Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Going to the Sun Mountain

I don’t remember the dream at all, but I woke up one morning with the opening paragraph in my head, along with the name “Glacia”.
       I’ve never been to Alaska, but snowy places pop up a lot in my dreams. Probably because I hate the cold. Our subconscious is a playground for our anxieties, after all. Once I dreamt about a weird radio station called “Alask”. And sometimes I dream about another ice age.
Anyway, I scribbled down the story’s opening before I could forget it. I had no idea who the narrator was or what any of it meant. No clue who she had killed or why. All I had was her weird voice. So I just followed where it led and the story blossomed from there.
       It's a story I'm very fond of and I was so happy when it was accepted by Black Static, for issue 49. It's my Black Static debut, in fact! I'm in some stellar company and I hope it won't be the last time something of mine graces its deep black pages.
       If you like it, please let me know. I'd love to hear from you!


Monday, 14 December 2015

All I want for Christmas is Yuki

illustration "Yuki Hayashi" by Chrissie Demant
What's behind door no. 13 in the Vault of Evil Advent Calendar of Death, Doom and Ghastly Horrible Murder? Why, it's a sweet, romantic little ghost story called "Guinea Pig Girl" and it's my solstice gift to you this year.

I believe you do have to shed some blood by joining the cult first, but they don't ask for money - just your soul (or is it your firstborn child?). In any case, it's a small price to pay for getting to read some fun horror stories by both classic and contemporary authors.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Christmas for the Doomed!

It's that time of year again. Time to don your armour for any excursion outside the house, time to curse all those people who stubbornly refuse to buy anything online, time to put in your earplugs to block out the sound of all those Christmas carols we've heard a billion times, time to get out the true Christmas movies like RARE EXPORTS and DIE HARD and THE THING, and time to enjoy another Vault of Evil advent calendar full of grim, gruesome horror stories to make the season pass in blood-soaked joy!



Chrissie Demant
It's already well under way, but there's still time to gorge on some of the poisoned sweets before getting caught up. A grisly tale of my own is lurking behind one of those little rotting advent doors, and a quick scan of the previous years' advent calendars will give you a clue to the date.  ;-)

And if you're as sick of those same old Christmas carols as I am, and you like your holidays with a Cthulhoid / Elder Gods / Great Old Ones / Monster-y edge, might I suggest the remedy that made them fun for me? The H P Lovecraft Historical Society's "Scary Solstice" versions are an absolute delight. I made a few fan videos with them in my self-taught editor-of-recut-trailers days. Here's one of the best:



Hope you all have a wonderful holiday, whatever version of the winter festival you celebrate. Scary Solstice everyone!


Friday, 4 December 2015

Guest star: Simon Bestwick on Threads and Hell's Ditch

Today it gives me great pleasure to welcome a very special guest to my blog: my friend Simon Bestwick! And he's going to talk to you about one of the most disturbing films ever made. I only saw it once - back in the 80s, when the threat of nuclear war was very real and its spectre poisoned our lives with nightmares and paranoia. One night my family and I watched a film called THE DAY AFTER. And I was terrified. Real-world terrified. This-could-actually-happen terrified. But oh, how naive I was. Because it paled into utter insignificance next to the unrelenting horror that was THREADS. I only saw it the one time, but it was enough to scar me for life.

So let me hand off to Simon now, who's going to rip that scar wide open...

Broken Threads

My new book, Hell’s Ditch, is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war. When I was growing up, there was no shortage of books and films on the subject, but I didn’t get to see the most notorious until the Cold War was long over. 
It became a byword for post-apocalyptic bleakness; when I finally viewed it a few years ago, it frightened me in a way that very, very few films have ever done. The fear isn’t the pleasing terror of M.R. James, or the Grand Guignol and gross-out gore of Texas Chainsaw or a Lucio Fulci film; this is horror in a much more profound sense: a sense of doom and dread and utter, utter hopelessness. It was the essence of that very real childhood fear, distilled into its purest and most terrifying form.
The name of the film was Threads
Set in Sheffield, Threads mixes documentary and drama techniques to tell its tale, and is told in an utterly convincing fly-on-the-wall style. The focus of the first half is the relationship between working-class Jimmy Kemp and middle-class Ruth Beckett, and their families. Ruth is pregnant, and they have the same small hopes and dreams of any young couple starting a family – worries over making ends meet, getting a flat together – but in the background, there are rumblings of international conflict. 

