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Nerdlocker Interview: B. Harrison Smith

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Remember when zombies were flesh-eating carnivores that didn’t have a soap opera themed story line? Yes, those did exist before 2010 and were enjoyable for the most part. But if you are sick of all these zombie soap opera adaptations like me, there are still filmmakers that do it right. If you are a “new wave” zombie lover, you may not get my sarcasm, but before The Walking Dead, there were other artists and filmmakers that really brought the flesh-eating zombie to life. For me, George Romero was that one director that changed my life and made me appreciate this specific genre. In 2015, there are a select few directors that stick to their guns and make movies with balls. One of those directors is B. Harrison Smith and I was lucky enough to pick his brain about the entertainment world, real life zombies and his future plans. You may be familiar with his previous work in 6 Degrees of Hell and Camp Dread, but if you are not, I suggest you pick them up. From speaking with him shortly today, I found him to be very knowledgeable, aware of his surroundings in the film industry and a brilliant director. His take on the zombie apocalypse is looked at in a different perspective in Zombie Killers and gives the audience a backstory on the source of the infection. What really struck me about this film, was the real world issues incorporated into the script. What is more dangerous, a zombie or some invisible entity rising from the ground that you inhale? Those are questions you may have answered in this movie and Smith makes this an all around pleasant experience from start to finish.

Billy Zane plays the John Wayne type character named Doc and is the leader of this small community called Elwood. Of course, in small towns like these, you always get a group of characters that will liven up the screen. The Zombie Killers are a local militia formed by the townsman named Seiler and as you could guess it, kill zombies. We are introduced to a swat team of orphans, most of which are believable in their roles. There were a few comedic scenes that included Doc and his three cohorts reciting famous movie one-liners that brought some humor to the surface of the zombie infestation. Dee Wallace was also cast in the movie as the cancer-ridden woman that has the right idea of what needs to be done in a zombie apocalypse. She gives her son one valuable lesson on her deathbed, which was to live. This has a deeper meaning than trying to outrun zombies, but to live and enjoy every moment we have on earth. What B. Harrison Smith is trying to get at with this film is to not make another redundant horror flick, but to make people aware of what our current lives are like. We are all “zombies” in a sense that we are slaves of technology and the art of general conversation has dissipated. We have grown immune to texting, basing our lives on a social network profile and never enjoy the scenery surrounding us. In a sense, it’s a look at society and how we interact with one another in a condescending manner or are just non-responsive. Whatever you may get out of this movie, I don’t think you will be disappointed with what you are given, and is more of an “old school” stand-out film compared to others of its genre.

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Today, I spoke with B. Harrison Smith about his newest film, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard and the history of the zombie genre. He had some very interesting stories about working on this film and what he hopes to accomplish with the audience. If you are a fan like myself, you will check out his other work and future projects in 2015. The story, the characters, and gore will make the “new-wave” zombie lovers do some serious homework on this subject.

Nerdlocker (NL): How did you get involved with this project?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): I was approached by Jeff Trainer, executive producer and looks like Tony Stark meets Donald Trump. He wanted to make a zombie movie and I tried to talk him out of it for an hour, but wouldn’t budge me. He said “I am going to make this movie with or without you.” So I was on-board after that and the rest is history.

NL: Was it difficult putting out a zombie film with the recent Walking Dead buzz and did you feel that you had to take a different approach?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): Well, you are pretty much setting yourself up for failure. No matter what you do, you have a generation that has no clue the history of zombies, or what came before The Walking Dead. You’re not aiming for a generation that is familiar with George Romero or even further backs with Bella Lugosi, but an audience that only knows the AMC show. My point is, there are so many of these types of films and zombie movies are lazy. No matter how great the The Walking Dead series is with great writers, directors, actors, but it’s the same thing each week. People argue, zombies attack, and fight to survive, but what more can you do with that premise? When Jeff came to me, he wanted to do the film five years ago, but now I struggled with what I wanted to do differently in 2014. Well the reviewers say that it’s boring, it didn’t have the effects, everyone compares your work and never just focus on the movie. They always need something to compare it to and in the end it loses the overall effect. This is a very clustered genre and we knew going into this, ughhhh zombies, well we can make this like a western. For example, Billy Zane plays the John Wayne type character and zombie killers are like the young guns and were the direction we went with this film. We didn’t know what to expect, but didn’t just want blood and gore. I love Dawn of the Dead from the 70’s and the remake. But I usually don’t like remakes. Overall, we created zombies and kept those older films in mind while making Zombie Killers. I have only seen the first season of The Walking Dead because I was working on this film and didn’t want the show to contaminate my ideas for what I was doing with this specific piece. Till this day, I have only seen the first season, but heard they snuck in Day of The Dead’s character, Bub, in a group shot, which kind of links the two universes together. But how many Walking Dead fans actually noticed that or recognized that Romero character? None!

