Book recommendation – The Final Cut

My friend (and THE FRONT co-conspirator) CRAIG DILOUIE released THE FINAL CUT, the long-anticipated third book in his INFECTION trilogy at the end of last year. Having just finished reading it, I’m pleased to report that it was well worth the wait.

It’s a testament to Craig’s skill as a writer that I felt able to jump back into the story, despite it having been almost a decade since the previous book in the series – THE KILLING FLOOR – was released. We’re right back into the action straightaway and it doesn’t let up throughout. Although the book is focused on a relatively small cast of characters, it’s evident that these people are the key players in humanity’s fight for survival against the unique alien scourge that’s decimated life on earth.

I’ve followed Craig’s work from the outset. From TOOTH AND NAIL onwards, he’s told a number of apocalyptic tales from the point of view of some of those folks on the military front line. Typically, stories with a detailed military content leave me cold, but time and again I find myself enjoying Craig’s writing and the realistic, personal perspective he brings to these chaotic, world-defining battles. The focus remains on the people and their physical and emotional fights, rather than the calibre of the bullets they’re firing.

It was great to finally get to read the last book in the trilogy. It’s sometimes hard to hit the landing when you’re writing sequels, particularly when the last book was written more than ten years previously, but THE FINAL CUT brings the story to a smart and satisfying conclusion. As many of you may know, I’m a sucker for hearing about the post-post-apocalypse, and the book’s coda, in which we get a glimpse of life with the Infection after another ten years, was very much appreciated.

You can grab a copy of THE FINAL CUT from Amazon now. Highly recommended.

 

Don’t Look Up

It’s the number one film on NETFLIX at the moment, so I’m sure you’ve either already seen this movie or have heard plenty about it. That said, for posterity I’m adding it to the ongoing list of films I recommend here on this site, and I’ll explain why after the trailer.

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

Reaction to DON’T LOOK UP has been polarising, to say the least. Glancing at IMDB just now, the Metascore is 50. On Rotten Tomatoes it currently stands at 55%. I don’t think the stats are at all surprising – if anything they’re quite appropriate – because the polarisation of society is at the core of the film. As an apocalyptic story, it’s by-the-numbers. As a comedy, it’s intermittently very funny. I can understand why people expecting either a laugh-fest or a GREENLAND or ARMAGEDDON style action adventure would be disappointed. Much has been made of the fact that the destruction of the planet by a comet is an allegory for climate change, but you can substitute any number of current social issues. I think the film’s scope is far broader than any one scenario. It holds up a mirror (albeit a deliberately distorted and exaggerated one) to some of our worst traits as individuals and as a society.

Throughout the story, the characters are fixated on things that don’t matter at the expense of things that do: the President of the United States wants to sit on news of the impending apocalypse so as not to tarnish her approval ratings, a tech guru concocts a plan to mine the planet-killing comet to tap into the trillions of dollars worth of minerals it contains… even the scientists become distracted with the irrelevances of fame. There are many levels to this film, but what hit me hardest was the demonisation of critical thinking and the absolute intolerance of other perspectives. In some respects, it felt like a comedy version of HATER.

It saddens me that in the sixteen years since I wrote HATER, it feels like it’s become more and more relevant with each passing week. I never explain the reason for the Hate in the books, but I’d always had it in mind that it was some kind of biological quirk that separated them from us, a genetic or other physical difference. Turns out it was worse than that. Turns out we’re capable of killing each other on the basis of our ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and personal desires. That’s always been the case, of course, and I’m being deliberately simplistic here, but it truly does feel like we’ve reached the point in our evolution (devolution?) where many of us appear incapable of even listening to, let alone considering or accepting, another person’s point of view when it doesn’t fit with our own world view or if it will be detrimental to ourselves in any way, shape, or form. There is no maybe anymore, there’s just right and wrong, and if one person’s right is another person’s wrong (which it inevitably will be), then we hit an impasse.

It’s fucking terrifying when you think about it, and pretty depressing, but that’s why I’m recommending DON’T LOOK UP. The characters are caricatures and it doesn’t offer any solutions or profound explanations, but it does a great job of showing how heartbreakingly stupid and blinkered us human beings can be. I’d like to think we’ll smarten up before the planet is destroyed (either by a comet, climate change, a rogue AI, aliens, or – most likely – ourselves), but like the scientists in the story, I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

It’s very nearly Christmas… Happy Holidays!

