The best movies of the 2010s so far!

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So for some reason it’s time to take stock of the movies made in the 2010s so far. Well, it would be remiss of me not to have my own Top 10 movies of the decade. Here’s a big disclaimer, though: these are just the movies I’ve seen. Some very recent movies (including a couple of Academy Award winners) are not among them. Anyway, here goes…

10. Thor

Why: Because it made the surfer look cool again. And it also gave us Tom Hiddleston. Kenneth Branagh’s rip-roaring take on the thunder god was just what Marvel needed. A genuinely fun romp, brilliantly executed.

9. Inception

Why: It’s Chinese Puzzle of a plot proved that audiences are more intelligent than they are given credit for. Some jaw-dropping SFX helped too. But mainly it was Christopher Nolan’s refusal to spoon-feed the viewer with easy answers that won me over.

8. Tron Legacy 

Why: Because it made synthesizer music trendy again. A killer soundtrack and incredible SFX made this underrated blockbuster a must-see. As well as being faithful to the original movie, it included such breakthroughs as a 30-years-younger Jeff Bridges fighting with himself. Oh, and Olivia Wilde. A visually stunning and practically perfect action movie.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

Why: It made “I Am Groot” part of popular culture. A very funny old-school action/comedy that just happens to be set in the Marvel universe. It also has some of the most memorable characters I’ve seen on screen for a long time – especially one psychopathic raccoon and a very literal-minded alien. Writer/director James Gunn never allows the excellent SFX to dictate the story and doesn’t fall into the trap of logically impossible action scenes.

6. The Conjuring

Why: A terrifying movie-going experience, right from the opening titles. This is horror on steroids. The plot is old-fashioned, but the movie is executed in one bravura set piece to the next. Classic horror.

5. Seven Psychopaths

Why: Postmodern, irreverent, full of grindhouse-style violence. But for me, Chis Walken and Sam Rockwell’s acting steals the show. The violence is played for laughs, but there’s also a real heart to the story that makes us question all that movie bloodshed we see so much of nowadays.

4. The Way Way Back

Why: A movie that perfectly captures adolescence. This is the kind of family comedy they made in the Eighties, but with a modern sensibility. Steve Carell is truly loathsome as the passive–aggressive antagonist. While Sam Rockwell turns in another masterful performance. Thirty years ago, Bill Murray would have done the same thing.

3. The Master

Why: The terrific acting holds together this rather quirky “institutionalized” drama. Joaquin Pheonix is a smouldering presence, inviting us to figure out what’s bugging him. It’s a pleasure to try to unravel the characters’ psyches while we watch them onscreen.

2. The King’s Speech

Why: A masterful talking-heads picture with some terrific low-key drama. There are no explosions or spaceships here, just stuffy drawing rooms and restrained performances. But it’s a movie that knows what it’s about and does it superbly, hitting all the right emotional notes.

1. The Artist

Why: What’s not to like about this movie? It’s a silent, black and white film made over 80 years after the first talking picture. But it’s not just a spoof or an homage. It uses silent film as a genre, almost as a metaphor. When sound does intrude upon the action, it’s a truly memorable moment. Some great performances with no dialogue underline this masterpiece of cinematic art. And it features one of the greatest dogs in movie history!

So there you have it. My top movies of the decade so far. These are, of course, based on my own personal tastes, although I’ve tried to include something for everyone. Feel free to tell me I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. But for me, these were the real standouts.

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Submissions call for new anthology – Revolutions!

We at The Manchester Speculative Fiction Group are publishing an anthology to showcase speculative fiction with a Mancuian theme. The anthology, titled “REVOLUTIONS” will contain a mix of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. Submissions are currently open, and anyone over 18 years of age can submit.  You don’t need to be a member of the group. We welcome submissions from anywhere and anyone (see rules below).

 

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The theme is Manchester. All stories must be linked in some way to the city of Manchester, England. In all honesty, we really haven’t worked out anything beyond that. We’re hoping that a clear link between all the stories chosen will reveal itself. You don’t have to live here, but each story should have a flavour of the real Manchester.

