Monday, 29 October 2012

#50 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably been drooling in anticipation at the release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on DVD, the movie of the book written by that guy who thought of taking public domain works of literature and making money by inserting the word “zombie” into every other sentence.

You may even have heard of the press event launched to promote the DVD, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live, a game put together by the minds behind our favourite Zombie LARP. Regular readers will be familiar with my previous zombie LARP adventures, from my heroic death during the tragic tale of Team Scavenger, to our first doomed foray into Station Zero at the Friar’s Walk Mall, to the Zombie LARP Christmas Carol, where we learned that Morris dancers are apparently way more badass than any of us thought likely, in such a way that some narrow-minded people may believe, ahem, completely broke the game.

But that was all a long time ago. This time, rather than assembling yet another team of doomed comrades and leading them to their death, I joined the staff at the event, playing one of the evil vampires that were being hunted. As a result I was given food and travel expenses that were ultimately paid for by Fox, so I’ve finally sold out and everything I say from here on in is probably suspect.

Grant Howitt, one of the game designers behind this and Zombie LARP, has already written an excellent blog post on the things he learned designing and running the game. And Alex Hern has already written an article for the New Statesman on his experiences playing a vampire hunter, and we have no wish here to duplicate content already provided by that fine publication.

So today I’m going to tell you some of the things I learned as a vampire, intermingled with a couple of player stories we’ve received from some LARP virgins.

Vampire Lesson One: Talking With Fangs Is Really Hard (And A Bit Racist)

The whole point in being a vampire is that you receive eternal life, superior strength and otherworldly beauty, but that it comes at a terrible cost. Many vampire stories are vague about just what that cost is (Do you really believe in a soul anyway?). Well, having walked in a vampire’s shoes I can tell you what that cost is, and it’s not worth it.

Eternal life, eternal beauty is great, but trying to do that with two massive prosthetic fangs crowding the front of your mouth completely ruins the whole thing. After I’d had my make-up applied and my teeth glued in I discovered to my horror that becoming a dark creature of the night meant I could no longer pronounce my Rs or my Ss. My speech had taken a form that was hideous, and yet somehow familiar. Before long it dawned on me. In my efforts to speak clearly with those fangs in my mouth, I was apparently doing some sort of weird Fu Manchu style Chinese accent.

I spent the remainder of my preparation time before the game saying “The rain in Spain falls mostly on the plains” in a desperate attempt to learn how to speak normally in case any Asians turned up to the game.

Interlude: The story of Ryan Sullivan

I had a great time at the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Live Vampire Hunt (ALVHLVH).

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. All I knew was I wanted to get my hands on a weapon and head out on the first expedition. I didn't have to wait long until a shotgun was put in my hands and a brave doctor - discernible by his white lab coat - was leading an exploratory mission out into the dark.

After checking the several small rooms we passed, didn't want to fall victim to a simple ambush on the first outing, we arrived on the Dancefloor; which would become one of the bloodiest battlefields of the evening. Here we found a solitary vampire who retreated before our awe-inspiring awesomeness. So we gave chase to the little hellspawn!

This is when I had my first lesson in "don't underestimate a vampire." He'd lured us right back to the nest of vampires. One had turned to eight. We beat a hasty retreat to the Dancefloor and the battle began. I quickly ran out of ammo and had to abandon my team-mates temporarily to reload. This action was noticed by a bystander and my bravery, or lack thereof, was quickly pointed out to me.
Once I was rearmed I returned to the fight and helped to save a fallen comrade and dispense of the undead horrors. We returned to the safe house as heroes, laying waste to four of the vampire scorn. That was only the beginning.

A plan was forged by Leo, the maker of plans. We were to plant a bomb in the heart of the vampire nest and cleanse this place of their foul stench once and for all. My ammunition had long been spent and I went onto the battlefield armed with nothing but a single bandage to aid any injured companions. It was terrifying, the feeling of complete vulnerability.

Soon a brawl broke out and I pulled a man from the front lines to administer the aid I could, lest he fall to the dark host and become one of them. My comrade had dropped his weapon in the commotion and the demons were close to swiping it. I wrestled it away from their cold dead hands and looked in awe upon the Axe of Abraham Lincoln. It was glorious.

With our forefather's axe in hand and Leo's excellent plan, victory was assured. Our group was separated by a last ditch ambush from the vampires but they were too late and they knew it. We closed the door on the safehouse to hear the explosion boom above us. It was over. The night was safe once more.

Vampire Lesson Two: People Don’t Object To Being Sent Into Certain Death As Much As You’d Think

The Vampire Hunter game took place in two sessions, with two very different and distinct feels. The first game could be best described as, well, a total and utter blood bath. The players swarmed out into the abandoned nightclub, armed with NERF shotguns or, as Zombie LARP veterans call them “No way are you sending me out there with one of those, I want to try and make it through this game alive!”

We did our best to give them a fighting chance, but before long the vampires found ourselves surrounded by Thralls, the unwilling, brainwashed slaves we’d made of murdered vampire hunters. Thralls are discernible by several qualities. First, the red bandage wrapped around their arm to signify their allegiance to the undead. Two, that they are totally useless in a fight unless you can procure a weapon for them. Three, that although they’ve fallen in battle, they’re still paying to be here, so despite being your army of obedient minions, you also have to make sure they’re having fun.

With so many dead, many vampires soon found themselves with far too many thralls under their command, and it was hard to give them all fascinating and engaging tasks to do. So when in doubt it wasn’t uncommon to tell them to just charge head on into a front line of axe wielding survivors. What was quite spooky though, was the sheer enthusiasm the thralls seemed to have for what would inevitably turn out to be a short and sticky death (especially given the fact that seriously, players never, ever, ever learn to pull their blows).

Interlude: The Tale of Rebecca Cosgriff of Books Becca Buys
Having never before attended a 'livegame', I wasn't quite sure what to expect when me and my (coerced) friend turned up to Islington Metal Works. I wasn’t massively reassured when I was ushered inside amongst some leather-clad compatriots to sign a liability waver.

Only slightly deterred, we congregated inside the main room of the metalworks (furnished with a rather fetching faux train carriage/burger van) to hear the welcoming speech from our hosts, Serious Business. Promptly informed that we were not to expect mere immersive theatre but a live action horror game to solve and participate in (cue clammy hands), we were let loose with strict instructions to hit only from the chest down and try not to seriously maim anyone.

What followed was at least 30 minutes of general standing about feeling confused and, if I’m honest, a bit left out. Some people had obviously attended similar events before and got straight down to de-coding baffling messages strewn around, and volunteering to take the limited weapons on a scouting mission. Those of us not so sure of ourselves were left behind with nothing to do and no weapons to brandish for quite some time. I understand that this sort of game involves proactivity but it would have been nice if some of the cast members had engaged with those of us obviously standing around looking baffled, and ensured that everyone had a turn being led through the labyrinthal metalworks on an mission (my group were selected to get nuked up and taken out into the field, only to get forgotten about and left, tempted to give up the ghost and just order a burger).

With only about 30 minutes to go my friend and a couple of other lost souls decided to just go for it, grabbed a weapon from a cast member and got involved. I have to say it was a lot of fun, despite stubbing my toe and screaming, in a way that would have made Buffy turn in her grave (before being hastily resurrected), trying to run away from the hissing, prosthetic-clad un-dead. We managed to merge with a more experienced group and I was soon responding to frantic calls for “MEDIC” and bashing away at some poor(presumably) underpaid actresses with a foam axe. Bliss.

The whole thing struck me as a terrifying medium between Secret Cinema and the London Bridge Experience, and all in all I had a good laugh and met some nice people. But my experience would have been much more positive with a bit better organisation, a few more (working) weapons and some effort to include people not so sure of themselves, or at least introduce some ‘getting to know you’ activities before things kick off so the n00bs can team up with the pros.

I can’t say I’m a live action simulation convert, but I definitely would consider giving it another bash (literally) when the Serious Business has a bit more experience.

