Stephen R. Bissette discusses the framework and interstitials of Blythewood Studios

You may have seen the STUDIO OF SCREAMS mega-interview in last week’s newsletter. Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Mark Morris, Stephen Volk & Stephen R. Bissette (the “creative quintet”, as Paul Simpson rightly describes them) got together on Zoom to discuss their new book with Paul at SCI-FI BULLETIN. Well, here is more from Stephen R. Bissette. Find out how he brought Blythewood Studios to life . . .


All books spend conceptual time in their respective ovens, a baking process that can take months, more often years, depending upon the nature of the book, the nature of the author or authors, the nature of the planned publishing schedule (or lack of same), and so on. My steady work on my respective portion of the collaborative STUDIO OF SCREAMS began in earnest in the summer of 2018, and lasted for well over a year-and-a-half, much to the frustration of my co-authors-in-arms. After all, one cannot pull an entire manufactured imaginary motion picture non-studio out of one’s ass overnight.

The daisy-chain of creation and co-creation can be difficult to trace (just look at how many generations have been trying to sort out the complexities of the post-Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos, or the Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Silver Age comics creative conundrums), but in the case of STUDIO OF SCREAMS, there’s nothing to trip over, really. By all accounts, Stephen Volk was the fellow who had the notion of emulating the beloved 1966-1967 THE HAMMER HORROR FILM OMNIBUS pair of paperbacks by Sussex-born, Liverpool-raised John Burke (aka Russ Ames, J F Burke, Jonathan Burke, Harriet Esmond, Jonathan George, Robert Miall, Martin Sands). This was the twist: instead of Burke’s compact distillations of four real-world Hammer Films, Stephen thought it might be fun to invent a competitor-that-never-existed for Hammer Films, and “novelize” four of their imaginary feature films.

John Burke, by the way, was also the writer who novelized the Amicus portmanteau feature DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (for Pan Books back in 1965), which is of anecdotal interest since it’s that Amicus film (and their last anthology film, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, circa 1974) that inspired much concerning my respective contribution to STUDIO OF SCREAMS.

Stephen also cooked up the moniker for this imaginary British film studio, Blythewood Studios. Stephen suggested it to Mark Morris, who thought it a fine idea, and together they brought fellow novelists and horror movie lovers Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden into the fray to make of it a fearsome foursome, the magic number needed to match the John Burke HAMMER HORROR FILM OMNIBUS package.

It was Chris who suggesting bringing me into the game to write either a framing device or a frame-and-interstitials (which is what I ended up doing) to flesh out Stephen Volk’s Blythewood Studios into a proper studio, with an invented backstory, history, and context for the four imaginary movies each of the quartet were inventing and “novelizing” from scratch.

Perversely, when asked, I not only said yes, but I proceeded to make Blythewood Studios a studio-that-never-was-a-studio, and puzzled over how to believably fold a mysterious cargo of “lost and forgotten” British horror movies into the well-trod legacy of 1960s and 1970s UK cinema history. The problem was twofold, to my mind: how in the wake of the videocassette boom of the 1980s and in the thick of this era of definitive-edition DVD/Blu-ray sets restoring and reissuing every nook and cranny of British horror could one even imagine four vintage horror movies being “lost”—and why would any living producer or heir of the Blythewood products sanction and enforce their films being wilfully excluded from this ongoing home video revival?

But what if the entrepreneur behind Blythewood had buried his own feature films, removed them from the face of the Earth altogether? What if…

Backtracking through my own records, this is what I asked of Stephen, Mark, Tim, and Chris in July 2018 in an email tagged, “STUDIO OF SCREAMS: What Slumlord Stevie B needs to concoct his interstitial in time for deadline” (which is a laugh in hindsight, since it took me until March 2020 to wrap up my contribution):

“I’m writing to ask for some clear directives from you, per whatever stage you might be at in your stories. 

I just need enough to work from and with.

OK, to clarify:

My interstitial involves my (imaginary) indie studio ‘mogul’ being interviewed, his joking about and obsessing over the filming locations, each of which was a real estate purchase he’d use for one film, then sell—that was his money-saving/making concept. He was a studio that never had a studio, but every movie project made money because he’d bank on the sale of the property, which he’d roll over into the next production and property purchase.

