Home Delivery, by Elio Quiroga.  A.K.A “An animated Stephen King short movie with zombies”

The first time I watched this dollar baby it was like a dream coming true. I have been a Constant Reader and a Stephen King fan since I was a kid. I have been reading his books since I was 12 years old, but the movies entered my life even before that. I have great memories of watching King’s feature movies on TV or even renting some VHS movies at the video store. Man, I miss those days.

A few years ago (2022), when I started the Brazilian Dollar Baby Film Festival and went to look for Dollar Babies and filmmakers here at SKSM, I saw a poster that made me dream about it: it was a Spanish Dollar Baby, an animated Dollar Baby called “Home Delivery”. I confess that I went nuts, I needed to watch that Dollar Baby. So I started to search for it, a trailer at least. But I also confess that I did a bad research and couldn’t find anything about the Dollar Baby different from what I could read at site. (at that year we did not have the trailer here at SKSM). One of the reasons I had difficulties in finding a trailer was because I was focusing on a specific name written on that poster: Guillermo Del Toro. And I couldn’t find anything among Guillermo’s movies about an animated Stephen King Dollar Baby. So I gave up. (Later I did understand why Guillermo’s name was in that poster and I will get back to this subject later.)

This year, now that I became part of the SKSM team, Bernd and Óscar showed me the way, they showed me the trailer and they helped me to get in touch with the director of this Dollar Baby, Elio Quiroga. And Elio let me watch his movie once, I invited his Dollar Baby to the film fest. And this animated Dollar Baby just blows my mind!

It is not just a great animated adaptation because it is based upon a short story by Stephen King. It is a great animated movie because it is a damn great animated Dollar Baby!

I am crazy about animated movies, feature ones and animated series. And when I watched “Home Delivery” I could not believe that it was a 2005 adaption. It was so ahead of its time. And even compared with some animated movies made nowadays, this Spanish adaptation is still pretty good.

It starts with the animation technique they chose  for it. It is a mix of traditional  animation (hand drawn) and 3D animation. They had the characters hand drawn and the backgrounds were made on a computer using 3D technique. And I can assure you that every single frame of this movie is a beautiful thing to see.

Another aspect that deserves applause is the screenplay, adapted by the director Elio Quiroga himself. And he did a great job. Any other screenwriter would be tempted to adapt even more passages from the original tale. Damn, I know I would. But Elio focused on what really matters in this story: Maddie, a pregnant woman, being visited by the putrefied body of her dead husband. Sure, it would be cool to see more of the story, see even more zombies, but what really matters in that short tale is Maddie’s story. And, yes, it is pretty cool to watch an animate adaptation based upon a Stephen King zombie story, but there are layers in that particular story and I can assure you that Elio Quiroga did a damn good job adapting and respecting those layers.

Because it is not just a zombie story written by our favorite author, it is about domestic violence. You can read between the lines at the original tale: Maddie comes from a family who lived there, her mother suffered from domestic violence, King wrote that. King also wrote that Maddie and her mother are kind of similar, they are simple girls that have some difficulties at making choices and King wrote that Maddie’s father used to say that their girls wouldn’t know what to do if it was not him telling them. Mr. King also wrote that Maddie’s father did hit her mother once and a while and that Maddie got married with someone that reminded her father: Jack. All that information that King gives us helps to better understand Maddie’ character. Elio Quiroga did not adapt Maddie’s past, nor showed us her mother (who was still alive in King’s story when the zombie apocalypse happened). Elio’s version focused on the zombie apocalypse happening and Maddie’s visitor. The Dollar Baby just shows us a little of what was Maddie’s life with her husband before he died. But what Elio showed before the zombie apocalypse tells a lot, covering the domestic violence without showing Jack hitting Maddie. How? Psychological abuse.

Jack is bossy, Jack is brute and a little disgusting.  At the sex scene, Jack is not making love with Maddie. He is not even having sex with Maddie. At that scene Jack is screwing his wife. He is the only one having fun, the only one feeling pleasure, and this is pretty clear at that scene once we see him growling and drooling while Maddie has her eyes wide open, like she was numbed. Elio Quiroga wrote one of the best adapted screenplays based upon a King’s story that I have ever seen. King wrote that Maddie’s mother had the same kind of marriage that she has now with Jack. And that says a lot about Maddie’s character, because when the adaptation begins we don’t understand Maddie, she looks kind of dumb. King and Quiroga both say that she can’t make choices on her own, that she prefers some other person to choose for her, but when we do understand that she came from an abusive home and now she has an abusive marriage, then we understand that Maddie thinks that this kind of relationship is normal. Maddie believed that love looks like that. And that makes sense since if she saw her mother being treated rudely, she grew up believing that if you have someone to tell you what to do and “takes care of you”, so you found someone who loves you, no matter if he is kind of brute once in a while. At Mr. King short tale Maddie even says to her zombie husband that she loved him, but that thing isn’t him any more. Quiroga has a similar moment when Maddie sees Jack as a zombie for the first time. She tries to touch him. He tries to bite her. And that is when she finally faces her husband for the first time and breaks the cycle of violence in her life. If it was not a zombie movie, it would be pretty clear to everyone that this short movie is about a woman facing her abusive husband for the first time to protect herself and her baby. 

Well, we all know some story about domestic violence that happened with someone close to us. A female friend, a girlfriend, a relative. And all the stories are similar in some ways. I know women like Maddie that had fathers like hers and later had husbands like Jack. Some of them break the cycle of violence , but some of them keep believing that this is what love looks like. Stephen King wrote more than one story about domestic violence: Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game, Rose Madder, and the short story’s Dedication and Home Delivery. Elio Quiroga gave the world a gift when he did his version of Home Delivery. This is not just a cool zombie animated movie based upon a story from Stephen King, it is a story that needed to be told. Thanks, Elio.

What else can I say about this Dollar Baby? Oh, yes, the Guillermo del Toro thing: I understood later that Guillermo del Toro did not have a personal involvement with this adaption, but he did allow Elio Quiroga to use the “Guillermo del Toro ” label to help promote the movie. And I believe that this label combined with King’s name and R.E.M. in the same adaptation, man, that probably called some attention in film festivals around the world.

R.E.M.? Really? How? I will tell you: Elio Quiroga also had the guys from R.E.M authorizing him to use the song “It’s the end of the world (as we know it) ” on the soundtrack. And I assure you that it is so cool when we hear the song at the credits, it makes so much sense having this as an adaptation with a zombie apocalypse. It is the coolest rock song in a Stephen King movie since “Pet Sematary“. And if we think about the soundtrack of this Dollar Baby, this rock song isn’t the best song. It is the coolest, but not the best: the original soundtrack  was also a wonderful, powerful and unforgettable thing in this beautiful story. Alfons Conde was the one who composed the original soundtrack and he was great at it. His songs were at the very exact tone at the exact moments during the movie, helping the audience become even more apprehensive while Maddie was trying to survive that nightmare.

Cinematography is another thing I would like to talk about from this movie. I confess that until today I have never really understood what a cinematographer’s job is at an animated movie. But, before I started this review I looked for it so I could talk about it with you guys and I did understand. The answer is very simple: in an animated movie the cinematographer does exactly the same thing he does in a live action movie. But, with different tools and crew. We have to keep in mind that while in pre-production every step of the cinematographer is the same as in a live action movie: The director and the cinematographer define the camera angles, the action and direction, camera motion, lens type, lighting, etc. And they draw a storyboard that will be their map to follow, just like in a live action movie. But the main difference is that in an animated film there is a layout team that is working out how to make the 2D storyboards read in 3D. So the cinematographer works with animators instead working with camera operators and his usual crew.

Once I understood that, it became pretty clear to me why I had a professor once who told the class that watching animated movies was like having a cinematography class. He was right, the final results are the same, of course. That is why I decided to look for some information about cinematography in animated movies before I talked about this Dollar Baby, because in Home Delivery there are so many great shots (with the camera, not killing zombies), so many beautiful camera angles. Josep Maria Civit, the cinematographer,  did a wonderful job. Thank you, Josep.

The last subject I would like to share with you guys about this Dollar Baby is its cast: Francesca Nicoll and Jeff Espinoza, are the voices behind the main characters and they nailed it. I asked Elio for the Spanish version of the Dollar Baby, I always prefer the original language because it is the original cast, not the new dub one. And, the Spanish cast were great at it. Jeff Espinoza was a perfect villain, his voice and acting gave Jack the exact tone of a brute and disgusting man. But the greatest actress was Francesca Nicoll! Francesca is the narrator of the short tale and it is her telling her son the story. Actually she is reading the story to him. The short movie opens when she literally opens a book and starts to read it. And it was a great idea to tell this story that way, once again thank you Elio. Because, using this artifice it created a fairy tale mood. Yes , there are zombies and domestic violence, but it also has some  lightness and at some moments it has humor too. And that is such a Stephen King way of telling us a story. Francesca’s tone during her narration is sweet, of course,  she is reading to her son. But we can also feel irony and some of Maddie’s personality.  It really was great acting from Francesca.

The Dollar Baby’s grade? We give Elio Quiroga’s “Home delivery” 5 fingers from the dead guy’s hand and his two toes! And also another toe, but this one we can’t identify the owner, we will have to wait for the zombie to stop chewing it.

See you next time, Constant Readers.

Leonardo Granado.

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