Meltdown (Dir. Jake Mulliken)
[Lucky 4 Productions; 2014]
After filmmaker Jake Mulliken won a RAW award for his directorial debut Meltdown, plans to turn the comedy horror short into a feature film were soon set in motion. The concept certainly had potential, as its ambiguous ending left the main character, Hunter, and his friends trapped by zombie hordes in Pittsburgh. This time around, Mulliken delivers a longer, bloodier, more ambitious vision that’s a worthwhile expansion on the 32 minute-long original.
Shot in Somerset and Venango County, PA, the new Meltdown follows Hunter (Mulliken), a well-meaning, but unsuccessful comic book writer intent on marrying his girlfriend (Hannah Horwatt) even after she abandons him on his birthday. When she rejects his proposal, and leaves him with a broken heart and a black eye, he retreats to a townie bar to numb his sorrows. Before long, he and his drinking buddies, the obnoxious sidekick Les (Seth Gontkovic), the sage bartender Zeke (F. Robert McMurray), and the determined love interest Callie (Alicia Marie Marcucci), are attacked by flesh-eating monsters. As their small town becomes overrun by zombies, the four shoot and hack their way to freedom and take refuge in a remote cabin.
Much like its predecessor, the first half of the film leans more toward comedy with gross-out gags galore. Though similarities to the zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead are apparent – an everyman hero and dead mother being among them – the humor avoids becoming derivative by often veering into absurdity (a moment when Callie instigates some inappropriate, pre-zombie kill flirting is especially hilarious).
The tone shifts to post-apocalyptic survival horror when the story fast forwards two years later and finds Hunter, his friends, and other survivors holed up in a wilderness stronghold called Whisper City. With Hunter as the leader, the group battles encroaching undead (dubbed Howlers) and murderous rednecks, all while dealing with unrequited feelings and dwindling supplies. Their situation worsens when a deceptively meek preacher (David Petti) and his young daughter (Rebecca Gruss) pose a new threat that could destroy Hunter and his clan.
Mulliken, whose acting background includes appearances on Breaking Bad and In Plain Sight, tackles the lead role with confidence and a commendable disregard for his own safety (stunt work, in this case, is not optional). He obviously recognizes skilled actors, and everyone from the core players to the minor supporting cast deliver performances that add quality and just the right amount of emotional weight to the ultra-low budget indie. Actress Pilar Freeman in particular stands out as Murph, a tough-talking badass who exudes old school horror heroine swagger.
Meltdown benefits further from the impressive work of special effects coordinator Cody Ruch, whose rolling zombie heads, realistic gaping wounds, and detailed monster makeup ratchet the visuals up into some truly cringe-worthy territory. A number of spectacles also stand as testaments to the ballsy guerilla-style shoot, including a scene where an actual house goes down in flames.
For the most part, Mulliken’s script keeps the pace quick and the action plentiful, but the first 15 minutes are awkwardly focused on emphasizing the loathsomeness of Hunter’s obviously loathsome girlfriend – in retrospect, the time could have been better spent establishing Hunter’s relationship with Callie or his ill-fated mother. Like with any shoestring production, lighting, editing, and sound issues are present, but these flaws seem insignificant compared to the strength of the more crucial areas (writing, acting, and FX).
Overall, Mulliken and his crew have succeeded in crafting a solid, entertaining zombie flick that should please horror fans with its sick sense of humor and extra-splattery kills. With a reported sequel in the works, is should be interesting to see what other gory pleasures they have in store.
An Indiegogo campaign for Meltdown is currently underway to raise funds for film festival and theater rental fees, and publicity costs. A Meltdown DVD release is scheduled for sometime in November.
This summer, filmmaker Jake Mulliken expanded his award-winning short Meltdown into a full-length feature, then celebrated its completion by helping to create a film festival in Somerset, PA. On September 24th, the work will make its Pittsburgh premiere at Southside Works Cinema.
Influenced by Shaun of the Dead and Mad Max, the zombie comedy follows Zeke (Robert McMurray), Callie (Alicia Marie Marcucci), Les (Seth Gontkovic) and Hunter (Mulliken) on the eve of Hunter’s 29th birthday as they share in a few drinks on a seemingly dull day in their hometown of Somerset. The day takes a turn for the worse as everyone they have ever known are suddenly transformed into aggressively murderous flesh eating freaks. The four comrades are forced to hack and slash their way through the reanimated corpses of their closest friends and loved ones, only to find themselves on the precipice of a post apocalyptic wasteland littered with monsters and the looming threat of their fellow survivors.
