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The Uninvited [1944] [DVD]
The Uninvited [1944] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ray Milland
Price: £12.20

103 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling ghost story, 10 July 2012
This review is from: The Uninvited [1944] [DVD] (DVD)
I've long been a fan of this classic ghost movie. I watch an inordinate amount of horror, and this is one of the few that contains genuine scares. And it was made more than 60 years ago.

Rick (Ray Milland on fantastic form, combining a light touch with heavyweight acting chops) and his sister buy a cliffside house from a curmudgeonly old man. They soon find out about the desperate sound of a woman crying in the night, but by then it's too late and they are stuck with the place. Worse, the old man's grand-daughter seems drawn to the house, although something there appears to want to harm her. Old, ugly secrets come to the surface as the brother and sister try to find out what is wrong with Windward House.

The Uninvited weaves its story with so many eerie scenes - the shadow on the stairs that frightens Lizzy, the crying in the night, the seance, the moment when Rick realizes the horror isn't over - that put modern imitators to shame.

The Uninvited has no irritating, over-wrought teenagers, no blood and guts, no tiresome, unwieldy psychological backgrounds cluttering up the characters and therefore the story. What it does have is an intelligent script, appropriate music and extremely good, restrained acting. What also stands out is the deft use of shadows and sounds, and of actors who can play characters who are truly afraid but eschew tedious hysteria in favour of stiff upper lips. The scene where Rick and his sister are in the studio and she tries to convince herself that the atmosphere of evil has gone - film-makers of the 21st century, take note.

If you want a fantastic, old-fashioned chiller of a ghost story, try this on some dark and stormy night.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2012 2:47 PM GMT


Burning An Illusion [1981] [DVD]
Burning An Illusion [1981] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Cox
Price: £6.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Back in the day, 29 April 2012
This is an amazing film about the journey of a young woman to come into awareness as a black person in late 70s/early 80s London. This period was a really important one for black people in the UK, especially London, so this film is an essential one for anyone interested in black film-making and social history.

The acting and directing is low-key excellent, and the story is involving and evocative. A real winner.


The First Days (as the World Dies, Book One)
The First Days (as the World Dies, Book One)
by Rhiannon Frater
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.73

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't stop putting it down, 10 April 2012
The many glowing reviews of this book persuaded me that it would be a great read. Though I don't like knocking new authors, I wish I'd paid more attention to the minority of dissenting voices and I hope to do some other prospective reader a favour with this review. I hope.

First of all, let me say I loved the opening scene - the child's fingers questing under the door, the mother trembling on the porch, thinking irrelevant thoughts, unable to equate this with her life. Masterly.

If only the rest of the work had lived up to it.

I wanted to like the story, and it had some truly exciting moments, but just as I was getting into the swing of a scene or a character, I'd stub my toe on amateurish writing - too many adverbs, sentences that tell us with a clunk what we should be able to infer ('Jenni sighed contentedly, obviously relaxing' -first of all, if you 'sigh contentedly', we can infer you're relaxed, thanks, and then, by the way, if I can point to another element of amateurish writing, 'obvious' to whom? From whose point of view is this scene? Unfocused head-hopping is not the route to good storytelling).

Then there's the flat-out typos and bad grammar and punctuation. Also the teeth-clenchingly irritating 'Gawd' thing and the childish, unconvincing Juan and Jenni love-hate relationship, which might have worked if there'd not been a sentence where it became apparent that we (or Jenni) are really supposed to believe she hates him. Or if they'd been characters from 'The Gilmore Girls'.

There's a sequence over pages 243-247 where almost every single movement of the characters is laid out for us - there are so many smiles (including sad, half and kind-of), winces, nods, frowns, sighs, fingertip-running, elbow-resting and food-shoving, that I almost threw the damn book across the room (angrily, sliding to my feet, but with a small, sad half-smile, of course). Micro-managed character-action does not add to character! It just gets in the way of story and treats the reader like an idiot who can't imagine those things for herself. If a character is running his knife along his throat, yes, that would be relevant in telling us something about him. Everything else is just dross that the author doesn't yet have the confidence to leave out.

Another bone I have to pick is the Lydia theme. If a character is haunted by grief, the writer has to find a way to present it in a way that's interesting to the reader, not just repeat how sad and angry and regretful Katie is, at every opportunity.

On the plus side, some of the dialogue is zippy and funny, and the action scenes are exciting. The writer obviously had great fun writing her book.

As I see from the other reviews, many readers are OK with bad writing if there is an exciting story and characters they can identify with - that's fine, but if you're not one of those lucky people, I would avoid this one. I love zombie novels and they're just as easy to write well as any other, if the author has the skill. Ms Frater, I'm afraid, needs to hone her craft a lot more before I would ever read any more of her work. I would suggest she studies Strunk's 'Elements of Style' til it's coming out of her ears.

I, who normally whiz through books at a pace I wish I could slow down, took months to finish 'The First Days/As the World Dies'. I wanted a great, zippy read, but what I got was a book I could not stop putting down.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2013 7:34 AM GMT


Mistresses - Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD]
Mistresses - Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sarah Parish
Price: £18.99

0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful twaddle, 7 Jan. 2012
Please don't let this set the bar for BBC dramas to come. Average acting, predictable but still ludicrous storylines and for the most part, pretty bad writing, make this one to pass over. I guess if you like fluff with no substance, OK, but even then, there are other shows that do this much better. They could at least have had better actors on board, but then, I guess the really good ones would have sacked any agent who dared give them the script. Orla Brady is the best of the bunch of leads.


Exiled
Exiled
by Shireen Jilla
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pleasing but flawed, 27 Dec. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Exiled (Paperback)
Much of this novel about a Brit at the mercy of a manipulative, seemingly unassailable New York blue-blood, was wonderful. Anna's plight will make you furious and terrified, especially if you are a parent. You read with dread, braced for the train-wreck of the denouement. At times, I was fuming at Anna's passivity and bad judgement (getting drunk in front of the woman who wants to prove her an unfit mother? refusing to tell her own mum and sister, at least for moral support? Mine would have been on the next plane, with blood in their eye and God help any NYer who got in their way)

But the big discovery scene that catalysts the conclusion is laughable. Nothing about Anna's shocking discovery rings true. No hotel of even ill-repute would have a reception desk empty long enough to have the book perused at length and the key for a guest's room tracked down and stolen. And do hotels even have books like that any more? Surely one signs individual cards which are filed away from possible prying eyes? It's all a bit 'suspend disbelief', to an almost 'deus ex machina' degree, which really weakens the story.

Also, the editing is sub-standard. How can such a reputable publisher allow the mistake of 'loose' instead of 'lose'? This happens not once, but at least four times! There is a part of the novel towards the end where it is clear there is a line or sentence missing. I also got jolted by one other clear spelling mistake. Too, Anna's evil stepmother-in-law is referred to (by Anna) as Anna's son's stepmother, repeatedly. She's not. She's his step-grandmother.

If there were a more believable climax and better editing, this book would truly be a wonderful debut. As it is, there is still a lot to like in this scary social thriller.


Something Evil
Something Evil
by Arthur Hoffe
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars 1 1/2 for Horror Melodrama, 27 Oct. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm currently reading my way through horror literature new to me but published before the 80s. Some of them, like Samson's 'The Auctioneer' hold up well to this day. Others, well...this one from 1968 falls into the 'others, well...' category.

A mysterious family arrives in a New England town, at a time I'm still unable to determine. It's a time of carriages and servants, but it's usual for a young woman to run her own business. I'm going with 'Edwardian'. I'm the first to admit I'm not an expert on early 1900s New England, but the social mores seem to be far too modern. Did young women just tell men they wanted to marry them? Did shopkeepers hobnob with lawyers? There is nothing of the flavour of the times; this might just as well be set in 1968, so I'm wondering why the author bothered setting it period. So that he could have the mysterious girl stand on a cliff with her cloak billowing around her, ref. 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'? OK. So mother, son and daughter are reclusive, with the son running the show and a cache of horrid sculptures installed in the garden. The daughter is believed to be deranged, but the truth turns out to be much worse.

