Sunday, September 30, 2012

SE7EN: The Godfather of Cool Opening Credits

gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk takes you back to 1995 with a retro-look at the work of titles artist Kyle Cooper. Learn the hearts filthy lesson.

David Fincher's now-classic crime thriller, Se7en, started a lot of trends.

Perhaps the ultimate portrait of the nihilism that pervaded a lot of cinema in the '90s, Se7en made for a dark, despairing, bleak experience where both the innocent and the guilty are harshly punished just for being part of this mortal coil. Soon after its release in September 1995, horror films and thrillers started becoming a lot leaner and meaner.

Se7en also made flashlights piercing through the darkness look super-cool, and its use of shadows and light to create mood as well as establish location made for a unique "look" -- soon, student filmmakers and studio directors alike were telling their DPs and art directors that they want their film "to look like Se7en."

However, one trend pretty much jumpstarted by the film that is often overlooked is the somewhat unfortunate phenomenon of the "cool credits."

You remember the opening credit sequence of Se7en: the fractured images of John Doe writing in his notebooks, creating his various dastardly props, the scratched-on lettering, the flash frames of police evidence photographs, all set to the soothing sounds of a thumping remix of NIN's "Closer." The credits sequence immediately set the tone for the rest of the film to come: the anxiety, the startling imagery, the sense of impending doom. And yeah, it was cool as hell.

Except that everyone wanted "cool credits" after that. Kyle Cooper, who designed the sequence, suddenly had a lot more work, creating the opening titles for The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Spawn (1997), Mimic (1997) and Arlington Road (1999), all of which looked more than a little familiar.

There were Cooper copycats, too, including the opening titles of Oliver Stone's U Turn (1997). Alternative rock band Garbage wanted a "Se7en look" for their music video of "Stupid Girl." And suddenly a lot of student films had "cool" opening credits, even if the film that followed looked cheap.

The problem was that, more often than not, these credit sequences were cool for the sake of being cool and didn't really have any reason for being so cool.

Ah well. At least they were cool. And Se7en remains the coolest of them all.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge #3

You took our first two quizzes - now Mr. Hand challenges you to "tune" to another! Test your knowledge with our third Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Building a Good Haunted House Movie: THE HAUNTING and THE SHINING

Jane Rose is the award-winning special effects makeup artist of The Big Bad and Anniversary Dinner. Jane's not afraid of no haunted house ... but she finds it a daunting (or is that haunting?) task to find one that actually scares her. Two haunted house movies, at least, definitely do the trick; come inside, light a candle and traverse the winding halls, if you dare.

I love all kinds of horror movies ... good ones, at least. Sometimes even bad ones, provided that they're ridiculous or gory enough, and since zombies are still hot right now, I guess, there is plenty of that kind of fare out there to be entertained by. But my favorite horror subgenre, whether in books or movies, is the haunted house story.

This can be a difficult passion to maintain since it seems like there are fewer haunted house movies produced than some other kinds, like the aforementioned zombie movies or slashers, and among those produced really good ones are even fewer still. A terrible zombie movie can be a tolerable experience ... or a really fun one, when paired with booze and the right company. A terrible haunted house movie is murder to sit through, and not in a good way. I think that concocting a ghost story that sends a real chill down the viewer's spine is very tough to do, and I really respect it when a film pulls it off.

If I were to pick a favorite haunted house movie, it would be a tie between two of the classics: The Haunting (the original 1963 version) and The Shining (the movie, not the TV version, duh). Both, however, achieve their respective successes in some pretty different ways.  

The Haunting is pretty remarkable for a horror movie because it manages to be scary without a single drop of blood. Creepiness -- bordering on a sense of dread -- is accomplished entirely through camera angles, pacing, acting, sound effects and the occasional voice-over representing the thoughts of the movie's heroine, who seems to draw supernatural occurrences to her. Sometimes the camera angles are high, as if the characters were being watched by something above them. But some of the simplest and most effective camera work happens when the camera tracks slowly -- in close-up across a wall, making you wonder what will be revealed in the next inch, or when it lingers on a specific spot of wall, while the soundtrack lets us know that something dreadful is happening behind it.  

The Haunting gets a lot of mileage out of close camera angles and the power of suggestion. Much of the sound effects consist of loud booms (similar to those in another great haunted house movie, The Changeling) or muffled voices or laughing, stock ghost stuff that could come across as cheesy in less deft hands. Interestingly, the movie omits the one bloody scene from the book it was based on, where the characters enter a room that has been mysteriously doused in blood. I don’t miss it, though. Overall, the movie manages to be scary in a very minimal way.  

The Shining, which is a lot more familiar to people and arguably one of the scariest horror movies ever made, uses a few more tricks and overt effects than The Haunting to achieve its scares. Whereas The Haunting is defined by subtlety, one needs only to watch the version of The Shining trailer where blood pours from the elevator doors to know to expect something a little less genteel.

 However, the scariness of the movie is still largely created through pacing and interesting camera work (this time, long angles and slow drifting shots through large spaces are incorporated to emphasize the size of the hotel and place its horrors where you can't always see them that clearly). Gory effects are used sparingly as payoff (the flashes of the dead girls in the hallway, and who can forget the rotten bathtub lady?). The movie relies a bit less on suggestion than The Haunting does, but the pace is still measured, even slow at times as director Stanley Kubrick likes to let things play out at their own speed, unrushed. This seems to be another necessity of scary haunted house movies: things have to build up slowly, allowing the viewer to get sucked in.

While these two are my favorites, several other haunted house movies deserve honorable mentions: the aforementioned The Changeling (1980), The Legend of Hell House (1973), Paranormal Activity (2009) and The Sentinel (1977). Enter them all at your own risk!

Friday, September 21, 2012

SHAUN OF THE DEAD: Zombie Movie References You May Have Missed

Notes from the zombie apocalypse by gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk. Share an inside laugh or two

I didn't know Shaun of the Dead from a hole in the wall until my pal Becky Comtois insisted I come over to her apartment and watch it on her giant television a couple of years ago. It ended up being a night of Becky and the other guests watching the movie and watching me watching the movie. I ended up loving Shaun almost as much as almost everyone else does ... which is quite a lot, either way.

Anyway, enjoy the following nods to the nods in Shaun of the Dead. I'm sure there are even more references that I (and the IMDB) have missed. Let me know!

Shaun of the Dead (2004) was a zombie movie lover's dream come true - a smart, funny and clever take on the genre that managed to be both a hilarious comedy and a rather harrowing horror film in and of itself. Fans loved the endless homages and references to some of the best zombie films of yesteryear, but there are a few such nods and winks that you may not have caught, some a little more subtle (and quicker) than others ... 

1) Shaun yells at Ed for calling the zombies "zombies" (the "Zeta-word," as it were). This is something of a double-joke, referring to the fact that the word "zombie" was never uttered in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and perhaps also to the fact that director Danny Boyle had to insist - over and over - that the "Infected" in 28 Days Later (2002) were most definitely not "zombies."

2) While going through the Yellow Pages, Shaun finds the number for the Italian restaurant known as Fulci's, a reference to Lucio Fulci, director of such tasty Italian treats as Zombie (1979) and The Beyond (1981). The latter contains a scene where someone is eaten by tarantulas. Truly.

3) Ed's line, "We're coming to get you, Barbara," is a reference to Night of the Living Dead (1968). George Romero himself didn't get this until director Edgar Wright told him. You probably did, though.

4) Shaun's place of work is "Foree Electric," a reference to the star of Dawn of the Dead (1978) (he also had a cameo in the 2004 remake). "Wake up, sucka!"

5) Speaking of Shaun's place of work, in the scene where he heads into "Foree Electric" for the first time, there's a worker on the street listening to a radio announcement that mentions a space probe that re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and broke up over England. If you remember in Night of the Living Dead (1968), someone mentions radiation from a satellite returning from Venus as a possible cause of the undead outbreak.

6) George Romero gave his zombie extras one dollar per day on his early Dead films. The zombie extras in Shaun of the Dead were given one pound per day.

7) Mary (the zombie in Shaun's backyard) works at Landis Supermarket, a nod to John Landis, director of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.

8) The video game Ed is playing throughout the film is TimeSplitters 2. That's not a reference to anything zombie-ish; I just think it's a cool game and thought I'd mention it.

Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge #2

You took our first quiz - now Guy Pearce challenges you to another! Test your movie knowledge with our second Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Brian Morvant was the stunt coordinator (and the hapless drug dealer, Sully) of THE BIG BAD. He doesn't dig too much on horror, but he thinks sci-fi is groovy ... and he absolutely LOVES director Paul W.S. Anderson's sci-fi horror opus, EVENT HORIZON. Join Brian as he boards the ship that went to hell and back.

"You can't leave. She won't let you."

It's the turning point of the film. Two-thirds of the way through where you get that thrilling, suffocating, familiar horror-movie feeling that everybody's gonna die.

After having been missing for seven years, the starship Event Horizon is discovered in deep space. The crew of the search and rescue vessel Lewis & Clark boards it only to find strange video diaries filled with horrific shrieks and screams, the previous crew most likely savagely killed and a seemingly sentient ship that manifests each crew member's deepest fears and that appears to have literally returned from a trip to hell!

Laurence Fishburne's badass Captain Miller races through the sprawling main corridor after having given the order to abort the mission.

MILLER: We will take the Lewis & Clark to a safe distance and then launch TAC missiles at the Event Horizon until I am satisfied that she has been destroyed. Fuck this ship.

But he's followed close behind by Sam Neill's Dr. Peter Weir, the creator of the ship. Sam Neill, who, let's not forget, we had seen a few years earlier playing Dr. Alan Grant in JURASSIC PARK. So he's got a face that you trust. But here, he seems agitated, concerned, hinting at covetous.

DR.WEIR: You ... you can't do that! You can't kill her! I won't let you. I lost her once, I will not lose her again ...

Dr. Weir grabs Miller by the sleeve, turning him around in an attempt to stop him, but Miller responds instantly, slamming Weir back. Boom, the ship comes alive! Lights shut down across the corridor, emergency sirens blare in every room. Miller turns back to a console to see what the hell is going on, communicating with the rest of the crew.

But behind him, something's changed in Dr. Weir's eyes. He slinks into the shadows.

DR. WEIR: You can't leave ... She won't let you.

Then Weir is gone and we dive deep down into the dirty dirge that is the bleak-ass finale. Naturally, brutal deaths ensue.

This is my favorite sci-fi horror movie of all time.

And I don't do horror.


Too receptive an audience member.

(Big crier.)

After watching a horror movie, once the lights are off in my bedroom and there's silence in the air ... anything goes. Tink of rain on the window and I'm convinced it bounced off Jason's machete who's just waiting for me to fall asleep so he can kill me. Creek of wood in the wall behind my headboard and I'm certain the crazy little ghosty girl from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY trailers is watching me in the doorway. Candyman's in the mirror. That goddamn Jeepers Creepers is gonna get me, no doubt.

But that's slasher horror, supernatural horror, urban myth horror (and, sure, JEEPERS CREEPERS is "sissy horror").

For me, though, none of those horrors linger.

Gimme sci-fi, man.

Horrors that are so hugely imaginative that the characters in their midst resonate. Circumstances that are so wildly, thrillingly imaginative it's easy to divorce the characters from the spectacle to see the roots of their actions.

Dr. Weir isn't just crazy when he decides to sacrifice everyone in his path to preserve his creation, his Event Horizon. He's more Walter White of BREAKING BAD than Alan Grant of JURASSIC PARK. He's a man choosing to resentfully feed his ego no matter the cost. In casual everyday life, eh, he'd just be a jerk. But in happy Sci-Fi land, the logical conclusion of his journey is: He emerges from a literal portal to hell, naked, set ablaze, covered in gaping wounds all over his body with two hollow eye sockets he gouged out himself.

Come on!