Vampire Lesson Three: It Is Mankind That Is The Real Monster

The second game had fewer players, but more alarmingly, they got organised. Where’s in the last game if Grant and Mary wanted to shit the players up they just had to send a couple of us running and screaming into the safe room to watch them scatter and panic, this time we’d run into the safe room to meet a barrage of NERF darts and axe-blows.

Listening to the referees and the human NPCs we kept hearing how terrified the players were, but as a vampire you would see only death. Instant, violent death.

And then came my moment to shine.

One of the elements Grant and Mary had added to Vampire Hunter to differentiate it from Zombie LARP was the introduction of Interrogations. A vampire would be dragged kicking and screaming into the safe room, tied to a chair and questioned for valuable information that the players would need to progress. As a vampire you were given two pieces of information, and a “trigger” that would cause you to spill everything.
My compatriot in previous LARPs, Alina, for instance, played an agile, parkour-esque vampire who would tell you everything if you threatened to damage her legs. Within seconds of being taken into the room someone had chopped off one of her legs and she sang like a canary.

We assumed the players had done their research, and so I was looking forward to seeing what would happen when I went in. The interrogator dragged me into the safe room, and before I was even tied to the chair... they started hacking my legs off. Now this wasn’t my trigger, so I just had to limp over to the chair and continue the interrogation, and throughout I was slashed at, had things chopped off, and threatened.
But worst of all was the look in their eyes. People who I’m sure I’d love to meet socially were clearly really, really enjoying the torture. Like, a lot.

When they finally got all the information they could from me, I was brutally killed and tossed back out into the corridor, and I don’t mind admitting it was something of a relief.

When this blog started we used to play a regular drinking game of apocalyptic movie tropes, one of which was “mankind is the real monster”.

It is my friends. It definitely is.

Thanks to Lynsey Smith for letting me use her photos of the event. See the whole gallery here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

A slight shift from business as usual as this week we're taking part in The Next Big Thing. It's sort of like one of those annoying Facebook chain questionnaires, except instead of Facebook it's people's blogs, and instead of all those really dull people you know, it's authors, so, y'know, it's cool.

I was very kindly tagged in by Kim Curran, author of the real-life-save-game-function novel, Shift. Once I'm done here I'll be tagging the next bunch of writers who'll keep the chain going. But first, here's some shameless plugging for my cloning novel, Mark II.
What is the working title of your book?
Mark II

Where did the idea come from for the book?
From TV. I was watching a documentary about cloning, and one of the people interviewed was a parent who wanted to clone their terminally ill child. It got me thinking about what the clone would think about this. I started off trying to write a short story about a clone who was brought about in this way, but it sort of expanded into a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?
Young adult science fiction. Or teenage science fiction. Or science fiction with teenagers in it.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is always difficult when all the interesting people in your cast are children, as all the actors who could possibly play the part have this horrible habit of growing up. My current favourite for the role of Mark Self and his clone is David Rawle from the Chris O'Dowd sitcom Moone Boy. He can pull off two most important things about Mark- a look of wide eyed innocence and look that looks a lot like wide eyed innocence but really, really isn't.

Oh, and the theme tune has to be this.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Phil's best friend Mark dies after a long illness, only to be replaced by a clone who looks like, sounds like and has some of the memories of his old best friend, but is a new person altogether.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Roughly 12 months. Started writing it when I should have revising for A-levels, finished it when I should have been doing coursework for university.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A lot of people have compared with Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, I think mainly because it has a child narrator with an unusual perspective who doesn't quite get the "rules" of everyday human interaction. I like to think of it as Frankenstein, if the monster had found some people who actually liked him.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
It started off being about playing with an idea that seemed like a very possible real world application of cloning technology. I fudged the science and made my clone vat-grown and speedily aged up because I didn't really want to write about a newborn baby, but I really liked the idea of doing science fiction story that didn't seem to have any of the usual trappings of science fiction (although I love writing stories with all those trappings as well!).

In the end though the thing that kept me interested in the book was the friendship between Phil and Mark's clone, which felt very real to me, and I have a lot of fun writing Mark's clone, an intelligent, articulate boy who's only real probably is that he's unflinchingly honest about everything and assumes everybody around him is the same.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's quite a while since I wrote this now, but looking back I still love the way Mark's clone takes all the little rituals and unsaid rules that dominate teenage friendships and just picks them apart piece by piece.

For another Q&A I've done on Mark II, check out this interview at the Bluewater Waterstone's YA fiction blog

Now, over to the next, Next Big Thing.

Alexander Gordon Smith has turned up here before in our drunk author interview. Go and read about his Next Big Thing here.

Monday, 24 September 2012

#49 Katya's World: Submarines and Smart Protagonists

You know what I really love? Intelligent protagonists. Not genius protagonists – your Sherlocks or Greg Houses or Lord forgive me, Doctors who solve the entire plot the instant somebody says something by chance that’s a convoluted metaphor for the actual solution to a mystery.

Then of course there’s your Harry Potter style protagonist, who doesn’t solve any problems or mysteries as much as follow a series of carefully laid out breadcrumbs and coincidences while being ever-so-brave the whole time and, despite being basically a child, constantly being put in situations of near-fatal danger by supposedly responsible adults.

Anyone who knows me knows that I devoured the Harry Potter books, loved (most) of House right until the end and am eagerly awaiting the next episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, I love all of the examples I just gave, but it’s very rare even among these favourite things of mine that you find a properly intelligent protagonist. One who isn’t a magical genius, but isn’t oblivious to the plot twist the readers saw broadcast three chapters ago.

This is what makes Katya’s World, which comes out at the start of November, special. Jonathan L Howard has, in Katya Kuriakova, created that most difficult of things, the intelligent teenage action hero. You might disagree if you’re much smarter than I am, but throughout Katya’s World I kept seeing Katya figure out the next twist in the tale always a page or two ahead of me (and occasionally a page or two afterwards). Howard doesn’t cheat- Katya doesn’t work things out because she’s been gifted some knowledge that the writer refuses to share with you for dramatic tension, she has the same clues you do and she shows her working and when she tells you the answer you immediately see how you should have figured it out first, only you didn’t did you?

Katya’s World is Russalka, a human colony on a planet filled with valuable minerals and resources, but no landmasses above water. The cities are networks of tunnels and caves that have been drained of water, the primary method of transport is the submarine.

Before we go any further can I just say, why isn’t Submarine Opera a thing? Katya’s world is a great example of the awesome potential of the genre, and completely puts the only other examples I can think of, SeaQuest DSV, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Stringray and recent Beeb series The Deep completely to shame. Where the best of those examples (and I know I’m risking pissing off a lot of Roy Scheider fans here) manage to achieve the feel of a slightly damper version of TNG, Katya’s World creates a claustrophobic world where the weight of the water outside is constantly weighing down on you and your best method of finding out about the dangers beyond your submarine amount to listening really hard.

In a world like this is not hard to see why Katya, at the age of not-quite-16, would be expected to shoulder near adult responsibility, and while there is a certain amount of the common YA trope of the one teenage character being constantly manoeuvred into the centre of the action it’s not hard to see why the adults around her believe she’s capable of dealing with the dangers that they face.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

#48 Play Dead: The Most Adorable Zombie Movie Ever

It’s time I admitted it. If you set yourself the challenge of updating a blog that is mostly about zombie movies on a semi-regular basis, after about 20 months you can start to feel like you’ve had your fill.

Zombie movies, after all, all follow very similar structures. Hell, that’s part of the reason why I chose zombie movies in the first place, because by seeing the same story done over and over again in dozens of different ways, you can hopefully reveal some interesting things about storytelling.

But still, even then you can sometimes feel like you’ve seen every twist, every variation, ever meta-post-ironic-reconstructed-deconstruction. Then something like Play Dead comes along and shows there are still fresh, new and exciting things to be done with the genre.

Play Dead (2012) FULL MOVIE from Andres and Diego Meza-Valdes on Vimeo.

It’s a zombie movie, but dogs! Look at the cute little doggie woggies! With their little noses and their wagging tails!

Okay, full disclosure. In the same period during which I have been testing the very limits of my zombie-movie-watching capacity I have also reluctantly been drawn over to the side of the dog lovers. A client whose house I work at regularly has a couple of really stupid dogs, and they keep looking at me with their big wet eyes and wagging their tales and jumping up to say hello and I’M NOT MADE OF STONE!

