Anna and The Apocalypse is a critically acclaimed Zombie Christmas musical, releasing in theatres on November 30, 2018. It is based on the BAFTA winning short film Zombie Musical, written and directed by Scottish director, Ryan McHenry.
Known for creating the popular vine Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat his Cereal, Ryan tragically passed in 2015 from late-stage bone cancer but dreamed of adapting Anna into a full-length feature – a feat accomplished with some help from his friends.
Coinciding with the film’s debut is a tie-in novel, co-authored by Katherine Turner and Barry Waldo. We got to interview the co-author, Barry Waldo last month, at NYCC 2018.
What inspired you to create this story?
Well, it’s a motion picture coming out November 30th. It’s a zombie Christmas Musical. And so the film itself, as we’ve been working on for a year and a half, starts getting in your blood. The team being the most amazing team I’ve ever worked with. One day we were sitting around the office and I said this really does belong in a YA book.
What makes your story different?
The musical element differentiates the film but when you’re writing a book the really challenge becomes:, there’s ten songs that communicate all kinds of emotions and story journeys. Once you take those out, you’re left with what’s printed here on the page. So our challenge as authors was to figure out how to bring out the same emotion those song deliver and feed them into the book. You have to be more descriptive character mindsets. Get inside deep with what they’re thinking in the moment. Now we did something unique because the film is a musical and we included a couple songs, very lightly – there’s a couple songs that are more comedic in nature which wrote themselves right into that moment in the story.
How much of the setting influences the nature of the story?
As we got deeper into it, we want to make sure that it gave the proper nod to Scotland. We wanted to make sure we kept the essence, and that’s very much the essence of the film. However, what we didn’t want to alienate the rest of the world… we wanted to make sure readers could relate to the story no matter where they were in the world, and so you’ll see several weather references in it. When you live in Scotland, pretty much what you talk about all the time is the weather, and we wanted to keep that element of it in the book.
What was it about the story that inspired you to get this made?
It all started with Ryan McHenry. Ryan passed away at an early age, and his friends saw this as a mission to take this vision forward and see the project reach its full fruition. I think that by spending so much time with the team, it also made me feel incredibly passionate… I never had the chance to meet Ryan, but I feel like I’m now as part of the team, carrying the burden of making sure we bring this to the world and show his vision and see it all the way through.
If you could leave a word of advice for any aspiring authors what would it be?
To get a book made is tough. I’ve been involved with several books before this but more from my corporate position, at Disney and Mattel, and when we created worlds and brands it was a bit easier with a heft of a corporation behind you to go out and talk to publishers. When you’re doing it from an independent label, you really have to believe more than anybody else on the face of the planet: that story deserves to be told, and that it’s going to be fascinating for the readers to submerge themselves into that world. I was lucky to meet the folks involved with this project prior to the script being shot – so I was on set with the actors. I was intimately involved with a lot of the discussions behind the scene. The story gets in your bloodstream and I could have sold it to almost anyone, because the uniqueness of the combinations of the Zombie/Christmas theme overlay, loving (being a big fan of Shawn of the Dead) and the genre, thinking there’s still this unique opportunity, (as) I had never read anything like it. You got to believe and never give up.
We were also given an advance copy of the book, which I’ve reviewed below.
‘Anna and The Apocalypse’ Review:
The ‘Anna and The Apocalypse’ novel elaborates and expands upon some of the backstories of its universe. Much like its movie predecessor, the story is about Anna, a girl growing up in a small town in Scotland, counting the days until she can graduate high school and leave her old life behind.
She has a best friend named John who is reluctantly in the ‘friendzone’, some overly affectionate friends Lisa and Chris – who are the ‘couple’ of the gang, and a new friend named ‘Steph’ much more culturally woke and mature than the rest of the gang.
She also has an ex-fling named Nick, whom Anna loathes, and a father named Tony, who doesn’t seem to get her what-so-ever. He also doesn’t agree with her plans. Notably, the idea of Anna traveling for a year in lieu of attending college.
The beginning chapters set the stage for what happens later – as we meet the supporting characters and to-be villain, get a sense of what the characters experiences are like in high school, and bask in the timelessness that is Christmas – one last time before high school ends.
That is of course until a zombie apocalypse arrives and throws everyone’s world askew. Now Anna and friends must fight for their survival and see to it that they and their loved ones can escape in one piece – all while indulging in some Christmas pageantry and cracking some pop culture jokes along the way.
Elements of the Book I thought worked well.
- Anna’s voice reads like a teenager. She’s uncertain and prone to mistakes, but she’s trying her best to grow and change and move on – all of which are very coming to age and young adult in character. Plus, what better a motivator than the end of the world? She’s courageous against zombies and loves her father and her friends – even if they don’t always get along.
- Steph is genuinely my favorite character. She reads as a modern teen in that she’s grounded and developed and cares about the truth and making a difference. I also like that she’s gay and *SPOILERS* survives in the end! Going against a much-hated trope in fiction.
- Nick is that reformed bad boy you love to hate. He starts a tad cliché, but I like the fallout history between him and Anna – and how the book doesn’t go down that easy romance arc frequently overused in both the YA and Zombie genre. Instead, it’s complicated – which is a good thing.
- Arthur Savage was an on-point representation of everyone’s one horrible high school teacher: holds good intentions, but you’ve always known they were a borderline psychopath. His arc was amusing in a hilarious but over the top sort of fashion – in that he’s menacing, but also silly, yet necessary for throwing conflict in the story. I also enjoyed his, what I’d consider, ‘boss fight’ scenarios.
- The prose in the book is simple but showcases moments of floweriness. One of my favorite lines was at the bowling alley.
“The rank smell of feet blended with cheap alcohol and stale cigarettes to create a perfume that could only be found in bowling alleys worldwide.”
It is also here where the book picks up. As we then see a pageant show, which features some of the movie’s best musical numbers – which of course is a disaster. Figuratively and literally (zombies).
- It’s YA friendly. A zombie apocalypse without the overabundance of blood and guts. Yes it’s there, but it’s a lot more sparse than you’d believe.
- It’s fun, the jokes are funny, and there’s a right amount of pop culture references.
FYI: Anything involving the ball-pit is rather hilarious.
Elements of the Book I thought were slightly off
- Even though it’s written in third-person, it’s difficult to differ between limited and omniscient. The inner monologues and desires of different characters switch too haphazardly. Simply put, it moves to another person’s thoughts and feelings too quickly, jarring the flow of the read and breaking the intimacy with the scene’s main character.
- The universe building felt off. Understandable that it’s a lighter zombie story, but there were moments of zombie gore intentionally ignored. Convenient for a film that needs to deliver an emotional beat for a scene, but somewhat anti-climactic and conveniently self-serving in the book, particularly this next point:
- The Bite. One of the biggest tropes is getting bitten. The slow turn that happens when you least expect it. The book utilizes it well in some respects but, minus the spoilers, there are moments I’d expected zombies to go into full-on devour mode but opted for a bite and go. Once they’d bitten their unfortunate victim, they’d leave them entirely alone. Sort of like Tag, you’re dead, and that was it.
- The infuriating relationship between John and Anna. He’s the best friend who never was her romance but we all rooted for. Especially, because he authentically cares. That said, there’s a lot of heart in this friend-zoned relationship. We see rounded people caring for one another, especially towards the end. And though the payoff isn’t what’s expected – it gives emotional beats needed for the story.
Consider this a love and hate point.
Anna and the Apocalypse is a fun zombie book and musical. There are moments of courage and sacrifice, humor and festive Christmas themes. It’s a fun take on the zombie – not entirely nightmare before Christmas, as much as it is Glee and Shawn of the Dead. An entertaining read, and a movie I’m looking forward to seeing.
Released on October 23rd, you can find the ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ book on Amazon, Books-A-Million, Powell’s, and Indie Bookstores.