The rising tensions between the USSR and the USA, initially in the form of background noise on the TV, build as the film progresses, intruding on the couple, their families and their friends. There’s panic-buying at supermarkets; meanwhile, local councillors are instructed to prepare for nuclear attack.
Halfway through the film, the air-raid sirens wail. Threads was made on a budget of £250,000 – pretty big for a TV production at the time, but paltry compared to the resources a studio film would have. Nonetheless, the attack sequence is chillingly effective, zeroing in on small-scale reactions rather than the big picture; in one memorable image, a woman stares at the mushroom cloud rising in the distance, urine pooling round her feet as her bladder lets go in horror.
Jimmy Kemp runs through the streets of Sheffield in search of Ruth just before the first bomb explodes over the city. He’s never seen again, and his fate remains unknown throughout the film. His mother, horrifically burned by the heat-flash, dies shortly after. His little brother is crushed beneath the wreckage of the family home; his father dies of radiation poisoning.
Ruth and her family are better protected, having taken shelter in her parents’ cellar, but her grandmother – sent home from the hospital due to the crisis – dies not longer after; later, her parents are killed by looters. In the streets outside, a man, his face swathed in bandages, rocks to and fro, hugging himself and shivering; a woman stares blankly up with a frozen half-smile on her face, cradling her lifeless baby.
The film pulls absolutely no punches. With the health service devastated, amputations are carried out without anaesthetic and in the crudest possible circumstances. Provisional special courts dispense summary judgement at gunpoint and minor local officials gain sweeping powers; Jimmy Kemp’s teenage sister, the only surviving member of his family, is last seen in a prison camp. 
Part of the horror’s in the film’s gritty, intensely realistic tone. The world in which the story begins was the world we lived in, with the familiarity and naturalism of Coronation Street; indeed, at one point the director wanted to cast actors from the ITV soap, before choosing relatively unknown performers. The aftermath is littered with the remnants of advertising billboards and brand names that the viewers would have seen every day. There’s no escape, no relief in saying this is fiction; by now we’re locked into these people and their world: it is, was, might become our own.
But the most horrific thing about Threads – worse than the deaths in the explosion or from radiation sickness – is the fact that it just goes on and on and on without end. The story continues beyond the immediate aftermath into the future, breaking up into shorter and starker scenes as it does. 

The ‘threads’ of the title – the myriad tiny intricate connections that bind us together – have been severed: without them, society unravels. Thirteen years on, a ruined Britain is ruled by a near-paramilitary government, with public hangings and summary shootings an everyday occurrence, and the population has fallen to between four and eleven million. 
The children, including Ruth’s daughter Jane, are emotionally and psychologically stunted – from exposure to radiation while in utero, and/or from life being reduced to a brutish struggle for survival, with education rudimentary to non-existent. 
Ruth dies young, prematurely aged, half-blinded by cataracts caused by UV radiation from a devastated ozone layer, leaving Jane to fend for herself. Impregnated after a bout of brutish intercourse with another, near-feral youth, she gives birth in a squalid, makeshift hospital. 
The child is stillborn; we don’t see it, but Jane does. The film freeze-frames and ends as she opens her mouth to scream. It’s the one moment in Threads where we’re spared the horror of what comes next.

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out now.





HELL'S DITCH on amazon & Snowbooks

The dream never changes: a moonless, starless night without end. The road she walks is black, bordered with round, white pebbles or nubs of polished bone; she can't tell which but they're the only white in the darkness, marking her way through the night. In dreams and nightmares, Helen walks the Black Road. It leads her back from the grave, back from madness, back towards the man who caused the deaths of her family: Tereus Winterborn, Regional Commander for the Reapers, who rule the ruins of a devastated Britain. On her journey, she gathers her allies: her old mentor Darrow, the cocky young fighter Danny, emotionally-scarred intelligence officer Alannah and Gevaudan Shoal, last of the genetically-engineered Grendelwolves. Winterborn will stop at nothing to become the Reapers' Supreme Commander; more than anything he seeks the advantage that will help him achieve that goal. And in the experiments of the obsessed scientist Dr Mordake, he thinks he has found it. To Winterborn, Project Tindalos is a means to ultimate power; to Mordake, it's a means to roll back the devastation of the War and restore his beloved wife to the living. But neither Winterborn nor Mordake understand the true nature of the forces they are about to unleash. Forces that threaten to destroy everything that survived the War, unless Helen and her allies can find and stop Project Tindalos in time.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Abertoir 2015

"sea-facing room"
Wow, what a mad week! Film festivals are always mad, but this one took place in Innsmouth, where we discovered a whole new dimension in terror. We'll never think of a "sea-facing room" in quite the same way again. Nor will we ever drive home from Aberystwyth in the dark again.

It was our first time at Abertoir, and we couldn't have been made to feel more welcome. Everyone was lovely and helpful and they treated us like family. And by that I mean family you actually like seeing, not your weird, drunk uncle who tells you to pull his finger and rants about the monsters who live in his toilet.

