The Zombeatles have got a fever, and the only prescription... is more braaaaaaiiiiinnnnsss! This undead band also known as the Fab Gore is no stranger to flesh, blood, and rock 'n' roll, and their exploits are featured up close and tasty in a new documentary that premieres in Madison on Friday, January 23.
This comedic zombie-fried group is an alter-ego side project of the Gomers, the locally beloved light-hearted rockers responsible for the popular Rockstar Gomeroke gigs that offer the mic to aspiring singers, as well as a seemingly ubiquitous presence on stages across the city. Originally formed as a seasonal creation, the zombified re-animation of the Fab Four played Halloween parties at the High Noon Saloon in 2004 and 2005. Come the following summer, the group shot a music video for the song "A Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead," a celebration of the Fab Gore and homage to their living Liverpudlian antecedents that was subsequently posted online for the world to see. More Halloween performances followed that year and the next.
Meanwhile, the video found a fan in Rob Zombie, and the rock star turned movie producer selected it in October 2007 as one among a dozen of his favorite online independent horror shorts for a Halloween season promotion on YouTube. Horror fans followed, the video went viral, and soon the band found itself in the first throes of Zombeatlemania. The fun couldn't end there, though.
Doug Gordon, a Wisconsin Public Radio producer who created and performs as a Scottish zombie comedian character known as Angus MacAbre, visualized another round of on-screen stardom for The Zombeatles. Meeting with the Gomers last spring, the group of undead aficionados unearthed the idea of a mockumentary rockumentary that recast the story of The Beatles in an undead world.
Titled The Zombeatles: All You Need Is Brains, this short film was written and directed by Gordon, and shot and edited by Madison filmmaker Ben Wydeven. Running a very television-friendly 22 minutes in length, the mockumentary is presented in the format similar to an episode of Behind the Music, the long-running VH1 biographical series that followed the stories of musicans and bands across the ups and downs of their careers. MacAbre serves as host of this particular program, which couples his narration with commentary by other undead music notables and stylized "archival" footage of the band in action to tell a tale about the fall and rise of, arguably, the greatest zombie band ever to shamble on stage.
Much like its television inspiration, All You Need Is Brains opens with The Zombeatles' formative experiences. Founding members Jaw Nlennon, Pall Ickartney, Gorge Harryson, and Eat Breast first get together and play small but enthusiastic shows in their hometown, appropriately named Pool of Liver. As narrated by MacAbre, though, the "severed arm of fate was about to give the Fab Gore the finger," as Breast was found to be not enthusiastic enough about eating brains.
Enter Dingo Starr, the wild-eyed and ravenous replacement drummer. Portrayed hilariously by the inexorable Biff Blumfumgagne, this particular Zombeatle is particularly unable to control his hunger for human flesh, wildly beating his drum set with body parts and liable to attack the crew behind the camera.
With its now thoroughly rotting lineup now solid, the band goes on to climb the charts with songs like "I Want to Eat Your Hand" and "P.S. I Love Eating You," drawn from early albums titled Meet the Zombeatles and A Taste of Human. Paralleling their living counterparts, a Zombeatles Invasion of America follows, complete with an appearance on The Dead Sullivan Show. Puns like these abound in All You Need Is Brains, playing not only on the band and its oeuvre but also on the world surrounding it. The charts are filled with fellow undead bands like The Rolling Kidney Stones and Pink Brain, and its members develop romances with the likes of Limbic Eatman and Ewwyoko Ohno. Even interview subjects in the mockumentary, like rock critic Fester Fangs and producer Gorge Mortem, play upon the names and personas of real life rock legends.
All of the puns are a bit overwhelming and certainly rich in cheese, but they also make for plenty of fun, particularly when the storyline adapts familiar experiences of The Beatles for a zombified existence. Every rock 'n' roll parable includes a cautionary tale about drug use, though in this case it's not LSD that altered brains or inspired the landmark album Salt & Pepper Gory Hearts & Bloody Hand. Also amusing are the undead nods to the stranger storied elements of Beatles lore, such as Nlennon's claim that The Zombeatles were "more popular than Satan" or the persistent rumor that Pall is alive.
