Book review: Filth Kiss, by C. J. Lines

April 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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filth_kisscover_front_copyC.J. Lines returns us to those gloriously gory days of the 1980s in tone and in setting with his debut novel, Filth Kiss, via the independent Hadesgate Publications.

A brutal 190 page-turner readable in a couple of hours, Lines wastes no time immersing the reader in the lives of  his main characters, the Davies brothers. Jeff is coming to terms with the news that his father, Guy, has died. Taking time off from his job in London he mulls over the realisation that he never had much to do with his father whilst he was growing up, and neither did his brother Peter, always the younger, quieter of the two.

Peter is a convicted paedophile, (for a relatively minor offence, he insists), and his relationship with Jeff and his sister Jennifer has deteriorated completely. Out of prison on parole with a job in a fish and chip shop, Peter is trying to rebuild his life and resist urges which have never truly gone away. The scene is set for the brothers’ return for their father’s funeral, and an uneasy reunion with Jennifer who still lives in the Gloucestershire village of Broadoak where they grew up.

Not all is as it seems with the Davies family, and the villagers of Broadoak. The brothers learn that Guy Davies drowned in the River Severn and was with a young girl from the village who has not been seen since that night. A disenchanted schoolgirl, Sarah Hobson, finds a severed hand on the banks of the Severn, and in a morose moment, removes a strange ring, detailed with two intertwined serpents, from one of the frozen fingers.

Filth Kiss could stand upon uneasy ground with elements and characters of its plot as Peter and Sarah move closer together, much of it at the youngster’s insistence. But Lines shows us a convincing portrayal of a paedophile as a weak-willed and somewhat desperate individual, and crucially, one that makes no excuses for himself or his actions. He knows what he feels is wrong. This must be one of the most difficult tasks a writer could set themselves, but I think Lines succeeds as the reader is left feeling sympathetic towards both parties in different ways, and with a full appreciation of the motivations involved.

The loss of their father is relatively simple to handle compared with the  struggle to manage their relationships with each other and the attitude of the locals towards Peter, an attitude which Jennifer is only too happy to encourage. The 1980s Broadoak is brilliantly evoked through the eyes of its bored, disenfranchised youth, naturally railing against the mundanity of everyday village life, the pottering of the elderly, the lack of diversity of its shops, and the apparent refusal to adopt change that the Davies brothers witness on their return, justifying their distate for the place. But behind this rather stereotypical front of closeted rural calm is a system of heirarchy designed to feed the darkness that lurks within all of us for a higher and utterly Devilish end.

In Broadoak the villagers keep one eye on their post, for when a black envelope containing a tulip pops through your letterbox the time is near for the next sacrifice. In the hills above the village, on Symonds Yat there is a sacred place where something is growing… Think Hot Fuzz without the humour, swirling in a bowl of virgin’s blood, mixed with Dennis Wheatley’s black magic rituals, the disquiet of youth and several scenes of graphic, very imaginative demonic sex, and you have Filth Kiss.

First released in 2007, Filth Kiss has seen a reprinting since that date, proving that there is an appetite for a solid and thrilling story with horrific content from readers. Possibly a crucial factor in the book’s endurance has been its availability throughout Waterstones stores, and a round of applause should go to them for taking the chance on the title and supporting an independent publisher’s endeavours. More of this open-minded approach from booksellers when stocking the shelves would be welcome.

Highly recommended for fans of Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith, Richard Kelly, Rex Miller (remember him anyone?) and Clive Barker’s hypnotically and viscerally sexy Books of Blood volumes, C.J. LinesFilth Kiss is a little gift of dark perverse power.

And keep a careful eye on your post…

Horror Reanimated: Echoes

April 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: News, Stories 

hr-echoesJoseph D’Lacey, Bill Hussey and I are giving away an illustrated chapbook to those who attend our evening readings on May 6th and May 7th at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green and Borders Oxford Street in London respectively.

The chapbook will hopefully be the first of several and we hope it’ll prove to be a nice little collector’s item in the future, when our careers reach heady heights, ahem…

I thought it would be nice to share the cover, which was designed by Lee Casey, and contents with you as a teaser.

Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes contains 3 pieces of fiction totalling 25,000 words; one from each of us:

  • Joseph D’Lacey’s Rhiannon’s Reach – the victim of a diving accident conquers his fear of the water
  • Bill Hussey’s A Room Thus Stained – a Victorian vigilante loses himself in the streets of Whitechapel
  • Mathew F. Riley’s Part of the Landscape – a disenchanted worker is drawn from the everyday into an underworld of memories which form the fabric and structure of London

The night on May 7th at Borders kicks off at 6.45pm and then we’re all off to the pub – upstairs at The White Horse on Newburgh Street for around 8.30pm. A customer review on Beer In The Evening states: “Great sausages, great red wine. I’m happy.” Can’t say fairer than that I guess, and hopefully they’ll be selling some nice ales too.

It’d be good to see you there.

These two nights in London kick off The Horror Reanimated Tour – more information here.

