The Eye (2008) is much better than the online reviews suggest

Blockbuster Video was still open on the High Street when this film first came out on DVD. I can remember seeing it on the shelf in the new releases section, and wanting to hire it out. Having a partner who hates horror films is quite unfortunate. So I never did. And I must admit, I thought it would probably end up being one of those awful and cheap horror films anyway, one that you wished you’d not wasted an hour an a half of your life to watch.

I found it on Now TV last week and thought it would make do whilst doing the ironing. Something that did intrigue me about The Eye is that it’s based on an original Japanese version. I love Japanese horror movies, and I hoped that the film would retain some of the essence of the original.

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The Eye tells the story of Sydney Wells. She is a concert violinist and has been blind since a childhood firecracker accident blinded her. In spite of this, Sydney is a happy, confident woman, not held back by her disability. She is, in fact, improved by it in some way.

At the beginning of the film Sydney gets a double corneal transplant, the thing that will make her already practically perfect life, complete. Supposedly.

The film is quite eerie from the start, and when Sydney first opens her eyes and everything is blurry, she sees a dark figure standing in the corner in the doctor’s clinic; a figure that’s certainly not meant to be there. She sees it again at night, when she’s trying to sleep in the hospital. It seems to be leading away one of the other patients, and come the morning, that patient has passed away.

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So for a while we see things from Sydney’s viewpoint, and there’s a real claustrophobia to this part of the film, a claustrophobia that doesn’t really let go until the final scenes.

What struck me about this film, and something I think the director did very well, was the way he portrayed Sydney’s increasing vulnerability as her sight recovers. Wouldn’t we all imagine that getting one’s sight back would be such a gift? Instead we watch a confident and independent blind woman quite quickly turn into a vulnerable, needy and paranoid sighted one, with so many new things to learn and unlearn. I found myself regretting on her behalf ever having the corneal transplant in the first place.

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Sydney is seeing things; having visions, and no-one seems to believe her. And when she looks in the mirror, she seems to be suffering a real case of mirrored-self misidentification. She doesn’t recognise the woman staring back at her. And so, on top of everything else, it seems she might also be losing her mind. But they are more than visions. She can enter into what seems like another world, where violence can be inflicted upon her. And she is seeing dead people. Sydney looks for answers, and she begins with trying to track down the person who donated their corneas to her in the first place.

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I don’t want to give anything away, as there will still be many people who haven’t seen this film. This film didn’t have the best reviews online, but I like it. I like it because it hasn’t been overly sanitised by Hollywood. And I like it because it is evidently heavily influenced by the original Japanese version, and in fact still gives a very big nod to the film that inspired it, and does so respectfully.

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My ten, all time favourite, slayer episodes

I was first introduced to the Slayer in 2001. I was 28. A girl who worked in my office was a fanatic and talked about it non-stop. My first reaction, peering at her suspiciously from over my coffee cup in the staff canteen, was that it was for kids, and that this girl had to be a bit sad for watching a kids show in her twenties.

Buffy the the Vampire Slayer was already 4 seasons through on TV when I brought home the box sets (not without some scepticism) and started my box set binge (before box set binges had really become fashionable).

And I’m not ashamed to say that now, 13 years after the show finished, I’ve just watched the whole 7 seasons again over the course of several months, and I loved it just as much – perhaps even more so – than back then.

The programme I thought was just for kids, whilst very much focussed to begin with around a bunch of American High School kids, has some very adult themes, and plenty that I could relate to. It is also well written, is well acted, and has insightful characterisation. It also has some genuinely scary moments. It tells the story of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.

In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.

At the beginning of Season One, Buffy (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) starts a new high school, on account of her burning down the gym in her previous high school (only to kill vampires you understand), and soon makes friends with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and meets her new watcher, Giles (played by Anthony Stewart Head). In case you didn’t know, a Watcher is a member of a secret organisation, The Watcher’s Council, and the role of the Watcher is to prepare the slayer to fight the demons.

And this is what they do, fight demons, and a whole bunch of other stuff that when all rolled together makes it still one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. My only sadness it that people might dismiss it, just as I did all those years ago. What an amazing journey to miss out on.

So, as the title of this blog suggests, I tried to find my favourite 10 episodes. When I first started narrowing it down, I came up with 26. So the top ten you’re getting is the purest top ten list ever, in my opinion. And out of 144 possible episodes, that’s not bad.

Obviously, I can’t write about this without some major SPOILERS, so look away now if you’ve never seen it AND are planning to watch it. And if you’ve seen them all, come with me for a trip down Slayer memory lane.

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Innocence – Season 2 (1997) Episode 14

Whilst there are some really good episodes in Season 1 of Buffy, particularly around Buffy’s developing relationship with Angel, a vampire, save for setting the scene, the show doesn’t really get going until Season 2. My original 26 did include, however, 2 episodes from Season 1. Sadly, they didn’t make the final cut in favour of much richer, more developed episodes later on.

So, how do I sum up Innocence, when there is so much that leads to this point? Any Buffy fan will agree that this episode is so full of pathos. Buffy, who has been chosen to slay vampires, ends up not only falling in love with a vampire, but a vampire who has been cursed by gypsies, the result of which means he now has a soul. His soul torments him with the memories and full knowledge of the crimes he committed as Angelus, the evil vampire.

There is, however, a get-out clause, only Angel has no awareness of this. If he should experience just one moment of pure happiness, in which his soul and his crimes do not occupy his thoughts, a moment in which he is no longer in torment, his soul will be taken from him.

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So, as Buffy awakes in the afterglow of their love making the night before, Angelus has returned, the evil demon who walks in Angel’s body, freed by that one moment of pure bliss as Angel loses himself in his love for the slayer. This is the worst kind of break up one can imagine. Not only is Buffy left with that feeling of heartache, regret and shame at sleeping with someone she thought loved her, but subsequently dumped her; she now has to prevent him from destroying the world.

I love this episode for so many reasons. Not only can one relate to the distress Buffy feels at losing her true love, but you can feel the despair, that deep sense of responsibility for turning him evil. Buffy discovers that Jenny, a school teacher she trusted, is actually a member of the Clan Kalderash, who cursed Angelus with his soul in the first place. Jenny also knew that a moment of happiness would cause him to lose it.judge98

Spike and Drusilla have reconstructed The Judge, a blue-skinned demon who was historically dismembered and placed in iron boxes and buried in “every corner of the earth”, because “no weapon forged” could kill him. The Judge literally burns the righteous down, which would effectively leave the earth for the demons. Now that Angelus is back, he jumps on board to assist in the annihilation of the human race.

Thankfully for us, weapons of the 20th century are much more advanced, and with Xander’s gained knowledge of US weaponry (throwback to Halloween, episode 6), Buffy blows The Judge apart with a “borrowed” US Army FGM-148 Javelin rocket launcher.