I mean look at him!

I haven’t even asked the client for permission to nick this photo from his Facebook account, on the grounds that he loves looking at pictures of his dogs so much he’ll see it as a pleasant surprise that one has suddenly turned up on a website he’s reading.

But enough looking at that dog’s stupid cute face. We’re here to review a zombie movie and review a zombie movie we shall. Minor spoilers from here on in (although really, the entire movie is right up there and takes slightly less time to watch than an episode of The Simpsons, so I don’t know why you don’t watch that first).

Play Dead is a short film funded through a Kickstarter page last year and made on a budget of less than £6,000, which even George Romero would probably have a good giggle over. The Kickstarter page describes the movie as “Homeward Bound meets a zombie apocalypse” and it doesn’t disappoint, although there’s no talking, weirdly anthropomorphised animals here. These dogs are dogs, pure and simple. The dog’s personalities are communicated partly through introductory freeze frame captions when each dog appears, and partly through... dog... acting... ? Is that a real thing?

The usual tropes you’ll find in a zombie movie are here, with a doggie twist. The disparate characters from different backgrounds forced to work together by circumstance? Check. The human settlement that looks like it’ll provide sanctuary but actually turns out to be more dangerous than the zombies? Check. The long trek through the apocalyptic wasteland to find a destination where safety and supplies are plentiful? Check. The shocking twist at the end where it turns out the sanctuary is taken over by vicious, flesh eating killing machines? Check and check.

However, perhaps the people who’ll find this film most disturbing are dog owners themselves. Not because we see horrible things happen to the dogs (although we do) but because of the other zombie movie trope this movie embraces.

See, as I’ve talked about before, one of the things about the zombie apocalypse is that it’s a fantasy. It’s a fantasy of waking up one day to discover the rules and restrictions that are holding you down the rest of the time have suddenly disappeared, and now you can go running around shopping malls stealing everything you like and hitting people in the face with cricket bats.

It’s something we’ve seen pass into Young Adult fiction as well, with books like Charlie Higson’s The Enemy and Alexander Gordon Smith’s The Fury showing kids scenes of sheer horror back to back with appealing fantasies about what life would be like with all these grown-ups all over the place.

And so with Play Dead “law and order” or “grown-ups” are replaced with, well, you, dog owners. Play Dead is a dog’s wish-fulfilment fantasy about just how great life would be if you were dead. One of the dogs even drags her zombified owner around on a leash.

So, ummm... yeah, there’s that.

Still, look how cute the doggies are!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

#47 The Fury: The Drunk Author Interview

Today we’re going to be talking about the new Young Adult zombie novel, The Fury. In The Fury, our heroes discover that, whenever people are within a certain range of them, they’re overwhelmed by the desire to murder them horribly. It’s like a zombie move, but after the zombies kill you they go back to making the tea, washing the car, delivering papers, etc.

I arranged to meet up with Alexander Gordon Smith to discuss how he wrote the book, where he got his inspiration from, and what he thought about exposing children to such horrible and violent stories. Because I know Gordon from a while back (his middle name is actually his “first” name, because he likes to be awkward like that) we ended up having quite a few drinks first. Surprisingly the recording came out as pretty listenable.

Download Part One of the Interview Here: In the first part of our interview (which you can also read below) we talked about where Gordon steals his ideas from, and why he decided upon the premise of The Fury, as well as writing horror for children, and the really quite terrifying real life genesis of the idea behind The Fury.

Then I bought another round.

Download Part Two of the Interview Here: In the second part of our interview I ask Gordon about his Fury survival strategy (I once again make an impassioned argument for the shovel), we talk about our favourite zombie movies and paranormal versus scientific zombies and the importance of rules in horror, all while we become steadily more inebriated.

If listening to drunk people talk about horror fiction doesn't sound like your idea of fun, I've transcribed the first part of the interview below:

Gordon, you’re a massive plagiarist. Who’ve you been stealing from?
Everybody I can. I think as we were chatting about earlier being a writer you tend to plagiarise pretty much as many people as you can. Everything I like you try and recycle in some fashion. But as The Fury is a zombie book I’ve taken every single zombie think that I loved which is pretty much every single zombie thing ever, and used it somewhere in the story.

I’ve tried to put my own spin on it but I feel like when you’re writing in a genre you love you’re standing on the shoulders of the people who came before you. I’d like to think one of these days someone will stand on my shoulders or my face and write something else.

I noticed that through the course of the book a lot of children die. Why do you hate children?
Oh well, that’s an interesting point. A lot of children do die. And a lot die in my previous series as well. I don’t know, maybe this is some weird subconscious thing? I was bullied a lot as a child... maybe I should see someone about this? I’m not sure...

It is worrying...
I think, I’m a big fan of death in literature and when you’re writing young adult books the percentage of younger characters to older characters is higher than in an adult series so I guess proportionally you’re going to end up killing more kids and teenagers, I guess maybe that’s why!

One of the great things about zombie stories is that you can kill a load of people without it having any consequences legally or morally because they’re zombies.
That’s very true.

In The Fury when you kill the zombies, if you hadn’t killed them and left them alone they would have gone back to being normal people.

Why do you want to take the fun out of murdering zombies?
Well I wanted to throw a new twist on it. I spent ages and ages and ages trying to think of a new way of telling the zombie story because obviously the zombie story has been told so well by so many people and I guess this is why it took me such a long time to write a zombie book because I wanted that twist, I wanted something unique and I don’t know whether this is completely unique, probably not completely unique but the idea that people.... I was thinking about how there’s so many zombie triggers out there, there’s the chemical trigger, the possession trigger, an infinite number of zombie triggers and I just suddenly thought “What if the trigger, the thing that made people zombies was you? And only you. Every time you went near someone they became feral, they became a zombie. That was the thing that drove the book. When you go near people they become zombies but as soon as you go away or they kill you they go back to normal.

This is why I loved writing the book so much because usually in a zombie story it’s the apocalypse, the world is over, but with this one nobody is experiencing it apart from the characters in the book. Everyone else is going about their life as normal. So these characters don’t have anything to fall back on, they can’t say “It’s the apocalypse, let’s just roll with it.” As far as they can see everyone in the world is going about their business, but soon as they go near them, they are the ones who are in effect ruining everything. They’re the spanner in the works. They’re the ones who turn everyone around them into zombies.

I don’t know if I took the fun out of it... well hopefully I didn’t take the fun out of it! But I think it’s quite fun where... everyone’s seen that thing where your mum is a zombie, y’know, Shaun of the Dead kind of thing and this is really interesting because when you kill your mum when she’s a zombie you’re not really killing your mum. But if you kill your mum in The Fury you’re actually killing your mum! People will go to her funeral! It’s a weird... I wanted to add something else to it, but it was horrible. I did particularly enjoy writing those bits because it felt more real than, I guess, a zombie story. I felt the whole of The Fury felt more real than a typical zombie book because of this kind of background that people are people, they’re not zombies.
It was a really weird story to write.

GP Taylor has said that young adult books should have some sort age certification on them because they’re getting too scary. Do you agree with him wholeheartedly because your books are so horrible?
Thank you I’ll take that as a complement! The only thing age certificates will do in books is make younger readers want to read the books for older readers. If my books had a 15 certificate I’d get more 12, 13, 14 year old readers, so yes I think it’s a great idea!

But you know, I think this is the thing about horror. It is a horrible book, the prologue of the book is one of the most distressing things I’ve ever written, because it was quite shocking when I was writing it, but y’know, I like to think that the core of the books, the same as with the Furnace books, the core of the book is heroism, the core of the book is hope, the core of the book is humanity. That’s what I love about horror, horror brings out those things. You never see heroism like you do in a horror story.

I think the worse things get the more good you see in people. I honestly think that about The Fury, that if a 12, 13 year old boy or girl reads The Fury then yes, horrible things happen but I hope they’ll learn something about themselves, something about their own strengths.

