Are audiences fed up with flesh-eating zombies? Well, there is at least one finished film that hopes viewers are hungry for a slightly different spin on the familiar genre: a "gore-soaked exploration of how far the boundaries of true love can be pushed without reaching a breaking point."
ZOMBIE HONEYMOON is an oddball but rather interesting film that has been making the rounds of festivals this year (including a screening at Montreal's FantAsia fest today, July 12, with the cast and crew in attendance). Although the title might suggest a Troma-type camp-comedy, the film actually plays out more like an independent art house effort, focusing on the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one to unforeseen circumstances. In fact, despite its cannibal corpse clichés, ZOMBIE HONEYMOON’s closet precedent in the horror genre may be David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of THE FLY, which also forced audiences to endure the inevitable deterioration of its lead character.
The story tells of Danny and Denise (Graham Sibley and Tracy Coogan), a young couple whose happy honeymoon turns to tragedy when Danny is infected by a zombie and slowly begins to transform into one of the living dead. Shot on High-Definition Video, low-budget effort occasionally resembles a home movie, and the overall sensibility (which emphasizes sadness as much as horror) seems aimed more at a Sundance film festival audience than a crowd of midnight movie gore-hounds. But the over-the-top finale delivers enough blood-soaked carnage to please even the most jaded zombie fans.
After a recent screening of the film in Hollywood, writer-director David Gebroe explained that his film’s offbeat combination of elements was the result of real-life influences; in fact, the film claims to be based upon a true story. Gebroe’s younger sister (named Denise) was indeed married to a many named Danny, who died in a surfing accident after two and a half years, and Gebroe wanted to make a film about the experience of losing a loved one.
Although Gebroe had reservations about exploiting his sister’s tragedy for story material, she approved the project. “I felt like a scumbag…[but] I talked to my sister and she was all for it,” he said. “Above everything else, it was kind of a valentine to her strength, her ability to get through her grief and keep moving in life. So a lot of what is in there is straight from reality; everything’s from real life except the undead stuff.”
So, where did the “undead stuff” come from? “My mother used to take us to see horror movies all the time when we were kids, even really incredibly violent one’s like [Lucio] Fulci’s ZOMBIE, when I was seven and my sister was four. It’s kind of crazy to think that we turned out even remotely okay after experiences like that.”
Budget restrictions forced Gebroe to shoot on video, but he found there were advantages to the new technology, including the ability to get more coverage. “We shot on HD-24P, which is actually my first experience on digital video, because I always needed a soapbox to stand on so it might as well have been film vs. tape. But there’s no reason to be a scrooge about it anymore; it was a great experience working with HD. It was awesome—we could roll for twenty minutes, and any argument could be ending by saying, ‘Okay, we’ll do it both ways!’ We shot 26 hours; I think the shooting ratio was 17:1. The most I did before was 9:1.”
Another advantage was the ability to manipulate the image in postproduction, which might have been prohibitively expensive in film. For example, Gebroe said that there was “a lot of color correction” in postproduction to get the right shade of red for the blood. “We use something called a Paintbox,” he said. “It afforded us a certain amount of [leeway] on the back end, and I definitely wanted all that stuff to ‘pop,’ no question about that.”
Blood is not the only thing that pops in the film. Gebroe had a lot of fun coming up with gruesome sound effects (like combining the human voice with dogs ripping apart meat for the zombie growls). He seemed particularly pleased with the technique for breaking bones: “I discovered to my joy—you take four celery stalks and break them!”
If that thought is not enough to make you squirm, here is one other grizzly detail: the blackened “zombie vomit” (which spreads the undead curse from corpse to victim) is a combination of corn syrup and rotted bagels.
During post-production, ZOMBIE HONEYMOON received a little financial help from Larry Fesseden, the star and director of the 1990s cult film HABIT, which brought a slightly similar sensibility of contemporary despair to the vampire genre. “At the time I was about a step away from eating garbage out of dumpsters,” Gebroe recalled. “We were about to stall out in the editing process; we were about to finish a rough cut, but I still had six months of music. A friend of a friend gave Larry a rough cut, and he was blown away. We had lunch together, and he was great. He gave some money to the project, and every time we were in a bit of a lurch he stepped in.”
The finished film began screening in festivals last fall (including the Hamptons International Film Festival in October), and Gebroe was hoping to find more play dates of that kind throughout this summer, with the long-term goal of finding domestic theatrical distribution—not an easy feat in an era that sees many low-budget films shuffling off directly to video. After the lackluster audience response to LAND OF THE DEAD, it is difficult to imagine a low-budget zombie flick getting much more than a lmited, one-week "platform" release of the kind given to UNDEAD at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles two weeks ago -- or, more likely, a handful of midnight playdates in "calendar" theatres that change programs every few days.
Still, Gebros is hopeful. “In terms of distribution it’s been picked up by a foreign sales company; it’s going to be all over the world,” said the writer-director. “As far as domestic goes, there have been a slew of offers. What I’m trying to do is: I don’t want to go with one company; I want to piecemeal it out. I want to make sure the theatrical company we go with is really going to get behind it and give it the shot that I think it deserves. With the right care, it could really find its audience. By the end of the year, it will definitely be out.”
While waiting and hoping for financial success, Gebroe’s has achieved one personal triumph so far: his sister approves of the movie inspired by the loss of her husband. “She loves it; she really does,” said Gebroe. “When I showed her the movie, she cried for twenty minutes afterwards—which was my goal,” he joked, ” to make her as miserable as possible—as if she hadn’t been through enough already!”
RELATED ARTICLES: You can read an expanded review of the film here.