My top 10 horror comics:7: Crossed by Garth Ennis

Crossed is a problematic comic. It is by no means woke but when creator Garth Ennis isn’t writing it, the comic descends into empty sex and violence which is frankly boring, and even sometimes designed purely to offend for the sheer hell of it. Ennis’s work pushes what post-apocalyptic horror is as well as delving into how humanity would keep itself going against an enemy who doesn’t give a fuck.

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Be warned, Ennis may well be investigating human emotion and the nature of what humanity actually is, but he doesn’t shirk from showing you everything.

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The first volume Ennis, along with artist Jacen Burrows, reshapes the survival horror apocalpse story we’re now familiar with thanks to things like The Walking Dead. Here there’s no hope. The Crossed are not zombies; they’re humans with canibalistic habits (as well as every habit you can imagine) but they retain some of their intelligence and worse, memory, so they’re able to taunt you as they’re raping you to death.

However my favourite Crossed story is more akin to a political thriller at first, and more amazingly, it features Gordon Brown as the chief protagonist.  The Thin Red Line is an amazing work as it spins into a work of political intrigue to horrific apocalypse with the fate of the world resting on a politician not known for being decisive.

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It really is one of the best comics of the 21st century, but sadly after Ennis leaves again the book falls into the usual shock and gore, before Alan Moore’s interesting run set a century after the initial outbreak however search out the first volume and The Thin Red Line for two very different variations of the modern horror comic.

 

The wonderful horror of Local 58

Kris Straub of Chainsawsuit, a few years ago created a web based found footage style horror series. Local 58 is based round the schedules of a small American TV channel and the frankly unsettling programming contained in it.

Now a lot of web based horror is awful. This isn’t. It’s nicely done, creepy and unsettling, just like good horror should be so here’s the videos in order of release. Enjoy…

A few more words about Ghostwatch

I’ve made it clear I’m a huge fan of Ghostwatch on my blog here, and recently over at That’s Not Current where most of my reviews now live. What is clear is that over two decades later Ghostwatch is still a massive thing, and in fact seems to be generational as I’ve spoken to people who were barely a crusty stain on their dad’s underwear at the time but are huge fans of the film.

Looking back at the BBC continuity now it really is looking at a different era. Everything feels, well, less jaded, less dumbed down but the film still fooled people.

Yet as writer Stephen Volk has said, Ghostwatch managed to ‘fool’ people by manipulating their expectations in this TedTalk.

In the above talk Volk talks about Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as an influence, and indeed, what Ghostwatch influenced with the Found Footage genre of horror especially. I don’t think we’ll ever see something like Ghostwatch on the BBC again, they’re far too conservative now and the reaction to the film in 1992 saw them having to make assurances the programme wasn’t real later in the night.

Indeed, it’s taken on a life of it’s own and thanks to the internet, has entered horror lore as this YouTube video shows.

Yet the BBC do seem to be softening on the stance of ignoring it by finally offering it for download on their online store.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the programme. It’d be an obvious time to not just have the BBC repeat it, but perhaps see if someone can work out how to do something that follows it up in the age where we’re all perhaps too cynical and jaded to not notice when something is a hoax or to be scared by such programmes? I’m not sure it can be done but it’d be interesting to see if someone could try it.

The Sound of Violence-The death and horror of BBC sound effects albums

Back in the 1970’s the BBC released a load of albums of sound effects. Initially these were conservative affairs which were full of effects created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for television and radio. So there’s wind, water, trains, cars, phones ringing, that sort of stuff.

Then in 1977 with volume 13 of their sound effects records, the BBC released Death & Horror, an album of sound effects.

The cover alone was worth getting it for with it’s lurid images of horror and gore but the track-listing was for any horror fan utter bliss.

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Sound effects of arms being cut off, pokers being rammed into eyes, various screams, mad gorillas, and tortures were a joy. Curated by BBC producer Ian Richardson and created by engineer Mike Harding using synthesisers, props and lots and lots of vegetables being mutilated, Death and Horror was a massive hit.

Hits of course often produce sequels, even for sound effects albums in the 1970’s, so in 1978 volume 21 of the BBC’s sound effects library was More Death and Horror which for me is the pinnacle of the horror albums the BBC produced.

