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The Secret Societies of Horror Films

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Les Vampires

So much of horror is about the hidden secret, the deadly truth that is revealed far too late to be of any help, so it only adds insult to the injury of the violence and death that surrounds the characters in any great horror film. Often, it is a family secret or a past trauma, something brief and punctuated that altered a life forever.

Sometimes, however, the secret is more complicated and elaborate, and it is held among a group rather than an individual. Whole societies are built around these secrets, and these cabals and secret societies operate under cover of darkness and ignorance. They act as a hidden civilization running concurrent to our own, making subtle changes and decisions that steer people without their knowledge.

Horror films are great at exploring these secret societies because they can plumb the depths not only of the psychology of the group, but also the violent response they have in trying to remain secret. This is a list of ten of horror film’s most secret societies. (NOTE: Secret Societies and Cults are slightly different things, so for the majority of this list, groups with a cult-like status have been left out)

10. Eyes Wide Shut

First things first: this is not a horror film, which is why it only made #10 on the list. However, even though the film is more of a thriller, the film unquestionably contains one of the creepiest secret societies in film history.

From the moment that Tom Cruise’s Dr. Harford steps into the secret gathering, it’s clear that he is in over his head. From the blindfolded pianist to the haunting single-key piano accompaniment to the participants in masks which strip away all individual identity, the group is as disturbing as it is mysterious.

They know he is an intruder, and when a woman seemingly sacrifices herself so he can leave unscathed, he starts to look into the group. It is much darker and more complicated than he ever could have imagined…

9. Night Watch

In Timur Bekmambetov’s Russian horror-thriller Night Watch, he and co-writer Laeta Kalogridis envision an elaborate battle taking place over hundreds of years between the forces of darkness and light. Knowing that they would eventually destroy each other, a truce was made. The beings, called Others, formed groups called Night Watch and Day Watch, guardians who monitored the opposing side to keep the balance.

The job of the Night Watch is revealed through Anton, a man the Night Watch recruits after discovering that he is also an Other. One of the most stunning elements of Night Watch is The Gloom, a strange shadow world that only the Others are able to access.

Visually stunning and darkly comedic in places, the film launched Bekmambetov to Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and brought writer Kalogridis to Hollywood’s attention, where she scripted Pathfinder and Shutter Island.

8. Les Vampires

The oldest film on the list by a long margin, 1915’s Les Vampires from director Louis Feuillade is a French serial that clocks in at just over seven hours. Since the assumption is that most viewers won’t go back and watch the whole thing, here’s the idea.

The story revolves around a journalist in Paris who is trying to solve the mystery of a roving masked gang called Les Vampires (that is simply their name, they’re not actually vampires). The gang is based on the real Apache gangs of the era, violent underworld criminals who plagued the streets of the city.

The film’s revelation, that it was the city’s elite masquerading as common criminals, was a clever twist for the time, and the storytelling and thriller techniques of the serial influenced many great filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock.

Les Vampires

7. The Village

While it is far from a perfect film, The Village was the last of the decent works that director M. Night Shyamalan made before his descent into mediocrity for five films that was mercifully brought to an end with 2016’s Split.

While a viewer might think that the strange creatures in the woods are the secret society that gets this film on the list, that would be a cheat, since (SPOILER ALERT) they are a fabricated race designed simply to keep the citizens of the village from asking too many questions or straying too far.

No, the secret society in this film is actually the village itself. Though revealed late in the film, the truth is that the village was hidden from the rest of society, an attempt to start over without the corruption and violence of the outside world. The secret society was itself so secret that the people within it didn’t even know.

6. Videodrome

The world of the new flesh was brought to the mainstream by David Cronenberg in 1983’s Videodrome. The film was in keeping with Cronenberg’s consistent obsessions with the evolution of the human body due to technology, but the added bonus in this film is the element of the secret society.

In this case, there are actually two! The organization of Brian O’Blivion (the strange man who will only appear in public on a television screen), Cathode Ray Mission, has the goal of incorporating television into every human interaction in life. Though their desires are strange, they’re not the most dangerous organization.

