Tag Archives: Literature

Of The Night by Mark Simmons

Hello all,

It’s been a while.

Time for a shameless plug of my debut novel: Of The Night.

Available from:

AMAZON UK:
 AMAZON USA:

Whitfield Creed had never been one to believe in such things as luck. Yet when he wakes to find he’s hung from a meat hook, in a warehouse, he can’t help but feel his luck may have run out.

A chance meeting with the wrong people immerses Whitfield in an underworld that he had presumed to be no more than folklore. Yet these creatures exist and with eternal life have manipulated mankind from the shadows through the millennia’s.

Trying to come to terms with the way these creatures occupy their eternity Whitfield must live amongst their ranks. With the elders of this ancient society bickering with one another and the constant threat of execution hanging over his head he must try to survive. Whilst also accepting his own immortality.

Of The Night is the debut horror novel by Mark Simmons and is a Tour De force of thrills and scares that will leave the reader breathless and begging for the morning.

Hope you enjoy.

M.

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Censoring a Book Cover?

So what are the grounds for censoring a book cover according to Amazon?

A question that is asked by Rayne Hall in the below guest article.

Please read and share this information.

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Amazon’s censors find this book cover offensive.

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Yes, you’ve read this right. I was as astonished as you when I received the email. I had to read it several times before I grasped that they meant it. A quick glance at the calendar assured me that the first of April was well past.

Amazon gave no explanation beyond a vague reference to guidelines, and when I asked for one, I received only silence.

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The book has been published since 2013. with this cover, and been part of several promotions and advertising campaigns on Amazon. The censors didn’t voice an objection when I submitted to book for publication, and they accepted it for promotion and advertising campaigns… until now.

Suddenly, they’ve clamped down and refused.

I read and re-read the guidelines for covers Amazon deems acceptable. I see no rule against pictures of dolls, or against the colours orange and blue, or against the Oregon font. So what rule could this possibly offend against?

When I tweeted about this, everyone responded with the same bafflement.

Tweets

So what triggered the censors? It must be one of these.

1. Perhaps the cover is not “high quality, professional, and visually appealing”? I think the painting by artist Xteve Abanto meets all three criteria, but perhaps I’m mistaken – what do you think?

2. Maybe the text is not “easily understandable to the average customer”? It doesn’t strike me as difficult to understand the words “Thirty Scary Tales”. but maybe Amazon rates its customers’ intelligence lower than I do?

3. The fact that the cover depicts a doll may have triggered a censor’s dirty imagination, conjuring up fantasies of adult toys. The doll’s parted lips might qualify as “poses that may be suggestive of sexual behavior”.

4. Perhaps Amazon uses robots to censor books?

The automated scan may identified the doll’s head as a human face with the high forehead, small nose and large eyes of a child and flagged it up as “Images of human or animal abuse, mistreatment, or distress”. But would Amazon allow a robot to censor a book without a human taking a closer look first?

5. Maybe it was an honest mistake by a human censor who was over-tired, barely able to keep his or her eyes open that day, whose exhausted brain saw something that wasn’t there. But if that was the case, surely Amazon would have replied to my query with an apology and corrected the error at once… at least I would hope so.

6. “Foul, vulgar, or obscene language” – perhaps the word “tales” is vulgar? Or maybe “thirty” has an obscene meaning that I’m not aware of?

7. The rules forbid “excessive blood, injuries, mutilations, guts, corpses, and weapons being used in a violent or threatening manner” – maybe the cracks in the doll’s head are so much more gruesome than the axe-split human skulls on thousands of other covers?

8. Images hinting at “sensitive topics such as hormonal development or changes” are forbidden. Could it be that the censor thinks the crack in the doll’s face and the open eye are caused by hormones?

Rejection

So far, Amazon hasn’t banned my book, only refused to advertise it. Readers can still buy it on Amazon for 99c. viewBook.at/30ScaryTales

But I’m concerned that this may only be the first step. Amazon may remove the book from sale next – and after that, those of other indie authors.

I’m hoping that if we protest loudly enough, and spread the word in the social media, Amazon will reconsider not only this particular book cover, but its approach to censorship.

