Monday 26 September 2011

Mixing business and pleasure in Brighton

There won't be too much activity on this blog in the next few day - at least, not from me - as I'll be heading down to FANTASYCON in Brighton, where I have a few items of business to deal with.

First off, on Friday night (Sept 30th), at 11.50pm, I'll be hosting the 'midnight movie slot' by presenting THE DEVIL’S ROCK, which, by all accounts has gone down great guns during its recent New Zealand release.

Pictured is the street poster that accompanied the movie's debut in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

The latest reviews are very favourable.

HORRORNEWS.NET says of us:

THE DEVIL'S ROCK is everything that I love about an effective horror film. Some of the best horror films have been slow burns. They build the tension and suspense through character. When the reveal does make an appearance (though apparent) it still manages to give you a jolt ... This is a film that might fly under the radar but worth your time to seek out.

In addition at FANTASYCON I'll be publicising (and hopefully selling a few copies) of my first ever horror anthology as editor - TERROR TALES OF THE LAKE DISTRICT. This collection from Gray Friar Press presents ten original works of fiction, plus three classic reprints, not to mention numerous anecdotal accounts of real incidents of paranormal terror - all with a Lake District background. Such luminaries as Ramsey Campbell, Reggie Oliver, Adam Nevill, Peter Crowther and others, light up our pages. The amazing artwork (pictured) is by Steve Upham. My aim is to create a new series of regionally-themed British horror anthologies, with this one the first installment.

After this, the other main item on the agenda is the BRITISH FANTASY AWARDS. I have three titles on the final shortlist - ONE MONSTER IS NOT ENOUGH (Gray Friar) and WALKERS IN THE DARK (Ash-Tree) in the capacity of Best Collection By A Single Author and SPARROWHAWK (Pendragon) in the capacity of Best Novella.

This is the most pieces of work I've ever had still in the running at this late stage in the prestigious annual awards. It doesn't mean I've won anything. All three may flunk - after all there is some sterling opposition, but it's very nice to make the final ballot in any shape or form as it means that, if nothing else, my peers regard my output last year as being worth something. Of course, it would be nice to actually win ... but that's in the lap of the gods, as they say.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Familiar faces and a new peril - Hexagora!

I'm rather pleased by the uber-cool trailer for my next Dr Who audio drama from Big Finish, HEXAGORA, which has now been made available. Check it out by following the link.

HEXAGORA, which will be released on November 30th this year, is a four-part adventure for the Fifth Doctor, starring Peter Davison as the venerable Time Lord, Janet Fielding as Tegan, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and guest-starring the imcomparable Jacqueline Pearce (of Servalan fame in BLAKE'S SEVEN), as the domineering Zafira.

HEXAGORA was adapted from a storyline called HEX, which was developed by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair and first commissioned by the BBC back in July 1983, though for various reasons it did not progress beyond the basic outline stage. Suffice to say that this modern version, though true to several of the original concepts, is significantly different in many other ways.

One thing I hung onto defiantly was the quasi-romantic subplot, which originally was included to take advantage of Peter Davison being the first youthful looking Dr Who (though of course purists will remember that William Hartnell, who was one of the oldest, also enjoyed a flirtatious adventure in THE AZTECS, way back in 1964). In the modern age, with David Tennant's Doctor an out-and-out romantic hero, and Matt Smith the unwilling gooseberry in the Amy-Rory-Doctor ménage a trois, it probably doesn't seem that big a deal, though it certainly would have been back in the 1980s.

Anyway, if that doesn't ring your bell, not to worry - we've still got lashings of mystery, horror and high concept sci-fi to get you going. It all starts with the Tardis crew following a missing Earthling, possibly an alien abductee, to an uninhabited planet in another galaxy, and there, to their amazement, discovering an exact replica of Tudor London ... and I'm afraid that's as much as your getting at present. Producers aren't too keen on their writers releasing unofficial spoilers shortly before the product is actually released.

Hopefully though, there's enough in our little trailer to get your juices running.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Sex, violence and very hot pizza - suits me!

