horror week – day 6

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 27th, 2016


The Battery (2012)

“Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”

Quick summary: We follow former baseball players Ben and Mickey as they survive a zombie apocalypse by wandering through the relatively zombie-free Connecticut wilderness. While bickering.

This caught me by surprise. I think we’ve definitely reached peak-zombie at the moment (though I hear wonderful things about The Girl With All The Gifts) and I wasn’t entirely sure I needed to see another zombie survival movie. But this sweet natured, low budget (it was made for $6,000), zomblecore character study felt like a breath of fresh air.

Ben (played by writer and director Jeremy Gardner) enjoys the rudimentary camping trip they find themselves on. The hunter/gatherer lifestyle suits him and he seems to revel in dispatching the zombies that cross their path. Mickey on the other hand (played by producer Adam Cronheim) tries his level best to escape the reality of the situation – burning through batteries listening to Americana on his headphones and longing for a bed with a roof. It’s a solid dynamic and leads to a decent exploration of their relationship throughout the course of the film. And the headphones ensure we get a great soundtrack.

Despite it likely being a budgetary choice, I really liked how we joined most of the zombie encounters after-the-fact. Letting the malaise and loneliness of their odd, co-dependent relationship become the focus of the movie over the undead.

The Battery of the title, for those of you like myself who lack the baseball knowledge, is what the dynamic between a pitcher and catcher is called.

The film is playful and funny, and while the characters can be arseholes, I found myself growing fond of them and rooting for their survival. A nice change from the unrelenting grimness and broad character archetypes of The Walking Dead (which, in fairness, I’ve not watched much of since Season 2). There’s a great 11 minute long, stationary shot towards the end that audaciously asks the viewer to imagine the climatic moments of the film happening offscreen. Plus a touching nod to Jaws. Plus an uncomfortable masturbation scene. So you know, something for everyone?

I wonder if the sunlit photography and meandering, contemplative pacing was inspired by Badlands. It certainly reminded me of Malick’s film in this reagrd but that might just be due to the knowing homage on the poster.

Larry Fessenden cameo klaxon.

Maybe it’s because I’m spending a week (admittedly self-imposed) watching two horror films every day, illustrating one, writing these basic notes, and then fitting in the rest of my paid work – but I sort of found myself envying their zombie-based camping holiday. I clearly need to get out of the house.

I also watched:

The Hallow (2015)

“This isn’t London, things here go bump in the night.”

Quick summary: A couple from London move, with their tiny little innocent baby, to a remote Irish village to survey a local forest for some unnamed (I think?) corporation/developer. But by trespassing in the woods, they unwittingly piss off some baby-stealing Irish folklore.

First things first – two of the leads in this are Benjen Stark and Roose Bolton – the latter being the harbinger of doom who pops by to pass-agg warn the family about The Hallow. Also, an all too brief cameo from Michael Smiley.

The film clearly wants the viewer to recall The Thing, Evil Dead, Pan’s Labyrinth and Straw Dogs when watching this. And it starts strongly enough in the first act that it almost gets away with quoting those films so directly. But by the end, the film felt more like the Del Toro produced Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark remake – solid and well crafted enough, with some good creature effects, but offering little new or surprising.

Benjen Stark annoyingly “splits the party” a little too much and honestly, was bringing parasitic fungus spores into the house with your child really the best idea Benjen? Also, while we’re at it Benjen – you’re working for some faceless corporation taking down a forest so are we actually supposed to be on your side?

I was pretty excited about a good cabin in the woods scare, and I liked the idea of using Irish folklore for the horror element – that felt new. But in the end it all felt like a bit of a missed opportunity.

There’s a lot here to like though, and the director – Corin Hardy – definitely delivered some great set-pieces that suggest his future projects will be worth a look.

Tonight: I might watch some Netflix horror tonight with Creep (2014) and #Horror (2015).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 5

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 26th, 2016


When Animals Dream (2014)

“I’m transforming into a monster, but I need to have a lot of sex first. Do you think you could help me?”

Quick summary: Marie, a young woman on a remote island in Denmark, is perturbed by new physical changes that appear to unsettle her father, the local doctor, and the island’s small community. What do they know that Marie doesn’t? And does it have anything to do with her mother’s debilitating illness?

