This is the problem with werewolves…

Werewolves are scary.

If you had one after you, you’d certainly be worried.

They’re big, strong, fast and have really sharp teeth.

They also have the ability to hide in plain sight as they can shift from human form to werewolf form in a matter of seconds.

To make things even worse, in some werewolf tales the werewolf doesn’t even realise they’re a werewolf.

They just wake up naked in a bush and think they’ve had too many beers the night before, when really they’ve been on a path of a destruction…
(I’m sure no one can relate to that).

Yet, no matter how deadly a foe they may be, there’s a way to kill them.

All you need is a gun and a silver bullet.

It’s the same with vampires, they’re nearly indestructible… until you swing a stake or a clove of garlic at them.

Problem solved.

But, when it comes to our problems in daily life, there’s not always a quick fix like a stake or a silver bullet.

Yet that’s all we look for…

A quick way to get rich…

A quick way to get a six pack…

A quick way to gain a qualification…

Sadly these quick fixes (when they work) are usually temporary solutions…

So, I guess it’s time for us to look past the quick fixes for real, life-time fixes to some of our problems.

Often there are four or five ways to solve something, but if you lose yourself in looking for that one ‘silver bullet’ you’re likely to miss them.

P.S. for the record my favourite werewolf film is called ‘The Howling‘ – an eighties classic, enjoy!

Ashley Brown

“Happy Death Day”

A macabre title for a blog post, I’ll admit – but, don’t worry, it’s a happy story.

It also kind of reinforces the point I’ll make here – you may have had a lot of preconceptions of this from the title, but it’s different from what you think…

In my last post I spoke about how disappointment can strike at any time. Such as walking through London only to find a massive statue of Jeff Goldblum isn’t there…

… but here I’m talking about the other kind of surprise. The good one.

So let me set the scene. It’s a Tuesday night. It’s too hot to sleep. I’m alone in my room with the sounds of London drifting through the cracked window. A candle flickers atop of a cabinet in the corner and I’m scrolling through Now TV to find something to watch.

Does anyone else find that, while these streaming services give us a plethora of choices, they also make us incredibly indecisive?

At least back in the day when TV schedules reigned supreme it took away hours of fruitless flicking and soulless scrolling.

I narrowed my choices down to some of the shorter films and found one that ran for an hour and a half. The title was ‘Happy Death Day’ – which, in my humble opinion, is a terrible title.

I was about to flick past it when something about the synopsis caught my eye. Apparently it was like Groundhog Dog meets Friday the 13th.

Now, Groundhog Day is a great movie… but I’m no slasher film fan. Yet still, against my better judgement I gave it a go.

The opening titles rolled and… within seconds I was hooked!

Against all the odds it was good. and deserves its 7/10 rating on IMDB.

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(Look out for a great lead performance by Jessica Rothe, who you may recognise from La La Land)

Who knew, though?

Everything about it made me want to skip it, but curiosity got the better of me and I’m glad it did. That age old saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ held true.

Although, I do think they need to reconsider that title – I recommended it to a friend and when I mentioned the title his first comment was; ‘sounds grim’.

How would I market it?

Maybe Groundhog Dog meets Alfred Hitchcock.

It takes away the stigma we have around slasher films, yet also hints that viewers will be in for some killer scenes.

Check it out!

by Ashley Brown

featured photo: looper.com

other image: Business Insider

A Halloween Story

I wrote this several years ago and, as it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share it:

I have a confession to make.

We’ve all done things wrong, and we’ve all done things we’re not exactly proud of. But I think mine probably tops all of yours – I mean have you ever killed the one you love? No? No…I didn’t think so. To look at me, you’d never imagine that I could be capable of such a malicious, sorrowful deed – for I am perhaps one of the most humble, slightly-built older males you are ever likely to see.

It’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on the matter – a few miserable days, sitting in this cell – with only the faraway drone of the other inmates and the sparsely decorated walls to keep me company.

