Coming Soon from Grit Film Works: “Restoration” & “Bethany”

Greetings, horror lovers!  It’s my pleasure to share the news that a new production company, Grit Film Works, is now in production on two micro-budget horror films that are going to haunt your face off!  The films, entitled “Restoration” & “Bethany,” are being produced by Grit Film Works’ James Cullen Bressack & Zack Ward.

On a side note, I am an Associate Producer on these projects along with Jarrett Furst, Christian Ackerman & Line Producer John Mehrer.  I can tell you first hand that these films are going to shock, horrify and satisfy your lust for blood and horror!    The Hollywood Reporter just dropped the news in a new exclusive, check it out below!

Two Microbudget Horror Films First on Slate From New Production Company

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“Grit Film Works is off to a terrifyingly fast start.

The production company, owned by filmmakers James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward, is in the middle of back-to-back shoots for two horror films.

Bethany stars Stefanie Estes as Claire, a woman who moves back into her childhood home with her husband. The abusive, traumatic memories of her mother return to haunt her — as her husband becomes busier with work, she finds herself in a fog of memories — as a small figure tries to reach out to her.

Bressack is directing the film, which also stars Ward, Shannen DohertyFelissa RoseBrodus ClayPeter JasonJohn MurrayOlivia StiefelAnna Harr and Ellen Gerstell.

The second film, Restoration centers on a young doctor who moves to a new town with her husband while she completes her residency. Things seem to be going well, as she and her husband, a contractor, renovate their home, and meet a fun couple next door. Things take a dark turn when they discovery a diary buried within the walls of their house, and a terrifying spirit is awakened.

Restoration stars Emily O’Brien, Ward, Adrian Gaeta and Sarah Ann Schultz. Ward also is directing the film

Ward and Bressack co-wrote both scripts. Restoration is currently shooting, while Bethany is set to begin filming later this month.”

Keep up with “Restoration” and “Bethany” right here at LAHorror.com!  Also be sure to follow us on Twitter for all the latest updates.  We will be sharing exclusive photos, videos and interviews as the films continue!

VHS Spotlight: “The Brain”

Lots of great stuff in the very near future coming to LAHorror.com!  But until then, let’s take a look back to another classic VHS that still needs to be released on DVD!  Alex Ray has the scoop on “The Brain,” a horror flick that may be in your basement stash, and one that definitely deserves to be revisited!

VHS SPOTLIGHT: THE BRAIN

1988 * 94 minutes * International Video Entertainment * Directed by Edward Hunt

brain_01_150It’s often noted that politics seem to influence trends in horror. The Vietnam War ushered in an era of dark, cynical works like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. George Dubya’s time in office saw the rise of torture porn. So what did the Reagan years give us? Films like Larry Cohen’s The Stuff and John Carpenter’s They Live were fairly obvious responses to rampant consumer culture and a general brainwashing of the masses. But there was another un-subtle jab that went under the radar of our thoroughly manipulated collective consciousness: The Brain.

Yep, I’m waxing allegorical about a movie featuring a giant, floating brain that chases teenagers down steam tunnels. While it disguises itself with all the B-horror tropes, it’s pretty easy to see the not-very-hidden message: David Gale (of Re-Animator and Syngenor—look it up!) hosts a TV show called “Independent Thinking,” while he colludes with an alien brain that, well, brainwashes people!

Tom Breznahan (of Ski School) plays a lovable troublemaker just trying to get through high school. Too bad his parents and teachers think he needs a little psychiatric intervention to get him on the right track. So our young prankster goes to Doc Gale, who seems to have just the prescription for all wayward teens (the brain hypnotizes them or something). But when he sees more than he’s supposed to, it’s Three Days of the Condor time for Tommy B.

It really does feel like more of a conspiracy thriller than a monster movie for a majority of the ninety-four minutes, but every so often there’s a slithering tentacle or a topless nurse to remind us of what we’re really watching—which I’m nearly sixty-seven percent sure was pitched as Nightmare on Elm Street meets Videodrome. From there it must have mutated a little (as did a lot of things in those two movies), until they settled on this wannabe Robert Redford vehicle with shades of hentai (maybe intentional; probably not).

Of course, the classics mentioned above aren’t the only ones brought to mind by The Brain (see what I did there?). It owes The Crazies at least half a doff of the cap, and there’s a great Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe to boot. Here’s a fun fact: M. Night Shyamalan took fifteen minutes of this movie and adapted it into his feature-length screenplay for The Happening, which, conversely, is one-sixth as entertaining.

Well, since I’ve now broken the record for number of movie titles referenced within a single review, I’ll hunker down and get serious. I really do like this movie. The story is compelling and generates a lot of momentum. Unlike with many teen horror flicks, we don’t spend the first act in a van, and the rest doesn’t hang on the suspense of guessing who will be next to hear a strange noise (not to cast aspersions; those movies are great, too). The characters are well-established early on, and then we’re off and running, all the way to the inevitable showdown with the brain—a proxy for any and all puppet masters behind politicians and spokespeople and celebrities. Yeah, this is deep stuff.

