Meet the Zemons26 Sep, 2013 By: Ashley Ratcliff
Director April Mullen unleashes a new breed of zombie in horror-comedy
A new term has been added into the lexicon of zombie films — “zemon” (half “zombie,” half “demon”) — and the world has April Mullen, and creative partner Tim Doiron, to thank for it.
In Dead Before Dawn — out on disc Oct. 1 from Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment and Wango Films — a group of college students accidentally unleashes a curse that causes everyone who makes eye contact with them turn into zemons. The 3D horror-comedy follows the friends as they race against the clock, armed with an arsenal of makeshift weapons and a rickety Winnebago, to reverse the curse.
Mullen and Doiron always had veteran actor Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future” franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) in mind for the role of Horus “Gramps” Galloway, the owner of the occult shop where the evil urn breaks and sets off the catastrophe. And they were fortunate to have him on board, Mullen said.
“Christopher Lloyd’s a huge childhood hero for both Tim and I,” she said. “[Lloyd] carries with him this incredible amount of magic. We new that if we were going to be making an outrageous curse in this horror-comedy — and it has elements of magic and occultism — we needed a pillar for the whole thing to make sense. Christopher Lloyd was that to us.
“If Gramps in the occult shop said, ‘Don’t touch this urn or else this will happen,’ you believe him, and then it happens, and then the rest of the film is ever forgiving because you really believe his performance,” Mullen added.
Lloyd, who has decades of experience, said he goes through the same process when preparing for a role, regardless of the size of the part or the film.
“No matter how extreme the character, it is my job to make the character believable,” he said. “It is essential to have strong human characteristics so that the audience can relate to them.”
“I love to connect with an audience,” Lloyd added. “It reconfirms I have something to give. I will never stop. It's compelling.”
The film also stars Devon Bostick (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchise), Martha MacIsaac (Superbad), Kevin McDonald (“The Kids in the Hall”), Brandon Jay McLaren, Brittany Allen, Kyle Schmid, Rossif Sutherland and Ellen Dubin.
“I felt the cast was chosen very carefully and I felt at home,” Lloyd said of his co-stars. “I truly loved the experience and felt that I was amongst equals — surrounded by new talent. It was like a family, being on the set with Dead Before Dawn cast and crew. It was a new experience to feel such support and passion.”
Mullen also stars as the tough, bow-wielding Becky, though she originally was slated to play seductive cheerleader Lucy. Challenges with makeup and navigating time behind the camera led to the switch.
With Dead Before Dawn, Mullen reportedly became the first female and youngest director to direct a live-action stereoscopic 3D feature film. She was under the age of 30 when she began working on the project.
“It just happened that way,” she said. “We didn’t have any real intention, except for that we really wanted to shoot in 3D. A fully stereoscopic 3D feature had never been made in Canada with Canadian talent. We were really excited about the technology and what was happening in the 3D realm.”
Mullen counts Kathryn Bigelow, the first female director to win a Best Director Academy Award (The Hurt Locker), and Lisa Cholodenko, who directed her in an early acting role for Cavedweller, as her inspirations.
“That was my first time working with a female director, so it was really unique and different for me,” Mullen said of Cholodenko. “When she did The Kids Are All Right I was really in her corner cheering her on. That was someone who impacted me [when I was] younger. I remember sitting behind her at the director’s chair sort of watching everything that she was doing. It was a new experience.”
Shooting in 3D also was a very new experience for Mullen.
“There was a lot of prep work and just envisioning a film from the beginning from concept, in terms of a 3D landscape, and 3D blocking and 3D shots,” she said. “Everything was different. You want to give the audience enough time to explore the frame in 3D and really enjoy the 3D work that was put into the film.”
The Niagara Falls native said that a sequel to the open-ended Dead Before Dawn is “definitely not out of the realm of possibility.” In the meantime, Mullen and Doiron are filming their latest project, 88, an action-thriller, which presents a chance for the duo to delve into a new genre.
Asked about what inspires her as a director, Mullen said, “What makes films so compelling to me is that I find it fascinating that you’re able to capture a moment, and replay that moment and have it last a forever. I have this obsession with memory and moments in day-to-day life. You’re able to capture sparks between human interaction and when people really listen and absorb one another between actors, I just find that stuff really exciting.”
Dead Before Dawn will be released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, digital and VOD, with a two-disc 3D Blu-ray combo pack available exclusively at Best Buy.