Documentary Review: “Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie”

You might remember this little Kickstarter-funded feel good story of a few years back. Two Providence, Rhode Island “bros,” both born with Down’s Syndrome, rally their families, the city and some movie biz folks to make a movie they conceived starring themselves as “bionic brothers” who fight “zombies, demons and demon zombies.”

“Spring Break Zombie Massacre” they called it, a 45 minute movie conceived by and starring Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt. They showed it at film festivals hither and yon, got coverage from local, national (“PBS Newshour”) and international media, and even took their act onto “Conan.”

“Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie” is a 100 minute+ “the making of” documentary by Sam’s film biz brother, Jesse. One hesitates to call it “sweet,” because helping these two realize their dream, when that “dream turned out to be an extremely violent and questionable zombie movie,” but that’s what this is.

It’s not “Batkid Begins,” the best comparison for “special” people bringing out the generosity and kind indulgences of others to realize a dream. But it puts us in the company of two genuine characters, unfiltered, foul-mouthed lads in Kevin Smith shorts, and the mountains their friends and family move to let them realize “their vision.

Jesse narrates the film, and we hear him on the phone or off camera reining in that “vision.”

“And there’re girls COMPLETELY NAKED” Mattie pitches, with Sam adding that “We can shoot them from the waist up!

“I think that’s out,” Jesse decrees. He’s the guy who set up their Kickstarter, helped them shoot their amusingly amateurish pitch video for the fundraising website and who spent years of weekends coming home from New York supervising grinding story meetings to get a script they could realistically shoot, a movie made for under $100,000. And he’s got to draw the line — many lines — somewhere.

The boys are easily distracted, grandiose in their ambitions. But they’ve been acting-out scenes from their imaginary action film together since they were tweens. Sam’s dad is here, showing us snippets of earlier videos — genre parodies, apparently — that they starred in and he shot.

We see the endless takes of getting them to pretend to be punk rockers in their movie, a band named American Mind Freaks. We gasp at the gross, over-the-top bloody detail of their dual birth scenes.

“Two mothers, same dad,” Peter “Dumb and Dumber” Farrelly marvels. “I’ve never seen that!” Farrelly, the most famous Providence filmmaker of them all (with his brother Bobby) consults on the script, and after a readthrough with the boys gives them a pep talk, a little cheerleading, and the suggestion that “You must respect the women in it.”

For one of the Farrelly Brothers to have to point out that the “guy’s fantasy” they’ve concocted needs to be a little less sexist, well the mind reels.

Effects? Somebody says “You broke my HEART,” only to have the organ yanked out of her chest with “You HAVE no heart!” as a comeback. There’s a lot of that.

Truth be told, this overlong documentary, which includes the entire short(ish) film they made, is a bit grasping. All this came to a conclusion five years ago when the film made the festival rounds and the guys turned up at those festivals and on TV talking it up. This is a way to try and get a little more mileage out of that material.

But there are funny bits here, playing up the guys’ natural exhibitionist tendencies, the grimmest days of working on a movie in the heat of August and a few words with long-suffering script supervisor Charmeka Fox, who tries to keep track of all the ways they’ve strayed from the script as the filming progresses

There’s also a local librarian who reveals Mattie’s movie rental habits.

“He gets a lot of ‘Jersey Shore'” DVDs, she reveals, “which I find hysterical.”

Mattie’s idol is on the show, and Pauly D even turns up in the movie.

Though the film drags, and the geysers of blood at this beheading or that neck-biting get to be a bit much, it’s always heartening to see how generous people can be when given a chance to do something nice for a couple of kids with a dream, no matter how twisted that dream might be.

MPA Rating: unrated, bloody effects, zombie movie violence, profanity

Cast: Sam Suchmann, Mattie Zufelt, Conan O’Brien, Jesse Scuchmann, Suzy Beck, Pauly D and Peter Farrelly.

Credits: Directed by Robert Carnevale and Jesse Suchmann. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:44

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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