The British indie zombie film The Dead will be screening this Saturday as part of Exhumed Films’ 24 Hour Horror-Thon. The selection has the distinction of being the only current film that has ever been part of the movie marathon as well as the only title that has been announced prior to the event thus horror hounds are expecting great things. Shot on location in Africa, The Dead promises a new take on the zombie genre and boasts a production of Hearts of Darkness-like proportions. Executive Producer Amir S. Moallemi recently spoke to Cinedelphia regarding his first film experience, the filmmakers’ inspirations, and how they dealt with abnormal production difficulties like real life voodoo and cannibals.
CINEDELPHIA: Can you elaborate upon the plot/setting of “the first Zombie Road-Movie set against the stunning backdrop of Africa”?
AMIR MOALLEMI: The Dead stemmed from an idea that [co-writers/co-directors] Howard [J. Ford] and Jon [Ford] had from nearly twenty years ago when they used to spend hours watching the films of [Lucio] Fulci and [George] Romero. They had been working as commercial directors for blue chip companies in Africa. When they decided to shoot The Dead they naturally used their experience of Africa, which added a character to the movie itself.
C: Did the shooting location pose any significant challenges during production? I’ve heard rumors that the film contains real voodoo and that you encountered some real cannibals…
AM: The original plan was to shoot the movie in six weeks, however, we encountered problems before we even left the UK. By mistake, our van, which acted as our mobile studio, wasn’t shipped. We were in Africa and found out from the shipping company about the mistake so that took three weeks alone to arrive. Then there were issues like our 35mm camera blowing over and damaging the housing, roll 13 of the film being sent back to the UK for processing and finding it hadn’t captured any scenes. On top of this we encountered bribery and corruption, Rob [Freeman], our lead actor, contracted malaria and was three days from death, in some scenes you can see that he still has it. Oh, and Howard was robbed in the first week at machete point. So all in all, it ended up being three months by the time we got back, three days before Christmas. We still joke about the voodoo in the film, but everything that could go wrong has so it makes you think…there is a real witch doctor in the film and I have to say that the scene does have a certain power. With the cannibals, they did pass the set one day and one mentioned that he had never tried white meat, he was joking, I think, but the atmosphere really turned dark.
C: I anticipate the zombies/setting to provide a heavy metaphor ala Dawn of the Dead…
AM: The brothers have been massive fans of the genre, in particular Romero himself. They really believe that this is the way zombies should be. The natural beauty of Africa and the feeling of isolation really add to the undertones of the film.
AM: The brothers really admire Fulci and Romero’s takes on zombies and while we appreciate these great pioneers of the genre, we wanted to make something different. We hope that in the future it will be Romero, Fulci, and the Ford Brothers! Seriously though, we wanted to make a raw film, we wanted to makes as real a film as possible. Once you get past the dead dying and returning to life we hope that audiences get to experience what we think would be the natural reaction of human beings dealing with isolation within a different culture whilst surviving a constant threat around them.
C: How did you meet the Ford brothers?
AM: My background is as an accountant, not a boring one! Howard is one of my clients and we were going through his accounts one day and we somehow got onto the subject of feature films. He and Jon had done a couple of indies in the past which were quite successful, but that was several years before. We then decided to set up a production company and go and do this thing. Horror films for me are a big thing and something that I am often drawn to. I think that they are one of the most thought provoking genres and I remember being really frightened by films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist. I also remember watching Pet Sematary when I was young with my brother and being scared for days. I personally find some of today’s horror to be a little disappointing. The use of CGI is sometimes overused so much that it really detracts from the realism, which was a big thought process when we decided to use minimal CGI on The Dead.
C: So this is the first feature film that you personally produced?
AM: Yes, I had always really enjoyed films, I used to sit in cinemas and find it an escapism for a couple of hours, be in awe of the way a film comes together and seeing how many people come together to make something that lasts a couple of hours. So when Howard proposed the idea of making a film I jumped at the chance and it has been one of the most frustrating, enjoyable and challenging things I have ever done and this being my first will always be very special to me. The learning curve I have ridden over the past three years is immense and I am now armed with the ability to start the journey all over again!
C: Do you happen to know how The Dead came to be added to this year’s Philly-based 24 Hour Horror-Thon? It’s the first time that they’ve shown a new film as well as the first time that they’ve announced a title from the always secret lineup ahead of time.
AM: The demand for The Dead has been amazing. I wasn’t aware of that, but I know that the market is currently really tough, us getting a theatrical release was very hard fought but something we really wanted as we shot The Dead to be shown on the big screen. What we are finding are people who are not traditional followers of the genre are actually surprised by the film and how much they enjoy it. Despite my bias, it is a beautifully shot film, we shot on film, we used some of the industry’s finest sound designers as the soundtrack is so important and the music by Imran Ahmad is amazing and extremely powerful. So I think The Dead is very unqiue and unlike anything else before it so perhaps that’s the reason? We are really grateful for everyone’s support, it’s true that your film is only as good as your audience’s response so thank you to all those who have supported us, as independent filmmakers it is so important!
The Dead opens locally at the AMC Loews Cherry Hill on November 4.