Notes from FantasyCon2014

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

FantasyCon 2014, run by the British Fantasy Society, was held at the Royal York Hotel on Friday 5th – Sunday 7th September 2014.

This was my first time at Fantasycon, the annual gathering of the British Fantasy Society. So I didn’t know what to expect. I did know, however, that there were quite a few eminent guests, including Charlaine Harris, author of the phenomenally successful Sookie Stackhouse series, better known as TV vampire show “True Blood”. Other luminaries included horror author Ramsey Campbell and “Chocolat” writer Joanna Harris, as well as “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse to name but a few.

The convention was held at the Royal York Hotel, adjacent to the train station and therefore a very convenient location. The hotel itself was a grand old affair. Sadly, the cost of staying there was prohibitively expensive. In fact, as I had only decided to go at the last minute, getting a hotel in York proved a difficult task, so I had to commute from Manchester on the two days I attended. However, this wasn’t too bad, thanks to a convenient rail link.

Prior to booking, the lack of information on the website was perplexing and gave the convention the feel of a “members only” club. However, this wasn’t the reality when I got there. Although many people came in groups, overall I found people to be very friendly and accommodating. But a better website, and even a forum, would have helped a lot. As it was, I threw caution to the wind and bought my ticket. But I can’t help but think how many other people were put off by the impersonal nature of the web page.

The first day was an introduction to the convention. Once I had acquired a map of the rather confusing (and sprawling) hotel layout, I grabbed myself some great free books for attendees (always a bonus!). There were also some fantastic discounts available in the dealer room from some sellers, while others remained reassuringly expensive.

I was very grateful for the introductory session which got me talking to several other attendees. The rest of the day passed in a blur. The crowd was an eclectic one, with attendees from as far as the USA. It was great to see people who were as enthusiastic about sci-fi, fantasy and horror as myself, if not more so. The staff too were friendly, and the convention rather relaxed. A little too relaxed, unfortunately. I missed several author signings despite being in the same bar! A bit of an announcement would have been nice.

Throughout the Con, there were book launches, author readings, even short film showings. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to the bitter end to witness the delights of Karaoke on Friday, which apparently was a pity.

On Saturday, I got there early and bleary-eyed to attend a great panel discussion on whether there was a place for hope in horror. The panel consisted of Ramsey Campbell, Roz Kaveney, Guy Adams, Sara Jayne Townsend and Adam Neville. After a spirited debate, the panel ended with Roz Kaveney’s revelation that he once worked in the same restaurant as serial killer Dennis Nielsen! A very enlightening discussion that showed the versatility of the horror genre.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Later, Charlaine Harris gave us the lowdown on what it feel like to become an overnight sensation after thirty years of writing mystery novels, as well as the agony and ecstasy of selling your work to cable TV. Ms Harris was very entertaining, and was a regular fixture in the lobby, as were several other authors, giving the con an even more relaxed feel.

Later, I attended a panel on horror in TV. This featured “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse, screenwriter author and editor Paul Kane, and Stephen Volk, writer of notorious BBC 1992 fake documentary “Ghostwatch”. Bizarrely, everyone on the panel agreed that CGI was not a good alternative for strong stories. Maybe there is hope for TV.

There were many other panels to attend, including an enthusiastic demonstration in swordfighting. Inevitably, I found that a lot of the most interesting panels conflicted. Yet there did seem to be a lull between 2-5pm.  But perhaps someone else with different interests would have told you the opposite.

Saturday ended with a mass signing. However, I sacrificed this in favour of hanging out in the bar. This is because for me the most rewarding aspect of FantasyCon was meeting other fans. As a writer, you tend to spend too much time in isolation. This means you lose touch with the people who matter most – the readers. I was amazed at their passion, their interest and their knowledge.  It really made me want to up my game.

On Saturday night, I headed home, my hunger for the speculative satiated for the moment, clutching my bagfuls of cheap books and signed copies. One of my aims had been to find new authors to broaden my reading, and I had certainly been given enough food for thought. I came away with a much greater knowledge of the blossoming sc-fi, horror and fantasy market, and with several new authors to sink my teeth into (figuratively).

A little light reading.

A little light reading.

