I sat down with director James Plumb to talk about horror, remakes and his new film Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection.
DG: A lot of film makers can trace their careers back to a particular film or director. What would you say was the experience that first engaged you with film?
JP: When I was a very little kid I really really enjoyed Jaws as a film, and we’re talking like four or five here. I clearly didn’t get it on may levels but I think just as a little kid you seeing the big fish eat the people was just for some reason just hilarious to me. But I think it was more for the fact there was, you know I had a video camera, one of these giant ancient VHS kinda things I could barely lift. I just had that to play with and just started putting stuff together that way. So that was about 1988 I actually started making terrible terrible short films and bizarrely they were all kind of horror films.
My mum was a lecturer at Warwick uni and she did american literature but also tutored a few things on film and TV on night courses and stuff like that so I always had access to all these reference books in what was basically the humanities library. And so I’d flick through these books and I’d see stills of stuff like the original Nightmare On Elm Street and it would be like five stills to tell the picture of the film. So you’d have all these mental images of like freddy coming out of the wall, the tongue coming out of the end of the phone and like the claw coming out of the bathtub and it was those kind of images that just kind of stuck with me.
So in terms of one single film, I honestly can’t remember. I was very lucky as a kid, my parents didn’t censor anything from me (I don’t think they let me watch porn), but in terms of like horror films or sci-fi or anything like that which were clearly 18s that was fine that was never off limits. I definitely watched Robocop when it first came out on video which I’m guessing was about 89 90 when it came out on vid. I saw that and my mum turned to me and kind of went ‘did you like that?’ and I was like ‘yeah it was great’ and so she then showed me The Terminator. As a kid The Terminator completely blew my mind. But its always been horror and sci-fi films that have really stuck with me, because you get all this extra ordinary stuff that you don’t get in real life and I think later on in life I actually appreciated that usually, for the most part the films weren’t about giant robots, they were about other things but they had nice giant robot window dressing that kept you entertained, they made you think without realizing that you were thinking about it.
DG: Whats your take on the state of horror as a genre at the moment. Theres lots of remakes, Michael Bay seems to be going through all the old films and remaking them one at a time, and then Saw and Paranormal Activity, they just keep coming. So whats your take is horror in good state at the moment?
JP: Theres always been sequels, especially since I was a kid you know one of my favorite things at the time was the eight Friday the Thirteenth films. Even back before that, you had the universal stuff, you had Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, all of these things Albert and Costello and Frankenstein and I’m fine with that. I think as long as it’s well written and well told it doesn’t matter if its a sequel.
The state of horror – I think its doing pretty well. Theres enough things going on right now, where we’re getting to the point where every week theres a new horror film or something horror related, some of the films that are being released as horrors I would call horrors, like the Underworld films I think are more action films. But again there are found footage film flying around all over the place right now and I’m fine with that, I think its a good format as long as the story’s well told great I’ll happily go see those.
On to remakes then. I’m fine with remakes, some of my favourite films are remakes, you’ve got The Thing. John Carpenter’s The Thing is for me one of the perfect films ever made. Beyond that The Fly as well, Cronenberg’s The Fly I just think is an amazing achievement. Really when you actually consider it its only got three characters in it. It’s literally Jeff Goldblum, Gina Davis and you know the dick, I can’t remember his name. And it’s just this little character drama with a guy who happens to be turning into a fly. It’s just taking that old cheesy Vincent Price movie and turing it into something great.
I think what those films did and they did right was they just looked at the core concept of it. The Thing is basically shit goes down in the Antarctic with aliens and a small team of men cut off from the outside world have to battle it. The Fly is – a guy turns into a fly, thats pretty much all they keep from the original. They keep those core concepts and then they do there own thing and its no surprise that the people I’m mentioning there Kaufman, Cronenberg, Carpenter they all had a vision they all had their own things and they focused on that they didn’t worry about being too literal with the originals they didn’t look at any scene and say ‘oh I need that’ scene. I think thats been the problem with the modern remakes which I think started with The Hills Have Eyes. That was at the point where the studio, you know, film made by comity and they brought in a really talented foreign director but he’d only done one or two features and they handed him a package and said go shoot this and if you look at the original there are so many scenes that are just lifted in their entirety without actually paying attention to what made the original great. They had some success with that and it was based on brand recognition and all this kind of stuff, so they just kept on doing it and going through the back catalogue. But rather than thinking about the concept they just thought what were the good set pieces that we could steal and bring back.
I just thought they’ve started doing remakes and I think the Tom Savini Night of the Living Dead the 1990 one was the last one that actually looked at the concept. I can’t honestly think of one since then thats looked the concepts and done it that way rather than just looked at specific scenes and done retreads.
Bringing that to our Night of the Living Dead, when Andrew (producer Andrew Jones) told me he wanted to do a remake of it I didn’t jump at the opportunity I hesitated a little bit. I though ok, no-one else is offering to let me do a feature film but do I really want to do a remake of what I think is a classic film. And then I go to some horror film festivals and I know some people there and we we’re chatting about it and they kind of went to me look your favourite films are remakes so just do what they did and thats totally how we approached Night of the Living Dead. As long as we keep the isolated farm house setting and the idea that there are Zombies pretty much we’re free to do our own thing and so that was great to have that amount of freedom and hopefully people will appreciate that if they want a girl with two guns blasting they’re not gona get that.
DG: So given the film’s mid-wales setting and the cast were you particularly worried about or conscious of avoiding any sense if irony? We’re you worried that the film would be seen as a comedy?