It’s the same as Bettelheim’s argument that fairy tales really do make very young children feel more confident about their abilities. I think horror as the same effect on teenagers, because being a teenager is incredibly difficult. I remember being a teenager and I remember hating it, and I read a lot of horror. Horror made me think- You know what? There are worse things out there. I can do this. I have strength. I’ve seen people defeat greater evils. I’ve totally forgotten what the question was... I’m just ranting now!

Whether children ought to be protected from the horrible things you inflict on them.
I think no. I think booksellers, librarians (especially librarians), teachers, parents will be a guiding force. There are children’s and young adult books that have very adult themes. I don’t put anything rude in my books there’s hardly any swearing, I think there’s different levels of danger in young adult books... I don’t know. I’m not really qualified to answer this question but I think with horror there’s not much of a need to censor books. I think we were talking about this earlier, if a younger reader comes across something in a book that they’re not too sure about I think their default setting is to stop or skip, and that’s a strong impulse in a child. I know I was like that as a kid.

Aside from my general tone of trying to accuse you of being a terrible person, honestly, when you’re writing how much do you think about holding back because of the target audience?
That’s really tricky. I’m not consciously aware of holding back anything. Because with horror the main thing you’re worried about is violence. I don’t really hold back on that at all. Maybe there’s times when you think you’ve gone too far. But the default setting is to leave it in.

There’s been a few times where my editor has said “Let’s get rid of this. Let’s just tone this down a bit” and I’ll always go along with it because you know the editors job is they know the audience better than I do, they know what levels people will expect...

Okay, is there any really disgusting violent gory act that’s been cut out that you can tell us about?
Let me think, with the Fury... No! I think at one point there’s a dead baby in there somewhere, but I think that got left in. I don’t know how that dead baby got in there... she just gate crashed the party...

Any children listening to this, he didn’t write the dead bay, he just crawled in there and it might be under your bed right now...
In the sequel, the Storm, there’s another dead baby...

With the Furnace, my previous series, the violence was almost Tom and Jerry violence. It was very real in the context of the story but in terms of real life you’d never be in a situation like that. Whereas I think The Fury is a bit more visceral, it felt more real when I was writing it.

In the prologue, and even the first few chapters, the thing that gets through is that is so familiar to anyone who’s been to high school, you make that work to the point where when everyone starts trying to kill you it seems like a fairly natural progression...
I was a bit of a loner in high school, found it very difficult to make friends in high school...

But you’re such a jock now Gordon!
I feel I’m a better person now for not trying to fit in the crowd, but that’s a whole different argument, but I have very vivid memories of things, like cycling down the street with the guy who was my best friend at the time and suddenly a bunch of teenagers who were slightly older than us appeared at the end of the road and he cycled up to join them, and as soon as I cycled up he was taking the mickey, pointing... and I think you never feel so alone as you do at high school.

At that age that’s survival technique at the same time...
That’s true, it really is. You learn how to deal with that kind of emotion.

I think the actual inspiration for this book, although I didn’t consciously remember it while writing it, or maybe I did, I don’t know. It’s weird how the brain works.

But when I was in high school... I’m in amazing shape now, obviously...

He’s a golden Adonis!
It’s hard to believe when I was at school I was a bit overweight, and I was in the bottom set at PE, as were most of my friends, and we had this sadistic P.E. teacher called Mr Wren. So if you’re out there Mr Wren thank you for inspiring this book! And his idea of a laugh was this game called Murder Ball.

There’d be thirty kids in this class and we’d be outside in the driving rain or the sleet or the snow or whatever and he’d give the slowest kid in the class (usually me) a rugby ball and everyone would have a turn at doing this, he’d give you a five second head start, and so you’d start running and five seconds later he’d blow the whistle. Now you were pelting across the field as fast as your legs would go, which for me obviously wasn’t very fast, and you’d throw the ball away because it was just slowing you down. After five seconds he’d blow the whistle and every person in that class would come after you. Now their goal was the get the ball back, they wanted the rugby ball, but they’d ignore it, it was forgotten. They wanted you.

They’d be coming across the field after you, you’d feel the ground shake, and these were your friends, the people you hung out with at lunchtime and you’d look over your shoulder and they would have faces like demons, they wanted to kill you. I could never outrun them so after a few seconds I’d be on the floor, 30 people on top of me punching me, biting me, kicking me, putting grass in your mouth so you couldn’t breathe and mud up your nose. I’ve in my life never felt so much like I was going to die as I did when playing murder ball.

And the really weird thing is, it was horrible, I hated it, but as soon as it was someone else’s turn to run with the ball you were there. You would run after them, as soon as they were on the floor you were punching them, you were kicking them... It was weird.

And this is what I love about zombies. You cannot fail to be pulled into a mob like that. It’s amazing how quickly it happens. It’s like a totally different part of your brain takes over.

And I think that, years and years later, that’s what inspired the book.

Monday, 13 August 2012

#46 The Edinburgh Fringe (For Geeks)

I’ve just got back from my holidays! Last week I ticked off an entry on my bucket list and went to see the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. While I was there I noticed several things about Edinburgh. I saw that it was a sunny, tropical paradise. I saw that Edinburgh is one of the few places in the country whose Police Telephone Boxes are still standing, so everywhere you go you feel like you’re being stalked by the TARDIS. Finally, I learned that the Edinburgh Fringe is basically the Internet made flesh. At one point I was in a pub that was little more than a 3D representation of my Twitter feed.

Now, there’s always been a fairly heavy amount of crossover between the works of comedy and geekery. Comedy, after all, makes heavy use of shared references and cultural touchstones, and geeks love nothing more than sharing references and cultural touchstones (unless you’re a male geek and theperson who wants to share is an attractive women, in which case you apparently get weird and resentful because they wouldn’t talk to you in high school).

Whether we’re talking about Spaced, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or enjoying the science bits from comics such as Tim Minchin or Robin Ince, geekery and comedy just keep running into each other. So if you’re a geek and happen to be in Edinburgh this month, there’s plenty of stuff out there for you.

While I was there I didn’t see many genuinely post-apocalyptic based comedy shows (because, quite frankly, they were mostly about the Mayan 2012 apocalypse and I already made the best joke about that).
Quetzalcoatl love, you've pulled!
But there were a few shows that got my geek heart racing. And by a few, I mean these ones:

Full disclosure- while I was in Edinburgh I was sleeping on the Beta Males’ sofa. Of course, I was also paying £10 a night for the privilege, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to give them a shit review if I want to.
However, regardless of my complete journalistic freedom to slag them off, should I choose, Space Race is really very good. Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s a Quatermass parody. When was the last time you saw a Quatermass parody? Because I honestly can’t think of another (Okay, Wikipedia tells me that both The Goon Show and Hancock’s Half-Hour did Quatermass parodies. Sod off, I never claimed to know everything).

Secondly, the show has some truly great bits of world building going on. The village of Lower Birchley is painted out with all kinds of little details that string the sketches together, and even the publicity fliers fold out to show enough documents, maps and communications to provide the background to a pretty good D&D campaign.

Oh, and also it’s funny. I should probably have mentioned that first, but yes, you will be crying actual tears of laughter.

Incidentally, if that’s not enough for you next weekend the Beta Males will be collaborating with a whole host of other comedians to put on the Midnight Movie Theatre, where a “classic” horror film will be shown interspersed with practical “special” effects, additional scenes and a live “director’s” commentary.

You can’t get much more geeky than a text-based choose your own adventure game. Unless maybe it’s a text based choose your own adventure game performed live by a person with an X-Box 360 controller strapped to his chest.

If you live on the Internet there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across The Dark Room on Youtube. The live show is very similar, except that instead of being shouted at by your laptop screen you’re being shouted at by a very shouty man in the room with you who isn’t afraid to make personal remarks.

To start with John Robertson (the shouty man in the video) will select members of the audience to try and beat the game, until eventually it dissolves into he time-honoured method of decision-making-by-mob-shouting.

The game starts off well, but really comes into its own once you find your way out of the room into the vivid, detailed and magical world that John Robertson has lovingly created.

