Tuesday, 29 March 2011

#12 Night of the Comet: 80sest Apocalypse Ever?

A return to form this week- I watched a zombie movie, now I’m going to write about the zombie movie. In the process I may make dick jokes. In case you haven’t worked out how this works yet: This blog will contain spoilers.

It just so happens that this week, 27 years ago, a special star shone down on the Earth, angels gathered over a certain expectant mother, and shepherds were told to visit a certain hospital, but decided not to. For that was the week I was born, and to mark such a momentous occasion, this week we’ll be looking at a movie from the year of my birth: Night of the Comet.

So, let’s trek back to a decade when shoulders were padded, videogames were 8-bit, hair was big and there wasn’t a problem in the world that couldn’t be solved with a power ballad.

Does Looking for Freedom count as a power ballad?
The 80s was kind of a weird time for horror movies. On the one hand, this was the era that gave us the phrase “Video Nasties” (which referred to a medium for watching films stored on clunky cassette tapes roughly the size of a paperback book), it saw the release of true classics such as Romero’s Day of the Dead, The Shining, Evil Dead, Hellraiser and Poltergeist (which one day I’m going to see all the way through without switching the telly off and going to bed with the lights on), it also arguably perfected the “Teenagers getting picked off one by one” genre with Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th (incidentally- am I the only person in the world who is genuinely excited by Scream 4?).  Then there was this bizarre sub genre of horror movies.

I’m talking about your Gremlins, your Lost Boys, and this one, Night of the Comet. These were undeniably horror movies, seeing a Gremlin shoved into a blender, or a young Jack Bauer convince someone to eat maggots were gross enough to ensure that. Night of the Comet doesn’t shirk either on the gruesome zombie make-up front. Each of these films received a 15, 18 and 15 certificate in the UK respectively.

And yet, there is something undeniably family friendly about each of these movies. It’s not just that the special effects have aged, or that we’ve become desensitised enough to let our eight year-olds play Splatterhouse.
The eighties got there first
There is something about these movies that makes them feel like they’re part of the same world as E.T. and The Goonies- where everything from government conspiracies, to treasure hunting gangs, to, yes, the undead, can be defeated by plucky kids with BMXs and an extensive comics collection. These are the kind of movies that you probably wouldn’t take your kids to see, but if you had to pick something for them to sneak a look at behind your back, these would make a good choice.

In Night of the Comet, we know from the very start that Reggie is a badass, not just because she has a boy’s name, but because she clearly rules the high scores of a video arcade machine. Sure, later we learn about the army dad who, like all responsible parents, taught his girls to know their way around an automatic weapon, but the association between video gaming and real life badassery is already there- despite the fact that videogames lacked the high definition graphics, realistic physics and open world/sandbox gameplay that makes videogames such effective post-apocalypse training tools today. The main characters, sisters Reggie and Sam, have normal, eighties teenager problems, slacker boyfriends, uptight bosses, bitchy stepmoms.
Also, that sweater cost $80
Now, looking at the material we’ve reviewed over the last three months, I think I’ve adequately demonstrated that, although being one of the pulpier genres, the zombie apocalypse movie is also an excellent platform for talking about politics, human nature, and social issues. This isn’t one of those movies.

The zombies aren’t an unexplainable horror, or the dreaded consequences of the atom bomb, genetic engineering or consumerism. They’re brought about by Earth passing through the tail of a comet. If there is a deeper meaning to this movie, it is that sunglasses are only ever worn by badasses, or evil people.

It plays fast a loose with the zombie rules in ways that even Peter Jackson would think was a bit much- the disease is progressive, but zombies are seen who can talk, fire guns, and (Spoiler) although it is in a dream sequence, two zombies are even seen riding motorcycles. At the same time, the film digs into the box of tropes normally associated with the genre- we have the “Hey everything in the mall is free!” montage, we have military scientists who start out as a rescue party but turn out to be the bad guys, and although they’re never really under siege, they do spend an awful lot of the movie holed up inside that radio station.
If your zombie survival compound doesn't have this much neon, you're practically dead already
This is also a great film for one liners, and I think everyone should watch it just so we can bring “I’m not crazy! I just don’t give a fuck!” into the common parlance.

And, intentionally or not, it does bring up perhaps the most frightening question posed by the zombie apocalypse. If the entire human race had been reduced to dust twenty seven years ago, alien archaeologists would have judged our entire civilisation by what we were like then.
Thank God we've come so far in the mean time!
It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a round of the drinking game, so here goes. They’re not exactly under siege, but since it’s been a couple of weeks I’ll let you take a shot for them being holed up in the radio station. The people coming to rescue the heroes are dangerous (they want to drain their blood) and incompetent (they all got infected because they left the ventilation system on their bunker open) so two shots for that. As an addendum to that mankind is the real monster (one shot). And Robert Beltran, still years away from donning a facial tattoo and joining the crew of Star Trek: Voyager, does run into a kiddy zombie, although in a fun twist, he doesn’t kill the kid to show how brutal you have to be to survive after the apocalypse (two shots).

