Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies - Dread Central
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Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies

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With zombies being everywhere this day, it’s pretty hard to do something clever with the subgenre, especially in short films where budgets and time can be ambition’s biggest enemies.

Apparently no one told filmmaking couple Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley that because the pair’s latest short film – Summer of the Zombies – manages to deliver a charming and clever look at the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of a Vegetarian zombie named Summer, whose veggie-loving tendencies are so deep-rooted, they stick with the ghoul even as she wanders the streets as an aimless ghoul in search of food.

Dread Central recently caught up with Beasley and Nichols and heard more from the duo about their experiences making Summer of the Zombies and what’s up next for the filmmaking couple. We also heard more from Nichols about her experiences producing the 2011 horror comedy The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu and the challenges of independent filmmaking.

After reading our interview with Nichols and Beasley, make sure to check out the official online debut of Summer of the Zombies below as well!

Dread Central: Tell us more about your career before Summer of the Zombies, and being a fan of The Last Lovecraft, I would love to hear more about your experiences working on it, Ashleigh.

Eddie Beasley: After moving to Los Angeles, I mainly kicked around different areas of production for a long time. I knew I wanted to make films, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about it yet. Ashleigh and I both worked our day jobs for a while and then decided it was time to make something that was ours.

Ashleigh Nichols: It was around 2005 when I started working as a set PA, and shortly after that I became an assistant to a fabulous producer named Anne Clements. From there, I worked really hard and PA’d both on set and in the office, tried my hand as a costume assistant and as an art assistant, too. Then I found that I was quickly moving up from PA to Assistant Coordinating to Production Coordinating and Production Managing.

It was at this point that my dear friend Henry Saine asked me to come on board as his producer for our film The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu. That movie was a lot of fun to work on, but it was also a lot of work at the same time. I think we all learned a lot about making movies and ourselves and just how much we could push through when we needed to. When you have a limited budget and a lot of locations, set dressing and creature effects, you learn how to get creative and get it done.

DC: What initially inspired you both to get into filmmaking? Have you both always loved genre films?

Eddie Beasley: I was inspired by the large number of movies I watched as a kid (especially horror movies). My dad and I watched all the horror movies we could find at the video store. He introduced me to filmmakers like John Carpenter and Wes Craven, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Ashleigh Nichols: I didn’t think I ever would get into filmmaking. I was obsessed with acting in high school and was a theater major in college. I did a couple student films but then decided that it was not for me. So while I was trying to figure out my life, my then boyfriend, now husband, Eddie, got me some day-playing gigs at Nickelodeon.

I won’t lie- I hated the 12-plus hour days on my feet, but there was also something intriguing about everyone sucking it up to make television happen; I loved how there were so many people working to make something. But then I fell into indie films and knew that was where I wanted to be; I so badly wanted to be behind the camera on interesting films.

But I haven’t always been into genre films so I give my husband credit for that because I grew up watching family films and chick flicks. Eddie started introducing me to the horror genre and proved to me that there are great scripts here, and to me that is the most important aspect: a great story.

DC: Ashleigh, how did your experience on The Last Lovecraft help prepare you to venture off into directing?

Ashleigh Nichols: Henry Saine was amazing to work with. Working with him gave me the opportunity to watch him work and I love how he dealt with the pressure. He’s always so calm and makes incredibly smart choices so I hope that some of that rubbed off on me because the last thing a set needs is a crazy director. Things are going to go wrong on set…it is a given and I believe what matters most as a director is how you handle them.

I’ve also learned that there are people who believe in what I do, and that support really helped me get motivated to shoot this short film.

DC: So where did the idea for Summer of the Zombies come from?

Ashleigh Nichols: Eddie and I were having drinks at a friend’s place and the idea was said as a part of a joke. We looked at each other and knew that when we got home that night we had to write the script and then shoot it as soon as we could get the funds together.

We also thought it would be a great story told from a zombie’s perspective because in zombie movies, we never get the villain’s perspective. And even though Summer isn’t really a classic ‘villain’, we leave that decision up to the viewer. By telling her story as a zombie, we thought that we would be able to almost make the music composition a character as well and we definitely feel as if we lucked out because our composer is genius and we love the work he (Brock Frye) did.

DC: Can you guys talk a bit about your experiences making the short (your effects budget had to be killer- so many zombies!).

