Special effects house ready to compete on bigger level

ToeTag has just arrived in Hollywood. Best to get your children inside.

While it is not unusual for production companies to follow the work to Hollywood, ToeTag EFX has been able to carve a niche for itself in the horror community for more than a decade through a strange formula of creative marketing, talent and word of mouth.

Created in 2004 by Jerami Cruise, ToeTag EFX was established as the inhouse f/x shop for Toetag Pictures, a genre shingle best known to horrorphiles for such extreme titles such as the “August Underground” trilogy, “The Redsin Tower,” 2009′s “Murder Collection V.1,” 2009′s “Maskhead” and 2010′s “Sella Turcica.” Since it’s inception, the offbeat horror shingle has had to come up with creative methods in which to market itself, because while Pittsburgh, thanks to horror-meister George Romero, is the birthplace of the modern zombie genre, it’s crypt-like when it comes to garnering industry attention.

The Pittsburgh-born makeup and effect shingle that has made a name for itself by breathing death into pics like 2006′s “The Redsin Tower” and creating the type of pure, unadulterated gore that would make Herschell Gordon Lewis proud, if not slightly queasy, is ready to take its work to a bigger stage, provided the biz is ready for it.

“After making movies and building effects for low-budget projects in Pittsburgh and Ohio for nearly two decades, I felt that it was time to bring my company to Los Angeles,” says company topper Cruise. “I’m used to making things work on microbudgets; it’s time to see what I can do on more mainstream projects.”

“We have always handled our own distribution since the beginning. We never really had a budget set aside for distribution. It’s all been word of mouth,” Cruise says.

In 2002, helmer Fred Vogel and his crew self-released 200 VHS copies of the snuff-film-style gore pic “August Underground” (under the now-defunct Absu Films) with the intent to pique the interest of hardcore collectors. By the time the sequel “August Underground’s Mordum” was released, the film amassed enough controversy and press to receive an international following. After it’s release in 2004, Toetag Pictures incorporated, and ToeTag EFX was born.

“When you hire me and this company, it means you want realistic effects,” Cruise says. “(These are ) not your typical Hollywood effects. You are not going to get the kind of shots where you see a knife swing down, then cut away. I don’t want to see an edit of blood hitting a wall. I want audiences to be impacted by the images I create.”

The degree of realism and authenticity Toetag brings to the table doesn’t always result in positive attention. In 2005, Cruise and his cronies were bringing merchandise and DVD copies of “August Underground” to the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear in Toronto. On the way, the car was pulled over by custom officers, who seized the contents of the vehicle and detained the group for 12 hours.

“We had no idea that the film was banned in that country. We broke 18 obscenity laws just bringing it over the border,” Cruise says. “We were told we can leave our DVDs with them or take our stuff and go home.”

The company has developed a cult following among horror enthusiasts. Since its initial release in 2003, “August Underground’s Mordum,” on which Cruise served as special effects supervisor, has made many critics’ lists as one of the most disturbing films of all time.

“The first response from the film was, ‘Is it real? Is it not real?’ Even when I showed it to a few of my very good friends, a few of them wouldn’t talk to me for a few months. But the response has generally been good.”

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