Sunday, 20 March 2011

#11 Frankenstein's Wedding: You're Doing It Wrong!

Ahh, the bittersweet taste of broken promises. Last week, I promised that this week I’d return to our gushing about zombie movies formula, but it is not to be. When I started writing this blog, I promised you I would only write about the movies, books and games that I love, because there’s more than enough people being angry on the Internet already, but this week, I’m going to be making an exception.

I didn’t mean for things to go this way. Today I meant to be writing about issues of class in Land of the Dead. But then, on Saturday night I sat down to eat curry and watch Frankenstein’s Wedding.

It wasn’t very good. The acting was awful and half the dialogue was cut and pasted directly from Every Soap Opera Wedding Ever. To make things worse, someone had decided that the best way to make the story “accessible” was to have the cast routinely break into well-known pop songs that almost, almost had anything to do with the plot. This was massively patronising anyway, but made worse by the fact that none of the cast could actually sing.

Now you mention it, their love is sort of tainted...
If this was all that was wrong with the production, then right now you’d be reading the blog entry which I’ve just decided will be hilariously called “Let Them Eat Brains” (Although I might change it to “Let Them Eat Flesh” since Romero zombies- and most of the best zombies for that matter- don’t talk, and so have never shown any interest in brains over the rest of your organs). After all, if you’re a fan of zombie movies but can be driven to apoplectic rage by bad acting and clunky dialogue, you’re going to develop stress-related heart problems.

And there’s something to be said for the BBC at least trying to do something a bit different: a live event, repurposing Kirkstall Abbey to take advantage of the creepy architecture, while working in some of that Twittery transmedia stuff that my pal Becky seems to love so much. It was, in short, the sort of thing that ITV would be way too much of a pussy to even try.

But they got Frankenstein wrong, so very, very wrong. Its biggest mistake was that, for all the occasional flourishes made to show the script writer had read the book, Frankenstein’s Wedding was a production based on the idea of Frankenstein that we all carry around in our heads that has remarkably little to do with the novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818. And here’s how:

Frankenstein’s Monster Wasn’t A Thicky
In 1931 James Whale adapted Frankenstein for the cinema, followed four years later by Bride of Frankenstein. These movies starred Boris Karloff as a slow, lumbering beast man with a flat top head and bolts sticking out of his neck. Karloff’s performance was both comical and tragic, and his clumsy “Alone... bad! Friend... good!” speech patterns worked because Karloff was able to give such a sympathetic performance. It’s because of that performance, and the genius make-up design, that Karloff’s flat-top head, bolt-neck man is the image that comes into our head when we think of Frankenstein.

Karloff’s monster looks like a beast, and is barely able to grasp the most basic human concepts, but is able to feel profound loneliness. This leads to his alienation and persecution, which in turn leads to the murderous rage.
But give him a spliff and play some Fleetwood Mac and he's cool
It’s a brilliant story, but it bares very little resemblance to the monster Mary Shelley wrote almost 200 years ago.

We don’t know much about what Mary Shelley’s monster looked like, she wasn’t overly specific in her descriptions. We know its skin is yellow and translucent. We know it was around eight feet tall. We know Frankenstein selected the monster’s parts to look beautiful, but that put together and in motion, they were grotesque. That could make the monster a patchwork of parts, which is a common depiction, or it could just be that Mary Shelley predicted the Uncanny Valley way ahead of the rest of us. Either way, the designer of a Frankenstein monster has a lot of creative options.

Frankenstein’s Wedding decided to go with “Guy who looks like he’s a bit scarred and blistery”.
And he's wearing a hoody!
Now, I don’t know much about the problems faced by people with serious facial scarring or some form of deformity. I’m sure they face a whole range of complex and difficult problems with both their self-image, and the reactions of others. However, there’s a hell of a lot of people with those problems, and if even one of them had been driven to a literally murderous rage by their circumstances, I have no doubt at all that it would have made headlines.

But we’ll forgive the Beeb this one, as let’s face it, they weren’t exactly throwing money at this production and the make-up artist had to work with what they had. The biggest problem with the Frankenstein monster wasn’t the way it looked, but the way it acted.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster was a borderline genius, learning to speak English from peaking in at a family through a crack in their wall, then teaching himself to read from a trunk full of classics that he happened to stumble upon. When he faces his creator he is easily a match for him in grand, lengthy philosophical debates where he soliloquises about the nature of existence, complete with allusions to Milton.