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Passion – Season 2 (1998) Episode 17

Just a few episodes after Innocence, and with the loss of Angel’s soul, things get a lot darker. And the darker things get, the more I love them. Angel is Angelus, and as Angelus, he is the most soulless vampire that ever walked the planet. He is not simply doing his vampire thing; he is pure evil, he enjoys being evil, and he is good at it.

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Jenny Calendar feels responsible for Angel losing his soul, and so she should. She is a member of the Clan Kalderash responsible for the original curse, and so whilst Angel taunts Buffy and her friends on his relatively low-key (for Angelus) yet menacing  rampage, Jenny works hard to find the “cure”, by trying to translate the original text of the ritual. Successful, she saves the translation to a floppy disk. But Angelus has rumbled her plans, and he smashes the Orb of Thesulah required to perform the ritual. And, after the thrill of a chase through the halls of the school, he snaps Jenny’s neck.

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This episode is so thrilling, and so devastating. The death of Jenny at the hands of Angelus is brutal. Equally brutal is the way her death is revealed to Giles, Jenny’s new love. After work, Giles goes home, only to find her lifeless body lain out on his bed, enticed upstairs by a trail of rose petals left by Angelus.

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And the disk holding the translation, that nobody knows exists, falls to the floor, hidden between the desk and a cabinet, and the secret to Angel’s cure is seemingly lost.

Becoming, Part 1 and 2 – Season 2 (1997) Episodes 21 and 22

Okay, it’s a little cheat here, as I’m counting two episodes as one, but they have the same title, and they are a continuation and one can’t exist without the other, so it doesn’t count!

These episodes are crucial, because they end the second season, and they are the ones in which Buffy sets out to kill Angelus, the Demon that has stolen the love of her life. They discovered Jenny’s disk (holding the ritual translation) and it forms part of their plan: they will try to bring back Angel before Angelus can destroy the world (again), and before Buffy has to kill him. And of course, Spike and Drusilla are along for the ride.

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This time, it’s with the Demon, Acathla. Legend has it that if the sword in Acathla’s heart is removed, it will open a vortex and suck the world into a hell dimension. But the sword can only be removed by someone worthy, and Angel, as it turns out, is not, so he lures Buffy into battle whilst the pre-arranged abduction of Giles takes place. Giles can help him. Giles can give him the information he needs. And of course, all the while, Willow is trying to work the curse to restore Angel’s soul, vampires attack and she is knocked unconscious.

 

These episodes are breathtaking. So much happens in just a short space of time, and I watched the events on the edge of my seat, even though I know how it all turns out. And therein lies the magic of Buffy. The show does that to you.

Willow awakes, of course she does, and hopefully just in time to perform the ritual again. She sends word to Buffy that she will attempt to restore Angel’s soul. Giles is tricked into revealing the actual truth that Angel is, in fact, the key to removing the sword from Acathla. And this is where it gets really interesting, and really heartbreaking.

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Willow is successful; she restores Angel’s soul. But it’s too late. Angelus has removed the sword from Acathla, using his blood, and the vortex has opened. The only thing now that can close the Vortex (and time is running out) is Angel’s blood, again. And so there’s that bitter sweet moment, where Angel, sweet Angel, is restored, and confused, with Buffy before him. And Buffy has only one choice to make.Angel stabbed

This is one of the first times I really cried whilst watching Buffy (and there were many more times to follow). Watching Buffy realise that the man she loves is back, just as Acathla is about to suck them all into hell, is nothing short of unbearable. She has only one choice, to drive the sword into Angel, back into place in Acathla’s chest, effectively closing the Vortex and sucking Angel into hell.

Buffy has saved the world, but her world is in tatters. The man she loves is gone. She will never see him again.

The Wish – Season 3 (1998) Episode 9

I love the bleak, dystopian feel to this episode. Cordelia, who sees Buffy as her nemesis, makes a wish to a vengeance demon that Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale. And guess what? Anya, a Vengeance Demon, grants it.

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What follows is a very grim alternative reality of Sunnydale in which bright colours are banned, and Willow and Xander are vampires. Sunnydale is practically a ghost town, with a curfew and ruled by vampires, without the slayer to keep them all in check. The Master is still alive (the vampire that Buffy killed in Season 1, Prophecy Girl, except now she hasn’t because she never came to to Sunnydale), and Giles doesn’t know who Buffy is. Cordelia quickly realises her mistake and tries to convince Giles that it’s a spell, and tells him she wants things back to normal, with Buffy looking after Sunnydale.

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We discover that Angel is kept prisoner, The Puppy, for the amusement of other vampires. What is most bleak about this episode is the hard cynicism of Buffy. She is a different person without the support of Giles and her friends, without ever having had the love of Angel. In this reality, she doesn’t know Angel, she sees him as just a vampire, and who it’s her job to kill.

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And then as the Master, with his plans for a human blood plant, catalyses a bloody battle, Xander kills Angel, Buffy Kills Xander (her best friend in the real Sunnydale reality), Oz kills Willow (again, the love of his life before the vengeance demon curse) and perhaps, worst of all, The Master breaks Buffy’s neck. Cordelia’s wish for Sunnydale is nothing short of catastrophic.

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The Wish is another episode that made be cry. Watching Angel turn to dust, and Buffy fall dead to the floor as the Master breaks her neck, is more than a little difficult for the die-hard Buffy fan.

Cordelia convinces Giles, however, that this isn’t the true reality, that the other one is much better, and he believes her. Summoning the vengeance demon, Anyanka, he decides to smash the amulet, the source of her wish granting powers.

My favourite line in the episode comes from Giles, when Anya asks him how he can be sure the real world is a better one, and he responds, “Because it has to be.”

And of course, it is.

Helpless – Season 3 (1998) Episode 12

Buffy is turning 18. This episode actually filled me with outrage; real anger. My anger was for Giles. I couldn’t ever believe he would do the things he does to Buffy in this episode. And yet somehow, he does.

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Buffy seems to be losing her powers, and is nearly killed by a vampire she is fighting. What she doesn’t know is that those at The Watcher’s Council are setting up a test for the Slayer; a rite of passage. She has to defeat Zachary Kralik, an insane vampire. The rub, however, is that she has to do this in a weakened state. And she gets into that weakened state because Giles, who loves and wants to protect Buffy, is injecting her with a slayer strength weakening serum (namely muscle relaxants and adrenaline suppressors).

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Kralik, who is restrained and waiting for the test, escapes as Giles tries to convince the Council to call off the test. They ignore his pleas. He admits to Buffy that he has been injecting her. He is the cause of her weakened state. He tells her about the test and Buffy is understandably shaken to the core. Giles’s betrayal is too great, from someone she looks up to very much as a father figure.

Buffy ultimately tracks down Kralik, who has taken her mother prisoner, and tricks him into drinking holy water. She has defeated him.

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The Watchers’ Council sacks Giles for becoming too close to his Slayer, and he begins to work on repairing his relationship with Buffy. This episode changed my view of Giles forever, and gives us a first glimpse of a much deeper character. I love his character even more because of this, because instead of just being that stuffy, square Englishman, he actually has a very real, very dark side, and it was inspired of Joss Whedon to show this. And, of course, we see more of it later.

