Interview/Review By Bears Fonte
One of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen thus far at FANTASIA is the cabin-in-the-woods meets zombie-comedy meets coming-of-age film DEAD SHACK. Directed by Peter Ricq and written by Ricq, Davila LeBlanc, and Philippe Ivanusic, the film stars Lauren Holly as a leather clad biker chick who lives out in the woods and brings victims back to her cabin to feed to her famiy… who have all succumbed to some sort of zombie virus. When a trio of teens bored from their camping trip with their dad and his girlfriend go searching for adventure, they discover the secret in the shack. Conflicted as to what to do, the not-ready-for-combat heroes unwillingly lead the villain back to their own house and wind up having to save their own father.
The film works because the danger is real, and the humor comes from reaction to uncomfortable situations and fear. There is also a very sweet first crush story in the midst of the film as the brought-along-part-of-the-family pushover Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) desperately tries to impress his best friend’s older sister Summer (Lizzie Boys). Gabriel LaBelle completes the teen trio as Colin, the overly sarcastic troublemaker whose curiosity and desire to see breasts gets the group in trouble in the first place. Donovan Stinson plays possibly the least responsible parent ever, but his love for his kid and his basically-adopted second son is very authentic. With very honest and absorbing characters, DEAD SHACK doesn’t need to be overly-complicated by plot to be compelling. Ricq does a great job balancing bash-in-brains-with-a-bat action and great character payoffs as we watch these teens face danger alone.
Ricq, half of the Canadian indie synth-pop band Humans, is also the co-creator of the animated television series League of Super Evil (L.O.S.E.). With that in mind, the film has a certain cartoon-like quality to its violence but never delves into the gore info other zombie films . This is a welcome change, because the tension created by a small band of zombies in the woods vs. what have to be the least prepared heroes, is more than enough to carry the entire film.
I had a chance to speak with Ricq after the film’s North American Premiere at Fantasia.
BEARS: So obviously dealing with a couple different tropes. You’ve got the zombie comedy, you’ve got the cabin in the woods, you’ve got the coming of age story. I love the way you put those all together. So tell me a little bit about what led you into that set up. Given that there were various things there, what did you want you want to avoid and what did you want to honor?
RICQ: Well, I’ve always liked movies that starred kids. Maybe just being an ’80s kid and looking at all those movies, that was always part of the idea to do that. I loved horror comedies… I love The Shining. I’ve seen that maybe five or six times. But movies like Friday Night, I’ve seen countless times. Ghostbusters – those movies I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen them. I wanted to make something like both of those films. I wanted the comedy to be not too goofy. I wanted it to be more realistic and make fun of a world that supernatural zombies are there – and how absurd that is.
BEARS: Yeah, absolutely! I thought it was really interesting that you threw us into a world where there’s no mythology. We don’t learn how the zombies are created, we don’t necessarily understand how they work, and we don’t necessarily deal with the fact that, “oh my God, there are zombies, there must be more zombies.” We’re just dealing with it in this very, very small scale.
RICQ: I wanted to stay away from that zombie world, the whole world is post-apocalyptic – everyone’s turning into zombies. …because it’s been done so many times. I just wanted to take a different approach, a smaller approach, where the humans are, like in a Romero movie, the humans are the bad guys. The neighbor really is the main villain. When she gets what she deserves, I think the audience won’t feel even a little sympathy for her, because she’s such a bitch.
BEARS: Obviously, it was great to have Lauren Holly in there. Always enjoy her. I love that your main villain is a strong, independent woman – but also dedicated to the idea of family. In this bizarre, upside down way.
RICQ: Yeah. She probably was an amazing mom. She was probably the best mom you could have grown up with, but you put her in extreme situations – there are some villains in real life that were good guys at first. But they lose their family or loved ones and all they want to have is revenge. Now they’ll do whatever it takes to do what they want to do, or whatever they think is right. That turns them into a bad guy. That’s basically what happens to her. It’s fun to see Lauren Holly, who is such a sweetheart , she usually plays roles where she is the good guy, for her to accept this role where she’s a total bad ass. Like on the poster, most people think, “oh, that dude with the welding mask and the shotgun, that looks fucking cool.” It’s like, yeah, that’s Lauren Holly.