Manchester is more than just a name. Like it or loathe it (or both!), it’s a place – a very wet place – full of lots of different people. In the Nineteenth century it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cotton mill town in the world. The city is still criss-crossed by canals where barges used to tow cotton to the factories. Its damp climate was specifically chosen so that the cotton remained moist. Manchester was also the scene of several historical incidents such as the terrible Peterloo Massacre, plagues, and the invasions of both Bonnie Prince Charlie and William Wallace. Dig a little further, and you can find traces of the original Roman town. The city has changed a lot in recent years. Its fame as a city of football is worldwide. The British Broadcasting Corporation is based here. It’s also one of the most multicultural cities in the United Kingdom.

But why am I doing your job for you?

Dig deep into the inkwells of your imagination to provide us with stories of thrills, technological marvels, alternate realities and urban fantasies. Does some of this sound contradictory? Yes? Well, that’s the point! If in doubt, write it out.

Please read ALL of the guidelines BEFORE you submit:

1. Closing Date

Submissions window is from now until 1st May 2015.

2. Eligibility

Anyone over 18 can submit from anywhere in the world.

3. Theme

All submissions must be in a speculative genre (sf/f/h/df/uf/slipstream) and must have some link to the area that is Greater Manchester, England. The final decision about whether a story is to be included in the anthology will be the editors’ within their absolute discretion. Don’t think you can just change the place names in your old stories. We notice things like that!

4. What we give you

£10 payment per story accepted. Payment is by Paypal.

5. What we get

First Print Rights and Electronic Publishing Rights for 12 months. We reserve the right to archive your story online indefinitely. Please bear in mind that most publications will not publish pieces that have been published in print, eBook, or on the web, so for all intents and purposes after your work is published by us it can only be marketed as a reprint, which severely limits the number of markets that will accept it, and drastically reduces the pay rate it can receive. It is up to you, the author, to decide if this is what you want to do.

6. Word Count

Short stories of between 1,500 to 6,000 words. Please query for anything longer. Please do not send us your novels or poems. We only want short stories. Honest.

Please send only one story until you receive a response. You may then submit another story, and so on.

No poetry or non-fiction.

7. Distribution

The anthology will be made available in e-book format via Smashwords and print copies will be available as POD. Tentative publication date is the second half of 2015.

8. Format

Stories should be sent as Word attachments to msfantho [at] yahoo [dot] com. In the subject line please put: “SUBMISSION: [Story Title] by [Your Name]”. Submissions should follow Shunn formatting. If in doubt, click on the link!

Good luck!

 

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The Best Screenwriting Books in the world… possibly.

I was recently asked what are my favourite screenwriting books. So here they are:

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder 

It’s impossible to ignore this one, even if you disagree with the formulaic approach. There are tons of terrific lessons here. But best saved for the more advanced screenwriter.

Story by Robert McKee

The guru of screenwriting, McKee’s book contains pretty much everything you need to know about storytelling.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler 

Breaks down every mythic story and archetype. Very easy to read and full of great examples. It clarifies a lot of what other people say.

Screenplay by Syd Field 

The beginner’s guide to writing a script. Contains all the basics on structure and format. Goes into character creation a little too much for my liking, but then he was also an actor.

Raindance Writer’s Lab by Elliott Grove 

A great practical guide that touches upon the business as well. Essential reading.

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman 

Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and many, many more. This is a frank memoir about screenwriting in Hollywood.

Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman

More memories and advice from the veteran scriptwriter, with more attention to things like writing for budgets.

Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hague 

The first book I ever read on screenwriting and one of the best. Hague gives you the basics in a way that’s simple to understand.

Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder 

The sequel offers more fixes for common problems as well as a very useful section on Act Three.

Save the Cat Goes to the Movies 

Can’t recommend this highly enough. Some truly great insights into different movie genres and the rules they follow.

The Devil’s Guide to Screenwriting by Joe Eszterhas

The infamous scribe of Basic Instinct gives you a very funny look at the flipside of success in Hollywood. Read it to feel empowered as a writer. This is the stuff they didn’t want you to know.

