By ROBERTO E. D’ONOFRIO
Zombie films were churned out consistently in Italy throughout the 1980s up to the beginning of the ’90s, and while the country’s cinema seems to have forgotten its horror roots in recent years, its undead genre isn’t over yet—even if the latest example is called THE END? We talked to the movie’s creators, and have a few exclusive pics to share.
THE END? began when filmmaking brothers Antonio and Marco Manetti (LOVE AND BULLETS, PAURA 3D) showed interest in the script of their young assistant Daniele Misischia. “My brother and I met Daniele in 2012,” Marco says, “when we were on the jury of FIPILI, a small horror festival near Livorno. Daniele presented his short RESIDENT EVIL: UNDERGROUND as part of a fan contest, and we gave him the first prize. We liked his way of filming, so we asked him to join our team, and he began working with us as a camera operator and assistant director. We knew that one day we would have produced a feature for him, but we thought it would be one of our scripts. One day, he came to us with this story about zombies and—very unusually for us, as we are quite demanding—we thought it was very well-written, perfectly joining together the graphic side of the zombie genre with human psychological introspection. The story of someone trapped inside a lift surrounded by flesheating ghouls seemed original and dynamic, so in less than six months, we were filming.”
The movie was originally titled IN UN GIORNO LA FINE (IN ONE DAY THE END), but film critic Alan Jones, who screened the movie at last August’s FrightFest in London, suggested 10 English alternatives, from which Misischia and the Manettis chose THE END? It tells the story of Claudio (Alessandro Roja), a cynical Italian businessman who becomes trapped in his office elevator right before an important meeting with a client. While he struggles to escape, a deadly virus begins to transform people outside into violent flesheaters. While he’s anxious to get out of the claustrophobic space and home to his wife, the elevator seems to be the safest place in the city—at least, as long as the zombies can’t break in.
“I wanted to make a movie about a worldwide apocalypse, but immediately realized it would be expensive, so my longtime friend and collaborator Cristiano Ciccotti and I came up with this script set in an elevator,” Misischia explains. “We see what is happening outside only from Claudio’s point of view inside this metal cage, and it works great, because the audience can only imagine what is going on in the rest of the city, so everybody will have a slightly different idea in their minds.”
“It was a great experience in which we enriched each other,” adds Cristiano about their writing process. “Daniele and I have been friends for 10 years now. Obviously, we didn’t always agree on everything—everybody has his own ideas—but the good thing is that we often think the same way, as we love the same things and have fun working together.”
Unusually for the Italian film scene, THE END? was co-produced, together with Carlo Macchitella and Mompracem, by Rai Cinema, the movie branch of Italian national television—a sign that perhaps, after years of ostracism, horror is back in favor. “In Italy, as we know, the state of genre films, and horror particularly, is not the best,” Antonio says. “It’s an underworld where only independent filmmakers dare to enter. We have contacts with Rai, so when Daniele brought us his screenplay, we thought that maybe times were changing and decided to show it to them. Oddly enough, they really liked it and were willing to take part in the production. In recent years, some Italian films—although very different from THE END?—like THEY CALL ME JEEG and MONOLITH may have rejuvenated the genre here; plus, TV series like THE WALKING DEAD have found great success in our country. I guess the combination of these things helped open the minds of the market.”
“We’ve been trying to help young filmmakers in Italy, and I think we’ve become a sort of a trademark for quality genre movies, so that made it easy to find the money to produce THE END?,” Marco adds. “At the same time, I’m not very happy about that, because it should have been made possible because the script was so good! I once spoke with some people at HBO about the difficulties in producing a zombie film in Italy, and they were surprised, because in the U.S., people often propose other kinds of scripts to producers, and they’re asked to do a zombie film! We were able to bring actress Carolina Crescentini, who is very famous in Italy, onto the project to do the voice of Claudio’s wife; I believe the key to being able to make more movies like this is that also more known actors will begin to do these kind of films.”
Another well-known name who jumped into THE END? is lead actor Roja, star of the acclaimed TV series ROMANZO CRIMINALE. “Alessandro is a very courageous actor willing to do something new,” Misischia says. “We offered the role to other actors we knew, but although they liked the script, they turned it down because it was a zombie movie. Alessandro, when he heard the word ‘zombie,’ accepted immediately; he confided to us that he’d always wanted to take part in such a film, and that he also often has nightmares where he is chased by ghouls! In addition, Claudio Camilli plays Special Forces policeman Marcello; he’s an amazing actor and a friend whom I’ve cast in most of my films and shorts.”
Misischia aimed to make something different from the typical living-dead picture, making clever use of the confined location. “We wanted to create suspenseful and scary moments within a very small location,” he says. “Claudio doesn’t know what is happening outside, other than bits of information from his wife on the phone, which makes him even more frightened. The location was very important, almost another character, so we spent a big part of our small budget on that set. We built the whole thing in a warehouse just outside Rome, in Cava dei Selci.”
Inspired by the classics of the genre, Misischia originally intended to homage its progenitor, George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, with an ending in which his protagonist is killed. “At the beginning, Claudio is a very cynical character, and even if he goes through a sort of catharsis by the end, I thought he didn’t deserve to live. But later, I took the advice of the Manettis and Rai, and we wrote a different finale.”
In addition to a reversal of the usual terror (while Claudio at first wants out of the elevator, he later realizes it’s the only safe place in the building, and fears the infected can get in), THE END? adds black humor to the mix. “At first, I wanted this film to be very serious and dark,” Misischia recalls, “but I love movies like THE EVIL DEAD and ARMY OF DARKNESS, which play with lighter elements. Although it wasn’t my intention to make an EVIL DEAD-like movie, I’ll admit that I was very much influenced by them.”
THE END? is a stylish, creepy and imaginative horror picture, filled with ingenious ideas and strong plot twists and featuring some very gruesome and gory moments (courtesy of effects artists Leonardo Cruciano, Carlo Diamantini and Elisabetta Paccapelo) amidst a story of human redemption. After playing various festivals last year, it will be released in Europe by 01 Distribution later in 2018 and will hopefully find U.S. distribution soon. “I hope THE END? gets the attention it deserves,” Misischia says. “Having the chance to screen it all around the world was a good platform to make myself known. I love horror movies, but I do also like to do other things, and right now I’m writing what I hope will be my next film, a noir detective story. But it’s too soon to say any more!”