For his new flick The Terror Experiment, director George Mendeluk relied on his son Alexander’s horror movie sensibilities as well as the terrifying true events of 9/11 for inspiration, and Dread Central recently had the opportunity to chat with them both.
Alexander not only co-stars in the flick but also ran second unit on the production, which centers on a group of survivors that must make it out of a government building alive after a deadly virus is unleashed, causing anyone exposed to the contaminant to turn into a violent zombie.
Read on for our interview with the Mendeluks below, and look for more on The Terror Experiment soon!
Dread Central: Let’s start with you, George- can you talk a bit about where the story inspiration for The Terror Experiment came from?
George Mendeluk: Well, I’ve always enjoyed making horror movies because they’re so much fun, but I had never tried making a zombie project before so I decided the time was right for that. Because we didn’t have a huge budget, I knew that we had to keep this somewhat of a one-location type of story, and that’s when Alexander showed me 28 Days Later and I saw just how much the zombie subgenre has evolved and thought that approach was pretty amazing so that’s the feel I set out for on this. I’d say we’re similar to 28 Days Later meets Die Hard.
I also wanted The Terror Experiment to have some sort of subtext to it because I feel like every genre picture should have one- that’s what makes these kinds of movies so great; you can make a silly monster movie but still say something relevant while doing so. And I have always been haunted by the 9/11 stairwell sequences. I thought of how these people went to work, and when hell breaks loose, so many of them got caught on those stairs, which is insanely claustrophobic when you even try to imagine it. So that’s what I did- I set out to make claustrophobia a character and make it work for the picture.
Dread Central: Alexander, how hard was it for you to balance being in front of and behind the camera so much for this movie?
Alexander Mendeluk: It was a really tough schedule. We didn’t have a lot of time or money so we all had to roll with the punches. We were shooting really quickly so one moment I was popping in front of the camera doing a zombie sequence in the stairwell and the next I was running outside as second unit director to shoot B-roll footage of SWAT teams or whatever. I was always busy, which was really great because I learned a lot, but it was exhausting, too. I don’t know if I’d be able to do this all the time.
George Mendeluk: I have to say that getting to work with Alexander was really rewarding for me, too. He just jumped right in, and he worked hard from the beginning to the end. I knew that he had this great work ethic and he’s got talent as an actor so I backed him totally, and because of that I learned complete and absolute admiration and trust in my son. I would be inside of the building shooting one sequence while he would be outside shooting another sequence. I never once worried that I wouldn’t get the shot because he was always on top of everything.
Dread Central: Because this is a one-location type of movie, was it ever challenging keeping up the tension and atmosphere because you were limited within the four walls of that building?
George Mendeluk: You know, if anything, having one location really worked to our advantage because we could play on the fact that they have to make it from the top of the building all the way to the bottom, and when you’re at the top of a skyscraper and the only way down is the stairs, which are crawling in zombies, that’s tension. Plus you’re putting normal people in extraordinary circumstances who aren’t used to shooting guns, being the hero, killing zombies; and that always lends itsself well to creating tension.
At its core The Terror Experiment is about Jason [London]’s character’s journey- he’s not a guy who is a fighter. He’s lost his marriage, his wife and control over his own life so when things go down, the ball is in his court to become the hero and survive this ordeal and to ensure his daughter is safe. The zombies are the window dressing, and at the core this is a movie about a hero being born. That being said, it’s not totally serious so horror fans can have fun eating popcorn while watching some crazy zombie kills, too.
Dread Central: So what’s up next for you guys then?
George Mendeluk: Well, we’ve got a few things cooking, but I can’t say anything officially yet. I do want to make more horror movies though- the horror world is so great, and there are a ton of fun stories I’d love to tell. As someone who loves Joseph Campbell’s stories, I’d like to continue making movies in that vein.
Alexander Mendeluk: I think I do want to continue working both in front of the camera and behind it, especially after learning so much while working with my dad on Terror Experiment. I do want to still act though; I never really set out to be an actor, but I got lucky with a few roles – including Twilight – and I really enjoy it. I think acting has actually been helping me become a better director, too, because I’m always learning more, and that’s stuff I use when working with my own actors. But I don’t think I want to give up acting any time soon either so hopefully I can balance both for a while.
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