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.
A wee glance over the shoulder at last year before embarking upon the challenges of the new.
2021 was a painful time for so many people struggling with the loss of loved ones during the pandemic, amidst safety restrictions that kept us at a distance from one another. (Meanwhile, the UK government was hosting piss-ups at Downing Street. I hope the electorate will never forget this, but I don’t hold out much hope. The UK has collective memory loss at the best/worst of times, and certainly whenever a general election comes around again. Oh well.)
After losing my dear friend Marcus Campbell Sinclair to cancer in December 2020, this year also hit hard. Norman J Warren, friend, mentor & collaborator, and my old band mate and good friend Paulo Turin both left us far too soon. (COVID-19 killed Paulo after three weeks in the care of medical staff in the ICU in Brazil.) My heart goes out to their families and friends. I know I’ll miss them a lot. Please get vaccinated & boosted if you can. Wear a mask. Just do. Take good care of yourselves and others.
Like many, I found it hard to keep motivated creatively during 2021. My University teaching workload more than doubled with colleagues on sabbatical or off sick, and the pressures of online learning provision left little time or headspace for creative work. That said, it was still a pretty good year. I was promoted from Senior Lecturer to Reader. I supervised a student charity anthology – and Covid safety measures even relaxed enough to allow for a launch party event, which was a great way to reunite with the students and to celebrate their efforts. I wrote two feature length screenplays, published two short stories, and released a CD soundtrack (also in support of NHS charities). I published limited edition hardcovers of my back catalogue of novels. And I began work on my next novel, due out this year.
Film-wise, it was exciting to see so many film festivals coming back online and my folk horror film The Stay screened at 15 events, garnered 4 nominations and won 10 awards including Best Short at V.i.Z. Bulgaria, Best Short at Medusa Film Festival, Best Short at Cinestesya Portugal, and Best Horror at 4th Dimension in Bali. A pretty amazing year!
I enjoyed reading new (to me) voices such as Christa Carmen and Clare Castleberry, and re-reading some old classics this year (the highlights being Frank Herbert’s Dune, and F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep). Movies and box sets too numerous to mention kept the freak flag flying, and I was glad to be back in the cinema again for Dune, Halloween Kills, and the new Spidey adventure. The live immersive theatre of Doctor Who: Time Fracture made me feel like my bony old self again. Albums of the year were supplied by CHVRCHES, Duran Duran, and John Carpenter. Much as I tried to enjoy online gigs, a welcome return to real world concert-going couldn’t have come a moment sooner, with trips out-out to see The Sisters and The Nephs. 2022 is promising a full-blown tour (and maybe even an album!) by The Cure and I for one cannot wait.
Looking ahead to 2022, I am hoping that Chillercon UK will finally happen in-person. Contemporary Folk Horror in Film & Media (at Leeds Beckett) looks set to be an online event. That new novel I was talking about above will be published around Springtime. I won’t talk about other projects here… because i’ve learned the hard way that the more you talk them up, the less likely they are to happen!
So I’ll sign off for now by wishing a happy, healthy new year 2022 to you all!
Thanks so much to anyone who took the time to big up my film at a festival, or picked up one of my books and posted a rating/review on Goodreads or Amazon, liked/shared a post, or sent encouraging words or thank yous.
I appreciate the support more than you can ever know.
Many of us have felt like this spider, clinging on for dear life during what has been a very challenging year:
But some of us are lucky enough to be emerging from our solitude – for a while, at least! And for that I, for one, am truly thankful. As the veil grows thinner this weekend I’ll be thinking of those I’ve lost to Covid-19, cancer, and old age this year, and finding ways to carry some of their light into the dark corners of the year ahead.
I think it’s very true to say that horror fans take great solace in spooky season. (It’s also true all year round, I know, but October is THE special month for many). And whether it’s an opportunity to party with family/fiends, go trick or treating, or hunker down and watch some scary movies (or all of the above!) I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all Spooky Samhain blessings, a Happy Halloween, a very merry little Goth Xmas, or whatever macabre moniker is the best fit for you!
And by way of a modest treat (or trick?) for this year, I have recorded the first ever reading from my new tie-in novel Damnation: The Gothic Game, with another to follow soon. Check it out below, or over at the Damnation Kickstarter, where you can pick up a copy along with the game.
I hope the extract gives you pleasant nightmares! And if it does, perhaps it is testament to how important it is right now to treat yourselves, and those that you love.
Because if we try, we can also feel like this spider – feasting on the stuff of life – if only for one, perfectly spooky night:
So sorry to have to say that my good friend & collaborator Paulo (aka Paul O) Turin has passed away after contracting Covid-19.
My sincere condolences to his family & many friends. We were all hoping he’d pull through after three weeks in the ICU in Brazil. Thanks to all the doctors & nurses who tried so hard to keep Paulo alive.
