Reel Zombies

Reel Zombies (2008)

  • Limited Release
  • Director: David J. Francis, Mike Masters
  • Written by: Mike Masters
  • Running Time: 97 minutes
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Cast: Mike Masters, Stephannie Hawkins, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall, Paul Fler, Andrew Fruman, Dan Rooney, Kalyn Carter, Steve Curtis, Mukesh Asopa, Lloyd Kaufman, Chris Bellio, Tony Watt, Sarah Woodcock, Sean Woodcock, Bill Red Simmons, Stan Hart, James Trash Sampson, Jean-Marc Fontaine, Heath Hudson

From the warped noggins of Mike Masters (2002's "Adam & Eve"), David J. Francis (2003's "Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion") and Chris Bellio, this immersive little slice of avant-garde cinema is a dash of faux documentary, typically exasperating generic zombie cliché and puerile b-movie frame of mind shaken up and dumped them into a post-apocalyptic zombie dustbin – one that is most assuredly covered in Troma stickers and green vomit. The offbeat, innovative and laugh out loud hilarious flashes that arise from the outlandish and fascinating aggregation of ideas, a b-movie within a z-movie parody, was enough to send the entire crowd of Bloor attendees (where I screened it) out onto the snow covered Toronto street with an ear to ear smile on their face and a sugar-high look in their eyes.

With disastrous returns on their last two zombie features, “Zombie Night” and “Zombie Night 2: Awakening”, Mike Masters, the producer, and David J. Francis, the director, decide to erect yet another zombie production, one that will hopefully complete their so-called 'Zombie' trilogy. Steadfast in his determination, the rarely optimistic Masters is potent with ideas on how to make this one work. Taking advantage of his post-apocalyptic landscape is first on the docket. Apparently the zombie armageddon portrayed in the first and second films were more fact than fiction. And, yes, Masters is determined to use real putrid decaying zombies this time around – even employing a group of grizzled bikers to work as zombie wranglers. No sense paying people to play zombie when you can get your hands on some live ones (no pun). Regardless of their unpredictable nature, Masters thinks he can make it work. He stocks the remaining production with a mix of survivors and former crew members who participated on their previous efforts. One girl, Charlene (Sarah Woodcock), is hired specifically to do make-up. She has no training but her job in a funeral parlour somehow qualifies her to do make-up for a feature film. (Hilarious is the notion that the suddenly revived dead has put a real damper on the burial business.)

Taking its creative cue from another Canadian cult-film ”F.U.B.A.R.”, the entire production is recorded by wannabe- Nick Broomfield documentarian Andrew Fruman with his diminutive handheld camera. Right off the bat, things hit a snag as production coordinator Sam Hall openly questions the commercial viability of such a production. “Who would pay to see a zombie film right after a real zombie apocalypse has just transpired,” he reasons. Francis quickly shoots him down, suggesting that folks went to see movies about 9/11 after 9/11. “Not right after,” Hall replies. Regardless, nothing is going to hold back the production and before long they are easing into second gear, casting a couple of a bonafide hotties, Stephannie Hawkins and Kalyn Carter, into leading roles  – a decision based less on their thespian skills and more on their willingness to go birthday suit in front of the camera. Along for the ride are various "Zombie Night" alums Dan Rooney and Steve Curtis.

Securing funding from a dodgy army guy under the guise that they are making a propaganda piece, the cast and crew find themselves ticking down a tight 10 day shooting schedule. The hyper-caffeinated Francis keeps the production flowing with all the smoothness of a hurricane in a shanty town and it isn’t long before things clunk and slowly start to fall apart beginning with a destroyed camera mounted on a zombie POV style. A perpetually stressed Masters, constantly under the harpoon, quickly begins to gut check himself, realizing, maybe, just maybe, that this wasn’t his best decision. Eventually things come to a head when one of the crew members is killed by some off-the-leash zombies. “We’re going to dedicate the film to him. We’re gonna make a big production out of it,” Masters stoically intimates into Fruman’s camera. Uproariously, moments later, he taints the well-water by adding how the crew carried on that day and did ‘re-shoots’. The idea that he must repeat this sentiment as more and more crew members fall prey to the vicious walking dead is amusing and speaks to the heightened absurdity of it all.

