Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Into the Woods Launch Party

Come and join us at the launch party for Into the Woods, a new collection of short stories from Hic Dragones.

Friday 17th March 2017, 7-9pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street
Manchester M1
United Kingdom

FREE EVENT

Into the Woods - eighteen sinister sylvan tales

A magical place steeped in mysticism. A foreboding place of unspeakable terror. The forest is a place of secrets, a place of knowledge, a place of death, and a place of life. What resides within its shadows? Demons, fair folk, that man the adults warned you about… and the trees. The trees are everywhere. Is it safer to stay at home? Or are you ready to take a journey… into the woods.

“They were only trees, after all. Only trees.”


Join us at the launch party on Friday 17th March. Readings by: Ramsey Campbell, Tracy Fahey, Jane Bradley, Magda Knight, Martin Cornwell, Hannah Kate, Megan Taylor and Nancy Schumann

Free wine reception, giveaways and launch discount on the book.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2014 - Friday

Whitby, 23-27 October 2014

This is part two of a multi-part review. You can read part one here. Part three coming soon!

For more information about the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, please visit the festival website.

Content warning: this is a review of a horror film festival, and I will be talking in some detail about the content of the films we watched. In some places, this includes discussion of graphic depictions of sexual violence.

Our Friday began, again, with the second screening of the day: Stuart Gordon’s 2001 Lovecraft adaptation Dagon (based on the short stories ‘Dagon’ and ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’). A group of friends are stranded at sea during a frightening storm and race to a nearby town (Imboca) to get help – with disastrous (and eldritch) consequences.

The film starts off well, and the first landing at Imboca is really promising. As Paul (Ezra Godden) and Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) attempt to find some sign of life in the seemingly abandoned town, hints at the danger lurking behind the closed doors begin to emerge. The ever-present storm and torrential rain, which soaks the protagonists to the skin, adds an imposing and threatening backdrop that is almost tangible – the viewer begins to feel drenched by the town as Paul navigates Imboca’s twisted and unfriendly streets. As the inhabitants begin to show themselves, the glimpses of their ‘wrongness’ are suitably disturbing; Ferran Lahoz is particularly creepy as the town’s priest, a man who manages to be both friendly and menacing at the same time.

Unfortunately, Dagon soon begins to fall into the same trap as many other Lovecraft adaptations – when the horror is finally revealed, it actually looks rather ridiculous. At the risk of annoying the entire internet, I have to say: tentacles just aren’t scary, and neither are fish-people. The early glimpses (a gill here, an unblinking eye there) of the horror of Imboca eventually give way to hordes of fish-men chasing the protagonist from one deserted house to another, and the arrival of the half-woman, half-squid Princess Uxía (Macarena Gómez) is more absurd than horrific (especially when she dons her ceremonial headdress). That’s not to say that there isn’t any merit in the later sections of the film – I enjoyed Francisco Rabal’s performance as Ezequiel, the traumatized token non-fish resident of Imboca – but the film is much stronger at building up, rather than revealing, its horror.

Dagon was also the second film of the festival to use the grotesque violation of the female body as a vehicle for horror. The character of Bárbara is woefully underdeveloped, and she serves more as the object of Paul’s frantic search, rather than as a person in her own right. After the initial arrival at Imboca and the interaction with the priest, Bárbara fades into the background as Paul races around trying to discover her fate – before she is eventually raped to death by Dagon. Bárbara and Paul’s female friend Vicki (Birgit Bofarull) had earlier suffered a similar violation by tentacle, but, despite the fact that the woman is clearly traumatized by this event, Vicki’s rape is played almost for laughs (as Ezequiel struggles to think of the right words to explain it) and serves mainly to advance the ‘I can’t let this happen to my woman’ motivation of Paul. Dagon’s treatment of sexual violence – albeit penetration by a supernatural being, rather than rape by a human man – is not unique, but it feels disappointing, particularly as the early part of the film sets up Bárbara as more of a protagonist than she turns out to be.

After Dagon was a double bill that made for somewhat odd mix. The first film was a short film called Border Patrol (dir. Peter Baumann, 2013). Two German guards at the Austrian border find a body hanging from a tree, but they are not particularly keen to have this discovery prevent them from watching the big football match. This award-winning short film was really enjoyable – it was well shot and well acted, with just the right level of off-beat creepiness. Narrative can be difficult to handle in short films, but Border Patrol managed to balance characterization and atmosphere with a satisfying story arc that suited the form. I’ll admit, I did see the ending coming, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film. Apparently, despite being filmed in Germany, this short was an MA graduation project for students at Leeds Beckett University and it has been shown at a fair few festivals over the past year. We were definitely pleased to have caught it in Whitby.

The feature film in this double bill was Insectula! (dir. Michael Peterson, 2014), which was quite a dramatic change of pace. Inspired by creature-feature B-movies and The Twilight Zone, Insectula! is an in-your-face homage to schlock, with (deliberately) lurid Technicolor, gruesome visual effects and hammed-up acting. The film’s strengths are its obvious affection for its cinematic inspiration and its privileging of physical effects over CGI (this is particularly evident when a decomposing head is fished out of a river and dissected – not for the squeamish, but an impressive attempt at recreating the physicality of pre-CGI horror effects). I can see Insectula! going down well with fans of Troma films, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me; it isn’t my sense of humour, and it’s the sort of film that you either ‘get’ or you don’t.

Speaking of Troma, the next film on the schedule sounded an awful lot like it was going to be something along the lines of Troma’s 1984 film The Toxic Avenger. The blurb for Septic Man (dir. Jesse Thomas Cook, 2013) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2574666/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1) reads:
“A sewage worker gets trapped inside a septic tank during a water contamination crisis and undergoes a hideous transformation. To escape, he must team up with a docile Giant and confront the murdering madman known as Lord Auch.”
As you can imagine, we were expecting another comedy horror with a sewage-contaminated superhero and a larger-than-life cast of supporting characters. But no. Far, far from it.



Septic Man is a dark and disturbing Canadian horror, carried almost entirely by Jason David Brown’s excellent performance as Jack (the eponymous Septic Man), a sewage worker who is asked by the shadowy Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) to assist with the aforementioned contamination crisis that has caused an entire town to be evacuated. As Jack investigates the source of the contamination, he becomes trapped in the sewers, and his ‘hideous transformation’ begins. The film is, at heart, a psychological horror – though there is a fair amount of bodyshock thrown in for good measure. It is, by turns, claustrophobic, grotesque, menacing and surreal. As Jack’s physical and mental wellbeing disintegrates, he is both threatened and rejected by the various people who become aware of his presence in the sewers (including the Giant (Robert Maillet) and Lord Auch (Tim Burd), but also Prosser and Jack’s wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth)). Towards the end of the film, the line between reality and hallucination begins to blur, until it’s not quite clear what the reality beyond the sewer really is, and Jack becomes a sort of embodiment of the disavowed effluence in which he is imprisoned.

You definitely need a strong stomach for Septic Man, but I would highly recommend it. As a sustained exploration of the abjectification of the male body and the concomitant disintegration of masculine identity, it has few rivals. It’s quite simply the classiest and most intelligent film about poo that I’ve seen.

Another double bill followed Septic Man, kicking off with a Japanese short film, Bandaged (dir. Takashi Hirose, 2011). This was not a highpoint of the day for us. Hirose’s short film aims to shock, but falls rather flat. A young couple (played by Hiroshi Sekine and Ayano) spend their nights attacking and mutilating one another – and their days walking the streets swathed in bandages – as a way of feeling ‘connected’ and overcoming their existential despair. It was very hard to identify with these characters, as their alienation and angst was both pretentious and juvenile – not that juvenile alienation isn’t a serious matter, but more that this film presented it in a rather clichéd and two-dimensional manner. Additionally, cheap effects (including that pink-tinged fake blood that ruins horror films) and a predictable ending made this a somewhat disappointing addition to the schedule.

However, our disappointment didn’t last long, as the feature film in this double was another good one. Treehouse (dir. Michael Bartlett, 2014) seems to have had a few negative reviews from people who’ve seen it at other festivals, but we really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.



