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Green Man Music "green-man-music" (United Kingdom)

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The Picture of Contented New Wealth: a Metaphysical Horror (Zero Books)
The Picture of Contented New Wealth: a Metaphysical Horror (Zero Books)
by Tariq Goddard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contented with it, though not possessed, 22 Aug. 2010
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"The Picture Of Contented New Wealth" is essentially a metaphysical philosophical discourse using the allegory of demonic spirit possession of the wife and child of the wealthy and materialistic Conti and the Tyger Tyger house where they live.

It's told in an allegorical folk-tale style, populated by characters with names such as Conti (the Yuppie) Bliss (the Shrink), Stack (who does the filing), the eccentric Hatters, Mr Squeers (likes young boys), Mr Crook (Vicar) Raffle (smokes Silk Cut), and so on - a Colonel Mustard wouldn't have gone amiss in this line-up. All of the characters with the exception of the possessed woman and son, the mysterious exorcist (The Rector) and perhaps the housekeeper, are portrayed pretty much as the empty vessels they are.

The author creates a highly enjoyable portrayal of the behaviour of the possessed mother and child both during their possession and the subsequent exorcism, while the other characters react to the bizarre goings on by reflecting back on their own lives, loves, desires and wealth.

The message of the mind as something free from the body and the material cosmos of which it is a part, and the fact that Conti realises that it's the non-corporeal mind of his wife he's trying to rescue and can't just buy everything better, and of course the subtler references and further discussion that could be had, is for me personally almost incidental to a witty and reference-loaded story of a possession and exorcism.

Twelve: (The Danilov Quintet 1)
Twelve: (The Danilov Quintet 1)
by Jasper Kent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Russian Winter Nights, 22 Aug. 2010
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"Twelve" is set during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in the early 1800s. A Russian Special Forces team among which is the story's protagonist Aleksei, recruits a team of twelve Wallachian assassins in an attempt to slow the progress of Napoleon's forces. As they begin their operations, Aleksei begins to worry as to their their true nature; they refuse to meet in daylight, enjoy playing with and torturing their victims, and rumours of plague follow them wherever they go. "Twelve" is a refreshing return to the monstrous, from the plethora of fluffy vampire nonsense currently offending our screens and bookshelves.

Some of the descriptive prose could have been better; strong on blood and guts though it is, Twelve" is particularly lacking in a "feel" of the 1800s with not many descriptive references to the life and artifacts of the era to give a sense where the reader is. Buildings, barns, cannons and people all exist today but must have looked different to how they do nowadays, and more actual description of them would have helped.

However Kent's use of psychological devices is excellent, and one of the lead vampire's psychological manipulation of him and his humanness, particularly in relation to his lover, is very well done and quite gripping. "Twelve" is full of this psychology of edgy potential betrayal and a lack of trust between all quarters; set in the snowy midwinter darkness of Russia it has an overwhelmingly dark and mistrustful feel to it. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

Apartment 16
Apartment 16
by Adam Nevill
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You'll Never Leave, 22 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: Apartment 16 (Paperback)
Apartment 16 is a novel largely set in an exclusive block of apartments in London. The lead character, Apryl, inherits the apartment and arrives to find Barrington House a strange place full of eccentric inhabitants, dark secrets, and rooms with prohibited access.

The story follows the parallel lives of Apryl and Seth, one of the night-staff at the hotel, whose paths don't generally cross. As Apryl delves into her Great Aunt's history and the building's past and begins to unearth strange secrets, she attempts to find the truth from some of the elderly and cantankerous inhabitants of the apartment that knew her Great Aunt. Meanwhile Seth is lured to Apartment 16 by strange nocturnal noises, and eventually starts having visions and conversations with a mysterious hooded boy, before succumbing to an almost possessed art-frenzy, in the style of a Hieronymus Bosch-esqe painter called Hessen who used to live in the apartment.

As their stories begin to come together, Apryl joining a small fanatical almost cult-like group of Hessen appreciators, and Seth converting the walls of his bedsit into a grotto of Hessen imagery, it begins to become clear that what lies in the depths of Apartment 16 that keeps the building's occupants prisoners and slowly drives them mad, is a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions.

Apartment 16 is a well-written and well paced book that remains pretty original despite clear nods to some works that have gone before it involving buildings and pictures with portals: Lovecraft's "The Picture in the House" and "The Dreams in the Witch House" are two, and films like "Toolbox Murders" with magic-working runes disguised as art painted on each level (itself a film carrying references to Polanski's "The Tenant" whose protagonist is driven crazy by the building's eccentric occupants).

