Tag Archives: story

Focus on the short story: Ray Bradbury’s “The Emissary”

Today, I thought I would focus on a short story for a change.

What I really like about Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” is that he suggests that authors should only write when they feel a white-hot passion…. a burning idea that just has to be let out. For me, that has never been a problem. I have too many ideas and too little time. However, he also says that he started out writing by simply listing nouns…. writing down phrases like “The Skeleton” or “The Jar” and letting the story write itself. I was amazed to read this, as I did the same thing myself when I began writing in my teens. These days, however, I begin more often than not with an idea. But using this kind of word-association game can be a useful way to dodge writer’s block for those afflicted.

Which brings me to my favourite Ray Bradbury story, “The Emissary”.

 

 

Bradbury wrote tons of gold. You’ve probably heard of “The Martian Chronicles” or the film made from one of his short stories “The Beast from 20,000 fathoms”. He also wrote the screenplay for “Moby Dick”, a few “Twilight Zone” episodes, as well as the Rod Steiger classic “The Illustrated Man”, and the dark fantasy novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

But for me it’s his collection “The October Country” that is my fave. The preface states it is about:

“… that country where it is always turning late in the year… whose people are autumn people thinking only autumn thoughts.”

It still sends shivers up my back. Rumour has it one story, “The Homecoming” was the seed for “The Addams’ Family”, especially as Charles Addams himself illustrated the early editions of the book.

“The October Country” contains some great stories like “The Jar” and “The Scythe”. But for me “The Emissary” is the best of the lot.

 
It’s a story about a boy who is sick in bed and whose dog is his only link to the outside world. Dog is an explorer, and he always comes back carrying the scents of everything he comes into contact with. One night, Dog goes missing. Then he comes back. But he’s not exactly alone…

 

The Emissary – from the Ray Bradbury Theatre TV show!

 

Here’s a sample:

“Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer, acorn-husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoals shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh-grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it at all, this incredible beast was October!”

The story combines childlike innocence and beautiful prose with an eerie dread. It’s the kind of story you grasp instantly, but you still get more out of it on repeat readings. The exquisite prose reminds me of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It twists language to create new words out of old. But more, Bradbury captures the exuberance of sheer living. His exclamation mark at the end could be either the boy’s viewpoint or our own.

 

Martin makes sure anyone who finds his dog knows where to come looking for its owner…

 

For me, Bradbury evokes a kind of timeless, 1950’s era America of small towns that was about as foreign as you could get from inner-city Manchester where I grew up. His America is a place of wonder, mystery, nature and a million fabulous scents, smells and activities. A kind of Fourth of July of the mind. “The Emissary” conveys all this in one brisk paragraph. The rest of the story is even better. I encourage you to read it. And then to read everything else Bradbury ever wrote.

One of things writers sometimes forget about is that writing should be fun. It should move us, make us laugh or weep. We live out our fantasies and our nightmares in our writing. So be like Bradbury, who said : “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”

Stay drunk!

Eastercon 2017 Review!

For those who don’t know, Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. Now in it’s 68th year, it draws together an eclectic mix of sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and horror fans, creators, writers, illustrators, artists, cosplayers, and booksellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people. This year it took place in Birmingham, England, under the moniker of Innominate. Its logo  was a ( presumably) green alien head. I went along and took part. He’s what happened…

 

 

I had two events planned for Innominate. The first was a panel on comic book legend Jack Kirby. Most people know Kirby from his days with Marvel  in the Sixties. In fact, Jack “King” Kirby, or Jolly Jack Kirby (whichever you prefer) was an influential comics creator who co-created Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and a whole host of other even wilder characters. This was a lot of fun, even though it took place less than an hour after I had arrived and before I’d even booked into my hotel.  But bringing my hastily-acquired knowledge of how Kirby actually invented modern superheroes was very enjoyable. My fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan, Ali Baker, Kin Ming-Looi and Adele Terrell all brought their considerable knowledge and talents to bear.

