PAPERLESS POST: HEMNA reviews the Christmas e-cards you can personalise

Christmas draws ever closer with a mere weekend separating us from roasts and festive puddings, mulled wine and heartily sung carols. It is also prime card-giving season, with 668.9 million Christmas cards sold in the UK (2008) and an astonishing 1.9 billion cards sent in the United States over the festive period (2005).

If like a lot of people, you are pressed for time, the idea of buying several dozen packs of paper cards, envelopes and stamps and having to individually write out each one probably is a difficult thing to move up on your to-do list. You know you have to, but those end-of-year work reports will not get finished up by Santa’s elves, no matter how good a girl or boy you’ve been!

But fear not, you won’t be magically transformed into the greetings card Grinch of Yuletide 2018 if you decide to call upon the services of Paperless Post. Headquartered in New York, Paperless Post is a remarkable, fun and innovative site offering a wide choice of impeccably designed e-cards, invites and even animated flyers, with contemporary designs brimming with flair, festive vibes and colour.

 

In the run-up to Christmas, Paperless Post has launched a range of festive cards and invites to send to your loved ones for Christmas greetings, parties and New Year’s Day celebrations. In collaboration with Paperless Post, HEM News Agency will put one of their personalised Christmas cards on a review road test.

As part of their festive promotions, the online stationery firm is offering customers the chance to spread joy instantly with their online holiday cards that are simple to send and delightful to receive. You can adapt your card’s design, track its delivery to the recipient and upload photographs of your choice, perfect if you like to make themed family greetings cards or at least want something a bit more memorable than a generic glittery robin on the front.

Under the “Holiday, Christmas, and New Year cards” section on the Paperless Post site alone there are a whopping 851 designs alone to choose from, which is far more than you can find in all but the most specialised physical paper card stores. I decided to go with the square format ‘Yule Blooms Christmas’ design as it is festive and professional in appearance in equal measure.

Although the display card is offered in ‘tall’ format’, I found you can choose from six different formats, or ‘design variations’ so if you prefer a particular card size, that option is sorted for you. Choice is a good thing, we must embrace it! Enter your log-in details if you are already signed up at Paperless Post, or alternatively log in with your Facebook or Google account and you can begin customising right away.

 

Firstly you need to choose your ‘backdrop’, which is the background your card will be displayed on. There is one free option, or for the small fee of one ‘coin’ (Paperless Post’s online currency) you can choose from several more. I went for the ‘Pure White –  Holiday’ backdrop with its alluring white snow field and pine needles and holly berries scattered above the top. Très festive, no?. Very easy to do, and just one click is needed.

Hit the Next arrow and the next customisable option is the card’s text. This is where you can really make your card’s message speak from the heart. Here you can change the text size, alignment, typeface, colours and much more, and the sliders make it easier for the less typographically inclined. Using the ‘Colors’ option, which presents their colour options in handy little spots showing the exact hue, I was able to customise the text colours to match HEM News Agency’s blog branding. In the middle of the card is a blank space with patterning reminiscent of the backs of Kodak printed photos we had in our millennial childhood family albums. Just click on that, and the photo editing suite pops up on the left-hand side menu. Here you can upload your photo or choose a pre-uploaded one. I picked the HEMNA logo stored on my laptop.

Following from that, the next option is the Envelope Liner, where you can choose the pattern for the inside of the envelope. While the presented liner choices were not really suitable for a Christmas-themed card, you can use the search box to find some that are. To match the Backdrop I chose earlier, I picked ‘A Christmas Kennel’, which despite its name does not feature dogs, or indeed kennels. Instead experience the natural warmth of holly berries and leaves, which really says ‘Merry Christmas’.

You can then change the envelope’s front with a pretend postage stamp and adapt the text where you address the recipient. However you cannot change the wording at this point, just the typeface and colour. Then it’s on to the reply card, where as with the envelope you can choose the background design. Strangely, I could not find any festive themed designs so had to make do with something more ‘around-the-year’. 

Once you have finished your custom card, the site takes you to the delivery suite where you can enter your recipients’ email addresses. If you are sending the cards out to a whole bunch of friends or family, or to customers as part of business marketing promotions for the Christmas period, you can upload email lists or address books to save yourself the time of manually entering everything. After sending, you can see if the recipient has collected their card and receive messages sent in response.

