Adam Cesare’s ZERO LIVES REMAINING—Limited Edition Hardcover Available Now!

It’s been a long time coming, but the limited hardcover edition of Zero Lives Remaining is finally finished and ready to ship. It took almost a year longer than anticipated (rookie mistake; sorry about that), but we hope it’s worth the wait.

It took a lot of hard work from a lot of talented people, notably Frank Walls (artwork), Yannick Bouchard (additional artwork), Nick Gucker (illustrations), and Mike Lombardo and Reel Splatter Productions (film, photography), and we think this is one of the best limited editions ever released.

Robby Asaro is dead.

And alive.

He’s a ghost in the machine, keeping a watchful eye on the arcade where he lost his life two decades before. And the afterlife is good. The best thing ever to have happened to him. But when the conscious electric current formerly known as Robby Asaro makes a decision to protect one of his favorite patrons, Tiffany Park, from a bully, he sets loose a series of violent supernatural events that can’t be stopped.

Trapped inside the arcade as the kill count rises, Tiffany and a group of gamers must band together to escape from what used to be their favorite place on Earth…and the ghost of Robby Asaro.

From the author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and The Summer Job, Zero Lives Remaining is a masterful mix of horror and suspense, dread and wonder, a timeless ghost story that solidifies Adam Cesare’s reputation as one of the best up-and-coming storytellers around. This is Adam Cesare firing on all cylinders—and he’s just getting started.

Strictly limited to 100 copies, the hardcover itself is made to look like a VHS tape, which is housed in a classic VHS case with full wraparound “80s horror film” artwork and photography exclusive to this edition. Nick Gucker provides exclusive interior illustrations, and there is also a bonus short story. A special insert features additional artwork and photography, plus an interview with “B-movie legend” Adam Blomquist. And finally, there are six autographed “movie still” cards featuring the entire cast (from the trailer) and director, Mike Lombardo.

Check out these photos (apologies for the less than stellar quality):






Click to Enlarge

We expect this edition to sell out very quickly, so order now if you want to secure a copy. When all 100 are gone, they’re gone for good. There will be no future hardcover pressings. Paperback and digital editions will be available soon.

If you have any questions, please ask.


Click to Order.

(Special thanks to Mike Lombardo and the Reel Splatter Productions crew for the brilliant trailer!)

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Lights Out: A Conversation with Director David F. Sandberg

Author’s Note: Some spoilers ensue below. If you haven’t yet seen the short film Lights Out, I cannot be held responsible for spoiling its details—nor for any lack of sleep you may get if you do watch it. You’ve been warned.

“Have you seen Lights Out?” my girlfriend asked me one cold April night, as we snuggled beneath the covers to go to bed.

“No,” I said, getting comfy. “What’s that?”

“It’s a short film,” she said, and curious, I asked her if she could show it to me.

She had me grab her phone so she could find it, the light from the screen piercing the dusk of our bedroom. She stopped then, turned to me, and said, “Just remember, you asked me to show you this.” (This was after I’d made the same mistake only a couple of months earlier, when she introduced me to Salad Fingers.)

Two minutes later, she found what she was looking for and angled the phone towards me…

As I watched, my eyes slowly widened, my facial muscles slacking, and something very primitive began worming its way through my chest. I was experiencing a situation both familiar and unwelcome: that gripping, childhood terror of the boogeyman lurking just out of sight in any and every shadowed corner and half-open door. Needless to say, when the video was done, my girlfriend laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person!” To which I replied, “That’s fine. Goodnight, dear.” It was quite some time before I was able to relax long enough for sleep to claim me.

Needless to say, my girlfriend and I were far from being the only victims of this short film. Lights Out has gained viral status as it continues to scare the living daylights out of people—including professional horror writers. Created for a UK film anthology group, Bloody Cuts, for their “Who’s There?” short film challenge, Lights Out is the horror-child of writer-director David F. Sandberg, and starring his wife, actress Lotta Losten.

Mr. Sandberg was kind enough to share some of his time to dish on his short film, its production, the waves it has been causing, and future projects.