How to Make a Good Script Great by Linda Seger 

A very good fix-it guide when your screenplay lacks that little something.

Tales From the Script by Various 

Frank and fascinating interviews with many major screenwriters. Learn from the people who are working in the trenches.

The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier

Contains all the formatting instructions you need to avoid being seen as an amateur.

Breakfast With Sharks by Michael Lent 

Be warned. The swimming pool of Hollywood is not for the faint-hearted. Learn to recognize and avoid the sharks with this great guide. Contains some terrific practical advice on writing and negotiating your career (or lack of one). Wish I’d read this years ago.

500 Ways to Beat The Hollywood Script Reader by Jennifer Lerch 

Basically a list of common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Rewrite by Paul Chitlik

This is my go-to guide when I’m beginning, guess what, the rewrites! The best thing about this book is that it gives you a structure and a plan to approach your rewriting with. If, like me, you require structure to do anything, this is the book for you.

Bladerunners, Dear Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Deeley 

Veteran British producer Michael Deeley gives you his rather candid insight into the business.

Screenplays 

Lots of them. Any you can find. Especially good ones. Especially produced ones. Notable ones for study are: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Basic Instinct, Speed, The Fisher King, Jaws, The Terminator, Aliens, Chinatown, Casablanca, Die Hard, Network,The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alien, Living In Oblivion, Near Dark, The Hitcher, Reanimator, Deliverance, The Godfather Part II, Superman the Movie, Taxi Driver, The Dear Hunter, The Thing, Altered States, Ordinary People, Annie Hall, Groundhog Day, Back To The Future, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, and many, many more.

Once you dipped into some of these you’ll never look at Transformers 4 in the same way again.

There you go. I’m adding to my on library all the time, so I may well update this post at some stage. If I missed any, let me know. Maybe you have your own favourites or stumble across some gem while browsing around. But these are the books that have helped me the most.

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 6! The Noughties! (2000s)

If the 1980s wore out horror conventions such as knife-wielding maniacs, wish-granting demons and comedic vampires, in the 1990s horror underwent another transformation. Clever films like The Sixth Sense had made money by generating atmosphere rather than gore. And the found footage phenomenon that (re)started with The Blair Witch Project showed Hollywood that horror was big money. In the 2000s alone there was: The Collingswood Story, Incident at Loch Ness, Welcome to the Jungle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Paranormal Activity, REC, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, Home Movie, Quaratine, REC 2. All found footage.

Unfortunately, the growth of independent horror did not stop studios rushing to release a slew of remakes and sequels. Probably, the major studios perceived that here was a generation of moviegoers who had probably never seen the original version of many profitable 1970s horror movies. Like a helpless slasher victim, these films became easy prey for money men.

The 2000s also saw the birth of three giant movie franchises. “Final Destination”, “Resident Evil”, and “Underworld”. The first feels like a lacklustre retread of “The Omen”. The second is based on a computer game. And the third features Kate Beckinsdale in PVC. All of these made enormous amounts of money from exactly the audiences they aspired to, and spawned numerous sequels and even a reboot in one case. But for those who prefer their horror with more more… well, horror, here we go…

(On a side note, M Night Shayamalan, whose “Sixth Sense” was such a hit in the 90s, went on to write and direct the enjoyable superhero romp “Unbreakable” as well as the rather unbelievable sf/horror “Signs” and the totally insane “Lady In The Water” before returning to horror with “The Happening”, a half-serious tale of killer plants that I actually found to be entertaining. Sorry, M Night, but you just miss out on this list.)

Ginger Snaps 2000

Our first movie is an off-beat gem, typical of those that were getting more prominence as the film market became truly global.  In this very original Canadian werewolf movie, lycanthropy is portrayed as a metaphor for a young woman’s sexual awakening. The result is a highly entertaining and funny movie with some genuinely emotional scenes, as Ginger’s gradual transformation (no lunar change this, but a full on, irreversible devolution) is seen through the eyes of her younger sister. A worthy addition to the genre, and a sign of things to come. Foreign horror films would become increasingly important in this decade.

