The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 3, 2014

Film features local places, people

WINDBER — Ever want to see the zombie apocalypse cut a swath through Johnstown, leaving trails of necrotic flesh and complete civil collapse in its wake?

The feature-length horror flick “Zombie Dream” from Blair Murphy, local filmmaker and owner of Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel, was shown at a public screening Saturday night at the Silver Drive-In in Richland Township. The movie features several familiar locales in the city and throughout Pennsylvania.

And someone you know might be in it.

“I’m not a big zombie person myself, but there’s so much enthusiasm (for the zombie genre) in Pennsylvania – which I wasn’t anticipating – that volunteers came out of the woodwork left and right,” Murphy said during a pre-screening cast and crew party at the Grand Midway on Saturday.

“Enthusiasm goes a long way in making something like this, when there’s no budget.

“It was very, very, very low budget.”

Although the film features some star-studded talent such as Eric Roberts, known for films “Star 80” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village”; Butch Patrick, Eddie Munster from “The Munsters” TV show; and a cameo from former “Spider-Man” creator and Marvel Comics head Stan Lee, many of the undead extras and film crew were friends, acquaintances and local neighbors looking to get involved in something fun and creative.

“I would, like, buy a keg of beer or something and say, ‘Come this afternoon and we’ll have fun,’ ” Murphy said of his casting calls. “You know in ‘Tom Sawyer’ like, he’s painting the fence? It’s that exactly in a nutshell. That’s what you have to do – you have to give people a memory that’s fun, even though they’re working.”

Murphy said the film has been in the works for about three years. After the drive-in showing, he said he plans to enter it in several festivals. The drive-in is also looking at future showings of the movie. He said DVDs should be available by the end of summer.

Murphy said he struck upon the idea to bolster the formation of a local film commission office in the area.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just make a film that celebrates locations in the area – which is what a film commission office does, it brings distinction to your area,” he said. “So, that’s how it started out. It wasn’t a feature film, it was just footage.”

He said he and a skeleton crew of three or four people at a time visited the Flight 93 crash site, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Inclined Plane, areas in Bedford and Somerset counties and even the Silver Drive-In itself. The principal shooting was completed on weekends, he said – about 10 days total.

“It’s a zombie movie, but it’s really a movie about Americans considering their thoughts on ‘liberty’ and what does (‘liberty’) mean?” Murphy said.

He said he wasn’t out to make a slasher, but a social commentary through a fun – and gory – genre of film.

"That was very important to me. The zombie aspect is an important metaphor that goes on there, but it’s not exactly a horror movie," he said.

“It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a noble effort. It was an offering to this area. We tried to champion this area.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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