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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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 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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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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Sunday Reads: On Drugs, Zombies, and Creepy Children

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

Artist Bryan Lewis Saunders takes several different kinds of drugs and then draws self-portraits. Drugs are bad, m’kay, but the results are interesting.

I’m sorry, zombie friend, but I didn’t quite catch that. One of the funniest things I saw this week was a Bad Lip Reading of The Walking (and Talking) Dead.

Zombies aren’t creepy. Children are creepy. Nothing exhibits this better than this very cool, very strange Reddit conversation about the creepiest thing your young child has ever said to you .

And after you’ve been chilled by little Jimmy’s prophecy of your death, or sweet Molly’s insistence that SOMEBODY IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU, you can finish freaking yourself out by looking at these hyper-realistic dolls…of you.

Knock yourselves dead, darlings. See something cool that should be in the roundup? Drop me an email, or leave a post on our forum. Let’s while away our time in the dark.

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James Newman’s Holy Rollers: The Short Film

Your help is needed. Watch this video…


[ click here for a conversation with director Kevin Woods ]

Now go here.

I’m disappointed this has yet to reach its goal. I’ve seen people raise $5,000 or more for an anthology, and we all know that it doesn’t cost nearly half that much.

There have been charity anthologies published, paid for by pledgers, with proceeds from sales going to the charity. Proceeds from SALES! Thousands of dollars in donations to create something that will generate hundreds of dollars in donations to the charity, if that. Seems utterly ass-backwards, doesn’t it?

Worse, there are now magazines being funded by Kickstarter campaigns—and they’re making a killing! Now tell me, what happens when these magazines don’t make their funding goal? Who’s going to pay then? Surely not the publishers.

I’ve seen other people donate to someone who wants to take six months off from work to write a novel. People donate money so someone else can do this! Seriously. Stephen King used to write in his laundry room, with a board across his lap and a typewriter on top of the board—all while being a teacher, a husband, and a father—and some of you want donations so you can quit your job and write your novel? Bitch, please.

So I find it disheartening to see this Holy Rollers campaign failing to reach its goal.

James Newman is one of the sweetest, kindest writers in the small press. Better yet, he’s also one of the BEST writers around! He may not be the loudest in the room, or the most adept at spamming you on Facebook and Twitter, but he is undoubtedly the kind of writer we need to rally around—because he’s not blowing smoke up anyone’s ass, trying to impress you with stuff that doesn’t matter; James just writes, and he does it goddamn well.

And Holy Rollers deserves a shot. So please visit the Indiegogo page, check out the perks, and consider donating. There’s not much time left, but there is enough.

Please share this!

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Kevin J. Anderson Talks Writing

Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert kicked off separate multi-city book tours on January 3 in support of their just-released collaborative novel, Sisterhood of Dune. Check out this inspirational video from Kevin’s tour stop in Denver, CO.

And if you’re looking for more inspiration, follow Kevin on Twitter and Facebook. The man is a writing machine!

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