Frankenstein’s Wedding chooses the middle ground between this and Karloff- a monster who is seemingly articulate, and uses many of the monster’s lines from the book, but delivers them all as if he’s been doped up with morphine and hit in the back of the head with a brick. Which adds what to the story exactly?

Frankenstein + Stem Cells = Relevance?????
Everyone knows that Victor Frankenstein’s crime was that he attempted to gain forbidden knowledge. He tried to play God, and for that hubris he paid with his life and the lives of his loved ones. Which just goes to show that Everyone should crack open a goddamn book occasionally.

When Frankenstein creates the monster the worst thing about it, the absolutely most terrifyingly horrible thing about it, is that it looks creepy.
Why science is evil- if you're an idiot
However, if you could get past that tiny detail, the fact is the monster was okay. The monster claims he was benevolent and good when he was created. Then the first thing he sees is his dad freaking out, followed by a long sequence of being repeatedly shunned by all who meet him. Frankenstein’s fuck up isn’t creating a monster- it’s that he doesn’t take responsibility for it once it’s created.

Which at the time this must have seemed a delightful hypothetical scenario, alongside “If you’re vaporised and created by the transporter in Star Trek, is the person that appears on the other side still you?” and “Who would win in a fight between the Incredible Hulk and Odo from Deep Space Nine?” (The answer is Odo).

Today, however, science is facing questions that, if you think about... bear no relation at all to the morality of galvanising reconstituted body parts! None at all! Still, let’s get past that for now and accept that as our scientific knowledge increases and we’re able to do more and more with technology, we will face ever more complicated ethical dilemmas over how we apply that knowledge. It’s easy to see how the Frankenstein story could be adapted to address some of those questions.

Giving the characters laptops and a twitter feed and bandying the word “Stem cells” around is the absolute worst possible way to do that.

The monster in Frankenstein’s Wedding is apparently “grown from stem cells” with the scientist saying it’s to grow donor organs or something. Firstly: You know what you get when you grow a human from stem cells? You get you and literally every single person you’ve ever met. So take a shot for “Mankind is the real monster”.

Secondly: Of all the stem cell research going on at the moment, none of it revolves around growing people to harvest organs from. The whole point in stem cells is that they can be used to grow individual tissues when needed- bone marrow, teeth, hair follicles, heart tissue. Maybe in science fiction future times we might be able to grow entire organs individually, which would be awesome as far as I’m concerned. The only moral objections to stem cell research centre around the use of embryonic stem cells (Not all stem cells) and are entirely to do with pro-life arguments. Frankenstein’s Wedding never addresses any of these questions other than to have the priest freak out about him “Playing God.”
Which I still don't see the problem with
Why does it even matter?
I think that stories are important. I think this because I’m a writer and an English Lit graduate and so that’s how I justify my continuing existence.

But it goes double for a story like Frankenstein, which everybody knows of but few of us have actually read, because it’s become such an integral part of our discourse. With journalists happily throwing phrases like “Frankenstein foods” around, making sure that people know who Frankenstein was, and how exactly he fucked up, might be the first step towards having a slightly more grown-up conversation about the real issues.

Ahhh! I feel better now!

For a slightly less wall-bangingly stupid story that uses elements of the Frankenstein story, I heartily recommend Mark II, by Chris Farnell (That’s me!).
Next week- Zombies! Cross my heart and hope to die, rise and get shot in the head! And possibly H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert-West: Re-animator” so I can justify putting Frankenstein in here.

Monday, 14 March 2011

#10 Contact: Plus An Interview With The Director!

So, something a little different for the blog this week (I know, twice in two weeks! But you hate change! Don’t worry, next week I promise to stick entirely to formula). This week we’re going to take a look at the short horror film Contact from director Jeremiah Kipp. No zombies, and only the merest whiff of a post-apocalyptic landscape, but you’ll see soon enough how it fits right in with the rest of our catalogue here.

I believe you’ll find that Contact is the perfect date movie, and ideal for watching with a partner of your gender of choice to get them in the mood. Watch it here:

Yes, I’m sorry, that was a cruel, cruel lie.

Contact is about as disturbing and head-fucky as a film can get. It’s the sort of film that is best watched alone in a darkened room, immediately before going into a bright space full of people.

However, here at Chris Writes About The End Of The World we know better than to judge art based on the first, visceral gut reaction. So once you’ve got over the “What would it be like if Agent Smith had done that mouth sealing thing to Neo while he was getting off with someone” image, we can look at the film from a slightly more rational perspective.

I’ve talked before about the way horror tends to be an inherently conservative genre- regardless of the sympathies of the artist. Usually horror works by showing us something horrifying to define what isn’t horrifying- most explicitly in all those drunken promiscuous girls that get knifed to death while their chaste, sober friend is able to defeat the baddy before going off with the hunky but boring dude who only wants to hold hands.