My friendship with Paulo began in the mid-90s when we were introduced via mutual contacts. We spent many happy hours writing and recording music together, discussing life the universe & everything — and eating penne arabiatta, or pizza, or both. Paulo worked & studied hard and was always inquisitive and determined to master whatever he put his mind to. His musicianship was second to none. Our song Cycles of Abuse featured in my film On Edge, as did Paulo’s killer dance moves (you can spot him in the nightclub scenes that bookend the film). Another composition Defiler featured on the Planet Metal compilation and on Brazilian rock radio.
When Paulo returned to Brazil, we kept in touch and exchanged family photos (and godawful Dad jokes!). A couple of years ago, Paulo asked for my help in putting together a Wikipedia page about him. But the Wiki editors rejected the page as ‘not notable’!!!
Well, screw them. I’m including the Wikipedia text below in full, in tribute to Paulo, who was very notably a gentle giant, and a brilliantly talented musician. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
(And if any Wikipedia wizards out there can create a page for Paul O Turin, please do so. He would have liked that!)
Paulo in his own words…
Paul O Turin
Birth name: Paulo Eduardo Turin
Born: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Genres: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Instrumental Rock/Metal
Occupation: Guitarist, songwriter
Associated acts: Gangland UK, Battlezone, Paul Di’anno, Self Destructive Nature, Aquiles Priester, Felipe Andreoli, Realm of Illusion
Labels: Pony Canyon, Encore Records, Magick Records, Zoom Club Records
Paulo Turin was born in Brazil but made his mark in metal music in England where he lived for 22 years. He was of Italian heritage. His grandparents moved to Brazil from Venice during the first world war. He spoke English, Italian and Portuguese.
He started playing his father’s acoustic guitar at a very young age and learned music from some music books that also belonged to his father. After begging his parents to buy him an electric guitar for two years, he finally got it at the age of 13. It was a Fender Jaguar copy. The first songs he learned on the electric guitar was from Credence Clear Water Revival, Slade and Chuck Berry but when he heard Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin his guitar playing and musical taste went to a new dimension.
Turin then started taking private guitar lessons with some well known teachers around the Sao Paulo area. The lessons included rock, jazz and music theory. During this period he played with some local bands.
In 1986 Paul took advantage of his European (Italian) citizenship and moved to England where he worked part time and took guitar lessons at the Musicians Academy and at the Guitar Institute. Paul also held a degree in management and graduated to be a University teacher.
In England, Paul went to several auditions for bands in the underground metal scene of London and got the job as the guitarist of an up and coming act called Gangland UK. They toured the UK nonstop for two years and recorded two songs Beyond the Law and Death Threat for the album Metal for Muthas‘92 released in Japan. Gangland also put out a single One in a Million/Crazy Angel for the Japanese market.
Paul composed the soundtrack song Cycles of Abuse for the horror film On Edge with Self Destructive Nature (SDN), a band he formed with vocalist and writer/director Frazer Lee. Another SDN song Defiler featured on the Planet Metal compilation. Paulo did session work and played for bands as a hired hand also.
In 1997 he was invited to join Paul Di’anno’s (former Iron Maiden vocalist) Battlezone. They recorded and toured the album Feel My Pain. Paul returned to Brazil in 1999 and put together a band for Paul Di’anno which recorded and toured the album Nomad. Nomad was re-released in 2006 with a few bonus live tracks under the name of The Living Dead.
Since then Turin was writing and recording solo instrumental Rock Metal, and with thrash metal oufit Realm of Illusion, in addition to producing, and hosting guitar masterclasses.
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.
2020. A year during which any horror writer would be hard pressed to outdo real-life events with any of their fictional terrors.
Glancing back, here’s my horror writing year in review.
Greyfriars Reformatory my sixth novel, which was published by the fine folks at Flame Tree Press, got some of the most positive reviews i’ve ever had (from Chicago Review of Books, and others). My thanks to all the readers, raters & reviewers!
The inaugural UK edition of Stokercon was postponed, and then became Chillercon, with the Bram Stoker Awards & Final Frame Film Contest (for which i was a Juror) moving online. Congratulations to the winners & nominees!
I was looking forward to screening The Stay and doing a Q&A about my film work at Contemporary Folk Horror in Film & Media conference, Leeds, until the pandemic delivered its own persistent brand of viral horror. Hopefully it will happen in 2021.
Looking forward? I’m hoping to get all kinds of things done in 2021. Making horror stories sometimes helps me to face the real-life ones. And i hope reading/watching them helps you sometimes, too.
If you’re still reading this, I’d just like to wish you & yours the very best of health. And i’ll close on a plea, if i may:
Don’t you dare be one of those characters in horror stories — you know the one who goes down to the basement with a faulty flashlight? Or the one who says, “We’ll cover more ground if we split up.” Just don’t. I’ve written and consumed enough horror stories to know those aproaches rarely pan out so well — for anyone.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands.