Lord Summer Ale
The Aberystwyth Arts Centre is a magnificent venue and it never felt overcrowded. (The Vue in Leicester Square often resembles the early scenes in a nuclear war movie where everyone's panic-buying water and batteries.) The bar was cosy and - best of all! - was happy to serve some special Abertoir cocktails. John, Graham Humphreys and I drank enough "Matools" to drown a shark-fighting zombie. Fruity! Green! Delicious! The local brewery also produced some special ales just for the festival.

Pub Quiz
There was also an exhibition on The Art of Arrow, featuring work by Graham Humphreys and Gilles Vranckx, as well as a talk/interview with both artists and a representative from Arrow Video. We had a look at their stall in the lobby, but there was nothing to buy because - wow! - we own absolutely everything they've released! Graham even sat out in the lobby for a while, working on his newest painting, and it was a real treat to get to see him in action. In between, of course, we all bought each other Matools and chatted about the films. (Our team also won the pub quiz, which we only learned on the last day, after being told there had been a colossal screw-up with the score counting. We HAD felt rather baffled when we didn't even crack the top 3. Ah well. Maybe next year our genius will be recognised by all! Mwahahaha!)

Abertoir cocktails
But let's rewind. The festival started on Day 1 as it meant to go on, with THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES showcasing the talents of the fabulous Vincent Price. There was also an exhibition of wonderful memorabilia on loan from Peter Fuller. Dr Phibes rose again on Day 4, and we all screamed and screamed again on Day 5 and said our farewells with a COMEDY OF TERRORS on the last day. In amongst all the films was a really wonderful talk by Peter Fuller and Vincent's daughter Victoria, followed by "Dinner With Vincent Price" in the Great Hall, a meal put together from recipes in Vincent's very own cookbook. Everything was delicious!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. John and I got a chance to chat to Steve Oram on Day 1, just before watching his latest creation, AAAAAAAAH!, with a live commentary. It's like an acid-fuelled National Geographic documentary on the brutal, rutting, fighting, cannibalistic antics of... humans. No dialogue, only grunts and growls. Much pissing on fridges, cooking of testicles, and baring of breasts on cookery shows. It's a bit of an endurance test and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it before.

Frizzi 2 Fulci
After that came an event we'd been looking forward to for weeks. We got to sit front and centre in the Great Hall while Fabio Frizzi and his band bashed out all the soundtracks to Lucio Fulci's most beloved films. The "little trip to the Caribbean" piece from ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS was an unexpected delight, but the star of the show was the encore, where THE BEYOND filled our ears. Just sublime. I'm still hearing all the music in my head.

Shark vs Zombie!
On Day 2, Gavin Baddeley gave a talk on "Those Evil English", explaining why Brits make the best villains and sharing some fascinating stories of mediaeval shenanigans. That was followed by the film THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, which held the "best of the fest" spot for me until Day 6. It's a wonderful character study and a disturbing journey into paranoia. And how refreshing to see a modern American horror film where you don't want all the characters to die horribly! It's both scary and touching.

After that came TALES OF HALLOWEEN, which went down much better with the Abertoir crowd than the FrightFest one. Pollyanna McIntosh still steals the show with her sexy/frightening madwoman act, although the little "Twick or Tweat" alien from Mike Mendez's "Friday the 31st" segment is a close second. What could possibly follow all this lunacy? Why, a little Australian comedy called DANGER 5, complete with live commentary by creators Dario Russo and David Ashby, who brought along a bag of ingredients to concoct some very special drinks of their own, which some audience members were brave enough to down. We weren't sure if we were going to like the live commentary, as we hadn't seen the show (or even heard of it), but it was so anarchic and maniacal it actually enhanced the whole experience. We went back to the hotel that night and ordered the DVD. Can't wait to watch it all properly, although we'll miss the crazy anecdotes. At least we got to chat about Nazi dinosaurs and "Bitch Killer" with the DANGER 5 guys over what would otherwise have been a civilised breakfast. I can't help but wonder what the family next to us thought!

Day 3 gave us a short film competition with some really great entries. Short films tend to be a bit of a mixed bag, but we all got to score these and I was delighted to hear that my favourite one, "Sanguine Craving", had won. Such a clever, funny and unexpectedly sweet little piece.

And DEADMAN INFERNO! I almost forgot! It was yakuza vs zombies and a lot of fun, with endearing characters and some great zom-com gags!

