<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FILMS THAT MATTER]]>Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:37:35 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER: LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH]]>Wed, 24 Feb 2016 11:46:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-lets-scare-jessica-to-death
There have been many great movies that have inspired me over the years in the genre of horror.  I have to start with honorable mention of some titles that come to mind such as many of the Hammer Films, Argento's Demons, the original Night of the Demons, Kubrick's the ShiningNightbreedLord of Illusions, and 3 John Carpenter films: the ThingPrince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness.  Rob Zombie's movies are pretty rad too.  Although I'm not a fan of his cartoon.  I could mention many more films of this genre being a fan of horror movies since I was a kid.  I've been enjoying them since before I should have been watching them.  To me horror movies are pure escapism.  I prefer the supernatural to the slasher flicks.  I've chose one film in particular that had an enormous impact on me growing up.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death.  This movie hit theatres in 1971.  Directed by John D. Hanock and starring Zohra Lampert as Jessica.  I didn't see it until 1987 when I was in the seventh grade.  This was back in the days video rental stores still existed.  My brother and I would enjoy browsing through VHS movies for about an hour selecting what movies to rent for the weekend.  I was very skeptical of Let's Scare Jessica to Death and if memory serves it was our mother that picked it out.  Maybe it was the title that turned me off initially.  Whatever it was I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to watch this movie.

I've been watching horror movies since before I can remember.  There was no parental censorship of the films I watched.  I don't know how this effected the development of my brain!  Ha.  I remember watching the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers when I was like 5 and Donald Sutherland screeching in the last scene of the movie creeped me out even more than the dog with the head of a man.  I saw the Exorcist when I was like 7 years old and that didn't freak me out as much as Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

Nothing I've ever watched in the horror movie genre has ever effected me so deeply, so psychologically, and been so profoundly inspiring.  I sat down with pizza, soda, and buttery microwave popcorn as my brother stuck the VHS tape into the VCR completely unaware of what I was about to experience.  It was late into the evening.  Close to midnight.  When the movie started I thought, “Oh, Gawd, this is going to be dumb.”  The movie frightened me more than anything I'd ever seen before.

When the film was over I wasn't sure what I had just seen. I sat there in awe.  Did I just watch a ghost story?  Was it a vampire movie?  Was it a movie about an insane woman?  Was it a movie about people trying to drive Jessica insane?  I couldn't tell you and still can't.  This horror movie is a genuine work of art.  It haunted me for days afterward.  I couldn't sleep that night, when I did sleep I had nightmares of the movie.  At school I daydreamed about the movie.  WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT MOVIE!

This movie was filmed with just a hint of dreaminess and surrealism to make it that much more believable, confusing, and unsettling.  To make it disturbing.  How has this film effected my story telling?  It's caused me to enjoy writing stories like that, some times, not always, where you're not quite sure what just happened.  I don't always write like that but it's a definite influence.  Makes me wonder if David Lynch was ever influenced by Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

There is a beautiful red haired woman (a scarlet woman?) in this movie.  Her character attracted me and frightened me at the same time.  The images of her were ethereal.  I didn't know if she was a ghost, a vampire, a mad woman, or a conspirator.  A mute blonde woman appears at times as well.  The atmosphere of this film was amazing.  It has a sense of history and realism.  Realism in fiction always adds to it's shock and awe.  When the movie was over I wasn't even sure if anyone had been killed or died in the movie or not.

If you are a fan of the horror genre or appreciate the history of cinema or film as art then I strongly recommend this film.  If you want classic, low budget eeriness that doesn't exist in modern horror films, this is a movie for you.  I mean it when I say they don't make movies like this anymore.  That is a tragedy.  It is gothic and poetic.  The whispers strike something in the subconscious.  There is sexual element difficult to pinpoint.  The subtly of the film is one of it's strongest attributes.  What is real?  It is a thriller and a triumph and underrated by Rotten Tomatoes.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death is on my list of one of the greatest films of all time.  If I had a list of the top 100 movies of all time.  Maybe I should do that.  While writing this I found a fan site entirely dedicated to this movie, so I know I'm not the only one moved by it.  The site claims the movie uses Jessica as a metaphor of the moral and mental ills of the 1970s.  I am a child of the 70s.

This movie directly inspired me when writing the short story Dampir in the book Woke By Thunder published by Night Horse Publishing House.  The Dampir in this tale is very much an amalgam of the haunting women from Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

I leave you with the final words of the film itself:

"I sit here, and I can't believe that it happened and yet I have to believe it. Nightmares or dreams? Madness or sanity? I don't know which is which." 

Nathan Neuharth

<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER 28 DAYS LATER]]>Sun, 18 Oct 2015 09:13:48 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-28-days-later
Films That Matter 28 Days Later To Zombie or not to Zombie, to run or not to run, that is the question! Or at least it is when considering Danny Boyle's seminal horror flick 28 Days Later. Chatting to author Rich Hawkins, we've come to the conclusion that though technically not a zombie flick (the infected are enraged but alive) 28 Days Later is often regarded as such. So now it begs a question. If we accept that at its basic level, this is a zombie film, should zombies run, or not? 

Granted, zombies did run before this film was released, but Boyle's fantastic movie brought the running 'zombie' closer to the attention of horror audiences. So, do you like your Romero shamblers or your sprinters?

In Zac Schnyder's Dawn of the Dead remake with Vingh Rhames, the zombies are full on sprinters, and though it lacks the humour and pathos of Romero's original Dawn, the remake is a whole lot of fun and there is a different kind of fear and tension at play. Take, for instance, the opening scenes where Sarah Polley finds herself attacked by her recently reanimated fiancé. Her desperate scramble through the tight window of the bathroom certainly sets the pulse a racing!

So, back to 28 Days - according to Francesca Quigley, this film is particularly awesome, it "brings the terror to life, shows very early in there's no second chances. You get bit, you get shot."

For John Gorman, it truly is a scary film, and the speed of the zombies/not zombies adds to the fear factor. "As a fat guy ... This film scares the shit outa me."
Wise words John, or as Rich says, "Get training John."

So, why does this film work so well? Firstly, it has some of the most edge of your seat scenes. The tyre changing scene and the stair chase in the tower block for starters are fantastic. But for me, it's not the speed of the not zom - oh hell, I'm just gonna call them zombies for Christ Sake - it's the characters. 

Let's start with a scene just after the opening - Cillian Murphy, who is a sterling actor by the way, awakens after a bike crash, emaciated, pulling a dry drip out of his arm (a nod to the Walking Dead Kieran Rose suggests or a homage to 'Day of the Triffids' according to Rich) to a desolate, empty hospital, wandering the abandoned streets of London, desperate for any sight of humanity. This memorable scene was filmed in the wee early hours of the morning to capture the vibe of an empty city. 

Murphy's fear is palpable. What is going on? What the hell has happened to his home, to everyone he loves? The silence of a deserted city is deafening. And when he first encounters a zombie, then eventually gets to his home and finds his parents the emotional resonance and impact is incredibly impressive. We really feel for him. He is a real person, not a cypher for the zombies to attack and kill. And as for the infection, 'rage' it is instantaneous. Scary.

With no one answering his plea for help, Jim enters an abandoned church in hope of salvation. All he finds is chaos. An infected priest who, well, just needs a snack! It is to be fair quite similar to a scene from Resident Evil Two with Alice. But it isn't long before Jim is saved by a couple of humans. The scenes of destruction are quite effective having being filmed in Black and White tones with sparks of red fire.

Throughout his attempt to survive, Jim hooks up with a small group including Selena (Naomie Harris) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson).