Something Evil is written in true melodramatic, cliched style. Eyes are 'large and luminous', or they 'cloud over with pain'. Heroines flee weeping to their rooms. The mysterious man is handsome and stand-offish, but breaks into 'peals of delighted laughter' when the heroine braves his rudeness and 'speaks frankly' to him. Dear God. I found the characters totally 'stock', ie, the fat, drawling, sheriff, the plucky heroine who somehow doesn't realise her male friend is in love with her, and is as irritating as most 'plucky heroines' are, the Mr Rochester-lite man of mystery...

Even if you can wade through this type of thing, there's a denouement that is identical to one of a very famous horror, also written about this time, with a twist some aspects of which you'll probably see coming. But the truth behind the statues, sign-posted as it is, is very eerie and visual. That accounts for my half-point.


The Witches
The Witches
by Peter Curtis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Re-issue of an eerie little story, 26 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Witches (Paperback)
This book was written in 1960 and is set in 1959, so right from the start, think along the lines of 'Rosemary's Baby' rather than 'Stephen King' when it comes to horror explicitness.

An 'old-maid' schoolteacher (all of 44 years old, but this is the sixties, girls), is sent home from her missionary school in Africa because of illness accompanied by a breakdown, and after an unhappy time at a horrid comp, lands a job as a headmistress at Walwyk village, a beautiful English community kept in rather feudal manner by a Canon Thorby.

Miss Mayfield soon begins to suspect that some of the villagers are practicing witchcraft and have a young girl, Ethel Rigby, in mind for a mysterious but ominous purpose. What can she do to protect the girl? Who will help her? Can she trust anyone?

When one of her potential allies is killed and the other frightened off, she realises how nasty things can get in lovely, secluded Walwyk, but sets out to save Ethel from a fate worse than death.

This is a subtle, eerie piece of storytelling (Peter Curtis is the pseudonym of Norah Lofts, who wrote the equally elegant, subtle and eerie 'Gad's Hall' and 'The Haunting of Gad's Hall'. This is horror from another time, where the nastiness doesn't splatter in your face or grab you in a headlock (not that there's anything wrong with more upfront horror, I love with a passion SK and all his rabid dogs and undead children), rather, it's like a hand touching you on the ankle and just when you thought you'd imagined it, grasping like a vice.

There's some annoying dialect-writing (all the natives of Walwyk say 'hev' instead of 'have', for instance), but aside from that, Curtis/Lofts hardly puts a foot wrong. It's nice to see such conscientious writing, considering some of the horrible grammar and syntax and even spelling I've seen from modern writers. There's a bit of head-hopping (going from one person's point of view to the other without separation of scene), which some people might find irritating, but it isn't intrusive and doesn't happen often.

When I first read this, horror had already moved on to the era of SK, but this story stayed with me for months. I still have my sadly abused original copy, with Joan Fontaine on the cover, as Miss Mayfield in the Hammer Film. I must say, I hate the new cover. It has nothing of the period ethos of the story; instead the illustrator has come up with that tiresomely ubiquitous 'back view of a girl with long hair in long dress' so beloved of the new girl-friendly fantasy genre.

Anyway - subtle, eerie, well-written, all good, but again, this is from a previous era of horror, and as such is pretty much a period piece, and is not likely to give anyone nightmares these days. If you like your horror resolutely modern, this may not be for you. If you can still read 'The Haunting of Hill House', 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Other' without going, 'Is that it?', then you may love 'The Witches'.


Attack The Block [DVD]
Attack The Block [DVD]
Dvd ~ Nick Frost
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £7.45

3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hoodie horror FUN!, 23 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Attack The Block [DVD] (DVD)
A while ago, I had the idea of setting a zombie story in a council block, because the idea of what a bunch of hoodies would do in the event of a zomattack amused me. Joe Cornish, I'm trifle cross with you, eavesdropping on my thought-waves like that. Not cool, man, not cool.

