Nosferatu

nosferatu

I’ve been intending to see the original 1922 version of Nosferatu for ages. It’s one of the seminal horror films of our time (arguably even the most influential). I got to see it in the best possible way: in Bristol’s Victoria Rooms accompanied by original organ music — just as it would have been shown back in the day. (Enormous kudos go to David Bednall on the organ and his improvised score. It was incredible and I can’t believe how much talent must be needed to improvise something that awesome.)

I’m not sure if anyone could possibly complain about a review of an almost hundred-year-old movie containing spoilers, but if that sort of thing bothers you, consider yourself warned.

Nosferatu is a thinly-veiled version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The original script was the Dracula story, but the film makers couldn’t obtain the rights so they ended up changing the names and the ending. Unluckily for them, it was still close enough that Stoker’s heirs sued successfully over the adaption, and a court ruled that all copies be destroyed. Luckily for us, all copies weren’t destroyed. At least one survived to become one of the oldest and greatest horror movies of our time.

The film hasn’t aged nearly as much as it could have. It’s still relevant. Still scary in parts and it’s had me thinking about it on and off over the last few days. The most obvious difference to modern movies is the over-acting, but I really enjoyed that part of it.

happyhutter

Gustav van Wangenheim as Hutter was the most manically jolly character I have ever seen on the screen. It felt a little silly at first (there were a few titters in the audience), but it did mean that when he does finally realise the nature of the Count and cowers in his bed, terrified of the monster coming towards him, it felt like watching a happy, bouncy puppy realise it’s about to get a kicking. I haven’t felt that sorry for a fictional character in some time. Poor innocent little puddle.

coming into the room

Nosferatu (Max Schreck) was fantastic too. There was no angst or guilt or sparkles. He was just pure creepy vampire and I loved him.

ellen

Greta Schroder as Ellen was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting such a strong female character from such an old movie. I thought she was going to spend the film screaming and fainting. There was plenty of that but she was the one to save the day. She was certainly a lot cleverer and determined than her innocent puppy of a husband.

 

Ultimately, a fantastic film and one I was really pleased to have seen. It was even worth the wait to get to see it with such a fantastic live score. This evening I’m going to watch the 1979 remake. Let’s see how it measures up.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination – Review

The always fascinating British Library has an exhibition on at the moment titled Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.

gothics-poster

As with every other exhibition I’ve been to at the British Library, it was well worth a visit. The exhibition begins with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, considered to be the first gothic novel, and continues all the way to the present day, discussing gothic influences on everything from Hellraiser to Twilight.

A highlight for me was the handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, a particular favourite of mine. I’d never thought of Jane Eyre as particularly gothic (if asked I’d more likely have come up with Dracula or Frankenstein), but, of course, it does have mystery, an isolated gothic mansion, the stern Mr Rochester, and a madwoman in the attic.

bride-of-frankenstein-orig

 

Plenty of original manuscripts and first editions are on display (of course, it is the BL) as well as a nineteenth century vampire staking kit

.varney-orig

Fans of supernatural literature and classic horror will love it.

The exhibition closes on 20 January so if you’re a Londoner, or are going to be in London, get your tickets quick. It was also, unfortunately, fairly crowded. I went in the afternoon though, and usually find the early morning tickets are usually quieter.

Highly recommended!

 

Review – John Rockman and the Trials of Galactar

I don’t usually review books (see post why here). This one is an exception. I kept having to stop and put it down, because I was enjoying it that much.

John rockman

John Rockman and the Trials of Galactar is brought to you by the people behind @AwfulFantasy (follow them if you’re not already), and just like their Awful Fantasy tweets, John Rockman is deliciously dreadful. Unfortunately, I started reading this book because I had a bit of time to kill before an interview. Bad move. I laughed so hard that I cried, and ended up going to it all teary and mascara-smeared. Thanks for that.

I can see why this book wouldn’t be for everyone. It is really, really bad. It is so bad that only an exceptionally good author could have written something so gloriously awful. Another reviewer said they imagined Bruce Campbell as Rockman in a movie version, and… yes! May the gods of Hollywood make this a thing. Please.

Rockman is the manliest hero ever to hero. He is muscular and hairy and oh-so-stern. His medium-length brown hair is permanently rustled by the wind. Love interest Maria (of the weak Femail race) is silly and fluttery and heaving-bosomy. The bad guy is camp and ridiculous. It is chock full full of utterly ridiculous metaphors. (Rockman shot awake like a fast blooming flower in fast forward. But he was restricted, like a bunch of bees were on him, waiting for his pollen to become available. He realized he was tied up again.)

It is just perfect.

Then there’s the writing style. It’s not just the story and the characters which are awful. I suspect the authors have done a lot of critiquing of awful sci-fi. They get bad writing spot on, but in a really good way.

When I was reading it, I kept coming across fantastic lines and thinking: ‘I have to quote that in the review’ (that is when I wasn’t putting my kindle down and quoting at whoever happened to be closest). The problem is that I am tempted to quote the whole damn book. Every line is a gem.

Here are a few of my faves:

Strange spaceships occupied most of the other docking strips. Some were round like a flying saucer, but others were not like that at all.

Rockman’s muscles were indeed hairy, which is just the sort of texture a warrior needs. It provides the perfect amount of wind resistance to stand your ground when the gusts of the Spaceworm’s breath thunder across the pains of Galactar. Also, women find it irresistible.

