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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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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!

 

Eastercon: Mancunicon convention report 2016!

This year’s science-fiction/fantasy convention EASTERCON took place in Manchester, England. Mancunicon, as it was called, occupied four floors of the iconic Hilton Hotel, a slender glass-and-steel building shaped like the number “1”. The convention gathered together sci-fi and fantasy authors, fans, publishers, gamers and cosplayers. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, and one of them was yours truly.

The Hilton Tower... in the sun.

The Hilton Tower… in the sun.

 

Now, I’ve been to FantasyCon before and the odd sci-fi movie fan convention. But I’ve never been to Eastercon, so I was unsure what to expect. Fortunately, some friends of mine from the Manchester Speculative Fiction Group were also there, so there was always someone to chat (or moan) to.

The first thing we did was gather at the bar. This was (unsurprisingly) the focal point for the Con. However, the Hilton is a very tall, narrow building so sometimes the bar became very crowded. This never became a real problem, but it did make queuing for the two lifts difficult. The small meeting rooms also meant that several panels were oversubscribed. I was sorry to have missed the panel on rare sci-fi and fantasy TV shows of the 1950s -1970s. But on the whole things ran pretty smoothly.

The atmosphere was, for the most part, very friendly, with everyone united by a love of sci-fi and fantasy. Although some were more hard-core than others – there was a cosplay competition on Saturday for those dedicated enough. I am not the most gregarious person in the world. But even I found myself chatting to a diverse array of people over the weekend.

My writing group has an anthology called “REVOLUTIONS” out at the moment, so this was an ideal place to plug the book. We sneaked up a few posters and shifted quite a few copies. My only regret was that I didn’t manage to prepare any advertising material for my own novel. But then Easter always sneaks up on me.

The events programme was varied and jam-packed. This year’s guests of honour were authors Sarah Pinborough, David L Clements, Aliette de Bodard, and Ian MacDonald. But many more took part, and topics ranged from hard sci-fi to sewing. So there was something for everyone… even a cookery class!

So after catching up with my fellow attendees, I made my way to the first panel…

Welcome to Eastercon – Saturday

This was highly informative and useful. It soon became apparent that Eastercon has a culture all of its own. Some people had been going literally all their lives, while the oldest member was a mere 90 years old.

Afterwards, I browsed the dealers’ rooms. Against my better judgment I gave into temptation and walked away with an armful of beautiful 1970s paperback editions. But some deals are just too good to pass up!

Diversity in SF

The first panel I attended was about diversity in SF/F. This was a very intelligent and nuanced discussion about how difficult it is for authors who are not white and middle class to get published. The speakers made their points with eloquence and precision. Afterwards, I found myself with a far greater appreciation of issues of race and gender.

MSF Group’s “Crit Sandwich” – Saturday and Sunday

Next day, Manchester’s SpecFic group held the first of two long feedback sessions for budding authors. My fellow group members and I reviewed 3 pieces each day of up to 10,000 words per author. The sessions were very enjoyable, with some interesting, varied and (intentionally) amusing samples of work. All those who took part said they found it very useful. I take my hat off to them, as I’m not sure if I’d have had the courage to submit my work to complete strangers at my first Eastercon!

Jo Fletcher Books Launch – Sebastian de Castell

There were several book launches over the weekend. We ascended the lift to the Presidential Suite on the 22nd floor for a reading by the author. The view and the plentiful red wine made this a memorable occasion, and the publishers were open to questions from anyone who attended. Indeed, the wine flowed a little too freely on occasion, with several people complaining of feeling “under the weather” as the Con wore on!

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..And the view from the 22nd storey in the rain.

 

The Fuzzy Set of Horror

That evening I attended a lively discussion on the boundaries of horror, given by three gothic/supernatural fantasy writers with helpful contributions from horror grandmaster Ramsey Campbell. There were some hotly debated questions about Waterstones’ policy of no longer segregating horror from fantasy and science-fiction as well as on the merits of zombie films.

Later, we sampled the gastronomic delights of Manchester (there are many) before returning to a packed bar and hobnobbing with anyone who would talk to us. But after over ten hours on my feet, I was exhausted. So I limped off to bed to grab four hours’ sleep before Day Three.

Trailblazing Comics of the 1980s – Sunday

Next morning – my head buzzing with a litre of coffee – I took part in my first ever panel. Thankfully, it was a subject I can ramble on about for hours – comic books. My fellow panellists Karen Brenchley and Tony Keen provided the focus of the debate. Together, we discussed which creators shaped the comics field in the 1980s and beyond.

Inevitably, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen” were mentioned. But we also managed to include such diverse matters as 2000AD, John Byrne, and “Cerebus the Aardvark”! The attendees called us on our knowledge, so we had to be on our toes. But we all brought something different to the table and managed to give the audience a broad overview of both mainstream and indie comics in the decade. Afterwards, we got chatting to several interesting people. I enjoyed this a heck of a lot and would thoroughly recommend the experience.

