Exploring The Labyrinth
In this series, I will be reading every Brian Keene book that has been published (and is still available in print), and then producing an essay on it. With the exception of Girl On The Glider, these essays will be based upon a first read of the books concerned. The article will assume you’ve read the book, and you should expect MASSIVE spoilers.
I hope you enjoy my voyage of discovery.
I decided to do something a little different for this one, and picked up the Leisure paperback (my prior reading in this series has all been on ebook). Part of that decision was financial, in that it worked out significantly cheaper, but part was about an attempt to try and experience this book in a way that first time readers will have, back when they picked this up in 2006.
There is a substantial history associated with Leisure Books, which I have no intention of addressing in this article - it’s a story that frankly deserves its own book, and I have neither the time or research chops needed to write it. For now, let us just say that for a while back there, in the early to mid Naughties, Leisure Horror seemed to be a good line to be a part of, with direct order customers as well as bookstore coverage, and a lot of big names in the field - and it didn’t end well.
Also, Keene was a big part of that stable.
I mention this because there’s a good chance that, for many fans following his work via Leisure, it’s likely that Earthworm Gods was considered Keene’s third novel, not his fourth. Terminal was written for a different publisher, and there’s therefore no mention of it in the ‘Other Leisure books by Brian Keene’ section at the front of the paperback. Also, as noted in the last essay, Terminal was less straight genre than his other novels, and did not sell well, so word of mouth will have been muted at best.
I mention all this because I found it interesting how much Earthworm Gods felt like a spiritual successor to the first two Rising novels, in both the apocalyptic contours of the tale, and the escalating sense of dread and calamity.
Our narrator for this tale is Teddy Garnet, a World War II vet in his eighties, who as our story opens is huddled inside his house, nursing some alarming sounding injuries, and telling us about the end of the world. It’s a bold choice, going with a first person narrator at the end of story, writing down his version of events for us, but it works incredibly well, I think - mainly because Keene absolutely nails the voice. He’s mentioned since on The Horror Show that Teddy was based on his grandfather, and that intimate understanding, combined with Keene’s vivid empathic imagination, creates one of my favourite, most well rounded Keene creations so far.
I mentioned earlier that this story feels more like a Rising type tale than a continuation of Terminal, but it’s also fair to say that what this does share with Terminal - the first person narrator - is an undoubted strength of the writing. It allows Keene to tell the story without any distance, placing us, the reader, directly behind the eyes of Teddy, as he tries to negotiate a world sliding slowly but inexorably towards collapse.
Keene weaves this first third of the narrative skillfully, introducing the characters in Teddy’s life gradually, allowing the dialogue and interactions between them to build a picture of the relationships - Carl, good hearted, if prone to verbal rambling, and crazy, dangerous Earl, with his NWO conspiracy theories and small arsenal of guns. I was especially impressed with Earl, actually. Such characters are often written sneeringly, and can easily slip into caricature, but Keene manages to avoid this. He does it partly buy juxtaposing Earl with Teddy and Carl - two fundamentally decent men from similar circumstances - and partly just by realistic characterization and dialogue. Earl feels real and rounded, without becoming either likable or particularly sympathetic, and I was impressed by how well Keene pulled that off.
And of course, next to the human monster, there are the Worms.
Keene has said the inspiration for this was observing a mud puddle during a rainy day, squirming with worms, and wondering to himself how it would be if they were being pushed to the surface by larger worms underneath… and if so, what of the worms under them? How big might they get?
Keene seems already to have developed a very highly developed sense of how to build such a theme, playing with reader expectations, while ultimately delivering. He also has a great line in escalation, especially in this book - the scene in chapter 2 where a robin is eaten by a worm, followed by the discovery of larger and larger holes in the grounds around the house as the story develops… it’s fun, because given the title of the book, we actually have more information than the protagonist does - we know what the holes mean long before he does/can, and yet there isn’t that feeling that can sometimes develop where the reader feels impatient with the characters - at least, I didn’t. Thinking about it now, that may partly be explained by the choice of first person narrator, actually - after all, the guy telling us the story knows what’s going on, now. He just didn’t then.
As well as the Worms themselves, there’s also the rain, which becomes almost a background character by the end of the book. It’s a terrifying notion all by itself - the notion that one day it starts raining, all over the world, and just never stops - and not a million miles away from what climate change may yet do to the planet, if we don’t make some fairly radical adjustments to our behaviour as a species. Keene handles it well, allowing occasional descriptions to remind us of the constant noise, the gray quality of the light filtered through constant cloud cover, and a cold dampness that permeates the very air. That, plus the constant mud, create a melancholic bleakness of surprising power - even before giant worms start erupting from the ground and eating everyone.
Of course, eventually, they do, and Keene’s characteristic flair for action horror creates some memorable, cinematic sequences - especially the attack on a helicopter, which introduces some new characters and sets up the second act.
I really dug the structure of the book. It felt like a really bold decision to shift voices for the middle third, effectively allowing one of the other survivors to become the narrator for the middle of the story. I’ve since learned that the reason for doing this was to combine two novellas (as well as adding substantial amounts of extra text) into a novel length work, but absent that information, it just seemed like a really exciting and unexpected choice, and reflecting on it, I still think it not just works, but actually lifts the book. Sure, we could quibble about whether or not Teddy would really be able to recall Kevin’s story so well that he’d transcribe it this faithfully, but that strikes me as a fairly petty complaint, and one that could be narrowed just as well at most first person narratives.
Besides, Kevin's story is mesmerising, taking in a band of survivors living in the upper stories of a flooded world trade centre in Baltimore. Keene excels at these quick sketch, memorable characters, and mapping out both the tensions between them and the ties that bind them together as survivors. It also allows Keene to give us more details of the horrors that inhabit this flooding world, beyond the worms - mermaids that have the deadly hypnotic power of sirens, for example (and in a neat touch, with the power to psychically seduce gay women, as well as men, which added an extra level of tension to proceedings).
We’re also treated to another vintage action horror set piece, as the survivors launch a desperate assault on the ‘satanists’ - a terrifying cult who have occupied a nearby building and are enacting gruesome human sacrifices. Keene plays the tension in this sequence like a master, with the infiltration of the cultist’s building - poorly lit, dripping with moisture, strange not-quite-nonsense graffiti (including a nice Rising shout-out) - being atmospheric and nerve shredding. Similarly, once the guns start firing, the carnage is both immediate and cinematic. I know I keep banging on about his stuff, but Keene does it so, so well, and… well, look, I’m a writer myself, and this stuff is really hard to do well, and Keene does it so well it’s a little irritating… or it would be if it wasn’t so captivating.