The claustrophobia of the building and its ability to prevent occupants from traveling too far away are vividly portrayed and the book genuinely has a dark, dismal, and sinister feel about it and finishes with a nice twist about another character in the story, and that Lovecraftian note of futility; that some of the story's characters have merely had a lucky escape from something malevolent and much more powerful than them.

The Passage
The Passage
by Justin Cronin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 28 Years Later ..., 22 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: The Passage (Hardcover)
The Passage is a huge volume set into different parts and spanning different generations of characters affected by the event which starts the novel; this being the escape of genetically-meddled with death row inmates who were being experimented upon by the military as part of its search for a new breed of soldier.

The first part of the book is set in either the here and now, or at least a recognisable near future, and follows the story of intelligence agents as they try to persuade death row prisoners to sign up to a secret scheme where they are released from prison in return for their assisting the military. Things begin to go sour when the agents first become wary that one of the prisoners might not have been as guilty as it appeared on the surface, and sour further to the point of rebellion when they are then asked to recruit a young recently orphaned innocent girl, the central character Amy.

The next part of the story centres around the events post-break out of the transformed prisoners (unfortunately described at an early stage by the author as "zombie elves", momentarily taking the depth of the sinister experiments away from the reader) and whatever GM virus they are carrying, which spreads rapidly and turns anyone they bite into fellow zombies. Towns begin to be deserted as trains take evacuees to more secure settlements as the world as we know it begins to change. Among the evacuees is Amy, who escaped from the military installation and apparently suffered no ill-effects from the experiments unlike everyone else.

The much larger remaining part of the book is set further in the future and is taken up with the characters that defend a fort in the desert where a future generation of humans try to defend themselves against the nightly onslaught of the day-fearing zombies, and their eventual decision to attempt to abandon the fort when power supplies begin to fail and the citizens begin to turn into a superstitious and unruly mob provoked by the arrival of a mysterious little girl called Amy who has knowledge beyond her years and appears to have been able to walk through the desert alone and unmolested and bears strange psychic powers that keep the zombies at bay.

There's no doubt about it that the Passage is a good read, enjoyable and easy to get through despite its size - Cronin has an engaging style of writing, and one can't fault his structure or dialogue.

My gripe is the sheer unoriginality of many of his ideas; military experiments gone wrong, psychic children, people barricading themselves into a siege scenario with zombies, creatures that bite people's necks, drink their blood, hate daylight, are fascinated by their reflections in mirrors, and anyone who is bitten by them rises as one of them shortly afterwards. Using characters' dialogue, Cronin - obviously very aware that readers are going to spot the uncanny similarities with vampires - tries to tackle this by having the characters watch Dracula movies and discuss this very fact themselves, although without conclusion.

So although a well-written and well-paced zombie story, with the additional dimensions of characters affected by the experiments having longevity and psychic abilities and having "lead zombies" being the original experiment subjects - I couldn't help the feeling that much of it had really been done before so frequently, with the most recent similarity perhaps being the 28 Days Later films - themselves excellent but undisguisedly derivative.

But if you're a big fan of zombies, vampires, or indeed "vampire elves", it's a highly enjoyable and entertaining read and the style of an intermittent narration from the far future lends a "legend" feel to the whole story and gives it an interesting, if not particularly uplifting, ending.

3.5 stars

The Plague [DVD] [2006]
The Plague [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ James Van der Beek
Price: £2.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Zombie Beebies, 29 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: The Plague [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
The premise of "The Plague" is that the world's toddlers, having all mysteriously fallen into a coma one night and having for the most part been kept alive drip-fed on hospital beds, all suddenly wake up years later when they're in their teens as zombies, and go on a rampage.

The Plague is essentially a zombie story with a number of nods in the direction of the 1970s zombie films of David Cronenberg such as Shivers [1975] and Rabid [1977]. Although it starts off quite eerily, as it progresses it soon becomes ridden with genre cliches and uses these devices familiar from many other films along the way, with the notable exceptions of hydraulic animation and massive amounts of gore. Not having these zombie staples one would be forgiven for thinking that the plot - or at least the acting - would compensate, however unfortunately for the most part it doesn't.

The cause of the zombification is never explained (they're obviously not Undead, but they are clearly zombies); one child zombie is apparently a leader and performs a ritual when killing certain people, and the film is punctuated here and there with various biblical sounding references regarding children. None of these elements are followed up or explained. The other potentially interesting plot development involved the children that had mysteriously survived the zombification process and appeared to be ignored by the zombies. However once taken up, this plotline is soon forgotten about too.

So basically the film pans out as a small group of adults trying to get out of zombie-town but not really succeeding, and any story hinted at beyond that is really up to the viewer to decide.

I'd expected more from a Clive Barker feature than The Plague offered, and though it's not a wholly bad film and is certainly watchable, it's spoiled by a huge lack of originality and somewhat dullish delivery.

