An Interview with Michal Imelski


Words || Cameron Colwell

I sought an interview with Michal Imelski, director of zombie film Dead Sunrise, once I had read the following quote: “There was a fascination with zombies. They are a great metaphor for right and wrong in the world,” he said, and going into the talk with him, I came around to the idea of philosophical depth in a zombie film.

Directed by Imelski, and written by Peter Maple, the film is about a few thirty-somethings who are terrorised by a horde of zombie children. The idea come about after several years of discussion and planning, driven by the idea of the most terrifying thing for thirty-somethings today: Whether or not to have children. “Children eat your life, parenthood overtake everything, we just debated this whole topic…There’s one scene where two men discuss whether or not their life would be better if they had children.”

According to Imelski, horror is a genre that is at the forefront of “talking about what is right and what is wrong.” I asked him if this had to do with the recent popularity of horror films and he said he thought so, that in today’s world we have “More things to fear in the larger scheme of things, we have a whole system eating away half the world. We all know it, and zombies, in a way, can represent knowledge that this can’t last.”

An interesting fact about the film was that it was largely filmed in the SHH Centre, an artistic hub in Parramatta. In the wake of the film’s shooting, the centre now has “Blood on the walls, and blood all over the carpets.” The SHH Centre has a long and storied history, and, in its time, has been a mental asylum, a hospital, and a primary school. When asked about the inspiration for the aesthetic of the film, I was told there was heavy use of contrast between shadows and light, and an inspiration from the European movies Imelski has watched across his lifetime.

Asked about the plot of the film, Michal tells me it is about a “Bunch of people in their thirties, who are at the point in their lives where they’ve made their decisions and are just starting to be happy…When zombies attack. Sort of the main concept, was really old, spliced genres, drama and gorefest horror.”

When first introduced to the film, through a promotional trailer at a poetry slam at the centre, I remember Imelski telling the audience there was no guns in the film. Imelski laughs:” Guns are so easy and overdone, it’s a lot more dramatic to try to strangle this little head, we had to be quite inventive with how to kill zombies, and with the all the zombies being children, especially…Would you kill a zombie with a vacuum cleaner? The other thing was that the budget constrained, made us do things differently. It added more gore rather than guns.”

Noting that the subject material was pretty morbid, I wondered if Imelski felt desensitized to the violence. He told me that horror is a misunderstood genre, like the film equivalent of death metal, that its fans are victims of “some sort of serious sick disease,” but he told me the making of it was “quite a lot of fun, scary fun, once you know how it’s made…With the blood being made of jelly and strawberry sauce and chocolate.”

Imelski was surprised with the attitude of some of the children involved in acting: “There’s a thing with children…They love acting out death and the violence. Some of the children came up with some things, (they were all) rolling screaming and shaking, they’ve really got into it.” He names one of the children who worked on it, Roman, as being particularly inventive with his suggestions. The children were gathered through a callout. Michal was surprised at the response, even despite how the callout emphasised it was a horror film “…I got surprised with how many people called us..I think people simply look at death as this scary thing, some celebrate it, but the parents knew the worst scene is they’re gonna be eating flesh off this man. What we did do was tell them, you’re going to be eating jelly and strawberry.”

With my perspective on horror films radically different than it had been at the beginning of the interview, I then asked about the appeal of the genre “Horror is one of these genres that’ll never go away because it’s so instinctive,” Imelski said, after a few moments of introspection. “You know, people love to be scared.”