Monthly Archives: May 2013

The top 10 scariest horror movies ever made…

A spot of indulgence today as I list my personal top 10 scariest horror movies of all time.

Horror is a misunderstood and much-maligned genre. At its worst, it’s nothing more than sickening exploitation. However at its best, it can be a place for experimentation, satire, and the exploration of the darker side of human nature.

This is not meant to be a definitive list. Add your own. But here are some movies that made me turn the light back on… and some that made not turn it off at all.

10. Nosferatu

F W Murnau’s unofficial film version of Dracula led to him being famously sued by Bram Stoker’s widow. But the frightening make-up of Max Shrek as the titular vampire Count Orlock remains one of the scariest images ever committed to film. The moving shadowplay on the wall would be used again time after time. Remade stylishly by Werner Herzon with Klaus Kinski as the vampire.

Max Shrek. His name means "fear" in German!

Max Shrek. His name means “fear” in German!

9. Threads

A made-for-TV drama about what would actually happen in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain. Produced in the early 80s when nuclear war was still a grim possibility,  this terrifying program shocked a generation. Once seen, never forgotten…

8. The Thing

John Carpenter’s homage to the 50s B-movie, this guts’n’gore horrorshow pushed the boundaries of what was possible with make-up effects. A box-office flop, it has since become one of the greatest horror films of all time. Compare the atmosphere of the freezing scientists in this pic to the lukewarm remake.

7. Poltergeist

Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg collabroated to produce the grandaddy of all haunted house movies. A combination of SFX rollercoaster and shocking horror movie, it made a generation of kids afraid of trees and TV sets.

6. Halloween

John Carpenter’s first big hit and the first true slasher pic. Indestructible madman Michael Myers stalks teenagers in a small town. But it’s the film’s creepy insinuation that horror could be lurking anywhere, even in the dark spaces of your own home, that truly lingers.

Just a normal street. But look again.

Just a normal street. But look again.

5. Alien

Alien is on some levels a very stupid movie. Butch warrant officer Sigourney Weaver displays more common sense than the rest of the entire crew of the ill-fated spaceship Nostromo, but still ends up trying to save a cat in her underwear. Even so, jaw-dropping production design and the most memorable alien in movie history combine to produce nerve-jangling scares from start to finish.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Time has dulled the edge of this “based on true events” movie. But from the film’s opening shots we know we’re not in Kansas anymore. The casual violence remains shocking, but it was the film’s “endurance horror” that would go on to influence filmmakers such as Sam Raimi with his “Evil Dead” movies. Forget the countless remakes and sequels.

3. Jaws

Yes, that shark terrified audiences in the 70s and beyond. It may look rubber now, but the film’s great ensemble cast and stirring theme music still manage to make bathtime a little scarier.

2. Dawn of the Dead

George A Romero followed up his genre-busting “Night of the Living Dead” with this satirical masterpiece. you get a real sense of claustrophobia watching this for the first time as zombies are everywhere. Copied over and over again from low-budget schlock to the more stylish “Walking Dead” TV series, Romero was the only one to do something actually new with the zombie as an archetype of horror. Remade quite well but with less ideas in 2004.

1. Salems Lot

This two-part TV movie must have sent network executives into a spin. A creepy Stephen King story about Dracula transplanted into the modern US becomes something quite different in the hands of horror maestro Tobe Hooper and veteran scriptwriter Paul Monash. The horror continues to rise as citizens of a small town are transformed into the most frightening bloodsuckers you have ever seen.  1970s TV heart-throb David Soul grows understandably more and more hysterical when faced with sneering James Mason and his army of undead. But it’s the surreal, frightening scenes where a vampire kid comes calling on his classmates that have stayed in my imagination. Watch the unedited version for the shocking twist ending.

The Importance of Being Persistent

You wouldn't want to be this guy. Unless you were a writer.

You wouldn’t want to be this guy. Unless you were a writer.

As you go through this journey to reach your writing goals, there is one thing I cannot stress enough.

You must persist.

Of all the people I know who have become writers, they all share one thing in common. They did not give up. And out of all the people I know who did not become writers, they too had one thing in common. At some point, they did.

It’s easy to give in to the voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, that you never will be good enough, that you’re wasting your life, that becoming a professional writer is just an impossible dream…

But are you wasting your life following a dream?

I would argue that those who go through life without dreams are truly the ones wasting theirs.

It may be that you have financial pressures urging you to get a steady job. It may be you have a family, or one on the way. It may be you are surrounded with unsupportive people who laugh and sneer whenever you mention your latest project.

Eddie Murphy has said on the Actors’ Studio that he only surrounds himself with positive people, because negative people wear you down.

You will encounter a lot of jealousy in your quest to be a writer. People will laugh at your dreams. Some will give you harsh, unconstructive feedback. Others will simply ignore you.

You must learn to overcome this. Because this is a form of rejection, and rejection is the writer’s shadow. It follows him wherever he or she goes, threatening to obscure him or her from view.

One way to beat rejection is to reframe the statistics. If you only get one script request out of a hundred submissions, well then surely that means that every submission will get you closer to reaching one hundred and getting that script request!

Being positive is sometimes the hardest part of writing. But if you can master it, you will eventually succeed. Even if it happens in a way you never expected…

The worst movies ever made?

Today I was inspred by Studio System News’ list of the top 10 worst book to film adaptations ( to share this list of what some people consider are the worst movies ever made. I must stress that these are only movies I have personally watched. I can also stress that if the filmmakers read this, I want those hours of my life back.

But I’m not just being snarky, honest. What can we learn from this list of crimes against the imagination? That’s it darned hard to make a movie. Making a good movie is an acheivement on the scale of building the pyramids. And making a great one? Well, that’s almost always a happy accident.

In chronological order:


In glorious 2-D!

In glorious 2-D!

Arguably the worst film dialogue of all time!


“PROFESSOR: He’s dead, and there’s nothing we can do!”


“RO-MAN: I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do “must” and “cannot” meet? Yet I must – but I cannot!”


As if it wasn’t bad enough watching a morphene-addicted Bela Lugosi struggle to do a bad Dracula impersonation, the quality control of this production is so bad I’ve seen children create more convincing plane cockpits out of furniture. Forget this “classic” turd and watch the Johnny Depp biopic instead. It’s way more entertaining.


This drive-in “cult classic” definitely does what it says on the tin. And that’s it. If you like shots of people pretending to eat chopped liver interspersed with forgettable song and dance numbers, this is your kind of movie.


The original “Jaws” is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. This is not.

Featuring a rubber shark. An ending that copies Jaws 2. A whole film that is basically clips of the original. A shark that appears to have a personal dislike for the Brody family (maybe they have a shark grapevine). And my favourite, the roaring shark.

TROLL 2 (1990)

“Troll” was a daft but surprisingly entertaining film about a four foot troll that causes magical havoc by turning the inhabitants of a block of flats into monster-generating plants. The sequel bears little if no relvance to the original, is downright mean-spirited, contains some of the hammiest acting ever seen and dialogue that clunks louder than the chain-rattling ghost of its predecessor which can still be heard in the background.


Prepare for.. Travolta in dreadlocks?

Prepare for.. Travolta in dreadlocks?

This one is a humdinger, and one of the few terrible films that it’s worth watching just to see Travolta in “that” costume. A misfire on all levels. It has everything a bad movie needs: unintentionally funny scenes, awful dialogue, ridiculous plot twists (a caveman flying an F-16; aliens ignore the gold stored on Earth for centuries and resort to mining for it), bad SFX (said F-16s attacking in all their primitive CGI glory), and incomprehensible pseudo-alien babble like:

“CHIRK: I am going to make you as happy as a baby Psychlo on a straight diet of kerbango.”

THE 2000s!

Ah, the new milennium. So ripe with possibilities thanks to the wonderful filmmaker’s tool that is CGI. So many bad movies have been made using [insert CGI giant animal/weather effect here] that it is impossible to list them. May I suggest tuning into the SyFy channel any week night? This decade is noteworthy for filmmakers who just don’t give a damn about the end product.

