(Anna and the Apocalypse (UK, 2017)-Christmas is right around the corner. Thoughts should be about family and the school pageant. Instead, they are about surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. A musical! Directed by John McPhail, starring Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, and more. Based on the short film, “Zombie Musical” (UK, 2011), directed by Ryan McHenry, starring Joanne McGuinness and Steve Arden. Currently on HULU.)
Joining the pantheon of such Horror Musicals as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Phantom of the Paradise,” and “Repo: The Genetic Opera,” is “Anna and the Apocalypse.” If you want a frame of reference for this film, think of “High School Musical”, but make it entertaining.
Our heroine, Anna, is your typical high school senior. She has no mother. Her father doesn’t understand her. Her best friend, John, is treated more as a brother than a boyfriend. You know, typical stuff. Anna wants to take time off after she graduates and travel. Her father is against it. Losing that year between school and college, he believes, will negatively impact her life.
The cast sings at the drop of hat. Anna sings about the problems in her life, backed up by her classmates. John adds his troubles. Everywhere is teenage angst. Then, there is the school Christmas Pageant. It includes two guys dresses as penguins, rapping about fish, and a rather risqué ditty about Santa from Lisa, accompanied by a group of buff topless males wearing short. The megalomaniacal headmaster makes note of the smut on the stage. He’ll make her life miserable later.
Life goes on as usual, until that fateful morning. Anna puts in her earbuds and head for school, completely oblivious to the zombies chasing and eating most people in the neighborhood. This is actually where the short, “Zombie Musical”, begins. This is definitely the showstopper!
From then on, it’s a fight for survival, with Anna and her friends meeting the living dead, and sometimes being eaten by them. The headmaster played menacingly by Paul Kaye, does his best to keep control of the school and its trapped occupants, which include Anna’s father (the janitor), who is bait to get Anna back into the fold at the school.
Who will survive? Who will become zombie chow? Who gets the next solo?
The film is loaded with homages. Nick, the school jock, leads a small band of zombie killers that is reminiscent of the Jets/Sharks from “West Side Story.” Several of the musical numbers could fit beautifully in “Rocky Horror.” Anna heading to school without noticing the death around her is right out of “Shaun of the Dead.” I noted the two rapping penguins who become zombies resemble a short from 2011 called “Zombie in a Penguin Suit.” Yes, that’s a real film.
Overall, the film is a fun romp through the entrails of Christmas, with action, enjoyable musical numbers and the usual amount of “Oh, no” moments. It really is worth a viewing.
Now, the short “Zombie Musical” is equally entertaining. Running about seventeen minutes, there are only three characters (aside from the zombies): Anna, John and a maniacal Physical Education teacher, whose role would be taken by the headmaster in the feature.
The short was lengthened to 93 minutes by adding a more involved plot, more songs and more characters to sing them. Most enjoyably, the feature does not feel unnecessarily padded, much like “Cargo” did. The story is lean, the characters fully formed and the performances are engaging. There was no drag. At no time did I say “Well, they could have done without that!”
For comparison purposes, here is a link to “Zombie Musical”.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” was given a special award at the 2018 Toronto After Dark Film Festival for Best Horror Film, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Comedy and Best Music. (Thanks, IMDb)
“Zombie Musical” won the 2011 BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award. (Thanks again, IMDb)
A side note: Ryan McHenry passed away in 2015, which explains the change in directors.