Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week we have a special interview with director Steve Barker who not only directed the cult classic OUTPOST with Ray Stevenson, but also directed the sequel to the film OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN which was released on DVD and BluRay last week. Here’s what Steve had to say…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Steve, how are you doing today?
STEVE BARKER (SB): Great, great!
BUG: Well, I had a chance to see not only OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN, but also OUTPOST just last night. I’ve been meaning to see the original, but hadn’t been able to, so I was glad I got a chance to see both of your films before talking with you. Are these your first films?
SB: Yeah, the first OUTPOST was my first movie. Before that, I was writing, and doing some shorts. I’ve been doing the fairly traditional route where I started out making shorts and doing pop promos and then I would do some writing for some feature scripts. OUTPOST was my first directing job. I didn’t write it. I just directed it.
BUG: Let’s start out with the first OUTPOST and then we’ll move on to the sequel. How did you luck out getting Ray Stevenson to star in your first film?
SB: At the time we did it, Ray was doing ROME and while we were putting the script together for the first one, I was watching that series and it was just one of those things where I just kind of looked at him and I knew him a little bit from television actually over here and he’d done a couple of supporting roles in some Hollywood movies, but ROME was really the first time anyone ever really noticed him. But we wanted him for it and we sent him the script and it happened to arrive just as ROME was finishing, but before anyone was really looking at him yet, so it just happened at the right time. We sent him the script and he read it and said he was interested. Then we met him and we actually got horribly drunk with him. (laughs) And he said yes, pretty much straight away. And it was only a couple of months later just as we were about to start shooting that Hollywood started showing an interest in him based on ROME. So it was a case of good timing.
BUG: Just curious, what does Ray Stevenson like to drink?
SB: Whiskey. He’s a big whiskey man.
SB: I don’t know if you’ve ever actually been in the presence of the man…
BUG: No, I haven’t.
SB: He is literally like a tank with arms and feet. He is the biggest human being. He’s such an enormous, yet such a gentle guy. But he can drink infinitely more whiskey than I can. That was a long night.
BUG: That’s great. Both films do the impossible by incorporating two different genres together pretty well; military action and horror. It’s done a lot, but I don’t think it’s done well often. But it works here. How did you make it all work together?
SB: It’s a great question. It was one we thought about as we were putting the whole thing together. We didn’t have to think about it quite so much in the second one, since obviously it was being told through the eyes of someone outside of the military. We had an innocent in the lead there in the form of Catherine. But certainly in the first one, I think that the conversations we had most was, how do you create a story centered around a bunch of military guys and still make them scared of what they were battling. And we went round and round for quite a while on it until we realized that as long as we could…most people in combat are going to be frightened and if we could build off of that and also make them quite jaded then we could create some effective scenarios.
In terms of the actual technical side of it, a lot of it, as I’m sure you can tell, there are a lot of influences from an era that I admire. At the time we made the film, torture porn was becoming very prevalent. And we really wanted to go back and make a film that was more like the stuff we grew up with like ALIEN, JAWS, early John Carpenter. And there are obviously huge homages to ALIENS and early John Carpenter films like THE FOG in this one. So I figured as long as I could put the characters in a situation where they would be scared, and that the tense and frightening beats worked on themselves, I kind of trusted it would work.
BUG: Yeah, well the first one feels kind of like THE EXPENDABLES vs Nazi Zombies.
SB: Yeah! (laughs) Definitely, I feel that that tone of the characters being jaded and wizened. Obviously, there were no EXPENDABLES when we made the film. But we were talking about the film in terms of THE WILD BUNCH; the idea of these broken down guys really appealed to me and most of the credit goes to the writer, Rae Brunton. And to Ray and to Richard Brake, who is an American actor who lives in the UK who has done a whole bunch of films like BATMAN BEGINS and things like that. These actors made that jaded feel work fabulously well.
BUG: Let’s move on to OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN because that’s what we’re here to talk about today. One of the things that I really liked about the zombies…or I don’t even know if they are zombies. They’re definitely not your typical zombies. They are born of Nazi science. I’ve seen quite a few Nazi zombie movies out there. Did you take any cues from those films in making these two? Or the Nazi dabblings into the occult? Does a lot of research go into this type of movie?
SB: We did a bit of research. I do want to say that when we went into the first one, the resurgence of the Nazi zombie film hadn’t actually happened yet. All we had to reference were films like SHOCKWAVE from the 70’s. And then we got lucky, which is why the film did particularly well in European countries, was that as we made that, there were no other films with Nazi zombies in it at the time. It wasn’t my idea. It was the producer’s idea and he brought up Nazi zombies and I said, “Brilliant, I haven’t seen that in years!” At the same time after we made the film, the CALL OF DUTY games had the free add on which I believe was actually called NAZI ZOMBIES. And then about a year after OUTPOST, these guys in Scandinavia made a film called DEAD SNOW which is a fantastic movie. So in the end, I wasn’t really worries about the similarities when I made the first one.