Eddie Beasley: SOTZ was a lot of fun because I got work closely with Ashleigh and so many of our friends who generously gave their time and expertise. We called in a lot of favors to have people come in and play zombies and thankfully, our close friend and very talented makeup effects artist Valerie Pensky came on board with her team to sell the look of the zombies. We shot the bulk of our film at a former correctional facility outside of Los Angeles. I’m definitely glad most of our shooting was during the day because you definitely didn’t want to be there at night.

The casting process was a lot of fun because most of it consisted of having actors do their best ‘zombie.’ It was a very movement based-audition process and Casey (who plays Summer) came in and wowed us with her ability to find humor in the simplest of zombie movements; she took to it so naturally.

Ashleigh Nichols: I loved, loved, loved how we wrote the scene where the group of zombies see Summer and they turn and head away from her; I thought it was really good writing on our part. But while we were shooting it, dogs were barking, crews were building a set next to us and airplanes were flying overhead. I just was not happy with how this was turning out so we tried several different ways of shooting and slowed things down, sped things up- you name it. So finally Eddie was like ‘we have enough!’ and I had to go with his instinct. As it turns out, I really was not happy with it and during editing, I realized just how much I loved what we got; I was so surprised and that made me realize that as a team we CAN do this.

Also, my mom is in that scene and I love her so much for it.

DC: Where can genre fans see Summer of the Zombies on the big screen in the future? Any more festival plans after such a successful 2011 run?

Eddie Beasley: We’ve been lucky enough to be in a variety of festivals over the last year including LA Comedy Fest, Shriekfest Film Festival, LA Fringe Fest, Big Bear Horror-Fi Festival and now we’ve got Rincon in Puerto Rico coming up soon and POW Fest in Portland. We’ve been receiving invites to other festivals as well and those will be announced soon on our Facebook page.

DC: Can you tell us more about the upcoming horror comedy feature you want to make together next?

Ashleigh Nichols: Oh, I think I will let Eddie handle that one but what I can say we have several things up in the air right now, including a couple of horror comedy features and a web series as well.

Eddie Beasley: It’s in the early stages at the moment, but it’s set in the South and we would like to shoot it in Mississippi (that’s where I’m from). But we are definitely now ready to move into feature territory with our style of filmmaking.

DC: What would you say are the biggest challenges and advantages to being an indie filmmaker have been so far?

Ashleigh Nichols: Money! I think that is every filmmaker’s problem because unfortunately, it really does make the world- and the filmmaking world- go round. Without money, it’s nearly impossible to even get locations, actors, equipment- you name it.

DC: It’s pretty cool to see spouses working so well together; I’d love to hear more about how it feels to collaborate with your spouse and how that dynamic works too.

Ashleigh Nichols: I loved working with Eddie; he has my back and I have his. We are honest and up front with each other and I know he will tell me the truth and we balance each other out. Sure it can be hard but we make it work; we do not always agree but that is the case with any kind of ‘co-workers.’ You’ll disagree with others no matter how close you are. Plus, it’s already a difficult thing- mixing business and creativity- but because I know I am allowed to have an opinion and say what I mean to him, I know that our product will be that much better for it. We are a confident and hardworking team.

Eddie Beasley: Working with Ashleigh has been the most rewarding part of this experience. I trust her more than anyone and that’s a comforting feeling in this industry. We can bounce ideas of each other really well (we’ve spent many road trips work-shopping films). I enjoy collaborating with her and I’m looking forward to our first feature together.

Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies

Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies

Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies

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Waxwork Records Unveils Phenomenal 2018 Subscription Package

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Our pals over at Waxwork Records have unveiled their 2018 subscription bundle and it’s packed to the brim with some absolutely fantastic titles! Horror fans who enjoy spinning their music on turntables can look forward to two Romero titles, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, and lastly they’ll have Jordan Peele’s smash success title Get Out. On top of getting those five records, those who join the subscription program will also receive a t-shirt, coffee mug, poster, notebook, magnet, enamel pin, calendar, and more.

For Night of the Living Dead, Waxwork Records worked closely with the film’s original creators, including Romero himself prior to his passing, the Museum of Modern Art, and The Criterion Collection so that they could source audio from the 4K restoration. It will be released as a 2xLP package.

Dawn of the Dead will also get a 2xLP release that will include brand new artwork, re-mastered audio, and more. The same kind of treatment is being given to The ‘Burbs. Christopher Young’s Drag Me to Hell soundtrack will be a single LP but will get the same level of attention and quality as the other titles.

As for Peele’s Get Out. Michael Abels; score will be released on a 2xLP vinyl set and will pay tribute to one of the most culturally significant movies of the past several years.

