<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FEATURES]]>Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:09:25 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[A SHINING LIGHT: MARK WEST ]]>Fri, 10 Feb 2017 07:54:35 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/a-shining-light-mark-west
The horror genre is, in the main a great genre to be in, and despite what some people think their is a community, or at least lot of little communities out there. These communities are supportive, understanding of the foibles of the people in it, and are always keen to help out those who walk their streets.  

However, there are a few people who transcend the communities, people who are the true heart and soul of horror.  Mark West is one those people.  I have known mark since i first stumbled across the online horror world, and from that first moment I knew he was something special.   

Mark is enthusiasm, personified, always positive. deeply supportive of other peoples work, and never asks for anything in return. Both online and in the real world Mark draws people to him, just go to a convention and if you are nervous about meeting a writer, the first thing anyone and I mean anyone will say is "Mark will you introduce Bob to..." and you know what he'll do that.  Not because he has more front than Brighton Beach, he'll do it because he is a genuinely good guy.  It's a joy to watch.

Ask anyone in the UK horror fiction scene what they think about Mark and you will hear nothing love and high praise, and they will have a huge smile on their face as they talk about him.  

Over and above is enthusiasm  and love for the genre Mark is also a great writer.  A master of the soulful  supernatural story, Mark can entrance a reader with stories that carry a powerful emotional punch.  

Today is Mark's Birthday, so in honour of the great man we have compiled a list of some of our favourite Mark West books.  Read on for some great books and why not use the links at the end to try some of his books and help have a birthday fit for a true gentleman of the genre 
Twenty years ago at college, Martin, Paul, Jane, and Gwen were members of the GLUE Club - the Gaffney Legendary Urban Explorers - run by the charismatic Tom. Now, following his mysterious death, they agree to meet up again and undertake one final exploration to honour his name.

Aside from Paul who never left, none of them have been back to Gaffney since and the reunion is awkward, re-opening old wounds. As they begin to explore the long-abandoned Pocock Factory, it seems they might be intruding on something better left alone. As they succumb to the spirits in the darkness, it quickly becomes a battle to see who will survive the night...

Recommended for fans of haunting stories, both in the haunted house sense and in the sense that this story may stay with you for weeks to come.
-Chars Horror Corner 


Michael struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. He has visions of her calling to him, inviting him to the beyond.

At the Bereaved Partners’ Group, he learns that he is not the only one left behind who can hear the departed beckon them… to the Mill.

This Greyhart Press eBook is a novelette: longer than a short story but brief enough to read in one sitting. At 16,000 words, The Mill would be about 64 pages in paperback.

'The Mill' was previously published by Pendragon Press as part of the anthology 'We Fade to Grey', edited by Gary McMahon. This Greyhart Press eBook edition has been revised but remains substantially the same. Paperbacks, and signed limited-edition hardbacks, of 'We Fade to Grey' may still be available.

"West's writing manages to be both upliftingly happy and in the same moment breathtakingly sad.” — The Eloquent Page

“...this one grabs your heart-strings and twists them like a knife.” — Matthew Fryer’s Hellforge

David Moore has one night left in Gaffney and is at a party he doesn’t want to attend. Natasha Turner, at the same party, is lost for a lift home.

Meanwhile, three young men have stolen a car, and as the night darkens and the roads become deserted, David and Nat enter into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. . . 

" The day of the novella has come and thrillers like Drive can only enhance its popularity. A great read."

- David Price 

"Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery."

​-Ginger Nuts of Horror 


Great characterisation with people you can care about and vivid, taut story telling. This is a good 'un !Newly pregnant, stuck in a job she doesn't like and mourning the death of her cousin, Beth Hammond’s life isn’t working out the way she thought it would. So when her boyfriend wins a weekend away at the seaside resort of Heyton, Beth thinks this could be just what they need — to get away, relax, and make plans for the future.

But as they begin their weekend, a JCB driver accidentally damages a centuries-old memorial at the beach. He hopes no one will notice, but something has… a presence that was buried beneath the memorial, sealed in a stone tomb. Now that presence wants its revenge on the people of Heyton.

"Great characterisation with people you can care about and vivid, taut story telling. This is a good 'un !"


The Hyde Hotel Welcomes You...

The Hyde Hotel looks almost exactly as you'd expect it to: a faceless, budget hotel in a grey city you are just passing through. A hotel aimed at people travelling alone, a hotel where you know so little about your fellow guests that they could be anyone... and where, perhaps, so could you. But sometimes things are hiding in plain sight, and not everyone who stays at The Hyde gets a good night's sleep... Featuring stories about the guests and staff of The Hyde Hotel from Simon Bestwick, Ray Cluley, Alex Davis, Cate Gardner, V H Leslie, Alison Littlewood, Amelia Mangan, S P Miskowski, Iain Rowan, Mark West and the editors.
Enjoy your stay.

​"The Lost Film is a collection of two novellas, one by Stephen Bacon and one by Mark West, both dealing the same theme: that of lost films. Bacon's story, Lantern Rock, references both Hammer and Amicus early on, and his tale is very much in the spirit of those films. His two protagonists are seeking out the director Lionel Rutherford who lives as a recluse after his son died years before. Gradually revealing its secrets, this is a fun, atmospheric story. Mark West gets to follow that, and he does so by doing something very different. The Lost Film has a noir feel to it, as a PI is hired to track down the director of a film which sends people mad... There's some truly chilling imagery and ideas at play in this one, especially concerning the few snippets of the film itself that are uncovered. A very different story to Bacon's but one that contrasts it nicely." -  James Everington 

<![CDATA[THIRTEEN HITS FROM HELL BY SAM RICHARD]]>Wed, 08 Feb 2017 03:25:42 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/thirteen-hits-from-hell-by-sam-richard

You know the songs. They’re etched into every punk’s brain. Not just because they’re catchy, but because there’s something else there. Glenn Danzig’s lyrics evoke intense imagery. Beautiful, dark, monstery imagery. There’s poetry between the whoa-oh-ohs. There are stories in those songs. They just need to be told. Now, underground fiction’s most talented fiends have created a series of tales inspired by the Misfits. In these pages, an astro zombie contemplates the life she left behind as she goes into flesh-ripping battle. A team of organ harvesters shows just how violent the world can be. A wannabe true crime reporter goes on a grisly road trip that takes him a little too close to his subject matter. A mysterious set of skulls pushes a young woman to create a collection of her very own. A teenager from mars excavates the fetid product of his earthly lust. These new twists on the songs you love are sure to surprise, startle, sicken and force you to see this timeless horror punk in a completely different light.  Read on to find out why MP Johnson and Sam Richards decided to create an anthology dedicated to the most horror of the horror punk bands The Misfits.  

About this time last year, MP Johnson and I were in the early stages of piecing together what would be our second literary anthology. Our first had been the disgustingly fun Blood for You: A Literary Tribute to GG Allin, which put the Scumfuc supreme in all varieties of bizarre situations – a book strange enough to be included on Max Booth III’s Lit Reactor article ‘5 of the Weirdest Themed Anthologies To Ever Get Published.’ But where do you go once you’ve put out a book brimming with every bodily fluid, crammed full of all manner of fucked up violence, and decidedly super goddamn fun to work on? After thinking it over for a little bit, the obvious answer hit us: the Misfits.

Buy why the Misfits? Both being lifelong Misfits fans, it seemed a no brainer to combine the surreal, violent world(s) that pour from Danzig’s lips with horror, bizarro, and sci-fi fiction short stories. Their songs are filled with surreal images, vintage haunts, monstrous transgressions, and creatures from both the vast beyond and the dark unknown inside us all. B-movie cliché transformed into nightmarish hellscapes with no sense of internal logic; 60’s cultural icons elevated to the levels of gods and conspiratorially ripped back down again as we play in their fresh blood and revel in the mess; paranoia and madness intertwined with technology and overwhelming lust. That’s why. These songs have legs, and they’re ever following you down dark, harrowing street.