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From the opening track Death of the Fly to eyes being gouged, or Sweeney Todd slitting throats, to the premature burial, this album went beyond doing just mere sound effects to instead create small snippets of horror. Again, the album has wonderfully lurid cover artwork and if you were any sort of horror far in 1978 you wanted this album as remember, this was before the video boom and that owning films were expensive outwith of the Super 8 boom, and even then getting uncut gory exploitation films was nearly impossible. These albums plugged a gap and they sparked many an imagination, mine included.

A third and final horror effects album was released in 1981 entitled Even More Death and Horror, which went utterly out there in terms of gory imagination.

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The track listing for this album is wonderful if you like your horror bloody. Two Throat Cuts Or Two Throats Cut, Wrists Cut – The Blood Drips Into The Bucket, Drilling Into The Head – Enough Said and the simply brilliant title Trial By Ordeal – A “Medievil” Practice Where The Accused Would Pick A Ring Out Of A Deep Pot Of Boiling Water – If The Resulting Burns Healed Up Quickly The He/She Was Innocent – Some Chance!

After that there wasn’t anywhere for the albums to go, plus by 1981 the video boom was starting so we gorehounds at the time could see eyes being gouged and much worse in films which would be soon called Video Nasties.The sound effect albums eventually passed away but the albums lived on with fans and continued to be remembered fondly enough. The first two albums are available on iTunes as part of the compilation album Essential Death and Horror but the third album is a rarity now and from what I’ve seen seems to trade for a lot of money.

These three albums are wonderfully evocative examples of what horror fans used to enjoy in the analogue age. Listening back to these albums now and it’s amazing how primitive they are, or how obvious it is that you’re listening to a man in a studio stick a spoon into a melon to simulate eyes being gouged, but when you were a kid, it sounded exactly what you think these things would sound like. What is great is how well some of the tracks work though, something like the Premature Burial still scares me and I still get a frisson at the gory antics.

Most of all these albums are goldmines of creativity that allowed people to be creative themselves as I’m sure kids used these for radio plays they’d make themselves, but this was a time when the BBC and the Radiophonic Workshop was full of imaginative genius’s who deserve all the praise they can get.

What I thought of Crossed: Badlands #51

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In my thoughts about the first part of this story about Gordon Brown, his security team and a Blairite aide being caught up in the start of the Crossed infection (an infection which turns human beings into psychopaths intent on murder, rape and mutilation) I mentioned how remarkably restrained it was.

In the second part in Crossed: Badlands #51 there’s an explosion of violence. It’s more horrific and shocking because of the build up rather then the usual tedious gore Crossed normally features because there’s a genuine horror here. It also features some Olympic level swearing which is a wonderful trademark of Garth Ennis because swearing is cool.

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Like the previous issue there’s an awful lot of people standing around talking to each other, but Ennis never once makes this boring especially in his increasingly interesting portrayal of Gordon Brown as a solid leader making instant decisions which is at odds with how he’s remembered, but it’s worth remembering this is set in 2008 when Brown did have a reputation (of sorts) of being decisive.

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Of course this was before the dithering over holding an election and all the other failures Brown oversaw so it may be a reason why Ennis is using Brown. Regardless of the reason (assuming Ennis provides us with one) it’s a fascinating way of portraying a Prime Minister with such a dubious legacy.

There’s a splendid few pages where Harry (the head of Gordon Brown’s security team) questions the mysterious Patient Zero and in a few pages we get a lot of foreshadowing about something bad this man will eventually reveal, we assume, to be the cause of the Crossed outbreak. There’s something clearly tragic about this character, mainly because in a bit of clunky storytelling Ennis has two characters tell us this but this aside it’s a stutter in another strong issue.

The scenes between Harry, and Alistair (who seems to be a mash-up of every Tony Blair supporting Labour spin-doctor you can imagine) are glorious, but the real movement in the plot is that Brown has been dropped in this potentially dangerous situation, and we’re about to see just how lethal this situation is becoming.