Film review: The Dark Hour

April 25, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Film reviews 

darkhourI picked the claustrophobic The Dark Hour up from a bargain bin in HMV, based on user comments on the Quiet Earth website – a wonderful source of all things apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic – comments suggesting it was an undiscovered gem from Spain, a country that’s been at the forefront of fantastic films over the last few years. How right those comments are.

Nine survivors of what might have been a biological and/or nuclear holocaust are locked up inside the ruined planet. Their lives run like clockwork, ruled by restricted movement, rationing of food, power, and hope.  Hazardous missions to forage for new supplies of food and medication form part of the survivalist routine. Outside the sealed sanctuary toxic ghouls (possibly zombies and referred to as Strangers) roam myriad corridors dripping in filth and disease. But there’s more to the subterranean inhabitants than slow decaying remnants of society – for one hour every day, ‘the cold hour’, the Invisibles roam the shadowy environment. Freezing air, wood and metal as they travel the length and breadth of the sanctuary, the survivors lock themselves into their rooms for fear of encountering these ethereal predators.

Terrorised by two types of evil and imprisoned beneath the surface by the fallout, the nine survivors convincingly play out strained relationships, their quirks and bigotries manifesting in treachery and a desperate fight for survival. The youngest survivor, a boy named Jesus records a video diary showing us a child’s fears of this awful world he has been born into, and through this young voice, debut director Quiroga manages to successfully create, maintain and manipulate a tense atmosphere of dread and anticipation, of love and hate, innocence and strength that is gripping from the first minute to the last.

And that last scene! A truly surprise ending, and you can’t say that of many a film. Maybe you’ll love it or hate it. I thought it was perfect. Either way, this single awesome scene provides answers to what’s gone before and takes the story into new realms even as it ends.  An emotional, savage, and wholly original sf/horror hybrid, The Dark Hour is recommended without reservation.

The Dark Hour, 2006

Director: Elio Quiroga; Writer: Elio Quiroga

[This review was originally published in the Easter 09 edition of Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society]

Book review: Garbage Man, by Joseph D’Lacey

April 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Book reviews 

garbage-manIn 2008 Joseph D’Lacey unlocked the pen and set free MEAT, a dystopian and possibly post-apocalyptic novel that coupled religious cults and corrupt governance with unspeakable food production sources and techniques – authoritarian hierarchies and processes  enabling the isolated town of Abyrne to survive without help from an outside world that might not even be there.

D’Lacey’s second novel, Garbage Man, takes us straight to the seeds of an impending environmental apocalypse, allowing us to watch as its roots spread intractably throughout the town of Shreve, a town that is just like any other in today’s United Kingdom.

Mason Brand is an outsider, a man who turned his back on society and his once successful career as a photographer. Living in the deepest countryside, with an old farmer as his guide, Brand learnt about himself, about the nature of nature and its relationship with man. He understands nature evolves to survive, that its processes cannot be predicted and that it simply doesn’t sit back and take abuse. He’s heard and responded to ‘the calling’. Now, giving society one last chance before he retreats forever into the wilds, he lives quietly in Shreve, shunned by almost everyone in the town, the town eccentric.

Shreve sits next to a massive landfill site, a noxious influence when the wind blows in the direction of the town. This influence is spreading, the land unable to cope with the rubbish and the poisonous chemicals being pumped into the earth. And when this brew also contains unwanted human matter, and is imbued with malicious intent, guilt and greed, it shouldn’t be surprising that a strange hybridised life-form, the fecalith, emerges from the sticken ground. Mason Brand has seen the signs; once again he’s heard the calling, and this time it’s right on his doorstep, it has a message and a command he cannot deny.

I loved Brand’s character, a figure I immediately found myself able to associate with during these harsh concretised times. After a solid week’s work, go for a walk, out of earshot of traffic if possible, and feel that money/work/time focus flow out of you to be replaced by whatever you allow… It’s a simple thing to do, but there’s certainly the ability for all of us to hear ‘the calling’ in one form or another, no matter where you live, or what your feelings are for the countryside.

D’Lacey’s especially adept at showing us the everyday stresses that afflict Shreve’s teenagers, their blossoming but untrusting relationships, their already jaded world-views, the parental and peer pressure that blinkers their thoughts, reducing their aspirations to the mundane. This frustration and jealousy threatens to overwhelm at times, (but isn’t that just how the real world works anyway?), but D’Lacey manages the trick of energising his characters through these emotions, making us care for them, or at least stay interested in them.

As the garbage crawls and spreads throughout Shreve the lives of the protagonists draw closer together through Mason Brand, the only one who understands what is about to happen, the man who is mainly responsible for that vital evolutionary stage of the fecalith, the struggle for sentience. Geoff Nelder‘s already suggested that Garbage Man should have been called Gaia’s Revenge as it most definitely shares an outlook with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis: the earth as a single organism, everything affecting everything else. As with MEAT, there is a strong moral message; a message of caution that D’Lacey interweaves seamlessly with solid horror plotting, without stinting on the gore and cleverly paced action.

