The Bow Bells Care Home is under threat and the McGuire’s – Andy, Terry, and Katy – need to find some way to keep their grandfather and his friends in the East End, where they belong. But when you’re robbing a bank, zombie invasions make things a lot harder. And let’s face it, they need all the help they can get when their bank-robbing experts turn out to be Mental Mickey and Davey Tuppance. As contractors to an East London building site unlock a 350-year old vault full of seriously hungry zombies, the East End has suddenly gone to hell and the Cockney way of life is under threat. Equipped with all the guns and ammo they can carry, it’s up to the gang to save the hostages, their grandfather, and East London from zombie Armageddon.
‘Cockneys VS Zombies’ is the feature film debut of Matthias Hoene, who comes from a commercials background and won a Golden Lion in Cannes for his first commercial in 2001. With a genuine passion for zombie films, it is clear to see that homage has been paid to the classic films of the genre: Hoene cites Peter Jackson’s Braindead, widely seen as one of the goriest movies within the horror-comedy genre; Evil Dead 2; and Dawn of the Dead as inspiration. We spoke with Director Matthias Hoene in anticipation of ‘COCKNEYS vs ZOMBIES‘ NYC Theatrical Premiere Friday, August 2, 2013 at the Cinema Village (Warning: Interview Contains Mild Spoilers).
‘COCKNEYS vs ZOMBIES’ is NOW PLAYING @ Cinema Village and VOD
Can you describe the process of making the film? How’d you come up with the idea?
One inspiration was watching Peter Jackon’s Dead-Alive back in the 80s on a dodgy VHS copy. It was actually outlawed in Berlin where I grew up because it was so violent. But I loved how that film was so violent and so funny at the same time. I just love those sort of horror comedies. I can’t take them too seriously. Then I was working with a couple of Cockney actors for a web series I was directing, and there were all these side characters in that script. But when they were up against a supernatural enemy, it was so funny because of all the pumped up gangsters, not showing any fear, not being fazed by anything, not going, “Oh my god, what is it?! What is it?!” They were just like, “All right, it’s fucking zombies, now fuck off!” With a shotgun in their hand. And I just thought, that’s such a funny attitude to bring to a horror film.
In what ways did you take inspiration from some other zombie narratives, and in what ways did you want to make your film different?
When I started developing the film, The Walking Dead hadn’t come out yet. I was aware of the comic book and I loved it. So I proposed slow moving zombies, and everyone was going, “Well you can’t do slow-moving zombies, because people won’t accept them. Everyone’s doing fast zombies, you should do fast zombies.” And I’m like, No no no no no, they’ve gotta be slow because slow-moving zombies means that it’s all about the characters, it’s not just a chase movie where everyone’s out of breath. The character drama can play out, and the people can be funny. For example, ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ that’s a romantic comedy with zombies. I wanted to make a gangster movie with zombies. A Cockney adventure with zombies. I call it my zomb-venture. There aren’t enough horror comedies being made. It’s quite difficult to make them. Every observation in your film needs to be truthful, and not forced – and then funny. And you also need to weave in scary moments, real human moments, and it’s very difficult to control that tone.
So how did you go about controlling the tone in your film? What sorts of things did you do to make things both scary and funny?
The screenwriter James Moran came up with the idea of the Cockney pension home that needs to be defended. A stroke of genius because even though the zombies are slow, the pensioners with their wheelchairs and their Zimmer frames are slower. And that’s such a funny concept. The slow motion chase, those sort of things are really key moments where you go, that’s kind of hilarious.
The old folks don’t just roll over and die in this film – they fight and kick some ass. Why did you want to empower the elderly?
Well, because it’s fun. Alan Ford and Honor Blackman with machine guns, it felt like something fresh that you haven’t seen. And also, it just makes me giggle. And it was great working with those two. I mean, Alan Ford is sort of scary. But he’s the nicest guy in real life. And then Honor Blackman, she was the second eldest cast member, but she had so much enthusiasm. I remember lining up all these weapons for the actors for the pension home breakout scene, and it was knives and whisps and everything from the kitchen, and she looked at all of them and went, “No no no Matthias, I want the sledgehammer.” So she got the sledgehammer, and there was one take specifically where we had all these zombie extras coming up to her, and she just kept hitting them over the head, and she didn’t hear me shout “Cut!” So she took out like fifteen to twenty zombies, until she realized the scene was done. And afterwards she comes over to me and says, “Matthias, I’m so sorry, zombie number eleven, I hit him on the wrong side of the head, so the cheek won’t sell to camera.” And first of all I was really impressed that she was so focused and making sure that every move of hers was perfect. But also it was like, it’s okay, five zombies were enough to kill.
For American audiences who may not know much about London’s East End – why is it a good place to set a zombie movie?
Ever since Jack the Ripper roamed White Chapel, and the Kray brothers terrorized East London, and the old soldiers were taken away from East London to fight the Zulus in the First and Second World Wars, and had to defend their turf against the evil invaders – East London has always been a place full of tough motherfuckers who were fighting with a stiff upper lip to protect British values… But never until today have they faced a supernatural enemy. Its Cockney values are about holding together as a family unit and having a community that sticks together. In a way that’s being threatened by all the old places being torn down and replaced anonymous apartment complexes, which is one of the themes in the movie. Those old values are being diluted by gentrification and types like me moving in. [Laughs.]
Why did you decide to make your movie more upbeat and optimistic than most zombie films tend to be?
It was a conscious decision. I didn’t want to have the normal zombie movie ending where everyone’s dead, and then they get on a boat, and on the island everyone’s dead as well. I wanted to create some heroes and I wanted them to live. Alan Ford’s character especially. We had a script editor tell us, “Well he needs to die on the docks,” and I was like, “No, no way.” It was all about the heroes defending their turf.
As for Alan Ford’s character – why did you decide to make an old guy the most fearsome figure in the film?
I thought he had to be the ultimate representation of Cockney values, more Cockney than anyone else. His role was to show the youngsters how to do it. Of course I’d seen him in ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,’ and ‘Snatch,’ and he was amazing in those two films, but there were also a couple of sketches that Alan Ford was in. There was an Armando Ianucci sketch where someone calls him in, a Cockney thug, to fix a washing machine, and all he does is swear at the washing machine until it’s so frightened it starts working again. And that’s what I showed James Moran: This guy is the guy we have to have in the lead role. And the truth is I was a little bit worried whether he would have enough warmth in him – because he’s quite fearsome. So I tried to give him lots of gentle moments where you really feel for him, not just paint him as this sort of stereotypical thug.
What are your hopes for the film in the States?
Americans love action movies, and this is an action-packed horror movie. The ending to me felt more American than British: The family comes together in a big heroic action sequence at the end. I wanted a Hollywood ending. I’m really excited. It seems like the fans are happy so far.
You immigrated to the East End from Berlin. How did you get this affection for Cockney Culture?
I moved to London to study, and I’ve lived in East London ever since. I married an English woman. And I just like the chutzpah and the energy of Cockneys, the funny banter, the scoundrels and the rascals. And even though I’m aware that I’m an outsider to it, I think that’s okay, because observing from outside is not a bad thing. It gives you a different objective view on a culture. With that in mind of course it was important that I was working with actors like Alan Ford, who educated us on exactly how to do it.
– Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by David Teich
‘COCKNEYS vs ZOMBIES’ (NOW PLAYING in NYC) – TICKETS
@ Cinema Village
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