Sunday proved a bridge too far for me. As there were only panels in the morning, I decided not to attend and save myself a hefty train fare. The afternoon was taken up with the British Fantasy Awards. But again, there was a curious lack of publicity about these on the net. The FantasyCon Twitter feed was also strangely silent throughout the weekend. The BFS produce some great publications, so it is odd that it doesn’t toot its own horn more.  Maybe the BFS could even televise the event on a Youtube channel!

In summary, this was a very worthwhile Con. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to meet likeminded people and who enjoy lively debates about everything in the world of speculative fiction and movies. I hope to go again next year and have an even better experience. However, a little more information would have been nice from the organisers for those who have not boldly gone to the Convention before. More Twitter updates would be a definite plus as well. But if you are a fan or creator of sci-fi/fantasy and horror in the UK, this is one convention you cannot afford to miss.

My  advice  is to book early and stay late, something I hope to do next time around!

 

Next year’s FantasyCon 2015 is to be held in Nottingham, UK.

 

 

 

 

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“MEET MY MAIN CHARACTER” Blog Tour!

Today, I have been kindly nominated by science-fiction novelist writer Craig Pay to join the “Meet My Main Characters” blog tour and tell you a little about the protagonist of my forthcoming sci-fi horror vampire novel, PROJECT NINE!

FrontCover2

What is the name of your main character?

The main character is Luke. Shall we call him a hero? That would be a problem, seeing as he commits multiple murder throughout the novel and digests the blood of his victims. Admittedly he does so to stay alive, but I’m jumping ahead of myself…

When and where is the story set?

The present day. Mainly around Iowa and Kansas. There are also some scenes set during various historical periods throughout the last century, seen in flashback.

What should we know about Luke?

Actually, we know very little about Luke before the main story begins. We first meet him when he is burying his mother. We next see him when he’s getting very drunk. Then the action starts…

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

He falls in love, of course. What else? Unfortunately for Luke, the girl he falls in love with (Lynne) happens to have escaped from a secret government research facility that has created real vampires through gene therapy. Before he knows what’s happening, Lynne has infected him with the genetic virus that causes vampirism. But theirs is no romantic world of opera capes and Romanian castles. Luke’s new existence is a grubby one, where he must commit brutal murder every night and drink the blood of his victims in order to survive. Left with no other option, Luke joins Lynne and her three friends, fellow escapees from Project Nine. However, an obsessive Iowa detective learns the truth, and sets about pursuing them across three states. And the detective is not alone, because the government department responsible for infecting Lynne and her friends are determined to bury their mistakes, permanently.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Luke wants to spend eternity with the woman he loves. But he also wants to survive at any cost. And that desire is going to lead him down some very dark alleyways indeed…

When can we expect the book to be published?

“Project Nine” is going to be published very, very soon. “Like” my Facebook page to receive regular updates:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eric-Steele-Author-and-Screenwriter/522318187899385?ref=hl

You can also follow me on Twitter under: @EISteele for my “a horror movie a day” tweets and other goodies.

The next nominated writer in this blog tour is:

Kevin A Ransom created the movie film criticism site MovieCrypt.com in the late 1990s. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and channels the site’s host, Grim D. Reaper. Kevin has two book series: The Spooky Chronicles; and The Matriarch. He is also an active member of The Horror Society. His website is: http://thinkingskull.com/

In the meantime, pleasant dreams…

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 Years, Part 3! The Seventies! 1976-1979!

Hi, there, horror fans! Last time we looked at how Hollywood was unafraid to make more experimental horror features in the early 1970s. Although Spielberg’s “JAWS” would lead to studios forever chasing the summer blockbuster, the late Seventies were still an exciting time for horror movies. Foreign filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Dario Argento were developing cult followings. Meanwhile, low budget filmmaking was about to come into its own, as was a certain young horror writer from Maine, New England…

Let’s start our list of late seventies horror with…

The Omen 1976

No-one can doubt the influence of Richard Donner’s by-the-numbers horror movie. With more than just a passing nod to artsy horror masterpiece “The Exorcist”, this is a rip-roaring Hollywood-style horror flick. It boasts some bravura set-pieces, such as the decapitated photographer. With stalwart acting from heavyweights Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billy Whitelaw, and David Warner, the picture is very believable. But there’s no happy ending here as the Antichrist is born to a powerful American politician. This movie created a profitable and mostly well-made series of sequels that gave the world Sam Neil. It also became the bane of children named Damien everywhere.