With only one day to go before THE DEVIL’S ROCK gets its long awaited premiere in its native New Zealand, there's so much excitement down there that I’m damned sorry I’m currently on the other side of the world – director Paul Campion and star Gina Varela are, as we speak, doing an interview with TVNZ at Wright’s Hill Fortress, where many of the exteriors were filmed, while NZ’s TV1 and TV3 will be on the red carpet with the cast and crew at the premiere itself in Wellington.

Though I’m a Brit, I’m proud to have written the script for this New Zealand movie. Of course, originally I never knew it was going to be a New Zealand movie. That came about because Paul Campion, who has dual British and New Zealand nationality, found great interest down there when he was discussing the project with various potential financiers. And once the highly energised New Zealand film producer Leanne Saunders got hold of it, there was no stopping us.

It became a full New Zealand production, complete with New Zealand money, a New Zealand cast, New Zealand facilities, (incredible) new Zealand locations, and who else but those New Zealand-based pioneers of state-of-the-art FX and props, the WETA Workshop, already so famous for the visual miracles they worked on movies like LORD OF THE RINGS and KING KONG.

On the subject of which, the two on-set production stills I’ve included above display WETA technicians doing what they do best – touching up the grue.

To the left is undoubtedly a more aesthetically pleasing picture. You’ll need to forgive my vagueness here – as I said, I'm on the other side of the world at present – but this has something to do with New Zealand's own Hell Pizza chain, who’ve been doing their bit to promote the movie on the Island of the Long White Cloud. Whether this is supposed to be an actual representation of the devilishly sexy Gina Varela, I’m unsure, but the similarities are remarkable.

For the record, I received this image with an assurance from director Paul Campion that “Hell Wrath pizza with extra olives, jalapenos and anchovies with forked tongue double chillies is absolutely my favourite pizza in the world”. Don’t know about you guys, but that got my stomach juices churning.

I was also elated to see the movie’s latest review, via MORE HORROR. It is one of our best to date, and actually gives the writer quite a bit of credit, which certainly makes this a red-letter day when it comes to online reviews. Check out these enjoyable quotes:

The Devil's Rock is a great example of what can be achieved with a great script and a low budget. This is a very tight and claustrophobic film with some great performances from the leads. Paul Finch has produced an excellent script that captures what I think a film about Nazis and demons should be.

In an era when almost every other horror movie is a major dumbfest or a reworking of an older film, it was great to sit and watch an intelligent film that didn’t treat the audience as if it was comprised solely of prepubescent teenage boys.

Speaking as a serious film-writer (as well as a prepubescent boy) that’s the sort of review I like.

I hope the film’s premiere goes as well down in New Zealand as it did in Britain, and that as many get to see it in the cinemas as they did in Canada at the Fantasia Film Festival.

All I can say is that THE DEVIL’S ROCK has been an absolute blast. Not just working on it, but experiencing the excitement and the unique atmosphere of a movie release – which, when it’s a movie you were at the heart of, really takes you to another plain.

I don’t think I’m breaking too much of a confidence if I now reveal that we are engaged in serious discussions about THE DEVIL’S ROCK 2. As always, watch this space for more.

Thursday 15 September 2011

My first anthology as Editor - here it is!

Well … I’ve been waiting with baited breath for several long months to announce this latest project. It is the first ever horror anthology edited by yours truly.

It’s called TERROR TALES OF THE LAKE DISTRICT, and it will be available to pre-order from the tireless GRAY FRIAR PRESS from tomorrow afternoon (Saturday, 17th September).

For those of you who don’t know the UK, the Lake District is a wild, mountainous region in northwest England, famous for its astonishing scenery: towering crags and ridges, and deep, majestic lakes. It is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the whole of Britain, particularly for climbers, hikers, campers and yachtsmen. But some corners of it are extremely remote and even now in the 21st century remain wreathed in superstition and rural mystery. The above cover, which comes to us courtesy of artist Steve Upham, illustrates one such spooky legend – Tom Fool, the demonic jester of Muncaster Castle.

Here, for your interest, is the official back-cover blurb:

The Lake District – land of mountains and megaliths, night-black lakes and fathomless woods filled with spectral mist …

The eerie entity on Striding Edge
The living corpse of Croglin
The demented clown of Muncaster
The winged horror of Langdale
The drowned bride of Windermere
The hairy brute of Beetham
The nightmares on Burnmoor

And many more chilling tales by Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill, Simon Clark, Peter Crowther, Reggie Oliver, Gary McMahon and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.