Not too deep, though. The subtext is pretty close to the surface at all times, and that’s kinda what makes it fun. The Brain really wears its heart on its sleeve—or its temporal lobe on its cerebral cortex, if you wanna get technical.

I proffer that this movie will only get more relevant, as our political and social landscapes get murkier and harder to navigate. It’s almost comforting to imagine that a big, alien, carnivorous brain might be responsible for all of society’s woes. Now that’s food for thought (yep, actual line!).

3 out of 4 stars

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VHS Spotlight is written by LAHorror.com contributor Alex Ray.

“Demons” – A Feature Film That Needs Your Help!

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Demons.  We’ve all got them, in one way or another.  Maybe your demons have manifested from a regret or a lost loved one, a missed opportunity or a mistake.  Maybe you don’t even know that they’re there…until they rear their ugly heads.  For most of us, we learn to live with our demons, as they are often hard to conquer.  But in David Coupe‘s debut feature film “Demons,” it’s conquer or die, because these demons aren’t fucking around.  It’s a brand new vision of the demons we face in our daily lives, and just how powerful they can become…

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“Demons” is a feature length film gearing up to be shot in Chicago this year.  It follows a young man who must face-off against the forces of darkness while mending broken friendships and getting over a painful break-up.  And while this is being billed as a horror-comedy, the drama, chaos and carnage in this film are going to be straight from the pits of hell.  I was fortunate enough to read the script and it’s got basically everything you could hope for in a horror flick.  I won’t spoil anything, but this is going to be a damn fun ride, a ride that you can help make happen.  But enough from me, hear it from the creator himself!  LAHorror.com got to chat with Coupe about his film, his plan and even some of his demons…enjoy horror lovers!

1LAHorror:  Coupe, “Demons” the movie. In three sentences or less, what are audiences going to be in for?

David Coupe:  They are going to be in for an extremely relatable story about relationships that is paired with some of the most outrageous horror they’ve ever seen. I’m currently writing my ninth draft and there are moments that cause my heart to break for the characters as well as moments that make me run around my apartment in demented glee. There is one thing in particular I can’t imagine anyone who sees the movie not talking about non-stop after seeing it.

LAHorror:  So are you going for an “Evil Dead” type of outrageous? What are some of your inspirations with this script, specifically horror inspirations?

DC:  Someone, after one of the read-throughs, described it as “500 Days of Summer” meets “Evil Dead.” I think that’s not too far off. Specific influences while writing are definitely the “Evil Dead” movies, “The Exorcist,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and the recent crop of demon movies like “The Conjuring.” A lot of these movies I bow at the alter to and some of them, like “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring,” I specifically study to play with the genre conventions.

LAHorror:  Haha awesome! “500 Days of Summer” meets “Evil Dead,” that’s great!  The tag line on your Kickstarter says: “An independent horror/comedy about cults, demons, and relationships. Each more horrifying than the last.”  What is so horrifying about this relationship? What’s going on with these characters?

DC:  I think that relationships are all about trust. The closer you get to someone the more of yourself you are putting in their hands. You don’t want to find out that your trust is misplaced. This movie sees the collapse of a romantic relationship in it’s first few scenes. The main character’s girlfriend breaks up with him and elects to become the host for a powerful and seductive demon. That gives the main character some serious trust issues that permeate the rest of the story. Friends whose integrity he never would’ve doubted are now under intense scrutiny. The whole movie is about this guy finding himself again in the wake of everything in his life changing.

LAHorror:  And while he’s finding himself, he’s battling a blood thirsty Demon? Is this a story about getting the girl back or killing the demonic bitch?  Exactly what kind of demon is he up against?

10DC:  He doesn’t even know! He’s in straight up denial mode with the break-up. He still thinks he can salvage it! Unfortunately, the girl he knew is gone. In her place is the most powerful, vicious demon that you’ve ever seen on film. This demon has a plan to eradicate the planet of mankind so he and his kind can run free. He pretty much wants to turn Earth into a vacation spot for his kind. This demon is going to do things to the human anatomy that is going to make you either squirm or squeal depending on where your tastes lie!

LAHorror:  Excellent! So what’s the method to this demon’s madness? What kind of HORROR / GORE does it wreak?

DC:  She is going to rip a character’s dick off and then whisper a incantation on it. She turns it into a sword and cuts his head off with it.

LAHorror:  …that’s fucking brilliant.

DC:  I mean, I think I probably shouldn’t be holding anything back with my first movie.

LAHorror:  Speaking of which, how stoked are you to be directing your first feature film? Are you nervous about being the writer / actor / director, all in one?

DC:  I’m absolutely terrified. I’ve never done anything like this before in terms of wearing so many different hats all at once. Unfortunately, I’m way more excited than I am terrified. I’ve been working on this for over a year and I can watch the movie in my head. In it’s entirety. And in my brain I’ve got the part. Also, as a director, it’s nice to know my lead’s schedule so far in advance.

LAHorror:  And how about your cast & crew? What’s your team starting to look like?

2-1DC:  It’s an embarrassment of riches. I had a pretty awesome run of working non-stop in Chicago theater from October 2012 to August 2014. I got to meet the best actors that Chicago (and probably the world) have to offer. So I cast the crap out of them. My crew are hard working and diligent. They are still coming together at the moment. This Kickstarter campaign will help us secure everyone we want to work with. The parties are interested, but we do need the cash to back up the vision.

