Film Courage Presents: “BETHANY” – Behind the Scenes

Hello Horror Lovers!  I’ve recently had the privilege of working on two incredible horror projects entitled “Bethany” and “Restoration,” directed by James Cullen Bressack & Zack Ward, respectively.  These feature films will no doubt chill you to your very bones and shock your system – that’s a personal guarantee.  While principle photography is wrapped and the films make their way into post, we wanted to give you a sneak peek into not only the films themselves, but the filmmaking process.

Film Courage, an incredible resource and supporter of indie films, visited the set of “Bethany” and shared some incredible behind the scenes insight for the project.  I’ve got the playlist here, so I HIGHLY recommend checking them out, especially if you’re an aspiring filmmaker yourself.  Enjoy!

We will keep you up to date on all things “Bethany” & “Restoration” as more emerges from the films.  Also be sure to follow Film Courage on Twitter!

H E R E T I C: A One of a Kind Live Horror Experience

HereticHaunted houses have become a lucrative field.  According to the Haunted House Association, haunted attractions pull in over a billion dollars annually in the United States.  Most of these are family attractions such as corn mazes and hay rides that may have a few actors or props to provide a few jump-scares for you.  These are decidedly PG-rated affairs and generally fall more toward the “creepy and spooky” level rather than anything genuinely scary.

Of course, there are the large scale theme park attractions such as “Knott’s Scary Farm” and “Universal Halloween Horror Nights” that provide professional level makeup and effects.  There is a higher gore factor and more implied violence.  These are the PG-13 style attractions.

And then there are the “extreme” haunts.  In attractions such as “Blackout” and “Alone,” you go through alone and must sign a waiver.  Full contact is allowed and you are placed in extreme situations involving sexual situations and psychological stress.  You are provided a safe word to cease the interactions.  Definitely hard R ratings here, possibly drifting toward the NC-17 if we continue our MPAA analogy.

H E R E T I C would be the ratings equivalent of a 70s style X.  The MPAA would quite simply refuse to give it a rating and would possibly contact the state and local authorities to round up the responsible parties.  Part performance art, part horror film, it is not meant to be scary.  It is meant to be fucking terrifying.

And it’s free.  But there’s a catch: you have to be invited.

Heretic 3

Chances are, if you’re on the invite list, you’ve already encountered the creative mastermind behind H E R E T I C: Adrian Marcato.  Marcato is a makeup and effects artist for movies such as “Dead Sea” and “House of Manson.”  And for the last year, he has been causing people to scream out designated safe words under the banner of H E R E T I C.

I first encountered Marcato at “ScareLA” where he was running a five minute demo version of       H E R E T I C.  I stepped behind a curtain into pitch black and was immediately accosted by a demonic figure.  I didn’t even notice the blood on my clothes until an hour later.  It was truly bizarre and terrifying, even in the middle of a crowd of people.  Marcato promised that this was just a taste of the full event.

The following is an e-mail interview with Marcato conducted just after the conclusion of the latest H E R E T I C event: P A R A T O X I C.

Paul Stephen Edwards: Let’s start with your background in practical FX & makeup.  What’s your origin story?

Adrian Marcato: I have been in FX for five years now. I actually started taking screenwriting classes and moved into shooting my short films. The first one I wrote, shot, directed and did the FX for by just learning on the spot. The name of the film was “Her Dead Flesh,” [and] it was about a girl that on the way home was raped and killed by a creature (it’s revealed later a vampire). She comes back to life murdering and drinking blood. That was my first FX job turning my classmate (now wife) into a rotted vampire that masturbates with bloody severed limbs. I did FX for friends and eventually landed my first horror film “Hatchet 3” as an intern.

PSE: And what led toward the transition to live performance?

AM:  Prior to that, I had worked at “Knotts Scary Farm” as a monster and security. I worked four years on that haunt, learning by watching the production from all sides. In 2011, I started working FX for the “LA Haunted Hayride” and that was great, because I was allowed to be creative with the make-up.

In 2013, I wrote a film called H E R E T I C, shopped it around, and actually took meetings with a few production companies–a few minor and one major. They passed on it, so I decided to just do it myself, and it was during the casting for it I got bored after seeing like 100 people.  So I decided to scare the actors coming in by presenting a disturbing scene they had to act out…it was then I decided to develop It into a haunted house. I tested the material out on myself first which was a really brutal experience.

PSE:  What was brutal about it?

AM:  I wanted to see how real I could make it. I asked three close friends to participate as my monsters. I was tied to a chair in my basement and I could got not get out of my restraints. I then told them to lay five weapons on the ground in front of me: a bat, a knife, a metal pipe, a rope, and gloves.  They were told by me that I had to choose three out of five and it [would] be random. I was very scared when the blindfold went over my eyes. I chose the gloves first by pointing blindly and one of my friends put sheer latex gloves on and for 10 seconds hit me very hard. The knife was picked next … I was slightly cut. Nothing heavy, but the last cut was deep. I called safety and it was over.

Never again.  That was very intense, but it helped me to create a vicious design without going to those extremes.

PSE:  But H E R E T I C is pretty extreme.  I mean, as far as haunts go.  What was the first version like?  How many attended and what was the feedback that you got?

AM:  It was in my house. We gutted it and made it very dark and foggy. We had four rooms, and it started in a very small room that was enclosed with two doors: one into the room and another that lead into the house. You were greeted by a very creepy pale woman that did not talk to you but played a recording. She wanted you to help her find her daughter’s body that was supposedly in the house. She also explained that filthy, sick people were in the house, mentally deranged and mad.  She opened the door. The dim light and fog spilled into the small room. She slowly pushed you in and closed the door saying there is only one way out.

Once in the hallway, you could not see anything. A figure slowly became clear calling you down the hallway toward it. As you got closer, the things inside would pull you into the dark rooms and begin torturing and violently throwing you around in a padded room. Guests were turned upside down and forced to watch disgusting sexual exorcisms performed on violent possessed victims.  The end is secret but we only had seven people go through and each one LOVED IT. One guy said he was so scared he was in bed for three days after leaving.

PSE:  It’s that commitment to supernatural horror that separates H E R E T I C  from other individualized horror experiences such as “Blackout” and “Alone.”  How has the story evolved, and what are the challenges and differences writing a live experience versus a movie screenplay?

AM:  I wanted to treat it like a franchise, so every sequel to H E R E T I C was different, but held some components from the original story. The second one was [about] how the daughter was murdered and how the mother was drugged and used to procure other girls. The third was the secret group that did horrible things in honor of their demigod MASOCH.  H E R E T I C 4 took our guests even further to the process of becoming part of the secret cult, and part five, which was our last show, dealt with disease as worship.  A man from the secret cult is exiled so he starts his own religion based on a disease he creates.

Writing a live experience is just taking out all the cool elements of the story and shaping it into a shorter almost theatrical feel but keeping the viciousness of a horror experience.

Heretic dead_girl_6328

PSE: Speaking of franchises, you’re moving into new territory with Midnight Killer.  What’s the story with that?

AM:  It’s much different than              H E R E T I C and I’m very excited for people to go through it. I took some very cool serial killer movies and a haunt and mixed them together. Guests won’t know what’s coming …it’s as brutal as
H E R E T I C but [there’s] more interaction with my main character. The story revolves around a man named Lucas Merrill: a large presence that takes you on a short ride through hell.

PSE:  So what have you learned about fear from this experiment and where do you hope to take it?

AM:  Fear is something that’s inside everyone. It’s buried for most people.  During my last              H E R E T I C one guy said I tapped into his childhood with one scene and he freaked out …I hope to take people places they’ve never expected.

To learn more about H E R E T I C, be sure to “like” the event on Facebook.  This feature was written by LAHorror.com contributor Paul Stephen Edwards.

LAHorror.com Original: “Knife Party”

Happy Fucking Halloween, Horror Lovers!

I hope you’re having a ghoulish holiday, and to sweeten it up just a bit, we’ve got a treat that will really satisfy your appetite for CARNAGE!  LAHorror.com is stoked to premiere our new short horror film, “Knife Party”!  This little slice of horror is directed by Paul Stephen Edwards and produced by LAHorror.com contributors Mikhail Zakharchuk and Hunter Johnson.  It also features a totally dope soundtrack from TeKNOsuicidE!  So put on your best outfit and come join Alec JamesChrissy Cannone, Cassandra JonesRobert Michael Price and myself to the “Knife Party”! I’ll be sure to bring my sharpest cutlery, too…cheers!

MMM…I’m hungry for seconds…

Love it?  Hate it?  Want to share it?  Let us know!  Drop us a line on Twitter and be sure to “like” LAHorror.com on Facebook!  And if you’ve got a horror website or blog, please share and review our film!  Send us the link and we’ll drop your banner on our Friends of LAHorror.com page!

VHS SPOTLIGHT: “Spookies”

Alex Ray is back with our second VHS Spotlight, shining the light on some VHS only horror movies that need to find their way onto DVD!  If you’ve got a copy of one of these then take good care of it…now let’s all adjust our tracking…

VHS SPOTLIGHT: SPOOKIES

1985 * 85 minutes * Sony * Directed by Eugenie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner

spookies_coverFirst, a little business: this is available on DVD in the UK. But I’m not counting that. If it ain’t on good ol’ region one in the US of A, it’s fair game for this column. I shouldn’t have to figure out the pound-to-dollar conversion rate just to get my DVD fix. (Tangent: I was totally willing to do so for the awesome Jake West documentary, “Video Nasties,” which is only available on PAL digital video disc–and so worth it.)

Now, on to our show…

The terms “visually stunning” and “special effects extravaganza” don’t carry much weight anymore, but they both apply to “Spookies.” Kind of like “Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn” or “Bad Taste,” it’s got a heaping helping of indie charm, along with FX work that puts the big boys to shame–at least as far as quantity goes. Even if the creatures and gore aren’t always on par with KNB or Savini, this is still one of the most ambitious ’80s horror flicks I’ve seen. It’s got a menagerie of monsters to rival “Cabin in the Woods,” and they don’t just pop up late in the flick–it’s a non-stop barrage of cool critters and creepy setpieces.

Let’s play Horror Mad Libs: some ______ get lost and end up at ______ , where they’re attacked by ______ . In this case, the blanks are filled by random New Yorkers, an old mansion, and a cross between Grandpa Munster and The Tall Man. The setup is pretty standard, but once we get past the pleasantries, things start moving along at a good clip. Our characters are picked off by a wide variety of monstrosities (my favorite of which would definitely be the fart monsters, or, as the box describes them: “lust-crazed muck men”) under the command of Old Man Greasepaint, who needs some souls to bring back his dead wife. Of course, things don’t quite go according to plan.

The narrative might not be the strongest (it’s basically the cinematic equivalent of walking through a funhouse), but it’s still a heckuva ride. That is, if you’re feeling nostalgic for ’80s cheese. This is by no means a forgotten masterpiece–just a fun movie with a lot of heart and a few nods to the horrors that came before (“Evil Dead” being the most obvious). If you’re looking for something that lies somewhere on the spectrum between “The Dead Next Door” and “Waxwork,” it fits the bill.

spookies1An R1 DVD would be nice, especially if the original Richard Corben poster/box art is used. The UK disc kinda makes it look like something more along the lines of “Demons” or “Night of the Demons” or the aforementioned “Evil Dead”–which it is not (it also refers to the cast as “teenagers,” which they are definitely not). “Spookies” is an entirely different beast (several different beasts, actually), and worth a look–whether you wanna shell out a few pounds for a disc from across the pond, or considerably more in US currency for the VHS. Either way, it’ll make you remember why you fell in love with this stuff in the first place.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

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

LA Horror Review: “An American Ghost Story”

Curiosity can be a dangerous thing.  It’s the cause of many problems for people in horror films and something that can ultimately become deadly.  How often do we see someone investigate a strange noise, pursue a forbidden curse or, in the case of “An American Ghost Story,” the new film from 2 Man Production, knowingly invite themselves into the home of a malevolent spirit?

Paul Anderson (Stephen Twardokus) is an aspiring writer who’s trying to get it together.  You see, Paul has never finished anything he’s set out to do, and with his new idea he’s more determined than ever.  Unfortunately for him and his girlfriend, Stella (Liesel Kopp), his new idea involves moving into the home of a recently murdered family and trying to communicate with its restless spirits.  Before long, both Paul and Stella realize that they are not alone and certainly not welcome…

The set up for “Revenant” is simple, but the execution is fantastic.  What filmmakers Derek Cole (director, producer), Stephen Twardokus (producer, writer, actor) and Jon Gale (producer, actor) have done is create a bare bones story that still manages to scare the piss out of you with a “less is more” mentality.  Wait, I take that back— “less is more” may not be an accurate way to describe this movie, because it is FULL of legitimate scares.  From your classic jumps to your slow, sinister sequences, “An American Ghost Story” keeps you on edge from the very first scene until the last.  It’s tense as hell and doesn’t let up.

What works about this film is its overall creativity in the things seen on screen.  As a filmmaker myself, I was perplexed as to how these guys pulled off some of these sequences.  There are no CGI ghosts in this movie, and the practical effects are ridiculous and always frightening.  From the spirit rising out of the bed sheets to an entire kitchen erupting in rage, the ingenuity behind the camera is this film’s most impressive feat.

