Ever since I was just a whee spawn of Satan, I dreamed of designing and operating a haunted house. But like all good dreams, that has died a brutal, violent death at the hands of reality. I mean, you can’t even purposefully injure anyone – how much fun could it really be?

So instead, I decided to go out back behind the Mental Shed to the unmarked graves of dead ideas and dig up the rotting corpse of something I might be able to work with. That corpse is the brand new Wisconsin Frights, a guide to Halloween events and haunted houses in Wisconsin.

Best Haunted Houses in Wisconsin

There are many talented and passionate people making Halloween here in Wisconsin. The goal of Wisconsin Frights is to showcase and promote these people and their creations, as well as provide an unbiased platform for visitors to easily rate and review their experiences at haunted houses across the state.

The site will be a constant work in progress since I threw it together in a few weeks and launched it in beta just to make sure it would be live this season. In the meantime, here are some points of interest:

Guide to the best haunted houses in Wisconsin
You can also find Wisconsin Frights on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+

Related: Haunted House Website Design

Robin Williams: Top 3 Best Films

Robin Williams: Top 3 Best Films

Robin Williams was a brilliant and talented man. I usually don’t get bothered by celebrity deaths, but it is difficult to accept that he is really gone. Though he made many amazing films, here are the ones that have carved out their own personal space in my psyche and never seem to leave:

Death to Smoochy

Robin Williams is Rainbow Randolph in Death to Smoochy
Robin Williams plays the scandalous children’s television show host Rainbow Randolph, who sets his sights on the purple rhino that takes over his time slot. Who wants some rocket ship cookies?

Quote:What are you, blind? It’s a cock! It’s not a rocket, you sick fuck! It’s a cock! Look. It’s a cock and balls! A dick! Chorizo and the huevos! It’s a big stiffy! It’s a penis! Penis maximus! A willie! A weenie! Mr. Jiggle Daddy! The one-eyed wonder weasel! Don’t you see that? It’s Jimmy and the twins. Rumple Foreskin. He made this. It’s made from dil-dough.

One Hour Photo

Creepy one hour photo guy Robin Williams
Remember life before digital cameras? Before Instagram and Snapchat, if you wanted to take photos and share them, you had to go get the film developed. Probably by some guy so desperately lonely that he is printing doubles of your photos to fill his photo frames at home while he psychotically inserts himself in all your happy memories.

Quote:People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence…free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.

The Final Cut

Robin Williams working at the Guillotine editing lives in The Final Cut
Final Cut takes a different look at the ideas in One Hour Photo. What if every moment of our lives was captured visually whether we liked it or not, and when we died someone had to edit it into two hours of happiness? What if you had to see all the lifetimes of bad things people do to each other, then erase them so they look like great people for their final rememory screening?

Quote:This girl was a complete wreck – drinking, drugs, in and out of schools. Then she turns 21… and she finds out about her Zoe implant. Complete 180. She’s born again. Her knowing that someone would one day watch… transforms her into this kind, gentle, loving person.

Runners up: Awakenings, Hook, Patch Adams (at your cervix) and, of course…What Dreams May Come. Because it’s about death and Hell, so it’s pretty metal, right? Also, I’m kind of a sappy idiot about that movie. Sshh, don’t tell anyone. I have an asshole reputation to uphold.

The world won’t be the same without Robin Williams. Many of us grew up with him, like a crazy uncle who only visited through the TV. And liked to talk about cocks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed his last four completed movies to be released are a little more Death to Smoochy than Mrs. Doubtfire.

Over the weekend Slasher Betty and I were discussing actor Bill Oberst Jr‘s chilling work in the short film Assassins by Mike Bonomo.

While digging through Bill’s Youtube channel for footage from Dismal and other work, we stumbled upon a video I had forgotten about – the minute long nightmare (watch it below) I created for his website a few years back.

While doing some freelance horror website and graphic design work with a company called Rough Ride Creations in 2011, I had the opportunity to design a website for the nicest madman you’ll ever meet. Sure, Bill has brutally slaughtered a lot of people on film, but his humble attitude, creative enthusiasm and passion for his work made it a serious pleasure to work with him.