Panel over, it was time to get my bearings and have a breather from the 2 hour drive down a congested M6. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, with sci-fi legend Pat Cadigan, illustrator Judith Clute and art connoisseur Colin HArris all being the guests of honour.  I checked in with a few friends I hadn’t seen since… well, the last Eastercon, missed several interesting-looking panels. I then attended the “The Explosive Opening Ceremony”. Thanks to a scientists from the Royal Institute, it was indeed explosive, and I will never forget the impressive sight of a luminous courgette.

Missing panels is something of a hobby of mine at Eastercon. I missed a couple more that night, but managed to attend both the art show reception and a Gollancz launch party. Both were curiously low-key affairs, with guests simply milling about with little or no introduction. I got the impression these were for “people in the know” whoever they were, and felt a little excluded, but even so I managed to chat briefly to some intriguing folks.

I decided to skip the Regency ball (not being a fan of how people were actually treated in the Regency period) and the Blake’s 7 Wobblevision (which I’m sure was good fun) and tried to grab some actual sleep. Car parking was a bit steep in Birmingham. Fortunately, I left my car next to the A-Team’s van ( I never did find out who it belonged to) and saved some cash courtesy of a reduced parking ticket from the con hotel, which was great value for money!

 

Jack Kirby shows his trademark style!

 

Saturday was a busy day indeed. I lost some time trying to find my way around the NEC (not a good idea when there’s a 24-hour gaming convention on) and ended up driving to Coventry! Thankfully, and against all odds, I managed to arrive in time for my kaffeeklatsch. These were great ways to speak with several fascinating guests at the con, including author Adrian Tchaikovsky and lit agent John Jarrold. After that, I missed a few more panels chatting in the bar, before heading into the panel titled *punk. This was a very entertaining and informative talk on the various “punk” genres, including steampunk, cyberpunk, and even weirdpunk ( which I never knew was a thing) . The discussion was lively with issues of class inevitably being thrown up against steampunk. The panellists were all fantastic, and I left with the feeling that I knew more than when I entered. Which is always a good thing.

I am embarrassed to say that I attended very few other panels that day. Some of these were just fun (Towel-fu, Sofa Racing and Hungry Human Hippos) some were a bit too technical for me (Neurodiversity, 3D printing, and a workshop on a Dremel – something about which I am still unenlightened), and some of which conflicted with lunch. Although this last point sounds trite, when you’re on your feet for 18 hours a day, lunch becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, many of the panels conflicted with the street food that was on sale in the fan lounge, while the hotel food was exorbitantly priced. For someone with certain dietary needs, food became an increasing problem, resulting in nachos for breakfast. Suffice to say, I left the con never wanting to see another baked potato. May I suggest some salad, vegetables and pasta in the future?

But otherwise Saturday night was (as I remember) filled with good conversation around the bar, mainly involving 2000AD, and the world’s most insanely difficult sci-fi pub quiz. So afterwards I headed back to my hotel to get a well-earned 5 hours rest!

Sunday was another busy day. Beginning with a sci-fi criticism masterclass by Manchester University’s Geoff Ryman on Afrofuturism, it continued with a panel on writing scifi with and about disability. This was a terrific discussion which made me realise just how few positive portrayals of people with disability there are. Even heroic disabled characters have to either overcome their disability or are given some great super-power to compensate (I’m thinking of you, Georgie Laforge). A lively talk from Pat Cadigan topped the day off with a session entitled “Pat Cadigan Explains It All”. And she did, with a rather graphic demonstration that I feel I will never forget. The other panels were mostly sci-fi, and  I would have liked to see  a little more fantasy and horror in the programme. But I guess that’s why it’s called a Sci-Fi convention! Much of the rest of the evening was mainly preoccupied with dinner. Sadly, the Groan-Along showing of Ed Wood’s sci-fi fiasco”Plan 9 From Outer Space” was cancelled due to someone bringing the wrong DVD. The replacement, “Transformers” failed to find an audience. So instead I had a long and lively talk with many people who wandered in and out of the fan lounge until the wee hours, when I realised I still hadn’t decided (due to a variety of reasons) on what I was going to read for my author reading at 10am the following day!