The conclusion to that part of the tale is about as bleak as I’ve already come to expect from Keene’s work to date, and sets up the mood of escalating dread nicely for the return to Teddy’s tale.
I really enjoyed the climax of the book, with another suitably dramatic, cinematic sequence… but also, a really touching coda, as Teddy, gravely injured, limping around in his collapsing house, wonders at the fate of his now-absent companions, his only answer the relentless pounding of the rain. It’s a bold choice to end on, but also a realistic one, I think - how often in life do we get to know how it ends? I mean, basically never, if you think about it. The story always goes on without us.
I’m left with an overall impression of a stunning portrait of old age, with all it’s fears and petty indignities - again, an astonishingly accomplished act of imaginative empathy for an author writing in his early 30’s - as well as a gripping pulp horror creature feature with some brauva action set pieces. I know we’ll return to the world of Earthworm Gods at some point, and I am already looking forward to it.
But next up is Dark Hollow - also known as Rutting season. Yikes. Wonder what Keene’s got in store this time?
PS - in between starting and finishing this essay, Keene has suffered a catastrophic injury (the doctor’s term, not his) as a result of burns to his head and arm following an accident. The US healthcare system being what it is (fucked, to be blunt) he was uninsured, and while he is expected to recover, he’s also looking down the barrel of medical bills north of a quarter million dollars. There’s a ton of ways you can help - buying any of his books except Terminal, for a start - but the most direct way is via the GoFundMe link below, which will get funds straight to him for immediate use. Given how much support he’s given the horror community in particular, and charities generally, across the decades, I’d encourage you to give if you can, and share if you can’t. Thank you.
READ KIT'S OTHER ENTRIES IN THIS REVIEW SERIES
by george daniel lea
Let's...take a step back, before we plunge headlong into the abyss.
Survival Horror doesn't necessarily...survive (a ha) in its classic condition much beyond the advent of Half Life, System Shock 2 et al. The zeitgeist-shifting phenomena of the latter day BioShock (very much a bastard descendent of the latter) in many respects marked the tombstone of the sub-genre, the science fiction Ayn Rand parody drawing on many of its techniques and subjects, but utilising them in ways that felt new and refreshing.
BioShock, Eternal Darkness, Amnesia: The Dark Descent (amongst others) all stand as evidence of evolutionary outgrowth in the horror genre, beyond the assumptions and constraints of Survival Horror (which was beyond ailing at this point). The genre had begun to effloresce in response to the deaths of the old guard; the nigh Alzheimic decline of Resident Evil and Silent Hill allowing younger, more vibrant and experimental forms to take their places.
Yet... each and every one bears some familial resemblance to the franchises that have gone before, just as those iconic of Survival Horror itself bore certain traces of titles and traditions that occurred long before it was ever coined.
Survival Horror, despite its easy categorisation and resultant condification, never existed in a vacuum: before Resident Evil allowed the sub-genre to crystallise and christened it with what is almost certainly a bit of poorly translated doggerel from one of its loading screens (“Enter the Survival Horror!”), others attempted to spark revolutions of horrific material in video games, with varying degrees of success:
In order to understand how horror in video games evolved (to the condition of Survival Horror and beyond), it's important to gage how the market itself has shifted and elaborated over time:
Before Survival Horror, which arguably had its heyday in the early era of the original Sony Playstation, the market was geared almost exclusively towards younger audiences (with one or two notable exceptions). Horror in video games was therefore a fairly taboo subject, that mainstream media outlets were only too happy to tar as the scapegoat du jour in the wake of any violence or atrocity they felt inclined to capitalise on. This, despite the fact that horror has been a part of video games almost since their inception (certainly since the earliest home consoles started making the rounds).
Here in the UK and Europe, early, widely available systems such as the Sinclair Spectrum boasted adaptations of popular horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead, most of which were far too crude to elicit anything approaching the ethos of the films, but which moral crusaders were only too happy to dog-pile as evidence of the inherently corrupting nature of video games themselves.
The late 1980s/early 1990s was particularly guilty of this phenomena: as video games gained more traction, as they became culturally entrenched, certain forms of media and conservative demographics decided that they were as much of the Devil as VHS tapes or certain forms of TV. As video games were still regarded primarily as the remit of children at this point, that paranoia wasn't particularly difficult to market to culture at large: there was a point in the early 1990s when it was a rare day that some tabloid rag didn't boast some ill-researched, ignorant and wholly hyperbolic screed against some new apparent societal ill that could be attributed to the then-infant medium, blaming video games for everything from declining academic standards to escalating adolescent violence. Most TV channels (all four of them, at the time) also found video games more a fitting bogeyman than a subject for rational discussion, airing self-proclaimed “documentaries” that harped on every potential concern the culture evinced regarding the new medium.
The inclusion of horrific subjects in what was, ostensibly and primarily, a children's medium, only served to stoke those fires, many parents expressing concern for their children's psychological and physical wellbeing, given how interested in video games they were.
This made horror an increasingly hard sell for creators and distributors, especially in the wake of phenomena such as the “Video Nasty” scare, Mary Whitehouse's moral crusade (powerful enough to sway politicians and influence law, here in the UK), which often resulted in products being pulled from the market and/or banned outright.
Nevertheless, there were rare, rare examples of horror to be found, certain elements of which still resonate through the early days of Survival Horror and beyond:
Whilst it's far from fondly remembered (the game itself being a poorly programmed, often contradictory son of a bitch), the early ZX Spectrum and C64 adaptation of Friday 13th boasted some interestingly creepy elements, including a randomised Jason Vorhees who would stalk both the player and NPCs, turning up at particular intervals to scare the living daylights out of them. Whilst immeasurably crude by present day standards, it was so rare to enounter material like this back then, that it was a genuinely shocking moment when the player entered a cabin only to find the masked, machete-wielding homonculus stood before them. Likewise, the nature of the game was such that Jason seemed like an active entity, killing camp-members whether the player is present or not, thus enhancing the sense of something predatory and unseen stalking the digitised Camp Crystal Lake.