 

My verdict: It was a painless and easy process to create and send your own greetings card. The steps were clearly set out and in a logical order, with tonnes of design choice and options for customising, without being too technical, long-winded or complicated. There could have been more Christmas options for designs though in my opinion. The whole process took less than ten minutes from start to finish (I was writing this article at the same time) and there was no crashing, bugs or other errors during the design process. One thing I really appreciate is the attention to detail that Paperless Post weaves into every part of the design step, and the realism you get from the designs themselves. It is almost an oddly satisfying feeling when you open the email and watch the card glide seamlessly out of the pristine envelope and reveal itself. The designs are eye-catching and brilliant to behold. This is my second time reviewing Paperless and they don’t disappoint!

Choose your Christmas card adventure at paperlesspost.com

 

DISCLAIMER: The article was a sponsored post in collaboration with the online cards and stationery site Paperless Post, of which the author was compensated.

 

 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Paperless Post.

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PAPERLESS POST: Experiencing a new breed of e-card

 

They say that life is full of surprises and great things. And, indeed, you’ve just run into a whole bunch of them. Your sister has just had a baby boy, your friend has got his wedding date finally confirmed and the tinpot dictator of a manager at the office you have had to force yourself to be rictus grin nice to is leaving for a new position. Card buying season is making its presence felt but that same life of surprises usually consists of working all the hours thrown your way while juggling gym, hobbies, family time and all that jazz. You haven’t bought a greeting card since Take That split and running from pillar (box) to post (office) to buy stamps and envelopes just seems, well, tedious.

Even if you manage to get time to go out and actually do some shopping around, you will inevitably find yourself either stuck at the supermarket looking for an off-the-shelf card with a generic printed message and a pen that hopefully will not run out of ink halfway through writing in the blasted thing, or you’re at a stuffy printer’s shop trying to haggle a discount on a thousand wedding invites to be delivered ASAP. Because you procrastinated. And procrastination is a thing. You really need something more instant and fuss-free.

 

So send an E-card they said, it’ll be novel, cute and quick as a flash they said. But aren’t e-cards a bit tacky and cheap-looking? Surely good old card and paper seems like, well, you are actually even slightly bothered about this momentous and life-changing special occasion. Not forgetting that actual invitations and cards you can hold in your hand, keep and read at your leisure has a great permanency and intimacy that a few hundred pixels on a screen just cannot achieve. Well think again.

While in days gone by, e-cards were the height of gawdy electro-kitsch with their eye-bruising colours, goofy Clipart images and cat memes galore, a company based in the design capital of New York made the very smart decision a few years back to drag the much-maligned e-greetings industry kicking and screaming to the drawing board for a makeover fit for the 2010s.

Paperless Post is an online company that offers a wide selection of online invitations, ‘save-the-dates’, greetings e-cards and flyers to suit every occasion. Their stated ambition is to produce customisable online stationery that enables customers to create well-designed and personal items for that extra-special touch.

With their contemporary and inspiring creations worthy of a design gallery, not to mention their cute pigeon logo harking back to the days of carrier pigeon post and Yankee Doodle cartoons on a  Saturday morning, Paperless Post have become well-established enough to have scored collaborations with leading designers and lifestyle brands in the U.S., including Kate Spade New York, Oscar de la Renta, Jonathan Adler, and Rifle Paper Co. The company has generated more than 85 million cards to date, both in virtual and printed format, so even traditionalists and people who simply don’t have a computer or an internet connection that ever moved past dial-up can still receive an invite or card via Paperless.

I was invited by Paperless Post to try out their services for myself and had a go making a greetings card for the Hindu festival of Diwali – one of my favourite occasions, which you can see at the beginning of this review. The first thing that struck me about their website was just how amazingly appealing it was to my ‘inner designer’ ‘s eyes. With heaps of prominent imagery framed in soft pastels on just the home page, the site alone could win a design award or two.

While many websites that invest heavily in aesthetics end up neglecting the basics of good navigation, Paperless Post strikes a happy balance between the two. All of the company’s categories of offerings, such as graduation, birthday and festivals, are in a clear, minimalist and straightforward menu up top, so no need to go on an Livingstonian expedition around the site to find what you are looking for.

Like pretty much every e-tailer, you first need to sign up and create an account. You can go for the usual option of registering via an email address, but for the social-media-savvy, you can also sign up via Facebook or Google accounts too. Once done, it’s just the small matter of choosing a design and stationery item. Paperless offers both pre-designed customisable templates and an ‘upload your own’ option that enables you to upload photos and create something truly personal.

