Zombie Brigade (Barrie Pattison, Carmelo Musca, 1988) aka Zombie Brigade From Lizard Gully, aka Night Crawl, aka The Body Counters, prod. Carmelo Musca, dp Alex McPhee, music John Charles & Todd Hunter; John Moore, Khym Lam, Adam Wong, Bob Faggetter, Maggie Wilde-West, Geoff Gibbs, 90 min.; shot in Toodyay, WA; horror
Claimed by Carmelo Musca to be the only film shot in Western Australia on 35mm film.
Not only is the lead actor (John Moore) Indigenous, but another Indigenous character, Charlie, provides the turning-point in the plot (cf. Howling 3). John Moore was later nominated for AFI Best Actor for Blackfellas [Day of the Dog] (James Ricketson, 1993).
Murdoch University student Scott Holdsworth interviewed Carmelo Musca as part of a research assignment in 2007. Here is the interview.
Carmelo Musca is currently situated in Perth, Western Australia and works through his production company CM Films. He recently took the time to discuss Zombie Brigade with me. Just through this conversation, I began to realize just how important Zombie Brigade is and how much of an achievement it was when it was produced.
Musca began by informing me as to why he chose to do Zombie Brigade. “It was a film that didn’t rely on who was in it … it was the subject matter that was important.” Musca spoke with pride as he talked about the film's inability to afford a well-known cast or extravagant sets. The organisation that was responsible for delegating funding for Western Australian films, now Screenwest, at the time refused to fund Zombie Brigade as it was seen as being too lowbrow; instead the organization invested their entire budget of $500 000 into another feature film called Boundaries of the Heart (Lex Marinos, 1988). This film, as Musca explained to me, “... had the budget and well-known actors John Hargreaves and Wendy Hughes and that sank. Boundaries of the Heart had no local talent in key cast and crew positions.” From this statement it is quite clear that Musca believes Zombie Brigade‘s (and indeed his own) greatest accomplishment is the support it gave the local talent and how it was a stepping-stone for most.
The choice of the leading roles also inspired Musca to attach himself to the project. Not only did he like the script that Pattison had brought to him but he liked the social commentary that was written in the subtext of the script. Musca informed me that before Zombie Brigade no Aboriginal had been cast in a leading role and if they had, they were a villain. The only thing that comes close to this statement is David Gulpilil in Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 classic Walkabout, but Gulpilil could not really been considered as a chief protagonist. It was important that Zombie Brigade had shown the concept of the Aboriginal dreamtime from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, as before this, Australian films were seriously lacking in this department.
The concept of army camaraderie was also a selling point for Musca. He explained that it was something that had not been done before but should have. We can quite easily forget the past wars and the fallen soldiers in modern society. In fact, one of Musca’s favourite lines in the film occurs when Yoshie wants to leave the party without being noticed, “Go past the Kokoda room, turn right at the Gallipoli honour roll …” This line in a way sums up the premise for the film for Musca. These great Australian victories that took place at these historic sites are nothing more than a path out. They aren’t even in the main hallway. This line in the script, as Musca tells me, is one of the reasons that he made the film.
Zombie Brigade was not an easy film to make. Obviously budget constraints didn’t help among the various other challenges that face any debut feature film crew. One of the biggest challenges that Musca recalls is the fact that they only had one night to shoot the night-time scenes. The main reason for this is that the budget could not allow too much overtime at night. Another challenge occurred when the zombies set fire to the town during the climax. At the time of filming there was a total fire ban. Musca reflects what an accomplishment this actually was, “We had to have three fire brigades on set as there was a total fire ban in February.”
When asked about was he happy with the success of the film Musca laughed. Apparently upon its release to VHS, “ ... every copy from Planet Video was on hire for months ... ” Musca admits that a lot of this was due to WAAPA students wanting to see their lecturers in a feature film, lecturers like Geoff Gibbs. However, as mentioned before, Zombie Brigade was financially successful. This led to the million dollar question:
Would you remake Zombie Brigade?
“Sure I would make the film again.” Of course this answer was based on a lot of 'ifs'. “The script would need to be modernised to adapt to today’s theories. We would need more money for casting, the art department ...” Currently however Musca is more than happy producing and directing the many dramas, tele-dramas, documentaries and other forms of screen media that come to CM Films.
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