Several entries in the Survival Horror canon evince a similar dynamic, from the “B” scenarios of Resident Evil 2 (alternative versions of the main game that took the player through subtly different routes and puzzles, all the while stalked by a silent, seemingly immortal behemoth known only as “Mr. X”) to Resident Evil 3's Nemesis, the concept of an unseen stalker is one that recurs throughout horror video gaming, and that still holds enormous sway within independent titles:
Slender epitomises the very concept, as the entire game is precisely that: a wander through dark and ominous environments, operating all the while on a knife-edge of tension, knowing that the eponymous suited and be-tentacled Slenderman can turn up at any time. Whilst the presentation is obviously far more sophisticated, the basic dynamic hasn't changed much at all.
Likewise, multiple earlier, console and computer titles ran with the same dynamic:
The nigh legendary Clock Tower, for example, was never released in Western markets, owing to its existence on the SNES (or Famicom, as it's known in Japan), said markets for that console almost exclusively geared towards younger audiences.
Clock Tower is a full on barrage of paranoid horror, featuring everything from serial killers to occult rituals, from ghosts to elaborate and grizzly murder scenes (supremely shocking in the 16 bit era). Nor was the game in any way shy about its intention to scare or disturb; whilst extremely difficult to play these days (the controls are extremely slow and sluggish, the player character Jennifer moving at a snail's pace through every environment), it is a worthwhile experience due to the pervasive atmosphere of threat and distress it cultivates: placing the player in the role of a young orphan girl proved a stroke of supreme genius, as it renders us defenceless. Unlike latter day Survival Horror titles (which have a tendency to place players in the roles of armed and trained bad-asses of one stripe or another), Clock Tower reduces the player to utter confusion and desperation: Jennifer has no defence against the situations and atrocities she encounters other than to run, which the game makes an exercise in panic via use of an extremely sparse and distressing soundtrack, as well as a system that links Jennifer's life to her emotional state: rather than featuring a standard energy bar or life points, all the player has is a portrait of Jennifer in the lower left-hand side of the screen. Said portrait is surprisingly animated, providing clues as to what might be achieved or attempted in any given room via its facial expressions. Framing the portrait is a block of solid colour, which fades from blue to red, depending on Jennifer's emotional state and her remaining energy. Run too long, or get too scared, and it will fade to the point that she collapses, becoming easy prey for whatever's stalking her. The only means of replenishing it is by finding a safe space to hide and allow her to recover herself.
This dynamic places the player in a constant state of tension, focused intently on every aspect of the game, from its minimalist auditory elements to its subtle visual cues, for some sign as to when situations of horror might occur. Compounding that sense of seat-edge engagement is the random nature of the game; uniquely for its era, the game boasted a certain unpredictability, in that the mansion in which most of it occurs is restructured every time the game restarts. This makes the game almost impossible to map out without simply exploring it for oneself, as corridors that previously led to one set of rooms in pevious play throughs won't necessarily a second time around. Likewise, the game features numerous horror set pieces that only occur if the player has fulfilled certain criteria: walk through a darkened, dismal corridor at one point, and you'll hear a scream from outside. Neglect to look out of the window, and you won't see one of your friends plunging through one of the upper-storey windows in an adjacent wing of the house. This means that you may encounter her corpse (not to mention her murderer) in numerous other set pieces later in the game. Some of the game's horror elements simply don't occur every time they are triggered: enter the den area at one point, and the TV will flicker on of its own accord, displaying static-smeared, spectral faces that hiss and chatter at Jennifer, distressing her until she leaves or suffers one of her collapses. However, enter the room another time, and nothing will happen. This level of uncertainty is insanely sophisticated for the era, and one that Survival Horror and other, later derivatives of the genre wouldn't come to utilise to any meaningful degree until much, much later in their evolutions.
Then, of course, we have the “Scissor Man” (or Bobby, to give him his proper name). The Scissor Man us a uniquely terrifying entity; the creature that stalks both Jennifer and her companions through the mansion, and who is often the focal point for most of the horror set pieces: A distressingly infantile grotesque, a hunched, lurching figure, hideously disfigured and bearing a large pair of shears, which are the principle instruments of his various atrocities. Like much within the game, he is largely random and can turn up almost anywhere. Where Jennifer first encounters him largely depends on how the player conducts themselves in any given playthrough: sometimes, it will be during one the many cut scenes in which we witness what has become of Jennifer's friends (a personal favourite involves walking past a bathroom, from which a strange, dripping, squelching sound can be heard. If Jennifer takes notice, the game's soundtrack kicks in, suggesting the horror to come. Inside, the bathroom is misty, as though someone has just run a very hot bath. If Jennifer peels back the curtains of the bath tub, she may, MAY find the butchered and strung up corpse of one of her companions, the Scissor Man erupting from the water and pursuing her with his shears. Or she may not; it largely depends on the game's own moods and vicissitudes). Alternatively, she may randomly run into the Scissor Man in one of the corridors or stairwells, his presence always signified by the rusted, grating snip, snip, snip of his shears.
The sophistication of Clock Tower as an example of early Survival Horror can't be overstated: despite it having no release in western markets, its influence upon titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill is pronounced, not to mention the later Playstation adaptation of the game and its sequel.
The game also experienced something of a renaissance with the advent of video sharing sites such as YouTube: thanks to the predominance of video game culture and journalism on those platforms, games that many of us who operate within western markets might not be aware of have become subjects of discussion and fascination, Clock Tower not least amongst them. For many of us, our first experience of the game came long, long after we'd had our fill of the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, far beyond the point at which Survival Horror itself had reached a point of saturation. It therefore became an exercise in historical retrospection to explore the game and play it for the first time.
Despite its archaic and extremely slow controls, its oblique interface and frustratingly vulnerable protagonist, the raw atmosphere and tension of the game has proven more than enough to make it semi-legendary, a distinguished entry in the canon of horror video gaming's history the like of which is still referenced and emulated to this day, particularly in independent markets.
For the most part, horror in video games before the advent of the 32-bit era (in which video games began to cater more towards young adults) were relegated to very particular platforms: the home computers such as the Commodore Amiga and Sinclair Spectrum, as opposed to the consoles (such as the SNES and Megadrive), owing to the ethos and intentions of the brands that dominated the latter, which the former largely weren't restricted by. As home computers were far more than simple video game consoles (often marketing themselves as multi media platforms), there wasn't as much popular scrutiny or restriction concerning the content they were allowed to portray. As such, the Amiga in particular maintained a fairly dedicated horror sub-genre until the day of its premature dissolution.
Most people who owned the console recall the aforementioned Dark Seed, which emphasises a very different species of horror to the likes of Clock Tower: whereas the latter preoccupies itself with escalating tension and horror set pieces, the former is a work of slow-burning dread and disturbance, largely communicated through imagery more than anything else. H.R. Giger's paintings and designs become the basis for a luridly distressing, alien other-world in which everything from the familiar and material has its own, disturbing, bio-mechanical equivalent.
