14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2013
My mother was a massive Hammer Horror fan and I hold her personally responsible for my love of the Horror genre. growing up watching her heroes' Cushing,Price and Lee films at too young an age from behind the sofa I soon became an avid fan. I would listen to her tales about the lives of her favoured actors,her major crush on Christopher Lee,how much of a gentleman Peter Cushing was and the love story between him and Helen. I remember before he died writing a letter and sending it to the place my mum told me in Kent and receiving an autographed photograph of a self portrait and a brief note of thanks from Mr C himself! it was my pride and joy but over the years I misplaced it and will always regret that.
I remember my mum being sad when he died but saying that he would be happy now as he'd be with his wife.
This story is remarkably beautiful on so many levels. Peter Cushing is exactly how I imagined,exactly how he was rumoured to be and more importantly,how my mum told me he was.
Sadly my mum passed away five years after her hero and with her took the only other person I've known to love the horror genre like I do. I miss swapping books with her and us introducing one another to authors previously unknown to each other. She would've cherished this story even more than I do.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2013
Peter Cushing was in the business of re-animation. Whether it was stitching together corpses to make Christopher Lee and Dave Prowse, or hunting down the Lord of the Vampires freshly awoken, Cushing in his professional life could not move for the undead. The great tragedy of his private life was that his beloved Helen remained beyond his reach. His life after her death was a hollow ache punctured by despair. It is one of 'Whitstable's great achievements that it brings Cushing so vividly back to life- it becomes as act of re-animation too. This time however, the creature that returns is the real thing- not a dead-eyed shambling soulless husk, but the Hero of successive generations- recalled to action and written back into being for one last mesmerising assault upon our affections.
In his longing for Helen, Cushing becomes a true gothic hero, and 'Whitstable', Stephen Volk's new novella from Spectral Press, becomes not only an essential purchase for his admirers- of which there are legion- but a potential modern classic.
There are no ghosts or vampires here, no graveyards disturbed. Volk has summoned Cushing to ponder some very real horrors of our modern world. Young Carl, a fan of Cushing's films, who lives in the actor's home town approaches him for help in killing "a vampire"; his mother's boyfriend, who may just be doing unspeakable things in the night. The lad sees Cushing in terms of his screen persona, and in his confused and traumatised state believes the actor able to slay his nemesis with a stake through the heart. From this, Volk goes on to write a taut thriller, in which the actor investigates a horror all the more real than those he faced on screen.
This is also a story about the relationship between parents and children, possibly one about how parents can let us down- Carl lives with a vulnerable mother always a spit away from turning her back on him, who looks the other way when he is most in need. Carl's real dad is long gone, and his surrogate is a monster. Cushing and Helen never had children, but it's fair to say that we- or at least those of us who fell in love with his screen presence- happily took on that role. He was known as the "gentle man of horror", certainly his was the first face of horror to whom I attached. I never met the man, but I loved him dearly. Were I in Carl's position in early seventies Whitstable, and found Peter Cushing sitting on the beach, I don't think I would have behaved any differently.
Crucially, in my imagination, Cushing would have behaved exactly as he does here. And this is the thing- because in this act of re-animation, Stephen Volk has done more than give us an idealised version of a human hero. He has summoned the essence of the man entirely: a man who never once let us down.
If the book stumbles, it does it once and once only. Cushing is at one point stymied by the fear of accusations of child-abuse himself. This seems informed by current events, and I would question whether at the dawn of the seventies, such worries would present themselves. Celebrities coming under scrutiny for sexual crimes against children is a relatively new phenomenon- many of them got away with it their entire lives in plain sight, and I wonder if the simple act of talking to a child on the beach would have been enough in 1970 to start tongues wagging. I can forgive 'Whitstable' this conceit though, as the novella succeeds so dramatically in all other ways.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, Stephen Volk's Peter Cushing is the most gothic of heroes. He stalks bleak and windswept beaches, collapses in grief when suddenly overpowered by the crushing reality of Helen's death and loves purely and passionately the things around him. Impeccably mannered, a humorous figure on his bicycle, the only "staking" his does is of the investigative kind- watching the boy's house for an opportunity to speak to his mother. It is impossible to speak of this story without at some point screaming for it to be filmed. It has a clarity of vision that recalls the kind of movies we all loved back then, and which they don't make anymore. There are set-pieces that jump off the page, and any director would salivate at the chance to put Cushing's doorstep encounter with Carl's aggressor, or his clash with the boy's mother, on the screen- the former being one of the most terrifying bits of prose I've read in many years. Do we have an actor of Cushing's caliber, who could "do" him, though? And without becoming a "stand in dad" and therefore adding a whole other layer of meaning to it?
'Whitstable' is a work of joyous love. Yes, it concerns itself with repellent things we'd rather not think about- but so, in their own way, did the movies that Peter Cushing spent his life making. He understood why we tell stories like this, and why we couch them in the terms we do. I did not have the pleasure of meeting him, but I saw his house and he paid for a meal I ate in his restaurant by way of apology for being too ill to see me. Soon after, he was gone. This story is an act of celebratory resurrection and I so desperately want to see more. It so much acts as the pilot, a lead-in to a 'Peter Cushing Investigates' series. But maybe that's just my lingering grief at his death, and my sadness that I never had the chance to shake his hand and thank him. Maybe, just this once, we should now give the dead their peace.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2013
In 1971, the British actor Peter Cushing, famed for his starring roles in many classic British horror movies for Hammer and Amicus, went into a period of deep depression and grief following the death of his beloved wife, Helen. She had been his comfort, his inspiration and his friend for thirty years, and life without her seemed intolerable. He considered suicide, but Helen had urged him, when her health began to fail, to put aside such thoughts and live life to the full; eventually, he returned to work, making many more film and television appearances (including, of course, 'Star Wars') until his eventual death (and, he fervently believed, subsequent reunion with Helen) in 1994.
It is this period of Cushing's life that Stephen Volk visits in this beautifully written novella. Cushing retreats into seclusion in the home he shared with his wife for so many years in the Kent seaside town of the title, spurning all attempts by friends to draw him out. Only when he meets a lonely, frightened boy on the beach - a boy who knows him only in his role of Van Helsing (vampire hunter and nemesis of Count Dracula) - does he find a focus outside his own grief. The tale the boy tells is of an evil very much rooted in the real world, but which only one who has faced down monsters and terrors of the night can vanquish. Cushing puts his reputation and his life on the line to show the boy that good and light can, and must, triumph over evil and darkness.
Volk is an acclaimed screen writer, (Ken Russell's 'Gothic', and the recent British ghost story 'The Awakening') as well as creating the tv series 'Afterlife' and the mould-breaking (and nerve-jangling) 1992 BBC presentation 'Ghostwatch', which pretty much kicked off the now rather over-used 'found-footage' genre of horror film-making ('The Blair Witch Project', 'Paranormal Activity', etc.). So it can safely be said that he knows something about the presentation of evil, in all its forms, on screen and on page.
But with 'Whitstable', he does something quite different, and altogether trickier. Volk provides us with a vision of human goodness (in the form of Peter Cushing) that manages to avoid being either sickly or implausible. Cushing (despite the attestations of his great friend Christopher Lee, who considered him 'a candidate for sainthood') was a normal human being, with all the attendant foibles and weaknesses of that condition. Some of the most moving scenes here are Cushing's remembrances of how Helen stood beside him through all his moments of weakness and doubt, giving him the strength to fight the monstrousness of a world without her, a world that terrorises innocent children and corrupts the adults they will become. And that goodness seems to reflect, in the end, off those around him, making even the 'monster' at the heart of this story seem somehow vulnerable and sympathetic; and in the monster's last moments, our hearts go out to him, because we see the innocent child he once was.
'Whitstable' is a love story. It's a story about a man who finds that even the memory of love can inspire a man to heroism. And Stephen Volk has brought Peter Cushing, the man who played characters who either fought against supernatural evil or danced with it (and was, paradoxically, one of the most adored men in an industry not noted for its finer qualities), 'back from the dead' with a vividness and tenderness that biographers can only dream of, to tell that story.
This is a wonderful, moving work, life-enhancing and unforgettable. Spectral Press have brought us one of the best books of the year, and I hope that they and Stephen Volk will be working together again soon.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2013
In 1971, as actor Peter Cushing is shattered with grief over the recent death of his wife, he is approached by Carl, a boy believing him to be vampire hunter Van Helsing not only in the movies, but in real life. Carl wants Van Helsing's help ridding the world of his stepfather, whom the boy thinks is a vampire. Cushing soon finds reason to suspect that the stepfather is in fact molesting Carl.
If someone publishes a work of fiction where the protagonist is my favourite actor, I will automatically be all over it, abundantly foaming at the mouth, so the fact that Whitstable also happens to be quite good is really just a delightful bonus to me.
I wasn't sure what tone Volk would have chosen for this actually rather tricky writing challenge, but since he's dealing with the darkest period in Cushing's life, I correctly assumed that this wasn't going to be a mirthful romp about a kid who has seen too many monster movies. It's a somber book told exclusively from Cushing's third person point of view, which gives us fans a whole lot of Cushing presence to enjoy, while we perhaps react with some consternation as to the author's selection of story matter.
I think I understand the reasoning: Cushing, known from his films as a monster hunter, has to confront a real life monster. What kind of beastie could be encountered in his sleepy little seaside hometown of Whitstable? A child molester. So far the idea seems perfectly logical, but I can't help but think of how Cushing himself would have reacted to it, not to mention all the obscenity and profanity littering the novella. Personally I don't mind, but the book being intended as a celebration of the actor and the man, it seems odd to pick material which would have put him off to such an extent.
It should be pointed out that Whitstable isn't really a thriller, apart from one confrontational scene at a fish stall and a potentially more dangerous one in a cinema. The story is good enough, though hardly remarkable, which is quite all right, as it really only serves as the wall hook on which to hang an intimate, psychological portrait of Peter Cushing in a state of agonizing grief. In terms of bringing Cushing to life, Volk succeeds admirably, perfectly essaying the man's manners and mannerisms, idiom and idiosyncrasies. More than once, the author evokes Cushing so believably that it's almost as if he had returned from the dead. Psychologically, of course, Volk has had to speculate as to what his protagonist was thinking, feeling and doing during that first lonely month after his wife's Helen's death, but he has ample help from Cushing's autobiographies and later interviews. And of course, grief is one of the shared human experiences, with many similar aspects from case to case. Suffice to say, the portrayal of Cushing's purgatory of grief is realistic, and quite moving in spite of its sometimes less appetizing naturalistic outbursts (vomiting and so on).
More than anything, Whitstable exists to gratify Cushing's fans, which is does superbly, but this leads to one of its flaws: while deep in thought, Cushing keeps endlessly namedropping his own movies, and drawing parallels between them and the events he's currently experiencing. Cushing was an actor, and as such more egocentric than most of his fans care to mention, but nothing can make me believe that he spent most of his waking hours wallowing in his own past successes. It's indulgent on the part of the author and subtracts from the otherwise excellent reproduction of the man Cushing was known to be.
It's difficult for me to assess how much value this book is to readers not particularly interested in Cushing (blasphemers!!!), but I'll go out on a limb and say that it's still a decent, well written character study. For proper Cushing fans, Whitstable is of course required reading.
Rating: 4 of 5 for Cushing fans, probably around a 3 of 5 for less discerning forms of life.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
There is a great misconception that horror is just about big scary monsters and buxom women who need saving. When horror is at it's best it becomes more about the human condition than many so called non genre literary works. Whitstable is one such book. Stephen Volk has produced a novella that is works both as a gripping thriller and as a beautiful and heart breaking tribute to one of horrors finest stars.
This is a story of two polar opposite, but interwoven narrative threads. Firstly there is extremely moving and intimate account of Peter Cushing coming to terms with the death of his beloved wife Helen. These passages are achingly beautiful, very few books have actually caused tears to well up in my eyes. The love and respect that the author has for peter Cushing is laid bare on the pages, and as a reader you cannot help but become totally immersed in this poignant tale. It is not an easy read, Volk paints a factional biography of Cushing with a warts and all. By showing, that Cushing was a man full love for his wife and those around him, while also being a stubborn man, and at times a man too full of pride. Volk ensures that you the reader will feel nothing but compassion for Peter in his time of mourning.
As for the second thread, it couldn't be more different. Where the passages with Peter as the main or sole protagonist have a for want of a better term quaint and cosy, almost picture postcard feel to them, Those that feature Les Gledhill are shocking to say the least. The way in which they explode into the narrative and rip apart the the safe world of a 1971 Whitstable is really impressive. This is not just a clash between hero and monster, it's clash between a true English gentleman and a thuggish brute. The passage where Gledhill first confronts Peter is truly gripping, and when Gledhill swears at Peter for the first time I was truly shocked, it just felt so brutal, and animalistic.
Volk capitalises on these feelings with a chilling scene set inside a film house, where the two protagonists confront each other while The Vampire Lovers plays in background. This i one of the most enthralling and terrifying passages I have read in a long time.
Not all monsters are real, but sadly some are all too real.
Sadly the limited edition has sold out, but never fear folks you can still pick up a copy of the paperback, from the Publisher by clicking here.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2013
In less than 150 pages, Stephen Volk has created something enticingly original: an imagined interlude in actor Peter Cushing's life, one in which he is forced to to perform perhaps his greatest ever role; an act that will change forever the future of a small, star-struck boy. What's so extraordinary is not the subtle, beautifully observed prose, the affecting character insights or the clever interweaving of Hammer horror film locations with the drab and ordinary seaside setting of Cushing's former home in Whitstable. All these are impressive enough. No, what sets this novella aside is the fact that Volk has chosen to fictionalize an episode in the life of one of our most famous horror actors, Peter Cushing, a man for whom so many - including myself - hold a great deal of admiration and affection. It's a brave - some would say, daring - thing to do, but boy, has he succeeded.
In Whitstable, Volk has achieved that rarest of things: the ability to put us inside the head of a real person; someone who many of us feel we know through his many films (not to mention the numerous books about the actor). It takes a brave soul to attempt it, but as a lifelong Hammer - and particularly, Cushing fan - I can honestly say that Volk perfectly captures the essence of both the actor, but more importantly, the gentle human being we know and love as Peter Cushing. Not only does he make him sympathetic - how he deals with the loss of his wife, Helen, is, after all, the core of this story - but he also portrays a person of rare talent and insight; someone with qualities that to this day make him one of the most memorable British actors of the previous half century. Considering the short length, this is a remarkably moving and well told tale, one that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, Cushing/Hammer fan or not. Simply wonderful.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2013
This novella is simply beautiful. It captures both both time and tone of the early 70's wonderfully. I cannot recommend Whitstable enough. It really is one of the finest novellas I've ever had the pleasure to read. Mr Volk has a wonderful way with words and I really did feel immersed in Peter Cushing's all encompassing grief.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2013
A deceptively simple tale, that is at various times a thriller, a love story, a meditation on the pain of loss, a reflection on the cyclic nature of child abuse, and a portrait of one of the greats of British cinema. Spending time with Peter Cushing, even at such a traumatic time of his life, is a strangely seductive pleasure, and the direct yet subtly moving style places you completely inside him, at that time, in that place. A beautifully written little masterpiece of suspense.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2013
Peter Cushing is the hero of this charming evocation of life in the seaside town in the 1970s. When he is befriended by a boy who thinks he's the real Van Helsing, Cushing must battle an evil all too human, though no less destructive than in any of his films.
Stephen Volk's deep love of his subject shines through his writing (which is a pleasure to read). The story parallels the underlying morality of Cushing's Hammer horror movies, with Cushing as thoroughly decent and gentlemanly as he apparently was in real life. The way he ultimately defeats the big bad is just beautiful - as dramatic in its own way as anything achieved by Van Helsing, while remaining completely believable for a frail middle-aged actor.
And I was delighted to find that he does indeed appear in the story going shopping on his bicycle, and buying vegetables.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2014
" You look younger"
Cushing had almost forgotten he'd shaved for the first time in weeks. He rubbed his chin, Dr Terror's salt and pepper was gone.
" I have a painting in the attic"
" What does that mean?"
"Never mind. You'll find out when you're a bit older"
When you have lines like that within a book you know it's a gem of a book!
Of course it's a nod to Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray which is one of my favourite classics of all time and it's just an example of the wonderful wording of Whitstable by Stephen Volk.
I first heard of Whitstable through a review of the novella in the UK's SFX magazine when the book first came out last year and as soon as I'd read that review I knew it was a book that I just HAD to read. I mean it's a pure fiction revolving around one of my movie heroes, Peter Cushing. I literally grew up on Hammer horror movies, especially the Dracula movies starring Peter Cushing and my other movie hero Christopher Lee (one also gets a few mention during the course of Whitstable) and I still watch them to this day.
It took me a while to get my hands on a copy of the book as for a book of it's size it's not the cheapest to buy in paperback form but when I got my Kindle I started looking into getting a copy for the Kindle as at £2 for an e-copy versus almost £13 for the paperback it was the more sensible for my measly little budget. As soon as I had my copy I made plans to read the book in my busy reading schedule and when the moment came that I had been waiting for I was just brimming with sheer excitement, if maybe a bit worried that I'd hyped the book up too much in my own head. I remember thinking 'please be the book I want you to be'. Did I let myself down with too much enthusiasm...... I can honestly say that the book didn't let me down or leave me feeling disappointed in the slightest!