"Reel Zombies” is a film that is absolutely alive with energy and everyone involved is having a great time. The concept and writing is particularly memorable, namely the way Masters twists the genre by taking tired cliché and re-working it into something hilarious. In hindsight, it seems so obvious. When was the last time you saw a movie where the crew must endeavour to make a zombie look more human, and not the other way around? A running gag about the propensity for on-camera nudity even when the situation doesn’t necessarily present itself believably is one more thing that made me chuckle. Dan Rooney’s ill-timed inclination for stumbling onto the set naked, sometimes during actual takes, is absolutely riotous. Seemingly inspired by “Clerks”, Stephen Papadimitriou (2007's "Your Beautiful Cul de Sac Home") and Sam Hall (2004's "All You Got"), as production hands, have this sometimes negative and sometimes apathetic but always entertaining Randall/Dante rapport throughout, something of which I found to be my most favoured aspect of the film. Watching them as they make a mad dash for a parked car as hungry zombies huddle around the vehicle only to realize that neither has a key for it, is surprisingly amusing, especially since the set-up and punchline was worked into another Canadian zombie flick, “Dead Time Stories”, earlier this year, with a much more harrowing tone. Equally, their shocking bullet-ricochet demise is far and away the funniest offing of the lot.

Providing the ying and yang of the production, the eternal optimist, David J. Francis (clearly having a ball here), and Mike Masters, the tortured pessimist (acting up a storm), is the perfect contrast for the film, something, I’m told, reflects how they are in real life. Their affinity for each other really drives the film, as does the work of lesser players, Steve Curtis, Renson Decastro, Dan Rooney, stunt-girl turned actress, Stephannie Hawkins (2008's "Jumper"), and my personal fave, Kalyn Carter. Also on hand is Lloyd Kaufman (2008's "Pot Zombies"), Troma's head nugget, who appears in a brief too-funny cameo. The cinematography here by Chris Bellio and Chris Matthews (2008's "Gangster Exchange") is outstanding. I’ve seen films with triple the budget that appear to have less production value based on some shoddy cinematography. "Reel Zombies" certainly bucks that. This film, with its scant budget, proves just how valuable a trained visual hand on set is. Bellio and Matthews are at the top of their game here. Watch for the scene at the end as a small cramped trailer is somehow opened up allowing for some full-tilt blood and guts action to transpire. This is awesome stuff.

I think the film can best be summed up by Paul Fler’s character. Brought on to the production early on, he is forced into working transportation, something that he hates. He longs to shoot camera. Eventually he is stuck acting as a chauffeur to a particularly smelly, raunchy looking zombie, one that Dave wants to allocate for the film’s proverbial ending money shot. Every once in awhile his character arrives on scene, bitching about his predicament; about how the zombie ate his Ipod, among other things. His icy angry temperament seems to thaw, though, as he finds himself spending more and more time with his new companion. As Fler (2007's "The Tracey Fragments") slides onto set on the last day of shooting, the sudden awareness that his zombie is being requested on set; it’s up to Fler to make the ultimate decision. What do you think he does? This moment, Fler’s final act, absolutely defines “Reel Zombies” for me. It’s a film that probably didn’t need to be made but when it just feels right, you just have to do it. Even when the money, the schedule and the weather isn’t on your side, it’s a chance you have to take. Sometimes you just have to put it into gear and smoke your tires out of the parking lot towards the unknown. Cinematically, Masters, Bellio and Francis had taken two enjoyable but routine trips to this proverbial zombie outhouse. Who would have thought that the third time out they’d finally get it right. I mean reely get it right!

Apparently Francis was working from a seven hour workprint, so I can only imagine what kind of extras and other goodies will be included in the official DVD release. Until then, be sure to check out the trailer or head on over to the Official Site for more information on "Reel Zombies".