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Alienation

17 Jun

It began simply. “In space no one can hear you scream”, cautioned the posters. There were no name actors, no fanfare, no star-laden premieres. Just a tale of seven people, all but one of whom dies at the hands of a seemingly invincible alien life form. Simple, but brilliantly radical, Alien was the grubby flipside of George Lucas’ fairytale utopia, a future where humanity was losing the war with technology and where exploitation and boredom prevailed. Alien was the heaven-sent antidote to the vacant escapism Star Wars’ success had borne in Hollywood, and an anomalous reminder of the power of cinema to terrorise and disturb. The film was conceived by Dan O’Bannon in 1976 but it was only a few years later, with the twin successes of Star Wars and horror films like The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, that Hollywood saw the opportunity to combine the two most profitable genres of the time in one movie. Even so, Alien was a massive risk at the time, especially since the director, Ridley Scott, had only one film under his belt when he came on board. This decision, risky as it may have seemed back then, proved to be a masterstroke as Scott stamped his unique vision on Alien with the memorable quote “To me, it was more than a horror film. It was a film about terror.” Now that the saga of Alien has come full circle with the recent release of Prometheus, it is perhaps the perfect time to look at how the original film came to define the genre of sci-fi horror.

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The Shakespeare Conspiracy

27 May

William Shakespeare, the man known to history as the Bard of Avon and celebrated as the greatest playwright that the world has ever known, is at once a familiar yet elusive figure. Whilst there are few people on Earth who have not heard of or come across one of his plays, or at least one of his famous sayings, there is an enigma at the heart of Shakespeare’s character. Very few hard facts are known about the man, which has led to endless speculation about who exactly he was and how he came to write verse which is just as popular now as it was when it was first written, almost five hundred years ago. Some have even questioned the very identity of Shakespeare as the writer of the plays which made him so famous, pointing to the incredible breadth, variety and quality of his work as proof that an uneducated commoner could not have been behind them. Over the many centuries since Shakespeare’s death numerous theories have been put forward concerning the provenance of his plays, the true identity of their writer(s) and the reasons for the elaborate cover-up, if such existed. Hollywood got in on the act as well with the recent film Anonymous, which cashes in on one aspect of the Shakespeare conspiracy. There is, however, far more to tell, including facts which are even stranger than anything which ever appeared in Shakespeare’s plays.

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The 100th Post!!!

4 Mar

‘Are we at the 100th post already?’ I hear you ask. Or to put it another way (I hope): ‘Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?’ Either way, it’s a minor milestone but I thought it was worth an equally minor celebration so I hope you’ll all forgive me if I shamelessly devote this post to my own guilty and not so guilty pleasures. I’m not usually a fan of those ‘Best of…’ list programmes but what I’d like to do is share with you what, in my humble opinion, I consider to be the very best novels, novellas, short stories, films, television series and graphic novels in the field of horror, the paranormal and the supernatural.

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Unstoppable: Juggernaut

5 Feb

I thought I’d turn away from the classics to more modern fare in this post, specifically the advance copy of Adam Baker’s Juggernaut that I recently managed to get my hands on. You may have already come across Baker’s debut novel Outpost, which told a tale of humans struggling to survive as the world collapsed around them as the result of a plague that turned most people into zombie-like creatures. That book was set in the present day in a cold climate, whilst in this novel Baker goes a bit further south, to the remote deserts of north Iraq, and back a few years, to 2005. In many ways Juggernaut is a ‘prequel’ of sorts to Outpost. It starts out as a thriller/war story, with a bunch of mercenaries on the hunt for gold in the desert. But, in a similar vein to Aliens, Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later, these ‘professionals’ soon come upon a situation out of their very worst nightmares. They discover that they aren’t the only occupants of the desert valley and that the ancient citadel that they are looking for houses not only Saddam’s fabled treasure but also an army of enemies that quite literally won’t stay dead…

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Where no one can hear you scream

11 Dec

Science fiction horror has a long and venerable tradition on both the small and big screen. At the very dawn of the movie age, science fiction films were hopeful, almost idealistic in tone, looking forward to a bright age of exploration and discovery. It did not, however, take very long for the visions of film-makers to darken considerably and between about 1930 and 1950 the first true ‘horrors’ of the sci-fi genre were made. Classics such as The Day the Earth Stood StillThe Thing from Another WorldThe War of the WorldsForbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were notable for the genuine terror that they could inspire in their audiences, just as much as for the more traditional qualities of a science-fiction film, like special effects and imagination. These films really set the tone for the creature features that followed in successive decades, from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the more sophisticated horror of Alien, Predator, Terminator and Species. This revolution on the big screen was reflected to some extent in television series which veered away from purely ‘futuristic’ science fiction to stray into horror territory, probably the best examples of which being Doctor Who in the 1970s and, of course, The Twilight Zone.

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Time of the Wolf

15 Oct

All over the world it is believed that there are human beings cursed with the horrifying affliction of changing under the full moon into wolf-men and destroying those they love the most. Bound by ancient maledictions, captives of man’s primal side, and bearers of insatiable bloodlust and brute strength, werewolves are nevertheless perhaps the most tragic of all horror’s great pantheon of monsters. Condemned (usually through no fault of their own) to metamorphose during the phases of the moon into bestial killers, werewolves exemplify the classic dichotomy of Good versus Evil which lies at the heart of most great modern horror fiction. It is unsurprising therefore that the werewolf, like its stablemates the vampire, the mummy and the zombie has been successfully adapted into numerous works of literature both short and long.

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Books of the Dead

23 Sep

I wanted to begin this post by referring to one of my favourite horror films of the last decade or so, The Others. If you’ve seen it you’ll know that it’s a great ‘haunted house’ movie, with plenty of suspense and authentic shudders but an absence of the brainless blood and guts that seems to sum up a lot of modern horror. For me, it’s a particular delight because it’s very reminiscent of a lot of the classic ghost stories of the Victorian era, only on screen rather than on the page. The story is also classic in its simplicity – a troubled woman who lives in a lonely old house with a couple of creepy children welcomes a housekeeper, maid and gardener who soon turn out to be more than they appear. Like all the best haunted house films, there is a claustrophobic feel from the outset, with tension that builds to a level that is almost unbearable before the dénouement (which is probably the only weak part of the film – you’ve never read a ghost story or watched a horror film if you don’t see the ‘twist’ ending coming a mile off!). Continue reading

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