Yes, we made a movie! This very overdue post is to tell everyone that our new British vampire feature film, “Boy #5” has been completed and edited. We are now ready to unleash it upon the world! But what is it about, I hear you cry?
“Boy #5” tells the story of a burned-out social worker who tries to help a boy who has been found on the streets – shy, withdrawn Nathan. But as she gets closer to him, she learns that Nathan has a very peculiar type of mutation, with a thirst for human blood!
The film features special effects and some gruesome make-up that was so believable we even fooled some of the locals! The entire movie was self-funded by ourselves. All the special effects are practical, not CGI, and the actors are all from the Manchester area. We also had some stellar crew who kept on working long after dusk. Just as well, really.
Yes, we hit a few bumps along the road what with a worldwide pandemic and all, but we’ve finally finished editing and all that jazz. Now we’re going to be moving forward and trying to get it out there so you can all see it!
If you like indie horror, low budget cinema, and original storytelling in horror, you’re going to like this. It’s been a long, arduous road, but we think it was worth it. And we have a brand new production company, Vamoose Productions Ltd. Remind me to tell you the story behind that name some time.
We shot the film entirely on location in Manchester, England. Making it was a story in itself, and you can read all about it over at the Stage32.com blog here.
And don’t forget to take a look at our Facebook page.
We are now going to be searching for distributors and entering festivals. More pictures and details will be coming very soon. So stay tuned!
Sorry if my posts have been a little scarce recently. The reason, however, can now be revealed…
We’re making a horror movie!
Yes, that’s right. I’ve gone from the ceaseless self-torture of writing movies to the even worse self-torture of writing and directing movies!
The film will be the first made by our brand new production company, Vamoose Film Productions Ltd. This is a UK-based production company, making films in Britain!
Our first film started out as a “small” project and quickly exploded into a full-on feature film as everyone I told the story to wanted to hear more. “But there is no more” I would say. “Well, then go and write some more!” they said. So I did. The result is… well, I’ll save the exact title for later for now. 😉
Best of all, this will be a new British horror film. And it’s on a subject very close to my heart. To say any more would be telling, but those who know me well should be able to guess by now!
We have all been working like demons to get the shots done on time, and it’s not been without its trials and tribulations. But we’re about 85% of the film done now. It’s involved special effects makeup and even wild animals. But we’ve saved some of the most ambitious elements for last.
Meanwhile here’s a behind-the-scenes shot from the set to whet your appetite! But who is that handsome guy in the glasses?
There are many film franchises that seem to go on forever. Many of which we could well do without. However, once in a while a movie comes along that deserves a sequel but for one reason or other never had another instalment made. So without further ado, here is my top pick of the best movies that deserved a sequel but never got one…
DOC SAVAGE (1975)
Old was new again in the 1970s. If Star Wars channelled the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, then Doc Savage channelled, well, Doc Savage! The mightiest of pulp heroes was reborn with former TV Tarzan Ron Ely stepping into the jodphurs. Also known as The Man of Bronze (he likes bronze things) we catch up with Doc meditating in the Arctic beside his own private igloo-come-secret-headquarters before he gets a message that the world is in peril. Doc assembles his team of – ahem – experts, including national stereotypes from around the world (the Brit carries an umbrella, the Irishman has red hair and carries a pig etc etc) to stop an evil cult unleashing animated green snakes on the population while they search for El Dorado. Yes, it’s that kind of a plot.
What makes Doc Savage so good, however, is the hokey sense of humour. We see Doc pull a bullet out of a wall with such force that his bulging bicep tears his own shirt apart. And the finale which features Doc employing dozens of different kinds of martial art, each with its own subtitle, will make the kid in you chortle for more.
At the end of this rip-roaring adventure, we are told Doc Savage will return in Doc Savage and The Arch Enemy of the World. Unfortunately, the producers lied. There were indeed plans for a sequel, but despite being directed by the great George Pal (War of the Worlds) the film suffered from negative reviews and a sequel was abandoned.
Will it ever be made?
Probably not. Since 1975, several attempts to make a new Doc Savage film have failed. Notably, Frank Darabont and Sam Raimi have all tried to resurrect the project, but so far none have succeeded. At the age of 80, Ron Ely is probably not a contender to reprise his earlier role. However, we do already have a “Doc Savage remake” in the form of none other than Indiana Jones. The titular hero of several films is undoubtedly closely based on Doc Savage and other pulp heroes of the time!
FLASH GORDON (1980)
“Flash! Flash, I Love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!”
So says Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) in what is to date the best live action version of the iconic pulp fiction character Flash Gordon. The movie sees Flash (Sam J Jones) and his compatriots Dale and Zarkov (Topol) land on the Planet Mongo to try and stop the evil alien dictator Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). The film sees Flash go from hero to zero to hero as he is killed (!) then resurrected, only to unite the tribes of Mongo and overthrow Ming’s rule. But Ming is not quite dead. As the closing credits roll, we see Ming re-emerge offscreen from his “magic” ring and start to cackle with evil laughter. “The End?” asks the title card.
Sadly, yes it was. Although a terrific, fun movie with a legendary Queen soundtrack, Flash Gordon was not a huge success compared to its large budget. Added to this was a reported falling out between star Jones and the producers. Hence a sequel was never made. Since then we’ve had a lacklustre TV series and a superb animated version. But so far we have yet to learn what happened when Ming returned.
Will it ever be made?
Well, the hugely successful gross-out comedy Ted (2012) saw Jones once again donning the lightning-bolt in a dream sequence where he rides his skycycle with Mark Wahlberg on the back. Jones retuned again as himself in Ted 2 (2015). But with an ageing cast who have since become successful in their own right, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get to hear Prince Vultan’s imperious voice belting out “Gordon’s alive?” again any time soon. We’re more likely to settle for a CGI-heavy reboot.
HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
The early 1980s were a strange time. Take this British fantasy film starring the mighty Jack Palance as the evil Zoltan (Hmm, that name seems familiar) who murders the beloved of straight-laced Hawk, who promptly puts his eye out with a torch. Zoltan, quite understandably peeved at this, raises an army to go around and pillage stuff in the service of an evil sorcerer/demon/ the Devil (?). Our hero Hawk responds by raising a rag-tag band of mercenaries (was there ever any other kind?) including the last elf, a giant (well, a very big man anyway), a dwarf, a one-armed bloke with some kind of wicked semi-automatic crossbow-thingy, and a witch who likes letting off party streamers. Cue Armageddon.
It sounds like I’m poking fun at this film, and I am. But I still love it dearly. The score is a fantastic mixture of electronic synth-pop craziness that is more than a little like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and the last elf in the world is a great character. There are also some terrific British character actors such as Patrick Magee and Roy Kinnear who ham it up to the max. And we get to see Palance at his scenery-chewing finest.
We end with Zoltan’s mentor/demon/whatever recovering his body and promising he will live again. But will he?
Will it ever happen?
Believe it or not, it almost has. As late as 2015 a sequel called Hawk the Hunter was rumoured to be in development with a budget of $5 million. However the Kickstarter campaign failed and so far attempts to make the sequel have gone quiet. But with Rebellion, the game company that owns British comic 200AD planning to release a game based on the property and a potential TV series in the works, anything is possible!
SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE! (1983)
Ah, the Eighties. Among other things, it gave us two Hollywood icons: king of the TV movie Peter Strauss and princess of coming-of-age movies Molly Ringwald. So it was inevitable that at some point they would appear in the same sci-fi movie together!
The movie is an enjoyable-as-hell Mad Max clone set in outer space. Strauss plays an interstellar bounty-hunter (Wolff, with two “f”s ) who lands on an irradiated planet full of mutants and Road Warrior leftovers looking for three shipwrecked (or is that space-wrecked?) rich girls. Along the way he picks up Ringwald, who does her typical dishevelled-waif-who-later-turns-into-fanciable-princess thing. Add a rabid Michael Ironside into the mix as warlord Overdog (was there ever a better bad guy name?) and you have the awesomeness that is Spacehunter! Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it was filmed in 3D!!
Will it ever be made?
I love this movie. It is cheesy, but the practical effects mean that it has dated pretty well. There are a lot of very derivative ideas, but so what? It’s a hugely entertaining movie that is basically wish fulfilment. It’s also the kind of film I wish they made more of nowadays. An adventure yarn and nothing more with no pretensions of grandeur. I would love the hell out of a sequel starring Mr. Strauss, but I doubt very much whether he would pick up that mantle again, especially as he is now a successful citrus-farmer and former horse ranch owner. Animated series, anybody?
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
Okay, at this point if I have to tell you very much about Big Trouble in Little China, the John Carpenter movie with Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall and James Hong, we are in big trouble ourselves. Briefly, the plot is an insane mash-up of martial-arts movie, 1970s exploitation film, action film, comedy and supernatural horror featuring a truck driver (Russell) who goes up against centuries-old supernatural bad guy Lo Pan to recover the girlfriend of his Chinese-American friend (Dennis Dunn) and her reporter friend (Cattrall in her best film role), along with bus-driver and warlock Egg Shen. Got it? Good.
The film ends with Russell famously leaving Cattrall (what a dope!) and heading off in his trusty rig, the Pork Chop Express, driving into the night and issuing a salutary warning to other CB radio users that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in anybody’s philosophy. Cue an oriental demon that crawls up the back of his truck, hungry for revenge!
Will it happen?
Although there has been a graphic novel follow-up, Dwayne Johnson (yes, that one) was reportedly attached to develop a remake. Carpenter responded by saying he was “ambivalent” about the project. Phew. However, as late as 2018 Seven Bucks Productions confirmed they are developing a sequel, no less, with Russell in the lead! Let’s hope it happens, as nobody can replace Russell as hard-boiled but inept actin hero Jack Burton.
THE GOONIES (1985)
Another film that should hopefully need no explanation, this movie about a bunch of high school losers following a treasure map was one of the best adventure films of the 1980s. With a memorable soundtrack and feel-good performances the film was a bone-fide sensation.
Will it happen?
There have been as many rumours about a Goonies sequel as there are clues to One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Director Richard Donner and the film’s stars have said yes and no several times. Why on earth no sequel was made nearer the time is a mystery. Several of the cast such as Josh Brolin and Sean Astin have gone on to bigger and bigger roles, making a reunion unlikely. But… you never know. As recently as 2017 former stars were saying a remake would happen, although original writer Chris Columbus played down such rumours. But with a slimmed down Chunk and Brolin currently playing Thanos… well, I’m not going to say one way or the other.
HOCUS POCUS (1993)
This massively enjoyable film has become a Halloween favourite. A live-action Disney picture like the ones they used to make, it stars the irreplaceable Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and rubber-faced Kathy Najimy as three witch sisters who get a second chance at life one Halloween, provided they sacrifice a sweet little girl. Her brother, however has other ideas, as does a reanimated cat. The witches cause mayhem in the modern American town, but it’s all good, clean spooky fun along with some killer songs from Midler and Parker. The film ends with the witches ending up as toast while the family gets a much-deserved happy ever after, even the cat.
Will it be made?
It seems everyone wants a sequel except the studio. Stars Midler and Parker have both said they would return to reprise their roles. The film suffered from negative reviews on release but has a strong fan base on home video that has made it a family favourite. There has even been a novelisation set 25 years later. As of 2017 screenwriter Mick Garris said he was working on a sequel, but this turned out later to be a remake, which has yet to materialize. But if it’s one thing we have learned, thanks to the success of Twin Peaks and Tron Legacy, it’s that long-delayed sequels can work. Let’s hope Disney sees sense and gives us another helping of the Sanderson sisters rather than a sloppy remake.
