War of the Worlds

Whenever I’ve been asked to list the books that have most influenced me as a writer, WAR OF THE WORLDS by HG WELLS is up there. I’ve always been fascinated by the impact Wells’s tale must have had on readers in the late nineteenth century, who’d never before come across the idea of Earth being invaded by creatures from another planet. It’s rightly regarded as a classic of the genre, but it’s a strange book because, in terms of action, it’s quite top-heavy. What I mean by that is, the most visceral and memorable scenes are to do with the initial arrival of the aliens and their first attacks. I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know how the original novel ends: the invaders are undone by bacteria. The story starts with a bang but ends with a cough.

This unusual structure has presented problems for many filmmakers over the years, because in retelling the story, it’s almost as if you’re working backwards from the climax. Many adaptations have been unsatisfying (the less said about the recent BBC adaptation, the better… what were they thinking?).

STEVEN SPIELBERG‘s version of WAR OF THE WORLDS was released in 2005. A new 4k Blu ray edition has just hit the shelves, and I thought now would be a good time to reappraise the movie. Having just watched it again for the first time in a decade or so, I think this is just about the best film adaptation of the novel there is (having grown up with JEFF WAYNE’s musical adaptation though – which terrified me and a whole generation of kids in the late seventies with its prog rock soundtrack and iconic artwork – I have to say that’s still my favourite adaptation of all; it shouldn’t work, but it does!).

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Quatermass and the Pit

Over the course of the last couple of months in lockdown, I’ve been working my way through a box set of 21 Hammer films. Some are great, some are not. One of them – QUATERMASS AND THE PIT – just happens to be one of my favourite films of all time and, when I realised I’d not recommended it here, I thought I’d better correct that. It also gives me an opportunity to plug issue 60 of SCREAM MAGAZINE, which just happens to feature an excellent article about the various adaptations of Nigel Kneale’s tale.

Professor Bernard Quatermass is one of my fictional heroes. He’s a man in search of truth and explanation; someone who refuses to be bullied by the military or the media or politicians into making assumptions or rash decisions. It’s interesting – watching the TV news from around the world right now, you can see more than a few Quatermass-like characters biting their lips in the background while our so-called world leaders talk nonsense and bullshit their way around the truth about the pandemic and its effects.

There are four Quatermass stories, and all of them are worthy of your attention. The first, the Quatermass Experiment, was a ground-breaking serial first broadcast live by the BBC in 1955 which told the story of the first manned space flight. On the ship’s return, two of the three-man crew are missing. The sole survivor begins acting strangely and it soon becomes clear that he has been taken over by an alien presence. I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for viewers back in the day, prior to the beginning of the space race, as they watched huddled together around their black and white TV sets. But it’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, the professor’s third outing, which is the most well-known of Kneale’s stories. To my mind, the 1967 Hammer adaptation is a classic.

During excavations in London a large unidentified object is unearthed. It defies definition although the area has always been associated with diabolical evil. Within its walls Professor Quatermass discovers the remains of intelligent alien creatures that attempted to conquer the Earth in prehistoric times and, through their experiments on early man, altered human evolution to its present state. Though dormant for many centuries, the power supply from the excavations is being drained by the ship until its terrifying force can be unleashed and the creatures can reinstate their violent dominance over man.

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La Cabina (The Phone Box)

I hope you and your loved ones are well wherever you are. I’m in lockdown at home with the family and am trying to write my way through the pandemic. My next project is to start the first book in the new AUTUMN trilogy, but inspiration for that is proving elusive given what’s going on right now.

We all need a distraction in times like this, so I have one for you. It’s been a while since I recommended a movie here, and I’m going to put that right today. It’s a classic short film which, at the moment, is available in its entirety on YouTube, so this post is really just to point you in the right direction.

A little bit of background to begin with. My office window looks out onto our back garden, and one feature in particular. My wife Lisa has – how can I put this? – an eclectic taste in outdoor ornaments, and her prize possession is a genuine K6 telephone box. It was lovingly restored and now takes pride of place in the garden. I’ve joked with a few folks about using it as an isolation pod during lockdown, and the thought of being trapped in the phone box reminded me of the 1972 Spanish movie, LA CABINA (THE PHONE BOX).

If you’re as old as me and remember the horror double bills which used to be shown on Saturday nights on the BBC in the 1980s, you might remember seeing this one. It starts as a gentle, almost comedic short about a man trapped in a box, but over the course of its 30-odd minute duration, the tone shifts completely.

LA CABINA is highly recommended, even in these worrying times when we’re all feeling as isolated as the man in the box. Take care, stay safe, and enjoy the film.

The Wave (Bølgen)

I do love a good disaster movie. Trouble is, they don’t make them like they used to. These days they tend to be bombastic and CGI-heavy and usually a). don’t make a lot of sense, and b). star ex-wrestlers.

My wife and I went on holiday to Norway last month, and while we were away I was reminded of a fairly recent disaster movie that I actually enjoyed. I thought it would be a good recommendation for this site. And why was I reminded of this particular film? Because our cruise ship docked in Geiranger, the beautiful and idyllic little village which is wiped out by THE WAVE (Bølgen). Here’s a photo of Lisa soaking up the sun and looking down on the village, just after telling me she hadn’t enjoyed the bus ride up the mountain, so we were going to have to walk back down… 

Geiranger in Norway

Although anticipated, no one is really ready when the mountain pass above the scenic, narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger collapses and creates an 85-meter high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.

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The Night Eats the World

Well this one came from out of nowhere and blew me away. Its release last year passed me by, and it’s only thanks to a casual mention of the title by a friend and coming across the movie whilst browsing Netflix that I watched it. And I’m so glad I did. I thought it was a fascinating study of loneliness – something that’s considered less and less in many twenty-first century post-apocalyptic films. The concept of being the last person left alive on the planet is something that used to be a staple of end of the world stories (with I AM LEGEND being an obvious example), and yet in today’s increasingly (superficially) interconnected society, it feels like an inevitable by-product of the apocalypse which isn’t discussed as often as I’d expect.

In THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD our main character Sam is already alone. We meet him as he makes a return visit to his ex-partner’s flat in Paris – filled with people, noise and good times – hoping to collect the last of his belongings. He wants to get in and out fast but is persuaded to stay, and as a result of the booze he consumes to help him get through the obvious awkwardness of the situation, he passes out. When he wakes up next morning, the walls of the flat are covered in blood. He’s slept through the zombie apocalypse.

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Pan’s Labyrinth

If, when my time is up, I’m ever asked to look back and recall pivotal moments in my life, the key writing-related moment I’d cite involves PAN’S LABYRINTH. It was 2006, and I’d just published HATER independently through Infected Books. The release had gone pretty well, and I was happy with how the book had been received. Then, out of the blue, I received an email from a production company in Los Angeles, enquiring about the availability of the film rights. Within a couple of weeks I was speaking to Mark Johnson (who went on to produce BREAKING BAD) about his vision for a film version of HATER. He asked me if I’d seen PAN’S LABYRINTH. I told him I had, and that I thought it was incredible. He said that was a relief, because he was hoping to get Guillermo del Toro to direct HATER.

Of course, as is often the way, things didn’t work out as planned. Del Toro became involved in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of THE HOBBIT and switched roles to produce HATER, only for the project to stall at a later stage. Even now, more than a decade later, I still get goosebumps thinking about how close we came to a del Toro adaptation of one of my books. And I know this post will inevitably result in folks asking questions about the current position of the HATER movie, so I’ll give you my stock answer: I had a meeting with the producer a week or so ago and the project is still very much alive and kicking. The script is in great shape and we’re just waiting for the stars to align. I’ll share more news the very second I’m able to.

Back to PAN’S LABYRINTH. It’s an astonishing film which rightly deserved the critical acclaim it received on release. Now, many years later, del Toro and author Cornelia Funke have adapted the story into a novel and, thanks to the publisher, I was recently able to read a copy. When I heard about the book I was concerned, and I struggled to understand why the story needed to be retold. Having read it, though, I totally get it. Remind yourself of the beauty of the film then read on below for my thoughts.