Horror website design for actor Bill Oberst Jr

Part of the project was to design a creative way to showcase some of Bill’s unusual features for a section of the website he called Anatomy of Fear. I conceived a large, side-scrolling page designed to look like the interior of an old farmhouse with peeling wallpaper and bizarre objects on shelves framing a photo of Bill’s eyes, ribcage, etc. Each click took you further down the wall to a different body part.

Anatomy of Fear: Website design for horror actor Bill Oberst Jr

For the final wall panel, I created a vintage TV that would flicker with bizarre footage as if it were receiving signals straight from Hell. To fill the TV screen, the goal was to create something that embodied Bill’s onscreen presence. He has a way of seeping into your subconscious, getting under your skin. I cut together clips from his horror reel with television static and damaged 8mm film to create a dark, grainy, analog loop.

The video then needed sound design, so I recorded some children’s toys and twisted the sounds into an eerie, lo-fi ambiance.

The resulting video breathed life and atmosphere into the Anatomy of Fear, and hopefully managed to capture Bill’s essence in 60 seconds. Watch it here or hit the play button below.

Bill Oberst Jr’s One Minute Nightmare

Indie Horror Key Art Roundup

Indie Horror Key Art Roundup

I don’t usually have a lot of time to keep up on the independent horror film scene like I want to. This week I dedicated some time to digging into what was new, and found some beautifully disturbing things going on. Zombies, axe-wielding psychos, real life urban legends and a pig-faced female killer from the backwoods make up this first installment of the Mental Shed indie horror film key art roundup.

Here is some of the badass key art I stumbled across last week:

Axeman at Cutter’s Creek

Poster art for Axeman at Cutter's Creek
A group of twenty-somethings run into a murderous local legend while vacation at a timeshare cabin. The art is cool, the trailer is funny, has a great tagline and naughty lesbians just waiting for an axe to the skull. Does it get any better than this?

Watch the Axeman trailer here.

Killer Legends

Key art for Killer Legends horror documentary
Slasher Betty and I recently watched Joshua Zeman’s Cropsey documentary, which turned out to be really interesting. His latest is Killer Legends, which examines the real life horrors behind popular urban legends.

Watch the Killer Legends trailer here.

The Battery

DVD cover of indie zombie film The Battery
DVD cover for the upcoming release of the award-winning indie zombie flick The Battery from director Jeremy Gardner. Trailer here.

Pig Girl

Pig Girl movie poster and DVD cover design
Apparently I’ve been living under a rock for the last few years and completely missed Porkchop, a crazy series of films by Eamon Hardiman about boozed up, sex-crazed teenagers getting slaughtered in the woods by brutal killer in a pig mask. The third Porkchop film introduced the maniac’s daughter Pig Girl, the instantly iconic slasher who is the subject of this spin-off.

Watch the Pig Girl trailer here.

If you are trying to achieve success on the Internet, the importance of search engine optimization (SEO), social media and quality content is growing rapidly. However, many small businesses, musicians and independent filmmakers often struggle with their online presence. They fail to make a dent in social media. Their websites, if they have them, tend to hinder rather than help. Content strategy? Non-existent.

During my day job at the helm of a small ecommerce site, the phrase I hear when proposing content marketing and social media efforts is “Why do we need that?

I am more of a doer than a teacher, so I suck at explaining these things. The best way is to look at the numbers, which makes my pet project a great specimen to put under the microscope.

I launched Cult of Weird in 2010 with a vague concept of what I hoped to achieve. I wanted to create an excuse to research and write about anything bizarre or mysterious, like the stuff out of the worn old paperbacks I read throughout my childhood with titles like Stranger Than Fiction, Chariots of the Gods, Unexplained Mysteries, etc. With a little finesse, maybe it would even be able to support itself through a Google Adsense revenue stream.

There was certainly some search traffic to be had for usual subject matter such as Bigfoot, sideshow freaks, UFOs and other fortean mysteries. Then came the TV series Oddities, featuring Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson of Obscura Antiques & Oddities in New York, which created an increasing mainstream audience searching for Beauchene skulls, vintage taxidermy, quack medical devices and more.

It was a good time to be weird.

Cult of Weird: Content Marketing Case Study

Screenshot of cultofweird.com

Naturally, the goal was to build traffic for Cult of Weird organically – a process I began pioneering when I launched my first website in 2002 because I didn’t have any money and desperately needed it to magically generate some. Social media didn’t exist in those days, but a keyword-laden title tag could do wonders in the search results.

