Ricky Church chats with Katharine Isabelle about Night of the Animated Dead…
The Night of the Living Dead is such a significant piece of movie history not just for creating the zombie genre, but for the way it was filmed and the focus on the horrific experiences the characters go through rather than the pulse-pounding action the genre is known for now. The film has been remade or reimagined a few times, not to mention how it has influenced many other horror films, with the latest being Night of the Animated Dead, an animated remake which follows the same story but includes a few elements the original either didn’t have or could not do at the time.
We spoke with Katharine Isabelle, who voices Barbara in the film. Unlike most of the characters, Barbara basically shuts down due to the trauma she’s gained after witnessing the dead come to life and how they show no hesitancy ripping anyone apart. It’s a role well suited for Isabelle who is known as a Scream Queen for her roles in Ginger Snaps and its sequels as well as other horror films. We chatted with Isabelle on taking on the role of Barbara, Night of the Living Dead‘s legacy, the 20th anniversary of Ginger Snaps and whether she would return to Hannibal, where she played Margot Verger, should it ever be revived for a fourth season. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: Night of the Animated Dead is of course an animated take of Night of the Living Dead, which has such a groundbreaking legacy. Why do you think that original movie is so loved?
Katharine Isabelle: I think everything from the cinematography to the time period that it was released in to the just absolutely ever relevant situational chaos that these guys are in. The zombies being sort of this metaphor for the many massive and uncountable anxieties in the world and those survivors being, each and every one of them, a different aspect of humanity itself at its best and at its worst. When everything is stripped away, all the politeness and all the societal conventions are stripped away and people really go mad in a world and in crisis, I think those are very raw, visceral feelings that we all really try to tamp down and just get along in our life. I think that bubbling terror that humans have experienced for hundreds of thousands or however millions of years, I think we try to repress that constantly and a film like this just scrapes all that back and shows what we’re all really terrified about ourselves and each other, you know?
Yeah, for sure. Now with this being an animated take on the film, what is it that sets Night of the Animated Dead apart from the other remakes, versions and re-imaginings that we’ve seen of the original?
I feel like this is so true to the original. It’s pretty much shot for shot. I know a lot of the performances, everybody was sort of trying to maintain that surety from the original. To see it animated, you think it’s not going to be as tense and as gory as the original, but it totally is! (Laughs) Because they’re using the same shots that George Romero was going for, it keeps that tenseness and the animated gore is still just as disturbing and the zombies are as disturbing. And because it’s a bit slower, the animation isn’t, you know, super fast, it’s a bit of a retro animation, I found parts of it just as disturbing as the original to be honest. The whole scene in the basement, that was a lot of blood spatter on the walls! It was just as impactful as the original for me in some aspects.
You play Barbara in this movie and anyone who’s watched that original knows she goes through quite a dramatic journey. What connects you most to Barbara?
I mean, Barbara’s journey is so very human. I know they tried to sort of amp up her strengths in a later retelling, I think in the nineties, Romero was willing to make her not as catatonic and to give her some more fighting scenes. I actually don’t mind the original version of Barbara because to be honest, yes, we want to see these great, strong, independent female characters fight like hell and kick ass, but at the same time quite a large proportion of humans would react the way Barbara does when she’s just freaked out and goes catatonic. I mean, that is a very human reaction just as much as Ben being super proactive and getting everything possible done and solving problems as many as possible. A lot of people will just have a lie down on the couch!
I connected with her definitely in that way. I could easily during a real zombie apocalypse fight like hell and then also take a nap under a blanket and cry. I don’t see anything out of my element in Barbara. It’s unfortunate that it took her the entire movie just to process the very first traumatic thing that happened to her. By the end of the movie she’s just barely realized that that just happened. That just really speaks to the process of grief, especially grief in crisis, in a not calm environment where you can’t process it. I think it’s a very natural human thing and I feel for her that way.
You’re known as a bit of a Scream Queen for all your roles in horror movies and you get to do a lot of screaming as Barbara, but like you said it’s also a bit more subdued as she can barely process everything that’s going on. What was it like for you in the recording booth doing all the screams and mental breakdowns and then the quiet trauma of her character?
It’s interesting. I think we got most of the dialogue out of the way first and then I have a medical issue. I’ve been ventilated on life support before for a different, very super deadly lung disease so I can lose my voice quite easily because being intubated damages your vocal chords. So a night out drinking and singing karaoke, I’ll lose my voice for a few days. So we have to do all the screams at the very end. I said I can scream, it’s all good, but it has to be at the end because I won’t be able to do it for very long. Once I go full out and I scream my voice hoarse, then I need a couple of days before that’ll come back. So we did all the screaming at the end which is fine. And then we did the breathing portion, which for Barbara is most of the movie. (Laughs) Most of her experience is told through breath for her, which is very different than when we are on set. On set I know which part of the movie this breath is going to be in. I know this is the scary-walking-down-the-hallway breath or whatever.