From the moment the submission call went out we were floored with the quantity and quality of what all these fiends had dreamt up. From that mountainous stack of outrageous, interesting, and hallucinatory submissions, we found thirteen stories begging to be included. The most difficult part was rejecting all the other stories that so gracefully captured the spirits of other songs. It was a tight finish, but given our self-imposed guidelines, these thirteen stories (plus MP and I each including a Bonus Track) were exactly what we needed them to be.

One of the important things about Misfits songs, both lyrically and sonically, are their commitment to the weird in so many aspects and shapes, textures and atmospheres. One of our main goals was to capture that variety by choosing stories that capture the eerie feelings and sinister vibes of the songs influencing them, without too much overlap in theme and flavor. So the pulpy, sci-fi-horror of Matthew Vaughn’s “Exterminate the Whole Human Race” and the mad-cap, prison horror insanity of Ross Peterson’s “Prison Food” are able to balance nicely with Glen Damien Campbell’s twisted, Lynchian “Helena Drive” and the creepy, patient madness of Jose Cruz’s “American Gods, American Monsters.” All different aspects of the weird that the Misfits tapped into, all written with different intentions and desires, and yet all are Hybrid Moments.

Released late 2016, it’s still too early to say if we were successful in our mission of merging Misfits songs with the varieties of the weird in literature. I know both MP and I are immensely proud of this book and are amazed by the incredible work done by the contributors, but only time and feedback will tell if we got anywhere close to where we were aiming. And with that, I ask for you to give Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits a try, and let us know what you think. It would be our pleasure if you would choose to come scream with us.
<![CDATA[​PIECES OF A HORROR WRITER BY LUCAS PEDERSON]]>Mon, 06 Feb 2017 02:39:50 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/pieces-of-a-horror-writer-by-lucas-pederson
How many of us  have wondered what turns a writer into a horror writer, why someone would chose to write dark and disturbing prose? Probably rather a lot of us, emerging author Lucas Pederson enlightens us in a powerful and highly personal tale about his journey into becoming a horror writer with his emotive article Pieces of a Horror Writer... 
From an early age—say five or six—I knew what horror was, though not solely from books or movies. That came a year or two later. 

At five, I knew of only one monster, and that was enough for me. It's a story told many times over and not wholly unique. Sadly, many children have a similar monster stalking their homes. And so it has been since the dawn of man. But I didn't know that then. All I knew during that time was the monster who lived in our home. 

That monster was my father. And nothing in the world created the most dread in the five-year-old me than the sluggish thuds of his heavy feet coming up the stairs. You see, my father was an abusive drunk and drug addict. I remember on several occasions waking up late at night when he got home. I think he made it a point to be as loud as possible. Slamming doors. Cranking the stereo up full volume downstairs. Shouting. My mother, the most courageous and loving woman I know, would go downstairs to try and calm him down. This always began with him roaring at her and attacking her verbally. 

In my room, there was a vent that was pretty much a hole in the floor that opened to the dining room downstairs. Most nights my sister and I would huddle around that vent, scared, sometimes crying because of all the horrible things our father spouted at our poor mother. Sometimes they'd venture into the dining room and we'd catch glimpses of them now and then. The verbal abuse soon turned physical. The next morning there would be holes punched into walls and my mother would have fresh bruises. She'd be making us breakfast while the monster slept upstairs in their room. Some might ask why she didn't just leave him? Scoop us kids up and just run (we did spend a lot of time at our grandparents’ place if mom had an inkling he'd be particularly horrible).

I have plenty of awful memories of that time in my life (which stretched on until I was around ten or eleven when he was finally put in prison). One of which is my mother and sister escaping the house, and me being trapped inside, alone with the monster himself. But those memories are for another time.

This is about how certain pieces in my life clicked together to form the horror writer I am today.

During those years with the monster, strange things happened. Here are a couple instances: In our old house was a dirt floor basement. But it wasn't the basement itself that creeped me out. Rather, it was the wooden steps leading down...and the wall of smiley faces. That wall, it was either look at it or the empty darkness of the basement to the left. I can’t remember exactly why I went down there, unless it was to prove to myself it’s just a basement and not a portal to Hell or something. Or maybe I was scouting out a new escape route for when my father the monster went berserk. Hard to say. I was five or six, remember.

Before the basement door, which was almost always standing open for some God-awful reason, there was another small room. I think it was the laundry room. If you stood in the narrow hall you could see right through the laundry room to the top of the basement steps. But it wasn’t the steps that caught the eye. It was the crackling, curling lime green pain…and about half of a red spray-painted smiley face. Whoever made those smiley faces they must’ve held the can too close because all faces were distorted and drippy. Like they were bleeding through the wall.

It took a lot of courage, but I made it all the way down the steps to the packed dirt floor. The smell was a conglomeration of super dank and mildly oily. The only light was a bare 60-watt bulb tucked between floor joists. It was a full basement and to the five-year-old me it looked like it went on forever. Mainly because it was so dark beyond the yellowish light. I made it three or four steps away from the stairs when a long sigh drifted to my ears. Froze me in place. I think I would’ve been okay, though, if not for the shadow in one of the corners near the stairs. It appeared to detach itself from the wall and move forward. There was another long sigh and that’s all it took. I bolted up the steps like my ass was on fire. And during every frantic second I knew, I just knew, a charred hand would shoot out from between the steps and grab my ankle.

Nothing did, though. But I never ventured into the basement again. Still, every time I walked by the laundry room, there would be that bleeding smiley face. Always watching. Always smiling.

Another spooky instance was not at my house, but at my grandparents’. Actually, there were a lot of spooky things going on there. But one stands out the most. I might’ve been six or seven at the time. I was sleeping in one of the bedrooms in the lower part of their split-level house. Ever have those dreams where you’re falling? Sure you have. Everyone does. Well, my dream was like that but someone was laughing at me as I fell. And just before I splattered onto a black sheet of nothingness…I woke up blinking and staring at myself in the wall mirror across the room. I was standing on the bed, arms stretched out like being hung on a cross. I couldn’t move. Then, whatever force was holding me finally let go and fell backwards. If I had been up the bed an inch or so more the back of my head would’ve caught the metal headboard. Bang, Lights out.

So my introductions to horror, at first, were—to some extent—of the real life variety. Maybe the ghostly things were just my young imagination going wonky. Or maybe I was really seeing and experiencing things I couldn’t (and still can’t) explain. All I know is when I played with my action figures or went outside to pretend I was a badass ninja my imagination dulled fighting human adversaries and brightened into monsters. I made up mini stories and scenarios where I had to find a monster or ghost and destroy it by any means necessary, which typically involved the initial jump kick to the throat. Because, BADASS NINJA. Anyway, that was the point where I began coping with the horrors of real life and creating my own. The ones where I could defeat the monsters and didn’t have to hide. My own little fictional worlds.

I saw my first real horror movie when I was about eight, I think. Not that I was allowed to watch horror movies, but curious. The very first horror movie I watched, terrified out of my mind from beginning to end, was A Nightmare on Elm Street. I think I was staying at friend’s house, or maybe we were visiting Mom’s goods friends in Iowa (we lived in Minnesota at the time and would later move to Iowa), I forget which. Things get a little blurry about the specifics. But I think it was while we were visiting my mom’s Iowa friends because those their kids were all about horror movies. They introduced me to a lot back then, for good or ill, and became my best friends at the same time.

A Nightmare on Elm Street struck a deep nerve in me. Maybe it was the older, evil man after the kids (reminding me of my father). Or maybe there was something just so damn terrifying about a monster that could kill you in your dreams. After watching the movie, the went on to the Friday The 13th movies, which were scary too, but none of those plucked at my nerve endings like Freddy Kruger’s finger knives screeching along a rusty pipe. Or the almost child-like glee Freddy got toying with those poor kids. I literally had nightmares for quite a while after seeing the movie. And in every one, Freddy was there. He was the monster after me in my dreams. Yet, no matter the nightmares or how much it all terrified me, I also began falling in love with it. Embracing the scare. That movie led to more horror movies and before I knew it, I was addicted. Before all that, I was into action movies. Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Lundgren. Those were the dudes that kicked ass for me. Those soon faded to the background of my interest as horror crawled to the forefront in all its dripping, snarling, clawing glory.

