Ever Been Left 4 Dead?

You may have seen Nick's post on the same subject, so I apologize about the redundancy for those of you that follow both blogs. You will have to hear our geeky plead twice.

We play the zombie-apocalypse-themed first-person shooter, Left 4 Dead, on PC quite a bit, but we are always looking for more people to join in.Versus games are most fun with 8 people playing at once. We may be nerds, but we don't always have enough nerdy friends willing to shoot zombies all night in order to fill up some spots.

For the past couple months, I was playing Left 4 Dead on my brother's account because he never plays. I was too cheap to actually purchase the game. However, I finally decided to put down the cash for my own digital copy when Steam announced that it was selling the game for only $15!!!

So....if you already play or if you have been thinking about getting the game, we are trying to recruit you into our small battalion of zombie killing machines. It is the first video game that has truly captured the feeling of a zombie apocalypse. I honestly haven't played many PC games since Counter-Strike, but this brought me back in because it's a hell of a lot of fun.

My Steam Account: BeckySayers
Nick's Steam Account: Bruenorbattlehammer85@hotmail.com

If you're still not sold, check out these faux retro movie posters that greet you before campaigns:


I Heart Zombie

So now that I'm on my little filmmaking kick, I thought I'd post an old video Nick and I made several years ago, which is pretty much my love letter to the one and only George A. Romero (and it's not a subtle one). A cast and crew of 2 and a Mini-DV camera. Awww, the glory days. It's always fun to reminisce and see how much you've learned since then. It's a pretty low resolution upload and so some scenes are pretty dark, so you're warned. Oh, feel free to make fun of my terrible acting.

When a young woman's boyfriend is suddenly turned into a zombie, she finds herself in a quandary with no simple resolution. Will she be able to live with her undead, flesh-devouring lover? Or must she put an end to the stench of rotting flesh and the bouts of insatiable hunger?

P.S. What bad luck for a screen cap from Google video, huh?


Horror Nerds are Filmmakers Too!

Sometimes being an aspiring horror filmmaker can be depressing. When I originally created this blog, I had intended on discussing more about film production, but it slowly evolved into mostly reviews. It’s pretty obvious why that happened. Talking about movies, criticizing them, and even enjoying them are much easier activities than actually making movies. The film industry can be a strange place and I’m definitely way more comfortable in the horror fan section than the filmmaker one.

Throughout my life and especially during film school, I have been discredited as a legitimate filmmaker and filmgoer simply because of my horror fandom. Because I love Dead Alive or find continuous entertainment in Friday the 13th Part 3, people seem to think I have no right to judge films (specifically non-genre movies). The continuous response I’ve encountered is that horror films are categorically bad movies and that horror fans have categorically poor taste. Joan Hawkins makes an excellent point in her book, Cutting Edge, that horror aficionados (or paracinema viewers as a whole) often participate in much more sophisticated discussion than other moviegoers. Still, the fact that I have a degree in Film Production and even have a blog dedicated to analyzing film doesn’t give me any additional credit in the horror-haters club.

Shooting my first 16mm film on the ancient Arri-S, the same camera used for Evil Dead and El Mariachi

Film school is full of all sorts of stereotypical cinema nerds. The Martin Scorsese lovers all think that every good movie should be accompanied by 3 minute shots uncut and blaring period music. The David Lynch types think that any discussion of genre is pointless and that everyone else is too mainstream for them. The Michael Bay kids need no description, but their films are sure to be presented in epic indulgency. The Quentin Tarantino co-eds believe that snappy dialogue and fractured narratives should supersede any actual story. There are many other “molds” I could write about and plenty of students that can’t be placed inside a single category, but nearly all of them have one thing in common: they hate horror films. But how can a QT fan hate horror? Well, for some reason, they think they are too good for one of the many genres from which their filmic god derives his inspiration. When asked what type of films they want to make, I’ve heard numerous students say “Anything but horror.” It’s a rare moment when any horror film is recognized for achievements in film school. Sure they’ll make you watch Citizen Kane in twenty different classes, but what about Psycho, The Exorcist, Jaws, Halloween, Alien, Frankenstein, Dracula, or a plethora of other highly influential and highly successful genre films? Admittedly, I had a few professors here and there that snuck in a good genre movie in between all the Fellini and Goddard.

