Zombie Author J.R. Angelella Talks Body Parts, Neckties, His Own Zombie Code, and More! - Dread Central
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Zombie Author J.R. Angelella Talks Body Parts, Neckties, His Own Zombie Code, and More!

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Last month we told you about the new book Zombie by J.R. Angelella, and it sounded so intriguing we decided to chat a bit with the author about his inspiration for the novel, which includes a studied appreciation for the finer points of zombie cinema, along with a few other topics.

Dread Central: What inspired you to tackle the zombie sub-genre? We heard something about you being held up at gunpoint; can you elaborate?

J.R. Angelella: It’s funny that you mention the robbery because I have tried to write about that night for many years and have not been able to in any kind of successful way. Writing can feel so removed emotionally from what an event like that does to a person that the story feels more symbolic of suffering through the experience, rather than really sinking into the reality of it. The robbery is responsible for my simultaneous abhorrence and obsession with violence, specifically in the arts.

The zombie sub-genre really came about at the 11th hour, so to speak. Several editors thought the novel was missing something. I decided to re-read the book from start to finish, something I hadn’t really done for a few years. A line jumped out at me (a line that coincidentally no longer exists, if memory serves correct): a description of the Plaids hazing Jeremy, our narrator, by grabbing and lifting him by his legs and arms. Jeremy describes them as zombies wanting to pull him apart limb-by-limb. For some reason this line stopped me. In addition to searching for the missing piece of my novel’s puzzle, I wanted to find ways of further connecting Jeremy to his father and really solidifying their bond as a father and son. Then the lights turned on. It just hit me. They were both zombie aficionados. This was their bond. Zombies were the missing piece.

I spent the next few months researching zombie films, taking notes on scenes that would fit well in the book, examining zombie film story structure, and so on. The zombie sub-genre connected to the content in ways that readers are still bringing to my attention that I had not realized. I did a final rewrite, adding in all of the zombie-rific material, and it was then that I knew it was done.

Zombie Author J.R. Angelella Talks Body Parts, Neckties, His Own Zombie Code, and More!

DC: What role do necktie knots play in Zombie? What do the knots—Windsor, Half-Windsor, and Limp Dick—say about the men that wear them? Where did the idea of the knots come from?

JRA: My father taught me to tie a necktie when I attended a private school where neckties were required by the boys. Most of the kids wore clip-ons, but my father was insistent on teaching me to tie my own tie. It was something his father had taught him and he wanted to pass on to me. He taught me the Windsor and Half-Windsor and the Basic knot as a foundation to build on. But he never referred to the Basic in as colorful language as Ballentine calling it a “Limp Dick.” My father was fond of the various Windsors, even the Double Windsor, which he had the most difficulty tying.

In high school most kids still tied these gnarly little knots that looked more like rope knots you’d find tied between a dock and a boat. Like my father, I preferred the Half-Windsor.

Recently I received an email from a reader who only had one question: Did I make a certain character wear a clip-on tie because his character is gay? Clearly, this was not my intention, delineating a character’s sexual preference by the type of necktie he wears, but the various knots presented in the book had her thinking about their possible classifications and meaning and trying to figure out their placement within the novel. I loved it! (NOTE: I wrote back to this analytical reader the truth about the clip-on tie—that the character in question wears a clip-on not because he is gay, but because he is simply lazy.)

An interesting fact to be noted, I think, is that the opening to Zombie, the drive to school and Jeremy’s first day, was the first thing I wrote for this book and in a single sitting.

DC: Human interaction (or lack thereof) and physicality are described in great detail and to varying effects throughout the book. How do surgery and body parts fit into the landscape of this novel overall?

JRA: I am immensely pleased that you picked up on the varying degrees of human interaction, physicality, and body part aspects to the novel. Before the zombie movies were assigned as the chapter titles in the novel, I named the sections for body parts. Hand. Foot. Tongue. Neck. You get the idea. If you read each section in its entirety, you should be able to pinpoint which body part that particular section used to be. Once I worked out the zombie motif, renaming the sections after Jeremy’s favorite films was a no-brainer.

Surgery, body parts, physicality, contact—these are all overtly present throughout the book and act as a trail leading us to the house on Tiller Drive. People are shocked or surprised by the ending. But re-read the first few chapters. Look back at Jeremy’s journey…I don’t believe readers should see the end coming (if they do, then I haven’t done my job), but a novel called “Zombie” is not really bound to end well. Can you name a zombie movie where nothing gory, violent, or bad happens?