I’ll tell you the tale right now and I’ll pull no punches and spare no details, for I am
old now, with such little life left that there’s no point even attempting to preserve myself from whatever justice the authorities see fit for me. You may feel sympathetic to me perhaps, but then you may very well agree with the majority of society and deem me a villain – one not fit to share the world with the other right-thinking folk.

I’ve been in love with someone before, oh yes I have! When I was much younger! She was a lovely lady.

Virginia Wright was her name.

And even now many, many years down the line I still think of that name in a rose-tinted light. She was a few years older than I, and perhaps not the easiest lady on the eye – but out of all of her many suitors she chose me and our affectionate companionship slowly turned into a deep-rooted understanding and love.

I’ve always been too slow of head to be a well-versed romantic, but I’d have to say she was “the one”, and perhaps once I’ve been judged by the aforementioned forces of authority I may well be reunited with Virginia Wright in another life, somewhere far, far away from here.

The early days (honeymoon period) were my favourites – they stretch out before me even
now in a sort of effervescent movie montage. The places we went together, the little characteristics and quirks we both had that we learned to love so well, the people we met and of course those quiet moments that are shared between two like-minded souls, the quiet moments that no one else ever knows.4

However as time went on and age consumed Virginia faster than I, it became more and more of a challenge to get by – at the start of things it was a pleasant challenge to keep her happy, but toward the end it got so it was a struggle just to support her through anything. Whether it be helping her on a simple cooking expedition around the kitchen or a trip to the lavatory.

Everyone tried to convince her to ask for extra care, care that I (being no spring chicken
myself) couldn’t really provide, but being the strong soul she was she was determined to
carry on. And from that determination I will always carry inspiration. I still remember the day she died in my arms like it was yesterday, her soft hazel brown eyes closing as life was finally taken from her. It looked more like she was asleep than devoid of life, but perhaps that’s all death is?

Just another level of sleep, one that mortal minds can’t configure.

From a selfish perspective I was distraught at losing my life’s companion, but from a more senior, learned point of view I was able to eventually rest soundly to the oh-so-familiar tune of her “being in a better place”.

But alas, I’m getting off of the real point of my sin with all this talk of Virginia Wright –
perhaps I am more of a romantic at heart than I initially thought.

The lady of my confession goes…or rather went…by the name of Lily Swann, a pretty name I’ll agree, but very misplaced.

In the years following Virginia’s passing I had little or no connection with
anyone, Virginia’s family all lived away from the city and I, myself, was born of another
country and at my age I had no real way of getting back there. So it was a lonely life I led, a life spent mostly traipsing to and from various shopping centres, markets and outlets – people watching.

If I didn’t have a life of my own I could at least gain some interest from what
others around me were doing, you can earn an awful lot from people and from my various vantage points I saw many dramas, conflicts and romances unfold. Life has a simple algorithm, we just like to kid ourselves that it’s more complicated than it is.

It was while I was scanning the aisles of a second-hand store on West Street that I was
approached by a lady called Linda. She must have noticed my lonely existence before, as I was sure I’d recognised her from somewhere – but when you reach my age all the names and faces seem to roll into one and it becomes harder and harder to decipher any countenance that isn’t common place in your life.

Linda was a weekly carer for a lady called Lilly, and she must have thought of herself as some sort of matchmaker as she arranged for a few meetings with us. We didn’t really warm to each other at first, I didn’t feel I wanted her – and she felt she had no use for me, but the relentless matchmaking continued and eventually we fell into a mutual companionship.

I’ve always firmly believed that if you try hard enough you can learn to like, and who knows, maybe even love someone if you really want to make it work. It was hard getting used to Lily’s hair-string temper and shoe-string budget but I settled into the idea that I would never find anyone else to love at such a late age.

That woman proceeded to wear me down – both physically and mentally. I’m not trying for sympathy now, I’m sure that perhaps I could have just upped and left somehow, but I just could never find the nerve.