I'm not going to structure this review in the same way that I usually do as there is a lot I want to to say about this rather special little book and I just hope I have the writing skill to get across everything I want to say about the what the book gave me, how it made me feel so bear with me and I hope I make a least a little bit of sense.
Okay, we begin the book meeting a sad figure of a man, that man obviously being Peter Cushing. He is living alone in Whitstable after losing his beloved friend, companion and wife of thirty years, Helen. He is in a period of deep and quite dark depression, he seems very lost,extremely vulnerable and more than a little broken. He doesn't seem to have any drive left and is wallowing in his sadness, in his grief when it seems he has little left to live for. He's through about leaving the mortal coil to join his lost love, he's so sad it's heartbreaking but you also get the feeling that despite Helen is obviously gone you still get the feeling that she is ever present, she's always in Peter's thoughts and has left a everlasting mark on his life..
One day while out and about he is approached by a young boy called Carl who is a horror fan and is absolutely convinced that Peter is actually Abraham Van Helsing, one of his most famous movie roles. Carl believes that his mother's boyfriend Les is a vampire and that Van Helsing must help him and his mother by destroying the vampire. As Carl explains to Peter/Van Helsing why he thinks Les is a vampire Peter's suspicions rise as it begins to seems that there is much more to the story than a child's over-active imagination but what is Peter willing, or able, to do about the situation?
This is where the story gets more interesting and complicated.
You often hear from modern celebrities how the public often get confused by the characters they play and the person they really are, of people calling the actor by their characters name that they play on the screen. People often truly believe that the actor really is that person, that they have actually done the things they have seen them do on the TV and this story is a classic case of this. Carl has seen the Hammer Dracula movies and really does believe that Van Helsing lives in Whitstable and that he really does kill vampires for a living.
"I'm talking about here and now and you're the vampire hunter and you need to help me." "It's your job. It's your job Vampire Hunter. You're heroic. You're powerful."
Carl doesn't realise that Van Helsing isn't real and that the man he sees around Whitstable is just a lonely actor living an everyday life while having the extraordinary job of playing Van Helsing on the big screen. At first Peter plays along and doesn't even try to tell the boy that Van Helsing is pure fiction but as I said as Carl tells his story Peter begins to get the suspicion that there is more to the story and that there may be something more sinister afoot, maybe even some form of child abuse happening but what can Peter do to help Carl and should he even try?
"He visits me at night time. Every night now. He takes my blood while I'm asleep. I know what he's doing. He thinks I'm asleep but I'm not asleep. It feels like a dream and I try to pretend it isn't happening, but afterwards I feel bad, like I'm dead inside".
It's provokes real dilemma for Peter about whether he should get involved in something that is technically none of his business and even if he did try to help what in reality could he even do? He can see something is going on with Carl and his words give the impression that Les is behind it all and that Carl is terrified of him, terrified for himself but also for his mother.
The story that follows looks into the heart of being a celebrity and of peoples expectations of actors. It also is a deep look into the dilemma of if you saw someone in need of help would you help? And how could you help? What steps could you take to protect a child you suspect may be being abused. and would anyone believe you if you even tried to help?
Whitstable really is an amazing story that has left quite a mark on me and it's a tale that will linger in my memory for quite some time to come. It touches lovingly on certain real life events in Peter Cushing life and while it is technically a horror book about vampires and vampirism is doesn't actually have any of the paranormal to it, unfortunately the bloodsuckers only exist on the screen but in a way it shows a more real form of vampirism where grown men prey on young boys and suck the life from them by way of abuse and that is even more scary in my view. It highlights the real horrors of this world, the ones people face every day..... loneliness, isolation, dying and death itself along with abuse of all types be it physical or emotional.
Would you recommend it to others?
I really would recommend this book as it is a mesmerizing tale, it's touching and gives you quite the reality check. It is wonderful on so many different levels and its hard to get across the emotional impacts it will have on you unless you read it for yourself. I don't think anyone could be disappointed in a book like this despite it's ultimate subject matter and besides that you get a lovely insight into Peter Cushing himself, who he was and what he was about, the man behind the monster hunter and for me that was the aspect of the book that I loved the most.