Wrestlers rescue Zombie King movie
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
The independent film, Enter ... Zombie King, is indeed a strange
brew - the two producers have deep roots in comic books, the director is
obsessed with Mexican masked wrestling, and the co-writer is a graduate
of Naked News. Then throw in a bunch of pro wrestlers, including Jim
'The Anvil' Neidhart and NWA-TNA's Sinn and Tracy,
and one is guaranteed a strange ride.
Enter ... Zombie King, which has its world premiere Friday,
November 21st at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto, draws inspiration from
George Romero films, 1960s Marvel Comics, and Mexican wrestling movies,
and in the words of its press release, "smashes archetypes, emasculates
genres and tells a story that warms the heart."
"This is the best Mexican wrestling movie ever made," insisted the
film's director, Stacey Case. "Like any good B-film, like any good
exploitation film, you're never going to be bored, you're going to
laugh, you're going to be shocked sometimes, sometimes it's very corny."
But the story of the film actually being made over a three-week period
in December 2002 hinges completely on the Squared
Circle Pro Wrestling Gym in Toronto's west end, and its many
students and graduates.
Bill Marks, one of the producers of the film, came up with the story of
masked wrestlers versus zombies in the woods that are killing the
townspeople. His background was in comics, as the founder of Vortex
Comics (Mister X, Yummy Fur, Stig's Inferno), and
he brought in Steve Solomos, the founder and manager of The Beguiling
Comix Shop in Toronto as co-producer.
But Marks only really knew one place to turn for lucha libre (masked
Mexican) wrestling. "Since I knew I wanted to make a Mexican wrestling
movie, I immediately called Stacey Case. I thought, 'Who better to
direct a Mexican wrestling movie in Canada than Stacey Case?'" said
Marks. Case, a musician, silk-screener and artist, had directed a series
of short films starring Arriba, The Parkdale Wrestler.
Case is not shy about his obsession with lucha libre, proudly recalling
a line from the Toronto Sun's Kieran Grant in 2001: "[Case has a]
love for Mexican wrestling that borders on the pathological."
Toronto's Michael Paszt, who had recently worked on a documentary on
lucha libre and lives part-time in Mexico City, often writing articles
on the Mexican wrestling scene, entered the scene next. He directed
Marks and Case to the Squared Circle Pro Wrestling Gym, where Rob
Etcheverria (aka wrestler El Fuego)
trained students in the finer aspects of the lucha style, and who had
been to Mexico to wrestle himself.
"Michael was instrumental in introducing us to Rob Fuego and saying, if
you want to make a Mexican wrestling movie, here's people doing
lucha-style wrestling in Toronto. Which was just gold," recalled Marks.
"So through this odd connection of Stacey Case and Michael Paszt, we
ended up wanting to make a Mexican wrestling movie, finding luchadores
in Canada, and Stacey brought in Sean K. Robb, who I collaborated with
on the screenplay. And, of course, Sean has a massive love of
Robb had worked with Case at the Naked News, where he wrote scripts and
Case was a cameraman. Enter ... Zombie King was his first feature
screenplay, and it was a job he took to heart. To Robb, the film has
aspects of comedy and horror, with multiple doses of B-movie campiness
brought on by the low budget. "As much fun as the movie is, and as funny
as it is, besides the fact that it plays with the conventions of all
these different genres, it's not in any way making fun or spoofing any
of them, or satirizing them in any way. We just honestly enjoy the thing
that inspired this weird little movie," said Robb. "We were taking all
of it very seriously. We love this stuff. And hopefully that shows up in
Initially, the trainers at Squared Circle were asked to train some
stuntmen in the basics of the lucha libre fighting style. Within a week.
Needless to say, it didn't work, so the producers decided to offer the
wrestlers themselves work doing the stunts. It snowballed from there.
"When we saw what Rob and the Squared Circle guys could do, we basically
started writing the movie around what they could do," said Marks.
Wrestlers were paired up with actors roughly the same size and built as
themselves. Because almost all of the characters were in lucha masks or
under zombie make-up, the plan was to dub in the voices in the editing
process. So, when a wrestler was subbing for the actor, they got the
same opportunity to read the lines so the editor would know where to dub
in the lines.