But he was also leaving something behind at each location, with a greater intent…

I’ll just need certain key cues: primarily: 

  1. PLACE (setting, so I can construct a ‘studio’ fabrication of a story locale; i.e., the way Hammer at Bray would craft sets to be Tibet, Spain, etc.); IF you have a British ‘location’ you’d like me to use, please, send me all the details you can! I’ll do my best as a Colonial, and will be looking to you, Mark, Tim, and Stephen, to help fine-tune the final result so the references fit enough of reality to read with conviction.
  1. TIMEFRAME (period setting, contemporary, or whatever, of the fiction piece you’re writing: i.e., 18th century London; 19th century Paris; 1960s Swinging London; 1970s Northampton in the decline; etc.); 
  1. CHARACTERS and ‘types’ (so I can play with casting in the references; if you’ve a preferred actual actor/actress or ‘type’ I should work towards, just say so, as in “this character might have been played by Michael Ripper” or “Tod Slaughter on the skids” or “Martine Beswick” or “Veronica Carlson was cast, but since she was under contract to Hammer….”); 
  1. GORE or HORROR set pieces (so I can, if necessary, reference special effects or makeup issues: ask yourself, “how would Phil Leakey or Roy Ashton have done it?”); 
  1. and a clue as to CLIMAX (so I can thread the interstitials in context, without giving away anyone’s game)…”

In the end, in collaboration with longtime friend, fellow cartoonist, former student, and professional archeologist Al B. Wesolowsky (that middle initial is vital, because there’s apparently another Al Wesolowsky working in the same field), I imagined that Lawrence Blythewood’s career in filmmaking was a ruse, a guise, for something Lawrence and his brother were doing that would resonate (I hope) for the reader in the real world. After all, what I loved and still love most about the best of the portmanteau movies from DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is that the whole can be more than the sum of the parts; that the framing device can and should be a horror story in and of itself.

 With Al’s considerable knowledge, experience, and insights, brainstorming what lurked behind (and beneath) the Blythewood legacy added immeasurably to the fun, as did fact-checking every frame and interstitial with Kim Newman, who I knew would catch anything too inconsistent with real horror movie history, slap me up aside the head if I wandered too far afield in my fabrications, but would also share and/or remind me of trivia sure to illuminate the manuscript further. I couldn’t have done it without Al and Kim, and I wouldn’t have wanted to. Of course, I also checked each and every interstitial with the respective author of the imaginary film I was—excuse me, Lawrence Blythewood was talking about, and I hastily incorporated the suggestions or revisions suggested by (in order of their novella’s publication) Mark, Chris, Tim, and Stephen, and along with Kim’s emails, Stephen, Mark, and Tim kept me from mucking up with too many Colonial errors regarding UK locations, language, or terminology.

When SCI-FI BULLETIN’s Paul Simpson first reached out to us all with hopes of corralling the entire Studio of Screams creative team for a chat, my hope was that I’d finally get to meet everyone involved. Being an impoverished college instructor in his 60s earning a bit on the side from reprints of my old 1980s comics work that remains in print (i.e., SWAMP THING), even before we were all subsumed in this global pandemic it was never in the cards for me to join Stephen, Mark, Tim, Pete, Nicky, and Mike in the UK for this month’s planned roll-out. I have been fortunate enough to meet and get to know Mark and Tim during their visits to the US thanks to mutual friend Chris Golden, but I’ve never met Stephen Volk (or “Stephen 1” as I cheerfully call him and forever will), nor Pete, Nicky, or Mike. So Paul’s suggestion was a happy one, and I not only got to enjoy reuniting with Mark, Tim, and Chris via the internet real-time conversation, but to meet Stephen 1 and Paul for the first time, and see with my own eyes Stephen 1 trot out his Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee action figures and play with them on-camera. It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m smiling still at the memory. My heart swells with joy and pride to be part of this.

