Krampus (2015)



It’s impossible to talk about Christmas horror movies without referencing Gremlins, and Krampus knows that. Boasting a similar ‘family fight festive critters’ premise to Joe Dante’s 1984 classic, it’s got a similarly dark sense of humour, not least when its menagerie of creatures are finally unveiled after a shadowy build-up. While director Michael Dougherty (who previously made decent 2007 Halloween anthology Trick ‘R Treat) is clearly enamoured with Gremlins and seems to want to recapture that film’s mischievous sense of fun, Krampus ends up being a very different beast, for better and worse.

We meet xx-year-old Billy (xx xx) in the days leading up to Christmas. Billy’s at a difficult age when he’s starting to question Santa’s existence, and his parents’ inability to give him a firm answer either way only contributes to his morose spirit. When his extended family arrive to stay for the holidays, things worsen, particularly when Billy’s bully cousins (xx and xx) get their hands on his heartfelt letter to Santa, which contains personal (and not particularly complimentary) observations about pretty much every family member.

Despite Dougherty’s form in horror territory, Krampus is most confident in these opening moments, which introduce our central family in all their warring glory. Great aunt xx (xx xx) is a mouthy alcoholic, while Billy’s aunt and uncle (xx and xx) rub his mother xx (Toni Collette) and father xx (Adam Scott) up the wrong way by merely existing. Only Billy’s German grandmother, Omi (xx xx), keeps to herself, but her silence comes heavy with the suggestion she’s hiding something from her family. Recalling the manic domestic scenes of Home Alone and any number of other John Hughes movies, Krampus’ opening 30 minutes are assured and funny, expertly making us care for the family despite and because of its obvious disfunction.

When Billy’s letter is read out at the dinner table, though, Billy’s so upset he tears it up and throws it out the window. The next morning, the entire street has lost power and a fearsome blizzard has transformed the neighbourhood into a frozen wasteland. Stranded in the house, the family continue to irritate one another, until one family member goes missing, prompting an unsuccessful search and, eventually, the revelation that Billy’s actions have inadvertently summoned Krampus, an anti-Santa straight out of German folklore who preys on anybody who’s given up on Christmas.

As horror premises go, it’s a doozy, and Dougherty goes to great pains to squeeze every drop of tension out of it. Initially, the tension-cranking is effective, particularly during one scene from the trailer in which Billy’s sister xx (xx xx) hides under a car only to be confronted by a creepy jack-in-the-box. After its assured opening, though, Krampus hesitates, and its second act becomes a tiresome exercise in over-long tension-building (even if it is punctuated with a brilliant bit of chimney barminess that finally gets the snowball of terror rolling).

It’s a good hour before Krampus’ alternately giggling, slavering, shambling monsters are finally revealed. The horned Krampus itself is genuinely horrifying, accomplished using puppetry and prosthetics (with a dash of CGI), while its army of scampering menaces are both ridiculous and terrifying. They’re also, for the most part, lovingly created using old-school prosthetics, which adds the kind of grounded weirdness to the film surely last seen in the Child’s Play series. When these bizarre anomalies break out, the scenes of carnage are impressively handled, providing just enough gore, levity and goo to sate horror appetites.

Part of the problem, though, is that Krampus gets confused over who its lead character is. After sticking closely to Billy and establishing his conflict, the narrative constantly switches between different family members until we’re left in something of a muddle. Meanwhile, Krampus ends up being more freaky than truly scary, and it’s most surprising just how bleak Dougherty’s film quickly becomes. The director has talked about Krampus as a horror movie in the Amblin mould, citing films like Gremlins and The Goonies as tonal touchstones, but despite Great Aunt xx delivering sardonic quips between sips from her hip flash, Krampus isn’t afraid of striding headfirst into pure horror terrain, and when that happens, the chuckles all but disappear completely.

When you throw in a beautiful but unnecessary animated segment, characters doing frustratingly silly things (would you send /your/ daughter out into a blizzard alone?), and an ending that tries too hard to be clever instead of settling for genuine emotion, Krampus winds up being a mixed bag of toys. There’s no shortage of chill-inducing weirdness (see the snowmen), but Dougherty seems so intent on creating something unpredictable and unsettling that he forgets what made the film’s first 30 minutes so strong – the bond between its dysfunctional family.

With Gremlins 3 looking more likely than ever, Krampus provides an entertaining diversion as we await Gizmo and co’s return. Dougherty comes so close to greatness that it’s upsetting when he comes up short. Still, between Krampus’ monster set-pieces, domestic banter, and a spirited turn by young xx (Billy), there’s much to love here. A few years from now, Krampus will have earned its place as a festive cult classic, which is just where it belongs.

This review originally ran at Frame Rated.

Scream: The TV Series – Season 1



“You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series,” states pop culture geek Noah (John Karna) in the first episode of MTV’s gory, glossy Scream, and you can’t fault his reasoning. “Slasher movies burn bright and fast,” he continues. “TV shows need to stretch things out.” It’s difficult not to agree with him, especially on the evidence of Scream’s first season, an uneven mix of self-aware teens, grisly deaths and occasionally inventive mystery. Though this new incarnation of the ’90s slasher series pays due respect to movie creators Kevin Williamson and the late, great Wes Craven, it struggles to capture the same mischievous sense of fun.