Weir faces off with Captain Miller, who we previously saw reveal that his greatest fear is a time Captaining another ship where he had to sacrifice a crew member to save the rest and watched him burn alive in zero gravity with flames "like liquid ... like a wave breaking over him." Here, to stop Weir, he summons the badassery, bravery and tenacity to save his remaining crew members by separating them from his portion of the ship and sending himself, Dr. Weir and the Event Horizon back to the literal hell from whence it came, where he most likely awaits an eternity covered in flames, living out his own worst fears.

I can't help but remember great moments in Sci-Fi like that. That's Major Dutch cloaking himself in mud while he hunts the Predator. That's Shane plotting to kill his own best friend in a world overrun by Walking Dead. That's Ellen fucking Ripley exerting the will to stand still as an Alien zoots its second mouth an inch away from her cheek, hissing and dripping acid spit.

That's horror I'll never forget.

Those are characters I'll never forget.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Test Your Knowledge with gotta/enk's Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge

Are you a sci-fi and/or horror movie expert? Have you seen every film? Can you quote every line? Test your knowledge with our first Sci-Fi Trivia Challenge!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


gotta/enk's cohort James Comtois (Colorful World; Infectious Opportunity) tells us why the Saw is Family, now and forever. Read it up Texas-style.

Despite paving the way for many, many imitators, the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by Tobe Hooper is just that — original. As many imitators as the original Chain Saw (1974) has (and I won't deny the film inadvertently helped create an endless assembly line of tiresome, mean-spirited and witless slasher films and franchises), no one has ever been able to capture or come close to recreating the malevolent magic of that relentlessly terrifying film. Not even Hooper himself, who went on to helm the first sequel in an effort that could charitably be described as unfortunate.

So what makes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so effective in all the ways its copycats aren't?

I suspect that it has something to do with a complete lack of self-consciousness. There's an utter lack of pretention from its filmmakers and its cast, particularly from its leading actress, Marilyn Burns, and Gunnar Hansen, who plays the mentally challenged cannibal Bubba "Leatherface" Sawyer. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn't designed to be part of a never-ending franchise. It was made long before horror films were considered big business.

In addition, its low budget and lack of glamor gives the movie the unsettling aura of a snuff film — that feeling that what you're watching is either real, or as close to real as possible. Like the case of the hillbilly rapists in John Boorman's Deliverance, there's a sense that Hooper engaged in some "stunt casting" with the cannibalistic Sawyer family (even though that's not the case). Not unlike Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, in some regards, some of its amateurish aspects lend to its raw and intense power.

It's also — and this may seem like an odd claim — not a mean-spirited film, which separates it from the Friday the 13ths and Saws of the world. When Leatherface grabs poor terrified Pam and hangs her up on a meat hook, not only does the camera not reveal any substantial bloodletting or linger on her being impaled, but Leatherface himself is not doing this to torture her, or to be cruel. As an out of work slaughterhouse employee, he's doing what he knows how to do — keep the livestock from roaming free. (In many regards, Leatherface and his brothers are no more malicious than a pack of wild and ravenous wolves.)

Of course, this lack of malice from Leatherface makes him all the more terrifying.

In fact, all of these elements — the lack of pretension, the low budget, lack of cynicism — manages to make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre something that none of its imitators are — scary as all hell. It's not about delivering cheap or false "Boo!" moments, or piling on the gore, or adhering to cliches. It's about scaring the hell out of you for the final 40 minutes of its runtime, and not letting go until after the credits roll. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ANNIVERSARY DINNER at Thriller! Chiller!

ANNIVERSARY DINNER will screen at Thriller! Chiller! in Grand Rapids, MI, Oct. 18-20. THE BIG BAD won Best Chill! at last year's festival - we're very excited to screen with them again!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

gotta/enk Interview with Rogue Cinema

gotta/enk films has an exciting announcement to make next week! Stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out Rogue Cinema's interview with Jessi Gotta and Bryan Enk.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

THE BIG BAD Being Distributed by Phase 4 Films

gotta/enk films is proud to announced that THE BIG BAD is now being distributed by Phase 4 Films! Watch it On Demand through Nov. 30 on Comcast, Cox, Cablevision and Insight.