I couldn’t help noticing that horror streaming service Shudder has been shouting about the fact they now have VEROTIKA available, so I thought now might be a good time to take another look at it.

In case you are unaware, VEROTIKA is a horror anthology movie directed by Glenn Danzig, vocalist of the hugely influential (and hugely awesome) horror punk band The Misfits and a respected solo artist in his own right.

This film is based on stories originally published in Danzig’s very own VEROTIK comic book line and is, to be blunt, one of the most catastrophically inept films I’ve ever seen.

“But wait,” I hear you say. “This feature is called Salem Recommends. So are you recommending this or aren’t you?”

Allow me to clarify. Yes, this movie may be clunkingly amateurish, abysmally acted and downright confusing, but my god is it entertaining! My first thought after the end titles had rolled was: “I really need to watch this again.” Partly because I couldn’t quite believe what I had just seen, and partly because…

Well, no, it’s just that.

As I said, VEROTIKA is an anthology featuring three terrifying tales linked by a horned goth lady called Morella (played by adult movie star and nude model Kayden Kross).

Incidentally, there are a lot of porn stars in this movie, so checking it out on IMDB makes for a very interesting read.

The first segment is called THE ALBINO SPIDER OF DAJETTE and is the only one to feature an ending. I’m not kidding there. This genuinely is the only story in this anthology to achieve any sort of denouement. The other ones just kind of go on for a bit and then stop.

But before you read on, be warned. Here be spoilers.

THE ALBINO SPIDER OF DAJETTE concerns a young French lady (played by porn star Ashley Wisdom who, in fairness, does a pretty good job with the accent) who has eyes on her boobs instead of nipples. One day, when she’s a bit upset, they cry onto a spider, causing it to mutate into a man-sized human-arachnid hybrid who goes out breaking women’s necks every time Dajette falls asleep.

Yeah. You read that right.

Soon, Paris is living in fear of this mysterious serial killer known only as “The Neckbreaker”, so Dajette has to try and stay awake, lest this foul creature goes out and commits any more murders for which she holds herself partly responsible. She doesn’t last long, however. One of my favourite scenes involves her walking into a coffee shop, sitting down, not having anything, paying and then leaving again.

Dajette, you went in there for coffee and, when offered some, turned it down. What did you just pay for, exactly?

But I digress…

At the climax, she calls the cops to her home and takes an overdose of sleeping tablets, thus causing the accursed spider-man to appear just as the aforementioned coppers are bursting in through the door, armed with guns and outrageous accents. Before they shoot the creature dead, one of them shouts: “Take your hands from her neck!”

Um. Dude. The creature’s hands aren’t on her neck. She’s already lying dead on the floor. Didn’t you notice?

And so we skip gleefully to segment two, which is all about some mysterious woman who goes around cutting women’s faces off and hanging them on her wall. You may have noticed that I described her as mysterious. This was no accident, as this deranged killer also moonlights as a masked stripper called – wait for it! – Mystery Girl.

CHANGE OF FACE, for that is the title, stars Rachel Alig (who is notably not a porn star) in the lead role. She is by far and away the most non-scary serial killer I’ve ever seen in a film. I’m not going to hold her entirely responsible for that. I mean, look at the script she had to work with.

This segment also features a glorious, scenery-chewing turn from Sean Kanan as Sgt. Anders, the cop on the killer’s trail. Well, actually, saying that there’s any kind of trail here to be followed is being generous. Cop finds business card. Business card leads to strip club. Job done.

Be warned. This segment features gratuitous shots of strippers.

And so we limp on to the last segment, DRUKIJA: CONTESSA OF BLOOD. The more eagle-eyed among you might have noticed the similarity between that name and a certain Transylvanian vampire.

This story is about…

Hang on! My bad. There is literally no story to this one. Instead, we as viewers simply look on as a Countess Bathory-type medieval ruler (played by Alice Tate, also not a porn star) kidnaps virgins from surrounding villages, bathes in their blood, sometimes drinks it, and spends a great deal of time admiring herself in the mirror. And that’s it, really. There’s no threat involved. No angry mob bearing pitchforks and flaming torches marching on her castle. She just does her thing and all’s still hunky-dory at the end.

Actually, in one scene when she’s climbing into a bath (full of blood, obvs), you can actually see that the actor is wearing a bit of tape to protect her…erm…modesty.

The attention to period detail in this film is staggering.

See what I did there?

So, where to begin? It’s pretty obvious that what Danzig was aiming for here was something along the lines of Sin City. A trashy, pulpy movie that not only knows it’s trashy and pulpy, but actually revels in it. But that’s not how it turned out. The end result is simply amatuerish.

Firstly, absolutely none of this is either frightening or erotic. Without fear or tension, gore is just gore. It’s a special effect. And also, this film makes the age-old mistake of assuming that just by filling the screen with naked women, it’s erotic. No it isn’t.