Not that it doesn’t have a bloody good crack at it. Creators Jill Blotevogel, Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie have 10 episodes to go crazy with the Scream formula, and what they deliver is essentially a cross between Scream and Pretty Little Liars, a show they’re savvy enough to name check in one of their meta tirades. Dworkin and Beattie both previously worked as writers on super-soap Revenge, and there are echoes of that show in Scream, too, to both its benefit and its detriment.

If the first rule of reboots is not messing with the original, MTV’s Scream at least sticks true to that. Relocating away from Woodsboro, the setting of the movies, is a smart move, disconnecting the show from its roots and allowing it to establish its own mythology. We find ourselves instead in the small town of Lakewood, where hot chick Nina (Bella Thorne) is butchered at home after being harassed over the phone. News of her death casts a pall over the town, and there are whispers that Brandon James – a troubled teen who went on a murderous spree two decades previously – has returned once more.

Enter a group of high school friends whose lives are turned upside down by the murder. There’s Brooke (Charlson Young), the cold-hearted bitch who’s having an affair with a teacher, jocks Will (Conno Weil) and Jake (Tom Maden), mysterious new kid Kieran (Amadeus Serafini), plus the aforementioned geek Noah. Oh, and then there’s Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), our very own Final Girl, whose loyalties are torn between her popular, impeccably groomed clique, and old friend Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who’s just been subjected to an online prank that spectacularly booted her out of the closet.

It’s a big cast, and we haven’t even got round to the adults (including Tracy Middendorf as Emma’s mother). While the teens are the ones we’re supposed to care about, it’s here Scream takes a tumble. Sure, they’re all savvy and quick-witted, but they’re hard to like. A lot of the time, the high-schoolers are so wrapped up in their own dramas (bribing scams, absent parents, sexual identity crises) that they don’t even seem to notice their friends are being butchered with alarming frequency. Brooke in particular comes off cold as a popsicle, while the jocks are completely interchangeable. (There’s an outbreak of smell-the-fart acting in places, too.)

Even Fitzgerald’s Emma makes for a wobbly heroine. Early episodes see her striking the right balance between girl-next-door charm and steely resilience, but as the bodies pile up, the angst sets in. Emma spends at least two episodes spontaneously bursting into tears for a segment of the story that, in a slasher flick, would be over in two minutes. It’s an off-putting diversion that contributes to the season’s midpoint sag, with more and more characters introduced until the show is unbelievably bloated. At times, it feels like Dawson’s Creek with a body count, rather than the knowing, knife-sharp series you’d expect from something branded Scream.

The mystery suffers, too, for being ratcheted out over 10 hours. It wavers between genuinely clever and bafflingly complex, and by the time the denouement arrives, it’s possible you won’t care anymore. (And even then, the unmasked psycho’s gurning ruins any suspense.) Still, there are definite high points, some of which eclipse even the Scream films for sheer audacity. Episode four boasts an engaging, Scooby-Doo-style exploration of a decrepit hospital that is both creepy and exciting, amping up the horror imagery, while a later episode features a death so jaw-droppingly brutal it makes Drew Barrymore’s bisection seem tame.

There are neat nods back to the source material, too. Hellish dream sequences in episode eight are a great throwback to Craven’s Nightmare On Elm Street films, and there are some neat flashbacks that capture an impressively old-school slasher vibe. For everything it gets right, though, Scream gets something wrong. Yes, the visuals are great, but where are all the parents? Halfway through the season, a number of teens are dead, and yet our main cast are allowed to run around at all hours without chaperones.

With its pop culture jokes (Taylor Swift, Walking Dead, Girl, Interrupted), occasionally effective scare scenes, and eerie killer (Mike Vaughn is excellent as the phone voice, though the new mask isn’t a patch on the original), this is Scream, but not as you know it. “I can promise you one thing; it’s gonna be gut-wrenching,” teases the killer at one point, and he’s right. If you grew up watching Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette attempting to unmask Ghostface, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia to be enjoyed watching this new iteration. And for all its faults, MTV’s Scream successfully updates the formula, at times innovatively splicing new tech with traditional slasher fare.

The question of whether a slasher movie can work on the small screen remains only half-answered by the time Scream’s finale rolls around, though, because while it pulls off some magnificent feats, it’s also bogged down in too much teen melodrama and characters doing stupid things to fully recommend. With a second season already greenlit, and certain threads left dangling in the first season finale, it’s difficult to see just where the show has left to go.

This review originally ran at Frame Rated.

Author Patrick Kincaid: How the Loch Ness monster and Billy Wilder inspired my debut novel


This month, Unbound is publishing Patrick Kincaid’s debut novel, The Continuity Girl, a historical romp about a film lecturer who embarks on a Highland adventure inspired by Billy Wilder’s forgotten 1970s Sherlock Holmes movie. Here, Patrick tells me the story behind the novel…

In 2013, while taking a boat tour of Loch Ness on my honeymoon, I met a monster hunter who claimed he had watched Billy Wilder’s model monster sink in the loch in 1969.