I began to draw then. Sort of a purging of the monsters onto paper. Nothing really good, but I felt in control of the monsters finally. I’d found a new way to cope through art. But eventually it wasn’t about coping anymore. It was about creating something scary and amazing. Sometimes I’d even write little stories to accompany the pictures I drew.

Now let’s fast-forward three years or so. My father was tossed in prison where he’d never hurt us again. We picked up and moved to Iowa after Mom met who would become my future step-dad. Big changes abound. Suddenly I was once again the new kid in a different school, fumbling my way around and trying to make new friends. The kids of mom’s friends were still my friends, but they were a year or two older than me and were different grades. So, I needed to make new ones. And it happened surprisingly fast. I was in sixth grade by then. My true introduction to Iowa youth. Everyone (well, pretty much everyone) was quite welcoming. I made friends, some of which still remain my friends till this day, like my good buddy, Josh.
Still, this was a turbulent time. The world was spinning around me like cray and there I stood wondering which way to go or even who I was. I started drawing a lot more. Really working on it. Honing and polishing whatever talent I had. Those drawings, as gruesome as they were, provided a great outlet for my anger, loss and confusion. And as before, I wrote really short stories to accompany the drawings. Not really prose. More like descriptions and actions, or maybe a brief origin story. I read books, but nothing amazing. Nothing that truly took me away from my bedroom and to a different world or life.

That only happened about year later. My mom got an offer for a good job up on the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My aunt and uncle already lived there, so we’d have a place to stay. Mom, my sister and I, we packed things and drove all the way up there, leaving my step-dad behind. He was to keep the homestead warm just in case Mom’s new job didn’t pan out. So…there I am again. Uprooted and placed in a different town, in a different state, in a different school. Again, the new kid in school. It seemed a little tougher to make friends up there. Not sure why. I met some really cool people, but none of them really became true friends. Among the differences I faced was the snow. Lake effect snow. When you’re surrounded by three Great Lakes, that’s pretty damn devastating. It was the most snow I had ever seen and I lived in northern Minnesota for most of my young life. AND THEY STILL HAD SCHOOL. Not once did the school close because of snow. I know, crazy, right? They were tough folks up there, that’s for sure.

But living on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wasn’t all that bad.

For one, I read my very first Stephen King novel. CUJO. It was also my very first horror novel. And it changed my life forever. Never before was I swept into a book and stuck there. All of the characters were so vivid and real. From the beginning I had this creeping sense of dread that kept me rapt and turning the pages. For the first time, I had been drawn into a novel, one that really scared me and left me blinking in dismay at the end. I remember putting the book down and thinking two things: 1) That was the best book EVER, and, 2) I wonder if I can write a story like that?

I scribbled down a few pages of what I thought would be the best, scariest book ever written, only to abandon it a couple days later.

All of the pieces hadn’t clicked together yet, you understand.

And there was the fact that I didn’t really like it much on that old Peninsula. I felt as though I just didn’t fit in and that I never would. This led to a small bout of depression. Eventually Mom had my step-dad come get me and bring me back to Iowa. I returned to school the following week and was once again amongst friends. I guess that’s where I belonged after all. I was never a popular kid. I was just me and no one hated me for it. Well, as far I know, anyway. I drew more than ever. One horror picture after another. The stories I wrote for them also grew longer more like actual stories.

Eventually I slackened on the drawing and began writing more. Through my teen years I wrote a lot of short stories. None of them were really any good, but I was having fun and (unknown to me) finding my voice. By the time I was nineteen or twenty, I started taking the writing thing more serious. I joined offices on Zoetrope and there I met fellow writers. Some were veterans of prose, others were like me, still working on craft, voice, characters, dialogue, ect. The basics, really. We had a lot of fun in those days with friendly writing competitions and all. Many writers from there moved on to the big time. John Mantooth, John Rector, John Hornor Jacobs, just to name a few (Johns). I know I’m missing a few more, but you get the idea. All became friends. Everyone taught each other and learned as we went. Kevin Wallis, John Miller, Shari Wice, John Lovero, just to name a few were all the best. But there was one guy who really took me under his wing and taught me how to be not only a better writer and storyteller, but a better person as well. A.J. (Jeff) Brown is that guy. And if you haven’t already, you should pick up a few of his books. His stories are among the best, in my opinion. A.J. taught me so much (still does). He turned my rapid machinegun prose into something with more substance. Over time we became good friends, almost like brothers.

And here, my friends is the final piece that clicked into place and formed the writer I am today. Not to say that I’m not continuously trying to improve my craft. I am. Every day. But without all the pieces in this article I definitely wouldn’t be whole.

You see, horror for me, isn’t just a genre. It’s not all about the scares, monsters or ghosties. For me, horror encompasses everything. Every emotion. Just like it encompasses my life.

Piece by incredible piece…I became a horror writer.

Sometimes, the membranes between worlds thins and something slips through… Taking their kids on a hunting trip to Maker's Woods, Sergeant Kris Jensen and her Special Ops friends, Brooke and Melanie, soon realize they are the ones being hunted. When one of the kids goes missing they search the area, finding a nest with ravenous creatures that move very fast and bend light to appear invisible. But the creatures aren't the only danger. One of Kris's friends gets black goo on her and becomes infected with an obsidious interdimensional spore. As a covert military base sends out units to neutralize the interdimensional threat, Kris, her son, the kids, and friends fight to survive against an enemy ripped from a loved one that will stop at nothing to infect them and overrun our world with its offspring. Kris battles the ultimate nightmare. One that refuses to end and might ultimately destroy her and the entire human race.

<![CDATA[Hubble Bubble: the Best Witches on Film]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 04:14:40 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/hubble-bubble-the-best-witches-on-film
Visionary horror director Adam Wingard unleashed one of the cinematic surprises of 2016 when his next opus, The Woods turned out to be an utterly terrifying return to the world of the BLAIR WITCH, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on 23rd January. As the story of the mythical and as-yet unseen Blair Witch hits the shelves this January, what better time to look back on some of the most terrifying witches to haunt the silver screen to date...

The Blair Witch – Blair Witch (2017)

The mythology of the Blair Witch continues! Back and as terrifying as ever and following on from the groundbreaking The Blair Witch Project (1999), the latest instalment of the Blair Witch saga presents us with an even closer glimpse of the resident of Black Hills Forest in Maryland. This time, we follow a group of college students who venture into the Black Hills Forest to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of James' sister from the first film, which many people believe is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch. At first the group is hopeful, especially when a young local couple offer to act as guides through the dark and winding woods. However, as the endless night wears on, the group is visited by a menacing presence. Slowly, they begin to realise the legend of the Blair Witch is all too real and more sinister than they could have imagined...

Minerva McGonagall – Harry Potter Franchise (2001-2011)

Although there are hundreds of witches in the Harry Potter series, everyone’s favourite Animagus Professor Minerva McGonagall gets our pick, here. Played quite brilliantly by Dame Maggie Smith in all eight films, McGonagall represents something of a mother figure for Harry in the absence of his late parents. Stern but magnanimous, McGonagall is respect by almost all pupils and staff at Hogwarts, and exhibits a dry sense of humour now and then. The cherry on the cake is that this witch can transform into a Tabby cat at the drop of a (witches) hat...

Winnie – Hocus Pocus (1993)

This Halloween fantasy-comedy film earned cult status in the 90s, with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy at the helm as the three Sanderson sisters. When the three sisters are accused and executed for being practicing witchcraft in the seventeenth century Salem witch hunt, the trio vow to return three hundred years later to wreak havoc on Salem. In the present day a sceptical, newly transplanted Californian, Max (Omri Katz), explores the ruins of the legendary witches’ house and dares the witches to manifest themselves. Disregarding the warnings of his sister and girlfriend, Max lights the Candle of Black Flame. With that, the witches reappear to wreak havoc on the town in comical fashion. In recent years there have been whispers of a sequel starring Tina Fey...