BLD: You really, really perfectly captured the paranoia and panic of hiding under the bedsheets with this film. (Speaking for myself, I felt like a little kid, scared of anything outside of the safety of my bed.)

DS: Thank you! Since it was a zero budget film we had to make use of what we had. An apartment. A bed. Creaky floorboards. The story was kind of written by the location.

BLD: Starting with that initial shot of the woman walking up the hallway and turning off the lights behind her: how did you get the phantom to appear like that? It’s an immaculate shot.

DS: Since Lotta plays both characters, it’s a split screen shot, and I simply faded the phantom shot in and out with the light. You’d think a light bulb turns off immediately, but it actually fades out during a couple of frames.

BLD: In that final, terrifying shot before the lights go out of the phantom’s face…well, just what are we looking at? (i.e. was its face done with makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, SFX, etc.?)

DS: I’m a big fan of makeup and animatronics but since I don’t know how to do those things I had to do it CG. I modified and painted on a still frame of Lotta’s face and then added slight movement in Blender, a free 3D software.

BLD: You also did the cinematography to this film. Did you also edit it? (And did you score the music?)

DS: Yes, I do most things myself. Partly out of necessity, but also because I enjoy pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. Music is probably my weakest skill but at least I don’t have to pay any royalties. Though it was funny to see a short on YouTube use the “music” from Lights Out. I mean, if you’re going to steal music anyway, why not steal something good?

BLD: Lotta Losten is a natural actress. She conveys so much sympathy with her performance. How did you come to work with her?

DS: We actually dated when we were eleven years old. Then we took a break for about fourteen years, got back together and then got married last year. So we’ve known each other for a while. She’s an actress, among other things, and we help each other in our creative endeavors and work together on joint projects as well. We’ve written two screenplays together, but they’re not horror. Lotta’s not as into that as I am.

BLD: What films, TV shows, etc. have inspired you the most? And did any of them influence or inspire Lights Out?

DS: I guess everything you see influences you in one way or another. I love sci-fi as well, and especially when it’s mixed with horror, like (in films such as) The Thing, Cube and the Alien movies. It’s kind of hard being a horror fan, because most of the stuff that gets made is really bad.

BLD: What was the most recent great (or at least good) horror/science fiction film you’ve seen?

DS: I’ve mostly been re-watching things lately, like Jaws the other day. But I did go see Godzilla, which was kind of disappointing and X-Men: Days of Future Past, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but was very enjoyable.

BLD: How about literature?

DS: I read embarrassingly little fiction. Does manga count? I love Japanese horror manga, especially (from artist) Junji Ito. I guess I read some stuff online like creepypastas and SCP Foundation, but very little proper books.

BLD: Have you ever had anything spooky happen to you?

DS: The spookiest was probably when I was a kid, and during one really foggy evening, my friend and I were running around the woods not far from where we lived. We marveled over how little you could see ahead, through the thick fog. Suddenly we see a person in a cloak standing on top of a hill. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the person then pulled out a big sword and we ran for our lives home to my parents, who didn’t believe us. I’m guessing it was just a teenager having fun, but it was scary as hell when it happened.

BLD: I wonder if somewhere, someone just read that and laughed, thinking, “Oh wait, that was me!”  (Either that, or it was…something else!)

DS: If he reads it he better get in touch so I can finally prove to my parents that it happened. That’s the worst thing about being a kid; spooky things happen, and nobody believes you.

BLD: How do you feel, having this video achieving such popularity (or infamy?) online?

DS: Fantastic and strange. The film was a contest submission, and we didn’t expect it to have a life outside of the contest. When the plays on Vimeo were getting close to a million, Lotta and I sat in front of the computer refreshing the browser to see it happen. It was kind of like a New Year’s Eve countdown. It’s amazing what a 2.5- minute film can do. But I guess the fact that it’s so short, and that there’s no dialogue contributed to (it), it’s spread across the world.

BLD: How does it feel to know that you’ve successfully scared the you-know-what out of professional horror writers with this video?

DS: That’s the greatest compliment of all, if I’m able to scare someone who creates scary stuff for a living. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it more in the future.

