Film review: Dante 01

May 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Film reviews 

dante01affIn theory, all the ingredients that should make Dante 01 an effective science fiction / horror hybrid are present; but theory is very different from execution…

Director Marc Caro was one half of the innovative team behind the dark adult fairytales Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children; and his input to that successful collaboration is shown here as he runs solo for the first time: the claustrophobic steely cold environment, the lumbering spacesuits a la Sunshine; the shadowy ship, much like the Event Horizon.

The crucifix-shaped Space Station Dante 01 is a medical experiment; criminally-insane prisoners avoid the death penalty by agreeing to undergo drug trials and observation by a skeleton crew of scientists and security wardens. This uneasy arrangement is rocked when a new and unspeaking inmate, (Lambert Wilson, who played The Merovingian in The Matrix films), arrives under the care of a beautiful scientist, Elisa, who is under orders to test a new nanotechnology-based drug. The new prisoner, nicknamed Saint George, is apparently the sole survivor of an event that wiped out his crew and left him with the gift/curse of seeing inside people’s bodies. As Eliza’s drug kills the inmates, Saint George brings them back to life, seizing hold of the nano-tech virus and eating the infection, healing more than just the drug-induced illness. The prisoners and remaining staff must race against time to save themselves from the self-destructing ship and the determined Elisa.

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Film review: Trailer Park of Terror

May 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Film reviews 

tpoterror1Based on the Imperium comic book series and including a nice little colour mini-comic of its own, Trailer Park of Terror’s redneck horrors have sneaked into the UK shops unannounced much like The Dark Hour, albeit less successfully, and with a completely different vibe.

Initially Trailer Park of Terror follows a bog-standard template: a bus load of delinquent teens with attitudinal problems and their group leader are stranded as said bus crashes in a massive rainstorm. The argumentative bunch find themselves in Trucker’s Triangle, a haunted patch of dusty land that the Devil himself (in a suitably black Cowboy outfit) has frequented, doing all manner of deals with the locals over the years, especially pretty lil’ Norma, the cursed, and now very dead owner of the abandoned Trailer Park.

The kids argue, muck around and are just plain irritating (thus allowing us to dislike them enormously and increase our hopes for swift and bloody retribution) and inevitably attract the attention of the luscious make-up coated Norma and other returned resident rednecks who made Norma’s life a misery all those years ago, until the aforementioned Devil gave her a big gun and she took appropriate revenge. These white-trash characters include a colourful guitar-wielding ghoul, a monstrously fat cannibal, and a jerky obsessed butcher (and it’s not beef), all of whom take great glee in torturing and killing the deserving teens in fashions relevant to their previous lives, whilst cracking tasteless jokes of questionable redneck wisdom as the gore flows.

Via convincing fx and EC-inspired creatures, decent directing and a fun spiky country soundtrack Trailer Park of Terror almost manages to tap into the same vein of humour as can be found in The Evil Dead, and Roach the rockabilly ghoul is as strong and fun a demon as Ash was a flawed hero. But it cannot be denied that Trailer Park of Terror is a very basic story trying too hard to be truly scary through gruesome set-pieces. There are no surprises and not much inventiveness, but then it never promised any I guess, so it sits uneasily on my DVD shelves, possibly never to be watched again.

Trailer Park of Terror, 2008

Director: Steven Goldmann; Writer: Timothy Dolan

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

Part of the Landscape

May 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News, Stories 

gibsonsquareBill Hussey, Joseph D’Lacey and I have put together a chapbook for the Horror Reanimated Tour taking place this May to celebrate the release of Bill and Joseph’s new horror novels.

The chapbook features a piece of fiction from each of us, and is called Echoes. It will hopefully be the first of several we publish as Horror Reanimated.

My story is called Part of the Landscape, and is more of a novellette than a short story, coming in at just over 10, 500 words. The story is based on my walk to work, back when I lived in Islington in central London.

Walking from my flat in Devonia Road just off Upper Street, N1, and then Richmond Avenue off Liverpool Road all the way to Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, my route took me via Gibson Square, back streets, the Packington housing estate, over the Regents canal and across a main road or two. A bog-standard 30 minute route, one that I varied regularly over the couple of years I walked the route as per my moods and the weather, as one route was a few minutes shorter than the other.

pack11These walks gave me an hour a day to lose myself and I would find I was almost walking without thinking, suddenly snapping into focus, becoming aware that I was nearly at work as I turned into Charlotte Road, EC2.

