For those of you who don’t know Tom Savini, he’s a big idol of mine. A special effect mastermind who’s created some of the best creatures in the business. You might remember him from his stints in Knightriders, From Dusk Till Dawn, or even his spot on The Simpsons, but during SXSW I got the chance to speak with him and director, Alexander O. Phillippe over their newest documentary, Doc of the Dead.
In our little chat we talked about the next evolution of the zombie genre, The Walking Dead‘s zombie school, and why World War Z might be a better zombie film than you realize.
Because we’re talking about a zombie movie, I guess we’ll just start off with, “What’s your favorite type of zombie?”
Tom Savini (TS): Favorite type? Usually they ask us what would be the scariest zombie. The answer to that is when they get together and herd, come at you thirty at a time, that’s the scary one. But favorite? I don’t know there’s been, like even in Dawn of the Dead we had the nun and the baseball player, and in the remake we had the Jay Leno zombie. But favorite? You know what, it’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all my children. You can’t pick a favorite child.
Alexander O. Phillipe (AOP): Yeah, I feel the same way. I would say if I had to pick one, I would probably go with Bob in Day of the Dead. I think he’s a really interesting zombie. I like the kind of remnant of humanity, but yeah I’m definitely more of a slow, classic zombie type of guy.
TS: I haven’t thought about that in Dawn. Yeah, David Emge [Stephen in Dawn of the Dead], to me, that was a zombie performance. As an actor in the movie who turns into a zombie, you got the guy who got bitten in the neck. He’s one of my favorites. For his performance, for the way he walked. Even though he was a dead person brought back to life, he incorporated that shot in the leg, and the bite in the neck…
AOP: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah, right!
TS: He incorporated that stuff into his performance.
Speaking of performances and zombies, you know how The Walking Dead enroll the extras in a “school” to teach them how to act a certain way, do you think it advances performances in the zombie field?
TS: It doesn’t, it doesn’t. It all boils down to “just walk slow.” In the previous interview we were talking about, when I did Night of the Living Dead, we hired a “movement instructor” who conducted classes. Telling people that, “You’re no longer in your body, your body was left hanging someplace. Something took it over, and is making it move. You know, something that perhaps never moved a human body before. So how would they know how to walk?” Then the people were doing incredibly hilarious [makes awesome gestures] crap. So we stopped it. We stopped and said, just walk slow. That got the best performances[laughs]
But, but in World War Z! Speaking of zombie performances, those were zombie performances.
AOP: That was freaky stuff, yeah.
TS: they were crazy, individual performances of zombies. So I love that. It wasn’t just some guy with make up on, walking slow, there were performances.
So there’s a personality behind the death?
TS: Personality as perceived by what you put together when you meet somebody. Their look, based on how they speak, or how they move. These are all things that come together maybe in your mind differently. So personality wise, you only get what you get. All you got from that one guy was (chatters teeth), and that’s all you needed. You were afraid. You were afraid of him.
So Mr. Phillippe, what exactly do you want people to take away from Doc of the Dead?
AOP: Well you know, here’s the thing. What we worked really really hard on is to make sure that this is a film that was obviously going to appeal to zombie fans. So I think even the most hardcore zombie fans are going to find things and discover things that they may not be aware of, or at the very least, have a very, very large amount of fan service. I think it’s a lot of fun for zombie fans. But I also wanted to make a film that is very accessible to people who, you know, may be just wondering what is going on right now, what is happening in culture. Maybe they stumbled upon a zombie walk and asked “What is this all about?” So I think people who have no understanding or no knowledge, or zombies will also get a lot from that. So, that’s the hope.
TS: I like what you said in there, you’re appealing to the nerds and greeks.
TS: Being nerds and geeks ourselves, just imagine. I haven’t seen the film, but you know what it’s about, imagine the theater filled with the nerds and the geeks drooling, loving the fact that there’s something about all aspects of zombies.
AOP: Absolutely, I think zombies are going to love it. You know we’ve been interviewed already by a few publications that are zombie centric and they seemed to have loved the film, so that’s a good sign.
TS: Zombie centric? I like that (laughs). You know Pittsburgh is zombie centric.