BLD: Have you gotten any noteworthy work offers since this film’s release?

DS: Yes! I now have agents and managers in Hollywood. It’s crazy. I’m working on a feature film script now, and I’m getting sent scripts by my agents as well. I’m really excited to see what comes of all this. Maybe I’ll finally be able to make a horror film outside of our apartment.

BLD: That’s very exciting that you have a feature film in the works.  What can you (or are you allowed to) share about it at this stage?

DS: I’m not really sure what I can say, but I guess with the success of Lights Out, it’s kind of obvious that it’s based on that. When I made the short, I had no thought of a feature in mind; it was just a short. Luckily, since the short is very brief and kind of open, the feature can be anything really. But the main thing is the whole concept of only being safe in the light while surrounded by darkness where evil lurks.

BLD: Let’s pretend you had first choice to direct any upcoming film, be it officially announced or just a dream project. What would you choose, and what would you bring to it? (I’m calling it now: a new version of Richard Matheson’s Hell House.)

DS: I’ve never actually read (or seen) Hell House. I had to look it up and it sounds really interesting. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

I’d like to do a version of Day of the Triffids, but there’s already been a movie and two mini-series done, and another movie is on the way. There’s a very recent book called Bird Box (by Josh Malerman) that I would love to do as well, but it’s already in production, from what I hear. I guess the two are pretty similar in that they deal with the collapse of society and not being able to see. I guess that’s something that appeals to me, for some reason.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

DS: You can find more of Lotta and me at lottalosten.com and dauid.com. Or @lottalosten and @ponysmasher

BLD: Thanks, David! This was, quite frankly, very exciting.

DS: Thank you!

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A Game of Survival: How Indie Developers Revitalized Survival Horror

The original Resident Evil, or Biohazard as it is know outside of the US, sunk its teeth in me at a fairly young age. Countless hours were spent roaming the halls of the mansion, my ears perked for the slightest sign of the undead.

I’ve been a gamer since I can remember, and there are plenty of games I enjoy, but those early Resident Evil titles had something that has become increasingly rare throughout gaming as a whole. They were challenging. That’s not to say they were overly difficult, but rather that they asked more from gamers than the usual fare. Ammo was scarce. Rooms required thorough searches as their contents largely determined life or death. Health did not regenerate. My knife was pathetically weak, only usable as a last resort. I was forced to seek out gasoline in order to burn the dead lest they rise again and devour my foolish adolescent self. Every window brought the threat of zombified dogs so intent on devouring me that they would leap through the glass in pursuit. Even the number of times I could save was limited to the number of ink ribbons I managed to find. And it was for all of these things that I fell hopelessly in love with the game.

Other games like Dino Crisis, Fatal Frame, and the spectacular Silent Hill were soon to follow, leaving a host of sequels in their wake. Resident Evil 2 and 3 served up more of the nail-biting suspense delivered so perfectly in the first game, and gamers ate it up. Survival horror was going strong, terrifying gamers late into the night, challenging them to persevere in hopeless situations.

Fast forward a few years to the release of Resident Evil 4. As anyone will tell you, RE4 is a spectacular game. However, it isn’t a survival horror game. Instead of combing through dimly lit corridors in search of keys and ammunition, RE4 focused on putting the player into a Hollywood blockbuster, giving them ammo hand over fist and setting up the next set of targets as soon as the current group had been obliterated. The franchise had shifted into the landscape of action games. Although the horror aesthetic remained, the tension was largely absent. Out of ammo? Switch to a different gun. Better yet, just buy more.

The game was remarkably popular, and its near-perfect scores from all the major gaming magazines cemented it at the forefront of a trend that would alter the course of survival horror games, essentially diverting their lifeblood into the effort to create games for the action crowd. For a time, action horror took the center stage with franchises like Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, and the now mutated Resident Evil. As far as big developers were concerned, survival horror had taken a backseat.

The rebirth of survival horror first started in 2007 when indie developer Frictional Games released a terrifying little game called Penumbra. Unlike most main stream horror games, Penumbra didn’t drop boxes of ammo at the player’s feet. In fact, Penumbra didn’t even bother to give players a gun. Armed with nothing more than a flashlight, glow stick, and eventually a hammer and ice pick, the game left players remarkably vulnerable, conveying a sense of helplessness not seen in gaming for some time.

Players took on the role of a man who travels to Greenland to unravel the mystery surrounding the contents of a safety deposit box left behind by his late father. It doesn’t take long for the player to become cut off from the rest of the world, falling down a mine shaft into what appears to be a military installation left over from the Second World War.

Technically, the game was nothing groundbreaking, but the feeling the experience evoked in players was impressive. When describing the game to a friend, I said it was the closest I’d ever come to experiencing John Carpenter’s The Thing first hand, a statement which still holds true. Penumbra worked to create fear in meaningful ways. Hiding was vital to survival, and yet the mere sight of certain enemies could cause the protagonist to panic and reveal his position. This left players crouched behind stacks of crates as they listened to something that sounded like the equivalent of a lion pass by, their imagination working overtime as the protagonist’s heartbeat sounded from the speakers. Like survival horror games of old, the environments were confined, making the player feel claustrophobic and remarkably exposed. On more than one occasion I found myself staring into a small space I’d have to crawl through, listening to something crawl around somewhere inside. The atmosphere and sense of complete helplessness gave the game its flavor.

Several other Penumbra games followed, and although they garnered a cult following, they remained relatively under the radar of most gamers. It wasn’t until Frictional Games’ next project, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, released in 2010 that the company’s following exploded. Amnesia used many of the mechanics found in Penumbra, but with several tweaks and a new setting. Rather than exploring the secrets of the frozen north, players awoke to find themselves in a castle, and, true to the game’s title, suffering from a case of amnesia. Like Penumbra, the protagonist was affected by fear, only the fear was quantified in the form of a sanity meter. Actions like traveling through an unlit room or stumbling upon a corpse would reduce a player’s sanity while standing in a brightly lit area would restore it. However, this time around players weren’t even given the luxury of a hammer as a defense, but rather a lantern and nothing more. A lantern that consumed fuel and attracted unwanted attention. Hiding in the dark made the player’s brain turn to mush until bugs crawled over the screen and the protagonist dragged himself around the floor by his chin, but the alternative was never much better. Like the characters in the best mythos tales, players were doomed no matter what they did. As with its predecessor, the strong sense of atmosphere and mortality made Amnesia into something special. The game was a huge success, selling well over a million copies, quite a feat for an indie developer. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs followed in 2013, it’s preorder scrolling across Steam’s featured items screen with all of the other big-budget titles. Survival horror had its pulse back.

A more recent release on the road to survival horror’s revival was 2013’s Outlast from Red Barrels Studios, another indie company. Founded by former Ubisoft employees and industry vets behind games such as Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, and Assassin’s Creed, the team took their years of experience along with the recent trends set by Frictional Games to push the envelope and bring the new brand of survival horror not only to the PC, but to the newly released PlayStation 4, dragging the long lost horror elements back into the living room. Once again, players were isolated and helpless, taking on the role of a journalist investigating strange reports from an insane asylum. The protagonist’s only possession? A handheld camera with night vision. Like Amnesia’s lantern, the camera burned through energy and needed to be fed new batteries periodically, which could leave players stumbling around in the dark with the crazies.  While Outlast didn’t feature any sanity meter as Amnesia did, the horror elements were plentiful.  My heart raced more than a few times, particularly during the game’s opening scenes.

Last year also saw the release of State of Decay, an Xbox Live arcade game now available for PC through Steam. The game placed players in an open world environment during the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, prompting them to gather limited resources, recruit survivors, and establish strongholds against the undead hoards. The catch? If a character died, even the protagonist, they were gone for good, and the game went on without them by switching the player to another survivor. This concept of mortality, that players are not unstoppable killing machines, is what makes this new wave of horror games compelling. You are weak. The world is frightening. You can lose. This debut title by indie developer Undead Labs quickly sold over a million copies.

