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Indie Filmmakers to Watch: Howard Ford Talks The Dead – Part One

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In the forty-two years of cinematic zombies, we’ve seen slow zombies and we’ve seen fast zombies. We’ve seen zombies here in the US and we’ve even seen zombies across the pond. But in The Dead genre fans should prepare for something truly unique: zombies running amok on the continent of Africa.

Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to speak with Howard Ford, one half of the writing/directing duo behind the project, and because there were so many remarkable stories associated with making The Dead, we had to make the interview a two-parter.

In this first installment Ford discusses why The Dead is unlike anything horror audiences have experienced before, the trials of filming the movie in Africa, and how much influence his filming conditions lent to the shape of the story.

Shot on locations in Burkina Faso and Ghana, West Africa, The Dead is centered around an American mercenary, the sole survivor of a plane crash, who has to run the gauntlet across Africa, battling against the living dead. Along his journey the mercenary finds an ally in a local military man who is desperately searching for his son amongst the chaos. They must band together to make their way through this brand new horrific world of zombies.

For Ford getting to make The Dead was a 20-year-long process. “When we started out in the industry, our first intention was to make a horror film, but we never had the opportunity. Even over the last twenty years, we’ve made all these short films, two features, and loads of commercials; but my brother, Jon, and I never got to satisfy our urge to make horror movie,” said Ford.

High-Powered and Bloody Stills from The Dead (click for larger image)

We even wanted to make a zombie film back when we first played with the idea of becoming filmmakers,” Ford added. “One of the first horror films we ever watched on video was George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It really got to us, got to our very core in a way that I really can’t explain. I remember walking home from seeing it, and every single doorway we passed, we were completely unnerved. Every person on that street was going to try to grab us because we truly thought that there could be zombies anywhere.

Ford credits his commercial work travels as part of the inspiration for choosing Africa as the location for The Dead. While shooting several commercials on the lush continent, he began to realize the appeal of the little-used landscape in order to offer something fresh to the zombie sub-genre of horror.

Jon and I set out for The Dead to look and be completely different than other zombie movies over the last decade or so, and while doing that, The Dead developed into a zombie road film set in Africa,” explained Ford. “We wanted The Dead to be about a journey for viewers, and rural Africa was perfect for that. We wanted to make a beautiful horror movie, if that makes any sense. It’s a horrific situation for the world; yet, there are still beautiful things to be seen because the scenery doesn’t change.

It’s not just the scenery that makes The Dead a remarkable film, either. Ford spoke about how developing a compelling lead character was a key part of the equation in creating a truly inventive horror film.

At the core of the story is the idea of our main character to be a fish out of water, one ordinary guy stuck in extraordinary circumstances,” explained Ford. “Jon and I worked hard to avoid every cliché that had been done before. We didn’t want our lead to be a heroic character, either. He’s flawed and he’s definitely not the hero that is often seen in these kinds of movies. He makes mistakes and his being surrounded by hordes of zombies makes him feel useless. The Dead as much of an emotional journey as it is a physical journey for our lead. It sounds odd trying to say this about a film in the zombie genre, but the reaction Jon and I strived for is a deep emotional impact for audiences,” Ford added.

High-Powered and Bloody Stills from The Dead (click for larger image)

Once Ford and his crew arrived in Africa to start production on The Dead, he soon realized that the decision to aim for location authenticity came with a hefty price tag attached. Ford explained why The Dead would be the last time he’d ever make a feature film in Africa and how he is surprised he ever made it off the continent alive.

Ford said, “Filming in Africa was probably the worst experience of my life. I can’t even explain how tough it was out there. It wasn’t just the fact that it was hot temperatures and dusty, which are both terrible things to deal with for the equipment we were using. It’s also incredibly corrupt where we were filming, and we looked like walking money to a lot of people there.

There were even articles in the paper out there saying in fact that Hollywood had arrived, which didn’t help our situation because we were literally ripped off on every corner. Sometimes we wouldn’t even make it to the location because the police would stop us for some reason or another. Either something was wrong with our vehicle or our paperwork, even though we had done all the paperwork on a daily basis. They would end up impounding our cars and equipment until we handed over various sums of cash, and there were times where we couldn’t get cash into the country fast enough. What’s sad is that this wasn’t money towards production, it was more so that we could stay out of jail,” Ford added.

