By Kevin Hoover
Zombies. If the mere utterance of the word makes you want to click out of this article, you’re not alone. The primetime bastardization of the genre led to an oversaturation of films hoping to cash-in on the mass acceptance of what once was considered a wholly owned subsidiary of the hardcore horror community. So when New York-based Joshua Reale, founder of the ever-popular haunted attraction CAYO Industrial Horror Realm, landed on the idea to produce a zombie film as his feature debut, he knew that it had better be damn good. And damn different.
NECROPATH is the result of three shorts, each award-winning in their own right, stitched together by the reoccurrence of a homicidal antagonist, named “Scag.” Set against the backdrop of an urban city in the throes of a pandemic (coincidental to the topicality of the current state of affairs), NECROPATH tells the story of a family befallen by tragedy and a young heroine forced to protect her infant sister from the drug-riddled clutches of a maniac who appears to be a card-carrying member of the undead. Rue Morgue caught up with writer, director, and co-producer Reale, who discusses his feature film debut, now available both digitally and as a physical release from Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures.
How did you come up with the idea for NECROPATH?
Way back, even before I created my Halloween attraction, CAYO Industrial, I always had an interest in filmmaking but never knew how to get started. I took a few classes, but they never did anything for me. As time passed, my friend Geoff Orlowski came to CAYO to shoot scenes for his own films. I’d hang around to watch him work, thinking it might be great to pick his brain about my ideas. We met up sometime after at a local café where we’d sit and discuss things, and eventually we decided to work on a small project together for the Scare-A-Con horror convention. That small project turned out to be a zombie short film contest. I was never a huge fan of the zombie genre, but I knew that I wanted to create something that was my own take on the concept. Unlike other films where the focus in on those running from the undead, in NECROPATH, the focus is on a central zombie character, Scag.
Was the idea always to shoot NECROPATH as a series of shorts, or did it begin life as a single project that metamorphosized into something larger?
It started as an individual project. After we won a few first-place awards at film festivals, I decided that I really wanted to make another one. We shot a second film which was grittier than the first, and then followed that with a third, which would become the longest of the shorts and featured an increase in practical special effects.
According to the film’s site, the entire project cost only $10,000 to produce?
There was already much already at hand with locations, props, etc. A lot of our actors came over from Geoff’s productions or were actors at my Halloween attraction. We used very unconventional sources of lighting for the film. I did the editing and visual material. Probably the biggest expenses were that of the film equipment, film festivals, and distribution costs.
Independent filmmaking, while certainly more accessible nowadays thanks to advancements in technology, is still rife with its own obstacles. How were you able to make the most of a limited budget?
Coming from my background in creating CAYO Industrial, I have a lot of experience in building sets. There have been times where I’ll be driving down the road and I’d find an old door and then come up with a way to incorporate that into my attractions. Learned to be practical. NECROPATH was shot in and around the warehouse that hosts my attractions, so that gave us the perfect backdrop for our film. While there were a few ideas I had in mind that weren’t filmed due to budgetary constraints, mostly everything I wanted to do made it in.
Zombies are like a dog after a bone; they’re often driven by a singular purpose. But yours appear to have layers. I’m thinking especially of a moment of discovery where Scag is discovering, or perhaps, re-discovering how to use a gun. How important was it to you during the film’s development was it that your characters retain some of their human qualities?
When writing NECROPATH, I wanted the zombies to feed off of their own personal addictions. For instance, our film has a character called the “Crack Hag.” Her character comes from a number of places, like those stories you’d hear of people selling their own babies in order to get money for drugs. Maybe, at some point in her life, the Crack Hag gave her baby away, and seeing one again triggered something inside of her. With Scag, there’s kind of this unsaid notion that his use of injected drugs makes him alternate back and forth between human and zombie, as if the narcotics somehow counteract the zombie virus. Scag is like an animal driven by instincts to kill, yet at times, he’s also childlike with his feeble mind.
Aside from a few spoken lines in the second act, dialogue in NECROPATH is essentially non-existent. In the context of gritty set pieces, unsettling lighting effects, and the ominous tones of an air raid siren signaling impending doom, the decision works. Can you explain this approach?
I had written a few lines for some of the characters, but when it came time to film, they didn’t feel like they fit. I also realized that, after editing, without a lot of dialogue distracting from other elements, it helped the film feel dreamlike.
From the outset, NECROPATH bombards the senses, and viewers are often deprived of moments of respite. What was the creative decision behind that?
I think what mainly influenced the outcome of the film was two things: first, not having any set ideas of how to make films. I just did things how I thought they should be done from my own creative perspective. Secondly, from running a Halloween attraction for so many years, with the sets having nightmarish sounds, effect lighting, startles, etc., I felt that I leaned on those experiences in making this film. It was important to me that every single shot have some sort of impact. I didn’t want there to be any filler. Every moment needed to be profound in some way, and that’s how I want to go about making future films. From the moral dilemmas the characters – and viewers – face, to the kills and the sounds. Not just the ambient sounds, but the sounds of the kills. When someone is stabbed, I want to hear that knife sink in.
You’ve gone on record as stating that NECROPATH isn’t a “one-and-done,” and that you’d like to continue to expand upon what you’ve already created. Considering the accolades you’ve already earned on the festival circuit and the fan support you’ve garnered, it seems as though others are excited to see what else you’ve got in store. What does that look like?
I’d like to continue to build out the series with future NECROPATH movies with the idea that each would be stand-alone from other entries. I’ve already formulated the ending for the next film, and the idea is something I really want to roll with. I also have a psychological horror icon character I created some time ago with poetic-style storylines. I was always inspired by James Wan and his work on the first Saw film.I would love to meet and work with him one day on a project, but for now, I’m doing things with one foot in the gutter, one fist on the goal. I feel like horror fans have gotten tired of how films are made today, and they want something different or retrospective. I knew that when NECROPATH came out, it caught various people off guard with its style, but I felt I made something new and interesting. I made a movie the way that I wanted to make a movie, and there’s a lot of people that absolutely get it. Whether a movie be a low budget, independent, high budget, campy, practical special effects, a ton of CGI graphics, comedic horror, stars famous actors or random new faces, there’s a place for all types of horror films, and that’s the beauty of the genre. There are so many different levels that everyone appreciates. I just decided to go the dirty unconventional route with NECROPATH.
NECROPATH is available for rental or purchase on most major video platforms from Gravitas Ventures, as well as at cayoindustrial.com