The game stands like many on the Amiga as a grand experiment: at this point in horror video games -and video gaming in general-, certain tropes and traditions had yet to crystallise, meaning that the designers were largely flying blind, not to mention operating within severe technological limitations. Darkseed is therefore extremely sincere in its intentions to disturb, having little to no humorous or satirical moments, its every screen rife with subtle visual cues and details which are designed to draw the player's eye, to make them wonder what will happen if they touch this or manipulate that.
Whilst extremely crude (not to mention nigh impossibe to play without a walkthrough) in comparison to what present day efforts have to offer, Darkseed's legacy still resonates rather powerfully: the notion of an alternative, slightly skewed reality which nevertheless bears some resemblance and relationship to the familiar can be found everywhere from the seminal Soul Reaver to Metroid Prime: Echoes, the manner of its implementation here extremely effective and luridly distressing.
One of the factors that makes the game so unusual is that, rarely for any form of video game, let alone horror titles, it has a set time limit: if the game is not completed within so many of the game's days, then an embryonic creature that has been surgically implanted in the protagonist's body grows to term and spectacularly erupts from his mouth. This can be forestalled by conducting certain actions within game (taking showers, popping pain killers etc), but not indefinitely. The factor of time makes the game almost impossible to complete without some sort of guide, as not only is there the constant threat of the gestating parasite, but certain events only occur if the player is at particular places at particular times: miss one of them, and the game becomes impossible to complete, leading to dead ends down the line and an inevitable wait for the creature to be born.
This is a fantastically tense mechanic, and one that very, very few video games of the present era take advantage of, despite the fact that it keeps the player constantly guessing and wondering where they should be, what they need to be doing, how long before the fantastically graphic “game over” animation plays and they lurch away from the screen in sheer terror.
Whilst perhaps somewhat difficult to appreciate for present day audiences, I have particularly vivid memories of Darkseed in particular, as it was my earliest encounter with horror in video games, the first time I began to realise how powerful and potent the medium can be when it comes to such material (arguably even moreso than traditional mediums, which tend towards the passive over the active and involved).
Despite being far too young to understand a great deal of the game's mechanics (a fairly clunky “point and click” system that hadn't yet experienced the refinements of Monkey Island's seminal SCUMM Engine), I recall obsessing over the game for hours on end, my child's imagination having no concept of the game's technological limitations, therefore projecting all manner of absurdities and monstrosities in every environment.
Arguably even more significant was the superlative Alien Breed, a title originally designed to be a direct adaptation of the culturally prominent Aliens film franchise, but which lost the license late in its development cycle, resulting in a game that is essentially an emulation of the franchise's second film in all but name (even the eponymous xenormorph is only marginally redesigned to avoid infringing copyright).
Again, one that present day audiences may look at and wonder how on Earth anyone could have possibly found it terrifying (barring a fantastically atmospheric and moody opening sequence, the game is largely just a top-down, run and gun affair, with skittering alien sprites whose animations might seem more comical now than horrifying), but one that we did, having very little to directly compare it to, and which is essentially the early-1990s equivalent of the latter day science fiction horror, first person shooters such as Doom or Alien: Isolation.
Like many of the graphically limited games of the Amiga, Alien Breed utilises a limited sound palette to enhance its sense of dread and isolation: throughout the game thrums a perpetual, resonant beat, redolent of a heartbeat or the throb of an imminent migraine. This serves to subtly unsettle the player from the off, in a manner that they might not even be able to define or identify, but which leaves their nerves frayed and their bodies tense, ready for the inevitable eruption of alien invaders from nearby bulkheads or automatic doors.
Unlike Darkseed, which still maintains a little allure, largely owing to the consistently distressing nature of Giger's artwork, Alien Breed is more of a historical curio than an experience I would recommend to any present day video gamer: thanks to the evolution of horror in video gaming, it has lost almost every inch of its power, and now stands principly as an example of the genre's roots.
That said, playing games such as Alien: Isolation or even more recent iterations in the Doom franchise will provide plenty of examples of Alien Breed's influence, particularly regarding sound design, in which similar tricks and techniques are still used to this day to evoke sensations of uncertainty and disturbance in the player.
Interestingly, after the premature death of the Amiga and the general domination of the Japanese consoles in the Western video game market, horror temporarily died a death in video gaming, the only exceptions being certain titles on the slightly more adult-oriented Sega systems (the likes of Splatterhouse, Wings of Wor, Ground Zero Texas and a handful of similar titles the only examples that spring immediately to mind).
That said, any number of video games and various genres incorporated horrific elements and paid direct reference to prominent images and concepts in horror cinema and literature of the era:
The Super Nintendo's seminal Super Metroid (one of the most beloved titles on the system) is directly inspired by the Alien franchise and, surprisingly, for a Nintendo title, borrows any number of images, set-pieces and techniques from that film to suffuse its science fiction stylings with a jolt of horror. In the opening sequence, a minimalist, powerfully ominous set of chords plays, the camera panning over the butchered bodies of scientists in a futristic lab. Punctuating the music are familiar chitters and chirrups, the source of which only becomes apparent when the camera pans out to reveal the game's title: the eponymous alien entity, which sits at the heart of the carnage in a glass container, pulsating and squealing in a distressingly alien fashion.
Later, the game removes itself from similar, action adventure fare via an extremely slow, atmospheric build, the planet Zebes -which constitutes the principle setting- grim, tempestuous, riven by rain and lightning, its subterranean caverns seemingly abandoned, save for alien insects that swarm and multiply throughout.
The first few moments of the game recreate the foreboding ethos of the original Alien, after the crew set down on the surface of LV-426: the silence and apparent abandonment of the place is creepy enough, a fact which is enhanced when the player happens across a techno-organic monitoring system which shines a whirring, threatening light upon Samus.
Returning to previous sectors, the player finds the previously abandoned corridors now infested with dangerous and hostile creatures, the music changed to a more dynamic, immediate state whilst the rooms themselves are now differently lit and coloured so as to emphasise the new state of play.
The game is littered with such examples, from slow-building moments of horror in which statues slowly crumble away to reveal bio-engineered, highly H.R. Giger-esque monstrosities to moments of what ostensibly appear to be occult horror, in which rings of blue flame presage the manifestation of an extra-dimensional entity that wouldn't be out of place in a H.P. Lovecraft novel.