Their perilous journey gets the group into all sorts of scrapes, but when they encounter a band of soldiers led by Christopher Eccleston, things get distinctively worse. Selena and young girl Hannah (Megan Burns)   Are held captive and are about to be raped, which is By the way handled sensitively and respectively, before Selena can take control and before Jim can save them. You would think I would object to the females being saved by the male character, but not so. The scene highlights Jim's temporary degeneration into a creature bent on revenge almost as brutal as the zombies themselves.

Released in 2002, this film invigorated the decaying zombie genre with its introduction of the 'fast' zombie. This is pretty simply, a game changer, and a film that every respectable horror fan needs to watch. The performances, script and tight direction add pace and tension to the film, making this an absolute classic. So, back to our question. To run or not to run?
What's your vote? Do tell.



<![CDATA[CUBE : THE FILMS THAT MATTER]]>Thu, 28 May 2015 10:05:47 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/cube-the-films-that-matter
The concept is novel, the introductory teaser—a man waking, disoriented, in a tiny room with backlit walls and closed hatches, one of which leads to another room where he’s unexpectedly cubed by a giant cheese grater—is captivating, and the story itself is a beautiful blend of psychological horror, creepy visuals, and nearly flawless character development.

The first time I saw Cube, a 1997 Canadian film directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali, I approached it with some doubt that a story taking place in such a limited setting could sustain itself for 90 minutes. Creating a full-length movie using a set composed basically of one 143-foot room (the walls’ backlit colors being the only indication that one room is any different from the next), and with a budget of approximately $350,000, seemed an impossible undertaking. Even with a seven-person cast of unique characters, the story development would take a stroke of genius to pull off.
But I’d underestimated Natali et. al, and in doing so, I learned an important lesson about pacing through characterization and skilled plot exposition.

The writers start off by offering the impression that the characters—each waking in a different room with no recollection as to how they got there—are random. They find one another by chance, or seemingly so, and appear to have nothing in common. We soon learn that the common thread is that they are so distinctly different. Initially, the writers give us limited information about the first five players in the group: Helen is a doctor who works for a free clinic; Leaven is an average-looking college student; Quentin is a cop and obvious alpha male; Worth is a pessimist who describes himself as “just a guy” who works in an office, and Rennes is a career criminal who’s made a name for himself as a prison escape artist.

We fall into a false sense of guarded security along with the cast when they decide to follow Rennes’ lead. After all, if he’s broken out of multiple high-security prisons, he must have what it takes to escape from the booby-trapped enclosure. He successfully veers them out of harm’s way a few times, using his boots to trigger motion detectors and even noticing one room doesn’t smell quite right, the air exceptionally dry. Just when we think his skills are going to see the group through, however, he hops into a room only to be sprayed in the face with acid.

With Rennes’ gruesome death, Quentin takes charge, but the group is hesitant to continue. Leaven, however, has developed a theory. Turns out she’s a math whiz, exceptionally gifted, and she’s noticed each room has had three sets of three-digit numbers etched in the crawl spaces between the hatches. She’s also noticed that all three sets of numbers bordering the safe rooms have been prime. The group proceeds, only to come to a room where every direction appears booby trapped. They decide to climb up and check the room above them, only for a developmentally disabled young man, Kazan, to drop through the hatch when they open it. Helen, the bleeding heart, convinces the group to bring him along.

At this point in the movie, I remember thinking, “Okay, they’ve sustained the story pretty effectively up to now, but how can they possibly maintain this level of momentum and story progression? What more can they possibly do to keep monotony from setting in?”

The answer ends up coming via an effective use of character study followed by yet another clever twist. We learn that Quentin is separated from his wife and children because he suffers from violent outbursts, Helen has a paranoid, conspiracy-theorist streak to her personality, and Worth is an architect—and he finally admits to having designed the cube’s outer shell. He knows nothing else about the cube, other than the fact that the shell is exactly 434 feet long. This gives Leaven the information she needs to estimate the group’s distance from the edge. They excitedly make their way to what should be their final room, only to find the coordinate system has somehow failed them.

The only possible explanation is that the rooms have been moving; they’re navigating what is essentially a giant Rubik’s cube. And just as disheartening, they learn via a close call that nearly ends Quentin that Leaven’s prime number theory is incorrect.

At a new standstill, Leaven does more math using their surrounding coordinates, realizing the safe rooms have not prime numbers, but rather prime factorization. She’s too physically and emotionally drained to continue, the numbers just too big for her to work with. Leaven says a set of numbers, and how she can’t possibly factor all of them down. Then, out of the blue, Kazan speaks up: “Two…. Factor … two.” We learn along with the characters that Kazan is an autistic savant and, you guessed it, he’s a human calculator.

I know I’ve given a large amount of plot description here, but the plot is what makes this movie so exceptional. The writers take what appears to be a simple idea that can’t possibly weave itself into a complete story, and with it they produce a movie that not only contains numerous plot points, but is engaging, evenly paced, and unpredictable. This helped to show me that there’s a fully developed story in every idea just as long as it’s planned and presented carefully enough. Characters that appear flat at first glance can develop in surprising ways, and that development can be a useful tool in fleshing out the story itself.

This lesson gave me a newfound measure of insight into my own use of pacing. It offered a good example of how to reveal a plot in small but sensible pieces, allowing my audience only the information that is necessary for the moment, leading them through a complex list of seemingly simple points. I’ve learned to take my time with a scene, really explore it as far as I can before moving on to the next.

Recently, I completed my fifteenth novel, a 66,000-word thriller that takes place almost entirely in a single, tiny apartment. Much of the story depended upon characterization, and without the qualities I observed in Cube, I never would have had the tools to sustain the story. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted to take it on such a huge challenge. If you’ve never seen Cube, you should. It’s a great psychological thriller—and you might learn a thing or two from it.

Website: http://www.cerebralwriter.com

Blog: http://www.cerebralwriter.com/blog.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLeighMLane

Twitter: https://twitter.com/leighmlane

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Leigh-M.-Lane/e/B0055DSE6Y

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/LeighMLane

Biography - Leigh M. Lane has been writing dark speculative fiction for over twenty years. She has ten published novels and dozens of published short stories divided between two genre-specific pseudonyms. She is married to editor Thomas B. Lane, Jr. and currently resides in the outskirts of Sin City.

Follow the links below  for more great retrospective horror reviews 



<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER: THE EVIL DEAD  BY STEVE WETHERELL]]>Wed, 27 May 2015 10:14:43 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-the-evil-dead-by-steve-wetherell
My Undying Love for the Evil Dead

Someone once said that the literary world is divided into two— those who have read The Lord of the Rings, and those who have not. I would say the same about the world of cinema— there are those who have watched Evil Dead II, and those who really should. Like, right now. Immediately.

I fondly recall my own abrupt introduction to the 1983 schlock horror classic. It started as many of the boring summer days of my adolescence did— digging for porn in my buddies parent’s VHS collection (this was still a couple of years before the internet would revolutionise the lives of bored perverts everywhere.) Anyway, we found a pirate copy of Evil Dead II (all the best movies were pirate copies back then) and set it to play, hoping at least for some errant side boob.

And then, just like that, my life changed.

The movie was cheesy, sure. So unapologetically cheesy that at first, in my prickly teenage self-consciousness, I almost turned it off. But then I eased in, and realised what a pretentious jerk I was being. The movie was a riot. A full on roller coaster. Plot took a back seat as our goofy protagonist, Ash Williams (played by the now legendary horror icon Bruce Campbell) made the mistake of reading from a haunted book, kicking off a long night of fighting evil spirits, zombie girlfriends, and even his own possessed hand. Quite an opening act by anyone’s standards.