What do you think is the reason for Amazon’s censorship of this cover – one of the eight possibilities I’ve thought of, or something else altogether? Do you personally find it offensive?

I’ll be grateful if you could share this post on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

Rayne

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Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

You can follow here on Twitter http://twitter.com/RayneHall where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

To see her books on Amazon, go to viewAuthor.at/RayneHall .

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“Update”

At last, someone at Amazon responded. Three weeks of trying to get a statement from the advertising department or any other part of Amazon had brought only silence. After three weeks, an email addressed to Jeff Bezos finally brought a reply from the Executive Customer Department:

> In this case, your ad was not approved because a general audience may find the cover image for “Thirty Scary Tales” to be violent or disturbing.<

Huh? A doll’s head is too violent or disturbing? For readers of horror fiction?

What do you think? Can the general audience browsing horror books on Amazon cope with seeing cracks in the head of a doll?

Whaling in the 19th Century.

And Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbours!

HERMAN MELVILLE

Whaling in the 19th Century


About seven weeks ago I signed up to become a member of a Nantucket Whaling vessel called the Pequod with the intention of sailing about a little and seeing the watery part of the world. A man from Toulouse whom I had befriended a few months before I set sail had taken a similar voyage and had recommended that if I had nothing else to do with my time I should take up a comparable trip. Previous conversations I had held with companions over taking on such a challenge had swayed me away from the idea as they called it a most tedious of vacations. Now this decision was not made on a whim. I had looked into the matter a number of years before but bad press and the advice of others had kept my temptation at bay. The first hand opinions of this same said Frenchman changed that decision and before long I was sailing out of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean.

I knew that it was going to be a long and sometimes laborious journey but instead of struggling through my time on board I embraced the adventure and before I had had a chance to reconsider my actions I had already completed one fifth of my charter. My time was spent at within this period in the company of a fellow called Ishmael who was also signing up for his first Whaling trip but by no means his maiden voyage as he would gale me with stories of how he had himself come to be afloat. The highlight of his tales being how he befriended a Harpooner from one of the South Pacific Islands despite their differences on deities and military victory celebrations. Queequeg was the man’s name a fine specimen and a greater swimmer I never be met, in the prime of his life and of a tall athletic build his dark skin covered in the tattoos of his people. Yet the words on everyone’s lips were of the whereabouts of our Captain as his appearance from below deck had yet to happen.

Once we reached the deep oceans though all talk and speculation was disregarded as constant tasks presented themselves and required my complete attention, mainly the studying of the various types of prey that we would be hunting all over this blue carpet of the world. Soon I was up to speed with the many variations of these leviathans that rise to the surface and share the same air as us inferiorly sized apes. Not just their appearance and levels of aggression were taught to me but also the value of their bodies after our crew had successfully hunted and farmed them. The one species that held the highest price above all others and due to this had become the most hunted was the mighty Sperm Whale. Spermaceti is found in the head cavity of Cachalot and it is this substance that has become big business as it is used to fuel the lamps that illuminate our growing society.

I am not a squeamish man but even my strong stomach could not prepare me for the first time I saw the methods for removing the highly valued substance from these majestic creatures. Even now I cannot go into the details of it as the systematic slaughter and butchery haunts me still.

When the call came and the hunting began we finally met our leader as Captain Ahab stepped out onto his deck. He was a man lost in his own cause and by no means someone who would be call approachable, but his intentions were made very clear to everyone that he was hunting a very specific whale, one that had taken his leg and almost his life on his last voyage. The White Whale named Moby Dick.

The crew gave the old Captain little regard at first but once he nailed a Gold Doubloon to the mast and announced that the first man to raise the aforementioned Whale would receive the affixed 8 Ecuadorian Escudos they paired more attention to what he had to say.

We hunted and hunted and then hunted again.

Supply and demand of Spermaceti has flooded the oceans with ships and judging by my experience of how many our crew alone slaughtered the animal may soon be in trouble of sharing the same fate as other creatures of similar size. To see such an amazing creature taken from us completely would be a travesty but inevitability if they are hunted with this continued intensity.

Adverse weather greeted us in the Pacific Ocean as a Typhoon nearly tore us apart and we lost a man amongst the maelstrom. This was treated as a bad omen by the crew but a storm could not quench Ahab’s thirst for revenge, neither could the faces of men who had fought and lost to the white beast passing by in other ships. We met two vessels that had been defeated by the monster and both painted a sullen picture. Until finally the day came and the object of Ahab’s obsession rose from the depths to finish what it had started with his leg to which the crews manned their boats, descended into the water and the chase was on.

For three days we gave chase to Moby Dick and in that time there was a series of failures, including the wrecking of a boat and the death of a shipmate but a harpoon was landed into the hulk of the creature landed by Ahab himself but his rage now became all-consuming as more than ever his hatred for the whale forced him to act blindly without regard to his crew.

Finally the chase came to its conclusion as Moby Dick drew Ahab and all his forces in close before he smote the starboard side of the Pequod with the buttress of his giant forehead. My own ears heard the waters pour in through the breach and my eyes soon saw the damage as the ship quickly sunk down towards its aquatic end and as the cold swept in around me the vessel’s bulk pulled me down into a final descent.

Yet now I look up through the murk towards the great shroud of the sea rolling on as it has for thousands of years.


Viewer

Viewer


Detective Inspector Walter Bambridge stepped past two uniformed officers into the room cast in darkness that had until recently been someone’s home but was now nothing more than a crime scene. A rank odour greeted him as he passed over the threshold, not the usual reek of death that after five years on homicide he still couldn’t get use to, but the smell of grease and left over food. To his right a tiny space that could hardly be called a kitchen seemed to be the cause of the unpleasant fragrance as piles of dirty dishes flooded out of the sink and across every surface. The hallway continued on past the kitchen and Walter paused at what looked like a door but as he looked closer it became apparent to him that it was in fact a set of hanging beads that were being used as a room divider. He parted them with his gloved hand and passed through the makeshift doorway. The beads clattered against each other as he let them go adding sound to the quiet room. Weak light from the nearest streetlamp crept in through the thin curtains from the window to his left casting various shapes in front of him. Walter reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the miniature torch that resided there. With a click the beam came to life and illuminated a lounge that had been shown as little housekeeping as the kitchen he had just passed. A Television ten years past its best sat in one corner, a coffee table littered with all manner of fast food and confectionary wrappers lay between the Television and a worn along the arms and cushions sofa. More rubbish was scattered across the floor and Walter had to shine the light at his feet so that he didn’t stand on any possible evidence. In the same room but to his right a double bed looked like it had seen better days and had also recently been used. The light cast across the dishevelled sheets, revealing various stains that appeared to have been ground into the fabric, before resting on the discoloured pillows. Walter held the light on a substance that was scattered all over the pillows and with careful footing moved around the bed to get a better look. A full head of hair looked to have been shaved from someone’s skull and was scattered all over the top end of the bed. He considered this image as the sound of the hanging beads rattled their tune and another figure entered the room.

Detective Constable Cynthia Lawrence couldn’t help but turn her nose up at the hideous state that was before her and she had to dip into all her reserves of willpower not to begin cleaning up the mess. She surveyed the room and her eyes soon fell onto the torch lit bed and her superior officer crouching down next to it.

‘What we got, sir?’ Cynthia asked as she shone her own light around the scene.

‘I’m not sure yet.’ Walter turned his light towards her. ‘But watch your feet as there’s crap all over the place.’

Cynthia guided her beam to the floor and skipped her way around the piles of junk so that she could be at Walter’s side.

‘Got a whole lot of human hair all over the pillows, looks like someone did some barber work.’ He paused and turned his torch towards the only other area of the small flat that he had not yet searched, the bathroom. ‘Our victim must be in there.’