Martin... a new kind of vampire.

Martin… a new kind of vampire.

Martin 1976

George A Romero, back from “Night of the Living Dead”, triumphed again with this underappreciated cinematic gem. It’s a genuinely original take on vampires. Is homicidal young loner Martin a vampire or not? Is he merely disturbed, or is there some truth in his bizarre flashbacks to another time? Terrific, glory, explicit, sensual, thought-provoking and beautifully filmed, this movie features an amazing performance by the underused John Amplas. Overlooked at its time, this has become a true cult classic.

Carrie 1976

The arrival of a young writer called Stephen King created a reign of terror that is still going today. Hollywood struck gold with King’s curiously brief tale of an alienated young girl with awesome telekinetic powers. Phenomenal directing by Brian De Palma (of “Sisters” fame) catapulted King into the popular consciousness. At one level this is a time-tested tale of an ugly duckling who gets her revenge. But DePalma used split screen and slow motion camera work to viscera effect for the final massacre that is actually too much to fit on one screen! What is mentioned less often is the great cast of actors including Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. This is one horror blockbuster that stands the test of time.

Suspiria 1977

Italian Filmmaker Dario Argento’s most well-known film is about a coven of witches posing as a ballet school in Italy. Some memorable set-pieces elevate this beyond its video-nasty style violence. Argento often treads a fine line between good and poor taste. Here, he manages to keep it on the straight and narrow. It also boasts a great score by the world’s foremost horror band… Goblin!

Dawn of the Dead 1978

Which brings us to George A Romero’s sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”. Where “Night” finished, “Dawn” goes a step further. Civilization is falling into chaos at the hands of the zombie invasion. We begin with some great scenes of things literally going to hell. Four survivors hitch a ride on a helicopter and hole up at an abandoned shopping mall. They soon learn that having everything does not make you happy. A social satire as well as a very frightening movie, the impact of “Dawn” may be diluted now due to dated make-up effects and the current trend for fast-running zombies. But the Romero’s innumerable hordes of shambling ghouls still make for claustrophobic viewing. This movie gave us memorable images like the Hari Krishna zombie, elevators full of undead shoppers, and an eerie kids’ TV theme tune. It also features some great acting from a cast who sadly never went on to stardom. “Dawn” has influenced virtually every horror movie since, including current TV sensation “The Walking Dead” and 2004’s delightful “zombie-rom-com” “Shaun of the Dead”. And come on, don’t you wish you were in that world, just a little bit?

The slasher genre... the most profitable genre in movies!

The slasher genre… the most profitable genre in movies!

Halloween 1978

John Carpenter’s film debut is actually not his film debut. That came with sci-fi black comedy “Dark Star” (1974). But he will forever be associated with this low-budget shocker about a psychopath that comes back to a leafy suburb to kill again on the titular eve. The movie made Jamie Lee Curtis a scream queen and cemented the “slasher movie” as a staple of cinema. The slasher movie’s key components of low cost, titillation, and violence was a wining combination, one that survives to this day. Arguably, this is the one sub-genre that has blackened the reputation of horror films, due to the many terrible or poor taste rip-offs branded “video nasties” in the 80s, such as the inept “Driller Killer”. But what makes “Halloween” a lot more intelligent than many of its successors is John Carpenter’s expert direction. He makes every shadow in your living room menacing, every closet or couch the potential hiding place of a madman. So that by the end of the movie your own house is no longer a safe place to hide. For a long time the most successful independent film ever made, “Halloween” is a true horror classic.

The Amityville Horror 1979

Hollywood must have been confused by the success of “Halloween”, if this return to the tried-and-tested haunted house formula is anything to go by. To be fair, it’s a very effective movie. The haunted house is given a twist by adding a bit of demonic possession, as well as copying the “true story” myth from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to give it added credence. But the worrying priest, bleeding walls etc are all things we’ve seen before. A well-made film that spawned innumerable sequels of decreasing quality and suffered the obligatory 21st century “reboot”. But that’s really the only reason it’s here.

It's enough to put you off eggs for life.

