed to survive and were later reunited. The sheer improbability of their story gives rise to the title of the movie.

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Day of the Dead

I have a huge list of post-apocalyptic films I want to write about here, but I don’t seem to ever get time to do it. It was early September when my ‘post-apocalyptic movie club’ last got a mention… there’s always something else needs doing first. But when someone else asks you to write about one of your favourite PA movies, the impetus is very different. A short while ago Wayne Simmons asked me to pick a  zombie film and write about it as part on an ongoing series on his site celebrating the US release of FLU and FEVER.

I chose one of my all-time favourite horror films: George A Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. Click here to visit Wayne’s site to read more.

You can catch Wayne and I on our last signing date of 2012 this coming weekend. We’ll be at Waterstones Swindon on 8th December.

Recommended reading – PORTLANDTOWN

Another book I was asked to blurb was released recently, and I thought some of you might be interested in it. It’s fair to say, Rob DeBorde’s PORTLANDTOWN is a unique zombie novel. Here’s the back cover spiel:

Joseph Wylde isn’t afraid of the past, but he knows some truths are better left unspoken. When his father-in-law’s grave-digging awakens more than just ghosts, Joseph invites him into their home hoping that a booming metropolis and two curious grandtwins will be enough to keep the former marshal out of trouble. Unfortunately, the old man’s past soon follows, unleashing a terrible storm on a city already knee deep in floodwaters. As the dead mysteriously begin to rise, the Wyldes must find the truth before an unspeakable evil can spread across the West and beyond.

And I couldn’t resist reproducing this fantastic artwork I spied over at Rob’s site.

I said the book is “a unique and fascinating horror novel. Cowboys, the supernatural, steampunk, and zombies . . . Portlandtown has enough to keep even the most demanding genre fan satisfied” and I stand by those comments. Enjoy!

Recommended Reading – REEL TERROR

About a year ago, I received an email from Nicole, my editor’s assistant at Thomas Dunne Books, asking me to blurb a new title they’d acquired – REEL TERROR by David Konow. Those of you who’ve had the misfortune of waiting for me to blurb something will know that it usually takes me somewhere between a long time and forever. Not on this occasion: I picked the book up early on a Friday evening and was done by the next day.

REEL TERROR is a lovingly written history of horror cinema, covering everything from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, right up to Paranormal Activity. It’s a fascinating read which looks at why some movies hit the mark and others don’t. Replete with huge numbers of anecdotes and interviews with some of the most important people in the genre, you’ll lap it up if you’re a horror fan like me. Here’s my blurb:

“REEL TERROR is a love letter to a much-maligned genre… thoroughly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in the history of horror movie scares. Written with passion and deep respect, it’ll broaden your understanding of how horror developed from the black-and-white Universal classics to the mainstream smashes of the last decades. A fascinating look at the history of horror, filled with stories, details, and memories that remind you why you fell in love with the genre in the first place. Superb.

Well worth picking up! REEL TERROR is out today.

Take Shelter

An interesting theme (which, coincidentally, is one of the underlying themes of TRUST) is how hard it is for an individual to hold on to their own beliefs in the face of massive opposition from everyone else. Today’s Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club selection is about just that. In TRUST, Tom Winter remains unsure about the aliens whilst everyone else seems intent on welcoming them with open arms. In TAKE SHELTER, Curtis (played by the excellent Michael Shannon), is convinced the world’s about to end. The bottom line is simple and stark: he’s either right or he’s insane.

Curtis is an ordinary man who works hard for the family he dotes over. He has a wife and a very young, profoundly deaf daughter, and he’s a well-respected member of the tight-knit local community. But he also has a problem. He is experiencing apocalyptic visions of increasing severity with increasing regularity. As the visions continue, he begins to question his sanity. And as he struggles to maintain his grip on reality – building a shelter, stocking up on food etc. – his behaviour becomes an increasing concern to all those around him.

I thoroughly enjoyed TAKE SHELTER. It’s a very well made and acted film (particular kudos to writer/director Jeff Nicholls), and key to its success is the fact that no one – Curtis, the people who love him, the audience watching – knows if he’s right or wrong until the last scene. Special effects are used sparingly and to good effect, and the central uncertainty gives the film a sense of real unease which grows by the minute. Put yourself in his shoes… you love your family more than anything else in the world and you’d do absolutely anything to protect them. If you thought there was even the slightest chance that Armageddon was looming on the horizon, could you just sit back and do nothing?

Here’s the trailer. Grab a copy of the film and find out for yourself if Curtis is right or if he’s got it very, very wrong.

The Day Britain Stopped

I’ve long tried to understand my fascination with the end of the world. One reason is undoubtedly down to my habit of ‘people watching’ (which isn’t as voyeuristic as it sounds!). Putting characters in extreme situations – and you can’t get more extreme than the end of everything – is a wonderful way of stripping away all pretence and social niceties to expose the black and white reality of what we need to do to survive. When someone’s faced with a yes or no, sink or swim, fight or flight decision in order to stay alive, their behaviour is likely to be a lot more honest and direct than if they’re concerned about what the neighbours are thinking.

Another aspect of Armageddon which intrigues me is its perpetual closeness. I’m guessing that everything probably went okay for you yesterday and so far today, but what about tomorrow? I’m conscious that I sound like a miserable pessimist here and I apologise because I’m not, but the fact remains: anything could happen in the next five minutes. That’s a frightening prospect in itself, but it’s made even more terrifying when you consider how complex and fragile an ecosystem we all inhabit. At any moment something which is completely out of our control might trigger a chain reaction which could drastically alter our individual lives and the lives of those around us. It’s sobering stuff if you think about it (which I do… far too often and in far too much detail!).

Today’s recommendation for my Post-Apocalyptic movie club is a BBC faux-documentary from 2003 which demonstrates just that: The Day Britain Stopped.

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Recommended Reading – SURVIVORS

The zombie community was shocked back in December 2009 when Z A Recht – author of Plague of the Dead and its sequel Thunder and Ashes – passed away unexpectedly. I’d only been corresponding with Z a week or so earlier, and his death shook me to the core. I was really pleased, therefore, when Permuted Press and author Thom Brannan completed the final book in the series – SURVIVORS – using the notes and drafts Z had left behind. When they asked me to provide a blurb, I didn’t hesitate. I said: “Taut and thrilling… brutal and unforgiving… Zombie fans will love this book”, and I stand by those comments. Here’s the back copy:

THE MORNINGSTAR STRAIN WAS THE END OF THE WORLD.

In the wake of the zombie apocalypse, two separate bands of survivors journey across a decimated America, each with the desperate goal of finding the cure for the virulent plague that threatens the existence of humankind—or what’s left of it. Now it’s up to these inheritors of the future to outlive their waking nightmare, any way they can.

BUT FOR THESE SURVIVORS, IT IS JUST THE BEGINNING.

One group includes a brilliant virologist; for the other, an immune soldier proves invaluable. Battling infected and marauding raiders at every turn, the teams soon uncover the devious plans of Sawyer, an agent of the Chairman of the Reunited States of America, who believes that Dr. Anna Demilio already has the cure, and he will stop at nothing to find her. Now, with the salvation of the world and their own souls on the line, how far will the survivors go to emerge victorious?”