By Dedra Cordle
Jake Jolley was never a big fan of the traditional horror movie.
By and large, he found them to be rather trite – especially the slice and dice slashers made popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
His views on the potential of the genre began to evolve, however, when his older brother Bill introduced him to George A. Romero’s 1978 classic “Dawn of the Dead.”
“It had substance, it wasn’t just Jason killing people,” said Jolley, a resident of Grove City. “It was a diverse group of people who would probably never work/live together in normal circumstances, fighting a common threat.”
Blown away by what he had seen, he started to metaphorically act as a zombie and consumed as many films on the undead he could possibly find.
While the devouring of this sub-genre didn’t exactly put Jolley on the path toward making his own zombie film, it did leave a lasting impression on someone who already had their sights set on breaking into the entertainment industry.
Jolley said he was about 7 years old when that seed was planted.
“My father gave Bill and I his VHS camera and we just went crazy with it.”
Initially, he wanted to be an actor but he thought it might be wise to try his hand at writing and directing in case that didn’t work out.
“Whenever I could get the camera away from Bill and his wrestling stunts, I would write sci-fi adventures for me and my action figures,” he said. “I would then spend hours trying to use stop-motion animation to bring them to life.”
As the years went by, Jolley hit the pause button on his burgeoning animation skills and decided against performing with the drama department while attending Grove City Christian School.
“I wasn’t involved in anything like that,” he said. “I played in a band for a few years so I had some experience with acting a part, but that was as close as I got to the entertainment world.”
In his mid-20s and with no industry credit to his name, Jolley began to feel as if that childhood dream to be in films, or even write and direct his own, was slipping away.
“I had so many ideas of what could work as a movie but I was buying into that strange societal pressure that said if something hadn’t happened by a certain age, it was never going to happen,” he said.
Wanting to cheer his son up, Jolley’s father told him of a newspaper announcement seeking extras for Aaron Garrett’s locally shot film, “False Flag.” He traveled to London where it was being filmed, “had a total blast” as a member of the cast and rekindled his desire to create something original.
After his wife Ashley gave him a crash course on the latest technology for budding filmmakers, Jolley had a premise for a zombie film in mind. Upon consulting a makeup artist to determine the cost of such an undertaking, he had to modify those plans.
“It was, let’s say, not cost effective for my budget,” Jolley said.
Determined to see it through, Jolley thought back to his childhood fondness for Ray Harryhausen films and produced a short feature with live-action actors acting alongside stop-motion creatures.
In 2016, Jolley’s “Claymation Zombies” hit the festival circuit: the low-budget “campy zombie apocalypse horror featuring green clay monsters” received a warm reception from the audience.
“I think it was because they were tired of all the serious films,” he joked.
With a successful short film under his belt, he was told to “move on” from that universe by fellow creators, that it would be “too much work” to make the transition into a full-length feature.
But Jolley wasn’t ready to leave the zombies behind.
At first, Jolley expanded the verse, creating an origin story web series for Dr. Clayton Molder, the man who may have accidentally brought forth a clay zombie apocalypse. In late 2019, he officially began the feature length transformation.
Those plans hit a snag with COVID-19.
“It gave me time to re-imagine the whole thing,” he said.
While drafting additional plot points and points-of-view, Ashley asked him if he could have one actor in the film, who would he want it to be.
He said that answer was easy: Diane Franklin.
“She is one of my favorite actresses,” said Jolley. “I loved her in “Better Off Dead” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Knowing that actors were having a hard time getting work due to COVID-19 restrictions, he sent her a message via Facebook and asked if she would be interested in taking a small part. Much to his surprise, she was.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”
He said though he never got to meet her – she filmed near her home and sent in the footage – her willingness to be a part of “Clay Zombies” meant the world to him.
“Really, I’m grateful to anyone who was willing to help bring a dream of mine to life.”
While the pandemic did create a few logistical nightmares for the locally shot production, Jolley said the cast and crew managed to put something together that will be fun for everyone – regardless of their general feelings for zombie movies.
“It has puns, guns, and gratuitous clay zombie violence,” he said.
But that is not all there is to “Clay Zombies,” he said.
“It goes back to that thread of found friendship, of people coming together to help others.”
In the case of this film, strangers come together to get the word out about the clay zombie virus, team up to rescue an abducted dog (played by Jolley’s late “sweet girl” Sandy), and fight to stop an apparent human baddie from creating more ravenous green monsters.
“There’s a lot going on but I swear it is good and that it makes sense,” Jolley said. “Well, as much as a film about clay zombies can be good and make sense.”
“Clay Zombies” will premiere on Oct. 2 at 11:30 p.m. at the Grandview Theater and Drafthouse, 1247 Grandview Ave. Tickets can be purchased by searching for “Clay Zombies” at Eventbrite.com or via direct link through the “Clay Zombies” Facebook or Instagram page. The film is also slated to be available via Amazon Prime or Tubi in late October. It stars Jake Jolley, Bill Jolley, Diane Franklin, David Ogrodowski, Gabe Kirk, Jazzy Jackson, Beth Metcalf, Katherine Elizabeth and Sandy the pit bull.