Meltdown begins at 7 p.m. A reception will take place in the lobby at 6 p.m. Admission price includes a movie poster, food, and a chance to compete in a Zombie Costume Contest. The contest winner will receive $100 and a walk-on role in the Meltdown sequel. Tickets are $20 and are available for purchase at the Southside Works Cinema website.
Jake Mulliken could have just hosted a normal premiere for his feature film Meltdown. Instead, he collaborated with Somerset County to create the first annual Roof Garden Independent Film Festival, which focuses specifically on suspense and horror films produced by independent Pennsylvania filmmakers. On August 16th, Mulliken and others will screen their films at various Somerset locations. See film descriptions and schedule below:
Somerset Quality Inn
Captain Z and the Terror of Leviathan (2014)
In 1714, Captain Zachariah Zicari stops a group of possessed townsfolk from using a powerful amulet that would released the ultimate evil, the Leviathan. It’s 2014 and the amulet is again in the wrong hands, bringing back the demons and even Captain Z! Can this pirate save the earth again? Directed and co-written by Steve Rudzinski. Captain Z will screen in the Somerset Quality Inn Conference Center Ballroom.
Scream Park (2012)
Directed by Cary Hill, and shot in Conneaut Lake Park, Scream Park is a retro 80s-style slasher film about an amusement park closing for the last time. The owner (Doug Bradley of Hellraiser), devises a scheme to have a pair of killers commit gruesome murders in the park as a publicity stunt to sell tickets. The victims are a group of employees partying in the park after hours. Scream Park will screen in the Somerset Quality Inn Conference Center Ballroom.
Dark of Winter (2012)
Presented by HWIC Filmworks, writer/director David C. Snyder‘s psychological horror movie stars actor/musician Kyle Jason as a man who gambles with indulging his most personal desires in an attempt to save his soul. The story follows professional assassin John French, who, while in the middle of a complicated new job, finds out about the parole of Gary Kliest, the man responsible for what happened to his daughter ten years prior. When his daughter’s old friend Sarah shows up unannounced, John’s simple existence becomes a complex puzzle. He must deal with strange, otherworldly events that are throwing his life into a chaotic mystery that he must solve before it is too late. Dark of Winter will screen in the Somerset Quality Inn Conference Center Ballroom.
Mel’s Restaurant and Bar
Meet Detective Chuckles, the only sad clown in the city. A clown on the edge, he is on the hunt for a deranged killer who paints his face in flesh tones. Aided by his over-enthusiastic partner, Noofles, Chuckles descends into the seedy underbelly of the city, dealing swift justice to any who get between him and the murderer. But what he doesn’t know is that he is not the hunter. He is the prey. Written and directed by Jackson Birnbaum. Punchline will screen at Mel’s Restaurant and Bar.
Writer/director Zane Hershberger‘s horror short follows a group of women happily perform a séance for fun one night. But what they conjure changes the game. Devilution will screen at Mel’s Restaurant and Bar.
Kultur Shock! (2013)
Director Eric Paul Chapman‘s tribute to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. The film follows two men and a woman who wake up injured in a windowless room with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A German-accented voice transmitted through a creepy Uncle Sam doll is their only source of (mis)information. He refers to them by their armband colors – Red, White, and Blue. Led by the rebellious Blue, the prisoners plot to outsmart Uncle Sam, escape the room and discover the shocking truth of who and where they really are. Kultur Shock will screen at Mel’s Restaurant and Bar.
Filmmaker Jake Mulliken‘s zombie comedy follows Zeke (Robert McMurray), Callie (Alicia Marie Marcucci), Les (Seth Gontkovic) and Hunter (Mulliken) on the eve of Hunter’s 29th birthday as they share in a few drinks on a seemingly dull day in their hometown of Somerset. The day takes a turn for the worse as everyone they have ever known are suddenly transformed into aggressively murderous flesh eating freaks. The four comrades are forced to hack and slash their way through the reanimated corpses of their closest friends and loved ones, only to find themselves on the precipice of a post apocalyptic wasteland littered with monsters and the looming threat of their fellow survivors. The film is an extension of his award-winning short. The Meltdown world premiere will take place at Tailgatez.
The Roof Garden Independent Film Festival will begin on August 15th at 9 p.m. with a kickoff party at Mel’s Restaurant and Bar. Screenings are free and open to the public.
Last winter, writer/director Jake Mulliken won RAW Artist of the Year for film at the RAW Pittsburgh semi-finals awards show. Since then, he has tried to expand his award-winning work, a 30-minute zombie comedy entitled Meltdown, into a feature film. Now, after two years in development, Mulliken and his independent film company Lucky4Productions (formerly Out Of Pocket Productions) will finally make this undead nightmare come true.
The new Meltdown will serve as an extension of the original short, but, as Mulliken points out, the two are vastly different films. Described as a “stylistic mix of Shaun of the Dead and Mad Max,” the feature story follows Zeke (Robert McMurray), Callie (Alicia Marie Marcucci), Les (Seth Gontkovic) and Hunter (Mulliken) on the eve of Hunter’s 29th birthday as they share in a few drinks on a seemingly dull day in their hometown of Somerset. The day takes a turn for the worse as everyone they have ever known are suddenly transformed into aggressively murderous flesh eating freaks. The four comrades are forced to hack and slash their way through the reanimated corpses of their closest friends and loved ones, only to find themselves on the precipice of a post-apocalyptic wasteland littered with monsters and the looming threat of their fellow survivors. The film will feature special effects by Cody Ruch, cinematography by Ara Madzounian, and lighting and sound by Kevin Kukler.
The description suggests a more ambitious offshoot from the first film, a more low-key, Clerks and High Fidelity-inspired indie that was shot in Bloomfield. Considering that Pittsburgh served as the setting for other post-apocalyptic films, including The Road and, more appropriately, Dawn of the Dead, I’m interested to see how Mulliken utilizes the area for his own vision.
Meldown will shoot around Somerset, Venango County, and Pittsburgh. It’s slated to begin production on June 9th and wrap sometime around June 30th. For more information, please visit the official Meltdown website.
On Nov. 22nd, RAW Pittsburgh, a monthly artist showcase featuring new and emerging local talent, held a semi-finals awards show to determine the best artists to represent Pittsburgh at the RAWards National Finals. Winners were chosen in the categories of fashion, music, visual art, performing art, hair, makeup, photography and accessories, but only one participant took away the RAW Artist of the Year for film.
Recent Pittsburgh transplant Jake Mulliken beat out the competition with his debut film Meltdown, a 30-minute zombie comedy shot on a budget of $1,200. He wrote, directed and starred in the short, which follows three Pittsburghers as they slash and shoot their way through a horde of radioactive undead. The film is the first project produced under Mulliken’s company Out Of Pocket Productions.
Mulliken spoke with Steel Cinema about his move to Pittsburgh from the West Coast, his influences, and his current project Ghost Hunt, a documentary about gonzo journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.
Why did you decide to move to Pittsburgh?
It was a couple of things. I got swept up in the teacher layoffs when I was out in California, where I was teaching at a private school. A friend of mine was living here finishing up his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon. I always came out to visit and kinda kept an eye on Pittsburgh. It’s a great city, but the more I read about it and the more I researched it, it really seemed like, not just in film, but the city in general was just on this whole new upswing. And it’s really cheap to live here compared to the West Coast. So I figured what the hell, I’ll just go back and do film again.
Do you have formal film training? Or no?
No! No, no. I left Kentucky when I was 21, and I’ve always loved movies, and we’d goof around when we were kids with cameras and stuff. But when I moved, I had this harebrained scheme that I was gonna be an actor and a filmmaker. So I found myself in the middle of the desert and I got really involved there. I was on Breaking Bad and In Plain Sight. They filmed all that out in New Mexico. I was on the board of directors at the Santa Fe Playhouse for three years and we did about 14 plays. So I learned from watching people. I jumped in that world and watched people who were far more experienced and far more talented than me and just picked things up from there.
Where did the idea for Meltdown come from?
I guess I wrote it six years ago when I was living in Santa Fe. It’s one of those things that’s always been on the back burner and I never really had time to do it until I moved here, and everything just kind of fell into place. I knew I wanted to do a zombie movie because the genre always kind of freaked me out when I was a kid. I grew up to like it and I think there are a lot of things you can do with it. It was just a natural progression. I wanted to do something zombie-ish, but have it be almost like a spoof. Like a zombie flick on its own legs, but something kind of funny and intentionally cheesy.
And you want to expand it into a webseries?
Originally, we were going to do it as a feature, but I’ve been watching a lot of stuff online, and I think doing it as a series of ten minute episodes as opposed to an hour or half hour would be the way to go.
You cited Kevin Smith as one of your influences, and I definitely see a similarity between Meltdown and Clerks. I was just wondering if that was intentional.
Oh yeah, Clerks was a major, major influence. When I first wrote the thing, I had seven or eight movies playing constantly – Clerks, definitely, High Fidelity, Shaun of the Dead. One thing that always kind of bugged me about the zombie genre is that a lot of the characters are really over the top, especially the modern ones. And even if you do get emotionally invested in a character, they fucking die in the end anyway. It’s like you spent two hours on them and then they’re dead. But I think a lot of the characters are really hard to relate to in some sense, and what I really love about what Kevin Smith did in Clerks and about High Fidelity is that they are about these really mundane, normal, everyday people. There’s the depressed guy that runs the record store, there’s a guy who’s stuck behind the counter at a convenience store. So I really wanted the characters to kind of be like that. I thought Shaun of the Dead did a great job doing that.
One of your locations was the Bloomfield Sandwich Shop. What was it like filming in that space?
Oh yes indeed, Mike and Ros (owners Michael Miller and Rosalyn Dukes) are very good friends of mine. Logistically, it was interesting at some points because the place is so narrow, so it definitely called for some creative camerawork. They gave me the keys, and they close at 3 p.m., so we would come in at 4 p.m. and filmed until we were done for the day. The only stipulation they had was that Mike got to be zombie Santa Claus. That was all he wanted was to be a zombie in a Santa outfit, and he horrified the hell out of a bunch of my neighbor kids.
Your next project is a documentary on Hunter S. Thompson. Could you expand on it a little bit?
The idea for the documentary came from one of my seniors. The school I taught at was a school for high functioning kids with language-based learning disabilities. And in the film class I taught, one of my seniors had Asberger’s, which is the highest functioning form of autism. And he was a huge Hunter fan, and when we started jiving, we realized that we were both huge Hunter fans. The idea kind of blossomed from … there’s the persona, the drug-crazy Fear and Loathing Hunter, but then there’s this brilliant political analyst, journalist, social activist and writer. So the goal of the documentary is to peel away the layers of the persona and highlight why Hunter S. Thompson is an important modern literary figure and why he deserves to be that. So it’s really more of an academic approach focusing on gonzo journalism, and how he changed the face of journalism by inserting himself in the story, his work on campaign trails, his own run for sheriff in Pitkin County in Aspen. Just really focusing on his achievements and not his extracurricular activities.
I know he’s been the subject of other documentaries, including the 2008 film Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. How would Ghost Hunt compare?
It’ll be really different. Those are more following the timeline of Hunter’s life from Louisville, KY to when he killed himself. You’ll see people in my film that have either said no to other films or have never even been approached, like people who were with Hunter when he ran for sheriff, helped with the campaign, and his closest friends and neighbors. I’ve interviewed his ex-wife, his widow, a lot of his close people. It’s just really focusing on specific moments that highlight his importance, not only in his time, but why he’s relevant today. I guess that’s pretty much the whole point of the documentary is to highlight why he’s relevant. When you talk to college kids about Hunter S. Thompson, they always say, oh, he’s that guy that did all those drugs raised all that hell, but there’s a lot more to it. In the 80s, that fame and that persona took him over. And that’s what he was the last 30 some-odd years of his life.
I know you’re still working on the documentary, but do you have any other projects in the works?
There are a lot of things. I’m working on a comic book with a friend of mine from back home in Kentucky. We got the first 12 issues done by the first of this year. And the goal with that is to try to pimp it out as a comic book, but we’ve also talked about possibly just jumping the gun and doing it as a television show. There’s another documentary that kind of stems from the Hunter one about George McGovern and the 1972 election between him and Richard Nixon. Those are the things that are the most hashed out. It’s interesting, because stuff like Meltdown and the comic book are projects that I’ve been working on for years, and just never really had time to finish. I was either acting all the time or teaching, and now I’m resolved to do this full-time.
RAW will announce the national winners on Dec. 16th. Watch Mulliken’s entry Meltdown below: