Did anyone watch Town of the Living Dead on the SyFy Channel? If not, it was a docu-series about a film crew in Jasper, AL who were struggling to make a full-length zombie movie.
I was excited to watch this show because 1)zombies and 2)I actually chased a girl to Jasper and that’s where I had my first kiss. So I have a special attachment to that city.
The show chronicled this group of amateurs as they struggled to put together scenes with no money, no special makeup effects, and no idea what they were doing. It was funny and endearing. It almost felt like I knew these people because I recognized their accents and southern colloquialisms.
Usually I cringe at southern representation on television because the shows always make the people seem like uneducated hicks. Maybe I’m in the minority on this one but I never felt the cast of the show were put in a bad light or made to look like white trash. Sure, they were country but that was a part of the charm.
But instead of showing these people farting in each other’s mouths or filling up the bed of a truck with water and using it as a redneck hot tub like you’d find on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Town of the Living Dead actually showed people with aspirations beyond drinking beer and mud riding. They were creative and passionate about their project.
One cast member, John, was the writer and director of the zombie movie. I related to him the most. He was a creative guy who dreamed of making a film but was stuck in a small town with very little artistic opportunities. While he worked on the film in his spare time, he earned money by working at RadioShack. Here I am, also a writer and also stuck in my own retail hell. I feel ya, brother.
It was immediate from the beginning that some of the scenes of the docu-series were staged and that disappointed me a little but none of the mishaps were too contrived as too take me completely out of the show. I just rolled my eyes then moved right along with them as they transitioned to another botched fight sequence or dead camera battery.
I also admired the message of completion throughout the hijinks and hot summer days spent with ketchup blood smeared over oatmeal skin. They’d been working on the film for 6 years when the SyFy crewed moved in to chronicle the crew as they finally finished it. They experienced various roadblocks and had to stop and restart many times. But despite the difficult circumstances and severe lack of money, they managed to pull together their resources and keep going. I read various interviews and Facebook posts of the cast and crew and one thing they continuously mentioned was how proud they were that they just finished the film. They acknowledged that it was an ultra low budget movie and that it was not going to be winning any awards any time soon. But I don’t think that was ever their intention. I believe they just wanted to make art, to hone their craft on this film to prepare for the next one, to be able to say “I made a film.”
Again, I can relate. It’s taken me almost 6 years to complete my book, although my time frame can be blamed on laziness.
After the season finale of the show, SyFy premiered the finished movie, Thr33 Days Dead.
It was a bad movie.
But I thought it was great!
I’ve seen a lot of really bad zombie movies in my day. In fact, I like bad zombie movies. But I’ve seen some attempts that were an abomination with no redeeming value whatsoever. This was not one of those films.
I went into the movie knowing it was going to be bad. It was made on a zero budget with a crew of amateurs. How good could it be? Many times throughout the film the lighting was too dark to see the action and the audio was too low to hear the dialogue. The film quality frequently shifted from VHS quality to a mid-range camera phone YouTube clip consistency. There were several instances of low technical quality and inconstancy.
But the acting was decent. And the script was decent. And it was actually pretty funny as well.
Maybe it was because I saw all the behind the scenes shenanigans that occurred to get the movie made and maybe that shed new light on the final product, but I could see the love put into the film. And I think that’s one quality that matters the most. I’ve seen top-notch quality movies with effective lighting, flashy chase sequences, and buckets of blood. But they still fall flat because there is no passion, no heart to create vibrancy and resonance on screen.
What the film lacked in big-budget explosions it made up for with passion and determination. Many of the crew wore several hats to complete the film, putting so much of themselves into its creation. I believe that warrants respect, no matter how you feel about the quality of the material.
And again, maybe I’m biased. As a DIY artist, I know what it’s like to try to create art without financial or emotional backing. And as I’m struggling to finally finish my own long-term art project with my book, I watched the six week build up to this movie, a kitschy zombie horror tale born from nothing but a desire and a drive. And strangely enough, after I finished watching the film, I felt this proud sense of accomplishment, like I was a part of the film crew. I shared their relief and joy at finally finishing a project that was all-consuming, frustrating, fun, and ultimately worth all the struggle it took to bring it to life…or in this case, back from the dead.