I love a good zombie flick, but my list of favorites is quite small. Day of the Dead is up there. Return of the Living Dead is one of the best. The Walking Dead serves up great human drama and zombie carnage on the small screen and in the comics. There’s a new entry on my list though, and it’s a rotting head and shoulders above the rest. Dead Heads. Make sure to pick it up on DVD starting March 6, 2012.
Take one part romantic comedy, one part flesh eating monster, and two parts buddy road trip movie, and you’ve got Dead Heads. The story follows Mike Kellerman (Michael McKiddy) as he wakes up with no knowledge of where he is. He stumbles around the woods for a bit, suddenly realizing that he’s surrounded by zombies. They aren’t interested in him though, because he’s a zombie himself. Mike is no ordinary zombie, he’s an intelligent zombie. He quickly finds another person just like him in Brent (Ross Kidder). When Mike pulls an engagement ring out of his pocket, Brent helps convince him to go after the girl that got away, Ellie (Natalie Victoria). So begins the road trip that puts Mike and Brent in the crosshairs of McDinkle (Benjamin Webster) and Gillman (Greg Dow), two government clean up agents who are tasked with bringing the two smart zombies back. Along the way, the rotting duo make a new friend in Cheese (Markus Taylor), a sort of zombie pet for them, as well as Cliff (Harry Burkey), a feisty old guy on the road to spread his deceased wife’s ashes.
Honestly, I’m kind of tired of the zombie genre. It’s always the same thing, and that’s where Dead Heads makes a difference. We’ve had funny zombies before, and of course we’ve covered straight ahead horror films with them, but I can’t recall a moment where zombies were gross, funny, romantic, and touching all at once. Dead Heads will make you laugh, cry, and wish you could have a pet zombie.
I was lucky enough to catch this one at Toronto After Dark 2011, but the film is available on DVD March 6 2012. I couldn’t recommend this one anymore. It’s the best zombie film I’ve seen in years, and has instantly become one of my favorites. Written and directed by Brett and Drew Pierce, this is a must see film. Not only for zombie and horror fans, but for everyone in general. Even my 10 year old daughter enjoyed the movie. In fact, she even cried during it, and not from fear either!
I had the chance to ask director Brett Pierce, as well as many of the cast members, a few questions about the film and their experience working on Dead Heads.
First, the obvious question. Why a zombie movie?
BRETT: We actually are asked this question quite a bit lately and I think it’s because of the onslaught of zombie films in the last couple years and the popularity of The Walking Dead. When we were shooting the flick we felt like the only recent zombie film was Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland was still in production. At the time, we were just excited about the idea of doing something different with the zombie genre. We were really into the idea of trying to make a film about zombies you care about. That interested us. Our initial idea was “What if two zombies wake up amid “Night of the Living Dead” and then leave it to go on a road trip to find a long lost girlfriend”.
Dead Heads isn’t really like any other zombie film out there. Where did the idea for Dead Heads come from?
BRETT: It came from desperation to no longer work production assistant jobs in LA. Nothing more motivating then getting coffee for second AD’s who throw their caesar salad at you for forgetting the chicken on it. Ha! Drew had really wanted to make a buddy zombie film and kept throwing the idea out there. I really dug it and wanted to make it a road trip film. Initially it was much more of a stoner comedy, much like Harold and Kumar, but as we worked over the script it became much more of weird mesh of pop culture and had more in common with 80′s adventure flicks. I’m not sure what to call it now other than people who know us say the film screams “Brett & Drew”.
There’s so many great characters in the film, how did you put together all their personalities? Are they based on yourselves or people you know?
BRETT: Mike is based on a friend, Keven Carter, who actually worked on the film as an assistant director. Kev is a practical guy but he’s a romantic even if he won’t say it. For Brent his positive attitude is very much Drew and I’s outlook on life. For Cheese all the credit goes to Homer, Alex, and Jack, the three amazing dogs that filled our childhood years. Cheese is essentially Mike and Brent’s puppy in the film. He loves them unconditional and is fiercely protective of them. He was initially only in one scene of the script but we fell in love with him so much it went from buddy duo comedy to a trio. For McDinkle I have to Ben Webster who plays him a ton of credit for the interpretation. We wanted this gruff over the top wannabe tough guy but Ben gave him that pro wrestler grumble that just is ridiculous but great. Ben was the guy we trusted to be very liberal with the script. He’s just a really funny guy and the king of good one liners so half the dialogue is just him doing what he does.
There are some very touching moments in the film, even I shed a tear or two, did you think you’d be able to make people cry watching a zombie flick?
BRETT: We wanted people to be emotional invested in the zombies and I know how weird that sounds but I feel like it’s a weird movie. I hope that people feel that way while watching the film. I actually just heard this cool tidbit about Judd Apatow the other day that I completely agree with. His advice on writing comedies is to worry about writing a drama first and figure out the funny bits later. Makes sense to me because you always want to anchor the audience to your characters with good drama. That’s why they stick it out through your whole film, they need to see what happens to your guys because they’re invested.
There are a lot of movie references in here, including the characters watching Evil Dead, what influenced you as you grew up that brought you into filmmaking and which of those influences do you take into your films?
BRETT: I could list a billion films that Drew and I watch more than thats healthy but here we go:
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Star Wars and Empire
Back to the Future
American Werewolf in London
Evil Dead 2
Big Trouble in Little China
The Thing (Original)
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
Star Trek (Abrams)
All of the above films, other than the more recent ones, were favorites of our dad’s. He, at the time, worked at a company that transferred films to VHS so he came home with these tapes and Drew and I would just watch them over and over till they died. To this day Drew and I can hear almost any piece of musical score from the above list and recite the dialogue in sync with the music. It’s not a talent to be proud of. When we made DeadHeads we couldn’t help but drop a bunch of nods to our favorites because DeadHeads at it’s core is nod to the Romero zombie films. So were a nod, to a nod, to a nod.
Do you think there’s more stories you’d like to tell in the Dead Heads universe?
BRETT: If were lucky enough to do a DeadHeads 2 we’d love to do a zombie Christmas movie. We got a good idea for it and we just love the idea of meshing Christmas with zombies. We’re also working on a possible DeadHeads short. It’s kind of just brewing right now but we love the idea and were going to try and make it happen.
I had the chance to meet Brett, Natalie, and Markus at Toronto After Dark 2011. Not only is their film great, but they were the nicest group of horror nerds around. Check the next post for my Q&A with Ross Kidder, Markus Taylor, Ben Webster, Michael McKiddy, and the lovely Natalie Victoria.