Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dead@17 film review


Mark Steensland’s short film, Dead@17, based on John Howard’s series of graphic novels will receive its debut screening at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, on Friday, June 29. But, thanks to the good people at DreadCentral, I was able to catch a special preview before release.

Let me make it clear that I’m coming to the film as a comic book nerd, not a horror nerd and beyond that a slightly dissatisfied with the status quo comic nerd than an average bag and board geek. That said, Dead@17 is a good fan film.

The story itself is pretty Buffy-fied. The comic tells the story of a 17 year old girl caught up in a supernatural struggle for stakes higher than she can imagine. She wears a lot of mini skirts and kills a lot of zombies. For some people, that’s all that I need to say – they’re making plans for Erie already. But, for the rest of you, I’ll continue.

A girl, Nara, turns up dead, and her friend, Hazy, finds out that she may have been a bit more…unusual than anyone knew. It urns out that her friend was neck deep in the occult a fact that she has kept from all of her friends. Hazy sneaks the diary filled with occult symbols that Nara has kept and finds herself the target of zombies.


Only to be saved by Nara, her friend who was dead but now has some fancy axe work.

Dead @ 17 was birthed Josh Howard, also responsible for the very fine Lost Books of Eve comic. I’ve always had a quibble with the way Howard draws women (especially now that he's involved with Minx, DC's imprint intended for teen girls) so it was refreshing to see that the actresses are less than perfect Barbies.


Katelyn Gracy plays Nara, the zombie chopping mini skirted 17 year old who dies in the first three minutes of the movie and is resurrected in the last two minutes of the movie. Jessica Ciccone is Hazy (that’s her character’s name, not a criticism), Nara’s friend who the FBI hauls in for questioning after they find strange occult symbols in Nara’s diary. Ryan Krysiak is Elijah, Nara’s boyfriend who serves up a tasty heap of exposition about Nara’s odd behavior. It’s shot a bit dark and murky and sterile, but the special effects are well done for the budget.


The fan film movement by itself is a really interesting phenomenon. Digital video production has brought the cost of making one of these dramatically down and I’m surprise we don’t see more work like this – especially locally where there is a lot of talent, a lot of enthusiasm, but no much organized film making (outside of Pittsburgh, of course). Simply put (from our dear unreliably friend Wikipedia, which I know is like asking the opinion of a drunk and then treating it as gospel, but…) A fan film is a film or video inspired by a film, television program, comic book or a similar source, created by fans rather than by the source's copyright holders or creators. Fan films vary tremendously in quality, as well as in length, from short faux-teaser trailers for non-existent motion pictures to rarer full-length motion pictures. One of the most famous ones was done by my college friend Chris Strompolos who did a shot by shot homage of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Steensland, an independent filmmaker and a lecturer in media production at Penn State Berhend (and a zombie in Day of the Dead), is no new comer to indie film. This is his third horror film. Steensland filmed Dead@17 in Erie using local talent and technical crews, including make-up effects artist “Monster” Mark Kosobucki, a recent Edinboro University graduate. Music for the score was contributed by British film composer Patrick Savage and the bands Fewleftstanding, Impellitteri, and Demon Hunter.

It looks like it was a blast to make which means that the discussion following the film should be a lot of fun as well. There are issues, of course. There’s a roughness to the short to be sure – the acting is creaky at times, specifically the agents who show up 3 minutes into the film who have the whiff of community theater about them. The film doesn’t have the overt Hollywood gloss of some fan movies, but Steensland’s site has lots of goodies like test shots, a pdf of the script and some shots of the props (and the photos that are used here in the post) . My biggest quibble with the film is its form. The comic, Dead @ 17, has a very convoluted story line and I’m not convinced that a 10 minute film did it justice or even worked to distinguish it from a lot of other student film material.

In fact, the film (reflecting the first issue of the comic) ends just as the story starts. Steensland has made it clear in various interviews that he’s hoping that this works as a sort of audition piece to enter into the larger Dead@17 film project that will inevitable be made. But there’s really no time for character development or really even much mood setting. For such a short piece, I can’t help but think that a mock trailer ala the Robin fan film Grayson would have been more effective.

Future plans for Dead@17 include the horror film festival circuit. Steensland also hopes to screen the short at this summer’s NECon and Comic-Con International comics conventions. This first screening for the film’s cast and crew also is open to the public, and co-sponsored by the annual Eerie Horror Film Festival. The screening and follow-up discussion will begin at 7:30 p.m. in 117 Reed Union Building; admission is free. Steensland characterizes the film as PG-13 material

Interested in learning more about fan films? Get yourself some broadband, a big ol’ case of soda, check out,,,, iFilm, and and revel in what other people are doing whilst you waste time watching TV.

Today’s Transit Garden concert in Oil City runs from 12 -1 and will be the very talented Latrobe Barnitz and David Perry.

Yankee Zydeco Company's music is now available on iTunes.

The NyTimes profiles Dreamtime Village, an intentional southwestern Wisconsin community of artists and anarchists.

Kore Press is seeking submissions for an anthology to be published in early 2008, including poetry, literary fiction, creative non-fiction or memoir written in English by women veterans and active-duty servicemembers, especially but not exclusively those who served in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and those who enlisted or continued to serve after September 11, 2001.

Did you say you wanted the whole of Ulysses in MP3 format for download? So be it!

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