Paul Anderson (Twardokus) has a naïve curiosity with the spirits in his house…

Yet, all of the horror elements in “Revenant” are amplified by Cole’s stellar direction.  His choices to make slow zooms, subtle camera movements and some clever editing always keep you in anticipation.  Every scene has the ability to give you frights and, trust me, most of them do.  Cole is clearly well-versed in the art of suspense, and fans of classic ghost stories such as “The Haunting” or “Poltergeist” would certainly enjoy “An American Ghost Story.”

While this film is exceptional in terms of the talent behind the camera, without good performances all may be for not.  Luckily for “An American Ghost Story,” it’s cast, though small, all pull their weight and add to the overall success of the film.  In particular, our leading man Twardokus plays the over-curious writer believably, and you can clearly see the shift in him when he realizes that he’s in far over his head in this house.  Liesel Kopp as Stella is the most relatable of the characters, given the fact that she is the rational of the two and is far more afraid of these spirits than her boyfriend.  Kopp really shines when things get rough.  Her panic and fear are felt through the screen.

“An American Ghost Story” is damn scary, and that’s no joke.  My advice to you if you get the opportunity to watch it:  give this movie the respect it deserves.  That means phone off, lights off, popcorn and a beer.

For more information about “An American Ghost Story,” please visit the films official website.  You can also check out “An American Ghost Story” on Facebook and Twitter.  Actress Liesel Kopp was LAHorror.com‘s first featured artist.  You can view her story here.

LA Horror Review: “Of Silence”

“What if Silence was a Living Thing?”  An intriguing tagline from an equally intriguing film, Jeremiah Sayys’ “Of Silence” is a dark and brooding tale of a deeply disturbed man haunted by the silence that surrounds him.  It is a horror-thriller and a slow burn, a film that presents a number of questions and leaves many of the answers up to its audience.

Colby (Jeremiah Sayys) has just lost his wife, and he’s not doing well.  He has debt collectors hounding him, his family can’t cheer him up and to make matters even worse, he’s tormented by a presence in his seemingly empty house.   Now he must delve deep into the shadows and try to find out if he’s losing his grip on reality, or if there is truly an insidious being in his house that is after him.

As stated before, this movie is a slow burn and doesn’t pander to its audience.  Sayys (the writer, director, producer and star) obviously had a vision for this film and, to his credit, makes this a haunting experience through his one-man-show type performance and some tricky directing.  While the film doesn’t necessarily have the quickest or fullest plot, it’s much more of a character study and peek into the mind of a man gone mad.  Frequently, Sayys uses canted angles and slow moving shots to creep us closer to the film’s shocking conclusion.

Jeremiah Sayys plays the disturbed Colby in “Of Silence”

Sayys also manages this low-budget masterfully, and while the film does utilize special effects and some creative creature design, most of the scares come through the silence, or lack there of, in Colby’s life.  Frequently, we are forced to listen to the howls and cries of the house, the demonic noises that haunt Colby’s daily routine that truly send a chill up your spine.  You’re never quite sure who—or what—is causing them, and the clues that pop up in the film itself only lead you to realize that nothing in Colby’s world is as it seems.

The supporting cast is sparsely seen and is mostly comprised of Colby’s family and a few friends.  They do seem unsupportive of Colby’s pain at times, often cracking jokes and hooting and hollering when Colby is clearly uninterested in company.  The bright spot is the sweet and well-intentioned younger sister, Haley (Ashlee Gillespie), who seems like the only one who truly wants to help Colby deal with the grief he is constantly feeling.  Masiela Lusha also adds a creepy element to the film as Colby’s wife, who often appears on screen alive…and dead…

What I found interesting about this movie is that while it’s a horror film, the true villain remains unknown for quite some time.  It teeters on the border of ghost, monster and psychological thriller and has plenty of legitimate scares (one bloody hand scene in particular made me jump pretty high).

Sayys has no doubt succeeded in what he set out to do, and after watching this film, I certainly hope that he has the opportunity to do another horror film with a larger budget and a bit more gore (what can I say, I’m a gore hound).  Sayys proves himself as an actor and director with this ambitious project, and don’t be surprised if this movie puts him on the map, so to speak.  After all, “Of Silence” is a real scream!

“Of Silence” is currently making the festival rounds around the country and internationally.  You can view more work from WorldsLastHero Productions at their official website. Also be sure to check out “Of Silence” on Facebook.  Review by Hunter Johnson.