For the past seven years, I have been taking part in the monthly "Dead Right Horror Trivia" event here in Los Angeles, which originated at the Jumpcut Cafe in Studio City under the hosting duties of Ryan Turek and Rebekah McKendry. When Ryan left for greener, Blum-ier pastures in 2016 - right around the time the Jumpcut unfortunately had to close its doors for good - screenwriter Jared Rivet took over on hosting duties (which sucked for me since he was the best player on my team!) and the game moved to the Blast from the Past comic shop in Burbank. Every month, usually on the third Thursday, the game was held no matter what - COVID-19 caused the first ever cancellation of a game this past March, and naturally it has yet to return.
Still, that's over eighty consecutive installments, which is commendable. Players have come and gone over that time (of my original six man team, only myself and one other remain - and now we're evenly split between men and women!), but the game has largely stayed the same. Eight rounds of eight questions on a variety of horror topics (mostly films, but TV and literature get their due on the regular, and every now and then there's a more niche topic like horror hosts), with prizes awarded to the top team of each round thanks to the many generous sponsors the hosts have acquired along the way. At the end of the night, the team with the most overall points faces off against the team with the most rounds won in a lightning round. Whoever wins that round is the champion, and they get the grand prize of goodies with the added bonus of not having to register the next month.
Back in the Jumpcut days, that was a better prize than the Blu-rays and posters, because space was limited to 12-14 teams. Registration became a big headache, as teams would be shut out of the "first come first serve" process, which was followed by a random drawing for a while. Not having to deal with that drama - not to mention risk having to miss a game because of dumb luck or timing - was a huge relief, making those last second losses really sting. Now that we're at Blast from the Past, it's not as big of a deal - they can accommodate over 20 teams before it starts getting too cramped, and I honestly don't think a team has ever had to be turned away since the game moved there. Registration still occurs, but it's no longer an absolute necessity.
But, again, this is corona-world, so "let's all squeeze together in a room" is about the last thing anyone wants to do right now, and it's safe to say that if and when the live game does resume, attendance will likely suffer as people might not feel comfortable about it right out of the gate. Luckily, technology is our friend (hey, there's a good trivia question - what 1990 horror sequel features the line "Technology is our friend"?), so it didn't take long for people to figure out how to use Zoom and other online meetup services to continue grilling each other on the horror movie knowledge that was otherwise just taking up brain space without any means to show it off. I mean, I can rattle off facts to my family, but after two months of quarantine I can assure you that my five year old son absolutely does not care what Italian film was being homaged in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2.
(A BAY OF BLOOD aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, for the record)
In New York, filmmaker Ted Geoghegan and writer Michael Gingold joined forces for Final Exam Horror Trivia late last year, a monthly event held in an actual bar (Dead Right is a booze-free zone, alas), but over the past few weeks they have taken the game online. Every Friday night at 10pm EST/7pm PST, via the Crowdpurr service, you can compete against up to 499 other players as 60 multiple choice questions are presented in rapid fire succession. But it's not just about being right - you have to be fast too, as the quicker you answer, the more points you get. If you somehow answer the second the question appears, you get 100 points. As the clock counts down, the correct answer is worth fewer and fewer points - 97, 94, 90... you get the idea. You might get every question correct and still end up far from first place if you take too long to answer, which really adds to the intensity. But a player never loses points for an incorrect answer, so if the question starts with something you know you don't know a single thing about, just hammer a choice - if you're wrong, no foul! If you're right, you got a good sized number of points on a guess.
I've played several times, and it's quite a bit of fun, with solid competition to keep me on my toes. The questions are challenging but accessible (no one will ask you to remember a license plate number), and there's even a prize for the top player - I actually won a 6 month subscription to Shudder a couple weeks ago, and another winner received a subscription to Midnight Pulp magazine. Usually it's been general horror, but last week's edition was all FRIDAY THE 13TH themed (and yes, the above question was included), so naturally I made sure I was available to play for the main event on Friday (they do encore editions over the weekend, but just for fun - no prize is at stake). Knowing how good the competition has been (one game was literally down to how quickly the top few players answered - we all had the same number of right answers), I hoped to merely land in the top 10, but I was quickly unsure if that was possible after getting the first two questions wrong (a "how many years later" one that I tripped up on the math, and another I simply didn't know). Luckily, I recovered, and ultimately won - someday soon I'll have a few of the soundtracks on CD courtesy of La La Records, woo!
And my own regular team has also found a way to keep the game going while also "hanging out", as we meet up every week or two and quiz each other over Zoom, which also gives us a chance to catch up. See, a lot of the appeal for the game isn't really the chance of victory, but just seeing everyone - we all work wacky schedules, have kids, go out of town for this or that, etc. So for a lot of us the monthly trivia game is the only time we see a number of our teammates and friends on competing teams, arriving early at the store to catch up before fighting to the death over a Scream Factory boxed set. And now we can't really see them at all unless it's on a computer screen, so having the makeshift trivia game we put together (every player hosts two rounds of five questions for the other five members to answer) allows us to spend a little time together, apart. The Final Exam game has no "live" interaction, really - you aren't required to have a camera or microphone, and the hosts do not appear (the questions are all text-based), so it serves as a solid distraction, but doesn't really help with the increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us are feeling. Our rinky-dink game isn't as professionally well done, but it's a little more social.
However, the "team" element is missing from our game. Yes, we're all "together" over our webcams, but when it comes to answering questions we're on our own, instead of putting our heads together and figuring something out. This also limits our options for coming up with questions for the others; I know none of them are SAW-obsessives like I am, so it'd be pointless to ask them about those movies when in a normal game they'd all be looking at me to answer them. At a regular game, the host never has to worry about such things - maybe not everyone, but someone in the room will remember who directed THE HORROR SHOW. For our stripped down game, coming up with questions that aren't too easy but also have a reasonable chance of being answered correctly is more difficult than playing! If I ask a question literally no one can get right, I feel bad.
Luckily, a solution is seemingly forthcoming, as Jared and Rebekah will be taking the Dead Right game online this week. Other than the lack of prizes (noooooo!), it'll run more or less like the usual game, but with a lot of honor system involved: the teams will be on their own separate Zoom hangouts (or whatever they choose) to talk about the answers, and one player will submit the ballot to the hosts to determine winners. Bonus: it won't be confined to just Los Angeles, as players from around the country (presumably, players from the one-off Dead Right games that have been played at various horror cons) are free to join in, which should increase the competition level. I'm sure there will be some kinks to work out (Final Exam's version got off to a rocky start due to a few techno-glitches, but runs like clockwork now), but if it works in general? It'll be something to look forward to once a month, which is the sort of thing we can all use right now.
But even if it works perfectly, will it scratch our socializing itch while also making us feel smart (or dumb) because we've remembered so much nonsense about our beloved genre movies over the years? Time will tell - but like just about everything these days, any attempt to return to normalcy is an admirable one, and the hosts of these two games (and presumably many others I'm not privy to) are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts on their own time (and dime; I know Crowdpurr costs money to host a game that can accommodate that many people), which is commendable. Plus, it's kind of hopeful in a way; obviously people were going to find a way to use online technology to be able to continue working, meeting with patients/clients (my wife is a therapist who now conducts her sessions over Facetime), etc., as the world couldn't just fully come to a stop for essential services. However, if there is an increasing number of ways to continue being able to do something as frivolous as answering questions about horror movies, perhaps - adjustments aside - life will get back to something resembling normal quicker than the doomsayers claim.
P.S. The answers are LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE IIII and Jim Isaac, respectively. Who knew them both without looking?