LAHorror:  And on that note, why should people, HORROR fans in particular, take a look at your Kickstarter campaign?

DC:  We shot a proof-of-concept piece last year and it’s on the page. We didn’t make it with much money, but I think it shows that we’ve got our hearts in the right place. Check it out for the preview alone. If it’s something you enjoyed. I can tell you exactly how to get more:  You donate to the Kickstarter. I just want to make that clear!  It seems like a weird thing to leave ambiguous.

LAHorror:  Is there anything else you want to share about “Demons”?

DC:  I’m going to be making movies for the rest of my life. That is a 100% guarantee. It should start with this one. The script is great. The cast is better. We want to take the audience for this ride. I don’t want to just entertain people with this movie. I want to possess them.

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Be sure to check out “Demons” on Kickstarter!  You can also learn more about the cast & production at the official “Demons” website.  Also, be sure to like “Demons” on Facebook and follow the film on Twitter!

LA Horror Review: “L.A. Macabre” (Season 1)

Los Angeles is an incredible city with a rich culture and colorful history.  While this city has given us some amazing events, it has also given us some of the most horrific.  After all, this was the home of Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker), The Black Dahlia murder, and the rise and fall of Charles Manson – perhaps the most notorious cult murderer of all time.  And, if you’re like me, you might have a morbid fascination toward some of these things and, perhaps, even a desire to learn about some of the under the radar crimes that may have been committed in this great state.

Luckily for us, there is Dan Ast‘s “L.A. Macabre,” a new web series about a trio of young filmmakers, Ryan (Ryan Hellquist), Collin (Aidan Bristow) and Jamie (Ryan Bartley), who set out to do just that.  But when the trio meets Callie (Corsica Wilson), plans to cover a wide variety of real life Los Angeles horror change, and begin to focus onto one sinister story that the media never covered: The New Family.

THUMB5-2“L.A. Macabre” is an impressive character-driven series, which is a hard feat to pull off, especially in this genre.  This is mostly due to the incredible performances from the shows main characters, the hosts of “L.A. Macabre,” Ryan Hellquist and Aidan Bristow.  They are both natural leading men and have no problem carrying each episode to its greatest potential.  Their characters are layered and deep, and each episode allows them to flex their acting chops a little bit further, especially when things get intense.  


Complimenting them nicely is the timid yet alluring Corsica Wilson, who plays ex-cult member Callie of the mysterious New Family.  She brings an element of mystery and intrigue and succeeds as being the catalyst for a lot of the show’s drama.  The chemistry of everyone on screen makes “L.A. Macabre” extremely enjoyable and easy to watch, as they not only succeed in their intensity and dread of the situations unfolding around them, but also bring a realistic, human quality, which is a great find in indie horror. There are no generic, stereotypical “horror” archetypes in “L.A. Macabre,” and I genuinely felt invested in these people as if they were actually investigating these events.  This is a fictional show…right?

But quality acting does not alone a good series make.  Writer / Director Dan Ast has come up with a clever, engaging horror show.  While the story flirts with real life events, namely the Manson Family murders, it creates an almost alternate history that is very believable.  This is Los Angeles, after all, and there’s plenty of whackos out there.  Pairing this idea up with the documentary filmmaking style, it really clicks.

Now, I know what you may be thinking…a documentary style, “this is real” approach has been done before, correct, but rarely does this work as seamless and believably as it does in “L.A. Macabre.”  The use of multiple cameras never feels like a gimmick or distraction, as there is a great blend of DSLR, webcam and GoPro footage that all comes together in terrific fashion. There are some incredibly creepy and intense moments where you are just begging to see what the other cameras are filming, but we are at the mercy of the characters’ choices, often just the click of a mouse, which changes our entire perception of the events we are witnessing.  This creates some serious tension and several jaw dropping moments throughout the series. Just wait until you see the season finale…

But while the episodes are fantastic, they are only part of the story…Ast and his crew have really put together a piece that’s so deep and layered that it’s unlike any web series I’ve ever seen before.  In fact, I HIGHLY recommend watching ALL of the additional content outside of the episodes themselves, as they add a whole lot more to the overall picture.  These include Jamie’s Video Blogs, which are co-written by Ryan Bartley, the “L.A. Macabre” updates & behind the scenes videos, as well as the mysterious LAMacabre Fan, who lurks about giving ominous clues to the team.  Needless to say, it’s an intricate and meticulously planned series and viewers with a keen eye to detail will be rewarded…

What we’ve posted here is just a sneak peak of the universe “L.A. Macabre” has created, and there’s not a lot about this show that I didn’t enjoy.  In fact, my only major problem with it is that the season is over and I’m DYING to find out what will happen next!  I’ve got my fingers crossed for a season two, that’s for damn sure.  And just a word to those curious horror thrill seekers out there…don’t bite off more than you can chew…you might just find yourself in a spot you can’t get out of…

You can subscribe and watch to the entire “L.A. Macabre” series in chronological order here.  Also, be sure to follow “L.A. Macabre” on Twitter & “like” the series on Facebook!

 

LA Horror Review: “El Gigante”

elgigantewebEl Gigante” is an incredibly ambitious and stylish short horror film from LuchaGore Productions funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Perhaps best known for their “M is for Matador” entry into the “ABCs of Death Part Two” competition, LuchaGore is a creative team that has clearly found their stride and are poised to make the leap from short form to feature films.

“El Gigante” opens with a gorgeous desert vista and a man stumbling through the heat. Through a flashback, we learn that the young Mexican man is named Armando (played by Edwin Perez) and that he tried to strike a deal with a coyote to smuggle his family across the border. They didn’t have enough cash, so Armando had to make the border crossing on his own.

Armando makes it to the border, but is intercepted by a mysterious stranger. Armando passes out. He awakens inside of a room that holds a wrestling arena/altar. He now has a burlap Lucha Libre mask sewn to his face. As a grotesque family of characters watch, he is forced into a death battle with El Gigante, an enormous wrestler.

Visually, this short is a huge treat. It embraces grindhouse style entertainment without veiling it in a fake 1970s aesthetic. The production design and costuming are top notch: this movie pays close attention to textures and character and set design in a way that most short films do not. The makeup and gore effects are incredibly effective. This movie looks and feels filthy.

The cinematography by Luke Bramley and Spencer Village is reminiscent of Dean Semler’s work in “The Road Warrior.” The camera is not in constant motion, but there’s an effortless flow established and enhanced by the editing of director Gigi Saul Guerrero and co-director Bramley.

Guerrero is the colorist for the film as well, and chooses vivid lurid red accents to the sickly greens, yellows, and greys of the wrestling arena. She has a great eye for action and how it can be used to reveal character.

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“El Gigante” is currently on the festival circuit, and will hopefully be seen by people who see the feature potential in it. The short is adapted by Shane McKenzie from the first chapter of his book “Muerte con Carne,” and it’s an amazing contribution to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” style cannibal family genre. Each family member has a distinct look and role to play in the slaughter. If the rest of the book is as exciting as this first look is, then El Gigante could one day join Jason and Leatherface in the pantheon of masked movie killers.

Be sure to “like” LuchaGore Productions on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @LuchaGoreFilm.  This review was written by LAHorror.com contributor Paul Stephen Edwards.

LA Horror Talks Camping with Horrorble Podcast!

I fucking love camping.  There’s no denying that.  And while I’ve been lucky enough to survive all of my camping adventures, many characters in the horror universe, unfortunately, have not.  After all, putting yourself in terrible peril by gathering and partying in the deep monster and serial killer infested woods is a quality recipe for great horror–or campy horror to say the least!  To close out 2014, I took a trip into the deep woods to discuss camping horror with Horrorble Podcast, your source for straight talk, face value horror!

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Horrorble Podcast is hosted by Devon Arnold, along with co-hosts Dylan Holland, Manton Frierson and Brandon Ritman (aka Blootster).  On the docket?  Camping Horror, particularly in the films “Exists,” “Friday the 13th (2009)” and one of my personal favorites, “Sleepaway Camp.”  Check out the episode to see which of these films earned a GEM or a STINKER rating from myself and the Cast!

Listen to the episode here!

HorrorbleCoverWhat Devon and his crew have created with Horrorble Podcast is an everyman approach to different horror topics, which is one of the reasons why I love this cast.  These guys aren’t necessarily horror film buffs, but rather regular fans who know what they like and what they don’t like, and have a pretty damn good time telling you why.  That being said, their insight into the genre is impressive and worth noting.  They have already released a plethora of horror content on their cast, covering a wide variety of horror topics and sub-genres.  Some of my favorite episodes include “The Christmas Episode,” “The Don’t Episode” and their interviews with filmmakers Ivan Kavanaugh (The Canal) and Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson (V/H/S:  VIRAL).

If you’re a casual horror fan or a die-hard, definitely keep up with Horrorble Podcast.  And for any of you campers out there, for God’s sake don’t have sex or do drugs in those woods.  It’s just asking for trouble that you probably can’t handle…

Be sure to follow Horrorble Podcast on Twitter and “like” Horrorble Podcast on Facebook!  Horroble Podcast is also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Confessions of a Midnight Killer

8:15PM.  November 29, 2014.  Saturday night.  The dinner rush was well underway at the In-n-Out restaurant on Whittier Avenue.  Nearly a hundred people were eating or waiting for their burgers and fries under the bright fluorescent lighting when I stepped in.

For just a second, it seemed that everything stopped except for the kitchen workers in the back.  This likely had more to do with my state of mind than reality, but I hadn’t quite adjusted to real time yet.

A man in a checkered short sleeved shirt pointed at me.  “Um, hey man.  You’ve got some blood on you.”

I looked down.  My jeans were spattered with red drops and my purple Washington Huskies shirt had red handprints smeared all over it.

“Don’t worry,” I said.  “It’s not mine.”

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I’d interviewed creator Adrian Marcato about H E R E T I C after meeting him at a few horror conventions.  I had nearly attended the last H E R E T I C event: P A R A T O X I C, but the event had to be closed early.

