Aussie zombie action thriller Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead was shot on weekends over several years by director Kiah Roache-Turner and his pals.
Watching the remarkably slick film, you'd never guess its DIY origins. It's a propulsive, creative ocker spin on an increasingly tired genre.
I got on the phone recently with Roache-Turner, who co-wrote the film with his brother Tristan, to talk about Wyrmwood and its Peter Jackson-inspired origins.
Dominic Corry: How did you get such a polished look for a film that was by all accounts shot on the smell of an oily rag?
Kiah Roache-Turner: It really was literally filmed with the smell of an oily rag. Me and the DP, Timmy Nagle, had worked together for years in advertising and music videos, so we were used to working very quickly with no budget and trying to make product look as slick as possible, so we had kind of a pre-existing thing and a lot of that's down to what a great cinematographer he is.
You've cited peter Peter Jackson as an influence?
Every time a New Zealander says they like the film I get really excited considering how much I've stolen from Peter Jackson. There is no single film that has inspired me more as a filmmaker than Bad Taste.
The do-it-yourself nature of how he did things. Finding out that he baked the alien heads in his mum's oven, and he and his mates would make these amazing dollies and miniatures and stuff on weekends. It took us three and a half years to finish principle photography, just shooting on weekends, and I think it took him four or five years or to shoot Bad Taste, so I felt very close to that. I used it to remind myself that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. So he was a huge inspiration.
Also Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead. He made that straight out of university and shot it, it took him years too. And Mad Max, George Miller, He was a medical student when he self-funded the first Mad Max film. It's really inspiring to see what people can do when they're outside the industry, and see that they can pull off these amazing films.
How hard was it to sustain the high-energy, gleeful tone through such a prolonged shooting period?
It was augmented by the amount of time it took. What would happen is we'd film a scene, then I'd cut it together and put all the effects in and finish it. And then you'd stop for a couple of months and save a bit of money and do it again. So the next scene had to be better than the last scene. Every single time we shot, if we didn't lift our game from the previous scene, we just wanted to kill ourselves. So you're in constant competition with yourself. We were constantly thinking of ways to bolster the action, so in a way the fact that it took so long lent itself to making it such a crazy ride.
So you could hone it as you went.
It's funny, after about a year of shooting we had 30 minutes of material and we screened it to 150 students and friends at the Australian Film, Television and Radio school in Sydney. We very quickly realised we were making the Taxi Driver of zombie films. It was very dark, very bleak, very hard-core violent. The audience just sat there with their jaws on the floor. I didn't wanna make a dark, bleak film, so we re-wrote the entire thing into an action adventure. To be able to stop, pause, do a test screening and re-write an entire film was great, and we'd never have been able to do that if we locked into a script.
While you were making the film, did you worry about the zombie genre being played out by the time you finished?
Being a zombie film opened and closed doors at the same time. Even when we were trying to get info festivals, they wouldn't take it because they were sick of zombies. We started this film in 2010, and I remember sitting down with my brother and saying "People are a little bit sick of zombies right now, we should probably come up with some new concepts". One of those concepts was the idea that a character can mind control and puppet the zombies, which we've never seen before, and a great concept that my brother came up with was the zombies as fuel. Then we wrote in a crazy doctor. I'm a big fan of the James Whale Frankenstein films and it had been a while since anybody put a crazy doctor in a science lab into one of these films. We knew we had to separate ourselves from the pack. We've had so many zombie films that people have zombie fatigue, and the only way to get over that was to come up with something new that hasn't been seen.
There was a nice Re-Animator vibe to the crazy doctor scenes.
Oh dude. So much. We're huge Lovecraft fans. I loved Jeffrey Combs' performance - he is one of the great unsung horror actors. Re-Animator was a huge, huge influence, it's a fantastic film. I'm a huge fan of The Conjuring and films like that, but it seems to me like every horror film that comes out is about a ghost in a haunted house with a doll. I really wanted to see a horror film that was classically funny in a '80s kind of way, which I've missed. I think we take the genre a little too seriously sometimes.
What's up next for you?
We're working on an R-rated [take on] Ghostbusters right now. I'm really excited.
* Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is out now on DVD and blu ray.
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