At first glance Contact seems to be the epitome of this. In fact, its roots seem to go further back, past horror movies to their grizzly, considerably more child-murder friendly ancestor, the fairy tale. It’s the story of a girl who leaves her family, goes off the path in search of romance and adventure, finds something horrible there and runs back to her family wiser and more chastened.

The nice, civilised looking dining room is contrasted with a world of ruined buildings and sinister drug dealers with police batons and eyeliner. The sexual contact that ends in a gross, fleshy Chinese finger trap is contrasted with a wholesome paternal hug.
The worst part? He's still using too much tongue
On the surface that’s pretty much exactly what this film looks like, and I’ve got to admit on my first couple of viewings that’s exactly what I thought it was. But even then there were certain things that didn’t sit right with me. The wholesome, safe family home that our heroine runs from and returns to doesn’t seem all that appealing. There’s nothing all that homey or comforting about the neatly set table and wordless parents. The protagonist looks uncomfortable in the buttoned down outfit she’s wearing. The scary sting at the end of the movie shows us she’s still traumatised by her bad trip, but there’s an argument to be made that the real fear is that this has scared her into never leaving the comfort zone she was brought up in.

Or maybe it’s just a film about how drugs are bad. Either way, it scared the crap out of me.

It’s likely you’re going to be hearing more from Contact’s director, Jeremiah Kipp. He’s got another short film coming out soon, Crestfallen (which I’ve already seen, because I’m just that cool). Crestfallen is equally atmospheric in a very different way, doing away with the ambiguity of Contact to make the point that killing yourself is a bad idea. Not long after that, he also has a feature length horror movie coming out starring legendary zombie murderer Tom Savini.

Oh, and look, he’s here now to answer some of my questions. Isn’t that handy?

Okay, so the first question I want to ask, and I'm sure you get this a lot, is: What is wrong with you?! Why can't you just make a charming romantic comedy, or something where Tom Hanks triumphs over adversity?

You don't think CONTACT is life-affirming? I am interested in people, and hope for the best when it comes to interpersonal relationships. CONTACT may seem like a dark movie, but when we made it, much of the time we were filled with enthusiasm and had a wonderful time. As little children, we aren't interested in fairy tales about two children picking flowers in a field -- unless those children get lost in the woods, find a witch in a gingerbread house, and find themselves nearly broiled in a steaming pot for lunch. Kids intuitively understand these grim little stories, because in some way they live them. The adult world is a strange and complex place. While we can triumph, the road is not an easy one, and that is the lie most movies tell us. A lot of times, I feel like the so-called feel good movies are insidious and cruel, and some video nasties are surprisingly more humane because they show life as precious, fragile and worth fighting for.

The film contains a pretty strong anti-drugs message. Did you set out to make a movie that demonstrated the more traumatising side of substance abuse, or was this just the most effective way you could think of to make people poo their pants?

People say that this is an anti-drug film, but that's not what I set out to make. Drugs can press someone to reveal their true character, their deepest fears, their paranoia and dread, and this particular couple rides the gauntlet and can't break through the barrier. For this reason, a lot of folks including good friends of mine think I was making a horror variation of a public service announcement. It's fair enough, though, because once you complete the movie it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the audience, and they can interpret it however they like. I will say our latest short film, CRESTFALLEN, is very specifically intended as an anti-suicide film. The screenwriter, Russ Penning, wrote a very personal, very daring and sincere piece about a young woman (Deneen Melody) who feels like she has no other recourse but killing herself, and the movie takes a journey with her where we want the audience to see the value of life. I do like the idea of the audience being scared by trauma, though -- drugs and suicide are real life transgressions and have vast consequences for you and for your near and dear.

On a similar note, how important do you think gore is in these films? Aside from being an excellent way of making people watch a movie through the cracks between their fingers, what uses do you think gore has?

I wish there were more gore and nudity in films. Special effects allow you to make a metaphor into a reality -- if you feel like you and your lover are being torn apart, then gore effects can make that quite literal. The gory effects in VIDEODROME and THE THING and in much of Clive Barker's writing is a triumph of the imagination, and yes, it's really nightmarish and grotesque, but so are the things we're afraid to see. We're also afraid of pain, or of cancer and death, but it's easier to see someone transform into a giant fly than watch someone perish at their death bed. The gore in CONTACT (by Daniel J. Mazikowski) was all about making a connection to another person, but that can be incredibly frightening. Isn't it scary during the first month of dating someone? You know so little about them, you're in many ways quite vulnerable and see their vulnerability. The actors who braved the special effects and nudity in CONTACT and CRESTFALLEN were incredibly courageous, and I'm grateful they trusted me, since this sort of material can easily be prurient, offensive and gratuitous. It's important to me that the cast and crew understand what we're trying to achieve, because we're asking them for the difficult. I hope not to let them down with the finished movies. It has our names on it; it has to have value for us as creative people.