Now, 2am is not a good time to decide what you are going to be reading in less than 8 hours. However, I think I pulled it off. Sadly, my reading conflicted with my friend Arthur Chapell’s fascinating talk on sci-fi pub signs, so I had to miss that, as I couldn’t very well be absent from my own reading! Myself and grimdark author Anna Smith-Spark expected a low-energy crowd, it being the fourth day of the convention at 10am! However, the opposite was true. Many faces that were far too fresh for my liking turned up (probably due to Ms Smith-Spark’s presence, I may add), and I realized I had better be on top of my game. Fortunately, my last-minute preparation prevailed, and the reading seemed to go very well, with a lively Q&A sessions afterwards that involved such diverse subjects such as Dungeons & Dragons and the poetry of William Blake.

The con ended on a high note with the closing ceremony, attended once against by the guests of honour, and the giving of the Doc Weir award. I spent the rest of the day catching up, saying goodbye and generally making a nuisance of myself before heading home up the M6 once more. Maybe it was just that the traffic was less congested, but I felt a new surge of energy and hopefulness. It seems to be a common thing at Eastercon. The experience of being around so many creative and passionate people renews you, and you go forth into the world once more, ready to apply pen to paper, confident that there are other people out there who feel just the same as you!

My thanks to the organisers for letting me participate, and my apologies to anyone I didn’t get to speak to. See you next year!

(P.S. Some of the above may be exaggerated… just a little).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autumn Man is out now!

As promised, you can now buy my novel THE AUTUMN MAN as either an e-book or softcover book from Amazon.com, courtesy of Solstice Publishing, you lucky people!

THE AUTUMN MAN is a gripping tale of horror and the paranormal.

Here’s a taste of what you can expect…

“Milton is a small, industrial Northern England town where nothing ever happens. But all that is about to change. When grieving schoolteacher Megan Vervain rents her spare room to an enigmatic loner named Amon, she starts to suspect something about her new lodger is odd; he spends his night studying maps of the town, looking for something in its ancient past. Soon, bizarre events occur: local people go missing, graves are robbed, and a terrifying beast stalks human prey at night.

“Another stranger has come to Milton – the lustful, murderous Von Daniken. For centuries, he and Amon have been searching for the same mystical item known as the Cure. Now, they have found it, and the town of Milton is about to become an apocalyptic battleground for their final showdown.”

More information will be coming soon. But for now, head over to Amazon to read a sample for FREE!

 

 

The Horror Masterworks series!

In this post, I thought it would be fun to create my own list of Horror Masterworks books containing the greatest horror novels and short stories of all time.

The idea struck me because a while ago Gollancz brought out a series of Science Fiction Masterworks. These contained seminal sci-fi novels considered some of the best sci-fi novels of all time, such as Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls as well as the obligatory PK Dick books. The series was an introduction to many authors readers might not be familiar with.

This was followed soon after by another series of Fantasy Masterworks with books such as Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter and George R R Martin’s Fevre Dream. However, due to less success this time around, plans for a Horror Masterworks series were apparently shelved. It might also have been due to the fact that some of the “fantasy” tiles were in fact horror, or even science-fiction as in Jack Finney’s Time and Again.

 

Another mislabelled "Science Fiction Masterwork".

Another mislabelled “Science Fiction Masterwork”.

 

There has been a huge reticence by major publishers and booksellers recently to acknowledge the horror field. Yet despite this, horror is booming. Horror films like The Conjuring and the Paranormal Activity series have accounted for some of the most profitable Hollywood films this century. Horror novels continue to appear regularly on Amazon’s Top Selling Books list.  The public, it seems, thirsts for horror, even if publishers don’t want to supply it.

In conclusion, it seems unfair that Sci-fi and Fantasy should get their own Masterworks series while Horror is left out. So without further ado, here are my recommendations for Gollancz’s non-existent  Horror Masterworks series!