JP: We totally played it the other way and I can honestly say that Shaun of the Dead is one of my top five favourite films I couldn’t narrow it down any more than that but when it came out it completely spoke to what can be done with the genre.
In terms of how we dealt with it we kind of, we didn’t want to do a straight out comedy. But there’s been a lot of horror comedies and I’d say only about half of them were successful either as a horror or as a comedy. Shaun of the Dead I think works as both actually I think there are moments of Shaun of the Dead which are really good and do work as a horror as well as a comedy. With us it kind of worked from the characters. Although we’ve got some of the characters from the original we’ve also retooled some of it so it makes a little bit more sense for our characters to be there and one of the main things we did was they were like a family unit and so the film kind of grew out the fact that if its a family stuck in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere they would react and behave differently than a group of strangers.
I think the tone of the film really grew out of the characters we had and how they would behave, one thing that was good because it was set in Wales was that unlike American films where they have easy access to firearms in England we’re not all packing heat. So there are weapons there but theres a good reason for them to be there. It made us focus on how would people actually react rather than start double tapping ex-family members in the head and we agreed that realistically wouldn’t happen. They we’re characters that didn’t know they were in a zombie film and that helps us with the tone of the film and how the characters would act. We didn’t take a stance that this can’t be a comedy but in the same way the things happening to the characters have to be horrific and really upsetting. It helped that when I was writing Night of the Living Dead I saw A Serbian Film. Its not a fun experience but its genuinely upsetting not because of what you see but because of what happens to the character and the idea of putting your characters through that amount of torture as an audience member is actually really horrible to watch and you care a lot more. So that was probably one of the best things to watch while I was writing a film about a family unit that we’re doing our best to make the audience care about if something really unpleasant has happened to them. What I find in a lot of action films and zombie films and horror films is that it’s far too easy for a hot chick with a samurai sword to lop somebody’s head off, and it looks cool if you’re making an action film fine but for the audience it never seems like it hurts its not upsetting it just looks cool. It’s much more horrible if someone gets shot in the cheek, its a kind of pain that you can’t quite comprehend but you can imagine the implications of a bullet going through flesh, cheek, teeth all that kind of stuff. Thats what we tried to do, if there is violence in the film we don’t make it flashy and gory we make it horrible and something that the audience would shudder at the thought of. We’re trying to horrify you, we’re not trying to thrill them in that way.
DG: How did you find the experience of filming in Swansea and Camarthanshire?
JP: Shooting in Camarthanshire was great because we were just out in the middle of nowhere and we had the majority of the cast there for the full ten days so it was brilliant. Thats how I imagine film making will be. You’ve got about twenty talented people, enthusiastic, excited for ten days, you come out of it and you’ve made a feature film. There were no interruptions there was no mobile signal, we were working crazy hours, we got into the routine of filming stuff that was meant to be set in the day at night and stuff that was night for day. Trying to film a feature film in ten days is amazing when you’ve got zombie hoards and military running around. But it was great fun, it felt like war and we were just going in and we had so much we had to get done.
DG: How important would you say Facebook and youtube marketing is for independent films?
JP: It completely survives on it, we don’t have the budget for a massive marketing push and I’m coming round to the opinion that a massive marketing push actually don’t help in this day and age, people are far to savvy for advertising now. Just because somebody throws something on billboards or on the yahoo banner for 30 days, people aren’t convinced that it’s a good film.
Much more important is word of mouth and I think tools like the internet and social media are so so important, just through a couple of independent blogs and our combined twitter accounts and Facebook we’ve had thirteen thousand hits on the trailer on our channel. We’ve had no massive push, obviously we have if you like the brand name of Night of the Living Dead so its something people recognize but its still good going and without the internet it wouldn’t have happened, we would have had to stick up black and white photo copies around the place and hope that people would have found out about it. I’m a massive horror fan and I automatically don’t trust advertising, I’ll go on forums or I’ll look on my twitter feed and the people I follow on twitter are people that I’ve identified as having similar tastes as me and therefore if they like something theres a good chance I might like it.
DG: With professional productions moving down to Wales do you think it will provide a boost for the independent industry or will it create competition?
JP: I think that its great that its happening in Wales I haven’t got a problem with it at all but i think its just going to run parallel to what we’re doing independently. For British TV its really important that everything’s not made in London its got a different voice to it theres a lot of talent outside of London and its great to see things really start to be made here.
It can only be good for TV but I don’t think it has much of an impact on the independent stuff beyond the fact that some of the art and design guys want to direct there own stuff and have access to a bit better kit so on that stage great. I’m all for everyone picking up a camera and everyone making a film I really just think with technology the way it is now everyone can have a go.
What I’m interested in is if more people are making stuff it will be more difficult to find the good stuff but there will be more good stuff being made. We’re getting to the point now with the technology and the distribution methods as well, with Night of the Living Dead we’re going with very traditional distribution methods but there are so many things coming out about alternative ways you can actually get your film out there that its meaning that you don’t have to have worked as a grip on a set for ten years for the BBC to end up getting close to looking at directing a feature. I think thats good, I liken a lot of the indie stuff thats going on in Wales right now to the punk movement in the 70’s where they didn’t have to be classically trained you know they just picked up a guitar and made some noise and for some people it worked it connected with them. I think theres a lot of stuff being made right now thats completely independent of the film business or the film industry and it might not be for everybody but there are people out there that really want to see that stuff and I think thats great.
Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection has recently acquired distribution in the USA through Lionsgate Home Entertainment and is hoping to secure DVD distribution in the UK and Germany. Watch the teaser trailer for the film below.
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