It seems you can’t step into you local video store these days without tripping over a new indie zombie film. Part of the reason there’s been such an influx in the last few years is that they’re generally easy to make, and as long as you get your gore in, you have a guaranteed audience.
So how do you make your zombie movie stand out? Well, having a name like Billy Zane sure doesn’t hurt, at least it didn’t for The Mad (review) director Johnny Kalangis. He was hired by Peace Arch to direct a film and saw some real potential in the Mad script, originally penned by Kevin Hennelly, with re-writes done with Christopher Warre Smetts before pre-production and with Jonathan Dueck (story editor) during pre-production.
“Peace Arch had a good team over there under which they were producing these films, and I thought together we could push this material into territory they hadn’t visited yet. The horror-comedy, a little pop-culture aware and so forth,” he explained to Dread Central recently. Kalangis’ previous work wasn’t exactly horror-centric, but he’s always had a soft spot for the undead, “I was deeply affected by the early Romero films (Night & Dawn) when I was young in the 70’s and early 80’s. They freaked me out in so many ways. It was later, when I learned how to really read films, that I recognized the vital role the behavior of the people who weren’t zombies played in the effect of the movies on me. That behavior was scarier than the zombies themselves and more importantly, at the heart of the films were brilliant social commentaries.”
Just a bit of catch-up if you’re not familiar with The Mad: the horror/comedy stars Billy Zane as Dr. Hunt who, while out with his girlfriend, his daughter, and her new boyfriend for a weekend getaway, stops in a middle-of-nowhere town right as a batch of very bad meat from the local farm starts turning the town’s residents into flesh-hungry ghouls.
Working in humor while still trying to convey something resembling a message isn’t the easiest thing for any filmmaker, but Kalangis managed to juggle both with ease. “There are laughs in The Mad, but they’re not without some meaning if anyone is thinking about the themes of the film. It’s no accident that the farmer and his son’s fate is what it is at the end of the movie,” he explained, choosing not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it yet. “It’s meant to be somewhat representative of our modern attitudes toward meat as a whole. You can only do that in a comedy where people can get past their terror quickly and still be characters with issues we somewhat relate to.”
Don’t worry, Kalangis doesn’t beat you over the head with his message; it’s there for you to catch if you choose. What you will be beaten with is just how damn funny The Mad is, and a lot of that comes from star Billy Zane, whom we haven’t had the pleasure to see do comedy since Demon Knight.
“Billy is amazing to work with. We jammed very well together, and he connected with the cast and crew as well as you could ever imagine,” Johnny said about the thesp who, as of late, has been tackling mainly dramatic roles, like his recent turn in Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne. Thankfully The Mad sees him back to comedic form, a place where he seems damn comfortable.
“The first day we met, it was at a hotel in downtown Toronto where he was going to be suited by the wardrobe head, Christine Terris. He was delayed because on the plane while thinking about the script, he decided to explore the idea of Dr. Hunt with glasses. He called me from an optometrist nearby and said he was being fitted for glasses!” It was clear from that moment that Zane was a perfect choice for the role, and he and Kalangis discussed his character and the film almost every night after shooting to make sure they were both getting what they wanted from it.
“I love actors who come to work like that because when I’ve always felt that when you give someone a part, you’re GIVING it to them, and they should come back with something,” he explained, “They’re not there to do what you say. You try and guide them through it, but you expect them be thinking about it the whole time. Actually, I would say that about the whole cast of this picture. It’s great when the star is in that mind state because it really trickles down.”
To get an idea what you’re in for, be sure to check out The Mad trailer in our Broadband section. The Mad comes to DVD on May 22nd courtesy of Genius Entertainment; be sure you click here to pre-order it through Evilshop!
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