Now on this blog I've written a lot about how, particularly in genres like horror and sci-fi, everyone is constantly ripping off everybody else. So this is a great chance for you to 'fess up. Which artists and works do you make a habit of ripping off, what is it about them that you most want to steal?

Oh, I steal all the time. But so did George Romero (he robbed from I AM LEGEND), Wes Craven (from Ingmar Bergman's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), John Carpenter (from Howard Hawks) and Sam Raimi (from Bugs Bunny!). For CONTACT, I am sure David Lynch and David Cronenberg were on the brain. You can't make experimental body horror movies without in some way acknowledging them. I also drew from the painter Edvard Munch, whose "The Kiss" has haunted me for a long time, and photographer Gregory Crewdson for the scene involving the parents. Crewdson steals from Steven Spielberg, though, so I don't feel bad robbing from him.
Until just now you thought this painting was really romantic
And for CRESTFALLEN, my conversations with the director of photography/editor Dominick Sivilli revolved around BEOWULF, Chris Cunningham and commercial and music video director Chris Milk, but that movie was also us trying to reach for the epic and the mythic because it was based on a naturalistic true story, and we wanted to make the picture feel as large and grand as our emotions. When we feel love or pain, it is as large as castles and kingdoms. That said, we only had $300 to make that movie, so it's a chamber piece that yearns to be an opera.

Your next film, The Sadist looks sort of like First Blood, if Rambo hadn't been such a peaceloving hippy. How did it come about, and what more horrible, horrible things will you expose us to next?

THE SADIST is a bad-ass killer in the woods movie. The producers (Frank Wihbey and Joe Pisani) saw CONTACT and hired me as a work-for-hire director based on that. We approached the material with high aggression, with tremendous empathy for the characters who meet this strange enemy in the forest. Most of the crew from CONTACT was on board, including Dominick Sivili (DP/Editor), Daniel J. Mazikowski (Special FX), Alan Rowe Kelly (Production Manager) and Bart Mastronardi (Associate Producer). We're still in post, but hope to be finished soon. As for what's next, I'm starting principal photography on another feature in May (this time a non-genre film) and am in early talks for another horror feature later this year. Executive Producer Marv Blauvelt is finishing up the horror anthology PSYCHO STREET, and I associate produced the segment "No Rest For The Wicked" directed by Raine Brown. I'm looking forward to that. But when it comes to projects, it's best to let the future reveal itself. We rarely know what's around the corner. I'd love to work on a larger project with Zoe Daelman Chlanda, the star of CONTACT, and Jerry Murdock, a wonderful actor who is the Bruce Willis of indie horror.

The Sadist stars Tom Savini, who when he isn't appearing in virtually every horror film ever, is doing the make up, special effects and stunts for every other horror film ever, and still manages to find time to fit in some directing as well. It's fair to say he's something of a legend in the genre, so how was it working with him? Were you daunted at all?

Tom Savini signed up because it gave him the opportunity to play a non-speaking predatory villain, not unlike some of the roles played by his hero Lon Chaney. Tom was fantastic to work with, full of enthusiasm and high energy. When I called around to other directors asking what he was like to work with, to a man they said he was a true collaborator. Let it be known he does not suffer fools gladly, and if he doesn't trust you, he will walk all over you. But my time with him was wonderful; one of the best experiences of my professional career.

Finally, given this is a blog primarily about the zombie apocalypse, we have to know: What is your zombie apocalypse survival plan?

I subscribe to the George Romero technique, which is still the best way to go: (a) Steal a helicopter, (b) bring a film crew and some guns, (c) take over a shopping mall, and (d) let loose the dogs of war.

CONTACT from Dominick Sivilli on Vimeo.

Monday, 7 March 2011

#9 Zombie LARP: The Sad Tale of Team Scavenger

This week I’m writing about Zombie LARP (That’s Live Action Role Play to you). Zombie LARP is, in short, where a bunch of people lock themselves inside a building, the small groups of them take turns to try and fight their way out with NERF guns while everyone else slowly walks towards them with outstretched hands, groaning. And if that doesn’t sound terrifying to you, I just ask that you try it.
One of the founders of Zombie LARP, Mary Hamilton, has already written about the motivations and mechanisms of the LARP far better than I can here and here. Meanwhile, I’ve already written about why the zombie apocalypse scenario is so suited to emergent storytelling in the context of my Left 4 Dead blog.
So this week I’m going to do something a bit different, and demonstrate how games like this create stories by simply telling you the story of my brief time as a zombie-killing badass, with help from the other members of Team Scavenger.