But it wasn't all about the zany monster fighting. There were deeper forces at work— whether it was in the unabashed joy of director Sam Raimi’s open experimentation with set and camera, the ham-fisted charm of the cast, the haunting sincerity of the sound track, or the host of one-liners now hard-wired into the lexicon of any goofball worth his or her salt. Evil Dead II was a master work in camp; unapologetic and deeply celebratory, right up there with Flash Gordon in terms of Movies Who Do Not Care What Your Boring Ass Thinks is Cool. (In fact, it would be no surprise that Dino De Laurentis would go on to produce the much cheesier and camper sequel to Evil Dead II, but that’s a whole other article.)

I was a horror fan before Evil Dead II, the kind of kid who’d stare in wonder at the bad art on the fairground ghost trains and heavy-metal album covers, but Sam Raimi’s seminal classic really opened my eyes to what I loved about the genre— The fantastic. The absurd. The relentless defiance of the rational.

Speaking of the rational, or lack thereof, I often wonder if the movie going audience of today would take a chance on something like Evil Dead II. Or Phantasm, or Re-Animator, or any of those strange, wonderful films from the bottom of the VHS pile. It seems to me that when we roll our eyes at the ‘unnecessary’ crosspiece on a lightsaber, or complain loudly about there being too many superheroes on the screen at once, that perhaps maybe we’ve lost some necessary filter to take in the inexplicable, and with it the wonderful. Zombies now are ‘infected’, and the Force isn’t magic, it’s some kind of genetic space weevils. There is no room in our rational hearts, perhaps, for angry ghosts and the lumbering, invincible dead, nor their chainsaw wielding slayers (what idiot uses a chainsaw after all? What a stupid impractical weapon!) Maybe as an audience we’re just too darned sophisticated to even ironically appreciate this stuff anymore. Where are we now? Post ironic? Post-post ironic? I lose track…

And yet… Evil Dead the TV series approaches, and everyone’s favourite shotgun-toting zombie fighter is about to step onto our screens again, to fight once more (and perhaps there’s some significance to this,) an evil book. So maybe that ghost-train wonder, that nightmare-logic silliness, didn’t die at all. Or maybe it did… and it came back.

I have to admit that a part of me is a little nervous about my beloved cult classic taking to the small screen for mass consumption. Evil Dead was important to me— the day I saw that movie a seed was planted in me as surely as any corrupting spirit. It made me want to make movies, draw comics, write books. It made me want to boldly traverse that green and red lit nightmare-scape and make a piece of it my own. Unfortunately, making movies was expensive, and drawing comics require you to be able to draw, so I settled for writing Shoot the Dead— my own tribute to b-movie madness, and a novel that surely would never have existed if a group of kids from Michigan hadn’t decided to pick up a camera and unknowingly change my life.

Yes, the Evil Dead was a big part of my life, and now it’s coming back. Will I still feel the same about it? Will it still feel the same about me? Can we ever truly go back? Or is the past best left buried? Hah! Those are the wrong questions, jack— what are we, film noir? We’re talking about horror, and in horror, when the ghosts of your past come to find you, first you scream and then you grab a chainsaw and have some fun!

Steve Wetherell is a horror fan, humour writer and regular face at CBS’s Man Cave Daily. His  horror comedy novel Shoot the Dead is his own personal love letter to grainy, pirated VHS movies.

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<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER : LEX JONES DISCUSES THE GATE]]>Wed, 29 Apr 2015 07:34:42 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-lex-jones-discuses-the-gate
When I decided to write this one, the first thing I did was sit down and try to remember the first horror film I ever saw. That wasn't as easy as you might expect. My aim was to think of the first horror film that I sat and watched all the way through, from start to finish, and that was tricky because I'd seen patchwork approximations of horror films before then. I was raised during the era when parents still gave a damn about what their children consumed, so as a child horror films had to be viewed in secret whenever parents were out and a friend had 'borrowed' their Dad's copy of Nightmare on Elm Street or something similar. This was in the days before the internet and streaming TV, so unless you had a film on VHS, you weren't watching it (no-one was likely to be broadcasting horror films during the day on one of the 4 terrestrial channels.) I remember sneaking in as much of Alien, the original Fright Night, and the aforementioned Nightmare as was possible, but none of these were watched from start to finish before the age of about 12.  I'd been allowed to watch the old Universal and Hammer horror films, because they were so camp and stupid (Note: as an adult I now love them even more) that not even my Middle-England mother thought they were genuinely damaging. I don't recall which of these was my first either, but given that nothing in them ever came close to scaring me, I never really thought of them as true horror. 
As with many things in my youth, my first great experience of something came courtesy of my Grandad, Reg Jones. He decided when I was aged about 10 that I could safely watch a horror film with him, as I was grown up and smart enough to realise that it was fake. That doesn't mean he was going to subject me to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or any kind of Video Nasty. Rather the film in question this particular evening (I regularly used to go visit my Grandad, sadly no longer with us, to watch movies and TV series) was The Gate. 

To those who haven't seen it, the Gate was a 1987 horror comedy film that was "sort of" about as close as you can get to a family-friendly horror film. You don't really get those anymore. It's either out-and-out horror or out-and-out Disney-style- kid-friendly. Children don't seem to be treated with quite the same level of respect and "they can handle it" approach that they were in the 1980's, but that's another article for another time. 

The Gate is far from the most original story, more of a patchwork of the type of thing you've seen elsewhere a dozen times but not all in one place. Zombies and demons and portals to the underworld, all done with stop-motion Harryhausen-style effects. So what's the story? 

Well basically a very old tree is dug up in a suburban back yard, and it turns out the tree was acting as a plug to block the door to some demon/goblin infested Hell-type place. Once the tree is gone they start pouring out and wrecking havoc when, as bad luck would have it, the kids are home alone. The creatures that come out of said hole were hardly particularly scary even at their time and for the audience they were aimed at, with the possible exception of the zombie who, when squished, turns into lots of smaller creatures (don't ask). But what made the film scary, particularly to me as a young child at the time, was the fact that it was so close to home. I lived in leafy suburbs, I had a tree in the back garden, I was sometimes left alone with my older sister in an evening whilst our parents nipped out somewhere. This could happen to us. That alone made it much scarier than the Hammer/Universal horror films, in which for the majority you had to be stupid enough to walk into a laboratory or a castle or a blatantly haunted mansion in order for the scary things to get you. The idea presented in the Gate was that they might already be here, right in your back garden, just hidden away from sight by something as simple as an old tree. 

It's not a big leap to see how that very notion led me, in later years, to become a big fan of "Old World" horror. Lovecraft and Machen are arguably the best known in the genre, but any author who painted this view of ancient creatures that had existed before man, and still lurked within the darkness, was immediately of interest to me. It wasn't until I came across The Gate again in my adult years that I made the connection in my head and saw exactly where this love had started, and then it all came back to me. 

The funniest thing about watching the Gate the first time, in hindsight, was how the film didn't scare me as much as the walk home afterwards. To get from my home to my Grandad's house involved a ten minute walk through a small jennel with woodland on either side. To let a 10 year old walk through such an area on their own, after dark, seems insane in the paranoid "pedo on every corner" world of 2015, but in the early 90s it was commonplace.  Whilst lost in the film, I never felt particularly scared by any of it. But walking through the dark woods not long afterwards, where every shadow could be hiding one of those goblins or that zombie made out of tiny monsters, then things took on a new light. I didn't have to be in a haunted house or a cemetery for this kind of thing to get me. It could happen here, right in the leafy suburbs. I recall years later, a  friend of mine telling me had the same experience after having watched the Blair Witch Project, but given that he was about 15 at the time I have far less respect for him as a result of this particular story! Girlpants. 