The book contains ten works of original horror fiction set in the Lake District, and three classic reprints. It also features numerous anecdotal tales concerning supposedly true incidents of Lakeland terror.

In case your appetites haven’t been whetted enough, here is the full table of contents:

Little Mag’s Barrow by Adam L.G. Nevill
The Mad Clown of Muncaster
The Coniston Star Mystery by Simon Clark
The Croglin Vampire
Devils of Lakeland by Paul Finch
The Mumps Hall Murders
The Moraine by Simon Bestwick
The Tawny Boy
The Claife Crier by Carole Johnstone
The Monster of Renwick
Jewels in the Dust by Peter Crowther
The Devil’s Hole
Above the World by Ramsey Campbell
Nightmares of Burnmoor
The Jilted Bride of Windermere by Gary Fry
The Horror at Carlisle Castle
Walk the Last Mile by Steven Savile
The Poltergeist of Walla Crag
Framed by Peter Bell
Fiend’s Fell
Night of the Crone by Anna Taborska
The Tortured Souls of Lord’s Rake
Along Life’s Trail by Gary McMahon
The Black Hound of Shap
Striding Edge by Reggie Oliver

I can’t thank these authors enough for their efforts, not to mention Steve Upham, whose artwork is astonishing, Gary Fry of Gray Friar Press, who has been hugely supportive and helpful throughout, and Steve Lockley for his advice.

This project has been a year in the making and, as such, is very close to my heart. It wasn’t entirely hitch-free, but this is the first anthology I’ve created on my own, and hopefully it won’t be the last. In fact, at the risk of running before my horse to market, I would like this to be the first volume in a brand new series of regionally-themed British horror fiction, but of course we must at least break even with this first book before we can proceed with my other plans. So you guys know what you need to do – get ordering! (You won’t be disappointed).

Come ye all for the midnight movie special

Anyone attending FANTASYCON this year who has not yet seen THE DEVIL’S ROCK, will get their chance on Friday September 30th in a special 'Midnight Movie' presentation (starting at 11.50pm).

I will be in attandence, and afterwards will be hosting a special Q&A session. It's going to be a late one, obviously, but hopefully that won't put folk off. It had better not do, actually, given that I've seen the bar-side action at FANTASYCON drag on until six in the morning sometimes.

The Con is to be held at the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton, and runs from September 30th until October 2nd.

This aside, the movie, which gets its New Zealand premiere at the Roxy Cinema, Wellington, on Setpember 21st (and will then be appearing all around the country, courtesy of the READING CINEMA chain) seems to be going from strength to strength.

I've included a couple more stills to whet your appetites.

Top: Full florid occult horror, as Meyer and Grogan seek to protect themselves against the gathering forces of evil.

Left: A passage in the bunker - admit it, you wouldn't want to go down there either.

The reviews are still, largely, complimentary.


Paul Campion and his co-writers have a great deal of fun with the classic "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenario, which is a good thing - a feature-length movie confined to a few rooms where you can count the important characters on one-hand needs suspense more than anything else, and Campion's smart about it, cranking the tension up high to start and then finding ways to move the needle on the pressure gauge as much as he can as the movie goes on ...

So there you go. Want to see what all the fuss is about? Get your backsides down to the Royal Albion at midnight on September 30th (obviously you will need to be an official attendee at the convention to be allowed admittance).

And now for something completely different.

Here, I present for your delectation a brief gallery of some eerie images of the Lake District, that wild and mountainous corner of northwest England which is more wreathed in mystery and rural superstition than almost any other part of the UK.

Why, you may be asking, am I doing this, and what relevance does it have to the normal business of this blog? Well basically, that's for me to know and you to find out. All I will say is that, in presenting this gallery, I'm warming you all up for something exciting. So watch this space very carefully indeed. At some point soon, the news will break.

Castlerigg Stone Circle at dawn. (I don't know who the photographer is responsible for this fine shot, but if he or she wants to get in touch, I'll happily give them a credit).

Blencathra in ominous mood - does it know any other? (Photo by Adhemarius).

Claife Station, Windermere - trust me, you do NOT want to go there at night. (Photo by Stephen Dawson).