“I’ll make it up to you,” he’d said.  “I’ll more than make it up to you with Midnight Killer.”  He promised an event unlike any other extreme haunt.

I followed the event on its Facebook page and began to get e-mails.  Slowly, information about the event emerged.  First, a time: 6:45PM on November 29th.  Next, instructions on what to wear (nothing that I didn’t want completely ruined) and a safe word (“lunatic”).

A few details began to appear.  The central character would be a serial killing psychopath named Lucas Merrill who owned a knife that he called “The Slave.”

A few days before the event, a series of short videos began to appear on the H E R E T I C Facebook site.  Each was 15 seconds long.  The first showed a view of a late night freeway drive through a rain/blood soaked windshield while a song reminiscent of a 50s romantic ballad by Fabian played.  The second showed “The Slave” being washed in a sink.  A third was even more ambiguous and dark, with an old country music murder ballad soundtrack.

Final instructions provided a location: a cheap motel in Monterey Park.  I was given a room number and instructed to bring my phone to the meeting.  I was to arrive at exactly my appointment time.

I left the San Gabriel Valley at 6:00PM.  It was already night, and an inbound storm threw an extra blanket of dark clouds over Los Angeles.  On the freeway approaching the hotel, I was nearly wiped off the road by a group of racing tuner cars.  My stomach was in knots, and I had no idea what to expect.

I parked a couple of blocks from the motel.  I was early, so I took a walk around the block.  The temperature was starting to drop, and I was glad that I’d worn a long sleeve shirt under my Huskies tee.

At 6:45 promptly, I walked up to the second floor and knocked on the door of the designated room.  Nothing happened for a while, then the blinds of the window shifted a bit.  A man’s voice barked out “What is your name?”  I answered and the door opened.

The room I entered was decorated in mid-century motel seediness.

A giant blonde man in a black suit glowered at me.  He had a cell phone in one hand and he pointed me over toward a veiled woman in black in the corner of the room.  “Over there,” he muttered in an accented voice.  He then began to have a conversation in Russian on his phone.

The woman in black had contact lenses of different colors in each eye.  She handed me a release form to sign and conducted an interview.  “Do you have any medical conditions that we need to be aware of?  Do you understand that this is an extreme simulation?  You may be forced to ingest a substance.  Are you alright with that?”

When the release form was signed, the Russian shoves me up against a wall and frisks me.  “What’s this?” he barked.

“My phone,” I answered.  “I was told to bring it with me.”

After he was satisfied that my phone and keys were all I’d brought with me, he nodded at the woman in black.  “He’s clean.”

The woman told me to open my phone’s GPS app and enter an address.  “Someone will be waiting for you there,” she said.  “You’ll need to knock three times when you get there.”

I stepped out into the night.  It was getting colder.

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By the time that I’d had this meeting, others had already been sent to the address.  More would follow me.  Managing this type of a live event is a maelstrom of logistics and timing.  Throw in the possibility of police intervention (they were contacted six times regarding the event), practical effects, and traffic; it’s unlikely that any attendees had exactly the same experience.  There was no listed run time for the event.  You were in for as long as you wanted to be.  The only way out was to say the safe word or leave the simulation at the end of the story.

The GPS directed me to a small apartment complex a few miles away in Montebello, an East Los Angeles suburb.  After parking, I walked down the sidewalk.  A young woman dressed in black walked a large Samoyed toward me.

“Give me your shit,” she smiled.  I handed over my phone and keys, which she put in a plastic bag.  She wrote my name on the front with a Sharpie and said “Just a minute.”

She walked away and spoke into a walkie-talkie.  After a moment, she turned back and told me to go upstairs.

I climbed the stairs and stood outside the door.  A sense of anticipation built within me.  I nearly rang the doorbell, but remembered the directions that I had been given.  I knocked three times.

Time broke down at that point.  I waited for either a few seconds or about a minute.  The door opened and a young woman greeted me.  “Hi, I’m Sasha!”  A fine mist hung in the air, diffusing the light and giving the apartment a definite romantic atmosphere.

Sasha had short blonde hair.  She had a warm, inviting smile.  She seemed genuinely happy to see me.  She took my arm, invited me in, directed me over to a sofa, and offered me a drink, which I declined.

“Oh, wait,” she said.  “This isn’t the song I wanted.”  The song playing from the dining room was the 50’s romantic ballad from the Facebook video.  She got up to change the music.  As she stood, I saw that her back was covered with a colorful tattoo.

In the moment that she was gone, I glanced around the apartment.  The realization that this was an elaborate ruse shook me.  I experienced an out of body feeling.  I began to perceive the event as a movie.  My eyes were the camera that was recording the event and my brain was a recording medium.

I focused on details.  There was a mirror by the door.  In the top left corner of the mirror was a small smear of blood.  I looked down at the couch.  The slipcover was a waterproof cover.

“Never mind,” Sasha said.  She came back over and sat next to me.  “You look just like your picture,” she said.

A moment of confusion in my mind.  Where had she seen my picture?  I realized that this was just part of the script.

“I’m kind of nervous,” she said as she leaned in.

“Why are you nervous?” I asked.

