Dave catches up with screenwriters Kent Roudebush and Sylvia St.Croix, as well as associate producer Brooks Davis, to discuss the concept, controversy and cause behind Charles Band’s latest brainwave.
“The notion that Charlie did this project to make money out of a crisis is absolutely ridiculous,” storms a clearly irate Sylvia St. Croix on the phone from her Los Angeles home.
As far as the chest-thumping gatekeepers of Horror Twitter were concerned though, the appearance of a meme on March 14th and the promo art that followed was the ideal opportunity to whip their sycophantic devotees into a frenzy.
“FUCK FULL MOON! AND FUCK CHARLES BAND!”
Ironically, for those fearing some kind of lowbrow exercise in bad taste, it’s quite the opposite. So to paraphrase Mark Twain, perhaps it’s time to let the truth get in the way of the indignation, and recount the story of how Full Moon’s merry group of virtuosos created a movie in three and a half weeks.
“It stems from when I had dinner with Charlie a little under a month ago,” recalls the vivacious St. Croix. “I pitched this idea to him concerning all the insanely interesting Italian and Mexican horror films that he owns the rights to. I told him I wanted to do a label within his label of What’s up, Tiger Lily?-style re-dubs, and utilise some contacts I had in The Groundlings and National Lampoon.”
Although St. Croix hadn’t ventured into the world of Full Moon in a little over a decade, she’s well-suited to satire and parody having directed the riotous Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008) from a script by Muffy Bolding, Aaron Strongoni and Full Moon legend William Butler.
“I honestly never expected that the next morning I’d get a phone call to say we’re doing one!” states the screenwriter. “And when Charlie said Corona Zombies, I fell off my chair! See, I’m a vulgarian to the hundredth degree, but this pretty much usurped even my tacky standards. With time to think about it, I did have a few concerns, but I quickly realised that he was leaving the shape of the dubs to me, while Kent Roudebush handled the wraparound”.
Roudebush, of course, has been Band’s screenwriter of choice since the untimely passing of the great Brian Muir, creator of Critters (1986) and Full Moon’s Dangerous Worry Dolls (2008) and Skull Heads (2009) among others. Since Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong (2011), the prolific Roudebush has penned over a screenplay a year for the indie studio, with Corona Zombies his twelfth yet perhaps briefest assignment. As the jovial scribbler explains:
“I got a call from Charlie about two days after the first tweet went out. [Unleashing a dead-on Band impression] “DUDE! I’m still figuring this stuff out. I have no idea how we’re going to do it, but it has to be done by April 10th. I need some Kent jizz on this. Have you seen Hell of the Living Dead?”.”
If you’ve not seen it, Bruno Mattei’s zombie opus is a masterpiece of low-grade gore. Choc-full of hammy performances, ripping flesh and stock footage, it’s a film ripe for ridicule.
“It’s awful. It’s perfect!” laughs Roudebush. “There are about thirty minutes of entertaining stuff in that picture, but the rest is a bore. I watched it and took a few notes. It wasn’t the mission I was put on, but I wanted to tie a couple of topical jokes in with the movie. See if there was something, even minor, that I could use as a launching pad for a joke or through line. The nuclear reactor as the Scambell’s soup factory. Bat stock footage as bat soup. It all kinda fit. And I wanted the scenes that I wrote to inspire the story and jokes that the comedians would riff on.”
For St. Croix, the challenge of assembling a crack-team of voiceover artists proved to be less challenging than she initially thought:
“I was able to get 99% of the funniest improvisers in town for this. I explained it to them and let them watch a cut of it to make sure that they weren’t personally offended. I did have one person pass; he was a non-actor who when I told him what lines I wanted him to say – which were pretty harmless – and he jumped the rails and started to tell me that I’m helping Charlie make money out of the suffering and dying. It’s not the case at all. Charlie has been very, very careful along the way here to keep it as fun as possible. I mean, the film is ridiculous.”
And we’re back to ethics.
Corona: Fear is a Virus is a film that’s due to be released at the end of April. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Mostafa Keshvari, it was recently the subject of a news piece by Tom Brook for the BBC who hailed it as the first film about the disease. Glaring inaccuracies aside, it was interesting to hear an accompanying interview with notable film critic Noah Gittell who concluded that “I don’t there’s anything unethical with making a film about this pandemic”.
Tell that to #FilmTwitter or a couple of the horror community’s self-appointed moral guardians.
But then there’s rarely been anything informed about a pitchfork-waving mob, especially when you consider that Corona Zombies is actually a measured and fairly responsible piece of filmmaking. Contrary to the expectations of many, it’s a satire about people flouting the rules, with the important health-preserving aspects of hygiene and social distancing being emphasised with intent. It’s a summation that Sylvia St. Croix agrees with:
“I think that if the people who are upset about this actually watched it, then they would see that it’s just a sixty minute PSA for staying home, washing your hands and respecting the rules. As asinine and ridiculous as this material is, 30% of it is constantly reminding you that you’re dumb if you go outside. It really reinforces that guidance.”
Roudebush is swift to back this up:
“March seems so long ago. We knew to wash our hands, social distance and all that. But the US was not on lockdown. Idiots were still treating this like a vacation. Spring break losers. They were storming stores to hoard toilet paper and sanitizer. They were doing everything but the most important thing, which was to stay home.”