Fast becoming the master of contemporary eco-horror, D’Lacey’s voice is absolutely unique in the field; and the final chapters, depicting an evolution of almost biblical proportions are simply stunning.

Garbage Man is published on May 7th 2009 by Bloody Books.

Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey (The Absence) are celebrating the publication of their second novels with a tour of some haunted locations around the United Kingdom; and with readings and signings at the Wood Green Bookshop on May 6th, and at Borders on Oxford Street in London on May 7th. They’ll also be promoting the Horror Reanimated website, as well as giving away a limited edition Horror Reanimated chapbook, Echoes, to anyone who attends.

Note: I work with Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey on the Horror Reanimated website.

Film review: Martyrs

April 12, 2009 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Film reviews 

martyrs_box_art_2d1This is the film that has caused a media-frenzy over the last few months. It was virtually banned in France, as the powers that be slapped an 18+ classification on it – although an appeal saw that reduced to a 16. Last year’s August Frighfest gave it a UK premiere, (which is where I saw it and originally reviewed it for Quiet Earth), and it’s about to receive a straight-to-DVD release in the US, having been picked up by the Weinstein company.

In the 1970s Lucie was abducted and held captive for a year in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The doctors could find no evidence of sexual abuse, suggesting something other than the instant gratification usually associated with abduction cases. After her escape Lucie lives in a care home, where she meets Anna, herself a victim of abuse, who becomes her best friend and confidant. But Lucie is haunted by guilt that violently manifests as the emaciated woman whom she left behind in order to save herself.

Fifteen years later, and Lucie has managed to trace those she believes abducted her. Alone, she visits the couple, who now have a family, and exacts graphic, unmerciful shotgun revenge. Anna arrives to help Lucie hide the bodies, harbouring doubts that these are the people who abused her best friend, but beneath the house she discovers a series of hi-tech rooms and whitewashed corridors, adorned with back-lit images of women, young and old, dying in various different circumstances.

Who do you go to build something like that? This set-up is a pretty specific piece of subterranean engineering with an obviously unwholesome intent. It soon becomes clear that the people Lucie has murdered were part of a larger circle; a secret society who have enough money to guarantee silence, and it’s in these pristine purpose-built surroundings that Martyrs sets off on a grim journey through extremely dark places to eventual enlightenment, as Anna becomes their next victim.

Martyrs will most likely be compared to the Hostel films, and those other French fancies: Switchblade Romance, Frontiers and Inside, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, there’s a secret society that abducts, tortures and ultimately murders innocents, but the elderly patrons of this particular group have very specific reasons for targeting women only; and it’s via this shared and secret obsession that Martyrs transforms into a brutal quest for knowledge that, in the view of this particular sect, or cult, can only be gained through disciplined abuse and torture. The inference is that there is a close network of members and locations dotted throughout France, each with their own subjects, each subject being forced to go through the same unspeakable regime, towards the same end.

Martyrs delivers true hopelessness as Anna is subjected to an unrelenting programme of suffering. This fifteen minute sequence is astonishing and painful to watch. I just wanted it to end, and quickly, but for Anna, it lasts months and only leads to other levels of preparation for what she must face. This sequence is not meant to be enjoyed, on any level.

The sect’s quasi-religious thirst for the unknowable ultimately saves Martyrs from falling victim to its own gory excesses, which in the first two-thirds of the film are considerable, and on a par with the bloody events seen in the aforementioned films. But Martyrs isn’t a torture-porn film in the Hostel sense of the term, far from it. Those films, and Hostel especially, are about killing for the sake of killing. Martyrs has a reason for every piece of its protagonists’ pain.

You may love it or absolutely hate it; and almost without exception, Martyrs has divided the opinions of critics and genre fans. It’s not a film that you can or should enjoy on certain levels, but it is there to be experienced. Immediately upon leaving the cinema I sat not knowing what to write as I couldn’t get the taste of that prolonged scene out of my mouth, out of my head, it affected me that much, and I had to delay writing the review for a couple of days in order to gain a considered, rather than reactionary, perspective.

So, several months after viewing the film my opinion has not changed, but other scenes have come to the fore as I’ve thought about it: the violent haunting of Lucie brings to mind the desperate struggles for survival in The Descent, but played out in her irretrievably damaged mind; the unquestioning, uncompromising and ultimately brutal friendship that Anna and Lucie share is at once touching and bewildering; the oft-criticised raison d’etre behind the cult can make or break the film for the viewer; it made it for me.

And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m ready to watch it again, this time as a fan of horror cinema, this time for a purely horrific, white-knuckled experience.

Pascal Laugier should be commended for giving us a film that is well-written, stylish and technically brilliant, thought-provoking and stomach-churning. Martyrs will become a genre classic, but as with The Last House on the Left,  it’ll be a long, hard and unforgiving road to transcendence.

Laugier’s now at the helm of the remake/re-imagining of Hellraiser, and, well, that seems like a good fit indeed.

Martyrs, 2008

Director: Pascal Laugier; Writer: Pascal Laugier

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