For someone who grew up terrified of horror movies, Craig Sabin has a mighty unusual passion. Since March 2011, the longtime Pasadena-based screenwriter has been writing, producing, directing and acting in dozens of podcast episodes of “The Zombie Radio Show,” a bitingly satirical and often-hilarious faux broadcast that pretends to emanate from a New York City station operating during a zombie apocalypse in which brain-craving humanoids overrun the streets of the Big Apple.
While much of the current national obsession with zombies in shows like the top-rated cable series “The Walking Dead” relies on grotesque special visual effects for their appeal, Sabin and his team of six actors must present their vision completely through sound. The fact that they pull it off with a fast-paced mix of effects, music cues and inventive voice work is all the more impressive.
“I co-own a Web site called 5minutehorror.com with actor Bari Willerford and he and I were trying to come up with ways to create cheap material consistently,” says Sabin, 50, who now has all episodes appear on zombieradioshow.com. “I came up with ideas for this broadcast, where a station is broadcasting to a city overrun by zombies. We got actors together, and it just took off. The idea was that the central deejay was an ultraliberal Blue State kind of guy, and he’s broadcasting to a city overrun by zombies — which is a very bloodthirsty, survivalist Red State kind of situation — and he’s trying to see where he’s pertinent amid all this.”
While the group now normally creates a 10-minute episode each week, they started with just three- to five-minute bursts with special 15-minute editions spoofing what would happen with zombie attacks on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the massive gathering in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. They took their ambition much further this summer when they recorded 30-minute editions for a month.
A Florida native who has lived in Pasadena for 14 years, Sabin writes the scripts after bouncing ideas off his star James Mathers, who plays Jimmy Rudolph, with a five-minute script taking a day to write and a half-hour script taking two to three days. He then calls in his team of actors, including Angelle Gullett, who has developed a following as a tough woman named J-Bo, and they often read cold off the script and manage to finish in 40 minutes or less.
In the half-hour episodes, Sabin and his team “basically created three 10-minute segments and linked them with commercials.” And in the tradition of “Robocop” and “Total Recall,” those ads are archly humorous takes on the kinds of products people will need in a future dystopia.
“The idea was that normally when you have a zombie TV show, society collapses,” says Sabin. “Everyone’s dead and gone, with empty urban streets populated only by zombies. We thought society would hang on for longer than a week or 10 days — especially New York, which has been hit by its own maladies like crack, garbage strikes and hurricanes.
“If the zombie apocalypse came to New York, it would be like dealing with bad traffic,” Sabin continues. “So there are products available to track, use or rent a zombie, and evil corporations that cater to all that.”
Presently, the troupe has scaled back to 10-minute shows again to enable Sabin the time needed to create a humorous spinoff book from the Web series.
“The idea of the book is our main character, deejay Jimmy Rudolph, reviewing the top 25 scariest horror films of all time, but through the eyes of living in a zombie apocalypse,” says Sabin. “Like with ‘Alien,’ where an alien bursts out of someone’s chest, he says ‘What’s so scary about indigestion? I’d rather have an alien inside than a zombie chasing after me.’”
So how did Sabin get so wrapped up in the world of the undead anyway? After attending college at New York University, he was cast in “a series of ’80s grindhouse horror movies.” Enjoying the “cheesier” aspects of those films unleashed his passion, and he’s been fascinated with the endlessly inventive possibilities ever since.
“On the one hand, with the zombie genre you not only have zombies stumbling around so that they’re ungainly, slow moving and relatively easy to kill, and society, which turns into this gun-wielding group of killers that ultimately fail,” says Sabin. “It’s rife for comedy, with a lot of opportunity there. It’s also interesting because it’s about corruption. Zombies themselves are undead, corrupted flesh and to defeat them we have to corrupt ourselves. Most of us don’t wake up thinking we have to hack something to death today, but in a zombie apocalypse we would be.” n
Listen to the ongoing adventures of “The Zombie Radio Show” at zombieradioshow.com.