Anyway, yes, this delivers.

Now, listen - this isn't a comedy horror a la Shaun. I say that because for it to be so, I'd expect the lead to be a comic creation. Moses is not. He's a sad but hopeful comment on our times, and while he is sometimes sarcastic, he isn't set up as a funny character. Nor is the female lead. It is left the supporting cast to carry the comic load. I'd say, then, this is a wry and amusing piece, horror-thriller FUN rather than horror COMEDY. If you accept that, you shouldn't be disappointed.

The dialogue zips along as an entity of its own. It's hoodie-speak. 'Merk' for kill, 'Allow it' for 'leave it', etc. I'm very glad the US viewers were able to get along with this, because I think it's a huge part of the ethos of the film. These guys live in their own world with their own rules and language is not only a reflection of that but a large part of setting the film apart from the other stuff that's out there. I mean 'Oh, my days!' (heard at bus-stops near comprehensive schools all over London) instead of the ubiquitous, 'Oh, my God!' is just such a fresh relief!

So there you are, in a different world, and in the opening scene, these kids mug a nurse at knifepoint. The writer and director would really have to bring it to turn this around so we care about the kids, was my thought. Then the aliens arrive in a meteor-like landing camouflaged by its being Bonfire Night. Usually, the kids would be the first victims and the nurse would escape to warn her neighbours and the battle would begin with her. Lovely to have this turned on its head. The hoodies are the ideal army for this battle, being fearless (mostly), territorial, loyal, used to conflict and not given to philosophical musing. Come on, that isn't the perfect squaddie?

Everyone loves the line where one of the kids says, 'This is too much madness for one text'. I personally hooted when the girl (Paige Meade) opens the door to the flat and mouths off why she ain't letting them in, yeah, a long litany of reasons, delivered with facety, teeth-kissing bossiness. Then the other girl comes to the door and says it's her flat and they can come in.

The non-hoodies are a solid bunch of characters, and I salute Cornish for not making the stoners too out of it, because we've seen enough of that 'woah-dude'-ness, thank you. I would say that the nurse is just slightly too posh, but not fatally so. I loved the posh stoner listening to his out-of-date reggae ("Skengeh-skengeh!"). The monsters are good enough, giving great death and mayhem, though like many movie-monsters, they are scarier the less you see of them, and I feel the deaths are a bit 'samey'. The ref to Night of the Living Dead, where Moses emerges from the lift, covered in blood, and the police swoop on him - fantastic. John Boyega is especially impressive as Moses, and he and Cornish do indeed manage to turn us around in our opinion of him. I truly hope British producers don't waste Boyega, as they waste so many black actors who then defect to the US.

There are so many little gems in this movie. The big man on the block who refuses to get his head round the fact that he's been usurped as the baddest threat tonight (it's behiiiiiiind you!); the kid going inside to tell a casual lie to his nan before heading out alien-hunting; the revelation of Moses's 'secret' that nearly had me tearing-up.

The young actors are wonderful; the adult actors sure-footed at their craft (the posh stoner is one of the up-and-coming Treadaway brothers, Jodie Whittaker, getting her horror chops, was in the lovely 'Marchlands' and we know about Nick Frost).

This is a horror-thriller for our times; our knowing, tough, irreverent, lean-and-mean times. And it is a treat.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2011 5:31 PM BST


The Waiting Room
The Waiting Room
by F.G. Cottam
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bold idea, decent read, 2 Sept. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Waiting Room (Paperback)
A fake ghost-hunter, Creed, finds himself up against a real haunting. So far, so unoriginal but still a good basis for a ghost story. But then the ghost turns out to be rather more complex than that. This is the kind of story that really draws me. Without spoilering, I can say that FG Cottam dares to take on one of the more popular 'monsters' of the horror genre and come up with his own take on it, and for the most part, it works.

There are some genuine scares here and a fine pace, but I have some reservations.

