I’ve written hundreds of stories in my life, over a million words (you’ll have to trust me on that one). I’ve written comedies and thrillers. I’ve written romance and drama. I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve written westerns and stuff for kids. I’ve even penned some erotica (much to my mother’s embarrassment), but what I’m writing now is possibly the first real monster story I’ve tried… well, ever.
I mention this only because for the longest time – in my head – I was a horror writer. I think somewhere in there I still am. I read horror and that’s what I wrote, or so I thought. But looking back over those hundreds of titles and those million words, it turns out that very little of it would actually fit in the boundaries of the genre. Maybe ten percent; fifteen at a push.
I’ve always wanted to write a pure, no-nonsense monster tale – one that doesn’t necessarily live in the real world, and doesn’t feel the need to apologise or explain itself either. Sometimes horror just is and creatures just are.
This may just be my first time.
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett – 1989
I was introduced to the world of Terry Pratchett by a friend many years ago, who was a big fan of his. He is primarily known for his loosely connected Discworld series of novels, which reached over forty entries before his death in 2015. Guards! Guards! is the eighth ‘chapter’, but it works as a standalone novel as well.
For whatever reason comedy novels don’t appeal to me very much, and the handful of Pratchett books that I read in the nineties – of which Guards! Guards! is the best – is my only foray into the genre. I’ve also never greatly enjoyed fantasy stuff, and the Discworld series is often considered a parody of The Lord of the Rings… a novel I didn’t enjoy either. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I bothered!
The biggest gripe I have with the novel – and by extension all the other Pratchett stories I read – is just how similar they feel. Sure, they made me laugh like all comedy should, and in the case of Guards! Guards! there were moments that were very funny indeed, but the style of humour is ultimately very limited. It sticks to a tried and tested template and that’s fine, but when a lot of jokes follow a similar format, and one character often feels much like the next, it becomes difficult to differentiate. I wouldn’t go so far as to say once you’ve read one Discworld novel you’ve read them all, but that’s certainly a criticism I can understand.
Having said that, Pratchett’s Discworld trope of using footnotes throughout each of the novels in the series surprisingly never wears out its welcome.
Way Out West (1937)
The classic title card.
I have been a great fan of Laurel & Hardy for many years, and this feature is widely regarded as their finest effort. I have a few other suggestions for that spot, but it’s certainly a solid choice.
A long time ago I introduced one of my ex-girlfriends to Way Out West (and the comedy duo in general) and she memorably shrugged indifferently and said to me, “I’ve seen Steve Martin do that”, as if somehow Laurel & Hardy had travelled forward in time, watched a bunch of Martin’s movies and then gone back to film their interpretation in black and white. To this day I still don’t know if she was pulling my leg!
Eighty years after Way Out West, and there is still no double act that has the same chemistry or comic timing as the original masters of the art, and that perhaps says as much about Laurel & Hardy as performers as it does about the progress of cinema since they stopped making movies.
“Eat the hat.”
From the running gag of Stan using his thumb as a lighter, to the scene where he eats Ollie’s hat after losing a wager, to Ollie’s continual breaking of the fourth wall by looking into the camera in frustration at his partner, Way Out West is a classic of the genre that deserves its place in history.
I know it’s difficult for the current generation to go back and check out these old movies, but I rewatched this one last week, and if you approach it with an open mind, I think you’ll find that it holds up surprisingly well.
But do yourself a favour and watch it in the original black and white form – those colourised versions are (for the most part) cheap and tacky.
“Say your prayers.” Roger’s ex-wife gets a makeover.
Horror and comedy are polar opposites, and although a lot of movies have tried to marry the two genres, only a select few have managed to create something worthwhile.
House was released in 1986 and was the first in a disjointed quadrilogy of films. The series was somewhat unique in that there was no uniformity or overarching tone. But don’t bother with the others, and don’t let the generic title fool you – do yourself a favour and just watch this one.
A great scene featuring former Miss World, Mary Stavin, in a bathing suit.
The special effects may be cheap and rubbery, but that’s because the movie never takes itself too seriously, and that’s okay. Horror doesn’t have to be realistic evicerations and computer-assisted effects that are indistinguishable from real life. Sometimes it’s all right for horror to just be a little bit of mindless fun.
The premise is simple. After his aunt commits suicide, divorced horror author Roger Cobb moves in to the house where his young son disappeared. Struggling to come to terms with that as he writes his next book about his experience in the Vietnam War, things start to go bump in the night.
Harold: Hey, it’s great to have a new neighbor. Woman lived here before you was nuts. Biggest bitch under the sun. Just a senile old hag really. Wouldn’t be surprised if someone just got fed up and offed her. Know what I mean?
Roger: She was my aunt.
Harold: Heart of gold though. Just uh, a saint really. And uh such a beautiful woman, for her age.
House is an underappreciated movie that has never been given the love it deserves, and you’ll probably have to speak to a lot of people before you find someone else who has seen it, but give this low budget gem a chance – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.