These moments, rare as they are on the system, all have echoes in later Survival Horror games, the techniques that are used to inspire dread and tension in the player recreated in three dimensions, and, in that regard, in arguably less sophisticated manner, as the designers and programmers of Super Metroid et al were operating under far more stringent constraints of technology (not to mention in a market that tended to shy away from such subjects).
Like all genres of fiction, media et al, Survival Horror does not exist monolithically; the application is one that exists largely for the sake of marketing convenience as opposed to anything unique, innate or idiosyncratic to the games that comprise it: look back less than half a decade, and you'll find precisely the same tropes and techniques being used to place players in states of dread or anxiety, long before the sub-genre ever crystallised around the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises in the early days of the 32-bit era.
Next time, we'll take a look at another short-lived sub-genre of video games that occurred somewhat concurrently with Survival Horror itself, and was originally heralded as a new quantum leap in video gaming that would change the way both they and cinema were made forever.
The ill-fated, studio-burying grand miscalculation that was: FMV video gaming.
Until then, my lovelies.
Ginger Nuts of Horror is proud to be q part of the blog tour for Nick Setchfield's new novel The War in the Dark. Today we have an excerpt from the book, A genre-defying page turner that fuses thriller and speculative fiction with dark fantasy in a hidden world in the heart of Cold War Europe.
Europe. 1963. And the true Cold War is fought on the borders of this world, at the edges of the light.
When the assassination of a traitor trading with the enemy goes terribly wrong, British Intelligence agent Christopher Winter must flee London. In a tense alliance with a lethal, mysterious woman named Karina Lazarova, he s caught in a quest for hidden knowledge from centuries before, an occult secret written in a language of fire. A secret that will give supremacy to the nation that possesses it.
Racing against the Russians, the chase takes them from the demon-haunted Hungarian border to treasure-laden tunnels beneath Berlin, from an impossible house in Vienna to a bomb-blasted ruin in Bavaria where something unholy waits, born of the power of white fire and black glass . . .
It's a world of treachery, blood and magic. A world at war in the dark.
"James Bond meets Indiana Jones... a rip-roaring adventure. This is the book you'll be reading on the beach even when it rains or the sun goes down" Mark Millar
"A rattling good read... it's thrilling" Russell T Davies
"Nick Setchfield's occult spy thriller is a smooth blend of James Bond and M.R. James, played with tons of wit and style. This is something new that entertains like something old. Triumphantly suave' Paul Cornell
"A compelling fusion of Bond-era espionage and occult horror" James Brogden
It was time to end this. Winter reached inside his overcoat. The pistol felt reassuring in his hand, heavy and familiar. He ignored the sweat on its lattice grip and removed a silencer from an outside pocket. In a quick, deft movement he screwed the tube to the head of the barrel, twisting it into place. It clicked, locked.
‘On your knees.’
The priest threw a hand towards him. It held a knife, plucked from the cassock. The blade flashed and found Winter’s arm, puncturing his coat and piercing the flesh.
There was a hot flare of pain but Winter kept the gun tight in his fist. He smashed it against Costigan’s hand. The knife tumbled to the flagstones.
The priest’s fingers curled around Winter’s forearm. He had remarkable strength. The hand closed, choking a fresh spasm of pain from the wounded arm.
The gun jerked upwards. Winter’s finger squeezed. A bullet fired with a cordite stench. It struck the stainedglass window, splintering a cherub.
The priest’s nails dug into Winter’s wrist, pricking the skin, claiming blood. Winter forced the trembling gun higher, closer to Costigan’s face. Another bullet fired. This one sailed into the rafters, scattering dust,
useless as the last.
Costigan’s other hand reached for Winter’s face. The broad palm pressed against his mouth, the nails targeting his eyes. Again the power in the man was astonishing. He seemed possessed by a feral energy.
Winter locked his fist around the priest’s arm and pushed back. As he did so he looked into Costigan’s eyes. Something moved in the pupils. Something that didn’t entirely belong to a man. Something that was one with the church’s shadows.
The priest’s hand moved closer. Winter stared at the greasy flesh. It was bulging, translucent. The skin itself seemed to strain, as if struggling to contain something.
‘Christ,’ he breathed.
The hand was bulbous now. Swollen, it cracked and tore. A shoal of insects burst from the ruptured flesh. Flies, lice, silverfish.
The creatures poured onto Winter. Instinctively he shut his eyes and bolted his mouth, though he wanted to cry out, even scream. He staggered backwards into a pew, shaking the flood of insects from his face even as he sensed them scurry into his hair.
Finally he forced his eyes open and stared at Father Costigan. The priest’s expression was savage now, his face streaked with gobs of bile. He had removed his glasses.
The man’s eyes were orbs of pure blood. Tiny albino spiders prised themselves out of the tear ducts, their pale legs curling over the lids.
Winter raised and steadied his gun. He aimed for the head.
‘I am beyond flesh,’ Costigan said, defiantly. ‘Flesh shall burn.’
Winter pulled the trigger. A bullet tore through Costigan’s skull, shredding bone. The priest fell.
I didn’t spring fully formed into the horror genre; it’s been a gradual slither in that direction. However I was always bookish and consumed huge amounts across all genres, from R.L. Stine, (of course), Robert Westall, (‘Scarecrows’- which sparked a lifelong aversion to these straw men), Robert Swindells via Susan Cooper’s book quintet ‘The Dark is Rising’, on to reading all of the early Stephen King’s in my teens (particular faves ‘Cujo’ and ‘Carrie’) and watching a lot of Hammer horror late night on BBC2. The 1979 TV movie of ‘Salem’s Lot’ starring a post- ‘Starsky and Hutch’ David Soul terrified me, especially the vampire boy tapping at the window to be let in. I slept with my window closed for months.
Let me not forget a nod in the direction of that staple, ‘Dr Who’. For me it was all about the Tom Baker years, which got surprisingly dark considering the show’s early screening time. Monsters abounded in some cracking yarns:- ‘Image of the Fendhal’ and ‘The Pyramids of Mars,’ especially influential though was the classic ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’. I’ve watched it several times as an adult and it still provokes a shiver up the backbone. That frisson of nostalgia and anticipation- just love it. I relished the Gothic London Victorian setting and the demonic dummy with the pig’s brain, which was in 1977, to an 11 year old me, a real shocker.