No Place Like Home – Season 5 (2000) Episode 5

I realise I’ve bypassed a whole season here, and this is probably no accident. Whilst there are some excellent episodes in Season 4, and some that made my original cut of 26, (I would particularly recommend Fear Itself (Ep 4), Hush (Ep 10) and Primeval (Ep 21)), I think the whiney Riley (Buffy’s boyfriend) just became a little too much for me.

So, for No Place Like Home, you’re going to need a little back story. Originally, Buffy was an only child, and yet, bizarrely, at the start of Season 5, she has a sister, Dawn. I struggled with this as being disingenuous but, trusting Joss Whedon, I knew this was going somewhere wonderful. And it really doesn’t disappoint. This Season, the entire Season, is one of my favourites because of this.

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We witness a monk being tied up and beaten by a woman, a beastly woman, whilst being asked for information about “the key”, but he’s not giving it up.

Buffy finds a glowing orb whilst out killing vampires, and receives a warning that she will be attacked through her family. It’s only when Buffy’s mum becomes ill with headaches that Buffy suspects that, rather than a physical illness, her mother is being used to get to her. This is the attack she was warned of.

And so it’s down to Buffy to perform a ritual in the house, one that will reveal whatever evil forces are attacking her mother. She is confused to see that her mother appears fine, mystically speaking. I love this scene, with Buffy performing the ritual, and the music that’s playing is so haunting and evocative. I call it one of my “goosebump” episodes. It really does make the hairs stand up on your arms.

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But then Buffy looks at photographs around the house, while in a trance, and sees that Dawn’s image is flashing in and out on every picture. The same with Dawn’s bedroom: everything she owns appears to fade in and out, revealing the bedroom as it was before Dawn arrived. Dawn herself appears to have no tangible form. Buffy is understandably afraid, suspecting that Dawn is not her sister, and rather something that will infiltrate and destroy her family. She assaults Dawn as a dangerous imposter. 

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And of course, she needs to find out more. She discovers that the Orb she found, is actually a Dagon Sphere, and it protects against unnamed evil. In an abandoned building, she comes up against the Beast, who is an attractive and glamorous woman, and we are shocked to see that, Buffy, who can pretty much kick anyone’s arse, is much less than a match for the Beast. I can remember feeling devastated and afraid for Buffy watching this episode. Witnessing the Slayer, who can fight anything, being well and truly beaten; so ineffective against this woman.

She manages to escape, along with the monk, but as he dies: another warning. Buffy must protect the key. He tells her that the key is energy, made into human form. They made it human and sent it to her. He tells her she has to protect it with her life. So, Dawn is the key, whatever that might be; all memories were constructed, and Dawn is an innocent. Most importantly, Dawn doesn’t know she’s the key.

And to top it all, the beast, the woman who beat Buffy halfway to a pulp, wants the key. And this is where things get really interesting.

The Body – Season 5 (2001) Episode 16

This really is one of the eeriest Buffy episodes ever, not least for Joss Whedon’s decision not to use any incidental music. One might think this would lessen the drama; we need those pounding beats and creepy music, don’t we, to make something extra dramatic? Apparently not. Joss Whedon achieved something truly wonderful in this episode, truly great, and completely devastating.

Earlier, I spoke about Buffy’s mum, Joyce’s headaches. It turns out she has a brain tumour: doctors find a shadow on her CAT scan. In an earlier episode, she has the tumour removed and seems to be recovering well.

In this episode, Buffy comes home and finds her mothers body on the sofa. She is dead.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar really excelled herself in this episode. I feel real grief for her when I watch this. Seeing her shocked and widened eyes, the tears, the way she shakes her mother, trying to resuscitate her, breaks bones in her chest, all just so tragic and real, and made more real by the lack of any music. The silence in this episode is creeping, and it is relentless.

There is one small moment of relief – as Buffy watches the paramedics work on her mother – where we see Joyce gasp and come back to life, and we are fast forwarded to the hospital where she’s sitting up in bed, her family around her. Exclamations of “it’s a miracle”.

But this is pure fantasy. She doesn’t gasp back to life, and she isn’t okay. Buffy’s mum is dead. The one real constant in Buffy’s life has gone.

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I’m sure anyone who has lost someone they love will feel the authenticity of this episode; the harsh and cold reality of death. Buffy’s world doesn’t stop, it carries on, she has things to deal with; the dead to lay to rest. And then the getting on with her life.

It will be no surprise then to know that this episode also makes me cry, every time I watch it. Whilst the episode in its entirety fills me with grief, the real “streaming eyes” moment for me was Anya’s reaction to Joyce’s death. Anya, a once vengeance demon, has never had to deal with mortality, and losing someone she is close to is a first for her.

She asks, “are we gonna see the body?” and “are we going to be in the room, with the dead body?” and finally, “are they gonna cut the body open?” Willow reacts with outrage at Anya’s lack of sensitivity, assuming she is being the typical, tactless and uncaring ex-vengeance demon. And then we are presented with this raw and innocent, almost childlike speech that is heartbreaking.

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“But I don’t understand. I don’t understand how this all happens; how we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s… there’s just a body. And I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it, and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid; it’s mortal and stupid. And Xander’s crying and not talking. And I was having fruit punch and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever. And she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”

Watch Anya’s speech in “The Body” here

I defy you to watch it and not at least have a lump in your throat…..

The Gift – Season 5 (2001) Episode 22

We know Dawn’s the key, and throughout Season 5 we discover what it is the key opens. The key opens the portal to alternate dimensions, alternate hell dimensions. We also discover that the Beast is Glory, and she is a hell god. She wants to use the opening of the portal to get home to her hell dimension. However, opening the portal will of course spill all sorts of horror out and ultimately end the world. Glory has also learned that Dawn is the key, and has spent several episodes in hot pursuit.

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And so we get to the Season finale, one of the best Season finales ever, and Glory has captured Dawn. Her minions have been busy building a tower to perform the “portal opening” ritual, and Dawn is tied up at the top of the tower. Dawn’s blood needs to be spilled in order to open the portal, and in spite of everyone’s best efforts to prevent this, a demon at the top of the tower with Dawn manages to start the ritual (not before throwing Spike from the tower). He slashes into Dawn’s arms, and her blood drips onto the fabric of the portal. It is opening.

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In a previous episode, the First Slayer told Buffy, that “death is her gift” and now she knows what is meant by this. She sacrifices herself by jumping into the portal, which closes as she dies.

And yet again I felt raw grief. How can a TV show do that? Buffy, who began by hating her sister, now sacrifices her own life to save the world, because she wouldn’t allow Dawn to do so. And when the camera moves to her dead body, laying at the bottom of the tower, I simply cannot cope with the grief on Spike’s face. Pure devastation.