“You know how it is.  People seem to be one way on the internet, and they could be something else.”

I shrug.  “I’m just me.”

A crashing sound from the back of the apartment interrupted our conversation.  She looked back, panicked.

“What’s that?  Is there someone else here?” she asked.  She got up and stepped into the hallway.  She began to scream.

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Sasha was thrown to a wall by the one of the largest man I have ever seen in my life: Lucas Merrill, the Midnight Killer.

I’m unable to describe him beyond being a force of violent nature.  His personality seemed to shift without warning.  In one moment he could be friendly and jovial, then he would abruptly become hostile with no provocation.

He grabbed me, flipped me over and threatened me.  I didn’t resist.  He bound my hands with duct tape and wrapped it around my mouth, gagging me.  He slapped my head and began to wrangle me around.

As he did this, I realized that he was directing my attention where he wanted me to look.  And I realized this was part of the performance: the composition of “the shot.”

I wasn’t really scared.  After all, he was a demon that could be exorcised with a single word or a few nods of my head.  That’s when an idea became concrete in my head: “There’s no way that I’m tapping out of this.  I’m in this for the whole ride.”

He raped Sasha in front of me.  Her face was right in mine and she held on to my arm.  She apologized.  She told me she was sorry.

He told me I was dirty and needed to be cleaned.  He picked me up with no effort and shoved me down the hall.  My feet slipped out from under me.  The floor was slick with blood.

I was dragged into the bathroom and shoved into the tub.  There was another woman in the tub.  She was crying.  He slammed the glass door closed.  She begged me to help her.  “Why won’t you talk to me?”  she pleaded.  I tried to speak, but the gag wasn’t coming loose.

It was here that I began to try and loosen my bonds.  My fingers were stuck together and I was beginning to become uncomfortable.  The tub was too small for two people.

Sasha came back in.  She said she had a plan.  She was going to distract him and we were going to make a run for the door.

The other girl wouldn’t stop crying.  Sasha tried to shut her up.  “You are still alive,” she said.  She had a point.  We got out of the tub.  Getting out of a tub while your hands are bound with duct tape is not easy.  My worst bruise of the night occurred at this point.

When we exited the bathroom, the apartment was filled with a thick, foggy haze.  I couldn’t see five feet in front of me.  In addition, I wasn’t wearing my glasses.  The fog combined with my astigmatism to create flares from every light source.  The effect was extremely cinematic.

I didn’t get much of a chance to appreciate it.  Sasha ran off to the side.  I was meant to run straight ahead for the door.  I didn’t.  It seemed like a bad idea.

Sure enough, Lucas emerged from the mist straight in front of me and grabbed me.  He threw me to the floor.

By this point, I had lost all sense of time.  What happened next could have taken five minutes or fifteen.  Lucas’s friends arrived at the apartment.  They were men dressed as women and they kissed and ran their hands all over me.  Sasha was killed.  Lucas threw me against her body.  He slapped her ass and then my head.  “This,” he slapped her “is the same as this,” he slapped me.

The men were getting turned on by all of this.  Lucas snapped for some reason and turned on them.  He murdered them while I watched.  As this happened, a movement from behind caught my eye.

At first I thought it was the other captive from the bathroom, but wasn’t.  My vision was completely unreliable at this point.  Was she wearing a veil?  I couldn’t tell.  She wore a red dress.  Not a veil, but there was something wrong with her face.  She moved freely around the killing.  Lucas did not seem to notice her.  A thought entered my head that she was not from this place.

“We’re going for a ride,” Lucas declared.  He grabbed me and wiped my face off with a filthy rag.  He forced me outside and down the stairs.  We travelled around the back.  He alternated between threatening me and joking with me.

He pulled me over to a U-Haul that was parked on the corner.  “Give me a minute,” he said as he unlocked the back.  He opened the back.  The truck was full of people.  Bound and gagged like me.

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I wasn’t prepared for the sight of all those people in the back of the truck.  I counted six or seven.  It was hard to tell because of the hanging plastic tarps and the blood.

I was shoved into the back.  I became aware that there was more than one person standing outside the truck.  I tried to avoid kicking the woman who was lying in the back of the truck, but I couldn’t help it.

“Roll, motherfucker!” shouted one of the men outside the truck.  I rolled in and the door slammed shut.

In the darkness, I could hear someone crying.  A man’s voice began to whisper.  He was saying that everything was going to be alright because he had a plan.

The truck started up and we sped off.  We were thrown around as the vehicle sped through the streets of Los Angeles.  The driver accelerated and broke fast in order to cause the maximum amount of discomfort.

I counted the turns, left and right.  I counted the stops.  When we came to our final destination, I was pretty sure that we were back where we started.

I heard voices outside the truck.  Someone was calling for Gloria.  “Have you seen Gloria?” I heard him ask.  After some muffled responses, he continued walking down the street calling “Gloria!  Gloria!”

The door opened and Merrill stepped back in.  “I heard somebody talking,” he laughed.  “Who couldn’t keep their fucking mouth shut?”

