Sponsored feature: All Nighter Productions
The Curse of Professor Zardonicus is an upcoming dark-comedy thriller written and directed by Gabriel Theis.
A conspiratorial loner recruits an underachieving film student to help prove the existence of an urban legend.
A Q&A with writer and director Gabriel Theis
Congratulations on the release of your upcoming dark-comedy thriller The Curse of Professor Zardonicus. Tell me how you came up with the concept for the film?
Thanks for having me! I came up with the basic premise of Zardonicus in my freshman year of college. I was a film student looking for projects to make, and I thought it would be hilarious for me and a friend to pretend to be searching for a ridiculous urban legend while I recorded and made a small mockumentary out of it. Kind of a send-up of The Blair Witch Project, or those monster-hunting reality shows. But as I continued to develop the concept, the more ideas I started to get. And, the more deeply I wanted to really dive into these characters. Who is this delusional weirdo searching for Professor Zardonicus? Why would any sane person go along with this?
At some point, I realized that I had enough material for a feature film. And Zardonicus would be a perfect debut because it could be produced so cheaply and with a skeleton crew. So I wrote the feature version and waited until I met the right people to help me bring it to life. Then I met Alec White and Lucio Vasquez doing another short, and I knew that I had the perfect team.
Who is this delusional weirdo searching for Professor Zardonicus? Why would any sane person go along with this?
What are some of your favourite found-footage horror films? Were you inspired by any of them when making The Curse of Professor Zardonicus?
I’ve always thought found-footage got a bad rap from some people in horror fandom. Yes, a lot of them are lazily put-together and indulgent in tropes and cliches. But that goes for so many sub-genres throughout horror, to be honest. To me, it’s all about the story: does the found-footage approach enhance your narrative? Could you imagine it being produced any other way?
For example, The Blair Witch Project. It has some naysayers now who think that the fake documentary approach was “gimmicky,” but The Blair Witch Project is an overwhelmingly powerful cinematic experience that places you directly into the situation that almost no other film could. I don’t think a movie has made me feel more anxious or unnerved, something about that grainy camera, those subtle sounds of trespassers in the dark, truly got under my skin.
Another one that I love to recommend is The Last Broadcast. It’s a fictional true-crime documentary about the Jersey Devil. It’s an eerie micro-budget film that’s not just an effective thriller, but also a thoughtful commentary on the news media. It also came out before The Blair Witch Project, so it should get a lot of credit for helping launch the genre.
What was your biggest challenge during the filmmaking process?
The biggest challenge was just not having enough money or time. We thankfully had a crowdfunded budget of $3,500 to pay for certain expenses, but we also had to think creatively to fix some problems that bigger productions would have no problem with.
For example, in the script, there’s a character that’s a hermit who lives out in a cabin. Simple enough, right? But we just couldn’t find an affordable cabin that also fit our shooting schedule in terms of availability. So, I did a revision to the script, and let’s just say, this character lives in a more “interesting” domicile now.
Another big example was that, for the climax, we needed a dark, moody hallway. But the building we wanted to shoot in, which was otherwise perfect, didn’t seem to have a light switch. Anywhere. So we couldn’t simply turn off the fluorescent lights, and the whole atmosphere would’ve been tanked. So, Alec had an extremely creative solution – trash bags. We literally taped trash bags on the ceilings to block the lights. Most productions could’ve done this with a C-stand and curtain, but we just had to use trash bags. But hey, it worked. The location was lit and keyed exactly the way we’d hoped.
So it was a difficult shoot, but I’m extremely grateful for my team because there was never a moment where we said “oh well, can’t make this happen. We’ll have to cut this out of the script entirely.”
Without giving too much away what can you tell us about the urban legend surrounding Professor Zardonicus?
Professor Zardonicus is a local urban legend on the main characters’ campus. The story goes that Professor Zardonicus was a chemistry professor back in the ’50s, very draconian and unpopular with the students. So, they played a prank on him after class, and messed around with the chemicals. But the prank went horribly wrong, and it started a fire in the building.
Thankfully, everyone got out… except Professor Zardonicus. But, his body was never found. And students claim that sometimes they can see a misshapen man prowling around campus in a lab coat, lurking in the shadows.
Where can horror fans watch the full film?
The film was released on April 20th across Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, and more. You can pre-order now through AppleTV. Be on the lookout for a Blu-Ray release!
Watch The Curse of Professor Zardonicus on Apple TV here.