To answer the second part of your question, we did look into the Nazis’ interest in the occult. And in the end, we used some of it that worked well with the plot and didn’t use what didn’t. But with the second film, I don’t think I was quite aware that this little sub-genre had actually happened until I came to make a second film and I realized that there are quite a lot of these films knocking around. And I was a little concerned. One of the things about making a sequel is that I didn’t want to make a retread of the first one. One of the things that made the first film was that it was quite fresh at the time. I’ve got to admit, I haven’t seen a lot of these other movies mainly because…I think it’s always tough as a writer to not be inadvertently influenced by any of those other films. It’s one of those cases where you have kind of a the same idea and that can be trouble in such a limited genre. And then you end up accused of ripping it off. I think now that I’ve finished this film, I might sit down and watch them all now. (laughs)
I really have no idea if they are close, different, or whatever. Do you have any Nazi zombie films you would recommend?
BUG: Well, I’d definitely recommend SHOCKWAVES. I loved DEAD SNOW, like you did. There’s one called BLOOD CREEK that I’ve been meaning to check out, but haven’t yet. But I don’t think there is a lot of overlap with those. I like the way you incorporated the Philadelphia Experiment into the mythology of the film. Can you go into a little more detail about how you made that work in the story?
SB: That was really quite lucky. Originally, we just had a machine and it did stuff. But we were going to leave it vague. But it was actually the production designer who said, “If I have to build it, I have to know what it does.” He is the one who suggested Einstein’s Unified Field Theory and from there it was genuinely just a lucky accident. We started looking into Unified Field Theory. Not only did it have connections with that era, but it had everything to do with the Philadelphia Experiment and it was too good to pass up not to incorporate it into the film. In the hands of others, it could have been really hokey and seemed crammed in there, but the writer did a fantastic job of incorporating it in.
BUG: Did you make up the Nazi connection with that then?
SB: We just made it up. Or maybe they were experimenting around with it. Who knows? We were like, “we know about this experiment and it’s documented to be occurring during that era, so why not just say, What if?” Rae Brunton, the writer of both films did a lot more research on it that I did.
BUG: With OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN you came at this from a different angle, with an innocent eye. She’s not that innocent because she’s brought up by Nazi hunters and begins killing these old Nazis herself, but she’s not military. Where did the concept come from to approach the story from this angle?
SB: Honestly, the conversation started when we realized that we wanted to make a sequel, but we’d actually killed everyone in the first film. So we decided if we wanted to do it, we wanted to do something completely different. I wanted from the start to have a female lead because there were absolutely no females in the first film and that would force us to be different. We had to try to find a fresh way in. And we wanted to tie it in with the first one, and in that film there’s a 16mm film with a guy in a lab coat in the background. So we took that footage and gave that character a back story and said that was the guy who invented the machine. So we realized that that was our way in. As we were talking about it in the sequels initial stages, we kind of said we wanted a kind of fucked up action horror movie version of THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. And the moment we got all of those parts together it all started to make sense. So we brought in an innocent to come in and go after the guys who want to find the machine and that would be a fresh way to go in instead of start out with the action as we did in the original.
BUG: Well, what’s coming up next? Will there be a third OUTPOST film?
SB: Well they are actually making the third film. We had the sets still up from out production and as we were shooting, they were writing. And not that we’re done, they’re just finishing up that film. I think it’s cool that they said, “Well, we’ve got these sets built already, we might as well use them.” So they worked on the script while I was in post. I’m due to see a rough cut of it soon, but I haven’t seen it yet.
BUG: Are you acting as a producer on it or anything?
SB: No, I literally haven’t read the script because I want to be able to watch the film as a fan. I didn’t think it was fair to take one of those phony exec credits on it since I didn’t have anything to do with it. I was kind of zombied out after making these two films. I needed a little break and I didn’t have the time to make the third while I was finishing the second anyway.
BUG: So what’s next for you?
SB: Well, I have a script that I wrote that I am directing which is kind of a revenge story based on the Lee Marvin mold, but it also happens to have vampires in it. And the script that I am literally starting now that I can’t talk about is something I just got back from Berlin now as I was doing research on this serial killer movie which I’m really excited about. I have to finish the script to that by Christmas and I’m looking to shoot either that or the other revenge film by summer next year.
BUG: Well, thanks so much. OUTPOST and OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN are a great pair of films and I definitely want to recommend them to my readers.
SB: You know, I haven’t watched them back to back yet. By the time you’ve finished doing them, you kind of don’t want to see them ever again, but I do want to sit down with popcorn and pizza and do a little double bill of our own with them soon.
BUG: Awesome. Well thanks for talking with me today. Congratulations on both films and good luck on your next ones!
SB: Brilliant! Thank you!
BUG: OUTPOST has been out on DVD for quite a while now. OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN is available now on DVD and BluRay!
Retro-review: Available on DVD!
