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February 10, 2009 4:42 am

DEAD NOON: Cody zombie-western hits DVD shelves

Written by Tribune Staff

It's not everyday that Cody is featured in a motion picture.

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But it's pretty much unprecedented for the area to serve as the setting for a zombie/cowboy flick.

As of last Tuesday, you can catch a zombified Cody area on DVDs sold nationwide in the locally-produced “Dead Noon.”

The story follows a bloodthirsty outlaw who returns from the dead to seek vengeance armed with powers of hell.

The film's journey began more than three years ago. At that time, director Andrew Wiest and co-writer/photographer Matt Taggart were working at Video Experience in Cody.

One night, Taggart took home “High Noon.” He came back to work the next day with a burning question — what would the Western classic look like if zombies were added into the mix?

“We were like, ‘I don't know, let's write it!'” recalled Wiest.

Within weeks, Wiest, Taggart and a group of their friends were out in Wyoming's January weather shooting the first scenes of “Dead Noon.”

“Basically, it started out that ridiculous and it stayed ridiculous. It's really a ridiculous, insane movie,” Wiest said.

It took years of shooting, re-shooting and frustration before last week's major DVD distribution at stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

“Today is really truly a relief for me,” said Wiest of the release date. “That's the easiest way to describe it.”

He cautions viewers that the finished film isn't exactly what he had in mind. “Dead Noon” was sold to film distributor Lionsgate Entertainment and in the sale, Wiest gave up many of the rights to the film. That was about two years ago.

“At that time, I think the idea was, ‘OK, the movie's going to come out in six months.' Then it suddenly became like, ‘Oh, we think this movie could be a cult hit and we feel like we've got to give it a broader audience,'” Wiest said. “That's when the trouble started.”

Wiest had successfully screened his version of “Dead Noon” at a number of film festivals, and in Powell and Cody last spring.

But Lionsgate decided that the film needed a big(ger)-name star. They picked Kane Hodder, the actor most famous for playing the hockey mask-wearing, chain-saw-wielding Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th horror movies.

About a year ago, the studio flew Wiest out to Los Angeles to shoot a new sequence with Hodder.

Over the span of one “long, crazy night,” Wiest shot 15 new minutes of scenes for the movie.

Wiest said the new footage fit fine, but then Lionsgate decided to cut 20 minutes of his original version — material he says “was mostly plot.

“I really liked the new material (with Hodder), I think it's kinda fun,” Wiest said. “But then when they cut the other stuff out, the movie just became slightly nonsensical.”

Wiest said his biggest problem with the Lionsgate version is the music, which he calls horrible.

“I have no qualms about saying that. I think it's just absolutely a travesty. The music is really bad,” he said.

Wiest's friends Aaron Nielson and Northwest College pianist Tim Schoessler scored the original, but it was replaced by the studio.

When contacted earlier this month, Schoessler said he had yet to see the Lionsgate edit of “Dead Noon.”

“(Wiest) recommended I not even watch the end version,” Schoessler said.

But Wiest is quick to add that he is grateful for the experience and exposure that Lionsgate's release brought for him and the folks that put the production together.

“I don't really want to complain about it, because it's pretty cool to be able to go down to Wal-Mart and buy my movie, you know?” he said.

Wiest's film was originally shot on a budget of just $4,000, relying on the donated time and energy of friends — many of them local. For instance, Robert Bear of Worland acted in the film, and Jason Scott of Cody did the sound design.

“There's a lot of people in the area that are really talented people that really helped to make the movie happen. I'm just the guy that ended up getting stuck with it for three years,” Wiest laughed.

For a $4,000 film, the project is wildly ambitious. It featured around 700 special effects, needed to get skeletons a-walking, demons a-flaming, and guns a-blazing.

James Teague of Bozeman handled the digital effects.

“He truly made the movie,” Wiest said. “He (Teague) gave me basically a year and a half of his life for no pay — absolutely nothing — to do all the effects single-handedly.”

Reviews of the Lionsgate version have been mixed. Some have written that Wiest's version was better, others have ripped the project entirely, and, ironically enough, one reviewer on Amazon.com said the only strong parts of the film are the new music, and Hodder's performance.

“We really pushed the boundaries of what you can do with no money. And you know, even if we came up short in areas, I'm proud that we pushed it,” Wiest said.

For the last year, Wiest has had little to do with the film. While Lionsgate prepared the project for nation-wide release, Wiest has been working on a new movie. The film, called “The Wylds,” is family film (of all things) based on the Christian novel “The Pilgrim's Progress.”

“I enjoy the horror genre, but this is probably more a direction I would probably rather go in,” Wiest said, though he concedes he's taken some liberties with John Bunyan's original version, adding in mutated bugs and killer robots.

One of his friends, who happens to be a big fan of Hollywood director Sam Raimi, visited the set of “The Wylds.”

“So, while we were shooting on this kid movie based on classic Christian literature, he was like, ‘Man, I've never seen a family film with this many influences from the ‘Evil Dead' in it,” Wiest said.

A distributor is already lined up for the film, and this time, Wiest has firm control over the project's rights.

While the transition to family fare might seem unnatural, Wiest notes that “Dead Noon” is not a horror film in the same vein as “Saw” or “Hostel.”

“I don't get the serial killer thing, I guess, and I don't get the torture flicks,” he said. “I like my horror with a dash of comedy.”

“Dead Noon” is nothing if not intentionally campy.

“It's all kind of done pretty tongue-in-cheek. There's times we're just kind of flat-out making fun of the horror genre in general. I think because of that, people that maybe normally wouldn't get behind a horror movie might embrace this one a little bit more,” he said.

Despite the hiccups, and long journey to completion, Wiest thinks the DVD distribution is a fitting ending for “Dead Noon.”

“It was a neat experience just making the movie and having our little backyard no-budget movie come out from a major distributor and be all over the country,” he said. “It's pretty wild.”

The film is available at Wal-Mart, numerous online retailers and for rental or purchase at Video Experience.