The Three Witches – Macbeth (1971)

Also referred to as the Weird Sisters or the Wayward Sisters, Shakespeare’s three witches have set a creepy precedent for our contemporary perception of witches, and are represented at their most disturbing in Roman Polanski’s 1971 effort at The Scottish Play. Ugly, hunch-backed, crooked-nosed and with nasal voices, Polanski’s witches appear in the first scene of the film hailing General Macbeth and delivering ambiguous and threatening prophecies of his rise to the King’s throne of Scotland. The witches establish the underlying tone of dark, supernatural magic that runs throughout the film, and are force to be reckoned with and feared by throughout as they dictate the fate of Scotland: “Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn and caldron bubble”...

Wicked Witch Of The West – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

When Dorothy’s house is whisked up by the tornado in this timeless musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz, it crashes in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz, and lands on and kills the Wicked Witch of the East, leaving only her stocking feet exposed. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Brainard Hamilton) arrives to claim her sister's ruby slippers, but Glinda the Good Witch of the North transports them onto Dorothy's feet first. From this point on, The Wicked Witch of the West swears revenge on Dorothy for her sister's death and does everything in her power to thwart Dorothy’s way home, stealing Toto and trapping Dorothy in her castle. A real witch!

<![CDATA[VIDEO GAME REVIEW:  CAMP SUNSHINE ]]>Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:44:24 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/video-game-review-camp-sunshineBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
RPG Maker is the most unlikely tool when it comes to horror video games; originally designed to allow developers to create their own late-era NES/early SNES style role-playing games, it has instead found itself at the heart of a burgeoning and endlessly creative independent horror renaissance that has proved so significant (largely thanks to the exposure provided by YouTube “Let's Players” such as Markpiler et al), it has begun to influence mainstream markets.
Limited by technological restraint, lack of budget and simple time, many RPG horror titles seek to distinguish themselves via clever mechanics or high invention; by dint of their art design, stories or atmosphere. Titles such as Yume Nikki, The Witch's House, Undertale and The Crooked Man have all seen some measure of cult success, Undertale and Yume Nikki in particular courting attention far beyond mere cult or artistic circles; becoming significant titles in their own rights.

Camp Sunshine is a more recent example of this peculiar species; notable from the off for its unusually high quality graphics (most RPG Maker titles are extremely limited in this regard, tending towards the more symbolic or “bare bones” styles of NES titles. This, on the other hand, has more of the quality of Earthbound about it and similar early SNES titles). Effort has been clearly made to make the game as presentable as possible given the graphical limitations of its genre; every area, sprite and environment is richly detailed and boasts a number of effects you simply don't often see in RPG-maker horror games, including dynamic lighting effects, moving shadows, animated trees and clear, fast-scrolling text. Like most RPG-maker horror titles, it is also extremely easy to pick up and play; if you are at all familiar with any of the aforementioned titles, then most of the buttons and mechanics will be second nature within a few moments of play.
In terms of set up, the game's opening sequence is fairly overt in its influences; this game is not trying to seduce through mystery or pull a narrative fast one on its audience: it wears its influences and references on its sleeve from the very beginning:
A kind of love letter to slasher and horror films of the late 1970s through the mid 1990s, Camp Sunshine's premise will be familiar to ANYONE who has ever even dallied with, say, the original few Friday 13th films or the original Halloween: teenage protagonist is taken to a remote summer camp by his Mother. Upon arrival, he settles in; meets some of the camp's residents, promptly falls asleep...wakes to find the camp dark and silent; the vast majority of his fellow campers either horrendously murdered or hiding away from the entity responsible...

​This is where the game's core mechanics come into play; where it starts to distinguish itself from its RPG Maker siblings, but also where its influences become overt: the game is not only a love letter to horror cinema, but also to horror video games, deriving influence from any number of sources, both recent and classic. Most notably, the style, structure and environment of the game recalls a now ancient video game adaptation of the Friday 13th films, which is generally fondly recalled for being genuinely tense and challenging (Jason, like the mascott-costumed killer of Camp Sunshine, can pop up practically anywhere and actively kills fellow campers whether player is present or not). Even the map of Camp Sunshine is highly redolent of that game's map of Camp Crystal Lake, with a notably similar lay out, symbolic style etc. For those of us who recall those earliest attempts at horror in video games as a medium, the resonance is joyous; the game actually feels like playing an updated version of that ZX Spectrum, C-64 classic, whether intentionally or no. That the killer, like Jason, can pop up practically anywhere (either through certain scripted moments or randomly, drawn by the player's flashlight, which MUST be used sparingly) enhances the tension of the game a thousand fold, echoing the likes of Clocktower and its “Scissorman.”
Following an introduction sequence that is, perhaps, somewhat too lengthy and takes a little too much active control out of the player's hands (there are moments in the opening scenes in which, rather than allowing the player to explore for themselves, the game simply wrests control away from you and forces you down particular avenues), you are free to explore the eponymous Camp Sunshine, to encounter your fellow survivors (many of whom are blissfully unaware of the carnage occurring around them, others hidden away, unwilling to emerge until certain parameters are met), solve a variety of puzzles and gradually unlock the secret history of the camp and its masked killer (the key objective of the game is to discover numerous letters and diary entries scattered around the camp, each of which unlocks a flashback scene to events leading up to the present carnage).
Though notably informed by its influences (the programmers have taken pains to lovingly incorporate every cliché; jump scares lifted directly from the movies it references, as well as certain situations and mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who has kept pace with horror video gaming over the last decade or so), the game does throw in a  few narrative curve-balls; nothing as wildly experimental as Yume Nikki (which is arguably an anti-narrative experience) or even the likes of The Crooked Man, which is densely psychological and deeply disturbing, but enough to keep its seasoned audience engaged and to even surprise at times. 

​As for the masked killer stalking the camp site, his penchant for turning up without announcement or expectation, not to mention the sheer speed of his sprite, is perhaps one of the most unnerving elements of the game; equipped with a flash-light, wandering around sometimes in almost total darkness, it's not uncommon while playing to flick on the light momentarily only to find the costumed, knife-wielding figure only inches away, precipitating chases that are always fraught and, more often than not, culminate in the player's grizzly murder. In order to evade him, players must familiarise themselves with their environment; taking cues from more stealth-based horror titles, the main weapon the player has against the killer is the ability to hide: lockers, trees, bushes, wardrobes...all provide potential sanctuaries, though even they have an element of uncertainty about them (the killer can still find you, in certain instances; it's a matter of determining how desperate the situation is and trusting to chance). The fraught chase sequences followed by brief respites recalls childhood schoolyard games, though with a threat that is far from imaginary.
Though nothing entirely new, the mechanics are slick and easy to get to grips with whilst being tricky to master; there is a fairly steep learning curve following the initial encounter that will likely determine how much enjoyment you're going to get from this title (like many RPG-Maker horror titles, there is often an element of trial and error; a case of dying, re-loading then tackling the same situation numerous times from a variety of different angles). This may frustrate those who seek a certain degree of dynamism in their horror titles, but to those of us with a penchant for the puzzling, it becomes something of a challenge, echoing the games that the title superficially resembles, that we grew up with, albeit without the overt horror motif. Many of the puzzles are also rather fiendish, requiring a degree of lateral thinking and retainment of information that recalls some of the nastier tricks the first few Silent Hill games played.
Where the game universally shines is in its presentation; as previously mentioned, the game is gorgeous; easily one of the most graphically ambitious RPG-Maker horror games out there, with sound design to match: as with many such titles, sound is all important: passing certain areas, you might hear hurried footsteps, a furtive breath or giggle. You may hear a scream from inside of a building or a door slam shut. All of these elements become part and parcel of the survivalist experience; you learn to listen for the killer as much to look out for him, as well as treading more carefully when it comes to dry leaves or twigs on the ground, loose floorboards or pools of blood.
There is an edgey, twitchy tension to the game that is extremely fun and impressively sustained throughout; the random elements mixed with certain set-pieces and the luridly graphic nature of the violence and mutilation on display make for a fraught and nerve-jangling experience; an impressive feat, given the comparative simplicity of its format and technological limitations. 