BEARS: It felt like you guys walked through miles and miles of woods, but I assume that you probably just walked 10 feet off the road. Tell me a little bit about the shooting location.
RICQ: The neighbors house was supposed to be this gigantic, old house that was vacant. A week before the shoot, the guy who owned it, he had a death in the family and had to leave for China. I think once he heard we were doing a zombie movie, he freaked out and told us we couldn’t shoot there any more. In the end we found another house two days after. We found this house that was abandoned. They gave me the address and I went up there with the producer and I went, “yeah, this house is good but, I think there’s people inside the house.” Like I can hear people talking. We go upstairs and there were people shooting up. It became a crack-house that we found and then we found the owner who lived in California or something like that. We say, “hey, we’d love to shoot a film in your house.” And he’s like, “yeah, sure – no worries. I’m probably going to tear it down anyway.” “But uh, another thing, it’s turned into a crack-house. Like there’s a trailer and a guy and he’s got a bunch of needles. And there’s people upstairs and there’s a bed. There’s black mold in the house. So we had to fix everything. We evacuated everybody. Cleaned the whole thing up. Painted it and when you look at it in the movie, it looks like a normal family house.
BEARS: That’s incredible. How did you get rid of the people camping out in the house? Did you call the cops on them?
RICQ: No, we just told them. They were actually really nice. When we went down there the first time, there was an old man. He looked like he was in his sixties. He was driving a nice car. The other lady was maybe, early forties. They were really nice: “Yeah, no one’s here. We come here about twice a week. It’s pretty chill. There’s no one around.” We told them we wanted a shoot a movie here and they’re like, “yeah, that’s cool. We’ll just go for a little bit.” Yeah, it was that easy.
BEARS: Wow, that’s the best possible version of that scenario. So how was it having a bunch of kids on set? Making an Indie film is already so difficult and then you have to deal with those restrictions.
RICQ: The producers were always against it. Except for Amber Ripley, the main producer. We didn’t want to do a teenage movie without real kids. I think we had them on set for 10 hours or 8 hours, but they had to be tutored three of those hours. Each time they put their suit on and their makeup on, it’s like 20 minutes to put it on, 20 minutes to take it off. Your options go down and you’ve only got 4-5 hours of daylight a day.
BEARS: So what did you do the rest of the day? When you had to break? Or were you just done? They’re in most of the film.
RICQ: There’s one shot where I play Jason from behind. Amber the producer, she kind of looks like Summer. So she plays Summer in a couple of scenes, from behind. Another producer, Josh, he played Jason. He’s skinny all over his body and he has the same hair. So he played him from behind as well. Another time, the guy who plays Colin, the son of Roger, his helmet is in the shot when he’s talking to Roger, and it’s just somebody with their head inside the helmet, moving side to side. You can’t even tell when you’re watching the movie. Even me, who is way bigger than Jason, the action shots are really on point. But yeah, you can’t even tell.
BEARS: So tell me a little bit balancing the music world and the film world, and how you’re making that work.
RICQ: It’s not bad. So I finished two albums – I finished an album before going on set for this movie. I told everyone I was going to need 5-6 months off. I recorded an album last summer and we just finished mixing and mastering it last week. But because the producer was also pretty busy, it turned out well. I also told him that I also wanted him to help me produce and record the soundtrack to Dead Shack – so he was super down. It’s also his type of music, the score, so he loved that shit. The ’80s synth stuff. It was actually pretty fun and easy. It was hard though when I was editing in the morning, and then I was recording at night. I would do that every day. Sometimes I would do editing in the morning, then go recording, then edit again at night. I did that for two, two and a half months. I was not partying at all. Just working and working.
BEARS: You weren’t living the life of a rock star or a successful filmmaker.
RICQ: No. Not at all. You do that when the movie ends.
DEAD SHACK made its North American Premiere at Fantasia and looks to be making its US Premiere in September at FilmQuest in Utah.