But I did notice things during that ‘lost time’: almost without fail, whatever the weather, old men sitting on benches on Murray Grove. And it got to the stage where I wanted to say morning to them, but I never did, mainly out of their apparent disinterest in me. They looked busy, lost in their own thoughts, and I didn’t want to disrupt this state.I noticed the rubbish and the decay, the graffitti and the animals snaffling out an existence in the urban grey. And I saw these animals, dogs, cats, foxes, pigeons in the same place at the same time, following their own rhythms and their own paths.

Time permitting, at lunch, I would walk for a few minutes to clear my head of work-stuff, always pausing at a burnt out factory that sat across from my office, on Great Eastern Street. The most interesting aspect of this place, for me, was the basement area that’s been boarded up and allowed to grow wild over the time I worked there (about 9 years). You could pop your head through a gap in the boards and get a glimpse of a tree, and undergrowth and loads of rubbish that had collected in layers. You can still see this factory, just wander along Great Eastern Street. I’ve always wondered why nobody’s bought the land and built yet another office block. But, I have to say, I like it just the way it is.

img_2652A couple of years later, now living in Surrey, I was walking back from the train station, down a path I call ‘Squirrel Lane’ as it’s one of those paths where the trees meet in an arch overhead and bushes surround you on both sides, allowing the inhabitants of the green to scamper up and down and all around you. It was dark, about 9pm, and the bushes rustled as I walked by; there was a growling and as I stepped back a little, something barked at me almost lunging from the darkness of the bushes. But it wasn’t a fox, it was a man, sitting hidden towards the back of the foliage, barking and laughing and growling at me. It sounds plain weird, but this is a true story. And it got me thinking about why he chose to ‘communicate’ with me; about those old men, the ageing, decaying buildings , the routes animals and humans take, and the influence we have on them, and they upon us, as the 9-to-5 grind goes on around them; and so Part of the Landscape came together…

Here’s an excerpt from Part of the Landscape

City landscapes change quicker than any environment on earth, so walk to the end of this street and turn the corner; head south for five minutes and Howard entered a half-derelict estate. A blast of wind welcomed him, penetrating his clothes, skin, icing behind his eyeballs, settling in his bones.

Blocks of flats forced themselves upward, monstrous brick and beanstalks with black holes for windows; he couldn’t tell if there was glass in the frames, too high, the light gloomy this early autumn morning. On a balcony halfway up, three high-rises away, a wind he could not feel blew someone’s washing dry with someone else’s dirt. Had a figure stepped back from a window, hole, up there?

A plastic carrier bag wafted into his view, moving swiftly at head-height, a substance dripping from the flapping edges. Again he felt no breeze. He stopped and watched the bag’s silent progress: miraculously it avoided obstruction and drifted into the distance. Perhaps someone would meet it headfirst as it flew around a corner, picking up pace, escaping the estate.

pack2He became aware of the estate’s acoustics, temperature. It was a raw place: the air turbulent but secretive; wind whistled around corners, bringing hip-hop music, at 7am?, on unseen currents that also carried tainted moisture from the nearby canal. A dull thud: somewhere close someone kicked over a half-full can of something. The thud was followed by a yelp, or was it a bark? Startled, he looked around, nobody about that he could see; on an estate like this the sound of a can being kicked was like a battle cry. He was sure curtains were twitching up and down the rows of windows that surrounded him. Was it the wind again, a wind inside buildings? Streetlamps winked off one-by-one as the morning grew. The buildings looked uncomfortable, embedded on gradually disintegrating foundations of mouldy brick. Litter scraped and crawled across the cracked concrete, pinning itself against pointless knee-high fences of thin wood protecting muddy, well-trodden verges and patches of thinning, unhealthy grass.

A muscular dog pissed against a wall, looked over, smiled, waddled off, claws skittering on the pavement like teeth. Steaming terrier urine puddled in a shallow hollow, not enough volume to reach a nearby drain. Howard wondered if the dog used the same place as a toilet every day, eroding both the wall and pavement. All those dogs; all that piss. There was a prodding at his ankles, he was forced to wade through a mound of fast food boxes. He hadn’t noticed them earlier; urban cardboard tumbleweed blown across the City, waiting for the next pedestrian to trip over them, then moving on. Their bright red and white packaging was a shock to his monotone-accustomed eyes; but it wouldn’t be long before the elements drained the colouring into the uneven pavement, like the entire estate, that dog’s piss. The whole City is bleaching into the ground. Fucking dump. He wouldn’t miss this City if it fell off the face of the planet, nor any of the people in it.