Pitch Black 2000

Another example is this Australian sci-fi/horror feature starring a then-unknown Vin Diesel. A female spaceship captain and her crew, including one very dangerous prisoner, are stranded on a desolate alien world. But once the planet’s three suns go down, its nocturnal critters come out to play. And nasty critters they are too. A great concept that is carried out with suspense and great special effects.  It spawned two sequels, but these were essentially just star vehicles for Diesel and never added to the original story.

Shadow of the Vampire 2000

Another off-kilter story, this time a “re-imagining” of FW Murnau”s filming of the silent film “Nosferatu”. Willem DeFoe is superb as Max Shreck aka Count Orlock aka Dracula, who has a very specific reason for allowing the filmmakers to shoot their film in his castle. A great black comedy horror with some excellent performances. Again, the film shows how great horror movies were flying under the radar.

Jeepers Creepers 2001

Yet another off-beat tale. This well-crafted horror comedy has a post-modern twist in that it is a brother and sister who stumble across a demon while on a road trip, rather than the usual suspects of teen movies with the obligatory love interest. Thus it subverts the genre and keeps it fresh. The demon itself, “The Creeper” is intriguing, indestructible, and capable of surprising the audience on a few occasions. Very enjoyable, it was a great success and had an inevitable sequel that wasn’t half bad, though less original.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

28 Days Later 2002

Just when we thought the zombie movie had been done to death (pun intended) along came Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, with a gritty tale of sort-of-zombies set in England. London and Manchester, to be precise. Giving the genre a modern twist, the film opens with environmental terrorists releasing a monkey from a biological warfare lab. Things rapidly go downhill from there. In a terrific scene, Cilian Murphy wakes up in hospital to find a London devoid of people. When we do meet the zombies, they are not the shambling undead of the Romero films, but sprinting, slavering contagious madmen. A nightmarish thrill-ride from start to finish, the movie carries on the glorious English post-apocalyptic tradition begun in “The Day of the Triffids”. It also set the stage for the zombie invasion that was about to come…

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

The Ring 2002

SPOILER ALERT!

Bringing Asian horror movies to the public consciousness (or “J-Horror” as it is sometimes imprecisely called), Gore Verbinski’s remake of a successful Japanese horror movie hit theatres in 2002. Naomi Watts is compelling enough as the ill-fated journalist who watches one VHS tape too many. But to audiences, it was the ghost who was the star, especially one sequence when the ghost appears on television, and then walks out of it. Others may find that the whole film is rather tame and relies upon creepy images which are actually not all that creepy. However, it was a huge success, and showed Hollywood that Japan was a rich, untapped well of source material (what is it with these puns?).

House of 1,000 corpses 2003

Performance artist and singer Rob Zombie’s first major feature. On the surface, a “Texas Chainsaw Masssacre” rip-off, it is actually much more than that. The film introduces a host of bizarre, demented and downright nasty characters who steal the show from the protagonists and would show up again in the even grittier sequel “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005). Zombie directs with assurance and a great deal of visual style. This movie boasts the most evil, seedy clown ever and what may be film’s most violent femme fatale!

Saw 2004

It is easy to see why audiences liked Saw upon its release. The film has a very slender plot – a madman compels people to outwit deathtraps to teach them life lessons. It also has many clever twists. However, the main (and supposedly the cleverest) twist is not so believable. More importantly, the film was cheap to make. The result was a rash of sequels and a ton of money. Hollywood was waking up again to horror.

Dawn of the Dead 2004

The logical conclusion based on the success of 28 Days Later was to remake George A Romero’s beloved classic from 1978, with modern special effects. Thankfully, somebody hired scribe James Gunn and director Zack Snyder to do the job. The result is an insanely entertaining film that is full of modern CGI tricks while staying respectful to the original. Some standout performances from Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Jake Weber help. A great addition to the canon that cemented the zombie in the popular consciousness and led to many, many more zombie movies.

