AICN HORROR talks about zombies & toilets with STALLED Director Christian James & Writer/Actor Dan Palmer!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Though zombies are overstaying their welcome for a lot of folks, if the take is original, I still love me a good zombie yarn every now and again. Thankfully, the creative types behind the film STALLED decided to go a truly unconventional route for their zombie opus. Let’s hear all about it from STALLED’s director Christian James and the writer and star Dan Palmer…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I had a chance to catch STALLED a while back and I loved every minute of it. Can you describe the premise of the film for those who don't know anything about it?
DAN PALMER (DP): Cheers dude. Yeah, STALLED is basically a horror-comedy set during the inevitable zombie-apocalypse. Instead of staging the film in a shopping mall or on an exotic isle we decided to set the entire film in the glamorous locale of, what Americans would call, a Ladies Restroom. In the UK we call it the Birds’ Bog.
BUG: Over here in the States, people are definitely feeling zombie fatigue and most of the time when I talk about a zombie film; the talkbacks seem to be full of people who are just kind of over the zombie genre. What is the overall feeling of zombie movies across the pond?
DP: The UK has only just got them. 'Night of the Living Dead' came out this Summer…blew us away.
CHRISTIAN JAMES (CJ): It’s probably a little worse in the UK as we also get the Brit zombie movies that don’t always make it to U.S shores! About a year or so before we’d developed the ‘Stalled’ script, around 2009, I think we were both concerned that the genre had run its course. But every time I thought the fire had gone out, another movie or some such would fan the embers and get everything going again.
To me, a great zombie movie is not about zombies, they’re a device to put pressure on the characters and the decisions they make. We were desperate to tell this confined little story, and all too aware of the premature reaction we were going to get …but now word is getting out there, I think people are realizing there’s more to STALLED than just zombie kills.
BUG: How did you set out to make your zombie film different than the rest?
CJ: Put Dan Palmer in it and set the whole thing in a toilet cubicle.
DP: Well, obviously there is the unique setting and the challenges that come with that limitation but we didn't want it to be a gimmick movie so I endeavored to inject some emotional pathos into it. A lot of people after seeing the movie at the BAFTA screening and at Fright Fest commented on how they weren't expecting the film to have heart. I'm guessing when you hear there is a toilet-based zombie comedy you immediately assume poo and pee-pee jokes...of which there are none. I'm a big John Hughes fan so there are definite nods to 'The Breakfast Club', 'Career Opportunities' and, dare I say, 'Home Alone' in the film.
BUG: It must have been extremely claustrophobic filming in that bathroom for the entire film. Were there any accommodations made to the set in order to film in such a tight space?
CJ: It was tricky alright. After five days filming in the same space I found myself in a constant inner battle not to let the camera moves bust out. The film is carefully designed to open up and out as the movie progresses. Added to all this, I set a visual rule that the camera couldn’t go anywhere WC, Dan’s character, couldn’t see. Shackled with these self imposed devices it felt like I was making a very static movie for the first week. If we’d filmed out of sequence I could’ve jumped into a third act scene and let rip for an afternoon. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible.
DP: The problem for me, in regards to acting in an enclosed environment, is that you can't trust Christian, whatsoever. Whenever a cast or crew member bends over to pick up a piece of equipment he finds the closest pointed object and rams it up their bum! You wouldn't catch Edgar Wright doing that ...Larry Clark maybe.
CJ: As far as accommodations go? Well the set could be dismantled to some degree, but it wasn’t quick, a lot of pre-planning and a great schedule juggling between my 1st AD and Line Producer was required. One handy side effect from having your actor perform in a cubicle is that it cuts them off from the rest of the crew. In between takes, the crew would rush around but Dan was nicely isolated, protected, mostly, from the stresses of a low budget shoot. I heartily recommend it to other directors; keep your lead actor in a box. Worked for GRAVITY too!
BUG: Dan, you both wrote and starred in the film. Was there any time you were going to go with another actor for the lead role or did you always know this was your part you were writing?
DP: There is this strange phenomenon that we face in low-budget filmmaking in the UK. You get told by producers and financiers that they need a 'name', but then that 'name' ends up being someone from a shitty soap opera that has zero cross pollination with the genre audience you are making the movie for. It would be the equivalent of forcing Lucky McKee or Ti West to cast someone from 'Days of Our Lives'. It's bizarre; it aids the financing but turns off the intended audience. I wrote the part for myself and luckily our producer Richard Kerrigan was keen for me to pull double-duty ..mainly 'cos he could half his costs.
BUG: I used to have an office job where I would take long breaks and just sit in the stall just to get away from the office and the office workers that I hated. It seems like this is a film for people like me, who view the bathrooms at work as a sacred place of peace. Is it just me, or have you guys ever had the same experience of seeing the office bathroom as your own special escape from a horrible reality?
CJ: Hells yeah. I can remember doing mind-numbing data entry jobs for insurance firms, back when we were making our first feature. The bathroom trip, for the ol’ number two, was precious. I would look forward to those little slices of me time. It was before smart-phones so I couldn’t browse the internet, just sit and stare at the pattern on the door and walls, formulating ideas. Dan and I have both worked in awful dead-end jobs so there’s a lot of that channeled into the movie.