Treehouse tells the story of Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) who stumbles upon the aftermath of a violent kidnapping in his American home town. Ascending into the treehouse of the title, while he and his brother Crawford (Daniel Frederick) are trying to find a party, Killian discovers Elizabeth (Dana Melanie) hiding from the abductors of her younger brother. Together, the two teens try to evade the kidnappers and find Little Bob (Elizabeth’s brother). One of the film’s main strengths lies in characterization, and I enjoyed the development of Elizabeth and Killian, as well as their relationship with one another.

One of the criticisms of the film appears to revolve around the reveal of the perpetrators of the kidnapping; some viewers seem to have found this unsatisfying. I have to say I’m struggling to understand this criticism, as I thought the revelations were handled very well and were completely right for the tone and setting of the film. I also thought that the amount of information and backstory provided for the kidnappers was well-handled, with the film going for suggestion and implication rather than in-your-face shock. The pace of the film isn’t slow, by any means, but it has a measured feel to it, which allows for more character development (but less high-energy action). The use of flashbacks to intercut the main narrative heightens this focus on character, which adds depth to the protagonists’ flight from their aggressive foes.

All-in-all, Treehouse is a recommendation. It might not be the most original narrative ever, but was an engaging and well-made film that offered an interesting take on well-trodden ground. The screening was followed by a Q+A with executive producer Steve Weston, who talked a bit about the reasons for a UK production company making a film in the US, as well as some of the ups and downs of casting and producing the film. This session was interesting, but I was surprised to see that – unlike in previous years – the Q+A sessions weren’t chaired by one of the festival organizing team. A student volunteer introduced various filmmakers throughout the festival (though not always by name), but they were then left to field their own questions and moderate the sessions themselves. This didn’t seem like the best way to introduce a guest speaker, and a return to the more structured sessions of previous years would be advisable.

After a short break, we returned for the next double bill of the day, beginning with the Japanese short film Anemia (dir. Maya Kato, 2013). Anemia is the story of a female vampire who can only survive on the blood of male virgins. It’s a rather amateurish affair, with unconvincing acting and cinematography. Not our favourite short film by a long way, and definitely not a recommendation.

The feature film following Anemia was another Japanese offering. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (dir. Takayuki Hirao, 2012) is an anime adaptation of the manga Gyo by Junji Ito. I’m not familiar with the manga, so I couldn’t say how well the film works as an adaptation. I’m also not particularly well-versed in anime, so I struggled a little to get my head into the right frame of mind to watch this after a day of horror films. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack is about a sudden infestation of biomechanical walking fish that carry ‘the stench of death’ with them. A group of friends discover that it is possible to become infected and devolve (evolve?) into a green, bloated fish monster, and so try to escape the infestation. I’m not sure if this film carried a deeper message or meaning, but it hasn’t converted me to anime. There were also a couple of scenes involving the forcible violation of the female body by a monstrous non-human that reminded me of the gratuitous tentacle rape of Dagon earlier in the day – as a result Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack left me rather cold.

On to the final film of the day…

At last year’s festival, we watched a short film called Dollboy by director Billy Pon (and you can read my review of that piece here, which was prefaced by what we thought were two Grindhouse-style fake trailers for films called Circus of the Dead and Mister Fister (which was as horrible and misogynist as it sounds). However, it turns out that these were actually trailers for upcoming feature films by Pon. The final film of the day was Pon’s Circus of the Dead (2014), starring Bill Oberst Jr. as a sociopathic and brutal clown named Papa Corn, who kidnaps and tortures family man Donald Johnson (Parrish Randall).

Hmmm… what to say about Circus of the Dead? Initially, I was very much inclined to like it. The circus (and its clowns) are simultaneously malevolent and squalid, and there is a feeling of griminess that pervades the carnival. Papa Corn begins as a sublimely menacing and unsettling figure (heightened by the fact that we never see him out of costume or make-up), who gets some really quite funny one-liners. However, the film soon descends into a rather childish attempt to pile up the most shocking and distasteful imagery possible, simply for the sake of it. Once Papa Corn begins his night of tormenting Donald Johnson, the film really has nowhere to go, and it becomes just one vicious attack after another with escalating levels of shock and diminishing levels of menace. The levels of gratuitous sexual violence in Circus of the Dead were also off-putting. There are no female characters in this film, only female bodies to be violated by male characters. Rape is lazily played for laughs – it is part of the ‘black humour’ that Papa Corn is a ‘serial rapist’ – or for the purposes of torturing a male character. Women are dehumanized to the point of objectification, and we see both the rape of a dead woman’s severed head (as a way of tormenting her husband) and the violent removal of a foetus from a woman’s uterus, as well as a number of other attempted rapes. This was all utterly unnecessary and added absolutely nothing to the film or to the characterization of the male characters. Perhaps this is my personal taste, but I generally don’t enjoy films that set out so blatantly to exceed previous levels of violence and violation simply for the purposes of shock and titillation. I felt rather let down by Circus of the Dead, as it started out with so much promise, and I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be watching a feature-length version of Mister Fister.

While I enjoyed a lot about the films on Friday – with Border Patrol, Septic Man and Treehouse being my favourites of the day – I left a little disturbed by the prevalence of sexual violence and violation of the female body in the day’s schedule. It seemed a worrying trend, particularly the way in which rape of the female body was being used as a punishment for men (with little to no attention given to its impact on the actual victim).

That’s it for the Friday films. I’ll be posting my review of the Saturday screenings shortly…

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2014 - Thursday

Whitby, 23-27 October 2014

This is part one of a multi-part review. Part two coming soon!

Content warning: this is a review of a horror film festival, and I will be talking in some detail about the content of the films we watched. In some places, this includes discussion of graphic depictions of sexual violence.

In October, my partner (RS) and I went to Whitby for the annual Bram Stoker International Film Festival. The festival is now in its sixth year, and this year it ran over five days. As well as a selection of independent horror films, the festival programme included evening events aimed at the pre-Whitby Goth Weekend Goth crowd – including the Vampires Ball, Children of the Night and 1880s Night music events, and a ‘Dark Arts’ exhibition). I’ve been to five out of the six festivals now, and you can read my review of last year’s festival here.

This year’s festival included 48 screenings over five days, so I’m going to jump right in and start talking about the films that we watched…

As RS and I always stay in a (lovely) B+B that’s about half an hour’s walk away from the festival venue – Whitby’s Spa Pavilion – and as we aren’t morning people by any stretch of the imagination, we missed a few of the morning screenings this year. Thursday kicked off for us with the second film of the day, a UK short film called The Dark Hours (dir. Daniel Smith, 2014).

The Dark Hours is a post-apocalyptic survivor tale about Richard (Simon Cotton), a man who is determined to do anything to protect his infected wife Catherine (Anna Skellern). Things take a dark turn when Richard meets another survivor, Cliff (Morgan Jones), and is forced (of course!) to make some difficult decisions. In some ways, the film is a fairly standard apocalypse story, relying on the usual trope of ‘don’t fear the infected, fear the other survivors’. Though we’re only given glimpses of the circumstances of the apocalypse, this also seems fairly standard fare – a worldwide plague of zombie/vampire infection leaving an embattled and disparate group of survivors to fight over dwindling resources and safe areas. However, the film has some pleasing elements that make it rather enjoyable. At the moment, I’m enjoying the current trend in zombie cinema of survivors battling to preserve their relationships with infected loved ones (Dominic Brunt’s 2012 Before Dawn has a nice treatment of this), as it makes a change from the ‘I don’t care who you were when you were alive, I’m going to blow your head off with a shotgun if you come within six feet of this shopping mall’ feel of earlier films. I like the humanization of the survivor/zombie relationship that is becoming more common, and this is very much at the heart of The Dark Hours. I also thought that Smith conjures up a great portrait of (post-)apocalyptic London – the scenes in the post-curfew tube station are particularly well done. Finally, the film has Morgan Jones doing an off-kilter turn as a threatening fellow survivor; I’ll always have a soft spot for Morgan Jones, because he was (and always will be, to me) Archer’s Goon.