On Day 4 I got to see one of my all-time favourites on the big screen - PROFONDO ROSSO! Rather shockingly, about half the audience had never seen it before, and it was interesting to hear their reactions. I think it truly is a giallo masterpiece. The final film of the evening was billed to us as a knockabout comedy, but was actually quite terrifying. ATTACK ON TITAN featured giant humans with no genitalia and mouths with too many teeth who stomped around and bit the heads off the normal-sized people trying to fight them. At one point there was a giant baby and I just knew it was going to come after me in my nightmares. Comedy??? Maybe "comedy" as Ramsey Campbell understands it.

fun with clowns
FATAL FRAME was just my kind of thing. A Japanese ghost story set in a weird, dreamy girls' school where Ophelia is treated like a saint. Kind of a Japanese PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Not perfect by any means, but the otherworldly universe it existed in was hypnotic. I loved that the girls sang Ophelia's song as a hymn.

THE WITCH was another bloody scary film. Religion always scares me, and here the brutal Puritanism of the lives of an outcast family was more disturbing than the witchcraft they were so afraid of. These simple, honest people prayed every night, insisting that they were horrible sinners who deserved the fires of hell simply for existing. Well, they were looking for hell. They found it. Excellent and highly disturbing. In the words of Gary McMahon: "a stone-cold masterpiece". If you were going to make a horror film to terrify a 17th century audience, this is exactly what you would make.

more fun with clowns
While all this horror was taking place inside, the weather was creating its own horror outside. THE DESCENT was supposed to be screened in conjunction with a trip to the Silver Mountain. We'd all be taken down into the mine and then sit outside under a "warm" marquee to watch the film. "THE DESCENT in a tent." Well, the hurricane that landed in Aberystwyth (my weather app said "breezy") tore the marquee to pieces and health and safety said no to the adventure. Everyone still went down the mine (and apparently got scared by zombies), but they returned to the main venue to watch it in comfort. I didn't want to face the cold and wet, so I had to miss out on seeing one of my top 3 horror films on the big screen. Instead, John and I watched the fury of nature from our window, as waves leapt over the railing and filled the road outside with gravel and foam.

Day 6 brought us FRANCESCA, an ode to the giallo that was so spot on it could easily pass for an original 1970s film. We cheered at every J&B sighting and thought the ending was sublimely wacky.

We had to miss Robert Lloyd Parry and the final film, BONE TOMAHAWK, but we were glad we stayed for THE INVITATION. That's my personal "best of the fest". It's about a group of friends in LA and a dinner party that takes a turn for the weird. To say any more would be criminal. The least you know going in, the better. It really unnerved me and 24 hours later I can't get it out of my head. Who knew the director of the lacklustre AEON FLUX had such darkness inside? I'm definitely a fan now!

And so another fantastic festival comes to an end. It was an ordeal getting there and often an ordeal getting out the front door (with gale force winds trying to slam it shut in your face!), but overall we had a brilliant time and we can't wait to go back! Only next time I think we'll dress up. We've got a couple of costume ideas in mind. Oh yes. Watch this space.

"Twick or Tweat!"













Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sweeter than to Wake

What do the dead dream? Do they dream of life? Of the living? Do they dream of us?
Liam had always loved to watch Colleen as she slept. He loved the protective feeling it stirred in him, the sense that he was watching over her while she was at her most vulnerable. Her eyelids would flicker with whatever strange adventures she was having, sometimes good, sometimes bad. He himself never remembered his dreams so he loved hearing his wife’s. But he could never join her in them. Only when she woke could he share her sleeping world, listen as she told him of fantastic landscapes and impossible creatures.
Now, however, her eyes were still, her face pale and serene, her skin cool as she thawed. He had been unable to protect her this time. A single bite was all it took. Within minutes she was dead. Liam had allowed himself no time to grieve; he had carried her at once to the mortuary, placing her in one of the refrigerated drawers to keep her from waking. For now anyway.
He hadn’t wanted her to become like the others and freezing was the only way of delaying the Waking. All across town the Woken roamed like sleepwalkers, in a state that was neither life nor death. They weren’t especially aggressive; most of them merely seemed lost, confused. They moved slowly and clumsily through familiar places, shying away from the living. They didn’t speak or respond like the people they once were. Rather, they behaved like frightened animals in the wild. If they felt startled or threatened, they would attack. And if they were hungry, they would bite.
Liam laid Colleen on the embalming table and stroked her face, setting her features as if for viewing before a burial. He kissed her cold lips and parted them to see her teeth one last time. Her dazzling smile was gone forever but her teeth were still dangerous. When she woke she would be frightened. And hungry.


