Archive for December, 2015

Happy Christmas everybody! As a free treat today I offer the below Christmas themed horror story. Watch out for zombie Santas!

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The guide was a waste of money. There are still multiple guard patrols, but their schedules are so predictable that a toddler could find a gap, let alone an experienced fifteen year old urban explorer.

I guess they don’t expect anyone to want to get in. As for those within; well, the dead might walk but they sure as hell can’t climb, which is probably why the authorities don’t bother too much about the roof.

We’re crouched beside a smashed skylight, hands shrouding our torches so the light only shines down. Below is the upper level of Stonebridge Shopping Centre. My guide at least has provided a rope ladder, it hangs below looking uncomfortably like a shoelace you might dangle to tease a cat.

He shakes his head, chapped lips pursed. “The jewellers have all been looted; all the cash is long gone too.”

“I’m not after money or jewels.”

His eyes narrow, I can almost hear the cogs whirring as he considers various scenarios, none of them palatable. I could tell him I’m doing this for a thrill, but somehow I don’t think he’ll buy that. “It was the Saturday before Christmas five years ago,” I tell him, even though he knows the story. “Rumour had it Toy Horde had somehow got a delivery of Action Ahmed figures and I wanted one so bad. Dad could have got me one weeks earlier if he’d got his arse in gear, but he always left things to the last minute, so he was here that Saturday.”

My guide nods. “Ah…”

“He texted mum at nine fifty. Ten minutes later the Lazarus Army’s bomb went off.” I didn’t say any more, he, like me, would have watched it all unfold on telly. MI5 got a tip off, not quick enough to stop the toxic gas, but quick enough to seal the shopping centre before any of the infected could escape.

The bulldozers and cement trucks had turned up soon after—far too quickly for some conspiracy theorists—and despite protestations the doors were permanently sealed. There’s been talk over the years of sending in clean-up teams, or of just razing the place to the ground, but like a sunken battleship it’s morphed into a bizarre kind of memorial.

“I’m going in.”

My guide doesn’t ask what my plan is. Likely he’s taken a look at the zip gun strapped to my hip and come to the most logical conclusion.

The air is calm, but the ladder still flaps around like it’s caught in a breeze. The effect on my stomach isn’t pleasant. I have a torch gripped in my left hand, another fixed to my head. I caught a whiff of inside from the roof, so I’m glad I have a face mask to keep the stench away.

My feet touch solid ground before I can get seasick. I don’t care if my guide waits; don’t even care if he takes the ladder. I have a thin coil of rope, and I’ve clambered out of tougher places than this.

I’m wearing leather and denim. It’s not quite shark proof chainmail, but with luck it should be enough to prevent me getting bitten.

I’ve studied the plans of this place until I could walk around it blindfolded, so the meagre light cast by my torches is more than enough for me to find my way. I head south, towards the main bank of escalators. So far it’s quiet, so far I can’t see any of the dead. The authorities claim they’ll have decomposed by now. I don’t believe them. Prevailing Internet wisdom is that the biological agent will have prevented them from rotting too much. The dead probably hibernate if there’s no one around to munch on, but like a hedgehog sensing spring they’ll soon liven up.

In the gloom up ahead I hear bells tinkling, it’s such a cheery sound within this glum mausoleum that for a moment I think I’m imagining it. A moment after that and I’m convinced it’s soldiers come to collect me.

A two headed Santa staggers out of the darkness up ahead and I almost laugh at the absurdity of it all.

It isn’t a double headed monster, rather two men each dressed as Santa; their ankles are tied together, and each has an arm draped loosely around the other’s shoulders. Their free hands dangle limply. I wonder if, originally, they carried buckets to collect charitable shrapnel, a few pence to assuage the guilt of people spending enough to feed a family of Africans for a week on a crappy remote control helicopter for Uncle Gary.

The tinkling comes from bells stitched to their grubby red hats. Dried puss sticks greying cotton wool to their faces.

They see my lights and start to shamble quicker, sensing their first meal in years. I don’t draw my gun, I’ve no need to make additional noise if I can help it, and besides, bound together like that double zombie Santa has a turning circle wider than the average cruise ship, so I’m past them before they’ve even started to manoeuvre after me.

Unfortunately in the process I kick a discarded shopping bag across the floor, making enough noise to…well, you know.