He took another deep breath to consolidate his feelings into one lump feeling: resolve. He quickly did the math and figured out that he had just lumped about ten feelings into his resolve reserve. That should be more than enough to finish the mission with resolve remaining. His face grew stern with the lack of other feelings. His spacesuit shifted.

And the best of all?

Rockman wished he had his laser pistol about now. Yeah, I know. Not immediately hilarious, other than being a bit of a trope. Read the book. You’ll get it.

If you’re fond of cheesy B movies, bad puns, and daft metaphors, this is the book for you. Now I’m off to buy the next in the John Rockman series…

 

A long overdue post on the subject of reviews

I don’t spend a lot of time dithering. I’ve got a pretty analytical mind. Everything has a logical conclusion. If I don’t know what to do next, I just sit down and think about all the possible permutations, and likely consequences, and the way forward usually becomes obvious.

But I have spent a lot of time dithering over reviews in the months since I published The Secret Dead.

Reviews are lifeblood for authors. Good reviews are invaluable. I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write a couple of paragraphs and give The Secret Dead a rating. It makes a real difference, and is hugely appreciated.

Most people in the reading/writing community are aware that there are some serious problems going on with reviews at the moment. The biggest and most obvious are paid-for-positive-reviews. An author can pay as little as £10 or so, and get a bunch of 5 star verified purchase reviews on Amazon. I see these a lot. They’re quite easy to spot. There’ll be a bunch of 5 star reviews, most of which won’t mention the author name, book, or characters in the text, and then a bunch of 1 and 2 stars which will mostly be variations of readers going wtf?

Then there are review swaps where authors agree to review each other’s work. In theory, this could work fine as long as everyone is honest, but not everyone is. I’ve seen plenty of review swap offers on Goodreads where the author promises they’ll only give good reviews. At the very least it opens up a giant can of worms if one author doesn’t like the other’s book.

Readers are getting more and more suspicious of 4 and 5 star reviews, especially those given by authors, and with good reason. The whole review system is becoming compromised. This isn’t limited to indie authors of course, although it is a particular problem for us.

I’ve actually gained some fans (I know! I feel like a proper celebrity!) who have tweeted, shared and otherwise been really enthusiastic about The Secret Dead. When those people are also talented authors with great books, I feel bad about sitting on the sidelines and not being as enthusiastic as I want to be. I want to give good reviews to the great books and authors I know, but I am also aware of the huge ethical issues around authors reviewing each other.

Then there’s the problem that I’ve also met authors whose books I haven’t enjoyed at all, and wouldn’t be able to give a positive review to. This adds yet another layer of social awkwardness, because most of the time the author has been lovely and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Us writers are usually sensitive sorts.

So I’ve thought about it, and I’m still dithering, but for now this is going to be my review policy:

~I am not going to put up any Amazon reviews. Why? Amazon doesn’t like it, and readers get suspicious. I’m going to avoid it like the giant can of worms it is. Maybe I’m being overcautious, but I always have been a nervous type.

~I may review/rate/recommend on Goodreads if I don’t know the author.

~I will tweet/write up on my website or FB page about the books I’ve enjoyed, and will promote authors I think my readers might enjoy, whether I know them or not.

Full disclosure: Just to be absolutely clear, at the time of writing this post, no one who has reviewed or offered to review my book has requested or hinted in any way that they expect a positive return review. Much of this post is just me adding a giant dose of social anxiety into something that other people probably wouldn’t worry about.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, this really isn’t a clear cut issue for me. I’d love to hear what other authors (and readers) think. Do you think it’s fine for authors to review each other, as long as they do so honestly? Or should we leave it just to the readers?

Review — Titus Andronicus at the Globe

I love theatre, and I love Shakespeare so I can’t really explain why last night was my first visit to the Globe, considering I’ve been living in London more than ten years,

Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays and until recently I didn’t even know much about it. It was only after I booked the tickets that I found out this particular production is so gory audience members have been fainting.

I am very squeamish. I like horror if it’s the tension-building kind, but I can’t watch splatterfests, and I was a little apprehensive about seeing it.

Titus Andronicus lived up to the hype. It was bloody. There was plenty of murder, a couple of rapes, people kept getting appendages chopped off, and let’s not leave out the cannibalism. Blood dripped onto the stage within the first five minutes, and it just kept coming.

Someone in the audience fainted.

But it wasn’t me. It was one of the groundlings, and considering the heat and how packed it was down there, it’s possible the fainting fit wasn’t down to the gore. But it probably was.

The production was very good. I can’t fault a single performance. The atmosphere, venue and set were brilliant, but ultimately I wasn’t crazy about it.

I usually love Shakespeare, but this just wasn’t one of his best. It was supposedly written to satisfy a vogue for bloodthirsty plays, and it shows.

There were a handful of lighter moments, most notably these famous lines (which brilliantly combine Shakespeare’s talent for insults with his skill for smutty innuendo):

Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?

Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.

Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.

Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some extraordinary Shakespearian productions on stage (Ian McKellan as King Lear, and then Patrick Stewart as Macbeth immediately spring to mind), but unfortunately there is a reason Titus Andronicus is one of the lesser known plays. I’m glad I’ve seen it, but unlike King Lear, Macbeth or many of his others, I wouldn’t be interested in seeing it again. Very much a been there, done that kind of thing.

Final verdict: See it if you like gore, are a serious Shakespeare fan, and/or want to see Shakespeare at the Globe in London. Give it a miss if you are squeamish, or are able to wait until next year’s season to see something at the Globe.