DP: Definitely! That's awesome that it struck a chord because that is exactly what we were going for. Hoping to offer up a horror hero to all those poor suckers that have their real shit break and then take their fake one just to dilute the drudgery. I used to do that. Phantom poos! But for a few weeks the toilet was my office. I worked in an arcade which wasn't open for the summer yet so I had to clean the restrooms. The head janitor famously said 'The best thing about this job is you can take a piss whenever you want.' Yeah, 'cos I'm sure Bill Gates is busting to take a piss all day!
BUG: I love the rave scene in the film. What went into choreographic not only the crowd surfing bits, but the choreography that goes on later in the scene with the zombies?
CJ: Thanks. I think there was an assumption that we’d just wing it, but I was pretty insistent it had to be Dan’s best attempt at a choreographed dance routine. Not to discredit Dan’s dancing but his best would merely appear to be an average, improvised routine on camera. ‘Stalled’ was a very lean shoot, we averaged around three takes but the dance shot took around thirteen takes, everyone thought I’d gone all Michael Cimino. For what it’s worth, we used take ten, take thirteen was stunning but there was a huge camera shadow on Dan and we didn’t have time to digitally remove it.
DP: I looked to both Michaels for inspiration; Jackson and J. Fox. A little bit THRILLER a little bit TEEN WOLF. I spent one afternoon in a Scout Hut choreographing the routine with this dancer who also plays a zombie . It took awhile as I was very distracted as her ass was more dancer's than zombie's.
BUG: Without spoiling too much of the ending our hero finds himself in an even tighter predicament by the time the end credits roll, suggesting that there may be room for a sequel here. Do you guys plan on making a STALLED PART 2?
CJ: Hmmmm, I can feel a Kickstarter campaign brewing…
DP: Alan Jones and myself came up with the perfect title; ‘STALLED: NUMBER TWO’.
BUG: What else do you have coming up for follow up projects?
DAN: A werewolf film set in a bath-tub, a vampire film set in a treasure-chest and a Godzilla movie set in a shoe-box.
Truth is I wish good reviews and positive audience response automatically translated into another feature but the cold, hard reality is no one is knocking on our toilet cubicle door waving a big comedy check at the mo'. We have scripts ready to go but they need that pesky thing called money. But, as you can probably tell by STALLED, my stuff doesn't exactly require AVATAR dollars.
BUG: What do you tell people who groan like a zombie when you tell them that you've made another zombie film and how do you want to convince the rabid talkbackers below to check out STALLED?
CJ: We’re groaners too, sick and tired of zombies movies….which is why we made ‘STALLED. It’s not a zombie movie, it’s a movie with zombies in it.
BUG: How and when can folks check out STALLED?
CJ: It had a mini-theatrical run and premiered at The Alamo Drafthouse, that’s just come to an end and now you can check it on Netflix, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon etcetera, etcetera, and all the usual places right now. The DVD with a Santa’s sack-load of extra features is due out very soon. You can still catch it at a few International festivals. As always, wherever you catch it, please get online and talk about it. We love the feedback.
DP: Even the death threats.
BUG: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. After the trailer below, check out my review of STALLED, available this week on iTunes, Amazon Instant, XBox Live, Hulu, Vudu and Video on Demand!
Now available this week on iTunes, Amazon Instant, XBox Live, Hulu, Vudu and Video on Demand!
STALLED (2013)Directed by Christian James
Written by Dan Palmer
Starring Dan Palmer, Antonia Bernath, Tamaryn Payne, Mark Holden, Giles Alderson, Sarah Biggins, Victoria Broom, Victoria Eldon
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Because of the inundation of zombie films, it’s tough for a film about the living dead to get ahead of the herd. In order to do so the film either has to have a super star in the cast or come at the subgenre from an angle that hasn’t been tried before. Now, the zom-com has been tried before, but very few of these films are as successful at being entertaining as STALLED is.
For the most part, STALLED is a one man show as a night janitor is trapped in a ladies bathroom stall during the zombie apocalypse on Christmas Eve. That one man is writer Dan Palmer, who does a great job of doing all of he heavy acting lifting here as the timid and nebbish janitor who thinks quick on his feet and may have a bit of a selfish streak to him, but those are attributes that do well during a zombie apocalypse.
Played for laughs, the film doesn’t shy away from the gore. Heads are crushed in toilet bowls, brain matter splats onto the camera lens, hammers are embedded into foreheads, and fingers are lopped off by the handful. If you’re looking for a horror/comedy tone to compare it to, I’d liken STALLED to DEAD ALIVE, as the zombies are played for laughs despite the dark and dangerous circumstances the janitor has found himself in.
Filled with some solid humor, such as a sequence where the janitor trips on acid in the stall and dreams he and the zombies have a Michael Jackson style dance routine which begins with the janitor crowd surfing across the zombie horde to the tune of techno music, STALLED almost plays out as a “What if Charlie Chaplin was stuck in the zombie apocalypse?” scenario as the film plays as a series of funny bits laced together loosely, increasing in dire circumstances and power of the laugh as the film goes on. There are some genius bits of silent cinema at play here as the facial expressions and wacky Rube Goldbergian scenarios play out with the zombies falling victim most of the time.
Not all horror has to be super serious and dire. Sometimes it’s best to laugh in the worst scenarios and that’s exactly what STALLED does. STALLED takes a simple scenario and runs full blast with it. Honestly, there are probably only fifteen people in this film and most of them shuffle around as mindless zombies. Palmer as the janitor plays a version of the classic underdog who one can’t help but root for despite one bonehead decision after another. There’s a lot to love about STALLED; a quality indication that you don’t have to go big to get big laughs and make a good zombie movie.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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