Next up, we had our first feature film: Dracula in Pakistan (aka The Living Corpse or Zinda Laash, dir. Khwaja Sarfraz, 1967). To say this was a surprise is something of an understatement! To my shame, I’d never heard of Dracula in Pakistan before, and had no idea what to expect from the film known as ‘Pakistan’s first horror film’ (I don’t know if this claim is true, but it does appear to have been the first X-rated film produced in Pakistan). The film is an adaptation of Dracula, but with some interesting deviations from Stoker’s novel and the roughly contemporaneous Western adaptations typified by Hammer studios. The film tells the story of Professor Tabani (Rehan), a man who uses ‘evil scientist’ bubbling beakers to create a potion bestowing eternal life – and thus a new Prince of Darkness is born. When Dr Aqil (Asad Bukhari) visits the professor’s mysterious home, the vampire’s reign of terror really begins. This film is an absolute gem – the soundtrack and dance routines are just wonderful (although Wikipedia tells me that the dances were cut from the original cinematic release, as they were deemed too provocative). Dracula in Pakistan is kitsch, over-the-top and occasionally absurd – and we absolutely loved it.



After Dracula in Pakistan was another double bill, beginning with Dans L’Ombre [In the Shadows] (dir. Fabrice Mathieu, 2014). This short film is an interesting little piece, in which scenes from around fifty films featuring shadows are edited together and narrated by a shadow. Despite very much being an exercise in editing and research, this is quite an engaging short as the narrative that emerges from the montage (and is told by the shadow’s voiceover narration) is quite compelling.

The feature film in this double bill was Mount Nabi (dir. Seiji Chiba, 2014), which was the first disappointment of the festival. A Japanese found footage film, Mount Nabi is about a group of filmmakers who visit the eponymous mountain to make a horror film – but discover something far more horrific than they could have imagined. I’ll hold my hands up straightaway and admit that I can’t stand found footage films. I hated The Blair Witch Project, and I’ve pretty much hated every film that has mimicked that format since (the only exception being Carlo Ledesma’s 2011 The Tunnel, which I actually did enjoy). Mount Nabi does nothing new with the form, and, in fact, feels far closer to The Blair Witch Project than a lot of other recent found footage films. The screaming (and there is a lot of screaming), the motion-sickness-inducing camera angles, the up-nose snot shots, the inexplicable continuation of filming even after people start dying – all present in Mount Nabi. As an example of this type of horror film, sadly, Mount Nabi feels rather hackneyed. Worse still, the climax of the film’s horror is a lurid and deeply unsettling rape of a female character by a grotesque supernatural creature (and the subsequent rape and impregnation of another woman). There is something rather unsavoury about the way in which this sequence was filmed – particularly in the use of sound – and the narrative focus on the male characters and their respective proprietorial relationships to the raped women. There is little humanization of the violated women (before or after), and female bodies become (literally, in one case) vessels for the horror that faces the men. As we were to discover, this was to be a trend that was repeated throughout a number of the festival screenings.

The next film after Mount Nabi was Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch (aka Hansel and Gretel Get Baked, dir. Duane Journey, 2013). In case you can’t work it out from the title, this is a stoner comedy horror take on Hansel and Gretel – as if there haven’t been enough modern takes on that particular fairy tale already. RS and I aren’t huge fans of comedy horror, and the premise of this film really didn’t appeal… but it turned out to be really rather enjoyable. Lara Flynn Boyle plays Agnes, an old woman who is selling her home-grown pot (called Black Forest) to the local stoners. When her boyfriend goes missing after a visit to Agnes’s house, Gretel (Molly Quinn) decides to investigate – accompanied by brother Hansel (Michael Welch), of course. The eponymous siblings are joined by a cast of supporting characters including a local dealer, his Skittles-obsessed girlfriend, and some angry gang members. There’s also a ‘was that really him?’ cameo from Cary Elwes in the opening sequence.



Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch is one of those odd films that are much better than they should be. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is that stops this film being as groan-worthy as it sounds, but the way the humour is handled probably has a lot to do with it. On the whole, the jokes aren’t as obvious and crude as you might expect, and in some places the cheap gag is rejected for a slightly more subtle one. The horror, too, is done with a little more intelligence than you might expect. Though there is plenty of gore, the film doesn’t descend to crude buckets-of-blood set-pieces – and, although the film is fairly predictable on the whole, there are a couple of surprises that I didn’t see coming. Overall, this film proves that solid execution can redeem even the silliest of premises.

We had to end our Thursday viewing here, as we’d got plans to meet up with family, and so we didn’t get to see the last three films of the evening.

I’ll be posting my review of Friday’s films shortly…

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival (Saturday and Sunday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part three of a three-part review. You can read part two here, and part one here.

Saturday

Nothing on the main screen on Saturday morning appealed to us, so we decided to take the opportunity to try out Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite… and this was a very good move. We started off with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (dir. Joseph Green, 1962), slightly silly, slightly sinister evil scientist fare. Brilliant. As was our next choice… Strange Invaders (dir. Michael Laughlin, 1983). Not the best remembered sci-fi flick of the 80s, granted, but a wonderful homage to earlier B-movies and an awful lot of fun. Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite got a big thumbs up from us.


Back to the main screen, the next film we saw was Pieces of Talent (Joe Stauffer, 2012). This feature film tells the story of Charlotte (Kristi Ray), a wannabe actress stuck working as a waitress and living with her deadbeat mother. One night at work, Charlotte runs into David (David Long), a weird loner who says he’s a filmmaker, and the two strike up a friendship. David wants Charlotte to be part of his new project… but she has no idea what this project really is.

It would be easy to describe Pieces of Talent as a serial killer film. And it is, sort of. But it also a lot more than that. It’s an unsettling, strange and compelling film, which is moved up from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ by David Long’s amazing performance. Long’s character (he is listed in the credits as playing himself) is more than a hackneyed ‘creepy loner’. Without offering too much backstory, there is a depth and complexity to the character that is almost entirely conveyed through subtle dialogue and physical performance. There’s a scene part way through in which David takes a bath – that’s all that happens – but the combination of skilful direction and Long’s facial expressions communicates beautifully. Pieces of Talent was, without doubt, the highlight of our festival.



Following this, there were two shorts. The first of these, The Graveyard Feeder (dir. Rich Robinson, 2012), was a comedy horror about a graveyard keeper hurrying to save his father’s soul from a creature that’s feeding in the cemetery. I guess this was the sort of film that you either find funny or you don’t. We didn’t, so it didn’t really appeal. The second short in this double bill, on the other hand, could have been made for us.

Killer Kart (dir. James Feeney, 2012) was about exactly that… a killer shopping cart (or trolley for those of us on the other side of the pond). I should probably say that, on our first date, RS and I watched Rubber – a film about a homicidal tyre named Robert – and we credit our shared love of that film as one of the reasons we got together. So a film about a homicidal shopping trolley looked too good to be true… it wasn’t. It was everything we hoped it would be: a silly idea, but played completely straight and packed with references to horror classics and generic tropes. Hands down, the best short film of the festival this year (and one of the best we’ve ever seen at the festival).



Our final film of the evening was Devil in my Ride (dir. Gary Michael Schultz, 2013). Bad-boy Travis (Frank Zieger) returns for his sister Doreen (Erin Breen)’s wedding – but he accidentally gets her possessed by a demon. Travis and Doreen’s new husband Hank (Joey Bicicchi) have to go on a road trip (with demon-Doreen secured in the back of a van) to Las Vegas to find an exorcist. Devil in my Ride is a thoroughly enjoyable black comedy, which manages to stay just the right side of slapstick and hammy acting. The pacing wasn’t always great – the final hunt for the exorcist in Las Vegas was a bit too drawn out – but it was a good film, nonetheless.

Sunday

The final day of the festival started with another trip to the sci-fi screening room, for Invaders From Mars (dir. William Cameron Menzies, 1953). What can I say? An absolute classic – B-movie heaven, complete with pipe-smoking scientist and visible zips on the alien suits, and dripping with Cold War paranoia.



Next on the main screen was a double bill from Japanese director Kayoko Asakura. It began with the short film Hide and Seek (2013). A young girl visits a teacher for a koto lesson, and sees the teacher’s son playing hide and seek. Things are not what they seem. This was a skilful and engaging short film, beautifully shot and carefully paced. Were it not for Killer Kart, this would have been my favourite short of the festival.

Hide and Seek was followed by Asakura’s 2013 feature film, It’s a Beautiful Day. A group of international students in the US travel out to a backwoods retreat – which just happens to be the home of a pair of sadistic and brutal criminals. What differentiates this from the standard rural horror is a strange subplot that may or may not introduce a more supernatural element to the story (it’s not completely explained, and I don’t want to give any major spoilers). It’s a Beautiful Day is a competently made film, but was hard to follow in places. It is a bilingual film – trilingual, technically – with some of the characters only speaking in Japanese and some only in English (the subtitles switch between English and Japanese, clearly anticipating a mixed audience), and with a little Korean here and there. RS found it harder to follow this than I did, and he struggled a little with the heavily accented and broken English of the Japanese characters. I didn’t think this was much of a problem, but I did feel that the communication issues that were signalled so carefully at the film’s opening (the Japanese students didn’t know any English or Korean, the Korean student – though proficient in English – could speak no Japanese, and the backwoods American killers, naturally, were not polyglots) went anywhere. Much more could have been made of this. Overall, the film was a little confused and it was hard to reconcile the disparate plotlines – it was almost as though it was two different films mashed together. The events of the last half an hour complicated things even further, and we still can’t agree on exactly what happened at the film’s climax.

The next film was Heretic (dir. Peter Handford, 2013). Sadly, this was not a high point of the festival. Heretic told the story of Father James (Andrew Squires), a troubled priest who is coming to terms with the deaths of a teenage girl and her stepfather. James is plagued by guilt and returns to the girl’s home to face up to his responsibilities. Poor pacing and lacklustre acting made for a rather dull film, unfortunately, and we didn’t enjoy Heretic.

Following Heretic was the annual festival awards ceremony. Eight awards were given (designed by Neal Harvey of Rubber Gorilla Mask Making Studio), and the winners were announced by Sultan Darmaki. Seven awards were selected by a panel of judges (not sure who they were), and one was voted for by the audience.

Best Screenplay: Vampire Guitar

Best Male Lead: David Long (Pieces of Talent) – and RS and I both wholeheartedly agreed with this choice

Best Female Lead: Lexy Hulme (Lord of Tears) – this seemed like a foregone conclusion, given the praise Hulme’s performance had from the Lord of Tears team and members of the audience in the Q+A. While Hulme’s performance was undoubtedly the high point of the film, RS and I felt that Melanie Serafin (Throwback) or Michele Feren (The Visitant) showed far more range and carried much more of their respective narratives. But they weren’t playing ‘sexy’ characters, of course…

Best SFX: Thanatomorphose – from what I heard, this was a well-deserved award

Best Director: James Hart (Ascension) – this wouldn’t have been our choice

Best Short: Killer Kart – needless to say, we fully agreed with this award

Best Film: Gwai Wik (Re-Cycle) – one of the films that we missed, and apparently we missed out

Audience Choice: Lord of Tears – needless to say, this wasn’t the film we voted for, but as I said earlier, we appeared to be in a minority

After the awards, we watched a couple more films before heading back to Manchester. Dead Shadows (dir. David Cholewa, 2012) was a French horror about a comet crossing the path of the earth and bringing something terrible with it. RS enjoyed this one more than me, though he said it was a bit ‘Day of the Triffids-y’. I thought it needed a little more plot to balance out the gory (and, in one place, grotesque) violence. And then our final film of the festival was The Pyramid (Roberto Albanesi, Luca Alessandro, Simone Chiesa, Alex Visani and Antonio Zannone, 2013), an Italian anthology film about a demonic pyramid-shaped device that passes from person to person, promising infernal destruction. The less said about this film the better… it was not a high point for us.

So with that, we headed home. Some really nice surprises at this year’s festival, and we really enjoyed having the sci-fi movies as an alternative to the horror. Apparently next year’s festival will be five days, rather than the usual four, so we’re intrigued to know what new entertainment will be on offer.

In case you missed them, you can also read my reviews of Thursday and Friday's films.

For more information about the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, please visit their website.

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival (Friday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part two of a three-part review. You can read part one here, and part three here.

We were up bright and early on Friday for Throwback (dir. Travis Bain, 2013), an Australian ‘creature feature’ that made for a great start to the day. Two men travel into the remote wilderness of Far North Queensland in search of a legendary hoard of gold. Instead they fall foul of the Yowie, Australia’s mythical hominid. Well-made and enjoyable, though the ‘fight for survival’ drags a little towards the end. The direction is done well, and the reveal of the monster is handled skilfully. The inclusion of a female character, Rhiannon the bush ranger (Melanie Serafin), gives a bit of a ‘King Kong’ moment that’s a tiny bit predictable, but this is sort of subverted at the film’s climax.



We had to duck out of the festival for a couple of hours (to buy wedding rings, in case you're interested), so missed Terence Fisher’s classic Brides of Dracula and Richard Pawelko’s black comedy Vampire Guitar. We came back for Lord of Tears (dir. Lawrie Brewster, 2013). And I suspect I’m going to be pretty unpopular with festival regulars and the denizens of the internet in my review of Brewster’s debut feature film.

Lord of Tears was, without doubt, the most talked about film at the festival. The creative team behind it introduced the film, gave a Q+A and stayed for the rest of the festival and chatted to other attendees. Though the film was privately financed by the production team, a successful Kickstarter appeal has funded the post-production and publicity. As it transpires, one of the backers was Sultan Al Darmaki, the new BSIFF president, and this has led to Al Darmaki creating his own film company – Dark Dunes Productions – with the intention of working with Brewster and his team on another project in the near future. As can be seen from the Kickstarter pitch, Lord of Tears has been marketed as a ‘Slender Man’, ‘Lovecraft’ horror, and Brewster also listed The Haunting and The Innocents as film inspirations and M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe and generic ‘Gothic’ ghost stories as literary ones. The film tells the story of James Findlay (Euan Douglas), a schoolteacher who is haunted by his past and inherits a property in the Scottish Highlands. James travels to this house – which he had lived in once as a child – and is forced to revisit the dark secret of his past. While there, he meets a mysterious woman named Eve (Lexy Hulme) and is stalked by the Owl Man (voiced by David Schofield) – the ‘Slender Man’-esque character of the film’s PR campaign.

I’m afraid to say RS and I really did not enjoy this film. Admittedly, it is a low-budget indie film, but the production values are very low. The direction and acting are particularly bad, with some lines read so badly that it is difficult to connect with the characters. Lexy Hulme – known more as a dancer than an actor – shows some promise, but she’s given such terrible lines (“When I go to Paris, I shall waltz down the Champs-Élysées!”), and used mostly for extended and incongruous slow-motion dance sequences (including a ‘supernatural’ sequence inspired by Ringu), that her talents are wasted. The Owl Man – much anticipated by the film’s supporters – is essentially Slender Man with an owl head, and more comedic than frightening.

I think it’s only fair to say, however, that this is just our opinion of the film, and it doesn’t seem to be shared by anyone else. I believe this may be the only negative review of Lord of Tears anywhere on the internet, as every other review is glowing and effusive.

Luckily, our disappointment didn’t last long, as the next film was great! The Visitant (dir. Joe Binkowski, 2012) was an American paranormal entity chiller. Samantha (Michele Feren) performs as a ‘fortune teller’ while trying to make it as an actress, though she doesn’t believe a word of what she tells her clients. When a panicked woman appeals to her to end a ‘haunting’, Samantha is left with more than she bargained for. The Visitant was well-made and well-acted. It’s worth noting that Feren carries almost the entire film herself, with other actors appearing only at the beginning and end (or in video chat), but the film never feels like it was missing other actors. Despite her character running the horror-heroine gamut of screaming, crying, inadvisable actions and confusion, Feren’s performance never grated and we had nothing but sympathy for Samantha at the end of the film. By the end of the second day, The Visitant was definitely our favourite film of the festival so far.


