FIRST LOOK AT ROTLD 4 & 5
?Attention! Entry to exclusion zone without permission of exclusion zone administration is forbidden.?
For once, a movie prop sign doesn?t lie. Fango is on location in the Ukraine with the crew of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 4: NECROPOLIS and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 5: RAVE FROM THE GRAVE, being filmed back-to-back by EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS director Ellory Elkayem. But it?s not just any old atmospheric location. A two-hour drive north from Kiev has brought key production members to the infamous Chernobyl district, the site of the worst nuclear-power disaster in history. On April 25, 1986, Reactor No. 4 was being tested when a huge chain-reaction meltdown created a fireball that blew off its heavy steel-and-concrete lid. Thirty people died immediately, and the resulting high radiation levels meant 135,000 were evacuated within a 20-mile radius. Even today, many of those evacuees suffer from related illnesses, and the former USSR power plant?s name has become shorthand for anti-atomic-energy activists.
Yet producer Anatoly Fradis managed to get permission to become the first American production ever to film inside all three Chernobyl exclusion zones. The July 19-20, 2004 shoot dates occurred during a hiatus from the main body of filming in Bucharest, Romania, currently becoming Europe?s Horror Central given all the genre pictures being made in the low-cost country. While the cast, including Peter (E.T.) Coyote, Aimee-Lynn (A CINDERELLA STORY) Chadwick, Cory (NEVER BEEN KISSED) Hardrict, Jana (ALL MY CHILDREN) Kramer and John (PROOF) Keefe, took a well-deserved rest from their punishing nighttime schedule, Fradis, Elkayem and special makeup FX supervisor John Vulich headed to Chernobyl to film the NECROPOLIS scene-setter.
?We have completed 75 percent of NECROPOLIS and 25 percent of RAVE FROM THE GRAVE,? says Fradis, patiently waiting for the group?s permits to be authorized outside the first heavily guarded exclusion zone, where everyone will ultimately exit through radiation scanners. In fact, the permits were very nearly refused three days prior; the Russian and Ukrainian press had gotten wind of the films, and the titles had caused universal negative reaction. ?I understand the sensitivity that still exists regarding the disaster,? Fradis quickly points out. The producer of numerous Roger Corman cable movies and RED SHOE DIARIES episodes continues, ?It?s not our intention to be offensive and invade the privacy or insult the memory of those who died. But we are making two horror fantasies that have nothing to do with reality. And we are not filming where any deaths actually occurred.?
In a very complicated ?nightmare legal minefield, pain-in-the-butt? deal, Fradis secured the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD franchise rights from original producer Tom Fox. Vulich, whose credits include the first few seasons of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, picks up the story: ?William Butler and Aaron Strongoni had written two spec scripts with permission from Fox. Butler and I have been friends since childhood, and he asked me to brainstorm special effects based on my work in George Romero?s DAY OF THE DEAD and Tom Savini?s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake. I came up with forensically realistic extensions of those zombie looks with the addition of grafted-on weapons and chainsaws for an ?ombie, TERMINATOR-like unstoppable mutant quality, because NECROPOLIS is all about military tests on the undead for warfare use. Butler had directed MADHOUSE in Bucharest last year, and that?s why we based these productions there too.?
NECROPOLIS features Coyote as shady science entrepreneur Charles Garrison, using a radioactive trioxin compound in covert experiments to turn the recently deceased into killing machines. RAVE FROM THE GRAVE has Garrison?s nephew finding two secreted barrels of the chemical and manufacturing from it an Ecstasy-type drug that turns Halloween partygoers into crazed ghouls. Vulich continues, ?The undead look in RAVE is more pumped-up with hyper veins, because the party animals are only a few hours dead. If NECROPOLIS is ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK with zombies and lit like SEVEN, RAVE?s look is pure hallucinogenic drug delirium.?
It?s for the NECROPOLIS opening, where Garrison buys the radioactive material from the Russian mob in Chernobyl, that director Elkayem takes his position behind a car-mounted camera to film the journey into the desolate interior. Once a china plate had been broken on the camera tripod, and pieces given to each of the witnesses (a Ukrainian film-industry custom to ensure good luck), and with strict instructions not to touch anything organic?especially moss?Elkayem switched on his Geiger counter to ensure safe radiation levels in each location, and the shoot began. All the fascinating, amazing and sobering sights are being captured on film to kick off the gory duo, which are slated for release six months apart KILL BILL-style in 2005, ?probably by Warner Bros., who have first refusal,? according to Fradis, and who will issue RETURN PART II on DVD October 5.
The trip inside Chernobyl first leads past endless fields of rusting helicopters, trucks, tanks and cars left behind in the mad evacuation scramble. Then it?s on to Reactor No. 4 itself for shots of the ?sarcophagus? (the name given the temporary roofing built by robots to seal the damage). Next up are establishing shots of the imposing Chernobyl road sign, complete with gold nuclear symbol. Finally, and most eerily of all, is the deserted city of Pripyat, where huge tower blocks, shops, theaters and a theme park remain just as they were on that fateful day?except overgrown and silent.
?Incredible, isn?t it?? remarks a clearly overwhelmed Elkayem. ?I thought it was crazy at first, but here we are. Once I had researched short-term proximity to radiation not being too dangerous, I thought the Chernobyl idea was a great way to start a horror movie. It would definitely be the best place to hide a highly toxic substance where no one would ever think of looking. It?s been a hellish shoot, and the only way I can describe filming two zombie movies back to back is that it has been a real challenge. I have kept the films separate in my head, because one is a gory rescue movie while the other is a weird party. Both contain humor, because I want them to echo the concept of Dan O?Bannon?s 1985 original. And I?m really going for the blood and guts, because that?s what will make the humor even scarier!?
Courtesy of Fangoria