Books and films have been my dual touchstones for all of my life; the two often being intertwined. The one leading to and feeding back to the other. Two black and white ‘60’s horror films made an impact- one more famous than the other. ‘The Haunting’ (1963) with a screenplay, co-written from her own novel, by Shirley Jackson, based on her book, ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ which opened the door to reading more of Jackson’s tilted off-kilter worlds. (‘The Lottery’, 1948, is quietly horrific). The other film is the less famous British B, ‘Taste of Fear’ (aka ‘Scream of Fear’, 1961), where a wheelchair bound Susan Strasberg discovers a body in the swimming pool amidst the weeds- it is an eery, creepy film, shot in shadows with low voiced tones and claustrophobic settings. Well worth checking out on DVD.
Val Lewton, in the 1940’s at RKO in Hollywood, wrote and produced a string of B low budget, horror films; the most famous probably is 1942’s ‘Cat People’. I remember as a teen being struck by the ‘imply not flaunt’ technique these films employed. Lewton’s films were cryptic and haunting. You never see the big cat attack the girl in the swimming pool, it’s all shot with shadows and clever soundtrack effects, but it is scary as heck and put me off swimming alone for years. I wrote an article on Lewton’s career which is up at https://womeninhorrorblog.wordpress.com/?s=alyson+faye. (Thank you to Claire Fitzpatrick for encouraging me to write this piece and posting it).
In the second phase of my writing life, post-40ish, I have turned my hand to writing flash fiction for the first time as well as writing the longer stories. My natural tendency, it became clear to me, is to write dark, weird and haunted. So I people my tales with feral children, demons, ghosts, assassins, abused women, mermaids, killer teens and the occasional vampire (often for some reason called Vinnie). My début flash fiction collection came out in January this year from indie publisher Chapel Town Books and is called appropriately, ‘Badlands’. A title, inspired, yes you guessed it, by the Terrence Malick 1973 film, (another memorable late night TV viewing where Martin Sheen made quite an impact and I never looked at relationships the same way again.)
I kept reading horror/supernatural writers, following their stories through the small horror mags – folk like Alison Littlewood (her first novel ‘A Cold Season’ takes some beating), Simon Avery and Mark Valentine, whilst avidly consuming Susan Hill’s ghost stories and everything by Sarah Rayne. I read all of Rayne’s back catalogue in less than a year; her novels are a mix of psychological terror/horror/history. I even wrote her a (rare for me fan email) and she kindly replied.
Much of my longer horror fiction, like ‘Mother Love’ which is Victorian Gothic(Women in Horror Annual 2), and my latest story, ‘Mr Dandy’ which I’ve written for an upcoming anthology ‘DeadCades’ (to be published in October this year, by The Infernal Clock press, which is co-run by Steph Ellis and David Shakes), has been influenced by many of the writers I’ve mentioned. ‘Mr Dandy,’ the ventriloquist’s dummy, is inspired both by Dr Who’s Weng Chiang and Ealing’s 1945 portmanteau horror/supernatural film ‘Dead of Night’ and the segment starring Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist.
Tim Lebbon (especially his ‘The Silence’) and F. G. Cottam’s books require a mention too as significant influences. Cottam’s ‘The Colony’ trilogy are so well written you think it’s a real story happening to real people. Cottam is described, rightly as ‘one of the finest contemporary writers of supernatural horror.’ (Jan Olandese) I’d agree with that. He also writes real page turners.
One of the sites which published my horror drabbles and longer pieces regularly and thereby gave me encouragement, was The Horror Tree - . It is co-run by Stuart Conover (its founder) and the aforementioned horror writer Steph Ellis. It is a useful one- stop resource site for both reading horror fiction and for listing the many mags where you can submit. Lately I have become one of their interviewers and book reviewers, as they widen their horror scope. I recommend dropping by.
Their advice and support, especially Steph’s, has done much over the last couple of years in keeping me on the dark side with my writing. Indeed, come July this year, I am off to attend my first horror writers convention (OK it’s for fantasy/sci-fi writers too) , namely EdgeLit at Derby Quad. Amongst many others, the talented Frances Hardinge, (loved ‘The Lie Tree’) is one of the guest speakers.
Since January this year I have been on a creative writing course held at Undercliffe Cemetery in Bradford, which is rich in Victorian crypts and tombs of staggering proportions. Every other Monday, I’ve been wandering around the graves, reading inscriptions, with names like Fountain Read and Jamar, about women who were known only as ‘relicts’ and then popping back to the warm and comfy environs of The Lodge to write. The result of all this tomb- surfing is the anthology, ‘Stories from Stones’, edited by Irene Lofthouse (the course tutor). Rather a busman’s holiday really for me.
Three of the best horror films I’ve seen in the last couple of years:- 2017’s ‘Get Out’/ 2018’s ‘A Quiet Place’/ 2017’s ‘Annabelle: Creation’. I often write about dolls in my stories so this was a must for me, but the upcoming Toni Collette starrer, directed by Ari Aster, ‘Hereditary’ might make the list. I am off to see it post-haste.
I am a huge Guillermo del Toro fan, but it is a TV series he co-created, more than his movies which gripped me for 4 seasons – if you haven’t seen ‘The Strain’ ? Well you’ve not seen the best ever vampires/zombies post apocalyptic thrill ride of a show. So rush out and buy those DVDs now! Like I did. I was hooked. There were human characters to root for and others to hate- each episode is in itself a mini movie (the supermarket zombie siege while just doing some grocery shopping is the best ever)- you’ll never late night shop at Asda alone again. Each episode had a horrifying jump scare every 10 minutes.
When I’m asked what I do – I say I write, and folk go ‘oh that’ s nice’ etc etc but when they ask what I write? That’s a different scenario- say horror, and their eyebrows go up and that look of surprise tinged with distaste creeps in. Know that look? For every horror fan out there and there are millions, there are just as many folk who really don’t like it. Yes my fiction might disturb or raise shivers, great! I want it to, but it is fiction, a story and a way I think of putting our fears out there and then putting them to bed in a story box. I think it is a genre which calls to you, why write it otherwise? You’ve got to love it to want to put in the hours, sweat and blood. Creatively speaking, not literally.
Badlands by Alyson Faye is up on amazon :-
My blog:- www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com
READ OUR REVIEW OF BADLANDS HERE
by roy bright
There are a shedload of movies over time that have influenced me as a writer, from Star Wars, to Aliens, Goodfellas to Shawshank Redemption. All of which showcase the very best of character development and situational drama. But there have also been many movies that have influenced me despite their quality being the polar opposite. Those, ‘bad’ movies that, despite resonating with you negatively for a variety of reasons, still offer something, be it an idea or, just how not to tell a story. And, although I would love to spend thousands of words describing the ‘good’ movies that my writing has benefitted from, it’s not those that I wish to talk about. Rather, the others, or one in particular, to be more accurate. However, it has to be said, that this movie isn’t necessarily a bad one, more, sort-of-interesting in its own right and something that could and should have been so much more.