It’s 1944 and the Allies have invaded Nazi-held Europe. In Spain, a troop of soldiers are sent to a remote forest to flush out the rebels. They are led by Capitan Vidal, a murdering sadist, and with him are his new wife Carmen and her daughter from a previous marriage, 11-year-old Ofelia. Ofelia witnesses her stepfather’s sadistic brutality and is drawn into Pan’s Labyrinth, a magical world of mythical beings.

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Tim Lebbon’s THE SILENCE

I’m sure you know Tim. He’s a very prolific, very approachable writer whose written many original novels as well as TV and movie tie-in books (including STAR WARS, ALIEN and FIREFLY). I’d known him for a while through social media then met him in person for the first time at a horror convention in Birmingham in February last year. We were table-neighbours for a very enjoyable weekend and, as is the done thing, we book-swapped at the end of the event. He went home with a copy of HATER, and I chose THE SILENCE.

I’d long known that a film adaptation of Tim’s book was in development, and we talked quite a bit about it over the weekend. Fast-forward a few weeks and I was on holiday. I devoured THE SILENCE (and thoroughly enjoyed it) in the space of a few short hours at the poolside. I was really interested to see how the film adaptation stacked up. Jump forward in time again until April this year, and THE SILENCE appeared on NETFLIX accompanied by a huge wave of publicity.

I’ve been stung by having one of my books adapted into a less-than-satisfactory movie, and I’m always nervous for fellow writers I know when films of their works are in the pipeline. So how did THE SILENCE stack up?

When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.

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Here Alone

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of catching up with my friend WAYNE SIMMONS. Wayne’s good, by the way, as a lot of you have been asking. Slightly more tattooed and bearded than you might remember, but he’s as chilled out and positive as ever. He fell out of love with the horror genre several years ago, and we’ve barely talked about it since. So imagine my surprise when he came up with a few zombie movie recommendations out of the blue. Today’s recommendation is one of those films, and it’s a movie I hadn’t heard of until Wayne told me about it. HERE ALONE is a minimalist, slow-burn horror which is well worth a couple of hours of your time.

A young woman struggles to survive on her own in the wake of a mysterious epidemic that has killed much of society, and forced her deep into the unforgiving wilderness.

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Triffids again (last time, I promise)

This is the last part of my DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS retrospective. My look back at the original novel can be found here, the film version here, and the 1981 BBC TV adaptation here.

Prior to re-watching the most recent (2009) BBC adaptation of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, I’d only seen it once before. I had to psych myself up to watch it again, because my overriding memory of the 3 hours miniseries was crushing disappointment. This was the first time TRIFFIDS had been adapted for the screen with a decent budget, and yet I found it to be massively off the mark. A wasted opportunity.

Many of the novel’s story beats are there, and the Triffids themselves are very well realised, but I remember being hugely frustrated by a number of aspects of the production, to the point where I’d promised myself I wouldn’t watch it again. But then this series of posts came around, and I gritted my teeth and pressed play. My expectations were clearly better managed second time around, because I found more to enjoy on repeat viewing, but there’s no question this is certainly NOT the definitive version I’d hoped for.

There’s no trailer available as such, so here’s a BBC preview from when the series was shown over Christmas 2009 (hence the seasonal graphics at the end):

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Falling Down

The JoBlo movie network website always has stacks of great content. One of the sections I enjoy most is the snappily titled “The Best Movie You Never Saw”, and this week it featured one of my favourite films. A quick glance at my RECOMMENDATIONS page revealed that I’d never written about it for this site, so I thought I should put that right post haste! This weekend’s film recommendation is Joel Schumacher’s startling 1993 movie, FALLING DOWN.

Freeways are clogged. Terror stalks our cities. At shops and restaurants, the customer is seldom right. Pressures of big-city life can anger anyone. But Bill Foster is more than angry. He’s about to get even.

 Foster abandons his gridlocked car on the hottest day of the year and walks straight into an urban nightmare both absurdly funny and shatteringly violent. Michael Douglas is Foster, an ordinary guy at war with the frustrations of daily life. Robert Duvall is the savvy cop obsessed with stopping Foster’s citywide rampage.

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