She used to mumble to herself all the time, what she was saying I couldn’t decipher at times – but I knew it was nothing positive, her mutterings gradually changed to insults – mainly aimed at me. Useless. Never has a word cut me so deep as that, through my whole life I’d been a hard worker – both at work and in a relationship, and to be constantly called this whenever I was with her or helping her hurt me in a way that you cannot imagine.

Never has such a simple word, fired at me so maliciously, made me feel so redundant.
But as we grew to know each other better, and as we got older, words turned to actions. The little things at first, nudging me out of the way when she wanted to hobble a short distance across the house, spilling the odd drop of boiling tea onto me without the slightest murmur of an apology and then slowly moving to the physical. She soon fell into the habit of kicking me from the solitude of her own gnarled rocking chair whenever something annoyed her. As if I was some sort of worthless scapegoat that
she could unload her pathetic, ill-founded frustrations on.

Alas a few days ago the two of us had decided to head into the city for a day’s shopping, and this is where things came to a head. Having your body fail on you is the worst part of old age, a body that you’ve grown so used to over the years – suddenly becoming rigid and hopeless.

We were a few yards away from the house when I felt a sudden pang in my creaking limbs, and before I knew it they’d stopped – locked up completely – I couldn’t go any further.

“What’s wrong with you? You’re useless. I want to be back in time for the soap operas”.
With that she straightened herself up and flung a leg at me, striking me a lot harder than I would have expected from a woman of her age.
“Useless. Useless. Useless. Supposed to be there for me. Useless”.
With each cry of useless her foot connected against my limbs, until I felt something rise
inside of me, an anger so sharp and so stunningly severe that I’d never felt it before. But an anger that brought new life into me and I found myself lunging forward at the old hag – we toppled to the pavement in an ear-splitting crescendo of shouts and screams- noises
of pain, raw emotion and rage. Next thing I knew, all I could hear was a sickening, crack as the old lady’s head met the pavement. It was only then that I realised just what I had done.

Emotions. They often get the better of you in the end.

Oh…wait, what’s this that has broken my tainted string of thought? The cell door in front of me is opening, finally! It’s barely been opened since the day I was first banished here. Two policemen appear in front of me – bored and tired in their dark blue, padded uniforms.

After a moment they fix their attention on me and the room, and I can hear the first
one speak: “Bloody impound lot gets more and more cluttered every time I come in here”, now he turns his attention to me, and me alone, “stupid rusty wheelchair, that can go to the scrap yard I don’t think we’re going to be needing that anymore.”
“That from the Swann woman investigation?”, asks his younger colleague.
“Yeah, weird one. Found her on the pavement with the chair on top of her, but no one could seem to find anything wrong with the chair itself, ‘cos she wasn’t even on it at the time. Almost as if it just got up got up and rolled on top of her”.
His colleague laughs.

I know my fate is sealed. The scrap man calls.

Virginia, I’m coming, I won’t be long now.

by Ashley Brown

Danny Boyle, the tube and suspenseful endings.

I watched a film called ‘Fallen’ last night.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, before?

I hadn’t. It seems to have slipped a bit under the radar. It’s a 1998 horror film starring Denzel Washington – as I like horror and Denzel, and had never seen the two together before, I felt compelled to give it a go.

In short, it’s a good film – I recommend you check it out. Although, be warned, I’m about to give a spoiler…

….

Okay, so it had one of those ‘shock’ endings that you often see in horror or thriller films. You know the one…where you think the bad guy is dead…and then suddenly – BOOM – something happens to make you think otherwise.

Like those Jason or Michael Myers films where you see a shot of the killer at the end and realise that there’s going to be a sequel.

jason

It got me thinking about endings and how important they are. Although for those of us who ‘didn’t write today’ beginnings are harder than endings…!

The whole ‘shock’ ending started out as being a bit rebellious…something a bit different. Hollywood audiences were so used to things working out happily that a ‘surprise’ ending really used to work back in the day. Audiences didn’t know what to expect.

