New Statesman | Prevenge: in a world of male violence, seeing monstrous women is a thrill

prevenge

The best thing you’ll see in the cinema this year is a big man called DJ Dan looking down in horror as he realises that the thing slithering down his leg and onto his living room floor is his testicle, unleashed from its ballsack by the knife held by heavily pregnant Ruth (played by Alice Lowe). Or, if the death-by-castration of DJ Dan – an entirely appropriate response to his pick-up patter about the easiness of “fat birds” – doesn’t grab you, maybe one of the other grisly highlights of Lowe’s maternity-slasher movie Prevenge will.

You could choose Ruth sitting astride a man and ramming a gilt statue through his eye-socket; or Ruth butchering a chilly businesswoman who smirkingly explains at the end of a job interview that it just wouldn’t make sense to hire a woman who’s about to have a baby. And all of it is accompanied by the insinuating whisper of Ruth’s foetus, who seems to be talking to her from the womb, urging “mummy” to greater acts of violence. As Ruth’s gratingly sincere midwife tells her: “Baby knows what to do.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Short story | The Boy Who Cried Fire

the boy who cried fire

In 2013, I took part in Den of Eek – Den of Geek’s annual horror storytelling night in support of cancer charities. The theme was urban legends, and my contribution was heavily inspired by just having moved house (the creepy teddies are still in my real-life basement now).

I moved house a few months ago. Of course, it was exhausting – they say it’s more stressful than losing your job or being bereaved, and it’s even worse if the idiots you buy the house off decide to leave you with all their crap to sort through. There were skiploads of it. I don’t think the cellar had been touched in decades. There were all sorts of things down there: mouldy chintz curtains, chests of drawers with broken legs, and these creepy looking teddy bears tumbled in the dirt, like someone had been playing with them. They were so horrible, I couldn’t even touch them. I think they’re still there.

Download The Boy Who Cried Fire as a PDF or purchase the full collection of stories as an ebook (proceeds go to support cancer charities)

Paperhouse at the picturehouse: Scanners

scanners

Fiction about technology mostly means wide-eyed reflections on things that happened five minutes ago and the way that whatever it is will absolutely change everything utterly forever. The stylish kitsch of the Matrix movies and the noxious ‘look at my sexy new laptop’ toss of the absurd Jeanette Winterson are equally pointless if you’re interested in anything apart from the capacity of the simple to be perpetually surprised (alright, and some amazing running and fighting, which Winterson obviously can’t offer because she is far too busy writing important and novel-ish things).

David Cronenberg (whose Scanners I watched again this weekend, and whose films have owned me ever since a late-night showing of Videodrome made a trembling wreck of me) never embarrasses himself like this because he always treats technology as something that’s entirely human and as morally neutral as muscle. The recordings and broadcasts of Videodrome are terrifying, but the technology itself isn’t malevolent – it’s the information it conveys, and the willingness of the consumer to absorb it, that produces the horror. Medicine and machinery are fleshy things in the Cronenberg world, always a part of what we are rather than a chilly external force. In Scanners, when a psychic hacks into a computer network using the phone wire and his brain, it doesn’t feel like a hokey pre-internet moment: it’s just the summation of the idea that telecommunications are a society’s nervous system.

A lot of Cronenberg’s success is down to his crisp materialism. When the doctor character guides a newly-discovered scanner through his first deliberate psychic attack, he explains that this is not mind reading, “it’s nervous system to nervous system.” If you don’t romanticise humans, you can’t exaggerate the momentousness of a change in them. The conflict in the story is between two groups who are morally identical: a private security firm which wants to exploit the scanners as weapons, and a biochemistry lab which fronts for a terrorist scanner underground. These aren’t goodies or baddies, they’re just offering different kinds of exploitation and exactly enough tension to play through the ideas and facilitate a massive, brainblasting showdown.