Through a doorway he glimpsed an ethereal figure flitting from right to left in the half-light, crouching at low-level, from one high-rise to another: a paperboy, perhaps. He quickened his pace and walked towards the little humpback bridge that traversed the canal, marking the end of the estate. He wanted to check over his shoulder, the squat figure’s twisted gait had unsettled him, but he wouldn’t let himself. His tired mind was working overtime in an attempt to avert apathy.

He passed several sorry benches on his approach to the canal. Of course they were unoccupied at this time of day, broken-backed and empty with a thick coating of graffiti, or bird shit, or both. Their emptiness seemed appropriate; this route was too quiet, eerie. At least there were people on his usual walk to work. Like that old man who sat on the bench; he was slightly more animated than the gaunt buildings in this part of the City, casting their heavy shadows that made Howard stoop unconsciously whenever he was out and about, but certainly less so than the streamers of rubbish that twisted in the wake of countless cars: paper, chicken bones, sticky messes curling and choking, cooking in exhaust fumes.

The water in the canal was heavily coated with an oily grey-white weed. A shopping trolley protruded from the mixture, the weed thick enough to prevent it sinking to the canal’s bed. Polystyrene chunks and several pieces of wood adhered to the crust like croutons. This City’s soup was sluggish, almost stagnant, rich in flavour and odour. The surface undulated imperceptibly. Howard waited for a minute or so, but nothing broke through the weed.

He wouldn’t come this way again.


Part of the Landscape is currently only available in Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes, limited to 200 illustrated, signed copies.

Fear – Issue 1

May 1, 2009 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Fear Magazine 

fear-11Welcome to the Dark Playground…

When did you last stumble across something that was a complete surprise, something that you immediately knew, by instinct as much as through a quick once-over, was destined to be incredibly influential and almost perfect for you at a particular time of life? A something that you didn’t really know you needed until it showed itself to you?

Well, this happened to me in the Summer of 1988 as I came across the first issue of Fear magazine. Oliver Fry’s cover art was all I needed to find myself lost: a grinning skull with the dark side of the moon for an eye, a tongue of seemingly naked screaming people in a sausage-skin hell morphing into an old crone’s hand with faces where joints should be, and a pair of deep red lips, the hint of a tongue, growing from the palm. This was dark, and it was sexy. Inside I was presented with a combination of news, reviews and professional, horrific short fiction. At the time there was nothing else like it. This was ‘The World of Fantasy and Horror’ as compiled by John Gilbert, published by Newsfield Publications, ( a Ludlow-based publisher of games magazines),  initially on a bi-monthly basis, and it simply shouted out at me: I am yours. And it certainly knew what it was talking about – this was MY magazine.

I grew up in Devon and nobody I knew obsessed about the horror genre in all its forms like I did. Films, music and books weren’t as important to them as they were to me. A mate would nip over to watch a video of Mausoleum when my parents were out, but that was about it. So when Fear appeared, it felt like a little vindication: I was reading these authors already, and now other people cared enough to share their obsessions and interests, producing a magazine that’s become an important artifact from that time in my life.

gilbertAnd 21 years on, Fear is still MY magazine. I have every issue of Fear in pretty good condition. I have the three issues of the short-lived fiction offshoot, Frighteners. They take pride of place on my shelves. Cumulatively, Fear showcased a stunning amount of high quality genre fiction – and if anyone wants to publish a Fear and Frighteners anthology I’m sure there would be takers.

Over the last few months I’ve been searching the internet for mentions of the magazine, and apart from a couple of forum discussions on the wonderful Vault of Evil, two entries on Bear Alley, a few cover shots on Flickr, a table of contents listing over at Locus, and a Wickipedia entry for the publisher, plus a liquidator’s report, there’s nothing comprehensive to be found. Which suprises me, given the value I place upon it, and the contributors who made it what it is.

So, as we thirty and forty somethings wallow in a pleasant wave of nostalgia, mostly enabled by the internet, I thought I’d do the same, and run a little series on Fear and Frighteners, showcasing some of Oliver Fry’s awesome exterior and interior artwork (much of which was based on the short fiction featured in that particluar issue); John Gilbert’s ground-breaking editorial direction, a few scans of author shots and interviews from days gone by, and possibly tracing where these creators are today. I’ll detail the books, videos and films reviewed, quoting a pertinent sentence or two; and with hindsight we’ll be able to see if those opinions have been deemed accurate.