TRON LEGACY (2010)
For some reason, this film is often underrated or overlooked. Yet it stands as one of the most visually stunning sci-fi films of recent years and has a phenomenal soundtrack from Daft Punk that has become the background to many a car advert.
The film is a direct sequel to ground-breaking 1982 Disney film Tron about a computer programmer, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who is zapped into his own machine and forced to play video games for his life. The sequel follows Flynn’s son (Garett Hedlund) who is similarly zapped while searching for his dad, who has been missing for over 20 years. Turns out dad was trapped in the video world after one of his creations (also played by Jeff Bridges but digitally de-aged) seized control of the computer domain.
The film is full of stunning SFX and set-pieces, such as the all-new light-cycles, while new discovery Olivia Wilde sets the screen alight as kick-ass pixie dream girl Quora. Shot in 3D, the films used some experimental FX which perhaps do not stand up well to repeated viewings, but as a sci-fi film with a real heart and soul, which takes the original further, it is a highly satisfying and entertaining ride.
Will it happen?
Who knows? There has already been an animated cartoon series. For several years Disney has been on and off about the project. Its stars and director joseph Kosinski have repeatedly said it is or is not happening. The latest status for the project is that it is in “cryogenic freeze”. But just like Tron himself, here’s hoping that you can’t keep a good program down forever.
GREMLINS II (1990)
The original Gremlins (1984) was a breakout summer hit that was, sadly, classified as a 15 in the UK, meaning I didn’t get to watch it in the cinema. However, this loveable tale of homicidal mutant creatures on the rampage in a small town one Christmas has become a holiday favourite. It spawned a sequel in 1990 that was, shall we say, not up to par. Despite the presence of Christopher Lee, the second tale set in a biotechnology lab lacked the charm of the original, with its ho-hum premise and its constant riffing off other Hollywood films – notably the Rambo trilogy. It seemed like we had heard the last of the friendly little Mogwai and his rather more disturbing alter-egos.
Will it be made?
For the past few years, Gremlins 3 has been gaining more and more traction. Its star Zach Galligan has been actively campaigning for a practical effects-based sequel. Ideas such as Gremlins in Vegas and Gremlins in the White House (God, please no) have been mooted. Writer Chris Columbus has suggested the story go into some very dark places indeed. It seems we may get a Gremlins sequel, but not the one we imagined. That little Mogwai is always full of surprises…
So there ends my top 9 films that deserved a sequel. Do you agree with this list? Have I left anything out? Let me know, and I may just have to write a sequel!
Many have tried to compile a list of the best science fiction movies of the 21st century… all have failed. Until now… maybe.
In a brave attempt to distil from a ton of good movies the best 10 of the new millennium, here are my Top 10. Take it or leave it, but I’ve tried to avoid the more bogus entries. So you won’t find Oscar-bait here like District 9 (2009) – a movie that has virtually no sci-fi in it – or even the wonderful Korean hit movie The Host (2006) – as this is actually a horror movie. Nor will you find movies that are “technically” sci-fi in name only, such as the great Brit flic “28 Days Late” (2002) as this is actually a zombie movie.
Nor will you find much of the bloated, brainless CGI action-fests that fill so many of our multiplexes nowadays. The movies below have earned the right to be here. So without further ado and in no particular order…
Battle Royale (2000)
This movie explodes onto your screen with such daring and style it’s impossible to resist. In a near future Japan the government has found a rather unique way of tackling juvenile delinquency. You and your classmates are chosen at random, stuck on an island with a variety of lethal weaponry, and must kill each other before your explosive neck collars take your head off. Kinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of the banned Japanese cult novel by Koshun Takami is a rollicking good roller coaster of a movie, as sweet schoolgirls and naïve schoolboys turn on another to escape their no-win situation. Filmed with sadistic glee, the movie has a serious message about individualism in a society that favours conformity.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
What’s that? Groans? But hear me out… when Keanu returned in triumph in The Matrix (1999) it heralded a new era of science fiction… one where everyone wore long overcoats and performed gravity-defying somersaults while shooting hand weapons (Equilibrium, anyone?) . But stylish as that was, The Matrix Reloaded did what all good sequels should do. It went one step further. Now the bad guys are even more stylish, the coats even longer, the gun battles go on for hours, and the superhuman avatars chase each other in one of the best freeway stunt sequences ever filmed. Does he CGI hold up today? Not as well as it should, but when this was shown in cinemas audiences were breathless with the possibility of what could be done with computers. Maybe we’re all still living in the Matrix now. Just don’t mention the third film…
Shot on a miniscule budget, this is THE head-scratching time travel movie you’ve been waiting for. With a plot so complicated it’s impossible to follow, this would set the blueprint for many of the “mind-bending” Hollywood movies in the years ahead. The concept is simple, some friends invent time travel. But the combination of mind-blurring science and labyrinthine plot twists make this one of the most interesting and original movies of the 21st century.
This Spanish low budget sci-fi movie is one of those films that’s excruciating to watch, because you can kind of guess what’s coming next… only you can’t. It’s also been quite influential… and that’s putting it nicely. Check out Triangle (2009) if you don’t believe me. Timecrimes is a rarity nowadays… a sci-fi comedy thriller that shows what happens when time travel intrudes upon the life of an ordinary slob. Cue a hilarious and toe-curling mixture of coincidences, bad luck and stupid errors that put its unlikely hero in more and more peril. Can he make everything right again at the end? Where even is the end? An extremely entertaining and clever movie with a wicked streak of black comedy.
