Thriller – Michael Jackson – 1982
I’ve been a big fan of Michael Jackson for as long as I’ve been a fan of music in general. The first studio album I ever bought was the cassette of Bad, and I was also fortunate enough to see him in concert at Wembley Stadium – admittedly when he was past his prime, but come on… it’s Michael frickin’ Jackson.
Michael Jackson’s music always had excellent production and his sound was always stellar, even if the song wasn’t. The music video for Thriller is every bit the masterpiece that it was when it was released over thirty years ago, and there’s nothing I can say about it here that hasn’t been said before, so all I will say is if you haven’t seen it – firstly, I don’t want to know you; and secondly, why on earth have you not seen it?!
Thriller holds a special place in my heart, even though it’s nowhere near my list of top Jacko tracks. Hell, it’s not even one of the best songs on the album, and that’s only got nine songs on it!
When I was fourteen I lived in Australia and we filmed a home movie on VHS to send back to my grandparents in Scotland. Trust me, it was what people did in those days. Anyway, at the end of the tape my dad filmed me lip-synching to Thriller, as I shuffled from side to side, wearing white trousers, and a white denim shirt. Yes, for six whole minutes. I even threw in the single worst example of a moonwalk ever committed to camera. (Un)fortunately, this footage does still exist.
It was an annoyingly poor effort, because I know I can do better. Maybe I should recreate…
Hmmm, I wonder.
Mister X by John Lutz – 2010
I could probably be rightfully accused of having a predilection for those authors whose books I am already familiar with, so it’s infrequent that I read a novel by someone that not only have I never read before, but someone that I have not even heard of before. Mister X is one of those novels, by one of those authors. As it turns out, Lutz is a pretty popular writer as well – who knew?
Mister X is a crime thriller about the hunt for a serial killer who enjoys carving up his victims in all manner of wonderful ways. His trail has gone cold and interest in his capture only begins again when a strange woman with a curious connection to one of the victims shows up out of the blue in the office of the case’s lead detective.
It’s a fairly standard entry into an extremely crowded genre, and while it does nothing in a particularly outstanding manner, everything it does do, it does… competently. The characterisation is satisfactory; and the plot is (for the most part) fairly interesting. Yeah, Mister X is a competent novel in every respect – just don’t expect it to make a lasting impression on you.
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.
The Jonah by James Herbert – 1981
Oddly, it was my dad – who I would never say was a big reader – who became my first point of contact with the works of James Herbert. He was possibly the only author my dad made any time for. Back in the mid eighties I was far too young to read anything by the dark master of British horror, but that always stuck with me and when I was old enough I got through a bunch of Herbert’s novels.
The Jonah is the last Herbert novel I read, but it’s unfortunately one of his lesser offerings. It’s about a detective who has had misfortune follow him throughout his life. Despite the author’s history, it’s a dark police thriller which can only very loosely be described as horror.
The writing is fine and the narrative is moderately entertaining, but Herbert’s penchant for shoehorning in an obligatory sex scene rears its head again in a somewhat unrealistic romantic sub-plot which is signposted from miles away. However, The Jonah – for its shortcomings – is quite a short novel, so it’s not something that you will have to wade through for too long.
James Herbert was absolutely capable of producing great stuff and he produced a number of classics throughout his career. The Jonah is certainly not bad, but a classic it is not. If you want a good entry-point to his work, there are far better places to jump into the water.
Velocity by Dean Koontz – 2005
I’ve read dozens of Koontz novels over the years – from the pretty terrible to the pretty terrific – but the man has earned my respect and gets a pass for the odd misfire. He is one of those authors I will always find a way back to if I can’t think of anything else to read. I’ve always envied his style. Koontz doesn’t write long-winded paragraphs but squeezes a lot of character into so few words. It’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s definitely a skill I admire, and there are very few people who can do it better.
For the first third of Velocity, I really thought it was going to be up there with his best. The idea is great: Billy Wile, finds a hand-written note under his windshield wiper (see the set-up spoiling cover picture above) and that’s it. Then we’re off to the races. It runs at a blistering pace, with a few clever moral quandaries to mull over along the way. The first two-thirds of the novel is fantastic, but once Billy starts to gain a little perspective on the situation, the story slows down, and it really isn’t as exciting or interesting anymore. Unfortunately it pulls towards a fairly unsatisfying conclusion with a couple of plot holes that you could drive a truck through.
Koontz knows how to pace a very good chase thriller, so even if the story wanes you never feel as though you’re sinking into quicksand because you’re always out the other side before you know it. Does he sometimes phone it in? Sure, that’s a valid criticism: his work can be a little formulaic at times, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People like what’s familiar. If you enjoy beer, you don’t stop drinking it because it tastes the same as last time, do you?
Hard Candy (2005)
This is a brutal movie, and it doesn’t apologise for it. Nor is there that saccharine sweet ending that you would expect from a Hollywood movie made in the last two decades. It’s a disturbing, intense, psychological thriller, that closes in a darker place than it began.
Ellen Page – one of my favourite actresses, in this, her first leading role – was only seventeen when Hard Candy was being filmed, and given the subject matter, that says a lot about her maturity and acting ability.
She shines here as a fourteen year old girl who spends time chatting online to a man she knows to be a paedophile, in order to give him what is coming his way. The script cleverly flips the obvious predator and prey scenario early on and calls for us, the viewer, to cheer for her as she stalks, corners, and brutalises him throughout the duration of the movie.
Hard Candy is tightly written and well acted, and there are no explosions or special effects to cause any undue distraction… and it also has something to say about society and where we are now. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s a cult movie that deserves to be seen – and appreciated – by many more people.
On this day in 1984, this album –
– was knocked off the top of the US charts, after spending thirty-seven weeks at Number One. As of 2017 it is estimated to have sold anywhere between 60 and 100 million copies. Nothing else is even close. It was – in the true meaning of the word – a phenomenon. Nowadays, with the way music is distributed and purchased, this is a record (pun intended) that will never be broken. Say what you like about Michael Jackson – and a lot of people do – but the guy broke down walls.
So if you’re one of the half dozen people in the western world who hasn’t heard it, go find it and do so. Right now.