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The music that is played as she talks to Dawn, and then jumps from the tower, is simply beautiful. It’s called Sacrifice, by Christophe Beck. Have a listen. It really is the saddest Buffy music ever.

Listen to “Sacrifice” here

 

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Villians – Season 6 (2002) Episode 20

So there’s quite a fast forward here. Buffy dies at the end of Season 6, and is dead for quite some time, but because she was killed by mystical energy, Willow figures out a way to bring her back from the dead. It’s been quite a traumatic time for Buffy, not least because of dying, but more so because, whilst Willow and her friends thought they were bringing her back from some awful hell dimension, they had actually torn her out of heaven, where she was finally happy, and at peace. And there’s quite a lot of angst and guilt to work through in this season.

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She also spends much of this season fighting an evil human trio for a change, Warren, Jonathan and Andrew. Whilst some of this gets quite tedious in places, and I ended up watching this Season wishing they would all just disappear so that Buffy could get back to the proper demon fighting, it all becomes so worthwhile at the end, and leads us nicely to a worthy season finale.

So Willow is in a relationship with Tara, and they’ve not long gotten back together after Tara leaves because of her fear that Willow is using too much magic. They are truly happy, and back where they’re meant to be. However, in Seeing Red, Episode 19, Warren, whose plans Buffy has been successfully foiling, decides the only real way to get rid of the Slayer is to do it the old fashioned way: with a gun and bullets. I found this episode quite shocking in that regard, because all along I’d been watching in the comfort that we were simply fighting demons, and they’re not even real anyway, and then Whedon brings us down to earth with a reality check. There are guns in Buffy’s world.

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Warren shoots Buffy in the chest, and a stray bullet enters through the upstairs bedroom window and fatally wounds Tara. Willow, who has successfully kept her dark powers under control and keeping her promise to stay away from magic, is overcome with grief and transforms herself into a dark magician by absorbing power from ancient books. She hunts Warren down.

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So really, this whole episode is about how Willow tracks down Warren, and, in another shocking moment for this show, murders Warren, a human being, and this is another shift for Buffy, to have one human being intentionally murder another. Willow does this in quite a spectacular and gruesome way, using her powers to skin Warren alive before incinerating him. Willow has truly tripped over to the dark side. And, as she says at the end of the episode, “One down….” indicating her intention of tracking down the other two in the evil trio.

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Lies My Parents Told Me – Season 7 (2003) Episode 17

There are so many reasons to love this episode.

In an earlier episode, Spike, motivated by his love for Buffy, decides to undergo a trial that will give him a soul. He wins the trial, subsequently winning back his soul. Spike is no longer evil, and no longer willing to kill humans. However, he is being driven quite insane by the First Evil, who is taunting and using him. The First Evil has also planted a trigger in Spike, so that every time he hears the song, Early One Morning, (sang to him by his mother as a child) he is driven to kill. Buffy knows that Spike isn’t responsible for his actions and so, shackling him in the basement at night to prevent him killing, they look for the reasons behind Spike’s actions.

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During Season 7 we are introduced to a new Principal, Robin Wood, who actually turns out to be the son of a Slayer murdered by Spike in the 70s, and the original owner of the black leather coat he sports. In spite of knowing that Spike has indeed changed, that he now has a soul, and is no longer the demon that killed his mother, Principal Wood is on a mission to kill Spike.

Giles, who would also quite like Spike dead, helps Robin Wood in his mission by distracting Buffy, therefore allowing Robin to lead Spike to his hideout under false pretences. Principal Wood doesn’t want to kill the “new improved” Spike; he wants to kill the demon he was. So, producing the trigger song, Spike turns and they begin an almighty battle.

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This is a turning point for Spike, and a real glimpse into the heartache he suffered when first turning his mother into a vampire. A turning point because, as Principal Wood beats him, he deals with that guilt and anger he has, and regains control of himself, not taking advantage of the opportunity he has to kill Robin Wood. He walks away.

Buffy arrives and tells Robin that she needs Spike for the battles that are coming, and that next time he tries something like this, she will let Spike kill him.

I love the glimpses into both Spike’s human life, and his early vampire life, as well as his killing of a slayer, Robin’s mum, in the 70s. This is a truly great episode. Most of all, I love the look of defeat and surprise on Robin’s face when he knows he has lost.

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Listen to Spike’s “trigger song”, Early One Morning, here.

Chosen – Season 7 (2003) – Episode 22

Okay, I know I said my ten favourite Buffy episodes, but I couldn’t squeeze it down any further, and how could I leave off the final ever Season finale, Chosen?

I always knew Buffy the Vampire Slayer would come to an end, and I feared it. Buffy had become such a part of my life. I had become so absorbed with the characters and their lives, loves and struggles, that I couldn’t bear to think about them no longer being around.

But of course, it had to come to and end. My second fear, after knowing that it was definitely ending, was that they wouldn’t do it justice; that I would be left with a feeling of, “Is that it?”

I’m so happy to say that the show finale completely quashed that fear, on so many levels, and when I watched it again the other day, it thrilled me as much as it did when I first saw it 13 years ago.

Buffy, for a few episodes, has been fighting Caleb, a sadistic and psychopathic sidekick to the First Evil, and the beating she takes at his hands is reminiscent of those suffered by Buffy when fighting Glory, the hell god in Season 5. Originally a priest and a serial killer, Caleb is completely chilling.

At the beginning of this episode, with Angel watching from the side lines, Buffy slaughters Caleb with the scythe pulled from the stone in a previous episode (a scythe forged by an ancient order of women, for the final battle). Buffy has a plan, and the execution of this plan is amazing. This episode is so fantastic, that to try to talk about it in detail, will not do it justice. It has to be viewed.

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My reasons for loving this episode are that it is truthful, and it is full of love, and it is full of hope. There are some tender moments, well deserved for Spike after years of following Buffy around, in which we can really see that Buffy cares for Spike.

There is that amazingly fantastic battle in the hell mouth, with the hundreds of thousands of vampires surging upwards and outwards. The sad death of Anya, who died valiantly in battle, without ever having revived her relationship with Xander, and Xander not seeing her body as he runs from the school.

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But most of all, it’s the scene that has me sobbing from start to finish, in which Spike is finally able to vindicate himself for all the evil things he has done in his life as a vampire. Buffy holds his hand, tells him she loves him, and leaves him to save the world. He certainly goes out in style.

Chosen-Spike

And that final, poignant scene, when they stop the minibus to look back at Sunnydale, only to watch it collapse in its entirety into the Hellmouth cavern; the location for an entire 7 years of Slayer stories, vanished for good.

And of course, every girl in the world who would ever have been chosen as slayer, has been given slayer strength and aptitude. They no longer have to wait until the current slayer dies, fighting the world alone, everything upon her shoulders.

At the end, Dawn asks, “What are we going to do now?” and the look on Buffy’s face is exquisite; one of relief and of hope. The burden of being the slayer is no longer hers.