He walked around, sizing each of us up.  I was fairly sure that the guy next to me, the man with the plan, was part of the simulation.  He didn’t have a gag.  I was sure that the woman in the corner with her throat slit sitting in a pool of blood was in on it, too.  Everyone else, I assumed was a fellow attendee.

Merrill bent down to throttle the man with the plan.  The woman who I had kicked sprang up and brought a collapsable baton down across Merrill’s head.

“Run!” she shouted.  I took off.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the guys from the front of the truck being helped to his feet.  I jumped out of the back of the truck as the struggle in the truck continued.

The guy down the street was still calling for Gloria.

I ran toward the main street where I had parked.  By now, the blood and sweat had worked my duct tape gag loose.  With a little more effort, I was able to work my left hand free of the bonds.

I noticed that the guy who had been helped to his feet was beside me.  “Is that it?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said.  “I’m not sure.”

“Where are we?  Where’s the main street?” he asked.

I pointed down the street toward a building with a well lit parking lot.  “I recognize that Chinese restaurant.  We need to go down here.”

We head down the street and see that the woman with the Samoyed is handing the other participant’s belongings back to him.  We approach and she reaches into her purse and pulls out the plastic bags with our keys and phones.

“Is that it,” the man asks again.  “Game over?”

She nods.  “That’s it.  You’re safe now.”

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After the simulation was over, I wandered the street of Montebello for a while.  I tried to sort and process the events, and I found myself wondering if Midnight Killer was even the strangest event that was going on that evening.

This is, after all, the land of the Black Dahlia, the Night Stalker, and the Manson Family.  Weird, strange, and violent are currents that run deep through Southern California.

I felt a tremendous feeling of relief.  I had passed through without giving in.

It was not a rushing sense of euphoric joy, but of more of a focused calm.  I felt hungry and alive.  I needed food.  I got in my car and went to the In-N-Out.

As I ate my meal under the luminous cloudy sky, more victims were thrown into a truck full of madmen.

The day after the event, I got in touch with three other attendees through the Midnight Killer Facebook event.  I wanted to know how other people’s experiences compared with my own.  They agreed to share notes with me, and to talk about what Midnight Killer meant to them.  Mary Ellison, 49 and  Rebecca Horist, 26 were referred to me by Jaimee Rossi, aged 29.  All of them consider themselves fans of horror films.  Ellison and Horist both reference the “Saw” films and their message of redemption through suffering.

Ellison was the first person to go through the simulation that night, at 5:00PM.  She described the motel room where the initial meeting happened as having “a freshly fucked scent” that “smelled of condemnation.”  I’d have to agree that the room’s seediness added to the perceived feeling of danger.  In fact, as Ellison and Horist point out, the anticipation of the event plays a huge role.

Ellison said “My feelings up to the event are a mixture of sexual longing, intrigue, edge of your seat mystery and wonder and lastly undeniable actual terror. It is the stuff of nightmares when your imagination takes over. Your Facebook feed is littered with terrifying videos, revolting photographs, and true crime stories.  The actors taunt you weeks ahead of time with middle of the night phone calls, unnerving questions and knowledge of a shocking amount of personal information, which they will ultimately use against you in their personally customized treatment. It is a secret society.”

Mary Ellison was thrown into the bathroom tub like I was, however there was no second captive.  Instead, she came face to face with the apparition in the red dress.  My perception was wrong.  It wasn’t a woman.

“The door was open so I could see this dreadful creature lurking at me the whole time. He was an emaciated senior citizen in a provocative red mini-dress. His arthritic fingers and disgusting nails reminded me of Nosferatu. Then someone who I flat out cannot remember comes in and forces me to inhale something from a cartridge I do not recognize,” said Ellison.

I was not forced to ingest anything.  Ellison did not experience the “sexual serial killer gender fuckers” that I did.  She also seemed to have more interaction with the occupants of the truck than I or Rebecca Horist did.  Jamiee Rossi did not experience Sasha’s rape.  In fact, Rossi’s experience was unlike anyone else’s.

Rossi entered the simulation at 8:45PM.  While he was being bound and gagged, he heard another voice calling out.  It was his friend who had gone through ahead of him.  She begged for help, telling him that she had said the safe word and that they had not released her.  Sensing a test, Rossi tried to get her to say the safe word.  She did not.  Instead, he was released from the simulation.

Confused, Rossi stepped outside and talked with Marcato.  Marcato said that he was informed that Rossi had used the safe word.  Rossi insisted that he had never said the safe word.  He insisted that he would never say the safe word, no matter what.  Rossi was then inserted back into the simulation at a later point in the timeline.

In the back of the U-Haul truck, Jaimee Rossi became the man who broke the Midnight Killer.

Rossi was thrown into the van so hard that his shins bled as they hit the deck.  “The truck door slammed shut, and that’s when I knew the fun was going to begin,” he said.

According to his recollection, “Several people jumped all over me slammed my face on the bed of the truck while another was hitting me with an unknown object and another jamming their fingers underneath my rib cage! That seriously fucking sucked. One if the worst things that I’ve felt EVER.”

“They proceeded to duct tape my beanie over my eyes and kept covering my nose and mouth to suffocate me. Smearing blood all over my face. I continued to get roughed up and they began to cut the back of my pants off.  What happened next should stay between us…”

Rossi goes on to describe all manners of tortures inflicted upon him.  During this time, several other participants are thrown into the truck.  All of them call the safe word.  Rossi does not.

