Gamers from the late ’80s and early ’90s may have fond memories of spending countless hours battling massive insects in the Cinemaware video game It Came from the Desert. Featuring motocross stunts, giant ants, and a potent blend of horror and humor, the film adaptation of the 1989 video game is out today on digital platforms from The Orchard, and we caught up with co-writer/director Marko Mäkilaakso in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the making of his modern-day creature feature.

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Marko! Your new movie It Came from the Desert is inspired by the 1980s video game of the same name. Do you have a nostalgic connection to that game?

Marko Mäkilaakso: My pleasure! Yes, when the first game came out in Finland where I grew up, me and my friends spent hours and hours in front of the computer playing the It Came From The Desert game. I loved it! It was pure escapism—fun and challenging. I loved the tone and atmosphere of it: the hot desert landscapes, action, giant ants, and fun characters. Plus, the intro was mind-blowing! It Came From The Desert is and will be one of my favorite games of all time!

What made you want to bring It Came from the Desert to life as a movie?

Marko Mäkilaakso: Well, it all started at the Berlin Film Festival around three years ago. I was sitting with producers Tero Kaukomaa (Iron Sky) and Teemu Virta in a hotel lobby and we were in the middle of difficulties to get another Viking-related movie off the ground, so I suggested that we would do another movie before that. I explained the concept: the desert, motocross action, giant ants... no, spiders! And the movie would be called It Came from the Desert, because that was the closest thing of me getting to make a movie out of my favorite childhood game. The producers loved the idea and off we went.

I wrote the first draft and meanwhile one of the producers contacted Cinemaware, the original game developer of It Came From The Desert and asked about licensing the title, and to our big surprise, they not only gave us the license to use the title, but actually adapt the game! I was in heaven! I could actually adapt the game which I loved so much! But due to budget issues, we could not set our story in the ’50s like in the game, so instead, I adapted my "spider" story as a new live-action sequel to the original games. Spiders became ants and we brought in writer Hank Woon Jr. (Age of Dinosaurs) to expand my original script and he did a great job. I worked on several drafts after Hank’s versions and in the end Trent Haaga (68 Kill) came in and worked on the script. He’s great!

With its motocross-centric story, It Came from the Desert has some intense, highly ambitious scenes to shoot. What were the challenges and rewards of incorporating a fast-paced sport such as motocross in this movie?

Marko Mäkilaakso: I love action and I love shooting action. That comes very easily for me. I storyboarded the action stuff with DOP Juge Heikkilä and also planned everything carefully with stunt drivers, the stunt coordinator, etc. Then we went and shot all that stuff with a tight schedule. It's always challenging to get the best-looking action on camera with a limited amount of time, but I love that! And I don’t feel any pressure. Everything is planned, which also gives me the chance to improvise on the spot. I just go with the flow, know what I want, and what we need. We try to capture the best-looking stuff we can. I had a great stunt team, DOP, camera operator, and drone operator, so what more can you want? It’s pure fun!

This film also pays homage to 1950s creature features. Do you have any favorite titles from that era that influenced or inspired you while making It Came from the Desert?

Marko Mäkilaakso: I love creature features! Of course the biggest was and is the one which also influenced the David Riordan-directed original game, which was Them! (1954), but also movies like Tarantula (1955) and It Came From Outer Space (1953), and Roger Corman productions. I wanted to make a modern monster movie that is an homage to the old classics as well as movies from the 1980s like Gremlins, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Cannon Films action flicks—movies I grew up with and love. Spoofing is part of the game, and there is definitely that in my movie for the modern monster craze, which is the SYFY original movies.

Where did filming take place, and how many days did you have in your shooting schedule?

Marko Mäkilaakso: We shot the movie in Almeria, Spain, and Turku, Finland on a schedule of 20 days. It was a funny contrast, because the Spanish desert was crazy hot and in Finland it was really icy cold. The actors had to wear these outfits in the most uncomfortable temperatures, but they didn’t complain at all. It was great working with such talented and fun actors! In Spain we shot all the exteriors plus Brian’s garage, one cave tunnel, and the lair of the ants. In Finland we shot all the other interiors and it was really cold in some of those locations, but you don’t see that in the movie and they blend nicely together.

What was the most rewarding or challenging scene to shoot?

Marko Mäkilaakso: The most rewarding was the entire shoot! I can’t pinpoint any particular scene or scenes which would stand out from the rest. It was all damn fun to do! The entire shoot was challenging because we had many locations and company moves in a day, but the most difficult of them all were the caves and lair of the ants. That was logistically really challenging, dangerous, and complicated. We were deep down in this massive cave system and no one had ever shot a movie there before and I totally understand why! It was hardcore, but totally worthy of it.

Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment in particular that stands out?

Marko Mäkilaakso: I loved shooting the opening party scene and the massacre in the same place. That was lots of fun! But also inside the Chicane Industries when the guys are facing the first ant and it pulls Brian towards the door, that was so much fun to shoot! There are many moments in the movie which I really loved making.

With It Came from the Desert coming out now on Digital and On Demand in the US from The Orchard, what other projects do you have coming up that you can talk about, and where can our readers follow your work online?

Marko Mäkilaakso: I am developing new projects and heading to the Cannes Film Festival for meetings. Let’s see what happens! I really can’t wait to be on a movie set again. I love shooting movies! That is my favorite part of the entire process. I am kind of a shy guy, but I am on Facebook and have a website if someone wants to check it out.


It Came from the Desert is now on Digital and On Demand from The Orchard. Check here to watch our exclusive clip from the film, and to learn more about the movie, visit:

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.