Kendall Reviews/PS Publishing Book Of The Month
England’s Screaming: Sean Hogan
What connects Duc de Richleau (The Devil Rides Out), Julian Karswell (Night Of The Demon), and Damien Thorn (The Omen)? Carol Ledoux (Repulsion) and Dr. Channard (Hellbound: Hellraiser II)? Jo Gilkes (Beasts) and Angel Blake (Blood On Satan’s Claw)? How is Karswell linked to Hugo Fitch (Dead Of Night) and Emily Underwood (From Beyond The Grave)? What connects Dorothy Yates (Frightmare) to the deaths at Russell Square (Death Line)? How and why does Damien Thorn know Julia Cotton (Hellraiser)?
It’s a common thread of Film Criticism to note the influences and precursors of one film to another, especially in relation to genre: by definition, genre films are connected by a frame. What then if the characters could see each other? What if they existed not only as fictional characters in our world, but in a single chronology of their own? What if they could talk to each other, know each other, love and hate each other?
Who would align with whom, and what might we discover about how influences breed? What might we then learn about the warp and weft of our beloved genre and the patterns that are woven through it?
Absorbing it all, Sean Hogan steps inside the world of UK Horror to examine it from within. To see how the characters, themes and stories interact, and what the bigger picture might reveal. Is there a story behind and between the stories we already know? What might it say about the history of UK Horror and the culture from which it was spawned?
Exclusive Discount Code
You can buy England’s Screaming from PS Publishing and if you use the exclusive Kendall Reviews Book Of The Month code ESCREAMTEN you will receive a fantastic 10% discount. (Please note this discount is valid till June 30th 2020 and only for purchases of England’s Screaming)
England’s Screaming is an outstanding work where British Horror Movies all exist in one universe and characters can interact to create one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while.
Admittedly I did have to look up a few of the movies/characters involved, but that actually added to the whole experience. It was fun to read movie synopsis and to google characters and then find them playing out in different scenarios in England’s Screaming.
You really need to read this book blind. The joy in characters turning up from one of your favourite movies to interact with other classic horror creations is so convincingly written. At times the writing can be a little choppy although I believe that is to get characters where they need to be without reams of unnecessary exposition, keeping the stories pacey and exciting.
All the stories have this old school vibe about them regardless of the movie release date. Hammer & Amicus fans are going to lap this up.
To finish, England’s Screaming is a brilliant brilliant book that can be as equally bleak as funny. The cast list as chosen by Sean Hogan is sublime and by curtain call, I was screaming for more. With the endless list of characters now at Hogan’s disposal, I can’t wait to see where a follow-up novel will go.
England’s Screaming is a masterpiece.
The rules are quite simple…
You are invited to imagine yourselves as warden for an old graveyard, and choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.
As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.
You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.
If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new shift is about to begin. The warden is…
The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Although the author dislikes her writing being labelled as “horror” (fair enough, given that it encompasses several different strains of fantasy and science fiction too), I would nevertheless argue that The Red Tree is precisely that. And not only is it a work of unabashed horror, but it is also the finest such novel of recent years, and will, I believe, eventually assume its rightful place within the genre canon. It certainly deserves to stand alongside a book such as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, a work with which it shares many similarities. Much like Jackson’s novel, it twins an unstable, unreliable narrator with an archetypal Bad Place, and lets the reader decide how much of the ensuing nightmare is supernatural, and how much is simply the byproduct of a rapidly disintegrating mind. Although they are comparable in their careful reticence of effect and delight in ambiguity, Kiernan goes even further than Jackson, crafting a hall of mirrors narrative that defies any sort of easy explication. Not only is her own narrator unreliable, but large passages of the book are taken up by extracts from a separate (fictitious) work: a study of the folklore surrounding the titular tree by another, also very possibly untrustworthy, author. Throughout the novel, Kiernan revels in creating impossible contradictions and pointing out the obvious fallacies in what her respective narrators are claiming as truth. And if all this sounds like nothing more than an exercise in intellectual game-playing, rest assured that the book is also extremely frightening. Kiernan is a master of the art of suggestion, and has an unerring grasp of how the withholding of understanding can serve to create an unbearable sense of dread. Even the fragmentary stories within stories included here are often horrifying in their incomplete, enigmatic detail. Every time I reread The Red Tree, I find something new. (And please ignore the awful, misguided paranormal romance-style cover. Kiernan herself hated it, and I long for the day that the book is reissued with a cover image that does its superlative contents justice.)
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
It wasn’t the first novel by Stephen King I ever read, and it may not be his best, but it’s always been a particular favourite of mine. In its evocation of ageless malevolence infecting a small American town, it is in many way the ur-text of 70’s and particularly 80’s horror novels, but whereas many of those other works seem meandering and unfocused when read today, I’ve always thought that King’s book pulled off the trick of being expansive in scope while maintaining a compelling, propulsive pace. And as is so often the case with King, it’s ultimately all about the people – at his best, the writer always manages to achieve an enviable level of empathy and understanding with his characters. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that one need sympathise with the inhabitants of a story, but it’s certainly crucial that they’re interesting and relatable. Too many larger-scaled horror novels of the period contain casts of characters that resemble nothing more than a collection of wooden chess pieces being shoved around a board, but that’s a trap King deftly avoids here. Add to that an unnerving portrayal of how the slowly-spreading stain of evil gradually rots a tight-knit community from within, and you have a timeless novel that still holds up some forty-odd years later, even after the subsequent decades of romantic vampires, comedy vampires, delinquent vampires and sparkly vampires. (Oh, and can I please have the anniversary edition that also includes King’s two tie-in tales, Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road, the latter of which is one of his most eerily effective short stories?)
Swamp Thing by Alan Moore
I once interviewed Alan Moore and asked him about his apparent affinity for the horror genre, given that a large proportion of his work resides within or is at least adjacent to it (see not only Swamp Thing, but From Hell, The Bojeffries Saga, parts of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and his recent sequence of Lovecraftian works). He chose to avoid the question, but while he may always be most famous for writing Watchmen, a superhero comic (however revisionist), his contribution to horror comics cannot be underestimated; not simply for the undoubted influence Swamp Thing had on the comic book industry, but on pop culture in general (without Swamp Thing there is no Vertigo, which means no Hellblazer, no Sandman, and so on and so forth). While From Hell is a staggering piece of work, densely novelistic in its detail, and certainly deserves a place in any self-respecting graveyard, Swamp Thing is the one I read first, and the work of his I most regularly return to. I first encountered it as a teenage comics fan, and while I was certainly already aware of Moore’s UK work for 2000AD and Warrior, nothing there prepared me for what I found within the pages of Titan’s volumes of black and white Swamp Thing reprints. I’d simply never seen anything like them. By turns scary, thoughtful, experimental, emotional, political, and boundary-defying, they made me look at comics – and quite possibly horror itself – in a whole different way. The importance of the richly-detailed art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben should not be overlooked (I’d never seen a comic with such disquieting, disturbing imagery before, and there are panels in these stories I’ve never forgotten) but I was also aware that this was genre writing on a whole other level from much of what passed for contemporary horror, be it in comics or literature or film. The carefully orchestrated tension and reveal of “The Anatomy Lesson”, the dreadful slow burn terror of the Anton Arcane issues, the interwoven horror and confrontational politics of the “American Gothic” sequence (somewhat akin to the more radical films of the 70’s New Wave of American horror cinema); these were landmark pieces of genre storytelling then, and they still are today.
(And if I’m forced to choose only one collection from Moore’s run, I’ll take the recent Absolute Edition, which contains the first sixteen issues, and many of the best.)
What makes for a good horror story? As much as there are exceptions to every rule, I’d argue that one important aspect is veracity: a certain lived-in quality, and a solid grasp of time and place, helping to ground the horror in the recognisable, the everyday. This rule almost certainly applies when one is setting a narrative within a particular creative milieu. I’ve read a great many stories that fail to convince when called upon to imagine fictitious artists of any stripe; all too often, they fall back on broad strokes and clichés. But in Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand manages the not-inconsiderable feat of creating an entirely convincing portrait of a 1960’s English acid folk band, and does so with a documentarian’s eye (almost literally – the book is constructed as a series of modern-day interviews with the musicians and their various associates). Hand fastidiously details both the band’s music and the 1960’s record industry itself, as well as sketching believable portraits of the cast of characters involved. From start to finish, the story possesses the clear ring of truth, enabling the reader to believe everything they are being told, and therefore to become utterly absorbed in the strange chain of events the author goes on to relate. But, you ask, what of the horror? Well, while the band’s encounters with the supernatural forces lurking at Wylding Hall are always subtly and enigmatically described (added to which, none of the members can ever quite agree on what happened), there are certain moments that are still amongst the most chilling I’ve ever come across. The climax of the story involves little more than the description of a series of photographs, but so suggestive are the images Hand conjures up with her careful prose that they will undoubtedly linger in any reader’s head for quite some time afterwards.
Flicker by Theodore Roszak
An epic novel about cinephilia, obsession and creeping paranoid dread. I first picked up Flicker purely at random while on holiday with a girlfriend in the Netherlands, and it provided a much-needed escape from the messy breakup that ensued during our stay there. The relationship may not have lasted, but the novel did; Flicker still occupies a treasured place on my bookshelf, and is another work I’ve returned to frequently over the years. As a filmmaker and cinephile, Roszak’s book is for me irresistible in its evocation of a time and place in film history, wry understanding of the ways in which fandom can so easily slip into obsession, and in its meticulous, utterly convincing delineation of the career of a forgotten cinema genius, Max Castle (a quality it has in common with the aforementioned Wylding Hall). Flicker tells us that the true horror of movies may be concealed far below their slickly alluring surface, and have nothing whatsoever to do with zombies or vampires or mad doctors. Every time I reread it, I find myself wishing once again that Castle’s suggestively insidious films were indeed real – even at the probable cost of ushering in the downfall of civilisation as we know it.
Dark Gods by T.E.D Klein
Many people have made the argument that the novella form is the ideal length for genre fiction: long enough to permit more refined shadings of plot and character, but short enough to restrict the over-explication and surfeit of unnecessary detail that is so often the kiss of death for horror. T.E.D Klein serves as the perfect exemplar of this: his novellas (seemingly his preferred mode) are still masterly paradigms of the form, while his only novel, The Ceremonies, seems to me to suffer terribly from 1980’s genre bloat (ironically, it’s an elaboration of Klein’s marvellous earlier novella, The Events at Poroth Farm). Dark Gods is a collection of four novellas that succeeded both in embodying where horror had been, and pointing out new directions it might yet take. Klein is an undoubted scholar of the genre, and his stories often manage to combine sly elements of metatextual criticism with a sure hand for the uncanny and disquieting. Never prolific, the author apparently became afflicted with terminal writer’s block after publishing this book and The Ceremonies, and has produced little since, which perhaps accounts for him falling out of print and somewhat out of favour. But I wouldn’t be without Dark Gods, and if you can track down a copy (or else find the novellas separately; all have been reprinted in various anthologies), it will certainly repay the effort. I only wish it contained The Events at Poroth Farm too…
Alone with the Horrors by Ramsey Campbell
When I first started compiling this list, I decided that I would avoid including such genre mainstays as H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James and Shirley Jackson; not because of any revisionist attitudes towards their (inarguably seminal) work on my part, but because I didn’t want to cover the same ground as those who had trod this graveyard’s soil before me, the eminent Mr Campbell amongst them. Far better then, that I should include this collection from the author himself, spanning some thirty years’ worth of his short fiction. Much like Lovecraft and James (both of whom he admires), Ramsey Campbell is an undoubted master of the short story form, which, for me, represents the pinnacle of his work. Another writer who displays a scholarly understanding of his forebears, Alone with the Horrors demonstrates that not only did Campbell manage to assimilate his various influences (“The Voice of the Beach” stands comparison with the best of Lovecraft), but also succeeded in developing a seamlessly inimitable voice of his own. Stories such as “The Companion” and “Mackintosh Willy” are quite rightly held up as examples of the best of latter-day genre fiction, and in their intelligence and refinement, serve to remind the rest of us what we could and should be striving for in our own work. (Oh, and if no one’s looking, I might try and sneak in a copy of the author’s collected non-fiction too, Ramsey Campbell, Probably.)
Plays 1 by Harold Pinter
They may not be conventional genre fiction, but in their insistence on finding the undercurrents of menace and paranoia lurking beneath the everyday, many of the works of Harold Pinter are a lot closer to horror than a lot of mainstream critics would like to admit. One only need look at the early plays included in this volume: several of them involve various iterations of home invasions, now an accepted and increasingly common sub-genre of horror. And while Pinter rarely shows actual violence in his plays, the subtext of his surgically precise dialogue often seethes with it. Over the years, the settings of his stories transitioned from working-class bedsits to opulent bourgeois homes, but he never failed to illuminate the churning malevolence concealed behind all of it. Even when he left behind the “comedy of menace” of his earlier plays, his writing still skewed towards the uncanny and surreal; several of his later plays are arguably or even literally ghost stories. The best horror fiction has always been unafraid to draw on influences from outside the field; that’s how any genre continues to develop and grow. Pinter’s work has certainly been a huge influence on my own writing, and I believe on many other people’s too. It deserves a place on any discerning horror fan’s bookshelf.
King of America by Elvis Costello
Selecting eight books is hard enough, but one piece of music? Very well then, I’ll just have to settle for my favourite album by my favourite recording artist. In a long career filled with great music, King of America is perhaps Elvis Costello’s finest achievement, showcasing some of his most brilliant lyrics and memorable tunes, and weaving them together into a collection of songs that are by turns savage, funny and heartbreaking. How can you not love an album that contains the couplet: She said that she was working for the ABC News / It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use…?
I’m going to have to say a crate of fine wine. Because it’s either that or a TV and blu-ray player, and then I’d need to select exactly what films I was going to take with me, and that would be a whole other column…
Sean is a writer and filmmaker living in Margate. His feature credits include The Devil’s Business, The Borderlands, and the documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD. In 2020 he published two books: England’s Screaming, a fictional exploration of UK horror cinema, and its semi-sequel, Three Mothers, One Father. He is also the author of a monograph on the 1970’s cult film Death Line.
Please visit Sean’s Official website HERE