“I then got flipped on top my back and a shirt got placed over my faced and they began to pour water all over my face while one is digging at my ribs. Have you ever had someones fingers literally underneath your rib cage?” he asks.

“This happened 4 or 5 times before the door opened once more and another victim got tossed inside. They took their attention off of me and began to work on him. They made him say “Jamiee Rossi is one tough mother fucker.”

“He said that a few times as he was being slapped and he said the safety word,” said Rossi.   “Once more I was left with these psychopaths and they began do everything all over again, trying to make me say the safety word. I told them that I’d never say it and this had to be clear to them by now.”

“The truck door opened once more and I sat up, got my handcuffs taken off and they congratulated me saying I’m crazy and one bad mother fucker and that I’ve been in there for over two hours.  I got out of the truck and looked back . IT REALLY LOOKED LIKE A MURDER SCENE.”

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The night was not without setbacks for the H E R E T I C team.  They have issues with the police whenever they stage an event, for fairly obvious reasons.  The fact that this went on in a residential neighborhood is still stunning to me.  The team had to modify several events as the evening went on because of traffic logistics, to avoid disturbing the neighborhood and to avoid arrest.  As far as I can tell, the only part of the story that I did not participate in was the return of the Russian at the end to provide exposition that Lucas Merrill was now a prisoner of a serial killer hunting party called VICIOUS CIRCLE.

However, they remain an incredibly focused and tight-knit team that are determined to deliver unique experiences for their clients.

I asked Horist what drew her to attend Midnight Killer and she said “The story, but also once I emailed, I liked how big they are on keeping everyone safe- the actors and participants. Safe words AND gesture. The lady who checks you in even said it won’t go past you not being able to do one of the two- the actors do know once it has gone too far and when to stop.”

Trust is a huge factor in participating in an extreme event.  I’m going to be very honest here: IT HURTS.  I still have bruises on my arms and legs nearly a week later.  And I didn’t even get a very extreme version of the simulation.  It’s harrowing physically, mentally, and emotionally.  What I found from everyone that I spoke to, is that they trust Adrian Marcato to deliver an extreme experience and to see them safely out the other side.

Marcato inspires trust and loyalty from attendees and his performers.  I asked all three attendees about their feelings after the event and every one of them would want to repeat the experience.  In fact, Horist wanted very much to become one of the performers.  According to Ellison, “The threshold bar of my fear/pain tolerance increases each time. My feelings up to the event border on obsession. Yes, I will do it again because the gift of Heretic is fleeting and found nowhere else in the world.”

A week after the event, I wondered if everyone had got what they came for.  Mary Ellison certainly did.  She said “The only thing that I was unhappy about is that it didn’t last longer.”

Rebecca Horist agreed that the event could have been longer.  “I was a little surprised they did the rape scene- that was unnecessary.  But overall, I was not scared.  But the acting was well done.”  She continued “Now I want to act with them.”

I asked her if she would do a Midnight Killer event again.  “I would do a solo night where they only focus on you.  You are the only guest the entire night,” she said.

That is a possibility.  H E R E T I C is currently running a series entitled XPERIMENTS that is single patron.  The event is custom tailored to that patron’s fears and desires.  It lasts for four hours with a short break between two hour blocks.

In fact, the number of events that Marcato is planning has exploded within the last week.  Midnight Killer was the first H E R E T I C event that had a cover charge.  All of the group’s previous events had been invitation only and free of charge.  Judging by what occurred on November 29th, they have been fairly successful at learning from their previous efforts.

Mary Ellison makes it a point to attend any H E R E T I C event.  She said “The suspense is addictive and will enter your dreams at night. This kind of mind- fuckery is unbelievable, innovative, cutting edge…breathless. Each hint of what is to come builds higher and higher to an apex of fear and excitement. All the while you are isolated and impotent to do anything about your situation…kind of like BDSM predicament training. All of the special effects are first rate professional. I have never seen an open gash pulsate like that; it was so real I nearly puked.  The actors are method and passionate about what they do. They will push your limits and make you feel loved all at the same time. Gestalt Theater at its finest.”

Jaimee Rossi was thrilled with the outcome.  “It’s what I was expecting,” he declared.  “To get destroyed and to see what my body could endure.  I have much respect for Adrian Marcato.  They delivered.”

As for me, I got what I wanted: an event that was completely unlike anything else.  It was far more intense and graphic than the Blackout event that I attended last year.  It was like being a character in a movie.  There were moments of genuine shock and surprise.  Even though it was billed as a “serial killer simulation” and a “grind house” event, I found that thematically it had more in common with the works of David Lynch.

Over a week later, and the sense of quiet euphoria has yet to pass.  My dreams have become more vivid and meaningful.  It really got in my head in the way that Mary Ellison described.  I find myself wondering how the story will continue.  What visions await me if I continue the story?  Will they find my breaking point?

Part two of Midnight Killer continues in May 2015.  This story was written by LAHorror.com contributor Paul Stephen Edwards.