“The movie was freaking hilarious, the ending was primo for a part two!”
Those were the words of one very pleased spectator, following Saturday night’s premier of the Attack of the Psychedelic Zombies, Man, a locally filmed and directed comedy written by Merrill native John Luedtke.
The premier was showcased at DAT Bar by owners Dennis and Traci Fick, who also happened to be cast members in the film.
“It’s just awesome to see this sort of turnout. People just seemed to love it!” Dennis said Saturday night, following the 9 p.m. showing which drew a standing room only audience.
Fick estimated the total turnout to be close to 200 between the two shows.
In support of the premier, the couple converted their bar and restaurant into a full service theater, complete with padded seating, an 8×16-foot screen, HD projector, snacks and champagne as well as a Hollywood style red carpet for cast members.
Also in attendance were the production crew of producer Aaron Moe, Klaus Von Hohenloe and Luedtke, all three arriving from Minneapolis.
Larry and Lila Hilden of River Falls, WI, parents of late film director Aaron Hilden, were welcomed as special guests to the event.
As Luedtke explains, the idea was based on the experiences of long-time friend and main character Scott Hass.
“The three of us (Moe and Hilden) had talked about doing a movie for quite a while,” he explains. “We have all been friends for a while and were always into something. We were always working on random projects, from short films, to recording albums and podcasts. Gradually the idea of shooting an actual movie became more and more interesting.
“It just so happened Scott and I are long-time friends and he is by far the most interesting guy I know,” Luedtke adds with a chuckle. “Scott used to deliver pizzas for Domino’s and I remember all these stories he would tell. So I figured it would be funny to shoot a film about a hero pizza delivery guy and have Scottie as the main character in our hometown of Merrill.”
As Luedtke further explains, the original script was written as a 20-minute short film in 2008. However, after sending the script to Hilden, the film was turned into the 85-minute, full length movie which was showcased on Saturday.
“Aaron loved the script from the start,” Luedtke adds. “He added more lines and jokes right away, then he sent it back to me and I added some of my own ideas. We just kept kicking it back and forth for a few years, adding more stuff as we thought of it. We had a lot of fun putting it together.”
Despite all the hard work invested, the pair did not have concrete plans to begin film work any time soon. That is, until they received a particular Christmas gift from producer Aaron Moe in 2011.
“Aaron went out and bought us a camera for Christmas!” Luedtke adds with a chuckle. “He gave us the camera and said ‘ok, now go get it done!’”
By the summer of 2012, the trio was set to begin filming.
Luedtke and Moe credit a large part of the film’s success to the Ficks.
“I have known Dennis since the ‘90s, he and Traci have always been great people. They really wanted to be involved with the film and have just been absolutely awesome with everything. They helped set everything up, from the casting call for people to volunteer as zombies, to offering the bar’s dining room for our make-up area to bathe everyone in fake blood!
“They came through again for us on Saturday night with all the props and equipment for the premier. They didn’t have to go through all that work for us, but they did. They took care of everything. That’s just the kind of people they are.”
“Saturday night was a lot of fun. Everyone seemed to enjoy the film. It’s really a cheap film with a lot of silliness and goofy acting. I was a little worried people may not catch on to the humor, but it ended up being great. I never imagined we would have that sort of event for this!”
Moe was also seemingly impressed with Saturday’s event, especially with the response and willingness from the Merrill community.
“I was incredibly happy with how everything played out. Traci and Dennis did so much for us and really went all-out to make Saturday happen, I can’t say enough about them,” Moe explains. “It was amazing to see such a great response from the community as well! From the very start, we just had so many people literally come out of nowhere with a willingness to participate! From volunteering to be bathed and caked in fake blood to offering to help any way they could, it was just amazing.
“If this had been left to our own devices, there is no way we would have gotten this done. But thanks to the Merrill community, the generosity of shooting at various locations and so on, we were able to do it. The community just invested itself and bought into this. They wanted to be a part of something new being done in their hometown and it really showed.
“Nobody got paid or made any money, including us. They were just in for the fun of it. They wanted to see and be a part of something cool happening in their community.”
As for the possibility of a sequel as the excited audience member alluded to, Luedtke isn’t ruling the idea out.
“As of right now, I would say no, it won’t be happening any time soon,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s great to know people enjoyed the film that much, but we have so many projects we would like to finish. It could happen in the future, who knows!”
Along with his appreciation for the work invested in the film and premier, Moe expresses the significance of Mr and Mrs. Hilden being in attendance and the never forgotten legacy of their son Aaron.
Aaron Hilden directed the film, but passed away unexpectedly on Oct. 27, 2013, of complications from type-1 diabetes at the age of 37.
The film was in post-production at the time of Hilden’s death. Actor Klaus Von Hohenloe later stepped in to assist in finishing post-production.
“It really meant the world to us when they accepted our invitation,” Moe explains. “We spend as much time as we can with them and Aaron’s girls. They are his legacy, and a second family to us. Spending time with them makes something pretty miserable, seem not as bad.”