It’s enough to put you off eggs for life.

Alien 1979

Which brings us to the end of the 1970s. If Hollywood was running out of fresh ideas, it found one of its most enduring franchises in this unofficial adaptation of the B-movie shocker  “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” (1958). At the time, science-fiction mania was sweeping the world, thanks to the pop culture phenomenon of “Star Wars” (1977) and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). The time was ripe for a sci-fi/horrror hybrid. Cue Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Schussett’s script of a rather unpleasant alien that stows away on a space ship. A very simple movie, enhanced by amazing visuals and strong actors, this is essentially hide-and-seek on a space ship. The groundbreaking chestburster scene also gave audiences a scare they would never forget. Responsible for a slew of sequels, some better than others, the end of the Seventies showed that horror was still prepared to boldly go where no ghoul had gone before!

Next time… The Eighties arrives!

In which aliens get even nastier, vampires get even cooler, werewolves get even hairier, and a some teenagers have their sleep disturbed on Elm Street. Sweet dreams!

 

 

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 Years, Part 2! The Seventies! 1970-1975!

Last time we saw how horror movies changed in the 1960s, from classic Gothic horror like the Hammer films and Roger Corman’s Edger Allen Poe adaptations to pessimistic modern horror stories like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Night of the Living Dead”. This time we turn out attention to the 1970s – possibly the most exciting time for horror since the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

During this decade, Hollywood proved it was willing to take risks with stories, to go places they had never gone before. Add to this a new tide of horror authors who wanted to update the Gothic horror staples of vampires and werewolves, including a certain Stephen King, and you have a decade of some of the greatest horror movies ever made. In fact, there are so many great horror movies of the Seventies that I’ve had to split this post up! So here are what I think are the most influential horror movies from 1970 to 1975!

blood

A Bay of Blood (1971)

One feature of early 1970s cinema is the debt it owes to cinema verite. Even Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” owes a debt in places to this documentary-style of film-making. The trend suited low-budget movie-makers and would lead to the infamous slasher movie. The start of that craze can be found here. Part Italian giallo, part murder mystery, “Bay of Blood” was made by Mario Bava, a film-maker who deserves far more recognition than he has enjoyed. A number of potential heirs and heiresses to a fortune are invited to the titular Bay. They then try to kill each other off in various gory and brutal ways. Boasts some bravura set–pieces. The octopus is a great surprise also!

Deliverance 1972

You’ll never play the banjo again. Disturbing hi-jinks in America’s backwoods when some city slickers cross paths with the twisted locals. John Boorman’s gripping horror-thriller features a young Burt Reynolds. Copied many times, sometimes humorously, sometimes not.

Exorcist 1973

This is a movie which probably needs no introduction from me. A supernatural chiller directed by William Friedkin and based on the best-seller by William Peter Blatty, itself based on a supposedly real event. It broke all records when released and became notorious not just for fainting audiences, but for the treatment its stars were subjected to. Today, it’s been copied so many times that it may have lost its power to shock. It has directly influenced every exorcism movie since, as well as forming the basis for the dubious Leslie Nielsen comedy “Repossessed”. Still, as a meditation on the power and seductiveness of evil, it’s compelling.

Sisters 1973

Brian DePalma’s first movie. So demented it’s terrific. Margot Kidder stars as a pair of French-Canadian Siamese twins that were separated with horrific consequences. This is a movie that seeks to turn horror tropes and clichés on its head. Its twists keep going right to the end. It is also part of the illustrious mad-doctor movie that became popular with “Eyes Without A Face” and keeps on going today with movies like “Hostel” and the distasteful “Human Centipede” films.

The Wicker Man 1973

The world’s first horror musical! Fantastic British chiller starring Edward Woodward as a religious police officer who goes to investigate a disappearance on a remote Scottish island where paganism is rife. Although it was remade poorly, this really is a one-of-a-kind movie. Music by folk-rock band Pentangle serves as an atmospheric soundtrack  to what is probably the bleakest ending ever.

Black Christmas 1974

This expertly-made psycho-thriller started the old gag that the killer is making phone calls from inside the victim’s house.A killer is stalking a sorority sisterhood. Margot Kidder again resurfaces, this time as the victim.  A genuinely disturbing movie in some places and a forerunner of the teen slasher movie that was to come.