Shaun of the Dead 2004

And with success, comes parody. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s hilarious horror comedy tackled what would happen if a zombie apocalypse invaded suburban England. Hardly anyone notices. A watchable but less funny version is 2009’s Zombieland, although it’s hard to follow such a great double act as harried store-worker Shaun and his anti-social layabout friend Ed setting about a zombie in a pub to the tune of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

 

Let the Right One In 2008

Amid the plethora of Hollywood remakes, sequels and reboots, this obscure Swedish horror movie somehow managed to become a success in America as well as Europe. A simple tale of a young boy who meets a young-looking vampire and becomes friends with him/her, the movie has a genuine emotional core. There is a fair bit of gore, too. Hollywood soon cottoned onto this and did an English-language remake, as it would with almost every successful foreign horror film in the ‘Noughties.

House of the Devil 2009

What this list doesn’t show is the quite shocking amount of remakes and sequels that abounded. While independent moviemakers were becoming more well-known, studios chose to give us more of the same rather than take creative chances. The result was some less-than-memorable movies.

In the 2000s alone we had remakes of: Dracula, 13 Ghosts, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, House of Wax, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, The Omen, The Hitcher, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Wicker Man.

Add to that English language remakes of: Let the Right One In, The Grudge, The Ring, Phone, Eye, Dark Water, Into the Mirror and Pulse, plus an enormous number of sequels.

And yet for all that, a few horror movies still shine through as being really good examples of the genre. Some come from surprising places like 2003’s “Into the Mirror” or 2006’s “The Host”, both from the expanding market of Korea.

It seems poignant, then, to end with a low-budget movie that is an homage to the classic 1970s independent cinema shockers of John Carpenter and Wes Craven.

House of the Devil was written and directed by Ti West, one of the genre’s most promising newcomers. From the opening scene, it feels like we have stepped back in time to 1978 and all will be well again. The shaky camera, the 70s clothes, music and even the “final girl” all make for a very believable 1970s “feel”. Yet the film still manages to wrongfoot us and shock us with clever plot twists as a young college girl is lured to a remote mansion by some very odd Satanists.

House of the Devil deserves far more praise than it has been given. West has gone on to be one of the leading lights of independent horror.

Horror cinema itself became divided in the ‘Noughties. On the one hand there were the big-budget, SFX-driven remakes and blockbusters, and on the other independent filmmakers such as Rob Zombie and Ti West, whose love for horror reminds one of those heady days in the 1970s, when independent filmmakers seized the night, and a new breed of low-budget horror was born.

Next time…

The 2010s! Can the found footage genre prevent itself from being buried? What will happen to independent filmmakers in the wake of the Hollywood behemoths? Horror is saved by the haunted house movie (sort of)! We meet some rather unbelievable monsters, and some very unusual cannibals. Yum!

 

 

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 5! The Nineties!

Ah, the 1990s… when the Eighties were a distant memory. The Nineties were mad for it. Grungier than its predecessor, we never thought there would someday be a price to pay for all those late nights spent clubbing it. Nowadays the whistles and glowsticks seems just as bad as those silly hats.

Horror movies had a hard time in the 90s. The 1980s had milked the slasher movie to death. Vampires and werewolves were old hat. Even the horror comedy was on its way out. In a way, many of these movies represent the dying breaths of horror’s staple bad guys. The horror genre was about get ugly…

Exorcist III 1990

The decade began with a shuddering return to form of William Peter Blatty’s faith-based possession franchise. The film doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. Maybe it simply had nothing new to say. But with some genuinely chilling moments involving a bone saw, this was a worthy sequel to the classic horror hit, if not a new beginning.

Jacob’s Ladder 1990

As a counterpoint to that kind of “old-school” horror, here we have the first of several psychological horror movies as Tim Robbins does a star turn as a man haunted by visions of demons. In true Nineties style, the story turns out to be a bit “meta”.

The children of the night may be beautiful, but they're not very scary.

The children of the night may be beautiful, but they’re not very scary.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992

Francis Ford Coppola turns Bram Stoker’s classic bloodsucker into a kind of modern fairytale. Not scary in the least, and certainly not a definitive version, despite the claim to closely follow the novel (which it doesn’t), and full of wildly uneven performances, you have to admire its impressive, visual style, while Gary Oldman’s outing as Dracula would cement him as a great actor for years to come.