For Animated Dead, we shot this a year or two before they animated it so it was just an hour of me breathing and doing different hyperventilation techniques basically for the animators to then pick and choose what they were going to use. You can tell so much through breath. That’s why we still use polygraph tests even though they’re not admissible in court. Even just the way someone you’re intimately connected with, a friend or a partner, you can tell when they’re stressed and when their mood has changed just by their breathing alone. Animals are even in tune to this. They did a great job taking all the variant breathing performances that I laid and picking and choosing the exact perfect spot for that to really bring out how she’s feeling. Yes she’s not speaking, yes she’s catatonic, but she’s still going through a vast array of emotions. They really plucked out different breath work there and I think it really worked.
For sure. We’ve kind of touched a little bit on this, but Night of the Animated Dead focuses a lot on the themes of survival, trauma and morality. What attracts you to the story the most from its themes?
It’s like what attracts me to horror movies. The good ones in general show the very raw humanity of it. We’re so used to living in our coddled, highly undangerous life compared to how human beings in our DNA are wired to the dangers that we used to come in contact with everyday. The real fight or flight for real survival, that was constant and everyday and we just don’t deal with that anymore. I think stripping all of those mannerisms and all of those safety nets away and seeing what really humanity is capable of, both good or bad, is so compelling to watch. I think that’s what horror really does. It reflects humanity back to itself in the most intense way, whether that’s good or bad. The human experience itself is fairly terrifying. It’s horrific to be honest and has been throughout the millennia. To acknowledge that within ourselves instead of just continuing and acting like everything’s fine and we do our job and we see our family and this is great, it’s like the existential terror that no one is talking about! Are you kidding me?! This is all terrifying!
Really this film, I think that’s why it was so shocking especially at the time period it came out and everybody very much had this mask of propriety and civilization and societal expectations that when that’s all stripped away and you really see what’s at the bottom of humanity and what is truly terrifying, it’s ourselves and each other and what we’re capable of and what our minds can do to us. I think all of that is so well encompassed in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That’s why it’s timeless. That’s why it’s relevant. That’s why we’re still talking about it and watching it.
Like I said, you’ve done a lot of different horror movies. You’re known for Ginger Snaps, which turned 20 years old last year. One of my favorite roles of yours is Margot Verger in Hannibal. I thought you were great in that show, it’s one of my favorites. In this day of reboots and revivals and all the rumors of its return and the fanbase that show has, would you ever go back to Hannibal if the stars aligned and it somehow got a fourth season?
Oh, a hundred percent! I think everybody involved in that show has said the same. I know that Mads [Mikkelsen] and Hugh [Dancy] and Caroline [Dhavernas], everybody and of course Bryan Fuller, nobody has given up hope. Everybody is ready and willing and able to revisit it. I know that Bryan said with the amount of years that have passed, none of that matters. It can all be brought through. I know he has grand, amazing, brilliant, freaky ideas for it. So yeah, God willing, God willing it happens one day I will a hundred percent be down to revisit it and maybe turn the Verger slaughterhouse empire into like a vegan fashion house!
Speaking of Ginger Snaps, like I said last year was its 20th anniversary. What do you think looking back on the legacy of that movie?
It just really speaks to what originally Emily [Perkins] and I saw in that film. We, especially myself, had never seen these types of characters. Even just like Ginger says herself in the film, women and girls can only be a bitch, a tease or the good girl next door or something like that, right? That was sort of my experience in film at that time. I’m either like, oh, the pretty girl next door or I’m the bitchy friend, and then to be a character that was emotionally fucked up and was funny and was smart, but was brutal, but was darkly hilarious and just a depressed, itchy, insecure teenager that I was at that time, the casting was great! I hardly had to act. I just was that person. I think that holds true.
The practical effects, we had no CGI, the practical effects still look as good today as they did then which makes it very highly watchable. It’s highly relevant, the themes of feminism and mensuration and the thing that changes how you look and how you feel and how people respond to you and treat you – that never goes away for any generation. I think that’s why we still have generations of kids falling in love with the story and the love story between the sisters and the tragedy. It’s very Shakespearian. It has so many things. It’s so funny. So dark. The gore is so good. The practical effects are great. Fricking magic sometimes comes together and that was what happened with Ginger Snaps. Thank God other people recognize it for the truly beautiful film that it is because when you’re making a film like that, this is before all the sort of supernatural stuff became popular, like werewolves and vampires became super cool. This movie was sort of blacklisted by a lot of actors and casting directors in Canada after the school violence. It was sort of just after Columbine had happened. To have it get its true shot at showing what it is and what a purely great film it is with great writing and great effects, I mean thank God other people really took to it and I’m very proud.
Thank you very much to Katharine Isabelle for speaking with us!
Night of the Animated Dead is available on digital now and will be released on Blu-ray October 5th.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.