It seems like everyone out in Hollywood has a zombie script they’ve penned and probably about half of them are set in the Wild West. So why haven’t any zombie westerns actually been made? Well, one finally has, thanks to director Glasgow Phillips.
Undead or Alive: A Zombedy is the first of 4 horror projects under Dark Lot Entertainment, telling a tale of a defecting Union Army soldier (James Denton) and a broken-hearted cowboy (Chris Kattan) who rob the corrupt sheriff of an old west town, only to have a wave of the undead hot on their trails. They team up with Geronimo’s sexy niece (Navi Rawatt) to try and put the dead back where they belong; in the ground.
Set to premiere at this year’s South by Southwest festival (March 9-17), we recently got a chance to pick Phillip’s brain to learn more about Undead or Alive: A Zombedy! Enjoy!
Johnny Butane: The zombie western is a near untapped subgenre of horror. You got the chance to do one but, as the title implies, you chose the comedy route. Do you think that helped the producers see it as a more viable investment? Additionally, was there every any talk of making straightforward horror?
Glasgow Phillips: Well, I don’t have any credentials in the straight horror world, so I think it at least sort of made sense to the producers that I was coming at it from a comedic angle. There was no talk of trying to make it straight horror—that would have been such a different animal, though I would love to see a straight zombie Western horror flick—but there was discussion at certain times of how to get a few more scares into it. The DP Tom Callaway, who’s shot a ton of horror (Feast, The Dead Hate the Living to name a couple), helped me set up a few shots for free scares: having a character enter from an unexpected place, that kind of thing. He was so great to work with, really guided me along through the whole show.
JB: When did the idea for Undead or Alive first pop into your head and how much did it change by the time the last shot was filmed?
GP: It didn’t pop into my head, it popped into my amigo Scott Pourroy’s head: zombie Western. He’s a commercial producer and a hilariogenius. (Also a true blue fan of real horror, by the way.) He let me break the idea out as a story and write the script. We share the story credit on it. As for the second question, for better or worse, my “vision” really was pretty much realized on the screen. I couldn’t believe the resources I was given, both in talent and in locations. I can’t blame many weaknesses in the final product on anyone but myself!
GP: No shit, real horror movies are too scary for me. I love a good Western, though. Even of that genre I’m no scholar, however. The DP and producer were both just a bit older than me, old enough to have grown up with some of the classic Western movies in theaters, and they referred me to tons of cool stuff. My experience of classic Westerns was seeing them on like Dialing for Dollars, this TV show in the Bay Area (maybe everywhere?) when I was a kid. The old ones all kind of blend into one huge sweeping movie in my mind.
JB: So the idea is down, the money is in place, you know you’re going to film soon; how did you go about the casting process? And how did you react when you learned that some well-known names were interested in it?
GP: Deborah Del Prete, one of the producers, really ran the casting, and she did an amazing job. It’s one of her specialties, casting, and not something I had much experience in. Honestly it’s an excruciating experience for me. I feel so much for people when they’re reading that I just want to have everyone.
We worked with casting agents Valorie Massalas and Ron Digman, and they brought in some wonderful people. I was naturally delighted when I learned who was interested. It was a fairly unreal experience, with Kattan especially, for me. I was already such a big fan of his characters that I felt like an asshole when he actually came in to read. Super nice and fun to work with, by the way. As was everyone. I got really lucky with the cast.
I hadn’t watched much “Housewives” before so I didn’t know Denton, but that dude is fucking awesome, a great performer and just incredibly unselfish on and off the set in a way that brings out the best in everybody. And the bad guys, Matt Besser and Chris Coppola, are hilarious. And Navi’s smokin hot!
JB: What level of zombie effects can the fan expect? Are we talking pure, gut-munching goodness or just the standard blood-n-guts?
GP: Bob Kurtzman’s company Precinct 13 did the MUFX, so you can expect some nasty shit. There’s not a real tonnage of it, jut a couple of gags that worked really well. Leslie Jordan getting his mouth eaten off my Cristin Michelle is probably the grossest. I flinched watching it on the monitor.
JB: You shot in and around Santa Fe, correct? Any good stories from the set that weren’t part of your blog?
GP: No, man, just that I love that place. I would live there in a heartbeat. If anyone hasn’t seen the Undead or Alive blog, they should check out the interview with Delaney Marsh, the head greensman who DUG UP AN ACTUAL DEAD HORSE for the movie.
GP: It was watching the actors make things real. For me a script is just words, and it’s always amazing to see someone take those and bring them to life.
JB: What are Odd Lot’s release plans for the film after it’s premiere at SXSW, if any that you can speak of ?
GP: That shit is all top secret dude!
JB: What are you doing next, what would you like to do next (cause there can be a difference…), and what would be a dream project for you down the road?
GP: I want to do a fantasy comedy called Fantasie! I have to write it first, though. The other project that’s on my plate right now is the release of my new book, The Royal Nonesuch. It hits stores right around SXSW, and I’m doing my first reading there in Austin, on March 11 at a place called Book People. The book’s about underground Hollywood, renegade filmmaking, that kind of stuff—I think it might be right up your dirt road. Look for it!
Thanks go to Glasgow and the producers for making this interview happen! If you’re heading out to South by Southwest be sure to make the time to see Undead or Alive: A Zombedy; you’ll be one of the first!