Spectacular Optical, the producer of the TV series “Videodrome,” is using the broadcast to give brain tumors to people they deem questionable because of the content they consume. It’s a complicated idea with prescient concerns for our modern time, and worth seeking out.

5. Seconds

Filmmaker John Frankenheimer made some of the most illuminating films about America in the 1960s, and Seconds ranks as one of the most insightful, disturbing, and accurate. In the film, a middle-aged man feels frozen in his dead-end life, until a mysterious organization called the “Company” offers him surgery to make him a whole new person with a whole new life.

It works, and he comes out the other end looking like Rock Hudson. He is welcomed into an entire community of these re-created people, all escaping their previous lives. When he decides he doesn’t want to be a part of it anymore, he finds out that leaving isn’t so easy.

The black and white cinematography from James Wong Howe is stunning, and the film is far ahead of its time in depicting the phenomena of plastic surgery, isolated communities, and an allegory for midlife crises.

4. Martyrs

Martyrs is one of the most brutal and unrelenting horror films in recent years, but the film’s themes are as unsettling as its violence in their own way. A young woman discovers that her friend was kidnapped as a child and systematically abused by a secretive group, but she only learns the truth because she becomes their newest focus.

The strange philosophical society who has her captured is frightening in that their zeal for violence is masked in a scientific curiosity about the afterlife. The mysterious woman who leads the group is unnervingly calm in her explanation for the group’s existence.

Though the 2015 American remake does touch on the same themes, the visceral nature of the original cannot be matched. The film will stay in your mind long after it has ended, and its ramifications are worth considering.

3. Brotherhood of the Wolf

This film is a hybrid of so many different things that it should collapse in on itself under the weight of its various subgenres. Equal parts martial arts, horror, fantasy, and historical epic, the film somehow weaves it all together under the sure-handed direction of Christophe Gans, who later went on to make the visually arresting Silent Hill.

The interesting surprise of this film is that the secret society within the film is actually the title of the film! The Brotherhood of the Wolf as depicted in the film is a group using the fear of a rampaging wolf to undermine the authority of the king and take over the country.

Beautiful, haunting, and with an ending that both satisfies the mystery and still surprises with its revelations, the movie was unfortunately lost on mainstream audiences during its American release. It deserves to be found again by appreciative horror hybrid fans.

2. The Conspiracy

A terribly underrated found footage horror film that got lost in the glut of fake docs that have filled the marketplace in the last decade, The Conspiracy is a smart, taut thriller with horror overtones that builds slowly to a strange and uncomfortable crescendo that will have viewers questioning exactly what transpired.

The most traditional of the secret societies on the list, the film revolves around two filmmakers discovering that a supposed crackpot spouting conspiracy theories was right, but only after he vanishes entirely. Starring Aaron Poole (recently from The Void), the movie uses the hidden camera conceit to excellent effect.

Unfairly lumped in with bad entries in its subgenres, the film is well-made and the performances are excellent. This film is a satisfying secret society film for discerning horror viewers.

1. The Cabin in the Woods

The film needs absolutely no introduction. Directed by Drew Goddard from a script by him and Joss Whedon, the film skewers the clichés of the subgenre after which it is named. Clever, shocking, and determined not to be pinned down, the movie is best viewed by well-versed fans of horror.

The secret society in the film is the piece that raises this film from a standard teen horror entry to a smart satire of the genre itself. Great performances from Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins keep the film from becoming a bloodless commentary on horror, instead embracing the silliness and self-awareness.

For those who haven’t seen it, seek it out now. For those who have seen it, watch it again to enjoy all the roads not taken, the creatures glimpsed in the corners and the background or described on the dry erase boards.

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Friday the 13th: The Game Welcomes Back Shelly Finkelstein This Monday!

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Earlier this past year, all of us Friday the 13th Part 3 fans we delighted when “Friday the 13th: The Game” added in Fox (Gloria Charles) as a playable character.

And now we have the announcement that another beloved character from Friday the 13th Part 3 will be joining the game this December.

Yes, Shelly Finkelstein (Larry Zerner) will be coming back to Camp Crystal Lake!

The Shelly playable character will be available for free with the latest patch. The new update will be coming for PS4 and Steam on Monday, Dec. 18th. The Xbox One patch to follow shortly.

Below you can watch the announcement trailer which was posted on Twitter earlier tonight.

After giving it a watch make sure to let us know how excited you are to see Shelly (aka the man who gave Jason his mask) back in action below!

Shelly Finkelstein hits Friday the 13th: The Game for PS4 and Steam on Monday, Dec. 18th.

Welcome Back Shelly!

The man responsible for 'handing' Jason his mask, Shelly Finkelstein will be coming back to Camp Crystal Lake to troll his fellow counselors…that is until Jason shows up! Get Shelly for free with the latest patch!The latest update will be coming for PS4 and Steam on Monday, Dec. 18th with the Xbox One patch to follow shortly!

Posted by Friday the 13th: The Game on Friday, December 15, 2017

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Graham Humphreys Reveals His Poster For An American Werewolf In London

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Graham Humphreys continues to cement his position as one of the top horror artists in the business with his stunning new poster for An American Werewolf in London. This piece was created as a private commission, and fans of John Landis’ 1981 classic are going to love it. You can view the final design of this incredible poster below.

Final design with text.

Graham also provided us with a detailed statement about the creation of the piece, along with a bunch of screen grabs taken throughout the process. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can see how the final image looks before the text was added. In case you missed it earlier, you can also check out our extended interview with Graham here.

Exclusive Statement from Graham Humphreys
As a commercial artist and illustrator, there is only limited scope to make a job entirely your own – so with each project you are answering a brief in order to fulfill the needs of a client. Of course, the client may choose to give you free reign, though this is with the understanding that you are acknowledging their needs and thus expected to work within certain unspoken parameters. Mostly, these confines are defined by how a product is to be sold, licensing instructions and an understanding a market. With this in mind, the client is paying and thus nominally always right… though it would be unprofessional not to make them aware that other options might work better for them!

Without these commercial constraints, a private commission can remove the barriers because no market is to be met and there is only the artist and the private client to answer to. Creating a poster for a familiar and heavily licensed title is an entirely different prospect if it is not going to be generating money in the public domain and is thus essentially ‘fan art’. Unlike say, a T-shirt company ripping off someone elses art and charging money for the printed image, or perhaps a poster reproduced without permission by either the license owner or artist, then sold for profit.

Here, Dread Central have asked me to talk through one such commission, ‘An American Werewolf in London’, painted as a private commission for an individual that wishes to own a unique image that they themselves have made happen. NB: All likenesses and specific imagery (including the title and names etc) are subject to license and copyright and not for any use other than as examples of a work in progress (and of course, all rights are reserved!). Just need to make sure that it absolutely clear!

The client had commissioned two previous posters from me (as well as numerous poster designs from fellow artists), so a basic understanding of expectations had already been established.

My work begins by watching the film from beginning to end – to re-establish my own connection to the film (if one already exists). I saw ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (in London!) on it’s first run and the proximity to many of the locations (Tottenham Court Road tube station, Piccadilly Circus, being the obvious ones) made it instantly impressionable for me. Existing posters, in particular the official theatrical versions and various home-entertainment sleeves, focused on a limited image pool. My job was to find new ways of representing the film, free of the past baggage, but also to listen to my clients requirements.

Looking for a fresh perspective means avoiding the familiar stills that have defined the past marketing, this is achieved by making screen grabs from the DVD or blu-ray. As with most commercial jobs, I generally make a selection of about 40 images, then review these reducing the number to about 15 that have the best narrative potential, including a good visual range of actor expressions and reactions. My client required the Werewolf, London references, the moors, David and Jack, a full moon and the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub sign… then whatever else I chose to include.

On the basis of the selected screen grabs, I make necessary light and contrast adjustments in photoshop, make them greyscale (removing the distraction of colour) and print them out at a size I can easily trace in pencil onto paper. All the pencil sketches are then scanned into photoshop, so that I can rearrange, resize and move around in order to determine the best layout, one which tells a story and has a visual impact. (I find it’s better to present sketched layouts rather than a photocomp’s, partly because the photographic material is usually of varying quality, but also because a pencil rough is more fluid and does not dictate the final impression).