The Waxwork Records subscription package will be $250 ($285 in Canada) and will open up for sale this Friday, the 24th. More information can be found on Waxwork’s website.

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Thanksgiving Flesh Feast: A Cannibal Holocaust Retrospective

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“Why ban films? If you don’t want to go watch something, don’t go. Don’t spend your money to watch it. To me it’s against your civil liberties. Censorship is against your human rights. It just takes a critic to exaggerate and say the film is over the top, it’s gruesome and full of terrible violence.” Words from legendary cinematographer Roberto Forges Davanzati on the special edition Blu-Ray of Cannibal Holocaust.

As you celebrate this holiday of stuffing your face full of delicious gooey goodies and cooked meats, let us look back at a feast for the ages that was buried in lawsuits, censorship, exploitation and even jail time for its creator. Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most infamous video nasties of all time, is not only one of the most gruesome and horrifying collection of images put to celluloid but also, in its own way, one of the most beautiful. Often times it’s notoriety as a horrid exploitation film overshadows the artistry that crafted it and the true message behind it.

First off, let’s look at the fact that this is truly the first found footage film. Its narrative is about four young documentarians who set out into the Amazon into an area dubbed “The Green Inferno” to find and document several primitive tribes of cannibals. While this narrative is the backbone of the movie opening up the film, this footage is not shown until the latter half. Professor Harold Munroe is assigned by the television studio that employed the documentarians to go into the Green Inferno himself to see if he can unravel the mystery of the youth’s disappearance or obtain the footage they filmed. Today we have found footage movies left and right but it’s rare we get a movie within a movie in this style.

Davanzati has talked about his different shooting styles for the time on the Blu-Ray for the film. Munroe’s section of the film was shot on 35MM film while the “found footage” shot by the documentarians is shot on 16MM film, giving a much grainier and dirty look to their footage. Not only that, but since the four youths within the film at all times had two 16MM cameras operating, Davanzati would often film the two camera men within the film and then switch around showing the point of view of each camera man within the found footage, which he states helped edit the movie as they shot it. The artistic decision to have two narratives wrap around each other like this are perfect antithesis to each other as Munroe’s footage shows a completely opposite depiction of the cannibals compared to the documentarian’s footage. This style informed a generation and still does, but has never been stylistically approached the same way.

Some may argue that regardless of the artistic vision and groundbreaking filmmaking style of both Davanzati and director Ruggero Deodato that it doesn’t matter, because what good is beautiful footage of despicable trash? How dare they film something so atrocious? Actor Robert Kerman can maybe answer that in a quote from an interview on the Cannibal Holocaust Blu-Ray. “What’s the difference between Cannibal Holocaust and Schindler’s List? Or the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan?” The world is full of horrible atrocious things and sometimes we don’t like to acknowledge them. To simply not acknowledge them would seem an injustice to the victims. In this case, what may offend might be the same reason audiences were offended about the Universal Monsters: the fact that perhaps we are the villains. Perhaps those victimized within Cannibal Holocaust are the titular cannibals.

Deodato opens the film with a reporter speaking about how far the world has come and how advanced we are as a civilization, that it is strange that indigenous tribes still exist in the jungles of the Green Inferno. All the while, during this news report on the savagery of those tribes, Deodato cleverly shows us the jungles of the modern world as the imagery put to this news cast foreshadows the film’s true intentions. It would be easy to assume the “Holocaust” in Cannibal Holocaust refers to the humans devoured by cannibals, when in reality, the holocaust is the devastation inflicted upon the cannibal tribes by the so-called “normal” humans. Deodato cleverly misleads the viewer showing off all-American kids as the documentarians. He quickly follows the opening with a scene of the Yacumo tribe devouring a human body as the Colombian soldiers gun them down and capture one of their tribe. It’s a brutal scene that depicts the Yacumo as monsters.

As Professor Munroe ventures into the Green Inferno with his Yacumo captive and guide, Chaco, it is discovered that the Yacumo tribe itself has had some hardship and pain. They are the more peaceful of the tribes who simply thrive and survive. Their Yacumo captive who was found devouring a human was doing so as part of a ceremonial practice to ward off evil spirits. Befriending the tribe, they venture deeper to find the two warring tribes that scare even the Yacumo: the Yanomamo (Tree People) and the Shamatari (Swamp People). While the Shamatari are depicted throughout as vile and dangerous, the Yamamomo befriend the professor and Chaco due to the pair aiding them against the former tribe.