That's from my story "Sweeter than to Wake", from Love, Lust & Zombies, an unusual project I'm delighted to be a part of. Most erotica publishers shy away from anything truly edgy, but Mitzi Szereto is an exception. I don't find zombies remotely sexy or romantic, but when she announced this anthology, I couldn't resist the challenge. And the story that resulted from it is one I'm really quite proud of.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Two Five Seven

“Two . . . Five . . . Seven . . .”
Do you hear that? Listen.
“Nine . . . One . . . Six . . .”
That’s the girl who lives inside the radio. And that’s all she says. Just numbers. Sometimes she sings too.
“I once had a sweet little doll, the prettiest doll ever known…”
The radio belongs to my grandpa. It’s a huge wooden one like they have in old movies and it takes up a whole corner of the living room. It’s shiny red-brown and it reminds me of a big beetle. The dials look like spinning eyes, which is kind of creepy, and you turn them to find stations to listen to. You can even hear stations from countries on the other side of the world.
One night I heard a voice. It scared me because I thought there was someone in the house, someone who shouldn’t be there. I froze like ice, listening as hard as I could, so hard my ears hurt.
Then the voice came again. It sounded really far away and all it said was a number. Then another one. There were some scratchy high sounds too and I realised the voice was coming from the radio. But it wasn’t music or the news. It was the voice of a little girl like me.

cover art: Paul Mudie
-----------------

That's from my story "Two Five Seven", from the Eleventh Black Book of Horror. This marks my fifth appearance in the series, published by Mortbury Press. It's a series I'm extremely proud to be a part of. The stories are consistently good, as is the gorgeous cover art by Paul Mudie.

Here's the full Table of Contents:

TWO FIVE SEVEN - Thana Niveau
EAST WICKENDEN - Edward Pearce
SLAUGHTERED LAMB - Tom Johnstone
FORGIVE US NOT OUR TRESPASSES - John Llewellyn Probert
LORD OF THE SAND - Stephen Bacon
ALMA MATER - Kate Farrell
KEEPING THE ROMANCE ALIVE - Stuart Young
TEATIME - Anna Taborska
LEM - David A. Riley
FLIES - Tony Earnshaw
AND THE DEAD SHALL SPEAK - David Williamson
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY - Marion Pitman
THE WEATHERVANE - Sam Dawson
MOLLI & JULLI - John Forth


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

FrightFest 15 - 25 films in 5 days!

with Barbara Crampton
We finally did it! We saw the maximum number of films it's possible to see at FrightFest! 25 films in 5 days is a lot and it's wonderful to know that we can still do it at our age. We can forego proper food and drink and survive on hot dogs and wine, we can watch 9 hours of horror in a single day, we can stay awake for all the midnight shows, and on the final day we can actually go to the Phoenix and party until 3 am!

I tweeted about most of the films, so I won't talk about everything I saw. But here are my highlights...

TURBO KID was the highlight of Thursday, a pitch perfect homage to 80s SF movies of yore, set in the rad wasteland of "the future: 1997". The retro vibe was helped by a superb 80s synth score and Michael Ironside on top villain form. Best of all, though, was quirky Laurence Leboeuf as Apple, one of the funniest and most loveable characters ever. "It's like a museum of COOL!" This one was a huge hit with the crowd and it deserves to be huge.

On Friday we spent most of our time in the Discovery screens rather than the main screen (which was the small Arrow screen for us). The Disco screens are where we tend to find our favourite films of the fest, the ones you may never get a chance to see ever again (where is THE FORGOTTEN from last year?) and the ones that are a bit more of a gamble.

III was a real find. A surreal Russian fairytale dreamscape of arthouse gorgeousness and gorgeosity. Director Pavel Khvaleev said he was inspired by THE CELL, and while I love that movie and its central concept, I think III does it better. Beautiful and disturbing, with unforgettable imagery, it's definitely one to watch out for. We were standing outside the screen afterwards with friends, all of us raving about what we'd just seen, when John happened to notice the cast and crew standing nearby, listening to us. So it was great to get to tell them how much we loved it.

THE SHELTER was a complete gamble. Basically a one-man-show starring Michael Paré (of totally rad 80s classic STREETS OF FIRE), it's a bit heavy-handed on the religious side (I think), but Paré's performance makes it well worth seeing.

WE ARE STILL HERE was the first film of the festival to feature guest of honour Barbara Crampton, looking as beautiful as ever. A pastiche of Lucio Fulci's HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, it's an effective ghost story, featuring some great character turns from Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie. Crampton is wonderful as the grieving mother, and the nods to Italian horror include multiple placements of "B&J" whisky, which made us smile every time. Some unexpected guests turned up halfway through the film as well. I thought I was hallucinating from sleep deprivation, but no, there actually were mice scampering back and forth across the aisle. They certainly had no shortage of snacks. I just hope they didn't find the films too scary.

