The titular Greyfriars Reformatory in my recent horror novel is one place you would never want to spend the night!
A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths.
I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary everyday rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of bookscelebrates that.
I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have!
(And if you’re looking for similar reads, why not browse this book list featuring more titles set in psychiatric hospitals)
Thirty(!) years ago today I was beside myself with excitement for a very special The Cure gig. Ahead of the full Wish Tour, the band announced a clutch of warm-up dates at club venues.
All the shows I had seen up to that point had either been in enormous arenas, or outdoor shows. The Kilburn National Ballroom was a relatively tiny venue for The Cure, and that only added to the feeling of anticipation. Seeing your #CultHeroes live is honour enough, but up close and personal? Even better.
The journey to seeing this gig was fraught. I was studying for a Journalism degree at the time and had an in-class assessment the day that tickets went on sale (at only £10 each!). In these pre-internet days phoning up to book tickets, or queuing in person, were the only options. The only person I knew who would want to go wasn’t able to queue up either, so I had to knuckle down and complete my class assessment while the clock ticked down and – you guessed it – the gig sold out.
First world problems, I know! (Hey, I was still very young back then.) And it turns out I passed the in-class assessment so there is that. I was trying to be responsible, even in the face of my borderline insane Cure obsession! And, luckily I was working a part-time job to support myself so I rolled up my baggy black sleeves, put in several extra hours and saved up some cash.
Long story short, the £10 ticket ended up costing me £60 on the night, but I had enough cash left over for a tour shirt and a couple of beers. People danced and sang along. There were promotional balloons! Happy the man, as the old b-side goes.
The gig itself was a loud, joyous, sweaty sprint through the amazing new double album Wish plus several hits and surprises. The crane camera swinging and floating above the crowd added a showbiz touch to proceedings, and from what I recall there was a fair bit of crowd-surfing going on during the faster numbers. (Hey, this was ’92, the golden age of grunge…)
I emerged from the tiny, packed out venue with a massive grin on my face. I would see The Cure a further nine times on the ’92 Wish tour, in those huge arenas again. But, as an intimate introduction to a massive tour, the 3rd May 1992 would be very hard to beat.
I’m devastated to hear of filmmaker Norman J. Warren‘s passing, and touched to see social media buzzing with fond memories of, and tributes to, this gentleman of horror.
My friendship with Norman began just over a decade ago, when a producer recommended me to him as a potential screenwriter on his new movie project. We met in a hotel bar in London and got along like a haunted house on fire. I was hired to do rewrites on Norman’s script ‘Beyond Terror’, which was both a sequel to ‘Terror’ and a ‘greatest hits’ showcase. I was thrilled to be working with him, as I was a fan of Norman’s cult-occult movie ‘Satan’s Slave’ (aka ‘Evil Heritage’) from my VHS video nasties days.
Our collaboration continued and we met up for coffee-fuelled story meetings and regular chinwags at the National Film Theatre café on the South Bank, and sometimes at Norman’s home in West London, where I got to see his vintage movie posters and memorabilia over mugs of tea. Norman had so many great stories from his decades in the film industry, and I loved hearing about him driving around in an open topped car with ‘Terror’ star Glynis Barber in the passenger seat.
‘Beyond Terror’ was retitled ‘Delusion’ (we joked that we were deluded if we thought it was going to get made) and Norman eventually took the project to China with producer Yixi Sun, to pitch for financing. Sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Following our work on ‘Delusion’, Norman invited me to brainstorm ideas with him for a horror/thriller film called ‘Shadows’ and I worked up a story outline based on our creative discussions with producer Yixi Sun.
Horror can be a notoriously hard sell when trying to attract funding, especially state funding, and so Norman decided to pursue the art house/surreal thriller route. Following on from ‘Shadows’, Norman and Yixi then developed a script called ‘Susu’, which Norman was going to direct in China. When ill health prevented him from directing, Norman moved into a producing role, with Yixi directing. Norman made a fun short too, for the ‘Turn Your Bloody Phone Off’ segment at FrightFest London.
Alongside all this, I was hard at work on my short folk horror film ‘The Stay’, and Norman mentored me throughout the process with his trademark enthusiasm and words of encouragement. You’ll see his name on the thank you credits at the end of the film (I apologised in advance, in case he didn’t like the movie!).
Norman was a lovely friend and collaborator who always had time for others, even when he was unwell. And I have never known someone to be so excited and upbeat when discussing grisly death scenes over lunch! Norman survived polio during his younger years, and I think that maybe gave him some of his appreciation for life’s possibilities. He was a proper gent, and I will miss him.
Listen to Norman discussing his filmmaking roots and influences on Radio 4’s The Film Programmehere.
And you can relive Norman J Warren’s greatest hits in this stonking Indicator Blu Ray box set.
In the first of an occasional series, I’m marking the anniversary of The Cure concerts i’ve attended over the years, because they are my favourite band and I love them, and because 2020 has made such things into impossible dreams.
The first post has to be my first gig!
On 6th December, way back in 1987, I boarded a coach from Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, to go see my first ever Cureshow at Birmingham NEC Arena.
I had seen a few gigs already. Clannad, Big Audio Dynamite, Spear of Destiny, INXS, The Cult, and Fields of the Nephilim (to name a few i can actually remember) but this was the big one.
This was The Cure.
Earlier that year I had seen The Cure in Orange concert film at my local cinema, in Hanley, Staffordshire, with my school friend Susan Greaves. I played ‘The Blood’ to her on my cassette Walkman because she’d never heard it before. We got up & danced at the back while the movie played. It was magic, but (to coin a phrase) I wished it was all real, I wished it couldn’t be a story.