With so much money being brought in by these indie companies pushing boundaries, it’s no surprise major developers are following suit. Sega’s Alien: Isolation is slated for release this Fall, and despite the last few Alien games being complete flops even in the eyes of the action gamers for whom they were intended, Isolation certainly looks promising. Rather than blasting through hordes of xenomorphs, players must survive against a single alien without the use of weapons. Judging from the gameplay released by IGN, it would appear that the developers have chosen to draw inspiration from Ridley Scott’s film rather than James Cameron’s, for which I am extremely grateful.

At last year’s E3, Bethesda showed a demo of new survival horror title The Evil Within. The game is being developed Shinji Mikami, the man behind the original Resident Evil, and promises a return to the roots of survival horror. And so we come full circle.

However, just because the big names have taken notice doesn’t mean the indie developers are done. Far from it. Frictional Games is set to release SOMA, their latest project, sometime next year. This time players will find themselves in a futuristic science fiction setting, and from the footage released thus far, the experience looks to be every bit as terrifying as falling down a mine shaft or waking up in a castle without a working memory.

Undead Labs is hard at work on an MMO in the same vein as State of Decay, and Red Barrels is nearing the release of Outlast: Whistleblower, a DLC prequel to the original game. There’s plenty of gore and suspense on the horizon, and I for one cannot wait to start rationing my ammo and hiding in the back of closets.

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Blood, Sweat and Drool: A Conversation with Director Jeremiah Kipp

When Shock Totem put out a call for filmmakers who’d like to have their work featured on the site, I bet that they didn’t expect to get anyone near as accomplished as Jeremiah Kipp.

Kipp, a short film writer/director, meshes art film heft and horror film content with a polish and style all his own. The combination seems to be working out for him as his work has been featured in festivals and garnered numerous awards.

Jeremiah sent us three films and was kind enough to sit down with me for some questions. Check out the films embedded below (WARNING: NSFW content) and then read on for our conversation.

Adam Cesare: The three films you sent to Shock Totem all share elements of genre films, but I wouldn’t call any of them genre. Are you a fan of the horror genre? How would you classify your work?

Jeremiah Kipp: I love horror movies and have found it to be a wonderfully flexible genre. What’s interesting to me is when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they called it a romance, but not in the Hallmark sense of the word. Romance at that time meant it has sweeping elements of the fantastic. And how would you classify a movie like Don’t Look Now, the intensely dark story of a couple in Venice haunted by the death of their child and perhaps communicating with her beyond the grave? It feels like a drama and yet has a sense of tension and terror. I would call it a horror movie. I feel like the films I’m making might fall into that category. I’d be proud to have them called horror films, but am content if people find them to be beautiful and macabre.

(more…)

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5 Kick-Ass Scenes in Horror Movies: 2000s Edition

Hey, let’s look at five cool horror movie scenes! (Beware of spoilers.) Let’s goooooooo!

5. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead is awesome. That’s not my opinion. It’s a fact. It starts as a parody and slowly transforms into an honest-to-God kick-ass zombie movie in its own right. The most kick-ass scene? Shaun being forced to kill his own mom. The way this scene plays out is so hardcore and emotional that you forget you were laughing your guts out only minutes before. This was one of the most surprising sucker punches in recent horror memory, and earns a spot on this list.

KICK-ASS LEVEL: YOUR MOM

4. The Mist

The Mist is my dad’s favorite movie ever, and he says it’s all because of the ending. He calls it “wish fulfillment,” which I guess means he REALLY wants to see some giant monsters while out on a drive with me on a foggy day. For once, I agree with my old man, as the ending of this movie is KICK-ASS! But what happens at the end of the drive is what makes it so nuts. Out of gas and hope, our hero decides to play Russian roulette with his son and fellow survivors. Except he’s the only one who gets to pull the trigger. And he forgot to take any of the bullets out of the gun. And pretty much everyone else was sleeping. Then, immediately after he kills everyone, he’s saved! Yay! Life finds a way!