Army of Darkness 1992

Sam Raimi rounds off his “Evil Dead” trilogy with this rip-roaring slapstick live-action cartoon. Boasting some great comic one-liners and an even more OTT performance by B-movie legend Bruce Campbell, this Halloween treat contains skeleton warriors, flying books, and an extremely surreal scene in a windmill where Ash chases around little versions of himself. This is one of those films that’s so bizarre it stands in a category of its own. It is also so downright mad that it ended the series, albeit on a high note of laughter.

Interview with the Vampire 1994

Neil Jordan brought audiences the visually alluring but story-lite “Company of Wolves” in the 80s. Here, he tackles Anne Rice’s novel of a vampire telling the story of his 200 year-old existence. Starring Tom Cruise in  role nobody expected of this all-American action star (a bloodsucking ghoul), and a young Brad Pitt, as well as a 12 year-old Kirsen Dunst, this is a lavish tale worthy of those old Hammer classics of the Sixties. But the novel has a touch of 1990s despair about it. This vampire doesn’t know his place in the world and is constantly seeking something to believe in – a little like people in the 1990s. Once again, the vampire is a reflection of his times, which perhaps explains why it took so long for the book to reach the screen.

From Dusk Til Dawn 1996

Quentin Tarantino hit the big time in the 1990s with his multiple-storyline post-modern heist flick “Reservoir Dogs”. Here, he dips his wick in the horror genre, at least for the first half. Once the vampires cut loose, he turns directing over to Robert Rodriguez, who brings his over-the-top campy action style into play. Hard to take seriously today, this movie has its tongue surgically implanted in its cheek. It is also the movie that inspired a million tattoos thanks to George Clooney. A fun film at the time that is less fun with age, it had some strong actors but is ultimately a bit of a gimmick rather than a serious movie – the main draw being actors getting killed whom you expect to survive. Horror, it seemed, was running out of ideas.

Are you cool? I'm cool. Are we cool? Vampires are not... cool in this movie.

Are you cool? I’m cool. Are we cool? Vampires are not… cool in this movie.

Scream 1996

The last word in Slasher movies belongs to Wes Craven, who was ironically one of its creators. This film is postmodern in every sense. Teens stalked by a slasher discuss how slasher movies work in order to escape their killer, only to discover that the killer also watches slasher movies and knows as much about them as they do. The death knell of the slasher movie can be heard loud and clear in this horror/thriller. After this, there was simply nowhere for the subgenre to go.

Event Horizon 1997

An underappreciated film that makes little sense on first viewing. Imagine Star Trek crossed with a John Carpenter film and you get the picture. Horror icon Sam Neil (at this time a big draw thanks to Jurassic Park) takes a risk as a doomed character in this story of a space ship that returns from its journey into hyperspace without its crew, like a futuristic Marie Celeste. As scientists try to uncover what happened to the passengers, they learn that something nasty waits on the other side of the dimensional border. A Lovecraftian sci-fi, in a sense, this is one of the few truly original horror movies of the decade.

The Faculty 1998

Movie stars got younger and younger in the 1990s as studios targeted their “real” audience. Here, Robert Rodriguez is on form as he directs a tale of high schoolers taking on an alien invasion with the help of a pot-smoking rebel. This B-movie boasts some standout future stars like Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnettt. It is also much more enjoyable than it deserves to be, given the number of irritating jargon-speaking schoolkids. A very “nineties” updating of old 1950s B-movie tropes. Once again, however, the “alien invasion” horror movie had no real place to go.

The Sixth Sense 1999

This movie marked the debut of M Night Shyamalan, whose career would (for a while) be known for its outrageous plot-twists. The movie also resurrected the career of action star Bruce Willis as a psychiatrist treating a kid who “sees dead people”. Although people disagree as to whether the plot twist at the end was a surprise or obvious, the film packs some genuinely creepy moments, and lots of shocks along the way, as only the boy can see the dead folks, but they can see him.  Shyamalan’s tale proved hard to copy, but revived a lot of interest in the flagging horror genre for a new generation of filmgoers.

