In the glut of zombie films we’ve experienced since their resurgence, they’ve been pitted against slackers, vampires, cops, crooks, but never, not once, cockneys. Enter writer/director Matthias Hoene who, along with co-writer James Moran, is one of the minds behind the horror-action-comedy “Cockneys vs. Zombies.”
Moran spoke with explained cockney slang to us as well as bringing legendary British tough guy Alan Ford (“Snatch,” “The Long, Good Friday”) into a zombie nightmare.
MTV Geek: So, what’s the origin story behind this epic matchup between cockneys and zombies?
Matthias Hoene: It was a few years ago–I was working with cockney actors on a shoot for a web series. And when faced with the supernatural, it was hilarious to see how a cockney never shows fear, is never fazed by anything, never loses his sense of humor, and turns around with a shotgun in his hand to say “Alright, handsome, f**k off! [imitates shotgun cocking] Bang!” And I found this cockney attitude so funny and unlike anything we’ve seen in British horror film that I thought I needed to make a movie about it, with criminals and robbers caught up in a zombie invasion.
Also, I’ve been living in East London for the last three years, and it’s kind of an area that I knew anyway, and I always loved the cockney hangouts–the cafes and the beautiful old gangster hangouts that are scattered throughout East London. But recently, it’s been sort of endangered and torn down and developed into anonymous highrises. The area’s changing, and I wanted to make this my love declaration to the East End.
Geek: And at the center of this is actor Alan Ford as this hardcase grandpa. Could you talk a little bit about working with him, and using this character actor known for exploring this kind of role?
Hoene: When my screenwriter James Moran and me thought about the lead pensioner, we thought whoever this person is, he needed to symbolize what a cockney is–he needed to be as cockney as you can be. He had to be a person upholding the values of standing up for your family, your community–the end-all of cockneys, if you like.
And we went to Alan Ford because he was the only actor who had that kind of genuineness. And when he read the script, he turned to me and said “Matthias, you wrote this for me, didn’t you?” And he also accepted because for him, it’s an exciting action her role. He’s got a big, heroic arc in this film.
And what’s so great about Alan Ford is that he’s this big tough guy and of course, if you ever stuck him in a zombie invasion, you’d want to have Alan Ford at your side because he’d protect you like no one else. But at the same time, he’s just a really nice gentleman and the most pleasant person to be around. He’s a really, really fun to be around. It was great working with him–he’s tough on screen, and really, really nice off screen.
Geek: And a large part of the movie involved all of the cast getting tough and arming themselves to the teeth. Were there any special challenges using so many practical explosions and gun effects?
Hoene: Yeah, it was a really big challenge. I think I consciously didn’t want to make this film like a contained, small horror movie. I really to give this a lot of the scope, action, and big scenes–to make it epic and show of lots of East London.
When I was on set and trying to shoot all of these gun scenes and even load a bunch of these pensioners onto a boat with zombies coming after them, it was kind of difficult. But also, it wasn’t boring to stage these scenes. And some of these shots–like the zombie blowing up in the back of the van–one of these shots takes four hours to do with all of the rehearsals and stunt people and making sure it’s going to work out. A lot of time and effort goes into those shots–I’m glad I did them.
I lost my voice at the battle of the docks because it was cold and I didn’t have a megaphone. But we got through it and it was great fun to do.
Geek: Now this is the second film you’ve been involved with that focuses on a cross-section of working class people facing a crisis. You also produced “Tower Block”–what was the appeal of that film, and do you think there’s perhaps a connective tissue between the two films?
Hoene: “Tower Block,” to be honest, was the result of working with James Moran the writer who wrote both films. He gave me the script while I was filming “Cockneys”… I would have loved to have made it myself, but I gave it to my producers Ronnie Thompson and Mark Lane and they were kind of keen on the material and made it happen. So we all worked as a team on that film.
Both James and Ronnie did a great job of directing it–we all knew each other and put a team effort behind it, basically.
Geek: Could you explain cockney slang to us?
Hoene: [laughs] First, I should apologize, because I didn’t put subtitles on the movie.
Cockney rhyming slang is very easy to understand, but we made a conscious effort not to go too crazy with the language so that people would get it. And we made jokes about the slang in the film and tried to coin the first use of “zombie” in the rhyming slang which is “Trafalgar.” I won’t explain how that works, but it is in the movie and you have to watch how we got to “Trafalgar.”
Basically, it’s a substitution of words where “apple and pears” means “stairs” and it’s a way of cockneys trying to differentiate themselves from other Londoners. And also, back in the day, when they didn’t want to be understood by cops or anyone, they’d use those words to have an almost secret language.
Geek: What are you working on next? Are you and James teaming up again?
Hoene: I’m working on something with James at the moment. But in the meantime, I’m developing this science fiction script with an American writer named Ian Shaw and just an hour ago, we sold it to 20th Century Fox, and we’re working with a great produced called Hutch Parker who produced “The Wolverine.” It’s the early days of the project, but I’m hoping the shepherd it to greenlight.
But fingers crossed, you never know.
“Cockneys vs. Zombies” is in limited theatrical release as well as on VOD this weekend from Shout! Factory.