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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#ALIVE

If you’re in need of a quick zombie movie fix this Sunday afternoon (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), can I recommend #ALIVE, a South Korean movie which is available now on Netflix. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but I liked it quite a lot.

As a grisly virus rampages a city, a lone man stays locked inside his apartment, digitally cut off from seeking help and desperate to find a way out.

Here’s a very long trailer (actually the first five minutes of the film):

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Return of the Living Dead

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I’ve had a little trouble working recently. We lost our family cat, Tom, early on in lockdown, and our new kitten arrived this week. Lovely as he is, when everyone else went out and I was left cat-sitting, young Milo prevented me from doing anything constructive other than catching up with the latest issue of SCREAM MAGAZINE (which happens to contain a fantastic 5-star review of THE BLEED: RUPTURE – thanks Scream team).

One of the things I love most about SCREAM is the fact it spends as much time looking back as it does forward: as well as up-to-date news and reviews, the mag always also features articles on classic (and sometimes no so classic) horror movies. This issue has an excellent retrospective article on THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. So, stuck with the new cat, and with little prospect of getting any writing done, I decided a re-watch of RETURN was in order. And as I realised I’d never properly written about it for this site, I decided to put that right too.

When foreman Frank (James Karen) shows new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) a secret military experiment in a supply warehouse, the two klutzes accidentally release a gas that reanimates corpses into flesh-eating zombies. As the epidemic spreads throughout Louisville, and the creatures satisfy their hunger in gory and outlandish ways, Frank and Freddy fight to survive with the help of their boss (Clu Gulager) and a mysterious mortician (Don Calfa).

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War of the Worlds

Whenever I’ve been asked to list the books that have most influenced me as a writer, WAR OF THE WORLDS by HG WELLS is up there. I’ve always been fascinated by the impact Wells’s tale must have had on readers in the late nineteenth century, who’d never before come across the idea of Earth being invaded by creatures from another planet. It’s rightly regarded as a classic of the genre, but it’s a strange book because, in terms of action, it’s quite top-heavy. What I mean by that is, the most visceral and memorable scenes are to do with the initial arrival of the aliens and their first attacks. I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know how the original novel ends: the invaders are undone by bacteria. The story starts with a bang but ends with a cough.

This unusual structure has presented problems for many filmmakers over the years, because in retelling the story, it’s almost as if you’re working backwards from the climax. Many adaptations have been unsatisfying (the less said about the recent BBC adaptation, the better… what were they thinking?).

STEVEN SPIELBERG‘s version of WAR OF THE WORLDS was released in 2005. A new 4k Blu ray edition has just hit the shelves, and I thought now would be a good time to reappraise the movie. Having just watched it again for the first time in a decade or so, I think this is just about the best film adaptation of the novel there is (having grown up with JEFF WAYNE’s musical adaptation though – which terrified me and a whole generation of kids in the late seventies with its prog rock soundtrack and iconic artwork – I have to say that’s still my favourite adaptation of all; it shouldn’t work, but it does!).

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Quatermass and the Pit

Over the course of the last couple of months in lockdown, I’ve been working my way through a box set of 21 Hammer films. Some are great, some are not. One of them – QUATERMASS AND THE PIT – just happens to be one of my favourite films of all time and, when I realised I’d not recommended it here, I thought I’d better correct that. It also gives me an opportunity to plug issue 60 of SCREAM MAGAZINE, which just happens to feature an excellent article about the various adaptations of Nigel Kneale’s tale.

Professor Bernard Quatermass is one of my fictional heroes. He’s a man in search of truth and explanation; someone who refuses to be bullied by the military or the media or politicians into making assumptions or rash decisions. It’s interesting – watching the TV news from around the world right now, you can see more than a few Quatermass-like characters biting their lips in the background while our so-called world leaders talk nonsense and bullshit their way around the truth about the pandemic and its effects.

There are four Quatermass stories, and all of them are worthy of your attention. The first, the Quatermass Experiment, was a ground-breaking serial first broadcast live by the BBC in 1955 which told the story of the first manned space flight. On the ship’s return, two of the three-man crew are missing. The sole survivor begins acting strangely and it soon becomes clear that he has been taken over by an alien presence. I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for viewers back in the day, prior to the beginning of the space race, as they watched huddled together around their black and white TV sets. But it’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, the professor’s third outing, which is the most well-known of Kneale’s stories. To my mind, the 1967 Hammer adaptation is a classic.

During excavations in London a large unidentified object is unearthed. It defies definition although the area has always been associated with diabolical evil. Within its walls Professor Quatermass discovers the remains of intelligent alien creatures that attempted to conquer the Earth in prehistoric times and, through their experiments on early man, altered human evolution to its present state. Though dormant for many centuries, the power supply from the excavations is being drained by the ship until its terrifying force can be unleashed and the creatures can reinstate their violent dominance over man.

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La Cabina (The Phone Box)

I hope you and your loved ones are well wherever you are. I’m in lockdown at home with the family and am trying to write my way through the pandemic. My next project is to start the first book in the new AUTUMN trilogy, but inspiration for that is proving elusive given what’s going on right now.

We all need a distraction in times like this, so I have one for you. It’s been a while since I recommended a movie here, and I’m going to put that right today. It’s a classic short film which, at the moment, is available in its entirety on YouTube, so this post is really just to point you in the right direction.

A little bit of background to begin with. My office window looks out onto our back garden, and one feature in particular. My wife Lisa has – how can I put this? – an eclectic taste in outdoor ornaments, and her prize possession is a genuine K6 telephone box. It was lovingly restored and now takes pride of place in the garden. I’ve joked with a few folks about using it as an isolation pod during lockdown, and the thought of being trapped in the phone box reminded me of the 1972 Spanish movie, LA CABINA (THE PHONE BOX).

If you’re as old as me and remember the horror double bills which used to be shown on Saturday nights on the BBC in the 1980s, you might remember seeing this one. It starts as a gentle, almost comedic short about a man trapped in a box, but over the course of its 30-odd minute duration, the tone shifts completely.

LA CABINA is highly recommended, even in these worrying times when we’re all feeling as isolated as the man in the box. Take care, stay safe, and enjoy the film.