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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Army of the Dead

I feel kind of obliged to say something about ARMY OF THE DEAD which arrived on Netflix this week. I can definitely say something, but it won’t be positive. I despised pretty much every second of it.

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.

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’71

I recorded an episode of a podcast this week with my pal MARK GODDARD of Snakebite Horror and Bloody Good Reads. This time we were talking about movies, and CHILDREN OF MEN came up. I’ve written about CHILDREN OF MEN on this site before. I think it’s a spectacular film for a number of reasons, not least because of the way it’s filmed. Fluid camera work, subtle editing, and seamlessly integrated visual effects combine to bring an involving, almost documentary-like feel to scenes. I had that same feeling recently when I discovered another movie, ’71.

A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a terrifying riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape.

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Recommended reading – WE

I pride myself on having a pretty good knowledge of dystopian film and fiction. Sometimes, though, you discover a gap in your knowledge that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, ‘how did I not know about this?’ I made such a discovery earlier this year when I found out about WE, a Russian novel from the 1920s, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I’d been intending to post about it, but was prompted to do so now when I heard that a new Russian film version is due to be released shortly. You can see the trailer at the end of this.

The reason I was so surprised not to have come across WE before, is because the book was clearly so influential. George Orwell accused Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD of taking cues from WE (though Huxley denied this). Later, prior to writing 1984, Orwell stated that he intended to use WE as his ‘model’ for his next novel. Whatever each writer’s influences were, there’s no doubt that, collectively, these novels form the foundation of the modern dystopian genre.

In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful “Benefactor,” the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity—until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: He has an individual soul. Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is the archetype of the modern dystopia and the forerunner of works such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Suppressed for many years in Russia, it details the fate that might befall us all if we surrender to some collective dream of technology, and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom.

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V for Vendetta

Now that I’m sitting back behind this desk full-time again, I hope to catch up on the backlog of stuff I’ve built up to share. I have a whole heap of book and film recommendations that I want to add to the already substantial page of book and film recommendations that you can find here.

This week, a post that’s been sitting on my desktop unfinished for 6 months and 1 week. How can I be so precise about the date? Because I watched the 4k restoration of the movie on the day UK cinemas closed back in November last year – masked up for literally the final showing before the multiplexes shut their doors. Roll on next week when, hopefully, they’ll be opening up again.

If you’ve read any of my recent posts about AUTUMN: DAWN (and if you read the bonus material that’ll accompany the limited-edition hardcover), then you’ll know that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how our appreciation of things we’ve watched and read can change according to our current circumstances. I seem to be making a lot of STAR WARS comparisons at the moment, and this reminds me of my reaction to THE PHANTOM MENACE. Back on opening night in 1999, I was blown away. A new STAR WARS movie! It didn’t seem real, and I loved every second of it. But as time went by and I watched the film a few more times, I started to think that, actually, it wasn’t that good. Fast-forward to 2015 when I did a complete re-watch of the films in anticipation of THE FORCE AWAKENS, and I absolutely HATED the prequels. And now here we are, post-Disney, and yet again they’re being reappraised.

I guess my point is this: your engagement with a film or book is inevitably shaped by your life at that moment in time. Case in point, V FOR VENDETTA. I enjoyed the film a lot when I first saw it in 2005. Fifteen years later, it blew me away.

In a future British tyranny, a shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of “V”, plots to overthrow it with the help of a young woman.

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DOG SOLDIERS

Just prior to the second national lockdown starting here, and in the absence of many new releases, our local cinema showed a series of classic horror movies. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned how close we live to a cinema before. It’s literally a five-minute walk from my front door, and in the eight or so years we’ve lived in this spot, it’s been a source of gainful part-time employment for three of our daughters. I love the place and have been keen to support it whenever its doors have been open during the nightmare which has been 2020. I managed to catch a couple of films, the first of which was NEIL MARSHALL’S werewolf classic, DOG SOLDIERS.

Here’s a quick synopsis from IMDB: A British Squad is sent on a training mission in the Highlands of Scotland against Special Operations squad. Ignoring the childish “campfire” stories heard about the area, they continue with their mission and come across the bloody remains of the Special Ops Squad, and a fierce howling is pitching the night sky… With two mortally wounded men, they make an escape, running into a zoologist by the name of Megan – who knows exactly what hunts them. What began as what they thought was a training mission turns into a battle for their lives against the most unlikely enemies they would have expected – werewolves.

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