On a breezy February day at Los Angeles' Linda Vista Hospital, a gaggle of reporters make peace with their imminent deaths for a chance to become the undead in Sci Fi Channel's original zombie movie "Dead & Deader," debuting Saturday, Dec. 16.
Alas, it's not meant to be. Production has fallen behind, and the big zombie scene has been postponed.
Instead, the hale and hearty journalists clamber into the reportedly haunted hospital, which has been seen in films such as "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "End of Days," to interview Dean Cain, who's looking a little worse for wear since his Man of Steel days on "Lois & Clark." His skin has a distinct pallor, which he assures us is just a good makeup job for his role as a half-zombie soldier with heightened senses and strength. But make no mistake: he is not reprising his Superman role in zombie form.
"It's not super powers; he has enhanced powers. We're very clear on that," he says. "But there are 'super' jokes in there. It's good. It's a comfortable place for me, a little bit of old home. But this is kind of different because he doesn't have to be good, which is fun. It's a 'zomedy.' There's some comedy and some zombies."
Lt. Bobby Quinn (Cain) and his special forces team enter a compound in Cambodia where they encounter an aquarium full of strange "Jindoo" beetles and the aftermath of a doomed expedition. When a grenade detonates, the entire team is caught in the blast.
"His whole team is taken out, and we see him die," explains Mark Altman, who wrote "Deader" with Steve Kriozere. "Cut to Fort Preston army base, and we find Bobby Quinn on the coroner's table where he's getting autopsied. There's only one problem: He comes back to life, with a little complexion problem. Needs a Mystic Tan. And he's now imbued with certain powers and has no pulse."
Linda Vista Hospital, which officially closed its doors to the public in 1990, doubles as the film's army base, hospital and morgue. Although there have been tales of mysterious flickering lights, disembodied childlike giggling and elevators running with a mind of their own, there's no evidence of ghostly activity in the light of day. Nevertheless, the eerie hospital certainly feels like a place where bad things happen, which makes it perfect for "Deader's" strange events.
In the film, Quinn is tracking down his now-zombiefied fallen comrades with the help of army cook Hieronymous Judson (Guy Torry) and film student/bartender Holly (Susan Ward), so that the infection doesn't spread. Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Scott (Peter Greene) realizes that Quinn is somehow different from the other zombies -- except for their shared need to eat flesh.
"That's part of it. I have to eat flesh in order to not go all the way zombiefied, so it's a horrible craving," says Cain. "Dr. Scott locks Holly and I up together joined by a chain and waits till I go kind of crazy, turn and try to eat her, which I will try to do. She better be running around. And then what happens is that I'm diving for her, and she ducks, so I go through the window."
The reporters' creaky and slow elevator ride to the second floor is uneventful except for a few sweaty palms that may have been from claustrophobia or a general reaction to the hospital's creepiness. On the way to the filming area, one can catch glimpses of abandoned rooms filled with medical paraphernalia full of wicked promise. The actual filming is relatively low-key: Quinn confronts Dr. Scott about his motives. There are no signs of zombies lurching around corners yet, but the writers promise that their undead won't have the traditional lumbering gait.
"For the recent zombie movies, we had a zombie movement coach who's an ex-mime, but that brought its own set of problems," says Altman. "So on this movie, we got this guy Nick [Principe] who is just a huge zombie fan. He said, 'I can do this better then the f***ing mime.' And we're like, 'Okay. Let's see what you can do.' And he's so good at the zombie stuff, we said, 'You're going to be the zombie movement coach.'"
"Our zombies are recently deceased, infected people," Kriozere adds. "They have more motor function. They're fast."
Cain didn't have to get any coaching because of his character's uniqueness.
"I'm a little exempt because my character is only half dead. Partially dead. I'm mostly dead," he says. "I don't know how much I can give away, but I'm not completely infected. So the fact that I'm somewhere in that grey zone makes getting my character interesting for the bad guys because there's a secret to everlasting life in there somewhere."
Despite touching on themes of life and death, the film is anything but serious.
"There was a note early on in the script process that they didn't want any children zombies just because they were a little uncomfortable with it," says Kriozere. "So I was like, 'How about a midget? I don't think you've seen that before.' And I think that's a moment in the script that a lot of people responded to. And when we were filming, I just knew that people, however they see the movie, will say, 'Do you remember the midget zombie?'"
At the end of the day, the journalists who were denied zombie status now have an idea of what it feels like to be the walking dead after an exhausting schedule full of interviews, exploring the hospital and jumping at shadows. No makeup required.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times