What’s scarier than zombies? Volcanic zombies!
Uncork’d Entertainment will release “The Burning Dead” on VOD today that stars Danny Trejo as Night Wolf, a Native American warrior who spins the tale about a mystical volcano that summons lava zombies. It turns out that the tale is real and a local sheriff my save a family from these fiery zombies and an erupting volcano.
In a telephone interview, Latino-Review talked with director Rene Perez about making this indie horror movie. We discussed about the challenges of the production, allure of zombies and working with Danny Trejo.
The film also stars Tom Downey (“Sorority Party Massacre”) and Moniqua Plante (“Nashville”).
“The Burning Dead” is out on VOD today. It will be released on DVD next month on April 7th.
Read the interview below.
Latino-Review: Why were you attracted to this film, “The Burning Dead?”
Rene Perez: Initially, I just wanted to work with the producer Jeff Miller. When he told me the premise of the story, I thought it would be more interesting to do something more on the campy side and the fun side of horror. I’ve never done it before. It’s not too terribly serious and thought it would be an interesting change for me. Jeff had made a couple of movies in that same genre. It was all new for me.
Latino-Review: When you said you were approached more on the campy side, what did you have to personally change for yourself on this approach?
Rene Perez: Oh, just to make things fun. I think most zombie movies are on the campy side, which is the attraction that people have for it. Since this is a fun 80s horror kind of movie from what I read, that was the main change—make it fun. It’s something I’ve never done with a horror movie before—I’ve always made them scary and nothing else. The main change is going from straight horror to having some fun with the horror.
Latino-Review: Was this change kind of difficult for you?
Rene Perez: It was mainly difficult in the writing. They did and it already had all the fun script in it. All I had to do was film it. [Chuckles] I think the hard part was on them on writing it to have the camp factor, fun factor and still be set in the horror movie. The hardest part went to [Jason Ancona and Jeff Miller]. It wasn’t difficult, but I would say it was a challenge—a better way to say it. It was an interesting challenge to have.
Latino-Review: Some critics or others watched the film already compared “The Burning Dead” to some Syfy Channel-type of movie. Is that what you’re going for?
Rene Perez: Yeah, we were making these Syfy Channel kind of movies where they’re light-hearted and not a bummer to watch it. It’s fun! My main goal was to make it like a 80s zombie movie. That’s my intent. After you watch it, you’ll see if I succeeded or not.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] Absolutely. You do realize there’s a lot of zombie movies out there. Why would you think “The Burning Dead” is different from all of those?
Rene Perez: Well, I made a lot of those zombie movies you’re talking about. [Laughter] I know what you mean. To separate them from all the other zombie movies and mine included, this one has a supernatural element to it. Also this one is kind of a disaster movie. It’s a zombie movie set inside a disaster movie. It could’ve easily been a volcano movie. It could’ve easily been a zombie movie. [With both], that’s why I thought it was interesting about it.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] It’s almost the absurdity of it that I have to laugh at it in its own little way.
Rene Perez: Yeah. It’s all fun. Who wouldn’t want to do a movie about volcanic zombies.
Latino-Review: That’s true. Wasn’t the original title called, “Volcano Zombies?”
Rene Perez: Yes, it was. When we were filming that’s what we thought it was going to be called.
Latino-Review: Oh, I see.
Rene Perez: And it was even campier along the same lines. I actually liked this new title. But, first it was called, “Volcano Zombies.” [Chuckles]
Latino-Review: Obviously one of the main attractions was that you’ve recruited Danny Trejo in a cameo role. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Rene Perez: It was another thing that was attractive to me as a director. I’ve met him a couple of times casually at places. I never thought I’ve would ever film with him. I’ve never cast Latino people in my movie and I am a Latino person myself. That was a huge plus for me.
This guy is a big star, especially in the B-movie world. He’s a star for a reason. He knows on how to deliver the lines. He knows on how to be on who he is in a way on how real movie stars know how to do. That was a huge upgrade for me to have this awesome dude deliver the lines in a way he can.
Latino-Review: So practically, you kind of learn something from him then?
Rene Perez: Well, I did get a lesson. There’s a good reason on why some people are movie stars. He really knows how to deliver in the same way whether it’s a twenty-million dollar movie or a low budget movie. Either way, he was top notched.
There were some of the other actors we had. In fact, we got really lucky with all of the casting. That was the biggest surprise for a fun little zombie movie like this. All of the actors were so incredibly good, we could’ve filmed a drama because they were that good.
Of course, Danny Trejo is on a whole another level. A celebrity level I think. It was fun. It was great. He definitely knows on how to do these things with little or no effort. We all loved him.
Latino-Review: Tell me about the rest of the cast and how you worked with them.