Saturday morning opened as it meant to go on, with the stunning FRANKENSTEIN reboot by Bernard Rose. A magnificent retelling of the classic story, it's set in modern-day LA, with the "monster", Adam, having been created from a 3D printer. His journey and persecution is heartbreaking to watch and Xavier Samuel's performance is just wonderful. Adam doesn't reach the level of articulation of Shelley's creature, despite the narration featuring quotes from the book, but I imagined we were hearing the voice of his soul, which made it all the more poetic and tragic. It was a real delight to meet Bernard Rose afterwards and tell him he made me cry.

It feels kind of like cheating to mention BAIT because we didn't actually see it at FrightFest. We saw it a few days before on a screener DVD for review. But I'll mention it anyway because it deserves the publicity. A solid crime thriller about two women at the mercy of a loan shark, it's harrowing in its unfairness and your sympathies are completely with its heroines. You have to suspend your disbelief a bit for the final showdown, but if the film has got you on its side, you can go with it. It certainly earns its ending. And the post-credits nugget is a thing of joy.

ESTRANGED is one that really disturbed me. A twisted country house family horror in the darkest vein of MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY, with a villainous turn from the towering James Cosmo. This one really got under my skin.

Opening Night
Next up was THE HALLOW, which I described on Twitter as "Arthur Machen meets THE CREEPING FLESH (sort of) in this pitch-black Irish fairytale horror". It's all about not crossing the fey folk and the villagers' warnings are well worth heeding. Fortunately for us, the protagonists don't listen, and they have to face the horror of changelings and truly frightening "little people". Excellent stuff!

SUN CHOKE was the second Barbara Crampton appearance, and I'd never have guessed she could be so scary! I didn't fully understand the nightmarish story (very arthouse and weird), but I found it effective anyway. Crampton is highly disturbing (and far too convincing!) as the "for your own good" caretaker of a girl who is either mentally ill or an alien. Three solid female performances, beautiful "daylight horror" cinematography and an ambiguous storyline. While it wasn't a favourite, it's one of the ones I find myself thinking about most after the festival.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB - another totally unexpected joy. We didn't fancy the nihilistic French grimness promised by the RABID DOGS remake, so we decided to take a chance on what we figured would be at best mildly amusing and at worst an early night. How wrong we were! We were rewarded with another fantastic female comic performance and the only quirky character to rival TURBO KID's Apple. Just when you think there's nothing more to be done with the zom-com subgenre, something like this comes along. Watch it on a boy/girl double bill with SHAUN OF THE DEAD for maximum joy!

with Shauna MacDonald
First up on Sunday morning was Takashi Miike's OVER YOUR DEAD BODY, a mesmerising piece that reminded me of INLAND EMPIRE, with actors losing their way in reality as events from the kabuki play they're performing in begins to mirror events in their lives. Stunning cinematography and buckets of blood!

And then there was THESE FINAL HOURS. A devastating Australian piece about the end of the world and how people spend their final moments on earth. Do you check out early? Do you go to a raucous end-of-the-world party? Do you put up the Christmas tree and pretend everything is normal? Or do you use your last hours to make your life count for something? This is the kind of story that, in the wrong hands, becomes maudlin, contrived and sentimental. But writer/director Zak Hilditch has created something terrifying, thought-provoking, moving and beautiful. It will be a while before I'll want to put myself through it again, but I definitely will.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY was on to a winner with me already for having William Shatner in it. And he is given free rein here to do what he does best - be the Shat! A fun anthology picture that suffers a little from pacing and structural problems, even if one segment absolutely needs the fractured style for its final reveal to work its magic. And work its magic it does! Some segments work better than others, but it's all held together brilliantly by Shatner's jolly DJ, with bonus outtakes in the credits. I can't say much about the film without spoiling the fun. Definitely one for those long winter nights when you're sick to death of the usual sappy Christmas fare on TV!

Monday opened with THE LAZARUS EFFECT in the polar depths of the Prince Charles cinema. This was the only film (that we saw anyway) that had an actual publicity gimmick. Appropriately enough for the morgue temperature of the Prince Charles, there was a covered body lying on a gurney outside the screen. When John went to stand next to it for a photo, it sat up to reveal a very dead girl! There were also surgical masks to wear inside. Alas, the film couldn't live up to the fun of its gimmick and was pretty much a cocktail of EVENT HORIZON, FLATLINERS and REANIMATOR, but still had some effective horror moments. Yes, it's hugely derivative, but I still had a good time with it. (Lord knows I've seen worse!) It's also a great one for a drinking game of "Spot the nod to other horror films". I guarantee you'll be smashed by the end.

with Paul Hyett
And then - at last - it was time for my most anticipated film of the festival - HOWL! A modern werewolf movie that could easily be subtitled "Werewolves on a Train", it's a modern British take on the classic monster. Director Paul Hyett gives us werewolves unlike any you've seen before and the claustrophobic setting only adds to the tension. You always worry that a film will disappoint when you've got so much invested in it, but I'm happy to say I loved every howly, growly blood-drenched moment of this one. I was delighted to get to meet Paul Hyett (again) afterwards, as well as stars Shauna MacDonald and Ania Marson, both lovely ladies and immensely talented actresses. Ania said "I've peaked at 66!" and she is fantastic in her role. Such a delight to see ladies like her getting to do so much in a movie like this.

