Stefan Pape talks to director Matthias Hoene and writer James Moran about horror comedy
Premiering at this summers Film4 presented FrightFest at the Empire Leicester Square – Cockneys vs Zombies is a brilliantly enjoyable comedy horror, and ahead of the film’s nationwide release – August 31 – The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape was fortunate to sit down with director Matthias Hoene and writer James Moran, to discuss their upcoming feature.
For Hoene this is a début feature film – and the German born director is evidently thrilled to finally be releasing it to British public, as he discusses his inspirations and his delight at assembling such an all-star cast – one that consists of the likes of Michelle Ryan, Alan Ford, Richard Briers and Pussy Galore herself, Honor Blackman.
Meanwhile writer Moran – who is also currently in the process of promoting his second feature film this Autumn, Tower Block, tells us of his joy at both of his films being shown at this year Fright Fest, whilst also telling us of the difficulties in combining the horror and comedy genres. A statement that Hoene wholeheartedly disagrees with…
I can start by saying that I really enjoyed the film – you must both be thrilled with it?
James Moran: I’m very very happy, right from the very beginning all the things we put into it I didn’t think we’d get away with, but we did. Even when it was being sent to the BBFC there were a couple of questionable moments that I thought might give us some trouble, but it all sailed through without any cuts.
Matthias Hoene: Even the baby kicking scene – that I thought would be cut, but still made it through.
That was one of the best scenes…
James Moran: That was the thing. It’s such a sick horrible joke, it really is.
Matthias, as this is your debut film, was this something you always wanted to do?
Matthias Hoene: Well I loved Braindead and Evil Dead and all those old ’80s comedy horror films. With horror I like it to be funny and I suppose they are a bit more like adventure horror films, what would you call them?
James Moran: Yeah, the splattery-fun horror films, they’re not going to traumatise you.
Do you find it quite difficult to find a middle ground between horror and comedy, to make it scary but also funny in the process?
James Moran: It’s quite natural really, because horror films and comedy films are best with a crowd, they’ll scream at the horror films and laugh at the comedies so you’re more likely to scream and laugh if you go and see it at the cinema. There is a lot of crossover because these are hyped situations and the characters will react to them and think this is ridiculous so it’s only natural if something terrible happens that you would make a joke about it. It’s actually more difficult to do a completely dead serious film because you have to make sure people can take it completely seriously and you can undermine it so easily by accident, so its more fun to do horror comedy.
Matthias Hoene: I think it’s more difficult to do, I have to say. Tonally it’s very different because the rules of horror and the rules of comedy are almost completely opposite. What’s really difficult is when the actor makes a joke which is very funny but not truthful to the situation and you then lose faith in the situation, which makes it not scary any more. So it’s tough keeping the balance between what’s true to the situation, being funny and being scary. If you do one joke which is just a joke for jokes sake, you lose the audience, you have to keep that control when it comes to everyone chipping in.
There are definite comparisons to be made to Shaun of the Dead, are you big fans of that film and do see the huge success of that film as a sign that this could too be a big British film?
Matthias Hoene: Cockneys vs Zombies is more of a zombie adventure, I call it a Zomventure. It’s a bit more of an adventure, a bit more splattery, less family friendly, more swearing. I was more inspired by Braindead, the original zomedy. I think there’s space for everyone, and we just wanted to do our own cockney-zomedy and give lots of unique moments that you’ve never seen in horror or a zombie film before. Hopefully I didn’t mess it up, now it’s just down to the Gods of the box office, and hopefully people will like it. We put a lot of heart and a lot of soul into it and its unique I think.
James Moran: It’s nice to get favourable comparisons and we knew there would be a few people who would be questioning whether it was just a remake of Shaun and the Dead, but we tried to make it as different as possible and not tread on any toes, so there are bits that got trimmed out because I thought they would be perceived as slightly similar – they weren’t, it’s just because I wanted to be extra careful. You don’t want to do something which has been done before, so it just made us work harder to try and do something different and unique.
I get the feeling that this must have been a really fun film to shoot, but I read there are almost 800 extras – it must have been difficult to direct that many people?
Matthias Hoene: Easy. No, it was difficult to direct because it was like a big movie production but without the luxury of the big movie budget and schedule, so I had to be really quick and decisive to get it all choreographed and on camera, but it was a lot of fun and the truth is on all movie sets the atmosphere does really come from the director and the producer so if you come with a good attitude and a lot heart and soul, it permeates through the whole film and hopefully it shows when you are watching the film that everyone was enjoying themselves.
James Moran: The best thing for me is that I get to sit there and write it all into the script and put as much nonsense and mayhem as I want in there, and then it’s their job to actually make it come to life – and its all in there, I don’t know how they managed to pull it off.
Is it similar to what you envisaged it be like when you were writing it James?
James Moran: It’s pretty much spot on, there’s nothing we couldn’t do. Everything that was on the page is in there, its just been tightened up and trimmed. There’s nothing missing apart from a couple of scenes of people talking but nothing major, they did all the major things that were in there. I don’t know how but they did it.Matthias Hoene: Well it’s probably my producer’s cursing, my stubbornness, “no nothing will go, I’m not having it!” It was great, the script was so full of fun and mad genius, I wanted to bring everything to screen.
And as for the casting, there’s a great array of talent on show – you’ve got the young, up and coming stars such as Ashley Thomas – who for me is the star of the show – but there is also the likes of Honor Blackman and Alan Ford, how great was it to get people like that on board?
James Moran: It’s a dream come true really, we knew we wanted Alan from the very beginning but every time the emails came through saying we’ve got this person we’ve got that person, I was like “oh my god”. Every person we’ve got is a really big name and is really good. I just thought we’d get one or two names and the rest would be nobodies, but they were all fantastic so every time we got someone I’d do a little polishing and make sure there was enough for them to do, because it’s a proper ensemble. It’s ridiculous the cast we were able to get.
Matthias Hoene: It’s amazing because when a cast comes together the characters on paper suddenly come to life and it’s amazing to see what each character brings to those roles and how they become that person. I think I tried to get an interesting mix of character actors and legendary actors and all the sort of fun characters together who would hopefully make the roles their own. It’s a fun process and we were quite fortunate to get all those guys together.
You must both be very excited about premièring this film at FrightFest?
James Moran: It’s amazing. I’ve been going to Fright Fest for a number of years and now I’ve got two films premièring here at the same festival. I’m there every year as an audience member as I will be this year, except this time I will have seen two of the films already.
Matthias Hoene: The Fright Fest première is going to be amazing, it’s exactly the kind of audience the film is made for and I’m really looking forward to it.
COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES IS OUT ON FRIDAY AUGUST 31