By Tom Ue.
Hèctor Hernández Vicens reimagines George A. Romero’s 1985 zombie classic in his new film Day of the Dead: Bloodline. Starring Johnathon Schaech, Sophie Skelton, and Marcus Vanco, Bloodline follows a med-school student (Skelton) into an apocalyptic, zombie-filled world, where she is haunted by a half-human, half-zombie. Vicens is a novelist, film and TV writer, and film director. His feature-length debut The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015) is a low-budget, independent, psychological thriller. The film premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas and has played in a number of festivals including the BFI London Film Festival, L’Etrange in Paris and the Sitges Film Festival. It was included in India Times’ “15 of The Best Horror Movies from the 21st Century Up Until 2016” and receive excellent reviews.
Day of the Dead: Bloodline is in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD beginning January 5th.
You have directed both films and television: what are some of the differences?
When you are working in cinema, the director is the boss. Or sometimes, the producer. On TV, the screenwriter is the boss. The screenwriter or the showrunner make all the decisions. When you are working on TV, you have a lot of time to explain one story. On TV, you have 13 hours to create your story with lots of plots and with more characters. It is like comparing novel or a short tale. It is completely different, and I love doing both.
What attracted you to this project?
Firstly, the subject. The kind of characters that live in the bunker. Also having few characters on the stage is something that as a viewer I love and I love as a director. You can work a lot of small things with all the characters with their emotions and relationships. On Day of the Dead: Bloodline, I can create tension with the atmosphere. Of course, there’s the joy to work with zombies and to make a zombie movie. It’s a movie where the zombies are dangerous and are always there, are always outside. And, in line with the tradition, the real danger is sometimes human.
This film is based on characters created by George A. Romero. What, in your view, separates his treatment of zombies from those of others?
The characters are not the same characters as in Romero’s movie. For example, we have a smart zombie and in Romero’s movie there is a smart zombie, but it’s very different. The smart zombie in Romero’s movie is Bub. All zombie fans know him. Bub is a regular zombie but also domesticated. Even though he is a domesticated zombie he is still like the others. Romero’s movie was about people who want to domesticate the zombies.
In our case, Max is different. He was a man with a genetic disorder and didn’t completely turn into a zombie. His body is completely rotten: he is dead but his brain still works. He doesn’t want to be a zombie but he has to eat flesh and kill people. He hates the other zombies and he hates humans. Max and Bub are completely different. The two movies have scientists and military living together in a bunker surrounded by zombies. The two movies have very few characters that play important parts.
What do you think makes Romero’s vision so attractive?
I think fans love the whole trilogy: the first three movies by Romero. The first one is the creation of the modern zombie in movies. In Night of the Living Dead (1968), people watch a living corpse walking and biting. It is the first time in movies you could see this. The second movie, Dawn of the Dead (1978), and the third movie, Day of the Dead (1985), talk about human evil because the zombies have been created by the army. Humans will destroy the planet and everything that is bad belongs to humans. I think people who are scared about nuclear bombs, about wars, and all these kinds of things will see this in Romero’s movies; the rendition of our problems, fears and reality.
How did you make the film your own?
Well, of course, I didn’t write the script. When you take a script that is not written by you, you have to add your point-of-view. In my case, I wanted to create an atmosphere similar to Romero’s. An atmosphere is also similar to the movies from the 80’s, like Re-Animator (1985) and the slashers I watched as a teen. The first thing I did was to collaborate with the art department on the colors of the movie and to create the space to help the characters explain their emotions, to create a really dark and sad expression for the characters. All of the characters are people who have lost their families and everybody they love during the zombie apocalypse. I was very interested in creating the atmosphere so that, when you have the horror scenes and blood scenes, they are more intense.
Tell us about the casting.
We have Johnathon Schaech, who is excellent in the role of Max. Max is my favorite zombie of the whole movie. He is the most special zombie we have. When we met with Johnathon about the creation of Max, we didn’t talk about him as a zombie. We talked about Max as a human and that way Johnathon was able to create a deep character with emotions; his sadness, his hate and his frustrations.
Sophie Skelton plays the female lead Zoe. She plays the scientist. When she was reading the script with me, she started to think about how she would feel in this situation, what would she need, what would she think and from that she created a great Zoe.
What kinds of training did the actors go through?
We talked a lot about the script, the backgrounds of the characters, how they feel, what they want. When the actors knew they really had the characters completely, we could shoot very easily because the actors turned into their characters in seconds.
Makeup and special effects play an important role in this film.
When you make a zombie movie, you need to make a lot of zombies! When you see the blood and the gory scenes, you know that the blood isn’t real. You need a lot of people and fake blood to make the scenes. The makeup of the zombie is key for the zombie movie. Also, the concept of the makeup for the zombies.
Are you optimistic for Zoe, Baca (Marcus Vanco), and the human population by the story’s end?
I think it depends on the viewer. Zoe and Baca have a good relationship at the end of the story because Baca believes in Zoe. They don’t know if there are survivors outside. They have hope of using the vaccine they created and helping other survivors with the radio they have in the bunker. Maybe not. Maybe they are the only survivors on the planet. Maybe they will be killed by the zombies outside. We don’t know.
What is next for you?
My next movie is similar to my first, The Corpse of Anna Fritz. It is another psychological thriller that is written and directed by me. In the same style – like this film, as well – it explores the evil of humankind.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.