And there it was, my first taste of horror. The kind that scares you and makes you think afterwards. The kind that lingers. The best kind, really. No-one wants to write a book that gets forgotten about the moment it's put down. Especially if you're a horror author. You'll want your words to stay with someone, the imagery you conjur up in their minds to be recalled at the worst possible moment to bring the terror right back again. The Gate was most definitely the first film that ever did that for me, and whilst it's been around 20 years since I've had anything resembling that kind of irrational unease, I can still remember it's potency. And I think it was that very feeling that got me into the genre, first as a reader, then much later as a writer. 

In the clear light of day, and viewed in the context of a much larger experience of horror films, I don't think The Gate is a particularly strong film at all. The story can't really be described as particularly original, the acting isn't brilliant and even for it's time, the effects were looking a bit worn, but nonetheless this one will always hold a special place in my memory. 

The moral of the story is don't dig up trees in your back garden because there might be monsters down there. Or more realistically, they might find the remains of your ex girlfriend. 

<![CDATA[THE FILMS THAT MATTER: JACK CAMPBELL JR ON THE MONSTER SQUAD ]]>Wed, 15 Apr 2015 11:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/the-films-that-matter-jack-campbell-jr-on-the-monster-squad

The Films That Matter : The Monster Squad 

By  Jack Campbell Jr.

The horror genre is special to me. My house décor revolves around the history of the genre, both in print and on film. My fiancée has been particularly open-minded about the miniature gravestones, the bleeding skull candle, and the various photos of ravens perched upon skulls. After every Halloween, I scour the department stores for clearance Halloween items worthy of being showcased in my home 365 days a year. 

On my fireplace mantle, tucked in between family photographs, I have three framed drawings from a local comic book convention. The prints depict Bella Lugosi’s Dracula, Lon Cheney’s Wolfman, and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster. While these particular “family members” are classics of the genre, I first met them through a movie that is more of a cult classic than a piece of cinematic history.

In 1987, HBO released The Monster Squad. I would have been 8 years old at the time, my prime formative years for tastes. I immediately related to the protagonists, a bunch of middle school kids who defend the world from the onslaught of Dracula and his evil friends. I can’t tell you how many times I watched The Monster Squad growing up, but the VHS tape that my sister and I recorded it on could barely hold vertical tracking by the time we were through. If you are old enough to know what vertical tracking is, then you are probably old enough to remember The Monster Squad.

Last year at Crypticon Kansas City, a local convention for the horror genre, I had the opportunity to watch the movie again with about a dozen other horror fans. As an added bonus, several of the film’s stars attended the convention. I had some concerns going in to the viewing. I hadn’t seen the film in years, and so many of the movies that I loved when I was a kid are total garbage. They are awful films with horrible acting and terrible special effects. I am happy to say that The Monster Squad is not one of them. It aged very well.

The Monster Squad isn’t just a good kid’s movie. It’s a good horror film. The special effects are on par with everything else in the genre at the time. The creature make-up is top of the line. The human characters are fun. The dialogue is sharp, and the writing is solid.

The monsters included the usual suspects of classic Hollywood creatures. Dracula led the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy as they pursued a sacred amulet that could either destroy them or ensure their ultimate victory.

The boys and girls in The Monster Squad manage to handle the monsters in a way that their parents fail. They had power over the monsters because they accepted their existence. As a kid, there are few things more empowering than believing that kids hold the fate of the world in their hands. I ate it up.

I was a very naive kid. I have no recollection of scary monster movies prior to The Monster Squad. I had no idea who Stephen King was. My fiancée, who saw the movie for the first time at Crypticon pointed out a logical flaw that had never occurred to me. Why are the boys seeking a virgin to use the amulet when realistically, every single one of them were virgins? I didn’t know how to answer that. Honestly, I’m not sure I knew what a virgin was the first time that I watched the movie. Much like the kids in The Monster Squad, I was in way over my head. As they learned to use Van Helsing’s diary to activate the amulet and save the world, I learned about the horror genre. I got to know its various tropes, and they are widely used.

Many of the scenes are just as frightening as anything you would see in an adult horror film. To this day, I have never been able to shake the fight between the police and the desperate Wolfman in human form. The ending is still nerve-racking, as Dracula grabs the little girl Phoebe and lifts her from the ground by her face. Many a policeman, the redshirts for this particular movie, are killed bloodless, yet gruesome ways as they stand between the monsters and the amulet. Lightning. Dark dungeons. Strange books and artifacts that open portals to other dimensions.

The movie might as well be a primer on the horror genre. Other horror tropes included: the three vampire sisters, Van Helsing, scary next door neighbors, a ghost hearse, creepy phone calls, and actual discussions on how to kill vampires and werewolves. Sean, the main protagonist, even wears a shirt proclaiming that “Stephen King Rules.” This movie has everything, and it lays it out in a quick-fire form that is perfect for absorption by young brains. By the end of the film, I felt as if I could go take on the monsters, armed with the knowledge that The Monster Squad gave me.

Maybe that is exactly what I did. I became a horror writer to meet the creatures head-on. Like the children, I would love them. I would accept their existence and learn to understand them. I would know how to beat them when the time came.

Isn’t that what the genre is about? Horror writers accept that evil exists. They expose it to the light of day and see how our characters react. They show the world how to deal with its monsters.

These days, I spend a lot of time chasing monsters on the page, and I take great pride in it. After all, it’s like Rudy says right before dispatching the vampire sisters. “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”


Jack has also  taken part in our Five Minutes With Series of interviews

<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER - KEN PRESTON ON JAWS]]>Wed, 01 Apr 2015 09:52:46 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-ken-preston-on-jawsPicture
I know what you’re thinking.



That old 70s movie they used to show on TV all the time with the painfully fake mechanical shark and starring those three actors that nobody’s ever heard of?

Yeah. That’s the film I’m talking about.

This summer, Jaws will be forty years old.

And kids, let me tell you, forty years ago the world was a different place.

You lot, you’ve grown up with a smorgasbord of TV channels to choose from, and you’ve got Youtube, Netflix, big screen HDTVs, surround sound, 40k definition, 3D, CGI, Playstations, Xboxs, iPads and some stuff I have probably forgotten right now, but which no doubt has 300 gazillion pixels of colour, is ultrafast, ultra ultra high def, and interactive too

Back in 1975 we had three TV channels, delivered through an analog signal. If you were lucky you owned a colour television, and if you were posh the screen size was a huge 21 inches.

And that was it.

Back then going to the cinema was a whole different experience. It was an event. People had to actually queue to buy a ticket, and if the film was a particularly popular one, you might even end up queueing outside and around the block. And then, horror of horrors, by the time you got to the ticket desk, all the tickets may well have sold out for that performance.

Back then, people could smoke in the cinema.

Back then, there was an intermission roughly around the halfway point, and a lady with an illuminated tray hanging from her neck walked down the aisle to front of the auditorium, where she sold ice creams and drinks.

And if you arrived late, and the film had already started, you just stayed in your seat until the next showing and watched up until the point where you came in.

Cinema going was different back then.

I was ten years old when my best mate’s mum took us both to the local cinema to see Jaws.

The hit movie of the summer, audience members were supposedly not only screaming, but fainting and throwing up too.

And, remarkably, it was an A certificate.

Ah yes, the old BBFC film classification. A was equal to today’s PG, whilst our 15 certificate was the mysterious AA, and most exciting of all, 18 certificate films used to be given the scary and exotic X.

Film classification was a lot more dramatic back then.

So, we arrived at the cinema, and, although I can’t remember this particular aspect of the experience, I assume we must have queued. Probably around the block.

