Who doesn’t love a good musical? Well, lots of people, actually. For reasons I will never understand, some people just really hate musicals. I can’t judge though because I really hate football, but I digress. John McPail’s joyous Christmas-themed zombie movie musical Anna and the Apocalypse (my review) recently had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest and I was fortunate enough to sit down with the director, the producer and the case to discuss the film and it’s tragic but hopeful road to production. Anna and the Apocalypse began as the short film Zombie Musical. Creator Ryan McHenry (who is also responsible for the famous “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal” vines) had wanted to make a feature-length film out of the project, but he was unfortunately diagnosed with osteosarcoma before he could make any headway on his film. After his death, McHenry’s childhood friend and producing partner Naysun Alae-Carew set out to make a feature-length version Zombie Musical a reality. Screenwriter Alan McDonald was brought in to produce a script and Anna and the Apocalypse was born. When asked how it felt to finally make McHenry’s dream a reality, Alae-Carew replied:
“It’s been a really long journey but I guess most movies are. This had a few more downs than most movies I guess obviously it centers around Ryan McHenry who first came up with the concept. We made the short together in 2010 and…obviously Ryan being diagnosed with osteosarcoma and then passing away two years later was horrific. But the fact that we got the movie made feels like the best thing that we could ever do to honor his memory. And what the guys have done here is make a film that has so much of Ryan in it but is also entirely their own thing. I couldn’t imagine that it would possibly turn out so well.”
It’s a tragic story but that the result was Anna and the Apocalypse is simply wonderful. I feel like McHenry would be proud of what his friends have accomplished. Let’s be honest though, a horror movie musical isn’t exactly the easiest thing to pitch. Can you name the last financially successful horror movie musical? There aren’t many. Sure, we’ve got The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors, Phantom of the Paradise and even Repo! The Genetic Opera (and those last two weren’t even financially successful), but an original movie musical, much less an original horror movie musical, it not an easy sell. When asked about the difficulty in pitching the film, Anna herself (Ella Hunt) confidently stated:
“I thought [they] pitched it so well from the start, or at least when we actors came on board. They were so clear that they wanted it to be rooted in it being a coming-of-age story about young people and playing the emotion and experience for real. To make them three-dimensional characters. That would be our driving force through the horror and the music.”
The film is still shopping distributors, but I don’t think they’ll have to much trouble finding a buyer since the film is just that good. For the conclusion of my interview, I asked the cast something that I like to ask a lot of actors (especially those in horror films): what was the most difficult scene to shoot? The majority of them claimed that the dance numbers were the most difficult, mainly because of keeping continuity. Continuity errors in films will always gets a lot of laughs, but most people don’t understand how difficult it can be to maintain. It is even more difficult in a film like Anna and the Apocalypse, as mixing dance choreography, fight choreography and blood splatter locations can prove to be a bit challenging. Because resetting the scene for another take can take a long time, there is more pressure to get everything right on the first take so that the crew doesn’t have to reset the whole scene again. Actor Malcolm Cumming, who plays Anna’s best friend John in the film, was the most passionate about this subject, exclaiming:
“When you’re doing something like this and you have zombie kills and…you’re actually using prosthetics and these effects and stuff like that, it’s really challenging. There were some scenes where you had to walk into the right spot and hit your mark really well. When you knew the turnaround to set it back up would take a long time on a really tight schedule, the pressure is crazy. Then it comes around to actually doing it you’re like ‘Oh man don’t mess this up!'”
Anna and the Apocalypse had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest and is currently shopping distributors.