Watching it, it occurred to me that if someone ever gave a bunch of horny, adolescent schoolchildren a budget, a cast and a film crew and told them to go make a movie, this is exactly what you’d get.

And yet, despite all this, I loved it! Seriously, it was a stupendously entertaining ninety minutes. As previously stated, I couldn’t wait to watch it a second time. Which I did. And guess what, I loved it just as much again.

For horror fans, I would say that this is a must-have for the collection. You really do have to see VEROTIKA at least once in your life. I can recommend the edition that comes with the blu-ray, DVD and soundtrack CD, because the soundtrack is ace. For real.

But anyway, I for one can’t wait for Glenn Danzig’s next movie. I just hope it’s as good as this one.


Little Death

The sound of sirens filled the valley and, high in the overlooking hills, the idyllic peace was shattered. My first thought was that it was an air-raid warning. Then I realised that I was thinking as a Brit, and I wasn’t in Britain now. No, that piercing wail had nothing to do with air raids, it was an avalanche warning.

Across the valley, the Nordketter mountain loomed vast over Innsbruck. Here was the source of the warning siren, and only 24 hours earlier myself and my girlfriend had been standing at its peak. But today we were observing it from the safety of the stunning grounds of Schloss Ambras.

Schloss Ambras is a ravishing renaissance castle and palace closely associated with the reign of Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595). It is the stuff that fairy tales are made of, and housed within is Ferdinand’s astounding collection of curiosities and marvels, known as the Chamber of Art and Wonders.

Ferdinand II is one of history’s most prominent art collectors, with his gallery boasting a schmorgasbord of bizarre, dazzling and beguiling pieces, one of the most celebrated being “Tödlein” (1519) by Hans Leinberger (pictured above).

This figure, exquisitely carved from pear wood, depicts Death armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows. It was most likely made for Emperor Maximilian I before finding its way to Ferdinand II’s collection as an heirloom.

It’s an incredible piece of work, but there are hundreds of other exhibits to see too , including the iconic portrait of Vlad the Impaler, a suit of armour made for a giant and several preserved sharks that hang from the ceiling. So, if you ever find yourself in the Austrian Tyrol, a visit to Schloss Ambras is a must. Just watch out for those avalanches.


If It Bleeds by Stephen King, as modelled by Salem

In writing, you will often hear talk of “The Voice”. For the uninitiated, The Voice basically means the tone or style of the narration. Is it formal? Is it short and snappy? Is it ponderous? Does it engage you? Does it leave you cold?

You get the idea.

However, whenever I consider Stephen King, I never think in terms of The Voice, I think in terms of The Groove.

Yes, this man’s writing has groove, like a great heavy metal riff that grabs you by the scruff at the start of a song and drags you all the way through to the end whether you like it or not. And you usually do.

If It Bleeds is a collection of four short stories, and it’s groovy, baby! The opener, Mr Harrigan’s Phone, is about a kid hired by a rich and reclusive old man to read to him and perform other assorted household tasks. Right from the off it sounds creepy, but it’s actually quite a touching relationship. But not in THAT way. Stephen King is, of course, a master when it comes to setting a scene, so by the time things turn ACTUALLY creepy, we as readers are fully engaged with the two main characters, which makes the twists and turns as they come all the more shocking.

In The Life of Chuck, King goes cosmic. I haven’t read a cosmic King story in a while so I was ready to embrace it. Judging by other reviews and reactions I’ve read, this story is the most divisive one in the collection, but I loved it.

I actually found the fourth story, Rat, rather delightful. I’m not sure if this was Stephen King’s intention with this, I’m going to go ahead and assume not, but that was the effect it had on me. This tale sees an author, Drew Larson, sick with flu, trapped in a remote cabin as a storm rages outside. He saves the life of a rat who is not quite what it seems and ends up offering him a Faustian pact.

Again, the scene-setting is flawless and I was enjoying spending time with Mr Larson, but I liked this story without being horrified or creeped out by it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If it’s enjoyable, does it matter?

Besides, as a cat, the thought of a talking rat really got my juices flowing. By the time I got to the end, I actually felt quite hungry.

But the main draw for me here, as for a lot of other people, judging by all the reviews and reactions I’ve read, is the third one, If It Bleeds, starring the one and only Holly Gibney.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure, Holly Gibney is a recurring character who featured in King’s so-called Bill Hodges trilogy of books (Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch) as well as The Outsider. These are all tremendous reads so check them out. She’s one of his finest creations, and she can give me worm drops anytime.


So anyway, this is Holly’s first time out as the main character, and I revelled in every single second I spent with her, doing what she does best: being Holly Gibney.

