Just when you thought they couldn’t take anything more and turn it into a zombie movie, Canadian filmmaker Brett Kelly proved all the naysayers wrong. As part of the National Fan Expo in Toronto Thursday (and carrying through on till Sunday evening), Kelly’s new film called My Fair Zombie was screened for zombie fans sick and tired of the same old survivalist, post-apocalypse shtick of an undead tale. Although my mother and a generation full of young women who admired Audrey Hepburn would be shocked and appalled, Kelly has taken the 1964 classic and turned into a zom-com-musical with flare.
You can likely guess the alterations made by Kelly and his co-screenwriter Trevor Payer, re-casting Eliza Doolittle (Sacha Gabriel) as a mindless zombie going about Victorian London in search of brains, when vocal coach Henry Higgins (Lawrence Evenchick) and his associate Col Pickering (Barry Caiger) strike a bargain to turn zombie Eliza into a dignified young lady who can convince the stiff upper crust that she’s foreign royalty. Easier said than done. Of course if you’ve seen Fido, or Warm Bodies, or A Little Bit Zombie, then you know that it is possible to change a zombie. Not easily, but it is possible.
The film includes five new songs by Stephen John Tippet, and the mark of a good musical number in a movie musical is if you’re humming a few of them to yourself if the movie is over. In the case of My Fair Zombie that’s mission: accomplished. The production isn’t exactly Hollywood-level musical caliber, but what the film lacks in sound mixing, it more than makes up for in the zeal of its performances. And although the concept itself suggests novelty, and before the show we were told that the idea for the movie came from a shorter sketch, the film has a tremendous reserve of charm that never makes the idea feel like its rotting like so much zombie flesh over its 70 minute running time.
The difference between making something like this work and having it fall apart is how straight the material is played by the cast. Recruiting veteran stage actors in the main roles was a smart call for Kelly, because they’re training and experience teaches them how to make something real, even if they’re the only person or object on the stage. You have to convince the audience that the world you’re inhabiting is legit, and Evenchick and Caiger are never winking or smirking in their portrayals of Higgins and Pickering; they mean to civilize Zombie Eliza. And as Eliza, Gabriel is utterly appealing, sometimes gross, but always winning whether Eliza’s chowing down on some guy’s arm, or wrapping her mind around “the rain in Spain” line, which is hilariously sent up here thanks to a piece of the human anatomy that rhymes with “rain” and “Spain.”
The film is occasionally betrayed by its small budget as some of the Ottawa locations can’t full convince you of being 19th century London, and the key scene at a royal ball looks woefully under-attended, but overall it did look like some serious time and energy was spent on creating the illusion. Sometimes, an appreciation of the attempt, and energy gone in to make something as fun as possible, is enough to over look the logistic inconsistencies, and My Fair Zombie is definitely an example of that.
If you’re interested in seeing My Fair Zombie yourself, you can now buy the DVD on Amazon (in the U.S. and Canada).