You’ve never heard of the movie “Zyzzyx Road”? You don’t have to be ashamed of that, although it is quite surprising. Because the production history of John Penney’s megaflop is so turbulent that it actually has what it takes to get its own film. Not only did a star on drugs cause a lot of chaos, there was also a first-class crash landing at the box office.
At first glance, “Zyzzyx Road” looks like a quite ambitious project by John Penney, because he not only directed the film, but also acted as producer and also wrote the screenplay. Set in Las Vegas, the film centers on the couple Grant (Leo Grillo) and Marissa (Katherine Heigl) who decide to kill Marissa’s ex-boyfriend. It actually works and they bury the body on Zyzzyx Road. The next morning, however, the body is gone – and the couple has to fear for their lives more than ever.
Doesn’t really sound that bad, does it? What also sets Zyzzyx Road apart from other low-budget films is the cast, which includes Katherine Heigl (who had just finished filming the pilot for Grey’s Anatomy at the time) and Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan). has prominent names to offer. Lead actor Leo Grillo, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly a star, but rather known as an activist who worked for the welfare of animals – and liked films. He himself wanted to make a “Rambo” film with a dog. But in order to get the money for it, he had to participate in a film that would also be financially profitable abroad: a thriller. So John Penney and Leo Grillo crossed paths – and the nightmare began.
“Zyzzyx Road” was shot over 20 days in the summer of 2005 on a manageable budget of $1.2 million. The Mojave Desert served as the filming location. Temperatures here rarely drop below 40 degrees in summer. To make matters worse, the fact that Tom Sizemore had just been released from prison and had to undergo regular drug tests – several of which he failed, leading to an arrest during filming. Also, Peter Walton, Sizemore’s assistant, was convicted during the writing of the script for trafficking in child pornography. However, Sizemore was released again so that the film could be completed.
Actually, Leo Grillo’s plan was to make money from Zyzzyx Road in order to realize his Rambo with dog movie. The only problem is, in order to make international money with a low-budget film, it has to be shown in a US cinema for at least a week, according to the statutes of the so-called US release obligation. No sooner said than done: The film premiered on February 2, 2006 at the Highland Park Village Theatre, Dallas, which the production crew rented for $1,000 to show the film there for $5 a ticket.
The calculation worked (more or less): The film brought in only 30 dollars with 6 visitors (of which actually only 20 dollars really counted, because two tickets went to the make-up artist of the film, who watched the film here with her friend) , but the requirements for evaluation outside the USA were met. When screenings ended on March 2nd, the international DVD sales rights were closed, but “Zyzzyx Road” ultimately managed to collect only $368,000 from 23 countries. Not enough to cover the production costs – and far too little to make Leo Grillo’s dreams of his own animal genre films possible. A real, unbelievable letdown.
This article previously appeared in a similar form on our Spanish sister site Espinof. HERE you come to the original text.