Tag Archives: genre

The Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century So Far

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…

Primer (2004)

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.

Timecrimes (2007)

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.

Passengers (2016)

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.

Inception (2010)

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?

 

 

 

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Interview in InkTip magazine

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.

https://www.amazon.com/Student-Alicia-Leigh-Willis/dp/B073VDHDJC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521643945&sr=8-1&keywords=the+student+alicia+willis

 

 

A Danse Macabre horror novels reading list

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!

 

Guest post: William Meikle and The Ghost Club

A guest post today, from William Meikle, whose new book “The Ghost Club” promises to be a rip-roaring attempt to recreate the voices of classic Victorian writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde!

Finding the voice

By William Meikle 

In my new collection THE GHOST CLUB I’ve undertaken the task of writing a collection of supernatural stories as told in the voices of famous Victorian writers like Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde and many others. It’s probably the most ambitious piece of work I’ve ever attempted.

The Victorian bit was the easiest. I grew up on Wells and Verne, Doyle and Stevenson, and that slightly formal, slightly clipped tone is one that I’ve practised many times in my own Holmes stories over the past few years, and it’s a voice I fall into quite naturally given all my reading from the period. Because of that, I found the Doyle and Wells stories to be the ones where I felt most at home when it came to the writing. The Doyle one went fastest, not surprisingly, even although I chose Lestrade rather than the dynamic duo, and it was helped in that I had a location I was familiar with, along the London Embankment around Cleopatra’s Needle. The Wells came as soon as I chose the subject; an early scientific experiment in color theory and vibrational mechanics gone wrong. Once again I had found my way in quite easily.

The Stevenson was more problematic, but as a fellow Scot I got into his particular more relaxed voice by finding the right character, a sick Scots boy in need of a story, and as soon as I had that, RLS took over the reins and led the way.

Those were the first three stories I wrote, and I thought I was into the flow of it and knew how the rest would proceed. Then the trouble started.

I had a little list of all the writers I wanted to be part of the club, and didn’t want to do all the ones I thought might be easier first, so I decided, being in the zone, to go for Tolstoy. I warmed up by reading War and Peace and realized I’d forgotten about the endless descriptive passages of balls and parties, officers and gentlemen and the doings of trade and traders. As for my story, all I knew at the start was that it would be a ghost story, and take place during one of the Empress’ balls. So I started, describing the Empress, the ballroom, the kitchens, the courtiers and I got so bogged down that fifteen pages in I hadn’t even started to tell the story. I had found Tolstoy’s style, but not a voice I could use to get in and out of it quickly enough to avoid an epic. I was starting to think I had bitten off more than I could chew, but then I was helped out by a compatriot from the past, and a voice I knew well. A Scotsman, several Scotsmen, turned up and began to tell their story of the ball, seen from a different viewpoint, and suddenly, all the description and finery were put in their proper context, and a story wove its way through all the Russian magnificence. Not many of the original fifteen pages survived, but enough did that I think I caught the mood I wanted to. But by then, I’d spent enough time with Tolstoy’s way with a sentence and needed something lighter.

My next stop was Twain, a different fellow entirely, far more abrupt, far more sarcastic and with nary a hint of sentimentality. But I found he was just the right chap to rescue me from the labyrinthine Russian court, and I was swept along in a tale of gambling, treachery and revenge on a riverboat that flowed so smoothly I was almost sorry to see it go.

Haggard and Kipling came quite easily, more of the semi-formal, clipped tones I mentioned earlier but with each chap’s peculiar flourishes and tics.

Then came Helena Blavatsky. I’ve long been fascinated by her writings on Theosophy, but when it came to writing a story in her style, I found her rather intimidating, but the story came almost the way I imagined her speaking, slightly hectoring, eager to be believed and a peculiar amalgam of history and occult fiction.

After the seriousness of the Theosophist meanderings, I cleansed the palate with something altogether lighter and frothier. Getting into Wilde’s style was the most fun I had in the writing of these stories — not the style of Dorian Gray, but more in the style of his shorter, more comic works. The voice, a playful, lilting thing in this case, came almost immediately and the story was written in a single sitting that left me with a big smile.

Margaret Oliphant’s tale became personal when I found that it was less of a voice I needed, more of a song. it’s built around the Scottish folk tune Fine Flowers in the Valley. Finding the voice for the story came as much from Downtown Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs than from fiction, but it turned out to be the right one for the tale.