On set of my thesis film, AKA: the worst time of my life.

The other difficult aspect of horror filmmaking, aside from the wannabe intellectuals that constantly undermine you, is finding support for the production and finished product. Locations, permit offices, cast, and crew will sometimes give your film less consideration than normal if you tell them that it is going to be a horror film. I can recall the scene in Brutal Massacre: A Comedy when the filmmakers refer to the movie as a “thriller” to make it more acceptable to those around them. Once the film is complete, film festivals may disregard the horror submissions in favor of more dramatic flair. Lots of people see “horror” and it somehow connotes repugnant filmmaking.

Becky: "Will my ghetto tricks really make this look like moon shining through trees?"
Fortunately, the answer was "Yes!"

While I’m sure we’ve all experienced similar issues as horror lovers, there is definitely a flip side to all of this. Sure there are a lot of people opposed to horror in general, but you know what? The horror community is stronger than any genre’s fan base. There were times when locations were concerned about my film being a “horror” movie, but I usually worked it out by showing them that I was well-intentioned. There have also been other times when people have given me access to things simply because I was making a horror movie and they were a genre fan. Talented genre stars will act in an independent horror film simply for the love of the genre and they often do it for next to nothing or even free at times. The other production benefit? More horror movies are made than any other genre because they are usually less expensive to produce (not relying on celebrities or elaborate scenarios to propel their films) and they almost always make a return on their investment because their audience is so dedicated.

Several months after graduation, I’m looking into a deep, jobless abyss—one that’s full of snobs, assholes, and immoral excuses for human beings. Although the economy sucks and the film industry is scrambling to make a comeback, horror films are going strong and that’s encouraging for me. I get the opportunity to be part of a generous, passionate, and intelligent sub-culture, which makes all the unnecessary insolence worth it.



As you know, I was very excited to catch the special midnight L.A. screening of Paranormal Activity. Well, I didn't get to see the movie because of the overwhelming 4,500 people that lined up. Needless to say, they were beyond capacity and apparently allowed way too many people (like me) to reserve seats.

Here is the annoying thing. This is the article from Bloody-Disgusting, who hosted the screeening:

They make it seem like it was an exclusive Bloody-Disgusting event, but it wasn't. The screening was open to everyone in the L.A. area and advertised with Twitter and Facebook. If I had known that and BD didn't make it sound like it was their thing only, then I would have arrived several hours earlier than I did. I drove 40 miles into LA (a city that I despise), arrived about 2 hours early, paid for parking, and was given a Paranormal Activity shirt as consolation.

So...I'm a little peeved by Paramount and BD for not really letting us know that we would have had to arrive 4 hours early to get in and probably 6 hours early to get a decent seat. I know they say they can't predict these things, but when that many people RSVP, you can add a note to your little e-mail reminder the night before. And another thing, over-reserving sucks...of course everyone was going to show up to a free screening advertised to all of Los Angeles.

All I can say is that I hope it gets a wide release and it most likely will. EPIC FAIL!


Grace (2009): Go ahead, hate me for not liking this movie.

An inevitably unpopular (and long) review of unfortunate indie horror.

When I first heard about the premise of Grace, I immediately wondered how a film that made me think of It’s Alive could be rendered in seriousness. Grace promised to be a dramatic, brooding horror film centered around a young woman who decides to carry her deceased fetus to term only to eventually discover a “living” infant that craves human blood. So basically, it’s a psychotic mommy that must find a way to keep her zombie baby satiated.

What do you mean I'm craaaazy?