It’s my last afternoon in the office before I pause for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best for the upcoming holidays. We’ve all had a difficult couple of years, and whilst I don’t think for a second that we’ll be completely out of the woods in 2022, I’m cautiously optimistic that – if we can hold ourselves together and resist the urge to dive down media-fuelled, conspiracy theory laden rabbit holes – things will start to improve.

Before I disappear I’d like to share an offer, a reminder, and a recommendation.

The offer – in anticipation of the release of AUTUMN: INFERNO in January, the eBook version of AUTUMN: DAWN is available for 99c/99p from all your usual eBook outlets. If you haven’t started reading THE LONDON TRILOGY, this is a great way to start.

The reminder – limited edition signed hardcovers and signed paperbacks of AUTUMN: INFERNO are available for pre-order from Infected Books. They’ll be shipping from mid-January, and anyone who pre-orders will receive a complementary ebook version of the new novel in advance of its official release on 25 Jan. If everything goes to plan at this end, you could be reading the book before the end of 2021 (ie next week).

The recommendation – have you seen ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE? It’s the best Scottish Christmas zombie musical I’ve ever seen. Cheesy as hell, but a lot of gory fun and it’s well worth a watch. The trailer is below and if you’re in the UK, you can stream the movie now on Amazon Prime.

There’s lots of good stuff coming up from me, so I hope to see you soon in 2022. In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Eraserhead

I’ve been on something of a DAVID LYNCH kick this year. I recently re-watched his version of DUNE (which was both as incredible and as terrible as I remember), and I’m about a third of the way through TWIN PEAKS (again). But I think the Lynch film that had the biggest impact on me was his first movie, ERASERHEAD. When I recommended CARNIVAL OF SOULS a couple of weeks ago, I talked about BBC’s MOVIEDROME. ERASERHEAD was another movie I discovered through the series, and some thirty years later, I’ve never seen another film like it.

The most accurate review of ERASERHEAD I’ve found said (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I can’t remember the exact wording or the source), that watching the movie is “like having your face pushed into a dirty pillow for ninety minutes”.

Henry Spencer is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he’s the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity.

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Carnival of Souls

UK readers may remember the excellent BBC film series, MOVIEDROME. Presented initially by ALEX COX (director of REPO MAN and SID & NANCY among others), during its run MOVIEDROME showcased more than 200 cult movies. The first few seasons in particular were a fundamental part of my weird film education, introducing me to gem after gem after gem. You have to remember that having just emerged from the era of the video nasty, genre film fans had been starved of decent viewing material. Week by week, MOVIEDROME introduced me and countless others to a whole host of incredible films. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a full list of the movies that were shown between 1988 and 2000.

One film that’s always stuck with me from my first viewing on MOVIEDROME is CARNIVAL OF SOULS. I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it, and once I’d seen it, I couldn’t forget it. I recently re-watched it, hence my recommendation to you today.

After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival.

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Recommended reading – Survivors

I think perhaps the main reason I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction is the way it strips away all the divisions of society and (generally) puts us all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter what your background or beliefs are, how smart or rich or loud or quiet or well-connected you might be, when the shit really hits the fan, we’ll all likely have as good (or as bad) a chance of survival as the person next to us.

This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently, not least because we’re in the middle (or possibly the tail end, or maybe still the opening act) of a global pandemic which has had a profound and long-lasting impact on the entire planet, even those who continue to claim it’s a hoax. Far more trivially, I’ve also been thinking about the same themes as I’ve been working on the new AUTUMN books. Book one, AUTUMN: DAWN, was very much a straight-forward survival horror story in the style of the previous books in the series. AUTUMN: INFERNO and AUTUMN: EXODUS, however, will be altogether different. It’s not so much about picking up the pieces after an apocalypse; more about seeing if there are any pieces left to be picked up.

I’ve been catching up with some post-apocalyptic reading, and the novel I’ve just finished – SURVIVORS by TERRY NATION – makes this point very effectively. Unfortunately, it also drives home my earlier assertion that no matter who we are or what we’ve done, in the event of a global catastrophe, we’re all equally fucked. Grim, eh?!

I’m sure many of you will have heard of SURVIVORS – the two BBC TV series, if not the novel. The story, first published in the 1970’s, deals with the aftermath of a global pandemic. A disease with a 95% mortality rate spreads around the world in a matter of days, and the book documents the struggles of some of the remaining 5%. It’s sobering stuff.

