The terrible screams of lost souls fill the corridors andnooneis leaving double maths alive... nah,myold school hasn’t changed a bit
Writer returns to his alma mater only to discover it has been turned into a movie set and taken over by teenage zombies by paul english
five years had passed – it seemed in the blink of an eye – but some things had not changed a bit.
There were fearsome characters in the playground, bloody battles in the canteen, and, behind the doors of the staff-room, lost souls staring blankly into the middle distance, as pupils shrieked through the corridors outside.
The only difference was that a film crew was there to film it, capturing every blood-curdling scream, song and dance in one of the most eagerly-anticipated Scottish films in years.
I revisited the corridors and classrooms of my teenage years when cameras rolled in Port Glasgow’s former St Stephen’s High on Anna And The Apocalypse, the zombie-comedy-musical, which sees a young girl and her schoolpals fight to save the world from an invasion of the undead.
As tough as it sometimes was, St Stephen’s was never this hellish, except, perhaps, during double maths.
Terrible screams rang out from what was once the computing classroom, lights flickered along corridors and the physics department was off-limits.
It felt just like 1992.
Bloody handprints were smeared across the window of the canteen, and puddles of the stuff ran the length of the corridors.
My English teachers at St Stephen’s High in Port Glasgow strove valiantly to spark our imaginations.
In a town where the true apocalypse came in rolling waves of redundancies through the 1980s and 90s, they introduced us to the magic of Shakespeare, the everyday romance of poet Norman MacCaig and the potent realism of playwright Alan Spence.
Yet even they would have laughed off any notion that a musical horror movie feted by one of the most famous production companies in film history would be shot in these classrooms, and raved about in The New York Times.
Now, almost three decades later, that wildest fiction is a glorious, blood-smeared, flesh-eating, singing, dancing reality.
As Anna And The Apocalypse co-producer Nick Crum toured me through the building, my feet sticking to the sugar-syrup blood, pausing to look at severed bodyparts in my old English classroom, I recalled the teachers who made the difference – McBride, Johnston, McKinlay, McCrorey, Sullivan, Doherty, McGillivray – as well as some others I’d rather forget.
Memories sprung from every corner of the days of 10p Space Raiders and spam rolls, Joan Lingard novels and first kisses in the school disco, when the canteen became a nightclub for 13 year olds at Christmas. It does in the movie, too, with thrilling choreography and brilliant music in one of the best set pieces since Sandra Dee and Danny Zuko strutted their stuff in Grease’s Rydell High dance off.
Later this month, it’ll be distributed through cinemas by Orion, the California-based production house behind Rambo, Robocop and Dances With Wolves.
Anna And The Apocalypse was the brainchild of filmmaker Ryan McHenry, who tragically died from cancer in 2015 aged just 27, before he could see it being made.
His friends, producers Crum and Naysun Alae-Carew, pursued Ryan’s ambition, bringing in writer Alan McDonald and director John McPhail. Once funding was secured, their company Blazing Griffin set their sights on taking the undead doon the water.
Inverclyde had no chance. The zombies were coming.
Anna And The Apocalypse features well-kent faces Mark Benton ( Waterloo Road) and Paul Kaye (Dennis Pennis) as the senior names on a register of young stars-in-waiting.
It’s an unlikely love story on the lower Clyde where ghouls stalk new housing developments behind Tesco, scuffing through playparks and crumbling industrial estates in the hunt for human flesh. Think
High School Musical meets Shaun Of The Dead in Port Glasgow cemetery.
Ella Hunt, 20, plays Anna. The actor grew up in Devon and left mainstream schooling at 14 to train in performance. She said: “School was a funny time for me. I think in the UK in particular young people are opposed to being overtly aspirational. They call you cocky or weird, and as a kid who has always loved performing and knew what I wanted to do and was open about it, that wasn’t always appreciated.
“There was a strange feeling of being back in school. I loved it. And unlike school, I’ve got a whole group of best friends. It was a bit of a healing process.”
Inverness actor Malcolm Cumming, 27, plays Ella’s love interest, John.
He acknowledged the late Ryan’s influence on the work as it developed.
“The producers were very open about what it was like for them to work with Ryan and taking that original idea forward,” he said. “There was a sense that this was something special – these people worked with him, they were his friends. Ryan’s parents came on set and saw how far something he created had gone.”
Ella added: “The legacy that Ryan McHenry has left is encouraging a whole bunch of young creatives to go into a career in filmmaking and to do it boldly. It’s about believing in each other. Maybe we aren’t a big studio, maybe we haven’t done everything that people in movies across the Atlantic say we’re supposed to do – but let’s just do it.”
One of the movie’s major strengths is the soundtrack penned by Glasgow songwriters Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, produced by top indie producer Paul Savage, more used to polishing the work of Calvin Harris and Franz Ferdinand than a high school musical about zombies.
St Stephen’s was no Hogwarts, no mistake.
But I learned and laughed a lot there – and had a few narrow escapes, believe me. I’m just grateful my mates and I made it out alive.
Anna And The Apocalypse is released on November 30.
Blood on the walls as Paul English revisits the movie shooting in his old school, left, and Ella Hunt stars as Anna, main and below