Because, I tell you, that cinema was full. Have you ever been to the cinema and watched a film in a full auditorium? I’m talking full, as in every possible seat is taken. As in, if people could have been allowed to stand at the back to get the chance to watch the film, they would have done.

My guess is, probably not.

Not unless you’re of a certain age, or you have been to a specialist screening.

The last time I remember it happening was 1998, when I travelled to the British Film Institute in London with my wife, to see a screening of William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of The Wages of Fear, mysteriously titled Sorcerer.

Anyway, back to 1975, a packed cinema, and my ten year old self, who had heard so many whisperings about this movie, (the gore, the scares, the mass audience screaming) that I was practically wetting my pants before the film even started.

You all know the story of the making of the film by now, right? How the shark wouldn’t work properly, so Spielberg resorted to keeping it unseen for the first half of the movie, building the tension and the suspense, until its first reveal. Of course he had a few shocks for us before then. The trauma of the first attack at night, Alex Kintner suddenly disappearing from his lilo on a summers day in a fountain of red, Ben Gardner’s head popping into view in the underwater sequence which had everyone leaping from their seats and screaming, and the severed leg floating to the seabed.

By the time we had our first proper look at that rubbery shark, we were ready to believe it was real.

But there was something else going on, which will always hamper anyone’s perception of this movie who comes to it fresh today.

Back in ye olden days of horse drawn carts (yes, I remember the rag and bone man passing our house in his horse drawn cart, so don’t go trying to accuse me of exaggeration for dramatic effect, okay) no one had the slightest experience of aquatic life. Possibly we had seen an episode of The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, with some grainy footage of sea life in it. Other than that, apart from the occasional Friday night cod and chips from the corner chip shop, nothing.

So, how were we to know that a real shark wasn’t going to look and act like that?

As far as my ten year old self was concerned (and every other person sitting in that cinema no matter what their age) that shark was bloody real.

Terrifyingly real.

And when you’re sitting in a huge room full of people who are screaming and laughing and gasping along with you, when you’re having a shared experience of terror and drama and tension relieving laughter, well, that only heightens the effect.

Thinking back on it now, I wish somebody could have photographed me watching that film, as I am sure my eyes must have been as wide as saucers. I was drawn into that film like no other before or since. I am sure that my love of movies comes from me constantly trying to recreate that experience of watching Jaws for the first time. But more of that in a moment, because the best was still to come.

Have you seen it? Try and picture the movie in your mind. Our hero, normal, everyday, working class Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider with those soulful, sad eyes of his, is scared of the water. Somehow he has ended up living on an island, and as the stranglehold of small town red tape and petty politics closes in on him, so too his horizons begin shrinking, until he is finally left clinging to the mast of a sinking boat, whilst that hungry great white circles him.

You’ve seen the film, haven’t you? You remember the climax (SPOILER ALERT!!), the pressurised tank shoved in the shark’s mouth, the rifle, that line: Smile, you son of a—, the explosion and the victory cry.

The audience exploded too.

As one we leapt to our feet, drowning out the film’s soundtrack with a huge cheer. No not a cheer, a roar, a deafening, throat searing, ear popping, gut wrenching, shout of delight. And thunderous applause. And stamping of feet. It was as though what we had just seen was real, that we had been clinging to the mast of the sinking boat, that we had been firing that rifle in a last ditch attempt at escaping being devoured by a hungry, man-eating shark.

And then we sank back into our seats, and watched Brody and Hooper swimming for shore, and we sat through the credits, and then, finally, we left the cinema, exhausted but satisfied.

And, although I had no idea at the time, I walked back out of that cinema a different ten year old boy than the one that had entered it.

So yes. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Jaws is the film that made me.

Growing up, Ken Preston never wanted a proper job, and now he sits in his converted cellar, telling lies for a living, whilst being distracted by his two cats, Lily and Luther.

He is the author of a wide range of genre novels, from zombie/cowboy mash-up Population:DEAD! to his YA pirate adventure, The Devil and Edward Teach, and contemporary horror serial, Joe Coffin.

He also writes a series of romantic thrillers, but don't tell anyone.

Pop over to his website to check out more books and for news on the latest releases, or just to say "Hi!", and find out how you could be getting free short stories delivered to your inbox every month.

Joe Coffin is fresh out of jail, but going straight is the last thing on his mind. The sickos who murdered his wife and child are still out there, and he’s going to get revenge. 
The problem is, Joe Coffin is in much deeper than he realises, and his wife might not be as dead as he believes. 

Violent, gory, profane and explicit, Joe Coffin is for mature readers only. 

Written in serial form, there are four episodes in Season One, each available individually or as a complete set at a significant price saving. 

<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER - MATTHEW M.BARLETT  ON  HALLOWEEN III]]>Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:45:15 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-matthew-mbarlett-on-halloween-iiiHALLOWEEN 3 COVER FILM REVIEW HALLOWEEN 3
In my teens in the mid-to-late 1980s, my friends and I rented a lot of horror movies. These were the days of the corner video store, big clunky cassettes, Be Kind, Rewind, the western doors leading to the forbidden racks of skin flicks. The store I frequented had a two-page, double-sided list of the movies they carried. We’d sit in Steve Kendrick’s basement room, Steve on the recliner, me and Marc Berg on the couch, and gear up to get the shit scared out of us by vampires, werewolves, zombies, and mad killers. Most of what we watched was shlock, and that was absolutely fine by us, but here and there a movie would surprise us, would stifle our sub- (and pre-) MST3K snarkiness and jokes. Return of the Living Dead had a lot of wit in its screenplay (not to mention a jump scare that made Steve scuttle backwards three feet using only his rear end). Halloween was a nightmarish suburban scare-fest with the coolest visage ever- a white-painted Shatner death-mask. And Creepshow’s Horror Comic shtick had some genuine terror up its seaweed-snarled sleeve.

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch was one of the movies that shut us right up. It reveals its secrets slowly, patiently. A man chased by stiff, suited men in a sedan. News reports of a massive piece of Stonehenge…missing. A capering, sing-songy commercial that transfixes little kids and annoys adults. Those iconic masks: a skull, a witch, a jack o’lantern. (I wanted them when I first saw them at 16; I want them now.) A factory town with a façade like some old west city, crested by a great factory with a Shamrock logo on its smokestack, a town with a 6:00 p.m. curfew so strict that its residents pull in their cats when the eerie alarm sounds and the robotic voice suggests rather strongly that you limit your activities to the inside of your house. One cat is out after curfew…and a camera follows the animal’s movements.

And what of Silver Shamrock Novelties? A factory with its own stretchers and medical facility? A company responsible for “sticky toilet paper” and the “dead dwarf gag”? (A cheap-ass company, too, which manufactures android workers rather than employing the town drunk.) Silver Shamrock is lorded over by an enigmatic CEO with a neat coif of snow-white hair and a sinister smile, a Warlock, in fact, about to pull a very nasty prank indeed. “Our craft…” says Conal Cochran. “Witchcraft,” replies our hero, a drinking, philandering doctor with a face like a mountain side, a mustache like dry scrub grass. He’s there with Ellie Grimbridge, the pixyish (and very game) daughter of a shop owner who’d stumbled upon Silver Shamrock’s apocalyptic plan and paid with his life.

Halloween 3 has a casual nastiness and an evil as palpable as in the Omen franchise. Take the family of Buddy Kupfer. The mask-salesman and his wife and kid are vaguely, harmlessly obnoxious in a very ‘eighties way. Loud suits, tacky dresses, officious and silly, with a goofball kid. For the purpose of a “demonstration”, Cochran places them in a simulacrum of a living room, puts the commercial on, setting off the terrible trigger on the back of the mask – the evil disc with its Stonehengian sliver devours the child’s head, which splits open and unleashes a plague of insects and snakes that set upon his horrified and hapless parents.