FrightFest finished on a high, with anthology film TALES OF HALLOWEEN, created by Axelle Carolyn and put together by 11 directors and more genre cameos than probably any other film ever. Some pieces work better than others, but overall it was a great rousing party piece to end the festival on a high. And Pollyanna McIntosh deserves special mention for being fierce, funny, sexy and terrifying in equal measure. A really lovely lady and a mega-talented actress with real presence. I thought she was a force of nature in THE WOMAN, but here she shows another side of her range. More, please!

Special Thana Niveau FrightFest Awards

I can't really do a Best Film award, but my top 3 are:

HOWL
THESE FINAL HOURS
FRANKENSTEIN

Best Actress (tie) - Laurence Leboeuf (TURBO KID) and Maria Thayer (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB)
Best Actor (tie) - Michael Paré (THE SHELTER) and Xavier Samuel (FRANKENSTEIN)
Best Supporting Actress - Pollyanna McIntosh (TALES OF HALLOWEEN)
Best Supporting Actor - William Shatner (A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY)
Best Monster - Werewolves (HOWL)
Most Disturbing Female Character - Barbara Crampton (SUN CHOKE)
Most Disturbing Male Character - James Cosmo (ESTRANGED)
Best Kill - Top-of-the-head slice & spin and stacked legs (TURBO KID)
Best Special Effects - HOWL
Most Gruesome - BITE
Best Performance by an Animal - Rocky the Dog (THE LAZARUS EFFECT)
Best Tagline - "Last train. Full moon. All change." (HOWL)

with Ania Marson
Of course, there were at least two whole other FrightFests we could have had if we'd chosen to watch different films. Comparing notes with others was loads of fun and I'm really looking forward to LAST GIRL STANDING, SUMMER CAMP, JERUZALEM, NINA FOREVER, AFTERDEATH and THE ROTTEN LINK.

And if you want to read John's more in-depth report (with bonus alternate titles!), head over to the House of Mortal Cinema.

Until next year.....

Monday, 24 August 2015

3 more sleeps!

art by Graham Humphreys
Until FrightFest, that is! And as always, I'm ridiculously excited. Many of my favourite films of the year will be seen in that marathon 5-day session. There are always disappointments too, and some hard choices always have to be made. With 80-something films showing across 4 screens, it's not physically possible to see everything, so it's a bit of a gamble. Still, I'm mostly happy with my choices and I can only hope that the ones I'll have to miss will surface someday. (Although sadly so many little FF gems are never heard from again!)

This year we're in the ARROW screen, but we've also booked more Discovery screen tickets than ever before, so we'll be bouncing between screens at the Vue and the Prince Charles.

Hangin' out with Graham Humphreys
One unfortunate thing is that they've put the special guests up against films we want to see, so we just have to hope to run into the mad Graham Humphreys and the lovely Barbara Crampton in the bar at some point. Oh well - it's always more fun meeting people face to face anyway.

2 years ago I got to tell director Paul Hyett and stars Kevin Howarth and Rosie Day how much I liked THE SEASONING HOUSE, so this year I hope I get to gush to him about how much I loved his werewolf movie HOWL (because I know I will). We got a sneak peak at Glasgow FrightFest back in February and I've been dying to see it ever since. There are rumours of a DESCENT cast reunion at the Q&A for HOWL, so I'm really psyched for that too. THE DESCENT is one of my top 10 horror films of all time.

Fangirling it with Simon Boswell
I also hope we can squeeze in time for a meal with FrightFesty friends. We can usually manage one or two proper meals and spend the rest of the time grazing on nachos and hot dogs in the bar. And wine, of course. Oh yes.

John, as usual, will be doing a full-on FrightFest roundup at House of Mortal Cinema and I'll blog my favourites afterwards. I've been trying to get the hang of Twitter and I'm sure I'll be tweeting about the festival throughout. I think the hashtag is #F4FF15 but people are bound to be using #frightfest too.

Anyway, I'm counting the days and I can't wait! Watch this space.....


Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Power of Makeup

What's this? A non-writing-related blog post? Why, yes! Because this little corner of the Net isn't just for pimping my stories or begging people to come to cons and signings. I share a lot of personal stuff on Facebook (still can't quite get the hang of Twitter, although I tried this time), but sometimes I find myself wishing certain posts and threads could last longer than the insect-lifespan of a newsfeed.