The show is free, providing you’re able to shuffle past John Robertson at the end ignoring his outstretched money-bucket. However, if you like black-as-pitch story-telling based comedy I’d also recommend going to see his other show The Old Whore for £5, where Robertson tells the true story of how he fucked the queen of England (although if, as he claims, The Old Whore contains clues to beating The Dark Room, I missed them).

Well we should have something post-apocalyptic in here, and if you like a bit of Shakespeare I’d recommend Drunk Tank Productions’ apocalyptic take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This version is very much set in the Fallout-style apocalypse, where the bomb apparently dropped during the 1950s and the human race survives in the underground “Athens” bunker.

Rather than going into the woods, our characters climb out of the bunker in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, where the “Fairies” are disfigured mutants and Puck is a crazed scientist.

To fit the show into an hour some fairly hefty cuts have been made to Shakespeare’s script, with any action that takes place in Athens being swapped out for black and white newsreel footage. The play manages the job of actually making Shakespeare’s comedy funny, although I’m still a bit miffed they cut Puck’s epilogue.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Hello Guardian Readers

In the Guardian today our good friend Hannah is writing about the high court decision that it was legal to lock her up for dressing like a zombie on the royal wedding day. She was kind enough to give this blog a shout out, mainly because, well, her being there was my fault. She wasn't there for political or activist reasons, she was there because I thought it would make for a funny blog post that would get a few hits, but couldn't make it down there myself. This is something Hannah may never let me live down.

So, in anticipation of a bunch of people clicking through to here from Comment is Free who aren't interested in hearing what I have to say about zombie movies (that's a lot) I'm posting all the relevant Royal Wedding stuff here.

First, our blogs original royal wedding write up, including Hannah's original account of the arrests.
Secondly, a piece by Amy Cutler, a friend I sent along with Hannah who also got arrested. Amy's talking about how zombie films actually have a whole lot to say about situations like this.

And finally, here's a New Year's Eve interview with Hannah following her awarding of Zombie of the Year by the Zombie Rights Campaign.

It's also worth checking out Hannah's own blog as well as the website she set up to collect all the information relating to this case, Pageantry and Precrime.

Have a look around, and be careful what you're seen wearing during the Olympics.

Monday, 16 July 2012

#45 The Divide: The Dark Heart of Man is Dull

If he'd only thought to bring some boardgames down to the shelter, this movie would have been a delightful romp!
The genre this blog chose to focus on is not a cheery place. In every story we cover it is presupposed that you, and everybody you love have died, probably screaming. More than that though, these stories do not bring out the best in human nature. From Night of the Living Dead onwards we have seen time and time again that if you put a bunch of people together in a room and then kill everybody else, it’s only a matter of time before they turn on each other.

So, here we come to The Divide. Oh, and just so you know, I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie. Also, spoilers, this is one of this blog’s rare negative reviews, so if you dislike ranting, scorn and mockery, why not read what I have to say about Juan of the Dead instead? That was good! Likewise, this film had some rape in, and we talk a little about that, so you may want to avoid this review for that reasons.

The Divide sets itself up as Lord of the Flies, only with a nuclear bunker instead of a desert island, and a group of supposedly competent adults instead of school children. It’s a harsh, bleak look at the darkness that lurks in the hearts of men.

But The Divide makes a crucial, fatal mistake.

Apocalypse fiction, more than perhaps any other part of sci-fi, works by making you ask yourself what you would do in that situation. Sometimes it answers that question with a badass power fantasy ala Shaun of the Dead. Sometimes it makes it clear that you would lead a short, painful existence than die, ala Threads. And sometimes it goes the Lord of the Flies route and suggests that you would become a homicidal arsehole. The Death of Grass is perhaps the best example of this.

But for this to work you’ve got to start off with a character who can identify with. In Lord of the Flies, the progression from school boy to painted savage is a gradual one, made up of a series of logical steps. That’s why it’s scary. In Night of the Living Dead, Ben seems like a level headed guy, and while Harry comes across as a bit of a jerk, he’s the sort of jerk you can imagine running into at work or moving into the house next door.
It was this or charades
In The Divide, within ten minutes of watching the film you’ve established that you are in the presence of a shower of dicks. Not a single one of the characters ever demonstrates a likeable quality or warm feeling towards another human being, with the exception of the mother towards Stock Cute Child no #3, who is thankfully kidnapped by mysterious soldiers in hazard suits within the first act of the film.

Despite this, the brunette who doesn’t have sex with anybody is apparently supposed to be our viewpoint character, because, despite the efforts of countless postmodern, meta-commentary jokes in horror films over the last two decades, this film still insists on killing the black guy first, punishing the woman who enjoys sex (with rape! Classy!) and letting the virginal girl escape.
This is the one time I will ever use a meme on this blog. That's a promise.
I was watching the film with Friend of the Blog, Alina and we quickly decided the film was much more fun (and made just as much sense) if you decided the film was taking place in real time. The character’s decisions make just as much sense. At an arbitrary point in the film two of the characters just decide “Hey? Shall we be rapists now? I feel like maybe my character should be a rapist.” “Me too. But I want to do it wearing this woman’s nighty, and to try to rape that other guy, while you’re attacking his girlfriend. That way this will come across as a sort of gritty reboot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I think is what we’re going for now.”

Finally, I don’t want this review to be entirely negative, so if you do want to watch a story where people attempting to save themselves in a bomb shelter find their worse natures brought to the surface by crisis, I heartily recommend these two stories that are both better, more emotionally involving, and, perhaps most importantly, 87 minutes shorter.

So, watch either The Shelter, an episode of the Twilight Zone that dwells on the way civilised people can turn to animals when their lives are on the line, or Bart’s Comet, from The Simpsons, which does the same thing. Both are better than this.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

#44 Anniversary Dinner: On Caring For Your Pet Zombie

So this week I got a sneak peak at Anniversary Dinner, a new short from gotta/enk productions, the brains behind Werewolf stabbing film The Big Bad. This time the duo have decided to make a zombie movie, with Jessi Gotta taking on both directorial and zombification duties.

The plot is simple. In the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse it’s the wedding anniversary of a man who’s keeping his zombified wife tied up in the spare room. From there what happens is pretty much exactly what always happens when you keep a zombie tied up in the spare room. Kids, don’t keep a zombie tied up in the spare room.

This is ground that’s been covered plenty of times before. The morality of zombie movies says that if you don’t smash your zombified loved one’s brain in with a shovel or a shotgun blast you’re either weak, misguided or dangerous. There’ve been exceptions. In Shaun of the Dead Shaun seems to have trained his dead best friend Ed to concentrate on playing Timesplitters 2 more than trying to chew off Shaun’s goatee, and in Fido it results in a happy, nuclear, possibly kind of necrophilic family.

But usually that’s not how it ends. It ends with Bubba the friend zombie finally mastering how to shoot you in the head, or the chained up infected soldier in 28 Days Later being let out and running round killing everyone. At best, you’re going to be faced with some truly revolting meal times of the type seen in Braindead.

The way the pet chained up zombie is used in this short does something that’s surprisingly rare in zombie movies. For once, this is a film that uses zombies to talk about death. Frederick, the loving husband in this movie, is still clinging onto his relationship with his wife long after she’s dead. There’s no way she can return his feelings, and so her body becomes a huge, toxic presence in Frederick’s life.

And not just Frederick’s life. Leigh, the zombie played by Jessi Gotta, is a threat not just to Frederick, but to everyone else around him, possibly to the point of restarting the pandemic that has only just been brought back under control. And Frederick doesn’t care, because when we feel at our worst it doesn’t often bring out the best in us.

It’s a great little film, simple but nicely done, and definitely one I’d add to my list of lunchtime zombie movies. When it gets released, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, watch the trailer here:

Anniversary Dinner - Official Trailer from gotta/enk on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 June 2012

#43 Last Stand on Zombie Island: Why Guns Are Basically Balls During A Zombie Apocalypse

This week I’m turning Chris Writes About The End Of The World into an open forum for debate. Please welcome another Chris Who Writes About The End Of The World, Christopher Eger. Christopher Eger’s new book, Last Stand on Zombie Island, aims to take a more realistic look at the zombie apocalypse. One of the areas Chris is able to be particularly accurate about is the description of guns and the way they’re used, being a self described “recovering gun nut”.