I wanted to watch some contemporary creature feature films tonight and this – a quiet, beautifully shot, Danish werewolf film – hit the spot. At the time, I think the film was compared a lot to Let The Right One In and I can understand why. The film prioritises atmosphere and and quiet restraint, the script has enough faith in the audience to allow most of the story to unravel without the aid of dialogue, and the audience’s empathy is carefully directed towards the “monster” of the film.

As with films like Jennifer’s Body, Teeth, The Company Of Wolves and Ginger Snaps, the film strongly ties the supernatural mythology to the character’s sexual awakening and treats the male fear of this as the real monster. The way this small fishing town treats Marie develops from casual suspicion to sexually menacing “pranks” leaving me desperate for Marie to go full Carrie.

The soundtrack, like the film, is subtle and smart too. Thumbs up all round.

I also watched:

The Roost (2005)

“I won’t let the bat out of the bag just yet.”

Quick summary: Some horror fodder/young adults are on their way to a wedding when the car breaks down near a barn full of aggressive zombie bats.

I thought I’d go for a contemporary vampire film for my second creature feature – and Ti West’s The Roost felt like the right choice. I enjoyed House Of The Devil and had since caught up with The Innkeepers and The Sacrament (both are great, I think The Innkeepers might be my favourite of West’s so far). While this does indeed have bats in it, it’s more of a small scale zombie film than something like Near Dark.

This is West’s first feature and as such, it has a noticeably lower budget than his other films. But it’s still a recognisably Ti West joint – with aggressively long takes and a steady ramp-up of tension. There’s also a nice appearance from Tom Noonan as a creepy presenter of “Frightmare Theatre” – a black and white Tales From The Crypt style show that bookends the main feature (as well as interrupting the film when the characters make the mistake of displaying some affection for each other. The monsters).

It struck me that the film was made and released at the height of the “torture porn” era of horror at the turn of the century. In that context, I can see The Roost being an almost subversive statement of intent from West.

It’s a Glass Eye Pix film so there’s, of course, a cameo from Larry Fessenden. Long-time collaborator Graham Reznick (who wrote Until Dawn with Fessenden) does great work on the sound design too.

I also watched West’s student film Prey which was on the DVD. It’s a strong, lean five minute chase sequence.

Ti West’s next film should be out soon – a western revenge movie with Ethan Hawke – In A Valley Of Violence – should be interesting.

Tonight: I’m thinking The Hallow (2015) and The Battery (2012).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 4

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 25th, 2016


Southbound (2015)

“Tonight might just be the night you finally outrun those wicked demons once and for all.”

Quick summary: Five interweaving short stories set on or around a desert highway which may or may not be some sort of purgatory (but is almost definitely purgatory).

I love a good portmanteau horror anthology despite their tendency to be inconsistent in quality. This one works better than most and benefits from a sort of directorial house-style that doesn’t make huge tonal jumps between stories.

From the opening tale, where a run-down diner is playing clips from Carnival of Souls, we’re given clues as to where we are and what’s happening to the protagonists in each short. There’s also a nice cameo from Larry Fessenden as a radio DJ at the start of each story – giving us some on-the-nose philosophical thoughts that happen to relate directly to each tale. He acts as our Cryptkeeper in this Tale from the Crypt or Creepshow.

I found the second and third stories were the most successful: a playful and menacing short by director Roxanne Benjamin that followed a female-fronted punk group getting aid from creepy Rockwellian Satanists, and an excruciating, gory short about a man trying his best to fix a costly mistake. That second one – from director David Bruckner (who did The Signal) – had me squirming in my seat for the duration. Hospital scenes tend to have me on edge at the best of times and Bruckner really turns the knife (so to speak) here.

It’s a shlocky, enjoyable watch.

I also watched:

Trick ‘R Treat (2007)

“Charlie Brown’s an asshole!”

Quick summary: Four short stories set on the same night – Halloween.

A very glossy horror film which clearly had a decent budget – possibly due to being produced by Bryan Singer (which may also explain the presence of Anna Paquin and Brian Cox).

Rather than have individual directors for each short, this was directed in its entirety by Michael Dougherty who went on to do Krampus.

It’s a decent enough horror anthology. Brainless enough that it’ll be enjoyable to watch with friends on Halloween. The narrative is connected by a mini Jack-o’-lantern headed “Spirit of Halloween” and in some ways the film seems to be commenting on the crass commercialisation of the holiday. And yet a lot of the scares and a lot of the stories feel exploitative and cheap so it seems to be trying to have it’s pumpkin-spiced cake and eat it too. The Anna Paquin tale in particular, seems to be aiming for a female empowerment twist ending while also having lots of gratuitous nudity. It’s absurdly misjudged.

In a way it’s like a Christmas feel-good movie, with the final story focusing on the Scrooge-like Brian Cox character being hounded by the ‘lil Halloween chap (with some overt nods to the Evil Dead 2). But we’re far from the damning, wry satire of Gremlins. Essentially, as with Krampus, this movie can’t decide if it wants to make a satirical comment about the holiday season, go for the darkness, or just give in to the easy genre conventions that will satisfy a mainstream audience. In the end, it goes for something in the middle and ends up feeling unsatisfying.

Tonight: Creature feature night with The Roost (2005) and When Animals Dream (2014).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 3

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 24th, 2016


The Shallows (2016)

“I’m not dying here.”

Quick summary: Blake Lively, in an attempt to get over the death of her mother, goes surfing in a secluded beach in Mexico. But there’s only a bloody shark there! After being attacked, she finds safety on some nearby rocks which will soon be submerged at high tide…

A fun, solid b-movie. The camera is pretty pervy though and seems intent on having Lively fight the shark in a bikini. Still, the tension is well crafted and the short run-time means it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

After seeing the synopsis I thought it might be a little bit like Tremors in the water (though Tremors was essentially Jaws on land, so I guess I was just expecting Jaws?). It’s more a survival thriller along the lines of Black Water or even Open Water127 Hours feels like an influence too.

I liked that the final act takes place on a buoy – I’m assuming the association with the opening five minutes of Jaws was intentional there.

“Steven Seagull” was a great addition.

The dialogue was pretty poor with a lot of “hey sis!” expository clunkiness. This sort of b-movie doesn’t need much character growth anyway. There were some interesting techniques used to show smart phone use – though I have to say it started to get a bit obnoxious.

I also watched:

The Bay (2012)

“I mean, look at that – that’s entirely made of chicken shit.”

Quick summary: A fake found footage documentary about what happened at a seaside town in Maryland that the Government tried to keep silent.

Hello found footage my old friend. In fairness, this is an after-the-fact documentary using existing footage so it feels fresher than the usual found footage fare. I guess the closest comparison is Lake Mungo.

The main narrator and protagonist is Kether Donohue – who will be familiar to You’re The Worst fans as Lindsay! Great to see her in something else.

This is directed by Barry Levinson – the guy behind Tootsie, Wag The Dog, and Rain Man (he also helped produce TV shows like Homicide and Oz). Interesting to see a horror film from him. Apparently he was approached to direct a straight documentary about the environmental impact of dumping waste in the sea. He thought most people knew the basic facts already and that the best way to make an impact would be to heighten everything into a horror film. In that sense I guess this would be my second Eco Horror of the week after The Last Winter.

Enjoyed this. Felt myself getting increasingly itchy as the film went on.

Those bloody corrupt New England seaside mayors… “Amity, as you know, means friendship”.

Tonight: Anthology horror night with Southbound (2015) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007).

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week – day 2

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 23rd, 2016


The Witch (2016)

“Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”

Quick summary: A family in 17th Century New England are struggling on their own after being banished from a Puritan plantation. Are their subsequent ill-fortunes due to some evil presence in the wood? Do they have a witch in their midst? Or are they suffering some mass hallucination?

The Witch (or VVitch – based on a Jacobean pamphlet spelling) received a huge amount of praise earlier in the year but I failed, as I often do, to catch it in the cinema. I remember there was a lot of talk at the time about first-time director Robert Eggers’ faithfulness to historical detail, and that a lot of audiences felt disappointed by the film after all the hype. People argued over whether or not to call it a horror film, and the marketing was partly blamed for leading people to expect a more explicitly jump-scare type of horror experience instead of the slow unravelling of familial trauma.

I absolutely loved the film. Followers of my horror illustrations will probably already know I generally favour atmospheric, deliberately paced, suggestive horror over gore-fests and cheap jump-scares (as much as I enjoy those as well from time to time) – so this film flew by for me and it is, of course, a horror film. Whether the shocking/creepy supernatural elements in the film are real or some sort of shared hysteria doesn’t really change that. I was, and remain, chilled by the film.

The cast, including Finchy from the British Office, are superb and deliver the heavily-researched and delicious dialogue with a subdued naturalism. The strained strings of the soundtrack kept me tense and on-edge throughout, and it’s beautifully shot.

The film aims to work as some sort of undiscovered, ageless, universal folktale – no specific, deliberate allegory – you get out what you take in. I think it’s successful in that – I can see myself returning to it and reading different things into it with each viewing. I’m looking forward to doing that.

I also watched:

Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm (1968)

“Witchfinding? Oh, that’s nice. That’s very nice”

Quick summary: A witchfinder and his assistant travel around England during the Civil War “interrogating” suspected witches and executing them. Until a young Roundhead decides to bring him to justice.

There’s a lot to say about this film – so much so it probably deserved it’s own night. It’s largely viewed as one of the first “folk horror” films of the era and was directed by Michael Reeves – a 25 year old who died nine months after the film’s release due to an accidental overdose. The film met with a lot of controversy due to it’s depiction of brutal torture and upsetting violence and ended up having a lot of edits. I watched the Director’s Cut which reinstated a lot of those scenes.

Vincent Price, as the witchfinder, is a lot more subtle and understated than usual here. Apparently, he and Reeves didn’t get along during the shoot (Price: “I’ve made 87 films, what have you done?”, Reeves: “I’ve made 3 good ones.” BURN).

The film is undoubtedly hard to watch. Despite modern horror pushing further than this does – it still manages to make it’s point – that these are horrific acts and we, as a desensitised cinema-going audience, should feel appalled when we watch.

It was released in the US as The Conqueror Worm to tie-in with the Edgar Allen Poe series of films he did with Roger Corman.

The production company – Tigon – went on to make Blood on Satan’s Claw as a successor in spirit to Witchfinder General.

Some more choice dialogue: “I saw them consort with their familiars.” “And what were these familiars?” “A black cat and a stoat.”

Tonight: I’m thinking The Shallows… If I have time, I may try The Bay as well.

Check out the archive of the horror week here.

horror week

Posted in horror week,illustrations,news by Tom on October 7th, 2016


I really enjoyed last year’s Horror Month and wanted to return to it this year despite the hefty workload it turned out to be. But, after moving home from London to Edinburgh in September, the timing wasn’t quite right to dive into a month-long Horror binge. Internet needed to be set-up for starters.

Still, I couldn’t let Halloween 2016 pass without doing something, so I decided I’d try and do a shortened version of my Daily-Horror-Film-Plus-Illustration challenge in the final week (or more accurately, the final 10 days) of October. Starting on Friday 21st and finishing on Halloween.

The plan, like last year, is to try and watch double bills each night, then draw an accompanying illustration for one of the films the following day.

I saved the list of film suggestions from last year as I hadn’t managed to work through them all (there were hundreds). It’s here with some new additions – throw me more suggestions on twitter if you think I’m missing anything.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook where I’ll be posting updates and what films I’ll be watching if you fancy following along.

doctor who cover

Posted in comics,illustrations,news by Tom on June 23rd, 2016

I was asked by Titan if I’d like to illustrate the September Doctor Who cover. I couldn’t say no to that. It was such a fun commission and I hope I get to try my hand at more in the future.

The solicitations for Titan’s September comics are listed here. I think the order code for this is STL015068.

This is for the finale issue of year two of the Eleventh Doctor – written by Si Spurrier and Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser.


guardian guide – pitch us

Posted in illustrations,news by Tom on June 9th, 2016

The Guardian got in touch to ask me to illustrate a regular, small column in The Guide.

Every week a different person pitches a new TV show and I illustrate it.

I’m about two months into it so far so here are the first eight illustrations without any context:





bear – chrissy williams

Posted in illustrations,news,poem comics by Tom on June 9th, 2016

The excellent poet Chrissy Williams has her first collection coming out next year with Bloodaxe Books and it’s going to be a must-read.

I was honoured to be asked to provide the artwork for the cover and here’s a look at the front:


Find out more about Chrissy and the book here.

Chrissy and I have worked on several poem comics together and co-edited a book about the art-form which can be found here.

hot rum cow – sabre

Posted in illustrations,news by Tom on June 9th, 2016

Hot Rum Cow magazine were running a piece on how to use a sabre to open a bottle of champagne and commissioned me to illustrate it.

Happy with how these came out and was a pleasure to work with AD Eric Campbell.



And here’s a small pic of the page: