Old west faces the undead

Professor reveals promising film after six years of work

Originating at a time when zombies were starting to invade mainstream culture, a concept an NKU professor has been developing for six years has become a reality.

Known to many at NKU as the “zombie movie guy,” John Gibson and his crew have completed the first feature-length indie Western horror film, shot entirely on consumer-grade DSLR cameras, titled “Revelation Trail.”

The first four big-screen showings of the film about the undead rising on the 1880s Western frontier sold out during its release April 12-14 at the Maiden Alley Cinema. With over 550 people attending the premiere weekend, the crew felt the audience had a “very positive” reaction to Gibson’s first feature-length film. A public screening with the two lead actors is planned for June in Cincinnati.

Since a majority of the film’s crew are part of the NKU community, Gibson organized a free NKU-only screening of this “passion project” on April 19. The showing is for the select group of supporters involved with creating or expanding the unique Western horror universe since its conception in 2006.


A Western Horror Film

The project began at a time when zombies were seen in the occasional movie or game and were not part of heavy mainstream culture, according to Gibson. The idea originated from a conversation with Gibson’s friend and “Revelation Trail” executive producer Blake Armstrong, about creating a new type of Western with the inclusion of zombies.

Fast forward to the premiere, when zombies have captured mainstream culture from many different angles and preparing for the apocalypse is a common conversation topic.

“It’s one of those things where it could either work for us or it could just be that we are one more movie or story in the mix, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Gibson said. “Yes, there is a deluge of zombie apocalypse stuff out there, but this is a really good story.”

Zombie permeation of pop culture does not have to be seen as a negative for new films featuring the undead. The lead actor, producer and co-writer of the film, Daniel Van Thomas, believes that people who enjoy zombie franchises, such as “The Walking Dead,” can use their familiarity as a “barometer” to gauge their interest.

Van Thomas  agreed that the success depends more on the story, and this film’s character study makes its story line stand out. The zombies were never intended to dominate the film.

“We don’t actually say the word zombie, and we do not dwell on where they come from or why they exist,” Van Thomas said.

In the minds of Americans, a zombie apocalypse might already bring to mind the time of lawlessness of the wild West in the U.S. In the face of a changing world, the film’s protagonists are forced to confront a new catalyst on this American Western frontier.

Shot in Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois over a 20-day period, the film works on different levels to explore how a man of faith and a man of law find a way to work together to survive during an apocalypse out west in the late 19th century.

“In that time period, they were probably more adjusted to fending for themselves,” Jordan Elizabeth Goettling, who plays the role of Isabelle, said.


The Future of the Budding Franchise

The world premiere of the film supports the long-term goal of growing the “Revelation Trail” series into an expanding universe and community story set in the 1880s as the undead rise and humans return to the nomadic life.

Based on the positive premiere of the film, there is interest in continuing the development of a storyline that continues the journey of Van Thomas’ character, the man known only as Preacher. Currently, there are outlines for at least two sequels, according to Van Thomas.

“The big thing for us really, in the future, I don’t want to have just a movie; I want to have a whole empire or a whole universe,” Gibson said.

As a next step to expand the undead universe, Gibson is looking into creating a graphic novel to supplement the series and continue to build a franchise around the film. The graphic novel would be set in the same world, but it might be set at a different time period.

The series has already experimented with increasing the reach of the “Revelation Trail” story by developing a game set ten years after the main events in the movie.

An NKU graduate and former student of Gibson is in the process of developing a free browser game to promote the film and story. The future setting has been “very favorable” for the design of the “Revelation Trail: All Abhorred!” game’s storyline, creator Eric Hancock said.

“It allowed me to play with a number of themes in my piece that are kind of interesting in the context of a zombie apocalypse and the 19th century,” Hancock said.


Violence, Gore and Guts

When people think of a zombie film, some of the first things they might picture are brains, blood and guts. With each new zombie film, the question on many viewers’ minds is, “Just how gorey is this going to get?”

While “Revelation Trail” is “definitely an R-rated film,” it is not due to the gore. The gore is not worse than what you would see on “The Walking Dead,” according to Gibson.

“Honestly, it does not even reach “The Walking Dead” level at times because that wasn’t the purpose of [the film],” Gibson said. “There are some pretty intense moments with different people and people being hit in the head with shovels and things like that.”

Since the word “zombie” was not part of the terminology out west in the 1880s, the writers had to come up with a more creative way to refer to the undead. They are called “creatures,” “things” and at times vulgar Western curse words.

To view the official trailer for the film, visit www.youtube.com/revelationtrail. For more information about the upcoming game “Revelation Trail: All Abhorred!” visit