The Sad Tale of Team Scavenger

SPOILER: At least one of these people dies. From left to right: Sascha, Harry, Lucia, Matt, Alina, Tom, Your Humble Blogger
 Our goal was to find one of two objects- either a key card that would let us out the front door, or a fire axe that would let us out the fire exit. To make things harder, we’d been split into two groups, each at opposite ends of the building, and each given a jigsaw piece that might add up to tell us how to get out.

The first team was made up of Tom, who was dressed up like a cowboy that had dressed up like the clown who abused him as a child. He had a fedora with foam bullets stashed along the rim, and make-up not unlike that of the kid from Clockwork Orange. He, along with Sascha belonged to the “Class” of Security Guard, which gave them both the ability to carry a really big gun. Then there was Tom’s friend, birthday girl Lucia, who seemed less crazy than Tom until she chose the class of “Test Subject”- meaning her abilities were carrying a big axe, and screaming. Finally, there was the Medic, Alina, clad in a blood-soaked lab coat (nothing reassures patients like the smell of fresh blood) and carrying a big knife.

Extract From Alina’s Account of the Game:

“While waiting, we started hearing moaning outside the door. For a few seconds we decided to ignore it, surely Mary would tell us when to get going, right?

Then the singing started. The creepiest "Happy Birthday" song ever sung, and it was getting louder. We opened the door and peered outside. Zombies were definitely closing in on us, blocking the corridor towards the meeting point, and, yes, they were singing. We ran upstairs, me and Sascha going last. I passed a couple of zombies that were slowly turning around to follow us, threw a couple of glow sticks to distract them and then got distracted myself by the one zombie leaning against a wall, casually chewing on an arm. That's when I got scared. I was hit once while staring at Sascha being surrounded and killed, but managed to make my way inside a room and lean against the door to block it. I caught my breath as Lucia and Tom destroyed and searched the one zombie in the room. Did he have a clue? Was there something in the room we were missing? He was just so obvious there, it just seemed like there must have been something somewhere around him. There wasn't. We kept searching until the other door opened and Sascha came in with her new zombie friends. There was some shooting and screaming and I like to think waving my knife around helped.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the building, our team had its own problems. While the first team had been made up of security guards, medics, and axe-wielding maniacs, our team was made up of what you could be forgiven for calling “The Rest”. I was with Sascha’s flatmate Harry, whose special skills amounted to “Having a beard” and Alina’s boyfriend, Matt, who, well, didn’t seem the combatant type, and would probably be killed off in the first minute. I had ambitiously taken on the “Believer” class, which gave me the twin skills of being able to hold off the baying horde with my monologuing skills, and the ability to kill all surrounding zombies, and myself, by shouting “Lord strike you down!”

Between us we had three six shooter pistols a stick, an Ankh symbol, two mobile phones (As a rule I always carry two mobiles- my battered old Nokia, and a Blackberry that I still haven’t worked out how to use yet), a handful of glowsticks and some jigsaw pieces.

We were in the building’s main hall, where we hadn’t run into any zombies, but had got stuck in a stand-off with a couple of crazy looking scientists, one of whom was holding a shotgun. After a brief, shouted debate (“Calm the fuck down!” “You calm the fuck down!”) we decided on a tactical retreat to the stairwell just beyond the hall.

Here we ran into zombies. It’s hard to explain just how scary it is trying to fend off someone walking towards you with outstretched arms using nothing but a NERF pistol. Numerous times I was backed into a wall, desperately firing an unresponsive gun, before remembering I had to cock it and only then managing to shoot my attacker.
Then shoot them again once they're down, naturally
From Matt’s Account:
“Happily, once we'd got there and methodically pinned down and killed some zombies, the other half of our team arrived and helped us with the slaying. We put all the puzzle pieces in the corner and tried to start putting them together. At this point Alina starts shouting to me that she's lost her piece. Convinced that she's role-playing, I shout back and try very hard to extract the location of the piece out of her, until it becomes clear that she has indeed genuinely lost it. Once I'd ascertained this (and beaten away a few zombies for good measure), I turned back to the pieces which we'd so sensibly left in the corner of the room. There were only three left.”

At this point, I saw our friend the shotgun happy scientist standing in the door of the main hall and waving a puzzle piece in the air.

Myself and Lucia went haring after him into the hall. He held us at a distance with his gun, asking what the jigsaw piece was for, and we tried reasoning with him, but as an absolute last resort, I was forced to shoot him twice in the back.

I was momentarily distracted by an attack of zombies, but soon returned to search the body thoroughly for the missing jigsaw piece.