Together they approached the closed door; Walter reached out and turned the handle then pushed the door open. A weak strip light gave off some light from above a small sink but the bathroom could be called anything but well lit. There torch light moved across the pristine floor, sink and finally rested on the bathtub or more precisely what hung over the tub. Her legs had been tied at the ankles, the rope cutting deep into her flesh as the whole weight of her body was taken by the knot. The pale nakedness of her form had been disturbed at various pointed by a series of deep cuts made at very specific parts of her anatomy. One along each upper thigh, another across the left side of her mid abdomen, a further two down each of her wrists and a final cut athwart her throat. Her head had been shaved and a look of disbelief stared out at them from her vacant eyes.

Walter got closer and looked at the interior of the bath. ‘Where’s all the blood?’

Cynthia stood by his side and examined the tub. Not a single drop of blood blemished the white surface, the whole area gleamed under the torch light, plughole and taps all spotless. She looked around at the rest of the room and the same clean surfaces as the bathtub were on the floor and even the sink. ‘This room doesn’t fit with the rest of the flat. It’s spotless.’

‘Yeah, they cleaned up after themselves.’ Walter placed a hand on the victim’s right arm and studied the incision. ‘She’s been cleaned too.’ Walter shone the light into the plughole and leant forward to get a better look down the hole. ‘We’ll need Forensics to confirm but I don’t think any of the blood went down there.’ He stood and looked around the room. ‘They took it with them.’


In Sides by Orbital. 1996

In Sides by Orbital. 1996


With some music it may only take the first few bars of the track, they somehow just sink into your soul and before you know it you’re hooked. Others can sometimes be more of a slow burner that takes time and a multitude of listens for it all to sink in. Whereas some music no matter how hard you try just does not sit right in your ears and will never get your toes tapping or your hips swinging.

I had one such song get into my head from the moment I heard it used on Channel 5 for a TV promotion of a Canadian Sci-fi show called L.E.X.X. which suited the music perfectly as images of spaceships, aliens and planets exploding helped add some visual stimulation to the audio stimulating that was already going on due to the music. As soon as I heard it I became obsessed with finding out what the name of the song was and more importantly who it was so that I could listen to more of their material.

Many moons later a friend of mine at the time had a party to celebrate his parents being away for the weekend, a regular occurrence in my social circle when I was fifteen and during the festivities the song in question was played. I immediately went over to my friend and asked what was playing and after a confab with the pile of cassette boxes he found the one in we were looking for. He told me that the Album for called In Sides and it was by a group called Orbital but he could not tell me the name of the song as he only had a copy with no track listings. I was one step closer to finding out the name of this song that had been banging around in my head.

My next step was getting some money together so that I could go buy the album so I did what any reasonable level headed person would do and only spent half of my dinner money every day for the next month. Now whether having a lunch diet of chocolate bars and crisps at one of the most important times in my body’s growth was a good idea remains to be seen as I think going out and getting a job would have been a much smarter option, but I was not the brightness throughout my adolescence. Not having a decent diet I would imagine contributed to that. But I did manage to get the money together and at the end of the month I went looking for it.

Searching high and low throughout my local record shop Ian’s Music I could not seem to find the album. Finally I got tired of looking so I asked at the counter if they had it but found out that it was out of stock so I asked them to order it in for me.  I was told it would take a week for the CD to come in which at the time crushed me, being so close and yet still having to wait, but after months of waiting what was one more week? A week passed, money was exchanged and a CD of In Sides by Orbital became my property.

It is a great feeling when a song that has been in your head bugging you for months finally has its name revealed to you. I think that I listened to The Box Part 2 on repeat for an entire evening. Once I had got that out of my system I had a listen to the rest of the album and was blown away.

Where to start with what I like about this album? I guess for a start it is the fluidity of the album that impresses me as from track to track it flows delivering one fine piece after another. After listening from start to finish I felt bad for skipping straight to The Box Part 2 upon first playing it as the album works so well in the order it is in and by jumping straight to track 4 I may have ruined the original playing a touch. That aside it was still an amazing experience. Also, the way that Orbital delivers their music could almost be called orchestral as songs will slowly build up to a crescendo before fading out into silence. Their material has an elegant way of not finishing how it has started with some people calling them long winded but I myself rarely notice the duration of each track as I get lost in them.