Like it or loathe it, this movie gave the genre a breathe of new life.

Like it or loathe it, this movie gave the genre a breath of new life.

The Blair Witch project 1999

As if to underline audiences’ boredom with standard horror fare, the found footage genre re-emerged at the end of the century with the most profitable independent film in movie history, usurping John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. Three people get lost in a wood on videotape. It really is that simple. What follows divided audiences. Some loved it for its clever use of a very (nonexistant) limited budget and the way it raises your hackles by not showing you what is going on. Others hated it for precisely the same reason. The found footage genre proved an enormous hit, no doubt because it was very cheap to copy. But whether you love it or hate it, this subgenre gave the horror film a new direction, one that would create a whole new set of filmmakers in the ‘Noughties and beyond, and who would exploit rapidly-changing technology to give the studios a run for their money.

The Nineties suffered from the overdose of slasher movies that took place in the Eighties. For a while the genre was left reeling. But new technology and clever filmmaking resurrected the horror movie at the end of the decade. With audiences demanding new thrills, better special effects, and grimmer storylines to reflect the pessimism of the times, horror movies were about to go to a very dark place indeed.

Next time…

Zombies, zombies, zombies! The world goes mad for George A Romero’s creations. Horror goes viral, ghosts turn Japanese, and it seems that anyone can make a horror film as long as they have a mobile phone.

 

 

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Are comic book fans today dumber than they were in the 1970s?

I read comic books. There, I said it. In fact, I read a lot of comic books. And by a lot, I mean a LOT. And while comparing the comics of today with those of 30+ years ago, I noticed something quite startling.

There has been a tendency in recent years for companies to put out two kinds of books. The first is the adult line – aimed directly at the 30-40 year-old comic collector. These books look like movie storyboards, the scripts read like movie scripts (maybe because many of the writers want to earn big money as screenwriters). The costumes are informed by the movies. Gone are the days of yellow spandex, replaced by a moody leather one-piece. In short, it;s like watching one of the recent movie versions of the characters.

Then there is the second kind: the kiddie books. Drawn like cartoons, they are full of the same one-liners. They also have more and more of a kiddie-manga (chibli) feel. For a cartoon example, compare the current series of “Teen Titans Go!” with the earlier (and far superior) series of “Teen Titans”.

This is leading somewhere, I promise.

Recently, the difference hit home when reading an old Marvel comic. Astonishing Tales, from the 1970s. The comic featured the first appearance of a cyborg named Deathlok. Now, Marvel no longer have letters pages in the main. Perhaps the 30-40 year-olds are too jaded or cool to write anymore. But here is the editorial that ran in December 1974:

“People: our eyes are red-shot and popped; our tongues dangle perilously close to the floor; and out minds are stun-boggled and basking in the afterglow of jet-fed satisfaction.

“You see, we’ve just read the mail on Deathlok’s première appearance and ()resorting to a rather prosaic and euphemistic metaphor) we’re pleased as punch. Your response has been overwhelming and then some. Indeed, the volume of mail commenting on our schizophrenic cyborg is well-night unprecedented in the hallowed annals  or Marvel feedback. That 98% of your reactions should be vociferously favourable only gilds the already icing-laden lily-cake. Adjectives ravaged the entire hyperbolic gamut of superlatives, and perceptive criticism earmarked each and ever letter,. So consider yourselves herewith granted a hearty and profound thanks.”

Now, can you imagine a  comic running the same adjective-heavy editorial today?

Perhaps language has changed. Become more streamlined. Simpler. Take, for instance, those Victorian journalists and speech-makers who used fifty words when one would have done. But I can’t help but think that the oversimplification of periodicals these days is due not to any desire to communicate in a more efficient way, but the idea that one must appeal to the “lowest common denominator”.

Deathlok - a most literate cyborg!

Deathlok – a most literate cyborg!

The same thinking underlines our TV shows, our movies, even our novels. “Dumb it down” is the cry. Simplify. More jokes. Shorter scenes. More commercials!

