By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – For Brian Burger, being a little bit spooked is essential to a good quality of life.
“Everything seems a little better after you’ve watched a horror movie,” he said. “It gets the blood pumping. You get more oxygen. And you feel better. The world seems a little nicer.”
Burger, a clubhouse assistant at Friends of Recovery of Delaware-Otsego Club Odyssey, has amassed a collection of cult and hard-to-find horror movies – as well as making one of his own.
In 2014, after working as an Orlando-based location manager on such films as “Sydney White,” “The Final Destination” and “Burning Bright” – that one featured singer Meatloaf and had future “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic on set – Burger partnered with director Juan Ortiz to produce “Jennifer Help Us,” the first feature-length film shot entirely on an iPhone 4S.
“We wanted to make something ourselves, but we had no money and no camera,” he said. “But we had a phone, so we decided to use that.”
The story follows a group of high school girls as the haze a fellow student, who then seeks revenge using a “haunted figure” involved the town’s long-buried secret.
Because they knew they couldn’t match a professional camera’s look, they shot the film to look like horror movies from the ’70s and ’80s.
“We used the lower quality to our advantage,” he said. “That’s what a lot of these filmmakers did; they knew there would be quality loss on VHS, so a lot of times, when they’re restored on Blu-Ray, you can see the killer just standing there in the dark, where you wouldn’t have seen him before.”
He even mocked up a VHS cover for the movie.
The film played at national and international festivals, including Another Hole in the Head in San Francisco and Freak Show in Orlanda, as well as picking up the BloodGuts UK Horror Award.
“Jennifer Help Us” is available for free streaming on Vimeo, and may soon see a Blu-Ray release from Synapse Films, a company that specializes in cult film restoration, including 1977’s Italian horror classic “Suspiria.”
“They’re very interested in releasing it, but they want us to add 10 minutes in order for it to be on the shelves at Wal-Mart,” he said.
Burger grew up on horror movies. Like many kids, he saw his first, “Night of the Living Dead,” by sneaking out of bed one night. “I was intimately shook,” he said. “I’ve always been looking for something that invokes that feeling.”
He began working as a locations manager after a collage internship, seeking out sets for crews to film on.
“I did a film called ‘Zombies, Zombies, Zombies,’ that we shot in a strip club that was set to be demolished,” he said. “We shot for a month, but no one told the demolition crew, and when they went in, there was blood everywhere.
“They thought they’d come across a murder scene and called the cops!”
He moved to Oneonta in 2019 to work at FOR-DO, where he was invited by management to make his office into a comforting, self-care haven.
“My safe space growing up was the video store,” he said, “So now, my desk is a candy counter and I’ve got a wall of all the tapes I had in my basement.”
He even made fake signage, calling his office “Itty-Biddy Video,” and lends his videos, including essential Halloween watches like “Halloween III: Night of the Witch,” “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” and “April Fools Day” to friends and fellow horror enthusiasts.
And he hopes to connect with other horror filmmakers in the area, including having screenings of locally-made horror films.
But you’ll have to work hard to scare him. “The older I get, the harder it is to scare me,” he admitted. “’Hereditary’ did that. Getting scared in a movie harkens back to being a kid.”