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It works much better when you give a shit

A few weeks back I posted about the brilliant ONE CUT OF THE DEAD and how I thought that micro-budgeted madcap zombie meta-movie had a million times the depth and character of the boring, bloated, load of bollocks that was ARMY OF THE DEAD. It’s not a completely fair comparison, I’ll admit, but there’s a point to be made – for me to enjoy a movie, good characterisation and a cohesive plot are essential.

I saw another couple of films recently which prove the point, and that leads me to this weekend’s double movie recommendation.

I’m sure you’ve heard of GREENLAND. It’s a big budget Amazon blockbuster with a star-filled cast who find themselves staring into the abyss as the end of the world approaches. You might not, on the other hand, have heard of THE QUAKE – a Norwegian movie from a few years back which was, in fact, a sequel to THE WAVE, which I wrote about here.

Two relatively straightforward disaster movies, with two very different approaches. Can you guess which one I liked best?

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Saint Maud

In previous recommendation posts I’ve talked about my local cinema, which is literally a couple of hundred metres from my front door. In the brief time it was open between lockdowns last year, I managed to fit in a few visits, mostly to see re-releases of old movies on the big screen (DOG SOLDIERS and V FOR VENDETTA, if you remember). But there was one new release I’d been really keen to see which I didn’t quite manage to fit in. The film was SAINT MAUD, and over the course of the UK’s endless third lockdown, I watched a crumpled poster for the movie gradually fading in the winter sunlight outside the cinema. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it was as if Maud herself was constantly reminding me to watch. When the film popped up on Amazon Prime in the UK a short while back, I did just that, and I’m so pleased I did. What a magnificent film SAINT MAUD is.

Maud is a reclusive young nurse whose impressionable demeanour causes her to pursue a pious path of Christian devotion after an obscure trauma. Now charged with the hospice care of Amanda, a retired dancer ravaged by cancer, Maud’s fervent faith quickly inspires an obsessive conviction that she must save her ward’s soul from eternal damnation, whatever the cost.

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One Cut of the Dead

As you may have noticed, I’m doing my best to catch-up on a backlog of film recommendations I’ve built up. Today I want to recommend an absolute gem to you for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s a micro-budget marvel that goes to show that a great concept and copious enthusiasm are infinitely more important than a big budget and faultless special effects. Second, on a more practical level, I’m mentioning it today because if you’re in the UK, you can watch it for free on Channel 4 for the next couple of weeks.

The less you know about ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, the better. Here’s a spoiler-free synopsis and trailer, followed by a couple of (also spoiler-free) thoughts.

Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.

I’m going to keep these comments very, very brief – as I said, the less you know about ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, the more you’ll enjoy it. And I’m sure you will enjoy it. This film is a joy. Absolutely crazy, very funny, wildly surprising, and unexpectedly touching. I’ve read a lot of comments from people who switched off after the first half hour, but DON’T. After a few minutes you’ll probably think you know where the movie is going, and you’re likely very wrong indeed. Please just stick with it. The pay-off is so worth it.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD comes very, very, very highly recommended by me. It’s a love letter to zombie movies, and also to low budget indie film making in general. If you’re not in the UK, it’s currently streaming on SHUDDER and is available from all the usual places on DVD, Blu-ray and as a download.

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

When I started work on the new AUTUMN trilogy, and particularly throughout the writing of the recently released AUTUMN: DAWN, I gorged on zombie movies. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, but given the fact I’ve been writing about the undead for a long time, I think I probably watch these films through a slightly different filter than most folks.

If you’ve read my comments on ARMY OF THE DEAD from last weekend, you’ll no doubt have picked up on the fact that I hated pretty much every second of it. In hindsight that may have been, in part, because the zombie movie I’d watched prior to ARMY had a very similar set up and premise, but was infinitely more enjoyable. That film was TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA. Crappy title – passable film.

I wrote about TRAIN TO BUSAN here in 2017, commenting that it was a ‘top quality action flick that just happened to feature zombies’. This second movie is not a sequel as such, but another standalone story set in the same world as TRAIN TO BUSAN, albeit four years later. Here’s the synopsis and trailer.

It’s four years since the outbreak of a zombie virus in South Korea. The infection has spread throughout the country and it has been sealed off from the rest of the world. On the promise of a better life, four Korean refugees in Hong Kong agree to sail through the blockade to the port of Incheon to recover $20 million US dollars sitting in the back of a truck.

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