The monster was, of course, part of Wilder’s movie The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a movie I’d loved since I was 10. Like most of its fans, I’ve become as obsessed by what’s missing from it – the whole hour that the producers ordered the director to cut – as by what’s in it; a retelling of the Holmes myth that focusses on the bits Watson left out (i.e. the sex, drugs, and emotional damage).

The monster hunter’s story also reminded me of an interview I’d heard a few years earlier with Elaine Schreyek, who was the ‘continuity girl’ (as they were then called) for The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. Those two things inspired me to write my debut novel, also called The Continuity Girl, in which I imagine the rediscovery in 2014 of an uncut print of Wilder’s Sherlock film. A film studies lecturer, Gemma MacDonald, is given the task of unveiling it to the world, which leads to her meeting April Bloom, my highly fictionalised version of Schreyek. And while April is telling Gemma her version of events, we also hear from a monster hunter who got to know her on the banks of Loch Ness in 1969 – the lovelorn Jim Outhwaite.

Wilder’s visual and narrative style informs The Continuity Girl top to bottom. I’ve resisted calling my book a romantic comedy, not because I don’t like them – the good ones, such as those by Nora Ephron, are very good – but because I was after a different kind of cinematic tone for my story. I wanted to capture the bitter-sweet nature of the comedies Wilder co-wrote with IAL Diamond, and I was thinking particularly of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.

Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

On the face of it, Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes ought to have been another of those slew of Victorian romps – Bryan Forbes’ The Wrong Box (1966), Don Sharp’s Rocket To The Moon (1967) – which came and went in the ’60s. But by balancing romance and cynicism, Wilder made something that lingers. It’s said he cast Robert Stephens as the lead because he looked like someone who could be hurt. Sherlock is typically portrayed as an unemotional thinking machine, but here he was a sensitive romantic, falling for a beautiful client (Genevieve Page) with an ulterior motive, while his brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee at his best) pulled the strings from above.

There’s no denying that the film’s romance is enhanced if you know about the difficulties surrounding its production and its box-office failure. It was a labour of love for Wilder, but so much went wrong – Robert Stephens nearly killed himself with an overdose, the model monster sank, and then the producers ordered their cuts. On release, the public didn’t take to it, and critics ignored it. It was only when it was screened on TV in the ’70s that it found an audience. Jonathan Coe has written compellingly about his obsession with the film and its missing segments. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat funnelled their obsession into producing Sherlock for the BBC.

And it is a wonderful film: romantic, funny, achingly sad. The performances are superb, Christopher Challis’s photography is breath-taking, and Miklós Rózsa’s score is one the most beautiful pieces of film music ever composed. I had no idea when I first saw it that a cult had already developed around it. I thought it was mine alone – this film that reimagined a Victorian superhero as a man full of regrets and unachieved personal ambition.

In fact, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes isn’t so different from other Wilder’s films which, on first glance, it doesn’t seem to resemble at all – those strikingly modern social comedies, The Apartment (1960) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

These films also pitch romantics and cynics together, and to similar effect. In both, there is pathos in watching Jack Lemmon fall for a woman who is deceiving him, but we understand that she is experiencing the pathos too. Shirley MacLaine’s Miss Kubelik and Judi West’s Sandy are neither romantic heroines nor femme fatales. Both are manipulated by a powerful man behind the scenes – Fred MacMurray’s adulterous boss, Walter Matthau’s crooked compensation lawyer – and both eventually break that bond and turn towards the romantic dupe. There are no glib happily-ever-afters, though – Wilder’s best endings are inconclusive.

I attempted to cram as much of this Wilderian tone-shifting as I could into The Continuity Girl. My hero, Jim, has only known rural life in the North of England and the Scottish Highlands, and is as far removed from the permissive society as it is possible to get in 1969. He is continually on the backfoot when the happening Hollywood crew turn up, and with it the continuity girl whom he falls for so heavily. Meanwhile, it turns out that every organisation is subject to power politics – even tiny research groups looking for evidence of a legendary monster.

Author's cover
Patrick Kincaid at Loch Ness

Additionally, Gemma’s 2014 perspective adds a commentary on the events of 1969. In the lost version of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a prologue involving Dr Watson’s grandson did something similar.

I also tried to write descriptive prose to match Challis’s visuals, and dialogue with the wit of Wilder and Diamond. Tall orders – but I’m grateful for the generosity built into those filmmakers’ legacy. When in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), besotted Joe E. Brown answers Jack Lemmon’s assertion “But I’m a man” with a shrug and the best last line in film history – “Nobody’s perfect” – they gave us all carte blanche to aim high and not worry too much about falling short.