I chose to create a Diwali card. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of designs which were culturally appropriate as well as gorgeous. I selected the ‘Under the Toran’ design with its array of flowers in a garland suspended on a luxurious white heavy paper background.

 

Once you have chosen your preferred style, it’s time to customise. There is a lot of flexibility in the choices, and you can adapt nearly everything from the typeface, colour and size of the card text, to the background behind the card when it’s opened and the colour and feel of the cyber-envelope to put your card in. The attention to detail offered by Paperless Post is such that you can add a vintage letterpress effect to your text and add the finishing touches of a cute little stamp and postmark to the front of the envelope upon completion. There’s the possibility too of choosing the pattern you prefer for the inside of the envelope, which Paperless Post dubs the ‘liner’ – very posh!

I found the user interface intuitive and offering a lot of wiggle room, although manipulating the text for the inside of the card was quite fiddly at first, but I soon got the hang of it, aided by the fact I had some experience designing graphics online using third-party websites. Although you don’t have to be a design expert, some technological prowess is helpful, although those who really struggle can get guidance from the ‘Help’ page.

 

To move between different stages you can click the ‘next’ and ‘back’ arrows (as seen in the image above) or on the menu to the left. The menu is also where you can find the patterns you need and you can play around with different combinations of design to see what fits and what looks great before you finalise everything.

Once the card or invite is complete, you can type in the recipients’ names and emails, and save them into a handy ‘address book’ for future use. The site also offers the option of reviewing the finished product by sending a test copy to yourself, as well as an RSVP facility for your loved ones to respond with messages or other details. You can also track the progress of your item once it’s sent, and even see if it has been opened yet, so no more barely believable claims about ‘the invitation must have got lost in the post’.

Paperless Post uses its own in-house virtual currency, simply called coins, which you will need to purchase before using the site. Coins can be spent on design elements and mailing out to recipients and it’s said to cost less to send an e-card en masse to, say, a hundred people, than if you went out to the local printers and ordered a bulk lot. You also save a bundle on postage and stationery costs too. Prices are not immediately clear when you choose designs, but you can see how many coins you have in your account via your dashboard.

The website was quite clear and helpful in leading me on my journey from template to sent email, with a varied range of different contemporary designs and styles to choose from. I really liked the concept of a card without the paper (and paper cuts). It is a cool and personal touch, and ideal for the environmentally conscious and those who like the instant nature and realistic feel of sending a Paperless Post e-card. It’s also money-saving (as in not having to go out and buy a card, envelope, stamps and all that malarkey) so making Paperless Post ideal for much convenience and less headaches. The sort of inner peace that you just can’t obtain from running around trying to get cards printed and posted before the party plans go up in ink and smoke.

The card I designed was so realistic and detailed, right down to the texture of the ‘paper’, that I had to honestly remind myself not to try and peel it off my laptop screen. The animation of the envelope appearing onscreen and opening to reveal the card emerging is a nice little gesture too, another sign of the attention to detail Paperless Post is famous for.

I guess the supermarket card display won’t miss me too much now I can get my cards straight from a cute website and its little pigeon.

Paperless Post

paperlesspost.com

 

DISCLOSURE: The author was sponsored by the company mentioned in this review and received an incentive in order to fully utilise the product, but opinions and experiences mentioned in the post are the author’s own.

SOURCES:

Helen Chuchak, Anagram Interactive

Paperless Post.

 

 

 

HEM ANNUAL REPORT: 2014 in review

(c) WordPress
(c) WordPress

 

Your 2014 in blogging

“Our stats helper monkeys have been busy putting together a personalized report detailing how your blog did in 2014!”

 

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Our annual report for 2014 is now available for viewing, courtesy of the Half-Eaten Mind’s hosting service, WordPress.

The Half-Eaten Mind saw an astonishing 39,000 views over all categories and articles in 2014. That’s enough to cover 14 sold-out performances at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The 1st of January, 2014 (New Year’s Day) was our busiest yet for views, with 2,042 viewings, buoyed by our New Year’s wallpaper specials. 14,806 views originated in the United States, 8,104 here at home in Britain, and in third place, India, with 3,699 views to the blog.

2014 has been a year of massive growth here at HEM, and I’ve picked up a few useful skills and blog improvements along the way. We doubled our weekend schedule, and made many new friends as well.