Texas chainsaw Massacre 1974

Another 70s shocker that has lost most of its power due to continually being copied. It’s hard to imagine the modern psycho-killer movie without TCM. This brutal film began the “endurance horror” craze and took the idea of murderous hillbillies one step further. You actually see very little gore in this movie. But audiences were convinced they saw more, such was the power of suggestion. Today, its ferocity is hard to understand, but on release this was one of the movies that changed the horror landscape and paved the way for the “video nasties” of the 1980s.

Deep Red 1975

Dario Argento’s best movie. This is a true giallo film — a type of Italian thriller that closely identifies with the killer and features elaborate set-pieces. David Hemmings is the American out of his depth who witnesses a murder in Rome. Or did he? A superb mystery with some excellent death scenes. Probably the finest giallo movie ever made.

Shivers 1975

This unsettling sex horror (is that even a genre?) signalled the arrival of Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg. The residents of a luxury apartment building are attacked by repulsive turd-shaped parasites that drive the into a sexual frenzy. This is a movie that is bound to deeply disturb anyone remotely normal. Which of course, is great. The body-horror genre has its roots in the Atomic bomb era of the 1950s and the plethora of paranoid B-movies where the main character was mutated by radiation.  Cronenberg made that fantasy disturbing reality, which would lead to many other movies in that genre, such as Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” and Cronenberg’s own “The Fly” in the 1980s, as well as direct homages such as 2006’s “Slither”.

You'll never get into the bathtub again... Cronenberg's "Shivers"!

You’ll never get into the bathtub again… Cronenberg’s “Shivers”!

Jaws 1975

The daddy of summer blockbusters. “Jaws” rewrote the Hollywood paradigm for making movies and still rules the waves. Okay, so the shark looks a bit rubber now. But thanks to a mechanical failure, Spielberg has given us one of the best (and most quotable) thrillers ever made. The movie’s success would lead to other popcorn movies like 1977’s “Star Wars”. As we know, these movies would influence the box-office for decades to come. Not for much longer would studios take a gamble on artistic and risky fare. Eventually, this would lead to the cut-and-paste plots of most big-budget movies today. In a way, “Jaws” sounded the death-knell of the kind of low-budget film-making that created so many different kinds of horror movie in the 1970s.

Next…

1975 – 1979!

Telepathic teenagers go on a rampage, zombies go for a morning stroll in a supermarket, a particularly unpleasant alien hitches a ride on a passing spacecraft, and a certain Michael Myers decides its time he went home…

 

 

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 1! The Sixties!

If you’ve ever wondered what the most influential horror films of the past 50 years are, ponder no more!

As we are in 2014 right now, I thought I would go back 50 years, no earlier, to bring you what I think is the definitive list of the best horror movies ever made. Now, I don’t claim to have got it right (if there is even such a thing), so let me qualify that. Here are the movies I think have influenced filmmakers more than any other? Don;t agree? Let me know! I’m always looking to expand the list!

And you find this list interesting or helpful, let me know that too! It’s always nice to think you are more than one hand clapping.

PART 1

THE SIXTIES… GOTHIC GORE TO GUT-MUNCHING GHOULS! 

 

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

 

As this list promises to be a big one, let’s tackle it decade by decade. Starting with the decade that saw the most change of all, the Supernatural Sixties! We see the swing from Gothic horror to modern survival horror taking place here. But along the way are some great horror movies that are not to be missed!

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

We begin the journey of horror over the past 50 years with a classic Gothic horror tale. It seems appropriate to note just how much storytelling in horror movies was to change over the decade, going from an old-fashioned ghost story to something far more sophisticated and modern, as the audience’s demand to be shocked grew. The Late Fifties were notable for the emergence of British horror studio Hammer as an international force. Their ability to churn out cheap productions of classic horror stories, with added blood and nudity, was a crowd pleaser. Most of the time they used only an old British stately home and some horses. But the Americans soon started making adaptations of their own master of the macabre. And, of course, these were bigger if not better. Roger Corman’s Edge Allen Poe adaptation is one of the best, full of sex, death and menace with a truly great ending that rises above the rather exploitational subject-matter of a wicked price having his way with just about everyone he gets his hands on.

Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte 1964

A hysterical Southern Gothic tale that boasts some terrific actors (Better Davis, Jospeh Cotton), but which owes much to Tennessee Williams. Almost not a horror movie at all but a sensationalistic thriller. But the atmosphere of dread and tension that hangs over Davis as the tormented and possibly insane Southern belle pushes this into the realm of horror.

Kwaidan 1964

The most expensive film ever made by Japan. This portmanteau film retells several medieval Japanese ghost stories. Among them, “Snow Woman” is the best. Sometimes criticized for being too slow. But each shot is like watching a beautiful Japanese painting. Japanese horror has always been obsessed by the past. At this point, they were still drawing on tales of peasant life for inspiration.

Onibaba 1964

Which brings us to Onibaba (translation: The Hole). This is a must-see World Cinema classic and that rare thing: a horror film that is appreciated by movie critics. Dripping with atmosphere. Two women lure wandering samurai to their deaths using a deep hole in a cornfield. The ending is full of great grotesque irony.

Repulsion 1965

Surreal, bizarre, claustrophobic thriller from Roman Polanski that veers into horror by the sheer intensity of its imagery. Beautiful, young Catherine Deneuve is left alone too much in her apartment, until she starts to go crazy. An exercise in understated menace.

Dracula Prince of Darkness 1965

Sequel to the original Hammer classic. This one sees Christopher Lee not even speaking as the evil Count. It has all the hallmarks of classic Hammer horror: buxom vampire brides, blood so crimson it almost glows, hysterical music. An example of how Gothic horror allowed audiences in the Sixties to experience images that would have been unthinkable in the ‘Fifties.

Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Roman Polanski’s comedy horror film is so beautifully shot you could be mistaken for thinking it’s the greater Hammer film ever made. In fact, it’s a quite funny slapstick affair concerning two inept vampire hunters. It also has its genuinely creepy moments.

Kuroneko 1968

Another “feudal” Japanese horror movie. Modern horror hit “The Grudge” owes a debt to this retelling of a classic ghost story involving two women who are killed by pesky bandits and return as cat demons. Some great cinematography makes this a classic of Oriental cinema.

The Devil Rides Out 1968

Another Hammer classic, this time featuring Christopher Lee as the good guy. Devil-worshipping in the English countryside this time, based on the old-schol adventure yarn by Dennis Wheatley. Features a terrific “devil”, although the story is a bit staid compared to a lot of other Hammer productions.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Capitalizing on the Satanism craze of the Swinging Sixties, Ira Levin’s updating of the devil worshipping story to modern-day Manhattan was a huge hit that prefigured the coming of Stephen King a decade or so later. For the first time, the supernatural is found not in an old castle in Transylvania, but in an upscale apartment building. Features the great John Cassavetes and a startling ending that has may have become the paranoid nightmare of pregnant women everywhere. It’s no coincidence that this very realistic supernatural horror came out at the same tie as our next movie…

Night of the Living Dead 1968

And so the Sixties ends with the movie that redefined the horror genre. Many articles have been written on how this is a socio-political tale. The filmmakers have since denied this. According to director George A Romero, the lead actor was originally intended to be a white guy, but at the last minute, he wasn’t available, so they substituted a black actor instead.  What a difference! This movie turns many horror clichés on their head. The hero is not the white, lantern-jawed, all-American hero, but a black man (who is probably the only sane guy in the picture). There is no real explanation for the zombies; the dead simply rise from their graves. And they don’t carry the heroine off into the sunset. They eat you. In fact, they eat your guts. Science, often the salvation of the A-Bomb-inspired B-movies of the Fifties, can’t save us either. In fact, nothing can save us. The divided society falls, just as the folks who try to protect themselves in an isolated farmhouse are killed one by one. Romero has since said that Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” (filmed as both The Omega Man and I Am Legend) inspired the movie. But the real inspiration is the end of the Sixties themselves. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the end of the Hippie dream of free love and peace, had all conspired to create an atmosphere of cynicism. The world is not what it was promised to be. Society is fractured. Tension are rife. The survivors cannot agree on anything.  In the end, only ignorance survives – symbolized by the gun-happy rednecks who shoot both the living and the dead at the end of the picture. Still powerfully unsettling today, right down to the last frame, Night of the Living Dead would break new taboos, and pave the way for the more extreme horror of the 70s, and even the “video nasty” era of the 80s…

 

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

 

Next time…

THE SEVENTIES… SLASHERS, SATANISTS, AND A VERY BIG SHARK!

 

 

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How to Write Loglines – an actually useful guide

Want to know how to write effective loglines for movies and books? Read on!

INTRODUCTION

There has been so much written on the subject of writing loglines that I thought it was about time I added my tupppence (or two cents, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) to the debate.

Let’s start with the basics:

1. WHAT IS A “LOGLINE”?

A logline can apply to both novels and screenplays for movies. They are generally short, punchy descriptions of the plot (i.e. the thing your story is about). Editors, agents, producers and assorted other people often ask for a logline when they are deciding whether to buy or represent your work.

Interestingly, neither Robert McKee in his lauded book “Story” nor William Goldman in his seminal essay “Adventures in the Screen Trade” mention what a logline is. Yet I would argue that is one of the most essential tools the screenwriter or novelist has at his or her disposal. In fact, it is an essential skill to master.

One thing a logline is not is that thing you see on movie posters. This is in fact a “tagline”. Tagllines are very short (usually one sentence, or sometimes less!) statements used to entice someone into watching a movie.

An example of a tagline:

“In space, no-one can hear you scream” (Alien)

While this is a great tagline, note that it tells us nothing about what is going on (other than it’s in space, and you’re likely to scream).

A logline is more sophisticated and tells us more about the story.

For example:

“A psychopath escapes from an asylum and slashes his way through a quiet suburban neighbourhood until he is defeated by a bookish young woman” (Halloween).

Okay, so it’s not poetry. But you get the picture.

 

 

2. WHY THE HELL DO I NEED A LOGLINE ANYWAY?

But Eric, you say, why should I distil my 100,000 word novel or my 120 pages screenplay, work of genius that it is, into a single sentence?

The answer: a logline is a selling tool.

Loglines allow you to “pitch” (i.e. tell) someone about your story in a very short space of time. And when you’re dealing with producers, agents and executives who can only spare you less than a minute, this becomes important.

Of course, if you’re happy just writing and never selling anything, loglines probably won’t apply to you. Good luck on your chosen career path. Some of us have to eat.

A good logline can make someone sit up in their seat and pay attention. It can entertain, move and arouse curiosity in the listener. And it can delay that moment when they start yawning or hang up.

 

3.  OKAY, SMARTYPANTS. WHAT IS A GOOD LOGLINE MADE UP OF?

Opinions abound on this.

In his excellent guide “Raindance Writers Lab: Write and Sell the Hot Script”, Elliott Grove suggests that you first come up with a “basic premise”. This, to me, is a logline: a 25 words or less summary of the plot.

A rule of thumb is, the shorter the logline, the higher the concept.

High concept is what sells in Hollywood (although other types of film also sell). What is a high concept? Basically, something that’s real easy to sell.

In “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (a book no screenwriter should be without)  the author says that a killer logline should include the following:

- Irony

- A compelling mental picture

- An idea of audience and cost

- A killer title

Let’s investigate:

Irony

What is Irony? In the film “Borat” , Sascha Baron Cohen in his alter ego of the Khazakstanian ambassador to the USA, interviews a real-life professor of comedy. When the Professor tries to explain a joke to him, Borat deliberately gets the wrong end of the stick repeatedly. This goes on for some time until it becomes very funny. Everyone but the Professor of comedy, who is paid to understand humour, gets the joke. That is irony.

An example of irony in a logline would be: “A lawyer is forced to tell the truth for 24 hours after his son makes a birthday wish ” (Liar Liar).

The other elements are all important. A title is essential to help your movie stand out from the crowd. A sense of scale and budget will help others to decide whether to invest (is it “The Blair Witch Project” or “Avatar”?) .

However, there are basic elements I think this definition leaves out.

The easiest way to analyse what makes a good logline is to look at one.

Here are two examples:

“A police chief with a phobia of the sea must kill a giant shark but faces opposition from the local mayor who demands that the beaches stay open” (Jaws).

“A naive farmboy on a distant planet learns that he is actually the son of a legendary warrior and sets out to rescue a princess from an evil galactic empire”. (Star Wars).