After this grim scene, the audience sees trick-or-treaters in their doom-buttoned Silver Shamrock masks, trick-or-treating in Dayton, Ohio, in New York City, traipsing through a field with a smoggy L.A. in the background, then silhouetted in the glow of an Arizona sunset. And what about that ending, beautifully conceived? Can our hero stop the last of the three big TV stations from running the ad that will trigger an apocalypse of crushed heads unleashing deadly bugs and snakes?  Stop it! he yells as the music builds and the orange, Atari-looking pumpkin strobes on the screen. Stop it! Stop it!

The reviews of Halloween 3 are almost uniformly unkind. It has an abysmal 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a site that aggregates movie reviews. “A dismal, unappealing slasher film,” the summary claims, with surprising and pissy inaccuracy. Ebert found a lot to despise, calling it a mish-mash of ideas from other, better movies. To be sure, there are some thudding failures in the movie, half-assed performances by lesser characters, a cheesy lair with clipboard-toting androids, rolling racks of masks, WarGames-era computers with ever-changing patterns of blinking lights, and AV carts straight out of some high school classroom. But the music and the atmosphere, the dark suggestions of the town and its factory, the inimitable John Carpenter soundtrack…they jostle the imagination and shake loose wicked things.

Famously, this movie jettisoned the villain from the first two flicks in the franchise. Without warning, the Halloween movies were to become kind of an anthology series ala “The Twilight Zone”, featuring a new story and new characters each outing. Some of the hatred cast in its direction was surely due to flummoxed expectations. The reaction was so reactionary that poor Michael Myers was resurrected, and then resurrected again. And again…and again…in a series of movies without half the inventiveness and horror of this unfairly maligned misanthropic gem. If that’s what the people want, I’m sorry for the people.

The original screenplay by acclaimed science fiction writer Nigel Kneale, by many accounts a subtler, psychological horror, was apparently scorned by Dino De Laurentiis, who owned the film’s distribution rights. De Laurentiis ordered a rewrite to add in more gore and violence, causing Neale to disavow the script. The result, in my opinion, works just fine…but I’d give my eye teeth to see a remake using Neale’s original script. Let’s say Ben Wheatley as the director. By god, can someone make this happen?

At any rate, Halloween 3 stuck with me. As I went on to discover and devour works by Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Laird Barron, countless others, what resonated with me, what I always come bck to, are some elemental ideas I first saw in Halloween 3: a corporation with eschatological intent. The planets aligning, the world changing in a fundamental and historic way, precipitated by an ancient evil. This is piquant stuff for a teenager. I think of it as I write today; my evil company is Annelid Industries, Inc. Its purpose is shadowy, undefined, but it appears to involve the abduction of children, the driving to madness of adults via radio broadcasts…but to what end? That’s my secret.
Bizarre radio broadcasts luring dissolute souls into the dark woods of Western Massachusetts. Sinister old men in topcoats gathered at corners and in playgrounds. A long-dead sorcerer returning to obscene life in the form of an old buck goat. Welcome to Leeds, Massachusetts, where the drowned walk, where winged leeches blast angry static, where black magic casts a shadow over a cringing populace. You've tuned in to WXXT. The fracture in the stanchion. The drop of blood in your morning milk. The viper in the veins of the Pioneer Valley.

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination, a fragmented novel in the guise of a collection of short weird fiction and The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, an illustrated chapbook. His short stories have appeared in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, Faed, and High Strange Horror. He is a member of the New England Horror Writers. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife Katie and five cats. You can follow him on Facebook and visit his oft-neglected blog at www.matthewmbartlett.com.

<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER - IAN JARVIS ON THE WICKER MAN]]>Thu, 26 Feb 2015 06:23:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-ian-jarvis-on-the-wicker-man The Wicker Man saves virtually everything for the finale, a finale which left a teenage kid wrung out and totally gobsmacked.
The X-rated film certificates of old always sounded far more thrilling than our modern 18 ratings. Adopting a gruff voice and standing on tiptoe, I managed to bluff my way into a local cinema at fourteen to see Don’t Look Now in 1973. The suspicious cashiers asked your age and I found the trick was to claim nineteen; they were always expecting an answer of eighteen. I looked older than my years, but it wasn’t as if they were selling me alcohol or cigarettes - they were simply warping my mind with supposedly adult films. It was a different age and, back then, Twilight would have been rated X.
I was in a fairly excited state as I loved supernatural dramas and, more to the point, the Sunday newspapers had been ranting about how this movie contained Julie Christie in the most gratuitous sex scene ever filmed. Some claimed she was “doing it” for real. The anticipated sex was short and disappointing, but the film itself was brilliantly haunting and, fortunately, these were the good old days when you always got two films for the price of your admission. Don’t Look Now was followed by a low-budget British film I’d never heard of - The Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man is a legend now of course, with so many different versions and director cuts, you might think you were watching Bladerunner. I saw the slashed-up mess that was the original cinema release, where Edward Woodward’s police officer spends only one night on the island. Christopher Lee virtually washed his hands of this “travesty”, but it still made an incredible impact on me. I was pleased to see it starred two of my horror favourites, the aforementioned Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt, and I settled down, expecting something along the lines of the Vampire Lovers or Countess Dracula. How wrong could I be? This genuinely unsettling movie was light years away from anything that Hammer films ever produced and had a very “real” feel. It also built up to an ending that I couldn’t believe.

Some people argue that the Wicker Man isn’t really horror, (even the director half-jokingly claimed it was a musical) but I’d disagree. Where many horror movies space out their frightening gory moments – with a zombie decapitation here, a werewolf disembowelling there - the Wicker Man saves virtually everything for the finale, a finale which left a teenage kid wrung out and totally gobsmacked. How could the movie makers possibly do what they did and end the film in that terrifying way? For the eight or nine people who might not have seen it, I wouldn’t dream of revealing the ending, but suffice to say it’s a little grimmer than the Wizard of Oz and, although the film unbelievably finishes on a song, no one left the theatre singing along with it on the evening I was there.

The plot of the Wicker Man is pretty much the stuff of standard thrillers. An anonymous letter is sent to a Scottish police officer, Sergeant Howie, claiming that a young girl has gone missing on Summerisle, a Hebridean island. He travels alone to investigate and very soon discovers that the entire community are pagans, something which appals and disgusts this devout Christian. As we follow the outraged Sergeant on his inquiries and see more of the island, we find this is a seemingly wonderful place, if a little eccentric. In contrast to the dour Christian, everyone seems jolly and full of life, with plenty of foot-tapping music, folk dancing, drinking and uninhibited sex. Without revealing anything, it’s only later that you quickly change your opinion and decide that Summerisle might not be your ideal choice for a home. As a matter of fact it’s difficult to reveal much about this film, in that the whole thing resembles the Sting and similar movies, albeit with pagans instead of confidence tricksters. The viewer is conned just as much as Sergeant Howie and if anyone tells you they saw the ending coming, don’t believe them.

It’s easy to see how much I love the film – my Facebook profile picture has always been me standing in the exact spot where the Wicker Man was constructed and adopting the same pose. For me, it’s always been something more than a film. The very real atmosphere that it conjures up never left me and, talking to others, I know I’m not alone. As I grew up and bought a car, I was able to track down the Scottish filming locations, most of them around Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway. This is something I’d urge any fan to do. You soon realise that every location is far smaller than you imagine. The grassy area where the maypole dance was filmed is no bigger than the patches of lawn in front of semis on modern housing estates. Diane Cilento’s school house is truly tiny, making you wonder how on earth they managed to cram all those desks in there. This is the same with the bar of the Green Man inn (the Ellangowan hotel in Creetown) and the wood-panelled room looks exactly the same, with the same bar stools. I stayed in the bedroom above, somehow resisting the urge to go through Britt Ekland’s naked wall-slapping dance.