A particularly interesting aspect of these articles, (at least for me), is how we’ll be able to track how a ground-breaking magazine – its attitude, contents, emphasis, contributors, frequency and format evolved – during its 34 issue run across just over three years. (I’d actually sold an article on industrial music and horror to John Gilbert for issue 35, so maybe it’s my fault it folded at that point). Hopefully these posts will build up to give you a flavour of Fear, a magazine I am sure will still be of much interest to genre fans, young and old, well-read and new to the scene. And if you’ve never come across Fear, you could do worse than tracking down issues on Ebay or via specialist booksellers as copies are still relatively easy to come by, at prices below the cover price of £2.50…

wiater2Stanley Wiater, who interviewed Peter Straub for the first issue, now an award-winning author, consultant and creator of the Dark Dreamers television series (and available to watch on You Tube) was kind enough to say of his involvement with Fear: “…it was a wonderful, groundbreaking publication that tried to do it all – articles, overviews, interviews, short fiction, book reviews, film reviews, genre events – and more often than not, completely succeeded in its capacity of being a dark rainbow over it all. I was honored to be part of it.”

So what was in that seminal first issue?

In Dark Playground John Gilbert introduced the magazine and some of its many contributors, who were to come and go across the years – names some of you will recognise, I’m sure: Kim Newman, Stan Nicholls, Stanley Wiater, Philip Nutman, Di and Mike Wathen (both were part of the British Fantasy Society’s governing body at the time), amongst others. (Geeks will note that the above image is from the second issue, but it’s a better picture of John Gilbert).

Other articles were collected under the Phenomena heading, (rather than the regular set of fiction, interviews and the like), and include John Gilbert’s article on making movies – Tales of the Busy Auteur, David Keep asks the BBFC about their approach to censorship – Censorship or Classification?; and in The Unblinking Eye, Mike Wathen outlines fear and horror’s function within that emotion:

…”I don’t want to know – but I have to. I don’t want to look, but I must.” The reader comes to the horror story with an awareness that the rules which govern our societies and our standards of behaviour are not all that strong, and can crack and come unglued under the slightest stress. It is the task of the writer of horror fiction to try and widen those cracks, to break down the wall and provide at least a glimpse of that which lies behind and beyond. The reader brings the desire to see beyond the wall, not glancing away, however much he or she may want to. To gaze with unblinking eyes at what is revealed…


Fear Fiction: Fear‘s amazing collection of short stories kicked off with:

  • The Prize, by Shaun Hutson – ‘a morbid newspaper-chain-tail’
  • Eye of Childhood, by Ramsey Campbell – ‘children can be cruel’
  • The Dandelion Woman, by Nicholas Royle – ‘the tick-tock clock’ (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above)


Interviews and features were in the  Pro-Files and Location Reports sections:

  • John Carpenter talks about my favourite of his films, The Prince of Darkness and the upcoming They Live: “I’ve made a bunch of Westerns, I just don’t put Cowboy hats on ’em. Instead of cowboys, you have physicists.”
  • The ‘founders’ of splatterpunk John Skipp and Craig Spector talk about their novel The Scream as it was about to be published in the UK via Bantam: “Splatterpunk is an angle of attack, a way of life, and just a phase we’re going through.”
  • Film director Neil Jordan discusses his new movie High Spirits and other work such as The Company of Wolves in the first of a two parter: “I think every novelist wants to direct films…”
  • Peter Straub is interviewed about Koko (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above): “I’m trying to explore what surrounds horror – what kind of feeling is fear really about? How does it work in normal life?”
  • Ramsey Campbell examined his writing influences in the run-up to his newie, Ancient Images – even back then he was being referred to as ‘the greatest living influence in horror fiction’: “-the principle I tend to use is you show enough to suggest more.”
  • Stephen Gallagher reveals how he researches locations for his novels (Article image below): “Making everything possible can drain a lot of interest and intricacy out of a story.”


Fan-File featured details of British-based fanzines and societies including notes on the ‘fast-growing British Fantasy Society’, and the Science Fiction Foundation, as well as descriptions of the latest issues of Dagon edited by Carl T. Ford, the awesome Samhain edited by John Gullidge, and Six of One (a fanzine centred around The Prisoner television series).