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This is where Ennis pulls out that indecisiveness I mentioned in regards to Gordon Brown which helps give a lair of character to Alistair beyond the obvious person we all hope gets horribly killed.

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It’s a great interaction that redefines slightly the animosity between Harry and Alistair, but this is interrupted as we find out that a helicopter coming to lift Brown out of the lab they’re in and back to London has been shot down, and to make things worse Sky News have found the missing villagers from the first part of the story.

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To find out what’s happening at the front of the crowd, go and buy the issue from a comic shop or download it from Comixology like I did. Either way it’s a great read that yet again doesn’t live up to what I was expecting and is all the better for it. This story from Garth Ennis is proving to be one of the best horror comics I’ve read in a long, long time and I’m actually eager to see where exactly Ennis will be taking these characters though it’s obvious most, or indeed, all will suffer horrible fates. That’s not interesting as seeing what happens to get us there.

I await the next issue eagerly!

 

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-19-Night of the Demon

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a rundown of one’s top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blog in regards #20, the fucking glorious Audition.

At 19 in my top 20 countdown is the superb 1950’s horror film Night of the Demon. Based upon the M.R James story, Casting of the Runes, it’s simply one of the most atmospheric horror films you’ll ever see. The plot is fairly thin;  an American academic & sceptic visits Britain to help expose a Satanic cult and gets caught up in a very real demonic plot. It’s only a skeleton of a plot to hang on conversations about the nature of belief while generally scaring the shite out of the viewer through a series of images which will stick in your mind for years after seeing the film.

This one in particular has stayed with me since I first saw the film as a ten or eleven year old during a summer in the 1970’s when the BBC used to show late night horror double bills on BBC 2 on Saturday nights during the summer months.

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I had nightmares about that image, and still do some 30 years later from first seeing it. It’s a terrifying image because we don’t quite know what we’re looking at in the dark, and we’re all scared of the dark in some shape or form so it’s this primordial horror emerging out of the blackness that frightens us and this film is full of this.

To go back briefly to those BBC horror double bills. They weren’t just an education in horror film history for kids across the country, but film in general. They were fantastic, but now late night television is full of crap game shows, repeats and just every now and then, the odd gem of a film. A channel bringing these double bills back would be great and yes, I’m looking at you BBC Four.

Search Night of the Demon out in it’s full uncut 96 minute long British cut. Also, check out the American trailer which contains a scene not in either the UK or US edits.

Lastly, here’s the Kate Bush song which starts with dialogue from the film & has a Night of the Demon inspired video…

Next time in my countdown-we are going to eat you!

Death, gore and violence-An update….

I haven’t done what I said I’d do in my last update as real life has dragged me down, plus a trip to Cardiff last weekend to discuss the next stage of the Cunning Plan left me broken and hungover but it’s coming along well. I will do the Glasgow Comic Art Convention blog next if only to finish it and release it in the wild.

I intend to do another few Glastonbury blogs before this year’s festival, or at least get the timeline up to the year 2000 so I can make a huge moan about the gentrification of the festival and make myself seem edgy and stuff. I also want to do a couple of very personal ones which may, or may not be as open as they could be depending upon how I feel and how explicit I want to make them. No, it’s not going to be Confessions of a Former Comic Book Dealer, though that’s an idea in itself, but it’s a bit Glasgow related so we’ll see how the mood takes me….

This week has been mainly made up of working, sleeping and watching V/H/S 2 which is obviously a sequel to V/H/S, an anthology horror film I really liked apart from one segment which was rubbish, but with the first one it was the first segment, Amateur Night which stood out a mile just for the sheer insanity of it all.

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The sequel isn’t frankly anywhere near as good. The first segment owes an awful lot to films like The Hand, but relies far too much on basic jump scares including at least two or three which seem lifted directly from the excellent Ghostwatch including using this scare several times..

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The second segment is a fun little thing about a man’s first and last day as a zombie, and the final segment is a load of fun featuring aliens and lots of scary jumps. It’s all pretty ok and ordinary.

That is of course missing out the third segment, Safe Haven, from the the film. This part is made by the same people who did the frankly mental The Raid and if you’ve seen that then you get an idea that Safe Haven might not be a quiet bit of horror.

