It was a work unfinished in tragedy until friends rallied round top complete his dream which, as PAUL ENGLISH discovers, has been a three year rollercoaster of emotions.

By Paul English

HE dreamt up the idea of a version of High School Musical where zombies ate the heroes ten years ago.

This weekend, three years after his death, Dumfries film maker Ryan McHenry’s vision has finally been realised.

The writer and director made an off-the-cuff remark about wishing Zac Efron was eaten by zombies in the blockbuster teen flick High School Musical.

Now his idea is being celebrated with flash mobs in major American cities having been picked up by a major movie studio, selling out at film festivals and written about in the New York Times.

After making an experimental short film entitled simply Zombie Musical, McHenry harboured ideas of scaling the project up for the big screen.

Tragically, his ambitions and talent were curtailed when he died from blood cancer aged just 27.

In tribute, his friends set about finishing the film he’d barely started.

And this weekend, Ryan’s vision for a Christmas musical set during a zombie invasion has been realised, with the release of Scottish flick Anna and The Apocalypse.

Now the director charged with filling the shoes of the film’s creator is confident his legacy has been suitably honoured.

Director John McPhail was tasked by Glasgow-based independent film producers Blazing Griffin to steer the project to completion, with screenwriter Alan McDonald hired to complete the script.

McPhail said: “There’a a lot of Ryan still in there, a lot of his humour and his crazy ideas. It was daunting to begin with, because I look at Ryan and I see a lot of myself. He was a young film maker, heading out to make his first feature film.

“We had the same sort of sense of humour, we were both into the same sort of films, and we were both really close to our mums.

“I never met him, but working as closely as I did with all his best pals, it has never been difficult, and I feel like I got to know him. It’s a shame that we never got to meet and that’s a regret I’ll always have.

“But the producers let me do the movie the way I wanted to do it.”

The film stars Games of Thrones actor Paul Kaye and Waterloo Road’s Mark Benton, alongside a young cast including English actor Ella Hunt, Canadian Sarah Swire and Scot Malcolm Cummings.

Set in a high school against the backdrop of a Christmas show, it tells the story of a young girl’s determination to break out of a small town against her widowed father’s wishes, an ambition stymied when zombies invade the lower Clyde.

The movie was produced on a shoestring budget of just £1.6 million, filmed mostly in the former St Stephen’s High School building in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde.

McPhail chose the location after filming in the area on BBC1 school drama Waterloo Road.

He said: “I wanted to set it somewhere picturesque, and the views down there across the Clyde to the hills are lovely. It gave us that quaint town feel, which is what we wanted.”

The film was given a huge boost last year when Hollywood movie giant MGM’s subsiduary Orion Distributors picked it up for an American release.

It has already achieved cult status across the Pond after screening at festivals in Los Angeles, New York, Sundance, Utah, and Austin, Texas, where it out-performed Eminem’s battle-rap movie Bodied at the annual Fright Fest last year XX.

Last week, a flash mob of zombies recreated song and dance routines from the film in the Texan city.

An album featuring songs from the movie’s soundtrack is also to be released. Glasgow songwriter Tommy Reilly, former winner of Channel 4 talent show Orange UnsignedAct, teamed up with BBC presenter and fellow songwriter Roddy Hart to pen an album of songs performed by the cast.

Indie music producer Paul Savage of Chemikal 19 studios in Blantyre, more commonly associated with acts such as Calvin Harris and Franz Ferdinand rather than zombies from Inverclyde, produced the music for the film.

McPhail, whose last feature Where Do We Go From Here won a clutch of awards on the international festival circuit said: “We’d love this to be a horror film that people put on ever Christmas. We want it to be this generation’s Gremlins.”

McHenry’s creative talent won him online acclaim and a response from one of Hollwyood’s leading men, after a series of videos filmed on the Vine app were viewed millions of times.

The home-made film Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal, in which McHenry appeared to be offering a reluctant Gosling spoonfuls of cereal, went viral in 2013.

When McHenry died, the actor responded by filming his own video in which he finally ate his cereal. Vine also tweeted their own tribute, Tweeting: “Your creativity brightened many lives. Thank you. You'll be missed.”

Producer Naysun Alae-Carew, who was best friends with McHenry, paid tribute to his late friend after a preview screening at Glasgow’s Everyman cinema on Thursday night.

He said: “When we had our premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, one of the first reviewers wrote that Anna and the Apocalypse was between Die Hard and Gremlins as their favourite Christmas films. Those were two of Ryan’s favourite films. That was always one of Ryan’s aims. The fact that one of the first reviews of the film said that made me think we made something close to the movie Ryan would have wanted to have made. I think he would have liked it. And the journey’s not over.”

Anna and The Apocalypse is in cinemas now.