Tron Legacy (2010)
I honestly don’t know why there’s not more love for Joseph Kosinski’s sequel to the 1982 Disney movie Tron. With technology and VR having moved on, it seemed timely if somewhat bizarre to do a sequel 28 years later. But this time Disney got it right: a killer soundtrack, the most beautiful people imaginable, and an updated look that is not so much ’80s video games as a sleek iPhone, all make this a superslick movie that is beautifully shot and a wonder to behold. Unlike the original movie, there’s also an emotional subplot involving our hero, who finds himself zapped into a video game world, and his father, who created said video game world and got trapped in it 25 years earlier. Again, this is a sequel that extends the original universe. So where we had light cycles, we now have light planes. Add in a standout cameo by Michael Sheen as a David Bowie impersonating bartender, and you have a hit. What’s not to like?
Under the Skin (2013)
Do you like watching Scarlet Johansen seduce Scottish men and eat them? Then you’ll love this arthouse sci-fi horror movie. Apparently the film’s ultra-realistic pickup scenes were shot by having Johansen go undercover in Glasgow in a bad wig chatting to various random strangers. What puzzles me is how anyone could not recognize Scarlet Johansen. But the result is a movie that resembles that great 70s cult film The Man Who Fell To Earth, depicting a grounded take on what fist contact between humans and a stranded alien might look like. There are some bold visual set pieces here also as Johansen lures the men… well, inside her. A very dark and unusual film.
Well, here it is. The dumb Hollywood blockbuster. It ticks all the boxes. Hot female star? Check. Hot male star? Check. Big space explosions? Check. Ludicrously expensive production budget? Check. A black comedy about uncaring corporations and the essential hopelessness of the human situation? Check… wait, what? This apparently boring tail of a person named Jim stranded alone on an interstellar cruise ship after being woken up too early from hypersleep is enlivened by terrific performances from Chris Pratt (fresh from his success in Guardians of the Galaxy ) and Jennifer Lawrence. Once again, Michael Sheen pops up as an AI bartender (is he making a career of this?) dispensing wonderful platitudes that fail to help the hero out of his situation. Jim decides he’s had enough of being alone and decides to wake up a fellow passenger, doming them both to total isolation for the rest of their life as the ship takes 90 years to reach its destination. There are the usual space shenanigans, explosions, and some wonderful gravity-defying SFX, but the movie has an emotional core and humanity that makes it a cut above most blockbusters. In short, it’s what a Hollywood movie should be.
Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland is responsible for such genre greats as 28 Days Later and the less spectacular Sunshine. But here he steps firmly into sci-fi territory with a movie that pretends to be a lot cleverer than it is. Oscar Isaacs is terrific as the unpredictable and slightly bullying head of a large IT corporation who invites a random employee to test out whether his latest invention, a fembot, is truly sentient. The results, predictably, do not end well. Superb acting and a lot of head-scratching enliven a film that perhaps contains too many shots of hills covered in clouds. And it features one particularly memorable dance sequence.
Ah, Inception. There are so many things wrong with this film, but then again, there are so many things right with it. On the one hand, Christopher Nolan’s cgi-fest looks so great. Its visuals have been highly influential – sumptuous Marvel snorefest Doctor Strange (2016) seems to have borrowed heavily from it. But when corporate saboteur Leonardo Di Caprio invades his target’s dreams he finds… nothing out of the ordinary really. Can it be that top-level businesspeople only dream about board meetings and big houses? Anyhoo… a clever twist involves the resurgence of DiCaprios dead, mad wife into his dreams, essentially putting a spanner in the works whenever he tries to go on a mission. Is it a manifestation of his subconsciousness? But the bravura sequence is the finale, in which there is a dream within a dream within a dream, until by the end of the movie we haven’t a clue whether we are awake or still dreaming. You have to admire a Hollywood movie that doesn’t tell you what’s going on. And so do audiences, apparently, as this was a monster hit as well as being critically acclaimed.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This will be known as “The movie that bucked the trend”. In a time when superhero movies were getting increasingly “dark” (read dour and pompous) James Gunn’s rollicking ride back to the ’70s tells you it is going to do something rather different in the opening scene, where Starlord (Chris Pratt in a career-defining role), an intergalactic freebooter and modern-day Han Solo, picks up an alien lizard and uses it as a microphone to sing a few bars of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” while dancing to his Sony Walkman. A joyous film that puts the fun back into superhero movies, Guardians is the Star Wars of its generation. It’s shouty, loud, colourful and warm. With awesome visual effects and a lot of fun references to the early marvel universe and Jack Kirby’s myriad creations, by the end of it we are truly immersed in this brilliantly realized comic book sci-fi universe. Dance-off, anyone?
Here’s a cover of InkTip magazine containing the recent interview about my produced feature film, THE STUDENT (2017).
Directed by Steven R Monroe (I Spit On Your Grave) and produced by The Cartel in Hollywood, the movie tells the story of Abigail Hardacre, an uncompromising law professor who is a stickler for obeying the rules. But when she fails a student who has sociopathic tendencies, he sets out to teach her a lesson, one she will never forget.
The film stars Blake Michael as the student, Vincent Van Sickle, and Alicia Leigh Willis as Abigail. You can watch it here.
The interview details my writing process and also the inspiration for writing the story.
InkTip have been going strong for over 10 years now as the number one independent writer’s listing service for scripts on the internet.
If you like horror and you were reading in the 1980s, chances are you came across “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King’s meditation on horror. Part instruction manual, part rambling series of opinions on horror books, film and TV, it never fails to entertain. It also has an invaluable breakdown of the different types of horror story.
It also included in two Appendices – a list of Mr King’s favourite (sorry, the most important) horror books and films.
For the past 30 years I’ve been working my way through these lists. I’ve seen almost all of the horror movies except for a few hard-to-find gems like Oliver Stone’s first effort, “Seizure” or the wonderfully B-movie-ish “The H-Man” by Inoshiro Honda. But reproduced here below are the novels.
