Movie Interview: How I learned to love the zombie

By Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed

‘Horror films are the teat upon which I was weaned,” says Hussein Juma, writer and director of the soon-to-be-completed 16MM zombie short School of the Dead. Created by his graduating film class at SAIT, the project fulfills Juma’s long-standing dream of becoming a horror filmmaker. Certainly as early as junior high CALM 20 class where he openly admitted his aspirations, Juma has been a longtime fan of the horror genre and blood and gore.

“When I see that kind of stuff I feel giddy like a school girl.”

School of the Dead is a horror comedy taking its main inspiration from the famed George Romero’s Dead Trilogy, which includes the Night of the Living Dead, the 1978 Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.

“I would like to think my film sits along side the more classical stuff,” says Juma.

However, the close ties between Juma and Romero go beyond the obvious surplus of severed appendages and mass amounts of blood.

Though few take the time to realize it, between terrorized screams and uneasy laughter, zombie movies do in fact contain a fair amount of social commentary.

“The most glaring social commentary was in the 1978 Dawn of the Dead,” explains Juma. “The whole movie takes place in a shopping centre, and zombies are like mindless matter really. They don’t have any control or choice in what they do or say. So it’s like a kind of analogy between that of the zombies in the shopping mall and consumers in the shopping mall.”

Juma’s intent was to represent these same themes with zombies representing a mindless sector of society, but satirized using students from a university or college campus.

“Students going around not really knowing what they’re doing in life, sleeping through class is all kind of zombie-like,” clarifies Juma. “If you’re walking on any campus at like seven or eight in the morning and you see some person walking to class, you know with their coffee in the hand they look like zombies.”

In addition, School of the Dead subtly addresses other social issues, like having a headstrong female as one of the leads as opposed to the one running upstairs in terror. The film also addresses the issue of minority roles in film–of the five principal characters, one is Chinese, one is African, one is East Indian and two are Canadian-Caucasians.

“Quite a few people were very sceptical about us actually finding minorities to fill these characters,” says producer Travis Cleland of the challenge involved in maintaining a minority cast. “People wanted us to rewrite the script to just feature Caucasians.”

Beyond the omnipresent, complex shadowy undertones in the film, they try to outdo the virtues of the genre in blood and gore. The film is generously fuelled by surprisingly accomplished special effects.

“Mostly there’s been a lot of blood, spraying all over the ceilings and the walls and the floors of the school and lockers and everywhere,” says Juma. “I think we’re up to 10 gallons. We’ve got prosthetics as well. We were able to get our hands on a huge box of body parts, arms and legs, brains, headsĀ­–that kind of thing.”

Juma also manages to find new and creative ways of killing zombies, despite the somewhat limited budget. For example, one character, a bike courier, uses his bike wheel to mutilate the head of zombie through various thrusting and spinning motions, spewing blood about in a great geyser.

“I think in the end it’s a horror-comedy,” says Juma. “So most of the effects are gonna be like ‘Ahhh, cool’ as opposed to “Oooh disturbing.’”

School of the Dead has the potential advantage of content, not always the case with its mass-market brethren.

“I think with this movie it still does have a solid story,” points out Cleland. “The violence isn’t just filler like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.”

Though zombie films often maintain an exclusive fan base, many will find the appeal of this particular splatterfest. Everyone with the stomach should take the opportunity to sup- port local film projects, the first screening of which will be on Apr. 27.

“People who see this movie will recognize that it is made by a fan of that kind of stuff, they’ll see the omages to like other zombie movies and horror films,” insists Juma.

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