Some noteworthy big budget disasers include…


Turned into part-cat (and all woman!) for some no good reason, Halle Berry wanders around in a bra and leather pants, ocassionally purring and eyeing up fish, while her CGI counterpart climbs tall buildings in stilettos. The script is such a mish-mash of rewrites that Berry’s cat changes from a “she” to a “he” during the movie. Berry later said, on collecting her Razzie award, “First of all, I want to thank Warner Brothers. Thank you for putting me in a piece of shit, god-awful movie… It was just what my career needed.”


Dire programing at its best (and worst). These monster/weather mash-ups are like a child’s attempt to imitate a remotely successful picture. Featuring CGI! Models-turned-actors. Dull dialogue. Boring plot twists. A nonsensical catalyst that sets the ludicrious “hi-concept” premise rolling. Stereotypical characters with no depth. And one out-of-work formerly decent actor who fails to keep the whole thing from descending into the gutter.


It's a croc, all right.

It’s a croc, all right.

The list goes on…

There are plenty more terrible movies out there. Movies that have cynicism ingrained in their pores. Movies that exist to make a quick buck and for no other reason. Movies that only a 13 year-old boy who has never seen movies and only plays the most retarded video games will enjoy. Movies like… ALONE IN THE DARK. SUPERBABIES 2. JACK AND JILL. EPIC MOVIE. DISASTER MOVIE. MEET THE SPARTANS.

There are also others that are not “bad” per se, just incompetent or botched or just down on their luck. Many of these movies go straight to DVD if we are lucky.

But what can we learn from the plethora of terrible CGI-driven creature/weather features?

1) A “hi-concept” is not always a good thing.

“It’s Jaws in Venice” might sound like a good movie. But it isn’t. Trust me.

2) Parodies and spoofs must go beyond simply reproducing scenes from original movies.

Unfortunately it appears that satire was killed off in the 19990s and has yet to make a return.

3) No amount of star power can save a turkey.

Consider “Movie 43”.

No go and rent some good movies!





What I learned from watching “Prometheus”.

When writing sci-fi or fantasy, you have to make the world even more believable than when writing straight fiction. This is because there are often fewer familiar points of reference for the viewer or reader. If you establish a rule in your universe, be careful not to break it, or you risk frustrating the reader, who is reminded that this is “just a movie”.

When watching the $130 million dollar blockbuster “Prometheus” recently, I was reminded about this. The writers noticeably worked on “Lost”, a TV series which existed by reversing the expectations of the viewer constantly, with little regard for plot logic or research. Now I love director Ridley Scott, but not as a writer. And in this movie, several daft plot devices revealed that logic was being sacrificed throughout the movie.


For instance:

1. The Sumerians and the Babylons were never connected.

Despite the fact that the Babylonians were descended from the Sumerians, the “scientists” in the movie state that they had no contact with each other.

2. Aliens will destroy mankind for no apparent reason.

The aliens turn out not to be nice E.T.s but instead are intent on exterminating life on earth… which they created. Why? Who knows. They changed their minds. Maybe they watched Jerry Springer.

3.  Alien viruses will infect only the exact person you choose to infect, and will only cause female characters to have alien babies.

When the indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction is unleashed on the crew, it has a very specific effect. Despite having sex with someone infected, the heroine only manages to have a squid baby of her own.

 4. Aliens weapons of mass destruction are very very messy

So the alien ship is in fact a weapon. And the best way to exterminate another planet is… to breed a whole host of genetically unstable mutant monsters which can infect your DNA. If the Engineers were so advanced, surely they would have  a cleaner way to destroy planets. Like a really big laser?

5. Our ancestors were much bigger and blue

Maybe the writers had just watched Avatar.

6. Androids are confused

David the homicidal android (sounds like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) decides to punish Daddy for being a disappointment. How does he do this? By following his orders implicitly. Hmm.

7. You can achieve immortality by killing mankind

Peter Weyland’s big plan for living forever? Infect the crew with the DNA altering disease. But how does this help his plans, you ask? What if they return to Earth and infect the planet? What indeed…

8. Caesarian surgery isn’t too bad after all

A few minutes (no seconds actually) after having  caesarian surgery (performed by a machine designed only for male patients, no less) our heroine is up and about, running around and trapping her squid baby. Hours later, the pain of surgery will come back to cripple her at inopportune moments when running from bad guys.

9. Iceland must be a nice place to visit

The big opening shots of Icelandic volcanos, ice fields etc. which segue to the Engineer in Iceland swallowing poison serve…no purpose whatsoever. Unless it’s to hammer home the fact that alien poison is a VERY BAD THING. Cut to pointless shots of DNA.

Sadly, the opening shot of the alien also serves to rob the first hour of the film of any tension. What could have been an interesting journey to discover our origins turns out to be a moot point. We already know there are aliens. So when we find them, it’s not much of a surprise.

10. Dead characters can come back and attack you for no reason

When one of the characters died horribly (his face melted off no less), imagine my surprise when he appeared a half hour later, very much alive and with his face! Said character then attacks crew for no reason, looking like a very frazzled extra from the Matrix.

11. Scientists are stupid

When the crew reach the alien mound, they can’t wait to take off their helmets and expose themslevs to any virulent alien disease that might be there, even though they know the aliens died unexpectedly from… something.

12. Don’t stroke the wildlife

An extension of the above. When you see a large and threatening alien snake (that even hisses at you!) do not be tempted to pat it on the head and tell it how beautiful it is. Chances are it won’t appreciate the gesture.

13. Steven Stills played accordion

According to the ship’s captain, who has the legendary 1960s guitarist’s very own squeezebox. WHY does he have this squeezebox, you might ask? You might ask. But you will never find out. It’s one of those “character tics” lecturers in film school tell you to give every minor character.

14. Androids have very weak necks

These supreme advacements in robotics are notorious for their very weak neck joints. So if one attacks you, you can always rip its head right off.

15. Human+Squid = Xenomorph

It’s true. Although the alien might not “look” like a combination of human and giant squid, it actually is. Oh, and it can reproduce asexually. And you thought it needed a queen to lay all those eggs… tsk.

16. Aliens have ego issues.

The most promoted image of Prometheus was the big giant head in the spaceship. Which serves no purpose whatsoever. One scientist muses that they might have a god. That’s it.

17. When running from an enormous spaceship, go in the wrong direction.

This one was a doozy. Two women run from an enorous crashing hoop-shaped spaceship. Which way do they run? Not to the side, of course, but underneath it. Oh, and when one of them does have the sense to dive to the side at the last minute, the ship comes crashing down on her, only to be stopped from crushing her by a bit of rock. Seriously, this is a million ton spaceship. Wouldn’t there be a crater or something?

I’ll stop there, because just like the writers, I can’t be bothered any more. “Prometheus” does have its moments. But the horror is more the squirmy, icky kind than the suspenseful kind, which made the first Alien movie so effective. What’s more infruriating is that the characters are so forgettably stupid and inconsistent. When Shaw says “I’m still looking” at the end of the movie, we wonder… for what?

I’m sure the writers don’t care about this column. But if you want to write a really great script, make sure your plot makes sense and doesn’t rely on stroytelling gimmicks. Then maybe your movie will last longer than its opening weekend.

Confessions of a British Screenwriter – Recycled

Today, I thought I would share a link to an embarassingly old and badly written article I did for when I had my first screenplay sale. So without further ado…

Guns, girls, and robots. What's not to like?

Guns, girls, and robots. What’s not to like?

My Name is ‘Err’: A Screenwriters Journey

By Eric Steele

It was a blisteringly hot day in Hollywood. My writing partner and I had been worn down by a punishing heatwave that pushed temperatures up to a hideous 120 degrees. As we both came from Manchester, England – a city renowned for precipitation in a country where summer just means that the rain gets warmer – for us this was the equivalent to walking on the planet Mercury. If Mercury had been filled with dangerous-looking winos and suicidal motorists.

