I recently talked to Joe Barbarisi, director of the in-progress zombie film Flowers for the Dead, who volunteered some insight into the film and his history.
“I guess it all started for me in the mid- to late ’70s. My best friend’s cousin (who lived next door to my friend) had a regular 8 movie camera … and I remember always bugging him to get the camera to make our own movies, although it always seemed like I had to keep at him and basically beg him to do so. He would give in eventually and we would do things here and there (wish I had some of that footage today!).
“One of my favourite things to do when I was 10 or 12 was to head to an old church in my hometown of Waldwick NJ where I grew up (which is about a 30 minute drive to NYC).
“There was a place called ‘St. Lukes Church’ — one of those old-style churches … long hallways and vintage exteriors. We would get a bunch of friends after school and meet in this church to play ‘Monsters’. Back then there wasn’t a Micheal Myers or Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees yet, so we would play the classic Universal Monsters such as the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc. I always played the Wolfman or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I had these Wolfman gloves I used to wear … and we would basically act out our parts, and have a grand finale at the end where all the monsters would fight. We used make-up, wardrobe, and props. It was pretty much just like acting the scenes out without a camera.
“It wasn’t until the fall of 1978, where I saw Carpenter’s Halloween for the first time, when for the first time in my life I was more intersted in the ‘how did they do that?’ type of feeling and wanted to understand what it was like to be a filmmaker. Halloween opened my eyes to the process of making movies.
“Then in 1980 I received my first Super-8 movie camera. Film was still available anywhere, processing was cheap and it was a lot of fun to make short films. I made films like “The Bionic Man” and a zombie film called “The Union Cemetery” — then in 1981 I made my own short film version of Halloween (we actually shot it on Halloween 10/31/81).”
“As I got older (High School), the actual film stock wasn’t all that available anymore and you had to go to special places to get Super-8 film processed, so I didn’t make too many films then.
“After that, I went to a Community College in Tucson, Arizona, and took a few cinematography classes and courses on the history of cinema.”
Did he make any films during this period?
“I made a short film in college based on The Who’s Roger Daltrey’s solo song, ‘One of the Boys’,” he said. “It’s a story in itself if you listen to the lyrics. Basically I filmed what you hear in the song.
“Later, in early 1990, I took a semester at the School of Visual Arts in NYC to keep my hobby going, and learned more about the camera. But I never intended on making a career out of making movies; I just did it for fun.
“So from that point I would use my Super Cameras here and there. I found a great place to NYC to purchase Super-8 film and a great place called Pac Lab where they professionally process all film types. It was expensive, but I just love the look of film even to this day. Video just seems lame to me.
“I was always making little projects — mostly just filming or videotaping family things and events, adding some music videos to my footage. But the passion to make a film or even a short film was always there; I just never had the dollars to do so — or people who would commit themselves to making a movie.”
So what changed things?
“In early 2004 I took my Super 8 (black-and-white film) to a local cemetery (the one where I’m currently filming Flowers for the Dead as a matter of fact) with my wife Linda, and had her film me as a zombie — just to see what I look like on film. It came out pretty spooky and I felt should make something here…”
Joe’s old footage can be viewed here. He comments: “It’s not a good transfer, though, as I didn’t take it that seriously at the time — and what I’m doing with Flowers now is a more professional transfer and the quality a lot better.”
What happened then?
“With this footage, in late 2004 I came across a message that read ‘Actors/Crew needed for zombie movie’ in a thread on Fangoria‘s website,” he continued. “I got in contact with the writer/producer about being a featured zombie in his film, which was being lensed in Waco Texas in the next few months. I sent him this ‘screentest footage’ and got a part as a featured zombie in the indy film Risen [check the website here]. I had a blast doing the film and decided to continue this hobby by making my own film.”
So making Risen was a positive experience? What has happened to it?
“Risen was a slow process. The film is still trying to find a distributor and I recently went back to Texas for the Texas Frightmare Convention this past February where they screened Risen for the convention audience. We also had our own table, got to meet with the horror fans, sign autographs. But I was very disappointed with the film, and wish they’d gone into it with a little more heart. I think the director really doesn’t know what a horror film is all about, unfortunately.”
Joe Barbarisi signing autographs at the
Texas Frightmare Risen screening
You can view the trailer for Risen in the Media section of the website.
I asked Barbarisi about his obvious reverence for Carpenter and Romero.
“If it wasn’t for the films of John Carpenter,” he said, “I never would have developed as much passion for films and filmmaking as I did. Since 1978’s Halloween I’ve been in nothing less than a John Carpenter state-of-mind. I have never missed any of his films on the big screen and collect anything to do with him. And as I mentioned before, John Carpenter made me for the first time want to learn about making movies, and how it can be done. I just wish Carpenter would get up off his ass and get back to making films.”
