A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.
Rick Rosko and company will unveil their change from film to the digital format at the Silver. The beloved Richland landmark has been entertaining families in the Johnstown area since it opened back in 1950.
“Spiderman 2” will open the Silver that first weekend, but on May 3, the drive-in will offer a bonus film, “Zombie Dream,” by local filmmaker/novelist/hotel owner Blair Murphy.
Murphy, a New Jersey native who spent much of his adult life living in Los Angeles, has been a Windber resident for the past decade. He moved here to purchase the Grand Midway Hotel, which has been a fixture in Windber for over 100 years. Murphy has invested considerable time, money and effort restoring the Grand Midway to become, as he puts it, a “living, breathing canvas” for artistic endeavors. Call it a sort of Windber version of Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory.
For the past three years, Martin has focused on his new film, “Zombie Dream.”
Murphy recently completed his independent film, which features, in addition to local friends/artisans, actor Eric Roberts (brother of Julia Roberts, and a star in his own right in films like “Star 80”) and 1960s TV icon Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster on “The Munsters”). Also seen in cameos are everyone from Stan Lee (co-creator of Spiderman) to artist/poet Stan Rice and even Howard Bloom, rock publicist/author/
Musicians Damien Youth (from New Orleans) and the group Devilz in the Detailz from Pittsburgh provide the ethereally beautiful music that graces Murphy’s two-hour film.
Murphy even brought in Virginia filmmaker Jaemie Elias to be cinematographer.
Murphy’s pet, a beautiful Alaskan malamute named Lucien, also is featured.
While zombie films are a subgenre of horror films reaching back to the Pre-Code sound era of the early 1930s, the film that really put zombie films on the map was the chilling “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) shot in Pittsburgh by then-Pittsburgh filmmaker George Romero.
Since then, zombies have become hugely popular on movies and on TV.
Murphy’s film is more than just a zombie movie. It is an open love letter to America, specifically Pennsylvania, especially western Pennsylvania. It could be called a travelogue of terror, if you will.
Many familiar sites across the state are iconicized through the filter of Murphy’s lens. Even the Silver Drive-In will appear on the drive-in’s silver screen. Murphy cast an artistic eye on the area’s beautiful fall foliage on farmlands and cornfields. The rural settings make a nice juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and the horror of the story.
Like Romero’s zombie films, “Zombie Dream” addresses issues like consumerism, art, society and the basic liberties we all hold dear. It is a film that entertains but also makes us think about issues facing us in life and death. And lest we forget, Murphy has a quirky sense of humor which permeates much of the film.
What impressed me, as a filmmaker, film historian and film critic, was the logistical challenges Murphy faced over the three years of production, not to mention wearing many hats (director, producer, screenwriter, grip, assistant cinematographer; you name it, he did it). Despite the limited resources of an indie film, Murphy tirelessly surmounted the weekly challenges that confront (and sometimes defeat) small-budget filmmakers.
That said, the film grew organically, with not much of a script. Murphy regretted this plan, though it worked out well ultimately. The plot is Eric Roberts relating a dream he had, which deftly segues into the main narrative of the film. Much of the film is a surreal, often humorous, look at the all-too-real events of this dream.
Families be warned: This is an R-rated film with mature subject matter and a gore level that may be too intense for children.
I was privileged to be an embedded reporter, working as a featured actor in the film. I was to see firsthand the making of this film while participating in it as well.
While I did not get to see the entire finished product, what I did see was impressive, considering the small budget. Murphy has put his unique vision into an entertaining and thoughtful film.
“Zombie Dream” celebrates the local area in an interesting way. It lets the filmgoer appreciate the natural beauty and unique architecture and people of the Johnstown area.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.