Genre reviews were within the Revenants section, with a place for all media…

Film reviews were in the Movie Mainline section:

  • Beetle Juice, directed by Tim Burton …I cannot stress too strongly how much of a mistake it would be to miss this movie.
  • The Unholy, directed by Camilo Howard …starts off with a punchy, stylish opening but soon loses its focus…is proud to wear its horror colours on its chest, and is unashamedly gross in parts.
  • The Monster Squad, directed by Fred Dekker …Dekker…has the Universal gruesome chewsome off pat…will appeal to anyone who’s ever watched a black and white monster B-movie
  • The Hidden, directed by Jack Shoulder …simply the most enjoyable crowd pleaser since Robocop…a near perfect mix of amped up action and pulp science fiction silliness.
  • Bad Dreams, directed by Andrew Flemming …a horror movie that wants to be something else…is worth watching, alebit as an interesting failure…

Video reviews in Video Vibes:

  • Retribution, directed by Guy Magar … John Gilbert only comments on the plot and does not actually review the film.
  • Werewolf, directed by David Hemmings …Watch it if you see nothing else.
  • Creepozoids, dircected by David DeCocteau …there’s bad and there’s bad, but this is worse…avoid like the plague.
  • Masters of the Universe, directed by Gary Godard …Fast, fanciful, and fun.
  • Dead of Night, directed by Deryn Warren …as the old saying goes, if you want gore you certainly won’t want more.

Off the Shelf covered book reviews, divided by format, and with an introductory article about the history and trends in fantasy literature, including horror), from Di Wathen:

  • Lightning, by Dean Koontz; Headline HB …You’ll go through a whole alphabet of mini-climax as you notch your way up to the biggie – and it’s special…
  • 1998, by Richard Turner and William Osborne; Sphere HB …it left me as lightly as a dandelion seed, wishing for something of more substance.
  • The Awakeners, by Sheri S. Tepper; Bantam Press HB …There’s something of the child in her latest novel, though it comes from a dark wonder within the story, rather than any immaturity in style…
  • Swansong, by Robert R. McCammon; Sphere HB …as broad as its characters and you’ll find enough images to keep you thinking about it for weeks after its conclusion.
  • Oktober, by Stephen Gallagher; Hodder & Stoughton HB …shows why Hodder and Stoughton is one of the biggest British publishers. It keeps picking winners.
  • The Scream, by John Skipp and Craig Spector; Bantam HB …You want to rock? This is the book to give you the roll. And then some.
  • The Influence, by Ramsey Campbell; Century HB …It is the sort of supernatural ending you could attach to Miss Haversham’s life in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations…
  • Sepulchre, by James Herbert; New English Library HB …to be read with relish – as red as you can get.
  • Fiend, by Guy N. Smith; Sphere PB …the storyline is unusual enough to make you pluck it off the bookshelf…
  • Spellbinder, by Colin Wilcox; WH Allen PB …shows how brittle human reason can be and how it can reverse into forms of perverted logic. Brilliant.
  • The Wrym, by Stephen Laws; Souvenir Press PB …an excellent, breathtaking, morbid read…
  • Tread Softly, by Richard Kelly; WH Allen PB …does nothing for the horror genre…
  • Valley of Lights, by Stephen Gallagher; New English Library PB …The moment you get serious with this book you’ll be hooked into a compulsive read…
  • Watchers, by Dean R. Koontz; Headline PB …As excellently crafted as all Koontz’s books, the story is long, involved and chillingly possible in today’s scientific climate.
  • Deliver Us From Evil, by Allen Lee Harris; Bantam PB …a book of character rather a slasher’s party… Keep an eye on this man.

A truly stellar line-up of repsected creators, most of whom are still producing amazing work today. From this issue I tracked down Swansong, The Influence, The Wyrm, Watchers and Tread Softly (not sure why, on re-reading the review). I’ve still got them on my bookshelves today, (as I have all my titles from the later 80s and early 90s). As a result of the film reviews I watched Creepozoids (although the review was negative the monster looked great), The Hidden and The Monster Squad on video, and avoided Masters of the Universe at all costs, and have continued to do so.

And that was Fear Issue 1, dated July / August, 1988. 76 glossy pages. The beginning of a wonderful period of dark enlightenment.