Selected screen grabs.

Selected screen grabs 2.

My first idea involved a portrait of David looking lost and frightened (I felt this was essential to the story), the Werewolf with it’s head bursting through the cinema shutters/signage (the idea of breaking the fourth wall), the decomposing Jack (a perfect metaphor for David’ s own life falling apart), his nightmare of the home invasion (one of the most effective and horrific moments in the film, I felt), plus Brian Glover’s ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ local – a look that defines rednecks and racists the word over when confronted by ‘other’!). I also wanted to add the tube attack victim to open up the carnage. Although Jenny Agutter’s nurse added the romantic dimension for an audience that expects the convention, I wanted to concentrate on David’s story, so chose to only include her face as if she were painted on the shutters, ie. a film poster element.

I was surprised that the client didn’t want the home invasion creatures, nor the reference to the sleazy cinema hordings (which I thought made a good location gag – obviously not!), they also did not want the rotting Jack. It was disappointing to lose these great horror elements, especially as they’d particularly wanted ‘horror’! But a compromise was reached by including the transformation scene at the bottom, and reinstating the moors (which I’d thought unnecessary).

Fortunately, my second sketch was well received and the painting could commence.

On the basis of the selected screen grabs, I make necessary light and contrast adjustments in photoshop, make them greyscale (removing the distraction of colour) and print them out at a size I can easily trace in pencil onto paper. All the pencil sketches are then scanned into photoshop, so that I can rearrange, resize and move around in order to determine the best layout, one which tells a story and has a visual impact. (I find it’s better to present sketched layouts rather than a photocomp’s, partly because the photographic material is usually of varying quality, but also because a pencil rough is more fluid and does not dictate the final impression).

Once I have my sketch approved I reintroduced the photographic source material over the sketched parts, so that my layout remains exactly as approved and so that I’ll have the best possible likenesses to trace onto the watercolour paper.

Early sketched elements.

I usually have a basic idea of what colours I’m going to use. In this instance I knew that I wanted a silvery blue moonlight to bathe the entire image, but also the contrast of the orange glow of artificial lighting, the pub and cinema foyer. I knew the big splash of red in the wolf’s jaw would jump out, becoming the focal point. This painting took about three days to complete, the sketch process (including the grabs) about a day upfront.

Composition design.

The final painting was scanned and all the text added in photoshop.

My client will now make a full size poster print, to be framed, from the file I send him. Next up, ‘The Thing’!

Final painting before text was added.

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Syfy Renews Z Nation for a 5th Season; Season 4 Finale Airs Tonight!

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Syfy’s popular zombie series “Z Nation” just keeps shambling on, and tonight the two-episode Season 4 finale, “Mt. Weather/The Black Rainbow,” airs. If you’re a fan of the show, we have good news for you… it’s not over yet as David Latt of The Asylum has announced on Twitter the pickup of “Z Nation” for a 5th season! So you can expect lots more adventures with the gang in 2018.

Below is the official word from David along with a brief synopsis of what’s ahead tonight in the finale, which kicks off at 9/8c.

Synopsis:
In the mind-bending two-hour Season 4 finale, Warren and the team must stop Zona from launching operation Black Rainbow, which will cleanse the landscape of both zombies and humans. In Part 2 the secret of Warren’s Black Rainbow dream is unlocked when they reach their final destination. The cast includes Kellita Smith as Roberta Warren, Keith Allan as Murphy, Russell Hodgkinson as Doc, Nat Zang as 10K, Gracie Gillam as Sgt. Lilley, DJ Qualls as Citizen Z, Ramona Young as Kaya, Justin Torrence as President Donald Trump, Michael Berryman as The Founder, Micheal Daks as Mr. Sunshine, Anastasia Baranova as Addy, Sydney Viengluang as Sun Mei, Joseph Gatt as The Man, and Natalie Jongjaroenlarp as Red.

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