Thursday 8 September 2011

THE DEVIL'S ROCK - in a different sense!

Well, it's not very often that anything I've written gets the rock band treatment, but 2011 is turning into a year of firsts for all kinds of reasons at present, most of them connected with my new movie, THE DEVIL’S ROCK, (pictured above).

Now, indie band, DECORTICA (pictured below), have got in on the act as well. Their latest music video, EROS, incorporates lots of footage from the movie, as you will see if you follow the link. Please do, because these guys are well worth checking out regardless of how feel about horror films.

THE DEVIL’S ROCK, which was released in the UK in April, and made its North American debut at the Fantasia Festival last month, is now only a few days away from release in its native New Zealand. September 22nd is the official date, so that's something for all you Kiwi horror buffs to keep a check on.

Below are a few more pics, these taken last summer when Paul Campion, the movie's director, Matt Sunderland, one of the its stars, and my good self, visited MP4, the German range-finding and observation tower in Guernsey, which provided us with the blueprint for the desolate Channel Islands bunker in which all our devilish goings-on occur.

First up: no, it's not a model - that's me as we approach MP4 along the spectacular coastline.

Left - we arrive outside the gloomy edifice. Below, Matt and I take up position inside the tower's viewing gallery.

It was a bright sunny afternoon, as you can tell, but I wouldn't have liked to visit one of these places in the dead of night. They are isolated and have a distinctly spooky aura.

Thanks to Paul Campion for these photos. More to follow in due course.

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Devil is not mocked; not in this review

This is such a nice review of THE DEVIL’S ROCK that I'm here reprinting it in full. I trust that Kyle Scott of HORROR HOTEL won't mind, but if he does, he can always give me a shout and I'll take it down.

Enjoy this one. I did

Hands up those of you who don't get giddy at the idea of a Horror movie dealing with Nazis and the occult. Anyone? Didn't think so. These two concepts are as endlessly fascinating today as they were when Micheal Mann directed THE KEEP, or when good old Indiana Jones was tackling the bastards back in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE LAST CRUSADE. There is something inherently attractive about such a dark subject matter, even when it's handled lightly, as in the Indiana Jones films. It's widely known that Hitler had a compulsion towards the occult, and took the whole thing very seriously, adding an element of reality to any film that focuses on the subject. Sure it's all fanciful stuff, but viewers often find themselves asking that most eternal of all Horror fans internal questioning. What if?

'What if' the Nazis really managed to invoke the 'Old Gods' as they do is HELLBOY? 'What if' they managed to create immortal super soldiers like that crazy fucker in BLOOD CREEK? 'What if' they could create dimensional rifts and bring about the apocalypse with the help of demonic forces as in WOLFENSTIEN? It's rich food for thought. And it's fun to play these games in our heads. I'm sure we all do it. Has anyone ever watched Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, and not placed themselves directly into the action, creating scenarios for themselves and daydreaming about all the mischief they'd get up to? Maybe there're people who haven't, but I don't trust those people, and neither should you.

Imagining a world run by occultist Nazis is pretty frightening stuff. It's dark fantasy that holds just the tiniest thread of credibility to it, making any novel or film that deals with the subject a very attractive way to spend a few hours, for most Horror fans at least. More often that not the results are mundane, or lacking a certain depth or darkness. Perhaps the film doesn't take itself too seriously, (see RAIDERS, DEAD SNOW and HELLBOY), and while still a great deal of fun, it doesn't explore the possibilities to any real extent. Or perhaps it's just sort of shit, like, well theres too many to mention really, but you get the idea.

THE DEVILS ROCK, thankfully, falls into the very sparse category inhabited by only a very few, (THE BUNKER, OUTPOST), choice films...the straight faced, no-nonsense look at occultism. By treating its subject with respect, and by remaining stoically serious about itself, it manages to pull off some pretty effective scares. The film has been described by some as 'Saw with Nazis' and other such shit, but those sort of cheap statements really don't do it any justice. Yes, it has a very small cast, (four characters in total), and it mostly takes place in one dank, dark and foreboding location; but this is far removed from any pretense towards 'torture porn'. Rather, it feels like a smaller, more graphic take on THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. There is plenty of devilish juiciness in here to keep satanic panic aficionados happy, and it runs a good race in terms of ritualism, occult symbolism and theological food for thought.

