Battle of the Bone

Reporting from the premiere of NI's low-budget, high-impact zombie thriller. Click Play Audio to hear a production podcast from the set

For Northern Irish film director George Clarke, the moment of truth finally came at Storm Cinemas at Belfast's Odyssey Arena when he unleashed Northern Irelands' first 'martial arts zombie gore fest', Battle of the Bone.

Arriving outside the Odyssey with no small amount of style, Clarke and his team greeted 300 frenzied horror fans by rolling up in Back to the Future-style DeLoreans.

Despite beaming with confidence, Clarke admits that the film was only handed over an hour before the screening.

'There were refinements going on right up onto the last minute and ironically, when we go home tonight we'll do another wee touch up on it. We're constantly trying to refine it.'

Clarke could be forgiven for getting nervous. Over the last ten months, the production has landed front pages with the Irish News, as well as coverage on Ulster Television and the BBC. In addition to that a massive crew - who all worked for free - will no doubt have high expectations.

Once inside the cinema, assistant director Jonny Kirk reminisces with the excited audience.

'I met George Clarke one day and people thought we were the odd couple. When we started running through the city centre with 60 zombies, people really started to question our sanity. When we
started crashing cars into parked cars, people wondered, "What's
going on there?"'

But can an ultra low-budget zombie martial arts film set in Belfast on July 12 actually be any good? As the lights go out, the audience are forgiven for expecting an ambitious home video rather than the real deal.

The action begins at night when a shady drug dealer stashes some pills in the guts of a corpse at the local asylum. Things take a turn for the worse when every dememented patient, doctor and corpse runs loose.

Downshire psychiatric hospital serves its purpose well, as the movie's first victims meet a messy end. Battle of the Bone mixes plenty of Northern Irish banter from the start, but soon proves that it doesn't have to rely on laughs.

Lead actors Shane Todd, Alan M Crawford and Laura Jenkins engage the audience with fast dialogue and even faster kicks. Making their way home through an explosive 12th, the trio are in for the
longest day of their lives.

While the film gets by on low-budget charm for the first 15 minutes, it actually starts to impress with its energy and resourcefulness.

Battle of the Bone Before the threat of zombies even registers, a gang of thugs with almost superhuman leaping abilities pursue the heroes in a breathtaking sequence set in Belfast's docks.

Northern Irish free running group Team Bacteria lend their skills to the film, building a genuinely exciting sense of action.

With Belfast landmarks almost always in the background and intricate martial arts scenes, the film's low-budget concerns are at times easy to forget.

Battle of the Bone impresses with its ability to have the audience on the edge of their seats one moment and getting big laughs the next.

With soothing music playing in the background, one scene documents what must be one of the most awkward lift conversations in history, with certain death awaiting on the ground floor.

When the lights come up at the end of the film, a standing ovation emphasises Battle of the Bone's unlikely achievement.

'It feels ecstatic. It feels surreal,' says lead actor Alan M Crawford. 'It's funny, when you watch it you don't think of yourself. You think of your friends, your family members watching their son, their friend.

'Are they gonna laugh in the right places? I did enjoy having a laugh at myself on the screen. It brings it all back, all the good times we had when we made the movie.'

A riotous post-screening party ensues in the Odyssey, although Clarke feels that the smiling faces from all involved is as much of a reward as the premiere itself.

'I was very happy because everybody who took part in it was here to see it,' he says. 'Even if I didn't get the Storm Cinemas premiere I'd still be happy, because the whole point was to let people see themselves on the big screen. That was all, and we got it.

'It's a community thing. If we can continue to pull that off in all our movies - which I really hope we can -
it goes to prove, if you have a dream, follow it.'

With Battle of the Bone at last released, Clarke feels that it is only the beginning. The next chapter will be a werewolf growler set in Stormont entitled The Slash My Father Wore. But perhaps the winner for best title goes to Clarke's proposed third film, set in Derry, The Walls have Eyes. Look out.

Allan Preston