​In terms of flaws, the game does have an overlong intro sequence that takes a little too much in the way of agency away from the player when it doesn't have to (the game could have easily allowed the player to simply explore the camp during the period before sunset, getting to know the campers, the environment etc, rather than forcing the narrative forward). Also, due to its composition of references, the depth of enjoyment will rely significantly on how immersed in those materials you happen to be; I can see children of the 1980s/1990s getting a genuine kick out of the (sometimes obscure) material the game toys with or evokes, whereas others may find it somewhat hollow or lacking in originality.
That said, the game is one of the more mechnically coherent RPG-Maker titles on the market; extremely easy to pick up and play, and manages to evoke a sense of tension that is sustained right up until its closing moments.
Not necessarily a game that will redefine RPG-Maker or independent horror as it stands, but an excellent example of what can be found on the market, if one digs deep enough and is willing to experiment.
An experience well worth the asking price. 
<![CDATA[NEW WAVE MEXICAN HORROR CINEMA: THINGS ARE GETTING BLOODY STRANGE SOUTH OF THE BORDER]]>Sun, 29 Jan 2017 12:27:12 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/new-wave-mexican-horror-cinema-things-are-getting-bloody-strange-south-of-the-border

The turning point for the modern Mexican horror genre occurred in 1993, when a certain Guillermo Del Toro burst onto the scene with his inventive and brilliantly creepy film Cronos. Del Toro, along with the likes of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G Iñárritu, went on to carve out careers in Hollywood, the latter two directing acclaimed Oscar-winning films The Revenant and Gravity, and pushed open the doors for a new wave of young Mexican directors. Cuarón and Iñárritu, no less, have given plaudits We are the Flesh , the extraordinary and unsettling debut film from Emiliano Rocha Minter.
It’s about a young brother and sister in an apocalyptic city, who take refuge in the dilapidated lair of a strange hermit. Welcoming at first, it soon becomes apparent he is on a curious mission, and lures the pair on a sexually-charged, nightmarish journey into an other-worldy dimension. Minter’s film is intense, erotic, outrageously explicit and deeply disturbing. Here are half a dozen equally weird and wonderful Mexican new wave terrors that have put Mexico at the cutting edge of the horror genre…

WE ARE THE FLESH (18) is released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 13, by Arrow Video

Read our review of We are the Flesh

​We Are What We Are (2010)

Director Jorge Michel Grau’s debut, an arthouse cannibal film, if you can imagine such a thing, features a family of flesheaters who roam the city for food. This is a bleak, haunting and mesmerising film that does what all good horror films should do – it makes the viewer wonder what it is to be a human. A critical smash, it was remade in the US and got the ball rolling for Mexican horror films to reach a wider audience.

​Atrocious (2010)

Just when audiences thought the found-footage horror film had gasped its last breath, along came this Mexican gem, about a brother and sister videoing spooky goings on whilst on holiday. Elements of Blair Witch and The Ring, with a distinctively Mex flavour ensured Atrocious was, quite simply, bloody terrifying. Director Fernando Barreda Luna is currently filmed the very creepy sounding The Dragger in the US. 

​Barbarous Mexico (2014)

A horror anthology with eight Mexican directors contributing, including the talents behind The Similars, We Are What We Are and Atroz, this is a good primer for anyone wanting a glimpse of what modern Mexican horror cinema looks like. Featuring eight stories based on Mexican legends, this is a full-blooded belter of mix-and-match horrors that’s bursting at the scenes with inventive frights. Be warned – the red band trailer is nasty and nightmare inducing.

​The Similars (2015)

Isaac Ezban’s sci-chiller has a devilishly simple set-up – in 1968 eight people are trapped in a bus stop during a storm, and tempers begin to fray, to the point where it appears the assorted stranded passengers are undergoing some kind of collective delirium as they all begin to morph into the same person. Like his debut film The Incident, this owes a debt to The Twilight Zone but has a mischievous malevolence all of its own.

Atroz (2015)


A sleazy, queasy and very brutal and disturbing slice of delirium, about what happens when cops stop two hit and run drivers, and find a camcorder in the car with horrific footage of torture and murder. This is a ferocious low budget film that is hard to watch, and even harder to forget. As one critic solemnly notes: “There are things that happen in Atroz that I cannot unsee.”

​The Untamed (2016)

A creature feature with a sex mad alien… what more could you ask for? This Mexican marvel features a creature that crash lands on a meteorite in the countryside, and goes on to terrorise, or tantalise, the locals. The less said about the creature, the better, but the film, with elements of The Evil Dead, The Mist, and HP Lovecraft, is weird, erotic, and deliciously outrageous.

​WE ARE THE FLESH (18) is released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 13, by Arrow Video
<![CDATA[PENNYWISE: THEN AND NOW BY TOM DEADY]]>Sun, 22 Jan 2017 13:36:45 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/pennywise-then-and-now-by-tom-deadyBY TOM DEADY 

In 1986, Stephen King released his self-proclaimed “final exam” on horror: IT. The story features a recurring evil that visits the small town of Derry, Maine every twenty-seven years. IT preys on people’s fear, especially fear in children, calling it “akin to salting the meat.” The creature is, among other things, a shape-shifter. In many cases, IT appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. King’s Pennywise is one of horror’s greatest and most terrifying villains.

In 1990, an ABC mini-series adaption of IT aired, introducing Pennywise and the Losers Club to a wider audience. The film included a cast of fairly well known actors as the Losers Club grown up: Richard Thomas, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Harry Anderson and Annette O’Toole. The kids were mostly unknown, and Tim Curry starred as Pennywise. The broadcast received mixed reviews, leaning toward more positive. Over the years, Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise has gained a huge cult following for its brilliance. And this, folks, is where a lot of us part ways.

Overall, I found the mini-series to be mediocre. The children were great as the young Losers Club, the adult versions, not so great. The film was primetime network television, so the “scares” were pretty mild, and the mounting dread so prevalent in the novel was never achieved. To be fair, it’s not easy to condense a thousand-plus page novel into a few hours on screen. My biggest criticism, however, of the adaption remains Tim Curry’s Pennywise.

King’s Pennywise is a nightmare. From the opening scene with Georgie Denbrough’s paper boat in the storm drain, he is terrifying. Relentlessly so. Television’s Pennywise is toothless in comparison, a wise-cracking goofball that resorts to bad insults over fear and intimidation. The television adaption took King’s scariest antagonist and made him, well…clownish. Curry’s performance is over-the-top and packs all the punch of a balloon-twisting birthday party clown.

Fast forward twenty-seven years (coincidence?) and King fans anxiously await the remake of IT. Unlike the mini-series which switched back and forth between time periods, the big screen version of IT will be done in two full-length movies. The first, due out in September, tells the story of the Losers Club’s first encounter with Pennywise when they were twelve. The second film will be the story of the adults returning to Derry to finish what they started, there is no date set for part two. I’m personally excited for the reboot to finally see a Pennywise as scary as the one on King’s pages.

Anyone that has read my work knows it is heavily influenced by Stephen King (among others). Of all his great stories, IT is my favorite and one that I go back and visit often. I would love a movie that captures all the magic, and all the scares, that the novel contained. Not a lot has been leaked about the new film, with the exception of some pictures of the new Pennywise. If the make-up is any indication of the amped-up scares, I won’t be disappointed. 



Ben Harris and his best friends Richie and Jack knew the stories about Old Man Brewster, what happened to his wife . . . and the flies. They had no idea why anybody would want to live there, but then they met Greg Lupescu, the new kid who had moved in. He looked strange, his father was never around, and he had this creepy butler named Karl. Soon, however, he became their close friend. 


First, a young boy goes missing . . .
Soon after, the boy’s abusive deadbeat father is slaughtered . . .
And his grieving mother burns to death in an unnatural fire . . .

People are dying all over Bristol, Massachusetts and the boys are beginning to realize that it all started when the Lupescus moved to town. 


Ben and little sister Eve can sense that a dark storm looms on the horizon threatening to engulf Bristol, and at its center stands his new friend. Can they all help Greg resist the sinister forces against him, or in the end will he choose to succumb and embrace an Eternal Darkness?