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NL: Zombies, weren’t the only thing infected, but the animals too. Was that your idea to incorporate these creatures with the infection?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): We wanted to change things up, the infection is not viral, it’s a protozoa that we hint at in the movie, that caused the extinction of dinosaurs. It mutates the hosts as well, and the host is devolving. In the movie, the girl shoots the fish and points the gun in the throat of the dead one, the zombie has gills. We can see that this infection is compromising the genetic code, and something we have not seen before.

NL: Billy Zane and Dee Wallace are familiar faces in the horror genre, who got them on-board for this film and what was it like shooting with them? Were there any funny stories?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): I always wanted to work with Dee Wallace as she is a phenomenal actress, and till this day, I think she was cheated on an Oscar for her performance in Stephen King’s Cujo. I wanted her to play the role of Sharon, which is a smaller part, but a very important role for the premise. The producer wanted Billy Zane from his work in the movie Titanic and was attracted to the actor for his action capabilities and carried the persona needed for the main role of the film. Both actors became close friends of mine and are the most generous and down to earth people you will ever meet. The investor took Billy Zane out one night for drinks at the club he owned and they didn’t get back until 5 am the next morning. Billy was dragging the next day and I asked him why? So he told me that they were out partying the night before and that was the day they were shooting the fracking scene. When you watch the movie, you will see Billy running up a hill sweating and that’s because he was extremely hung over.

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NL: I see from your past work you have produced, directed and written in films. Which is your favorite and what made you try different mediums of filmmaking?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): I have a real soft spot in my heart for Six Degrees of Hell which I wrote and produced, and was a fun film. I love Camp Dread and was able to do everything we wanted to do with such a small budget. Zombie Killers is up there now, but The Fields is a personal story based on events that happened to me as a child.

NL: There was a sequence in the movie where the cast was spouting off one-liners from classic movies, such as They Live – “Chewing bubble gum and kicking ass.” Was that a way to bring some comedy into this tense film?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): I was watching Christian Bales movie, Reign of Fire with the dragons and when the kids are re-enacting Star Wars. There’s something neat about society that’s echoing it’s long, dead, pop culture. And I thought it was kind of cool with a movie like Star Wars that comes full circle with a Shakespearian tragedy. I wanted to be one of the guys in Zombie Killers that were walking down the hill and talking about something that everyone can relate to. We have all been in the scary situation where we are afraid and bring up subjects to keep our mind off of it, without being over the top. It was Billy that said, “let’s throw in some one-liners.” The actors ad libbed the entire scene with the movie quotes and the one specific scene where the kid says, “No more wire hangers!” Billy calm and collect replies with “That will do pig” and proves to be one of the funniest moments of this movie. Then the zombies start to run at them and Billy yells “Run Forest, Run.” But there is a somber moment when one of the characters dies and the kid quotes the Jarhead movie, “Welcome to the suck.” The kid throws this out as a tribute to his fallen leader and pretty cool significance from that moment of time.

NL: What was the overall message you were trying to get across with this film?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): All zombie and horror movies should have a message, and for this specific movie, the message is for people to go out and live. Dee Wallace says it in the movie and is very important. As a nation, we have become zombies with technology in terms of not interacting with one another directly; it’s all texting, and social media websites. Kids play video games and we have all become zombies and it’s no way to live. People who wake up in Elmwood, they are alive, but just existing. You eat, poop, and have sex everyone in awhile, but basically waiting for the end. Dee Wallace wants to live in the movie, but cant get out of bed due to health reasons, and the moral of the story. We are teaching our kids to be afraid of everything, such as getting germs from a doorknob, to vaccinations, and sexual predators. Life is about taking chances and sometimes you are going to meet some scary characters, but you have to get out. You have parents that are going to college with their kids now and not letting go. Humans are existing and consuming, and what George Romero was getting across in his movie, Dawn of The Dead. The zombies were walking around the mall with normal clothes on, going up and down escalators like people today.

NL: Do you have any upcoming films or projects?

B. Harrison Smith (BHS): I have just taken control over the independent genre division and have a great film adaption of Adrienne Barbeau’s vampire book Love Bites. We have some high profiled directors we are looking at. We are really excited about this film and will start shooting in September of 2015.

Special thanks to B. Harrison Smith for taking the time to sit down with us. We’re really excited to for Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard as well as all of his upcoming projects.

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As for the movie, I am giving Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard a 3.5 out of 5 Nerd Skulls.

Check out the trailer below:

Zombie Killers was released on DVD and VOD on February 3rd, 2015.

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I have been a horror fan since the age of two with the introduction of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors on the old VHS tape. Ever since then, I have seen most movies in the horror genre at least twice and surrounded my home with a plethora of slasher memorabilia, movies, and comics. I am a musician, artist, student, tattoo enthusiast, traveler, and IT professional solving all of your technological issues one floppy disk at a time. If John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese and Pat Benatar were to have a ginger kid together, it would look something like me. Oh yeah, you may run into me in downtown Vegas checking out the local scene, watching any Chicago sports that are on, or writing my latest Nerdlocker review while enjoying a frothy beverage at a local coffee shop. I am looking forward to being doused with the buzzing spectacle of the nerd community for many years to come.