The writer/director said the police wasn’t even the biggest problem they faced there – malaria and other illnesses almost put the kibosh on the entire production of The Dead.

Rob Freeman, our lead actor, got malaria twice,” explained Ford. “He nearly died even. One day he collapsed on set and started convulsing. The doctor said if he wasn’t treated as soon as he had been, he would have been dead within three days. Rob was on a drip for two weeks, and he’s in almost every scene, so you can only imagine what that does to a filming schedule.

The whole crew was getting sick every day, and there were times where Jon and I would be discussing shots in between vomiting. I am actually someone who prides myself on sticking to a schedule and budget, but we had to throw away those ideals on this film. Every day we had to figure out who would we have available every morning and figuring out from there what we could do since someone has a fever, someone has typhoid, someone’s being treated for malaria. Being the writer/producer/director, everything sort of feel on me, and it was a very difficult time for me because I knew I had to deliver the film, but I think to be honest, we all just kept moving forward because everyone wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as we could,” Ford added.

Even though Ford describes his filming experience in Africa as ‘Hell on Earth,’ the writer/director said that despite all the obstacles, he wasn’t leaving the continent without completing filming there.

For me, when I commit to something, I commit to it until the death so leaving was never an option,” explained Ford. “I was just focused on getting The Dead finished, and I had to be reminded often that people’s lives were at stake there, including my own. But we didn’t have the money to just go and finish the movie on a sound stage. We wanted The Dead to be realistic and not another CGI movie with chroma key and green screen backdrops.


The Dead – Trailer Variant 2
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Part of what makes The Dead so special is that it feels real with real locations, shot with real people, with real backdrops. There is something to be said for that kind of filmmaking. Keeping the movie grounded in the reality of its location the entire time hopefully makes audiences feel like this thing could actually happen. If we went to a sound stage, it would have defeated the purpose of setting the story in Africa, and I don’t think we would have made a quality movie,” Ford added.


For more on Ford’s experiences on making The Dead, make sure to check back later this week as Dread Central talks with the writer/director about filming in Africa, his career-spanning ongoing collaboration with his brother and why slow zombies are the only true kind of zombies. (Click here for Part Two of our interview.)

Heather Wixson

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Check Out the Opening 2 Minutes of Another WolfCop

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It was just earlier today that we brought you guys The Dude Design’s the newest poster for writer-director Lowell Dean’s horror-comedy sequel Another WolfCop.

And now we have the movie’s opening 2 minutes!

The clip showcases the new flick’s villain trying to sell us on his “Chicken Milk Beer” before losing his cool and taking it out the commercial’s crew. We then cut to a ragtag group of criminals, dressed as homeless Santas trying to outrun the cops.

A fun two-minutes if you ask me!

You can check out Another WolfCop‘s opening scene below and then make sure to hit us up and let us know what you think in the comments below or on social media!

The film is written and directed by Lowell Dean, produced by Bernie Hernando, Deborah Marks, and Hugh Patterson, and distributed worldwide by Cineplex.

Another WolfCop co-stars Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, and Serena Miller. The film also features special appearances from Canadian music icon Gowan and legendary filmmaker Kevin Smith. It was executive produced by Sean Buckley, J. Joly, Bill Marks, Brian Wideen, Michael Kennedy, and Michael Hirsch.

The film is slated for a wide Cineplex theatrical release on Friday, December 8, 2017, with the film seeing a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital home entertainment release through A71 and Black Fawn in 2018.

Synopsis:

A month has passed since the eclipse transformed hard-drinking Officer Lou Garou into the crime-fighting hellion WolfCop. Although the Shape Shifters controlling the town have been extinguished, Woodhaven is far from returning to normal. Lou’s liquor-fueled antics and full moon outbursts are seriously testing his relationship with Officer Tina Walsh – the new Chief of Police. An old friend has mysteriously reappeared with a truly bizarre secret to share, and a homicidal new villain has emerged from the shadows looking to finish what the Shape Shifters started. To defeat this lethal adversary, it will take more than a lone wolf packing a pistol.

Prepare for the next chapter of WolfCop that will be more dirty and hairy than the original! Consider yourself warned.

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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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