Zombies Rise from the Fertile Ground of the Silicon Forest

By Sean Axmaker

PostGlobe film critic

You could call Pittsburg the birthplace (deathplace?) of the modern zombie movie. That was homebase for filmmaker George Romero and his cast and crew when they put together an indie horror film and unleashed “Night of the Living Dead” on an suspecting country.

Forty year later, the genre gets a recharge in from Seattle creators working in different media. Is Seattle the new Pittsburg, or is the Silicon Forest merely fertile ground for the next evolution of the zombie revolution?

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction ,” set and shot in the postcard perfect small town of Port Gamble, is the feature debut of Seattle filmmaker Kevin Hamedini and the change of pace for Seattle-based producer and film distributor John Sinno (Oscar-nominated producer of “Iraq in Fragments”). It’s a gory horror comedy with a political subtext, a zombie movie in the post-9/11 culture where the heroes are an Iranian-American college girl and two gay men, battling not just zombies but the forces of conformity and cultural hysteria turning on anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of normal.

“I’m Iranian-American. I never really thought of myself that way,” reflects director/co-writer Hamedini. “But after 9/11, that sort of changed.” He started working on a script to explore his experience in the new culture of fear, and then reworked his drama as a zombie comedy with culture war sloganeering dropped into the scramble for survival. “I just watched [George] Romero’s films and realized, obviously. Instead of an African-American guy in “Night of the Living Dead,” I’ll have a Middle-Eastern girl.”

“Obviously the film is a not very veiled metaphor for 9/11 and the war in Iraq,” says producer Sinno, who was attracted to the concept, the possibilities and the genre. “Horror films are still a good entry into fiction filmmaking. Because you don’t need stars – the horror is the star – you can do them on a low budget and you have a built-in audience.” And you can slip in politics, as long as you deliver the gore. “The zombie genre is it’s one of the most political genres we have, because you have a system that’s breaking down and people have to react to it and reconstruct it. And when the system breaks down, you can have a look at the underpinnings of the system.”

The comic book ” Rotten ,” written by Mark Rahner (of the “Seattle Times”) and Robert Horton (film critic for the “Everett Herald” and KUOW), isn’t set in the Pacific Northwest, or even in the present. It’s the 1880s, just after the end of the civil war, and two American agents are sent to investigate an alarming phenomenon on the still-untamed frontier: dead folks are rising from their graves as flesh-eating ghouls.

“It was a mash-up of my favorite genres that I hadn’t seen much of — with secret agents thrown into the mix, along with a good dose of social commentary that any fan of “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Twilight Zone” or the original “Star Trek” would dig,” explains creator/co-writer Mark Rahner. “The main character is a stop-lossed vet, his president took office without the popular vote, and the government’s lying about a terror crisis. But the hero’s a vet of the Civil war, not Iraq; instead of being installed by the Supreme Court like Bush, Rutherford B. Hayes took office in what was called ‘The Corrupt Bargain’; and the terror crisis … well, it’s not Middle Easterners with planes. It’s different incarnations of the living dead”

“This thing isn’t a spoof,” adds co-writer Robert Horton. “That’s one of the reasons the violence is so violent. The material is alarming, and my co-writer and I were in no mood to undercut it. With any luck, when “Rotten” is funny, it’s because it comes out of character.

“ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction” plays at the Seattle International Film Festival on Tuesday, June 2 at 9:15 p.m. at SIFF Cinema (advance tickets are sold out) and Thursday, June 4 at 10 p.m. at Kirkland Performance Center. See the SIFF website for more details. You can read more about the film at the Seattle Weekly here (plus my review of the film here ) and at the film’s official website .

“Rotten,” released by Moonstone Books, is scheduled for release the first week of June at your local comic book shop. Visit the official “Rotten” website here .

One Response to Zombies Rise from the Fertile Ground of the Silicon Forest

  • Moo V. Fan:

    Learn how to spell the name of the city where the Steelers play football. The 1880s is a bit more than “just after the Civil Was.” And you could do with a tad more proof-reading. Make that writing pizazz AND proof-reading.