For the right price, detective Samwel Sift can find any of your zombiefied loved ones and bring back their heads.
Hey, everybody’s got to survive somehow after the zombie apocalypse.
In a new podcast released and produced by Stationary Hobo Productions, writer and producer Kevin Patterson and sound engineer Adrian Parrish create a detective mystery in a noir-style world of post-zombie-apocalypse Charlotte.
Case for the Cure takes place several years after The Fall, aka the zombie apocalypse, and Charlotte is declared a “Free Zone” where survivors can live without fear of zombies invading to search for victims to turn.
By using the city’s established train tracks, the mayor shipped the zombies — also known as chompers, diaspora, lost ones and the strayed — out of the city, which has developed into a city-state headed by The Authority. While the Free Zone is rid of chompers, there is little freedom in entering and leaving the zone.
Samwel Sift (voiced by Patterson) is assigned a new case by The Authority to find out what scientist Frank McCormick is up to at his compound on U.S. Route 321 in Hickory.
Neuroscientist Dr. CeCe Daniels (voiced by Lauren Spano) joins Sift. She’s a spunky, strong female lead that keeps Sift on his toes. Together, they leave the Free Zone and spy on McCormick’s compound. Does he have the cure for the zombie virus or is he cooking up something more sinister?
The dark and cynical noir style fits perfectly with the post-zombie-apocalypse world that is the setting for so many popular stories today. The hybrid of genres hasn’t gone completely unexplored — see graphic novel The Awakening — but Patterson saw plenty of untapped potential in it and pioneered a podcast.
“I’ve always liked noir a lot. I especially like noir when it takes a funny angle,” Patterson said. “And so I was kind of debating noir and thinking about all the zombie tales out there, and realized that the noir world and zombie apocalypse world are similar in that there’s no real heroes; everyone’s done something bad and those two worlds seem to overlap a lot.”
Patterson took a script that he had written a few years previously and reworked it into something consisting exclusively of dialogue, then workshopped it for feedback. At first, some constructive critics felt the story needed more, pointing out that the script was just people talking, which wasn’t enough to piece together a full story.
Patterson stuck with it, writing, producing and directing the podcast, which he released in November 2018.
The dialogue decision wasn’t a hard one for Patterson — neither was the way he approached a decision faced by the writers of any zombie story: do the chompers run or do they walk?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to zombies, and it’s become a classic debate within zombie fandom. Should they be 28 Days Later zombies, sprinting full-speed toward their target, or Night of the Living Dead zombies, shambling and crawling?
Patterson went with the latter, citing the late king of zombie horror movies, George A. Romero.
“I just went with slow walkers, because I felt noir is kind of classy so I should use classy zombies,” Patterson chuckled. “In my mind, they’re the classic, Romero [style], you know, slow-walking zombies. Very easy to deal with them, if you don’t get outgunned.”
The decision adds to a lack of urgency that fits the noir genre, as well.
“They’re not climbing in the windows because humanity just turned to zombies two weeks earlier. It’s not that immediate sense, but I do think they’re the biggest threat,” he stated.
Since it’s several years after the outbreak — and humans have built a sanctuary in the city-state of Charlotte — the most immediate threat is surviving each other, according to Patterson. When it becomes a free-for-all in a post-apocalyptic setting, how does society manage to keep from falling into anarchy?
A post-apocalyptic, zombie-inhabited landscape is the perfect setting to answer those questions.
“They’ve survived, humanity has clearly survived and will continue to survive,” he stated. “Now, how are we going to rebuild and what do we want that to look like? Is it just about your own survival?”
The style of storytelling plays its role in that as well.
“I think the noir does that too,” Patterson stated. “It pretends that no one cares, but people have higher motivations that they really keep on the low down.”
Raiders and traders facilitate the flow of the economy in a world that operates around survival, using I-77 in north Mecklenburg as a means of collecting tolls. Anyone who wants to pass must fork over 1 percent of everything they have with them. The plot point is a not-so-subtle stab at the city’s plans to erect a toll system on that stretch of highway. But paper money doesn’t mean much in a post-apocalyptic world. Sift usually receives payment for his services in cans of tuna or other foodstuff.
Satire aside, Patterson knows what brings true fans to a zombie story: zombies. However, building a world full of zombies is hard when there aren’t visuals involved in the storytelling. Admittedly, it would be more appealing to see rather than hear a zombie get its head smashed in, but that’s where Parrish comes in.
Parrish and Patterson have worked together on a number of film and audio projects, but as talented as Parrish is at engineering audio, he admitted that creating a story using solely that was tricky. For example, how do you record a bar scene, so easy to set in a film or narrated text?
“We have a scene where we have two people who are talking in a bar,” Parrish said. “So how do we want to record that so that in the end once we add sound effects and stuff, it feels like that’s where we’re at? It was kind of tricky.”
Sound effects like Dr. Daniels’ heels clicking through a warehouse and the van ride out of the Free Zone were mixed in by Parrish to add to the zombie-noir world they created. Overall, despite the difficulties presented by podcasting — layering audio and getting the sound effects just right — it’s much easier than creating a film, according to Parrish.
“It’s just easier to create that world when you’re creating it just sonically. It was a really cool experience. I got to put to use some of my audio design and audio production,” he said.
That’s good for him, because the story doesn’t end after the four episodes of the debut season. Parrish and Patterson plan to keep building the universe in a second season.
While the first season was meant to introduce Sift and his reconnaissance skills, in the second season, audiences can expect to learn more about the origin of The Fall, the Free Zone and the mayor, all while following Sift through his case assignments.
According to Patterson, Dr. Daniels won’t be the female lead in the second season, but she will be a peripheral character. Another strong female lead will take her stead and play opposite of Sift as the audience learns more about the zombie-free city-state that is Charlotte.
Like most movie or television show releases, the production wrap will be accompanied by a party. Although unlike projects that celebrate a premiere, Patterson decided to throw a more delayed party on Feb. 17 at Petra’s.
“I realized my cast, they never had a moment — like in a movie you go, you do this thing and then celebrate together. Well I’m just releasing this on iTunes and Stitcher,” Patterson said. “I feel like I never gave them a night to be proud of. So that was the original motivation but I think it’ll be a fun night. I know it’s weird to do a release party when it’s already out there.”
The bright side of the party postponement? Attendees will have time to listen to the podcast beforehand
In the end, Patterson’s pairing of zombie apocalypse and noir-style storytelling may seem unlikely, but the witty characters and snappy one-liners between Sift and Dr. Daniels mix well with the gruesome reality of the savage “strayed” and the search for a cure.
If nothing else, in the case that the zombie apocalypse ever hits the Queen City, at least we know what it will look like.