Undoubtedly one of the funniest genre films of the year arrives in theaters this weekend, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, which was directed by Christopher Landon and stars David Koechner (Anchorman), Tye Sheridan (the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse), Logan Miller (+1), Joey Morgan, and Sarah Dumont (Don Jon). The film follows a group of Scouts as they deal with an impending zombie invasion, with often hilarious results.
At the recent press day, Daily Dead had the chance to speak with Landon—who previously made his mark in the genre world as a writer and director for the Paranormal Activity franchise—about his experiences helming Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, working with Koechner as well as the film’s younger stars, his thoughts on how the landscape of horror comedies has never been stronger than it is this year, and much more.
Check out our interview with Landon below and look for Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse in theaters this Friday.
Great to speak with you, Christopher—I loved the film. Clearly, this is way different than everything you've done with the Paranormal franchise. Was it the fact that this was so against what you've been known for in the genre world that was the big appeal for you as a director?
Christopher Landon: You know what's funny, the appeal for me was that it was so very me; the story appealed to my personality and my sensibilities and so I think that's why I was so excited to do this. Because with Paranormal, while I love that stuff and I love horror in general, I'm kind of a goofy dude and so this felt very much like a reflection of my personality and the stuff that I grew up watching. When I read the first script, I was like, "Wow, I can actually make a gory R-rated version of The Goonies and Gremlins or even Monster Squad," and so that was the big appeal for me.
I commend you on the fact that this film has a throwback vibe. I grew up on the '80s, so it feels like every movie I watched as a kid, yet it feels very modern and new. Was that a challenge for you in terms of walking that line?
Christopher Landon: It was part of the challenge, but it was also just part of the fun—figuring out a way to give it a throwback '80s feel but still keeping it very contemporary so that younger audiences would still think it’s for them, too. I like those kinds of challenges and it's very similar in a weird way to what I did with Disturbia where it was like, "How can I bring Hitchcock to a different audience? How can I update that?" This was just that situation for me, but in terms of the horror and the comedy, I think they make strange but great bedfellows.
That’s why I love horror comedies—you can get scared, but you can just have a blast, too. Scouts doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it's still sentimental at times. There's a sweetness to it and it's not cynical at all, and that was another thing that I was really drawn to. I wanted to make something that was a little earnest and kind of sweet and weird, too.
The boys are so much the heart of this and you can't help but immediately feel like either these were kids you grew up with or kids you know.
Christopher Landon: Yeah, they're very real and their performances are awesome. I'm so proud of the cast and I was so lucky that I got them and you just feel the chemistry onscreen and you really believe that these guys are great friends because they are great friends. These guys really are close and it's there. It's really there on the screen.
One thing you explore in this film that I really enjoyed was the idea of "learned behavior." Romero touches on it with Survival of the Dead, but I don’t think he nailed that idea and what you guys did with Scouts Guide takes that concept and explores it in a really cool way.
Christopher Landon: Yeah, I wanted to do it in a comedic way but again, to what you said, the premise was based on routine—your former life, for example. I didn’t want to treat the zombies as completely mindless and I thought that would be fun to explore. The concept is also a gold mine for comedy because I felt it hadn't really been done before in this way, being able to play to some degree a little fast and loose with the zombie rules.
When you are making a comedy, especially when you're making a movie like this where you're already building on a pretty outlandish premise, you have the license to go for some pretty wacky stuff and that’s what I wanted. I wanted a musical number and I wanted a zombie cat and I wanted a crazy old zombie lady gumming on someone's butt; all those things that are over-the-top and ridiculous. This movie was engineered to be fun.
The zombie cat bit was one of my favorite moments and I will admit I'm kind of bummed that I saw it in the trailer because it's such a great reveal.