So were the kids of the 1970s really so much smarter than their iPod-toting, Miley Cyrus-listening counterparts? And if they were, what a sad state of affairs that would be!

I don’t believe that is the case. Nor do I believe that language has changed so much. I do believe that the conglomerates who own comics and TV stations are concerned with selling product to as many people as possible.

I realize this is just one voice in the wilderness. But just for once, wouldn’t it be nice to open up a newspaper, a comic book, or (heaven forbid) even a novel, and have someone speak to us in such an eloquent fashion as editor Roy Thomas did in December 1974?

 

 

 

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My top picks for the best horror movies to watch on Halloween!

It’s almost that time of year again, the time of year that for horror writers is like a combination of Christmas and… well, Halloween.

Of course I’m talking about Halloween. And what better way to celebrate than by watching a suitably scary movie. But what makes a great Halloween classic? My own recipe for a ghoulish treat involves some great scares, a sense of fun, a lot of comedy, some cheesy dialogue, and a good dose of escapism.  These may not be the world’s scariest movies, but they among the most fun to watch, especially on the spookiest night of the year!

So without further ado or aplomb, here are my own favourite Halloween movies…

Goes without saying rally.

Goes without saying, really.

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

Roman Polanski’s take of two bungling vampire hunters has enough scares and laughs for everyone.

Halloween 1978 

This has to be the most appropriate movie ever made for Halloween. Pumpkins and trick-or-treaters abound in John Carpenter’s superbly economical slasher movie. By the end, you’ll be afraid to turn out the lights!

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The original zombie apocalyptic thrill ride!

The Fog (1980)

Some great scares in this John Carpenter classic about ghostly pirates. Johnny Depp is nowhere to be seen.

American Werewolf in London (1981)

John Landis pumps up the scares and the laughs in this outrageous werewolf story. Terrifying and laugh out loud funny at the same time!

Stephen King wants to tell you a bedtime story... or a few.

Stephen King wants to tell you a bedtime story… or a few.

Creepshow (1982)

Stephen King writes and acts! B-movie staples are given a fresh lease of life in this shot story compendium.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Note to self: if a particularly bright meteor shower promises a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime light show, do not watch it! Post-apocalyptic teen v zombies hijinks ensue.

Vamp (1986)

Vampire strippers. Sound familiar? But add fashion icon Grace Jones and some cheesy Eighties teens you have a recipe for a fangtastic movie. Get it? Fang-tastic? Oh, forget it.

Fright Night (1985)

Another great Eighties vampire comedy. Only the original version is actually funny. Roddy McDowell lends humour and pathos to his role as a has-been TV vampire hunter who finds the real deal living in the suburbs.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Nobody did teen comedy better than the Eighties. Jocks getting dismembered? Check. Cheerleaders attacked by aliens? Check. Mutant alien slugs infesting people? Check… wait, what…

House (1986)

An overlooked gem starring William Katt (Greatest American Hero) as a guest in a very unwelcoming home filled with rubberized ghosts and ghouls!

Critters (1986)

Aliens make contact, and they look like prickly care bears! Great home siege movie with some very silly monsters.

The Monster Squad 1987

Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon descend upon a small American town. Who’s going to stop them? Frankenstein, that’s who!

Lost Boys (1987)

So obvious it’s barely worth a mention. But it does stand up well, even now. Coreys Haim and Feldman’s finest hour.

Evil Dead II (1987)

A retelling of the Evil Dead, but with added humour and slapstick. It’s like watching a live-action cartoon. You can almost forget this is a movie about cannibalistic, soul-stealing demons.

They're coming to get you... erm... Barbara.

They’re coming to get you… erm… Barbara.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

A light, family film but not without its share of thrills. Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker (yes, that one) star as hopeless witches out to rule the world on Halloween!

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Always good after a few beers. Most employed store staff can relate to Simon Pegg’s eponymous hero, who is distinctly unimpressed that his day is being ruined by a zombie invasion.

So there you have it, my tops picks for an entertaining night in front of the TV this Halloween. Let me know if you agree or if I missed anything. And happy screaming!

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