Four of them shamble out of a branch of Make’Oeuvre. The woman in the lead wears a bib, and one side of her waxy blue complexion is a different shade to the other. She totters on heels so high that I imagine she shambled like a zombie even before she was dead.

I draw my zip gun. It’s homemade but I trust the maker with my life. I shoot makeover zombie in the knee. Headshots are a gamble, but a kneecap will always slow a zombie to a crawl.

She drops. A fat man in a tacky Christmas jumper trips over her and lands flat on his face.

That leaves two; myriad designer bags still dangle from their wrists slowing them down. Two kneecaps later and I’m on the move again, running this time, even as more and more of the shopping dead appear out of the gloom. Nobody knows exactly how many people were infected in here; six hundred is a conservative assessment. I need a distraction.

The escalators are clear so it’s safe to turn towards the oncoming tide, and damn it’s almost a tsunami, a wall of corpses shambling inexorably towards me.

It takes an effort of will but I turn my torches off. I can still hear them though, although there’s a shift in the timbre of their moaning. Confusion. Zombie eyesight isn’t great, but they’ll keep coming unless I give them something else to chase.

I throw the bounzer over their heads. It doesn’t go off until it lands. My friend Zoe makes more selling these than the zip guns. Multi-coloured lights flash in the distance; a jingling tune plays. It’s supposed to be for babies or dogs; zombies are a bit like both. The moaning increases in volume as they turn, en masse, to follow the pretty lights. Still I hold my breath for a few seconds more before softly padding downstairs.

* * *

I have another bounzer but I hold it in reserve. I keep my lights off and my gun in hand. I can see shapes moving in the gloom, hear the occasional moan. They’re reacting to the earlier gunshots and the bounzer which is still playing Ring a Ring o’ Roses upstairs, and they don’t seem to notice me as I slip quietly past.

Toy Horde was a magical place for much of my childhood but it’s gone downhill somewhat; the windows grubby and broken. Strings of Christmas tree lights that had been strung above the entrance must have fallen at some point and the wire now stretches across the doorway, the bulbs are dead as zombie eyes. My dad struggles against the wire. That’s just like him.

He sees me and strains harder against the makeshift barrier. It’s curious to see eyes that are at once lifeless, yet filled with unfathomable hunger. He’s my dad, but he’s a stranger too, a slavering monster dressed in my father’s skin.

His grunting will attract others, I need to hurry. The zip gun’s still in my right hand. I holster it and pick up the Toy Horde carrier bag he obviously dropped when he walked into the Christmas tree lights.

I don’t look at him; I only have eyes for the shiny plastic box. “Better late than never, dad,” I mutter softly. He moans in reply.

With reverence I slip the box into my rucksack. A mint condition Action Ahmed Astronaut figure is the rarest of the rare; it’s going to be a flush Christmas.

I head back towards the escalators. Behind me dad’s groans intensify. I like to think he’s expressing pride in my enterprise rather than frustration that he can’t eat me, but either way he’ll prove a handy distraction while I slip away. Merry zombie Christmas, dad…

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted: December 24, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

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Ok, before we start a mild warning. I’m not going out of my way to spoil anything about this film, however I can’t be held responsible for anything I might inadvertently give away that I don’t find particularly spoilery but you might, so feel free to err on the side of caution if you’re at all worried and check back after you see The Force Awakens.

Still here? Ok then…

A long time ago in a…ok let’s skip that part. The Force Awakens picks up the story approximately thirty years after the end of The Return of the Jedi. Sadly the peace promised by cheery Ewok tunes did not last long. From the ruins of the Empire has arisen The First Order, they look like the Empire, they sound like the Empire, but in actual fact they’re potentially a lot nastier than the Empire ever were, as an early massacre demonstrates. Plus they can shoot straight, be afraid, be very afraid!

Luckily though there’s a resistance movement and one of their agents, ace X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) has secured information vital to the fight against the First Order. Unfortunately before you can say “help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” Poe is captured by the First Order’s sinister agent Kylo Ren, a man with a nifty Vader-like mask who carries a lightsabre (and he is most assuredly not afraid to use it).

Luckily Poe entrusted the information to his trusty droid, the unbelievable cute BB-8. Soon BB-8 has some new friends, in the form of hardened scavenger Rey (Ridley) and Stormtrooper with a heart Finn (Boyega), but can they get the information to the resistance, and can anyone stand against Kylo Ren and the rest of the First Order?

Star Wars is something that’s played a major part in the lives of so many people over the years, but to those of us there at the beginning it holds a major place in their hearts. I was six or seven the first time I saw that Star Destroyer over Tatooine, the first time I clapped eyes on Darth Vader and fell in love with Princess Leia. I didn’t hate the prequels, in fact I rather like bits of them, but it’s fair to say I was a little disappointed.

But, you know what, that’s to be expected, right? How could I possibly feel the same way about a Star Wars film as I did when I was a child? No, it wasn’t the prequels that were at fault, it was the fact that I grew up.

Codswallop.

The first thing to say about Force Awakens is this, it made me feel like a kid again, in fact it still makes me feel like a kid a week after I saw it and I hope to catch it again very soon.

Because it’s good. Very good.

Trying to refresh a franchise like this is always a tricky task, as is trying to introduce a new cast of characters to an audience pretty much wedded to the originals. With this in mind you can see why Disney chose Abrams to helm this first entry in a new trilogy. Opinions vary but on the whole this is the man who reinvigorated Trek in 2009, sure Into Darkness might have been a touch ropey in places, but his first Trek film is in my top five of the franchise.

He has a lot to pack into Force Awakens, but he manages it admirably for the most part. He’s helped by a great script he co-wrote with Michael Arndt and Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan. He’s helped by fantastic special effects and a crew of hundreds, maybe even thousand most likely. But most of all he’s helped by a great bunch of actors.

It’s tempting to jump straight in and talk about Luke, Han and Leia, but that would be unfair to the newcomers, because without them this little ‘experiment’ in nostalgia might have been just that.

Daisy Ridley is quite a find, she’s a great actress who puts her heart and soul into the role of Rey, a woman abandoned on a desolate world, a woman who doesn’t want to trust anyone one else, a woman still waiting for…well you’ll see. At times you almost mistake her for Keira Knightly (that’s a compliment in my book by the way) although for the most part she’s her own woman, and it’s great to see such a strong female character leading the line (shame about the merchandising which seems to want to exclude her, but that’s by the by.) By her side for most of the film is Finn, and if Ridley is quite a find then so is John Boyega as our redeemed Stormtrooper. He’s great, wide eyed and heroic yet lacking direction, lacking something to believe in.

Personally as a middle aged white guy I love that the two primary characters in this are a woman and a black man, and their chemistry is fantastic. There’s a hint of romance there but it never overshadows them, and I love that neither one of them feels like the other’s sidekick, they’re pretty much equals throughout. Finn also has a great little bromance going on with Poe, and if there’s a problem with Isaac’s character it’s that we don’t see enough of him!

All protagonists need an antagonist and the force Awakens has antagonists in spades! There’s the aforementioned Kylo Ren, and Adam Driver does a good job of giving us a character who might look like Vader, but is quite different. There’s no ice cool evil here, Kylo Ren is an angry young man, a VERY angry young man. She never takes her helmet off, but Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie injects a lot of menace into Captain Phasma. There’s also Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a First Order officer with more than a hint of Tarkin about him. The only misstep villainy wise is Supreme Leader Snoke, a computer generated character that even Andy Serkis can’t seem to salvage.

Oh yeah and there are some old guys in it you may have heard of…

When I heard Luke, Leia and Han were going to be in this I suppose my biggest fear is that there’d just be a five minute, handing over the torch style cameo, but as it turns out they all get meaty roles, oh sure some are meatier than others, and one in particular is more about set up for the next film but still, as much as this film is about Rey and Finn it’s also about Han, Luke and Leia (And Chewie, and R2-D2 and C3-P0). The pick of the bunch is Harrison Ford though, who slips so easily back into the role of Han Solo that you wonder where the man has been for the last ten or twenty years because it’s been a while since I saw him this assured.

Han bounces well off Finn and Rey, and also let’s not forget Chewbacca. He might be hidden under fur, might not have any actual lines, but Peter Mayhew is great, and Chewie gets some of the funniest moments in the film, usually when he’s rolling his eyes at Han.

I could rattle on some more but really you don’t need to read what I have to say, you need to go and see the film, a film I really think most people are going to love. It’s funny and tragic, exciting and, on occasion, thoughtful. It’s action packed yet never loses sight of the characters, putting them at the heart of the story, complimenting them with the effects rather than the other way around, which is when Star Wars always excels.

The best thing I can say is that, and believe me when I say this is said from the heart as a great compliment, Star Wars The Force Awakens plays like the best session ever of the Star Wars role playing game ever, an all-new story set in a very familiar universe, featuring familiar faces alone the way.

Sure there’s not enough of certain characters (one who shall remain nameless but also R2 and CPO, though I did mention how adorable BB-8 is, right?) Snoke feels out of place, and some elements feel a bit rushed (seriously travel between planets was never this fast befofre) and the inclusion of yet another super weapon feels like one homage too many in a film of homages, but I’m being really, REALLY picky.

Am I just being a sucker for nostalgia? Maybe. Am I just being hoodwinked by the slick Disney Machine? Possibly. Really though I don’t think it’s either of those things. I think this is just a great film. If you haven’t seen it yet, see it soon! If you have seen it, see it again.

And may the Force be with you!

The Illustrated Man

Posted: December 22, 2015 in Book reviews
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By Ray Bradbury

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It’s a sad admission that I haven’t read nearly enough classic fiction, something I am making the occasional inroads into, so when I saw a copy of this I decided to go for it. Initially I think I always though The Illustrated Man was a novel, much like Something Wicked or Fahrenheit 451, but in actual fact it’s a short story collection originally published in the early 1950s.

The titular Illustrated Man refers to a former carnival show freak who had images tattooed over most of his body, only thanks to some supernatural l force the tattoos move and tell stories. This is used as a framing device at the beginning and end, and at points in between, with each story effectively being another tattoo.

It feels almost blasphemous to say this given how revered Bradbury is as an author, but I have to say that I found the quality of the stories to be quite variable. When they’re good they are very good, but some are quite poor.

In part this is down to certain stories feeling quite dated, which isn’t really Bradbury’s fault given they weren’t when he wrote them! In spite of this there’s more than a hint of prescience about some of them. The standout amongst these is “The Veldt” a futuristic tale of a father’s concerns about the overuse and over reliance of his children on a virtual reality room. It’s almost timeless and frankly you could substitute social media, computer gaming or a whole host of other ‘modern’ concerns and the story would still flow as well.

At the other end of the spectrum is “The Other Foot”, the tale of a colony of black people on Mars who plan to institute segregation when an apocalypse on Earth prompts an influx of white settlers. I’m sure at the time it was very forward thinking, unfortunately reading it with a 21st century eye it’s almost wince inducing in its heavy handedness.

Stories I liked include “The Long Rain” featuring men on Venus, a planet deluged by near constant rain. Bradbury’s prose is excellent here, and I could almost feel the constant pounding of raindrops against my skin by the end. “Kaleidoscope” is about a group of astronauts who survive a rocket explosion only to be faced with drifting to their deaths in space. I wasn’t remotely surprised to find out that this story prompted part of the script to Dark Star. There’s also “The Fox and the Forest” featuring a couple who escape a dictatorial regime by escaping into the past, but the agents of the regime are on their tail.

More than one story has the feel of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits about it, especially “The Playground” “Marionettes, Inc.” and “The Visitor”. Given the era these stories were written in this isn’t really surprising.

As with any anthology you’re bound to find something you like here, and even though I found some stories a bit of a chore to read (for example “Usher II” and “No Particular Night or Morning”) the next story along was usually more engaging. Bradbury had a keen imagination and if his prose can seem a little stilted and old fashioned at times this is unavoidable given the stories were written over 60 years ago.

To my mind it’s not a classic but it was a diverting enough read with enough variation in its stories to keep me engaged.

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This isn’t so much a film review as a theory relating to Spectre, and more specifically the motivations of the main villain. Whether or not you’re read my actual review of Spectre I would urge you not to read on unless you’ve seen the film because, unlike with my reviews which I try to make as spoiler free as I can, this particular posting will be full of spoilers.

Seriously don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film!

Ok, if you’re still here I can assume you’ve either seen the 24th official James Bond film or you just don’t care.

I’ve seen Spectre three times now and frankly I seem to enjoy it a little more each time. Don’t get me wrong I liked it the first time just fine, but I found the villain’s motivations a trifle lame. As quite a few people have said, the fact that Blofeld’s motivation for wanting to kill Bond come down to daddy issues is somewhat poor, especially given that Skyfall gave us a villain with mommy issues.

But what has become increasingly apparent to me is that Blofeld doesn’t really give a damn about 007, other than insofar as Bond is meddling with his plans. By the end of the film I think things have shifted slightly, which I guess has a lot to do with Bond’s exploding Omega halving his eye quotient and providing old Ernst Stavro with a fetching facial scar, but at least initially I’d argue it isn’t about Bond at all.

Oh no, it’s about Madeline Swann.

Think about it. Mr Hinx and his goons travel to Austria and kidnap Madeline from under Bond’s nose. Why? If they’re worried about what she might tell Bond (and as we know she doesn’t know a great deal) why not just take out 007, or why not simply kill her? Yes there are a couple of henchmen who are shadowing Q, but no one seems to be concentrating on Bond which seems a trifle odd.

Fast forward to the train journey where Mr Hinx turns up again and attacks Bond and Madeline whilst they’re at dinner. Now this doesn’t make a whole heap of sense given that Blofeld seems quite keen on Bond and Madeline making it to his secret lair. Unless of course the aim of this attack isn’t to kill both of them, oh no, rather it’s to take Bond out of the picture, leaving Mr Hinx to deliver Madeline to Blofeld.

Now of course Bond, with more than a little help from Madeline, takes care of Mr Hinx and both of them make it to Blofeld’s lair, and what’s one of the first things Blofeld does? Oh sure there’s some verbal sparring with James, but he seems more interested in torturing Madeline with video footage of her father’s death.

Which brings us to Bond strapped to a chair whilst Blofeld tortures him, except…is Blofeld really that interested in hurting Bond, or is hurting Bond just a means to an end? Just look how much agony Madeline is in watching Bond get hurt (and Léa Seydoux sells it wonderfully). And what does Blofeld plan to do? He’s very specific; he wants to destroy the portion of Bond’s brain that enables him to recognise faces, so he won’t recognise her. But as Blofeld says, aren’t all those women interchangeable anyway? Irrespective of what Bond does/doesn’t feel for Madeline, Blofeld at least seems convinced that she’s in love with him. So ask yourself, who will be hurt more by Blofeld’s designated torture, the man who won’t recognise the woman he loves, or the woman who’ll have to look the man she loves in the eye and know he doesn’t have a clue who she is? I’d argue the latter.

But why does Blofeld have such a desire to hurt Madeline? Well I think this is pretty obvious once you link two separate conversations together.

Firstly when they’re on the train Madeline explains why she doesn’t like guns. When she was a child a man came to their house to kill her father, little realising that she was upstairs, or that there was a gun hidden under the sink.

Skip forward ten or fifteen minutes and note the conversation between Blofeld and Madeline.

Blofeld: I first met you when you were a child. I came to your house to see your father.
Madeline: I don’t remember that.
Blofeld: I do

And if you needed more proof just look at the expression on each character’s face during this exchange. So, it seems quite likely that, when she was a child, Madeline shot and wounded Blofeld and he’s held a grudge ever since.

But…but…but! You exasperate, clearly Blofeld had daddy issues and fake brother issues with Bond, and…and…

Well yes, but it seems pretty clear he got past them. He felt his father betrayed him so he killed him. As for 007, well let’s be honest here. Bond hasn’t been in hiding, he’s been in plain sight for years, so if Blofeld has such a hard on about killing him it begs the question, why has he never tried to have him eliminated? The simple answer is that he simply isn’t that bothered until Bond contrives to put himself in Blofeld’s sights. Madeline Swann on the other hand has been in hiding, until Bond conveniently leads Hinx and co right to her door (nice one, James.)

Now this is pure conjecture on my part, so whilst this may have been the writers’ intention, it’s just as possible that I’m twisting the facts to fit my own theory. All I know is that having this idea in mind actually makes Blofeld a better character than if he’s just still dealing with the fact that his daddy wuved little Jamie-Wamie more than him.

My novella The Lazarus Conundrum has now been on sale for over a month, yet I still keep having to pinch myself to realise it’s true!

Clipboard011In case you don’t know, The Lazarus Conundrum features a world where everyone who dies becomes a zombie, until a young woman named Trinity Brown is shot dead and, shock horror, doesn’t come back to life! Cue the arrival of Detective Inspector Helen Ogilvy to investigate.

It’s a police procedural with a twist,featuring a quasi-fascist NHS, ruminations on big brother and snoopers’ charters and even ventures into high school shooting territory, albeit with an un-dead twist.

At the moment The Lazarus Conundrum is on sale at a bargain price (just 99p in the UK and $1.50 in the US) so why not grab your copy while you can, and if you read and enjoy the book please consider leaving a brief review, I’m reliably informed that Amazon reviews really help in publicising a book!

In other news I am now on Twitter! If you want to follow me just look for @lunar_werewolf  and you can stalk me to your heart’s content!

Black Mass

Posted: December 6, 2015 in Film reviews
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Directed by Scott Cooper. Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch

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In 1970s’ Boston James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is a minor crime boss, with his Winter Hill Gang controlling much of the South Side, however when old friend, turned FBI agent, John Connolly (Edgerton) arrives back in his home town to make a name for himself, he offers Bulger a deal, the Winter Hill Gang can get a free pass to do whatever they want, just so long as Bulger helps the FBI take down the Mafioso linked Angiulo Brothers who control much of the city.

Bulger agrees but as the years pass the Winter Hill Gang takes control of more and more crime in Boston, and whilst Connelly’s intentions may have originally been noble, he finds himself sliding ever closer to the dark side, whilst Bulger’s vicious rampage claims more and more lives. Meanwhile Bulger’s brother William (Cumberbatch), an important city politician, tries to steer clear of being tainted by his brother’s crimes.

 

I really wanted to like this. The period setting, a true life tale of vicious gangsters, a gritty drama featuring a bravura performance by an actor stepping outside of his recent comfort zone, a cast of great character actors…

About a third of the way in I started to worry, because the film just wasn’t grabbing me, despite the fact that there’s a lot to like about it. The sets and costumes are spot on, evoking an America now long gone, and it’s hard to quibble over most of the performances. In particular Edgerton is the standout with his portrayal of a law enforcer who can’t forget his roots, a man seduced by money and success, who, in the end, values career advancement and loyalty to a childhood friend over his duty to uphold the law, and even above his relationship with his wife (a sorely underused Julianne Nicholson) and however much this might be perceived as a film about Bulger, to me Connolly’s story is the more fascinating one.

Story wise the film has issues, which is both odd and understandable given it’s based on a true story. For one thing the film seems more eager to show us the individual acts of violence committed by Bulger, yet the wider story of the Winter Hill Gang is rarely glimpsed, so it’s hard to get a feel for just how much of a criminal empire Bulger controlled and he comes across less a mafia don than a cheap, local thug. Similarly skipping lots of years contributes to the story being somewhat disjointed. Clearly the filmmakers felt that the death of someone close to him had an impact on Bulger (though it seem clear he was a nasty piece of work even before tragedy struck) yet immediately after the event we jump forwards several years, meaning we don’t see the immediate impact it may, or may not, have had, and it’s barely mentioned again.

Similarly the relationship between the Bulger brothers seems fascinating, yet Cumberbatch’s presence appears like an afterthought rather than something that could have been focused on more. Benedict gives it his all but he can’t help but feel slightly out of place, in part because Billy is so different to his brother, in part because of all the actors he’s the one who probably has to put more effort into his accent, but mainly because we don’t see enough of him, and barely see the two men together. Plus because Cumberbatch is so popular at the moment it’s harder to see the character meaning he stands out amongst a retinue of great character actors, and not in a good way, meanwhile Edgerton, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll and even Kevin Bacon just seem more natural in their roles.

Which brings us to Depp. There is a lot to like about his performance, but for me I could never quite forget that I was watching a performance. It isn’t even so much that I could never forget I was watching Johnny Depp (heck at one point I actually thought it was Di Caprio inhabiting the role so there’s a compliment) so much as I could never forget I was watching a man swathed in latex.

The makeup might make him look like Bulger, but it also serves to distance the character from us. He never quite feels real. Much has been said about him looking like Nosferatu, or some similar bogeyman, and that’s true—and clearly Bulger was a monster. The trouble is that whilst an out and out horror movie can get away with such a monster, in a grounded film like this it just feels wrong and actually serves to make him less threatening.

Still this does remind you that Depp can act, and in places the sense of tension is heightened—in particular a conversation late on with Connolly’s wife is just dripping with treat, as is the all too brief involvement of Juno Temple as a young hooker—the trouble is these scenes come a little too late in the film. It’s also quite obvious that the director has seen a lot of Scorsese films and at times Black Mass strays a little too close to Goodfellows for my liking.

It’s a solid, entertaining enough film, I just can’t help thinking it might have been so much more, and I also can’t help thinking that it would have been better if Depp had relied more on performance and less on prosthetics.