Our evening ended with two short films: Cold Calling (dir. Dan Price, 2013) and The Earth Rejects Him (dir. Jared Skolnik, 2011). Cold Calling was a UK short about a market researcher who needs to knock on one more door to fill his quota… but chooses the wrong house to visit. It was reasonably well-made and intriguing, but at less than five minutes long, it’s hard to say much about this little piece. It felt like there was so much more that could have been shown. The Earth Rejects Him was a more developed piece, telling the story of Ray (Ellis Gage) a young boy who discovers a corpse while out in the woods with his friends. When Ray removes a tooth from the body, things begin to get strange. I really enjoyed this film, and found it unsettling and engaging. RS wasn’t so sure, and felt that too much was left unexplained at the end. However, we both agreed that it was a very well-made short, and showed a lot of promise. I understand that Skolnik is in the process of making a second short film, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his work develops.

The final film of the day was Thanatomorphose (dir. Éric Falardeau, 2012), but we didn’t watch this because I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to body shock stuff. Thanatomorphose is a Canadian film about a young woman who wakes up one day to find her body decomposing. By all accounts, the effects in this film are first rate… but that meant it was too rich for my blood.

Still quite a lot of films to go, so I'm going to split this review again. You can read part three here.

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2013 (Thursday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part one of a three-part review. You can read part two here.

This month, my partner (RS) and I headed to the Whitby Spa Pavilion for the Bram Stoker International Film Festival. The festival is an annual event, showcasing horror features, shorts and documentaries from around the globe alongside Gothic-inflected entertainment, such as the Vampire Ball and the 1880s Night. This festival is now in its fifth year, and I’ve attended four out of five (RS has attended for the past three years), so I think we can count ourselves as regulars.

This year saw a couple of changes to the festival, not least the appointment of a new president: Sultan Saaed Al Darmaki, an Emirati businessman who’s made a bit of a splash sponsoring indie film projects on Kickstarter this year. The ‘extracurricular’ activities were also more ambitious than previous years, adding theatre (John Burn’s Aleister Crowley: A Passion for Evil), live music (Friday night’s Children of the Night event, featuring Inkubus Sukkubus, Vampyre Heart and Global Citizen), a ‘dark art exhibition’ and lectures from Karen Oughton and David Annwn Jones to the programme. In addition to this, a second screening room – Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite, showing classic B-movies all weekend – was also opened this year.

As far as me and RS are concerned though, it’s all about the films and about discovering something new that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen, so we spent most of our time in the main screenings. Here’s what we thought about what we saw…

Thursday kicked off with the feature film Motel 666 (dir. Carlos Jimenez Flores, 2012), starring Wesley John as the host of a ghost-hunting TV show who’ve been called to a motel with a history of supernatural occurrences. The film is a bit of a mixed bag – the premise, while not particularly original, is handled with enthusiasm. The obligatory flashbacks to the ‘horrors’ of the motel are satisfyingly gruesome rather than ghostly, though occasionally my suspension of disbelief was stretched a little bit too far. The spoof credits for ‘Ghost Encounters’ are a lot of fun, and John is excellent (and a lot of fun) in his role as the show’s host Ted. The film’s twist is a bit predictable, but overall we enjoyed the film.

Next up was a double bill: Dollboy (dir. Billy Pon, 2010), followed by Hazmat (dir. Lou Simon, 2013). Dollboy is a short film about a group of people abducted, locked in a disused flea market, and hunted down by a grotesque murderer. The premise is unoriginal and, creepy as the design of the killer is, the execution is nothing new. The film is prefaced with two Grindhouse-style fake trailers: one for Circus of the Dead and the other for Mister Fister. The latter appears to be an excuse to take pointless sexualized violence against women to the most extreme and vile degree – the film is rated ‘PG’ and I can’t even bring myself to say what that stands for: you’ll have to use your imagination – and it left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, this was followed up by the feature film Hazmat, which RS and I both enjoyed, and which was introduced by the director. The film followed a TV show (the second fictional TV team of the day!) called Scary Antics – based on the US show Scare Tactics – as they plan and begin to execute a prank on Jacob (Norbert Velez), a dark and unsettled young man who has recently lost his father. Of course, things go horribly wrong. Despite the fact that, in the Q+A following the film, Simon stressed her lack of experience, the film was very well-directed and well-shot. The acting was also good. The only problem we had with this film is that it is very much of a type – a group of characters trapped by a killer, with no chance of escape – and once you accept that premise, there really is nowhere for the narrative to go. As a result, the last half an hour drags a little, and we found ourselves rooting for the killer to get through his task a little quicker. But he is an awesome killer, so that’s not too bad.



After a very short break, we had another double bill. Two shorts, this time: Wounded (dir. Tom Cowles, 2013) and Ascension (dir. James Hart, 2013). Both films were introduced by their directors – and both featured the Yorkshire actor and friend of the BSIFF Mark Rathbone (who, like last year, brought his ferret along for the Q+A). Wounded is a short film about the aftermath of a task force raid on an underground group in an abandoned building. As two survivors face off against one another, one of them begins to feel the effects of his wounds. This film was Cowles’ final degree project, and this showed. I don’t mean to use ‘student film’ as a criticism here, but rather that it was clear that the director was showcasing his cinematography – possible spoiler alert: the film demonstrates Cowles’ skills in make-up, prosthetics and a little CGI, as well as his thorough study of a certain scene from a certain John Landis film) – rather than developing narrative or characterization. Apparently, Cowles got a first in his degree, and from the evidence we saw it was well-deserved, but he said little about his plans for the future.

Ascension was the debut short from James Hart, based on a short story by Dave Jeffery (which was included in Peter Mark May’s Alt-Zombie anthology). In a West Midlands village, a group of survivors band together to protect their community in the face of the zombie apocalypse. Sadly, Hart’s film left us cold (no pun intended). The acting and direction are weak, and there are issues with lighting and audio that make the film hard to watch. I found the film’s premise intriguing (though RS was less convinced), and think I need to read Jeffery’s short story to appreciate this more. I find zombie films that play around with our expectations of the ‘plucky band of survivors’ much more interesting than those films that focus on ‘new’ characteristics of zombies. But the execution here is disappointingly poor.

Thursday was a bit of a full-on day, so we took a break and missed Ivan Zuccon’s Wrath of the Crows (2013). We came back for The Impaler (dir. Derek Hockenbrough, 2013), a film about a group of young Americans who decide to stay at Vlad the Impaler’s castle in Romania during a trip to Europe. The visitors become trapped in a bloody ritual set in motion by Vlad’s 500-year-old pact with the devil. The film was entertaining enough, and competently made, but it could have been a lot better. I think I was expecting more from a film about Vlad the Impaler led by a Romanian creative team. Not only was the film shot in America (though the sets were convincingly European), the version of Vlad was distinctly Hollywood (in fact, it was the ‘Vlad Dracul’ from Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). I was hoping for a Vlad-as-national-hero rather than Vlad-as-eternal-lover, so was a little disappointed. Overall, The Impaler felt like a modern Hammer horror – complete with a couple of ‘Transylvanian’ characters that would have absolutely been at home in a Hammer feature – and that’s not a bad thing as such, but not the most original offering of the festival.

The next film was a real treat. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen Sion Sono’s Suicide Club (2001) before, but I’m really glad I’ve seen it now. A dark, gory, surreal, hallucinatory and funny journey through a seemingly incomprehensible series of events, Suicide Club starts with 54 schoolgirls throwing themselves under a subway train. This is the beginning of an epidemic of suicides, investigated by Detective Kuroda (Ryô Ishibashi) and apparently linked to the ubiquitous all-girl J-pop group Dessert (written with various romaji spellings). Everything that happens in the film is baffling, compelling and mystifying in equal measure. Is it a film about the shallowness and disconnection of contemporary Japanese culture? Is it a gory and trippy retelling of the Pied Piper folktale? Is it a musing on the existential angst of youth? Is there any message at all behind the film? Probably… possibly… no one seems to agree. But whatever the film is about, it is a work of disturbed genius and we loved it.