Alas, Paul’s written interview doesn’t preserve the “Playtime with Stephen 1” revelation, but all the rest of it is preserved and awaits you, disinterring the secret history of STUDIO OF SCREAMS 


As SCI-FI BULLETIN’s Paul Simpson says, “The result: an hour of real pleasure distilled into a 7,500 word transcript.” And, real pleasure, it is! You can read the full interview, here: https://scifibulletin.com/books/horror/feature-studio-of-screams-zooming-the-authors/


And, let’s not forget the legendary Graham Humphreys. Graham’s artwork is the cherry on the cake. Here’s what Graham had to say:

When I was approached with the possibility of painting a wraparound cover for STUDIO OF SCREAMS, I immediately thought about the Amicus anthology films. The brief synopsis that accompanied each of the author’s titles even depicted elements that might well have appeared within the Amicus and Hammer canon. The direct link was made in a couple of character descriptions, referencing Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. My artwork is an imaginary cinematic anthology poster. Taking my lead from the original art for DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, I made use of the colour palettes that defined the horror genre of the era and made generous use of a Peter Cushing portrait from THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, in direct reference to the tale which shares Central Asian elements.

With any job, the reference material is the essential foundation of any painting, particularly where specifics are observed. Although a basic description of the two depicted female characters had been supplied, precise age and hair colouring were not. This can cause visual confusion on any job where the text does not match the art. Many years ago, I worked on a series of illustrations for a corporate finance brochure, in which I was required to depict key management staff in various poses (e.g. ‘watering a very tall plant’ – depicting folio growth). I sourced the poses from various books and magazines (pre-google years!) of businessmen in suits (they were all men), approximating the required poses (folds in cloth are difficult to conjure up with any form of realism). All my portrait references (another point of difficulty, the body poses had to work with the angle of the supplied head shots) were in black and white. Inevitably, client comments on the final art included such questions as “why isn’t his hair red?” or ‘why aren’t his eyes hazel’. How could I know? No descriptions accompanied the photos! A lesson learned.

Some reference was supplied by one author, the vintage creepy clowns, whereas I made use of multiple references for individual characters… the seated female is a mixture of a head shot, hair from another head shot, a separate seated body and a separate scarf from another photo. Oliver Reed is a mix of a still from THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and Bela Lugosi’s DRACULA! The look of the demon bear was sourced from a benign zoo image and transformed by using my imagination inspired by the supplied text. The screaming head was sourced from a model agency shot, with subtle changes to disguise the original. The tower seen in the top right, is sourced from one of my own photographs of Whitby Abbey. Other elements were sourced and cut and pasted together to generate reference that would suit the look required. As with all such photographic composites, the quality of images varied according to the material, from tiny jpegs upwards. The basic composition is then traced onto watercolour paper. It is then down to my own skills to level the material or disguise the poor reference and skew the imagery to my purposes. It is never as simple as just tracing the reference – deciding on how much visual information is required from each image is key to the focus. Colour and light and contrast all need to work in order to create depth and interest.


Available for pre-order. 

Q&A with Paul Kane, author of THE STORM.

PS: You’ve written a lot about monsters including two collections with that name, Monsters and More Monsters. Where does your love of them come from?

PAUL: I’ll start this one by giving you a little exclusive, that there’s yet another collection in the works called Even More Monsters – so yes, it’s fair to say that I’m quite obsessed with the monstrous. Where does that come from? It’s probably down to my parents, or more specifically my dad who was a big fan of shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk. Those are shows packed full of monsters – the Daleks, Cybermen and Gorn spring instantly to mind – and I used to watch them with my dad when I was very small, so it was almost definitely that. I also used to watch all the old horror movies with my folks, from the black and white Universals to the Hammers and Amicus films, which boast their fair share of monsters. It was these that introduced me to the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, for starters, then I graduated to creature feature novels, beginning with Jim Herbert’s Rats trilogy, and video nasties. I was a bit obsessed with George A Romero and Lucio Fulci’s zombie movies back in the day. You can imagine my delight when I actually got to meet and chat with George, who was such a lovely guy; a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment. Then of course there were the Godzilla flicks I saw as a kid, King Kong… The list is endless. I guess you could say I was surrounded by monsters – the fictional kind – from a very early age and that love of them hasn’t really gone away.

PS: You actually won an award for one of your monster tales didn’t you?