From Lucia’s Account:

“A crazy man with a double barreled shotgun suddenly appears and steals a puzzle piece and runs into the main hall. Chris and I follow him in an attempt to reason with him and retrieve it. He seems very unstable and threatens to shoot us. But then he throws the puzzle piece in my direction, which Chris doesn't notice, and Chris shoots him. I grab the piece and bring it back to the others by the stairs.”

Ah. Okay then. Umm. Wow. This is awkward... Say, I wonder how Tom was doing while all this went down?

From Tom’s Account:

“It was at this point I realised I had only 4 shots in my Recon left, and had dropped my clips somewhere, so I started to panic a little. We were being overrun in the corridor, where Alina was being beaten to death by zombies, and I was rather conservatively trying to shoot the remaining zombies. The decision was made to fight them off in the main hall where we had more room.”

Thanks Tom. Once the surviving members of the team (Sorry Alina) had all retreated to the main hall, we gained a moment’s peace, with half of us able to keep the doors secure and put down any zombies that had made their way inside, while the rest worked on fitting the jigsaw puzzle together.

Having realised, after a thorough cavity search, that the dead scientist did not have a jigsaw piece, I rejoined the rest of the group just in time to take the credit for correctly reading the jigsaw and working out what was on the missing piece. The puzzle said that the key was hidden “behind the great eye”. We looked at one another and asked “Has anyone seen an eye?”

Now in the movies, once the team has found the answer to the riddle about where the treasure is, there’s always one character, usually the dodgy looking one dressed all in black, who decides to abandon his comrades and save his own skin, only to suffer a quick, karmic death. But of course people don’t really act like... Oh Tom!

From Tom’s Account:

“Around this time zombies started to pour in through the back door, and after fighting a few zombies and depleting my shotguns, I found a small one shot pistol and decided to just try and find the eye, thinking the rest of the team were pretty much screwed.

So I ran out of the stage exit door into a corridor with 5 rather bored zombies. Not realising at the time I was standing RIGHT NEXT TO THE DOOR where the 'eye' was, I decided to try and get to the sunken room, the only other room we had not checked. However with just 3 rounds and 5 zombies I had a problem, so tried an alternative method. Using the laser pointer on my empty gun I distracted all of the zombies and skilfully dodged by all of them. Making it to the sunken room I was relieved to find the room devoid of zombies, but this proved to be false hope, as the room was completely empty. No keycard, no guns, no ammo. NOTHING. I knew I was pretty much dead at this point, and two zombies burst into the room, who quickly took my remaining 2 hit points away and started to eat me.”

See? That’s cosmic justice. Meanwhile, those of us who had decided to stay with the team were doing just fine...

From Lucia’s Account:

“A zombie bride leading a hoard emerges from the door at the back of the hall, I run towards them and notice she is carrying the fire axe. I also notice a zombie holding a cartridge of ammo, so for some reason I grab the ammo and bring it to the stage where team mates are shooting zombies. I then run back to the bride and shout that she has the fire axe, but no one hears me. I try and wrench it from her and hack at her. I succeed in slaying her and obtaining it, but there are too many zombies and I fall to the floor still yelling "I have the fire axe!" Still no one hears and I die alone, swarmed. The zombies then all fall to the floor around the bride I had killed, and weep, some rocking back and forth clutching their heads in grief.”

Okay, maybe not everyone was doing just fine. By now we had fallen back to the stage, there was some shouting about a “last stand”, but I wasn’t done just yet. As the zombies crowded the stage, I launched into my Special Ability, and began to preach. Of course, as a pretty secular person, I didn’t have much to preach about, so I launched into a lecture on why I didn’t believe in zombies.

“Zombies don’t exist!” I shouted “You’re the result of mass hysteria... or swamp gas... or some sort of flu bug... or...”

The zombies were halted in their tracks, possibly more out of confusion than out of the power of my faith, but it did the job. Still, it’s amazing how quickly your ideas can dry up on the spot, and before long I just had to cry “Shit! Zombies!” and leg it for the exit, hoping I’d bought us enough time to escape. Fortunately, we all made it out okay.

From Harry’s Account:

“We defended the stage, and Chris used his believer power to freeze zombies. I used a glow stick to distract the zombies, which worked briefly. They then left the hall, and by the time I realised this I was all alone and escape by the other route was cut off, so I tried to escape down the side of the hall. I was quickly surrounded. I fired desperately but my gun had no ammunition, although I tried firing about 8 times before realising this. I was then killed.”

Okay, almost all of us.

Okay, two of us. There, you happy now?

From Matt’s Account:

“Once out, Harry was nowhere to be seen and it was just Chris and me. As we passed the corridor, a zombie emphatically gesticulated toward a room in the opposite direction from where we were headed. I ran ahead to catch up with Chris and bring him back, but of course by then the route back to this room was blocked by rather too many walking dead.”