FINAL

So, what do you think of my favourite episodes? Any that I’ve missed that I really shouldn’t have? Why not tell me about yours…

“Yes it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily every after.”

Rupert Giles – Lie To Me

Buffy Episode Guide

 

The birth of a horror story

The inspiration for a good horror story can be found anywhere; you just have to look beneath the surface….

I’ve always been fascinated with the darker side of life, and I look for the horror in everything, in any day, in any situation. I look for it, and then I write it down. Sometimes it becomes a poem or a short story; other times it shrivels and dies.

Sometimes it snowballs, and becomes a monster of a novel that won’t let you go. That’s what happened with my horror novel, The Remainers.

I’d always wanted to tell a tale of the apocalypse, something with lots of characters, with their own challenges and self-contained stories, but I had not even a germ of an idea, and didn’t know where to begin. I had a couple of false starts, trying to conjure up a story from nowhere, with characters I didn’t care about.

I’d look at newspaper articles, unusual little fillers that would let my imagination run wild. I liked looking for the horror in the details that hadn’t been mentioned, spotting the abnormalities in seemingly innocent detail.

“That was when I saw him, only then I didn’t know what or who he was, and what it might signify.”  Continue reading

As Zombie films go, this is pretty fantastic. So, what’s so great about ‘Maggie’?

When I watched my first Zombie film, Night of The Living Dead (1968), I had no idea I would be hooked on the genre for life. I also had no idea that Zombies would become fashionable, that the term “Zombie Apocalypse” would become commonplace, that there would be theme days designed around them (yes, you can have your very own Zombie experience), articles online advising how to survive such an apocalypse (while a certain teenager I know almost eagerly awaits one), and websites and forums dedicated to this supposed eventuality.

I’ve seen countless zombie films and TV shows since then, some great, some forgettable, and pretty much all of them following the same or similar paths, or at least told from the perspective of horrified survivors fleeing – or trapped by – the flesh eaters.

Maggie (2015) is different, and all the more horrific for it. Written by John Scott 3, and directed by Henry Hobson, they should be congratulated for their efforts. The one thing about most zombie movies I’ve seen is the obvious “that-could-never-happen” vibe about them. We watch, we enjoy, but we are safe in the knowledge that it’s never actually going to happen. Probably.

maggie film shot 4

Devastating

This film flips the zombie movie genre on its head, and gives us an intimate, uncomfortable and strangely authentic look at what it would be like to become a zombie, slowly. With hardly a zombie attack in sight, this is a devastating portrayal of a woman who cannot escape what is happening to her. She is deteriorating; losing touch with her identity; ceasing to be.

Maggie, played by Abigail Vogel, has been bitten. A necroambulist virus pandemic has swept America, and one of the flesh eaters has infected Maggie. The difference with this zombie transformation is that it’s relatively slow, and doesn’t require your death and subsequent awakening to take effect. The infection spreads and changes you over the space of several weeks. The transformation is agonisingly slow, with various phases to be watched for and dreaded. And therein lies the horror.

maggie film shot 1

Terminal

It connects cleverly with our general fear of sickness and death, demonstrating the reality of having the worst kind of terminal illness, and the horror that must envelop those who discover the next inevitable milestone of that illness has been reached. This is what we witness with Maggie, and we are dragged along that journey with her. She does the right thing; to protect her family she leaves them, telling her father not to come looking for her.

I’m not a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, not least for his previously limited acting range, but even I was slightly captivated by his understated performance as Maggie’s father, Wade. His face has become wizened and soft; his expressions, naturalistic. We believe he is Maggie’s father; we believe he loves his daughter, and we feel his anguish. Wade seeks out Maggie, finding her in a hospital for the infected, and brings her home to live out her final weeks.

Raw

I’ve mentioned the authenticity of this film. It is also very raw. I watched the decline of Maggie, and started to feel afraid. Not in the safe, afraid way I watch most horror movies, but with the type of fear you have when you watch a documentary, or a news article about something that can actually happen. I found myself strangely worrying about the possibility of getting this virus, of being bitten, of becoming a zombie. That’s the mark of a good horror film; the braces that suspend disbelief so expertly hidden, you start to experience real fear; real worries.

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Maggie is desperate, and it oozes from her, both figuratively and literally. When she breaks her finger in the backyard and the black gunk of her infection seeps from her body, I felt that hopelessness and desolation right along with her. I found myself massaging my own fingers, checking my arms for signs of infections, for a deterioration in the skin, maybe an odd maggot or two.

Prognosis

And so what is the prognosis for those infected? First, they must declare themselves to the authorities, and at an appropriate point, the teetering point, they must be taken into quarantine, where eventual euthanisation is the order of the day.

The film induced in me a pity for zombies. Maggie’s neighbours are infected, have not declared themselves to the authorities, and are wandering in their grounds, driven mad by the disease, motivated by their newfound ability to smell human flesh as food, and an uncontrollable urge to taste the same. It is not their fault, they are victims of the virus. In Maggie’s post apocalyptic world, the infected are treated inhumanely. Their end is definitely not pretty.

Maggie film shot 2

And so we watch as Maggie tries to grasp the remnants of a normal life whilst coping with the unimaginable. Only this film makes it entirely imaginable, brings it into reality, but without the melodrama of other films of the genre. We watch as she goes out with her friends, talks openly about the illness that is killing her, and shares a kiss with a previous boyfriend, also infected.

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This is a desperate film, and I was hooked from the first few minutes. It is a film about a battle that inevitably will be lost. It is also a very poignant film that left me with a sense of sadness. It has an honesty about it that will change the way you view zombies. It will fill you with empathy for those creatures previously feared and detested. Perhaps most satisfying of all was the disquieting unpredictability of the ending. I was satisfied with how it all turned out. A different ending might have disappointed.

You have to watch this film. Give it a go, go on. And would you do me a favour? Make sure you watch it with the lights off. And then come and tell me what you thought of it.

Maggie (2015) IMDb movie trailer

 

 

Six horror movies to make you fear the dark

I’ve been scared by books I’ve read. Scared so that I have to turn on every light on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But it’s only films that have had (so far) the power to strike absolute terror into me; the kind where your heart is thumping so high up in your throat, you worry you might have a stroke or a heart attack. The kind where you can’t wait until morning, when there are no shadows.

Even then, there are only a handful of films that can do this, scare me so profoundly that I would feel really uncomfortable about watching them again.

The Omen (1976)

I saw The Omen way before I should have been allowed – an errant, older cousin. Whilst my impressionable age undoubtedly accentuated my fear of this film, it is genuinely a really scary, very dark film. I was brought up in a Pentecostal Church, and fire and brimstone was very much the flavour of many of the sermons. This also increased my belief in the film; made it very real for me – that Satan, who was, then, a real force in my life, could manifest in such a way, in the form of a human child.

Omen Screen SHot 1

There’s something disturbing about an evil child, when they should epitomise innocence. I can still feel the pervading sense of hopelessness this film exudes. It is about as dark as it’s possible to get. It is bleak.