By far the best way to enjoy the album is through a decent pair of earphones, preferably sound excluding ones, so that you can really take in all the sounds and get a real good feeling for each track as well as listening to how the album flows. But equally it is music that can be played through a stereo, I just find earphones preferable.

Being taken on a journey each time I listen to the album in its entirety is one of the main reasons I love it as my mind drifts off to places that only I will ever see. It is an album that I will listen to while I type out the inane nonsense that filters out of my mind onto this page, an album that I cannot describe in any way than inspiring.

In short, get hold of a copy, have a listen, preferable using a good pair of earphones and hopefully it will change your perception on things and give you the feeling of escapism that it gives me. It is a massive influence on my musical history and was a doorway into an area of Electronica music that still has high status in my opinions.


Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness. A Film by John Carpenter.


When people talk about John Carpenter Movies they will invariably mention Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13 and rightly so as they are all examples of Horror and suspense at its cinematic finest. However, I feel that there is not enough noise made about one of his most underrated and overlooked pieces. Prince of Darkness.

Receiving poor reviews upon its release in 1987 the critics said that they found the piece surprisingly cheesy and that it was not up to Carpenter’s usual high standards. In short they tore it apart. I have to disagree with them entirely. From the opening scene right through  to the end credits the feature has an eerie undertone about it. You find yourself constantly on edge and uncomfortable throughout as Carpenter creates what I think is a very intense atmospheric story.

The plot starts with the death of an old Priest from a secret sect called the Brotherhood of Sleep who have been guardians to an undisclosed item that has been kept hidden for centuries. An object so secret that even the Vatican is not aware of its presence. Another Priest is entrusted with the keys to an old church in the downtown Los Angeles area where he discovers an ancient cylinder, full of a strange glowing substance and the container is sealed from the inside. This same priest invites a University Professor with a group of Physics Students and Academics to study the strange object. Their studies uncover that the liquid inside is in fact sentient and is transmitting complex mathematical data to an unknown source.

At the same time news reports that the fallout from a Supernova that exploded thousands of years ago, light years away in deep space has now reached our planet and is causing adverse effects on our global ecosystem. As the story unfolds the liquid is set free and the group must fight for survival as members of their own group become possessed by the liquid. Their exit from the church is blocked by a gang of homeless people, led by Alice Cooper, (yes Alice Cooper!) who are being controlled by the life-force gaining power within. Anyone who tries to leave are set upon by the street people and murdered. All of this culminates in an ending that has such wonderful imagery that it still haunts me whenever I decide on giving it another viewing.

What I particularly like about the movie is the questions it poses in the Science versus Religion argument as the Priest and Professor both give their opinions on what is happening around them and what they can do about it. Ultimately they are both proven wrong. The idea of an ancient Religious artefact being awoken eons of years after its imprisonment by a natural phenomenon that occurred millions of light years away from Earth intrigues me. Is it just coincidence that the essence inside is becoming self-aware or was the explosion of the Star pre-empted by the being in the cylinder and it has been lying in wait for this moment?

The concept of what the substance within the cylinder is and its eventual goal are interesting ideas that have not really been broached particularly in any movie I have seen. If anyone out there knows otherwise please tell me so that I can check it out. I also love the idea of the task that the creature within is trying to achieve once it has been set free. The first time I saw Prince of Darkness it opened up a whole new level of thinking for myself that I had never considered before.

On a lighter note another thing to watch out for during the Movie is the incredible 80’s fashion and hairstyles. Mullets reign supreme and stone-wash Denim rears its ugly head sometimes in Jacket and Jeans combinations. Strangely enough the character in it that would have been called the stereotypical nerd back in 1987 is probably dressed in a style that would be called fashionable in this day and age. It would not be out of the question to see many a Hipster shambling around Shoreditch East London in the exact same outfit.

So in short, watch it, fear it and hopefully love it.


The ‘Burbs.

The ‘Burbs. A film by Joe Dante.


I grew up in what was by no means the rural outskirts of a city and was not within sixty miles of what the government class as a city in England, but it certainly had that feel about it. My childhood residence was in a cul-de-sac so this movie has a very close place not only in my funny bone but also to my youthful years. My folks were by no means people who would twitch curtains and are not what I would call nosy but they certainly had an interest in what went on and still goes on in their little corner of the world. The Burbs takes this nosy neighbour idea, multiplies it by a considerable number, adds paranoia and general boredom to the character’s lives and tops it off with a very American cold war unease but without the actual threat.

What makes this Movie so enjoyable for me is not the plot, as it is pretty singular and you think is only ever going to come to one conclusion, but the different characters that interact within the piece. Each member of the neighbourhood adds their own elements to the story and the comedy, the stressed business man who is taking a week off work to relax only to have his plans dashed by his interfering neighbours. His wife who can see her husband getting more and more worked up by the events unfolding before her and continuously tries to help him relax. The two main culprits that drag her husband into all the stupid games are a Korean War veteran with every type of military equipment available for them to do all the spying that want and his partner in crime a bored house husband with too much time on his hands and an overactive imagination. With the laid-back teenager, painting his parent’s house for the summer whilst they are away, looking in on the whole scenario as if he is almost part of the audience. All of them are spying on and surmising over the movements and habits of the less than social new family on the street with the run down house and unkempt lawn. It is this lack of social interaction that brings about the main plot device. Who are the Klopek’s? When did they move in and how many of them are there?

What I think also draws me to it are the subtle underlying levels of horror and peril that are thrown in throughout posing a very real question that we must all ask ourselves at times. How well do we actually know our neighbours? You may disagree, thinking that it is merely a comedy, but I think that there is a very fine line between horror and comedy. This seems to be a running theme throughout many of Joe Dante’s movies, Gremlins, Innerspace and The Howling all having their roots grounded in comedy but including sinister undertone.

A number of people within my social circle all share the same appreciation for this movie as I do and we have been known to spend an overly long time discussing it, sometimes on a meaningful level, but mostly with jovial recollection.  One of my sisters used to sit and watch it with me when we were younger and my wife beamed about the fond memories the movie gave her the first time we discussed it. A number of my close friends all perk up and discuss it at length when it enters conversation. However, I have also seen people give a very negative opinion about the film and as with most comedy the humour in it is not for everyone. Many a time my sister and I would be watching the movie when my Mother would enter the room and state ‘I hate this film’ in her broad Geordie accent before turning around and exiting the lounge as soon as possible. Another of my sister’s also use to leave the room if we decided ‘The Burbs’ was what was going to be watched, although a lot less vocally than Mum.

The paranoia of the unknown neighbours takes the lead characters measures of finding out more about the Klopek’s to the extreme when they start using night vision goggles to spy on them in the dark. Slip notes under the outcast’s front door, ringing the door bell and then running away like a group of mischievous schoolboys. Forcibly stopping the Bin men from doing their jobs by going through the Klopek’s bins in the middle of the street, in search of any shred of incriminating evidence they can find.

When an elderly neighbour’s dog shows up cold and shaking they presume the worst, thinking that his absence is down to the Klopek’s, so they take it on themselves to check and see if the he is okay. After some snooping around and some breaking and entering they get into the house. Signs of a struggle in the lounge area send the imaginations of the group into overdrive and a whole new bunch of even more outrageous ideas are hatched.

The wives are more sceptical, deciding to put a stop to everything by inviting themselves over to the new Neighbours house and cooking Brownies as a greeting gift. The Klopek’s very reservedly invited their neighbours in offering them pretzels and sardines. What follows are in my opinion moments of comedy gold. Awkward silences and stumbled attempts at pleasantries are the crux of the scene with the social inadequacies of the new family made even more apparent by the invasion of their home. The evening ends when an uninvited guest makes a rather loud entrance through the back garden.

Having had a chance to snoop around the Klopek’s house the husbands hatch a plot to have a more though look around the house when the occupants are away on business the very next day. Again, moments of comic genius unfurl in an over the top and very Hollywood ending.

My conclusion is that if you are at a loss for something to do this coming Sunday why not get hold of a copy of the ‘Burbs, leave all sensible thinking behind you and enjoy this little gem.