Christopher Landon: Let me tell you, one of the things that's probably the hardest part for any filmmaker is when you start to see marketing materials—trailers and TV spots—because you're like, "Oh my God. Please don't show that," and you're powerless to stop it. When we would do the Paranormal trailers, we got a lot of flak for showing stuff in trailers that wasn't in the movie, but we were doing that because we wanted to save our scares. We wanted to surprise people and it's really tricky because audiences will say, "Oh, why do they show all the good stuff on the trailer?" But if you try to change that, then they're like, "That wasn't in the movie," so it's a no-win situation.
I do understand that marketing, their job is to get as many people to turn out and see the movie, but I am grateful that for our big trailers and the stuff that really went out online, they were able to keep a lot of stuff under wraps. There are so many surprises in the movie for people that won't be in the trailer and the TV spots mainly because they can't show it. That was one of the challenges for marketing Scouts, though. They could not cut a green band trailer for the movie because there was so much R content that they were like, "How do we do this? How do we sell this movie?" [Laughs.]
Was Paramount pretty cool with how far you pushed the envelope? There are some things that go pretty far and I'm very surprised because it's a studio movie. This is something that you don't expect to see studios doing these days.
Christopher Landon: Yes and I cannot thank them and commend them enough for really letting me go for it. In fact, there were moments in the process when I was writing where they could feel me really wanting to push it. I was actually holding back a little because I didn't want to freak them out and Adam Goodman, who's at Paramount, he was like, "Chris, go for it. Don't worry about it. Just go for it. You're already going there. You might as well go for it," so that was the green light to just go nuts. It's not gross-out stuff just to make you feel sick, it's all done in the spirit of fun and it's all done to make people laugh and that's hopefully what we did.
How was it working with David Koechner?
Christopher Landon: David is the master of improv. There's a scene early in the movie, a relatively short scene in a classroom, where they're having a scout meeting and they're trying to recruit people and it's a total failure. It ended up being one of the hardest scenes to shoot for us only because David would go off on these hilarious tangents and the cast couldn't hold it together. They could not stay in character and they would burst out laughing and so it was very hard because he was so funny, but that's just him. David’s timing is flawless. His improv is amazing and he's also a really nice man and a good guy and he would help keep morale up on set when we would be shooting.
Plus, David’s got a really specific thing that he does so well, but he's one of those actors that fully embraces and understands the privilege of his job. He doesn't take it for granted and he's grateful to be there and that's how everybody should be, and so I was so inspired by him in that way. He really had a huge effect on our cast, too, because this is a guy who's been around for awhile and is talented and famous and revered and he still shows up and shows up on time and treats everyone kindly and that's all you should do. It was cool. I love him, he's great.
It’s been an exceptional year for horror comedies and Scouts is another great addition to the subgenre. Is it surprising to you just how much these types of films have taken off in 2015?
Christopher Landon: It's super trippy to me because I started working on this movie about two years ago and it was a relatively quiet landscape. Then all of a sudden, I started to hear about all these other movies popping up and there's Krampus, which is actually by a friend of mine, Mike Dougherty, and Cooties too. All this stuff started to pop up and I was like, "Are we all of one hive mind doing this at the same time?" So it's kind of crazy and fun to see this stuff happening right now. There's an appetite for it, which is really cool because again, the reason why I made this movie was because I miss those movies and they feel very few and far between, so to have a few in a row is an embarrassment of comedy riches for me right now. It's so cool.
One last question—I’m a big fan of the Paranormal Activity franchise and really dug the direction of The Marked Ones. I know this last Paranormal is supposed to be the final one, but I was wondering if there was ever a game plan post-Marked Ones for you guys in terms of where that storyline was going to go?
Christopher Landon: Here's the thing—it's hard because The Marked Ones was so tied, from a mythology standpoint, but it was still a standalone movie and so the potential for that to keep going is still there and I would love to make another one if we ever get a chance. In fact, we have a pretty awesome idea for a follow-up to that. It's just a question of if Paramount feels there's an appetite for it, but I would love to keep going because we had a whole bunch of crazy ideas that we wanted to pursue, so we'll see what happens. Everyone's kind of watching Ghost Dimension and waiting to see how it goes.