This time, in Birmingham in Winter, it was brilliantly real.
The seats were the cheapo ones, very near to… the back of the arena. But I didn’t care so much about the seats, I had no intention of staying seated in mine anyhow. The arena lights dimmed and… There was no support band, just ‘Eyemou’ — an experimental film of close-ups on Robert Smith’s mouth and eyes, projected into a screen that covered the stage. The casuals were getting a bit restless during the film, but sixteen year old me was absolutely bloody loving it. The film was the magical bridge between the In Orange movie, and the actual, physical Cure i had yearned to experience live for so long.
I can still feel the goosebumps i felt then, when the opening bars of ‘The Kiss’ kicked in, and the screen dropped to reveal the band I would see again & again & again & again after that fateful first time. Robert’s voice opened like a flower and the crowd went bonkers. And it got better and better.
The next couple of hours were my induction into by now familiar Cure traits:
⁃ The mixed crowd of casuals (one guy was very disappointed they didn’t play The Lovecats and couldn’t believe it when i told him the band couldn’t play it live — true at that time) and die-hards.
⁃ the random b-side/obsCure-ity thrown in to the set to rapturous applause from those in-the-know (that night it was ‘A Japanese Dream’ that surprised the most, i’d been playing my copy to death in the run up to the show).
⁃ and Robert’s charming inability to do onstage banter (’ello! is sometimes the only decipherable phrase to be uttered by our hero).
The coach journey home was a blur as i replayed every note in my backcombed head. I was bewitched, besotted, bewildered — and utterly hooked.
But i’d have to wait until 1989, and The Prayer Tour, to see them again.
And that is another story.
See what The Cure played on 6th December 1987 here.
Robin Hardy was a true original, and his 1973 film The Wicker Man is often and justifiably hailed as the finest British horror film ever made.
The book is a cracking read, too!
The story of the film’s conception is perhaps as fascinating as The Wicker Man itself, with a studio unsure of what it had on its hands butchering Hardy’s masterpiece in the process of its clumsy and half-hearted initial release.
My own personal obsession with Hardy’s work began when I saw (the theatrical version of) The Wicker Man at a special screening at Glastonbury’s Library of Avalon. A discussion followed the screening of the film about its pagan themes, and I was well and truly hooked.
Those were the early days of VHS video and I managed to track down an alternate cut of the film on a yellowy, fifth-generation pirate copy from Australia. This was later cleaned up using the best possible source materials and released on DVD as The Director’s Cut of the film.
Years later, with the advent of home-HD and the Blu-Ray format, The Wicker Man – The Final Cut arrived, providing a fitting epitaph to Robin Hardy’s life and career as he finally got to release the version of the film that he deemed closest to his original vision.
In 2011 I was very lucky to meet Robin Hardy, for a brief “Hello!”, in person at FrightFest, London. Mr Hardy was there to present the premiere of his sequel The Wicker Tree, adapted from his novel Cowboys For Christ. He was a true gentleman and eccentric – very warm and wickedly funny. (Read my capsule review of the rather wobbly, but joyously bonkers, sequel The Wicker Treehere.)
One unsung hero in the whole Wicker saga is Anthony Shaffer’s brilliant script, which really is one of a kind. The basic storyline was based on Ritual, a novel by David Pinner, which has recently been republished. The novelisation of the film (also written by Shaffer & Hardy) is well worth tracking down (a new edition was published by Tor in 2000) – with some lovely embellishments to the screen story, not least its haunting and ambiguous ending, it provides yet another version of The Wicker Man for us all to enjoy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time to “keep my appointment with The Wicker Man.”
R.I.P. Robin Hardy, 1929-2016
Quoted in The Wicker Man novel by Robin Hardy & Anthony Shaffer
a genre giant – on the set of Nightmare On Elm Street (photo source: WesCraven.com)
Horror fans are mourning the loss of a Master of Horror. Wes Craven was a true innovator in the genre who had a knack for taking transgression and giving it mainstream popularity. From his early video nasties through to the live burial scene in The Serpent and the Rainbow (arachnophobes beware!) and the crowd-pleasing jump scares of the Scream series, Uncle Wes knew what scared us. I remember having bruises up my arm for a week after taking the prettiest girl at high school on a date to see A Nightmare on Elm Street – and I hardly slept a wink that night after seeing a red and green car on the walk home (for real – what are the chances). Wes Craven’s filmography is an impressive legacy and he will be sorely missed.
Here is Wes Craven talking about being a filmmaker, about finding something deeper, and about the geek inheriting the Earth in one of my favourite segments from the brilliant Nightmare Series Encyclopedia (1999). It is bittersweet to hear him speak about how he’d like to be remembered.
And remember him we will.
Rest in Peace Wes Craven, sweet dreams – and thank you for all the nightmares.
So sad to hear that we lost Edgar Froese today, who died aged 70.
I was lucky to see him play live with Tangerine Dream twice and even luckier to meet him briefly one rainy night in London. He was a gracious, gentle man. And the music…that throbbing, pulsating, organic machine sound that is TD’s and TD’s only. It has been the soundtrack to so much of my writing over the years and i’m grateful for it. Ever since my teacher played Phaedra to us in class (a tradition I have continued in the classes I now teach) Edgar’s visionary soundscapes have provided an engine for my dreams and nightmares. I particularly love the film scores – in tribute I’ve shared three faves below.
A pioneer of electronic music, Edgar’s passing will be mourned by fans worldwide.
In his words:
“There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.” (Edgar Froese)