Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun (Go Ahead and Groooaaaannnn At That One.)

Last weekend I took my little ghouls sledding, something we do at every single opportunity since snow is such a fickle thing in our part of the country, and Spring is coming. The Spring thaw is a mixed blessing for folks like us. Warm weather will mean fewer frozen and snapped-off extremities, but it will also mean putting more effort into self-preservation. My kids hate their daily dose of formaldehyde.

But while it’s here we try to savor the last weeks of cold and snow. It is an absolute kick to watch my kids go flying down the hill, and to watch those breathers at the bottom scatter like roaches. They seldom catch anyone, and when they do the other kid’s snowpants usually block the worst of the bite. But it’s still fun, and it keeps them in shape just in case this year is The Year. I’m on the mailing list, and I’m following all the right people on Twitter. When the apocalypse starts, we’ll be ready.

But while I was watching my kids practice their breather-snatching skills, I overheard several parents shouting to their offspring. Now I realize that breather parents hover more closely than I do; for some reason they think it’s in their best interest to keep breathing. But some of their comments seemed a little extreme.

“Don’t go too fast!” Um, what? Isn’t going fast the whole point? Why not take them to a barbecue and tell them to watch their cholesterol while you’re at it?
“Put on your helmet!” Oh, this poor child. I understand that if a kid’s learning to snowboard and you foresee a future spent on mountainsides, you want to get them in the habit early of protecting their precious, delicious brains. But this kid is sitting on his butt on a saucer sled. Turn off the propellers and let him feel the wind in his hair.

“Sit on your brother’s lap. Don’t go by yourself.” I’ve got news for you, Mom. In the event of a collision, your smaller child will become his big brother’s airbag. Which kid are you trying to protect here?

“Sit down. Hold on. Hold on tight. Look out, look out, LOOK OUT!” I had to save the best for last. This was repeated every single time that poor kid went down the hill. I’m not sure if his life flashed before his eyes, but his entire future flashed before mine. It was tragic.

After an hour or two, my shamblers started getting bored and hungry. And it was then that I realized that the undead play a vital role in modern society—besides that of culling the herd. We help overly anxious breathers put their lives in perspective. Rolling down a snowy hill on a piece of plastic seems far less dangerous after you’ve been chased off that same hill while wearing snowpants and boots. It’s a public service, really. You’re welcome.

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Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak: Final Installment

It was about that time, standing in the middle of the bar, with a gore-dripping head in my hand, that I realized how surreal the aftermath of violence can be. Everyone seemed to float away, out and about on their own little projects, and I just stood there.

The only place I had to go was up to my tent on the roof, with just the decapitated head for company, to wait for the woman who wanted me to kill this guy in the first place. My testicles reminded me that my solitude was an illusion by sending awful tendrils of pain into my abdomen. They were unhappy that I interrupted their healing process with vigorous violence.

I shuffled off, silent, except for my whimpers of dismay, to try to climb up to my tent. At least I could lay myself down in my own little corner of… roof… and, metaphorically, lick my wounds. The head presented an issue, but I was too tired and sore to give it a whole lot of thought.

That’s when it occurred to me I could dump out my piss bucket, and cover the head up. Weighing it down with a brick would probably keep the birds from kicking the bucket over, even if it wouldn’t do much for mice or rats. As long as the head was identifiable as the target, I imagined I’d qualify for payment.

Of course, there was the small matter of tracking the client down… carrying a bucket with a severed head in it. People would give me a wide, wide, berth. A pity; really, considering how social and charming I can be.

The three of us, the severed head, my sarcasm, and the rest of me, painfully made our way to my tent. I put the loose noggin down, and hid it as I’d planned. After that, I tromped back to the tent, and lowered myself to the sleeping bag as gently as I possibly could.

Finding a comfortable position was a challenge, but I managed after a few tries. Once my body was situated, I let out the kind of sigh that is accompanied by shivers, and a queer need to bawl my eyes out. I don’t know. Maybe I’d come uncomfortably close to death too many times in a twenty-four hour period?

A few tears leaked out, and something surprising happened. I fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was abrupt, and full of instant realizations. First of all, it was dark outside. I’d slept until nightfall. Second, someone was breathing warmly in my ear, and smelled like cask tapping time at a distillery.

“Are you awake, Frank?” Some woman asked, trying to be sexy under the influence. Whoever she was, she was on top of me, holding me down. Not optimal!

“Yes.” My gun and right hand were pinned underneath me.

“I wanted to come up and check on you. How are your little testes feeling?”

“Tracy?” No. Couldn’t be!

“Mmhmm.”

Shit!

“They’re…fine. Could you get off me?”

“Mm. I want to get off with you, Mister Zombie Killing Guy!”

“Who? What? When? Where? How?”

She giggled drunkenly, and stuck her hand up my shirt.

“Whoa, Nelly!” My nipples were under attack from a curvy, soused woman! Flee my brothers! Flee!

“Tee-hee!”

“Oh no.”

Tracy started to lick my ear. My reservations were fading fast, even if my reproductive anatomy was screaming at me in complete disagreement. No, I wasn’t healthy enough for this kind of thing!

“Hey, Tracy. Ah. Please. No, not that! Don’t suck my earlobe! Oh. Oh, no.” Save me, I’m about to injure myself.

“Mm!”

She grabbed the back of my skull and turned my head so fast that my vertebrae crackled in protest. I would have yelped, complained, or something, but her tongue had invaded my mouth, intent on boxing with my uvula.

The wonderful woman who’d attended to my testicular recovery, ravished my mouth, tasting of home-brewed hooch. I think I got some sort of contact-drunk from just kissing, because I started thinking that following her lead would be a healing experience after the day I’d had.

I moved to turn over, so I could face her, and return the attention she’d paid to my chest, when I noticed something. She was snoring. Her mouth was moving against mine, but her eyes were closed, and she was snoring.

What? What? What?

Once I rolled over the whole way, she shifted position, and her mouth closed. She slid off me and onto the edge of my sleeping bag, dead asleep.

“But. But. But.”

The only answer I got was more gentle snoring.

I was miffed when I fell back asleep, not very long after rolling back over.

Morning arrived like an icepick to my eyeball. Tracy was gone. I was still strangely disappointed. Then I noticed a shapely pair of legs, ending in sensible shoes, outside the door of my tent.

“Hello?”

“Are you awake Mr. Stewart?”

“Yes.”

“It’s me, Louise Malley. I heard about yesterday, and came to see if you completed your half of the bargain.”

I grunted, got to my hands and knees, and shuffled to the zipped-up nylon door.

“Yes. The head is under the bucket behind you.” I unzipped the flap and pointed.

“Oh!” She exclaimed, and went to take a look. “Marvelous!”

“So? What about the hardware store?” I asked.

She turned back to look at me, and the smile on her face was incredibly disconcerting. I watched her reach into her purse, dig out a key ring, and toss it towards me.

“Thank you for your hard work. I’ll have my people remove the blockade by this afternoon.”

“Great.”

“You’re really very good at your job,” she told me, still smiling in that strange way. “Now I have less competition for precious resources.”

“Huh?”

Her perfect pork bun bosom heaved as she laughed at me. I began to worry.

“I’m so glad I fooled you! All you people need is pale skin, good makeup, eye drops, mouthwash, and tits!” She cackled. “I was an actress before I died, you idiot.”

I tried to pull my gun, but it was missing.

She looked at me, and my bladder froze solid.

“Don’t worry Frank,” Louise purred, “I don’t want you. You’re not food. I will hold my side of the bargain, though, and give you a warning. Do not ever raise your hand to me, or it will be the last thing you ever do, you whiny sack of shit.”

I won’t lie; I gawped at her.

“Now, enjoy your little piece of trading heaven, and stay out of my way.” She turned, walked towards the edge of the roof, and calmly jumped off.

I remained where I was, on all fours, mostly inside my tent. She’d left me the head, the keys, and a very bad taste in my mouth.

“I was used by the Pork Bun Zombie Queen.”

Hi, everyone! James Crawford here. Thank you for reading this prequel to my first book, “Blood-Soaked and Contagious”! I’d like to make a little announcement while I’m here. I was offered a contract on the series by Permuted Press, and accepted. Before too long, “Blood-Soaked and Contagious,” “Blood-Soaked and Invaded,” and the sequel in progress, will be available from Permuted in all their outlets. I’m really excited, and appreciate your support! Thank you!

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The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part Nine

“It’s not a zombie movie unless someone gets torn apart.”  This is a direct quote from the conversations John and I first had when we started making short zombie films back in July 2011.  We’ve tried to stick with this directive in each of our productions.  Surprisingly, our prop building methodologies really haven’t changed much since we first made Grilling For Zombies and Brewing For Zombies.  What has changed is the amount of gore and the number of zombies involved.

I came to this realization a couple of weeks ago while I was editing some of the action sequences from Zombie Casserole and after looking at the results was hopping up and down and giggling “Holy crap!  We made a real zombie film!”

To put this in perspective, check out one of our first attempts at tearing a person apart from Grilling for Zombies.  Okay – so the black and white makes it look more primitive.  And yes, it’s not clear if the victim is laughing hysterically or screaming in unimaginable pain.  And the mayhem is probably more “may” than “hem”.  However, gosh darn it!  It was a good first effort.

Grilling For Zombies - Gore

You’re tearing me apart!

In the following scene from Cocktails For Zombies we used the same props with some additional “filler” we’d learned how to make – the infamous meat jello.  And it’s in color.  We also added a green screen effect in order to have a talking head on the corpse, because quite frankly, it’s just silly.

Cocktails For Zombies - Gore

Hey! Down here!

However in each of those productions, John and I were the only two zombies involved in the gore.  For Zombie Casserole on the final day of shooting we had about twelve hungry and willing zombies, eight of whom we could fit around the body.  While John was filming other scenes and the zombies were being made up, I was toiling away over buckets of fake blood getting “guts” and “meat” ready for the big scene.  There was also some pressure because we basically threw everything into one take and hoped like hell that it would turn out.

Zombie Casserole - Gore

You want fries with that?

I will say that having a bunch of zombies moaning and carrying on with mystery body parts creates its own special type of magic.  Everyone should experience it at least once in their lives!