So here goes. A personal post. **deep breath**

There's been a lot of "makeup shaming" lately - people (yes, women too!) insisting that those of us who like to glam up only do so because we're insecure, because we're hiding something or because we're all victims of celebrity culture who feel pressure to conform to some manufactured ideal of beauty, etc, etc. Apparently, we shouldn't take any pleasure in making ourselves look a little prettier, a little less spotty or a little less ordinary. We should just be happy to go out with all our warts on display.

This should be a frivolous issue, a simple decision an individual makes based on her (or his) own desires, a decision as trivial as choosing which colour socks to wear. (Although give it time - the sock shamers are probably just waiting for their moment.)

YouTuber Nikkie Tutorials hit back at all this nonsense with a fabulous clip transforming half of her face into full-on glam and leaving the other half "raw, unedited, nothing, me, just me". So I'm joining the hundreds of other women who have posted crazy selfies following her example.

Here's my own half raw + half glam look!

Half raw / half glam

I love makeup and no one will ever make me feel guilty about it. I don't wear it to impress or deceive anyone, or because I think I'm ugly without it. I wear it because I like it, because it's fun and because it's just another way of expressing my creative side.

Most importantly, I wear makeup because it's MY face and MY choice.

So if you're feeling brave enough (and yes, it does take some guts to do this to only half your face because that's when the postman is bound to turn up!), join the party and post your own halfie. The Twitter hashtag is #thepowerofmakeup and I'm @ThanaNiveau over there.

MY face . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MY choice

If I can end on a more sombre note, here's a powerful video showing the dark side of the makeup controversy. It made me cry. This is why it's not a frivolous issue.






Wednesday, 22 July 2015

a chat with Angela Slatter

The lovely (and hugely talented) Angela Slatter is doing a series of interviews with all the contributing authors of The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories and today it's my turn! Well, actually I'm the first one. You can read it here:

Angela Slatter dot com 2nd Spectral Interview Thana Niveau

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

a Spectral look at a Spectral book

Like I said in an earlier post, it's been a strange couple of years for me. So many projects have fallen through or been delayed or vanished altogether. Needless to say, it's rough when that happens. People start to think you've given up writing or just dropped out of the writing world.

But here comes Mark Morris to save the day! Behold the table of contents for the forthcoming 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories!

HOUSE OF THE HAG - Paul Finch
FLOTSAM - Tim Lebbon
TOYS FROM THE GINGERBREAD COUNTRY - Richard Jay Goldstein
SUGARED HEAT - Lisa L Hannett
A GIRL AND HER DOLLS - Adrian Cole
THE LARDER - Nicholas Royle
THE VEILS - Ian Rogers
JOE IS A BARBER - Paul Meloy
LITTLE TRAVELLER - Simon Kurt Unsworth
BEHIND THE WALL - Thana Niveau
MARY, MARY - Ray Cluley
THE MEANTIME - Alison Moore
MARROWVALE - Kurt Fawver
SCRAPING BY - Gary Fry
WHERE THE FOREST ENDS - Sean Logan
WRONG - Stephen Volk
LUMP IN YOUR THROAT - Robert Shearman
HORN OF THE HUNTER - Simon Bestwick
WHO WILL STOP ME NOW? - Cliff McNish

I'm truly delighted to be in such esteemed company, especially given the inspiration for my story, "Behind the Wall". As she did with the first volume, Angela Slatter is doing mini-interviews with all the authors and you'll be able to read the story behind my story there when it's posted.

In the meantime, just look at that fantastic cover by Vincent Chong!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Whispers in the Dark

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn...
At long last! A project of mine is out!

It's been a funny couple of years, with me writing like a mad thing and having stories accepted for several markets, only for none of them to appear. But slowly, bit by slow, Cthulhoid bit, they are beginning to surface.

This is one I'm especially proud of, my novella Not To Touch The Earth. It's set in San Francisco during 1967, the Summer of Love(craft).

The anthology features three Cthulhu novellas set in different places and times. My bookmates are Alison Littlewood, with her modern-day Maldives tale, One Nameless Thing, and Johnny Mains with The Gamekeeper, set in Scotland in the 1940s - 1970s.

It's available on Amazon from Snowbooks (ed. Scott Harrison), so please go and get it! Catapult Cthulhu and his minions (well, Alison, Johnny and me) into the mainstream! I eagerly await the first one-star review complaining that the book arrived two days late and that the packaging was damaged...*

*And may the Great Old One Himself wind his hideous, ichthyic tentacles around the throats of all who pen such reviews.