The movie in question, that effectively “made-me”, as an author, is the, Wes Craven name-lent, Dracula 2000 (I can hear the groans already, but hear me out), directed by Patrick Lussier and starring (a barely recognizable to how we know him today) Gerard Butler as Dracula, with Christopher Plummer as Van-Helsing, and Jonny Lee Miller as Simon Sheppard, along for the ride as the fearless vampire hunters (another movie I love that I could talk about for days… No. Stop it Roy. Stick to the point).
Now, as it has been quite a few years since I last watched it, and to ensure my memory was intact, I watched the movie again recently, and right from the off, in the opening credits, my eyebrows raised at the fact it was a Harvey Weinstein movie. I guess we’ll be doing that a lot from now on, knowing what we know about that awful bastard. And interestingly enough, having then read up on that fact, it was reported Weinstein had bought the script based on the title alone, and that having then read it, thought it “sucked” (sigh!) and so, brought in script doctor, Scott Derrickson, along with others, to heavily re-write and “fix” the project. Yeah… I’m not so sure they did, but let’s move on.
So off they went into production with what I personally feel was supposed to be a vehicle for Jonny Lee Miller’s showcase for more ‘action’ based roles, though it never really happened for him on the scale it was pushed, which is a shame, as I quite like a number of his projects. But that’s the business, and a tale for another day.
The movie opens with a small montage of the famous vampire’s entry into England with a slightly clumsy ship sequence; the ocean sprays are clearly someone throwing buckets of water onto the mock-vessel, and it’s this kind of tone that runs through the movie, dragging it down into “The Asylum movies” style territory. To your average movie-watcher, who are fortunate enough to just take things at face value, this stuff would pass under their radar and no-doubt they would enjoy the film for what it is. But my radar picks that shit up loud and clear. And it is both a blessing and a curse.
We are then introduced to our main characters, and where the movie’s main problem begins to surface, sounding horns loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho themselves. The script. Dialogue in this movie is bloody awful. Now, I know, I know, we must suspend our disbelief for a movie about vampires, but… I put it to you, do we have to suspend our disbelief on how humans talk and interact with one another? This, for me, is where so many story-tellers get it wrong. Often, many write dialogue that makes it seem as though said writer has never once had a conversation with another human being, ever. And it irritates the living hell out of me. How is it possible to create unrealistic dialogue? We speak to one another every goddamn day for heaven’s sakes. Okay, okay; I’ll keep the ranting to a minimum in this piece, but Christ, it doesn’t half piss me off.
Now, the early sequence with the villains isn’t terrible, it’s quite entertaining in parts… the dialogue however, is, along with the entire location, as it’s poorly lit and designed so badly, it definitely looks like a movie set, or stage. And for a movie with a reported budget of $54million, it’s hard not to roll eyes at that.
So, the main premise is that the villains steal Dracula’s coffin from Van Helsing, while a couple of them are picked off with convoluted death-trap sequences, which I quite liked, and then escape off into the night, with Dracula’s coffin, which they assume is full of riches, ‘cos they can’t get it open (ummm, yeah), and board a private plane that they have at their disposal (no reason given for this, they just have), and head back to their homeland of the US of A, with the world’s most deadly creature as cargo.
Following that lovely little sequence, Jonny Lee Miller and Christopher Plummer have a very odd exchange that encompasses an overly clichéd, “You’ve been like a father to me, confide in me, tell me what they stole,” trope, and from here the movie starts to give up the ghost with regards any integrity and dedication to the art of story-telling. In Dracula 2000, there are so many, ‘because-movie’, moments, it’s actually quite baffling. Such as, New Orleans being conveniently on the plane’s flight path which just so happens to be where lead character, Justine Waddell as Mary Heller-Van Helsing, lives, and the overly ridiculous ways in which Van-Helsing, who is being shadowed by Sheppard, find them. I mean, how could Van-Helsing possibly know they were going to New Orleans? It’s never explained. Just brushed aside with a, “he isn’t here by accident’, quip. And how ridiculously convenient is it that a news report about the plane crashing, is playing just as he is leaving the arrivals lounge? And how come, in the town hall where the bodies were initially taken, they are clearly still there, hours later, on the floor, in body bags, guarded by just a couple of cops, and not in a cold environment? Not to mention the ludicrous amount of Virgin product placement (wonder who paid for this movie) there is on offer as Mary works at the Virgin Megastore… geddit!? And also… Y’know what! No! I apologise. I promised I would stop doing that. I said I wouldn’t rant at the scripts’ “because-movie” moments. But, dear lord, they are utterly ludicrous when they happen. And yes, I am at times, willing to accept that fate is allowed to play a role in a movies story-telling, but this movie makes so many damn assumptions for the sake of ‘plot device’, it makes my brain, do-a-hurty. And so, any semblance of actual story, or plot, is now abandoned in favour of a chase-movie. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good chase-movie as much as the next person, but only if an actual emotional tale is wrapped around it. Otherwise, it is just characters moving from one location to the next, interspersed with what is more often than not, hokey and unconvincing expositional dialogue. Quite frankly I just stopped caring about any of the characters, because everything they said or did was just so damn ridiculous that the movie failed to attach me to them. Like when Lee-Miller says, “Don’t fuck, with an antiques dealer!” I mean… really? REALLY?
I won’t bore you with any more details of this movies’ failings, (like how easy the writers think you can lop someone’s head off - lord give me strength) but suffice to say, they are pretty cheesy in nature, albeit something you can munch some popcorn to on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with your brain switched off. In that regard, it’s just okay.
By now you must be wondering, “How the hell can this movie be so influential to your writing if you hate on it so much?” Well, the answer is; it wasn’t important with regard to my writing. Rather, it planted an idea into my mind, one so powerful that it would eventually take over my life, to the point I would think about it every – damn - day for the last seven years. And that idea was something this movie did so well, and is the one reason (of course) why it has stuck in my head for so long.
Toward the final act of the movie, we learn a couple of incredibly interesting things about Dracula and his origin, and it is this that really piqued my interest. First, his dislike of silver, and everything Christian. And then, just before he meets his end, hanging above the New Orleans streets, at the mercy of a beautiful sunrise, we are shown that he was once Judas Iscariot, now condemned and punished by God to walk the earth evermore as this vampiric creature, with a blackened heart, never again able to feel or witness the beauty of the suns warmth. It was at that point, my eyes opened wide and my brain-cogs started turning. In all my time as a massive fan of the horror genre, I personally had never seen Judas used or portrayed in such a manner, and quite frankly, it blew my mind to all the possibilities.
Oh, in case I forgot to mention this earlier. This piece may contain a few spoilers. *cough*
However, that wasn’t the ‘eureka’ moment. No. Such a thing came many years later, but the concept of what I would eventually come to pen, had been so strong, and so vivid, it would stick with me for a long time; 11yrs in fact. And so it was, in 2011, the second incident happened, adding the needed spark to the powder keg.
I had gotten into a female-fronted rock band called Within Temptation, and one of the tracks that really gripped me, was a song called ‘What Have You Done’, featuring guest vocals from Life of Agony singer, Keith Caputo (now Mina Caputo following a Transgender change), and the track is essentially about one or both of the protagonists’ infidelity. However, as a former songwriter, I am no stranger to the fact that lyrics can have widely differing meanings depending on the person hearing them. I was no exception to that fact when listening to the song as certain lines really resonated with me. Lines such as “There’s a curse between us,” and “I’ve been waiting for someone like you, but now you are slipping away,” and indeed, the tracks title, “What have you done?”
The words danced around my mind, taking shape and form and kept battering away, ‘what have you done’, over and over, the feeling growing that something was attempting to reveal itself to me, some idea or concept, until, one day, and without warning, those words attached themselves to the memory I had from the Dracula 2000 movie and – boom - my mind-eyes were open. I remember the day vividly, travelling to rehearsal for my now disbanded, rock band, Exit State, and listening to the track in my car, and thinking ‘what if Judas Iscariot was cursed by God like he was in the movie; to walk the earth for evermore as punishment? But what if he was a weapon of God, forced to do his bidding? And what if he had rules imposed on him that he couldn’t find love or happiness and wasn’t allowed to make use of any wealth? And what if, he had something to do, something very, very important, something he had to look after? Or someone. A child!’
And that was it. The infusion of two ideas that brought forward the embryonic stage of my Judas series. However, it should be noted that I had never intended to write books. The idea and concept I had was simply for a movie and one I pitched to a short-film maker, friend of mine, Carl Whiteley, and asked for his input on how I might go about it and have it picked up. He shook his head, bit his lip, and calmly stated, “fuck knows mate… that’s a massive idea and one that sounds fucking costly!”
I harrumphed. And sighed. Then Carl said something that would change my life.
“Can you write?”
“Books, you mean?” I responded.
“Yeah.” He said. “A lot of people are getting their work picked up from their novels these days. You should give that a go, mate.”
I mulled it over for a little while, then thought, ‘‘fuck it. What’s the worst that can happen?’ and took his advice.
7yrs, and almost 441,000 words later, I am the proud owner of three books, the third of which is due for release August 2018, and also numerous screenplays, of which the first two Judas books are among them. I am also grateful for the army of loyal fans who are thoroughly loving the adventures of a foul-mouthed and grumpy, katana wielding super-being, tasked with protecting Charlotte, ‘The Light’, who’s destiny it is to save humankind. And to this day, it still blows my mind that something that now means so much to me, came from a movie so ‘meh!’ that Rolling Stone once described it as a “sorry mess” on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dracula 2000, is a movie that matters. To me. And despite its overall presentation and quality, it became the most important movie in my life.
Also, Gerard Butler looks like he should be on singing duties for The Doors. The lucky, buff, bastard.
The ex-Royal Navy Gunner-turned author, Roy Bright, began his writing career in 2012 and has not looked back since, with his book series about an immortal, sword-wielding, Judas Iscariot having received much acclaim from fans, and critics alike. The third and final installment in the series, is due for release August 2018
Roy is also proud to be a Patron of the Children's Hospice Arts charity chARTUK whose amazing work aims to enrich the lives of children and young people with life limiting conditions in hospices through the creative, performing and literary Arts, enabling individual expression, creativity and communication.
Amazon Author Page
Please take a moment to check out the wonderful work, chartUK (Children's Hospice Arts), do
by jonathan butcher
I’ve developed something of an obsession with bottom-of-the-barrel movie trash.
These films feature everything that the childish, naughty boy I’m still sometimes possessed by craves: blood, needless nudity, perversion, and a total disregard for anything remotely decent. Whatever your views on those descriptors may be, just remember that such films can also be a lot of fun.
Seeking out the weirdest, sleaziest films out there is a risky business, as I’m sure that our Film Gutter man Alex Davis would attest. Some are pure dreck. Others are mindlessly offensive, and even turn my jaded, iron-clad stomach. But then…
Some are sublime.
The highest levels of tawdry trash are such rare gems of cinematic vulgarity that their willingness to go the extra distance to shock and offend becomes a near-transcendent experience. There are moments when my eyes feel as though they are ready to explode, my jaw is hanging open, and I might even be considering turning the damn thing off. Then the director will go even further and what I’d found objectionable will pass beyond a limit I hadn’t even been aware existed, dragging me into some body-juice-splattered Narnia.
I’ve purposefully gone for movies that make me laugh as well as make me gag, but guardians of good taste beware: this is not a list for the faint of heart. These are repugnant, icky, ethically-bereft and politically incorrect. If you track any of these sights down, don’t go blaming me for what you find.
Let’s dive in…
There’s a scene in Terror Firmer where a “hermaphrodite” serial killer describes how their dad cut off the male genitals they were born with in order to do even worse things to them while they are growing up, thus condemning them to a life of murder and sexual derangement. When I re-watched it recently, I turned to my girlfriend, who was thankfully laughing alongside me, and spluttered, “My dad bought me this for Xmas.”
Terror Firmer is a film made by the famously disgusting Troma studio. In true “meta” style, it’s about the Troma team making a movie while being disrupted by real-life killings. I would also argue that it is the pinnacle of their repulsive output, in that I can’t imagine how they could take things further without feeling like they were trying too hard.
If you can find the uncut version, it’s a disgusting delight.
Tasteless highlights: Expect gherkin penetration, liberal amounts of poop, sexual mutilation, and an obese nude ginger man with what must be a micropenis running through the city, in a scene that seems to last for an eternity.
Ilsa She Wolf/Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheikhs