Mad Max meets zombies

Shannon Harvey
Two battle-armour wearing Wyrmwood soldiers wrestle a zombie. Picture: Emma Bjorndahl

Perth’s Fringe World Festival is in full swing and this year it features the inaugural Perth Underground Film Festival, a cool, quirky six-film micro-fest that rolls at Rooftop Movies and launches with the much talked-about Mad Max mash-up, Wyrmwood.

PUFF’s program director Mat Darch, who previously ran the 1Up micro-cinema in Northbridge, said Perth hadn’t had an underground film festival since the Revelation Film Festival started 13 years ago.

“We’ve tried to focus on films outside the usual distribution channels and ones you can’t get on the torrent sites, and that was certainly a challenge. So our tag is that PUFF provides you with films before you get the chance to download them.”

PUFF includes two documentaries. Doc of the Dead is about the proliferation of zombie culture and is paired with a screening of George Romero’s 1985 classic Day of the Dead. And John Hughes fans will love Beyond Clueless, where more than 200 teen movies are spliced together as an essay on the subgenre.

As for features, The Foxy Merkins is a hilariously crass buddy comedy that played at Sundance about two lesbian grifters, Zero Charisma finds a role-playing game master gets more than he bargained for, while Suburban Gothic sees a spirit awaken in a loser’s backyard.

“We’re making it a real party atmosphere with DJs in-between, quizzes, giveaways and dress-ups and things like that,” Darch said.

The zany, surprisingly well-made crowd-funded thriller Wyrmwood launches the micro-fest and is the passion project of Sydney brothers Kiah and Tristan Roche-Turner, who poured their life savings into the film.

It sees a mechanic (Jay Gallagher) go on the run during a zombie apocalypse and team up with an indigenous man (Leon Birchall) to save his sister (Bianca Bradey) from a mad scientist.

With clear inspirations in Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead, Bad Taste, Re-Animator and — mostly — Mad Max, from its Gothic-looking helmets, masks and weapons to its retro-fitted vehicles, Wyrmwood looks and plays a lot better than its $160,000 budget suggests.

Cool twists on the genre include a zombie queen who telepathically controls the hordes and using the zombies themselves to fuel the vehicles.

“We grew up watching Mad Max over and over again,” writer/ director Kiah Roche-Turner beams. “That film is like Star Wars to a whole generation of Australians and we were always waiting for someone to come along and make a Mad Max-like film, but no one did. So we thought we’d do it ourselves.

“But I don’t think anyone has taken that Mad Max aesthetic with the armour and masks and mingled that with a streak of Australian black comedy.”

The brothers made Wyrmwood on weekends over four years, with Tristan acting as producer and production designer.

They shot guerrilla-style in Newcastle, the Blue Mountains and their mother’s back shed, with one gory scene interrupted by real-life police lights and sirens.

“Six police cars pulled up and a cop ran up with his hand on his gun. I threw my hands up and yelled ‘We’re just making a film!’ Apparently a neighbour thought someone was being stabbed and called them.

“Luckily, they were cool about it and let us continue.”

The brothers, who spent their life savings on the film rather than buy a house, turned to crowd sourcing site Indiegogo and quadrupled their original target of $10,000 by giving investors an incentive to donate.

For $10-$50, the brothers offered signed posters, DVD copies and downloads of the film. For $100, you could “adopt a zombie” in the film and for $500 you could even play one. While it’s likely to become a cult hit, Roche-Turner isn’t in it for the money.

“To be honest I don’t care about the money. We got to make a film and we’re really proud of it.”

The inaugural Perth Underground Film Festival runs from Thursday-February 14 and February 19-21 at Rooftop Movies. Wyrmwood also screens at select multiplexes on Friday, February 13.