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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Political discourse has seen better days in America. So has this zombie from "The New World Horror."

In Movies & TV

"The New World Horror" begins serious shooting next month and hopes to premiere late this year.

"The New World Horror" takes on politics ... with zombies


The political landscape is rife with conflict nowadays, with seemingly any and every development or statement leading to plentiful yelling, screaming, biting and general unpleasantries. And considering much of this takes place on social media and comment boards, behind the safety of a computer screen, it's only gotten louder, more mean-spirited and less grammatically correct.

Yes, the state of political discourse in the United States of America has had better days. Madison-based filmmaker Adam Schabow, however, thinks he might know exactly what this situation needs.

Zombies. Other assorted horror movie creatures are invited too, but mostly zombies.

Schabow is the director – as well as co-writer and co-producer – of "The New World Horror," a new horror flick about a small town that goes to hell when a nearby Tea Party rally gets infected with a virus that turns them into stumbling, vicious maneaters. During the chaos, eight surviving strangers wind up barricaded inside a church, fending off zombies and other nightmarish hellspawns – including blob monsters and actual demons – while trying to learn how to cooperate.

"It doesn't sound like it the way we talk about it, but it's a pretty optimistic movie," Schabow said. "These eight strangers have to work together from all walks of life to fend off the approaching apocalypse. That's something that we think is very Wisconsin. It's a very purple state with lots of Republicans, lots of Democrats and lots of independents."

The idea came to Schabow a few years back as he watched the political climate in Madison and the rest of country continue to find new ways to boil over.

"I was frustrated with politics in general," Schabow said. "Basically, I had this idea for a movie about extremism."

As an admitted horror movie buff, Schabow decided to make it about zombies, one of the genre's favorite, all-purpose allegorical creations. The director, along with his two co-writers Jason Dean and Joshua James, started to bring the concept together, grabbing inspiration from horror classics like "Psycho" (mainly for the vivid black-and-white photography), "Gremlins," the original "Dawn of the Dead" and, of course, the 1980 John Sayles-penned masterpiece "Alligator."

And when it came time to choose the source site of the zombie outbreak, Schabow figured he had the perfect place.

"A Tea Party rally just seemed like the obvious choice," Schabow said, "because there are parts of it that are very extreme, and they're very visible."

It didn't take long for conservative bloggers and personalities to catch wind of "The New World Horror" and begin voicing their outrage. The Charlie Sykes-backed website Right Wisconsin namely went after the film, claiming Schabow has a "smug disdain and absurd fear of everyday Americans who believe in things like limited government, individual liberty, and spending restraint." He goes on to ask if Schabow's film is a horror movie or "the realization of a liberal fantasy, put to film."

Even with mild controversy broiling and one site resorting to gilded threats, it wasn't exactly a Shyamalan-esque twist for Schabow and the "New World Horror" crew.

"We expected a little of this," Schabow laughed. "We didn't expect as much of it, but to each his own. It's not a problem with us at all. They have the right to say whatever they want to."

"I actually think it's kind of neat," said Sarah Bartash, a producer, script supervisor and marketing representative on the film. "The fact that there's political commentary in our film is a small part of the film; there's a lot more to it. But horror movies with a political commentary have a history, and we're kind of living a part of that now."

Of course, no members of the insulted party have seen "The New World Horror" yet or know what the final product actually says, mostly due to the pesky fact that it has yet to even start filming.

"There's this kneejerk reaction to this film, and that is literally one of the themes of the movie, to not judge a book by its cover – especially when we don't even know what that cover is going to look like," Schabow said.

The production plans to start some light shoots in the middle of this month, but the actual meat of the filming doesn't take place until next month, and its release is projected as far out as December. The film is still actually trying to finish gathering its budget, starting up an IndieGogo fundraiser that runs until midnight on Saturday, May 24. With 11 days left, the campaign has currently raised 56 percent of its $5,000 goal.

When the final product is ready for public eyes, Schabow and Bartash hope that the people who see the film – including those rallying against it – will see its final message is nowhere as politically extreme as its plot synopsis sounds (or as extreme as its gore, which Schabow promises there will be plenty). Even though he's written in the past for the liberal blog Blogging Blue, according to Schabow, his final message here in "The New World Horror" lands solidly in the middle with a cynical eyebrow raised at both sides of the aisle.

"The movie is about extremism in general," Schabow said. "We also make fun of some liberal candidates. I'd love to have people go in it and think, 'Okay, there are some nutbags everywhere.'"

"We definitely want to invite everybody to see it because I think even some of the people who have criticized it already would find it really interesting and different from what they expected," Bartash added. "We have distilled it down to the overall theme of the greater good, how people work together, what works, what doesn't and having that as the goal."

Schabow made sure to extend that invite to the eventual premiere on to Charlie Sykes and Vicki McKenna ("who I know is a zombie fan because she likes 'The Walking Dead,' Schabow added).

"I will tell you: Both of them will be pleasantly surprised by the film," Schabow claimed.

After all, the ultimate goal of "The New World Horror" for Schabow isn't to be some liberal screed, glorified Tea Party wack-a-mole or exceptionally bloody State of the Union address. It's to freak the crowd out.

"The final goal is to have a high quality, good-looking, cinematic, really scary movie."

Then again, what could be more terrifying than getting caught in a heated political debate nowadays.

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