There is something wonderful about most films created in the 70s. They have a real honesty about them, a rawness, before Hollywood came along and tried to make everything glossy. This ultra glossiness, and a fatigue around that, I feel is one of the motivators in the trendiness of found footage films. We became tired of the artificiality of films.

The imagery within this film is so powerful. The Rottweiler; the first nanny’s suicide, the second nanny’s eyes – staring – the desperation of the priest (he himself marked with the number of the beast), and the awful demise of the fearless journalist. It was the first time I’d been presented with the fact that, yes, the human head can be detached from the body, and that haunted me for years.

Omen Screen Shot 4

 

This film left me with a very big message. The Devil is real, and he’s coming for you.

 

I was fascinated with the number of the beast for years, and even now (although now an atheist and without superstition) I still halt for a tiny second and consider, is it a sign, if a telephone number, or a reference number has the three sixes in it?

The Omen (1976) Movie Trailer

The Entity (1982)

Imagine, if you will, lying in the bath, alone in your house except for your kids, and then being dragged from that bath and attacked, but there’s no other physical being in the house. It’s that that scares me about The Entity. I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences of unexplained phenomena, but the thought of being attacked by something not of this physical world is unimaginable. And in your home, where you should be able to feel safe.

Entity Screen Shot 1

The Entity is based on a true story. I’ve read up on it, and there are theories online about the story. Was she really attacked by a poltergeist or demonic entity? Or were her attacks a psychokinetic manifestation of her own negative energy? The real Carla Moran, Doris Bithers, was an alcoholic, an abuse victim, and fostered many dysfunctional relationships in her life.

Some of this is captured in the film, although if you read the stories of Doris Bithers, you might agree the film is a much-sanitised version, probably to create sympathy for the main character, played by Barbara Hershey. There is an authenticity about the film, an authenticity in her representation of the role. Her fear is palpable, Barbara is actually afraid, and this infected me. We watch as she battles with the demon, as her family and friends doubt her, and her mental health deteriorates on screen.

Entity Film Poster 2

This is the story of Carla Moran, a single mother, who is viciously raped and attacked by a non-physical entity.

The incidental music alone is enough to chill. The horrifying rape scene in the bathroom is made all the worse with the pounding sound accompanying it, later used in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds because of its sickening ability to chill, no doubt.

The effect of this film on me was much larger than simply was displayed on the screen. I could all too clearly imagine it, and, unlike with a human being – from whom there is hope of escape, and criminal prosecution, and incarceration – there is no escape from something that has no physical from; that cannot seemingly be contained. This thing follows her around and, as the end credits point out, the attacks on Carla Moran, on Doris Bithers, continue.

The Entity (1982) Movie Trailer

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

There was a lot of hype around this film, leading up to its release in the UK. It was the original of the much-imitated, and now somewhat passé, found footage genre, and easily one of the best.Blair witch film poster

It’s also a film that scares more with the power of suggestion than with the visual representation of horror on the screen. I didn’t get to see this at the cinema; I watched it on DVD in a room with the lights off. And I was terrified.

Three students set off to make a documentary about the Blair Witch in Burkittsville, Maryland. And of course they get lost in the woods, and they aren’t alone. There are so many jumpy moments in this film, some real heart pounding moments: unearthly noises outside their tent in the middle of the night, the disturbing talismans, and the general disintegration of the group as a whole and of each individual’s sanity, all leading up to that final, terrifying and disturbing scene.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) Movie Trailer

The Ring (2002)

I watched this film in bed. I hid under the duvet several times – I’m not ashamed to admit it – and with good reason.

This film is so visually disturbing. I love urban legends, and The Ring tells the story of a particular urban legend around a videotape. The videotape is cursed. If you watch it you die. You have a week to look forward to that eventuality.

Ring Screen Shot 4

And, of course, those who know this, but are sceptical (or simply adrenalin junkies) watch it, and people start dying.

It’s the contents of the cursed videotape that I found most disturbing: the black and white images, the well, the woman with her black hair covering her face. The Ring skillfully builds the tension.

I’m not a girlie girl. Really I’m not, but when that woman’s arm came out of the TV and dropped to the floor, I squealed and flew under the covers. I had to wait to be told it was safe to look again. It all harked back to the worst nightmare I’ve ever had, when I was seven years old. I was watching it being retold to me on the screen, as if someone had hacked into my mind, opened the filing cabinet entitled “worst nightmares”, and decided to put it into a film.

Ring Screen Shot 3

I discovered the Japanese and original version many years later, and think it’s much better. But that’s a subject for a future blog.

The Ring (2002) Movie Trailer

Paranormal Activity (2007)

It’s a fairly bright (if autumnal) July day, and still I have goose bumps and feel a little cold. I’ve been watching Paranormal Activity whilst writing this blog. Even in the sunlight, this film scares me.

Paranormal Activity Film Poster

The main focus of this film is the bedroom, and on what happens when the lights go out. It’s where our fears find us when we are trying to sleep at night. It’s where we lie at night wondering what that sound is in the hallway; about the creak on the stairs: that noise in the kitchen. Katie and Micah are being haunted by a paranormal presence. Micah decides he’s going to document it.

The camera is set up in their bedroom overnight, and the paranormal activity increases in intensity as the days go by.

My fear around this film developed because of two things: my own anticipation of what might happen to Katie and Micah, and the reinforcement of the actual happenings on the screen. This film has those obvious scary movie moments: doors that move on their own at night, women waking up screaming from a nightmare, crashing sounds from the hallway, but it also has some genuinely, insidiously creepy moments. The scene where Katie stands by the side of her own bed for two hours, trancelike, is one of those.

Paranormal Activity Screen Shot 1

The footprints in the talcum powder is also extremely well done – that moment when Micah realises that they are only leading “into” the bedroom; it must still be in there with them. Brilliant. And there’s the being-dragged-out-of-the-room-by-your-ankles scene, accompanied by Katie’s blood curdling screams.

Paranormal Activity (2007) Movie Trailer

The Conjuring (2013)

As you can see, it’s been 3 years since a horror film was released with the ability to make me sleep with the light on.

The Conjuring is based on a true story. The case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists, inspired the film.

Conjuring Film Poster 2

Roger and Carolyn Perron move into an old farmhouse with their five children and strange things start happening. The clocks all stop at the same time, the cellar is boarded up, and there’s something in the wardrobe. And of course, the husband is working away, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves.

There is so much to see in this film; so many scenes that I found visually terrifying, alongside those creepy moments that exploit pure suggestion that have you jumping at ridiculous things. I found it amazing that the family stayed in the house. At the first sign of anything even remotely paranormal, I would have been packing my suitcases and appearing on a friend’s doorstep. I suppose the five children would have made that slightly more difficult. I think I would have left the kids.

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You get a real sense of the family’s desperation and fear, and in a way it reminded me very much of The Entity. The mood, and the emotions it evoked in me.