I thought a lot about the biblical passage Matthew 5: 29–30 when I was writing. It states: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” It seemed appropriate for all characters involved, the question being: How do we remove those unwanted parts of ourselves that are woven into the fabric of our being? Or, more importantly: Is there way to redeem ourselves from ourselves?

Zombie Author J.R. Angelella Talks Body Parts, Neckties, His Own Zombie Code, and More!DC: Zombie is a mash-up of genres. Part classic zombie story, part coming-of-age narrative. What do you offer especially for the horror fan, and are you concerned at all about using too much of a “kitchen sink” approach?

JRA: I laughed when I first read this question because there is an old tradition where you place the name my home town, Baltimore, in front of a “kitchen sink-esque” recipe. Baltimore Chicken. Baltimore Omelet. Baltimore Stew. Baltimore Sloppy Joe Surprise. The idea is that you just throw any ingredients you have on hand into the dish and a “Baltimore” dish it becomes.

Needless to say, that wasn’t my approach to writing Zombie. Most of my fiction seems to be genre-mixing, no matter how hard I try to stick within a single genre. I love so many different genres that I am always wanting to borrow a little from here and a little from there and see what I come up with. It’s what keeps me interested because if I’m not interested, then a reader absolutely won’t be either. I’ll admit that later on in the editing stages, my brilliant editor, Mark Doten at Soho Press, helped to dial in and focus the individual genre aspects, making them each sharper and braided together more seamlessly.

Zombie definitely comes across as your typical coming-of-age story but quickly morphs into something else. You start off on one journey and end up on a completely different one. One bookseller who read an advanced reader copy said, “It starts out as a Wes Anderson film and ends up a Wes Craven film.” That made a lot of sense to me. It straddles the line of a family drama, romance, addiction narrative and a zombie horror nightmare. The book makes few, if any, apologies for its content and, I hope, gives the horror fans exactly what they would seek out in a straightforward horror novel. One of my favorite aspects to the book is all of the zombie references—some notable, some obscure. The beauty of this book is that while titled “Zombie,” it welcomes fans of any horror genre. Trust me. The ending does not disappoint.

DC: Given the title, isn’t it a bit of a risk not to have any actual zombies in the book? Or are there maybe a few in there after all?

JRA: It is absolutely a risk to title a book Zombie when it’s not really a zombie book at all. But this just isn’t a brain-chewing living dead book. It’s more.

In Zombie every character fights some self-reflexive, cannibal-like demon, whether it be an addiction or their own naiveté or ill-fated belief. Some characters attempt to overcome. Some characters do not overcome. Some characters’ storylines are left unfinished, as they are still struggling to overcome. In a way these could be individual zombies. Just not dead ones. Then again, maybe not.

Technically, I suppose, it could be argued that there are undead zombies in the book, if you count the numerous zombie movies that the narrator watches and all of the scenes he recounts, applying them to his own life.

I guess the best way to answer your questions is with a question: Yes?

DC: What are some of your favorite zombie movies? What is it about them that you like? What are your least favorite?

JRA: Gosh. I watched so many. Too many. I love all of those mentioned in the book. Night of the Living Dead is probably one of my top five favorite films of all time. I really dislike the more schlocky zombie movies with bad synthesized musical scores and lazy special effects. Films that didn’t quite make it to the book that really made an impact on me were Deadgirl and Dead Snow. Neither is for the faint of heart. Deadgirl is a slick take on the high school drama that takes a severely wicked and unsettling turn when our teenage boys discover a, well, dead girl in an abandoned warehouse. Dead Snow is more fun—medical students vacationing in a cabin on a mountain discover buried treasure that belongs to an army of zombie Nazi soldiers who come to collect. The rest of the film you can probably imagine. Probably the goriest film I’ve ever seen. Both were unsettling for different reasons. Must see movies for zombie fans, but unless you like films about insanely disturbed high school kids or hyper-gore fest films about Nazis, then you should probably skip these.

DC: Let’s say you are alone in the house and asleep upstairs in your bedroom when the zombie apocalypse happens. What’s your “code”? Weapon of choice? Who do you want on your team?

