Two bionic half brothers rumble with Satan and his gang of zombies and demons, hoping to kung fu their way to saving spring break and the world in the process.
The next El Rey TV series or Quentin Tarantino exploitation buffet? Nope.
“Spring Break Zombie Massacre,” a 45-minute horror film currently catching on like an undead plague, comes from the craniums of 20-year-old Sam Suchmann and 21-year-old Mattie Zufelt of Providence, R.I. Never mind the fact they both have Down syndrome. These guys wrote and star in the flick, serving as ringmasters for their cinematic master plan, which includes an Atlanta premiere this weekend.
“As aspiring filmmakers Sam and Mattie, we always beat the odds,” Zufelt said recently over the phone from the Telluride Horror Show film fest. “What matters is people with disabilities are making a movie. Like it or not, you’ll still enjoy the movie, too.”
Audiences are eating up the pair’s bounds-breaking gore fest. Raucous crowds cheered at the New York City premiere as a band of bikers roared their Harleys out front in approval. Viewers in Kansas City, Kan., high-fived the guys after the show. And Conan O’Brien bestowed Zufelt and Suchmann with a chocolate fountain just after they confidently took over the “Conan” couch.
Their imagination and dreams keep coming to life, one frame at a time.
On Oct. 21, the Plaza Theatre in Poncey-Highland will screen “Spring Break Zombie Massacre,” complete with Suchmann and Zufelt rocking the red carpet. The screening will serve as a reunion of sorts, as several homegrown filmmakers were involved in the making of the movie.
Atlanta actresses Madeline Brumby and Allison Maier co-star in the film, and the team from creature effects studio Silver Scream FX Lab, led by monster maestro Shane Morton, brought the blood and guts to the big screen.
“I think I’m more excited about the Atlanta screening than any other,” said Jesse Suchmann, the film’s producer and Sam’s brother. “The people from Silver Scream are some of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with creatively. The way they talk about Atlanta as this mecca of horror, film and creativity has us so psyched.”
Being psyched about “Spring Break Zombie Massacre” goes all the way back to Sam and Mattie’s backyard childhood playdates. Watching his brother and friend craft the concept for years, Jesse finally realized the seriousness a few years ago during Thanksgiving break back home in Providence.
“Sam came down from his room with a notebook,” Jesse recalled. “He and Mattie had been working on the plot of this movie, and it was so thought out and complete. I remember thinking how much better it was than anything I could do.”
Jesse said at that point he knew that, for him or anyone else to give the proper respect to Sam and Mattie’s efforts, they would need to “actually do it for real.”
So Jesse tapped his own close friend, director and director of photography Bobby Carnevale. Together with Los Angeles-based producer Suzy Beck and pal Tim Forster, and under Sam and Mattie’s direction, they created a Kickstarter campaign.
Eventually, they raised $75,000 before taxes, and “Spring Break Zombie Massacre” got a green light. Filming took place over two weeks in the summer of 2015 in Providence.
Yet, they needed more assistance, both financial and physical.
In early 2015, while on a commercial shoot in Nashville, Carnevale sat down with Morton. Sam and Mattie’s film needed monsters of many stripes, and Carnevale said he knew Morton was the makeup wiz for the job.
“Once I heard about the project, I knew I had to be involved,” Morton said. “I went crazy over the script. It was over-the-top, thought-provoking, and unlike anything I had read before.”
It didn’t take Brumby, Morton’s partner and girlfriend, long to jump into the project herself. After reading just a handful of pages, she said she was ready to donate her time to the shoot in any way needed. Brumby soon passed on the pages to Maier, and her acting colleague followed suit.
Brumby and Maier asked to audition, and were cast as Sam’s dueling girlfriends.
Once August 2015 arrived, Maier, Brumby and Morton piled into the front seat of Morton’s pick-up truck, the confines overflowing with gallons of makeup, fake blood, zombie costumes and more. Off to Providence they went.
In Providence, the trio, along with three other artists from Silver Scream FX Lab (Chris Brown, Kyle Yaklin and Ashley Cloud), found a bustling crew of volunteers, many seasoned veterans from the film industry. The unifying goal: to help materialize Sam and Mattie’s vision.
“The stars just aligned for this entire project,” Carnevale said.
According to Carnevale, most of those involved felt privileged to be part of the team. From the get-go, Carnevale said he and the producers agreed to keep the purity of Sam and Mattie’s concept at the forefront. And it remained the golden rule.
They defied traditional storytelling rules, because that’s how Sam and Mattie wanted it. The duo also were intent on offering a part to DJ Pauly D from “Jersey Shore.” While the director and producers were less than confident the reality TV star would accept, Pauly D showed up with a smile, killing zombies by slinging vinyl records.
Morton ended up doing hundreds of zombie makeups, clocking in 14- to 16-hour days with the rest of the cast and crew. Among his team’s creations was a massive Satan suit, custom-built for actor Johnny Collins. Towering horns, clomping hooves and high-grade fur gave Sam and Mattie the nemesis they had imagined.
“The devil he created looked like a cross between Mordred from King Arthur and Triple H from WWE,” Sam Suchmann said. “He has a real gift at doing that.”
Maier and Brumby, along with the entire effects, wardrobe and art department, bunked on air mattresses in dorm-like rooms in a local medical building. Brumby described it as a kind of “film camp.”
Despite the grueling hours, Brumby said everyone, including Sam and Mattie, happily did multiple jobs to see the film through. Actors and actresses swept floors, locals lent their time building sets, and Sam and Mattie’s Special Olympics teammates traveled long distances to serve as extras and production assistants.
“I’m very thankful for having the opportunity to spend time with Sam and Mattie firsthand, learning who they are, and all about their dreams,” Brumby said. “I think it’s made me a better human being and more compassionate.”
Maier agreed. “There’s this entire perspective in filmmaking that nobody cares about, because it’s not mainstream,” Maier said. “And these are stories that need to be told. And these are people who have a unique perspective and deserve as much an opportunity as anybody else.”
In the meantime, Sam and Mattie keep basking in the opportunity and attention “Spring Break Zombie Massacre” is generating. They’re already plotting a sequel, and they hope to help organize a nonprofit that funds creative projects for others with disabilities.
“For me, it’s been a ride so far,” Sam said. “And I’m ready to buckle up and keep enjoying the ride.”
“Spring Break Zombie Massacre.” 7 p.m. Oct. 21. $15. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-838-3006, samandmattieatl.brownpapertickets.com.
Metro Atlanta residents involved in ‘Zombie’
Several Atlanta film professionals had major roles in helping make “Spring Break Zombie Massacre” a reality:
This Decatur-based actress and film crew professional, who is a University of Georgia grad, plays Sam’s ex-girlfriend AJ in “Spring Break Zombie Massacre.” Maier’s other acting credits include the feature “Frankenstein Created Bikers” and the short film “Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.”
Brumby, who graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in biology, studied film and theater at the Alliance Theatre. She has appeared in several films, including a starring role in the 2011 horror exploitation flick “Dear God, No!” and in the 2016 sequel “Frankenstein Created Bikers.” Brumby plays Nikki in “Spring Break Zombie Massacre.”
The mad scientist behind Silver Scream FX Lab, a creature effects studio in Conley, Morton grew up on a steady diet of horror films and science fiction. Morton helps create the makeup effects and set and creature design for the Adult Swim TV series “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell.” Morton also takes on the persona of Professor Morte, hosting special events and his own Silver Scream Spook Show.