There are very few unique ideas in Hollywood anymore, but The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre is one of them. One-part horror film, one-part wrestling movie, one-part comedy, the film manages to put all of these things together and make them work.
But how did it happen? How was the movie able to be thrilling and also funny without being ridiculous? How did it not lose its characters amongst all the mayhem? And just where did this idea that we don’t see every day come from? To answer all those questions, I spoke to the creative team behind The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre. Hear what they had to say before checking out the film on iTunes or wherever you watch your movies.
Brittany Frederick: This is definitely not a conventional idea, so where did the concept for The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre come from?
Chris Margetis (co-writer/actor/producer): The idea came from Mike [Carey] and I were actually professional wrestlers a couple of decades ago. At least it feels like that. We were Stone and Skull Manson, back then, as part of the Manson Brothers. We weren’t together; I took over from Mike when he left. Fast forward from there—we wanted to do something as kind of a vehicle for ourselves as actors, and we decided that wrestling and zombies was a really good crossover point for many people in the demographic. We ran with it from there and then fortunately, we got it to Max [Martini] much later, who just put the juice into it.
Mike Carey (co-writer/actor/producer): We tried to do wrestling and ballet, but it didn’t work. (laughs)
CM: (laughs) It was going to be Black Swan meets wrestling, and then we scrapped that one.
BF: But you set yourselves a real challenge, because tone is an issue with that premise. You want the movie to be creepy and scary, but also funny and fun, and going too far in either direction could throw the whole picture off. So what were the kinds of conversations you had about tone?
Max Martini (director/actor/producer): That was one of the big conversations that we had. It was an ongoing conversation, and we had to kind of find it in rehearsals. For me, the tone of the film is broad “dumb and dumber” comedy, but the way to achieve that successfully is to commit fully to everything you’re saying. The buffoonery that comes out of these guys’ mouths has to be delivered in a way that is fully committed. If there was anything that we worked really hard at, it was achieving that tonality that was going to make or break it in my eyes. And it wasn’t just Mike and Chris; the entire cast had to be in sync as far as tone.
MC: My intent was always we have to play it straight, as if this is not a comedy. We didn’t want to play it up as a comedy because I felt it would be funnier if the humor in it was organic and it came from the characters being their characters. Not setup, punch line, setup, punchline. We have that most certainly, but I think it was just playing it sincerely—really believing in the characters and just being those characters. And Max directed it that way, so it worked out really well.
CM: There’s a really awesome visual tone in the film. There’s parts that are extremely colorful. And then when you get into the gruesome parts, it looks like a [John] Carpenter film. That’s a testament to not only direction, but photography and everything. It’s one of the things I love the most about the movie. You get those different tones all the time, just like you get the comedy and the gore and all those kinds of things.
BF: You’ve all known each other for a while, so are there any references or in-jokes hiding in The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre to other projects you’ve worked on together or just things between you?
MC: There is some inside baseball, as far as the characters were concerned. The character Dave [Meadows] plays, Carson, is based on an actual guy. So is the character of Captain Marvelous [played by Jayden Lund]. So is the character that Randy Couture plays.
CM: Almost all the characters are at least loosely based on guys that we actually wrestled with way back when. For better or for worse. (laughs)
David Meadows (actor): When my character Carson Murdock gets introduced, I come in and we have a quick bout with myself and Mike, and Chris, and Randy Couture. Then I go walking out of the room and they all follow me down the hallway. I walk into this office building and in the office is a picture of me. And it’s very funny. And I turn around and I start talking to the guys. I have this monologue, and some of the most narcissistic, douchey things that I say in the monologue, were actually a joke.
Basically, Max and I have this ongoing banter when we go work out. We’ll see who can be the biggest asshole to the other guy, basically. Just between the two of us, obviously, and we’ll say all of these things. And some of the things that we have both said that have just cracked the other guy up while we were working out, we put into the movie in that scene. And in some of other ones, and it was great.
MM: There’s a lot in the film. Even Adrian Pasdar—his character name Doctor Dudembrü was something that we’ve been saying for 30 years. So there’s a lot of inside humor that finds its way into the story.
MC: What was great was we had a lot of latitude as long as we were sticking to the point of the dialogue. Max was great about giving us all this latitude, as long as it was true to what the characters would say. The example Dave gave was awesome, because it brought that character up five more levels than where it was. So it worked out so well.
