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.

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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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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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.

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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One Night Stand

Right, I’ve just finished another draft of AUTUMN: DAWN, so it’s time to catch up with a few posts. I thought I’d start with a film recommendation that I discovered over Christmas. Four years ago, back in the days when we were able to travel, my family and I saw in the new year in Australia. Here’s a pic of us outside Sydney Opera House welcoming in 2017.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2020, and I was searching for something to watch on Amazon Prime when I stumbled across an apocalyptic movie set in the Opera House on New Year’s Eve. I had to check it out, and I’m glad I did. ONE NIGHT STAND is by no means a great film, but the 1980’s Cold War setting, along with a wonderfully bleak ending, certainly make it worth a watch.

In Australia, four teenagers in a Sydney theatre are astounded to hear the news that a nuclear war has broken out in Eastern Europe. They try to figure out the best way they can survive the coming conflagration.

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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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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.

The Wave (Bølgen)

I do love a good disaster movie. Trouble is, they don’t make them like they used to. These days they tend to be bombastic and CGI-heavy and usually a). don’t make a lot of sense, and b). star ex-wrestlers.

My wife and I went on holiday to Norway last month, and while we were away I was reminded of a fairly recent disaster movie that I actually enjoyed. I thought it would be a good recommendation for this site. And why was I reminded of this particular film? Because our cruise ship docked in Geiranger, the beautiful and idyllic little village which is wiped out by THE WAVE (Bølgen). Here’s a photo of Lisa soaking up the sun and looking down on the village, just after telling me she hadn’t enjoyed the bus ride up the mountain, so we were going to have to walk back down… 

Geiranger in Norway

Although anticipated, no one is really ready when the mountain pass above the scenic, narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger collapses and creates an 85-meter high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.

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