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Spring into Action

Flick Chick

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Spring is shaping up as a fertile season for the region's filmmakers. Jay Craven will begin shooting his long-awaited Disappearances on April 4 in the Northeast Kingdom. Adapted from Howard Frank Mosher's 1977 novel of the same title, the picture stars Kris Kristofferson as "Quebec" Bill Bonhomme, a farmer trying to smuggle whiskey across the Canadian border to save his cattle during a harsh Prohibition Era winter.

Geraldine Chaplin was originally intended to portray Bill's Aunt Cordelia, but the legendary Genevieve Bujold is now on tap. Some of her most memorable performances include the delusional ballerina in King of Hearts (1966) and the loveless sex therapist in Alan Rudolph's Choose Me (1984).

Disappearances will use locations in Barnet, Peacham, St. Johnsbury and Lake Willoughby -- in an order to be determined by the weather, according to associate producer Hathaleee Higgs. "We need snow and, later, warm water," she says of a plot that involves blizzards and the capsizing of a canoe.

Craven has been scouring the Los Angeles talent pool for thespians to play Bill's partner-in-crime, Rat, and the villainous Carcaju. Beyond that, a number of Vermonters will appear in the film, including the ubiquitous Rusty DeWees of "Windy Acres" fame. "He will certainly be with us in some way," Higgs says. "We're not yet sure just what."

Money is tight for the five-week production schedule. And the budget is relatively small: $1.1 million, or nearly half the amount raised for earlier Mosher-Craven collaborations Where the Rivers Flow North and Stranger in the Kingdom, Higgs notes.

Kristofferson, a singer-songwriter whose "Me and Bobby McGee" was a hit for Janis Joplin, will help the cause with a 7 p.m. benefit concert on April 23 at St. Johnsbury Academy. (Tickets are $50, or $100 for those interested in attending a pre-show reception. Visit http://www.kingdomcounty.com for details.) A week later, the Grammy- winning artist will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Senior citizens concerned about prescription drugs and President Bush's scheme to dismantle Social Security now have a new worry: lethal parasites capable of turning them into the ravenous undead. Or at least that's the flesh-eating premise of Zombie Town by 29-year-old Damon LeMay. The Colchester native, currently living in Brooklyn, will direct this low-budget horror movie from the script he wrote in Burlington two years ago. It's slated for a May shoot in and around Rutland, under the auspices of David Giancola's Edgewood Productions.

LeMay, a University of Vermont history major who graduated in 1998, has been holding auditions in the Green Mountain State and New York City for the past several weeks. Some of the lead roles are cast, but there's still time to qualify as a bloodthirsty monster.

"We have an insatiable appetite for extras," LeMay says. "We need more than 100 zombies."

In particular, he's combing senior centers and retirement villages for older folks to populate the fictional Vermont town of Otis. A gaggle of "grannies" takes center stage. White-haired Marge, for example, is infected with "the zombie plague" after being bitten by her dog Mr. Slippers.

LeMay's story also features younger characters, including teens and twentysomethings fighting the zombie menace. Among them, Jake, Alex and Randy comprise a romantic triangle. Although LeMay isn't ready to name names, he acknowledges that a few St. Michael's College students have made the grade.

"We've got Vermonters in some pretty big speaking parts," he explains, "not just as window dressing."

Much of the crew is also local. Giancola will serve as cinematographer and executive producer. LeMay, who has been working on indie films, TV shows and commercials in Boston and New York for about six years, also has helped out on a few typical Edgewood action-adventure projects involving "landslides and floods." He's bringing in Mike Turner, a Colchester buddy with Hollywood experience, as special-effects coordinator.

The threat to humankind in this film falls somewhere between the traditional re-animator approach of George Romero's 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, and the hip supernatural aesthetic of recent releases such as 28 Days Later. While Zombie Town will adhere to the gruesome requirements of the genre, it promises a bit of black comedy.

LeMay's written description of Dot, a key figure in the inevitable attack of the ghoulish grandmothers, suggests a bitter woman who "likes to create controversy and is manipulative -- she'll get hers."

People hoping to sink their teeth into Zombie Town can email LeMay at mailto:cast@zapatosfilms.com.

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