I was never much of a competitive person with regards to sports; I played basketball in middle school and was pretty terrible (one season I scored two points. Yes, one SEASON), and was on the ski team for two years in high school primarily to just go ski, which I loved to do despite not being very good at that either. Never cared much if our team lost (for skiing, that was important since we never did, though one of my basketball teams won the year's championship, thanks in almost no part whatsoever to me), as long as I had fun - winning or losing was pretty much a shrug either way.
But for the past eight months, my attitude has changed - but not because of a newfound love of football or whatever. This past January, the good folks at the Jumpcut Cafe in Studio City, CA began hosting the Dead Right monthly horror trivia contest, run by Shock Till You Drop's Ryan Turek and Fangoria's Rebekah McKendry. Some rules have changed or been modified, and the two are always introducing new wrinkles (like when each team had to select a player for reasons unknown - many selected their best, only to have those players sent out for a round) but it's largely remained the same: eight rounds of eight questions each, with ties settled by having one player from each team go up and answer a ninth question with a buzzer slam - get it wrong and the other team wins by default. Categories are random, but the first is always "General horror" and the last (save for the first month) is always a ten-question "name that video box" round, where we are given cropped sections of a VHS box cover and have two minutes to identify them all.
Otherwise, the only real change is how fierce the competition has gotten. The first month was a mix of people I recognized as part of the local "horror circle" and total strangers, but as time goes on there have been fewer unfamiliar faces, and more guys (and gals!) who, speaking in technical terms, know their fucking shit. My team won the first month pretty handily with only five players (two of whom have since moved on to finding something better to do with their third Thursday of the month), but now, six men strong, we lose just as often as we win, and tiebreakers are almost a given on every round. In fact, at this past week's eighth official competition, we had tiebreakers for the tiebreakers (the champ is determined by having the team with the most rounds won fight the team with the most correct answers - there were two of each type), which just added to the intensity.
Needless to say, this is far more exciting to me than any basketball game ever was. I couldn't give less of a shit if I missed an "easy" layup, but if I misidentify a Texas Chainsaw Massacre quote (as I did last week), I take it personally and feel mortified. We lucked out and won the round/game thanks to my teammates (and I got to restore SOME of my dignity by answering the final quote question correctly, but by then we were two or three points ahead anyway - we play to 5), but trust me, you do NOT want to be the guy who blows the chance at a win, especially on our team. As teammate Mike Williamson pointed out, our team, named Zombie Redneck Torture Family (or ZRTF) may be the only one where the members trash each other more than they do their rivals (though someone from another team quickly pointed out that things are just as bad on theirs) - and yes, it's mostly me behind that sort of scorn. But I'm hardly the only "antagonist"; on the day of the game, the Dead Right Facebook page is usually filled with lots of good-natured trash talk, and past failures are often brought up across the board.
Of course, part of that is because by now we all know each other if we didn't already, and thus a big group of friends lends itself to that sort of roasting. But with each month the teams get stronger (at least one team has broken up due to in-fighting over trying to ditch a player for a stronger one), and the questions seemingly get harder. I did fine that first month, but over time I find myself turning to my teammates more often than not; this past month there was a round on X-Files that I didn't know a single answer to - and I watched every episode of that show! There was a suggestion that I may have an unfair advantage over the others because of Horror Movie A Day-ing for so long, but the irony is that it actually put me at a DISADVANTAGE. While I was watching obscure nonsense, I was limiting the amount of time I could revisit the good/popular movies, i.e. the ones the hosts ask about and would require more than a single viewing to recall the obscure details. Sure, the more popular the movie the harder the question (no "Whose face is Michael Myers' mask based on?" type shit here - everyone knows that. A Halloween question would be more like "What is the name of the garage that Michael gets his clothes from?"), but the hosts are coming up with questions based on movies they've seen. Thus, don't expect too many Cathy's Curse or Beneath The Mississippi questions, because I'm the only guy in the room who watched those (which is unfortunate for the former). Even a movie I DO know well, like The Fog, lent itself to tough questions that I didn't know the answer to, or at least needed someone to back up what I thought was the correct response.
Part of why our team tends to do well is that we have a group of varied ages and tastes; screenwriter Sean Keller is well read and thus has vast knowledge of literary info - if anything about Poe or Lovecraft comes up, all eyes turn to him. Editor Garo Setian is a fiend for monster movies going back to the 50s, Psycho Legacy director Rob Galluzzo knows that franchise (and thus the careers of its participants) inside and out, screenwriter Jared Rivet is an encyclopedia of 80s horror, and filmmaker Mike Williamson is a devoted student of Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper, whose films seem to come up with alarming frequency. And me? I can be counted on for the 90s-00s horror as well as otherwise useless box office/release date information, since I spend a good chunk of my day poring over BoxOfficeMojo to pass the time at work. You'd think that wouldn't help much, but sure enough, they once asked what the 2nd highest grossing John Carpenter movie was (Starman! They don't count inflation, if they did it'd be Escape From New York).
