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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor  [April 7, 2014]




[]  When you hear the title, Masked Maniac vs. the Zombies, you might assume that it's a horror comedy about a Jason Voorhees-type slasher who combats zombies. You'd be right about it being a horror comedy, but there is no slasher. The Masked Maniac is a wrestler, a disgraced ex-champ who finds himself in a small Canadian town (Ponoka, Alberta) overrun by the living dead.

The next natural assumption is that writer/director CJ Hutchinson is a fan of 1960s Mexican horror wrestling films.

"This film was largely inspired by a hero and friend of mine, Hall of Fame wrestler Super Tramp," admits Hutchinson. "I watched him on the Calgary stampede circuit when I was a kid. The script was custom written for him. But last minute, Super Tramp had to cancel. We scrambled, as we were too far into production to back down, and found Calgary actor-filmmaker G Hunter. We also recast for Bonzo the Destroyer last minute. I feel it worked out well."

Bonzo (Dragone) is an evil clown who kills and reanimates people, transforming them into his own private army. So while these are flesh-eating zombies, with all the gore that entails, in their obedience to their maker, these zombies evoke the Haitian zombies of old (e.g., White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie). Bonzo himself resembles such demented clowns as Captain Spaulding and the Joker.

Why does Bonzo want a private zombie army? Presumably to rule the world. The story is less than coherent. Not everything makes sense. But then, one doesn't expect rigorous logic from the title. Masked Maniac vs. the Zombies is the sort of crudely bad film in which the participants knew they weren't making a subtle horror-art film along the lines of Picnic at Hanging Rock, so instead they had fun with it. The result in an "intentionally bad" zombie comedy similar in tone and theme to Glenn Berggoetz's Midget Zombie Takeover.

"The filmmaking is purposely unpolished," says Hutchinson. "I like to watch B movies and pick them apart for weaknesses in production value, and have no problem doing the same for my audience. If they are noticing [the weaknesses], it means they haven't shut it off yet, and that's a good thing. I love hamming it up, and gave my people specific instructions to make it cheesier along the way."





The acting is pretty bad. A cast of nonprofessionals reciting lines in a mostly wooden manner, less often mugging or chewing scenery. Dragone is an especially hammy villain, in stark contrast to G Hunter's Masked Maniac, whose deadpan delivery evokes Adam West. Assisting the Maniac in his fight against the zombie hordes are Johnny Paradise, a tropical shirt-wearing hitman, and a team of go-go girl crime-fighters. For a small town, Ponoka sure attracts a lot of colorful outsiders.

Why Ponoka? Because it's Hutchinson's home town. "I worked with the local government to secure public locations like the Aquaplex pool and an abandoned hospital. We got streets closed and props donated. They were our liaison with the local RCMP so we didn't get cops showing up on our sets and ambulances diverted around our blockades. They held a town council meeting and agreed to give us whatever we needed. Cilantro and Chive restaurant and Dino's Motor Inn volunteered their locations to shoot in. We had almost 100 zombie extras, all volunteer locals, though some drove from other parts of the province."

In typical bad horror movie fashion, the make-up effects are gory but crudely unrealistic. When a zombie head breaks in an especially unlikely manner, the Maniac marvels that he's never seen a head do that before -- Hutchinson's wink-and-a-nod to viewers that, yes, that special effect wasn't all that special.



Masked Maniac does make good use of outre contact lenses, transforming zombies into Marilyn Manson lookalikes. It's not that impressive an effect, but it's a nice touch, demonstrating that a little imagination can compensate for little cash. The cartoon blood spattering the camera lens is another nice, if commonplace, touch.

Sound recording is rough and uneven. Outdoor dialog is sometimes muffled by wind, making it impossible to discern words. This problem is avoided whenever Masked Maniac uses sound effects for comedic effect, as would a silent film.

Cinematography and editing are likewise rough, though here Hutchinson exerts greater effort at creativity. Images shift from ordinary color, to black & white, to highly saturated color, to black & white with patches of color. This anarchic style was partially achieved by using "several different digital video cameras, some high end, some not so high end. Even a couple shots taken with my Iphone."

As for editing, nondiegetic clips from old monster movies, unrelated to Masked Maniac's storyline, riddle the film. "A lot of the editing credit goes to G Hunter," says Hutchinson. "Using clips is nothing new for us. We love to pay homage to public domain films.

"Whenever we could, we had three cameras set up so we could have multiple shots to pick from, and a match continuity-wise for closeups and such. It kept production moving fast and gave lots of options in editing." G Hunter edited the film on Sony Vegas.



Hutchinson claims a budget of "less than 2,000 Canadian dollars" which he paid "out of pocket." This doesn't include sweat equity, working for free on others' projects in return for the favor. His biggest expense was food. "Every cast and crew member was a volunteer. If you want to keep an indie film cast and crew from walking out, the way to their hearts is their stomachs. We also spent a fair chunk on blood and gore and zombie contact lenses.

"We have just begun submitting to free admission festivals, targeting those that appeal to B movie fans. People who like bad movies will like this." It has so far screened in Ponoka and Calgary, Canada, and had its first American screening in Oklahoma. "We will be touring all of 2014, and releasing it on DVD Christmas 2014.

"Every independent filmmaker has to have a talent to bring to the table. Mine is make-up and production design. I had a decade-long career in indie film -- more than 450 films, commercial, music video and theatre productions -- primarily in make-up and FX. I trained at Joe Blasco make-up center in Orlando, Florida in 1995."

Hutchinson's short films as director includes Evening of the Flesheaters, Children of the Plague, Unstuffed, and Gruesome Cupboard. "In 2006 I shot my first feature, Denizens of the Dead, which won the Underground Horrorfest award. Most of these films can be seen on my production page's YouTube page -- Das Zombie Productions.


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