AOP: Of yeah, of course.
There have been some complaints, on the internet…
TS: You mean “The Asylum”?
[laughs]…that there is, maybe an oversaturation of zombie culture. And a film like Doc of the Dead may be adding on to that. Do you have any response to that?
AOP: I totally disagree with that. I think Doc of the Dead is exactly, and I’m very passionate about pop culture, so I will defend that time and time again. This idea that pop culture is very important and needs to be documented. So if there is too much of zombies out there, then now’s the time to document it because, you know 20 or 30 years down the road, we are going to look back at some point and say “What was happening then?” And I also disagree that there’s too much, the fact that there’s so many zombies out there is awesome!
TS: I think it’s impossible. It’s impossible to say there’s an oversaturation because the movie’s talking about what’s already been out there. It’s not creating a whole new wave, a new zombie movie. So if you think what’s already out there is oversaturation, are you kidding? The nerds and the geeks will never get enough. Never get enough.
AOP: I’m never gonna get enough. You know I want to watch more zombie movies. I feel it’s exciting in this day and age, when it seems like everything has been done, and yet people still come up with new stuff. That’s what’s exciting to me.
TS: Like World War Z.
Now that World War Z has advanced the idea of a moving herd, what’s your best guess of the next evolution of the zombie?
TS: You know you’re asking the question that a bunch of creative, brainstorming people who get together for the next zombie movie try to come up with. So that’s a good one. I don’t know, maybe they all speak in British accents.[laughs]
But I have, there’s a possible movie that I’m involved in called Death Island, where all the zombies are black. And they’re covered in mud and scars, which sort of makes them look camoflauged, and they kind of blend into the scenery. There’s a great scene where the director’s talking to a woman, there’s an uncomfortable pause as you’re looking at the trees. And the 18 zombies that have been standing there the whole time, come forward. It shows you, this is a suspense gimmick, okay? In the daytime you won’t be able to see them. So, that’s a unique thing.
Also, I want to incorporate a zombie point of view. In Night of the Living Dead I wasn’t allowed to show a zombie point of view. I wanted a decrepit, kind of black and white, weird, myopic point of view. And George Romero said, no because that would give life into them. Yeah, but they’re walking into each other. They’re not walking into buildings. They clearly they can see. And my reason to do it would be as a suspense gimmick. Like if we’re sitting here talking, and you see a zombie point of view of us from 30 feet away, as soon as you cut back to us the scare has started. Because you know they’re in proximity. The best scares come from suspense. So that hasn’t been done yet, so don’t steal it, don’t use it, it’s in my god damn movie.[laughs]
AOP: I think what we’re going to see more of, and we’re already seeing it, is the zombie comedies, zombie romantic comedies, PG-13 zombie movies, kids.
TS: Oh there’s books, there’s children’s books now. Zombie Squirts is one. It’s a book against bullying, using zombie kids as the metaphor. But when you think about it, these are dead kids there. that’s horrible! (laughs)
You took Greg Nicotero under your wing a while back, did you expect him to blow up into the big artist he is today?
TS: To be the King of Zombies? No, not back then. The best zombies that exist today are things he’s creating on The Walking Dead. And he’s giving homages constantly to my zombies. There’s been a Bub zombie in the Walking Dead, the David Emge zombie, and maybe I should talk about it because it hasn’t happened yet, but there’s a few more homages coming up.
AOP: There’s a screwdriver zombie too, isn’t there? The one who gets it in the eye?
Yeah, there’s one that gets it in the eye.
TS: But I’ve known Greg since he was 14. I’m just so proud of him. So proud of what he’s doing.
One final question to go out on. If an apocalypse were to break out right now, how prepared are you?
TS: Very. I don’t know about him.
AOP: Not at all. Not all all.
TS: All the windows of my house have bars on them, not because of zombies! Because of people! I’m afraid of people! I have quite the huge gun collection, lots of ammo, so I’m ready.
AOP: And you know why I’m not, right? Cause it’s not gonna happen.
TS: It’s in the movies, but there are people that are preparing. And believing that there really is going to be an apocalypse. But these are the people that believe in wrestling.