On hearing about this, I asked Chris to respond to the self-evident truth that, should the zombie apocalypse actually happen, guns would actually be totally useless.

Here’s my argument:

Why Guns Would Be Useless During A Zombie Apocalypse
Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. We all know that the double barrelled shotgun is the second coolest weapon for killing zombies, being only just beaten out by the chainsaw. The Bruce-Campbell-Combo is still unmatched in the annals of zombie killing awesomeness.

However like the chainsaw, the double barrel shotgun, and indeed, any firearm, will inevitably get you killed in an actual zombie apocalypse. With the chainsaw, the reasons behind it killing you are obvious- within thirty second you’ll have accidentally chopped your own legs off because you’re an idiot. With firearms it’s a little more complicated.

Firstly, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of guns outside of the NERF variety, and the computer generated variety. I live in a country with no second amendment, where the only people with guns are farmers, and farmers’ mums. When I see police officers with guns I get nervous, because historically they’ve not proven completely trustworthy with sticks.

However, all of this is irrelevant to the fact that when law and order breaks down and our neighbours turn into blood thirsty ambulant corpses, even if you’re well trained a gun will get you killed faster than being the optimistic, cheery character who gives the other survivors reason to believe there is still hope in the world. This is for three reasons.

One: Guns Break
Guns have moving parts. Moving parts can go wrong. Even if you clean and maintain your gun properly on a regular basis, every piece of that weapon is going to subject to Murphy’s Law and it’s just waiting for the absolute worst possible moment to go kafooey.

Two: Ammo Runs OutThe reason the zombie apocalypse, and here we’re talking about a true, George Romero zombie apocalypse rather than anything based on “infection”, is that everyone who dies becomes a soldier for the other side. Given that everybody dies, this means that barring destruction of the brain sooner or later every single human being is going to be playing for the other team. Now I’m sure that bullets actually outnumber humans by now, and should we feel the need we could probably all shoot ourselves in the head and leave plenty of bullets left over, but you don’t have that many bullets. However many zombies you kill, more are going to keep coming, and eventually you’re going to have to make a decision about what to do with that last bullet.

Three: Your Gun Is A Dinner BellAs I mentioned, in a zombie apocalypse everyone who isn’t you or your merry band of survivors is probably a zombie. Now zombies are very stupid. They pretty much walk directly towards the nearest thing that’s moving around or making noise.

You know what makes a shitload of noise? A gun going off.  Even say you’re super-well equipped for the zombie apocalypse, and have silencers, you know what a silenced gun sounds like?

You hear that sound a bit like a gun going off right after the sound of the gun going off? That’s an echo.

You kill one zombie with a gun, you’ll attract three. You kill those three, nine more have turned up. Sooner or later you’re going to go back to point two of this list.

So What Should You Do Instead?Which is all very well, but zombies have got to die, right? What sort of hippy, liberal wusspants solution would I suggest? Hugging them to death? Blowing bong smoke in their faces until they need a sit down? That wouldn’t work, it would just give them zombie munchies!

Actually, my solution is very straightforward. The only weapon you need for the zombie apocalypse is a sturdy shovel with a sharpened blade. It never runs out of ammo and there’s far less that can go wrong with it. The lengthy wooden shaft allows you to stay out of arms reach of the zombies, with the handle letting you put some force behind it as you jab it into the necks and faces of the approaching horde. Yes, there is a risk the zombies will simply grab hold of the shovel and start biting it, but if you’re smart enough to bring a spare you can beat the zombies to death with that while they’re chewing your first one.

So that is why when the dead begin to rise you should ignore the hunting and fishing shop and instead head for the garden centre.

Why Guns Would Actually Be Totally Awesome During A Zombie Apocalypse
Thanks to Chris for the invitation to visit your choice of armament against the seething hordes of the shambling and running undead. I agree wholeheartedly that any weapon at all is better than the hippy hug-a-zombie approach. We started hugging the Soviets a few decades ago and you see where that got us! What I do disagree on, is that firearms are the go-to weapon of choice over shovels in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

Let us look briefly at the history of weapons. From prehistoric times to the dystopian future, there have been roughly two types of weapons: melee and ranged

Melee weapons are anything that has to be held and engaged with at extreme close quarters. Examples of these are axes, machete, swords, chainsaw, clubs and bats, brass knuckles, tins of soup, shovels, golf clubs, bayonets, et al. The other Chris is a fan of the melee weapon. Sharpened shovels indeed.

I wish him luck.

I, on the other hand, am a ranged weapon proponent. Ranged weapons are something that can be fired accurately further than a melee weapon can be thrown. Examples of these are bows, flamethrowers, some javelins, and projectile weapons (i.e. firearms)

The advantage of ranged weapons of melee weapons is the key of the reactionary gap. It has long been accepted fact, verified by studies and experiments that there is a '21-foot rule' as far as reactionary gaps. For the record, the 21-Foot Rule, says that in the time it takes the average firearm-equipped law enforcement officer to recognize a threat, draw his sidearm and fire 2 rounds at the center mass of an attacking subject, said average subject charging the officer with a melee edged weapon can cover a distance of 21 feet. If the shooter is slower than the average trained law enforcement officer or the attacker (zombie?) faster, the reactionary gap is more. In short, with a ranged weapon it is possible to engage a zombie from a safe distance.

With a melee weapon, you have to get bad-breath close, which is close enough to infect. In addition, as proven by hundreds of films, books and graphic novels on the undead, zombies tend to congregate in large swarms or hordes. If presented with having to defend against a group of twenty undead with either a shovel or a firearm (with more than twenty rounds,) I would take the firearm all day.

With melee a weapon, their prime advantage is in the short training period required. You can impart the techniques needed to turn a fireplace poker into an effective weapon to the average person in less than a minute. Granted, I would prefer a melee weapon to no weapon at all, but it would not be my first choice if a firearm were available. It should be recognized, however, that with a firearm, you have to give the user basic weapon's nomenclature, safety, and manipulation training, which, even under pressure, cannot be skipped. If you plan on the zombie apocalypse (and who doesn’t, right?) then this training needs to take place before hand.

Classic ranged weapons such as bows and javelins are often not too high up on the list of zombie apocalypse survival tools. It is just too hard to justify becoming efficient enough with a ranged weapon that it is often impossible to carry more than 10-20 projectiles for to justify it. Flamethrowers are just a bad idea (who wants to have flaming zombies running amok?) This leaves the firearm as the superheavyweight champion of ranged weapons.

A melee weapon needs to be wielded by an arguably young and fit person. Both young and old, sick and well, can use a firearm, providing the would-be zombie assassin is trained in its operation. Example given, your 80-year old grandfather may not be able to hold his own against five zombies in his front yard with only a garden hoe. However, this same hardcase, who had spent his youth battling Rommel in North Africa before Germans knew of techno music, could come out on top if he had an old shotgun and a pocketful of shells.

Even in countries with very strict firearms registration laws such as the UK and Australia, it remains possible to own modern shotguns and other firearms with a certificate. According to figures from the Guardian, in 2011 no less than 1.8 million legally held guns were on record just in England and Wales alone. Granted this is still only about 3300 guns per 100,000 populations, but can you guess to reason which 3300 people would be better equipped in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

*For the record Christopher Eger also recommends nuclear depth charges for use against mermaids, weaponized spider monkeys against aliens, and 84mm antitank rockets with hyperbaric warheads against most bigfoot/yeti type creatures, (provided, of course, that the above prove hostile.) Hey, if they ask for it, they get it.

So there you have it, the case for and against guns as the weapon of choice during the zombie apocalypse. Now you have the information, you can make your own mind up that this new, interloping Chris is wrong!

Still, it's worth checking out his book, which you can find here.

Thanks for taking part Chris, and I wish you well before your imminent, painful death at the hands of the Undead.