PAUL: That’s right, ‘A Chaos Demon is for Life’ – which won the Editor’s Choice Dead of Night Award. That one was my homage to the giant monster movies I’ve enjoyed in the past, right up to films like Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. There was a black humour to that one, and an emotional edge as it’s about a boy’s relationship with a pet monster that just happens to start growing until it’s massive and begins stomping around London. I’ve had people tell me they’ve shed a tear or two over that one, which was an unexpected side-effect. The story was reprinted in the first Monsters collection, which itself was short-listed for a British Fantasy Award, so obviously it’s been quite a lucky one for me that.

PS: Where did the idea for The Storm come from?

PAUL: Apart from all the creature features I’ve seen in the past, the revenge of nature novels like The Rats, The Crabs, The Slugs… probably the biggest influence on this one was Stephen King’s The Mist. The book’s even dedicated to him, as there are other nods to his work in there as well. I first read The Mist when it came out and adored it, then I was even more impressed with the movie adaptation from Frank Darabont, who for my money has done some of the best King films. So I began to think about how I could do a story like that, but in a different way. I’ve always been interested in sea monsters, which again probably comes from my childhood and Jaws. And at the time I was thinking about writing The Storm I’d also been commissioned to do an Innsmouth tale, which involved my doing a lot of research into that particular mythos, plus coastal legends and the likes. I also used to go on holiday to the seaside every year when I was young – as we had a caravan at Flamborough – so that fed into things too. Not to mention the frequent trips to Scarborough when we were having StokerCon meetings… I’ve incorporated all that into my second HQ/Harper thriller as well, which is coming out this summer. So it was a mixture of all that stuff swirling round in my brain, plus military strategies which I’ve always been keen on; you can see a lot of that in my Hooded Man books. I also love siege stories, and was delighted when I was able to write one for the novella Flaming Arrow – which also includes modified human monsters, coincidentally. This just gave me the chance to do another one, at yet another old castle.

PS: How did the book itself come about?

PAUL: The road to publication? It doesn’t always happen this way, but The Storm was part of a two-fer with PS, the first book of which was already pretty much there: a collection of rare and unused film and TV scripts/treatments called Dark Mirages. That launched at FantasyCon 2018, a gorgeous hardback publication – if you’ve haven’t bought it yet, then drop everything and check it out here (https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/dark-mirages-hardcover-edited-by-paul-kane-4692-p.asp). The two-book deal also included an – at that time – unwritten novella, which I pitched to Pete and Nicky. Thankfully they liked the sound of it and so I started to write it. I had so much fun it actually morphed into a short novel by the time I was finished, I don’t think I wanted it to end. I then asked my good friend Rio Youers, he of The Forgotten Girl and Halcyon fame, if he’d have a read in the hopes he might contribute the introduction. Thankfully he liked it too, in fact he really got where I was coming from and wrote a terrific intro. Then it was down to artist Ben Baldwin who once again did me proud where the wraparound cover art was concerned. We were actually at Pete and Nicky’s in January when the sketches for the endpapers came in, which Nicky showed me on her computer – and I just thought ‘wow!’ It all came together nicely to make a pretty special book.

PS: As with a lot of your books the characters are just as important as the story or even the monsters in this case aren’t they?

PAUL: I’m a big one for character studies, in fact I have to rein it in sometimes. But I do believe that if you’re going to present the reader with a scenario that’s as outrageous as this one – where eel-monsters, giant crabs or whatever come through a crack in reality disguised as a storm to attack a castle – you have to make the characters who are being attacked as real as you possibly can. Otherwise you’re not invested in what happens to them. The central characters in this case are an American family who are visiting these shores, and the main duo of Keegan and Gemma – one a workman there, the other a tour guide – who are kind of star-crossed lovers. How Keegan feels about Gemma fuels a lot of his actions, as he’s always said he’ll never abandon her, will always be there for her. Then of course when they get separated by all the chaos, he does everything in his power to reach her. Someone asked me in an interview just recently what I thought made a horror story inherently British, and I gave the answer that we just kind of get on with things no matter what’s thrown at us. You can see it right now with what’s happening with the pandemic, we’re all just dealing with it however we can. In this instance, though, it’s a case of going ‘F**k it!’, monsters are falling from the sky so we’d better just get on with fighting them.

PS: Do you have a favourite monster of all time?