Rene Perez: We had Tom Downey and Moniqua Plante. They are the two other leads. These are people who are extremely practiced. Usually when you’re doing these little B-movies, you would get these B-movie actors. These actors are very good. They’ve been doing so well for a long time already, because they’re so incredibly practiced.
The producer went through and made sure that everyone he got had some real quality to their performance. It was a pleasure actually. Never worked on a movie where every single person is really good.
Latino-Review: Tell me about the setting for this movie. Obviously, this has to be a fictional setting. I’ve been to Donner Pass. I know there is no volcano nearby. [Laughter]
Rene Perez: We had to move the volcano to there. That’s where we spent all the money. [Laughter]
We filmed it up in Mount Lassen, which is where I live up in Shasta County, California. That’s where we got all of our volcano footage. And yes, the Donner Pass was nowhere near there.
We wanted to focus it on being a disaster movie. It was a real live volcano. It’s just a dormant volcano. It was fun hiking to it. [Laughter] I kid you. It was an awful challenge hiking up to it. It was all well worth it to have a volcano in the movie even if it didn’t really erupt on cue. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: That was definitely had to be a good thing. [Laughter] So what was supposedly the greatest challenge for you on this project then?
Rene Perez: For me, it was trying to have this lighter tone for the movie. The actors made it so easy. They were so spot on the entire time. The producer, Jeff Miller, was so great that he had everything lined up and ready to go.
It allowed me to change up from my usual morose tone to something a little bit lighter and a little bit fun. I’m glad that I have that ease of use. I think I had it going and a feel for it on the first couple of days. But, that was the thing that was most scary for me. I was like, “Oh, my God. I have to do this certain type of movie I’ve never done before.” I showed up a little bit nervous.
Once I got into it and saw great everything was and how great everyone was—that stopped being my biggest challenge right away. It was, at first, the biggest challenge.
Latino-Review: So do you want to do more of these campy horror movies like this or go back to the more serious horror movies again?
Rene Perez: I already have [to more serious horror movies]. I’ve already filmed four movies since I’ve been done with “The Burning Dead.” So the answer is yes—I would like to go back to it. And I did. That doesn’t exclude the fact that I want to do another lighter tone, fun movie again with the emphasis on fun rather than scary. I’m happy to do both.
Latino-Review: Just out of curiosity, why do you think zombie movies are so attractive to viewers?
Rene Perez: People have asked me that [question] before. Until I did my first zombie movie, I don’t think I’ve seen one all of the way through when I was a kid. I didn’t have any memory of any of them. I think that people, more like Americans, have the urge to shoot people in the face. They want to be heroic in doing it. They don’t want to be mass murderers. They don’t want to be psychopaths. People have this innate need in this century wanting to shoot other people and to be heroic in doing it.
Not only you’re killing a zombie and putting the poor thing out of its misery, you’re also protecting other people. It might be a question for a psychologist to figure out on why Americans have this desire to shoot others in the face. [Laughter] That’s my take on it.
Latino-Review: Technically, by shooting several zombie films already, you are a zombie expert. Or what we can call a zombie expert.
Rene Perez: I am. I’ve done so many of them now. [It’s around] four or five. I’ve definitely a zombie expert. [Chuckles] And I love doing them. It’s kind of like being in the Wild West where anything goes. Maybe that’s what people like about zombie movies. I wouldn’t be able to tell you and let’s reserve that for a much smarter person.
Latino-Review: Awesome. Can you talk about your future projects besides “The Burning Dead?”
Rene Perez: I just did a sequel to “The Dead and the Damned.” Part two came out last October and just filmed part three to that. I also just finished another horror movie called, “Playing with Dolls,” which is being released. I’m actually filming a second “Playing with Dolls” movie already. So there’s a lot of horror movies coming up.
I also did a straight action western. In Europe, it’ll be called, “Prey for Death.” In the United States, it’ll be called “A Good Day to Die.”
Latino-Review: Wow. You are really keeping busy.
Rene Perez: Oh, and I have done some more that I haven’t mentioned too. [Chuckles] Those [movies] are the ones I’m most proud of right now so I wanted to mention those. Thank you for asking that.
Latino-Review: Not a problem. Let me wrap it up with one last question. Now we can consider you a zombie expert, if the zombies were real—what’s your weapon of choice?
Rene Perez: Weapon of choice? Oh, I say something that is low-tech as a baseball bat. You wouldn’t have to reload it. It wouldn’t make a lot of noise to attract other zombies. Of course, you would have to be pretty close to use it. That’ll be the only problem with it. Believe or not—a baseball bat with some nails at the head of it would be perfect. Hopefully, we don’t have to test out my theory.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] Hopefully not. We’ll just keep that in our minds.
Rene Perez: With lava zombies, it wouldn’t work. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: That is true. This is a great conversation. I thank you for your time.
Rene Perez: Thank you so much.
“The Burning Dead” is out on VOD today. It will be released on DVD next month on April 7th.