And the tough competition isn't limited to the game itself - just getting INTO the damn thing is a battle of its own. Being a cafe, it's not meant to hold more than a few dozen people at once, and so the hosts only allow 12-13 teams (of 4-6 players) into a game - however there are usually about 20 total groups vying for a spot. The winner of the previous month's game is automatically let back in to defend their crown, but everyone else has to jump in and sign up when registration opens. Much like buying Mondo posters, that is a frenzied process that leaves several people disappointed, and while there's a waitlist in case a team has to bow out, that usually only helps one team, if any. Some folks even show up solo hoping that they can jump on a team that's missing a player, and there's a lot of rotation on the other teams. After that first night, our team has been the same - occasionally someone brought their son or wife to fill a vacant spot and see what it's like, but no "ringers" are brought in - if a teammate is out, the others just have to step up.
So what are we all fighting for, besides the peace of mind of not having to register? (Really, the best prize.) Winners mostly walk home with a handful of DVDs and Blu-rays, either sponsored by companies (Shout/Scream Factory has seemingly donated a giant stack of their great releases every month) or extra review copies from either of the hosts' own collections. T-shirts, horror-themed plush toys and pillows, silly junk like Paranormal Activity nightlights, and other promotional stuff rounds things out. But there's usually some higher valued items for the grand prize as well; someone recently walked away with the Art of Pacific Rim coffee table book, Mondo donated two posters a couple months back (Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness), and I came home with this novelty gun:
But really, you're fighting for bragging rights. With such tough competition (we may win frequently, but it's never smooth sailing - again, we had to break a tie to break a tie this past month!), securing the win is a true badge of honor, and even with our record we still fear the other winning teams (MacReady's Beard, Thunder Buddies, and Monster Squad), not to mention Last Team on the Left (who fought off the Beard in the other tiebreaker), and Morningside Cemetery, who came within a question of taking the win this month. And by now, word has spread enough that this isn't basic "Horror 101" level stuff, so the new teams that spring up prove to be formidable competitors as well, and aren't scared of coming back (unlike some one-timers like Team Schweiger and Horrora Borealis - where'd you guys go?). Some teams even have official shirts - this is SERIOUS BUSINESS.
It's also just a great way to meet up with folks you don't get to see too often during the month. Many of the players work in the film/TV industry in some way or another, and thus we have ridiculous schedules that don't lend themselves to frequent socializing (plus families - three of our players have children). By selecting a night well in advance, we know to make arrangements to be there unless travel gets in the way, and many get there well over an hour before the game starts to order food and just hang out with the people they'll be fighting to the death with once things are underway. And it's not too hard to get excited about a visit to the Jumpcut Cafe, which is a film-centric locale that frequently hosts screenings, open mic nights, musical acts, etc. The walls are adorned with old posters and lobby cards, and the condiment shelf is topped by an old school editing splicer. It's rare that I go in and don't see a pal (or a fierce trivia opponent!), and owner Elric Kane will occasionally get to join a team if work duties don't get in the way. Trivia or not, it's worth a visit if you're in LA - I recommend the quesadilla.
In short: it's the highlight of my month, and probably for many others as well. To give you a taste, with Ryan's permission I've posted the entirety of the "Larry Cohen" round below. We did pretty good on this round, getting 1 or 2 wrong (we're not sure if our answer for number 5 counted), and IMO this was an average round in terms of difficulty, not as tough as the X-Files one, but not as relatively "easy" as the Home Invasion round (where I blanked on one of the names of the 3 title characters from The Strangers!). You're on the honor system here - no Googling (anyone caught with a cell phone is disqualified, and a team who tried speeding up a tiebreaker by whispering the answer a few months back STILL gets dirty looks); I will post the answers in the comment section in an hour or so. How did you do? Think you can round up a few like minded pals and take on the champs?
If so, and you're local, we got good news - it might be a bit easier to get into next month's game. With so many teams getting shut out due to quick registration (it took less than a minute this last time - beat THAT, Mondo!), the hosts have decided to open registration for a period of time and select teams at random rather than a "first come, first served" procedure that has seemingly proved to be too difficult for some (I just think they're lazy - as one of my teammates pointed out, if there's a hot ticket for a concert, you get to Ticketmaster at 10am!). Our team is safe since we won, but this might result in some powerhouses getting shut out in favor of new blood, so you have a shot! The game will be on September 26th (a week later than usual due to Fantastic Fest), so go "like" the Dead Right Facebook page so you don't miss out! Good luck - you will need it.
LARRY COHEN ROUND (taken from Night 8)
(Note - some have multiple choice, some don't. I don't understand the mindset behind it; I often think some SHOULD have multiple choice, and other times he seems to be giving it away by offering choices when 3 are obviously wrong, but what do I know?)
1.) Which of the following Larry Cohen directorial efforts did Cohen NOT write?
a.) Q - The Winged Serpent
b.) Wicked Stepmother
c.) Original Gangstas
d.) The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
2.) In what year did the final chapter of It’s Alive - Island of the Alive - get release?
3.) A young Tara Reid appears in which Cohen film?
a.) Full Moon High
b.) Uncle Sam
c.) Maniac Cop
d.) A Return to Salem’s Lot
4.) What was the last project Cohen directed?
5.) In Q - The Winged Serpent, Michael Moriarty plays a small time crook who really wants to be a...
6.) In the mid-’90s, Cohen scripted a film about a Desert Storm vet who returns from the dead to wreak havoc on the Fourth of July. That movie was called...
7.) The Stuff features all but one of the following actors - who is it?
a.) Mira Sorvino
b.) David Carradine
c.) Michael Moriarty
d.) Danny Aiello
8.) What does Q stand for?
TIE-BREAKER: Larry Cohen co-scripted which After Dark Films release?