Glancing back at 2020, looking ahead to 2021

(we were all this screaming tree at some point in 2020…)

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.

Novels

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!

Non-fiction

I published two academic chapters:
“Not everything that moves, breathes and talks is alive”: Christianity, Korean Shamanism and Reincarnation in Whispering Corridors (1998) and The Wailing (2016) – published in Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film, editors: Rebecca Booth, Valeska Griffiths, Erin Thompson, R.F. Todd (House of Leaves Publishing, 2020)
&
Koji Suzuki’s Ring: A world literary perspective – published in Horror Literature From Gothic to Postmodern: Critical Essays. Editors Nicholas Diak, Michele Brittany (McFarland Publishing, 2020).

I penned guest blogs & articles for the HWA, CrimeReads & Kendall Reviews (among others you can find here).

Screenwriting

I lost two screenwriting commissions due to the pandemic in 2020. I know many film & TV writers struggled last year, and here’s hoping the industry picks up again in 2021, but there’s a way to go yet.

I put my time & energy into writing two speculative feature film screenplays (I’ve learned never to speak too much about those, so let’s just wait and see if they actually become movies).

My screenplay adaptation of Bram Stoker Award®️ nominated debut novel The Lamplighters was a Semi-finalist in the ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Contest 2020.

Awards

My folk horror film The Stay won two awards on the international festival circuit in 2020:


Exemplar Award – Creepy New Concept & Plot (Creepy Tree Film Festival, USA)


& Best International Film (The Thing in the Basement Horror Fest USA)

The Stay was screened in Official Selection at several film festivals from Los Angeles Lift-off to the Hitchcock Film Awards. Film festivals weren’t the only happenings that were streamed…

Events

Remember those? It was a tough year for conferences and conventions, and my heart goes out to their organisers, who have been forced to postpone, go online, or to cancel outright.

An Evening With Horror Writer Frazer Lee went ahead, and I enjoyed inflicting my horrors on a full house, had fun answering some great questions, and we raised some money for my favourite charity.

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.

Last but not least — My book launch for Greyfriars Reformatory went online, and together we raised £35 for Hillside Animal Sanctuary through signed book sales — thank you!

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.

Please.

Wear a mask. Wash your hands.

Stay safe out there, and keep others safe.

And if you need to borrow a flashlight, just scream!

x Frazer

#TheCure concerts I have known & loved: NEC Birmingham, 6th December 1987

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.

Follow The Cure on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and visit the official website.

Comment below with your Cure memories! I’d love to hear them!

Proof that one letter can change your life. #OnEdge20

OnEdge20

#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.

DAY 1

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.

Proof that one letter can change your life.

IMG_7997

Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards
here

In Memoriam: Robin Hardy, writer & director of ‘The Wicker Man’

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 Wicker Man by Robin Hardy & Antony Shaffer

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 Tree here.)

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

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.35.04

Quoted in The Wicker Man novel by Robin Hardy & Anthony Shaffer

 

The Best Christmas Movie of all time is…

The Exorcist.

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.

  

“Why you do this~mas to me Dimi?”

Happy Ho-ho-horrordays,

Frazer x

The Next Chapter: Don D’Auria/Samhain Update

On Wednesday, i posted a tribute to my editor extraordinaire, Don D’Auria.

I learned (just hours after posting his tribute) direct from Don via email that Samhain had let him go.  Perversely, Samhain’s marketing department had asked us authors to make tributes to Don as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations. We were only too happy to do so. But then utterly dismayed and confused by his sudden dismissal. Was the call for tributes an attempt to soften the blow? Or a last ditch effort from those on the inside who disagreed with the decision? I guess we’ll never know.

To put it mildly, the horror-net went quietly ballistic. Samhain authors huddled together in cyberspace and howled at the moon, shared their disbelief, anger, disappointment – and support. An official statement from Samhain followed (Ramsey Campbell posted it in the comments section on my Wednesday blog if you want to take a look), the general gist of which was that Don was dropped as a cost-cutting measure and because he isn’t active on social media. As others have commented, it’s a sad state of affairs that Twittering and Farcebooking should take precedence over curating and editing a multiple award-nominated horror line. The former activities are within the purview of marketeers, not necessarily Executive Editors.

My mate Hunter Shea posted a brilliantly optimistic response to the news, and author and genre champion Brian Keene called for a #SamhainBlackout (a call to unfriend and unfollow Samhain’s official social media channels and to follow the individual authors instead).

I personally feel for Don and for the many authors who were looking forward to working with him, either for the first time, or the umpteenth time. Tomorrow is Don’s last day at Samhain and at present, the future’s uncertain.

But one thing is for certain.

Don knows horror fiction and i’m sure he will continue his great and nurturing work elsewhere. I wish Don all the very best for the future, and as he’s also a huge Pink Floyd fan (yet another plus point) this song’s for him.

Don D’Auria, shine on you crazy bloody diamond.

don dauria sa

Halcyon days – Don D’Auria & Samhain in Famous Monsters magazine (copyright Famous Monsters 2014)

And here’s to whatever the next chapter brings!

 

RIP Wes Craven, sweet dreams and thank you for all the nightmares

Wes Craven A Nightmare On Elm Street

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.

 

R.I.P. Edgar Froese, Tangerine Dream founder

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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)

http://youtu.be/T355t3WBZ0E

http://youtu.be/91DuxjzlLLU

http://youtu.be/G_-R4nir7Cs

Halloween Greetings from the Pumpkin Patch

I always wanted a pumpkin patch.

My earliest Halloween memory is of Trick or Treating with a hollowed out turnip dangling from a string that threatened to snap as the candle flame licked at it and my tender young fingers. Actual pumpkins were in short supply when i was a kid (back in the late 1800s). But they became easier to pick up as the years rolled by, and are now a seasonal staple in farm shops and supermarkets across the land.

My first attempt at growing my own jack o’lanterns took place two decades later in a tiny, urban garden in the heart of Camden Town, London. The soil composition was mostly thick clay and cat poo, so it was a miracle when one green little fruit appeared – and not at all surprising when it died a week later.

Fast forward another decade and here we are at Lee Cottage. It’s our second Halloween out here in the countryside (…the October Country, if you will) and as the Season of Mists fast approached I was more determined than ever to give growing pumpkins another go.

We started them off in my office, on the windowsill that gets the sun. I read M.R. James Ghost Stories to them to get them germinating, and pretty soon we had four viable plants. We planted the best three of them outside and, after a lot of feeding and watering and slug wrangling, got two lovely pumpkins per plant.

The smaller ones we ate in September (one roasted in a risotto, the other souped up) had a very mellow flavour. But October’s batch has ripened much more, with that classic earthy sweetness.

Our biggest, prize pumpkin will be carved up by our two little monsters today. I like to think my sons will, like their Dad, marvel at the fact that they are scooping seeds from a pumpkin that we grew from a seed.

And at this special time of year (when the cycle of life, death, and birth is embedded in our Samhain rituals and customs) i can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate than with a pumpkin plucked from my very own patch.

I always wanted a pumpkin patch.

Well, at long last i got one. And next year, it’ll be bigger.

Happy Halloween to you and all your pumpkins. Young or old, shop-bought or hand-cultivated, enjoy them!