RIP George Romero

I’ve just heard the terrible news that the Godfather of zombies, George A Romero, has passed away at the age of 77 after a short battle with lung cancer. This is awful, awful news. I’m hard pushed to think of a filmmaker who had such an influence on the horror genre. For me, I can trace my fascination with zombies to a particular dark and storm-filled afternoon when, with my brother and a bunch of friends, we sat down to watch the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on laserdisc (yes, it was that long ago). That movie was revelatory, as was DAWN OF THE DEAD, and then DAY OF THE DEAD. Landmark. Without Mr Romero’s movies, myself and scores of other writers and filmmakers would have had to find something else to do for a living. His films – particularly the original DEAD trilogy and other classics like THE CRAZIES and MARTIN – struck a chord in a way very few movies did. The series which kickstarted my career – AUTUMN – would never have been written had it not been for Romero’s films.

George Romero is survived by his wife and three children. My sincere condolences go out to them at this very sad time.

The Girl with All the Gifts

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.

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I Am Legend (2007)

iamlegendposterYou 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.

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The Last Man on Earth

LMOEA 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.

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I am Legend

IamLegendRichard 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…

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SCREAM issue 32

321-212x300I owe my friends at SCREAM MAGAZINE an apology. I’ve been meaning to post for a while to let you know that issue 32 is out, but various things have conspired to get in the way and I’ve not had chance to put anything together until now.

As usual, this month’s issue is filled with great articles including a feature on the classic Hammer horror films THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL – known collectively as The Karnstein Trilogy. There’s something timeless and unique about Hammer movies. This box set is one of my prized horror possessions, and I’d recommend it without hesitation to anyone with even a passing interest in the horror genre. Required viewing.

Back to the mag and, as always, the team behind SCREAM have proved their horror credentials. Where else could you find an interview with Mike Christopher aka Hare Krishna zombie in George Romero‘s 1978 original DAWN OF THE DEAD.

From the earlier days of the zombie sub-genre to the bang up to date. SCREAM 32 includes a piece on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD which features interviews with Robert Kirkman and others. I recently watched the first episode of FEAR and was completely underwhelmed. if you’ve been watching, answer me this: should I stick with it?

To get hold of SCREAM, visit www.screamhorrormag.com. You can also pick up the magazine from any branch of HMV, Forbidden Planet, or any of the newsagents listed here. SCREAM is also available digitally as iSCREAM!

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

NIGHT-OF-THE-LIVING-DEAD-1990-posterA couple of times recently I’ve talked about remakes of classic horror movies. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. I maintain that in order for a remake to be a critical success, it has to have a point. It might be that the original fell short in some way, or that film-making technology has advanced sufficiently to benefit the telling of a particular story. Or maybe a sociological, environmental or political change or similar has given the premise a new lease of life.

Unfortunately, the George Romero scripted, Tom Savini directed 1990 remake of Romero’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has very little reason to exist. I caught the remake on it’s opening weekend twenty-five years ago (twenty-five years… how did that happen?) and I took the opportunity to watch it again recently. I really enjoyed it when I was twenty, and I wondered how it would hold up today. The short answer – it didn’t. Not particularly well, anyway.

It’s a new night for terror – and a new dawn in horror movie-making when special-effects genius Tom Savini (creator of the spectacularly gruesome make-up in FRIDAY THE 13TH and CREEPSHOW) brings modern technology to this colourful remake of George A. Romero‘s 1968 cult classic. Seven strangers are trapped in an isolated farmhouse while cannibalistic zombies – awakened from death by the return of a radioactive space probe – wage a relentless attack, killing (and eating) everyone in their path. The classic for the 90s: graphic, gruesome and more terrifying than ever!

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Guest blog – GAY, NAZI, CROSS DRESSING ZOMBIES! (or HOW TO SUBVERT THE GENRE AND GET AWAY WITH IT) by Jasper Bark

Jasper Bark once ate my brains (don’t believe me? Here’s irrefutable proof). So it’s with pleasure, and not a little apprehension, that I welcome him to this site with a guest post. Take it away, Jasper…

7645611Over a decade ago, while I was a film journalist, I got to interview producer Jeffrey Katzenberg as part of the the press junket for Shrek 2. At one point I asked him if he thought the Shrek franchise was subverting the fairytale/family entertainment genre, so beloved of Disney? Katzenberg rolled his eyes and shook his head at my question.

“Y’know,” he said. “I get about ten young writers coming into my office every week telling me they’ve got a script that reinvents some genre or other. But you know what – I wish they’d just learn to write the freaking genre, before trying to remake it!” I remember being a bit abashed at the time, not just because he’d brushed off my question, but I probably had some work tucked away in a drawer that aspired to reinvent a genre or two. With hindsight however, I can’t help thinking how spot on his comment was.

Every genre has to reinvent itself over time if it’s to remain relevant and fresh to successive generations. However, so many attempts end up falling flat, or missing the mark. So, what I’d like to look at in this guest post, is the ways in which writers, directors and other genre practitioners have successfully subverted the horror genre throughout its long history, to get an idea of what really works.

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Escape from New York

Escape from New YorkI have a habit (and I can’t decide whether it’s a good or bad habit) of neglecting everything else when I start writing a new book. I’ve been neck-deep in the first novel in the SPACES BETWEEN series for the last few weeks and haven’t been posting here as often as I’d planned. I’ll try and put that right.

I’ve just re-watched a classic. A real blast from the past for this Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club selection, and for good reason. I’ll be referencing this film, and the film I’m going to talk about next, in a new ‘What Works For Me’ article, coming up shortly.

There are three directors I regularly cite as having had a huge impact on me during my formative years. In no particular order they are George Romero, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter. Romero is self-explanatory: without him there’d be no Autumn. Cronenberg – well, he’s responsible for some of my very favourite horror movies… The Fly, Shivers, Rabid – need I go on? I was once told that he’d been passed a copy of Hater. Just the thought that Cronenberg’s held one of my books is something I still find hard to believe.

John Carpenter completes this weird holy trinity. His films are, I think, more accessible than those of Cronenberg and Romero, but not less influential. I’m a particular admirer of his golden period: from Assault on Precinct 13 in 1976, through to The Thing in 1982, and pretty much everything in between. During this time he made a series of consistently strong, often ground-breaking horror films.

Escape from New York (1981) is a cracking movie, one which I’m sure you’ve probably seen. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Here’s the synopsis, followed by a trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts.

In the future (well, 1997 was the future back then!), crime in America has spiralled out of control. Surrounded by impenetrable defences, New York City is now a maximum security prison: once you go in, you don’t come out. When the President of the USA crash lands in Manhattan, Snake Plissken, a disgraced special ops soldier, is sent in. Plissken has twenty-four hours to find the president and get him out.

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SCREAM issue 23 is out now!

1394872570273A new issue of SCREAM is always cause for celebration, and this month is no different. As well as interviews with GEORGE ROMERO and DARIO ARGENTO, there’s a great feature on the latter half of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series and a report on LORD OF TEARS (a very creepy movie I’ll be talking more about in the coming weeks). Visit www.screamhorrormag.com to get hold of a copy. If you’re in the UK, you can buy the mag from any branch of HMV.

Also, if you’re a SCREAM subscriber, click here to enter their STRAIGHT TO YOU giveaway. Five signed copies up for grabs!