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.’
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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?”
It’s a long weekend here – an extended holiday which the country probably can’t afford, in honour of something many people seem to be quite indifferent about. I thought now would be a good opportunity to recommend another film for my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club.
Steven Soderburgh’s CONTAGION was released last year, and I was hopeful we’d finally see a decent big-budget pandemic movie. Though it was critically well received, I didn’t like the film at all. To my mind it was as unsatisfying as 1995’s OUTBREAK, but this time with Gwyneth Paltrow as the Aids Monkey (with thanks for that quote to whoever designed the ‘honest’ Contagion movie poster I’ve used here).
My problem, I think, is that I don’t like any disaster/pandemic movie with a well known cast, and Contagion had a stack of them. If I’m watching a film about the end of civilization, then the end of civilization is what I want to see. I want unknowns and people who look like you and me, not a host of overpaid, airbrushed celebrities. Witness (only if you absolutely have to) 2007’s I am Legend with Will Smith to show how even the most beautiful of post-apocalyptic scenarios can be fucked up by such casting decisions.
So my recommended movie today is definitely not Contagion. Instead, it’s a little-known Japanese-American film: VIRUS (Fukkatsu no hi). It does have a number of well known faces in it, but it was made in 1980, when the term ‘celebrity’ didn’t seem to have quite the same connotations it does today. It’s a crazy film, and here’s a trailer. Click the link below to learn more.
“The mystery virus struck down millions. Three days later, its victims awoke with a single violent purpose: spread the Infection. As the world lurched toward the apocalypse, some of the Infected continued to change, transforming into horrific monsters.
America’s far-flung military has returned home to war against its own country, engaged in a fierce battle to retake Washington, DC. Two hundred miles away, Ray Young, survivor of a fight to save a refugee camp from hordes of Infected fleeing the burning ruins of Pittsburgh, awakes from a coma to learn he has also survived Infection.
But this is no miracle. Ray is not immune. Instead, he has been transformed into a superweapon that could end the world … or save it.”
I enjoyed Craig’s monster-filled spin on the zombie apocalypse very much. Here’s my take: “a unique and startling vision of Armageddon … DiLouie takes the nightmare of THE INFECTION and ratchets up the horror to another level … It’s an excellent post-apocalyptic tale filled with horrific creatures and desperate people. He weaves the threads of his story expertly, managing to show the devastating cost of the crisis on both a human level and a global scale. Recommended!”
A while back I was sent a copy of a new zombie novel to blurb. Nothing unusual about that you might think, but when I looked into the history of the book and its author, I immediately wanted to know more. You see, THE RETURN MAN by V M Zito had very similar beginnings to AUTUMN.
Zito had been dabbling in short fiction writing for some time, but when it came to writing his first novel, he didn’t want to risk shutting himself away in isolation: “I knew I’d go mad in a vacuum of space and time if I locked myself in my office for a year, working on a single project. I was nervous about going so long without a sense of completion, or feedback, or knowing if I was on the right or wrong track. Posting chapters online, one at a time, was a great way around that dilemma; the feedback and support I received from online readers kept me motivated and engaged in the writing process. I think I’ve grown from the experience, and writing a second novel the “traditional way” would be possible for me now – but I’m pretty sure this first one would still be a draft on my desktop if I hadn’t gone online.” Those words certainly rang a few bells with me!
THE RETURN MAN is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed. Here’s the blurb:
“The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who – or what – is watching you . . .”
I talked to Zito about the book and his influences. Watch the trailer, then click the link below to read more.