Here we can see irony at work. The police chief is afraid of the water but must fight a shark. The farmboy is naive but must somehow defeat a whole army.

But there is more than just irony in a logline. Looking at our examples, here are some common elements:

A PROTAGONIST in an IRONIC SITUATION must overcome an OBSTACLE to achieve a GOAL in an ARENA.

Tackling “Jaws” first:

“A police chief [PROTAGONIST] with a phobia of the sea [IRONY] must kill a giant shark [GOAL ] but faces opposition from the local mayor [OBSTACLE ] who demands that the beaches stay open [ARENA]“.

The ARENA is the environment the story takes place in. This could be a location (a distant planet), a particular organisation (for example, the mafia), or even within the family unit (see “Ordinary People” for an example).

Sometimes the ARENA will be implicit. Other times you will have to spell it out. But the logline should give a sense of this.

Note that the OBSTACLE may be the same as the ANTAGONIST, or it may not. In “Jaws”, you may think the antagonist is the shark. But in fact it is the local mayor who opposes Brody’s shark safety measures. Killing the shark is the GOAL.

In “Star Wars” the antagonist is Darth Vader (or Grand Moff Tarkin to be precise). But in fact the whole Empire is what poses the problem.

The point is, the OBSTACLE is a fluid concept, depending upon how you craft your logline. But I believe there is an optimum balance to be achieved for maximum effect.

Here is another example that shows the flexibility of the logline concept:

“A young man and woman from different ends of the social spectrum fall in love aboard an ill-fated ocean liner.” (Titanic)

Breaking it down:

“A young man and woman [PROTAGONIST] from different ends of the social spectrum [OBSTACLE] fall in love [GOAL] aboard an ill-fated ocean liner [ARENA and IRONY].”

Note that it is the young woman who is the protagonist. More on that in another post. But the story is always about ONE PERSON’s journey. Unless it’s an ensemble film. Which just goes to show that William Goldman was right when he said “Nobody knows anything”!

One more for the road:

“A loyal Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge” (Gladiator)

Here’s the breakdown:

“A loyal Roman general [PROTAGONIST] is betrayed [IRONY] and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator [OBSTACLE and ARENA (literally!)] to seek revenge [GOAL]“.

Note also that sometimes it is the Protagonist’s FLAW which provides the irony (such as the farmboy being naive in “Star Wars” or the police chief with a phobia off the sea in “Jaws”). Other times it is the entire situation which is ironic, such as the loyal Roman general who is enslaved and betrayed by his own Emperor. Again, it’s a flexible concept.

The important thing is not to get hung up on the details but to check all the boxes.

One last thing. It may be worth your while to develop the logline BEFORE you write the script, as this way you can build a story that has the strongest foundations possible.

IN SUMMARY

So there you have it:

PROTAGONIST + IRONIC SITUATION + OBSTACLE + GOAL + ARENA

Not necessarily that order!

Have fun with loglines. You will probably take quite a few goes to build the best logline for your story. But the rewards are worth it. A logline is the PRIMARY selling tool. Once you practice it, you will surprised at the results.

 

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Sneak preview of new horror novel “Project Nine”!

Today, I wanted to share with you something very special to me.

Here is the first look at the amazing cover for my new horror novel, “Project Nine”. The folks over at MyInkBooks have done a fantastic job putting this together. Suffice to say, a picture can say a thousand words!

But don’t be misled into thinking this is a straight-up horror yarn. I would never let you readers off the hook so easily! No, “Project Nine” is instead a horror/sci-fi/love story! Add a realistic police investigation and the evil machinations of a  ruthless politician… and you have a modern horror story with a distinctly classic feel.

The precise plot is under wraps for the moment, but I can say that if you like horror, this is the book for you! Even if the luscious young lady on the front cover doesn’t tempt you, how about this gushing review: “the narrative prose expounds a candor much in tune with all the greats in Literature”.

And as for how the novel got to be published, well that’s a story in itself!

But in case it sounds like I’m trying to sell you something… take a look below and see what you think.

FrontCover2

 

“Project Nine” is due to be published later this year.  I’ll be releasing more news as it arrives. Watch out for it!

 

 

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