PAUL: If we’re taking the Cenobites and Nightbreed as read, then I think I’m going to have to give it to the Xenomorph from the Alien movies. I absolutely love those guys in all their forms, from the Facehugger to the Chestburster – or Dogburster, or whatever species the host happens to be – to the fully grown Alien itself. Giger’s one of my favourite artists anyway, and these just scream Giger…because he designed them! Everything about them is beautiful and terrifying and disgusting all at the same time, which is not an easy thing to pull off. So, yes, I’m going to have to give it to the Alien.

PS: What projects are you working on or do you have coming out soon?

PAUL: At the moment, like so much of the world, you catch me in lockdown mode because of the virus. That’s also necessitated a shift in our plans for StokerCon which was due to be happening – at time of writing – next week. It makes me incredibly sad that it’s not happening, as we’ve been prepping for it for two and a half years, and it would have been awesome. But with a bit of luck it’ll happen in some form down the line. So, I’m keeping myself sane by working on admin, parking my bum and getting on with fiction writing that I owe – a novelette to begin with and I need to get on with the third thriller for HQ/HarperCollins – and watching lots of films and boxed sets: we just started Doom Patrol, but are in the middle of Mr Mercedes, Ozark, The Witcher and various others; at the weekend we watched The Shining and Doctor Sleep back to back, which was fun. As for what’s out and coming soon, as well as The Storm obviously, my first thriller as PL Kane Her Last Secret just dropped as a paperback and audio in March, our latest anthology through Titan – Cursed, edited with my better half Marie O’Regan – is also out, plus a novella called Blood Red Sky from Silver Shamrock. Luna Press are releasing the official movie tie-in for The Colour of Madness, a film that’s based on my novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’, this month, then the second thriller comes out over the summer from Harper. I’ve also begun working with Mark Miller and Christian Francis at Enclopocalypse to bring out some of my back catalogue as audio books, including Signs of Life, Of Darkness and Light and Sleeper(s). The rest of the year is taken up with collections essentially, but more about them as and when.

PS: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us Paul!

PAUL: My pleasure.


Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.


THE STORM is in stock and available to order.

Paul Kane’s Top Ten Monster Books and Movies

So, here we go with my favourite Monster books and movies… And I should mention that I’m consciously not including vampire, zombie or werewolf offerings, as they’re categories in their own right; I could easily come up with ten books and films for each of those. Plus it allows room for me to include other entries.

 

1) The Thing (directed by John Carpenter, 1982).

This is a movie that had a massive effect on me in my formative years – when I crept down to watch it late at night on ITV one Saturday and totally freaked myself out (I used to do that a lot, as we all probably did). I remember not being able to face my Sunday dinner the next day after seeing that autopsy scene, but couldn’t tell my parents why. It was probably my first exposure to the sub-genre known as ‘Body Horror’ – which would become so important to my work. My better half Marie O’Regan and I even edited The Mammoth Book of Body Horror years later, and included ‘Who Goes There?’, the original John W. Campbell tale which The Thing is based on. It’s also a perfect example of how flexible horror and monster movies can be, in this instance an SF-Horror (other examples of this in my all-time favourites list would definitely have to include Alien and Event Horizon). Everything about this film is just perfect, from Bill Lancaster’s script to Carpenter’s direction, from the desolate setting to the inventive effects, not to mention the memorable characters – this is Kurt Russell’s finest hour as reluctant hero MacReady (“Those damned Swedes!”). I could watch it a million times and that still wouldn’t be enough.

82) The Hound of the Baskervilles (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902)

I’m a huge fan, as most people will have read when I did the publicity for Servants of Hell, of Sherlock Holmes in all his incarnations…though for me the definitive screen Holmes will always be Jeremy Brett. I came across the original Conan Doyle stories at around the same time as I did Clive’s work, which is probably why the two were forever linked in my mind, but my very favourite tale from the original canon is The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s the definitive ‘horror’ Holmes really, with a huge supernatural dog running around killing people… even if it did have a more earthly explanation at the end. I would still regard it as a monster, even in that form! It certainly fired my imagination and I was delighted to be able to bring the hound in question back to roam the corridors of Hell in my own Holmes novel. It was probably also in part responsible for RED (published with the sequel Blood RED by SST), as well as the obvious fairy tale influence. There would also be no Crimson Mystery without this one.