BF: A common issue with horror films, or even fast-paced action films, is that characters get lost once the action kicks in. They’re never fleshed out, or there’s so much happening that people can’t keep up with where they all are. How did you avoid that in The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre?
CM: That was definitely a Max thing. One of the things that we experienced really early on when we were in pre-production was the script was set in one place a lot of the time. So you had to kind of figure out different ways to get that visual change of tone, like we were talking about before, and then keep those characters still interesting once all the hell breaks loose. But that’s part of the million great things he did for this film.
MM: The script initially was written for a much lower budget and so a lot of it took place in one location. There were scenes that were 15, 20 pages in one room, and so we reworked all of that initially. One of my big concerns was, it has to stay moving. The characters have to have arcs and it’s a horror film, but you still have to develop it as if it’s something a little bit more elevated.
MC: And I think you want to care. One of the things that we did when we wrote it and Max when he directed it is, there’s not a throwaway character in it. We wanted everybody to care about the characters. Dave, for all intents and purposes, plays the villain but you love him a little bit. Like there’s part of you when you watch the movie, you want him to be a good guy and Dave plays it to absolute perfection. There are great characters that I think people will identify with. And we didn’t have people in there as cannon fodder like they usually do in horror.
BF: Are there any other particular elements of the film that stand out to you, and that you want viewers to keep an eye out for as they watch?
DM: My big thing that I would tell everybody to watch out for isn’t a singular scene. Watch how much sense of fun and camaraderie there is. Even the characters that hate each other on screen. I think that there’s this sense of fun and teamwork and camaraderie that comes across and you wouldn’t know it. You would just see that you were enjoying the movie, but it comes out in there.
It’s a testament to Mike and Chris and especially Max for bringing together a cast and crew of people that [were] probably one of, if not the absolute best, movie set that I have personally been a part of. Everybody loved what they were doing. Just genuinely loved being there. And there was no drama and there were so many back set shenanigans that were happening and tomfoolery. It was just amazing. That sort of happiness and fun and just good nature actually bled onto the camera, and then the audience gets to enjoy it with us.
MM: One of my favorite pieces of the film is, I wanted to do a zombie attack ballet, right. One of the bigger attacks that we have in the movie is all done to classical music and it’s in slow motion and it’s very balletic and it’s choreographed beautifully.
And I do love the chorizo attack. Luis Bordonada, who was in Sgt. Will Gardner, is one of the leads in this movie. And all these guys, being in the wrestling world, are wearing these very colorful, big, flamboyant costumes. And I called Luis and I was like, “Hey, listen, bro, I’ve got this great role for you in this zombie comedy I’m doing, but you’ve got to wear a chorizo outfit.” It’s this long pause. And he was like, “Bro.” (laughs) We had a lot of fun, and like Dave said, it comes across on camera.
MC: My favorites parts of the movie are where we have as [much] of the ensemble cast as possible. Those were the most fun for me, where everybody was contributing to the scene. I enjoy the whole thing, but I think the scenes where everybody was going to be there that day, those were the best days for me.
CM: There was a conscious effort to spend time on building the world and the brothers and those kinds of things, and Max translated it to the screen…That’s something that I hope people pay attention to because there’s a lot of education about the crazy world of independent wrestling.
BF: Like you’ve said, this really was a team effort of building a great movie in your own way. So are there any other memorable people or behind-the-scenes moments viewers should know about?
CM: Literally everyone that worked on the film, from top to bottom.
MC: I would mention the rest of the cast. Jay Lund, Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, the great Adrian Pasdar, D.B. Sweeney, Jason Coviello, Tim Stafford, Shannon Murray, Karen Corona, Jay DeMarcus. And all the stuntmen. And our stunt coordinator, Freddie Joe Farnsworth, who’s absolutely awesome. Another former Marine. Our stunt people were all vets, so that was great. All our people put up with long hours and not great conditions, and they did it willingly without bitching or anything to a person, and just had a great time doing it.
CM: I don’t want to forget Jermaine Washington, who was awesome also.
MM: And Mike Hagerty, who produced our movie.
MC: Without Mike Hagerty doing the producer shuffle, we’d never have got this thing done. A movie is a big puzzle that you have to put together, [and] he had to figure out all the logistics of it under duress, most of the time from us. (laughs) And he did it and without him, it wouldn’t have happened. Without Max, it wouldn’t have happened. And it was just so awesome. All that comes through on the screen. You can see the fun we’re having.
The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre is available now on digital movie platforms. For more information and to purchase movie merchandise, visit the Manson Brothers website.