Their humdrum idea that ‘everything will be okay in the end’ was suddenly well and truly shaken.

However, nowadays, I wonder if it’s something that’s rather overused. Almost predictable. I’d say that 60 – 70% of the horror films that I’ve seen recently have relied on it. Which brings me to a point where I’d be more surprised if things ended up happily ever after.

One thing I think that does work is an ambiguous, open ending. The kind of thing that gets people talking long after the end credits have rolled.

A good example of this is in the film Shallow Grave, which came out in 1994. If you’ve not seen it I highly recommend it – it was the director Danny Boyle’s cinematic debut.

The film has caused a lot of debate online (and offline too) due to its ending. As the film ends one of the characters is badly injured, and as the emergency services arrive you can’t quite work out whether he’s dead or not.

After watching it I remember searching online to see what others thought, but no one seemed to be sure.

Fast forward several months and I’m on the tube heading from Camden to East London. I look over to my right…and who do I see in front of me? None other than Danny Boyle.

Back in these days I was an aspiring actor, so I opened up a conversation with him. He was a lovely guy and really chatty. It was during the chat that I suddenly realised that I’d been presented with a rare opportunity.

I could actually ask about the ending of Shallow Grave and have an answer from none other than the director himself.

And so I did. And he told me that the character was definitely alive at the end of the film.

He also told me how surprised he was whenever he heard that people thought the ending was ambiguous. When they filmed it they’d assumed that everyone would know that he was alive.

How about that!? A surprise ending wasn’t even meant to be quite so surprising at all.

(Oh and of course I asked him to cast me in one of his films. They were currently filming for Trainspotting 2. He gave me the name of his casting director – I emailed her, and alas, never heard back. Maybe next time)

While we’re on the subject of endings, there’s one film that steals it for me for every time.

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If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ you need to. Incredible slice of cinema.

 

 

Reviewing bad horror films…

I recently took a spontaneous leap and signed up for Shudder – if you’re into horror or thriller films, it may well be worth checking out. It’s basically a genre-tailored version of Netflix.

Horror films are notorious when it comes to fiction – be it on film or in the pages of a book. I guess it’s because some of them are so bad – low budget filmmakers just can’t seem to keep themselves away from trying to tell scary stories.

As excruciatingly cringe-worthy as some might be, sometimes it’s a bit of fun to switch off and watch them. So, today that’s what I’ve done and I’ve taken it upon myself to review a few of them as I went.

Ritual (2013)

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(Take That – 2060 reunion gig)

Plot in a nutshell: A man takes a late night call from his estranged wife, and soon wishes he hadn’t.

This film could be a poster child for the term ‘low-budget’ – 90% of it takes place in one location and many of the scenes look as if they’ve been shot on a handheld camcorder, giving it that ‘straight outta film school’ vibe.

At the start there’s a really cool, old school ‘warning’ screen that comes on and says that anyone with a faint heart shouldn’t stay at watch the film. I liked that, and I also liked the use of sound and voiceovers. They’re great at building tension, and the one easy tool that a low budget filmmaker usually has in their arsenal in sound.

I don’t mind a slowburner, but this was exceptionally slow at times. In fact, for long periods of time, this almost seemed more like a relationship drama than a horror film.

The ending will no doubt shock a lot of viewers – it was quite bold! There were a few jump scenes, and there was a creepy overall feeling but I didn’t find myself walking away from it and thinking…’that was some tense shit’ so from me this gets a 2/5.

The Burning (1981)

theburning
(Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, circa 1980s)

Plot in a nutshell: A pissed-off caretaker unleashes his anger on the residents of a summer camp.

Where would any post on horror movies be complete without a slasher reference? Although I have to say, for long periods of time (particularly at the end) this one plays out more like a thriller – something which works in its favour.

