Gritty zombie film feeds off Ponoka

After a year of planning, many people have died and the undead died again, all in the name of entertainment.

Director CJ Hutchinson (right) blocks the area before shooting a scene. The Masked Maniac (Zee Hunter from Calgary)

Director CJ Hutchinson (right) blocks the area before shooting a scene. The Masked Maniac (Zee Hunter from Calgary)

After a year of planning, many people have died and the undead died again, all in the name of entertainment.

Director CJ Hutchinson spent May 13 to 17 filming his latest zombie creation, Masked Maniac vs The Zombies, on location in Ponoka. This is Hutchinson’s eighth time in the director’s chair and for him the bloody madness behind the film was a personal journey.

“I’m a zombie guy so it’s got to be zombies,” said Hutchinson. “I love zombies. I love quirky characters. I like Pulp Fiction-esque, Grindhouse exploitation ’70s style films, and that’s what I’m planning to do here.”

At a Comic Con convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba Hutchinson ran into a friend, Hall of Fame wrestler Jeff “Supertramp” Howell. “Me and him were sitting down, talking about making a movie together.”

While Howell eventually had to back out of the film because he couldn’t make the filming schedule from Oregon, Hutchinson’s mind was still rolling.

To adhere to the original wrestling idea, Hutchinson developed a Lucha Libre wrestling script with a dash of country and western and his passion for zombies. “It just sort of wrote itself from there.”

One year ago Hutchinson began recruiting the talent needed to help create the film. “I began running around doing people’s movies for free just to make the contact and just to make sure there was going to be people here supporting me when it was my turn to make a movie.

“Everybody here is a volunteer. There’s not a single person being paid, Maybe there’s a little bit of favours being traded,” Hutchinson added. Two of his closest friends, Dragone and Zee Hunter, were also on board for support, taking the main leads and helping with production.

Dragone plays Gonzo the Destroyer as well as acting assistant director, cameraman, security and a host of other jobs.

He and Hutchinson have worked on other projects together and it was an easy step for Dragone to get involved.

“CJ and I both work in the art industry and it just comes naturally.”

“It’s been an amazing experience, every minute of it,” Dragone added. “I thought it was pure genius. I’m a huge fan of CJ and his work. I’m a huge fan of his artistic genius; the mastermind behind the madness.”

Masked Maniac vs The Zombies was shot on a budget of $2,000, half of that going to feeding the cast and crew. Hutchinson is proud of being able to borrow, trade and create with his own hands, his movie.

“To be able to take nothing like that and be able to turn it into something like a film is an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s something to create something from nothing.”

Hutchinson grew up addicted to zombie films, something he’s never been able to quit. But as a young child the genre terrified him.

“My love of zombies is George Romero,” said Hutchinson. “The 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead had makeup by Tom Savini and as I watched this movie it enthralled me. At first it scared the (heck) out of me.”

His childhood nightmares prompted Hutchinson’s mother to purchase a copy of the film for him to watch over and over.

When Hutchinson got home from school he’d have to watch the movie before being allowed to start his homework, and it had to be viewed once again before going to bed. “She’d make me watch it over and over again until it didn’t scare me, I was fascinated by it. I was hooked. I was a zombie junkie.”

“I spent the ’80s watching these things when zombies were still not particularly cool in mainstream culture,” added Hutchinson, who remembers sitting in theatres watching zombie movies alone, on premiere nights.

Hutchinson started out in the movie industry behinds the scenes as a makeup artist and lighting technician. He worked on 450 to 500 movies, commercials and theatrical productions, “and I found never working on the films I wanted to work on.”

Hutchinson knew the only way he was going to get to work on a zombie film is if he directed it himself. However, consumed with directorial duties leaves Hutchinson with no time to do the makeup on his own films. “But I know how it’s going to look, I know how it’s going to turn out. I know what angles to shoot things from to get the optimum gory effect.”

For Hutchinson, the most challenging aspect of filming was attracting and maintaining enough zombie extras to appease his vision. Most days he was running with about 10 extras, half the number his schedule confirmed. “Everybody thinks it’s a great idea but finding the time on a week day is pretty hard.”

Along with losing his initial wrestler, Hutchinson lost another staple actor at the last minute, forcing him to get creative and once again tweak the script.

“The guy who played Junior was the first actor I recruited. I actually saw him here in town at the grocery store and I decided I want that guy to be a zombie because the guy was a monster and I love looking for monsters . . . If they’ve got that freak factor they’re not walking away without my business card in their hand.”

In the fall Hutchinson is looking to bring his film back to Ponoka for a hometown premiere. It is also lined up for the Underground Horror Festival and the Zombie Festival, both in the United States.