 

THE HORROR MASTERWORKS COLLECTION THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN…

  1. H P Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu & Others
  2. Ray Bradbury, The October Country
  3. Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
  4. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
  5. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  6. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  7. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
  8. Peter Straub, Ghost Story
  9. James Herbert, The Rats
  10. Stephen King, The Shining
  11. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire
  12. Charles L Grant, The Hour of the Oxrun Dead
  13. Clive Barker, Cabal
  14. Ramsey Campbell, The Doll Who Ate His Mother
  15. Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan
  16. Robert Bloch, Psycho
  17. William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland
  18. Sheridan Le Fanu, Through A Glass Darkly
  19. Roald Dahl, Kiss Kiss
  20. M R James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
  21. Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby
  22. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey
  23. Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination
  24. Thomas Ligotti, Teatro Grottesco
  25. Laird Barron, Occultation
  26. Robert R McCammon, Boy’s Life
  27. Daphne Du Maurier, The Birds
  28. Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  29. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
  30. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
  31. William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist
  32. Algernon Blackwood, Ancient Sorceries & other Chilling Tales
  33. Charles Dickens, Ghost Stories
  34. Rudyard Kipling, The Mark of the Beast & Other Stories

As you can see, there is plenty for horror fans to sink their teeth into.

One word of warning: this is not a list of personal favourites (although many of them are) or a list of the most scariest books of all time. Instead, I’ve tried to balance true masters in the field with their most notable works, either because the book set a new bar in the genre, or because it is their most representative work. I’ve also tried to include some modern writers such as Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron to show you that horror is not dead but is in fact alive and well and still growing, albeit a little more in the dark these days!

I hope you enjoy the list. Feel free to disagree, and be sure to let me know what you think about the list in the comments below!

Pleasant dreams!

 

 

Exciting news!

I am very happy to report that my latest novel “The Autumn Man” is going to be published in the very near future!

I’ll release more details when and as I can, but this is a horror novel that is very close to my heart.

You can read my fist novel, the sci-fi horror “Project Nine” here.

The story behind how  both “The Autum Man” and “Project  Nine” got published is an epic one and I will share it with you at some point in the future. But for now, I’m just excited  and looking forward to sharing more with you as this develops. Stay tuned for a sneak preview of the cover and for more screenwriting tips and secrets!

 

How to Sell a Screenplay to Hollywood from the UK – Part One

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The screenwriter’s dream: now you too can get to work in the bath.

 

Okay, here is the big one. How do you sell a screenplay to Hollywood while living in the UK? I suppose this is what this blog is supposed to be all about. So let me take you through the steps involved. Sounds simple, right?

First of all, about myself: I am a British screenwriter, but I’ve made spec sales and had options with companies in the UK, Europe and Los Angeles, USA.

Secondly, as William Goldman famously said: “Nobody knows anything”. He was talking about the movie business. So as you read this, please place your tongue firmly in your cheek and take all of this with that pinch of salt.

However, this being the confessions of an English screenwriter and all, I thought I should at least attempt to share with you what I have learned when trying to sell a script to Hollywood without having to go and live in L.A..

And what better way to start than with the secret “one easy step to success”?

The secret trick to success

First of all, here is the secret trick — the magic bullet, if you will — that all professional writers know about…

Ready?

There is no magic bullet!

Yes, that’s right. There is no secret trick to selling a screenplay. No magic bullet. No one way that ensures success. There is only hard work, practice, lots of practice, a lot of luck, and a lot of failure.

“What? I’m going to fail?”

Yes. You will fail. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes you will want to quit. But to quote from Benjamin Franklin “Energy and persistence conquer all things”. That is especially true of screenwriting.

Let me explain…

There is no one way to sell or option a script today. Elliott Grove in his excellent book “Randance Writer’s Lab” compares the movie industry to an enormous building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people who you can make deals with or who can further your career in some way: agents, industry executives, producers, etc.

Your job is to get in the doors. It doesn’t matter which one. Just keep trying.

