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TALENT TALK: On the Set of <I>House of the Dead</I>

6 Dec, 2003 By: John Gaudiosi

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Director Uwe Boll's first video game-based feature film, House of the Dead, made back nearly its entire $12 million budget in a few weeks during its domestic theatrical run. Based on Sega's game franchise, which consists of first-person shooter horror games, the low-budget film introduces a new story and characters.

College co-eds attending a rave on an island are killed by zombies. A group of latecomers, including Jonathan Cherry (Final Destination 2), Ellie Cornell (Halloween 4), Sonja Salomma (“Andromeda”) and boat captain Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot) arrive to find themselves surrounded by undead zombies, new and old. Taking a page from its video game roots, the movie focuses more on action than scares as the survivors mow down zombies and face off against an undead priest who is literally made up of victims' decaying flesh.

“The movie is a sequel to the first game and will tie in to the Dr. Curien mythology that the first game introduced as well as AMS agents Rogan and G from the games,” said writer/producer Mark Altman of Mindfire Entertainment. “We've also included the water zombies and moss zombies from the games. Since House of the Dead III features shotguns, we added those to the movie.”

Unlike traditional zombie movies, House of the Dead introduces a variety of zombies, including three stages of decay, beginning with the recently deceased ravers and going back to 19th-century undead.

“We're on an island full of different zombies,” Boll said. “Some are faster and can chase you down. Some can jump high. Some vomit acid that burns away your flesh.”

Although perfect for a horror movie, the cold, rainy weather that haunted the production in May 2002 made things miserable for the cast and crew, especially for the girls who wore skimpy outfits and those who had to disrobe for the requisite sex scenes.

“The only bad thing about this weather is that I'm not exactly dressed for the rain and cold,” said Kira Clavell, whose Liberty wears a skintight red, white and blue outfit. “I've been wearing this little go-go dancer outfit the entire movie, and there's not much to it.”

The film introduces a cast of new actresses to the horror genre, as well as the return of a horror veteran in Cornell.

“I get to carry huge guns and kill a lot of zombies along the way,” said Cornell, who plays Jordan Casper. “It's like the game, in that the zombies never stop coming at you. I may not be very big, but I make up for my size with big weapons like a Beretta and an M-16.”

The girls pack plenty of ammo in this movie, according to Clavell. “One of the things that separates this film from other horror movies is that the female characters are stronger than the men. We end up doing a lot of fighting and protect the guys, and it's usually the other way around in movies.”

“You don't want to see what I look like at the end of this movie,” said Salomma (Firefight). “We filmed my death sequence last night, and my brains got blown out.”

The men in the cast, which included Tyron Leitso (“Dinotopia”), Will Sanderson (The Mangler 2), Michael Eklund (“Battlestar Galactica”), Cherry, Prochnow and Clint Howard (The Missing), also had plenty to shoot at.

“I feel like I'm 11 years old with my best friend in my backyard, playing around, killing zombies,” said Cherry. “I got to use an axe, a machine gun and a Magnum.

“The coolest part of this film is the sets,” he said. “When we first saw the house, you can't not get creeped out by it. The other day we were in a swamp with dried ice creating fog and the water bubbling and zombies chasing us, jumping out of the water. It's scary stuff.”

Boll's crowning achievement in the film is what he calls the “Saving Private Zombie” sequence.

“We had 80 zombies, all the actors, explosions going off. The cast is separated and each actor must find a way to the house through an army of zombies. Four of them are dying on the way. The handheld stuff was filmed in slow motion to add to the experience and show that the space they have to get to the house is running out. What we got on film makes you feel like you're in the middle of everything.”

In addition to deleted scenes, featurettes and commentary, video game fans can use the freeze frame to find two familiar zombies. Former Sega president Peter Moore and House of the Dead game creator Rikiya Nakagawa have undead cameos in the film.

The campy ‘B-'movie plays even better on a small screen. Howard best summed up the overall appeal of horror films: “They're like Mexican food -- not the healthiest food in the world, but every once in a while, you want something spicy.”

Boll, already has a script for a second film, and enough outtakes and extras for an additional DVD. The director said he is contemplating creating an outlandish director's cut of the two films that would border on parody, given the nature of the extra shots he filmed.

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