The Continuity Girl is available now from Amazon.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 10 – The one with Mama Halliwell and the disco soundtrack

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 1.17 ‘That ’70s Episode’
Writer: Sheryl J. Anderson
Director: Richard Compton


Despite the spells, the demons and the odd dodgy costume, Charmed has always been about one thing: family. In this first season episode, we finally get a full deck, as three generations of Halliwell women unite (through time and space) to confront the demons of their past. That’s both literally and metaphorically, because while Prue, Piper and Phoebe battle a power-sucking baddie, the real kicker comes when they find themselves face to face with their dead mother.

At this point in the show, we had already met a time-hopping ancestor in the shape of Melinda Warren, but That ’70s Episode is a whole new supernatural kettle of fish. A brief prologue sees the sisters attacked by a warlock who’s so unscary his best line is “Call me Nicholas”. Yeah, quaking in our boots here. Escaping to the attic, the girls play Wiccan roulette by reading a spell at random, and are instantly transported back to the 1970s.

Before you can warble “gypsies, tramps and thieves”, they’ve bumped into kiddie versions of themselves, pissed off Grams (Jennifer Rhodes), who mistakes them for warlocks, and are forced to go on the run in a past without cellphones, Advil, the Book of Shadows or – most importantly – powers.

As with the best episodes of Charmed, the demon stuff merely acts as a mechanism through which the sisters embark on an emotional journey – and it doesn’t get much more emotional than meeting your dead mother decades after she was murdered. The girls first encounter her at the diner where she works, and it’s not difficult to understand why Prue and Piper are rendered speechless when they’re confronted with Patty, aka Mama Halliwell. Finola Hughes is radiant in the role, and her ability to underplay the tragedy of Patty’s doomed future only increases the poignancy.

Rarely for a show that frequently leaned on her for comedy, Alyssa Milano gets the the episode’s most bittersweet moments. Mama Halliwell died when Phoebe was just a baby, and here the youngest Charmed One is given an opportunity to finally create real memories with her mother. Their encounter outside the diner is beautifully handled, and there’s a great pay-off line at the end after Phoebe takes a picture of her pregnant mother with Young Prue and Young Piper. “That’s the best picture of me I’ve ever taken,” she grins.

charmed-117-1This really is an episode where family rules and demons drool. Nicholas has a decent plan but is blandly cast, but that hardly matters when the Halliwell stuff is so perfectly executed. Predictably, Grams gets all the best lines. Whether asking what IBM is selling at in the future or boasting about her powerful progeny (“I always knew that I would deliver the Charmed Ones… Uh, once removed of course”), she’s a scene-stealer and a half, and cemented Jennifer Rhodes as a long-standing fan favourite.

Effectively combining nostalgia, time-travel, fun period details (Jaws is showing at the cinema, vintage Cher’s all over the soundtrack) and some seriously hip threads, That ’70s Episode was an early highlight for the show and established a ‘feelings forward’ formula that the writers would return to again and again. In a word: groovy.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Clueless (1996)



If you were a teenager in the ’90s, there’s a pretty big possibility you still use lines from Clueless in your everyday life. Between “As if!” and “You’re a virgin who can’t drive”, the trend-setting 1995 teen flick was like the best earworm ever, wriggling its way into the lives and minds of young adults everywhere. Better yet, with its timely exploration of a new breed of cosmopolitan teen, it guaranteed that even non-American viewers felt like they’d lived through (or at the very least survived) US high school.

That was 20 years ago. It’s almost impossible to believe that two decades have passed since Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) catwalked onto our screens, dolled up to the nines and blissfully unaware of just how ridiculous she seemed. Despite her surface-level absurdity (she uses a computer to select her outfits and frets about her designer frock when held at gunpoint), she quickly became the Hollywood prototype for attractive young women with hidden depths – see also 2001’s even perkier bombshell, Elle Woods, in Legally Blonde.

Off screen, Silverstone became the go-to girl whenever a ’90s director was looking to cast the role of a smart-mouthed, self-aware youngster in their movie. Described by her Clueless director, Amy Heckerling, as having “that Marilyn Monroe thing”, Silverstone blitzed the 1996 MTV Movie Awards and, aged just 19, she signed an $8-10m multiple movie deal with Columbia TriStar. Meanwhile, her production company, First Kiss Productions, was given a first-look option on the studio’s projects. The decade was hers for the taking.

Perhaps more impressively, Clueless represents a huge leap in the evolution of the teen flick. Seizing on the yuppie dramas of the 1980s (headlined by stars like Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox), it dared to do something different to the films of John Hughes, the Brat Pack and their imitators. Though a dash of Hughes’ kids v adults formula is evident in Cher’s battle through teendom (not least in her somewhat misguided attempt to help her lawyer father), director-writer Amy Heckerling’s priorities lay elsewhere.

Heckerling made a significant contribution to the ’80s teen flick scene with the gritty Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982), proving she had an impressive grasp on how youngsters think and – vitally – what they think is cool. Though Clueless is a very different film to Ridgemont, it retains that self-awareness. Inspired by Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, it transfers the plight of its unlucky-in-love protagonist (renamed Cher) to present day Beverly Hills. As Cher and her friends navigate high school, love and the challenges of transforming a “tragically unhip” girl (Brittany Murphy) into the next hot thing, they drop quotable one-liners like nobody’s business.