Now all this sounds pretty wishy-washy, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

Step One – Write the screenplay

The first step to selling to Hollywood is: you must be able to write great screenplays. This is not as easy as it sounds. Many writers produce script after script which never sells. But as long as you are learning your craft, you are progressing.

“But how come so many bad movies get made? I just saw a terrible movie. I could write better than that!”

Yes. Bad movies do get made. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes a producer just desperately needs a screenplay because they have actors or locations available. Sometimes studios butcher screenplays because they’re trying to appeal to a broader audience than the material can support. Sometimes a “star” will insist that the script goes in a terrible direction to make them look good. Sometimes a hurricane will blow the set away. The list goes on. And don’t forget that making movies is hard. Really hard. Heck, if it was easy everybody would be doing it, right? Just because you can spot a bad movie doesn’t mean you can make a good one.

You must write, write, write. Devour all the screenwriting books you can find.

You must read screenplays. Actually read them.

Watch movies. A lot of movies. Deconstruct them on paper to see how they work.

This will require you to invest time in your craft and will also involve spending money. A lot of money.  In short, you must approach screenwriting like a job. Because that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I can’t stress Step One enough. You will be up against UCLA college graduates who have done nothing but read and write screenplays for the past 3 years. Think you can measure up to them? Knowing your craft is the only part of the business you can control. So make sure you deliver a superb script. “Competent” is not enough. “Good” is not enough. Your screenplay must be “great” to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of screenplays circulating every year.

Got that? Good.

Once you’ve done all that, you may be ready for step two:

Step Two – Learn about the Business

Let’s go back to Elliot Grove’s comparison of the movie industry to a building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people you want to do business with. And this IS a business, make no mistake. It’s called “Showbusiness” for a reason. Yes, you can enjoy giving your creativity full reign when you come up with an amazing scene. But remember that you have to sell the script when it’s done. And like any salesman, you must know what people want.

One mistake writers often make is to try to predict trends. Every now and then a movie does phenomenal business at the box office. For up to a year afterwards, everybody wants something similar, be it “Memento” or “Saw” or “The Lord of the Rings”. You may be tempted to begin work on a similar project, hoping that people will go crazy for it. But by the time you have finished your script, which can take anywhere from a month to even years, the market will have moved on, and people will be clamoring for the next big thing.

What’s a writer to do?

Instead of thinking in terms of the hot movie genre, you should think more in terms of what is sellable. You will find that certain types of movies are always in demand, while others are pretty much dead. For instance, don’t bother writing that Western or Period Drama. Even if you see a major picture in those genres. The spec market for those films are almost impossible to break into. Most new films in those genres are initiated by the studio, who then hires a writer for the project.

(Caveat: remember how we said that nobody knows anything?)

My advice is, if you have a great idea for a new Queen Boadicea film, turn it into a novel. Then Hollywood can come to you when it sells a million copies. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Genres that are always in demand?

Cheap ones.

Block Comedies, low budget horror movies, found footage movies (a recent trend which probably will not continue as the justification behind them becomes more and more bizarre), movies without lots of SFX, low budget thrillers, “contained” movies with only a few locations or characters.

Did I mention cheap?

One of the biggest independent hits of all time, “Halloween”, which launched the careers of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, was about a man in a William Shatner mask walking around homes with a knife. It was made for $325,000 and raked in $47 million at the box office alone.

There are several other things you must know about the movie industry before embarking on your odyssey to net that lucrative spec sale.

What is a spec sale?

A spec is a screenplay initiated by a writer who has not been hired to write a screenplay. That’s about it.

Sometimes studios mainly generate their own projects and put calls out to everyone they know (agents, managers, producers) that they are looking for writers for the project. The lucky writer than gets to “pitch” their take on the material to the studio. These jobs are called assignments.

The film industry is bigger than Hollywood.

Motion pictures are made all over the world these days. China is a huge upcoming market. My first option was to a company based in Germany. I’ve also written for companies in England and Canada as well as the USA. Plus, nowadays everyone can be a filmmaker. Just invest in a decent phone camera. Recent indie breakout hit “Tangerine” was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Now you too can be Cecil B DeMille! (note: if you don’t know who Cecil B DeMille is, stop reading this immediately and go watch a ton of old movies made before 1960. I’m serious).

