Filming transforms downtown Norwich into zombie apocalypse

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
Maria Morveli runs screaming through Franklin Square during the filming of zombie apocalypse movie, Steve Niles' 'Remains' on June 6.
Maria Morveli runs screaming through Franklin Square during the filming of zombie apocalypse movie, Steve Niles' 'Remains' on June 6.

It was a perfect June day in downtown Norwich: balmy temperatures, brilliant sunshine, hanging baskets of flowers blooming on the lampposts.

What better day for the zombie apocalypse?

Filming of the movie “Remains,” by Norwich native producer Andrew Gernhard, got underway June 6, as Franklin Square was blocked to traffic and transformed into an urban nightmare. The streets, littered with bricks, trash and wrecked cars, ran thick with “zombies” pursuing terrified, screaming “victims.”

“It’s so cool just watching everything come by,” said extra Matt Gillette of Norwich, who was watching multiple takes of a 10-second shot from the sidelines, waiting for his turn at the action. He, along with more than 200 other locals, answered a casting call at Manchester Community College back in March for a chance to indulge their love for zombie films in a big way.

“I’m gonna be here a lot of days, just doing whatever they want me to do,” said Gillette. He said he’s not the only zombie fan in his household, either.

“My 3-year-old son, when he sings ‘Wheel on the Bus,’ sings, ‘The zombies on the bus go nom, nom, nom,’” said Gillette. “He knows they’re not real, but he thinks they’re fun.”

Some of the “blood” – refreshed by crew members carrying garden-sprayer tanks of red syrup – almost turned out to be real. At one juncture in the filming, an extra being hurled into the bed of a pickup truck smashed his elbow through the cab window, drawing an audible gasp from the crowd of onlookers. Fortunately, he was wearing a leather jacket and escaped unscathed.

The film, which will be released directly to television, is set in Reno, Nevada, after an accident transforms all the earth’s inhabitants to zombies – save two. Needless to say, they are relentlessly pursued by the undead, with whom they fight a losing battle.

Among the onlookers was Gernhard’s step-father, Vernon Jones of Waterford, who said he’s attended the filming of all his son’s movies. “I’ve been in a couple of them. I had lines in two of them – I think three whole sentences,” Jones said.

Jones said the current film is the third movie Gernhard has filmed for the Chiller Network, which specializes in the horror/thriller genre of movies. This one is based on the graphic novel “Remains,” by author Steve Niles.

The filmmaker got his start at Norwich Free Academy, making what Jones called “home movies” before branching out (literally) in college for his first feature film, “Trees.” “It was a parody of ‘Jaws,’” Jones said. “It takes place in a campground and it’s got a killer white pine tree.” Jones was wearing a t-shirt commemorating the sequel to “Trees,” a film titled “Root of All Evil.”

Aimee Twyford, of Branford, who was portraying “Zombie #2,” said she spent a half hour in makeup having prosthetic skin applied to her face and adorned with “blood.” The midday sun, however, was loosening the “scabs” after a few takes. “This flap is getting to me,” she said, pulling at her chin.

Her “victim,” Marc Ponte of Lebanon, was smiling despite his “blood”-spattered dress shirt and tie. “I just wish I could see this,” he said. “I want to see [the movie] now.”

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