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Sweets for the … Well, Anyone Really

An arctic chill has swept the land, freezing breather and zombie alike in its icy grip. Everyone is ducking and seeking cover, struggling to find shelter before the deep cold destroys their will to live. This can only mean one thing:

Valentine’s Day is coming.

No other holiday is as dreaded and feared as much as Valentine’s Day, except possibly for Christmas in the home of a spoiled pre-teen. Expectations run high, and disappointment makes Scrooges of everyone. Why are we commercializing love and affection? cries the afflicted. Is nothing sacred?

Liars and thieves get elected to public office, and the dead walk the earth. So no, nothing is sacred. Where have you been?

It’s an American tradition to commemorate anything and everything in two ways: eating like pigs and buying stuff. As American traditions go, this one is fairly harmless. Don’t like it? Don’t do it. Afraid your girl will break up with you if you don’t buy her anything? Well, being single frees you from the obligations of Valentine’s Day once and for all. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the logistics of this non-issue. You don’t even need a pulse.

I like Valentine’s Day. I love surprising my kids with treats and watching their eyes light up and fall out of their sockets. Then I get to laugh for fifteen minutes while they scramble around to find them and put them back in before one of the others steals their candy.

It’s even more fun now that the kids don’t go to public school anymore—no more buying those useless little scraps of cardboard with some superhero’s face on them. And the packages never had the right number of cards in them. It was always 18 or 24, and my kids’ classrooms usually had at least 28. I tried making treats to bring in instead, but the school has such a strict food policy it wasn’t worth the bother. No peanuts, no eggs, no raw flesh—it was pretty ridiculous.

I also like surprising my husband with little treats like a stuffed bear or the head of the neighbor’s dog. He usually gets me something nice too, and contrary to jewelry commercials he does not have to spend a lot to spoil me. (I’m pretty spoiled already.) My favorite Valentine’s Day gift of all was a book of zombie short stories and a bag of severed toes to munch on while I read. They were my favorite—jam-filled.
If you don’t like Valentine’s Day, that’s your prerogative. But maybe some people need to try harder to have an open mind. It never hurts to have an excuse to go shambling in the moonlight after prey together.

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The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part Eight

Zombie Casserole ClipA misplaced light stand could ruin your day, but it doesn’t need to ruin a take.  To the left is a still from a scene in Zombie Casserole.  To give it some context, Dawn (Hanh Nguyen) has just hung up with Wally (Andrew Prokurat).  She’s about to tend to her zombie husband, Chuck (Bruce Clifford).  The clip is a transition between the phone call and Dawn tying a tie for Chuck.  It provides some continuity, but has a few flaws that are entirely my own.  I was working the camera and there are two rather egregious mistakes.

The first one should be easy to spot. There a prominent light pole on the far left edge of the frame.  A background in photography may have worked against me.  If you don’t like something at the edge of a photo, you can easily crop it out.  Not so much with video.  You need to live with everything you have in the frame. The other problem is a little more subtle.  Even during editing, I didn’t pick up on it right away. There’s a small mirror just behind the lamp on a night stand on the right.  You can see my shoulder and the camera.

If we had another clip without these errors, I would have happily used them.  Editing is time consuming enough when just sorting, selecting and ordering clips.  If I can avoid having to do any fine editing I will. That just wasn’t the case here.  There are no light-stand free takes of this scene. If it had only been the mirror, I might have let it go.  We’re not trying to win an Academy Award for editing, here. As long as I’m committed to editing out the light stand, I may as well take care of the mirror, too.

Here’s the full clip without any editing:

I started out by clone stamping and manually painting the night stand out of the scene directly in Adobe Premier and that was working fine and well until Dawn’s elbow moves across the light stand. The painted areas applied to the entire scene.  As there were a few dozen, adjusting them individually is more than I’m willing to do.  Enter plan B: Find a tutorial.  Surely, I’m not the first one with a need to remove an object from a scene.  A Simple Object Removal instructional video fit the bill.

I’m not going to repeat it verbatim.  The instructor does a much better job of it in the video than I could do in text, but I’ll summarize.

  1. Export a still image from After Effects.
  2. Edit out the offending object in Photoshop.
  3. Crop it down to the area that’s affected and save the image.
  4. Import the image back to your After Effects project.
  5. Create a mask to allow for the actor or other objects to appear in front of the object.

Zombie CasseroleZombie CasseroleI created two small edited images, one for the light stand and one for the mirror.  I only had to create a mask around the light stand. While I didn’t need to mask around the mirror since Dawn doesn’t cross in front of it, I did make a small mask so that only the mirrored surface is substituted in the clip.  The shadows change slightly as Dawn gets up.  Without the mask around the mirror, you would see a distinct contrast between the change of light and shadow in the clip and the image.  There is a line of contrast on the left of the completed clip after Dawn walks off the scene. It’s subtle enough that I think I’ll let that go as the focus is on Dawn rather than the walls behind her.

Here’s the edited clip:

Special effects aren’t always so special. Taking the extra time is worth it when you have no other choice. Not making the mistake in the first place is a better option.

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