"Slasher movies are all about the lone freak taking out normal people," explains Dan Abbott, aka Zombie Dan. "Victims are selected at random from the herd. In contrast, the zombie is the herd, seeking out individuals and assimilating them. A zombie is a creature without free will, the ability to choose its destiny. What could be scarier to a social outcast than the idea of losing not only one's life but also one's 'soul'?"
"This," Zombie Dan concludes, "is one of the things I'm really trying to explore."
He is explaining the Zombie Mystique, which has heretofore evaded me: Zombies are slow, dim-witted, and uncharismatic by definition, and thus unlikely candidates for the cult of adoration horror flick aficionados have built around them. A cult that will include -- if his luck, money, big-shot punk scene connections, and remarkably tender jawline hold out -- Zombie Dan's upcoming low-budget flick Fist of the Zombie (working title).
"It concerns a military bioweapon gone awry, and those responsible attempt to cover it up as long as possible from their superiors," he writes. "Meanwhile, a group of young punks and misfits attempt to fight their way past an army of undead. I'll be writing and directing the bastard, by the way."
Impressive, but the plot does ring somewhat familiar.
"How is this movie different? Well, first of all, it's an adventure film, more than anything else," Zombie Dan explains. "It's funny, terrifying, and violent, but primarily it's a ride, in the tradition of Indiana Jones, or perhaps Conan the Barbarian. It also takes a zombie's-eye look at the world. Plus, singing zombies!"
Yes, Fist of the Zombie promises a strong musical element. Zombie Dan is a Berkeley punker type affiliated with the S.P.A.M. Records crowd, a sort of 924 Gilman offshoot -- "We weren't spiky enough at the time, I suppose" -- responsible for a fleet of all-ages shows and local releases by, among others, Zombie Dan's former band, Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits. He'd originally conceived the flick as a rock opera, but has evidently chosen to outsource the rocking since then.
To this end, on a recent Friday night, a Berkeley warehouse played host to a Fist of the Zombie benefit that featured four bands -- one of them shockingly, devastatingly, religion-startingly fantastic, and another sucking so hard it literally bent light.
"Dimly lit" does not quite describe said shindig's ambience -- perhaps someone's attempt to cultivate an eerie, zombie-esque horror flick feel, the warehouse was a few tiny pitches short of pitch-black as the Hobo Goblins took the st--, uh, floor. An unamplified crew featuring accordion, tuba, violin, flute, washboard bass, and other such gypsyish instrumentation, the Goblins theatrically snarled at each other between songs about mutant moles and, topically, zombies.
"One of the bands couldn't make it," Zombie Dan noted as we watched. "They blew their van up."
Well, I'm fairly certain that's what he said. Kinda hard to tell, as Zombie Dan's jaw is currently wired shut. As he explains over his new favorite interviewing medium (e-mail), he was thwacked twice in the jaw with a two-by-four outside a West Oakland warehouse party several weeks back -- the ruffians stole Zombie Dan's bike and temporarily altered his eating habits. (Though he signs e-mails "Braiiiins," he ends this particular story with "Okay, I'm gonna go eat soup now.")
It'd be nice to transfer that two-by-four beating to more deserving parties. The second Fist of the Zombie benefit band, Soleo Iy, provided the aforementioned sucking/light-bending. I would prefer not to discuss this in detail. Suffice it to say that after a lengthy bout of awful garage-y rock and nearly worse go-go dancing, I shepherded my two companions out the warehouse door, drove one of them home immediately, and bought the other an enormous milkshake at Fenton's to bribe him into returning with me.
We got back in time to witness an utterly epoch-destroying Fleshies set, so bombastic and furious and jaw-smashing as to transform the warehouse patrons into drooling zombies on the spot, zombies whose sole occupation was to carry frontman Johnny No Moniker around (often upside down) as his bandmates pummeled everyone in sight with overamplified punk awesomeness. Poorly lit, sonically overwhelming, aesthetically terrifying. If Fist of the Zombie captures one-fifth of that mojo, it'll out-gross (and outgross) The Passion of the Christ.
Conveniently, Zombie Dan promises that Fleshies will enjoy a cameo in the flick "as an uberpretentious touring band. The Phantom Limbs are also going to appear. There are a few other local punk legends I've gotten a tentative 'yes' from, but I'll wait until they're definite. The soundtrack, of course, will rock."
Just so long as it doesn't bend light. Fist of the Zombie ETA: mid-2005. In the meantime: soup.
Noe Venable, the Bay's resident theatrical singer-songwriter extraordinaire, seeks to abandon us, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not. "I'm afraid I have no choice," she says. "I am being magnetically drawn towards New York as if by a tractor beam. I don't know, I've spent my whole life here. I guess I just need a change."
Thus, after a luminous local career (including last year's fabulous -- and fabulously weird -- disc The World Is Bound by Secret Knots), Noe is fleeing for the Big Apple. "I'm definitely ready to shake myself up a bit," she writes via e-mail. (No, her jaw is not broken.) "Kind of like jumping into a blender and pressing 'puree.' I plan to stay up late. Eat ice cream. Carry my minidisc player around and do some field recordings and just take it all in."
The duration of her stay remains negotiable, but in the meantime, Noe held a Sunday afternoon going-away party of sorts at her house in the Oakland Hills, performing in her living room with longtime collaborator and bassist Todd Sickafoose, blowing through mesmerizing originals from "Boots" to "Midsummer Night's Dream," with a rousing sing-along version of Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream" as the affair's sad but fitting denouement.
With any luck, she will return in time for Fist of the Zombie's unveiling. We'd be lucky (again) to have her.
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