I suppose the Wicker Man coloured my fiction writing just as it coloured my teenage imagination. My central character is a young female pagan and occultist, although a very different type of pagan to Lord Summerisle and his followers. I try to give every novel a definite atmosphere, with a real sense of location, and I always hit the reader with twists, especially at the end. Having said that, I doubt I would ever emotionally destroy them with a twist like the ending of this movie. The Wicker Man certainly influenced my second novel, Here Be Dragons, which features a community with a great deal to hide on the wild coast of Northumberland.

If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t seen it, buy the Blu-ray extended version, turn off the lights and sit back to be amazed.

Just as a footnote – I don’t know if anyone is aware, but since 1997, British health and safety laws ensure that all wicker men now have to be fitted with a rear fire escape. This has more or less ruined the traditional practise of human sacrifice in Scotland. Talk about political correctness gone mad.

Ian was born in the north of England, where he worked for three decades as an operational firefighter with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. He has spent the past twenty years in the village of Fairburn, near Selby, where he devotes his time to writing horror, urban fantasy and paranormal mysteries featuring the York-based "white witch" Iona Kyle.
His interests include travel, walking the North York Moors and Dales, natural history, real ale, and ridding the world of all known evils.
He also feels decidedly peculiar speaking in the third person and may have to do this in the future using a sinister ventriloquist's doll.


Psychic visions of absolute evil. 

The moon is full and the people of Edinburgh are scared. They have good reason—a maniac is killing women and carving pentagram symbols into their bodies. 

Fake clairvoyant, Philip Tarot sees one of the victims being dumped and faces a choice. Reporting the incident makes him a mundane eyewitness, anonymous and quickly forgotten, but passing the information as psychic visions will take Phil down a different path to fame. Life changes overnight with the latter option. The killer is caught and the media love their new celebrity, but the limelight brings unwelcome attention from genuine psychic, Iona Kyle. 

More disturbingly, Phil is approached by the Sorority, a powerful occult circle presided over by Jessica Crowley, granddaughter of the magician Aleister Crowley. The murders, Iona realizes, were the start of something much bigger—and something unbelievably evil. 

Book One of the Iona Kyle Series

<![CDATA[FILMS THAT MATTER - KELLER YEATS ON QUATERMASS AND THE PIT]]>Thu, 22 Jan 2015 08:36:38 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/films-that-matter/films-that-matter-keller-yeats-on-quatermass-and-the-pitPictureCLICK ON IMAGE TO BUY THE TSHIRT
 I first saw this gem when I was a kid and have held a copy of it close to my heart ever since. Whether it was in VHS format, or Blueray the only thing that’s changed over the years is the quality of the pictures.

It was written by Nigel Kneale, released by Hammer in 1967 and was the third film in the dotty professor versus the unbending ignorance of the establishment trilogy, that was originally a BBC screenplay, dating from 1958.  It’s also the genre directorial debut of the acclaimed Ray Ward Baker.  The film was released in America under the much less evocative title: Five Million Years to Earth.

 It goes like this. “One, two. One, two, three, four.”
The workers, who are excavating the area of a new underground tube station around Hobbs Lane, discover the skeletal remains of ancient apes with big skulls and so they call in the Archeologists. These consist mainly of Dr. Roney, a suitably skinny intellectual with elbow patches played by James Donald and his erstwhile female assistant, the lovely Barbara Judd, played by Barbara Shelley suitably dressed in sweater and tweed skirt.  
quatermass and the pit review.jpg
Quatermass & the Pit
Further digging, reveals what appears to be an unexploded German missile, or flying bomb that was left over from the last war. The Ministry of Defence are alerted and bring in an expert on such matters, who is the self assured military man, Colonel Breen played by Julian Glover.  Colonel Breen, is a brilliantly played cliche of a know it all expert, who refuses to entertain any opinions which contradict his own. Breen pompously decrees, that it’s a “Satan,” or something equally secret and menacing sounding missile.  In this era, all the really scary and deadly things, had names to suit their lethal purposes.  A “Death Ray,” killed people and comfortingly disguised munitions like “Cruise” Missiles, hadn’t been invented. In the late1950’s, the war had not been over too long and political correctness had not been invented.

Professor Bernard Quatermass, a rocket scientist played by an earnest Andrew Kier in regulation scientist tweeds, becomes involved.  He isn’t too happy with Breen’s diagnosis and argues that more investigation of the site will be needed, before any definitive answers can be gleaned.  Breen, with typical arrogance, dismisses both these comments and Roney’s team and bullheadedly ploughs onward.  Any thoughts about the dollops of anti German sentiment, displayed by the British Armed Forces at this point, are conveniently dismissed, along with the arrogance of British members of Parliament, portrayed by Edwin Richfield as the ubiquitous “minister.”

         “The German’s were full of tricks like that but                          thank god this one didn’t go off.” 

 This is the point, where should you require it, that Colonel Breen is cast as the bad guy, the minister as ineffectual whilst Quatermass, is portrayed as the reasonable voice of scientific thought.

                   “Reasonable, is not the term, I would                                                have chosen.”

Intrigued by a local police officer's mention that the area was notorious for strange disturbances, he escorts Quatermass and Barbara Judd around a deserted house in Hobbs Lane.  This a wonderfully staged scene that builds suspense when the policeman starts to panic at the sight of some scratches on the wall. This episode, is one of the many priceless cliche’s, contained within this film.

Quatermass ignores Breen and bombastically begins an investigation of his own assisted by Roney, Judd and his own Rocket Team.  The eccentrically played Roney is seen as a sympathetic, though rather beaten down character, who is on the point of a great discovery, though he clearly doesn’t know it and needs Quatermass, to point this fact out to him.
At this point, the viewer is being asked on which side of the fence they are sitting, should they bow to arrogant and ignorant authority or challenge it in the name of scientific truth.  Conveniently, viewers are asked to ignore inconvenient story-lines from the previous two Quatermass movies.  The first where an Astronaut came back to Earth, and transformed into a rather deadly Cactusy kind of omelette and the second where alien giant sludge eating blobs, are only defeated when Quatermass, fires his latest convenient Rocket Ship, at their point of origin. 

        “Talk about sacrifice in the name of the greater                                                 good.”

   Anyway, back to the tale and the now fully exposed Bomb/Missile/Alien Craft.  They notice an internal compartment which Breen assumes holds the explosive charge which he needs to disable.  A Diamond drill bit has no effect but does cause severe resonance.  
Enter the workman, Sladden, played jocularly by Duncan Lamont, with a Boron drill bit, which is claimed to be harder than diamond but looks remarkably similar, to a Black & Decker Hand Drill but no mind, things were much simpler in the ‘50’s. The drill resonates furiously but eventually the compartment fractures and falls away to reveal not explosives but creatures.
On exposure to the impurities of this planet’s atmosphere, the newly liberated second species, which look like Locusts, are in dire need of preservation and begin to rapidly fall apart. Green gunk oozes from them, as they decay and the viewer is asked to be revolted by the potentially foul smelling alien slime. Incredibly and with no real evidence, Quatermass determines that they are Martians, who, in the distant past altered the brains of the Ape like creatures found close by.  These are clearly supposed to be a primitive form of hominid and the implication is that Martians made us the intelligent beings we are today. Although, just how he comes to this stunning conclusion is never quite fully explained. 

   “It came straight through the wall,” cries a plainly shocked soldier and states that his colleague is dead inside the craft. “It was horrible,” he adds before tragically collapsing and having his brow mopped.