The use of faux-archival footage adds to the conceit of the mockumentary, particularly the scenes showing a crowed of frenzied zombie fans lurching and flailing in the midst of a concert. These scenes were captured last October in a special shoot at the Frequency, in which Gomers and zombie fans were encouraged to don their best undead duds and make-up to appear as extras engaged in full-on Zombeatlemania.
A taste at The Zombeatles can be found in the full-length trailer for the film.
The undead have been a staple of popular culture for the last half-century, this enduring presence a reminder of their even older role as a mythical metaphor for contagion. The genre has experienced a resurgence over the last decade, as the concept of the classic George Romero zombie has metastasized into a broad array of creatures and scenarios thanks to the ongoing influence of the Resident Evil and 28 Days series, along with the emergence of zombie walks and the books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z by Max Brooks.
One particularly successful side of this revenant renaissance is the zombie comedy genre. Building upon the influence of the Return of the Living Dead series, this approach to the monster has seen recent success with the films Shaun of the Dead and Fido and the Stubbs the Zombie video game. All three stories humanize the undead, imagining post-apocalyptic worlds in which the presence of zombies becomes a matter of course. It's a similar territory to that explored by Romero through the latest entries in his ...of the Dead series, which itself has been revived in recent years.
The Zombeatles find themselves within this kind of world in All You Need Is Brains, one in which zombies remake human civilization in their image.
"I'd really like to further develop this idea of a 'zomniverse' that the film takes place in," declares Gordon. "All zombies, all the time. Zombies started by eating the stupid people since they're the easiest to catch. Then they had to track down smarter people for food. This 'smart people diet' helped zombies evolve in a Darwinian fashion to the point that they've become intelligent, conscious creatures. They've taken over the world and now have their own arts, entertainment and popular culture scene which includes such acts as The Zombeatles and Angus MacAbre."
Gordon has visualized a wealth of ideas for exploring his zomniverse, which he says fits well within the transmedia storytelling approach to creating a fictional reality. Beginning with the basics of movies, television, print, and online media, he also proposes video games like Rock Band: The Zombeatles and the otherwise undefined Angus MacAbre's Radioactive Haggis. "I've actually contacted a few game development companies about this, but haven't heard anything back," he says. "Now that the film's done, I think I'll have better luck."
This zomniverse is also replete with merchandising concepts, starting simply with t-shirts and action figures but also thinking bigger with "The Zombeatles" and "Angus MacAbre" cereals, both sure to be breakfast staples for every hungry zombie on the run. Hmm, brain-shaped cereal puffs, sweetened with a touch of honey, could even prove a popular treat among the living. A touring vaudeville show and an "extreme theme park," respectively and tentatively named Zombeatlemania and "Angus MacAbre's Macabreville," the latter already slated to include attractions like "Baristas of the Carribean" and "The Haunted McMansion," round out the longer-term ideas. "Seriously?" Gordon quips. "Seriously."
Building a media empire of such scope will take plenty of time and work, not to mention m ore braaaaaaiiiiinnnnsss, but Gordon is already taking his first transmedia steps. In his guise of the zombie comedian, he is working on a self-described "magnum opus," this tome titled Angus MacAbre's Zomnibus. The Gomers, meanwhile, have recorded an album in character as The Zombeatles, good news for fans hungry for more of tunes that they're only given a taste of in the film. Gordon also plans on submitting All You Need Is Brains to film festivals and horror conventions, and is offering DVD for sale to Beatles and zombie fans alike.
The Zombeatles will be taking the stage at the world premiere of All You Need Is Brains during the Madison Horror launch party for its Bordello of Horror variety show webcast at the Annex on Friday, January 23. The festivities also include the Midwest premiere of Jessika Rabid staring Elske McCain, and sets by the cow punks of Mad Trucker Gone Mad and the growling metallurgists of Kill Junior. Hosted by local fright maestro Freakshow and his accompanying Harlots of Horror, the bash starts at 8:30 p.m., and the cover is a dreadfully affordable $7. If the Fab Gore are taking requests, here's one for their classic "Hey Food."