Google has come a long way in its effort to combat spam and deliver quality results. Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird algorithm updates continue to change the SEO game. Social media offers consistently evolving platforms for content delivery, link building and traffic generation. Today, these two disciplines are inseparable and can be leveraged to reach exponential growth.

Cult of Weird was a solid concept, developed on WordPress with SEO at the forefront. For the first two years, though, I really just let the site meander through the search results. I crafted optimized content as I had time, to be delivered half-heartedly to a humble social following while I focused on other projects. In 2012, though, I began to implement some content marketing and social media strategy, loosely planned to work around the extremely minimal amount of time I had to devote. Following best practices and (theoretically) future-proof methods, the Cult began to grow.

Here is a quick look at some of the numbers straight from Google Analytics:

Cult of Weird 2012 Totals

  • Website Sessions: 85,870
  • Users: 75,092
  • Pageviews: 158,879
  • Sessions via Social Referral: 19,014
  • Organic Google Sessions: 36,796
  • Total Facebook Page Likes: 4,113

Things were going good, so I upped the ante with a little more time, more content, and a lot more social strategy. A new, responsive website design was implemented to improve SEO and make the site friendlier for mobile users, as well as caching with the WP Super Cache WordPress plugin to improve load time. Another factor was the inclusion of structured meta data to enable Rich Pins for articles on Pinterest. That, coupled with the vigorous content strategy, no doubt contributed to the 1100% increase in traffic from Pinterest in 2013.

How did all of that pan out for the year?

Cult of Weird 2013 Totals

  • Website Sessions: 398,313
  • Users: 339,151
  • Pageviews: 715,547
  • Sessions via Social Referral: 201,502
  • Organic Google Sessions: 86,207
  • Total Facebook Page Likes: 23,912

Cult of Weird Facebook page likes for 2013
Cult of Weird Facebook likes for 2013

Those numbers amount to a 351% increase in website visitors, 134% increase in organic (read: FREE) traffic from Google and a 959% increase in traffic generated organically through various social media channels. In addition, these efforts helped earn media attention from the Comedy Central show @Midnight, which contributed to a significant boost last month.

Today, just about halfway through 2014, the numbers will soon eclipse last year’s totals. As of this writing, the Cult of Weird Facebook page has grown to 42,000+ engaged followers with an average reach of around 90k per week. Also, meager Pinterest, Twitter and Google+ strategies contribute increasingly toward organic traffic growth.

So to answer the question at hand, why do you need social media? Why do you need content marketing? Why do you need SEO? Because otherwise it will cost many thousands of dollars in ongoing paid media campaigns to achieve the same effect.

Looking for SEO and/or social media management? Contact me.

Horror Film Title Treatments

Horror Film Title Treatments

Horror movies of the 1980s produced hoards of great posters full of creativity and personality. These traits tend to be missing from modern one-sheets. These days, the majority of horror movie posters seem to lack personality and identity.

The needs of the key art and poster designs are dictated by the genre, subject matter and many other elements, of course, but the purpose of the poster is to stand out, garner attention. Whether in a light box at the theater, on your local Redbox machine, or scrolling in your Netflix account, the poster is supposed to make you want to see the film.

80s horror film poster designs perfected the art, and it often began with a great title treatment. Think Squirm, The Nesting, The Evil Dead.

Some great examples here: 1980s Horror Movie Poster Logos and Typography

Character is something I set out to create with every design. I try to capture something unique that represents the feel of the film, especially in the case of teaser poster designs, where the project is sometimes still just a collection of ideas. The title treatment is the logo of the film – a core element that must establish and carry the brand.

In the case of film, the movie is the brand, and the first thing we ever see is the poster art. It pops up on movie websites, in our Facebook and Twitter feeds, on Pinterest boards, on Tumblr. And yet you have mere seconds to grab someone’s attention, so it better be done right.

Horror Title Treatment Design by Mental Shed Studios

Title treatment for 80s slasher horror film throwback Scream Park
For the 80s slasher throwback Scream Park, I set out to create something that would look at home on the glittering midway, painted in a huge mural on some haunted carnival ride. The initial Scream Park poster I was designing needed to have that 1980s horror movie feel, so something hand-drawn was definitely the direction to go.

