Romantic zomedy crosses the line
Zombie movies have had a revival in recent years. DeadHeads brings something a little unusual to the mix by being a ''romantic zomedy'', combining gross-out horror and comedy with a love story.
Mike (Michael McKiddy) and Brent (Ross Kidder) wake up and discover they are zombies - but although their skin is pale and rotting they are not the mindless, flesh-crazed kind of undead they see all around them.
While pondering this they get to know each other - Mike is an intense, romantic sort while Brent is a carefree slacker who enjoys autoerotic asphyxiation (or at least did when he was alive).
This odd couple decide to find Mike's girlfriend Ellie, to whom he was about to propose when fate took a turn for the worse, but they face a lot of obstacles along the way and en route adopt large, shuffling zombie Cheese (Markus Taylor) as a kind of pet.
Written and directed by brothers Brett and Drew Pierce and shot in Michigan to take advantage of a tax incentive for filmmakers, this unpretentious low-budget film has an endearingly ramshackle quality and some impressive special effects - and the two leads work well together.
And filming in Michigan was an experience in itself, the people there being a lot less jaded than Californians are about movie-making.
''Everyone's not used to seeing cameras all over the place like in Hollywood,'' Kidder says. ''We got extras there and a lot of help from police officers. It proved to be a really, really good thing for us.''
Kidder is aptly named: like his character he's affable and outgoing and full of humour.
''I auditioned a couple of times,'' he says. ''They spent four or five months looking for someone for the role of Brent. They saw about 30 different guys before me.''
A lot of the other actors were trying to play the character like the crude jock Stifler in the American Pie movies, but Kidder says he didn't see Brent that way.
''I saw him more as an optimistic, live-and-let-live type of man ... who lives his death to the fullest extent he can.''
Kidder says that he's an indie-film fan and confesses he hadn't been a zombie-movie aficionado before he was cast in DeadHeads.
But when he got the role he started watching George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and its sequels and the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and developed an appreciation for the sub-genre. ''I became very passionate about it.''
And he says DeadHeads doesn't slavishly follow the conventions, ''but puts a whole new spin on zombie movies ... the zombies are on a mission of love''.
As well as being coherent - unlike your typical zombie - Mike and Brent are, he says, ''fighting for the one thing that is important in life, love: the strongest force in the universe''.
Kidder says the zombie make-up took up to two hours to apply in the beginning (the time was abbreviated during the course of the shoot) and he got to know McKiddy well as they sat in chairs together in the morning.
Although the two main characters were made coherent zombies so audience members would care about them, many were still drawn to the grotesque. ''People care for Cheese,'' Kidder says. ''A lot of audience members love him ... the craziest-looking zombie of all.''
The Pierce brothers, he says, ''were kind of funny; they tended to keep the actors in a little bit of danger''.
Kidder, 30, is also from Michigan - Grand Rapids - and has been acting since he was a child. ''I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol when I was nine.''
He studied theatre, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting at Florida State University. He went to New York and acted off-Broadway before moving to Los Angeles to pursue movies.
''It's been a fun ride so far,'' he says, ''and there are some fun things in the future''.
He's made ''a handful of horror movies, some better than others'', including Sam Hell (2008) and is working on a crime drama in which he plays a crystal meth addict.
He regards himself as a character actor, versatile and able to play a wide range of roles from serious to quirky. ''Like Brad Pitt.''
He admires Pitt's willingness and ability to throw himself into different roles.
''That's what it's all about.''
He maintains his enthusiasm, keeps auditioning for films and also works as a voiceover actor. A few months ago he married Georgina Cordova, another voiceover actor.
One of the things he likes about working in independent films like DeadHeads is the passion and hard work that goes into bringing them into being when they don't have the budgets or resources of big Hollywood productions.
He hasn't lost his love for theatre, either, having recently appeared in a production of Romeo and Juliet in Los Angeles.
''I'm passionate about Shakespeare,'' he says.
''I'd kill to play Henry V.''
And with his optimism and enthusiasm, who knows? It may just come to pass.