Film & TV

Chad Carpenter's mix of horror and hokum about a killer moose set to debut

The red carpet will roll out on Friday, April 24 at Valley Cinema in Wasilla when the Mat-Su showhouse hosts the world premiere of a new movie.

It's a thriller with a supernatural monster, seven mauled bodies and at least one crashed car. Maybe two. It's a comedy full of nutty characters doing nutty things with, uh, puppets. It has a plucky hero, a pretty coroner's assistant, a mountain pirate, a tiny town full of loopy hicks and a thing from the dead with horns (OK, antlers) that stalks its prey on two legs.

It's "Moose: The Movie"!

It's also a total, 100 percent, born-and-made-in-Alaska flick that didn't use a cent in state film subsidies.

"We were too small potatoes for the subsidy. It would have been a headache, so we just did it ourselves," said co-writer Chad Carpenter.

Yeah, the guy whose "Tundra" cartoon strip debuted in the Anchorage Daily News 20-something years ago and is now one distributed in comics pages around America and the world. So you can expect it to be wacky.

But a monster movie? Isn't that a little violent, even for a guy whose panels often show large carnivores exchanging one-liners as they finish off unfortunate outdoorsmen like Carhartt-clad canapes?

"It's very family friendly," Carpenter insisted. "No swearing, no nudity, not a lot of blood. We're calling it 'Scooby Doo' on steroids. If it were rated it'd be, like, PG-10."

The film's website declares that it's "Like 'Sharknado' -- but without the sharks." The trailer suggests that it's actually a lot better than that.

Carpenter got the idea for the movie while driving back to his house in Wasilla from Fairbanks a couple of years ago. "It's a six-hour drive and that gives me a lot of time to think," he said. "It's been on my bucket list for a long time, to make a movie, a very Alaskan movie, the kind of movie I liked as a kid. A creature film, but also a comedy."

What kind of terrifying creature would suit the 49th state? Carpenter dismissed bears and wolves as being "too easy."

"Then I thought: What would be more Alaskan than a killer moose?" And the "Moosetaur" was born. It's sort of like the minotaur of Greek mythology, with a powerful human body with the head of a bull. Except in this case the head is that of Alaska's favorite ungulate.

Still driving, Carpenter formulated a plot and envisioned it taking place in a quirky little Alaska town named Gangrene Gulch, a fictional locale first concocted in his early "Tundra" series. By the time he got home he had a good idea of what he wanted. He called his older brother Darin in North Pole, who went to work on a screenplay.

"He's a skilled writer," Chad Carpenter said, "good at taking my ideas and making them funny."

It took two or three months for Darin Carpenter to finish a preliminary script. Then came the matter of coming up with the money to make it a reality. In October 2013 the brothers began a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $50,000 in 40 days. "Tundra" fans jumped to the challenge.

"About 20 days in I realized that we were going to make the goal, that the movie was going to happen," said Chad Carpenter. "That's when the panic set in."

He had no idea how to go about assembling and coordinating production personnel, equipment, shooting sites and actors. Fate intervened while he was making doodles at a charity fundraiser and a woman he didn't know struck up a conversation. "I asked her, 'You wouldn't happen to know any actors, would you?' " Carpenter said.

Her name was Tammy Parker and she was in public relations. She knew a few actors, but more importantly she knew how to find more of them and other people savvy in matters cinematic. Like Warren Foster, who picked up the job of casting director.

"She took the reins and we wound up with a production team of about 20 people," Carpenter said.

The movie that opens Friday, April 24 has only two out-of-staters in the cast, Tom Gammill, a friend of Carpenter's and fellow cartoonist, who's written for "The Simpsons," "Seinfeld," "Monk," "Saturday Night Live" and other hit shows. The other is Los Angeles actor Joseph le Compte.

Everyone else is Alaskan. The list includes director G. Logan Dellinger; A.J. Seims as "Saltydough Dale," the aforementioned mountain pirate; former Palmer hairdresser Chantel Grover (recently hired as an Alaska Airlines flight attendant) as the coroner's assistant; brothers Shane and Wayne Mitchell, who must have 100 stage shows and movie roles between them and experience with nearly every theater group in Southcentral Alaska; and Dave Nufer, the president of Valley Performing Arts, the Mat-Su theater company with which a number of other cast members have performed. In fact most of the actors -- about 150 when you include the "irate mob" scene -- live within a few miles of Carpenter's Matanuska Valley house and studio.

One performer with no previous screen or stage credits that Carpenter could think of is lead actor Zack Lanphier. Lanphier is a Wasilla High School teacher who became attached to "Tundra" as a child.

"He used to show up at my booth at the State Fair, this 10-year-old kid," Carpenter said. "He wouldn't leave me alone." He eventually became Carpenter's assistant on the comic strip. The name of the lead character, a newbie park ranger, is also Zack and, Carpenter said, the character is somewhat modeled after Lanphier.

"But it wasn't written for him," Carpenter said. "He had to audition for it like everyone else."

Lanphier also suggested the last name of the ranger, "del Pollo," or "the chicken," which Carpenter finds ironic in that Lanphier is actually a U.S. Marine veteran who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq.

The trailer makes Gangrene Gulch seem a lot like Talkeetna, but the town scenes were actually shot in the historic district of Wasilla, where old buildings were relocated and restored when the Parks Highway was expanded.

The Wasilla scenes and other locations were supplied at no cost, Carpenter said. The Silver Fox Bar, north of town, and the Crazy Moose restaurant both closed down so that the crew could shoot in them. Other businesses and donors supplied props, vehicles and coffee for the crew for free.

The total cost of the movie was just over $100,000, right about what Carpenter estimated. "But it would have cost a lot more without the volunteers," he said. "I still need to sell a lot of DVDs. My goal is to break even so that I can convince my wife to let me make another one."

Karen Carpenter, listed as the executive producer of "Moose," handled the financial end of the project. Her husband is already coming up with ideas for new movies.

The "Moose" DVD is expected to come out this summer, along with a graphic novel illustrated by Lucas Elliott. Carpenter said he initially figured that would be the long and short of it, that the shoestring project would never make it to the big screen.

"I thought it'd go straight to DVD," he said. "Instead we have this wonderful opportunity at Valley Cinema."

Valley Cinema will screen "Moose" four times a day for the next two weeks, so this is no one-time arthouse exposure.

Getting shown in a real theater -- Valley Cinema is a nearly-new, state-of-the-art, modern multiplex -- has led to additional bookings. The film will be shown in Kenai, Colorado and Salt Lake City in May. Carpenter expects it to be seen in Anchorage, Fairbanks and elsewhere in Alaska next fall.

"After I take a break and catch my breath," he said. "This is the hardest thing I've ever done. A long process. Painful. But I want to do it again."

There's been an unexpected personal plus from the project, he said. "As a cartoonist, I mostly work by myself. I really don't know anybody. I told my wife that if I broke down on the road and she wasn't home I wouldn't know who to call.

"But for this I had to have a team. Now if I get stranded I have some 20 people I can call. It's a nice side benefit."

MOOSE: THE MOVIE, a Carpenter Brothers production, will be shown at Valley Cinema in Wasilla, 3331 E. Old Matanuska Road. Take the Parks Highway to Seward Meridian Road, turn south and go past the Walmart. Showtimes are noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m. daily.

More about "Moose" at www.moosethemovie.com.

More about Chad Carpenter at www.tundracomics.com.

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham has been a reporter and editor at the ADN since 1994, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print.

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