At this point I ingeniously opened a side door and led Matt inside. Less ingeniously, it turned out to be a dead end, with only one exit that was now filled with zombie. Lesser men would have panicked in this situation, maybe even finally taken that last NERF dart for themselves (This wasn’t an option by that point, our guns had jammed long ago).

Instead, I looked Matt in the eye, and with quiet confidence said: “Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.”

From Matt’s Account:

“Chris runs around shouting "I've got a plan!". After a minute or so and once we were backed into a corner, I'm beginning to seriously doubt this plan (if it even exists).”

At this point I whipped out my battered old Nokia and, fingers shaking, tapped in a number. I hit the dial button as the zombies surrounded us, and... nothing. One incredibly long moment of nothing, when I start to worry about battery lifespans, and mobile reception, and... then the ringing starts. The ringing of the blackberry phone I had just planted at the opposite end of the room.

As one, the zombies turned and lurched over to the source of the noise, while we snuck out the door, me doing a very quiet victory dance.

We dodged a couple of hallway zombies, and Matt led us to a room with some sort of arcane shrine set up. At the top of the shrine was a drawing of a single, burning eye. I looked at the eye, and in my photographic memory I flashed up the image of the jigsaw puzzle, only all the words were all weird and glowy, like in A Beautiful Mind. They said “Behind the eye” and here was a picture of an eye, an eye like the eye that was mentioned in the “Behind the eye” of the jigsaw, “Behind” an eye, an eye that could, maybe, possibly, perhaps, be like the eye that was on this shrine.”

“Behind the eye!” I said meaningfully.

Matt looked at me in confusion. It wasn’t his fault, I was clearly operating on another level by this point.

To demonstrate, I reached up behind the altar, and pulled out the blue keycard.

Once again, the zombies invaded our moment of triumph, having apparently discarded the blackberry as needlessly complicated and fiddly. We retreated to the far end of the room, but this time it was no dead end. Instead, we came across a pair of double doors. We pushed through, to find ourselves... back in the main hall!

This time the hall was no safe haven however, it was packed with zombies, at quick headcount, I estimated it to be roughly four bagillion zombies. With no other choice, the two of us pushed through the horde, but it soon became clear we were both going to die unless someone did something really noble and heroic. The sort of thing that should be immortalised in legend and song for generations. The sort of thing that should at least net the hero a pint from the comrade he saved later on.

In a deep, booming voice I yelled “Matt!”

Matt turned, our eyes met, and something of the secret brotherhood of fellow soldiers passed between us. “Take the key!” I shouted, and the key card arched through the air in slow motion, until Matt snatched it down.

Matt gave me a look as if to say “No! It should be me who dies! You have so much to give!” and I gave him a look that said “Yes, but this is the way it has to be.”

Then, I gave the mighty cry “LORD STRIKE YOU DOWN!” (Deathbed conversions are the best!) and all at once every zombie in the room dropped to the ground. I too fell, but as I lay upon the ground I was content, as I saw Matt fleet to safety.

From Matt’s Account:

“The lower lobby was deserted apart from my apparently now ex-girlfriend Alina, who began to lurch towards me, hungry for brains. Barely slowing down, I hit her with my big stick (what was that thing, a baseball bat?) and kept going. I don't think the two zombies in the upstairs lobby even knew what was going on before I was past them, to the door and collapsed on the floor.”

So, that’s the story of team scavenger. The whole thing took, maybe twenty minutes at most. Certainly less time than it took to write down.

Now, for the drinking game.

Well, we spent most of the game under siege in the main hall, so take one shot for that. I don’t know if the mad scientist dude ever meant to rescue us, but if he did was incompetent, and dangerous, so two shots for that. A lot like the two shots which I put into his back, which I guess, combined with Tom doing a runner, means mankind is the real monster. So one shot for that.

The zombies were walking dead, who moved slowly, although we weren’t allowed to shoot them in the head, so only two shots for that. Oh, and if I hadn’t shot that scientist twice he almost certainly would have come back for me, so two shots for the rule on the dead rising regardless of being “infected”.

Finally, during the safety and rules briefing at the beginning of the night, several kids from the Muslim prayer meeting next door snuck over and watched us through the door. We later found several of them marching up and down with outstretched arms groaning “ZOMBIE!”

So take two shots for the “Kiddy Zombies” rule.
CLARIFICATION: In this article, reference is made to a "Tom", who is a bit dodgy looking and attempts to run off and leave his friends to die. In my article on Left 4 Dead, I also refer to a "Tom" who is a bit dodgy, and often attempts to run off and leave his friends to die. These are two seperate people. Avoid people called Tom when the zombie apocalypse hits, is what I'm saying. Stick to people called Dave.