<![CDATA[Twelve Terrifying Toy Franchises:   Clive Barker's Tortured Souls]]>Sun, 15 Jan 2017 17:57:42 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/twelve-terrifying-toy-franchises-clive-barkers-tortured-soulsBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
​​​I'm aware that this is somewhat breaking the theme of previous articles in this series; for the most part, the toy lines I've explored have been notable for ther targetting of child markets, yet consisting of profoundly graphic or horrific subjects.
This particular range was technically never marketed to children, though I will provide some anectdotal evidence that it certainly shared shelf-space with those that were: I recall first coming across these figures as an adolescent-verging-on-teenager, while I was still an enthusiastic collector of the likes of Transformers and various other toy franchises: they began to pop up along with a number of other Todd McFarlane-produced ranges in local toy stores (including the incredible Dragons range), as well as a number of video-game inspired figures aimed at older children and teenage markets.

Marking one of Barker's semi-successful attempts to import his peculiar brand of hallucinogenic weirdness into another market and medium (you'll find the man's name on everything from films to video games, from written fiction to comic book series), the Tortured Souls are unmistakeably drawn from the same font from which Hellraiser and its Cenobites sprang; upon a cursory viewing, it would be entirely understandable to take the various figures -certainly from the first series- as renditions of Cenobites that never occurred in the original films.
However, though they share certain themes and imagery, the Tortured Souls are actually an entirely separate mythology from Hellraiser, playing on the cultural enshrinement of that franchise's imagery (interestingly, there is also a Hellraiser range of figures that was released more or less at the same time as The Tortured Souls that is also well worth exploring).
The figures themselves consist of variously (appropriately enough) tortured and mutilated anatomies, many of them far, far more elaborate than any that have ever been realised on-screen. From the priestly surgeon Agonistes to the disturbingly angelic Lucidique, the figures are not only prime examples of the extremity that pours so readily from Clive Barker's imagination, but also the insane level of character and detail that McFarlane toy franchises have become infamous for. These figures do not boast any particular “gimmicks” as such; there are no levers that activate kick or punc actions, no rotating heads, screaming sounds or flying sparks. Instead, attention has been paid to every inch of their insanely wounded anatomies; every scar and patch of flayed skin, every exposed organ has a place in a wider composition that evokes character. The aforementioned Agonistes, who plays a central role in the range's mythology (purportedly the last creation of God, as he wandered in a hallucinogenic daze on the seventh day of creation), is at once a pitiably broken thing, mutilated and scarred to the Nth degree, his semi-surgical butcher's garb bound and woven throughout his flesh, various chains and instruments woven throughout his body trailing from where they have been embedded. His face most of all evokes the sense of something profoundly traumatised: a knot of almost featureless scar tissue, a grimace of pain drawn wide by straps hooked through his cheeks. Like the iconic Pinhead Cenobite, there is something profoundly captivating about Agonistes, something that evokes more than mere repulsion or disgust: a priestliness and nobility that bespeaks incredible age and power. Not the kind of “toy” that might immediately appeal to most children (certainly not the kind most parents would buy for them), but certainly one that sparks a degree of imagination, especially since his lack of gimmicks, articulation and general stiffness as a figure requires it.
Barker's input over the range is somewhat vague, though his aesthetic and penchant for the mythological is overt throughout: what is absolute is the story involving the Tortured Souls, that explores their natures and histories: each of the figures comes with a chapter of the story, usually involving the events that led them to become so traumatised, later collected in an exceedingly rare hardback volume that is well worth seeking out if you happen to be a Barker fan boy (for many, Tortured Souls: Tales of Primordium is the story that The Scarlet Gospels should have been).
Alongside the bizarrely awe-inspiring Agonistes, the original range contains Venal Aanatomica, a blind and lumbersome creation of my personal favourite figure in the range, Talisac, or Doctor Talisac, as he's presented in the novella. Venal Anatomica, whilst superficially similar to Agonistes, is in many ways that creature's antithesis: whereas Agonistes has a certain weary elegance about him, highly redolent of the original Cenobites, Venal Anatomica genuinely resembles something stitched together and wounded; a lame giant that drags its broken leg behind it, whose blind eyes render it almost pitiable. As for its creator, the gloriously elaborate Talisac, his figure is amongst the most ambitious in the original series, as he is not only a figurine, but an entire apparatus from which he lies suspended: a gallows-like structure of blades, chains and drips, Talisac himself a naked and hideously mutilated figure suspended from hooks driven through the meat of his face...but perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Doctor is the “surgery” he has performed on himself, making himself the “mother” to his own creations: from his swollen open belly hangs a bulb of clear plastic; a make-shift womb in which gestates a creature born of his own flesh and apparent genius: a creature that is also rendered in toy form as The Mongroid: easily the least human of the abominations this range boasts: a quadraped entity that seems to stalk awkwardly on four human limbs, its belly and lower regions split wide to expose an immense, crocodilian maw, which its apparent “Father” becomes all too familiar with, following its birth. 
The original range also includes the lovers who are recreated by Agonistes's genius and become mythic as a result: the semi-angelic Lucidique, who sports parodies of wings in the form of metal structures across which is stretched patches of skin flayed from her back, as well as a halo formed from a buzz-saw blade embedded in her skull and The Scythe-Meister; a creature fashioned from Lucidique's would-be assassin and eventual lover; one that becomes a myth in itself within the ancient city of Primordium.
The original range is notable in that it consists of figures that evoke imagination on sight: there is something particular in their designs that begs certain questions: how did they come to be as they are? What do they experience in these state sof extremity? Are they perpetually agonised? Is there some monstrous glory in their conditions? Again, themes that are familiar to almost all of Barker's work, but most popularised in the Hellraiser films and their various attendant media.
I certainly recall being fascinated by these figures as an adolescent; at a point in my life in which I'd only just discovered Clive Barker as an author, these were items of necessity and obsession; a range that I collected with absolute passion and found myself weaving stories around of my own (not having access to the book at the time).
As for the second series, it sadly doesn't come with any scraps of back mythology (though knowing Barker, each of the characters has an elaborately detailed back story), though there are some suggestions of their place in Primordium in the biographies on the backs of their boxes. 
If anything, the second series of figures is even more elaborate and inventively horrific than the first: easily, easily the most notable in that regard the horrendous Feverish, an immensely bloated man strapped to some form of operating table whilst an apparatus not unlike Doctor Talisac's removes demonic foetuses from his slit open belly. The figure, like many in the second series, is more a diorama in and of itself than a playable action figure; it contains a situation of absolute extremis and unparalleled horror that immediately evokes any number of questions: who is Feverish, how did he come to be so impregnated? Who is responsible for his current state? Questions that may never have answers from Barker himself, but which we as his audience can conjure and obsess over.
One of my favourites from the second series -one of the first figures I ever purchased from the franchise- is the martyr-like Moribundi, easily the most profoundly mutilated of the lot, whose brief snippet of back story suggests that he is exactly as he appears: a prophet of pain, martyred on “...the Altar of the World,” so as to save humanity from similar suffering: a wretched entity, Moribundi's innards are almost totally exposed, much of his skin missing, allowing view of veins, musculature and organs, a removable mask hiding his distressingly flayed face, which is stretched back and pinned into place by a series of hooks. Pierced through the hands and ankles, he is suspended on a mobile structure that looks to be part surgical apparatus part altar, various drips and devices feeding through his flesh, sustaining him in his extremis. Like all the figures in the range, Moribundi evokes a number of sensations, ranging from shock at his initial condition to a kind of melancholy, the character evoking a number of mythological archetypes all of which serve as commentary upon something essentially wounded in the human condition: he is Christ on the Cross, Wodin on the World Ash and any number of tormented saviours; a synthesis of salvation through pain. 
​The second series also contains more oblique characters such as the far more “science fiction” themed Szaltax; a disturbingly female figure whose limbs have been variously torn out and replaced by mechanical augmetics, the upper half of her face shrouded in some visor-like device that lends her an arachnid aspect. Another of my favourites also derives from this series: the grotesquely comic Suffering Bob; an amalgam of two figures, one wasted and scrawny, the other grotesquely obese, that look to have been surgically grafted whilst engaged in an act of unlikely sado-masochism: the immense, ambling figure holding the scrawnier by a series of leather leashes that attach to the leather mask swathing his head, the scrawnier figure's torso emerging from its partner's distended belly (or maybe its crotch) and scrabbling forward blindly on its hands.
The Tortured Souls are amongst some of the most disturbing, bizarre and beautifully conceived toys ever produced; examples of how minute detail and rigorous design work can create creatures that are not merely distressing or absurd or grotesque, but which are characters; that evoke a sense of narrative engagement in whoever observes them.
This is a particular art when it comes to character creation in any format, but which in toys is essential, as their purpose is to enflame and fuel burgeoning imaginations and ensure that they grow without stricture or compunction. 
<![CDATA[TWELVE TERRIFYING TOY FRANCHISES ]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 10:03:29 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/twelve-terrifying-toy-franchisesGeorge Daniel  Lea 
The “interactive video board game” was a short lived phenomena in the mid to late 1990s. At a time when boardgames were struggling to compete with the burgeoning (but already pervasive) video game market, many turned to incorporating televisual technology as a means of making themselves more relevant to younger audiences.
For the most part, such products consisted of fairly traditional boardgames leant added flare and flavour by a video “host,” who would provide instructions and tasks throughout the game.
Arguably the most significant (and certaily most iconic) examples is the video boardgame, Atmosfear (known as Nightmare outside of Europe, where it was renamed so as not to be confused with the children's TV show, Knightmare).