Dessert’s signature song, ‘Mail Me’ (which was used to fantastic effect throughout the film) is now the creepiest earworm I’ve ever had. I couldn’t find a video that gives you the full effect, but here’s the song (sorry, no subtitles on this video) in case you want to listen.



Just two more films for us on Thursday (as we decided to skip the late-night screening of John Badham’s Dracula): short films Child Eater (dir. Erlingur Throddsen, 2012) and Count Yoga (dir. Adam Dallas, 2013). The former was a babysitting horror/bogeyman-is-real story that was well-done but unoriginal. The latter was a cringe-worthy ‘comedy’ about a Bulgarian (?!) vampire who has moved to Bondi Beach, Australia. It was as bad as it sounds.

We saw so many films over the weekend, I've had to split this review up. You can read the next part of this review here.

Monday, 16 September 2013

CFP: "Horror" - 35th Annual Conference of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA)

Hyatt Regency Hotel & Conference Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico

February 19-22, 2014

The area chair for Horror of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association invites all interested scholars to submit papers on any aspect of horror in literature, film, television, digital and online as well as general culture. Given the strong showing of work on horror cinema in recent years, we hope to continue this tradition, but also to diversify into new and unconventional areas, especially with the addition of roundtable sessions on a variety of popular topics.

Particularly encouraged are presentations that fit this year’s conference theme, "Popular and American Culture Studies: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow."

If you are interested in being a presenter, please send a detailed abstract (300-400 words) for a paper of 15 to 20 minutes reading time. Please provide contact information, such as name, mailing address, phone number, and especially e-mail address.

If you want to propose a panel of four speakers, or three speakers and one respondent, please include the following information: panel title; name and contact information of the panel chair; an abstract for each paper; contact information for each presenter.

The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2013.

For information about the registration process, registration fees, membership, graduate student awards and course credits, and information about travel and location, please consult the SWPACA's official web site.

Please submit abstracts and panel proposals at the conference website.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Review: House of Fear, ed. by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris, 2011)



Published in 2011, House of Fear is an anthology of haunted house short stories, edited by Jonathan Oliver and featuring stories by writers such as Adam Nevill, Sarah Pinborough and Christopher Priest. I picked those three names at random, as the collection’s contents page is an impressive list of well-established UK horror writers (and a couple of American cousins), with a small number of new voices being introduced alongside.

I was asked to review this book for another site I write for, but as that review will be somewhat brief, I thought I’d write a longer post here so I can talk in a bit more detail about the collection. This book definitely deserves the additional space.

The theme (or setting or motif – depending on the way it has been interpreted) that organizes House of Fear is the haunted house. Each of the nineteen stories features a ‘house’ of some description (though ‘home’ is probably a more accurate term), and each one presents a ‘haunting’ of sorts. It wouldn’t be fair to describe House of Fear as a book of ghost stories, however, as ‘haunting’ is to be understood in its widest sense. That said, there are a fair few ghosts within the pages.

The book as a whole is excellent. The editor has done a fantastic job in putting the collection together – in terms of both selection and organization – and Oliver’s introductions to each story are complimentary without being cloying. It’s also nice to read a short story collection with a consistently high standard of writing. There are no weak links in House of Fear, no stories being held up by their more secure and accomplished neighbours. So, when I talk about the high points in the rest of the review, I’m referring to my own personal taste as a reader.

The collection opens with Lisa Tuttle’s excellent ‘Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear’, which sets up expectations for the rest of the collection. Tuttle’s bittersweet tale of a divorced couple’s return to a house they almost bought at the beginning of their marriage begins with a semi-nostalgia laced with rational reflection, before drawing the reader (as the narrator herself is drawn) into an unsettling, obsessive hunt for something just out of reach. The chilling ending packs a real punch. Tuttle’s story is followed by Steven Volk’s ‘Pied-à-terre’ which is a quite different sort of story with a quite different sort of punch – I’ll admit I welled up a bit when I realized what was happening in Volk’s very moving tale. It is a mark of Volk’s talent as a writer that he was able to handle (avoiding spoilers) such emotional material without sentimentalizing or becoming mawkish.

Of the other stories in the collection, Adam Nevill’s ‘Florrie’ and Jonathan Green’s ‘The Doll’s House’ were particularly favourites, though Rebecca Levene’s ‘The Windmill’ was also fantastic. Nevill’s tale of a young man moving into a house made vacant by the death of its elderly owner was perfectly paced and a deft study in tension-building. This story resonated with me, as, like Nevill’s protagonist, my house previously belonged to an old lady who had lived in it her entire adult life. And, like Nevill’s protagonist, I found that the previous owner’s family had simply abandoned her furniture (and some personal belongings) after the house was sold. I am happy to be able to say that’s where the similarities end, as Nevill’s tale is an off-beat horror which (as good horror should) makes you smile just before it terrifies you.

Green’s story should be given to all aspiring writers trying desperately to come up with the perfect ‘idea’, the plot that is so original it will blow their readers’ minds, because ‘The Doll’s House’ is a beautiful example of why that doesn’t matter. A story of the return of a creepy doll’s house is hardly a mind-blowingly original idea, but Green brings his characters (and the house itself) to life with skill and a light touch. In Green’s hands, the familiarity of the story’s basic premise is transformed into a fresh and compelling piece of writing. And the ending is exquisite (at least, it is for those of us who like our horror shocking).

‘The Windmill’ is one of several stories in the collection that reinterpret the haunted house by widening an understanding of ‘home’, and the places in which we might temporarily reside. Levene’s protagonist is a drug dealer serving a prison sentence. With a limited view from his cell, Lee is able to watch a windmill that he knows from his time outside. Unrepentant, Lee is determined to continue dealing from within the prison, but things don’t work out quite the way he planned. Levene mixes down-to-earth realism with a growing sense of the supernatural to produce a story filled with creeping dread.

One final mention (as I don’t have the space here to go through each story in detail) is Christopher Fowler’s ‘An Injustice’. Fowler’s tale begins with a group of student ghost-hunters – as misguided, opinionated and naïve as that sounds – but evolves into something quite different, and really unexpected. Of all the stories in the book, this is the one that genuinely ‘haunted’ me. I was reading the book one story at a time in between shifts and bands at a music festival, which gave me a great opportunity to compare how long each one lingered in my imagination after I’d finished it. Fowler’s easily won – the final ‘reveal’ just doesn’t go away.

As I said, these stories were particular favourites, but the others stories in the collection are all strong. If I had to make criticisms, I found Christopher Priest’s ‘Widow’s Weeds’ a little disappointing. Priest returns to the figure of the professional magician, so a comparison with The Prestige is inevitable. I didn’t feel ‘Widow’s Weeds’ had the intrigue or narrative power of the earlier novel, and the characterization (even allowing for the restrictions of form) was underdeveloped.

Robert Shearman’s ‘The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World’ also left me a little underwhelmed. A clever premise – which is almost impossible to sum up without ruining the story – promised to be ‘an unusual story of a house in a garden and how people within that house find out what it is to be human’ (in Oliver’s words). The problem for me was that there was little outside of the premise, and while this was indeed unusual and clever, it wasn’t quite enough to sustain my interest.

Nevertheless, as I said, this is a matter of personal taste. I admit I can be quite traditional in my reading tastes, and usually gravitate towards strong plots and well-developed characterization. On the whole, House of Fear delivered this, as well as a few good doses of horror (of differing types).

So, overall, a resounding recommendation. This is a must-read for horror fans. I would go as far as to say – aside from the collections I have edited, of course – this is my favourite short story anthology of recent years.

For more information about House of Fear, please check out the publishers’ website.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hic Dragones presents... A Night of Strange and Dark Fictions

as part of Prestwich Book Festival

Monday 27th May, 7.30pm
Prestwich British Legion (near Heaton Park tram station)
225 Bury Old Road
Prestwich M25 1JE

Tickets £6 (+ booking fee) in advance from the festival’s Eventbrite shop

Come and listen to some of the finest and strangest authors writing in the UK today. What do they have in common? They’ve all been published – at one stage or another – by North Manchester’s strangest publishing house, Hic Dragones. And they’re together in Prestwich for one night only.

