Wednesday 28 March 2012

Next up - the dark heart of the rural USA

When people ask me what my next movie project is going to be, unfortunately I'm rarely able to give them a straight answer. For example, if I was to say "I don't know", you wouldn't believe it, would you? I wouldn't believe it, myself. But it's actually the truth.

The world of independent movie-making is a strange beast. Schedules are chopped and changed constantly. Deadlines often have no connection with reality. Remuneration can seem like an abstract concept which only exists in a 'parallel universe' version of whichever project you happen to be working on.

It's certainly the case that if you're trying to make a living in this field, you can't afford to tie yourself down to any one job at a time. Hence, the only honest answer to this question must be: "Hell, I'm working on loads of movies at the present time, and any one of them - I don't know which - could come out next!"

Most people who regularly check this column will know that THE DEVIL'S ROCK 2 is definitely in the pipeline (sequel to THE DEVIL’S ROCK, extensive items concerning which can be found in the next edition of FANGORIA, as evidenced by the various page excerpts and cuts-outs reprinted here for your delectation). However, THE DEVIL'S ROCK 2 is still at an early stage of development - a bit earlier than I'm totally happy with, if I'm honest (there are times when you just want to rumble, you know) - so other projects may now take precedence, and one of these is an adaptation of the best-selling horror novel, DARK HOLLOW, by BRIAN KEENE.

I've been working on this project for some time with PAUL CAMPION, director of THE DEVIL’S ROCK and THE DEVIL'S ROCK 2, and the script is now in such a sttate of readiness that the good chap is busy hawking it around our favourite finance houses to raise the necessary green. Details regarding our progress and in fact all aspects of this development can be tracked on our specially dedicated DARK HOLLOW FACEBOOK PAGE.

For those who haven't read DARK HOLLOW, it tells the tale of a peaceful rural community populated primarily by contented middle-class folks (and a bumpkin or two), whose quiet lives are suddenly shattered when an eerie woodland being is summoned to their side by an ancient curse ...

On the basis of this (hopefully tantalising) thumbnail outline, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that DARK HOLLOW is set in the heart of the English countryside. But guess again. Original author, BRIAN KEENE, one of my best pals Stateside, is a Pennyslvania boy born and bred, and he set his spooky, and at times rather sexy, tale in the land he loves and knows best.

I'll not say any more about this, except that it's a lush, adult-themed faerie tale, filled with magic, mystery and blood - yep, plenty of that - but also redolent of forest mythology and ancient, rural lore. It's also got some hot chicks in it too (sorry, Brian, that was a cheap shot - but I believe in getting the audience's attention any way I can).

Check back here for regular updates, or look on the DARK HOLLOW FACEBOOK PAGE, which we will be packing with details as often as we can.

Thursday 15 March 2012

The damnation game: writing horror films

Folk keep on asking me where we're at with the sequel to THE DEVIL’S ROCK.

Well, unfortunately I can't satisfy those of you who are already looking for a release date, flattering though it is to be asked such a question. But check out the image on the left.

Yep, it's the cover page of the official outline document, and we're still making revisions to it. That's where we are at present. I guess it shows what a drawn-out process the movie development phase can be, but I promise everyone it's not because we're draggng our heels. Nailing the storyline is vitally important if you want a quick, clean script-writing experience. There is nothing worse than actually going into the dialogue when you still aren't sure where the story is leading - trust me, I've done it (those damn characters start talking for themselves - imagine that; it's bad enough when actors have opinions).

It also does no harm to get your plot down on paper, and then give it a few days to let it mature. It's never an immediate process. It may be different for every writer, but for me new thoughts and ideas always suggest themselves later on, when I've had time to ponder. It's certainly not frustrating - that bit only comes later, when you're waiting for your producer to tell you all the funding is in place.

Anyway, just to reassure ourselves that it's all worthwhile in the end, here are a few shots to remind us of the joys ahead once we move from preproduction to production ...

First up, above is an on-set still of actor Jonathan King getting the full-on treatment from the Weta Workshop boys, as they show the world how gruesome a thing it would be to blow someone's brains out from point-blank range. Just don't ask me how they know that.

Left, director and co-writer Paul Campion recently flew around the world to attend the Yubari Film Festival in Japan, and found that THE DEVIL’S ROCK had got there before he had. Very shortly after arriving, he took this shot of a US import on sale in a Japanese supermarket. In some ways that's quite gatifying, but in others you think: "Hang about - did I really need to catch a 10-hour flight in order to promote this puppy?"

And on the subject of imports and exports, right is the rather impressive cover for the German DVD release.

These are the best momnents, if I'm honest - it shows that your work is really getting out to a global audience.

It's also nice that the movie has sold in Japan and Germany.

THE DEVIL’S ROCK does have a World War Two background, but at the end of the day it's just a bit of fun - an occult horror romp, which happens to be set in a tumultuous period that is now very much part of our shared but distant history.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Eerie tale of old, dark London still a seller

I was so delighted by this review of SPARROWHAWK, which recently appeared on the excellent THIS IS HORROR website, that I’m going to take the unusual step of reprinting it in full below.

SPARROWHAWK, which as well as being available in ebook form, is also still available in its original softback from PENDRAGON PRESS, or from AMAZON UK or AMAZON US was my short novel of 2010, and concerns an embittered veteran of the Afghan War, who, during the Christmas of 1843, is released from the terrible Fleet Prison in London, and charged with a most mysterious and frightening duty.

The story is set during a bitter Victorian winter and strong on Christmas atmosphere, so it may seem a little bit odd promoting it like this in early spring, but it is still selling very well, which suggests that not all of us select our reading matter on a season-by-season basis (and even if we do, we can always stick it in such a place on the e-reader that it arrives at the top of the list sometime around October or November, can’t we).

Anyway, here we go (and many thanks to Dan Howarth, the reviewer; I'm delighted the book made such an impression on him):

‘Sparrowhawk’ is the story of Captain John Sparrowhawk, one of the British Empire’s finest soldiers who is languishing in a debtor’s jail. He is offered a reprieve and chance of redemption in the form of the beautiful yet enigmatic Miss Evangeline. His task is simple; he must guard the occupants of a nearby house against intruders during the month of December. Almost immediately upon his release, John Sparrowhawk realises that this is no simple sentry duty.

Paul Finch, author of the recent Spectral Press chapbook ‘King Death’, has previously demonstrated a fantastic grasp of the historical in his work and this is certainly on display here. Set against the brutal winter of 1843, Finch takes his readers on a tour of Victorian London, noting the squalor, tradition and frivolity of a Victorian Christmas with genuine authenticity. The research and care that has been put into the description and period detail of each setting is a joy to read. Finch is clearly passionate about his setting and this passion shines through in his prose.

The central character Captain Sparrowhawk is charismatic and brave yet a tragically broken soul. The juxtaposition in his personality brings moments of incredible tenderness followed almost immediately by acts of extreme violence. The harrowing story of his time in Afghanistan coupled with his interesting personal life make Sparrowhawk a sympathetic figure, yet one that is difficult to warm to at times.

The story itself has a number of fantastic set pieces ranging from a garish Victorian feast to a shoot out in a grotty district of London that shows John Sparrowhawk at his brutal and menacing best. Sparrowhawk’s experiences in Afghanistan weigh heavily on his shoulders, clearly shaping his actions and impulses in the book’s well written fight scenes. The parallels that Finch draws between the Victorian conflict in Afghanistan and the current one are a poignant nod to the reader.

One of the principal triumphs of ‘Sparrowhawk’ is how the story captures the sense of Christmas. The images of deep snow drifts and produce on display in the markets are brilliantly festive, yet Finch still manages to create a sense of terror that holds true to the Victorian spirit of the Christmas ghost story. The scares in the book are sharp and perfectly accentuate a measured and believably atmosphere of dread.

‘Sparrowhawk’ is a short, tense and occasionally tender story that has a surprising yet welcome twist in the tale. The lead character is complex and layered, adding an extra layer of intrigue to a mysterious storyline. Paul Finch has proved himself to be the master of the historical horror story and this is no exception. ‘Sparrowhawk’ makes perfect horror reading for the holiday period and is bound to live with the reader long after the decorations have come down.

Friday 2 March 2012

So who was 'the Black Wolf of the North'?

A few people have asked me this question recently. It is in relation to my forthcoming Arthurian novel from Abaddon Books, DARK NORTH, published (and available from all your favourite retailers, both online and off it) on March 15th.

It was the nickname given to Sir Lucan, a Knight of the Round Table, who was also Earl of Penharrow and Steward of King Arthur's Northern March.

The image above is Lucan's official insigna, worn by he and his household either - depending on the occasion - as a crimson wolf-head on a field of black, or a black wolf-head on a field of crimson. In times of extreme peril, such as war, Lucan dispensed with the wolf-head altogether; he and his knights would then wear pure black livery, Lucan occasionally - much to the fear and disdain of the rest of Arthur's nobility - donning a heavy cloak of black wolf-fur over the top.

Sir Lucan is one of the least well-known of King Arthur’s knights, and yet he was one of the longest serving. He joined the Round Table while it was in its infancy, when he was very young. He served Arthur for many decades, and was one of the last knights standing at the battle of Camlann, in which Arthur was killed. Though it has been airbrushed out of the modern record, Hollywood and romantic novelists preferring to credit every heroic deed to Arthur’s better-known knights, the original medieval chroniclers name Lucan as the knight who carried the dying king from the final battlefield and say that he was the one who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.

Sir Lucan was the younger brother of the more famous and infinitely more esteemed Sir Bedivere. Both were born of the much beloved Countess Gundolen, though they had different fathers. Bedivere was sired by Sir Pedrawd, a Welsh baron well known for his goodly ways, while Lucan was the son of Duke Corneus, one of Uther Pendragon’s northern marcher-barons, and a much darker figure in the Arthurian mythos.

Sir Lucan was offered the butlership of Camelot at least once. The position of Butler in medieval society was far different from that we know today. In effect, it would have made him a form of under-steward, a very senior position in the hierarchy of the Royal Court. However, Lucan is so rarely mentioned in Round Table stories focussing on events at Camelot that it is generally assumed he refused the honour. No-one knows why this might have been. It has been suggested that Lucan’s barbarous upbringing might have made him feel unsuited for the sophisticated climes of the Royal Court. Certainly it’s the case that comments attributed to Lucan in the Noble Tragedie suggest that he was more content to be a soldier than an administrator.

Sir Lucan, depicted right in the embrasure of a northern cathedral, is often portrayed as a fearsome figure, a great warrior as befitted his survival through the carnage at Camlann, but also a powerful and ruthless marcher-lord in the fashion of his father. His nickname, the ‘Black Wolf of the North’, more than hints at a severe side to his character. However, both Arthur and Merlin liked Lucan a great deal, which suggests that, though Lucan had a fierce reputation, he never strayed too far from the path of righteousness. In addition, Sir Bedivere was especially fond of his half-brother; though Bedivere regarded Lucan as one of the deadliest warriors at the Round Table, his attitude to him is often that of an understanding parent with a difficult child.

What of Lucan and Trelawna? Even by the standards of the Arthurian mythos, Trelawna was regarded as an exceptional beauty; “the ultimate prize of man and rake,” as Sir Gawaine described her in one of his drunken moments, and as “the faerie child”, in the jealous words of Morgana, Arthur’s sister. Lucan was married to her for many years, and there was clearly affection between them, but it was a bond based on blood. Lucan had killed Trelawna’s father in single combat – which would be a big issue today, but was not uncommon in medieval martial society. It meant that Lucan was honour-bound to take Trelawna under his protection, which he duly did. Lucan and Trelawna were roughly the same age, and, as Merlin commented “a good match”. But as so often was proved to be the case, Merlin was no expert in matters of the heart.

Lucan’s quest is almost never referred to in the annals of the Knights of the Round Table. This is because it was deemed to be inherently ignoble, even though it ultimately proved to be one of the most difficult and challenging that any of Arthur’s knights would undertake. Lucan is in so many ways a human figure – certainly compared to the clean-cut paladins we normally associate with Camelot. His quest was based on that most common of emotions – vengeance, not the all-important chivalry. His half-brother, Bedivere, warned him beforehand that he would never be forgiven for undertaking such a task. Characteristically, Lucan ignored this wise advice, and so passed out of history and legend into rumour.

If you want to know more, I guess you'll just have to read the book.