Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Dead Next Door"

This low-budget horror film was set in Akron (and Washington, D.C.), with lots of Akron color in the footage, including zombies marching through Derby Downs. Above is the trailer to the film (WARNING: Contains strong language, blood and lots of zombie badness). More after the jump.

The movie was made starting in 1985 by Akron native J.R. Bookwalter when he was 19, with some initial support from a big-time director believed to be Sam Raimi. Getting the movie made and distributed took years, but it now has an admiring cult. Anchor Bay released a special-edition DVD of it in 2005 with extras, including commentary by Bookwalter. There's also a soundtrack CD. I will expand this post after I have looked more closely at the movie.

But here's a Beacon Journal story, written by Bob Dyer, written in 1986 while the movie was in production:

A pudgy young man named Lloyds is leaning against a car parked in a lane
near an old, ramshackle farmhouse in Springfield Township.
Trouble is in the air. He and the four people with him are armed, and
looking around with rapt attention.
Suddenly, a shot pierces the night, ripping apart Lloyds' chest. Blood
splatters across his shirt and onto the car behind him as he falls to the
ground in agony.
A few seconds later, about 35 bystanders smile and applaud.
No, it's not just another ugly domestic dispute. This is the work of
zombies, who have overrun several parts of Summit County during the filming of The Dead Next Door.
In truth, no shot rang out. That will be added to the sound track later.
And the blood was merely a `squib,' a special moviemaking device that
consists of a small amount of gunpowder suspended in a condom filled with food coloring and Karo syrup. It's attached to a protective foam pad and the
actor's body with duct tape. On cue, the tiny charge is exploded by a special- effects man.
With a bigger budget, the charges would have been triggered by remote
control. Here, the actor is literally wired to an extension cord. An on-off
switch is flipped to initiate the bloodshed.
Filming began July 21 and is to continue six days a week through August.
The schedule calls for the mayhem to move to downtown Akron between 1 and 4 p.m. today. Before all is said and dead, the zombies will have infiltrated
several other parts of Summit County, such as the Springfield High School gym, the Rubber Bowl, Akron Municipal Airport and, maybe, Barberton Citizens
The filmmakers say a video deal is already in the bag, and they have high
expectations of negotiating a theatrical release as well. [Rich note: Five years later, the filmmakers said in a letter to the Beacon Journal that "We made it very clear at that time that a deal was under
negotiation, not 'in the bag.' " Dyer and the Beacon Journal stood by the original report, and noted that objections were not raised until Dyer made fun of the film
If someone were to make a film of this filmmaking effort, though, they
might call it The Hardy Boys Make a Movie.
The oldest of the principals -- director of photography Michael Tolochko
-- is all of 24. The head honcho -- writer/director/co-producer J.R.
Bookwalter -- is 19. The other producer, Jolie Jackunas of Detroit, is 21.
The wardrobe department consists of a collection of old clothes hanging
from a tree.
The car against which Lloyds is shot is the personal vehicle of one of the assistants, who expresses interest in wiping the `blood' from the doors
without undue delay.
The shooting rarely runs past midnight because most of the people involved have to get up for real jobs the next day.
But someone in Detroit -- nobody will say who -- has given these young
people `well under a million dollars' -- nobody will say how much -- to make a real movie.
An educated guess on the mystery backer would be Sam Raimi, creator of cult classics The Evil Dead and XYZ Murders. An educated guess at the budget is
$30,000, the figure reported in a Beacon Journal story last October when the
project was first revealed.
That kind of money isn't enough to make a trailer at most studios. But
Amsco Productions, headquartered in a ghoulish little structure at 1153 Canton Road, is just getting off the ground, and nobody is complaining.
It's the first feature-length effort for Bookwalter, a member of the
Springfield High class of `84. But he's been dabbling with short, homemade
films since way back in 1978 -- when he was 11.
He showed some of his work to the Detroit mystery man, who liked it and
agreed to put his money where his opinion was.
If the local moviemakers are inexperienced, they know exactly what they're after, and they're enthusiastic. Boy, are they enthusiastic -- so much so that all except Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas are working only for the promise of an eventual piece of the action. (Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas, in addition to