I fully expected to not enjoy ‘The Burning’ at all. I thought I’d sit here in my Ivory Tower, laughing at how cheesy and poorly made it was….but I was wrong. Sure, it is cheesy and, in some points, highly predictable – but there are some good ‘jump’ scenes and the final twenty minutes of the film really got me going.

Having said that, some of the dialogue was terrible. Here are a few highlights:

“Burned so bad he’s cooked. fuckin’ big mac. overdone” (this line is spoken by a Doctor)

‘Alfred’s been prowling around the girl’s shower’
‘What do you have to say about that, Alfred?’
‘I only meant to scare her!’ (said as if it’s the most normal thing in the world)

‘Michelle! the canoes have gone”
‘What do you mean they’re gone?’
‘They’re not here!’

‘Where did you learn to build a raft?’
‘Raft building! in the boy scouts!
‘Thank God for the boy scouts!’

I believe this film was actually banned for a while in the UK due to a scene on a raft…but, compared to what we see nowadays, it’s relatively tame.

Special shoutout to Jason Alexander who is great in this – he’d eventually go on to star in Seinfeld. 

seinfeld

The attitudes of some of the camp seniors to their girlfriends are really terrible here, they come across as absolute animals and you’re left with very little sympathy for them when they run into the killer.

These sorts of films are predictable, though and until the last portion of the film none of the characters have any fight in them, so they’re really just fodder for the killer (Cropsey is his nickname!) – they all make such stupid decisions too, it’s easy to be frustrated by it.

I did like the ending though – it was the usual kind of ‘shock’ ending that these films usually have – something that’s meant to be surprising but now does the opposite.

For me it’s a 4/5 – it’s laughable in places, but also keeps the pulse-racing and it really does hold your attention. Something which so many films miss nowadays.

Tenebrae (1982)

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(I already said, I don’t have any treats!)

Plot in a nutshell: An author goes to promote his book in Rome, and a murderer suddenly strikes.

Like a good wine selection, I don’t think any horror film list is complete without something Italian. Apparently, this was inspired by some experiences that the director (Dario Argento) actually had with a crazed fan.

While the story is mostly linear and easy to follow, it does occasionally burst into strange and fleeting dream-like sequences. Fragmented and disjointed images, accompanied by creepy music. It reminded me of the way nightmares played out.

Some of the themes are good and, again, there’s a nice use of music to elevate tension. But, as with so many horror films, the filmmaker is so hellbent on upping his bodycount that the characters continually put themselves in danger, and make silly decisions.

Some of the drama involved is very convoluted,  and the acting isn’t going to be any awards any time soon – but it is entertaining, and it didn’t find my attention wavering.

The ending was silly though and, again, characters do stupid things just to put themselves in the way of danger so the body count can go up.

3/5 for me, I’d say.

 

 

Stephen King’s IT

IT is the story of a bunch of long-lost friends who go back to their home town to face something that has scared them since they were children.

“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”

Revisiting the past can throw up a lot of memories, and while ‘IT’ is a horror story, it covers a whole lot more. I could relate because, as an adult, ‘IT’ also took me back to when I was younger. When I was about thirteen I happened to pick up a battered copy of King’s ‘The Dark Half’ at a secondhand sale. Up until that point, as a reader, I’d always read ‘adult’ books but mostly westerns, spy stories and adventures.

But discovering Stephen King’s work opened up my eyes to a whole different genre. From that point on, and even now, I couldn’t help but be interested in the macabre. So, as a teenager, I devoured a vast majority of King’s backlog. The Stand, Salems Lot, Firestarter and even the lesser-known Insomnia – flashed before my eyes and disappeared into my mind.

As I got older, however, things changed and I moved away from King’s work. I got to that age where socialising becomes more important and, save for the odd novel, my reading fell to the side. I’m pleased to say that as I hit my early twenties my passion for books fully came back, but I never returned to King.

IT was one of his works that I hadn’t read and after seeing a teaser for the upcoming movie I mentioned it, and so my girlfriend kindly got me a beautiful copy. Thus I committed to 1000+ pages of King once more. Travelling back in time to revisit an author, and an imagination, that had gripped me so tightly in its thrall as a teenager.

