With Sam and Mattie Make A Zombie Movie, you will be hard-pressed to find a documentary about the production of a zombie film that will leave you with as much warmth and joy in your heart.
Making a film is a dream come true, especially for those in the independent scene, we have the big vision and the dream of seeing it all visualised on camera, and for it to be watched with a sold out audience. So few of us get to experience this and that is a shame that for all creative souls. Every so often however a film comes by that presents a love letter to indie filmmaking and shows your film is just waiting to get made. So go and write that script, or storyboard it, but at least start it.
Sam & Mattie, two badass best friends with Down syndrome, rally the entire town of Providence, RI, to help them storyboard, script, produce, cast, and star in their own dream movie. This 10+ year adventure shatters disability stereotypes, champions the independent spirit, features over 70 gallons of fake blood, and culminates in the ultimate payoff: presenting SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE in its entirety to the public for the first time.
That synopsis may seem like some straight out of a movie, but everything we see here in Sam and Mattie Make A Zombie Movie is 100% true, and it is gloriously charming and unforgettable. Half documentary and half of their finished film, we get a great glimpse into how the unlikeliest of films got to be made and the sheer amount of effort it took to get to their big premiere.
At its best, Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie is a wonderful glance at the processes of what indie filmmakers go through in getting their dream made. During this pre-production phase, you forget that this is a tale about two men with down syndrome making a film. It washes away as we simply watch two massive film fans dare to try and make a zombie film. It really just feels like some friends surrounded by amazing people trying to make something they can cherish. We go through the wonderful highs and some of the inevitable lows that come with a film production (check out He Dreams of Giants for that kind of complex production). However, what sticks is that through all of the storyboards and ideas, a clear vision is felt and boy, if it isn’t clearly seen on screen here.
One excellent segment is how the script process was made. Jesse just sits and talk to Sam and Mattie as they discuss what their characters would say and as they pour over the drafts and act out the scenes. This is just a bunch of friends who want to make a movie, and everyone is clearly having a blast. Sam and Mattie are clearly in charge, yet the collaborative effort is very much there. As the film continues, we later find out some of these scenes are used as second chances for either Sam or Mattie to experience something they missed out on previously, be it prom or an authentic college experience. They want to feel that just because they have Downs Syndrome, that shouldn’t mean they are excluded.
There are moments where the confusion comes in as to the continuity and narrative, and we see both Sam and Mattie get frustrated about it as they obviously have their vision. With all visionaries, it can be challenging to convey their message. This continues when budget issues are brought to them as they see their excessive script’s actual costs. Conceding that they will have to work around it (who knew that having a fire in your film would cost so much per day just on the safety side!?).
Undaunted, Sam and Mattie continue on with their dream, trimming down and altering their needs. Again, this becomes more and more like an introduction about independent filmmaking that it does about the two guys, as you simply forget, swept up in the depth of story, and that is what makes the film work so well. It isn’t merely a fluff piece about these two charismatic and film-loving guys; it’s about people, anyone who dreams of making a film with those closest around them.
With budgetary issues, as with most screenwriters, they dream huge for their picture, and they realise some clever work needs to be done to figure out how to be as cost-effective as possible but still keeping in line with their vision. Throughout the actual film, we break away to see how Sam and Mattie could score what they did, from product placement (to get free catering) to Sam detailing his prom before the prom scene in the film. While it is a nice touch, it takes the audience out of the film’s full enjoyment, which is a shame; hopefully, there is a version of the film itself that doesn’t have the interruptions to flow better.
As they try and make their picture, they get a lot of help from some great people, from Peter Farrelly to special effects artists Shane Morton and Chris Brown. What strikes is that none of these people is taking the two for granted, with Farrelly, in particular, giving them solid feedback that they take on that advice later on, which is superb, as we have seen even the best auteurs reject suggestions from more experienced folk. Treating them as equals whenever they can is vital and showcases the best in us; no matter how different we might be, treating each person the same goes so far.
Now that we have spoken about the documentary side, it makes sense to get into the review of their film, right?
Spring Break Zombie Massacre is everything you want it to be and does a far better job than some films of far bigger budgets (ones that I have reviewed recently as a prime example). Even without knowing the story of the film’s production, a lot of what we see on-screen works. There are moments when the obvious budget restrictions bring us some cheap replacements, but due to what we have seen beforehand, the charm and feel of the picture allow for the movie to get away with it. So let’s go into a quick synopsis of Spring Break Horror Massacre.
Two stepbrothers about to graduate from high school are attacked by the Devil, who killed their mothers just after birth. Born with bionic powers, Sam and Mattie have to figure out how to defeat the vengeful Devil and his horde of demon zombies while they battle through college, heartbreak and narcotic temptations.
A lot within their film will surprise you, be it the over the top gruesome birth scene, to the sheer amount of blood thrown at the screen, to even the shocking surprise of watching the Devil pee on the torn out intestines of a victim. This is a film that is not afraid to hold back on the gore, and by doing so, we get some cartoonish levels of death scenes that will delight any splatter fan.
What helps Spring Break Zombie Massacre is that there is so much humour within it that the apparent influences (as we watch Sam earlier in the film research) of films like Zombieland are all on the screen see. Instead of playing it straight and hoping for the laughs to come or being overly obvious with the jokes. Knowing the influences is also part of the fun here as you get to play the fun game of guessing where you see that scene. That said, there is also a lot of originality to be seen, with Sam and Mattie being quite the able leads. Their story does delve off into the fantastical, but it works thanks to presenting these themes early, and with a cast that believes in the piece, it allows the audience to get comfortable and go along for the ride.
This entertaining 45-minute jaunt is full of fun and memorable moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in a midnight screening—a solid debut.
If we can get back to the entire piece for a moment. A few melancholy strikes towards the end of the doc as it is clear there is regret from within the family and friend circle that Sam and Mattie’s film never struck the cord they had hoped it would. This resulted in both going back to their everyday lives of employees and stuck with their project memories.
In a sit-down interview, they are asked about their thoughts now the experience is over. The emotions hit you suddenly as Sam reveals all he wanted was to see his brother more. (Co-director Jesse had been going back home most weekends to help produce the film when it was in pre-production.) When older siblings leave and incredibly close ones, we forget that a void is created, and Sam felt that void get refilled with each of Jesse and co’s returns to Providence.
With a bit of hope, Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie will not be the last time we hear from these two creative men; they clearly have ideas to make more films, so why shouldn’t they? Less talented people do all the time. This movie is for the filmmaking dreamer in us that tells us anything is possible. While Sam and Mattie had some serious help, they got their first film made, why shouldn’t you get yours? Watch this documentary now.
Sam and Mattie Make A Zombie Movie is available Nationwide on Cable VOD and Digital HD
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