With its zeitgeisty soundtrack, OTT fashion and knowing sense of humour, Clueless became the sleeper hit of 1995, transforming its modest $12m budget into a US box office haul of $56m. It was a critical darling, too, and rightfully so. Heckerling’s zingers-packed script packs satire in by the closet-load, but there’s heart, too – Cher’s matchmaking marks her out as surprisingly selfless, while her burgeoning romance with step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd) is just the right side of sweet. And Heckerling never idolises her affluent young protagonists, instead portraying them as borderline alien, revelling in passed-on wealth and possessing bubblegum priorities. If the ’80s belonged to the yuppies, the ’90s belonged to their kids. Times, they were a-changing, and Clueless effortlessly tapped into that evolution.

It helped that the early ’90s were a wasteland for movie teenagers, with only Boyz N The Hood (1991), Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Death (1991) and Dazed & Confused (1993) offering movie-going teens something to spend their money on. We have Clueless to thank for the youth boom that followed. There was 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), which took the Clueless route by reinterpreting The Taming Of The Shrew, while Cruel Intentions (1999) went edgy, adapting Dangerous Liaisons for teens. The steamy result saw Sarah Michelle Gellar shattering her good-girl Buffy image (purring: “You can put it anywhere”) and Ryan Phillippe establishing himself as hunk du jour. We can probably even thank Clueless for The Craft (1996), with its far darker visions of American teendom, and the ensuing slasher movie revival.

Clueless became a phenomenon unto itself, but it became a blessing and a curse for everybody involved. Silverstone made a few disastrous movie choices (erotic thriller The Babysitter, crime caper Excess Baggage), and donning the cape as Batgirl in 1997’s Batman & Robin single-handedly derailed her burgeoning career. In must have been a bit of a sore that, by that point, many of her Clueless co-stars were enjoying moderate success on the Clueless TV series, which she turned down to focus on her movie career.

Unlike, say, Jennifer Lawrence, whose smart movie choices have helped her avoid pigeon-holing, Silverstone has become forever synonymous with Clueless – so much so that her most successful endeavour post-1995 was short-lived 2003 series Miss Match, in which her divorce attorney was basically Cher grown up. Co-star Brittany Murphy enjoyed success in a series of romcoms before her tragic death in 2009, but perhaps the biggest star to emerge from Clueless was actually Paul Rudd. He bumbled around a couple of romcoms in the mid-to-late ’90s before finding a home as a lovable man-child in Judd Apatow’s comedy barn. And, of course, he’s shaken his image up once more by joining Marvel, transforming into scarily credible hero Ant-Man, replete with six pack and designer stubble.

Its outrageous fashion and outmoded tech should date Clueless horrendously, but there’s charm in its pre-internet naivety. If Clueless were made today, you can bet Cher would have a Twitter following in the millions and her own reality TV crew dutifully following her every move. In retrospect, there’s something almost twee about her mid-’90s one-woman crusades. In 2012, Heckerling and Silverstone reunited for horror comedy Vamps, about a couple of socialite vampires (un)living in New York City, but they failed to re-capture the same lightning in the bottle that made Clueless such a huge hit, which is perhaps sign enough that it’s something special.

This review originally ran at Frame Rated.

Happy #WorldBookDay 2018!

To celebrate World Book Day 2018, I thought I’d post a few of my favourites. Here goes…

TEACHER’S PET. Not the first Point Horror I ever read, but definitely the scariest. There’s stuff in this that still haunts me.
Because obviously. Essential reading for any human being, whether they’ve experienced mental health issues or not. This one has got me through some darkness, and continues to.
A love story for my next #WorldBookDay favourite. This is just gorgeous. Beautifully evocative and romantic. I fell for Achilles HARD, and I loved being in his world. Not just a gay classic but a classic full-stop.
THE WHITBY WITCHES. Robin Jarvis single-handedly inspired my love for language. His ability to find the perfect word at the perfect moment is second to none – and he’s a master of the fun/fear formula.
Savage alt-world stuff in my next #WorldBookDay favourite. ONLY EVER YOURS is a riveting thriller mixed with pulpy sci-fi and razor-sharp satire. It has serious fire in its belly. Unputdownable.
And #WorldBookDay wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Stephen King’s incomparable writing bible. This thing is gold dust for any scribbler. So good I’ll read it every year for the rest of my life.
I could go on and on but I won’t. I’ll end this #WorldBookDay love-in with this gorgeous newbie. It’s packed full of goodies. I’ve lost hours to its riches. Happy WBD all! 📚


I Know What You Did Last Summer: 20 years on

I Know What You Did Last SummerDirector Jim Gillespie on making a horror that defined a generation

In the mid-’90s, if you were looking for a film with a killer hook, you didn’t have to look much further than I Know What You Did Last Summer.

“It had that core dilemma of, ‘What would I do if this happened to me?’” recalls director Jim Gillespie, talking to Digital Spy. “That spoke to a young audience that was about to embark on their adult life, go to university, college… If you made a mistake and fucked up, what would you do? Would you bury the secret? The audience got it; that’s exactly what they hooked onto.”

Released 20 years ago today, in 1997, I Know What You Did Last Summer was the first teen horror film unleashed in the wake of Hurricane Scream. It had a script by the hot new writer Kevin Williamson (see also: Scream, The Faculty, Halloween H20), a cast of fresh-faced TV teens, and an old-school atmosphere that ditched Scream’s meta kicks for pared-back chills.

It helped that the film had a literal hook; the weapon wielded by a vengeful fisherman, who targets four friends – played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. – after they’ve killed a man in a car accident, and covered up the crime.

Scottish director Gillespie, making his feature debut, never saw IKWYDLS as a horror film. He approached the production with an artistic eye. Together with production designer Gary Wissner (who hand-wrote the film’s chilling notes), he repainted the house owned by Anne Heche’s creepy Missy, and built both the film’s corrugated-iron gym and the bright yellow shower for the screamer of a epilogue. “I wasn’t interested in making a horror film, particularly,” Gillespie tells us.

Shooting in North Carolina, IKWYDLS even attracted horror royalty in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis, who swung by the set to find out what Gillespie was brewing. “She was doing Virus on the lot where our offices were,” the director remembers. “So she came down to say hi to everybody. To Kevin, she was a goddess, before he’d had any relationship with her, which he then had afterwards [with Halloween H20]. So she came down and just said hi to the kids. Which was nice!”

Digital Spy met up with Gillespie on the film’s 20th anniversary to find out the secrets of creating a hit horror movie. Here’s the story of IKWYDLS, along with Gillespie’s exclusive, never-before-seen behind-the-scenes images…


Drawing From Carpenter

“Halloween is my favourite horror film ‘cos I remember it so clearly. I’m not really scared by horror films, but I do remember one of the few times ever was when Michael Myers just keeps on getting up. I remember saying, ‘If he gets up one more time, I’m out of here!’

“I rewatched that film because it’s [set in a] small town. It’s not a gory film. I like the mood of it. I didn’t want to rip it off, but the feel of it was something I took from.

“And Jaws, funnily enough, is a film I watched as well because it’s set in a seaside town and I wanted the feel of that. So there’s lots of stuff that nods to Jaws; Fourth of July parades, all those things. We amped it up with a Croaker Festival. Gary Wissner designed these big fish buggies, fish hats. We got a load of local school bands to do the march for the festival. We went to town on all that! I wanted the waterfront to have a New England feel, and Jaws was that.”

The Fab Four

“I cast them all. [Jennifer] Love [Hewitt] was always going to be Julie, and she was cast first. We actually had made an offer to Reese Witherspoon first off. Reese came in and met us, but ultimately didn’t want to do it. But she pointed us to Ryan, funnily enough. They were dating at this time. We asked her who the hottest guy was, in her opinion, and she said Ryan Phillippe.

“Love absolutely straight away was Julie James. Nobody wanted Freddie; they thought he was too soft, he wasn’t muscular enough, so Freddie probably screen-tested four or five times. He got to the point where he was saying, ‘I’m done,’ and I really had to plead with him to stick with it because I wanted him. I thought he was going to be great with it. He went to the gym and worked out, changed his diet and his hair cut. I stuck to my guns and eventually they went, ‘Yes.’

“As far as Sarah was concerned, she was the last of the four to be cast. We’d auditioned loads of different people and screen-tested them, hadn’t found the right person. In part it was down to the fact that I didn’t want a 27-year-old playing a 17-year-old in the classic Hollywood way. There were loads of people we looked at who were just too old. Hilary Swank tested for it, who was great, but she wasn’t right for the role.

“We ended up in North Carolina, a matter of two weeks out from shooting, and we still hadn’t cast Helen. I got it down to three girls. I had seen some of Buffy; they’d shot the pilot. Kevin liked the idea of her, which was good. So she flew down to Wilmington and to me, Sarah was it. She was absolutely it. She was fantastic.

“The studio didn’t want her, even after the screen test! They went, ‘Nah.’ They thought she had a Jewish princess, Valley Girl feel to her. I went, ‘Rubbish, she’s good! Look at the screen test again.’ I went, ‘Right, it’s your choice, but know that we think she’s the best choice.’ Kevin backed me up on it. It was a fight for two of them!”

I Know What You Did Last Summer concept art

Bring On The Blood!

“We had fights over the blood in the film. I went back and reshot when Helen’s sister [Bridgette Wilson-Sampras] gets her throat cut; there’s a splash of blood on the glass. I initially had shot that without any blood at all. I’d cut the sequence and it worked, everything was exactly as it is, but they wanted this [splatter], to see her throat get ripped out.

“I said, ‘I’m not shooting that.’ So the most I would give in to was the blood from behind splattering the window. We did that as a pick-up; we reshot that towards the end of the shoot and that was my, ‘OK, I’m done with the blood.’”

A Fresh Kill

“The truth was we had a movie where the killer didn’t do anything! He just chased people. You had to physically see him do something in order for the audience to feel that he was capable of doing something. And Johnny Galecki, even then, was someone that people liked; he was a likeable character [as Julie’s suspicious friend Max]. He’d just done Roseanne, so he was a very well liked teen figure.

“So killing him was a big deal. And it was the one gory bit in the film, to be honest. I shot the film with hardly any gore. It made a big difference to how the rest of the film plays. It’s funny, you add a scene and the ripple effect through the whole thing is actually quite important.”


“My point was not to make Scream. Kevin wrote it, Kevin didn’t write this as Scream 2. There were a couple of lines that were very Kevin-esque, but he wasn’t trying to that whole post-modern thing cos he’d just done it with Scream. We deliberately were not going for that sort of thing.

“It was meant to be kind of a stand-alone revisit of those classic ’80s horror films. It worked! The movie was number one three weeks in a row. It just clicked with the audience. The title clicked and everything just seemed to work. Third week was Halloween weekend and it was number one in its third week. I couldn’t believe it stuck there for three weeks.”

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Kevin Williamson

“When we were working on the script for this, Scream was shooting. So I would go round to Kevin’s house in Hollywood and we would talk through the script, he’d have dailies tapes from Scream, so we would watch the dailies.

“But he’d also written the pilot for Dawson’s Creek. In fact, when they shot the pilot for Dawson’s Creek, they shot the dockside scenes on our set, because we’d built all these fishing shacks. So they shot some of the pilot for Dawson’s Creek on our sets when we weren’t shooting on them. It was all coming together at the same time with Kevin.”

No Sweater

“There was a moment where we’d shot Love on the boat at the end. We’d shot the end sequence before we shot the last part on the deck with the fight and her screaming. She just had a little tank top on. And then we realised we’d made a continuity error where she was wearing a little jumper all through the first part, so we had to construct some reason that she would take her top off.

“People thought it was so you could see more of her breasts, but actually it was because we had screwed up the continuity and needed it to match! So when we were halfway through building the set, we built this inner chamber that doesn’t exist on a boat. She goes in there and she can’t get the door up she uses her jumper as leverage.

“I watched Passengers recently and there’s a moment in there where the exact same thing happens! She takes off her top in order to use it to pull up some hot door. I thought, ‘They’ve stolen that whole thing!’”

I Know What You DId Last Summer

Equal Rights Nudity

“Ryan had to get his six-pack out. That was a pre-requisite! Everybody was like, ‘You’ve got to get Ryan’s top off!’ And he was fine with that because Ryan looks like that all the time.

“Freddie had a six-pack and all that. Ryan just looks like that. You could put a sack on Ryan and he’d make it look good; he’s just one of those guys. Didn’t matter what it was. He was perfect.”

A New Ending

“The original ending, Julie gets an email, like an invite [to a party], and it was a horrible scene. [You can watch it here: I didn’t want to shoot it! I shot it really boringly because I didn’t want it to be in the film. It never worked as the end of the movie.

“The first time we previewed it, it had that in ad the movie had played really well but the movie you could feel was anticlimactic. The studio head came out straight way and said, ‘We’ve got a hit movie here, but not with that ending.’

“So the whole ‘one year later’ thing we shot immediately after that preview because I’d already scripted out what I wanted the ending to be. We got it up and running in about a week’s time, built a little set… and we also shot the Johnny getting killed, we added that in. We did two days of reshoots.”

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

“I agreed to do the sequel. I said yes initially. And then they wanted to release it on the same weekend [the following year], so that gave us nine months, and there was no script. So they wanted me to commit to a page-and-a-half outline, and I didn’t like the outline.

“I thought it wasn’t the right story. I didn’t like the premise. It kind of killed the franchise a little bit. They had a chance to do something a bit different and for me it didn’t work. That’s why I said no, I couldn’t commit to a page and a half with no guarantee that when we got to the script, I was going to like it.

“It was disappointing because Love was signed on, I think she was contracted to do it [the sequel]. She signed on because she thought I was directing it, and then I didn’t. That upset her a bit. Which was fine, we were ok after that, but I know she was upset it wasn’t going to be the same team. They put a lot more gore in the second one, deliberately so.”

Building A Success

“We did a thing that you would never really get away with today, which is the slow-build. Get to know the people before you start chopping them up, so you care about them a bit. They seem more real to you. It’s what Ridley [Scott] did with Alien. It’s 40 minutes before anything happens in Alien.

“I used that argument when we were doing the film. The premise is the thing that held the audience. It wasn’t the scary movie bit, it really was, ‘What would I do if I was in that situation? Drunk and in a car out with my mates on a quiet country road and we knock someone down?’ That was it, that was the hook for me in the script. It really was why the audience liked the film.’

20 Years Later

“Would I do an H20 catching up with Julie 20 years later? It could be interesting, actually. You could do something very different. They genuinely cocked it up with the second one. And then the third one they did straight to video was kind of pointless. I don’t know why they did that. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on it.

“They’ve been talking about a remake for the last three, four years. Neal [H. Moretz, producer] and I still talk back and forth, and Neal’s producing it. It feels like it’s gone on the back-burner a bit. It seemed like it was going to go a year ago, maybe. I thought if they were going to do it, they’d do it after 20 years. It should be out now.

“But I had a fantastic time shooting the first film. We had a fantastic time on it. North Carolina was a fun place to be. There’s a few jobs that you do, despite how hard they were to do at the time, you also have a good laugh. All the people on it were fantastic.”

This article originally ran on Digital Spy.


I, Tonya

I, Tonya


“There’s no such thing as truth,” drawls Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) at the start of this wickedly funny pseudo-biopic. Dressed in double denim, boot on knee, wire-brush hair at least partially tamed, she’s sitting in a nondescript kitchen telling her side of the story that turned her into an international hate figure in the early 1990s. Hers isn’t the only version in Craig Gillespie’s film, though, which also draws from the wildly contradictory statements of Harding’s mother (Allison Janney) and ex-husband (Sebastian Stan). “Everyone has their own truth,” says Harding.

What we do know: Tonya Harding is a two-time Olympian and a Skate America Champion whose career imploded in 1993 when she was implicated in an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan. After pleading guilty to hindering the investigation, Harding was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Here, I, Tonya charts Harding’s rise and fall in Coen-esque fashion, shooting scenes of domestic abuse, reprehensible parenthood and killer competitiveness through a blackly humorous lens.

For Robbie, it’s a dream role. Her performance is every bit as vanity free as her Harley Quinn turn in Suicide Squad, and she’s a revelation, finding humour and humanity in a woman whom the media both vilified and cartoonised. Near seamless CGI gives the impression that Robbie did all the pirouetting herself (she didn’t), while the tongue-in-cheek tone recalls the likes of Casino and Goodfellas (only instead of gangsters we have ice skaters and manchild hackers). “I never did this,” Harding says to camera while reloading a rifle. Either way, her story (or stories) makes for thrillingly acid-tongued entertainment.

This review was originally published in Crack magazine.

Vicious Rumer: can we get a title chaaaange?


Hey everybody! It’s me, that writer you supported a few months ago. Yes, I’m alive! (And yes, I’m still grateful.)

Now that the dust has settled on 2017, and that depressing first month of 2018 is toast, I thought I’d give you a quick update on all things Rumer.

First, the big stuff. As you may have guessed from the subject line, Killing Rumer has a new title! After recent movie masterpieces like Killing Gunther and Killing Hasselhoff (oh my), my editors and I thought it might be a good idea to give Rumer a refresh. Y’know, so that we don’t upset the Hoff. So VICIOUS RUMER was born. I don’t know about you, but I sort of prefer it.

Elsewhere in the Rumer mill (sorry), the structural and copy edits are DONE, which means the manuscript looks the best it’s ever been. Like those fancy show dogs on TV. Now, Vicious Rumer is being typset, which means it’s being made to look pretty in preparation for the printers. All being well, you should have a copy of the book by April. Woo!

Do you have a blog? Fancy running something in April to spread the Rumer? That would be lovely, thanks so much for offering. Just chuck me an email to discuss!

Meanwhile, the third book in my dark fantasy series, The Sentinel Trilogy, is due out in July 2018! And if you can’t wait that long, in March we’re releasing an ebook novella set in the Sentinel-verse called WITCHPIN. If you’re not familiar, there’s more about the series here:

OK, that’s quite enough jibber and indeed jabber. Thanks again for your continued support, see you on the flipside.

Josh x

Happy (belated) Halloween from Rumer

Hey everybody! It’s been exactly a week since Vicious Rumer hit 100% funding on Unbound. I still can’t quite believe I get to write those words. This book has been skulking in the shadows for over a year, so to know that it’s going to be published – and not only published but read by lovely people like you who pre-ordered a copy – is both surreal and unbelievably exciting. So thank you. This only happened because of you. I owe you all alcohol and hugs.

So what’s next? Well, in the past week I’ve been paired up with my Unbound editor (hi Craig!), chatted to him all about Rumer (I’ll admit, the phone call made me shake), and received his feedback on the manuscript (the man’s a power-reader).

As I write this, I’ve just made a start on his edits. I’m refining Rumer’s story to make it as scary, funny and thrilling as possible. I’ll admit, I’ve not read the manuscript in months, and it’s fun getting back into Rumer’s head (although there’s some pretty odd stuff in there). After I’ve made my edits, Craig will take another look at the manuscript before it goes through some heavy duty proofing – the book equivalent of a shave and a haircut.

The timeline on the project remains a bit of a secret, but there’s every chance that this time next year you’ll have a copy of Vicious Rumer in your hands.

If you can’t wait that long for some creepy fiction, here’s a belated Halloween treat – you can read my short story Dead Air for FREE when you sign up to my mailing list at (I promise I won’t spam your inbox to oblivion. In fact, you’ll only hear from me when there’s big news.)

Meanwhile, happy belated Halloween from me and Rumer, and thanks again for going on this weird and exciting journey with us.

Josh x

08.02.18: Amended to change the title of the book to Vicious Rumer, woo!