JRA: Wow. This is the first time I have ever been asked this. I don’t know. Um. There are so many factors to take into consideration. First of all, it depends how humans become infected. Is it blood-to-blood contact? A bite? Or do we just have to stay alive and not die because in death is when we become zombies, rising from the ground? Or are we going way back to the hoodoo/voodoo idea of zombies and people just put into a trance? I think once I figure these rules out, I can make a more educated guess.

For the sake of argument, let’s just say we’re dealing with blood-to-blood infection, like in 28 Days Later. Under these circumstances heavy artillery is ideal. The farther away you remain the better chances you have of survival. (I mean, don’t get bit would probably be my first and final code.). Also, fortified transportation—preferably something with 4-wheel drive, some kind of bumper-guardrail, and big ass tires. Generally speaking, moving about in groups or large numbers is never a good idea and will absolutely box you into a situation that will get you bit. (See my only code referenced above.) I would most likely remain solo, although family would be allowed to stay with me so long as they don’t get all crazy and hysterical on me. My main goal would be to fight my way to the nearest body of water and commandeer a boat. In order for this to work effectively, however, I would also need to stock up on gasoline, food, and ammunition. The water would prove to be the best place, in my opinion, to seek solace from a zombie apocalypse, at least to kill time until things settled down. Zombies aren’t traditionally known for their swimming abilities.


Our thanks to J.R. for his time and to Meredith at Soho Press for coordinating our interview!

Synopsis:
Fourteen-year-old Jeremy Barker attends an all-boys Catholic high school where roving gangs of bullies make his days a living hell. His mother is an absentee pillhead, his older brother a self-diagnosed sex-addict, and his father disappears night after night without explanation. Jeremy navigates it all with a code cobbled together from the zombie movies he’s obsessed with: Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, Planet Terror, Zombieland, and Dawn of the Dead among others.

The code is put to the test when he discovers in his father’s closet a bizarre homemade video of a man strapped to a bed, being prepped for some sort of surgical procedure. As Jeremy attempts to trace the origin of the video, this remarkable debut moves from its sharp, precocious beginnnings to a climax of almost unthinkable violence, testing him, and the reader, to the core.

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TRAILER: Netflix’s Zombie-Horror Series THE RAIN

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The upcoming Netflix horror series The Rain which we described as “28 Days Later Meets The Girl With All The Gifts” begins falling internationally on Netflix May 4.

And today we have the series’ full trailer for your viewing pleasure.

You can check it out in all its rain-drenched glory below and then let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!

The series is created by Jannik Tai Mosholt and stars Alba August, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen and Lars Simonsen. It begins falling on Netflix May 4.

Synopsis:

The Rain picks up six years after a brutal virus carried by rain wiped out almost all humans in Scandinavia, and follows two Danish siblings as they emerge from the safety of their bunker to find all remnants of civilization gone and very few survivors. Set free from their collective past and societal rules, the group set out on a danger-filled quest through abandoned Scandinavia, searching for any sign of life. However, the task is complicated when tensions in the group start to rise as the rain pours in.

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Exclusive: Making a Horror B-Movie is Deadly in John Shepphird’s BOTTOM FEEDERS

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Today sees the release of John Shepphird’s Bottom Feeders, a new horror/thriller novel about a killer who haunts the set of a low-budget horror film and dispatches them with a compound bow. To celebrate the release from Blackstone Publishing, we’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the opening of the novel, which you can read below.

“A page-turning whodunit set in the wilds of a remote movie ranch, Bottom Feeders describes the hapless Hollywood cast and crew that eke out a living working on low-budget fare. Their ambitious TV movie needs to be made fast and cheap, but a brutal murder grinds production to a halt. An approaching forest fire forces everyone to evacuate. In the confusion, not everyone gets out. Eddie is the alcoholic director, Sheila the vulnerable camera assistant, Tom the self-centered actor, and Sondra the spurned sheriff’s deputy. Who will survive? Death comes sudden and silent. The camouflaged killer’s weapon-of-choice is a high-tech hunting bow capable of firing razor-sharp arrows four hundred feet per second. The mysterious assassin has an agenda. Those left behind must find out what it is and who is behind this bloody slaughter in the fight for their lives.”

Shepphird is no amateur when it comes to B-horror. The author is also the writer and director of Chupacabra Terror and the director of Jersey Shore Shark Attack.


It had been a year since his last cigarette—before the doctor gave Ted the fright. The message was loud and clear. He’d stopped smoking, tried to exercise more, and worked on eating a low-cholesterol diet. But this was fate; a half pack of Marlboros left behind in the leather console of his rental car, a book of matches tucked snugly in the pristine cellophane. Once Ted caught the scent of the ripe tobacco—what the hell. This was a seductive gift from the gods. His wife would never know.

The only dilemma: there was no ashtray.

Always the problem solver, Ted fashioned a crude paper triangle out of the Hertz rental contract. Proud of his origami ingenuity, he put flame to the cig and savored the smoke, a warming sensation he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.

Ted was the Vice President of Sales for Artemis Industries, a pharmaceutical research firm, headed to the Advances in Immunodiagnostic Assays Conference. The sky was overcast, threatening rain, and it was getting dark. Upgraded from a midsize SUV to a luxury sport vehicle, he maneuvered the Mazda up the windy mountain road. This car had guts. It made Ted feel powerful.

Tonight, he would go through the tedious motions of pinning on his name tag, flashing his always-professional smile, and making an appearance at the welcome cocktail reception. In his midfifties and carrying more paunch then he cared to admit, Ted would suffer through the speech-laden dinner and, afterwards, obligatory drinks and forced camaraderie in the hotel bar. It went with the job—employment he sensed would not last long. The batch of young salesmen among the ranks would ultimately prove to be a cheaper solution. There had already been one round of downsizing. It was the company’s health insurance he needed most, for his wife’s treatment. Ted long ago came to realize he was, sadly, a slave to medical benefits. With luck, maybe he could squeak out another four or five years before being forced to retire.

He so hated that this year’s conference was up in Lake Arrowhead. The Granite Springs Hotel & Spa, for Chrissake! Did someone’s fat-assed secretary pick the destination? What the hell? Last year the conference was at the Westin in Palm Springs, with golf, so why this sudden change in venue? More wasted time and bullshit.

Now Google Maps on his iPhone wasn’t working. Bad directions had him searching for a street sign. He hadn’t seen another vehicle for a while. Something told him he had taken a wrong turn.
He struck a match and was igniting a second cigarette when BAM!

The deer smashed into the windshield, cracked the glass, and flew over the top of the car. The airbag inflated into his face and he slammed the brakes. The Mazda slid sideways onto the rocky shoulder before coming to a stop.

Holy shit!

Getting out, he first heard the deer squealing before he saw the poor, wounded animal writhing on the black pavement. He examined the rental car—its grill was shattered, hood mangled, windshield fractured. There was even bloody fur caught in the satellite-radio antenna.

Fucking thing came out of nowhere.

He approached the wounded animal.

One large, glassy eye stared back at him in pure terror. It was trying to get up but its hind leg was bent back grotesquely. There was blood coming out of its mouth and it was shaking in a spasm.

Ted felt nauseous and wondered if he was going to throw up. He reached for his cell phone to dial 9-1-1. No service. Shit. He stepped closer. The animal’s desperate whine subsided. It was now wheezing, chest heaving, struggling at the edge of death.

It broke Ted’s heart. He felt incredibly guilty. This is all my fault. If he hadn’t gone for another cigarette maybe he could have swerved to avoid the damn thing.

There was a milky secretion coming out of the deer’s eyes. Tears?

Ted felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. Then it came to him. Put it out of its misery. It’s the humane thing to do.

He searched the side of the road, came across a good-sized rock. He picked it up with both hands—figured it was probably heavy enough to crush the animal’s skull. As he approached, the deer tried to scramble away but its hooves gained little traction on the pavement and loose gravel.

Forgive me.

With both hands, he raised the hefty rock above his head.

That big eye stared back.

I’m sorry.

He brought the rock down. The blow was not a direct hit and the deer panicked, flopping like a fish out of water. Ted picked up the rock again and brought it down with even more force. That blow disfigured the animal’s skull but it was still quivering in a violent, horrible spasm.

Shit!

Tears streaming, he picked up the rock again, hefted it high, and brought it down again with all his might. The sound was crunchy and the deer moved no more.

Finally. Thank God.

Gasping for air and now covered in sweat, Ted turned away and vomited. He could taste the cigarette in his bile.

Bent over, hands on his knees, catching his breath, he looked up, surprised to see a Ford Explorer idling forty yards up the road.

There was a faint silhouette—someone in the driver’s seat.

Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he found it odd the SUV just sat there. He wondered how much of the incident the driver had seen. Ted moved toward it, waving his arms for help.

The Explorer backed up, spun around, and was off.

Ted watched as it disappeared around the bend. Whoever it was must have seen him killing the deer—probably spooked. The only sound was the wispy wind through the trees. He tried his cell phone again. Still no reception.

Ted returned to the rental car and discovered a flat tire. He decided he better change it before it got dark. In the meantime, hopefully, someone would come along and drive him back to civilization.

He opened the trunk and lifted the carpet. He could not believe how rinky-dink the spare tire was. He retrieved the mini jack and lug wrench, and pried the plastic hubcap off. They sure as hell don’t make cars like they used to. Moments later he had the lug nuts loose and was on one knee, struggling with the scissor jack.

That’s when he heard a loud pop beside him.

An arrow stuck out of the car’s quarter panel. Arrow? Is someone hunting deer? Then a sharp pain ripped into his back.

He spun around, reached back and felt the shaft. Fuck! A second arrow hit him in the chest. He grabbed that one’s black carbon shaft and could feel the sharp point wedged between his ribs, an icy sensation.

Oh, God! Run.

Ted made a break for the opposite side of the road. He reached the tall weeds when the third arrow ripped into his lower back and sent him tumbling. Falling hard, he drove the other arrow deeper into his chest. He tried to scramble to his feet but somehow had lost control of his legs.

I’m going to die.

Ted tried again but his legs failed him, as if stuck in mud. Heaving, in shock, his lungs burned as he heard someone approach behind him. All he could make out was a dark figure, in silhouette, standing over the fallen deer.

He watched as the figure set down the bow and picked up the rock.

Ted crawled, tried to reach the trees. Hide. Get away.

Hearing footsteps near, Ted rolled back. Hands up, defensive, he eyed the silhouette and big rock raised against the murky sky.

“I didn’t mean it … I …”

An explosion—then all went black. After the ringing in his ears faded away, he could hear a peaceful wind brushing the trees.

Then there was nothing.


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Dread Central Presents: Announcing Our First Original Title THE GOLEM

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Readers, we couldn’t be more excited to bring you this news! As you know, we’ve been acquiring and releasing movies under the Dread Central Presents label for several months now, and we have loads more titles under our belt, some announced and some yet-to-be-revealed. However, today Deadline has revealed the first original production in our Dread Central Presents library: The Golem!

Written by Ariel Cohen, The Golem is directed by the Paz Brothers, Yoav and Doron, who directed the 2015 Epic Pictures found footage hit JeruZalem. The new film, which was shot secretly in Ukraine near Kiev last year and will be released in February of 2019, follows a woman’s tight-knit Jewish community that is besieged by foreign invaders. Turning to Jewish mysticism, she conjures a dangerous creature to protect her and her people. However, her creation may be more evil than she ever imagined.

Epic Pictures Group co-founder Shaked Berenson, who acts as executive producer alongside Patrick Ewald, Epic’s other co-founder, states, “With very few horror films originating in the Middle East, the micro-budget JeruZalem tapped an underserved market for Jewish folklore. When the Paz brothers, along with writer Ariel Cohen and producer Shalom Eisenbach, approached us with The Golem, we recognized the potential, and because of our great collaboration on JeruZalem, we’re happy to jump on board this great team.

Doron Paz adds, “Having a much bigger budget this time allowed us to create the scope needed to re-tell the legend of the Golem,” while his brother, Yoav, exclaims, “We are glad to have both producer Shalom Eisenbach and Epic believe in our vision and [are] excited to get it in front [of audiences] early next year.” Footage will be shown to foreign buyers at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

Starring in the film are Hani Furstenberg (Hanna), Ishai Golan (Benjamin), Lenny Ravich (Horrovits), Brynie Furstenberg (Perla), and Alexey Tritenko (Vladimir).

At the end of last year, while I was in Israel for the 2017 Utopia Festival, I had the opportunity to meet with the Paz brothers and see unfinished footage of the film. I don’t like to get too hyped for a movie prior to seeing it in theatersm but I’ve got to tell you that this is something I’m really excited for the world to see, both on a personal level and as a fan of original horror!

Here are two exclusive images from the film!

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