Cheers on a great 2014!! 🙂

 

View the HEM WordPress Annual Report for 2014 here:-

https://halfeatenmind.wordpress.com/2014/annual-report/

 

 

IMAGE CREDITS:
WordPress.
” “2014 New Year Cheers” Facebook Cover” – BeingLOL.com via BeingCovers/BeingCovers.com http://beingcovers.com/covers/2014+New+Year+Cheers-3029

 

FILM REVIEW: Warrior (2011)

Vijay Shah (editor/reviewer)

Suraj Shah (contributor)

Today the Half-Eaten Mind brings you a review of the film Warrior, written by Suraj Shah.

Warrior (2011 film)
Warrior (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Warrior, released in 2011, is a sports drama movie set in the suburbs of the American city of Pittsburgh. It stars actors Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy (of Inception fame) and Nick Nolte, and was directed by Gavin O’Connor. It tells the story of two estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan, both of whom have a passion for MMA fighting (mixed martial arts). Tom returns to his hometown after a tour of duty in Iraq, where he meets his long-lost father, a womanising alcoholic who found God and made a turn for the straight path. Brendan has long turned his back on the brutal world of cage-fighting, opting to make a new life with his family, while diligently following his new career as a high school physics teacher. Both brothers soon return to the MMA circuit, where a tournament named Sparta and its prize of $5 million motivates them as much as their trainers do.

Tom still grapples with the aftermath of his time at war, witnessing the death of his brother-in-arms, Manny, in a friendly fire incident. Brendon, despite a happy home life, is struggling to pay his mortgage, and is only weeks away from losing his home. Two very different circumstances, two very different brothers. Seemingly unable to forgive their father for the pain his alcohol abuse caused them, and with memories of their mother’s pained death still fresh in the brothers’ minds, the brothers keep their father at a distance, despite his attempts to gain their forgiveness. Warrior shows successfully the delicacy and tension as a family is brought back together. The tension between the two brothers is palpable. Brendon is saddened that Tommy came to visit his father before seeing him, and Tommy dismisses his older sibling as a guy with just a girlfriend and a load of pictures of people Tommy does not care about. As the plot develops, the brothers are slowly reunited in the search for a common goal, but it is a goal that will see them face each other in a way that will truly test their new-found, if unstable, relationship.

Warrior is no progeny of the Rambo or Rocky vein . The fighting action does not kick in until the last forty or so minutes. The film is far more about family, estrangement and reconciliation. If you are expecting blood, cracking bones and chokeholds, you will not be getting plenty of that with this film. It’s more a film about personalities; Tom is humble yet constantly on the move, fuelled by bottles of liquor and pills. In Iraq he tore the door off a submerged tank and saved his fellow soldiers, yet walks away without asking for any credit, nor accepting a medal. He even shuns a photograph for the Sparta tournament programmes. Meanwhile Brendan is the textbook portrayal of an American family man, devoted to his wife and two daughters and popular with his high-school students. Both characters are realistic and deeply emotionally portrayed at times. I found this even more so with their father, Paddy. At first glance, he seems somewhat pathetic. With his rusty voice and wizened face, he seems overwhelmingly needing of pity. His first conversation with Tommy soon re-animates the demons of the past, of how Paddy turned his back on the boys’ terminally ill mother and his alcohol-fuelled rages. You soon find yourself hating him as much as his sons do, but such is the means that this movie takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, it feels as though you eventually forgive Paddy and feel for him as his sons finally do.  

Despite being a drama about one of the most physical forms of athletics known, Warrior is not over-the-top with either drama or violence. It handles the developing relationships between Paddy, Tommy and Brendon sympathetically and with compassion. The sports theme seems but a convenient sideline as O’Connor’s project refocuses you towards the human stories, and their attendant ups-and-downs behind the flexing muscles and swift kicks. Of a family broken apart, seemingly to never come back together again. That emotional sympathy and respect extends to the portrayal of MMA in the film, as a sport about people training and trying, rather than the glitz and bright lights commonplace in the sport’s promotional events. You cheer the brothers as they battle opponents in the cage, but feel a tense guilt as they oppose each other.

However no sports film is complete without its eccentricities. Warrior doesn’t fail to deliver on those. From the monstrous Koda, the Russian behemoth whose beatdown of Brendan at Sparta seemed so complete that the commentator wondered aloud how long he would stay alive for; to Brendan’s old friend Frank, who uses Beethoven’s classics to calm his fighters’ temperaments, to the strange dance that Brendan’s wife Tess performs as he defeats Koda ( a personal highlight of mine) – Warrior drip-feeds weird little gems to help take the edge of the what is otherwise a serious movie about serious issues. Refreshingly for this sub-genre, Warrior by-and-large steers clear of the obsession with toned muscular bodies and fast women that similar films of this type inevitably display as standard. The pop-gloss gimmicks are left behind. Fans of the ‘Rocky’ boxing films franchise will readily appreciate how Warrior emphasises family, career development and bitter-sweet victories, while keeping a believable ‘good guy wins over adversity’ theme running.

Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy (Photo credit: honeyfitz)

Overall the film works well for its human portrayal. There is no formal introduction to the characters. You are very much just dropped into the plot, as you find yourself riding in a car with an old gentleman playing an audio Bible on his walkman. It is that sudden, uneventful immersion that really shows the strength of Warrior’s character and plot development. The speed of things can be a bit slow and ‘everyday’ at times – dragging occasionally, which at times detracts from the viewer’s involvement with the film. Despite an occasional snail’s pace in the plot’s journey,  the building up of the characters keeps the attention span firmly switched on. It’s a likeable movie, whether or not you are a fan of mixed martial arts or sports at all. It certainly makes you think and impresses upon you emotionally, without pushing you over an emotive knife edge.

The bond of family, and especially of brotherhood, whether through blood or through war, is the most important message that Warrior will leave you with. The film, more or less in a nutshell, remembers the past, and especially its more bitter elements, but also has an underlying message of forgiveness, that blood is thicker than whiskey.

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ADDITIONAL SOURCE:
“Warrior (2011 film)” – Wikipedia/ Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. LINK

GTA V: A look at Rockstar’s latest Grand Theft Auto game

Vijay Shah (editor)

Sunny Atwal (idea contributor)

While visiting family, I got a chance to witness a spectacle that has enthralled gamers all over the world this past week. This moment is the end result of years of development that has led to something that has broken several records and is well on place to be the gaming phenomenon not just of 2013, but probably for the next few years too. Lo and behold, it’s the sensation known as Grand Theft Auto V (Five), known popularly by its acronym GTA V. If a modern PlayStation shoot-’em-up collided with a gangster action movie from the ghettos of southern California, this would be the explosion that will set the gaming world alight.

(c) Wikipedia

The latest in the Grand Theft Auto series published by Dundee-based games maestro Rockstar, GTA V, which has been made available on the PS3 (Playstation 3) platform, sees a return to the mythical American state of San Andreas and its capital of sin, Los Santos, first encountered in the hip-hop-and-hillbilly-flavoured previous title Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, with new characters and scenarios, and a whole new bunch of missions.

Though I have not had a chance to play GTA V myself, unlike hours spent improving my dodgy driving skills & shootouts on earlier reincarnations of GTA (most notably San Andreas and the groundbreaking Vice City), I was able to get a flavour for Rockstar’s new baby courtesy of my brother, a seriously hardcore gamer. The game starts off with a bank heist, a safe blown open with explosive charges, a bullet through a security guard’s head and plenty of cussing. It’s not one for the faint-hearted. I was taken aback by the quality of the graphics. Cinematic, like a Hollywood film with an honest budget, replete with filmy camera angles. The plot seemed very thick, dramatic and intense and you get this feeling that this is a really grown-up version of GTA: San Andreas.

Grand Theft Auto V has been a game five years in the making. The franchise itself has been going strong for more than fifteen years, with 135 million copies sold worldwide. Rockstar’s latest epic has already cost £170 million in production and marketing alone, more than a lot of Hollywood blockbusters. Three million pre-orders were placed on the retail website Amazon weeks in advance of GTA V’s première on the 17th September 2013. Twenty-five million copies are expected to be sold within the first year after GTA V’s release, netting a potential profit of GBP £1 billion in Rockstar Games’ substantially swollen bank account.