IT

The book unfolds like a weird and very lucid nightmare. An endless stream of interupted thoughts and unusual occurances whirl around the characters’ heads. All the while followed by a niggling sense of inevitability as they’re brought towards their fate.

“Swear to me swear to me that if it isn’t dead you’ll all come back.”

A series of child murders have been happening in a small American city and a bunch of 11 year old outcasts who call themselves ‘the losers’ have their suspicions that the killer isn’t mortal. Of course none of the adults will believe them…or even raise a hand to help them. The theme of isolation becomes more and more relevant as things go on – which is great writing, because isolation is often the root of fear – imagine how you’d feel if you were seeing things that no one else could see? As if life wasn’t tough enough they’re also constantly threatened by the local bully, who ends up becoming one of the most fucked-up ‘human’ characters that King has ever created.

As children ‘the losers’ are able to defeat the weird entity that is ‘IT’ and, soon afterwards, all but one of them moves well away from the area. The local bully’s friends are killed and he ends up being sent to the local asylum. By the way, if you’re interested as to why there are so many pictures of clowns whenever you see anything about IT, this is because the entity is able to manifest as your biggest fear…which, for children, can often be a clown.

“Oh Christ, he groaned to himself, if this is the stuff adults have to think about I never want to grow up”

Fast forward some twenty-five years and ‘the losers’, all now successful in their own ways, are called back to the town. Murders are taking place again and they feel that they have unfinished business.

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I warn you now, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted. Sure, that sounds obvious as it’s a horror novel, but there are more themes here than just a nasty looking clown. Everything from abusive parenting to domestic abuse is covered in some depth – and there are a couple of scenes where the minors have sex, which I didn’t expect and didn’t feel were at all necessary to the narrative.

For me, overall, this was a triumphant return to the world of King. It thrilled me, it had me rooting for the characters and it took me back to what it was like to be a child. What it was like to believe that there are weird things in the woods, and what it was like to run from bullies and to think that some kid giving you shit in school was the most important thing ever.

People Stephen King Troops

IT, itself, is a fascinating villain and not one that I ever hope to run into in my day-to-day humdrum. What I liked as well is that, as scary as It was, It still felt beatable – which gave a sense of hope that is often never found in these books. An unbeatable bad guy is a cliche we could do with taking a break from.

“Kill you all!” The clown was laughing and screaming. “Try to stop me and I’ll kill you all! Drive you crazy and then kill you all! You can’t stop me!”

When this was first released, most reviewers were on King’s case about the length. I get that, and as an independent reviewer, it troubled me too – the book comes to around 1,300 pages. I’m not so sure that it needed them all. There were pages and pages of exposition, and reflections on all sorts of topics – everything from checking out a book at the library to how larger people are often light on their feet. A few times I had to fight my inner-editor to make sure that I didn’t allow myself to skim-read certain paragraphs and pages.

I understand that characterisation is important, particularly for the seven or eight main characters. But so many pages were spent delving into the backgrounds of some really unimportant people. For example I read all about one of the character’s school life – his IQ, his parents, how he killed his younger brother (not relevant to the story) only to see him get killed by IT some two or three pages later. All well-written, sure – but as we know it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day as it is – so when we pick up a book we want it to be at least a little concise and nuanced at times. Occasionally brevity can often be the key to great writing (he says after writing a huge review).

“once you get into cosmological shit like this, you got to throw away the instruction manual”

All in all, you should read ‘It’ if you like the genre or if you want something different from your Gillian Flynns and Steig Larssons. It’s out there. It’s a raving, lucid nightmare of childhood fears, adult anxieties and some hairy fucking moments.

4/5 – if it weren’t for the extra 300/400 pages and some of the strange sexual scenes it would have hit the 5. It has definitely made me want to go back and search out some of the King stories that I never got round to reading back in my heyday…