Sales vs Options

More fun terms! In the movie industry, you don’t have to sell your screenplay until it’s produced. You can option it instead. The producer usually pays you less money than they would for a sale. They then have the option, within a specified period (say, 12 months) to get the money to make the picture. If they do, you should be then paid more money to sell the script to them. If not, you get the rights to the script back. It’s a win-win for a newbie screenwriter.

However, an option can also be a disappointment if the producer is not willing to pay a lot. I have seen (and signed) options for as little as $1. Are you being taken advantage of? Well, that depends on where you are in your career. A dollar option to someone with no credits whatsoever is a step up the ladder.

So, to recap: there is no one way to sell a script. You can sell screenplays around the world these days, thanks to the Internet. But you must work on your craft. Read as much as you can. Read screenwriting books, read online articles (there are many free ones), read the trades (by which I mean the trade magazines such as Variety or The Hollywood Reporter – all of which are online), subscribe to newsletters. The Scoggins Report can also give you invaluable guidance as to which companies are buying which type of script. These will all give you a feel for how the industry operates. You must become familiar with this, because these are the people you will be trying to sell your work to.

Hot tip: You will find that writing equates to about half of a screenwriter’s working life. The rest involves that dreaded word: marketing. You must become your own PR expert, agent, manager and marketing guru, because that is how you are going to sell your script. Enjoy!

In the next part we’ll look at what to do after you’ve written the script, and how to (hopefully) get it into the hands of Hollywood professionals!

It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

See you next time!

Top Horror Clichés The World Can Do Without!

Let’s get down and dirty in this post by exposing some of the worst horror movie clichés out there. Some of these – like the axe-murderer in the back seat – are so old I’m not even going to talk about them. Instead, here are some of the more insidious violators of the audience’s desire for something new. Most of these are lazy, cynical ways to make a movie. Don’t let them find their way into your screenplay!

 

Just because you know you're using a cliché doesn't mean it isn't a cliché.

Just because you know you’re using a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t a cliché.

 

Girl trapped in the basement of a serial killer

We’ve all seen this one. A hot girl gets kidnapped by a serial killer and spends the next two hours screaming, trying to break out, breaking out, getting recaptured, and finally killing the serial killer. Yes, it’s zero budget. It’s also zero-entertainment. If there ever was a point to telling a story like this, it was done in “The Silence of the Lambs” over twenty years ago. Please, no more!

People in a bunker

In the 1960s shows like “The Twilight Zone” used this setup to tell thought-provoking stories of bigotry, prejudice and paranoia in a Cold War age. Today, it’s an excuse for a low-budget movie. If your movie isn’t a political allegory, avoid this cliché. In fact, even if it is avoid this cliché.

Group in a haunted hospital/abandoned building/old house etc. etc.

A group of unfeasibly hot scientists/investigators/college kids go snooping around in a big old building. Of course they can’t find their way out once they’re inside. It’s haunted, you fools! Cue ghosts, demons, a serial killer etc. If you’re going to tell this story, you better have one very cool monster. Oh, and those smart-alec kids/investigators? They’re really annoying.

Sexy vampire/werewolf/warlock/witch etc.

Must be incredibly hot, twenty-somethings and dressed to kill. Uh, not literally. No, because these beautiful creatures won’t be doing any killing. They’d sooner get it on with each other! In these stories – allegories for wealthy high schools and colleges – we usually sympathize more with the villain who is trying to bump off as many of his classmates as he can – until of course he starts spouting those cheesy lines of dialogue.

 

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Spot the difference? That’s right, the one on the left made more money!

 

Shoulder touch

Picture this: your girlfriend is wandering alone through a scary old house/asylum/abandoned hospital/hillbilly shack etc. You see her and decide to get her attention. How do you do it? Call her name? Cough loudly? No, you creep up to her silently and grab her shoulder. Watch how she screams! This ploy also works when you reverse the genders. Seriously, what’s the matter with you! Oh, it was an excuse for a cheap scare by the writers. Ah…

Medicine cabinet scare

Basically any scene where someone closes a mirrored door and sees a face behind them. Or closes the refrigerator and someone is standing there. How did they get there? Are they wearing cushioned slippers so they couldn’t be heard? Damn those psychos and their cushioned slippers. Oh, and this one works ever better if you have some “jump scare” music as well.

The double twist

So you’ve reached the end of your boring slasher movie. Now what? What this movie needs is… a double twist! So now the final girl gets killed, and it’s the not-so-final girl who survives! Or maybe the final girl has hallucinations that she’s being stalked by the killer even though she’s safely strapped to her psych ward bed. She’s a basket case. The horror! First popularized in Brian De Palma’s version of “Carrie” in the Seventies. Nowadays, it’s just another excuse for a cheap plot twist that robs the film of any emotional payoff it might have had.

Nothing can stop Milla Jovovich, not even plot tension.

Nothing can stop Milla Jovovich, not even plot tension.

The kick-ass heroine

“The Matrix” has a lot to answer for. Floor length PVC coats. Funky spectacles. Kung fu fight scenes. But one thing we can do without is the kick-ass heroine. Impossible to defeat, able to take out 250-pound gorillas despite looking like she never even hits the gym, this frail-looking hot girl can punch holes through solid steel and perform improbable back flips. Sometimes explained by SCIENCE. Sometimes not. Next time you see a hulking serial killer who has spent his life stalking and murdering humans taken out by a five-foot co-ed with a stick, you’ve met the kick-ass heroine.

The dumb jock

If you thought this was a stereotype, you’d be right. It’s a well-known fact that any male who does sports in high school is a sexist bully with a brain the size of a hen’s egg. You can usually spot this character by his natty baseball top and rippling muscles. Whatever the most sensible course of action is, he will oppose it. Even if he has just seen his friends get ripped apart by a murderous sasquatch, he will run into the woods and chase the monster down armed with nothing but a wet towel. But it’s the way he badmouths his girlfriend that seals this character’s doom, because he just insulted the movie’s target demographic!

Loss of cellphone reception

No matter how extensive your network coverage, you can bet that your cellphone will start to misbehave at a crucial moment. This is most likely to happen just after the first death occurs in your party. No matter how expensive your pricing plan, your movie phone is not going to save you now. You see how I just isolated the characters so the monster can pick them off one by one? Genius!

Any kind of hybrid monster, e.g. Sharkspider vs Mechacrocodile!

Most of the said monster will be rendered in appallingly bad 1990’s computer animation. Sharks are the favoured creature of choice, modified by a mixture of sabretooth tiger, giant snake, octopus, robot, crocodile, or whatever graphic the CGI animator has to hand. For bonus points, find a ridiculous way of getting your aquatic monster onto dry land. Ghost Shark, anyone?

 

A truly terrifying postmodern serial killer.

A truly terrifying postmodern serial killer.

OMG it’s just so postmodern!

If you’re too cool for regular horror tropes you might just want to go full postmodern. In this kind of movie, the teens know all the rules for serial killer movies. They endlessly reference plot points from horror films, thereby continually reminding the audience that what they’re watching is in fact only a movie. Used ad nauseum in the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” TV Series and to varying effect in the “Scream” movies, this irritating glitch makes us want to punch our TV sets as hard as possible while yelling “Shut up talking about horror movies and show me a horror movie!” This type of movie is often coupled with the Double Twist. Because OMG, it’s just so postmodern!

There are plenty more bad clichés out there, clichés so ugly they should have been destroyed at birth. But these are the ones I keep seeing over and over again in modern horror movies. So before you rush out to make the latest girl-trapped-=in-a-basement-by-a-serial-killer movie, please check out this list.

As for a big budget tentpole horror movie set in a bunker by one of Hollywood’s top directors… that couldn’t happen nowadays, could it?