KICK-ASS LEVEL: DAD’S WISH FULFILLMENT

3. 28 Days Later

28 Days Later is probably one of the best “zombies that aren’t really zombies” movies ever, and it’s hard to pick just one scene that stands out. After days of solitary meditation (when that didn’t work I just asked my mom) I realized it was the empty London segment that sticks in my head. The pure loneliness of the sequence instills the entire movie with a sense of terrible hopelessness and illustrates a world where Jim has already missed the conflict…all he has to do is survive the apocalypse that already happened while he was out cold. I couldn’t find a clip of this scene anywhere, so enjoy this song about Thanksgiving. The number 28 features prominently at the eight-second mark.

KICK-ASS LEVEL: 28 (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

2. Troll Hunter

Troll Hunter is a “found footage” movie. I get why so many people hate them. Once my mom “found” some “footage” of mine when she put in what she thought was Police Academy II on VHS player. She would later refer to that Mother’s Day as “unfortunate.” You know what isn’t unfortunate? Troll Hunter, that’s what. This movie is paced ridiculously well, with a constantly escalating sense of danger and epicocity. The climax comes when our heroes confront a troll literally the size of a mountain, and the scale is truly frightening. I haven’t seen anything so big since the last time I had to pee. Wait. I apologize for that metaphor, but since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids didn’t make this list, I had to improvise.

KICK-ASS LEVEL: MOUNTAIN

1. Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin In the Woods. Lots of people loved this movie. Then lots of people decided it’s way cooler to not love stuff, and they began calling it overrated. I fall in the first camp, because it KICKS ASS. Even detractors will admit the last twenty minutes are awesome in the purest sense of the word. I mean, come on. Pretty much ALL the monsters EVER appear and proceed to throw the murder party of the millennium. Unicorn murder? It’s there. Clown fetish? You’re covered. KICK. ASS.

KICK-ASS LEVEL: KITCHEN SINK

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Sunday Digs: On Human Krill, Happy Slime Mold, and a Very Cthulhu Christmas

Here are a handful of goodies from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

Strange fact: according to the International Association of Psychiatric Professionals*, fear of being swallowed by a large sea mammal (orcamasticophobia) is the fourth most prevalent fear worldwide. By comparison, fear of spiders (arachnophobia) is thirteenth.

A group of researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in England have utilized their vast scientific acumen and substantial resources to attach a robot head capable of human expression to a vat of slime mold in order to determine what the slime mold is feeling at any given moment. Meanwhile, cancer!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Fishmen! (Too early for Christmas jingles, you say? Bah humbug!)

You know what’s creepier than baby monitors? Nothing. An example of life imitating art in the worst possible way. Also, a good cautionary tale for parents.

Why does Stephen King sometimes spend months or years writing opening sentences? Because he can.

This week’s Digs brought to you by a couple of worms (and the return of Omni magazine!)…

* According to the International Association of Psychiatric Professionals, they don’t exist and, furthermore, it is in their professional opinion that I may be suffering from pseudologia fantasica.

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Sunday Digs: On Prowler, Spiders, Rejection, and WTF?

Here are a handful of goodies from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week:

First, let’s kick out the jams!

If you dig heavy metal and horror, check out Prowler, a three-piece metal band from South Carolina that pays homage to classic horror.

You can order their debut full-length, After You, from our buddy Kieran and Slaney Records.

Spiders just got creepier…and learned how to dance.

Moving right along, quickly. (Did you see that thing? Christ!) There always seems to be some author out there making a big, ill-advised stink about being rejected by some publisher or another. Never a wise thing, of course. But if you’re looking for some possibly helpful tips (I personally think a few of them are bullshit, but you may think they’re writer’s gold), check out 25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection.

And finally, we host a prompted flash fiction contest every two months, the latest of which began on July 1. The prompt this go-round was an article from 2008 concerning a century-old Swiss watch discovered in a Ming Dynasty-era tomb that’s been sealed for four centuries.

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Sunday Digs: On Claymation Gore, Camel Toe, and Melting People

Hey. It’s Sunday. Let’s get to gettin’. Here are a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

How about a little claymation gore in the form of Drug Bust Doody?

