It started out as just a couple of Stevenson High School students with an amateur website dedicated to the horror movies they loved, like "Halloween" and "Poltergeist."
Today, 11 years later, that website, bloody-disgusting.com, is one of the largest horror websites in the world. The site attracts between 1.2 and 2 million visitors each month for horror movie news, video clips, reviews and more.
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What makes a good horror movie?A good horror movie needs to have a few key elements, according to the three Stevenson High School graduates who produced "V/H/S," which opened Friday in theaters, and created the horror-movie website bloody-disgusting. com:
Ÿ It doesn't think the audience is stupid, and overexplain the storyline.
Ÿ It has believable characters who the audience cares about. "You want to believe all of them could be your neighbors," said producer Brad Miska, who grew up in Buffalo Grove.
Ÿ It mixes good scares with moments of levity. "That way it's not a fully depressing experience," said producer Zak Zeman, also a Buffalo Grove native. "You want to take people on a ride."
Ÿ It scares you or grosses you out. "It has to engage you on a primal level, like nothing else can," said producer Tom Owen, who grew up in Palatine and Buffalo Grove and now lives in Mundelein. "It can't be something you watch casually."
Bloody-disgusting.com also spawned a moviemaking career for the trio of suburban friends -- Brad Miska, Tom Owen and Zak Zeman. Their latest horror movie, "V/H/S," opened in theaters Friday.
"A lot of critics have described it as a party movie, and that's one of our intentions," Zeman said. "It's funny and scary at the same time. It's definitely made with horror fans in mind. There's a deconstructive nature to it."
The R-rated film -- a series of scary stories centered around the discovery of some VHS videotapes -- is aimed at the high school and college-aged crowd, and probably isn't for "seasoned horror fans," Miska said.
"It's a good alternative to a haunted house," Zeman said. "Wait, go to a haunted house, and then go to V/H/S."
All of this originated with Miska, a smart, funny kid with a passion for scary and gory movies and their ability to grip viewers. One of the first movies that really scared him was "Poltergeist." He was a kid when he saw it, and the clown scene (where a toy clown emerges from under the bed and chokes the child) haunted him for years.
"All the way through college, I had to have a bed that touched the floor. I'm serious," Miska said, laughing.
Similarly, Zeman remembers watching "Halloween" as a kid and lying in bed that night wondering if the masked killer, Mike Myers, was roaming through his Buffalo Grove subdivision.
One weekend, for fun, Miska created bloody-disgusting.com. He had Owen design the site; he would provide the content.
"We thought we knew everything about horror movies," said Owen, who was raised in Palatine and Buffalo Grove watching classic monster movies and "cheesy sci-fi movies" like "Night of the Living Dead" with his dad.
Miska and Owen were high school students when they started bloody-disgusting.com and didn't think of it as a business. Besides, it didn't have much of an audience -- or a single ad -- for years. But they liked doing it, so they kept it going after they graduated from Stevenson and went to college (Miska at Roosevelt University, Owen at Columbia College).
"There were multiple times we thought about shutting it down, because we were just doing it for fun," says Miska, 32, who moved out to Hollywood at age 24. "It didn't get serious until seven or eight years in, and then it just exploded."
In 2007, a media company, The Collective, bought bloody-disgusting.com, offering to grow the business while Miska and Owen handle the content and design -- just as they did 11 years ago in Miska's Buffalo Grove living room.
Their work on bloody-disgusting.com and the accompanying movies are now their full-time jobs. While they wouldn't provide details, more horror movies are in the works.
Zeman, 26, joined the team later. Six years younger than the others, he started out writing reviews and representing bloody-disgusting.com in Chicago. Today, he's living in Los Angeles and contributes to the team as a movie producer. His other producing credits include "A Horrible Way to Die" and "The Aggression Scale."
Owen stays here, commuting from his home in Mundelein to Los Angeles as necessary.
"When we first started talks with The Collective, we realized we created something pretty special," said Owen, 33. "It still feels like a hobby ... and it's still fun."
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always interested in hearing about people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great column, email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.