Rosie Garland:
Manchester-based Rosie Garland has published five solo collections of poetry and her award-winning short stories, poems and essays have been widely anthologized. She is an eclectic writer and performer, ranging from singing in Goth band The March Violets to her well-loved stage persona Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen. The Palace of Curiosities (HarperCollins) is her debut novel.

Toby Stone:
Toby Stone is a Whitefield-based novelist who also teaches in North Manchester. Toby went to the same school as Batman (Christian Bale) and Benny Hill. As an adult, Toby has been a toy-seller, an Avon lady, double-glazing Salesman of the Week, a mortgage broker, a suspicious barman, a school governor and a bingo caller. Aimee and the Bear (Hic Dragones) is his first novel.

Also featuring readings from Hic Dragones anthology writers:

Simon Bestwick: acclaimed author of ‘modern masterpiece of horror’ The Faceless (Solaris)
Richard Freeman: writer and cryptozoologist
Jeanette Greaves: contributor to Wolf-Girls and Impossible Spaces
Nancy Schumann: author of Take a Bite, a history of female vampires in folklore and literature
Beth Daley: graduate of the Creative Writing PhD programme at the University of Manchester
Daisy Black: writer, medievalist and heavy metal morris dancer

Your host for the evening will be Hannah Kate, ringmaster at the strange little circus that is Hic Dragones.

Plus… prizes to be won, a bookstall and a stall from Rock and Goth Plus


powered by

Friday, 29 March 2013

Hic Dragones presents... Twisted Tales of Cannibalism

International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street
Manchester M1 5BY
United Kingdom
Wednesday 24th April 2013, 6.30-8.30pm
Free event, booking required

A night of dark horror fiction with Conrad Williams (Blonde on a Stick, One, The Unblemished), Stephen McGeagh (Habit) and Harry Whitehead (The Cannibal Spirit), presented by Hic Dragones and Twisted Tales.

Cannibalism disrupts our relatively stable position at the top of the food chain. From Jeffrey Dahmer to Hannibal Lecter, cannibals are the subject of popular fascination in both fiction and crime reports. However, they have a much longer heritage and their monstrous appetites can make them seem something both greater and lesser than human. Join Twisted Tales and Hic Dragones for an evening of readings by authors known for their cannibal fiction, before engaging in discussion about this primal taboo.

Hic Dragones is a small press publisher and events organizer based in North Manchester. This event is a tie-in with the Cannibals: Cannibalism, Consumption and Culture conference running on 25-26th April 2013. For more information about this conference, please visit the website.

Twisted Tales is an award-nominated series of horror readings based in the North West, with the aim of promoting the best of 21st century horror through engaging the public in a series of dynamic literary events. Now entering into its third year, Twisted Tales has worked with a range of top authors, including China Miéville, Sarah Pinborough, Ramsey Campbell, Jeremy Dyson, Adam Nevill, Stuart MacBride, Graham Joyce, Alison Littlewood and many more. For further information, please visit the Twisted Tales website.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

GUEST POST: Andrew Quinton (Wolf-Girls Blog Tour)

As part of the Hic Dragones Wolf-Girls blog tour, I'm happy to host a guest post from Andrew Quinton, one of the book's contributors...



Hello! I’m Andrew Quinton, Wolf-Girls contributor and writer of The Librarian. I find it difficult to write about myself, so for the purposes of this article, I’ve asked Alexis LaPierre — werewolf, peer-pressured vegetarian and protagonist of The Librarian — to conduct an informal interview with me. This interview makes some oblique references to scenes in the story, but contains no spoilers.


Illustration by Tandye Rowe

Alexis LaPierre: Really? Interviewed by your own character? I’d love to cite some examples illustrating just how gimmicky this is, but I can’t think of any other cases where a writer was shy enough to try it. I’ll find something when I’m back at work.

Andrew Quinton: Do you think you’ve still got a workplace to go back to? You took some unannounced time off, didn’t you? A long weekend that sort of –

AL: I don’t want to talk about it. Besides, I wasn’t strictly responsible, given how hard you worked to put me in that situation.

AQ: Well, yes, I did guide you there, but I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I thought you were going to end up on Grouse Mountain in the middle of the night. I didn’t know much at all, really. Your story is the first piece of fiction I’ve completed since high school. That was in 1999. I haven’t had any formal writing instruction at all since then, so this story just carried me along with it. I didn’t think you were going to miss any time at work. I know that’s important to you.

AL: I’m the creation of someone who got a B+ in Creative Writing 12? How fortunate for both of us. Being relatively new to it, then, I take it that you don’t have a set process for writing?

AQ: For The Librarian, it was more of an anti-process. When I really started work on it, there were less than seven weeks before the submission deadline, so I was in a hurry. Most of the first two drafts were written on an iPod Touch or an iPhone, using WriteRoom and Dropbox to keep things organized. I wrote in little sprints, 5 minutes here, 20 there. On the bus, standing in line at a hockey game, in bed, once even during a meeting at work (not smart).

AL: Everything you’re telling me is making me feel like a child born healthy despite the fact that her mother drank and smoked through the pregnancy.

AQ: Yeah, it wasn’t ideal, but I made it work. It was convenient, being able to pull out a device and start writing wherever I was. Working like that also removed the framework of habits that I think a lot of rookie writers like me get tangled in. No rituals, no lucky coffee cups or special pens.

AL: Was it difficult to concentrate, writing like that? I often find it… difficult… to concentrate.

AQ: Headphones were the key. Every word of your story was written to music. Anything that takes places in the woods was written to Loscil’s gorgeous, glacial “Coast / Range / Arc”. For the non-flashback scenes, I listened to Cliff Martinez’s “Solaris” score, all tranquil bells and pensive strings.

AL: I see. What about the climax of the story?

AQ: Just one song, on repeat. “Demon Seed”, by Nine Inch Nails. I think that’s your theme song in this story. Particularly the last 90 seconds of it.

AL: “Demon Seed”? Are you sure you’re not still in high school?

AQ: Hey, it worked for you.

AL: That “my theme” can be expressed by such a song is profoundly disturbing on a number of levels. Next question. What made you want to write something — and then submit it for publication, which was a first for you — after over a decade of inactivity?

AQ: In early 2010 I set myself a few self-improvement goals, and one of them was to finish a piece of writing and have it accepted for publication before my 30th birthday, in May 2011. I wound up ignoring that writing goal in favour of the other things I’d set out to do, but when I heard about the Wolf-Girls anthology in January 2011, I knew I’d never find a better excuse to get started writing again. Dark short stories about female werewolves? To my family and friends it probably sounded like a vanity project I made up for myself.

AL: And yet you didn’t actually start writing the story until late February.

AQ: Yeah, despite the self-improvement kick, I’m still a consummate procrastinator.

AL: Clearly. Were you at least able to make your “accepted for publication by 30” deadline?

AQ: I got the acceptance email less than 12 hours before I turned 30. That was a good night.

AL: I’m so happy for you.

AQ: Really?

AL: Maybe. Moving on. I have a clear sense of my own history, but I can sense faint echoes of “previous versions” of myself. I get the feeling that I was iterated a few times during the writing process.

AQ: That’s right. I did quite a lot of re-writing. Originally you were going to be a court reporter, but I decided that you being a part of the justice system would create a premise too much like Showtime’s “Dexter”. I think Dexter Morgan is a terrific anti-hero, but he’s comfortable in his disguise. You’re never truly comfortable, are you? Even after seven years of relative domesticity.

AL: Let’s talk about something else, please. You run Werewolf News, and you’ve also created the SRA, a fake government agency that tracks “non-human” entities, including lycanthropes. Why do werewolves hold such fascination for you?

AQ: The short answer is that werewolves are awesome. The longer, more articulate answer is that I’m intrigued the concept of metamorphosis, especially when it’s mixed up with the construction of one’s personal identity. If you ignore how long a werewolf stays in either shape, how would you be able to tell which is his or her “real” body?