Not merely a boardgame with a  televisual host, Atmosfear is also an exercise in inspiring dread and tension: the mythology of the game involves a collection of undead creatures, each of whom is based on “real life” myths, legends and historical figures (for example, players might find themselves in the role of Voodoo Loa, Baron Samedi or the vampiric murderess, Elizabeth Bathory). The game strikes a particular chord from the first instance, with its references to extremely dark and morbid subjects (ranging from voodoo and zombie lore to that of witch burnings, werewolves and Egyptian mummies). Each taking the role of one of these creatures, the players must make their way around the cemetery-styled playing board, collecting keys by performing various tasks or landing on particular squares. If they collect all of their keys, they can unlock the gates that lead to the centre of the playing board, where they must face and conquer their worst fears (written down before the game begins) in order to win.
However, the players only have one hour to complete the task, throughout which they are harassed by the game's host, the self-proclaimed Gate Keeper.
The Gate Keeper is the heart and soul of the original incarnation of the game; initially a cloaked and hooded figure, he demands absolute obeisence from the players, appearing with a burst of thunder and growling: “STOP!” at which point all players must cease play and attend to his every word. The Gate Keeper is not played for laughs; the actor responsible seems genuinely unhinged, snarling, shouting at and threatening the players, imposing penalties for disobedience or for not completing his tasks. When called by name, colour or number, players must answer: “Yes, my Gate Keeper!” or they will face consequences, which the Gate Keeper himself is quite explicit about. 
​As for the tasks and games he imposes, they range from hideously difficult number puzzles to memory games and word play, many of them extremely complex, even for young adult players, let alone the children who were the game's main audience. As the game progresses and time runs out, strange noises begin to emit from the video tape; rustlings, whispers and scrapings, as well as chords of distressing music. As for the Gate Keeper himself, he periodically withers and transforms, seeming to rot on screen, becoming more decrepit and corpse like, until the last minutes of play, at which point he is almost wholly demonic, even his voice growling and screeching with strange after-echoes.
As the name of the game suggests, it is dense with atmosphere; a brilliant activity for Halloween nights or after dark sleep overs; one that had many more timid or sheltered children fleeing from the game table in terror.
Having played it a number of times as a child, I can attest that, even knowing the video tape inside out, it is monstrously difficult, incredibly tense and enormous fun; so much so, that it went on to spawn a variety of sequels and add ons:
The second instalment in the series comes in the form of an add on pack that contains new playing cards and a new video tape, the host of which is one of the player creatures from the original game: the zombie, Baron Samedi.
Whilst initially more comedic than the Gate Keeper (Samedi comports himself as a hip and jovial zombie with a penchant for quips, puns and party-lingo), he is also far, far more difficult to handle, and infinitely less fair to boot. The Baron's games are of another order ot magnitude to the Gate Keeper's, consisting of audio cues that the players must remember and repeat particular phrases when they occur, as well as number and memory games that the Baron baltantly cheats at. Worse, if you are particularly unfortunate, you will be assigned as “The Dirt Bag,” a player to whom the Baron takes a particular dislike, and will torment and harass throughout the run time. There's even a point at which he orders “Dirtbag” to leave the play table so that the other players can roll a particular number of the play dice, which Dirtbag must then guess within a set period of time or suffer penalties. Being the Dirtbag is a lot of fun, but it makes the game almost impossible. Like the Gate Keeper, the Baron changes and degenerates throughout the run time, becoming more dessicated and demonic, not to mention more malevolent, until his eyes become black, his voice growling and spine-tingling, the frequency and difficulty of the penalties he imposes towards the last ten minutes of his hour making the game practically unwinnable at that point. 
The second supplement to the original game was somewhat more expansive, containing not only new fate, time and chance cards, but also new special rules concerning the gathering together and casting of various “spells” that would have effects throughout the game.
The host of this tape is Anne de Chantrain, a woman who genuinely was burned as a witch at the age of seventeen, and who here initially appears as a beautiful young woman with a sultry French accent. However, as the run time progresses, she begins to become more dishevelled, her hair and clothes rotting, scars and burn marks appearing on her face, her teeth becoming jagged and rotten. Perhaps the most disturbing feature; she begins to grunt and screech like a pig, writhing as though in flames. At her most hideous, a spike of black bone bursts through her nose, lending her the look of a classic witch. Easily, easily the most distressing and disturbing of the hosts, not to mention one of the most difficult to deal with: just as the Baron before her assigns one player as “The Dirtbag,” Anne transforms players into a variety of animals (Rat, Toad and Wart) whom she assigns various “tasks,” which become increasingly difficult as the game progresses. Rat, Toad and Wart might also be given the unpleasant task of undermining other players, which can lead to a great deal of fun at the playing table. 
​The final instalment for the original game is easily one of the most difficult to get a hold of, being produced at the end of the original game's shelf life and not being quite as well distributed as the rest. It was also the first instalment of the game that was explicitly marketed to adults, being somewhat more overt in subject and darker in tone, not to mention being erasily the most difficult of all of the versions of the game ever to be released.
This time, play dives into the forests and castles of Transylvania, for a seductive game of blood and flesh in the court of Countess Elizabeth Bathory; a real life countess and murderess, generally regarded as one of the most prolific serial killers in all of history (estimates put her body count at around 600 victims), Bathory would murder the youths in her employ and bathe in their blood, believing that the practice kept her young and sustained her beauty. She was eventually bricked up in her own tower when her predations turned to her fellow nobles, by which point, she'd already amassed scores and scores of victims.
Over time, Bathory and the mythology of vampires have become intertweined; there's even some speculation that she inspired certain aspects of Bram Stoker's iconic novel.
In this incarnation, Bathory starts as an exquisitely beautiful and aristocratic woman, decked out in fine laces and jewellery, her manner subdued and seductive (no doubt part of the reason for the game's suggested adult age range). As play progresses, she undergoes the most ambitious metamorphosis of all the hosts, developing fangs and bat-like features, her arms becoming immense, bat-like wings that enshroud her, metallic spines sprouting from her head. By the end of the game, she is utterly inhuman; a silver-eyed, needle fanged monstrosity with a metal mask covering the lower half of her face. She is without a doubt one of the most distressing and vicious of the hosts, the games she plays the most complex and devious, the penalties she imposes the most severe.
But perhaps the most problematic aspect of her game is her ability to “turn” players into vampires! At various points throughout the video, Bathory will declare to particlar players (usually those that lose her games): “You are now one of mine!” at which point they cannot win the game traditionally, but must instead chase down and feed on other players, turning them until ever player at the table has been infected, at which point the game ends. As a result of this particular rule, this instalment of Atmosfear/Nightmare is all but impossible to win; by the time the hour ends, there is a high probability that most if not all the players will be vampires, under Bathory's sway. 
This supplement marked the end of the original game, but not the franchise itself: several years down the line, a much refined form of the game would be released entitled: Atmosfear: The Harbingers:  much more coherent and fast paced game, this one involved a revised playing board, which could be assembled randomly to represent the various “provinces” of the eponymous Harbingers (the creatures from the previous game and its various supplements), not to mention flipped to represent the sewers and catacombs beneath. In this form of the game, players have to become the Harbinger of their choice by landing on their headstone within the first ten minutes of play. If they fail, they are instead condemned to become “Soul Rangers,” depicted in the game's artwork as motor-cycle riding, skeletal figures in wide brimmed hats and leather jackets. This dynamic adds a fresh air of tension to the game, as Soul Rangers have a particular function; they do not play the game as other players do, but mist hunt down the Harbingers and waylay them throughout at the Gate Keeper's behest. Similarly, each of the Harbingers have particular powers and capacities that allow them to play the game in different ways.