The Perron’s ask for help, and Ed and Lorraine Warren appear, affirming their fears and seeking approval for an exorcism.

The people in the row behind me in the cinema laughed at my obvious jumps and squeals (did I mention I’m not a girlie girl?) and I really, honestly did sleep with the light on, just for one night. It’s all I was allowed.

There is a book, The Demonologist, about the cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I bought it the week after. I haven’t read it yet. I will. And I’ll tell you about it when I do.

The Conjuring (2013) Movie Trailer

So…..?

Am I being a complete wuss? Did these films do it for you? Or do you have others? I’d like to hear your recommendations.

Thanks for reading.

The Demonologist on Good Reads

Ed and Lorraine Warren – Wikipedia Entry

The True Story of The Entity

 

The Top Ten essential Stephen King books you’ll be glad you read

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Most people I know fit into two camps: they’ve read Stephen King and they love him, or they’ve started to read him, chosen the wrong books (let’s face it, he has written a few duds) and then given up on him.

To me, this is a tragedy. Who hasn’t been put off writers by unknowingly starting with the wrong book? Never to be revisited again? I did that with Clive Barker, read two of his books, and haven’t picked up another since.

Okay, maybe tragedy was a little strong, but it’s definitely a shame. There are so many of King’s books that are simply brilliant, not just in the horror novel sense, but as real demonstrations of the craft of writing (and sadly equal numbers not so brilliant) and – not that he needs the promotion – I’d like to introduce you to my top ten Stephen King Novels of all time (so far).

#10 Dolores Claiborne

A bit of a surprising one this. Many people outside of Stephen’s Kingdom haven’t heard of it, even though it was also adapted into a film in 1995, with Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It’s much more a thriller than a horror though, with just a nod to the unexplained, supernatural side of life.

The story is told through the eyes of Dolores, the long-suffering housekeeper to Vera Donovan, a very wealthy, very bitter, and quite mad, old woman. Dolores eventually becomes her paid companion. I love Dolores’s description of the difference between the two roles:

“As Vera’s housekeeper, I had to eat shit eight hours a day, five days a week. As her paid companion, I had to eat it all around the clock.’

Dolores is narrating the story of her life, one that is quite devoid of any lighter moments, and not simply because of her relationship with her employer. She reveals to us, about a quarter of the way through the book, that she has suffered at the hands of her violent and abusive husband. She also has a daughter, and therein sits the motivations behind Dolores’s story.

When Vera dies, Dolores is suspected of her murder and questioned by the police, and her story unfolds. She opens up quite willingly, gradually revealing the burden she’s been carrying around for quite some time, and her story grabbed me from the very minute I started reading, until the last page.

King’s voice is verIMG_6191y prominent in this, not as an intrusive author; this book is very much told in Dolores’s voice, her words (and as a reader, we feel like she is talking directly to us), but in the excellent grasp he has on characterisation, his ability to become his characters, to breath life into them, to make them exist beyond the pages of the book, is in full force here.

There are some really intriguing moments, and some honest insights into the human nature, and into what motivates us as human beings. One thing that Stephen King does, and he does very well, is insert subtle little links between books, that might otherwise not be connected; that aren’t part of the same series.

I’ve enjoyed trying to spot them over the years, and Dolores Claiborne has one. It’s linked to the next book in my list, Gerald’s Game, and I believe you can’t really read one without the other.

#9 Gerald’s Game

Long before Fifty Shades of Grey, there was Gerald’s Game. Published in 1992, it tells the story of Jessie Burlingame, who, during the beginnings of a sex game, and realising she actually despises and is repulsed by her husband, she accidentally kills him.

“Then his hand – his soft, short-fingered hand, its flesh as pink as that which capped his penis – reached out and grasped her breast, and something inside her suddenly popped, like an overstrained tendon.”

The only problem is, they are in their Maine summerhouse, in the middle of nowhere, she is handcuffed to the bed, and the keys are out of reach, on the dresser. What follows is her desperate journey through the horrors that await her as she plots her escape. The scene around page 238 is definitely not for the squeamish.

And, of course, the link with Dolores Claiborne, the eclipse, and the well water, gave me that extra reason to love Jessie’s story.

#8 Pet Sematary

This is one of the scariest Stephen King novels I’ve read. It tells the story of the Creed family who move to a new house, which just happens to be down the road from an ancient Indian Micmac burial ground and the local Pet Sematary. And, of course, there’s the elderly Jud Crandall to introduce him to this when the family cat, Church, is killed on the road.

IMG_6192When you bury the dead there, they come back, but they come back different. And Jud Crandall knew that, before he told Louis Creed to bury the cat. I’ve always disliked his character for that.

“Church was swaying slowly back and forth as if drunk. Louis watched it, his body crawling with revulsion, a scream barely held back in his mouth by his clamped teeth. Church had never looked like this – had never swayed.”

This book has all the essential elements of a good horror story, animals and people returning from the dead, blood and guts, and the deranged, disturbed and deformed sister locked in the bedroom. And if you want a real fright, and your imagination didn’t already conjure up a scary enough image of Zelda, the sister, for you, have a look at the film version. I still watch those scenes through my fingers.

Pet Sematary’s Zelda

#7 Needful Things

This definitely deserves its spot on my top ten. I read this book in a matter of days, over breakfast, on the train, in my lunch break, in bed. It’s just wonderful, and again, looks at the darker side of human nature. I really could not put it down.

IMG_6195What would you pay for that one item, in that shop window? The one item you really want, even if you didn’t realise it until just now? Would you pay just about the amount you have in your purse? Or a little bit extra? What else would you give? Your friends? Your loved ones? Your soul?

Leland Gaunt opens the shop, Needful Things, and pretty soon he’s creating havoc, because the people in Castle Rock will give anything for that desirable item, even if they don’t fully realise the cost at the time. This book is about greed, and desire, and the fragility of human relationships. It’s also about love and pain and heartache, and I love that. It has a real poignancy. You also get to be the voyeur, looking over the shoulder of all those usually sensible people behaving in a way they could never have dreamed. My favourite part, and the bit that made me, years later, buy a replica necklace, is the bit with the spider and the arthritis. You’ll know when you get to it.

#6 Lisey’s Story

There seemed to be a lot of hype about this one before it came out. Stephen King came over to the UK to promote it, and I went to a book signing and reading. I can remember listening to him for the half hour or so that he stood on the podium, reading aloud from Lisey’s story, and couldn’t wait to get started on it. It didn’t disappoint.

Stephen King’s wife, while he was in hospital recovering from pneumonia, decided to redecorate his office. When he returned home, much of his stuff was still boxed up, and he realised that this is what his office would look like if he died. And so, Lisey’s Story was born.

I loved this book. Again, I devoured it in days, and I’ve since listened to it as an audio book. Some of the reviews online have been quite scathing, largely because of the language of the main characters relationship. I, however, was drawn straight into their world, and Lisey and Scott existed as real people for me.