Despite the quirky concept, Grace is a deadpan film. In fact, it even has an air of pretention about it. Scenes that linger with feelings instead of purpose, characters with forced psychoses, and new age hippy jabs that aren't paid off. All these things make Grace a perfect contender for the arthouse-drama-suckers at Sundance (no offense to the festival as a whole), but I’m not biting. There’s nothing innately wrong with art-horror or slow burns. Nor does the film need to be shoehorned into the horror genre. Eyes Without  a Face, Peeping Tom, or the works of Jess Franco and Dario Argento are some examples of the genre-bending, intellectualism, avant-garde, etc that have molded the international horror scene. Grace, which I can respect for stepping into such rarely-explored territories in American cinema, reminds me of a less disastrous Vinyan.    

Baby Grace before she gets big.

The first issue I had with Grace is the characters. They come in two forms: crazy and impotent. While Jordan Ladd certainly doesn’t deliver a poor performance as Madeline, Paul Solet’s direction leads to a lackluster heroine, one that resembles an empty shell who just lets things happen instead of a character that takes action. From the first couple of scenes, we see that Madeline doesn’t really love her husband and is obsessed with having a child beyond all else—so much so that she left her lesbian companion from college for the first sperm shooter she could find. In fact, the death of her husband hardly phases her. It’s also grossly smoothed over by the filmmakers to boot. Madeline’s psychotic tendencies are established early on, but it doesn’t ever feel like a genuine portrayal of maternal obsession. Her mother-in-law, Vivian, is pretty much the same person as she is. Yet, I suppose that Vivian is to be considered the film’s antagonist. We don’t get a foil, we get a carbon copy. Not one, but two psycho mommies who obsess over their offspring. How we are supposed to cheer for Madeline and simultaneously despise Vivian, I am not sure. I hated them both, as they each cling at any chance to nurture a child no matter who they hurt in the process.  

Giving birth to zombies is painful. Also see Dawn of the Dead remake.

The men of this film are equally unlikeable. Madeline’s husband, Michael, is impotent—not because he can’t impregnate his wife, but he lets the women of his life push him around. A momma’s boy with no backbone. Terrific. A throw-away character that’s just in the way of the real story. The funniest thing about his character is how much he sucks at driving. In one of the most poorly executed car crashes I’ve seen in a credible film, he somehow dies after an air bag goes off in his face. The scene feels lazy and nothing more than a cursory step to getting rid of the husband character for storytelling convenience. When Madeline crawls out of the vehicle, she doesn’t even care that her husband is dead. Her only concern is her baby.  I couldn’t help but think of how well a similar situation worked in Inside—portraying the loss of a husband and the sorrow of raising a child alone in a poetic yet creepy manner. All the sincerity I felt in Inside is absent here. The other husband to the mother-in-law is also just as impotent, allowing Vivian to treat him like dirt and even fulfilling her sick obsession with motherhood by sucking on her nipples as if he was nursing. Paul Solet’s world of spineless men is only rescued by one character. Patricia, Madeline’s ex-lover and midwife, is the saving grace (pun intended of course) of the lineup. As far as I was concerned, she was the standout performance and the only person with an ounce of moral fiber or courage. If it weren’t for Samatha Ferri’s acting talents, I don’t think any of the subtext would have came through.

I could make a joke, but I won't.

My second big complaint with Grace is how long it takes for Madeline to figure out that her beloved infant needs blood. It’s about an hour into the movie until we actually get to the advertised setup of the film: a mother who would kill for her child. By the time it happens, it’s half-hearted and anti-climatic, especially since the movie is only 85 minutes long. What happens during the second act? I hardly remember. Lots of CG flies, some grocery shopping, nipple biting, fly swatting, and my personal favorite: CG flies buzzing in and out of a fake baby’s nose. Yes, we get it, baby Grace becomes a rotting corpse that attracts flies if she doesn’t get blood. I wanted to get to meat of the story,  but Grace only skims the surface. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to make a humorless zombie baby movie about the bond of motherhood, then you better give me a damn good portrayal of desperation. I wanted to see the struggle, the realization, the insanity that ensues when a woman decides to murder for the love of her baby. Otherwise, I’m not interested. The filmmakers also set up Madeline’s aversion for meat and her hippy feminist ways with trite exposition in the first act. You’d think that this would be paid off or somehow become important to the story later on, but it never really comes into play. I don’t buy that it’s more difficult to murder people and feed your child blood if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. Hitler was a vegetarian, so screw that concept.

