Is it possible to love low-budget horror TOO much? Maybe. In the case of Michigan director Tom Berdinski though, his passion is our gain. The Italian Zombie Movie pts 1 and 2 is a truly staggering achievement. Sharp and funny, like Troma films meets Backyard Wrestling. It looks cheap because it was made with a budget of zero dollars and zero cents. When you watch, it’s not difficult to figure out where all that money went. Ha! Copies of The Italian Zombie Movie are getting scarce. If you are lucky enough find see an available one, by all means, snag it! Tom Berdinski was kind enough to submit to an interview last month. I gotta be honest, he’s freakin’ hilarious. A serious zombie buff, a dedicated horror fan, and kickass filmmaker with a lust for blood.
WLF/ZZN: Your love of low-budget horror is evident in your films. Please tell us about the first time you were captivated by a cheap-looking horror film.
Well, that’s an easy one: I was about 8 years old when I saw the original “Gamera the Invincible” – the one about the giant, fire breathing, flying turtle – on Chiller TV. Shortly thereafter, my Grandfather gave me a wind-up 8mm camera and I proceeded to capture a huge snapping turtle, plopped him on my Tyco train board and started making b-movies! A few months later I saw “Horror Express” with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and made my first zombie movie about a train wreck (also done with miniatures from my train board but shot in a swamp near our house with a dozen or so neighbor kids covered in flour and ketchup!)
WLF/ZZN: Can you pinpoint and describe your epiphany moment—when you realized you had to make a film even though you had no budget?
I’ve been making horror, sci-fi and comedy shorts since I was 8 years old without any money, but the moment I finally decided to make “a feature” occurred when director John D. Hancock (“Prancer”) made a visit to my hometown of Muskegon for a film festival and was on a panel talking about his latest movie “Suspended Animation” around 2001. The audience for the panel was small, so I got to ask a lot of questions and I asked him point blank, “What got you over the hump from making shorts to making features?” He answered quite simply, “I just did it”. All of my life I was kind of ‘waiting’ for something to click – something inside to tell me I knew enough to make a feature. At that moment, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I just had to do it. After a few false starts, between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2002 I wrote “The Italian Zombie Movie” as a 100 page script. It grew into two 90-minute features during shooting. So, I guess I just did it, and then some!
WLF/ZZN: There is a lot of excellent dialogue in both parts of this epic. Who or what do you look to as examples of great dialogue?
Haha – Thanks! The Italian Zombie Movie dialog was mostly taken directly from European horror and Giallo flicks from the 1970s and 80s! I watched around 60 European horror flicks in 2002, wrote down the most ridiculously dubbed/poorly translated dialog I heard and created a new plot (well, okay, SEVERAL plots) for IZM. This was how I homaged the genre. About halfway into the script (which is about where IZM Part 2 starts) I got so good at writing contrived dialog that most of the dialog in Part 2 was my own original crap, but a real aficionado can identify the movies I took lines from throughout (and many have fans have!)
WLF/ZZN: I totally LOL’d at the line “Something smells like maggots.” For those of us who are not in-the know, what do maggots smell like?
Well, first let me tell you something: Most movies don’t use real maggots. They use wax worms because they kind of look like maggots and they wiggle a lot and don’t stink. Well, we decided we were better than so we went to a maggot farm and got the real thing, but real maggots are lazy! They just sat there, even on top of rotted meat and stuff! Eventually, in order to get them to wiggle, we ended up squirting them with hard liquor. They wiggled like crazy then and died drunk (which is how I want to go…) But back to your question: Yes, we learned the hard way that REAL MAGGOTS STINK! They smell like a cross between puke and body odor, in my opinion… Nice, eh?
WLF/ZZN: Some of the most chuckle-worthy lines are spoken by the strangely WASPish looking Ruggerio. How does an a-hole like him manage to be so witty?
The funniest thing for me is, in real life, “Ruggero” (aka Dan Grams) is the nicest, most polite guy you will ever meet! He’s been a friend of mine since high school, played lots of sports, happily married with a couple of great daughters, has a great job, etc. I have no idea how I knew this non-actor friend of mine could even do this role, but something happened when we paired him with my then new actress friend (and succubus-to-be) Laurie Beckeman-Johnson during a read through. It’s like he underwent a transformation and became this mean, yet charmingly naïve a-hole! That’s the only way I can explain it. It’s like you know he’s an ass, but he’s so naïve you kinda forgive him for it, and you know Laurie is up to no good anyway…
WLF/ZZN: The sexism in the script is pervasive and hilarious. What would you say to incensed feminists who are offended by it?
So far, there has been only one instance I’m aware of where someone wasn’t in on the joke: That we are poking fun at the sexist attitudes of movies in the 70s-80s. A female reviewer for a horror website saw the movies and emailed me to tell me how much she hated the sexist characters and that it was very offensive to her. But in the next breath, she told me she wouldn’t post a negative review because she respected what I was doing. I was very confused by the email, apologized for offending her, but I explained to her how it was written and that it was a parody of sexist attitudes. Sadly, I never heard back from her.
WLF/ZZN: Speaking of feminists, I very much enjoyed the Gas Station Attendant. Is she like…dating anyone?
Haha – Kathleen Price is a huge favorite of our friends/fans. I have been lucky enough to cast her as the same character (more or less) in my recent short “Noirmageddon – A Mark Anvil Thriller” and we have a huge part for her in our upcoming “Alien-Beast-Fiend”. Last I heard, she was single.
WLF/ZZN: I read an interview in which you said Asia Argento was a good actress. Do you often make hilarious jokes like that?
Haha – Well, I am very partial to European brunettes… She may have been my crush that month… This month I’m all hung up on Noomi Rapace. She’s my favorite actress now. Sorry, Asia…
WLF/ZZN: The women are dressed like they’re on their way to a club, even if they are camping. What’s up with that?
One thing I have learned: When you are making no-budget movies you had BETTER let your actresses choose their own outfits. I think the main reason many of them will even be in my movies is because I let them dress in their sexiest clothes. A few of them even ask me what shoes I prefer them to wear, like a guy EVER notices shoes?!?! In IZM, the whole atmosphere is surreal like the movies were homaging so the costumes might as well be too!
WLF/ZZN: I was intrigued by the rumor that there’s a reason that Falluci is pronounced like Fulci, or the other way fans pronounce Fulcki. The rumor is that they may be all different people. Comment?
I’m glad it’s still just a rumor… Originally, we planned to dub the entire movie, so I wasn’t worried about all of the Fulci/Fulsi/Fulchi/Falluci pronunciations, but when we decided we could use the original sound, well, we just let it become a drinking game! For every mispronunciation of Fulci – DRINK! At least that’s what happened in Canada, or so I am told… (SPOILER ALERT – You will learn the REAL answer in the “Italian Zombie Movie – Part 3” that I hope to shoot next spring…)
WLF/ZZN: The Italian Zombie Movie is a two-part epic so far. Tell me, how pissed were fans when the first film ended and they still didn’t know who killed Bruno’s brother?
Haha – I have never heard that as a criticism, but it would be a valid one. I think at the end of Part 1 the audience has had so many plots and plot twists thrown at them that they aren’t sure what’s going on. They’re just happy to catch their breath! The biggest criticism I hear at the end of Part 1 is that it was all just a set-up for Part 2, and it honestly was. I wanted Parts 1 & 2 to be like those TV miniseries in the 80s that left everything with a cliffhanger and then said “to be continued”. Part 2 is all the action, reveals all the lies told in Part 1 and introduces a few new lies to confuse you even more. This movie really could not happen in any of the ways it was explained by the characters. Even things you saw with your own eyes were lies. That was my biggest goal and my biggest challenge in making it. I still get emails from people telling me they thought they had it figured out and then they realized they didn’t! “The movie lied” – My homage to the non-European horror classic “Return of the Living Dead.”
WLF/ZZN: I love how so much stuff is labeled: “wire tap,” and the nonsensical “Militia Surplus” for example. Is that an homage to the Batman TV-series, or something else?
Yes, that and the old Looney Tunes cartoons, where every gadget was made by ACME.
WLF/ZZN: Speaking of the Michigan Militia, were any current members involved in any acting or consulting on this film?
Well, according to the Militia Act of 1792 “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act. ”, so I guess any of us white guys between 18 and 45 are in I could tell you I was in briefly a militia tribute/parody band, and you can hear my voice singing “I’m in the Michigan Militia” in the background of that car scene with the militia guys, but that would be too much information.
WLF/ZZN: Movies are a hugely collaborative art. With no budget, I imagine you owe a huge debt to a lot of people. What do you think they will do to you if you never actually pay them for their work?
C’mon, I buy them beer and pizza on most shoots – Doesn’t that count? Well, truth be told, they probably wouldn’t take the money. So far, everything we’ve made I’ve applied to new equipment so every movie we make can be at least technically better than the last. The money we make at conventions we try to use to cover our travel expenses and pay for the cost of the DVDs. Several cast and crew have offered to pay for their rooms, etc., so we can put more money into the next movie. With dozens of conventions under our belts, we have still only lost money once or twice, and that is really due to my excellent cast and crew and our friends who really help us sell DVDs at these events. All that said, I hope to pay some actors and a few of the special make-up effects artists on our next feature.
WLF/ZZN: How can fans get their hands on a copy of Italian Zombie Movie pts 1 and 2?
Well, it’s getting more difficult… Keep an eye on our Facebook pages for DVD specials, screenings and some cool news about a BRAND NEW version of IZM 1 & 2 that will be coming out – A GRINDHOUSE VERSION with loads of crazy changes! More soon!
WLF/ZZN: Finally, can you share any words of wisdom to young filmmakers who want to create a zero-budget epic of their own?
I’d love to because I enjoy zero-budget indies more than anything. The best advice I can give you is really simple (in theory…) You have to be persistent. Once you decide to make a movie, don’t expect anyone to take on anything for you. EVERTHING is on you. Just accept that. Casting is on you. Writing is on you. Shooting is on you. Distribution is on you. But it doesn’t all happen to you at once. Write it until it’s done being written. Then storyboard it and really, thoroughly plan it all out. Once all that’s done, start casting. Once the movie is done, start worrying about distribution – Just do everything one step at a time. It’s gonna take FOREVER (it took us almost 6 years from start to finish to get IZM 1 & 2 from my script onto Amazon) and people are going to complain that it’s taking forever. Who cares? Let it take forever – just stick to it – PERSIST! I’ve seen so many good projects fall apart simply because the filmmaker didn’t persist long enough. DON’T BE THAT GUY!!!