Stay safe out there, and keep others safe.
And if you need to borrow a flashlight, just scream!
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.
#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.
Today is exactly 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film as writer/director, On Edge.
I don’t like looking back so much, I’d much rather keep my focus on what’s ahead. But 20 years does feel like a pretty significant anniversary, so…
To commemorate each day of the film shoot I will be posting about the making of the film, starting today (24th July) and concluding on the day we wrapped (28th July). I have trawled through the archives to find artefacts that have never been shared online before — until now.
And the first of these is a letter.
A single sheet of headed A4 paper, bearing the logo of Soho’s The Creative Partnership, and the signature of author Christopher Fowler.
It’s a letter that changed my life.
Twenty one years ago, I was studying for a Masters in screenwriting under the tutorship of guru Philip Parker. One of our assignments was to adapt an existing story into a short film script. Around that time, I had become aware of an emerging master of the short horror story, British author Christopher Fowler. I had already devoured a couple of his early novels, including the brilliant Roofworld, and was hungry for more, so I invested (very wisely) in a copy of his collection Sharper Knives, which included a blackly-comic, dental horror story called On Edge. I sat bolt upright in bed and told myself that this story had to be made into a film.
With my homework assignment as further impetus (I always work best to a strict deadline, to this day) I set about adapting the story. The assignment brief meant that the script had to be around 30 pages long. The story was at most going to come in at around fifteen minutes, so I created a subplot in which the impatient patient, Peter Thurlow, was set up for a painful fall by his estranged wife. I also opted to include a bit more detail about Doctor Matthews’ background. Visualising his ‘difficult’ schooldays via flashbacks, i intercut these with the main action culminating in some horrific business with a sharp pencil in an exam hall. (The gory escalation was intended to mirror the horror occurring in the dentist’s chair.)
The homework assignment was a success, but I knew that the film would be incredibly expensive to make at 30 minutes long. As a rule of thumb, at that time it would cost around £1,000 to produce each minute of finished film. To explain this further, I was determined that we were to shoot and deliver on 35mm Cinemascope, to present as cinematic experience as possible — an approach very much shared and supported by my producing partner Joseph Alberti at Robber Baron Productions. On Edge was to be our calling card, and we were confident if we got it right, we might get a feature film project off the ground. So, in order to make the film realisable on a budget, I immediately dropped the spousal revenge subplot, cutting the script back to around 18 pages. (Still too long, but further edits were to come, as they always do.)
In a fit of youthful exuberance / pure madness, i decided to send a copy of the script to the author of the short story, Mr Christopher Fowler himself, begging him for the rights to make the film. He replied, and you can see that reply below. I have never shown anyone outside of the production this letter (and I wrote to Christopher last week to ask his permission one more time —20 years after first doing so — but this time via email, and this time requesting permission to publish his letter on my blog, which I’m happy to say he granted. Thanks again Mr Fowler!).
I remember tucking the letter inside my copy of the shooting script, as a memento of the journey to getting the film made, sure, but also as a reminder to my future self — the future self who is writing this blog entry today — that all it takes sometimes is one person to see some potential in what you are doing, to give you a break, and ultimately to change your life.
Making On Edge changed my life in so many ways. It taught me a lot about directing, screenwriting, and of course the process of adaptation. I have since worked on many screenplays and films as a writer/director and a story consultant, and have published short stories and novels of my own.
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
This festive tale of the possession of a young innocent by the demon Pazuzu enchanted audiences when it opened on Boxing Day in 1973. And it has continued to cast its seasonal spell ever since.
The film’s story opens rather aptly in the Holy Land, where loveable priest Father Merrin’s Christmas wishes come true with the discovery of a beautiful statue. The shots of cute dogs playing together in the sand are particularly heartwarming.
Cut to Georgetown (complete with its decidedly festive Icelandic embassy!) and the happy household that young Regan calls home. Her mom’s excitement, when she finds her daughter has been playing that Christmas classic boardgame ‘Ouija’ with her adorable imaginary friend Captain Howdy, is a joy to behold. It’s enough to put your head in a spin.
And who could fail to feel that glimmer of Christmas cheer when the demonic possession fully takes hold? These scenes are perhaps the most magical of all, with director William ‘Joy to the World’ Friedkin playfully ensuring that we can see the priests’ breath in Regan’s wintry wonderland bedroom – let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
And the icing on the Christmas cake is Mike Oldfield’s twinkling soundtrack. ‘Tubular (Jingle) Bells’ is surely everyone’s Yuletide top of the pops.
So there you have it folks, the ultimate Christmas movie of all time: The Exorcist.