Whilst the game itself is far more tense, coherent and fast paced than the previous incarnation, the Gate Keeper, alas, is far from as threatening, played instead for laughs, not to mention the tasks he provides largely being fairly uninspired dice rolls or games of luck.
An excellent version of the game, but which could have certainly used a video experience more akin to the previous incarnations to live up to its own name. 
The latest version isn't even worth mentioning, not because it isn't fun (it's actually quite a well conceived piece of work), but because it lacks, well, atmosphere; all horror elements have been entirely abandoned in favour of yucks and ghost train giggles, the only element that maintains interest the fact the game is randomised thanks to its DVD format, meaning that no two games are ever entirely the same.
Atmosfear/Nightmare maintains an especial place in many boardgamer's hearts, especially those of us that were children at the time of its original release and got to experience it at the right age for it to engage our imaginations. The game is recalled so fondly that many have attempted to make their own videos and instalments, which can be found on YouTube and various video sharing sites, and, in many instances, are as well produced and atmospheric as anything the original game and its supplements boasted.
One franchise that is well overdue for a resurrection. 
<![CDATA[TWELVE TERRIFYING TOY FRANCHISES: SKELETON WARRIORS ]]>Thu, 29 Dec 2016 17:20:05 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/twelve-terrifying-toy-franchises-skeleton-warriorsBy George Daniel Lea 
I'm endlessly fascinated by that work which likely should have struck a chord during the era it occurred, but for reasons outside of my understanding, never did.
The toyline Skeleton Warriors hit toy shelves during the mid to lte 1990s, during an era when boy's toys were highly inventive but also competing with the likes of video games consoles for shelf space and market attention.
As such, despite having a highly successful cartoon series (seriously, one of the best from this era, despite being criminally overlooked and under-distributed: complex characters, an interesting back mythology, great voice acting and a genuine, on-going story arc that, unlike many, reaches its own resolution), the franchise petered out without much in the way of fanfare, boasting only a single series of astunningly rendered action figures and vehicles.
The back mythology is fairly standard for the era: on the world of Luminaire, all power derives from the mystical Light Star Crystal, the world's highly advanced technology and civilisations reliant upon it for their function. In a bid for power, the (hilariously named) Baron Dark (no chance he's up to no good) tricks the jealous Prince Justyn (one of the royals charged with governing Luminaire and protecting the Light Star Crystal) into granting him access to the crystal, resulting in its shattering. As a result, Dark is transfigured into a reflection of his soul: a hideous, animated skeleton that can reduce others to the same state, whereas Justyn is transfigured into a ghoul that can teleport from shadow to shadow. Luminaire descends into anarchy and civil war as Baron Dark and his army of skeleton warriors rampages across its surface, transfiguring the population into more skeletons and generally making a nuisance of themselves, their agenda to find the shattered half of the Lightstar Crystal and thus cement the Baron's power. 
​It's a fairly standard “good vs. evil” dynamic that you'll find in most action figure ranges of the era, certainly those aimed at boys, which tended to have more than an edge of violence and conflict about them. It's ultimately the cartoon that allows it to swell into something more than a He-Man or Thundercats clone; introducing a certain adult tone to proceedings, as well as some interesting characterisations for the likes of Baron Dark, who, despite being a villanous bastard, is also fairly hilarious, having a deeply sardonic edge to his personality and Prince Justyn (refered to as “Grimskull” following his transformation) who is deeply contrite for his actions and becomes one of the show's more interesting characters. There's also a tendency for show to dip into horrific imagery, from the eponymous skeleton warriors reassembling after being blwon apart, to the transfomration sequences in which Baron Dark reduces living men and women into tattered, skeletal incarnations of themselves. There are even one or two references to Lovecraft thrown in for good measure, along with introductory narrations provided by the late, great Tony Jay.
As for the toys themselves, one of their key features (blatantly advertised on their packaging) is that they are sculpted and painted to resemble real bone; there is a level of detail in the figures that is almost unheard of in toys of the era; washes, paint applications, sculpted details, separate armour and equipment, that renders them highly desirable pieces, particularly amongst collectors.
Whilst the range is culturally obliged to have a smattering of “good guys,” this is one of those ranges that knows its audience very, very well indeed; where the token human characters are given short shrift (even the figures of the hero characters are extremely light on detail compared to their evil counterparts), the skeletons are lovingly designed and detailed, from the squat, dwarf-like Dagger to the many-limbed Aracula, from the disturbingly feminine Shriek to the partially cybernetic Doctor Cyborn, each of them is highly characterised, replete with features and redundant detail, as well as a bizarre textural quality that looks and feels for all the world like genuine bone.
The most loving sculpt is reserved for the central villain of the piece: Baron Dark's figure not only comes complete with a separate cloak, a sweeping top-knot and myriad weapons and accoutrements, but also armour sculpted to resemble skulls, a madly snarling face sculpt and a degree of detail that not even the other skeleton warriors can boast. Positioned atop his skeletal steed (sadly sold separately, and very difficult to come by), he's a fantastically imposing figure, especially for display purposes.
It's clear from the toys themselves that the designers had something somewhat darker in mind, even than the show allows for (and the show goes pretty damn dark, considering it was essentially a Saturday morning cartoon), not to mention that, according to interviews given by those involved with the project, it was originally envisioned as a replacement franchise for the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was nearing the end of its almost decade-long run at the time. Given the amount of money and advertisng that was thrown at it, this was clearly the case, yet something about the Skeleton Warriors failed to stick; despite being beautiful figures with an excellent cartoon, they didn't ignite the cultural consciousness in quite the same way as the franchises they were designed to replace. 
This is not only a great shame, but somewhat baffling; in terms of concept and and design, one would have thought that they were almost a sure thing: the kind of toys that boys of the era (and more than one or two girls) would have gone absolutely nuts over.
Sadly, this was not to be: the Skeleton Warriors became something of a shelf-warming franchise, toy stores inundated with unsold stock; figures that sat on shelves for weeks and months at a time (Dagger, the smallest skeleton in the franchise, was particularly over-produced). This sadly led to a swift cancellation of both the toy and cartoon series, a second line that looked even more ambitious than the original occurring only in one or two foolhardy advertisements, but never coming to pass.
A brief search around the hinterlands of the internet reveals some absolutely spectacular toys in this second series, that at least reached the prototype stage, not least of which is a truly immense skeletal dragon, likely intended as the must-have Christmas present of the era.
Like many in this series, the line is fondly remembered by those few that experienced it; so much so that there have been numerous campaings to kick-start a resurrection of the line, some of which have had a little success. 
For others, the line remains something of a curiosity; a marker of a transition in childhood culture, where perhaps action figures themselves were becoming the currency of yesteryear; when the obsessions of the 1980s and early 1990s were giving way to other interests and pursuits.
For my part, I recall them as being one of the last toy lines that snared my interest before such things bled away before incipient adulthood, and therefore one that has a particularly beloved -albeit melancholy- place in my personal history.