The trick with horror is how you use the tropes. Slashers, ghost stories, monster movies, there’s a formula to them all but what separates the good from the bad is how they use that formula in an innovative way. James Button and Kristaps Kazaks’ short turned web series turned short again The Corpse Series is a great example of this. At its heart, it’s a comedy about two bumbling idiots trying to dig themselves out of a bad situation. It’s just that the bad situation is an ever increasing stack of dead bodies. The innovation and excitement of Button and Kazaks’ short is in its escalation and how the filmmakers string together the ever-increasing chaos of their characters’ situation. It really is such a fun time and must-watch for fans of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. DN is proud to premiere The Corpse Series today, alongside a chat with Button and Kazaks where they walk us through the previous iterations of the short, the out-of-nowhere phone call they received from Eli Roth’s Crypt TV, and the decision to stitch their web series together to create one final, and complete, version of this pure rollercoaster of blood-soaked mayhem.

I’m curious to know the origins for the conception of this weird and wonderful short?

James Button: The Corpse Series had a bit of an unexpected but natural journey from original conception! It was almost a decade ago I was chatting with a friend over breakfast, there was a chicken walking around on the table, won’t forget that, and he asked what I’d do if a burglar broke in… so I joked, I’d kill him of course. That night, in 2010, we shot a bit of a sketch with a few friends which became The Corpse just us with some food colouring, no lights or mics, with me playing a stupid but loyal psychopath who cares more about friendship than the gory hacking up of bodies.

I had a comment on YouTube from Kristaps back before we had worked together at Newport Film School saying we should remake it but properly… admittedly it did look and sound shockingly bad. I’m so glad Kris saw that there was something in there. So we remade it on a weekend, again with no budget, just an ASDA shop of more food colouring, bits of meat and cookies, but this time with Kris behind the camera, a few lights and Jason Mahone playing the part of Dan. This version of The Corpse from 2012 was was ten minutes long and featured the characters of Dan and James burying this murderous secret quite literally… whilst getting licked by cows and then releasing the twist of who the burglar was.

Kristaps Kazaks: Yeah, I remember how the the original Corpse was really funny and had an edge to it with all the morbid humour and gore despite not having any real production value, probably felt to us like there was more potential in that simple concept and those characters.

JB: Anyway… this did surprisingly well at a few film festivals and I remembered it getting better reactions and more awards than the grad film we’d actually put a load more time and bit of money into! Then I had a random call out of the blue from Crypt TV, the LA company founded by Eli Roth and Jack Davis, asking if we wanted to adapt it into a web-series. We were like… this is an excuse to make something mad. The $800 we got wasn’t quite enough so we essentially self-funded the rest with our production company at the time, State Of Flow, totalling the budget at around £2000 and shot seven web-series episodes in our rented house.

I imagine this is the kind of work that is so much fun to write and spitball ideas on. How was that part of the process for you?

JB: I had a load of fun with the writing because I had already established the unlikely duo previously so then just wanted to push, and push Dan into breaking point by building and building on the tension and body count. Throwing in horror cliches as well as a bit of a Welsh small-town spin after a script-read with our small group of friends, both the crew and the cast, we dove into the most indie DIY genre filmmaking you can imagine.

I do think that chaos and chemistry and energy is captured in the film which gives it the charm.

How was the seven day shoot?

JB: It was seven days of madness. I had a little bit of PTSD just flicking through some of the BTS this week! Although it was a lot of fun, I do think that chaos and chemistry and energy is captured in the film which gives it the charm. We get a lot of compliments on the practical effects which always amuses me because with the lack of budget all we could afford was one arm, one leg and one head, so we just kept reusing these and then… picked up some ‘leftovers’ from the local butchers, which I can still smell today.

KK: I think a large part of why it worked is the tension between the absolutely mundane setting in a regular British terrace house with two well-meaning characters that just are totally not on the same page, and the over the top situation that they find themselves in, and how absolutely absurd it gets as it escalates. The setup and characters of James’ script allowed us to be quite DIY and shabby about certain things around the production design and execution as I think that approach lent itself to the world and the tone the film is set in, these are just two regular dudes in a regular house making absolutely stupid decisions, so what if the set is just like a nondescript living room, it provides a funny contrast to the absurd nature of the plot.

Did you have a particular approach to the camera side of production? What was motivating your framing?

KK: Most of the shots outside the bloody set piece sequences are very simple, they’re pretty much just two-shots of characters talking in rooms, and I still feel it works well, a testament to James’ dialogue writing and James/Jason dynamic as an acting duo. As for the set pieces and the visual comedy, we went as elaborate and as stylized on those as we could because, well, to offset the mundane setting the over-the-top bits really needed to be as big and loud as possible. We shot it all on the original, first generation Black Magic Cinema Camera rig, which was quite a ‘simple’ camera with great image characteristics and quality but without many bells and whistles like slow-mo frame rates, I think that contributed to the visual style and cinematography of the film, making it quite old-school 16mm film-like in some ways.

To offset the mundane setting the over-the-top bits really needed to be as big and loud as possible.

JB: This is one of those good examples of a film which was shot and then cut, hacked up again, no pun intended, and then made in the edit, all credit to Kristaps. I remember feeling really shit after the shoot, really drained with my arm in a cast, I broke my wrist in the fight scene, and was even going through a break-up! I mean, first drafts are always hard to watch but I was suddenly like, oh no… what have we done. But with the fires of a tight deadline from Crypt TV under our arses, we powered through post just the two of us – with long time collaborator Composer James Morris on score.

How much VFX work did you apply in post?

JB: Kristaps’s VFX wizardry got us out of a lot of sticky, literally, situations. For example, when the chainsaw I was wielding got caught in the wig of Arran Fear’s Mormon character’s fake head and didn’t quite sell the mad head-sawing sequence. Kristaps bloodied that up in post and it always gets a surprised “I can’t believe you didn’t cut away” reaction in the cinema screenings.

What was the initial reception on Crypt TV like and why did you want to make this version of the film that pieces the series together into a bloody-soaked whole?

JB: I remember going into the cinema just as Crypt TV released the first episode online and we came back out of the screening to see it already had 140,000 views and I was like, oh! Something we shot mostly in our living room was now out there in the world and was going down well. However, I think we made the decision to take it back for ourselves because we thought its full potential was probably in a longer form short. So Kristaps and I stitched the seven episodes together to create this short film The Corpse Series. I think this made for a very interesting watch pace and narrative-wise because all those climaxes and cliffhangers I had written for it as a web-series suddenly gave the short this manic pace and kept building and building with only a small chapter title break as a breather for the audience!

This is one of those good examples of a film which was shot and then cut, hacked up again, no pun intended, and then made in the edit.

The Corpse Series is such a funny thing to look back on because it’s something that came from a chat I had with some friends, not really expecting anyone else to find it funny, to being remade into something then adapted again into something that was then screened in previews at the Welsh BAFTAs between clips from films/shows that cost hundred times more and wasn’t essentially made by two filmmakers and their talented friends in a house. Obviously watching it now I cringe at dated jokes and wince at particular rough-looking moments, or flashback to the smells of the set of course, but I think it is an example of if the core of an idea is fun and then you break yourself trying to execute stretching what you have to work with and working within very limiting constraints… you can capture that energy and it can be a nice surprise to watch!

KK: Yeah, the film from a technical filmmaking point of view is definitely a bit ropey and DIY-ish at times, which is a testament to how early in our careers we were at the time, our relatively young age and inexperience and lack of resources combined with good amount of over-ambition. That said, I think the script and overall mood of the film, and the genre of horror comedy it works in, lends itself to that type of filmmaking.

Being quite experienced and versatile at the post-production process of filmmaking helped a lot as well, fixing lots of small things through editing and VFX helped with the consequences of our over-ambitiousness from the fast paced shooting days, like painting out objects that shouldn’t be there, adding some extra blood on top of the practical, creating CGI crossbow bolts, or adding smoke to a freshly burnt human body to name a few. Even though there are a ton of things that could be improved, looking back I think we managed to identify and put the right emphasis on the right areas that make the heart of this film, the character chemistry, the ridiculousness of the plot, the pace, and the visual horror spectacle to pay it all off, and then the rest of the elements fell somewhat in place around them.

Is this the final version then of The Corpse Series or am I right in hoping that you have more plans for it in the future?

JB: Hopefully the madness of The Corpse Series isn’t over yet… and there is still life in it, so to speak. I’ve adapted the short into a feature-length script, chipping away on this passion project on and off around other projects for almost seven years now! It’s so much better and I always cringe watching The Corpse Series now as it feels so old and I’ve seen, in script form anyway, where it could go and what next level shenanigans the gang gets up to! So really hoping that an opportunity comes, and maybe this online premiere is the one, where someone sees The Corpse Series short as an almost half-an-hour proof-of-concept of roughly what the first act of the feature would feel like.

The feature is instead a crazy road movie across Wales. The logline being, “True friends help bury the body. However, Dan’s friendship with James is tested when the body count rises and moving house becomes a road-trip rampage”. It’s a lot more developed with more character to the characters exploring childhood friendships and essentially is a gory coming-of-age story. Don’t want to sabotage this launch by turning this whole thing into a pitch for our debut feature… but you know, if there’s a producer who is out there who wants to hop on board and make this happen, just let us know!

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