Zombie Girl: The Movie (2009)

AUGUST 14, 2009


I believe I first heard about Zombie Girl: The Movie in an issue of "Rue Morgue", and I was instantly intrigued. Not content with fooling around with her dad’s camera to make 3-4 minute shorts, like I and countless others began doing around the age of 12, young Emily Hagins actually filmed an ENTIRE zombie movie in her hometown, using friends and family (which is no different than what several grown men and women do, and I have the HMAD reviews to prove it!). Her movie is called Pathogen; Zombie Girl is the damn fine documentary chronicling the production, from the first day of shooting all the way up to the film’s premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse.

What I almost instantly loved about this girl was her ability to admit her faults and not use her lack of resources as a crutch. Continuity errors, bad effects, jarring angle changes... she is refreshingly honest about such things, instead of blaming others or chalking it up to her low budget. I’ve seen plenty of equally low budget/no resource productions, and it’s amazing how often a director (via the commentary track) will watch his mess of a film and not have the stones to point out a single error, instead of marveling how much he was able to accomplish with so little money and unprofessional crew. It’s kind of sad - by the time she was finished post production on the film she was about 14 or 15, the age when you think you’re a genius and everyone else is wrong, but she got up in front of a sold out crowd at the Alamo and told them that it was OK to laugh at things that weren’t supposed to be funny. That’s an ability some filmmakers in their 30s and 40s still don’t possess and probably never will.

Another nice thing is that you can watch her become a filmmaker, without it seeing contrived or edited in a way to make it seem like there is conflict when there is none (a problem that plagued Project Greenlight). She had no film classes or anything as far as I know, she literally decided to make a movie and set off to do so. So at first she forgets to turn the camera on, but by the end she is standing up to her mom on what takes are better and demanding better After Effects work. The movie takes place over two years, so it’s not only an achievement for her, but also the documentary team itself, who probably wanted to shout MOVE! and start editing Pathogen themselves just to speed things along (most of that 2 year period is spent in post).

To me, the most surprising thing about the movie is that it’s the film Undead that inspires her to make a zombie film (why not Brain Dead/Dead Alive, since her hero is Peter Jackson?). Of all the great zombie movies, why that one? And that was at Butt Numb-A-Thon, which means we get Harry Knowles’ perspective on the whole thing, which is fun (even he seems a bit puzzled why Undead would inspire someone). I kept expecting him to have one of his filmmaker friends show up and help her out, but to her credit, it seems she does the entire movie without the help of anyone but her mom in terms of crew.

And as I’ve said before, I tried making a zombie film back in the day, and it fell apart pretty quickly, so for anyone to do one, regardless of their age, automatically gets my respect. The doc clearly shows that she is in over her head more than once or twice, and it would have been easy to give up, but obviously she never did, which is beyond laudable. There’s a heartbreaking scene where she accidentally records over some key footage (and the location wouldn’t let her come back due to some of her extras messing up the bathroom), but she presses on and gets it finished. In fact, the one complaint I have about the doc is that things like this are glossed over - we never know how she managed to reshoot the scenes without the location available to her. There’s also a scene where her failing grades are mentioned, but it’s never brought up again. I would have liked a little more about how this was impacting her family, especially the father, who is MIA for large chunks of the film.

The mother, on the other hand, is in it just as much as Emily. She’s the film’s producer, makeup effects creator, boom mic operator, driver... and primary financier, it seems. There’s a scene later on where Emily is up for a grant, one she ‘doesn’t care’ if she gets or not, as the shooting is complete so money isn’t needed, but of course the mother wouldn’t mind getting back some of the coin she sunk into the film. Scenes like this sort of remind us how immature Emily is (i.e. she doesn’t seem to think that getting a thousand bucks would be helpful), but also helps drive home the point that her mom is pretty goddamn supportive of her daughter and has put in just as much, if not more, time into seeing this thing through. She can be a bit annoying at times (she drew my ire when she called “cut!” during a take - you NEVER say that unless you’re the director!), but any viewer should be just as concerned that the two retain their close bond as they are that the film is complete.

And it is! You can purchase it through her website. I most definitely will be checking out soon (based on what Zombie Girl shows us, it’s probably better than half of the no budget zombie movies I’ve watched, if only for the sight of zombie toddlers). Also, you can watch Zombie Girl for free until August 20th via SnagFilms (the link is embedded below in lieu of a trailer). Not sure the economic feasibility of this - unlike Hulu, it’s not interrupted by ads, so I’m not sure how they make money from doing it. But hey, if they want to legally show us a movie for free, I’m not arguing. And while you’re on the site, I would check out Darkon, which is a terrific doc that I saw a couple years ago, about some LARP guys. Think Trekkies crossed with the last half hour of Role Models. Great stuff.

In closing, I just want to say - why the hell wasn’t there a budding horror filmmaker girl in my 6th or 7th grade class? I couldn’t even get the girls in my class to watch a goddamn Chucky movie. Weak.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Well, most filmmakers will never admit their mistakes mainly because they have to sell their movie. They put loads of money in it, or someone else did for them, for the specific purpose to get more than just one screening and/or a job. I know in a situation like that I would be tempted to act honest, but my hypothetical producer/distributor would probably shoot me. She doesn't really have that kind of problems.
    Apart from that, I have nothing but deep respect and admiration for her.

  2. Simply awesome. Mad respeckt yo! And agreed, why weren't there any girls like this when I was in grade school.

  3. Valido I'm referring to filmmakers who can't admit mistakes on the commentary track for their films... which means the film has obviously been sold.

  4. Kids these days have TONS of resources I wish Had back in the day, and as for the girls being so... Stuck up, well it's great to see times have changed indeed...

  5. Not bad...I thought from your review that Emily was going to be an over-indulged, spoiled kid but it's clear that her parents love and support her. I wish her luck and hope she does well. Also, her Dad looks like Tony Kornheiser.

    Speaking of Tony, that kid stole the movie. He had all the best lines. Dead people don't run...I thought she was like 13 but she was only 12.

  6. Uh ok, sorry... so I guess you're right, the only commentary track I've ever heard was the one for Superman IV, where the screenwriter starts bashing the movie from start to finish blaming everyone else apart from him. And I've only listened to it because I've been tipped off it was the rare case of someone openly (and quite angrily) admitting that the movie sucked. It was hilarious :)

  7. What a cool story. I haven't finished the doc yet, but I love what I've seen so far. I made a feature-length slasher movie when I was 13 on a VHS-C camcorder and it was terrible, but at least I did it. It took 9 months, but there was no post production, because all of the editing was done in camera. And by editing, I mean, if the take was bad, you rewind, and tape over the footage with a new take. Haha. This documentary makes me want to go back to that passion and drive I had as a kid. Now, I'm having trouble finishing a damn script, let alone a film. What happens to us?

  8. i've actually heard a commentary or two where the director was willing to admit a few faults. of course, wes craven calling "last house on the left" an awful, amateurish piece of sick crap on the commentary is sort of disqualified given his total 180 from that position once the dvd started selling and the remake was proposed...
    can we get a subsection for directors who admit their mistakes, then gleefully profit from the same mistakes twice?

    @ b-movie becky: you take me back to the days!! at least you had vhs-C. i had vhs-H (for HUUUGE!). actually wore the playback button contacts out from overuse!
    remember those early vcr/camera combo things, where you wear half a vcr around your neck, and there's a cord attatched to the camera? yeah...thats what i shot mine on. wish i still had a copy of it!


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