Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Pick up some free horror books for Halloween, including Monster Maelstrom, a Halloween anthology which includes one of my flash fiction stories:

http://www.melaniekarsak.com/p/promotion.html

Another of my short stories is in a new anthology:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UZN00G6

Houdini on the pumpkin

Happy Halloween from Houdini Hamster…

Smiling zombie

Cover

My new Victorian fungus zombie short story should be up on Amazon shortly. I wrote the original version a couple of years ago for a print anthology, as an attempt to create a hard SF zombie story. It ended up less hard SF than zombie, so it didn’t get into the anthology, but I’ve since rewritten it to be about three times as long and cleared up the problems readers reported.

It’s discounted to $0.99 for Halloween, so, if you want a copy, get it while it’s cheap.

Should be at Amazon shortly.

Hoping to have this novel out next month, though there’s still proof-reading to do before it’s ready to go.

One of my favourite fan fiction stories: I read it years ago and came across it again online recently:

THE LAST TESTAMENT OF DAPHNE PICKMAN

As Chekhov said: If you hang a scythe in the barn in act one, it should stab something through the head in act two.

Well into the second act now in NaNoWriMo at around 33,000 words. I’m busy splitting the characters up, one is dead, one is badly wounded, several are mildly so, and the werewolf fetishist makeup girl has got some action.

Fake script

Horror Movie cover

I’m busy writing the new version of Horror Movie for NaNoWriMo. I think I’m going to rewrite the original later, and release it as Horror Movie 2: The Sequel; I like the characters too much to abandon them, but it’s more of a comedy than a bloody, rip-your-throat-out horror.

Cover still needs some work, too.

I realized the other day that zombies are really a metaphor for Marxists; they come into your world, eat your friends’ brains, and turn them into mindless drones who want nothing more than to make you one of them for their own greedy ends.

Starts tomorrow. I’m going to write a new version of Horror Movie, and see if I can release it before Christmas. The original version will probably become Horror Movie 2: The Sequel.

Probably had about eighty kids at our door so far… slowed down a lot in the last half hour, the rain is probably putting them off!

In the meantime, I’m watching old Hammer horror movies.

Yes, Tartarus is gone for now. Not because it’s a bad novel per se — it just got its first review at four stars — but in the long term I want to make it part of a series and that means a major rewrite so the style and voice will be consistent with the rest of the series. The story will remain basically the same.

Every day I left it up made changing things harder as more people read it.

50-100% off coupons at Smashwords for the rest of the month.

Horror Movie cover

Horror Movie

Ten Years Ago

FADE IN:

The scene: St Agatha’s Primary School, backstage at the nativity play, between cardboard boxes piled beside peeling white walls. A mirror leans on a chair and nine-year-old girls stand around it, touching up their makeup while Joseph beats up the third Wise Man and the other two egg him on. A harried teacher struggles to pull them apart before Joseph’s white robe is covered with blood and snot. Too late, Joseph swings another punch and, with a loud crunch, blood spurts from the Wise Man’s nose. As one teacher leads the crying Wise Man away to console him, the other spits on a handkerchief and tries to wipe the blood from Joseph’s robe.

The cast: Nancy poses in front of the mirror. Although she is playing Mary she has convinced the teachers that she should have a more important role than merely being the Mum of the Son of God. With the persistence only a child can sustain she now has most of Joseph’s lines, and with hindsight that was a good idea now that Joseph has shown his psychopathic colours. Her twin sister Corrine struggles to pull herself into her angel costume because Nancy called her ‘fatso’ at the dress rehearsal and Corrine told their mother to sew it a size smaller to prove she wasn’t. Staci sits on a chair in her underwear with her arms folded over her chest and her face covered in white makeup behind beer-bottle glasses.

I started writing Horror Movie on a business trip nearly two years ago; by the end of the trip I’d written about half the novel, but it’s been sitting around since waiting for me to finish it. Now is the time; I want to have it out as an e-book and paperback by the end of June, which seems easy enough despite the rush of work in my day job.

The 2000s horror revival has officially jumped the shark. Just as the Scream series killed horror in the 90s by making heavily hyped horror movies without any horror, The Cabin In The Woods seems to have done the same today.

I can imagine how this movie came about. The writer put on a brave smile to cover their fluttering heart as they walked in the room to pitch it to the producer, and sat in front of his gold-plated desk with sweaty palms and more rolling down their forehead.

“So what’s your pitch? I don’t have all day.”
“OK, you see, there’s this gang of cliched horror movie characters and they’re being killed off in a cabin in the woods, but get this. IT’S ALL A REALITY TV SHOW.”
“Oh, God. Reality TV is so last year. Got anything else?”
“What about this other one? There are ancient Gods living underground and this corporate cult lead by Sigourney Weaver are sacrificing kids to them so they won’t rise up and destroy all life on Earth.”

The producer yawns. “Lovecraft wrote that in the 30s. It sucked. It still sucks.”

The writer stands. He’s failed, he sucks, he couldn’t come up with a good movie idea to save his life, he’ll never work in Hollywood again. But as he turns to leave…

“Wait. They both suck, but… what if… WE COMBINED THEM IN ONE MOVIE?”

The smile returns, for real this time. What if the reality TV show was actually being run by a corporate cult lead by Sigourney Weaver who was sacrificing the kids to ancient Gods so they wouldn’t rise up and destroy all life on Earth?

“Wow, that totally makes sense. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because I’m a producer and you’re just a writer.”

And this is the big problem with the movie. They couldn’t decide whether it’s a reality TV movie, an evil corporate cult movie or a parody of cliched horror movies. The end result is the movie equivalent of mixing mushy peas, ice cream, marmite, bacon and mashed potatoes; all of them are perfectly edible by themselves, but not blended in one amorphous blob.

It starts well enough as an obvious parody of the cliched ‘cabin in the woods’ genre, but rapidly goes downhill, piling absurdity on absurdity until I simply can’t take any more. To give some obvious examples, if they’re killing off the kids for the ancient Gods… why not just kill them? Why bother with the whole ‘cabin in the woods’ fakery? If they need a specific mix of cliched character types to make it work, are we seriously supposed to believe all these characters know each other?

Worse, because all the characters are completely cliched caricatures, by the mid-point I really couldn’t care whether they lived or died. That is always fatal for a horror movie. The ending actually showed a little originality, but by that point it was too late.

It’s not a horrible movie, it’s often funny and, unlike Scream, I watched it to the end. But it wants to believe it’s far more intelligent than it really is and I can’t imagine ever wanting to watch it again.

At my sister’s wedding a while back my mother spoke about our family vacations when we were kids, and how much she liked Shell Island in Wales. So I was able tell her that by some strange coincidence on the flight over I happened to be reading an ebook about giant crabs eating tourists at Shell Island.

The seventies were a great time for pulp horror in Britain; pretty much anyone with a novel about monsters or demons or vampires could get it in print and many people did. Some of them were good, many of them were bad, most of them… well… let’s just say they filled a popular niche for escapist entertainment in the publishing world and not comment on their literary merits.

Guy N Smith was one of the more prolific pulp writers of that era, now with over eighty books to his name. However, he’s probably most remembered for his giant crab series, which captured the public imagination for a period and were popular enough that Night of the Crabs lead to several sequels; in the introduction to the ebook Smith talks about going into a book store in Wales and finding himself in an impromptu signing session. He’s now releasing some of his work as ebooks, and I bought Night of the Crabs for nostalgia’s sake when I saw it on Smashwords; it’s no longer for sale there, but should be elsewhere.

I’m sure I remember finding the paperback on the bookshelf in one of the houses my parents rented in that part of Wales a few years after it was published, but I’m not sure whether I actually read it at the time. I know I had heard of it, primarily because we did often visit the tourist areas mentioned in the book; which I suspect is why it became popular, as foreign travel was still rare and much of the British population would recognise the locations and the type of people mentioned in the story.

Giant crabs are a somewhat unlikely horror monster, particularly crabs as large and intelligent as those in the books; the laws of physics alone would mean that crabs of that size couldn’t easily move without huge legs to support their weight. But so long as people get eaten and the hero saves the day, no-one who likes these kind of books is going to worry much about the laws of physics.

And get eaten they do. From the opening line to the end, Smith seems to adopt the maxim that someone should get eaten at least every ten pages (and have sex at least every thirty) so the reader won’t get bored. The main character in the prologue doesn’t even last that long, becoming crab food within six pages

The prologue is actually one of the best parts of the book; it feels like a self-contained short story with few of the faults that the main story suffers from. However, the basis of the prologue’s plot (a man faking his death in the sea) probably seems more original now than it would have at the time when it had been in the news and a popular TV show.

I’m not going to comment much on the overall story because I don’t really need to. If you’ve read one monster animal novel or seen one monster movie you probably already know it; monsters start eating people, hero arrives to save the town, people don’t believe monsters exist, more people get eaten, hero saves the day, etc. That’s what happens in most of these stories, and what distinguishes them is the setting, the monsters, the characters and the author’s writing ability.

In this case the setting is different — while we’ve had stories like Jaws set in American seaside towns I don’t remember others in Wales — the monsters are different, and the main faults are the characters and the writing. James Herbert’s recently mentioned series about man-eating giant rats, for example, have better survived the intervening decades.