C’mon, it’s only a shot in the head. Walk it off. And after you’re all nice and warmed up, here’s a video that highlights camel toe and bad lipstick. It elicited true horror when I realized it wasn’t a joke.

Elsewhere, a 17-year-old is buried alive for a suspected crime.

Who knew a flat world on the backs of four elephants balancing on a turtle swimming through space was full of such good advice? Check out these <quotes from Discworld.

And last but not least, here’s a cool pic of some damaged and melted wax figures after a 1925 fire at Madame Tussauds. Awesome.

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Warm Bodies In the Flesh

Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, was a breakthrough in 2011, a beautifully written genre-bending horror romance about an undead named “R” who falls in love with a living girl, Julie, after he eats her boyfriend’s brain. He even saves her from being devoured by his friends. So sweet and considerate, right? I was intrigued by the premise and bought a copy on Kindle, expecting a fluffy, easy read. Instead, I found a complex love story from a very unconventional point of view. What impressed me immediately was Marion’s prose and the fluid skill he used to give R a voice that many, dead or undead, could sympathize with.

The move adaptation last year opened to an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After loving the book so completely I went into the theater with a bowl of popcorn and a cup of skepticism, expecting watered down emotions and overblown special effects. The trailer looked good, but don’t the trailers always look good? I was pleasantly surprised that Jonathan Levine stayed true to the novel, with help from Marion, and preserved the innocent, Edward Scissorhands-like persona of R and his journey to connect with Julie and become human again.

This past month, advertisements began running every fifteen minutes for a new BBC America miniseries, In the Flesh, from debut creator and writer Dominic Mitchell. The first episode premieres tonight, June 6th, which happens to be two days after the DVD release of Warm Bodies. Some have said that BBC is attempting to imitate Marion’s romantic tale of undead meets girl, but from the clips I’ve been able to watch, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although, without it’s predecessor, I doubt a zombie drama could have been greenlit. What the BBC has done, like Marion, is use an overdone horror trope with a fresh twist to tell a meaningful story with new perspective.

The trailers and sneak-peaks from BBC reveal a much starker zombie apocalypse than Warm Bodies, although both divert attention from the traditional monsters and create villains from apathy, prejudice and ignorance. The stories don’t focus on humanity surviving among monsters, but instead take the more complex approach of humanizing the traditional villain and exploring the darker side of the human condition. In these stories, the “rotter” can be the good guy. Although zombies in both periodically eat their neighbors, they feel conflicted about it, and doesn’t that count for something?

The undead of In the Flesh, called PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers, could be a metaphor for the mentally ill or any other group with societal stigma that are feared and alienated. Two characters, Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) and Rick Macy (David Walmsley), are not only dealing with PDS prejudice from their community, but are exploring their connection to one another and struggling with the possibility of additional rejection from their parents and friends. They’re “partially deceased” and coming to terms with their own sexuality, a dual conflict which will make for multi-layered storytelling. Without going into each one, most of the characters of In the Flesh, both human and PDS sufferer, are equally as complex and compelling.

Although Isaac Marion has said he is not a horror writer and will not return to the genre, if the BBC series becomes even a moderate success, the market for similar zombie fiction can only grow exponentially, especially coupled with ratings boon The Walking Dead. However, I’m burnt out on the traditional zombie tale offered by Frank Darabont and company, and will be supporting In the Flesh by watching it tonight, June 6th, on BBC America at 10PM EST/9PM CST.

If you don’t have cable and can’t join, go pick up a copy of Warm Bodies, out on DVD as of June 4th.

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Sunday Reads: On Saying No, Joe Hill’s Beard, and Creepy Films

Here are a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

If you’ve got an hour, check out Booktalk Nation’s entertaining video chat between authors Joe Hill and John Scalzi.

It’s worth the time.

If you like things with a more literary bent, you may be interested the benefits of creative people saying no in order to protect their time.

The daughter of Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) writes about growing up in a home with fanatical feminist views

We announced Shock Totem #7!

And finally, the creepy short film INSiDE, directed by Trevor Sands. Dig it!

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