We’d decided to visit an eatery in televisionland known as Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. The guide book assured us it was a good place to spot the stars. Taking our place in line, we sizzled on the sidewalk like a couple of English poached eggs. After an eternity of this torture, the Emcee asked us what our names were. “Err,” I began. But before I could use my best Hugh Grant impression, he disappeared back inside the tempting darkness of the doorway.

“Table for Mister Errrr…” he intoned.

Of course, I couldn’t correct him without opening up a whole new can of worms. I might as well have been speaking Portugese for all the good it did. Obviously a case of “You say tomayto, I say tomahto”.

We seated ourselves in a booth and soon learned why it was called “chicken and waffles.” As I dug into my plate of fried chicken at ten o’clock in the morning, I chose to reflect upon how much this reminded me of our whole screenwriting experience so far.

It seemed a far cry from how I had started out – tinkering away in my bedroom in Manchester, reading as many free articles as I could on a then-fledgling Internet, buying whatever books the local stores had in stock (not many), in my impossible quest to somehow get involved in this magical form of storytelling.

The trip to LA proved eye-opening in more ways than one. As we attended meetings without success, we both sank into a kind of delirious despair. Getting lost on foot in Downtown LA or being rear-ended by the daughter of a movie-star on Sunset Boulevard one Saturday night only added to the sense of unreality. Maybe we were just depressed from days spent foot-slogging through graveyards, staring at epitaphs of our long-departed screen idols.

Two years later, we had still to sell a script. Sure, there had been options, near misses. One producer kept us hanging on for over a year until we got an e-mail saying he had decided to work with Paris Hilton instead.

During this time my writing partner and I went our separate ways. He had a young family, and in the end, I guess he decided that “real life” was more important. I soldiered on, until one day I decided to throw caution to the winds, forget about the market, and write the kind of story I would like to see onscreen. The result was my first option with a big production company in LA.

Still nothing happened. I had listed the script with, and they helped me out with a press release. After a few months, I received a phone call from my soon-to-be agent, who had read several scripts and was sufficiently impressed to sign me up.

She told me she wanted to see more family-friendly stuff. I immediately scoured through what passed for my filing system until I found something that would fit the bill…

Among my various screenplays, I’d written a sci-fi television pilot called “Clonehunter”. On a whim, I’d entered it into Scriptapalooza. Although the script didn’t place, they were kind enough to provide me feedback. I scanned the feedback, read the script. Hmm, not exactly Orson Welles, but it was salvageable enough.

Over the next few months I rewrote the script, developing themes and characters, until I had an honest-to-goodness movie script. However, experience had taught me that what seems like Shakespeare to you can seem like Dr. Seuss to someone else, so I workshopped the script at, where other writers could sling mud at it with impunity. Some of those reviews were gut-wrenching in their honesty, but the script came out a lot better for it. More importantly, it was free.

Some of the scenes I’d written would give James Cameron a headache. Pursuits on hoverbikes, floating casinos, talking gorillas – no sane individual would even think of tackling such a project without a studio budget. But it was just crazy enough to succeed. Besides, I loved the character – David Cain, an intergalactic bounty-hunter who would put Harrison Ford to shame. Not only was Cain’s work questionable, but the more we heard about him, the more we suspected that he might not be a very nice guy either. This was someone who had a history so long he kept secrets from everyone – including his attractive young cyborg partner. And he had an intelligent cat.

I wasn’t expecting anything, so I was truly surprised when I received an e-mail from director Andrew Bellware. He had seen my script on InkTip and wanted to shoot it, using his production company in New York. I was aghast – did he really think he could do it? Well, it might need a little tweaking. I would never see my floating casino (sob). However it would be an outright sale.

My agent hammered out the agreement and Drew then began the looooong process of filmmaking.

Drew kept me informed at every stage of the process. I was flattered that anyone would even care what I thought. Each week he would send me another video of the shoot. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation of watching the script come alive onscreen. Sometimes I was surprised, sometimes I laughed out loud as an actor said a line in a way I had not expected and turned a boring piece of exposition into something dramatic or even comedic. Most of all, I was amazed that this was actually being pulled off. Even the hoverbike sequence was there! Eat your heart out, Lucas!

The whole experience reminded me that moviemaking is a team sport. Everybody has an input, no matter how small. I felt privileged to have given my contribution. Suddenly, all those years of slaving away over a hot keyboard in a cramped office seemed worthwhile, all those moments of self-doubt as I wondered whether I should be doing this at all dissipated.

Yet, afterwards, here I am again, sat in the same office typing away (admittedly I bought myself a new computer), churning out page after page and knowing that whatever I write will in no way by anything near as good as the movie unfolding in my head – the one nobody will ever see. In a way it’s like starting out all over again. And if it ever does get made, it will take a whole bunch of people to make it happen, not just the director and actors, but set decorators, editors, and everyone else down to whoever buys in the sandwiches.

So is it worth it? Of course. Because that’s the magic of motion pictures – that someone in a tiny suburb of Manchester, a couple of thousand miles away from New York and even further away from Los Angeles, could one day contribute to a movie. If I’ve learned one thing on my ragtag journey, it’s that you should try everything – every angle, every means at your disposal – to market your script. The Internet has revolutionized the world of media. Contests, feedback sites, listing sites – all of these are equally valid ways to get your script produced.

Who knows, we might be able to meet up one day for chicken and waffles!

How to write Hollywood-style action lines…

Most people’s attention span is

See what I did there?

Yep, people hate doing… pretty much anything actually. And if they do positively have to do something, they do it with the minimum of effort. Just the natural law of conservation of energy.

Sometimes that means forgetting to read right up to the

See what I did again?

Just checking you’re still with me.

For some writers, that natural laziness takes another form. Spewing forth a torrent of textual diarrhoea without editing it.

Failing to edit action lines is my number one pet hate. When you’re trying to read scripts, several in a day, the last thing you want is to be faced with impenetrable blocks of 10-line textual description of how someone pulls up in their car, gets out of their car, closes the door, locks the door, walks up to a building, searches for his keys, finds his keys, puts them in the lock, opens the door, and goes inside, shutting the door behind him.

Especially when you could just say: “He pulls up in his car, gets out, and enters the house”.

In fact, why do we need to see his car? He could just enter the house.

Yes, you will see huge amounts of text in some celebrated produced screenplays. But when you’ve got that Oscar, then you can afford to be lazy too. Maybe.

In the meantime, your path to success may be much imporved by some judicious editing. Read produced screenplays. When I was starting out I loved Eric Red’s screenplays. I tried to copy their style to get the feel of Hollywood scriptwriting.

Hollywood action lines are…




Use non-literal verbs to whammy you into a reaction!

Are short.

The emphasis is on the last one. NO MORE THAN 3 LINES IN A PARAGRAPH. There, I said, it. And if you’re realy good, fewer will suffice. For example, here’s the opening scene of “Blade” written by David S Goyer:


It’s 1967, the Summer of Love and —

BOOM! Entry doors swing open as PARAMEDICS wheel in a FEMALE BLEEDER, VANESSA (20s, black, nine months pregnant). She’s deathly pale, spewing founts of blood from a savagely slashed throat —

A SHOCK-TRAUMA TEAM swarms over her, inserting a vacutainer into an
artery to draw blood, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around her
arm —

(with stethoscope)
She’s not breathing!

Intubate her!

Goyer is very clever here. He uses very few words to set up a complex, exciting scene. It’s helped by his use of precise medical terms which are nevertheless clear enough so a layman knows what he means. The blood “spews” from her throat. The team of medics “swarm” over her. The non-standard verbs are powerful, descriptive.

So… hone your word count down. Never use two words when one will do. Get rid of redundant words like “down” in “he sits down”. Where else would he sit?

Screenwriting action lines is like crafting scrimshaw. You score away at it until what is left is hopefully beautiful.

Less is definitely more.