One of the biggest issues I noticed in the writing is blatant point of view shifts; with multiple characters in a scene, Smith has a tendency to jump from one head to another. That may have been more common at the time, but today it’s so widely discouraged that it immediately stands out. There’s also a fair amount of telling where showing would probably have helped to pull me into the story world and hide some of the more obvious character problems, and occasional bursts of passive voice. One final peculiarity is repeated references to characters by their full name rather than just their first name or surname, which is common early in the story but becomes rare by the end.

The characters are interesting, but the things the main characters do — or don’t do — often seem to stem more from a need to make the plot work than from the characters themselves. As a consequence I rarely felt that they were real people and hence felt distanced from the story; in general, although at times they did seem to have a remarkable ability to not be overly concerned that a giant crab had chopped off one or more of their limbs, the crab-bait characters who appear solely in order to be eaten seemed more real than the main characters in the story.

For example, the attractive divorcee almost immediately falls for the heroic biologist, and then when they see giant crabs eating one of the locals they don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to tell people about it; our biologist does talk to the government, who think he’s mad, but not to the local police or media. Even when the government do decide the threat is real, they don’t seem too concerned about evacuating the area or discouraging the heroic biologist’s new girlfriend from tagging along on his crab-hunting trips. In addition, when our heroic couple hide in the sand dunes to see if giant crabs really are sneaking out of the sea, they can barely manage to sit for two minutes before they decide that having sex would be a good idea.

Where Smith’s writing does work for me is in the entertaining set pieces through the book; he seems to delight in finding more characters to kill off in gruesome ways, possibly too much as the crab-bait scenes sometimes distract from the main plot and at one point take us away from the main characters for about twenty pages. The attack on a military base amused me, as the soldiers firing machineguns merely annoy the crabs because the impact of the bullets on their shells tickles them; they continue on to gleefully destroy tanks, trains and part of a tourist town in their search for delicious human flesh. Of course in the end the military are ineffective because using nuclear weapons “just isn’t on”, so only our heroic biologist can save the day while leaving the story wide open for a sequel.

This book is a product of its time and rating it by modern standards would be difficult and unfair; it’s different and if you’re a fan of pulp monster horror it’s entertaining. If you’re not a fan then the flaws probably overwhelm the good parts; I’d like to call it ‘Jaws with crabs’, but ultimately Jaws is just better written.

Still, it’s got me itching to sit back on the sofa and write a monster novel of my own, or at least rewrite my monster movie script into novel form. Maybe it’s finally time for that giant man-eating gopher story.

And I think I am going to have to track down those sequels.

Guy N Smith can be found at Guynsmith.com.

Another book I read recently is Herbert’s classic animal horror novel, The Rats. I read Domain as a teenager and picked up The Rats and Lair cheap on e-bay years ago, but I hadn’t got around to starting them until now.

The Rats is a very thin novel, apparently around 40,000 words. That made it ideal for a quick read on a flight to America. It was Herbert’s first novel and it seems made up as he went along with some odd twists and turns and various opportunities for increased conflict which were tossed aside in favour of rapid-fire blood, gore and violent death.

But it set the standard for animal horror novels of the 70s; the various bit-parts are set up and then killed by the rats in gory ways while the hero (in this case Harris, a school teacher) tries to determine why the animals went crazy and convince the authorities to act when they think he’s crazy himself. Oh, and throw in some sex for good measure.

The gore begins early and deaths continue at a rapid pace through the book; I soon lost count of the number of bodies. Most of the book consists of back-story for the rat-bait characters interspersed with set pieces as the rats attack en masse and the heroes defend against them, and those set pieces are entertaining if sometimes hard to believe.

They also contain some very seventies attitudes which would be considered politically incorrect today, but much of the social commentary about the rats preying on homeless people would still stand up; it reminded me of my own ‘Homeless Horror’ script that I must finish converting into a novel before long.

Overall it’s good fun and a fast read, and contains some scenes that are still quite horrific today. You’ll never look at the London Underground or a cinema quite the same way after reading it.

I can certainly see why The Rats launched an entire genre of copy-cat books. But I still preferred Domain, as Herbert had clearly improved as a writer in the intervening years.

For links to purchase:

http://www.james-herbert.co.uk/books-by-james-herbert/the-rats/

The rewrite is coming along well; I’ve removed the parts that need to go (much of which will eventually return in the sequel), added 5,000 words to fill in the gaps that left, and made a pass through the whole story. I need to add some more words early on and do another copy-edit pass, but hopefully the new version will be out by next weekend. I’m trying to make it the same length as the original so I don’t need to revise the paperback cover, but I don’t think I have ten pages to add to bring it back to that size.

I’ve also been reading another horror/thriller movie script that I wrote back in 2007. It has its flaws — it’s a feature-length script I wrote in about two weeks — but I think the story is one of the best I’ve ever written. I’ll have to think about converting it to a novel soon.

Edit: rewrite is done, just need to proofread and copy-edit.