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It’s not. It’s also the only one that uses the found footage/mockumentary format to another level and shows there’s some serious legs in the format if a filmmaker puts their mind to it. At this point it’s unfair to say anything else because you need to see this as unaware as possible because when it kicks into gear after about ten minutes of set-up it doesn’t relent with one extreme image following another and then another and then another….

It batters you into submission while it invites you in on the joke without insulting the audience as parts of the first segment does. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen an anthology horror film and wanted a segment to be much, much longer if only to see how much further they could push the horror, not to mention the very, very dark comedy running throughout the segment.

Basically, it’s the redeeming feature in an average film and makes an average film a bloody good one and I use the word ‘bloody’ quite literally. It’s a quite remarkable section in the film but not one to watch if you’re a pregnant woman, or at all squeamish…

 

And with that quickie review, it’s off to an early night as work beckons and I need sleep to dream of the future…….

Secret Origins part one

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Because one or two people demanded it! It’s the secret origin of me!!

I was born in Glasgow in February 1967. My parents were typically working class Glasgow folk but my father (James) was a protestant and my mother (Dorothy) was a catholic and both were married in the 1950’s.To most readers of this today this seems normal and why the bloody hell would I even start this post by bringing it up, but Dear Reader, this is important because this is Glasgow, and it’s the 1950’s. Sectarianism is rife and the idea of a mixing of religions then was seen as a dangerous thing and I’m really not joking about how badly treated people were for marrying outside their religion then in Glasgow.

Now I don’t know the full details but I know there were rifts in both families, but things were sketchy whenever I asked and considering the majority of my family on both sides joined in the post-war emigration to Australia I never got a chance to ask until I got out there when I was 16 and even then I was swiftly told it wasn’t a subject to bring up.  I got a few details from my uncle on my mothers side, but again things were left vague and it seems both my uncle and my mother had a falling out with religion at an early age, and my father never cared for religion of any kind in a fairly apathetic way so that’s a snapshot of how things were.

So my parents married, my father drifted from labouring work into  being a postie, while my mother stayed a housewife and here’s where the Red Clydeside stuff comes from as her aunt (and my great aunt) as she was one of the organisers of the rent strikes in Partick during the First World War. So there’s a vein of being fucked off and doing something about it in me going back a century and I’m a wee bit proud of this.

But anyhow, they had two boys before me, James and Steven. Then nothing for eight years and I pop along, followed by another boy, Francis, born a year after me. He was sadly a cot-death while we were sharing a room so even though I obviously don’t remember a thing, I still to this day have this awkwardness around babies and all that that unnerves me. The effects of this seeing as I was now the youngest and therefore seen as a survivor (these sort of deaths were depressingly common in working class families across the UK in the 1960’s and have been attributed to a number of things but poverty played a part) I ended up being not spoiled, but protected in a way other children my age weren’t.

I was also educated to a six or seven year old level by the time I started Primary school at age five. This is down to being taught to read and encouraged to read anything I wanted within reason, so this was a mix of Asterix, Tintin, Marvel and DC comics, horror novels for kids, books about films and especially horror and SF, books about history or anything. I would even sit as a five year old in the old library in Possilpark reading the newspapers even though I didn’t understand what was in them all the time, I was encouraged mainly by my parents to just bloody read.

Here’s a picture of the library I spent over a decade reading anything I could in. I believe it’s from the early to mid 80’s.

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This is the main entrance, and the road leading up the hill to the right used to lead to Possilpark Secondary school, so I passed this pretty much every day from 1979 to 84/85. I think I read every Asterix comic, every Tintin, every horror story compilation which meant reading a load of M.R James and anything about Hammer Films as the BBC used to show double bills of horror films on a Saturday night during the summer, which would mean them teaming up a classic Universal horror with a more modern film, normally something from Hammer, but often odd things like The Crazies which was my first exposure to American modern horror films.