I’m not going to give too much of the story away here, because I don’t want to spoil it for all my fellow Holly fans, but I will say that the title comes from the old journalistic mantra, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, and concerns a TV journalist who arouses our hero’s suspicions.

It feels like a natural successor to The Outsider and is equally intriguing, creepy, exciting and satisfying. Brilliant stuff.

So, all in all, If It Bleeds is a very tasty treat indeed. Even better than a whole box of Whiskers Temptations. Go and sink your teeth into it right now, and tell them Salem sent you.


Now and again I am asked by someone to define Black Metal, and I always give the same answer: Black Metal is a blasphemous shriek through a frozen forest in the dead of night.

From the tempestuous soundscape that announces this record to the bells of doom that herald its end, Ávitun by Sárr lives up to that definition.

Sárr is a solo project from British musician/producer Þorir and was released by Satanic Art Media in 2019. Over the course of its four tracks, it delivers an icy, majisterial and apocalyptic aural assault, and the vocals, anguished and distant, are nothing short of nightmarish. And I mean that as a compliment.

But what Sárr excel at most of all is atmosphere. This record is positively dripping with it. Close your eyes while spinning this and you’ll be transported to the aforementioned frozen forest, where you’ll be guided by evil spirits that appear in the form of swirling riffs, interspersed with moments of transcendental Black Metal beauty.

The cover art too is suitably atmospheric and, yes, blasphemous, and the vinyl itself comes in a gorgeous mottled bottle-green finish.

This reviewer is hoping that Ávitun isn’t the only release we’ll get from Sárr.


Salem modelling the Murder in the Front Row DVD.

Ah, the San Francisco Bay Area. To metalheads the world over this means just one thing: Thrash Fucking Metal!

The Bay Area was the petri dish in which this musical blitzkrieg fermented and evolved, forming an unstoppable momentum that would go on to take over the whole world.

Sounds hyperbolic? Dude, Metallica. Nuff said.

Murder in the Front Row is a hugely enjoyable documentary that explores and revisits those formative years of the Bay Area Thrash scene, interviewing just about every artist who got swept up in it, the movers and shakers who helped them break out of their niche, and even the friends and associates who have a good story to tell.

The early 80s Bay Area scene is, of course, already very well documented, but what sets Murder in the Front Row apart is that it was produced by people who were actually there, in the front row, shoulder to shoulder with all the other fans, rocking out to the featured bands.

There’s shit loads of dodgy, low quality footage shot by fans at the time, intercut with the biggest names from those self-same bands as they are now, recounting those very events. They’re all here; Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kerry King, Kirk Hammet, Dave Mustaine, Chuck Billy, Rob Trujillo, Gary Holt and a hell of a lot more.

You’ll laugh at the stories from the infamous Metallica mansion, you’ll cry as the tragic death of Cliff Burton is recalled, and you’ll hurl after hearing all about the antics of the nefarious Slayteam!

It occurred to me after viewing that in the last two years alone I’ve seen six of the featured bands live on stage. Proof, not that it were needed, of the lasting impact of the Thrash Metal genre.

Murder in the Front Row is based on a book of the same name, so dust off those hi-tops and check them both out. Let the stage diving commence!


Equanimity by ARVAS, as modelled by Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch

It is to my shame that I have, up until now, been unaware of the Norwegian Black Metal band ARVAS.

ARVAS is the creative outlet of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist V-Rex, and Equanimity is his seventh release (or eighth, if you want to include Nocturno Inferno, which was recorded under the band name Örth).

From the atmospheric intro Andante Noire to the killer closing cut Masked Jackal (Tribute to Coroner), Equanimity is nothing short of icily magnificent, where arrangements colder than a Norwegian waterfall in January crash up against thunderous riffs, most notably in the track My Devil, which is a personal favourite.

Throughout the ten tracks, you’ll hear echoes of Immortal and Celtic Frost, which is no bad thing. But don’t be fooled into thinking this album is in any way derivative. No, V-Rex has no shortage of effective and evocative ideas of his own to bring to the genre. This is, as they say, True Kvlt.

So if you’re looking for your next Black Metal fix, check this album out and prepare to feel the cold northern winds on your skin. You won’t be sorry.

Book recommendation alert!

I recently had the pleasure of reading Cultivating a Fuji by Miriam Drori. This amazing novel, published by Crooked Cat Books, is an exploration of the potentially crippling effects of social anxiety disorder via an unlikely hero called Martin Carter. In it, the author delves deep into the psyche of the main character, laying him bare as we follow him through his difficult life.

Martin is a genius computer programmer destined to lead a lonely and frustrating life due to his disorder. Until, that is, he is sent to Japan by his employer, where he experiences an awakening.

Drori leads us back and fore through the years as we visit different episodes in his life, without ever losing us along the way. It is at times heartbreaking, painful and joyous, but never less than fascinating. In fact, it will make you question the way you may have treated people in the past.