1. The characterisations are poor. All the characters talk in the same rather formal manner, even a working-class ex-pop star. FG Cottam has so much going for him as a writer, it's a shame he has a dead ear for dialogue. Also, his habit of 'telling' rather than 'showing' the feelings of his characters mean we as readers feel one removed from them. When two of them suddenly declare their love for each other, it feels like a bolt from nowhere. Cottam's problem with creating characters is amply demonstrated in Creed's musing that he has never come across a more 'vain, pompous and irresolute' person than Bruno Absalom - well, that is not how BA comes across in Cottam's creation of him, I'm afraid. Stride's wife is particularly thin as a character. She seems to be there simply to be beautiful and report problems with the kids.

Also, what is with the obsession with everyone's looks? The four main (living) characters seem to be forever commenting on, brooding on or noting how terribly good-looking each of the others is. As it's of no consequence to the story, it's simply annoying.

2. Artistic license is stretched rather too much. I don't believe for a moment that Stride, the owner of the waiting-room, having been left a mysterious package by the former owner, would not have torn into it the minute strange things started happening there. He doesn't even open it once he's called in the ghost-hunter, Creed. Even with the most cursory natural curiosity, he'd have opened it at once, let's face it. Same goes for Elena and her documents. She reads some, then leaves some for later, then reads a bit more. Come on, when the contents are that important? You'd read them all in one sitting if you had to stay up all night. But the author needs to drip-feed us to keep the story going. Why didn't he just have her discover the documents paper by paper, instead of all at once?

And exorcisms are not performed at the drop of a hat, on a civilian's request alone. There are certain procedures the Church has to go through to determine that one is warranted, and it's a very tough call. The priest himself would have to convince his superiors and get permission. You don't just summon a priest as you would a pest-control officer, not even if you're an ex-rock star.

3. Some of the writing reads more like reporting than story-telling.

4. Some of the grammar is off. Throughout the book Cottam uses a curious double-negative that I'm surprised an editor didn't spot and expunge. He writes, for example, 'She had no idea, he didn't suppose,' and 'they would not want to stay on the island, he didn't think'. Very odd.

That said, I found it an enjoyable story and an original one in parts. I will seek out more books by this author and hope he sharpens his dialogue and character-building skills.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2014 1:15 PM BST


The Passage
The Passage
by Justin Cronin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious journey, 29 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Passage (Paperback)
I don't know where I could have been when the hype about this book was happening, but I'd never heard of it. The back-jacket blurb got me, though.

I actually liked the conceit of jumping forward a century, but the characters and story inhabiting the next century were bad. Cliched to the point that he actually had a 'Mystic Negro' in 'Auntie'. (Mother Abigail, anyone? Mother, Auntie, hmmm, I feel a 'Mammy' echoing down history's passage.) Unconvincing - no memory of Christmas, despite the proliferation of books, but wicked tech skills.

I hated the 'he must be dead - no, he's not, hurrah!' overuse and the way Cronin sets up characters only five minutes before their deaths. It's like he's saying, 'I've got to get you to care about these people before I kill them, but I didn't have time before, so I'll just stuff it in now.' This CAN work, but it has to be done with a detachment and acknowledged foreshadowing, and you have to really not pretend that it's anything but 'setting-up to kill'.

I'd have loved it if, having had no problem borrowing so heavily from other apocalyptic novels (or maybe I'm being unfair - it must be incredibly difficult to come up with something original in this genre), Cronin had bridged the 'century' gap with extracts from news reports, people's diaries etc, actually detailing how the battle was lost so completely when it didn't seem that hard to kill the damn virals.

It must be immensely difficult to write a novel of this length and scope. Just the idea of the research involved - medical, technical, political, military, geographic - makes me feel faint. Cronin doesn't do an altogether terrible job, but I really feel he doesn't do a very good one, either.

I won't say he doesn't deserve the hype, because there are clearly scads of readers who think he does, and their opinion is just as valuable as mine, and to be honest, I don't see how a prospective reader would choose whose opinion to believe, short of going through 'all my reviews' and seeing if she agrees with them.

Anyway, my two cents add up to: it's a tedious and unsatisfying book.


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