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Brains for brunch

Screen meets with Casey Walker, the director of A Little Bit Zombie, over Eggs Florentine.

With energy levels flagging on my fourth day of Fantasia International Film Festival, there was no better cure than the offer of brunch with the cast and crew of A Little Bit Zombie, which received its Quebec premiere at the festival following slots at the likes of Karlovy Vary, as well as winning awards at the likes of the Canada International Film Festival and WorldFest Houston.

Thankfully, brioche was on the menu, not brains, as I sat down with the film’s director Casey Walker to discuss how the highly entertaining and delightfully lo-fi horror-comedy, about a mild-mannered human resources manager who is infected on a trip to a cabin with his fiancée, sister and sister’s boyfriend, came about.

During raising finance for a different project – through website mymilliondollarmovie.com – Walker received the latest draft for A Little Bit Zombie and the rest as the saying goes, is history.

“We beat them [the screenwriters Christopher Bond and Trevor Martin] pretty hard to get it really good, but then it came in and Dave [David Watson, co-producer] and I were like ‘this is really good’. It needed a little bit more polish but I was really passionate about it, so we just flipped the scripts. I tossed the other one out and just went with this one.”

Walker casted the film himself – “I didn’t hire a casting director more out of economics than anything else” – and once everything was cast, things started to fall into place speedily. “We did a lot of preparation in advance and then it was just a rollercoaster, a whirlwind; as soon as the train left the station, it picked up speed really fast.”

Despite A Little Bit Zombie being his directorial debut, Walker feels his background in television helped make the process a lot smoother, even if the cast weren’t exactly prepared for his concise approach. “The skills I learnt [from TV] were efficiency and being decisive; knowing what I wanted because from working with TV, you don’t get take 45/46.

“They [the cast] would get in their mind that they do it and in their film world, they do it over and over again. I’d see them and see the take and say ‘that’s it, we’re moving on’, they’d be like ‘can I have another?’ Then I’d let them have a second and say the first one was better.”

Alongside the more obvious influence of The Evil Dead – one of the screenwriters, Christopher Bond, also wrote the Evil Dead musical – there are numerous other horror nods to pick out. “A scene from a film which terrified me most was from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I saw when I was very young, and it wasn’t from the screaming or the chainsaw, it was the guy sitting staring at the sun who washed the windows in the gas station, so we put that in.

“In the dream sequence, there’s a nod to [the likes of] Poltergeist and Monkey Shines [as well as] constant nods to Evil Dead but it’s partially the writers because they wrote the sequences in, but also myself as well by shooting them – especially the shed scene, because that’s such an apt transition. Raimi didn’t create that style but he certainly perfected part of it.”

Alongside further festival appearances for A Little Bit Zombie at the likes of Sitges and Razor Reel, Walker is now turning his attention to his next project, on which he hopes to work with the same cast and crew.

“We got a script out of Scotland the other day that we really like, so we’re looking at that. But then there’s also a Western with a dark twist, like Unforgiven meets Rosemary’s Baby, with no baby. Those are the ideas that we’re talking about and now it’s time [to decide].”

And while there were the usual problems that plague first-time filmmakers – “the bank were not as supportive as they should have been and we had a lot of issues with them” – Walker takes heart from the fact that the problems have given him a valuable lesson going forward.

“I learnt that I’ve got to go with my gut because my instincts were that we shouldn’t be dealing with these people.”

Thankfully as well, gruyere was on the menu, not guts.

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