3) Jaws (directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975)

This movie is simply an exercise in cinematic suspense, executed perfectly. We can forgive the rubber shark, ‘Bruce’, that makes its grand entrance towards the end, because the way the tension is built up before that is a masterclass in how to have an audience on the edge of its seat; not least the use of the camera POV as the monster in question for most of the film. The shock of the fisherman’s head appearing in the bottom of the sunken boat still makes me jump all these years later, almost as much as it does Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper. And, of course, we wouldn’t care at all if it weren’t for the portrayal of the characters by him, Roy Scheider – as ‘fish out of water’ New Yorker Chief Brody, transplanted to Amity Island at the worst possible time – and Robert Shaw’s Quint, one of my favourite characters in anything ever. When he tells the story of the Indianapolis, a true monster tale, not only do all the hairs stand up on end on the back of your neck, you totally understand where this Ahab-esque man is coming from. Not many films deserve the classic status they’re given more than this one. Also, crucially, without Jaws, there would be no blockbuster.

4) The Rats (written by James Herbert, 1974)

Hhmm, I’ve just realised that the last couple of choices are all about revenge of nature or animals on the rampage, but that’s no bad thing in a list of monsters – and here’s another! I’ve long been an admirer of James Herbert and his work, and feel very privileged that I got to know him before his untimely death; my last abiding memory of him was the signing he did for us at FantasyCon in 2012, where he took time to chat to everybody and was telling tall tales – what else would you expect? What Jim did here with his first chiller (a term he coined himself) The Rats was take a tired horror genre and create something fresh within it that was copied again and again. The Rats was probably the first full-on horror book I ever read, certainly the first ‘monster’ one, and I loved it! The terrifying notion of these giant killer rats plaguing London sent shivers down my spine and had me checking under my bed and in the wardrobe. It still does, frankly. When it was reported a while ago that giant rats the size of dogs had actually been found, I said to myself: Jim was right all along! There was also the sense that when you were reading The Rats you were doing something forbidden. To be fair, I probably was – reading gore and sex scenes at such a tender age – but boy was it a ride! I can’t mention The Rats, though, without including Lair and Domain, which raised the bar even higher. I’ll never forget the clever and emotionally draining way Jim handled wiping out an entire population at the beginning of the latter.

5) Nightbreed (directed by Clive Barker, 1990)

You were wondering when Mr Barker would appear, weren’t you? And what better example of a monster movie than this one, which is all about them. However, while reading the short novel it’s based on, Cabal, is still a wholly satisfying experience, watching the second movie Clive directed (after Hellraiser) is always a bitter-sweet experience for me; even if I’m watching the director’s cut. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time – and definitely one of my Barker favourites – and I love the way the ’breed were brought to glorious life by Bob Keen and his crew at Image Animation. But there’s always going to be a bad taste in the mouth at the way this movie was mishandled by the studio system, and the way it was marketed. Trailers that pitched it as some kind of stalk ‘n’ slash with monsters totally missed the whole point that the monsters here are the good guys, showing up the bigoted and – especially in psychiatrist Decker’s case, played to perfection by an eerily calm David Cronenberg – psychotic humans for the true monsters they are. It’s since gained the classic status it deserves, with actors like Craig Sheffer (as Boone), Anne Bobby (as Lori), Hugh Ross (as Narcisse) and Oli Parker (as everyone’s favourite ’breed member, Peloquin), getting the recognition they so richly deserve. It was also nice to see the original male Cenobites back in roles: Doug Bradley, as the ’breed’s wiseman Lylesberg, Simon Bamford – with much less make-up than he needed for Butterball – as Ohnaka, and Nick Vince as the moon-faced Kinski.

6) Frankenstein (Written by Mary Shelley, 1818)

The granddaddy of all mad scientist monster books and films, I first read Frankenstein when I was going through my period of reading everything genre-related back in my teens…what I call my real education. Which included the classics, such as Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and, of course, Frankenstein. Actually, I first read all of them in one volume which had a lurid red and black cover and an introduction by none other than Stephen King – more on him later. Without this one, we wouldn’t have had so many of my favourite tales and movies, like The Fly, Re-Animator, Splice and too many more to mention. What I absolutely love about this is the way Dr Frankenstein is so sure what he’s doing is right and it comes from a place of wanting to make the world a better place, only for things to go spectacularly wrong. The road to Hell and all that. On the flip side we have the monster who didn’t ask to be created, is this kind of outsider figure who doesn’t fit in, and never will. They make up this tragic Yin and Yang which fuels the story and makes it so interesting. A truly ground-breaking tale, variations of which are still appearing today – you only have to look at the recent episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ to see that. It’s also a perfect example of the story behind the story being as fascinating as the book itself.

7) The Cabin in the Woods (directed by Drew Goddard, 2011)

A bit of a cheat, this one, as it contains pretty much every monster you could ever dream of all in one place, especially when they run riot at the end. I’ve been a fan of Drew Goddard’s work for a long time, from his Buffy days through to writing Cloverfield (the quintessential found footage monster romp), right up to the excellent Daredevil and Bad Times at the El Royale. His collaboration here with the creator of that show about a certain vampire slayer is nothing short of perfection, in my humble opinion. Simultaneously a satire and commentary on tired horror tropes, and a movie that elevates itself above them, it’s a surprise monster fest that manages to cram in everything from the Cenobites (good old ‘Sawhead’) to creepy ballerinas, snake creatures and, yes, even mermen! If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you correct that oversight immediately. There’s also an excellent novelisation from Titan, written by my good friend Tim Lebbon.

8) The Mist (written by Stephen King, 1980)

Told you we’d get back to this talented chap, the person who coincidentally The Storm is dedicated to (you’ll find out why when you read it). I’ve loved this book – technically a novella that first appeared in Dark Forces, then the collection Skeleton Crew – since I first read it, and my enjoyment hasn’t waned in all that time. I love the setting, which is by turns claustrophobic and also global in scale, the premise – that we’ve torn a hole in reality and let through all kinds of creatures from another dimension – and the characters. A father battling to keep his son safe in the midst of all this chaos? There’s no greater motivation than that. I was equally delighted when Frank Darabont (who did such an excellent job of adapting Shawshank and The Green Mile) turned this into a movie, and if anything made it even bleaker, especially at the end. I love a bit of bleakness, me, as anyone who’s read books like The Rot will testify.

9) King Kong (directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

As much as I adore his contemporary, Godzilla – and believe me, I do – he probably wouldn’t exist without Kong. I’ve chosen the original and the best here, although later movies like the Jackson adaptation and Skull Island do give it a run for its money. But it’s the introduction of the character of Kong himself that makes this movie so special. Created by stop motion surpremo Willis O’Brien, or Obie to his friends, when Kong appeared on screen for the first time nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before. I mean, sure, there had been dinosaurs – most notably in 1925’s The Lost World – but Kong, literally, wiped the floor with those. Who could ever forget his memorable scrap with the T-Rex while Fay Wray looks on and screams her lungs out? Stuff like that sticks with a little kid watching creature features on rainy Sundays and bank holidays (and Ray Harryhausen, I’m also looking at you when I say that). I’m so looking forward to seeing Kong and Godzilla in the same film knocking lumps out of each other, it’s going to be epic.

10) The Day of the Triffids (written by John Wyndham, 1951)

I came to this novel in a kind of roundabout way, via the BBC adaptation in the 80s starring John Duttine. That scared the living daylights out of me when I was a kid (the tender age of 8 to be precise), but it also made me want to hunt out and read the book. Like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Triffids is a great example of SF commenting on the present day and possible nightmare futures. In this instance it’s where we might end up if we continue to experiment with cross-breeding plants and genetically engineering them. Okay, so the triffids are useful and valuable when everyone can see – their oil in particular – but what about when a comet in the night sky takes away most of the population’s eyesight and the little buggers escape? Then you’re definitely in trouble. I love this one not only because of the unique monsters, seared into my mind as those walking rubber creations from 1981 with ‘tongues’ that lash out and sting you, but also because it’s a great example of a post-apocalyptic scenario where people soon forget how to be civilised and society crumbles into mayhem. While I’m on, I can wholeheartedly recommend the official sequel by my old friend Simon Clark, The Night of the Triffids, which takes both the action and the horror to yet another level.

 

Well, there you have it. Not a comprehensive list by any means – I doubt I’d have been able to fit all my favourites into a top million – but should give you some idea of where I’m coming from and the kinds of monsters that inspired The Storm especially.

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.