So i wouldn’t say I was spoiled, but just a bit protected. Considering the area and the time it’s entirely understandable. It was shite, grim and living a fairly poor life was depressing as there was still a post-war mentality with my parents who were also trying to cope with the fact the 20th century had crawled it’s way to north Glasgow. This isn’t to say we were eating tripe and cardboard every night (only eat tripe once and that’s more than enough and even then my father sneaked off to the chippy to get us some real food half way through that experience) but we were skint constantly and not in this pseudo-Guardian reader type of skint where they didn’t have money to keep their horses, or they only had one holiday that year, but actually fucking broke. That said, we still lived alright. Money was found and like I said, my father worked stupidly long hours.

Most of this time we lived in Possilpark itself on Stonyhurst Street, though we’d moved from Maryhill around or before my birth, but it was clear by 74/75 the area was in steep decline even though there were strong families there fighting to keep it alive, the dealers had moved in and the first heroin addicts started turning up. Luckily my family knew a local councillor  who managed to pull a few strings and we managed to move to a nice house in Milton in 1975 sometime which was for a few years actually a pretty peaceful time. Milton at the time wasn’t that bad. It still had fields and we were only a good walk away from the outskirts of Glasgow and effectively the countryside. It was fairly sweet.

I still went to school in Possilpark and as I’ve pointed out previously I knew where in the city to get my hits of comics, so I was fairly content and being a kid I was happy as long as I had my comics, my dog (which we got when we moved) Doctor  Who, Star Trek and the odd fish supper. Ok, we didn’t do holidays apart from one hellish trip to Millport where it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained..

And there’s was Country and Western. Lots of it.

There was also the odd day trip to Ayr, or Largs or Edinburgh, but mainly life was spent in the grim harshness that was Glasgow of the 70’s. Sure it was a ridiculously hot summer in 1976 and yes, there were fun and good times but looking back there’s a melancholic air about everything we did as we were all struggling to survive which meant looking over our shoulders all the time. What joy we did have we grabbed, so that is either a hot summer flying stunt kites, or getting to see Scotland qualify for the 1978 World Cup, or just anything really.

Around 1979 things started going a bit wrong.  My oldest brother James suddenly went from being a fairly social person to being quiet and odd, while my other brother Steve started going to a local group of SF fans who met at the Wintersgills pub who had formed a group called ”The Friends of Kilgore Trout‘ or FOKT for short. It was here he met one of the organisers, a chap by the name of Bob Shaw who I’ve mentioned before and will mention a lot more of in the future. So Steve started hanging out a lot with the FOKT crowd and started becoming very involved with organising Glasgow’s SF Convention Faircon, which was held during the Fair Fortnight every July. They quickly became just an event for a hundred or so Scottish SF fans to something which attracted a national and even worldwide audience.

Things were also changing for me. I’d finished primary school and left Hawthorn Primary School to go to secondary at Possilpark Secondary. I learned a lot of things very quickly here, and it was an odd place with some very odd teachers, but that’s maybe for another time.

Which brings us Dear Reader to the start of 1980. Everything is sort of ok, but in 18 months time everything starts going very, very wrong…

But that’s Part Two of my Secret Origin….

Crocodile Tears

A brief interruption from what would have either been a long post about my early life, or a bit more on how comics were distributed in the UK during the 70’s, but It was Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today and one last mockery is in order.

I’m meaning this picture especially:

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If anything sums up the sheer black horror of today then it’s this picture. You’ve got Cameron’s millionaire wife looking up to make sure she’s on camera, Cameron himself looking like he’s having a deathwank orgasm for Thatcher and Osborn’s pathetic crocodile tears.

I’ve seen Tories refer to Thatcher since she died as their ‘second mother’ which is actually pretty bloody scary when you think of how people like Osborn see her, and how many are trying to pretend she was more than what she was.

Personally I’d have chucked her in a skip and got G4S to take away three weeks later when they got their arse in gear. It’d have been a fitting way to sum up her legacy rather than an utter cunt crying for a myth and the press wanking over Thatcher’s granddaughter.

So as a proper memorial for Thatcher lets have this memory of her posing with her close personal friend and mass-murderer General Pinochet.

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Does anyone sane actually shed tears at the funeral of someone who supported, and supplied a murderer and a tyrant?

No, it’s only sociopaths like Osborn and those soulless Tory bastards today.

Next time it’s back to comics, or a bit of biography or maybe some filth.