From a difficult and challenging subject matter, Drori has crafted an intelligent, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable book, one that everyone would benefit from reading.


On Thursday 1st October 2020, the Kindle edition of my debut horror novel DEEP LEVEL will emerge blinking into the sunlight.

DEEP LEVEL is the story of four friends who set out to explore a secret Victorian underground network. However, they soon realise that it was secret for a reason.

“Have you had the urge to explore an abandoned building and discover the reason as to why it was left to moulder. Or wanted to meet the dark creatures who have chosen to eke out an existence amid the dust and decay of long gone centuries? If so, Richard E Rock’s “Deep Level” has characters who extend a hand through the pages, and a story to chill. A new horror writer with a bright – or should that be ‘dark’ future?”
Catrin Collier

Pre-orders are now live on Amazon.

“I died every day for three weeks.”

ViviCam 3765

Back in June 2009, I spent three glorious weeks working as an extra on Robin Hood. This was the movie version directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac.

It was one of those “reality check moments” that life throws at you once in a while. I had been made redundant from my radio job, and barely three weeks later I was standing on a west Wales beach dressed as a medieval French soldier, brandishing a rubber axe and covered in fake blood. Standing mere feet in front of me was the man who directed Blade Runner and Alien.

“How did this happen?” I thought. “Is it just some strange dream?”

No dream. Back then, I kept up to date with movie gossip and knew that two major films were coming to west Wales, Robin Hood and Harry Potter. A call went out for extras for a major battle scene (“That’ll be Robin Hood then,” I thought) and so I went along and auditioned. Well, I say ‘auditioned’, what actually happened was that you filled in a form and they took a photo of you. And that was it!

But anyway, I was selected and in the weeks prior to filming was required to head on up to Freshwater West on the Pembrokeshire Coast, where the sequence was being shot, for ‘training’. We were taught basic combat routines, archery and how to die convincingly on camera. This was handy as I was going to be doing a lot of dying. We were also fitted for our costumes.

The filming took place over three weeks and and involved hundreds of extras, about fifty horses, landing craft, a small army of stuntmen and lots of mayhem.

For the duration of this, I lived in a tent on a nearby campsite. It was pretty hard going, but I didn’t care. I was loving every minute of it. Luckily, it was a glorious summer, so in between takes I would prop my shield up on my axe, peel off my tabard and fall asleep in the shade.

But when Ridley shouted “action”, all hell would break loose. Soldiers would fight, horses would charge, boats would land and a helicopter would circle overhead filming it all. Then the siren would go off and everything would stop. It was no good shouting “cut” as it would never be heard above the din! There’d be peace for 30 or maybe even 60 minutes, and then it would all kick off again.

I spent a couple of days out at sea on one of the landing craft. We would storm the beach, charging off the boat with axes swinging, get back on and do it all again. The best thing about that was that they’d bus us to where the boats were docked and then sail us back to Freshwater West, so we would start the day with a very scenic cruise.

As I was a playing a French solider, one of the baddies, I found myself being slaughtered on a daily basis. In fact, I died every day for three weeks. Among the melee was The Clan, a band of historical battle reenactors from Scotland. They would march onto set every day chanting, “One king!”.

“Why are they shouting ‘wanking’?” someone asked.

There were also a whole lot of army boys in the mix. They would swim out to a sandbank, in full costume, where a drill sergeant would march them around until they fell back into the sea.

It was an incredible experience, like going on an adventure holiday but getting paid for the privilege. I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to see first hand a Hollywood movie being made, and play a small part in it. I have the film on Blu-ray now and can relive those three weeks any time I like, courtesy of the ‘making of’ documentary.

Oh, and they made me grow a beard, something that hasn’t happened before or since.


When my horror novel DEEP LEVEL comes out later this year, I’ll become the second published author in the family. My mother beat me to it with FREEDOM MUSIC.

FREEDOM MUSIC was released in 2019 by University of Wales Press. The blarb on the back reads…

This book reclaims for Wales the history and culture of a music that eventually emerged as jazz in the 1920s, its tendrils and roots extending back to slave songs and abolition campaign songs, and Swansea’s long-forgotten connection with Cincinnati, Ohio. The main themes of the book are to illustrate and emphasise the strong links between emerging African American music in the USA and the development of jazz in mainstream popular culture in Wales; the emancipation and contribution of Welsh women to the music and its social-cultural heritage; and an historical appraisal as the music journeyed towards the Second World War and into living memory. The jazz story is set amid the politics, socio-cultural and feminist history of the time from whence the music emerged – which begs the question `When Was Jazz?’ (to echo Gwyn A. Williams in 1985, who asked `When Was Wales?’). If jazz is described as `the music of protest and rebellion’, then there was certainly plenty going on during the jazz age in Wales.

So not a horror then?