The game has generated a frenzy among gamers young and old. Here in the UK, stores such as Asda held midnight game launches and many shops in central London saw people camping outside the premises for up to a week in advance. One dedicated, or perhaps slightly loony, guy was even offered £200 by someone desperate to get a prime spot in the queue. The customer, who has even set up a tent right there on the pavement, refused the offer, hoping for better. Branches of Game, a video games vendor on the high street, reported ‘chaos’ as hundreds of people deluged their stores hoping to stake a claim on a plastic case containing a specimen of this hotly anticipated game. Even street criminals got in on the hype. A 23-year-old man in Colindale, north London, was struck with a brick and stabbed by youths after returning from a midnight store opening at a nearby Asda supermarket. Thankfully he survived.

(c) Wikipedia
(c) Wikipedia

Gamers with legitimate means and intentions are more than pleased with GTA V. Fans have been drawn to the game not only for its “thrills, spills, skills”, and of course, its kills; but also for its involving gameplay. GTA V has the superb ability to really situate the player at the heart of their personal movie, where they call the shots – and avoid getting shot. There is intense drama by the bucketload and the in-play graphics have more shine than a pimp’s Audi convertible. A lot of attention has been paid to detail and you could be forgiven for thinking you really were drifting down Vinewood Boulevard on a hot summer’s day. Even the road surface and street art on the walls of surburban Los Santos are accurate to the last stone and colour fade.

Los Santos: a sprawling sun-soaked metropolis full of self-help gurus, starlets and fading celebrities, once the envy of the Western world, now struggling to stay afloat in an era of economic uncertainty and cheap reality TV.

A quote from Rockstar Games’ official GTA V fan site….
(c) Wikipedia
(c) Wikipedia

GTA V sees the player taking on multiple character roles as one of three criminals trying to make it big in the San Andreas underworld. There is Franklin, a hustler who is looking out for some decent opportunities and a stack of cash. Then there’s Michael, the professional ex-convict experiencing a less than rosy retirement. Packing the heat with them is the twisted trigger-happy maniac Trevor, who lives every day looking for the next narcotics hit. In an uncertain world fraught with danger and antagonised law enforcement, the trio go on a series of elaborate schemes and daringly dangerous heists that will make or break them.

GTA V is available worldwide on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. In the UK, you can pick up a copy at all major games outlets as well as Asda, Sainsbury’s and Curry’s/PC World outlets among others.

THE TRAILER and OFFICIAL GAMEPLAY VIDEO (Rockstar Games’ YouTube channel :-

RELATED NEWS from Zemanta

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:
“Thrills, skills and spills” – London Evening Standard (18 September 2013)
“Blockbuster game Grand Theft Auto V takes almost £500m in a day” – London Evening Standard/Evening Standard Ltd. (21 September 2013) LINK
“Info” – Grand Theft Auto V/Rockstar Games LINK
“Grand Theft Auto V” – Wikipedia LINK

THE HALF-EATEN MIND BLOG: 2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

SCAREDYCATS BEWARE!!: Grave Encounters – a review and a trip down Memory Lane

(c) 123RF Ltd.

By Vijay Shah

Like many men growing up in the past 40 years, horror films were a big part of my youth and still hold an important cultural/entertainment influence on me. What better to test your masculinity, bravery and maybe also your film knowledge by jumping onto a suitably large sofa with your mates, and then spending the next 90 minutes perched precariously on the edge of your seat while acting cool and fearless in between slices of pepperoni pizza?  While Jigsaw or our old friend Freddie Krueger are busy chopping and dicing up their victims in glorious widescreen, you are trying your level best not to be taken for a scaredy-cat, a pussy, a great big wuss, or worse. Not me of course. I love horror flicks, and always have. It is impressive to actually be scared out of your wits over an ice-cold cola drink and a bucket of tasty chicken wings.

I would not call myself a film buff to the level of the movie geeks at IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, but I could talk with some authority over horror films and other genres as well. I have been watching them for as long as I can remember. My first good memory of seeing a horror movie must have been when I was around five years old. My parents had the television on late at night and there was playing on the old wooden-surfaced goggle box this 1980’s vampire flick, which I still remember was called ‘Vamp’. I think it was about a voluptuous lady vampire or something. By the time I was in secondary school, it became a tradition in my family home to stay up late on weekends after school homework was done and watch a good finger-biter.  We ran the gamut from typical Hollywood slasher movies (the Hallowe’en series, the Nightmares on Elm Street, and the more recent Saw series), through to Hammer productions from 1970’s Britain, twisted Japanese schlock anime, and even a fair helping of B-grade movies and Bollywood horror films (which were usually tame in comparison).  We had digital television, then Sky introduced into the household for my family’s viewing pleasure so we sated most of our hunger for horrors on a channel then called Sci-Fi.