AL: How nice that you have the luxury of pondering that as an intellectual exercise. I know precisely which is my “real” body, thank you very much.

AQ: See, that’s why I usually go with the short answer.

AL: Speaking of “real” bodies… since I’m a character you made up, are you visualizing me as being physically there, across from you, asking these questions?

AQ: When we began this interview I tried to visualize you, yes, but the mental image of you sitting across from me on this train is very much at odds with the last scene of The Librarian. The latter keeps bleeding into the former. No pun intended.

AL: That pun was absolutely intended, and for that reason, we’re done here.

AQ: Hey, am I going to get to write about that other secret you have? The one I cut from the story becau–

AL: WE’RE DONE HERE.

Read 'The Librarian' in Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny, edited by Hannah Kate and published by Hic Dragones.

Monday, 16 July 2012

CFP: 1st Global Conference: Body Horror: Contagion, Mutation, Transformation

Monday 11th February – Wednesday 13th February 2013

Sydney, Australia

Call for Presentation:

The body. My body. This thing which is with me all day, every day, from my birth to my death. This flesh which is me. My intimate life-long friend.

In our day-to-day living we have no reason to question or to doubt our bodies. Until the bond of trust is shaken or broken. Something happens. To my body. Something inside: going wrong. A betrayal: a turning against: an unwelcome and unwanted change. From which there is no escape, no running away, nowhere to hide. This is happening to me.

This inter- and transdisciplinary forum aims to explore the many layers and levels of body horror, and the ways in which bodies can become horrifying. Given the diversity and scope of this theme we welcome

~ papers, panels, workshops, reports

~ case studies

~ performance pieces; dramatic readings; poetic renditions; short stories; creative writings

~ works of art; works of music

Key aspects for discussion will include, but not be limited to:

Biological horror. Organic horror
Betrayal; the body turns against you
Something inside; no escape
Change and transformation: the role of time
Pain, suffering, agony, the scream, contortion, mutation and mutilation
Obscene bodies
Disease. Infection, contagion, invasion, virus, the parasite
Surgery, cosmetic surgery, body sculpture; huffing, tattooing, piercing; body art
Pleasure, perversion, fetish
Deformity; disability, affliction
Hybridity
Violence, brutality, torture
Rape
Innards, guts, organs
Dismemberment; instruments of the body’s destruction
Wounded bodies, dying bodies
Post body horror

The Steering Group particularly welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. Papers and presentations will also be considered on any related theme. 300 word abstracts or presentation proposals should be submitted by Friday 14th September 2012. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper, if appropriate, should be submitted by Friday 23rd November 2012.

What to Send:

300 word abstracts or presentation proposals should be submitted simultaneously to both Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract.

E-mails should be entitled: Body Abstract Submission.

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chair


Rob Fisher

The conference is part of the At the Interface programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.

For further details of the conference, please click here.

Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review: Simon Bestwick, The Faceless (Solaris, 2012)


The Faceless is a new horror novel by Simon Bestwick, and published by Solaris. Set (mostly) in the Lancashire town on Kempforth, it tells the story of the investigation into a series of missing person cases, and the apparent appearance of the local bogeymen, ‘the Spindly Men’, previously only known as a nursery tale used to scare children. The blurb on the back of the cover promises that it will be ‘a breath-taking tale of the supernatural’.

I must admit, I was a little worried about reading this book and writing a review. Simon Bestwick was one of the writers I contacted in my role as Project Co-ordinator for Hic Dragones, and, as a result, he took part in the Manchester Monster Convention that my company organized. Simon was a great guest speaker – funny, engaging and supportive – and his novel, The Faceless, sounded so fascinating, so I was just a little bit nervous… what if the book was disappointing and I ended up having to write a bad review? That would have been awful!

Fortunately, and I’ll say this upfront, my worries were completely unfounded. The Faceless is well-written, compelling and utterly creepy.

Although the missing persons investigation is an important part of the plot, this is not a police procedural story. Sure, as detectives Joan Renwick and Mike Stakowski (and the rest of their team) begin their search for four people who don’t seem to have much in common – except that the ‘Spindly Men’ were sighted around the time each one disappeared – there are moments that will be recognizable from other crime fiction: the team don’t always trust Renwick’s methods; there’s pressure from a boss desperate for ‘results’; the lead detectives are haunted by the demons of their own pasts. However, Bestwick’s detectives (particularly Renwick and Stakowski) are three-dimensional and sympathetic – much more than simply generic stereotypes.

In addition to this, the police investigation is only one aspect of the story. It is intertwined with two other plotlines. The first involves Anna Mason, her brother Martyn and his child Mary. Anna is a local historian who has moved back to Kempforth to be with her family. Early on in the book, Martyn (recovering from a breakdown) has experienced a serious trauma, and Anna is trying to help him cope. After an early confrontation with the ‘Spindly Men’, Anna and Martyn become dragged into the horror that is beginning to engulf Kempforth.

At the same, celebrity psychic Allen Cowell is called by his apparent ‘spirit guides’ to return to his home town and assist the police investigate the disappearances. Allen and his sister, Vera, escaped their brutal childhood in Kempforth years earlier, and had vowed never to return. However, in order to escape his own personal ghosts, Allen must do as his guides instruct and head back to, as Vera puts it, ‘the bastard North’. I wasn’t expecting to find Allen and Vera particularly interesting – as, on face value, a celebrity psychic involved in a police investigation doesn’t seem to be anything too new – but Vera was, probably, my favourite character of the entire novel. The bleakness of the pair’s lives, and the brutality of their history, was really gripping.

These three main storylines weave around one another, before eventually coming together, as Renwick and Stakowski, Anna and Martyn, and Allen and Vera must team up to work out what exactly is going on. Again, while this might seem like a bit of a cliché, there is a fresh and engaging quality to the way Bestwick constructs it. A lot of this is a result of his ability to create real and believable characters. There are no cardboard cut-outs in this book.

That said, The Faceless is a horror novel. And while my own preference might be for horror that is driven by compelling and well-rounded characters, some of you might be wondering when I’m going to actually say something about the dark stuff…

In this respect as well, Bestwick’s novel does not disappoint. I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical about the return of childhood demons as actually figures of horror – I’ve read that in other books, so was not sure whether the ‘Spindly Men’ could go where other nursery rhyme monsters have not gone before. In fact, these are not the real vehicle of horror. Although they are truly creepy creations, they are far from being the most horrific things the protagonists must face. Readers, like the characters in the novel, might initially blame the deaths and disappearances on these supernatural beings, but the truth (as it is slowly revealed) is much, much more disturbing.

As the novel progresses, the cruelty and brutality (some might say ‘evil’) that runs through Kempforth’s history begins to come to light. As Anna Mason’s historical research is added to Allen’s visions and the detectives’ investigations, the extent of the dangers becomes apparent and the protagonists’ search for answers leads them inextricably to the long-since abandoned hospital at Ash Fell. This hospital is at once a grotesque and a chilling creation. Like all good horror locations, Ash Fell has its ‘real life’ historical basis, but it is taken to its ultimate and terrible conclusion. Perhaps, again, this my own personal preference, but it was the historical basis for Ash Fell that chilled me the most, and it was this that lingered with me after I’d finished reading the book. I won’t say any more, plot-wise, as this book has a lot of twists and I don’t want to stumble into spoiler territory – suffice to say, a lot of things are not what they seem.

There is a lot of plot of in The Faceless, but this is not a bad thing. The main strengths of Bestwick’s writing, for me, lie in his constructions of people and place. (As I said, my own preference is for books where I am genuinely rooting for the characters, but I also like to feel immersed in the ‘world’ of the book.) However, I would say that Bestwick has also created a story that is original and memorable, and it unfolds at just the right pace. His version of ‘ghosts’ and ‘hauntings’ is also unusual, and unlike much recent horror and supernatural fiction.

Overall, I highly recommend The Faceless, as one of the best UK horror novels I have read recently. I always slightly distrust reviews of horror where the writer claims to have been left scared after finishing the book, so I won’t say that. I will say, though, that The Faceless left me distinctly unsettled and disturbed. And what more could you ask from a piece of horror fiction?