Title treatment for upcoming feature horror film Squeal
I set out to create an earthy and organic title treatment for the teaser poster of the upcoming horror film Squeal: Blood Harvest from executive producer Seth Metoyer and Dismal Productions.

Need title treatment design for your upcoming horror film? Contact me.

Slender Man Strikes in Wisconsin

Slender Man Strikes in Wisconsin

A lot of strange things happen here in Wisconsin. We eat people, we wear people…food and fashion are obviously very important to us. The desperation and isolation of this wretched backwoods asshole of the world spawned Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, two of the most bizarre murder cases ever recorded.

But now we have a new claim to fame – as the setting of Slender Man’s first real victim.

On May 31st, two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls attempted to murder their friend in a plot to prove the existence of Slender Man, a tall, tentacled Internet meme originating from a 2009 Photoshop contest in the Something Awful forums.

The victim, stabbed 19 times and left to die in a Waukesha park bathroom, managed to crawl to a nearby road, where she was found.

I do not mean to make light of this situation whatsoever. My heart goes out to the victim and her family. This is truly an unspeakable horror.

However, it has been reported that the website Creepypasta, where the girls read about the Slender Man legend, has become the scapegoat. Just like every time someone commits an act in the name of Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osborne, Satan, or some other bit of fiction fragile minds cannot differentiate from reality.

“Scary” media like shock rock and horror movies generally tend to be therapeutic, offering a healthy catharsis for the bored and repressed human psyche. Without the drive for survival, without the threat of death, we become mush. Lifeless. Meaningless. Monkeys in the zoo playing with our own fecal matter.

Slender Man photo

Horror movies, musicians and websites are not the villains. They don’t kill people.

How many hundreds of thousands have lost their lives over the centuries for religion? Do we blame God, or those who killed in the name of some ridiculous superstition?

New Album Art Available

New Album Art Available

I finally got around to making some recent work available as album covers for sale. They are all 5in. x 5in. at 300dpi, ready to print. You can buy them as they are to use for your project, or contact me for customizations such as color, the addition of your logo and album title, etc.

Goat Skull Emblem

Goat skull album cover art for sale
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New Flesh

Long live the new flesh album cover art for sale
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Wraith evil priest album cover art for sale
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Need custom design work? Request a quote »

Cult of Weird Featured on @Midnight

Cult of Weird Featured on @Midnight

So there I was (that’s how all great stories begin) about to slip into the sweet unconsciousness with Slasher Betty, when suddenly it happened – Facebook comments. Cult of Weird had just been seen on…television?

Throughout the years I have become accustomed to a variety of media sources referencing my work, typically condemning it as evil, Satanic, disturbing, a scourge upon the Earth…all positive things. But this one makes me particularly proud.

Chris Hardwick, who hosts AMC’s Talking Dead during zombie season, introduced Cult of Weird to viewers of his late night Comedy Central show @Midnight, where a panel of comedians square off to answer internet and social media-themed questions. The site was the subject of a category called Nightmare at the Museum, asking contestants to guess which bizarre content was an actual feature on Cult of Weird.

The content in question was a vintage film of a government LSD cat experiment, and the recently crowned Guinness world record contortionist.

You can watch the full episode online right here. The Cult of Weird segment begins around 12:15.

Cult of Weird on Comedy Central's @Midnight hosted by Chris Hardwick

Cult of Weird is one of my ongoing personal projects, a shadowy “virtual museum of oddities” operating under the Mental Shed umbrella. It was launched in 2011, featuring articles and media that run the gamut from ancient mysteries to daily weird news from around the world. Get your daily dose of WTF at cultofweird.com

Squeal Has a Director

Squeal Has a Director

MoreHorror.com has announced the upcoming horror film SQUEAL: BLOOD HARVEST, for which I am proud to have been able to design the teaser poster, officially has a director. James Cullen Bressack has signed on to direct the Dismal Productions feature starring none other than my favorite creepy guy, Bill Oberst Jr.

Article here: James Cullen Bressack set to direct SQUEAL: Blood Harvest

Teaser poster design for upcoming horror feature Squeal: Blood Harvest starring Bill Oberst Jr

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