When we first read the “Cooties” script (written by Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan), we were immediately drawn to it. It was a fast-paced, entertaining, genre-bending mash-up of adorably grotesque proportions. Not only was it a highly creative (and vile), comedic take on the horror zombie genre, but it also broadened to include aspects of action movies, thrillers, coming of age and romantic comedies. To illuminate these strengths, and to help widen the reach of the movie, we had a diverse body of reference materials that helped visualize our concept for the film. The selections range from feature films of all genres to graphic novels and fine art, melding high-brow and low-brow into one wincing expression of comedic terror. We also utilized sound design and locations to help enhance both the comedic and horror elements of the movie.
“The Breakfast Club:” Five unique characters find themselves stuck in school, being ‘attacked’ by an outside force (i.e. the principal). As they try to get through the day unscathed, they discover new things about themselves and each other, drawing them closer together. “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.” This quote from Andrew (Emilio Esteves) applies equally to both movies, as there are many shared themes. Its thoughts on parenting and coming-of-age are particularly relevant to “Cooties.” Expanding on these themes, “Cooties” delves into the idea of role reversal. As normal children, the kids are pushed toward maturity and adulthood, while the adults are stuck in a sort of prolonged adolescence.
“Trainspotting:” Though this is a very serious film, its darkness is balanced with a sense of humor and style. We like its use of visual fantasy to illustrate key story points — something we employed in “Cooties.” We wanted to elevate the zombie genre with gorgeous cinematography and an entertaining juxtaposition of upbeat music and dark visuals, which “Trainspotting” does excellently.
“Raising Arizona:” This film has the balls to blow up a bunny, and we think that is, well, hilarious. The characters in this film are dealing with serious problems, while being funny, and never falling into camp. Besides the stellar script, this is achieved through the way in which characters interact with each other and how they are cinematically composed. Similar to our approach to “Cooties,” sometimes the cast can be over-the-top, but we always worked grounded them in reality.
“Gremlins” (with a dash of “Aliens”): Another dark classic that successfully combines horror and comedy, our “Cooties” kids are a lot like the Gremlins. They transform from cute little youngsters to blood-lusting creatures. Patriot becomes the Spike of the movie, rallying the others to hunt after the teachers and create as much mayhem as possible. We added in a dash of “Alien,” because the Cooties are like a hybrid of the mischievousness of the Gremlins and the insane evilness of the Aliens.
This will play a key role in building the scares around the kid zombies. The kids have literally lost their minds, making them laugh constantly and uncontrollably. This laughter starts off as innocent and at times almost seems genuinely funny. But, as the story progresses, it takes on a more fearful tone, creating a surreal weirdness. Distant giggles are the first warning sign that zombie kids are close. The most horrific scenes will be punctuated with laughter. By using the surround sound systems to their fullest, we heightened the sense of paranoia. Off-camera sounds helped build tension as well. Sound effects are extremely intense. For example, the sound of Shelley biting into the tainted nugget to start the film was inspired by what we thought an exploding breast implant queefing would sound like. A shot can visually go dark while the sound tells the rest of the story. Mixed with this will be slightly nicer moments of quietness, letting the sound of the location, the far off sounds of laughter and the kids playing, echoing in the halls, create a foreboding atmosphere.
The school is a very important character to the story, as it turns from a place of learning and achievement to a death trap for students and teachers alike. The children’s lives are so micromanaged by their parents and the school’s faculty that the school resembles a prison more than a place of learning. Sure, they have colorful objects to keep them occupied, but exploration and free-thinking aren’t encouraged.
The school changes from a welcoming place of learning, with everyone going about their day as they always would, into a house of horrors. Bodies lay everywhere, as screams are heard echoing throughout the halls. The mood of the school changes along with the characters in the movie. What was once a hallway with bright sun shining through the windows has now given way to a real haunted house environment. When the kids get Cooties, it resembles a prison riot with the inmates destroying everything that was keeping them restrained. To even think about running down that same hallway to escape is a truly horrific thought.
“Cooties” is now screening in a limited theatrical release and is available on VOD.