“A very well-known website was virtue-signalling against Full Moon when [Corona Zombies] was announced,” continues Roudbebush. “They said ‘take note of people like this who take advantage of a situation’ or something like that. I just thought it was ridiculous the way some of these guys acted on their soapbox. If you’re offended by something, who cares? Obviously, this pandemic has affected everybody in the world. There have been great losses of life, the global economy has been crippled. Endless tragedies by this damn thing. But I’ve also seen the rise of some of the best humour in years. We need that release to survive the daily disasters. There are drop dead funny lines in this. And a couple moments that are up there with the best of MST3K. I honestly didn’t expect it to be very funny, but it’s a riot.”
He’s right. From the second we’re transported to Bodega Bay Trailer Park (presumably built on the site of Puppet Master‘s (1989) inn) and introduced to Barbie (Cody Renee Cameron), who’s on the phone to Kendra (Robin Sydney) and fretting wildly about her lack of supplies for the pandemic, it’s a laugh-a-minute. Equally impressive is how the dubbed Bruno Mattei footage (“Tinder, POF, Grindr! I’ll never bang a random again!”) dovetails so smoothly with the wraparound, especially when you consider the breakneck pace in which it was assembled.
Even for Roudebush, a ten year veteran of lightning-quick five day shoots for Full Moon, the speed aspect of the project still hasn’t sunk in:
“I literally had to write this stuff in five hours. It was a Wednesday when he got me started. They were shooting on Thursday!”
St. Croix was similarly floored by the pace – and professionalism – in which everything came together:
“I have never in my life seen such amazing teamwork. I didn’t even know how it was possible. A colleague that you know well picked Mattei’s film, then Kent wrote the wraparound with the blonde girl at the exact same time as I was editing the Italian picture down. THEN – much to my chagrin – Charlie and his crew showed up at my house to film the wraparound – two days before we went into lockdown!”
“We were very conscious with regard to the rules, even at this stage,” adds Corona Zombies‘ associate producer Brooks Davis. “We wore gloves, we had the minimal amount of people on the set, and we even went to the effort of having all the food individually wrapped in separate portions.”
Once the new footage was in the can, it just a case of maintaining the momentum. As St. Croix explains:
“I gave my cut of the Italian movie to the editor, then Charlie sent him his. We then took a couple of bits from Zombies vs. Strippers (2012) in order to make the news footage, and – well, as I’m telling you this, I can’t quite believe that we’ve done it. The editor spliced it together in a day and a half! While he was doing this, I was writing all the dialogue for the Italian part of it, and I literally typed it out in four hours. As I finished it, Charlie approved it, and I was casting an hour later! It was that fast. The dialogue was written and recorded in a day and a half. Charlie’s a genius in knowing what works and what doesn’t work, so he went through the whole thing and pulled this and that.”
St. Croix’s summation of Band’s keen eye is one echoed by Davis.
“I agree with Sylvia,” Davis says. “Charlie is a total genius. You can be struggling to figure out how it’ll come together, but he has it all worked out.”
“Never count out Charlie,” adds Roudebush. “He’ll always beat you to the exploitation punch. I finished watching it for the first time and even I felt odd. That seemed so long ago, but it has actually only been three weeks. The Scary Movie series had a few of those moments. I think a couple of them were shot and out in two months. Corona Zombies was from inception to eyeballs less than four weeks. It’s weird. I wonder if these jokes will even be funny in a year.”
That’s a statement which begs the question about where Full Moon go next with this. We’ll no doubt be inundated with imitators, of whom most will surf the tide of bad taste with fewer repercussions. Davis, though, takes the positives out of this unusual endeavour:
“I think it really opened up the potential for us to do a micro-budget little feature in the same time frame with a skeleton crew.”
“I learned so much during this process,” adds St. Croix. “And I’m so proud to be part of this team. There’s only about ten of us, and they’re all geniuses at marketing and things who are working fifteen hours days to create promos for Mexico, Italy and Spain. It’s no accident that the film blew Vimeo up.”
“The Vimeo thing was hilarious,” laughs Davis. “For the time being, Corona Zombies will be a Full Moon Features exclusive for the site. With the controversy we may well have issues with certain outlets for the time being, because they’ll be focused towards not offending people who perhaps wouldn’t understand the movie. Who knows how far it’ll go? A one joke entity or whether it may spawn a sequel. It’s an experiment though, and to be honest we’re just taking it day by day.”
“My prediction is that it’ll be something that our fan base will flock to,” he continues. “But also I hope it gets a little outside interest. And for those people who are outraged about the concept, maybe we can change their minds. We’re all at home looking for things to discover on the various streaming sites, so it’d be cool for people to stumble across it and be introduced to Full Moon. Our hearts go out to the people who have been affected by this pandemic, but at the end of the day we need to laugh in the face of adversity, and by including the vital messages regarding how to stay safe, I think we’ve managed to balance the tone of this pretty well. If we can entertain people in some small way, then I think we’ve done our job.”
Corona Zombies is available to stream exclusively via Full Moon Features
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