Fans of the original TWILIGHT ZONE series may well note some similarities to an episode, (one of my favorites), called THE HOWLING MAN, in which a traveller may or may not be faced with the presence of Lucifer himself. This has a similar feel, employing sound design and misdirection in the first half to keep the viewer guessing. It works well while it lasts, before giving way to full on devilish mayhem. You'll know from the start where this is going (mostly due to the seriously fucking awful DVD cover which gives the game away. Thanks for that, dickheads), but it's solid storytelling and it pulls you along for the ride nicely.

The three main characters are also played very well, and have a great chemistry. Essentially, these three are fascinating to watch and are very well written. The film would fall apart were the people we're sharing the experience with either one-note characters or acted poorly. I should add that the performances are all brilliant. The cast gives it their all and each vastly different personality compliments the others. Mathew Sunderland plays the bad guy Col Meyers, a high level Nazi sent by Hitler to experiment with the occult on the Channel islands, and is at times an almost sympathetic character. His accent is clearly not German, but it's easy to overlook this, given the strength and depth of his overall performance. Craig Hall is brilliant as always as the morally driven commando, Captain Grogan whose past has left him devastated, driving him to do as much good as he can for others. And last but not least, the beautiful Gina Verela plays, 'Helena' with a potent mix of cunning, burning sexuality, sadistic glee and lethal manipulation. These three are so good, and the story is so strong and well realised, that the film flies by. And leaves you wanting more.

The effects work is stellar, not surprising considering Paul Campion, this film's Director, is a veteran of Weta Digital. And we all know who those guys are, don't we? For any newcomers, think 'Smeagol'. Paul work here is simply brilliant, and while this is a low budget production, you won't notice it for a second. The exteriors are morbidly beautiful, the gore is plentiful and gut churning in its realism, and the makeup effects are startling, not to mention scary as hell. Take note, James Wan, this is what a demon should look and feel like, not Darth Maul.

Campion impresses just as much in the director's chair as he does in the effects department. The film maintains a high level of suspense and dread for the entire running time, and the cat and mouse play between the three characters is captured brilliantly. He wisely avoids moments of humour, and while constantly gore-filled, the film never falls into exploitation. There're very few shots in here where you won't be witness to some unrecognizable bloody pulp, whether in foreground, background or right up close, but it serves to heighten the atmosphere of hellish goings on, not undermine it or detract from it.

If you're in the mood for a dark, serious take on occult Nazism, plenty of weird ritualistic mayhem and some solid drama, gore and suspense, you could do a lot worse than THE DEVIL'S ROCK. I loved every minute of it. It's a real gem of a film that should find its audience over time and get the love it deserves. It's not gonna change lives or bust the horror world wide open, but its a damn fun and engaging ninety minutes. And any film that has the balls to emulate the work of the great Rod Serling and not only avoid embarrassment, but actually compliment his work, is alright by me. And most likely it'll be alright by you too. Check it out.

Well ... that was okay, wasn't it. I love those words:

It's a real gem of a film that should find its audience over time and get the love it deserves.

My thoughts too. At some point I may get the love I deserve, but as writer of THE DEVIL’S ROCK I'm quite happy to share any that may get directed at the movie.

Pictured above and below are a few more stills. Topside, a demonic feast gets underway - and this is only a minor devil, so imagine being at table with a major player. Below, in descending order: Matt Sunderland, who plays Meyer, starts to realise the depth of his mistake in summoning the forces of darkness; Luke Hawker, who plays Muller, has had just about as much as he can take; Jessica Smith is the fiendish Nicole; Kiwi commandoes, Craig Hall and Karlos Drinkwater, explore the cursed island; the bunker where everything happens; and lastly, back in the real world, director Paul Campion and star Gina Varela prepare to greet guests outside the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, as part of the British Horror Film Festival.

For those interested, I'm pencilled in to do some kind of presentation on THE DEVIL’S ROCK at FANTASYCON 2011 in Brighton at the end of this month. As far as I'm aware, this means I introduce the movie and, afterwards, host a Q&A session. At least, this is my understanding. I haven't had any of this confirmed yet. Watch this space for more details.