For the record, Joe listed his favourite Carpenter films, in order of preference: Escape from New York, Halloween, They Live, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Vampires, The Fog, In the Mouth of Madness, Christine, Prince of Darkness, Starman, Assault on Precinct 13, Village of the Damned, Escape from LA, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Dark Star, Ghost of Mars.
As for George A. Romero:
“Romero is just another link to my filmmaking history,” he commented. “Pretty much learning as you go … his ‘old school’ filmmaking ways. And all the Living Dead films have been a potent force in making me want to go make my own. I’m also big on his not-so-known films like The Crazies and Jack’s Wife — but zombie/ghoul films are probably the easiest to make. You just need some make-up, a cool setting and a few people willing to be ghouls!”
Joe Barbarisi and Bill Hinzman (ex-Cemetery Zombie
from Night of the Living Dead)
So what about Flowers for the Dead?
“I could go on for ever about putting Flowers for the Dead together over the past few years. It’s been a lot of fun, and thank god I haven’t run into major problems … like overexposed or underexposed film, out of focus, anyone getting hurt. It’s been pretty smooth sailing really. And I hope to put what I have in my head to film — for me, it’s important to write it down on paper … the scenes you want to shoot. It’s too easy to forget once you are on location. But as I get the footage back I can see where I need to go from there, and what’s missing.”
“For me post-production has so far been a lot of fun, too. Dubbing the sound to the MiniDV tapes where the film is transferred has been a challenge but very rewarding once you see it all in sync and sounding crisp.”
Depending on the weather, Barbarisi and his wife Linda (star of the film) are planning on spending upcoming weekends back at the cemetery in their local area to shoot a few insert segments (reactions, some running), “… just to cover our ass,” he explained.
“I hope not too much longer after that, we can shoot the film’s finale. This requires a few more ghouls to close in on Linda as she tries to get back to her car — which is her ticket out of the cemetery as the ghouls’ numbers are getting larger as we go.”
I asked him where he dug up his zombies. “I found a few people who were video/filmmakers themselves,” he said. “And was lucky enough to be able to add them to my film crew as featured ghouls. They know what they’re doing …. big zombie fans and fans of Romero, too, of course.”
Any likelihood of making more films with them?
“We may get together again, after my Flowers is over,” he said, “and put our heads together to come up with something by way of a follow-up. I think these guys like the fact that I’m pretty much ‘old school’ in making a Super-8 film. The cameras are silent, so we either sound record the sequences as we film, or add some additional dubbing and foley to what we missed.”
So everyone enjoyed the process?
“It went really well, but the best part of making Flowers for the Dead was being in the heart of where it at all took place 40 years earlier — in Evan City P.A. at the famous Evan City Cemetery. Also we stayed at a great bed-(dead)-and-breakfast place in the town of Zelinople, which is just a five-minute drive away from the cemetery — and Pittsburg is right next door.”
Was filming in the same cemetery that Romero used the extent of his tribute to Romero?
No, he said, it goes further. “My intention was to recreate some of Romero’s original framing, the shots he used for Night of the Living Dead, and finding the same roads used in the film’s opening sequences — like Franklin Road and the drive up to the cemetery.
“Seeing those shots through my camera lens was a great feeling. The whole film is a tribute to Romero and his original zombie film …. so naturally my ghouls are slow-moving.”
Linda Fiordelisi (film credit name of Linda Barbarisi) … “wife, cameraperson, foley, casting director, blah, blah, blah”, added her perspective to the conversation.
“Joe has put all of his effort into this film,” she said. “Our goal was to make a movie inspired by some of the classic horror movies, and yet not your typical genre formulas that we see in today’s films.”
I asked Linda about memorable moments during shooting.
“As you know,’ she replied, “in the original Night of the Living Dead, as the credits roll in the opening shots, a car makes a hard right up the cemetery entrance. We tried to recreate the same shot, which is tough to do with a moving vehicle and the lighting was limited because of the time of day — in addition to making sure that other cars were not coming by or behind me. When it came time to do the shot, it was a matter of ‘do it right or do it again’, and then taking a chance. So with the clock ticking, I attempted to drive into the cemetery, but instead hit the left embankment with a loud crunch. We couldn’t help but laugh about it for the next few minutes.”
What about the actual process?
“Being involved in this process of Super-8 movie making, watching it and seeing how it compares to video, I see all the differences and how much more classic the look of it is. We are also working on audio. Now I realise what a foley artist’s work entails. Anyway, we hope to wrap shooting Flowers for the Dead by mid-summer. Hopefully, it will be all put together by the fall.”
Thanks, Joe and Linda.