From left: Richard Sangeleer, Denise Baxter and Aubrey Baxter, all of whom had roles in the making of the zombie movie “SOLIPSA,” look through the rails of a staircase that was featured in the film. - Kayla Young

Zombies are coming

When it comes to zombie movies, there are a few themes viewers can bank on: blood, brains and biohazard symbols.

From a storytelling standpoint, Ashland filmmaker Richard Sangeleer thinks something is often missing from that gore-spattered trinity, specifically the emotional moments that pull at heartstrings instead of ripping them out of your chest and eating them. He's hoping his 93-minute zombie flick "SOLIPSA," which he shot in Ashland over the past 16 months, will be the antidote to that strain of undead horror.

A single premiere showing of the film will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 2, at the Varsity Theater in Ashland. Tickets are available at the Ashland Art Center.

"Usually (zombie movies) are about a body count. There is very little drama," Sangeleer said, adding he thinks the "Walking Dead" TV series, adapted from the popular comic books, is a genre rarity, focusing more on delicate moments over decapitation.

Sangeleer said he doesn't want to give too much away regarding the film's plot, which concerns a small town, a pharmaceutical company and a disease with an hours-long incubation period that results in the usual cannibalistic urges zombies are known for.

But beyond that, Sangeleer's lips are sealed. He wants it to be a surprise for everyone, even the actors. He shot all the scenes in a way that they wouldn't see the forest for the trees.

"When they see it, they're going to see a much bigger picture," said Sangeleer, who also acts in the film. "My favorite part of audience participation is when they're surprised. That's the spectacle, not what's on the screen."

Sangeleer came up with his idea in 2009 after numerous zombie-movie screenings with a friend, whom he described as a big fan of the genre. Before that, he'd made another feature-length film and helped friends in various duties on their respective video projects.

"SOLIPSA" producer and actor Denise Baxter, director of the Ashland Art Center, got involved because she loves zombie films — and the horror genre in general. She remembers watching the demonic possession film "The Exorcist" in fourth grade and the nightmarish adrenaline that resulted.

"It left a large impression on my psyche," Baxter said. "I was scarred beyond belief for many years."

When she met Sangeleer, he described his idea for a zombie film. She loved it and put the word out for actors. The film's crew wrangled about $7,000 for a budget. Sangeleer hosted rehearsals for months before shooting, ensuring everyone would be ready when they hit the set.

Filming began in 2010. The team shot several scenes at the Ashland Art Center and in some Ashland homes, along with various spots around town.

"It was a great process," said actor Aubrey Baxter, a fifth-grader at Bellview Elementary and Denise's daughter. "It was really fun."

It was also a challenge. Sangeleer wore actor and director hats throughout the process, and he had to make sure his focus was on the task at hand. If he was in a scene, he couldn't be worrying about how the shot was framed or how well lit the set looked.

Following the premiere, Sangeleer hopes to enter it in some festivals. He will also start work on his next project, a documentary about homelessness on the West Coast. He starts filming in August.

"He gets to stop being a zombie just in time to be homeless," Baxter said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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