Monday, 28 May 2012

#42 Juan of the Dead: Cuban Shaun of the Dead, No Really

First, a disclaimer. Reviewers are really, really lazy people. This is why we spend our time, as it’s often been observed, criticising the work’s of others rather than doing anything productive ourselves. This is why you will so often read reviews that include the phases “An action-packed thrill ride!” or “Fun for the whole family!” And those phrases will always include an exclamation mark, not because the review is particularly enthusiastic about what they’re saying, but because the full stop is smaller and thus slightly harder to find on the keyboard.

This is why when you read the quote “A cross between Indiana Jones, Blade Runner & Star Wars” you should expect not the most mind-blowingly awesome film ever made, but Super Mario Bros, the movie.
A lot of geeks first became disillusioned with the world when they saw The Phantom Menace. For me it was when I was 10 years old and saw this on video for the first time.
I wanted to acknowledge that, because in the face of Juan of the Dead a lot of people have been using the phrase “A Cuban Shaun of the Dead”. On reading that phrase you most probably made the assumption “So it’s a zombie film with jokes in, and it’s set in Cuba, and the reviewer was writing this before knocking off to the pub early”. Firstly- yes, you’re right, every single one of those things is true. It is a zombie film, it is set in Cuba and the reviewer is gasping for a pint, it’s got to be, what? Three PM already?
It's their own fault for using a vaguely similar font.
But aside from that, it’s also true. Juan of the Dead is exactly a Cuban Shaun of the Dead. I’m going to explain how in a second, but first I just want to put our their some of my ideas for “Things that rhyme with ‘Dawn’ Of The Dead” movie ideas.

Prawn of the Dead- Finding Nemo but with zombies.

Porn of the Dead- Obvious.

Pawn of the Dead- The lowly Pawns finally realise they have more in common with each other than the aristocratic chess pieces on either side of the board, and rise up against them.

Gorn of the Dead- The giant lizard aliens seen in the original Star Trek episode “Arena” get infected by a zombie virus.

Juan of the Dead stars a likeable but essentially deadbeat guy with a loveable, chubby and bromantic sidekick. They learn about the zombie apocalypse through the TV and respond in apathetically, not really realising that the world has gone to hell until far too late. Over the course of the film Juan has to overcome his slacker-ish nature to win back an estranged loved one (in this case a daughter, rather than a girlfriend).

And to be clear, none of this is meant as a criticism of Juan of the Dead. As I love mentioning, writers are thieving bastards, and if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. But more than that, Juan of the Dead steals blatantly from Shaun, and then makes it its own.

Ooh, wait, I’ve got some more!

Quorn of the Dead- Vegetarian zombies.

Faun of the Dead- Getting bitten by the infected inexplicably gives you the legs of a goat.

Lawn of the Dead- Zombie grass. More frightening than it sounds.

Forn(ication) of the Dead- See Porn of the Dead.

Corn of the Dead- Sequel to Lawn of the Dead. Zombie ears of corn can only be defeated with hot oil, resulting in weirdly disgusting scenes of them popping on the spot.

Bjorn of the Dead- An outbreak during a production of Mama Mia with terrifying consequences.

Juan of the Dead owns the Cuban Shaun of the Dead label by making the most of the Cuban part of it. Just as Shaun of the Dead makes the most of its London setting, every scene of Juan of the Dead is firmly grounded in Cuba, from the relationships between the neighbours in Juan’s block of flats, to the news’ original description of the zombies as “dissidents” (and in keeping with the “Don’t call them zombies” rule, the survivors refer to zombies as dissidents for the rest of the film).

Even in cases where jokes were lifted entirely wholesale from Shaun of the Dead, Juan pushes them further and puts its own twist on them.

Juan of the Dead is also willing go further and darker with its jokes than Shaun of the Dead. While Shaun was very much set in the version of Britain seen in our sitcoms and romcoms, where you can be a bit of an arsehole but must essentially be an alright guy, in Juan of the Dead there are characters who really don’t think too much about using a zombie apocalypse as a chance to off a couple of people they don’t like too much anyway.

Hey, I just realised something! Rhyming dictionaries!

Yawn of the Dead- Sleepy people rise up and bite people. They people they bite become sleepy. The people they bite become sleepy, until soon nobody can be bothered to get out of bed.

Fawn of the Dead- Bambi’s dad is back from the grave, and he’s pissed off.

Spawn of the Dead- Zombie tadpoles will fuck you up.

Drawn of the Dead- Zombie stick-men.

Awn of the Dead- Hair or bristle-like appendages on plants spread a deadly zombie virus.

Bourne of the Dead- Matt Damon has amnesia and fights zombies.

Horn of the Dead- An adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist play Rhinoceros, only done accurately in a way that’s nothing like its previous movie adaptation, Zombie Strippers (true story).

In the end, Juan of the Dead reminded me why I keep coming back to zombie movies over and over again, and it’s not just because I’ve set myself up to have to keep a blog about them updated on a semi-regular basis.

Even when you can tell, really obviously, where a zombie film is getting its inspiration room, that comes side by side with seeing what new things they’re bringing to the table, and how they’re interpreting the things they steal. In an age of remakes and reboots zombie movies are telling the same story over and over again, and every time there’s something new to say. I think there’s something kind of brilliant in that.

Have I already done “Porn of the Dead”?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Winner of the Brand New Apocalypse Competition

As promised, today we’re announcing the winner of our tickets to The London Dungeon! But before I tell you the winner, can I just add: You disgust me. All of you. Seriously.
This guy is also ashamed of you.
Still, nobody seemed to put quite as much thought into the obliteration of our entire species as one Alex Labram. I’ll let him explain our terrifying but inevitable downfall himself:

“So these days a lot of people get pacemakers. And a few people have even got proper wired-in cybernetic limbs. And scientists are getting better at understanding brain neural behaviour, so full-on implants are only a matter of time.

I don't think we've thought this through. After all, these things aren't exactly nuclear-hardened, are they...

You see where this is going. The cyberisation of society is pretty much inevitable at this point - look how fast smartphones took off. And once they're actually *wired into our skulls and bodies*, we're going to start outsourcing more and more functions to them. Imagine a world where you rely on your adrenal implant to kick you awake in the morning, or you use silicon storage space to juggle extra thoughts in short-term memory. Now imagine if you suddenly lost that.

Once we reach that point, just a handful of nukes detonated at high altitude (Or, alternatively, a non-nuclear phenomenon. I imagine a sufficiently big solar flare could do it, for example) would be enough to obliterate society. People would have to re-learn how to *wake up in the morning*, for chrissakes. Every part of our economy would instantly fall apart. People would have no food, no water, no skills, and when they go to look up survivalist info on Wikipedia... argh.

When that happens, I give Homo Sapiens one month, of which the last two weeks will involve substantial cannibalism. Because the only thing too stupid to run away from a hungry semi-lobotomised human... will be another semi-lobotomised human. (Or possibly a dog. Dogs have it coming.)

And then the world will be silent. At least until the next species sits up and thinks "hey, what would happen if I rubbed these sticks together?" It's downhill all the way from there, folks.”

Alex, you’re getting tickets. I am sure you deserve everything you get in the London Dungeon.

Monday, 23 April 2012

#41 The Hunger Games: Winning Strategies

If you’re anything like me then when you saw or read The Hunger Games, there was one thought on your mind. “How could I kill that many children?” See, like most geeks, I have drawn up detailed and infallible plans in the case of a Romero-style zombie apocalypse. Zombies, after all, are stupid and easy to outrun, even if in practice they do end up killing everyone.

But The Hunger Games presents a more dangerous challenge. Here your adversaries aren’t just wandering around aimlessly, they’re actively hunting you down, and they’re crafty and quick and can fit in small spaces.

This worried me a great deal, so, much like Batman compensates for his lack of super powers with detailed and unstoppable contingency plans to take down everyone in the Justice League, so I have decided to compensate for my complete lack of physical strength, speed or agility by finding the deadliest Hunger Games strategies I could, and developing ways to defeat them.

These are the results of this study. Hopefully the writers, bloggers and Tom I got to contribute won’t actually read the blog, otherwise all this effort will have been for nothing.

Adele Wearing
One of the minds behind Alt.Fiction and the Unbound Blogzene but notably she is also one of writers for The Girls' Guide toSurviving the Apocalypse, meaning she’s spent a great deal of time coming up with survival strategies.

Special Abilities: Kickboxing

Strategy: “Faced with a grand game of murderkilldestroy I have a fundamental problem. I'm an idiot in a fight. I kickbox competitively and so this is a proven fact. I am not especially fast, or skilled, I always get beaten and I keep going forwards no matter how hard or how often they hit me. My team think I'm fearless, I suspect I just don't know any better.

Now this is bad enough when dealing with one girl who has gloves on, I've had black eyes and a busted nose in spite of safety equipment, but go a bit Hunger Games and it gets a whole lot worse. I have no weapons skills, well, I did archery at school and I wasn't a bad shot IF I could remember which eye to close. That was some 20 years ago now.

I'm average weight, height and fitness for a woman in her 30's, I am not naturally athletic in any way and I haven't climbed a tree for those same 20 years. Katniss I am not.

So where does that leave me? Largely I suspect, if I'm smart enough not to join in any initial melee, slinking away until I can form an alliance or two. I am, actually, pretty smart and not an entirely bad strategist. I can also, when my livelihood and therefore presumably my life, depends on it, pull a little charm out of somewhere. My strategy then, if I'm not among the first to fall, is pretty simple, identify the strong but dumb ones, manipulate them into being my defensive circle and when the field is a little smaller, start setting them on each other. I pretty much have to get through this thing without going toe to toe with anyone, coz I'll lose. So that's it, not very honourable or dignified, but sometimes it's survival of the sneakiest and any anthropologist will tell you, it's in our DNA.”

Plan to Defeat: Form an alliance with her early on. When she’s least expecting it, stab her in the back of the knees.

Grant Howitt
Grant Howitt, as the designer of Drunken Bear Fighter and one of the organisers of Zombie LARP is clearly no stranger to brutal death arenas where nobody gets out alive. On the other hand, he has neither seen the film nor read the books of The Hunger Games, making him something of a wild card.

Special Abilities: He can be very shouty.

Strategy: “Despite my proven success rate with surviving the undead, I'm not as skilled at actively murdering living human beings for sport. They move around too much. They hold weapons, can run, and use advanced tactics like "standing behind walls so to not get shot" and "not chasing hungrily after thrown glowsticks."

Basically, all my normal avenues of approach (including, to an extent, sending wave after wave of "team-mates" against them) are useless. Also, I haven't seen the film. Or read the book. Or even watched a proper trailer, really. There were some posters on the tube, so I guess I'm going to have to go with that for research because I'm a BUSY* MAN. Here's my findings, condensed into some tips:

1) GET A GUN. That girl in the coat, her with the hair and the face - she uses a bow and arrow a lot - that's her first mistake right there. A quick examination of current military forces shows that only a fraction of a percent use bows rather than guns (that fraction of a percent being made entirely of John Rambo and no-one else) as guns are easier to carry, shoot further and faster, and don't require you to carry around a backful of weaponised chopsticks in case trouble comes a-knockin'.

Plus, they're cooler - there's a reason Neo doesn't unfurl his leather trenchcoat to reveal a dizzying array of compound sports bows, mainly because they would jangle around the place and get stuck on things - which brings me to my next point.

2) IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU ARE COOL AS SHIT. SLA Industries was a formative text in my upbringing, and it taught me the art of stylish ultraviolence. So it's important that you give the viewers what they want, if ratings are anything to go by (these things are televised, right? I half-watched an advert on telly, it looked like it had Lenny Kravitz in it or something) but, and this is the important thing here, don't be a dick about it. Be incredibly violent, but also self-effacing and really down-to-earth. If you break someone's arm against a future-tree and artfully dash their brains out with a rock, try not to grin while you do it but make sure that any camera operators get your absolute best angle at all times.

Also, look a bit sad after you kill someone. Like how Spider-Man must feel. In fact, point three:
Sad like that! Perfect!
3) BE SPIDER-MAN. He's the scrappy underdog everyone loves! Plus he has magic glands under his wrists that kick out sticky fluid at a moment's notice, and the proportional strength and speed of a spider, and their famous powers of precognition which explains the rise of wholly authentic but unintelligible spider psychics in the late Victorian Era. Did you know how many innocent psychics were stepped on, just because they were spiders, or perhaps because they were chasing after a tasty-looking fly mid-seance? Lots, I bet.

Although being Spider-Man is probably fairly tricky, because you need to get bitten by a spider and not inherit the super powers of cold sweats, excruciating pain and death, like most bite victims do.

4) DO NOT GET BITTEN BY SPIDERS. I can't stress this enough, even in light of tip number 3. Spiders are either dangerous (vis Black Widow) or useless (vis Daddy Longlegs) and getting bitten isn't going to help you any, especially if you're fighting a number of other photogenic teens to the death in a post-apocalyptic woodland setting (is it in the woodlands? It looks a bit woody from all that performance gear they're wearing).

SURE, it seems like a good idea NOW to carry a tupperware full of venomous spiders and radioactive material in your backpack next to your Colt .45, but it's going to be distracting popping it open during a fight and shaking the spiders down your top in an effort to get on some of that superhero goodness. Plus we all know it takes a WHOLE NIGHT for the powers to kick in, at which point you wake up and no longer need glasses.

Anyway, that's probably enough words. In summary - get a gun, break people's arms and then look a bit sad about it, something about spiders. Great."


Plan to Defeat: Put spiders in his hair.

Kim Curran
Kim Curran writes science fiction for young adults, including her soon be released novel Shift. Writing young adult fiction means Kim is familiar with The Hunger Games’ genre, and has no scruples about subjecting children to horrific death. A worthy adversary.

Special Skills: A crack shot sniper (In videogames and paintball)

Strategy: “I’ve always fancied myself as a sniper. Ever since taking out Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid 1 with my first shot. And then there was that time I went paint balling and I hid up a tree and took everyone down without them seeing me. That was fun. Till I couldn’t get back down and I had to call for help and I was pummelled with paintballs as punishment. But bruises the size of dinner plates aside, sneaky sniper would definitely be the way forward for me.

So, that would be my strategy. Run. Hide. Get a weapon. A Dragunov SVD if there happened to be one handy (my sniper rifle of choice). If not, I would try and jury-rig a cross bow or a blow dart with darts tipped with juice from those poisonous berries. And then I’d run and hide again and slowly, patiently, take everyone out one by one.

I certainly wouldn’t go running off looking for some boy who might or might not have a crush on me. And as for any small Rue-like contenders, sorry, sweetheart, you’re on your own. I’m here to win.

Once I’d won, I’d take the rifle or dart or crossbow and use it to take President Snow out, thereby ending the Hunger Games once and for all. And then I would declare it Kim Day. The day where, instead of killing each other, children would be chosen from all the districts in Pan Am to make me cake. And I would award the winning cake bakers with more cake!

So I would win the Hunger Games with a Russian semi-automatic sniper rifle. And I would win their hearts with cake.

Where do I volunteer?”

Plan to Defeat: Sneak up behind Kim with a big rock. Hit her with big rock.

Tom Harvey
Our blog’s favourite buttmonkey, Tom Harvey is the bassist of post-sadcore fun pop rock band Hello Bear, who this month released their first album. If you Google Tom’s name and his band’s name, this picture comes up:
I did that
Special Abilities: Is able to eat lead paint without any apparent side effects.

Strategy: “I would initially run to safety, without trying to grab supplies. I would wait for the initial carnage to grind out, from a safe distance (possibly up a tree), and then pick a target from the survivors. I would track them, and attack them when deemed appropriate, using some sort of blunt object (branch, rock etc.). This would be the basis of my general strategy - sucker punching. Pick off individuals tactically by not letting them know of your presence until it's too late. The Barcelone tactic of waiting out the opposition, people will fall to complacency, and then i shall pounce. Alternatively I'll just follow the hardest one, let them kill everyone, then brain them when they're not looking.”

Plan to Defeat: Paint the mouth of a tunnel onto a rock face. Hide behind a boulder. Wait.

What’s your Hunger Games winning strategy? Write it in the comments below and I promise not to use it against you!