She's going organic. No formulas here.

I’m not one to tear into a movie without acknowledging where it is successful. Usually, if I don’t appreciate the story, I can find some technical features to talk about. However, I didn’t find Grace all that deserving of praise in that department either. Grace does boast good performances, especially by Jordan Ladd (Madeline), Gabrielle Rose (Vivian), and Samantha Ferris (Patricia), but Solet’s direction makes them less impactful than they could have been. The cinematography had its moments, but also had some technical problems with unintended lens flares and goofy framing, which probably wasn’t helped by the editing. The out-of-focus effects were working at times, but blatantly overused. The color scheme and visual design did establish a somber tone that was well-suited for the subject matter. The major pain in my side was the atrocious sound mixing. I eventually decided to watch the film with subtitles to keep from adjusting the volume every two minutes. Maybe it’s just the DVD? But, it sure didn’t seem like it when Patricia’s dialogue was at least four times louder than Madeline’s in the same scene. I tried not to let something petty like that get in the way of enjoying the film. While I’m sure Solet’s creative choices were careful decisions, I can’t say that these choices led to a great example of filmmaking.

I think you can guess why her nightgown is stained.

I think Grace may have worked better if it didn’t take itself so seriously. Come on, it’s a zombie baby movie. Why not have a laugh or two? I know that I’m going to get some backlash about this one, but I just don’t see the same artistic merit or entertainment value everyone else did. Maybe fans have been so numbed by remakes and Hollywood slickness that any American indie horror hybrid with some originality becomes a quick stimulant emerging from a desire to see new things. After reading hordes of positive reviews on Grace (which I whole-heartedly respect), I am beginning to wonder if there is anyone else that feels the same? Or am I the only one who was underwhelmed?

Anyone Seeing Paranormal Activity Tonight?

I scored FREE tickets to see Paranormal Activity at 11:59pm tonight in Los Angeles, courtesy of Bloody-Disgusting! Anyone else in Southern California going?

I'll be posting my thoughts on the Paramount cut this weekend. I can't wait to watch this movie again in a theatrical setting. I'm also curious as to the changes they have made to the movie since it's original studio acquisition.


3 Film Recommendations

Mini-reviews of three different movies, all of which I highly recommend.

1) Antibodies (2005)

If you’re excited to see Pandorum, then you should definitely check out this film—not because they are similar by any means but for the talent behind the camera. From the same director, Christian Alvart, Antibodies is a tense film about a small-town cop and a twisted serial killer locked in a battle through prison bars. This film is best watched not knowing a lot about the movie. You may hear comparisons to Silence of the Lambs, but I would argue that this movie is better. Technically speaking, the film is brilliant. Acting, direction, editing, cinematography, and production design are top notch. And the story is sure to blow you away…at least I was left with my jaw-dropped for the last 30 minutes of the film.

2) The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Classy stuff from  talented writer Richard Matheson. Subtle effects and creepy tonalities make this a classic telling of an old story. A team of psychics and a physicist are sent to the Mt. Everest of hauntings to rid the house of the evil presence. What ensues is a series of bizarre events that never go over the top. The cinematography is wonderfully presented in true 70’s fashion, full of close-ups with wide angles and hard, contrasty lighting. You’ll also be pleased to find a forgotten style of British performance from skilled actors. Deviant sexuality, black cats, possessions, and ectoplasm are some of the jewels you can expect from this one.

3) Opera (1987)

If you’re an Argento fan, chances are you’ve seen this film.  Although it was not well-received, I consider it to be one of Dario Argento’s best films in a career that has been less than consistent. An upcoming opera singer is targeted by a sociopath after a series of bizarre incidents during the production. With obvious ties to Phantom of the Opera and lots of subconscious terror, Opera is atmospheric and thematic. Extreme close-ups of animals, carefully composed master shots, and the bold use of color are all signature elements we have come to expect from the Italian mastermind. It also features one of the best horror setups in history—you’ve seen the image: needles taped to the bottom eyelids, forcing the victim to watch. Voyeurism is at the center of this film and it demands your spectatorship.


CAPS: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Jennifer’s Body is an uneven, pop film that desperately tries to hold its ground in the horror genre, but it ends up more like Mean Girls with some teeth. It is a horror film—demons and intestinal gore do solidify its place in the genre, but it’s an angsty teenage girl story above all else.  

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good contender for a CAPS review. What are my qualifications? Movies that I just don’t feel like talking about. Sometimes they are too bad for words. Sometimes they are good but don’t warrant much discussion. Jennifer’s Body might as well be a visual pun for all the pop culture-infused dialogue and the annoying eyeliner-laden soundtrack. Although I couldn’t get my own screen captures, Google Image search provided me with some ammo, so enjoy…

Anita, who goes by "Needy" is our pretty-ugly girl type from She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You.

The trailer claims there is one of these in every high school. I don't know about you, but no one that looked like Jennifer went to my school.

They're best friends. Well, more like Needy is duped into being friends with a super hottie because she's just as shallow as Jennifer, but because she wears glasses, we feel sorry for her.

She's not a demon yet, but who knew?

"Jennifer, can we play boyfriend and girlfriend again?"
I think I know who's wearing the pants.

The lead singer to the band that's gonna' sacrifice a virgin.

And you'd pick her out of a crowd to be the virgin?
Nevermind the four-eyed Needy, but assume the girl that's trying to get you wasted is the undisturbed flower.

After the bar explodes: "Yes, I will get into your rape van...I'm obviously a virgin"

"I'd heard rumors that she had rocks for brains, but I just thought that was a figure of speech."

A couple hours later, Jennifer returns unscathed from the rape van...

Or not.

"Can we play boyfriend and wannabe-sexy demon chick now?"

Or I'll play with the audience expectations a bit here.

You should have known better. Instead of nudity, I'm giving you...


Back to school as if nothing ever happened.

Jennifer: "I'm breaking out, my hair is dull and lifeless...I need to kill more boys"
Needy: "Please don't, it actually makes sense for us to hang out now"

And this is the part when...wait...wrong movie.

Hey now! I can play all different types of airheads...the kind with glasses and the kind that wear makeup!

Time to seduce and kill the punk/emo/goth kid. This film does not distinguish between those groups whatsoever. I though this was supposed to be a trendy script.

"I think I'm one of the only good actors in this movie..."

"I think I'm going to eat you"

While Jennifer is busy eating boys, Needy finally spends some time with her boyfriend.

"I know I'm not as hot as Jennifer, but at least I'm not going to throw you under the bus...wait wrong movie. At least I'm not going to turn into a demon and eat all the boys you like?"

"Boy blood makes my breasts bigger."

"But I'm still not going to show them to you. You get more CG."

Because I'm sure everyone was just dying to see Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox hold a PG-13 makeout session...Okay, so maybe some of you were.

"I feel violated and strangely aroused"

"Look, I spent $14 on a corsage and so we're going to the dance even if Carrie shows up."

"Don't mention that movie! You're just going to disappoint people when the underwhelming climax occurs"

"I don't think I'm disappointed by this climax"

You got this far, so you earned some practical makeup effects.

And you also get Megan's "O face"...
But not really, it's more like the porn star face she makes in every posed picture.

"So...the movie's basically over and we haven't seen Jennifer's body?"