Henry James was one I’d been putting off till near the end, for he’s a writer I’ve always had trouble reading due to his convoluted way with a sentence. But coincidence stepped up and helped me in this case, for I won a copy of Dan Simmons’ THE FIFTH HEART in an online competition, and in it, Henry James is so well described that I lifted the voice from his character in that book, and found that it led me straight into a tale of a haunted chess set that once again almost wrote itself.

I was nearly done. Checkov was easy for me; I understand drinkers, and railwaymen, and drinking railwaymen. I also, living as I do in Newfoundland, understand cold winters. Once I had those aspects, and paired them with some Russian fatalism, that tale too flew by in a single sitting.

I’d left two till last. Stoker because I knew what I wanted to write right from the start, and Verne, because I had no idea how to approach it. I went with Stoker first, and a wee ghost story. Here the voice was simple, for I wanted it to read like a trial run for Dracula, i.e. a story told in epistolary fashion. It’s a tale of old friends, of loss and sorrow, and it’s the saddest thing I think I’ve ever written, but it’s also full of Irish sentimentality, and Stoker’s rather brusque voice led me through to the end.

And so, I was left with Verne, and little idea how to proceed. In the end, I went with Harryhausen-style effects, and thought of it as a ’50s movie rather than a Victorian story, and that allowed me to indulge my passion for improbable rocketry, derring do, and a very French approach to scientific enquiry. In the end, I might not quite have got Verne’s dispassionate scientific voice into the tale, but it feels right to me, and it’s the closest I was going to get.

And there it was, all done.

It’s a simple premise.

In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal dining club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.

These are their stories, containing tales of revenant loved ones, lost cities, weird science, spectral appearances and mysteries in the fog of the old city, all told by some of the foremost writers of the day. In here you’ll find Verne and Wells, Tolstoy and Checkov, Stevenson and Oliphant, Kipling, Twain, Haggard, Wilde and Blavatsky alongside their hosts.

Come, join us for dinner and a story.

Read a sample and buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM

THE GHOST CLUB MEMBERS AND THEIR STORIES

Robert Louis Stevenson Wee Davie Makes a Friend
Rudyard Kipling The High Bungalow
Leo Tolstoy The Immortal Memory
Bram Stoker The House of the Dead
Mark Twain Once a Jackass
Herbert George Wells Farside
Margaret Oliphant To the Manor Born
Oscar Wilde The Angry Ghost
Henry Rider Haggard The Black Ziggurat
Helena P Blavatsky Born of Ether
Henry James The Scrimshaw Set
Anton Checkov At the Molenzki Junction
Jules Verne To the Moon and Beyond
Arthur Conan Doyle The Curious Affair on the Embankment

Available on 8th December 2017 in paperback and ebook from Crystal Lake Publishing.

‘In the past, we’ve had the Diogenes Club, the ‘Club of the Damned’, and even Peter Straub’s ‘Chowder Society.’ Now we have THE GHOST CLUB by William Meikle. And it is, quite simply, a delight. Not only has the author displayed his knowledge of and love for the writers of yesteryear, but in creating ‘The Ghost Club’ our host has produced his own collection of unknown and previously unpublished short stories ‘by’ Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, H. G.Wells, Margaret Oliphant, Oscar Wilde, H. Rider Haggard, Helena P Blavatsky, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. I say ‘unknown’, when I mean – of course – that all the stories are written by Mr Meikle in the style of the aforementioned authors; and the entire experience of reading this collection is like sitting with him in an old fashioned study, with a roaring fire, guttering shadows and a snifter or two of brandy as he unfolds his ‘Ghost Club’ tales. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.’ – Stephen Laws, author of GHOST TRAIN, SPECTRE and DARKFALL

 

Available from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM

 

Author interview – Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke

Today it’s my proud privilege to introduce author Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke. A Nigerian-born writer, he is one of a wave of Afrofuturist writers who have recently been taking the world by storm. Afrofuturism has been defined as “a cultural, aesthetic, philosophy of science and philosophy and history that…  addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora”.  Writers of these stories typically use magic realism, fantasy, supernatural and science fiction to achieve their aims, and share a highly distinctive prose style that is both fresh and engagingly non-Western. 

Chukwunonso’s first story collection, “The Haunted Grave”  is in print from Parallel Universe Publications and contains eight stories with themes such as the real origins of the AIDS virus, a man who is possessed by himself,  and a particularly nasty family curse passed on through sexual activity. The stories are original and totally believable, told with a matter-of-factness that makes them all the more chilling.  Even stranger is that Chukwunonso is such a very nice guy to meet, with a highly infectious laugh. Not the kind of person you would immediately think capable of writing such grisly fiction!

 

ES: First of all, please tell our readers a little about yourself and what you write.

CE: I am Peter Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke. Although I only write with Chukwunonso and then my surname Ezeiyoke. From day one, I tended to avoid using my name Peter in my writing. I see my writing coming from an intimate place and Peter for an unknown reason failed to capture this essence. Perhaps because Peter is for officialdom.  The name used in school, at work and other serious places. Nonso, an abbreviated version of Chukwunonso was the in-house name left for close friends and family. In a way, the name Peter got alienated from this intimate fondness I associated with writing. I write all sorts of things: fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction, I love literary criticism especially if approached from the angle of the Philosophy of Literature. I fell in love with literary theories after reading Language and Habit of Thought by A. Akwanya. The book blew me off my feet. I also enjoyed Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics. And then Kant and then Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. ES: And what are your preferred genres as a writer?

CE: Horror and fantasy. Science fictions as long as it doesn’t focus so much in the science but rather on the emotions of the characters. I really love writing horror.  I love a slow burner. The beginning of my stories often sound realistic/literary until the demon comes to party.

ES: What is your favourite childhood book?

CE: I can’t really say one book, but I think that The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola was fascinating, mythical and hilarious. The Bottled Leopard by Chukwuemeka Ike stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Then Cyprian Ekwensi’s An African Night’s Entertainment.  Chike and River by Chinua Achebe was our childhood national anthem so was Eze Goes to School by Onuora Nzekwu. I bet that everybody that grew up in Nigeria around the time I was born must have read them.

ES: How long were you a part-time writer before your became a full-time one?

CE: I can’t call myself a full time writer even now. Writing is yet to pay my bills. But I often see myself as a committed writer in the sense that I take it seriously and tend to create time for it. I haven’t been that committed to writing like the way I am now. It is something I began newly. I started to write when I was like eleven or twelve, but then I had a yearning stronger than writing: to become a catholic priest. This consumed my life until I was like 21 when I started having a vocational crisis because of some existential questions. Then writing became my only solace to escape reality. Finally, in 2014, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t become a priest after about 15 years in the seminary. It was at this point that I became a committed writer because I realised that there was nothing else in life that fascinates me like writing. I started being a serious writer by doing my MA in Creative Writing.

ES: That’s fascinating, and I suppose it shows just how important writing can be to people. Thank you for sharing that story. What has been your hardest scene to write to date?

CE: A rape scene that I wrote as part of my MA in radio drama.

ES: And what was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

CE: Hahaha… I went to a bar with a friend. Then we ate fresh fish pepper soup with some chilled drink.

ES: Good answer! I like to include animals in my own stories from time to time. As a writer, what animal would you choose to be your spirit animal?

CE: A tiger

ES: Very cool! And now what are your writing habits? Any good ones?

CE: I am good at breaking any habit I formed.

ES: And how many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CE: I think I end up with one every month.

ES: Wow. It sounds like you are very prolific. That is very inspiring. When you have had a work published, do you read your reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

CE: I read them. I like feedback, no matter what. It tells me that at least people read what I write. Obscurity I think is the worst thing to happen to a writer rather than neglect reviews.

ES: That is a very philosophical attitude to take. I wish I could be like that!  Well, thank you very much for taking part in this interview, and I for one really look forward to reading your next book!

 

If you haven’t read it yet, Chukwunonso’s collection of stories “The Haunted Grave” is available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. I thoroughly recommend it as a superb work of fiction. If you want an introduction to the wonderful world of Afrofuturism, or if you just want a really good collection of modern horror stories, I suggest you pick up a copy, as he is certainly an author to watch! 

IT (2017) Reviewed!

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…

Overall: 7/10

Nightscape reviews & Fantasycon 2017!

Well, here is a nice surprise. A review of my horror short story collection NIGHTSCAPE, no less!

The reader calls several of the stories “gems” and “fabulously suspenseful”!

You can check out the reviews along with synopses of the stories here:

Or you can just go ahead and find the entire book here:

There will be more news coming soon. Not to mention a special post on Fantasycon 2017.

Fantasycon is the annual convention run by the British Fantasy Society. This year it’s in Peterborough, near Cambridge, England. It takes place from September 29th – 1st October. I’ll be speaking on panels and giving an author reading along with some uber-talented individuals, many of whom are very well known in the fields of horror and fantasy writing. Come along and join the fun!