I found the suggestive horror of this one quite scary, and it did make me feel on edge at times, wanting to leave the light on, or have the TV on whilst dozing off to sleep.

The description of the “The Long Boy with the piebald side” was what really affected me, and Lisey seeing things in the water glass in the bathroom. It was all quite subtle, allowing my imagination to do the work, and with my imagination, when that happens, things get really bad.IMG_6169

#5 Bag of Bones

Another novel about someone losing a spouse. In this story, it’s Mike Noonan, another writer, and his wife has collapsed and died from a brain aneurysm. Writers’ block forces him to move to their holiday home on Dark Score Lake. He becomes embroiled in the bitter battles between Mattie Devore and her father-in-law, Max Devore. This being a Stephen KiIMG_6184ng novel, however, the battles aren’t straight forward, and they are certainly not everyday.

 

This was another one I couldn’t put down. It was heavily influenced by Daphne Du Maurier’s, Rebecca, another one of my all-time favourite novels. I found this extremely scary in parts, and again felt quite unnerved whilst reading, as was living alone at the time. It’s also one of the only books that has ever made me cry. Stephen King showed, in this book, that he really can write about the depth of human love and emotion, and I sobbed for a full ten minutes.

#4 The Green Mile

This was originally released as a serial in the UK, one book per month, and I bought the first book, read it in a couple of hours, and then didn’t know what to do with myself for the next month whilst waiting for the second instalment. I then decided to wait for all six books to be released. I know this defeated the object of what Stephen King had been trying to achieve at the time: to recreate that excitement he had whilst waiting for the next comic to come out, but for me the first instalment was so wonderful, I couldn’t put myself through the torture of waiting a month each time. Instead, I waited five long months for the final instalment to be released and then read the lot over a couple of days. I’m sure most people are familiar with the story of The Green Mile, with the rather excellent and successful film adaptation starring Tom Hanks, but just in case, I won’t spoil it.

This book also made me cry. A lot. John Coffey (no coincidence with the initials matching those of Jesus Christ) is a gentle giant, incarcerated for the murder of two young girls, and facing the electric chair. It’s told through the eyes of the prison warden, Paul Edgecomb, and has so much depth, so many levels and wonderful little side stories, I could hardly contain myself whilst reading it. I loved the film too, however, if you’ve only seen the film, you have to read the book too, there is a lot more to it. I’m sure this must have been a labour of love for King.

It’s just beautiful and rich and haunting and wonderful, and deeply affected me. It’s the book I wish I’d written. It’s the Stephen King novel that had the most impact on me.

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#3 From a Buick 8

This was a real quirky little number from Stephen King, and unlike anything else he’s ever written. It’s unmistakably King, but yet so unusual. My imagination was completely captured by the Buick 8 left abandoned at the gas station, and all the awful and terrible things that happened around that car from that point forward. It’s one of those books where, when you’ve finished it, you’IMG_6187re never really sure what you just read, and yet so full of wonderful and alive characters and situations. It’s a real heady journey through the most bizarre of Stephen King’s storylines, and to this day I would struggle to relay the story, without actually reading it all over again. I just know it gave me goose bumps, and is definitely on my re-read list.

#2 11/22/63

I sometimes feel this should be my number one, but there’s an element of me that feels like I would be betraying my actual number one, so I never quite let it get there. But this is a very close second for me. I can still remember the breathlessness with which I read this, and the complete neglect of everything around me at the time. It’s one of his later books (2011) and yet surprisingly he says he had the idea for it before he even wrote his first novel, Carrie.

IMG_6186It tells the story of Jake Epping, who travels back in time to the 1960s to try and prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy. King says, “I’ve never tried to write anything like this before. It was really strange at first, like breaking in a new pair of shoes.” It’s not a horror novel, not even a little bit, and a real break from the norm for King. I’m so glad he decided to pursue the idea.

It’s my most recommended novel ever. I once said it would be the book I’d take onto a desert island with me for sheer entertainment factor. The bizarre thing about the book was that I felt I was reading a factual account, rather than a fictional novel, because Stephen King’s story became so closely intertwined with the actual story of Lee Harvey Oswald, the line between fact and fiction was very blurry, and King succeeded admirably.

I recently watched the television adaptation, and I was disappointed. It was entertaining enough, but I certainly didn’t feel breathless watching it. If you’ve only seen the TV show, do yourself a favour, and read this. You will not regret it. Thinking about this novel always puts me in mind of that line from Jurassic Park, “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should!” A brilliant exploration into what would have happened had Kennedy never been assassinated.

#1 The Stand

Well, here it is, and probably no surprise, The Stand. It’s one of the very first novels I ever read by Stephen King. I originally read the much-edited version, and was delighted when the full, uncut version was released. It gave so much more richness to the characters; helped explain their motives much more clearly. I think I’ve re-read this book about three times, and in its bible like proportions, that’s no small thing. I’m currently reading it aloud to my partner, and it’s still as fantastic as the first time I read it.

I love the immensity of it, the broad span of it, the number of characters, the depth to which the characters are created, and I am particularly fond of anything apocalyptic, and this is one of the only apocalyptic novels ever written by King (another fact which I find surprising, apart from The Dome, which I think would be number one on my least favourite King books list).

So in case you don’t know, it’s about a flu virus, Captain Trips, that accidentally escapes from a government installation, and kills over 99% of the world’s population. Those left behind then begin the ultimate battle between good and evil. One of the best evil characters ever in a novel: Randall Flagg, the devil incarnate. If you’ve not read it, you really should. It will chill you to the core.

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So, that’s it…….

My list of must read Stephen King books. I’d be really interested to hear from you about your top ten favourites, or whether you think I’ve chosen any of your least favourite King books on my top ten. Have I missed a really crucial one somewhere?

Drop me a line; let me know.

Let’s talk King.

 

Why horror…?

“The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail. The mouth was open just enough to permit a rush of water over the gills. There was little other motion: an occasional correction of the apparently aimless course by the slight raising or lowering of a pectoral fin – as a bird changes direction by dipping one wing and lifting the other. The eyes were sightless in the black, and the other senses transmitted nothing extraordinary to the small, primitive brain.” Jaws, Peter Benchley.

I was eight years old and lying in my parents’ bed; my dad on his night shift at Fords’ Car Factory, and my mum asleep. My sisters and I took turns to sleep with her when dad was away. My turn meant that I could sneak a peak at the book she was reading. That week it was Jaws. 

“A hundred yards offshore, the fish sensed a change in the sea’s rhythm. It did not see the woman, nor yet did it smell her.”

My recollection is vivid, just enough lamplight to read by in that dark room, me turning the pages carefully, so as not to disturb my mum, and that creeping sense of horror that made me want to stop whilst not letting me go. I was unable to stop myself, my heart beat faster than usual. I practiced pronouncing the longer words under my breath – uncertain of their meaning – but they felt delicious on my tongue. Something awful was about to happen. Continue reading