The original lead heel, the Zombie King, was supposed to be played by
legendary horror director George Romero. But he fell ill, and hardly
missing a beat, the decision was made to keep Sinn (Nick Cyjetkovich) as
the bad guy, after impressing the crew with his inspired readings in the
stunt scenes. El Fuego was called upon to be one of the lead heroes,
Tiki, when the original actor was unable to make the shoot. Others, like
Tracy Brooks and Angel
Williams had their roles as zombies significantly upgraded to take
advantage of both their stage presence and their enthusiasm for the roles.
"George got sick and couldn't come, and Nick was so good, we just made
him into the Zombie King," said Marks. "The discovery that Nick was such
a powerful, charismatic performer was just one of the great, happy
accidents of the picture."
Everyone involved in the behind-the-scenes process came away with a
tremendous appreciation for the everyday skills of pro wrestlers. "[The
wrestlers] were fantastic," said Robb. "They had to work really long
hours because most of the time, of course they were just sitting there
waiting to do their bits. Half the time, they were better than the
actors, frankly. I'm going to get into trouble for saying that, but the
fact was that they could be called on to do just about anything, they
were willing to do absolutely everything. They were always contributing
new ideas, just little bits, just little gimmicks and jokes for their
characters. The film is considerably better because of their involvement."
Case had worked with a few of the wrestlers over the years, designing
posters for the Apocalypse Wrestling Federation. He was thrilled and
impressed by getting to work up close with them. "This was kind of neat
to really work with them. There were so many times when those guys just
saved the day. And they're so professional. The whole wrestling
community is totally awesome," said Case. "They bent over backwards,
they did everything you wanted. There were times, as the director, I
was, like, 'I don't think you should be doing that.' And the producers
would go, 'Don't say that, man. Don't say that.' Because you don't want
them to hurt themselves. I loved those people."
Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart was on set for just one day. "He steals every
scene that he's in," said Case. "He does a Hulk Hogan imitation. 'Jim,
forget about being a sheriff. I'm going to re-write the script a little
bit. I'm the f***ing director. Forget that you're the sheriff. Now
you're Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart as the sheriff. I need a couple of the
Jim 'The Anvil' Neidharts in here.'"
Fuego worked as the stunt coordinator on the film, and Case and director
of photography Adam Swica turned to him again and again for advice on
the fight scenes. "It was totally fun coordinating fights with Fuego,"
said Case. He'd explain what he needed, walk through the fight scene
with Fuego, then sit back to watch. "They'd rehearse it a couple of
times in the freezing cold winter with bare arms, down on the waterfront
with the cold wind blowing in off Lake Ontario. The next thing you know,
it's ballet. It was just awesome, totally cool. I wouldn't trade that
experience for anything. All the other crap that I might have dealt with
afterwards, in the year since, I can go right back to directing the
film, and I was literally standing on the sidelines going 'Yeah, Yeah!
Harder! Harder! Hit 'em again!'"
According to Case, the film is not perfect -- some of it by design. As a
Canadian production, with a short shooting schedule and low budget, many
of the shots planned in the original script had to be changed to work in
reality. The production was rushed, and winter was coming quickly.
But, in partnership with Swica, Case got a slew of intentional
continuity errors into Enter ... Zombie King. "I drove the
continuity girl nuts," he said. "Because I know these [Mexican
wrestling] films inside and out, I just started writing in continuity
errors everywhere. She's like, 'Is his jacket supposed turn brown then
back to blue?' I'm like, 'Yep'. Me and Adam, we got it completely. We
started changing things around. A guy's holding a cigarette in one shot.
Cut back to him and he's holding a cigar. Back and he's holding a
cigarette. It's real quick, fast, fast, fast."
In short, the film will hold-up on repeated viewings. "There's just lots
of stuff, even in the backgrounds," said Case. "There's one big fight
scene, and there's little tiny things, like when Rob punches the giant,
fat wrestler in the stomach, the guy turns around. He turns around, and
if you're watching Rob, Rob just starts taking on the next zombie. But
if you're watching the fat guy when he turns around, he turns around,
holds up both his arms, and clotheslines two zombies as he goes down.
But if you're not watching for it, you won't see it. It's actually fun.
I like being in a crowd when people are watching because everybody
laughs at different things because there's so much going on."
Enter ... Zombie King doesn't have a distribution deal yet, but
all involved are hopeful that the screenings this weekend in Toronto
will lead to a deal.
Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!
Order Enter...Zombie King
November 19, 2003: Zombie King: Bikinis, masks and gooey make-up
Review: Enter...Zombie King full of gory goodness
The SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in
1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the
author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame:
The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at email@example.com.