owning a percentage of the gross, are drawing small salaries.)
Many of the people involved are college students, mostly from Kent State
and Akron U.
`It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance,' gushes production manager Mike Shea,
21. He claims that if The Dead Next Door pans out, producer Dino DeLaurentiis is prepared to kick in some of his abundant capital for a future Amsco
If it all sounds like a grand way to spend a summer, you'd better read the fine print.
Most of the time, hanging around the set is about as exciting as watching
your neighbor work on his house on a Saturday afternoon. There are wires and lights to mess with, things that keep breaking, people who keep getting in the way.
Tuesday evening, a series of delays kept most of the crew on duty until
nearly 2 a.m.
First there was a rain shower. Then it was a temperamental generator. Then a camera that ran out of film at a bad time. Then a group of extras who
absent-mindedly wandered into the background of a scene. Then -- because this is a real country lane rather than a back lot at Universal -- there was the
return home of the residents of a house located farther down the lane.
And then there were killer mosquitoes. People who marvel at the logistical nightmares overcome in the shooting of Apocalypse Now never had to deal with
the bloodthirsty monsters that fly around this old, mildew-ridden Springfield Township house, constructed about 1915.
The place originally was scheduled for demolition. Now the owners hint that they may wait to see if the film becomes a hit before calling in the wreckers. But none of the hassles seems to faze this good-natured bunch of
moviemakers. They appear to take a kind of demented glee in trying to figure
out how to jury-rig minor-league equipment to produce big-time effects.
There's also the undeniable thrill of having items about your film appear
in such publications as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles
Times. In an alphabetical Variety listing of new movies, for example, the
entry for The Dead Next Door ran just above a description of a William Hurt
film called Destiny.
That's heady territory. But the locals makes no bones, so to speak, about
what they're trying to do. Gone With the Wind it ain't. The script for the 90- minute film calls for a death or dismemberment at an average of every three
`You might as well not root for anybody because they all end up the same
way,' says production manager Shea.
The gratuitous blood will not be matched by gratuitous sex. If the effort
draws an R from the ratings board -- which seems inevitable -- it will be
strictly for violence.
Here's a sketch of the plot that appeared in the L.A. Times: `Billions and billions of zombies walk the Earth after a deadly virus, developed by a
certain Dr. Bow, escapes into the air. Those few who were spared exposure must hastily rummage through Bow's records and learn how to eliminate the danger.' Bookwalter says his movie was inspired by many of the zombie films, among
them the all-time classic of the genre, Night of the Living Dead (also set
partially in Northeast Ohio).
`I think this,' he says matter-of-factly of his film, `could be the best of them.'
The Dead Next Door is being shot in Super-8 and will be transferred to
videotape. It may eventually be converted again to a larger film format.
`Everything is going real good,' said Bookwalter, who, like most of the
company's executives, also has an on-camera role.
Shooting was about half a day, behind schedule by the middle of last week, but the producers expected to be back on track by Monday.
Bookwalter had hoped to begin filming in January, but his mystery
financier's own feature film was delayed repeatedly. That delayed the mystery man's salary, which delayed the money that was to have gone to Bookwalter. But now it's full-speed ahead.
Well, not exactly. The making of any movie consists, in large measure, of
waiting around. Tuesday, night between 6 and 11 p.m., exactly two scenes were shot. Together, they lasted perhaps 10 seconds.
But now, in the cool night air, another, slightly more complicated scene is about to take place.
`Quiet on the set,' someone yells into a megaphone.
`Roll sound.'
`Sound rolling.'
`Roll camera.'
`Camera rolling.'
`Mark it .... `
Five people run screaming through the yard, and a man and woman in the
foreground are ripped to shreds by gunfire.
Director Bookwalter turns to cameraman Bob Hudson (who once worked for
WEWS-Ch. 5 and WJKW-Ch. 3) and says: `Bob, does it look like mass hysteria?' `Yeah,' Bob replies.
`OK, it's a take.'

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