The bloodthirsty Freddy Krueger, decapitator of teenagers and nightmare of the Elm Street locality (c) Wikia, Inc.

Even though I live away from home now, I still prefer to watch horror movies on most film nights (the last film at my place was the seminal 1957 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen). My family has grown larger but we still keep that tradition alive, and we gather every week for a fright-fest. The ladies in the family get to watch EastEnders first, then lights are darkened as we prepare to get the cr*p scared out of ourselves, and boy, can my youngest sister scream!

(c) Listal.com

The latest movie we saw was an US-Canadian production, Grave Encounters, released in 2011 by Twin Engine Films/Digital Interference Productions, and written and directed by the Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters is an interpretation in the currently popular theme of ‘found footage’ films that were spawned by The Blair Witch Project at the close of last century. These films are inexorably psychological horrors compared to your usual Hollywood movie, have an earthy home-video feel about them. They feature a usually youngish cast who happen to be filming something with a camcorder. Something terrible befalls them as a crazy demonic or ghoulish force is unleashed. The ensuing panic, death and destruction is caught on camera and ‘presented’ to the world.

Grave Encounters focuses on a camera crew and a smooth talking presenter who are sent to investigate paranormal activity at a disused mental institution, the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Armed with cameras fitted with infra-red lighting, they attempt to make contact with the spirits of patients said to have died there. Nothing much happens at first, and it feels like yet another of those US supernatural reality series full of soundbites, cheesy presenting and over-enthusiastic camerawork, without any of the spooky happenings. But things soon get batsh*t crazy, as they say in Hollywood. The crew find themselves unable to leave the hospital and every exit is locked or non-existent. Weird noises and shrieks fill the long-abandoned corridors, doors slam of their own accord, and the creepiness gradually is cranked up a few notches. Sasha, Lance, T.C., Matt and Houston soon find themselves the target of invisible and hate-filled demonic activity. The hospital and its long-dead inhabitants have acquired their newest batch of patients. One-by-one, the team are picked off by unseen entities and devoured by psychosis. They are driven further into the dark, misty world of despair, paranoia and react with torrents of foul language.

(c) Flixster, Inc/Rotten Tomatoes
(c) Space Jockey Reviews

They cannot even sleep, as hands sprout out from ceilings and a bath full of fresh blood hides a fatal mistake.  In the end, Lance, the hunky, rugged showman, is reduced to a gibbering, tearful wreck. Pursued by a mental patient with a decapitated tongue, Lance flattens rats with metal poles and eats their raw flesh, before he is finally ready to be seen by Dr. Friedkin….for his lobotomy.

Grave Encounters works sound in that it keeps you waiting for the real juicy scenes, and that as the demonic apparitions become more noticeable, you can feel the paranoia descend like a cloudy mist. The ghosts of the deceased hospital inmates the TV crew stumble upon are reminiscent of the Grudge of the Ring movies. At times though they were a little childishly cartoon-like. Much of the movie was shot in the ominous blacks and green of Lance and company’s thermal imaging and it made for a suitably eerie atmosphere, but also made it difficult to maintain a viewer’s attention at times. That and the shuddery filming made Grave Encounters a bit taxing. The characters’ descent into madness was intense and nerve-wracking, as bravado was quickly vanquished by their feelings of hopelessness, and each sealed exit led them closer to their doom. Considering that Grave Encounters was a low-budget film with a kitty of only $500,000, it performs well as a psychological horror.

The idea of reality show staff being trapped in a possessed mental institution had all the hallmarks of a great American horror flick on par with the Paranormal Activity films, but did at times betray a befuddled low-budget feel. Character development was excellent, but occasionally overdramatic and emotionally over-egged. Also I should mention that being a psychological horror, Grave Encounters does not pack in scary moment after moment and if you are looking to be afraid a-mile-a-minute and scream your lungs hoarse, this will not be the film for you. Overall, Grave Encounters is recommended for starting a late night horror marathon, for when you need to start the chills off slow.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS: The official Website

Click on the ghoul to find out more…..

(c)Imagen en Negativo

Many thanks to Yousef, Humera and family for giving me the opportunity to review Grave Encounters and inspiring me to bring you today’s blogpost – and my own family for all those good ‘n’ scary horror moments.

ADDITIONAL SOURCE:
“Grave Encounters” – Wikipedia LINK