Nine-year-old boys love zombies. This is just a fact. Something about the carefree, perpetually hungry and chronically unhygienic zombie lifestyle appeals to the fourth-grade mind.
If my own nine-year-old is to be believed, this year's killer app is the digital zombifier iMut8r (iOS; $0.99/$1.99), a Halloween-themed photo filter and image manipulator for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
It really is pretty great. iMut8r isn't just the best Halloween app I've seen this year, it's one of the coolest playthings you'll find anywhere in the app store.
An important disclaimer, however: The effects in iMut8r can get very scary, indeed — the app is rated 17+ according to iTunes Store application ratings, meaning children aren't technically allowed to download the app at all. I happen to have kids completely unfazed by this stuff — they find zombies/witches/etc. more gross and interesting than scary. The effects in iMut8r range from goofy to seriously gory. Parental discretion is advised.
The app works like this: You take a portrait style, head-and-shoulder photo of yourself or someone else. (Or call one up from your image library.) Load the photo into iMut8r, then rotate and scale the image to line up with target symbols for the eyes and mouth.
From here you're given a choice of seven different effects kits — Zombie, Werewolf, Vampire, Witch, Frankenthing, Demon or Creature from the Deep. Each template has its own palette of digital effects, which you overlay onto your original image — bloody fangs, demonic horns, massive head wounds, this sort of thing. The app essentially works like a high-end monster movie makeup kit.
While there are plenty of photo effects apps out there, iMut8r stands out with its ease-of-use, relative image quality and wide range of effects within its narrow scary-picture focus. It's all in the execution, as it were.
You can isolate a specific effect — a festering eye socket, say — and fine tune it to match your photo by resizing and rotating. The app's secret weapon is a lonely, unassuming button at the bottom of the frame, labeled Fade. This function allows you to adjust the transparency of an effect to match skin tone and achieve some surprisingly sophisticated effects. It makes all the difference.
You can also mix-and-match the template options (Demon Witch from the Frankendeep, or whatever) and even mutate pictures of two or more people, although it's not as effective that way. Images can be saved, printed or posted directly to Facebook.
We've had a lot of fun around the house this October with iMut8r, and messing around with other Halloween apps in general. Here are some of other goodies we got in our bag:
House of Horrors (iOS, Android; $0.99/$1.99)
This clever little video-on-demand app offers streaming access to a library of more than 100 classic horror movies. The films are all in the public domain; mostly campy b-movie pictures. But you'll find a few worthwhile old bones in the graveyard, including the movie that started our oddly enduring zombie obsession, George Romero's 1968 stunner Night of the Living Dead. Also look for Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, the Vincent Price classic House on Haunted Hill and the hugely influential 1962 indie Carnival of Souls.
Halloween Sounds Pro (iOS, Android; free)
There are literally dozens of scary sound generators out there that put creaking doors and bloodcurdling screams at the tips of your fingers. They all do pretty much the same thing, so don't bother paying for one. Halloween Sounds Pro adds one little tweak for prank-related added value. A time-delay slider lets you queue up that peal of psychopathic laughter, then plant your iPhone somewhere strategic. Other good options include Halloween Spooky Sound Box, Scary Sounds HD and the iPad soundboard Halloween Sound Shelf.
Fright Factory (iOS; $1.99)
One of several compilation-style Halloween apps, Fright Factory combines a nice soundboard of spooky audio clips with a couple of time-delay scare pranks and a strobe light function. Or try the similar 200+ Horror Stories, Sounds & Scares (iOS; $0.99) which packages similar features with classic horror stories by authors including Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe and New England's own gentleman maniac, H.P. Lovecraft.