This is the first major allusion to the telepathic/telekinetic qualities and organic nature of the spacecraft. Later Sladden returns to collect his drill and Barbara to fetch a box of slides.  You are then treated to the hilariously over theatrical Sladden falling under the effects of the spacecraft.    
He is overcome by the powerful forces emanating from the craft and hilariously flees from the site of the dig.  Barbara witnesses this, is slightly affected too and she follows Sladden out of the underground station.  Sladden, eyes wide, waving his arms and stumbling like a 1960’s style drunkard staggers from view.  The otherworldly telekinetic ‘force,’ follows him through the streets and shows it’s awesome power, by blowing paper around and wreaking havoc on a mobile Coffee and Burger. Eventually, Sadden again pulls himself together, as they did in those days and flees towards the sanctuary of a church. 

Later, at the church he tells Quatermass he saw a vision of hordes of the Locust like creatures, from the missile, “Killing,” he gasps. “Leaping, Jumping, Killing, killing,” he insists and then passes out. What had been designed as a portent of doom, in truth laughingly sounded more like it was delivered by Franky Howard.

         “Oh yes, misses. Ooooh and there you go then.                                    Titter ye not, humpf.”

Quatermass considers that this is ‘a race memory’ of the Martian ‘cleansing of the hives’ implanted when they altered our brains.  The echoes of German concentration camps are not lost here...... the Locust-like Martians as the Master Race.  Seeking proof, he returns to Hobbs End tube station, bringing with him a machine Roney has been working on which taps into the primeval psyche. At this point, it helps if you can suspend belief, as you will enjoy the rest of this classic a great deal more, if you do.

             “If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll continue.”  

   While trying to replicate the circumstances under which Sladden was affected, he notices that Barbara has fallen under its influence.  Placing Roney's Mind Machine, which looks remarkably like the headpiece to an electric chair, on her head and hooking it up to a monitor, he is able to record her thoughts. For a few moments you are invited to “trip out” and observe the happenings on the planet Mars.  He shows his evidence to the Government Minister, who even though it’s there in black and white, before his eyes, still thinks that Professor Q, is off his head. 

 Meanwhile back at the dig.

Colonel Breen, remember him, is still at the dig and gets caught out, by being far too close to the Martian ship, as it starts to come alive. The result of this oversight on his part, is that he gets horribly burnt and after smoking for a while, Colonel Breen dies a rather gruesome death. At this juncture, most of my friends either start laughing, or clapping. It seems that Colonel Breen, is not a very sympathetic character.

The Martian Spacecraft, now fully ‘charged’ begins to exert a malign influence on the population of London, mayhem breaks out on the streets as Martian memories and instincts buried deep within the human psyche erupt into a telepathic and telekinetic rage.  The people begin to gather in groups and ‘cleanse’ the hive of those able to resist, or not ‘one of us.’ 

Quatermass, again escapes it’s trancelike grip on his sensibilities, this time with the aid of Roney, who appears to be immune due to a plate in his head who slaps him back to his senses.  Another attempt to take over Quatermass’s mind is made by the alien force as the spectral image of an enormous Martian towers over the city, centred on Hobbs End as Barbara makes a final entrance and tries to disrupt Quatermass and Roney from rescuing the day.  At this point in the movie, Quatermass has had his brain so scrambled, that he appears to be more interested in the wellbeing of Miss Judd, than the human race.  He takes an age to finally realise the only way to stop her is to knock her out.

At this point whilst watching this movie for the first time at my local cinema, I was dying to go to the toilet but sat riveted in my seat and even though I had entirely forgotten Barbara reappeared here, I was far was more interested in my bladder and the giant Martian devil, that was now seriously strutting it’s stuff.

Upon recalling stories about how the Devil could be defeated with iron and water, Roney theorizes the alien energy could be discharged into the earth. So the idiot, whilst Quatermass attends to Barbara, climbs atop of a conveniently located enormous crane.  By what seems to be willpower, though I think it maybe is supposed to be the effects of telekinetic ground disruption.....anyway it’s not very clear, swings the jib into the body of the spectre. The crane bursts into flames as it discharges the energy, killing both the Locustion Devil and the heroic Professor Roney. 

With this, the dystopian world disappears, Quatermass and Barbara Judd sit, dazed, in the rubble of the old houses at Hobbs End. I was fully expecting one, or both of them to light a cigarette in self congratulatory ecstasy. Everything was explained, except most of the film. A true classic of the genre. 

As the camera pulled back and the National Anthem started to play, I was outside the cinema, slowly making my way home deep in contemplation.

Looking back, I realise that all the markers were there, set in place for anyone who cared to observe. This film decidedly influenced my writing. Even as a youth, hanging around just below the surface, was a propensity for “suspension of belief” of whatever distorted truth came along.  This was an essential component in my later decision to write.   Ever since I first watched this film, at the local cinema all those years ago, I have believed that at the end of any good story, you want your audience to be left with some mystery, some unanswered questions.  The story should hold together but it should also stimulate and fire the imagination.

 I like the way the story builds, developing the intrigue and this is something I have used in my own writing, although I have linked this to character development, something sadly lacking in this movie.  There are certain themes within this story that I find myself returning to time and again in my own works such as the conflict with established thought and oppressive nature of the establishment.  Similarly, the conflict between scientific reality and the unknown is another theme I like to explore.

 In my novel “Powderfinger” I have also drawn on two ideas from Quatermass and the Pit that have always resonated with me. Namely, the idea of looking back through history for similar occurrences, building a timeline of events that deepen the scope and suspense of the story.  Secondly the idea of things being released from or being alerted into action by the disturbance of the ground.  It is the essential nature of the depths below, the unknown darkness that energises the creativity from which all number of monsters can spring forth.

 This story is one that has spawned many ideas that I have seen incorporated into many stories over the years, from the frying of Colonel Breen which bears a remarkable similarity to the frying of the guys at the opening of the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones and the Lost Arc, to the organic ship in Farscape and other Sci Fi series.  Altogether, this film, despite it’s simplicity, has been extremely influential to myself and many other writers, film and TV makers over the years.


"Powderfinger" is a present day horror story set mainly on the decrepit and abandoned but soon to be redeveloped bank of an old canal between two towns, by an old tar works known as Raven's Gate. Nick Swann is a world weary mid-forties widower and Assistant Probation Warden at St .Joseph's Hostel for young male criminals, situated overlooking the canal and Raven's Gate. A woman is brutally killed on the bank opposite the Hostel on a night Nick is on duty and has granted many late passes for two 21st birthday celebrations amongst the hostel lads. The ensuing Police investigation involves the Hostel, though Nick believes his lads had nothing to do with it, consequently Nick is suspended for issuing too many late passes at once. Then another woman is killed and Nick becomes drawn into discovering the culprit. He works with DCI Findlay and DS Deacon as the murder toll increases. Together with help from his old friends Alan and Hugo, Nick's research uncovers a long series of similar murders in the same area stretching back through the centuries. "Powderfinger" as the killer is dubbed, appears to be some kind of ancient mellifluous, malevolent, murderous being that attacks anyone it considers to be disturbing its peace and quiet. Eventually, as the story climaxes, Findlay, Deacon, Nick and Alan set a trap to lure "Powderfinger" to his doom and rid the area of this beast once and for all but traps can swing both ways. 

Author Bio 

Keller Yeats has written several published articles about rock music and several unpublished short stories. He has several years’ experience working as a Probation Warden and he draws on this for his novel. In addition he is a published graphic artist and a qualified though no longer practicing jewellery maker and designer. He now lives together with his wife, a Siberian Husky, a Welsh Collie and three cats in a cottage by the sea in Anglesey.