Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios unleashes nightmare-fueled 22-minute short ‘Zygote’

Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios unleashes nightmare-fueled 22-minute short ‘Zygote’

What’s on the Menu…

Zygote beautifully utilizes one of our all-time favorite dramatic scenarios: An isolated group, faced with no choice but to fend for themselves, battles for survival against a seemingly insurmountable foe. As group members get picked off, one by one, the suspense comes from who dies next, and who, if anyone, survives. John Ford staged it in a desert with World War I soldiers in The Lost Patrol (1934). Ridley Scott placed his band of scrappy victims in deep space, battling an iconic extraterrestrial in 1979’s Alien. With Zygote, director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp borrows heavily from the latter, right down to the ceaseless warning beacons and mechanical PA announcements. It also cuts right to the chase, opening after most of the bloodshed has already occurred:

Stranded in an Arctic mine, two lone survivors are forced to fight for their lives, evading and hiding from a new kind of terror.

So How Does Zygote Taste?

Zygote stars Blomkamp veteran Jose Pablo Cantillo (Elysium, Chappie) and Dakota Fanning. Cantillo is fine, although his terse, grunting speech – he’s in intense pain for every second he’s onscreen – can be a little hard to understand. But Fanning is incredible, absolutely inhabiting her character’s frazzled, go-for-broke gutsiness. And the film’s set acts as an indispensable third performer: the Diefenbunker, a sprawling, decommissioned Cold War-era fallout shelter originally built by the Canadian government in the small town of Carp, Ontario. It now serves as Canada’s Cold War Museum, and has been featured in The Sum of All Fears, among other films.

As one would expect from Blomkamp, the digital effects are impeccable. Zygote gifts sci-fi/horror fans with a unique and fearsome creature, unlike anything you’ve seen before. And it does not skimp on the gore or violence. If this were a feature, the MPAA would almost certainly slap an ‘R’ rating on it.

Blunders and Gaffes

The film spends just a little too much time in its first setting, the mining operation’s thoroughly trashed mess hall. It gets a little talky in parts. And a scene where the two protagonists must put on breathing masks becomes unintentionally funny when both of their masks instantly cloud up – a lot. Like, “I can’t see a damn thing” a lot.

Release Notes for Zygote

Oats Studios has released free versions of Zygote on its YouTube and Facebook pages, but a deluxe downloadable edition, complete with 3D assets, scripts and digital concept art booklet can be purchased for $4.99 on the Steam gaming platform.

Best of all, the short is billed as Volume 1, indicating an ongoing series. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installments.

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SHORT: Latest ‘Scary Endings’ anthology entry, ‘Am I Beautiful?’ (2017), based on Japanese legend

SHORT: Latest ‘Scary Endings’ anthology entry, ‘Am I Beautiful?’ (2017), based on Japanese legend

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Online horror anthology series Scary Endings offers up another serving of short-form terror, Am I Beautiful?. This time around, writer/director John Fitzpatrick (Skypemare) and the Scary Endings team look to an ancient Japanese ghost story, Kuchisake-onna (‘Slit-Mouthed Woman’), for their inspiration:

May (Sarah Scott) and Zach (Abraham Martinez) are moving into their new home unbeknownst to the evil spirit haunting their bathroom mirror – the Slit-Mouthed Woman (Belinda Gosbee). She’ll ask you a question; answer correctly and she’ll spare your life but at a cost…

Interestingly, this episode is the first to be shot entirely on iPhone. To our eyes, cinematographer Nicholas Kaat‘s work looks professional as always, which speaks volumes about the potential quality of current smartphone videography. This should serve as a huge encouragement to all you budding horror filmmakers out there!


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SHORT: ‘Girls Night’ (2017) Halloween finds three girlfriends at a party gone wrong

SHORT: ‘Girls Night’ (2017) Halloween finds three girlfriends at a party gone wrong

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Filmmaker David Teixeira wrote, directed, shot, and edited this modest short, which is in French but offers English subtitles. Here’s the official synopsis:

Girls Night is a short horror film that takes place in Halloween. Three girlfriends stay home for a slumber party that goes bloody wrong. Literally.”

It’s a variation on the venerable “Bloody Mary” legend. You’d think most folks would know better by now.

Teixeira leaned in to the inherent constraints of a shoestring budget, and came up with a mostly good-looking film that underdelivers in the scares department. There are some lingering shots that could be tightened up a bit. But the score is effective, the three main characters are colorful and engaging, and the central antagonist, in creepy mask and blonde wig, has an eerie menacing quality that makes this short worth a look.

So how can you take such a look at Girls Night? Currently, you can’t – but that will soon change. We touched base with Teixeira on the subject:

“It’s been submitted to 15 film festivals internationally. It will be online soon, still waiting to see how it goes with the film festivals and then I’ll put it online. Maybe in April.”

Stay tuned.


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SHORT: Check out ambitious new episode of ‘Scary Endings’ anthology: ‘The Water Rises’

SHORT: Check out ambitious new episode of ‘Scary Endings’ anthology: ‘The Water Rises’

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Online horror anthology series Scary Endings kicks off the new year with what may be its most ambitious episode yet, The Water Rises. Writer/director John Fitzpatrick (Skypemare) and the usual gang of suspects have put together an intense, nasty piece of work set aboard a cruise ship. Two newlyweds find themselves trapped in one of the ship’s elevators when disaster strikes. As the water rises, so does the tension… and the terror.

From a technical standpoint, this was clearly a challenging shoot, as evidenced by the “Behind the Scenes” video below. The Scary Endings team’s efforts really pay off, giving us a claustrophobic, heartbreaking entry in what has grown to become one of our favorite horror anthology series.

The Water Rises co-stars Empire‘s Kaitlin Doubleday and co-producer (and frequent Scary Endings actor) Adam J. Yeend. It also features voice-only cameos from horror veteran Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever, Skypemare) and co-producer Ryan Dillon.


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“Behind the Scenes” look at the making of The Water Rises, featuring the cast and crew:

SHORT: Horror anthology ‘Scary Endings’ S2E02 gets seasonal with ‘Santa Claus is a Vampire’

SHORT: Horror anthology ‘Scary Endings’ S2E02 gets seasonal with ‘Santa Claus is a Vampire’

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Addictive online horror anthology series Scary Endings has released the second epsiode of its sophomore season – and it’s a holiday special! Santa Claus Is a Vampire strikes a tone midway between comedy and horror, with a liberal dash of holiday spice. Writer/director John Fitzpatrick (Skypemare) and his team tell a tale of a less-than-jolly St. Nick wrestling with a thirst that just cannot be quenched. Here’s the official synopsis:

Happily married couple Sharon (Hannah Marshall) and Cody (Ryan Dillon) are returning home with this year’s Christmas tree when an unexpected encounter with Vampire Santa Claus (Casey Kooyman) leaves Sharon sole defender of her home where no one is safe, not her son, the babysitter Holly (Charlotte Chimes) or even herself. Can she stop Santa from coming down that chimney? Traditional vampire rules apply…

It’s good to see Scary Endings return from hiatus. Look for a new short from them each month – they’re worth waiting for.


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Horror short ‘The Cleansing Hour’ slated for HollyShorts Film Fest showing tomorrow

Horror short ‘The Cleansing Hour’ slated for HollyShorts Film Fest showing tomorrow

WHAT’S ON THE MENU: Check out this trailer for Damien LeVeck‘s horror short The Cleansing Hour, starring Sam Jaeger (Parenthood, American Sniper), Heather Morris (Glee, Spring Breakers), and Neil Grayston (Daredevil, Eureka). The short will be featured at the 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival, which kicks off with a closed filmmaker red carpet and press event at 6pm this evening (Thursday, August 11th). The festival is being held at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatre in Hollywood. The Cleansing Hour will screen on Friday, August 12th, at 10pm as part of the Horror Program, presented by Eli Roth’s Crypt TV. Tickets can be purchased online at the festival’s website (see link above). Additionally, for the first time ever, the film will be available for viewing via the streaming service bitpix for the duration of the festival, which concludes Friday, August 19th.

The Cleansing Hour follows Lance (Jaeger) and Drew (Grayston), who run a popular webcast that streams exorcisms staged to look real. When Lance, who plays a priest, unknowingly hires an actress who is actually possessed (Morris), he is forced to reckon with his online charade in front of 20 million viewers worldwide.

“I’m honored that our film is competing in HollyShorts, and I’m excited that we finally get to show off the culmination of over a year’s worth of work,” said LeVeck, who has focused his directing career on telling unique and compelling stories with a message in the horror genre. “The Cleansing Hour is a fresh take on the exorcism genre that is sure to scare and thrill everyone who’s brave enough to watch,” LeVeck said. 

The Cleansing Hour was written by Aaron Horwitz (Roommate Wanted) and also features YouTube star Teala Dunn (Enchanted, Expelled), John Griffin (Priest, Jersey Boys), and Catherine Marin (The Tequila Sisters, Chimera) in supporting roles. Jesse M. Feldman (American Crime Story, Veep) is the director of photography and Marylou Lim (Godzilla, Looper) is the costume designer.

Shirit Bradley, who worked on last year’s summer blockbuster Godzilla and the comedy-horror film Krampus, produced The Cleansing Hour alongside entertainment attorney Natalie LeVeck. “From the moment Damien pitched this project to me, I was in. He has such a fun and clear vision and I was thrilled to be a part of his team and produce something that has a larger message,” Bradley said.

LeVeck raised over $30,000, the majority of The Cleansing Hour’s production budget, via a successful Kickstarter campaign.


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Heather Morris
Sam Jaeger
Neil Grayston