I won’t bore you with which ones I’ve read. However, I will say that some of my favourites have been Suzy McKee Charnas’s “The Vampire Tapetsry” about a very urbane vampire indeed, Peter Straub’s lesser known ghost story “If You Could See Me Now”, and Charles L Grant’s homage to Val Lewton, “The Hour of the Oxrun Dead”.
So if you fancy reading some classic 20th century horror stories, the below should give you some inspiration. Happy collecting!
Richard Adams. The Plague Dogs; Watership Down*
Robert Aickman. Cold Hand in Mine; Painted Devils
Marcel Ayme. The Walker through Walls
Beryl Bainbridge. Harriet Said
J. G. Ballard. Concrete Island*; High Rise
Charles Beaumont. Hunger*; The Magic Man
Robert Bloch. Pleasant Dreams*; Psycho*
Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine; Something Wicked This Way Comes*; The October Country
Joseph Payne Brennan. The Shapes of Midnight*
Frederic Brown. Nightmares and Geezenstacks*
Edward Bryant. Among the Dead
Janet Caird. The Loch
Ramsey Campbell. Demons By Daylight; The Doll Who Ate His Mother*; The Parasite*
Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry
Julio Cortazar. The End of the Game and Other Stories
Harry Crews. A Feast of Snakes
Roald Dahl. Kiss Kiss*; Someone Like You*
Les Daniels. The Black Castle
Stephen R. Donaldson. The Thomas Covenant Trilogy (3 vols.)*
Daphne Du Maurier. Don’t Look Now
Harlan Ellison. Deathbird Stories*; Strange Wine*
John Farris. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By
Charles G. Finney. The Ghosts of Manacle
Jack Finney. The Body Snatchers*; I Love Galesburg in the Springtime; The Third
Level*; Time and Again*
William Golding. Lord of the Flies*
Edward Gorey. Amphigorey; Amphigorey Too
Charles L. Grant. The Hour of the Oxrun Dead; The Sound of Midnight*
Davis Grubb. Twelve Tales of Horror*
William H. Hallahan. The Keeper of the Children; The Search for Joseph Tully
James Herbert. The Fog; The Spear*; The Survivor
William Hjortsberg. Falling Angel*
Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House*; The Lottery and Others*; The Sundial
Gerald Kersh. Men Without Bones*
Russell Kirk. The Princess of All Lands
Nigel Kneale. Tomato Caine
William Kotzwinkle. Dr. Rat*
Jerry Kozinski. The Painted Bird*
Fritz Leiber. Our Lady of Darkness*
Ursula LeGuin. The Lathe of Heaven*; Orsinian Tales
Ira Levin. Rosemary’s Baby*; The Stepford Wives
John D. MacDonald. The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything
Bernard Malamud. The Magic Barrel*; The Natural
Robert Marasco. Burnt Offerings*
Gabriel Maria Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Richard Matheson. Hell House; I Am Legend*; Shock II; The Shrinking Man*; A Stir of Echoes
Michael McDowell. The Amulet*; Cold Moon Over Babylon*
Ian McEwen. The Cement Garden
John Metcalf. The Feasting Dead
Iris Murdoch. The Unicorn
Joyce Carol Oates. Nightside*
Flannery O’Connor. A Good Man Is Hard to Find*
Mervyn Peake. The Gormenghast Trilogy (3 volumes)
Thomas Pynchon. V.*
Edogawa Rampo. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Jean Ray. Ghouls in My Grave
Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire
Philip Roth. The Breast
Ray Russell. Sardonicus*
Joan Samson. The Auctioneer*
William Sansom. The Collected Stories of William Sansom
Sarban. Ringstones; The Sound of His Horn*
Anne Rivers Siddons. The House Next Door*
Isaac Bashevis Singer. The Seance and Other Stories*
Martin Cruz Smith. Nightwing
Peter Straub. Ghost Story*; If You Could See Me Now; Julia; Shadowland*
Theodore Sturgeon. Caviar; The Dreaming jewels; Some of Your Blood*
Thomas Tessier. The Nightwalker
Paul Theroux. The Black House
Thomas Tryon. The Other*
Les Whitten. Progeny of the Adder*
Thomas Williams. Tsuga’s Children*
Gahan Wilson. I Paint What I See
T. M. Wright. Strange Seed*
John Wyndham. The Chrysalids; The Day of the Triffids*
(* = books Mr King felt were particularly important to the genre).
Some of these works you will probably be familiar with, such as (the as-then-little-known) Anne Rice book Interview with the Vampire. Others are staple authors such as Road Dahl, not perhaps thought of as horror writers but who have undoubtedly written about the horrific and macabre. Others have been lost to the passage of time, such as William Hjortberg’s Falling Angel (filmed with Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as Angel Heart in the 80s) or the huge bestselling evil twin novel The Other by Thomas Tryon ( a doozy of a novel and one I fully recommend).
Others may be new to you, such as Frederick Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks, flash fiction from the 1950s! or the excellent Hunger by Charles Beaumont, one of the main writers of the original Twilight Zone until a rare illness struck him down in his twenties. Still others may be familiar from the films, such as Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic vampire/zombie novel I Am Legend and Jack Finney’s The Bodysnatchers, filmed with varying success several times usually about once every decade as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The novels are still worth seeking out. And if you don’t know who the others are, then you better get reading!
It’s been a long time coming (no pun intended), but finally cinemagoers can watch another adaptation of Stephen King’s IT!
The last time was a forgettable TV mini-series of 1990, noteworthy only for the portrayal of the menacing clown Pennywise by cult actor Tim Curry. In that adaptation the filmmakers attempted to adapt King’s massive horror novel about a group of adults slowly remembering how they battled a shape-shifting monster as kids.
The book is huge and distils all of Stephen King’s work into one story. Everything is here as King literally throws the bathroom sink at us: monsters, kids, the small town with a curse etc etc. It’s a masterpiece of horror fiction, spanning two generations with multiple time shifts. Which is perhaps why it has proven so difficult to film.
In the latest version, the action is shifted from the 1950s to 1988. The film opens with a atmospheric sequence in which young Bill’s brother Georgie encounters Pennywise in the storm drain. It’s a powerful scene, horrific and violent. It does what some of the best horror movies do, which is make us wonder just how far is this film prepared to go?
But does IT (2017) have what it takes us thoroughly scare us? Is it destined to become another classic Stephen King adaptation in the footsteps of Brian de Palma’s Carrie, the infamous Tobe Hooper TV series ‘Salem’s Lot, or Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining?
First, the scares: yes, it is scary. Horror fans rejoice! Pennywise played by Bill Skargard is the creepiest clown imaginable. The way the character moved was downright unsettling and truly suggested something unnatural. Kudos to the filmmakers for making the worn-out trope of the killer clown scary again!
The child actors are all very believable, especially hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), motor-mouth Richie (Stranger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard) and girl next door Beverley (Sophie Lillis). A very important consideration that was mostly missing from the 1990 miniseries and, in fact, many films involving children. The kids all played their parts exceedingly well.
The action is set in 1988 instead of decades earlier – presumably so that younger audiences can “relate” more. A dubious choice but it doesn’t hamper the story much, except that some of the novel’s best moments stem from IT assuming the form of 1950s B-movie monsters. But it’s easy to overlook such things because the movie looks gorgeous. And the opening scene establishes the tone so perfectly.
The film has some amazing visuals. When Pennywise attacks it was genuinely unsettling. There were some great original moments also, which came as a nice surprise to those of us who had read the book. In fact there were so many scares that the audience kept jumping in their seats all night, followed by nervous laughter.
However… and this is a big however… the film falls flat in several places. These weaknesses hampered my enjoyment of the film because they were so glaring. These were mainly questions of plot logic and unbelievably stupid choices by the main characters. And it was frustrating because it could all have been put right so easily.
King’s novel is quite daring in its realistic depiction of childhood. I didn’t really get that from the movie. We never see the kids being kids. Instead they become rather shallow characterisations of children (the motor mouth, the quiet leader, the skeptic, the hypochondriac). We get one scene of Bill’s father being annoyed after Georgie’s death. Other than that, nothing. We get one scene of Stan being put under pressure by his rabbi father. Then nothing. We get one scene of Mike’s life. We get no scenes whatsoever of Richie’s home life. Only Eddie and Bev have an arc. The filmmakers boil the kids down to their bare essence. They could have lost a few of the “montage” sequences instead and made up for this with actually meaningful moments. Instead it feels like a “paint by the numbers” approach to character.
More unforgivably, the kids have a habit of going “slowly towards” an unimaginable horror, presumably so we the audience can get a closer look, rather than turning tail and trying to escape. I found myself groaning inwardly every time someone walked slowly towards yet another life-threatening manifestation of IT. One would have thought that the filmmakers would have learned such lessons in the 1980s themselves!
The annoying thing is that all this is perfectly dealt with in the book. There were plenty of added scenes which didn’t really serve any purpose other than to provide another flashy visual. The writer and director could have used those scenes (scare as they were) to provide some more meaningful storytelling. Carrie has very few scares, but the ones that are there stick in the mind long after the film is over.
The directing style itself was a bit clumsy in places. Plot clues tended to “THUD” onto camera – sometimes literally. There were far too many “Jump scares” that weren’t really needed when the film did so well in setting up an atmosphere of terror. LOUD NOISES also proliferated (see what I did there?) and again, they were unnecessary.
As mentioned earlier, the movie is set in 1988. The problem with this time shift is that all through the movie I was asking myself: why choose 1988? The back end of the 80s had little of quality. Why not set it in 1985 or even earlier? (like Stranger Things – a series to which IT clearly owes a great deal) At least that way we could get some great 1980s soundtracks, hilarious fashions and great movie references. Instead we get a montage to… The Cure (?) and a couple of shots of a movie theatre advertising Lethal Weapon 2. Really? Why not choose some better material from a decade that had so much? It didn’t really feel like the 80s.
The film tries hard to get that Stand By Me vibe. But for me, it lacked the innocence and playfulness of childhood. The kids ogle Beverley for a few minutes, but that’s about it. Ritchie is funny in places but his “antics” get ridiculous, like trying to steal a bandplayer’s French horn in the background of a scene. We don’t see any authentic scenes of them playing as children. For me this was a major flaw. Especially when King’s novel deals with this so well. It could easily have been rectified by adding a few little moments to existing scenes, such as the kids building a dam in the Barrens. The novel is terrific at depicting the terror of childhood. But apart from a nice scene with Eddie and his momma, there was little of this in the movie. A little more attention to the source material would have helped.
As stated there were many plot holes. I won’t elaborate on these save that two very big ones occur near the end of the movie, leaving a huge incident involving the missing children completely unresolved. Again, a little more care with the script would have helped. I’m not solely blaming the screenwriters as they are often just doing what they are told (or have the decision taken away from them altogether by the production team), but the criticism stands.
However, for all these problems, there was a lot to like in IT. The film is genuinely frightening. Special effects often delivered the scares. There were some great ones too. The opening scene, an incident involving a movie projector, and a moment involving a headless corpse were all terrific moments.
But good moments do not a great movie make. King’s novel is more than just fodder for a Friday night scare. IT is a very complex novel about childhood. This film wanted nothing more than to be a popcorn horror movie. In that the filmmakers succeeded. But IT could have been so much more! This was a shame, as with a little more work this film could easily have been a classic instead of an instant payout.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the movie a lot. The scares are so well done and there are so many of them that I could almost forgive the other mistakes. The best horror films make you feel like you’re experiencing a world out of a nightmare. In this, IT did not disappoint. The whole thing feels like a fever dream with some great, surreal imagery. It is certainly a slick, well-oiled fear machine.
So is IT a classic?
The novel deals with some difficult childhood issues (bulling, abuse, first love, isolation) which are only alluded to in the movie. Undoubtedly IT has enough genuinely scary, gruesome moments to satisfy any horror lover. But the film lacks depth and characterisation, and the filmmakers themselves generate several major plot holes. However, IT is still a very watchable horror movie. I would say that IT is worth seeing just for the slick Hollywood effects and the many scary moments.
Still curious? Go see IT and judge for yourselves. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…
We all know about mega-hit horror movies that have spawned whole franchises, such as “Halloween”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Conjuring”. But what about the more obscure horror movies? Those which are critical successes but commercial failures, or films that were just plain overlooked? Here is my list of some of the best underrated horror movies.
10. They (2002)
Director Robert Harmon is best known for the seminal Rutger Hauer movie “The Hitcher”. However, this suspenseful supernatural thriller was released with just a whisper. The plot revolves around a woman who remembers that as a child she was afraid of monsters in the dark.. now the monsters are back! The film has some standout moments, including the opening and a very scary swimming pool scene that owes a debt to the Jacques Tournier classic “Cat People”.
9. Mean Creek (2004)
This could have been marketed as “Deliverance for kids”. Some bullied children decide to befriend their tormentor and, along with a much older sibling, take him into the woods where they plan to humiliate him. Things do not go as planned. Some terrific performances from the kids and some wonderful plot twists make this a classic. Yet somehow it failed to ignite moviegoers. Surely it deserves a second life on DVD.
8. Wolfen (1981)
Based on a Whitley Strieber novel, featuring an Oscar-winning cast that includes the likes of Albert Finney and Gregory Hines, and directed by none other than the director of “Woodstock”, this not-a-werewolf story is an eerie, atmospheric creature-feature. The distinctive night-vision “monster’s- eye point of view” shot would prefigure the Schawzenegger hit “Predator” years later. A must-see for horror lovers.
7. Fright Night II (1988)
The original was a hugely enjoyable breakout hit and the first of the 1980s vampire classics. Yet while it continues to delight audiences, the sequel proves much harder to get hold of. Which is a shame, because it’s a great film. There are some terrific vamps here, including one very ugly werewolf! Roddy McDowell once again is superlative as Peter Vincent, making this a great sequel. Sadly neglected.
6. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Everyone knows the Universal Monster movies such as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Todd Browning’s “Dracula”. But this eerie adaptation of H.G. Wells’ tale “The Island of Dr. Moreau” gets less respect than it deserves. Charles Laughton gives a bravura performance as the mad doctor who turns animals into men. Nowadays the film might be a little creaky in parts, and you have to wonder why they didn’t use a thrilling soundtrack in places. But the beast-men are fantastic, and the whole mood is one of dreamlike terror. Well worth tracking down.
5. From Beyond (1986)
Fresh from the success of “Re-Animator”, director Stuart Gordon (who would later go on to direct “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”!) employed some of the same cast in this very loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s extremely short story. Sadly, it isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Dr. Tillinghast invents a mahcine that allows you to see into another dimension. Unfortunately, its inhabitants also see into ours! Cue two hours of great pre-CGI SFX, and a plot that just keeps on getting darker. The movie is true to the spirit of the original story, but with added Barbara Crampton (for those who like that sort of thing)! The movie and the effects were much more “out there” in the mid-80s. But the acting and sardonic wit are enough to keep modern audiences interested as well.
Dario Argento is a name horror fans will be familiar with, mainly for the classic “Suspiria”. However, in my opinion “Tenebrae” is actually the superior film. The plot is simple and echoes other Argento films: an American horror novelist travels to Italy where he finds someone is offing people in the manner of his own books. But this audacious horror/thriller contains some masterful set pieces, such as the single take shot of a murder on a multi-storey building, and the final twist is awesome. Add to that the music of Goblin, and this is a masterpiece of horror cinema that should be rediscovered!
3. Hellraiser II
“Hellraiser” was the film that launched Clive Barker’s career. Yet the second film is in many ways a better movie. The story takes off where the first film ended, with a power-crazed psychiatrist bringing back from the dead the first film’s memorable femme fatale, played by Claire Higgins. This time she’s more fatal than femme, lacking skin for most of the movie. Character actor Kenneth Cranham steals the show, however. We also get to see where the Cenobites come from, which is cool. Everything is bigger in this sequel, including the imagination, yet most people only remember the lamentable, straight-to-video sequels.
2. Prince of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter made horror history with “Halloween” in 1978, and directed such cult hits as “The Thing”, “Starman” and “Big Trouble in Little China”. “Prince of Darkness” has all the hallmarks of a great Carpenter movie: it’s a siege in a building, there are great special effects, the cast is solid, especially Donald Pleasance as the priest, and it also features Alice Cooper! Yet for some reason it remains one of Carpenter’s more obscure movies. Perhaps a scathing review by UK film critic Barry Norman at the time did its box office chances some damage. Which just goes to show critics don’t know anything, because this film is one of Carpenter’s scariest, with a shock ending that will play on your mind for some time to come. You’ll never look at your reflection quite the same way again!
1. Martin (1978)
My final film on this list of underappreciated horror movies is by the King of the Zombies himself, George A Romero. George passed away recently, and with him passed a great horror director. Most people know him for his hugely influential “Dead” trilogy of zombie films, which virtually created the shambling, flesh-eating ghoul as a modern myth in popular culture. However, my favourite Romero film is actually the much quieter “Martin”. Played by a young John Amplas, Martin is a character study of a modern vampire… or is it? Amplas is superb as the cold, alienated killer who may or may not be one of the undead. The film itself is shot in documentary style. It has this wonderfully earnest quality to it, and will leave you guessing for a long time to come. If you haven’t seen “Martin” I recommend it. It’s an uncompromising movie, even in the rather uncomfortable opening scene. But it’s also one of the very best vampire movies ever made.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of obscure classics. All of these movies deserve much more love, so go out and rent or buy them. Just don’t watch them alone in the house at night, and especially not in the dark!