Munroe and the Yanomamo friendship gives way to a very beautiful scene in the movie. Munroe disrobes himself completely and swims in the river naked with a group of Yanomamo women. There is nothing sexual about the scene, only curiosity and playful ignorant bliss. This sense of peace is elated by the score of Riz Ortolani, which permeates the entire film with melancholy melodies and themes of religious experiences. This scene in particular is boosted amazingly by his score.

Munroe’s journey is the audience’s point of view where we watch in horror and wonder at what these “cannibals” are capable of but, upon venturing further for ourselves with respect towards the tribes, we find perhaps there is more to these people than monstrosities. There are definitely horrible things the Yacumo and the Yamamomo commit, but our eyes are slightly opened as to why.

Enter the found footage aspect of the film, which is the core of Deodato’s message. The young documentarians headed by Alan are the true villains of the piece. While the indigenous peoples within idolize their gods and ways, this crew of documentarians only idolize the gods of entertainment and visceral mind rape. What’s worse is the discovery of the studio behind them condoning their efforts in order to get people to watch. The found footage approach descends into madness as Alan and his crew are responsible for the Yacumo’s problems that Munroe discovered when he arrived. We see them burning down the village and even having sex on the ashes of their homes in a horrifying shot that pans out to show the Yacumo watching in sorrow as they are huddled by the river for warmth. As the television executives watch this footage unfold it is stated, “The more you rape their senses, the happier they are.” It’s disgusting.

The footage goes on and gets progressively worse as Alan and his crew commit horrible acts of rape and violence that parallels the natives actions. But while the natives at least have a misguided sense of purpose, there is none for the documentarians. They set up a girl on a spike after they rape her just to have something visceral to film. “Watch it Alan, I’m shooting.” Alan has a smile on his face from the atrocity he’s committed, their excitement paralleled by Ortolani’s score. This scene plays on the typical thought of things we don’t understand being weird. As the filmmakers have no concept of what makes the Yanomamo tick or of their religious rites, they just create something ghastly. Because their audience will not understand it, they lump it in with their actual spiritual and cultural beliefs, making it all seem bereft of rhyme or reason, confusing audiences just to entertain.

“Keep rolling, we’re gonna get an Oscar for this!” The final act of found footage is more intense and more satisfying than any you can see. As one of the cameramen dies, they keep filming, that prize in their eyes with the camera lens as a separation from what’s before them. Their friend is no longer a person but a spectacle to be shot as he’s torn limb from limb and prepared to be eaten by the cannibals for their transgression. Who is worse, those that created the situation or those simply reacting to it? The Yanomamo stand triumphant over the interloper and, as stated in the beginning of the film, they eat him ceremonially in order to keep out the evil spirits of the white man. Each is taken down and each filmed. Debts paid in blood to the cannibals and
the white man’s gods of entertainment. The found footage has all been viewed as Munroe and the rest of the executives walk off, “I wonder who the real cannibals are?” 

True, there are very vile things depicted in this film. Rape, animal cruelty, extreme violence. It is definitely not for the squeamish. I, myself, cannot stand the animal violence as it shouldn’t be in the film and is lingered on for far too long. However, each scene of extremism beyond those shots serves a purpose in the film, juxtaposing the actions of the protagonists and antagonists, often times blurring the lines of those roles.

Watch this film with an open mind and a filmmaker’s thought process. You’ll see the amazing direction accompanied by brilliant and, at the time, never-before-seen cinematography. The score elevates the film with its beauty against the ugliness of the visuals. While the actions of many of the characters are disgusting, you have to admit the level of excellence each actor gives in their portrayal of these characters, especially the tribes.

We must not forget in these dark times not to judge the cultures of others before we truly understand them as people.

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I Already Have a Dog But Now I Want a Baby Dinosaur

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The first trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World, is rumored to be attached to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Since that film is going to be coming out in less than a month, it’s no surprise that the marketing campaign for the dino-filled trailer is already starting and today it kicks off with a six-second teaser that is as adorable as you can get!

In the teaser, Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is petting a baby velociraptor, which coos and twitters in the cutest of fashions. Is there anything else going on? Nah. Does something else need to happen? Nope. The movie already has me sold.

Directed by J.A. Bayona (When a Monster Calls), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom also stars Bryce Dallas Howard, B.D. Wong, and Toby Jones. However, the biggest and most important star of the film will be the return of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, who is, in my humble opinion, the best character in the franchise, besting even the T-rex that seemingly cannot die.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will evolve into theaters on June 22, 2018.

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