A few days ago I was tumbling through the inspiration boards when I came across an image I hadn’t seen in years. The find prompted a memory and little known factoid from my time in the movie industry.

The image in question is Bernie Wrightson’s “Mementos,” a ghastly pen and ink rendering first published in 1977. Byrne Power at The Anadromist reckons it is one of Wrightson’s most powerful pieces of “Gothic Americana,” summoning up “the more unnerving aspects of the American nightmare,” while delivering “a strong statement of that gulp-worthy sense of American Gothic black humor, as well.”

Bernie Wrightson's Gothic Americana drawing "Mementos," circa 1977.
Bernie Wrightson’s Gothic Americana drawing “Mementos,” circa 1977.

I agree with Mr. Powers’ assessment. That image has always been one of my favorite Wrightson works. I even own a signed copy of it, but that’s not the interesting part. Did you know the scene was recreated for a short film that became the pilot of a series that was never picked up? It’s true! Not only that, but the artist himself portrayed the character with the axe in the film.

The artist himself helps bring the celebrated image to life on the set of When Zombies Attack!!
The artist himself helps bring the celebrated image to life on the set of P.M.A.C.: When Zombies Attack!!

Here’s a little backstory. Back in 2001, my business partner Joe Venegas and I had just started our public relations company Creative Talent Communications. Among our first clients were a creative duo in the realm of makeup effects, Matt Rose and Chad Waters. Both had already made names for themselves working on such groundbreaking films as Aliens, Predator, Batman Returns, Men In Black and Planet Of The Apes, to name just a few.

Make-up artists Matt Rose (far left) and Chad Waters (far right) on set with Bernie Wrightson, during the filming of When Zombies Attack!!
Make-up artists Matt Rose (far left) and Chad Waters (far right) on set with Bernie Wrightson, during the filming of When Zombies Attack!!

Their reason for contacting us, however, was to help promote a tongue-in-cheek short film they had made in 1999 called When Zombies Attack!! Sort of a cross between then popular reality television series Cops and When Animals Attack with Corman’s Night Of The Living Dead, the boys had taken everything they had learned in their two decades working in the trenches and parlayed it into a fresh and funny 25-minute thrill ride we were all SURE could be repackaged and picked up by one of the cable networks as a series.

It never was, but the film did get a lot of airplay on late night horror shows and at film festivals worldwide, winning a few awards in the process. It really was a beautiful piece of work, with Matt and Chad not only creating the make-up, effects, props and costumes, but also writing, producing and directing the project. Though it never saw production as a full-fledged series, it did spawn a very popular comic book series, released by Red Maverick and a toy line. You can find out more about the project here or at the official website, here.

Oh, hell, just watch a shorter version of the movie here. And while you’re at it, why not check out the twisted puppet Waker Safety video, here. (Another little known fact: I own three of the zombie puppets shown in that film.)

The official poster for the short film when it was originally released in 1999.
The official poster for the short film when it was originally released in 1999.

Interestingly enough, that little brush with Bernie hadn’t actually been my first. A few years earlier, in 1998, I attended the World Horror Convention, which was very conveniently held in Phoenix that year. Being a media whore even then, I finagled a press pass and spent the weekend rubbing elbows with the cream of the crop in the horror genre. It was a virtual jackpot for me. I filled several tape cassettes with hours of interviews with writers, artists, toy manufacturers, etc. and cranked out paid articles for months after.

One of my favorite memories of that weekend, however, was sharing a pint of beer with Mr. Wrightson in the hotel bar, where we had both escaped to get away from the crowds for a while. I remember being thoroughly enchanted by his soft-spoken, quirky nature and more than a little taken by his eyebrows, a delicate tangle of unruly creeping vines perfectly in keeping with his demented reputation as an artist. I don’t really remember much about the conversation itself, except that he signed a copy of “Mementos” for me, which I had purchased earlier in the day and still have tucked away somewhere.

I wonder, now, if he had already met Matt and Chad at the time of our chance encounter. The timing would have been right. My guess is, he had. In fact, knowing what I do about preproduction and the process of independent filmmaking, he had either already shot his part for the film, or was preparing to do so. If he had, he didn’t mention anything to me about the image being recreated for the film. Or maybe he did. My memory isn’t what it once was.

Obviously neither of us could have known that four years later I would be involved in the packaging and promotion of the film for studio consumption. Interesting how life works, isn’t it? I try never to take any of it for granted, but occasionally an image or written passage will prompt a memory, which in turn reveals a hitherto unseen pattern and I’m left shaking my head at the symmetry of it all.

I really should look for that autographed copy of the print. I know it’s around here somewhere – tucked away in a box or a folder for safekeeping. Maybe it’s time to get it framed and up on the wall. Another memento, if you will, from an eventful chapter of my storied past.

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