If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
Made for just $7,000 over the course of two years, A CADAVER CHRISTMAS is director Joe Zerull's love letter to his greatest cinematic influences. "EVIL DEAD is what got me into the genre," the filmmaker professes. "I kind of discovered it backwards and saw ARMY OF DARNKESS first, but it was the EVIL DEAD series that did it." As for the (surprising) primary inspiration for CADAVER? "BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA," he gushes.
The resulting hybrid of humor and horror has been delighting festival audiences across the country since the start of the year, with responses ranging from viewers walking out in disgust at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival in Iowa (eventually earning "Best Professional Feature" at the same fest), to being awarded "Best Fiction/Horror Film" at Detroit's Motor City Nightmares fest in April, to a favorable write-up in Variety after being shown at the Another Hole In The Head festival in San Francisco this past May. Judging by such praise, and despite what the title may suggest, this is not your average zombie film.
"It's a cadaver film," insists Zerull when pressed about how his picture stands apart from the onslaught of undead cinema stumbling at audiences as of late. "And really, our movie is more of a comedy slapstick kind of thing." Don't be fooled by such admissions, as there is plenty of blood shed, impalement and limb removal to entertain, but what really sets CADAVER apart is that it ends up basically being, of all things, a buddy movie. The film tells the story of an unlikely posse of cadaver combatants in a janitor, a drunk, a cop and his perp, a bartender and a student security guard holed up on campus as it is overrun with lab corpses brought back to life by a mad professor. At the end of the madness we find the janitor and the drunk forging a friendship and standing up against the swarm of stenches.
The project started as a short film collaboration between Zerull and Rairdin-Hale, originally lensed as a three minute short for a 48-hour film festival in 2006. After some time Rairdin-Hale expanded the idea into a feature length script, and in 2008 the duo, along with co-star Hanlon Smith-Dorsey, worked through draft after draft until the mixture was just right. Some money was raised from family and friends and with a mere $7,000 in the bank the tiny (often just Zerull, Rairdin-Hale and one other person) crew got to work.
The film was shot on an actual Midwestern college campus, an arrangement that necessitated scheduling on weekends and holiday breaks. The result saw what was originally slated for several weeks being stretched out over several years. The single location for school scenes proved ideal, though, as producer and star Daniel Rairden-Hale shares, "The college was really understanding and they were kind to us. We'd spray blood all over the hallways, but we'd clean up before we went home." The undeniable realism of the campus setting gives the film a much more expensive look than one would expect for such a meager price tag on the production.
Also helping the film stand out is the implementation of the now familiar-but-rarely-put-to-artistic-use "damaged stock" look throughout, a treatment usually left to gimmick, but that is used masterfully in CADAVER. The scratches, blemishes, smudges and missing frames were always part of the concept, as Rairdin-Hale explains, "The aged grindhouse look of the film was part of the design from the start and we invested in some filters to achieve that look. That's actually where a big chunk of our money went, to get these high-def scratch effects."
Behind the scenes:
Zerull elaborates on where he first got the spark of inspiration to take on this look, "I am a huge Kurt Russell and Tarantino/Rodriguez fan, and when I read that Russell was going to be in a GRINDHOUSE movie, that was a big day for me. I took that opening week off and saw GRINDHOUSE three times in the theatre. I really liked the way it looked, so I knew we had to do that with CADAVER."
The effect would prove useful when trying to explain, or intentionally include, continuity errors. Rairdin-Hale relates, "We were able to use that to our advantage numerous times for creative editing. If one of my shovel hits didn't quite connect with one of the cadavers, we'd move the film a bit, have it scratched out or bleed the frame a little." One scene in particular benefited from the use of this approach. This is the same scene that sent patrons for the exists when the film played in Iowa.
The sequence in question involves an "intimate moment" between the perverted perp and an unlucky female cadaver in the morgue. In a creative editing twist, the body on the slab alternates between that of a gorgeous girl and a burned corpse. The effect could play as a fun glaring continuity error or as the movement from the perp's fantasy perspective to the reality of lies beneath him.
Zerull laughs, "Yeah, people have walked out. I guess things like that can be controversial in the Midwest." After a test screening that resulted in some complaints, the filmmaker chose to enhance the scene as opposed to following the recommendation to trim it. "At that first screening I didn't have any sound effects or anything during the scene and people kept complaining about it, so I added some gross sound effects to make it worse." The reception hasn't been as icy everywhere, however. "When it screened in Detroit at Motor City Nightmares, the reaction was much different and people were laughing."
Rairdin-Hale brings a maniacal intensity to the role of the janitor, perfectly played against the bumbling drunk (Smith--Dorsey) in the third reel. After slinging flesh, one-liners and painting the walls red for the preceding seventy minutes, the two find themselves holed up without a prayer in the janitor closet just before the film's climax. What follows is a silly moment between them that turns quite sentimental, lending a depth to both characters that elevates both the performers and the film as a whole.
Featurette on project origin:
Throughout, though, it is Rairdin-Hale guiding the ensemble cast through the humor and horror. "Joe had a really strong vision for what the Janitor was," the actor shares. "He wanted a kind of Clint Eastwood loner coming to save the town kind of thing. A dark hero. It's a character I don't often get to play. People who know me and my other work see this and are surprised."
As the film moves ahead, continuing to make festival appearances, garnering praise and generating buzz wherever it plays, it is clear audiences are finding a lot to celebrate in this bloody little film called CADAVER CHRISTMAS. Ho-ho-horror!
To keep up on the film as it makes it's way toward distribution, visit www.CadaverChristmas.com or find it on Facebook here.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment