Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Walking Dead reviewed by Gwyneth Peaty

The Walking Dead (2010-)
Created by Frank Darabont

The very first zombie in The Walking Dead is a pyjama-clad child wearing bunny slippers. Clutching a teddy, she shuffles along all by herself. "Little girl?" Approaching carefully, main protagonist Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) sees only her long blonde hair: "I'm a policeman... Don't be afraid, okay?" But it is he who should be afraid. She turns to reveal glazed eyes and greying skin, blood dripping from her torn mouth. As she gives a high-pitched growl and begins to move purposefully towards him, Rick must retrieve his gun and shoot. The child falls in slow motion, dropping her teddy and losing a slipper; knocked off skinny legs by the force of a bullet through the forehead. She hits the pavement and lies still in a pool of blood. As he lowers the gun, a close-up of Rick's face reveals red-rimmed eyes filled with pain and regret. Rather than a moment of triumph, the killing of the zombie is depicted as a form of tragic euthanasia.

This event takes place before the opening credits. Setting the scene for the first episode and the first season, its juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity becomes a recurring theme as The Walking Dead explores the line between mercy and brutality, humanity and inhumanity. Rick, a deputy sheriff, wakes from a coma to discover his world has been obliterated. His wife and son are gone, and the small town in which he lives is overrun by 'walkers': dead people who have risen to feed upon the living. He begins to search for his family, encountering other survivors along the way, all the while being forced to violently execute those he would normally protect. Of course, as in any good zombie tale, it's not just the walkers he has to worry about. The collapse of governmental and military control brings out the worst in some, who see it as their chance to rape and pillage. "Fight the dead. Fear the living": as the tag-line for season three suggests, not all monsters are undead.

The concept of the zombie apocalypse captivates, in part, because it challenges the most important things in most people's lives: their relationships. Husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbours - when the dead rise, it strips away the civilised veneer and tests what these individuals are really made of. Would they stop to help when you falter, or keep running and save themselves? And what would you be willing to do, to survive? Could you kill a child? Your partner? The Walking Dead jumps straight to the heart of these emotional and ethical questions. "I should have put her down," sobs Morgan (Lennie James) as he watches his dazed, zombified wife wandering the streets. But even with her head in his sights, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Characters are constantly placed in such torturous binds, and the resulting combination of adrenaline and high drama has proven extremely popular.

When The Walking Dead debuted in October 2010, it delivered American cable network AMC its biggest ratings win to date. 5.3 million viewers tuned in to see Rick confront a waking nightmare. The episode was repeated later in the evening to another big turn out, resulting in a total audience of 8.1 million. As AMC President Charlie Collier put it, in a triumphant press release, “it’s a good day to be dead”. It was also a good day for horror on television. Based on Robert Kirkman's ongoing comics series of the same name, The Walking Dead is unapologetic, gruesome and tense. With high production values and an excellent effects team (headed by long-time horror make-up wizard Greg Nicotero), the first season presents all the visceral thrills of a good apocalypse film across six hour-long episodes. Trampling any perceived limitations on what can and cannot be depicted on television, the series provides a constant supply of graphic imagery: dismembered corpses dragging their entrails along the ground; heads exploding at point blank range; body parts violently lost (and found); acres of mutilated, flyblown bodies; and, most importantly, lots and lots of blood-soaked, flesh-chomping zombies.

The continuing success of the show has illustrated that such content is no longer reserved for a niche market, but has become mainstream fare. Season Two was extended to thirteen episodes; its ratings momentum culminating in a finale watched by 9 million viewers. The first episode of season three recently broke records yet again, becoming the biggest telecast in the history of basic cable by pulling in almost 11 million viewers on the night. These are not just numbers: they demonstrate in decisive commercial terms that graphic body horror has a legitimate place on television.