District 9 [DVD] [2009]
District 9 [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Sharlto Copley
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £2.00

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Entertaining, 28 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: District 9 [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
District 9 is a film about alien creatures housed in a ghetto of that name, in contemporary South Africa. The story has them arriving on earth after something goes wrong with their mother ship and it ends up hanging lifeless over Johannesburg; the millions of sick and starving creatures aboard are put into the ghetto.

Due to the proximity of the ghetto to the city, mounting public pressure means the creatures are to be relocated, and the film follows the story of a bureaucrat tasked with issuing the creatures holed up in their shacks with eviction notices.

Despite being a fairly simple story with similar opening scenes to other sci-fi fayre such as "V" [1984]and "Independence Day", District 9 waives the cheesy Roswell gags and gung-ho nonsense of Independence Day [1996] and places the aliens in a kind of "are they good or are they bad?" limbo, while portraying humans of all motivations pretty well as themselves.

The viewers' introduction to the story is put together as a series of news segments, one way of saving time on background build-up while throwing the viewer straight into the story; it then pans out into a fairly linear storyboard with little in the way of twists or huge surprises, though this doesn't impair its character.

Peter Jackson's involvement in the production guarantees some splattery gore though it's not overdone, and there are a couple of mutation scenes very reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum's bathroom mirror scene in The Fly [1986]. We're also on familiar ground with the usual sinister machinations of the military-industrial complex, and the protagonist trying to protest his innocence when he's stitched up for conspiring with the aliens. But as well as the familiar themes, there are also some new things here, mainly that it's a world that's dystopian from the alien point of view rather than the human one. There's also a cabal of Nigerian scammers thrown in for good measure.

I've noticed comments from some reviewers saying that they couldn't understand why it had to be set in S.A., I can only assume that certain people only like to watch films that are set in their own country and feel cheated if they don't see the Statue of Liberty blown up/deluged/frozen over or with a monster climbing over it.

In all, it's a film that borrows from both the heavier and lighter end of sci-fi without having to be either, makes great use of special effects (I'd have loved to have seen this when it came out at the cinema rather than just on a DVD)and is basically just an excellent piece of entertainment.

The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics)
The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics)
by Plato
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gone To The Pleasant Land Of Phthia ... But Not Forgotten, 22 Oct. 2009
Plato brings to life completely the incredible character of Socrates in four short books.

The first, "Euthyphro" shows the Philosopher in action, cross-examining and pretty much destroying the pious pretensions of another; "The Apology", Socrates' case for his innocence at his trial; "Crito", a conversation with this close friend while the philosopher is incarcerated in an Athenian prison, and "Phaedo", an account of Socrates' final conversation with his followers on the eve of his execution in 399 BCE.

Although the author is Plato, many of the words of his master Socrates are probably quoted verbatim, particularly likely in the detailed accounts of his legal self-defence, giving us a true glimpse of an extraordinarily larger than life character with a philosophy that baffled (and indeed outraged) many of his peers.

In other areas some of the dialogue spoken by others in conversations with Socrates seems very similar, leading at least this reader to believe that Plato is really concentrating on showing the character of Socrates and less so that of the many people he spoke with. Alternatively it could be that Socrates' oratory was so mindbogglingly intense that nobody could get a word in edgeways, and thus all of those he conversed with had no choice but to reply, when they got the chance, with the same "Yes Socrates" and "I suppose it must be, Socrates" responses, or words to this effect.

I loved Socrates by the end of this book, my second and long overdue re-read of it; but I'm under no illusion that he most certainly wouldn't be a person I'd want to get sat next to in a pub. Genuinely and passionately believing himself to be, somewhat Blues-Brothers like, on a mission from God (though via the Oracle at Delphi rather than Whoopi Goldberg), his task to prove to anyone who thought they might be wise that infact they couldn't possibly be.

Naturally both Socrates' premise and methodology - that of an intense philosophical cross-examination inflicted upon his subjects often randomly, and certainly not at their request - landed him in trouble. Intelligent, witty and sarcastic by turn, Socrates demolished his opponents with such rigour that he attracted an abundance of young hangers-on who promptly went forth and emulated his questioning style to the point where he was finally arrested on charges of "corrupting the young".

There is much humour here, and very accessible it is too; while the past is indeed a different country when it comes to the logic behind Athenian sentencing, any modern reader will recognise and very probably laugh out loud at Socrates' use of sarcastic flattery while he slowly and laboriously pulls to pieces the arguments of his subjects.

There is of course tragedy here too; Socrates is so highly principled that he has no fear of death and will not kow-tow just to get himself off the hook. Instead, in his defence he makes a lengthy philosophical speech which clearly irritates and bores the court - but also angers them as in typical style, Socrates blows their case out of the water with his famed use of logic.