We’ve seen the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The FF, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant Man. On TV we have Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But there are plenty of less well-known Marvel Super-Heroes who possibly deserve their own movies. Here’s a selection of some of the best candidates:
Teenager Richard Ryder (because every superhero needs an alliterated name) gets blasted with a space ray and turned into a human rocket! Nova was never much more than a Spider-man clone. In the Psychedelic Seventies he fought such far-out cats as The Sphinx, Megaman (whose key attribute was having no face), and The Condor (a guy with wings) amongst others before becoming a member of the less-than-super New Warriors. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to the Nova Core of Xanthar, the alien race that gave Nova his powers. But surely anyone with a costume this cool deserves his own movie?
Interesting fact: Dazzler was supposed to be a movie right from the start. The character was ushered into the pages of X-Men purely to plug an onscreen character who was to both sing and act! The movie and the songstress never materialized, but Alison Blaire, a disco queen who can shoot light out of her body, became a regular member of the X-Men. With the rocking ’70s soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, and her discotastic costume, has the time finally come for the Dazzler to shine?
Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, few have undergone so many changes as Moon Knight. Appearing in Werewolf by Night #32 as a mercenary who was given a silver costume to hunt down the titular werewolf, Marc Spector morphed into a caped crusader to rival even Batman, before becoming endowed with supernatural powers courtesy of Egyptian god Konshu, dying, being resurrected, being briefly possessed by a demon, infected with lycanthropy, and even suffering multi-personality disorder from the pressure of adopting too many disguises a-la Mission Impossible!
The good captain was designed by Marvell UK in the 1970s to be Britain’s answer to Captain America. Unfortunately, he had a shaky start. Given a magic staff by Merlin (yes, the King Arthur one) Brian Braddock becomes a superhuman powerhouse who fought the Red Skull alongside Steve Rogers. The series hobbled along until scribe Alan Moore reinvented the character in the 1980’s as a strapping blonde mimbo who survived rather than won his battles against foes far cleverer than himself. Later stories had him joining comedy superhero team Excalibur alongside several former X-Men. But maybe it’s time Cap had his own movie. Heck, it worked for Ant-Man. Interesting factoid: his sister is Betsy Braddock, aka Psyclocke!
The Son of Satan
Yes, you heard right. It’s fair to say that Marvel in the 1970s was… experimental. One of the better inventions of that time was Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan himself! Debuting in the pages of Ghost Rider #1 Hellstrom is constantly at war both with his own infernal nature and his demonic dad. He eventually got his own series before it was cancelled due to a panel that was considered too blasphemous ever to be reproduced! Surely a character this dark deserves his own TV show!
Louise Simonson and June Brigman created this unique superhero team of children. The Power family find themselves in the middle of a secret war between the warlike alien Snarks (who look like walking crickets) and the peace-loving Kymellians (who look like sea-horses). When a Kymelian sacrifices himself to save the kids, they each gain one of his super-abilities. The series was ground-breaking for its realistic psychology, showing the kids scared, brave, petulant and spoiled, just like real kids. I have a soft spot for Power Pack. It’s my very favourite comic, and I’ll personally love to see it become a live action movie, if only as an antidote to all the dark and depressing fare that’s been served up recently.
Here’s a character who’s better than he looks. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is an unusual comic book superhero, because he’s a robot! X-51 is a sentient and rather sensitive android. When his creator is killed, he decides to go off and tackle crime, along with his Go-Go-Gadget arms and legs. Created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the back pages of “2001: A Space Odyssey” , X-51 was also memorably drawn by Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. There’s something both moving and creepy about a character trying to pretend to be human, even down to wearing a latex face mask and dark glasses! One of Marvel’s more interesting characters.
Howard the Duck
I know what you’re thinking. But try and forget the sickeningly-sweet George Lucas aberration and think more along the lines of a rather adult ALF. Now you’re closer to Steve Gerber’s bizarre vision of a duck trapped in a world not of his own making. Hailing from another dimension, cigar-smoking, wise-cracking Howard finds himself in Cleveland and up to his feathers in trouble. The comic was a satirical take on superheroes that sometimes had to be read to be believed. Vegetarian supervillain, anyone?
Doctor Zero and Saint George
In the mid-1980s Marvel’s mature comics line, Epic, launched a series of titles outside the Marvel Universe. “The Shadowline Saga” involved a world where superheroes were non-existent, but where a second race lived alongside our own. Possessing awesome powers, some of these were sinister, others heroic, but none were what they seemed. Cue Doctor Zero, an immortal who pretends to be a superhero. Is he really a supervillain, or does he have a more Machiavellian scheme for the human race? Saint George, meanwhile, is a human priest who is given a suit of technologically advanced armour and sent on a crusade to rid the world of dangerous “shadows”. Each series, along with another about a super team called “Powerline” ran for a limited time before being wrapped up. But the series crated some memorable characters and had some interesting artwork by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz (of TV’s “Legion” fame), and just might be something fresh and different compared to the existing Cinematic Universe. Time for a change, anyone?
So there you have it. Plenty of weirder options for Marvel to explore. And I haven’t even mentioned Alpha Flight, Ka-Zar, The Human Fly, Killraven, The Living Mummy, Skull the Slayer, or Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner! Do you agree with my choices or have I left out anyone you’d like to see? Maybe you have a burning desire to see a West Coast Avengers movie or to witness the Avengers clash with the Squadron Supreme? Food for thought for the movie gods at Marvel Studios.