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'Uncle John is a Zombie' to premiere at Oaks Theater

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 3:06 p.m.
Cy-Fi, John Russo and Gary Lee Vincent  in 'My Uncle John is a Zombie!'
Cy-Fi, John Russo and Gary Lee Vincent in 'My Uncle John is a Zombie!'
Zombies from 'My Uncle John is a Zombie!'
Zombies from 'My Uncle John is a Zombie!'

Screenwriter and director John "Jack" Russo has added another chapter to Western Pennsylvania's zombie pop culture history.

That chapter will be on display Nov. 16 at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont for the world premiere of "My Uncle John is a Zombie!"

Russo, who grew up in Clairton and now lives in Glassport, probably is best known as co-creator of the 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead" with George A. Romero.

The plot of his latest effort is fairly straightforward.

"My Uncle John is a Zombie!" centers around a zombie, named Uncle John, played by Russo. The zombie is kept in hiding by his niece and nephew for more than 40 years and suddenly becomes famous when the world discovers he can talk and reason as though he were alive. As his popularity grows, he is discovered by zombie hunters, who want to kidnap him and hunt him for sport.

"It's very funny. It's very entertaining and lampoons everything about the zombie genre," Russo says. "That captures it pretty well. It's very satirical. There are even songs in it. This film was just a joy to work on."

The neice is played by Cy-Fi, an actress and deejay Russo met a few years back at Steel City Con in Monroeville.

"We just got to be friends and thought the way she costumed herself and everything else would look good in the movie," he says.

The nephew, a zombie rights advocate, is played by Gary Vincent ("Mindhunter," "What the Night Can Do"). Vincent co-produced the movie with Russo and Robert L. Lucas.

Filming started in the winter of 2015. Locations included Clairton Park in Clairton, the Elks Lodge in Braddock and the Comfort Inn and Extended Stay American in West Mifflin. It finished at the Days of the Dead convention and Wolfpack Studios in Los Angeles last year.

Solon Tsangaras plays Joe the Hunter. He is part of a group that belongs to a zombie hunting club, and performs the song "Beat em and burn em" in the movie trailer.

Russo says the movie has been well-received so far.

"We've had some screenings at the big horror fan conventions before it was finished, and the audiences have been cracking up," he says. "You never know till it gets out there. It looks like it's going to take off big. I'm really excited about the reception to the movie."

The idea for the film came to Russo while he was in San Francisco years ago at Kirk Von Hammett's Fear FestEvil. Hammett is the lead guitarist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Metallica, and Fear FestEvil is North America's premier metal and horror film festival.

Russo says he was a guest at the event and filmed a short TV spot with Epix to advertise a slate of zombie movies on that channel.

"They had all kinds of horror celebrities doing these 30 second spots," Russo says. "In my spot, I played a zombie talking about having a beer in my old hometown and a horde of zombies breaks into the bar. Next thing I know, I wake up and I'm a zombie. I hit the spot and ad-libbed about a half hour of funny stuff and they loved it."

The experience inspired him to write a full-length script with that character.

It is unclear when the movie will be shown in more theaters or go to DVD. Russo says they are still working out deals for distribution. The film's budget was around $500,000.

A cast and crew meet and greet will follow the premiere. A special red wine called Uncle John's Brain Juice will be available at the theater as well.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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