Nevertheless the story still ends in tragedy; but at the same time Plato, determined to immortalise his master, has ensured that the (mostly) true stories of Socrates' religious and philosophical beliefs, his character and personality, and his amazing and unshakable strength of character in the face of death, have indeed always remained with us.

The Woods [DVD] [2006]
The Woods [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Agnes Bruckner

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drink Your Milk, 9 Oct. 2009
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This review is from: The Woods [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did. However for a film set in the 1960s but made in the noughties, it really does look like it hails from the era of '60s and '70s horror cult classics, and even mines a similar vein to that of some of the old-school (forgive the pun) horror films.

The scenario follows the story of a teenage girl is sent away by her exasperated parents to a girls' academy, an ancient rambling boarding school surrounded by dense woods.

The teachers are eerie, blank-faced and almost inanimate, ruthlessly strict and uncompromising. The girl is subjected first to an apparent bullying obsession by another girl, and then to a series of nightmares about girls who have vanished from the school. Meanwhile the protagonist is subjected to a series of inexplicable tests and strange interviews with the head teacher, before finding herself having to venture into the woods to retrieve a ball and catching glimpses of what lies out there.

As with older horror films, this one doesn't rely on jumps and masses of blood, nor does it waste most of its time with a single device (such as one person in a mask hunting everyone else down). Instead, it manages to feature everything from strange characters, medical meddling, psychic manifestations and animated trees to ghostly apparitions and witchcraft.

Above all it's a well-made and atmospheric film, highly supernatural rather than gorily horrific and does hark back to the type of film made in the days of The Wicker Man [1973], Season Of The Witch [1972] , and Rosemary's Baby [1968] .

It might not become a cult classic like them, but for me it did emulate at least some of the atmosphere they created.

From Within [DVD]
From Within [DVD]
Dvd ~ Adam Goldberg
Price: £2.56

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Magical Tragedy, 9 Oct. 2009
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This review is from: From Within [DVD] (DVD)
I was surprised in a number of ways by this film; mostly pleasantly. It's a film that moves slightly more slowly and with a bit more thought than its contemporaries. It asks questions and seeks answers rather than going for jumps and thrills, and ends in a tragic but quite profound way.

The scenario is based around a small deeply religious Christian town with a past and a dark secret, both of which are disturbed when it suddenly faces an unusually high rate of teenage suicides. The townsfolk's puritan wrath is turned on the town's solitary practicing Pagan who lives alone since the mysterious death of his mother. The story's main protagonist is a girl who falls for him after dumping the local Pastor's son, and what follows is her attempt to pull fact from fear and fiction regarding both the spate of suicides - including that of her best friend - and the earlier death of the boy's mother.

Although a clearly supernatural horror featuring high magic and doppelganger-style spirits, the film looks closely at the relationships between the often highly hypocritical puritanical townsfolk who operate like a Salem mob, and the very impressive and honest portrayal of the Pagans - I was pleased they weren't a bunch of daffodil-loving hippies being picked on by nasty Christians, but shown as humans with just as many faults, and that they too can abuse power and make bad judgments.

Ultimately the film is about the abuse of power; the power of a community acting as one, and the power of magic when used for the wrong reasons, and the sacrifices that are required to restore balance. It doesn't have any happy endings, and in many ways it's better for it.

Simon Says [DVD]
Simon Says [DVD]
Dvd ~ Crispin Glover
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £3.53

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Take Your Pick, 9 Oct. 2009
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This review is from: Simon Says [DVD] (DVD)
Yes, once more a bunch of tweenies head out into remote woodland for a weekend of hedonistic partying, get lost, and run into a bunch of local rednecks, one of whom is a psycho. Some horror directors/scriptwriters just don't seem to bother starting with any other premise these days; it's clearly a successful formula. However unlike films such as Wrong Turn [2003], 'Simon Says' has a less creepy but much faster-moving pace, and comes over as much a pastiche or parody of the genre as it does a genuine party to it.

With some very light background thrown in to explain the antagonist's psychosis, the film pans out as a madcap chase through the woods at night, with the psycho laying ingenious tricks and traps with which to catch his victims that Robin Hood or the Ewoks would have been proud of. His signature killing machine is a pickaxe-hurler, like a giant bolt-thrower upgraded for use with mining tools - it looks great, but upon seeing his apparently infinite supply of pickaxes fired across the forest, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd entered Monty Python (or perhaps Warhammer) terriotory.

The film isn't a serious creeper, it's more in the school of tongue-in-cheek Zombie movies where provided there's plenty of blood and screaming, any kind of silliness goes. It's not a particularly bad film either, once you can figure out whether to take it seriously or not.

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