Kaffeeklatsch with Sarah Pinborough

Guest of honour at this year’s Eastercon was horror/crime/YA novelist Sarah Pinborough. Fresh from Hollywood, Sarah shared tales of writing and more in this cosy setting. This was a nice change of pace from the panels and a chance to ask more detailed questions of the author. As for the content, I’m afraid I can’t tell you more because, as Sarah says, “What happens in Kaffeeklatsch stays in Kaffeeklatsch!”

Author Reading – open mic

This two-hour session gave authors a chance to read their own work. My nerves were set on edge by the announcement that it was to be a competition. When the “judges” were given sticks with numbers on, the whole thing took on the aspect of a David Lynch film. Authors read their works until a gong signalled they had run over the time limit, whereupon the judges gave the scores. Fortunately, the whole thing was just a bit of fun. The readings were diverse and entertaining, and the host excellent. Although I really felt for one poor chap who had only written his piece that morning.

SF Pub Quiz

Late on Sunday, we took part in the hardest pub quiz I have ever seen in my life. Categories ranged from “Name the scientific instrument” to “Name the TV theme tune… and composer”. Needless to say, our score was abysmal!

By this stage everyone was relaxed and the party mood was in full swing. It was with a heavy heart that I retired to bed in the early hours, knowing that there was only half a day to go.

The Deeper the Grief, the Closer to Life – Monday

By Monday a few people were looking the worse for wear. But a crowded audience still packed out the main room to listen to a panel about grief and loss. Despite the heavy subject matter, the talk proved to be worth waiting for. Authors Sarah Pinborough and Neil Williamson discussed writing about grief, as well as recounting real-life tales, both sad and funny. This was definitely one of the better talks, although I can’t really remember why!

Criminality in SF/F

The final panel of the day got a little raucous at times, as several authors discussed the representation of crime in sci-fi and fantasy novels. By this stage we were all just relaxing. Some great debates arose, though. One of which may have just given me an idea for my next story…

In Conclusion

Eastercon was something of an unknown quantity for me. At first I found the fan-based culture a little intimidating. But having it in Manchester helped my travel plans and allowed me to stay much longer.

Given the unique challenges of the Hilton tower, the organisers did their best to keep things running smoothly. Volunteers were always present to help, and being on a panel was tremendous fun.

If I had any suggestions it would be to offer more author readings and to include more horror. At the moment, Eastercon is quite “sci-fi heavy”.

So will I be going to another Eastercon? Hell, yeah. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone who likes genre fiction.

Will I be more prepared next time? Definitely!

 

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?

 

 

Notes from FantasyCon2014

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

FantasyCon 2014, run by the British Fantasy Society, was held at the Royal York Hotel on Friday 5th – Sunday 7th September 2014.

This was my first time at Fantasycon, the annual gathering of the British Fantasy Society. So I didn’t know what to expect. I did know, however, that there were quite a few eminent guests, including Charlaine Harris, author of the phenomenally successful Sookie Stackhouse series, better known as TV vampire show “True Blood”. Other luminaries included horror author Ramsey Campbell and “Chocolat” writer Joanna Harris, as well as “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse to name but a few.

The convention was held at the Royal York Hotel, adjacent to the train station and therefore a very convenient location. The hotel itself was a grand old affair. Sadly, the cost of staying there was prohibitively expensive. In fact, as I had only decided to go at the last minute, getting a hotel in York proved a difficult task, so I had to commute from Manchester on the two days I attended. However, this wasn’t too bad, thanks to a convenient rail link.

Prior to booking, the lack of information on the website was perplexing and gave the convention the feel of a “members only” club. However, this wasn’t the reality when I got there. Although many people came in groups, overall I found people to be very friendly and accommodating. But a better website, and even a forum, would have helped a lot. As it was, I threw caution to the wind and bought my ticket. But I can’t help but think how many other people were put off by the impersonal nature of the web page.

The first day was an introduction to the convention. Once I had acquired a map of the rather confusing (and sprawling) hotel layout, I grabbed myself some great free books for attendees (always a bonus!). There were also some fantastic discounts available in the dealer room from some sellers, while others remained reassuringly expensive.

I was very grateful for the introductory session which got me talking to several other attendees. The rest of the day passed in a blur. The crowd was an eclectic one, with attendees from as far as the USA. It was great to see people who were as enthusiastic about sci-fi, fantasy and horror as myself, if not more so. The staff too were friendly, and the convention rather relaxed. A little too relaxed, unfortunately. I missed several author signings despite being in the same bar! A bit of an announcement would have been nice.

Throughout the Con, there were book launches, author readings, even short film showings. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to the bitter end to witness the delights of Karaoke on Friday, which apparently was a pity.

On Saturday, I got there early and bleary-eyed to attend a great panel discussion on whether there was a place for hope in horror. The panel consisted of Ramsey Campbell, Roz Kaveney, Guy Adams, Sara Jayne Townsend and Adam Neville. After a spirited debate, the panel ended with Roz Kaveney’s revelation that he once worked in the same restaurant as serial killer Dennis Nielsen! A very enlightening discussion that showed the versatility of the horror genre.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Later, Charlaine Harris gave us the lowdown on what it feel like to become an overnight sensation after thirty years of writing mystery novels, as well as the agony and ecstasy of selling your work to cable TV. Ms Harris was very entertaining, and was a regular fixture in the lobby, as were several other authors, giving the con an even more relaxed feel.

Later, I attended a panel on horror in TV. This featured “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse, screenwriter author and editor Paul Kane, and Stephen Volk, writer of notorious BBC 1992 fake documentary “Ghostwatch”. Bizarrely, everyone on the panel agreed that CGI was not a good alternative for strong stories. Maybe there is hope for TV.

There were many other panels to attend, including an enthusiastic demonstration in swordfighting. Inevitably, I found that a lot of the most interesting panels conflicted. Yet there did seem to be a lull between 2-5pm.  But perhaps someone else with different interests would have told you the opposite.

Saturday ended with a mass signing. However, I sacrificed this in favour of hanging out in the bar. This is because for me the most rewarding aspect of FantasyCon was meeting other fans. As a writer, you tend to spend too much time in isolation. This means you lose touch with the people who matter most – the readers. I was amazed at their passion, their interest and their knowledge.  It really made me want to up my game.

On Saturday night, I headed home, my hunger for the speculative satiated for the moment, clutching my bagfuls of cheap books and signed copies. One of my aims had been to find new authors to broaden my reading, and I had certainly been given enough food for thought. I came away with a much greater knowledge of the blossoming sc-fi, horror and fantasy market, and with several new authors to sink my teeth into (figuratively).

A little light reading.

A little light reading.

Sunday proved a bridge too far for me. As there were only panels in the morning, I decided not to attend and save myself a hefty train fare. The afternoon was taken up with the British Fantasy Awards. But again, there was a curious lack of publicity about these on the net. The FantasyCon Twitter feed was also strangely silent throughout the weekend. The BFS produce some great publications, so it is odd that it doesn’t toot its own horn more.  Maybe the BFS could even televise the event on a Youtube channel!

In summary, this was a very worthwhile Con. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to meet likeminded people and who enjoy lively debates about everything in the world of speculative fiction and movies. I hope to go again next year and have an even better experience. However, a little more information would have been nice from the organisers for those who have not boldly gone to the Convention before. More Twitter updates would be a definite plus as well. But if you are a fan or creator of sci-fi/fantasy and horror in the UK, this is one convention you cannot afford to miss.

My  advice  is to book early and stay late, something I hope to do next time around!

 

Next year’s FantasyCon 2015 is to be held in Nottingham, UK.

 

 

 

 

Whisperers in the Darkness

The Kickstarter campaign to create a new HP Lovecraft-themed TV show is down to the last 52 hours. So if you want a shot at funding them do it now. Starring Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from Hellboy) and many others… grab yourself an IMDB credit!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marxpyle/whispers-from-the-shadows-lovecraft-inspired-short

 

 

 

A Lovecraftian TV show?

Today, I wanted to share with you  what I think is a great idea. The folks over at the Lovecraft E-zine have decided to go ahead and make a H.P. Lovecraft-inspired TV series called “Whispers from the Shadows”. They’re raising funds on kickstarter.com, and you can be a part of it.

The rewards are fantastic. And the series is being made with professional horror movie actors. You can even get an Associate Producer credit if you pledge enough.

In case you have been hiding in a cave since the 1980s and don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is, he is considered the father of weird fiction. Lovecraft was unappreciated in his lifetime, yet he is probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th  century, inspiring everyone from Guillermo del Toro to Stephen King.

Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraft

These people need pledges, and the deadline is looming. So do yourself a favour and head over to Kickstarter and see for yourself how cool this is. The deadline is 2nd June.

Go check it out here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marxpyle/whispers-from-the-shadows-lovecraft-inspired-short/posts/853536?at=BAh7CDoMcG9zdF9pZGkDIAYNSSIIdWlkBjoGRVRpA2lwoUkiC2V4cGlyeQY7BlRJIhgyMDE0LTA2LTIzIDE3OjEyOjM0BjsGVA%3D%3D–b4dbaa7ac4a499fa5c7ce2ebe608b1c76870f0b5&ref=backer_project_update