OUTPOST (2008)Directed by Steve Barker
Written by Rae Brunton
Starring Ray Stevenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Michael Smiley, Enoch Frost, Paul Blair, Julian Rivett, Brett Fancy, Johnny Meres
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Mixing genres can be a recipe for disaster. Mastering one genre can be hard, but two is neigh impossible. Especially a genre like military action and horror. In many ways they are polar opposites with one being explosive and often in your face and the other more subtle creeping under ones skin in order to be effective. Steve Barker manages to juggle both genres, giving the story of a team of mercenaries paid to take a scientist into a specific location in the middle of a forest and provide protection for him. What’s in the forest? What are they protecting the scientist from? What’s at stake? They don’t know and the mercs don’t care, as long as the money is paid. Barker makes the story go boom when necessary, then allows it to slither under and around your comfort zone at the right times as well.
ROME’s Ray Stevenson is D.C., the leader of this ragtag group of commandos from all over the globe; some from South Africa, America, and all over Europe. As they are bought in a bar in a European town, they are jaded war vets who have seen and shot it all. And that’s what makes this film so special. As with ALIENS, PREDATOR, and even THE KEEP, this isn’t a bunch of horny kids running and screaming from monsters. This is a group of trained professionals who are not supposed to wet their fatigues at the sign of danger. Something’s got to be pretty bad to spook them.
And that something is zombies…Nazi zombies. I know zombies have become cliché, but Baker and his writer Rae Brunton being us zombies of a different sort. Filled with warped science spawned from Nazi occult experiments, OUTPOST’s monsters are not Romero shamblers or Boyle ragers. They are trained SS soldiers that just happen to be reanimated. The fact that these zombies seen to be able to think and fight and shoot machine guns make them a wholly new force to be reckoned with altogether. When this apathetic team of battlers face a menace they can’t blow to hell with guns and grenades, it’s interesting to see them either man up or come apart at the seams. The initial scenes of this film as the band have no idea what it is they are up against are downright bone-chilling.
The science behind this film is a lot of fun too. Incorporating all forms of physics theory including the Philidelphia Experiment, there’s enough science mumbo jumbo to make you understand without going into too much detail. Sure this math doesn’t add up in the real world, but enough is there to satisfy that appetite for the suspension of disbelief to kick in and let you go along for the ride. Oozing with machismo and grit you often find in these military films and never forgetting to toss in a scare here and there, the moody atmosphere, the talented cast, and the badass zombies makes OUTPOST stand out from the rest of the living dead films on the shelves.
New on DVD & BluRay!
OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN (2012)Directed by Steve Barker
Written by Steve Barker & Rae Brunton
Starring Catherine Steadman, Richard Coyle, Julian Wadham, Daniel Caltagirone, Gary McDonald, Ali Craig, Nick Nevern, Johnny Meres
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There aren’t too many smart sequels out there. Usually, with sequels you a) don’t get the original creative team/cast to return, b) get a rehash of the original, c) lose sight of the point of the first film. It’s been proven time and time again that sequels often suck. With OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN, because we take care of a) in the above equation, b) and c) don’t happen and the result is a damn fine follow up to the original film which in itself was fun and original.
Because the original cast finds themselves perished by the end of the first film, bringing back Ray Stevenson for this second outing is out, but director Steve Barker and writer Rae Brunton, who successfully schmelded together military action with horror in OUTPOST, return. Because of that return, we don’t get a rehash of the original film and the core of the film which deals with the Nazi occult practices surviving and still threatening us today retains. Instead of focusing on a band of mercenaries as the first one did, the filmmakers shift focus to a young woman in search of the machine that reanimated the Nazi SS soldiers in the first film. This shift in focus from a band of macho rangers to a waifish young lass is the main difference between the two films as the first was sans women at all. Since the stank of war has not jaded our eyes and ears this time around, the horror of the zombie attacks are intensified, especially in a sequence toward the middle of the film as Helena (Catherine Steadman) witnesses a Nazi zombie brutally killing another human soldier. The close up of Steadman’s face shaking in fear as she witnesses the act is something that was lacking in the first film and definitely brings something new to this series. Though at the same time, adding a female character makes it more like the million and one zombie films out there right now.
The effects here are more expansive as are the sets which integrate an almost HELLRAISER style vibe as some surprising cameos occur towards the end of this film. The fact that this science/occult experimentation is vague leaves things open for some weird actions and imagery to occur as with one character actually being assimilated into the machine which reanimates the corpses. Still Barker and Bunton don’t forget what made the original OUTPOST so special by bringing in another team of battle weary soldiers to battle these unstoppable undead SS and again, the military action is well done too with tense scenes of battleground drama interspersed with the decayed flesh and gory killings.
There’s a cool twist with the origin of Helena and her interest in this whole machine that I won’t reveal here, but I like the way the filmmakers behind this found an original way to return to the original concept, highlighting what worked in OUTPOST, while expanding on the mythos in the sequel. Fans of action horror films such as PREDATOR, ALIENS, and THE KEEP will definitely want to check out OUTPOST 2: BLACK SUN.
See ya Friday for our regular column, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013.
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