Series creator Frank Darabont argues that “people were waiting for a really good zombie show”. Indeed, most agree that reanimated corpses are having a cultural moment. While brothers Victor and Edward Halperin are credited with making the first ever zombie film, White Zombie, in 1932, it was George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) that bit down and kicked off what is now a full-scale invasion. Since then, in addition to Romero's ongoing output, we've had everything from energetic blockbuster 28 Days Later (2002) to self-conscious spoof Shaun of the Dead (2004), plus lesser known gems such as Pontypool (2008), and a seemingly endless series of schlocky splatter films. The shambling undead have also come to dominate the video game industry, providing the perfect enemies in Shinji Mikami's long-running Resident Evil franchise (1996-) and Valve's Half-Life (1998-) series, among others. Sometimes you can even play as a zombie yourself, as in the cheesy Stubbs the Zombie.

Despite their rampant spread in other areas of media and visual culture, zombies' transition to TV has taken some time. Even for Darabont, whose writer/ director credits include The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), it took five years to finally sell the concept of a zombie television show. As he explains, the whole idea was “considered prettydifferent and cutting-edge through most of that pitching process”. The only previous attempt had been the five-part mini-series Dead Set (2008), which was a raging success on UK channel E4. The Walking Dead builds on this promising beginning, using Kirkman's popular comics as a springboard from which to develop powerful television horror.

One of the strengths of the series is its fantastic cast, which mixes experienced film and television actors such as Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood, Pearl Harbor), Jeffrey DeMunn (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) and Laurie Holden (The X-Files, Silent Hill) with relative newcomers like Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira. Among the survivors, the Dixon brothers are definite scene stealers: racist, sexist, homophobic Merle is convincingly abhorrent thanks to veteran actor Michael Rooker, while his younger brother, fan favourite Daryl, is played with surly dignity by Norman Reedus.

The show is not without its issues, however. T-dog (IronE Singleton), one of the very few African American characters, is noticeably underused and underdeveloped throughout season one and two. What's his back story? Who is he? I have no idea. Viewers notice this kind of thing, and it grates. The representation of gender is also problematic. Men tend to be the active characters in the survivor group: they wield the weapons and make the important decisions, while the female characters are largely passive, requiring constant protection and surveillance. It seems unlikely that mothers protecting children from the living dead would be reluctant to use guns, or that anyone would hesitate to teach them. Even Andrea (Laurie Holden), who quickly takes an active role as a sharpshooter in the comics, has her agency delayed until season two, when the women finally begin learning to shoot. At this point, everyone is suddenly a crack shot just in time for the zombie-filled finale. Again, this kind of inconsistency draws attention to itself.

Many viewers had problems with season two overall, arguing that the story slowed and lost direction. Instead of roaming, the remaining survivors find a safe haven and spend much of their zombie-free time talking about feelings and relationships. As one fan raged: “it has gone from [a story] aboutsurvival and th [sic] Apocalypse to some Days of Our zombie lives soap operawith stupid, insipid story lines and increasingly unlikable characters that alldeserve to be eaten (with the lousy writers)”. While this is a trifle harsh, it does identify a key change: with thirteen episodes to fill, the writers were sacrificing horror in favour of more conventional TV serial drama. And the audience didn't like it one bit. This season was also tarnished by the widely publicised sacking of Darabont, who was fired as showrunner amid rumours of budget cutting and suggestions that AMC wanted to save money by reducing the number of zombies in each episode. Since then, new showrunner Glen Mazzara has attempted to reassure viewers that the terrifying magic is not lost: "I see it as a horror show," he explains, "I’ve beentrying to amp up the intensity [...] To make it feel less safe, more dangerous,more in your face".

The first episode of season three suggests that this return to horror is paying off. The actors look hard and hungry; they move through the forest like a desperate wolf pack in a lean winter. The zombies are just as determined, and satisfyingly numerous. With this promising start, I have high hopes season three will re-energise The Walking Dead and fulfil its promise as the first long-running zombie TV show.

Gwyneth Peaty recently completed a PhD on the grotesque in pop culture at The University of Western Australia. Her current research focuses on monstrosity, gender, ontology and the Gothic in visual media. Gwyneth's publications include ‘Infected with Life: Neo-supernaturalism and the Gothic Zombie’ in Gothic Science Fiction: 1980-2010 (2011) and ‘“Hatched from the Veins in Your Arms”: Movement, Ontology and First-Person Gameplay in BioShock’ in Guns, Grenades and Grunts: The First Person Shooter (2012), with chapters forthcoming on Fallout 3 and The Walking Dead. She can also be found exploring the grotesque at

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