Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary once offered this bit of somber wisdom, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Hollywood has been trying to prove otherwise for years with a spate of undead-related action-horror hybrids, comedies and love stories. Touching down on a maggot-strewn history of zombie hits and misses is Flight of the Living Dead (coming to DVD October 2nd), formerly known as “Plane Dead” before New Line booked a ticket to distribute the film. ShockTillYouDrop.com caught up to director Scott Thomas to discuss his background and his latest pic which pits passengers versus putrid, hungry zombies on an intercontinental flight from Los Angeles to Paris.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Your first film was the 1988 action film “Silent Assassins” starring Sam Jones from “Flash Gordon,” Linda Blair and ’80s hottie Rebecca Ferratti…
Scott Thomas: Yeah, she was something.
Shock: How did this break into feature directing come about?
Thomas: I was taking karate with a guy, Phillip Rhee who did the “Best of the Best” series which I was going to do but backed out. I studied karate with him, I think I was doing a TV show at the time and producing and they said, Hey, you want to make a movie?
Shock: And your experience on a budget larger than what you were accustomed to went pretty smooth?
Thomas: The thing about it was that it was a Korean crew. Tey flew a whole Korean crew over here which was a little different and we shot it two different ways – with a lot of Korean and a lot of English. So it was a weird in that respect, but it did pretty well at the same. It was low budget and they were just cranking out action films back then.
Shock: Similar to “Flight of the Living Dead,” the premise was rooted in some sort of plotting about a biological weapon.
Thomas: Peter Iliff wrote it, he when on to do “Point Break.” It was an interesting script really but because of the Korean involvement it got rewritten and that was part of the battle, they’d hand me a Korean translation and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. The actors couldn’t understand what they were saying so every morning you’d get a rewrite – it was a different kind of experience.
Shock: You then went on to produce some of the “X-Men” cartoons in the mid-’90s.
Thomas: Yeah, before that I worked at Marvel heading up the post-production. These guys came in with three episodes done and I took it from there supervising storyboards, stories, voice recording and casting. It was a great experience.
Shock: Did you call in any significant voices to contribute to the series?
Thomas: We used Kiefer Sutherland’s mom a lot, but we did a lot of the recording in Canada so a lot of actors from up there.
Shock: Up until “Flight” your background is horror is pretty much nil, so how did this project come to life?
Thomas: I’ve been a huge fan of horror and sci-fi since I was a kid. You know, I watched “Invaders from Mars” and wasn’t able to step on the beach for fear of falling into a hole. After I finished “Latin Dragon,” which was 2002, I sat down with my stunt coordinator and told him I wanted to do something on an airplane with wirework. I hadn’t seen anything that crazy on an airplane and that’s kind’ve how it started. My first take on it was sort’ve a parasite-like thing attaching itself to the people but it became too involved and became something a little easier.
Shock: The threat is more significant, I think, than a bunch of reptiles slithering about. Did you find the setting a playful challenge to work in?
Thomas: People kept asking why do you want to set this on a 747 and I was like, What am I going to do, put up one row of seats? Where’s everyone going to go? That’s why I’ve got the cargo and crawl spaces, first class and the economy class. There are a lot of places to go on a 747. I had two out in the desert at the airplane graveyard. One time we talked about shooting out there because I had access to these two planes, but you sit on a tarmac without any air conditioning…in regular weather it gets to about 110, so it would’ve been a nightmare to shoot in a real jet. We basically cannibalized a jet and rebuilt it on stage. It was about a 108 feet of space and it was a bit restrictive because you can’t fly the walls like you can on a regular set. It was a lot of fun and blast, the actors were totally in to it in spite of me splattering them with blood, flying them on wires and exploding squibs – basically beating them up on a daily basis.
Shock: Well, it’s a quirky ride and not heavy-handed in the least – a conscious decision to throw in a lot of laughs…
Thomas: I did want it scary, I’m not poking fun at the genre or anything. I think it’s great if you can balance comedy and horror as a release. After something horrific, to have something funny happen is a nice way to do it. I’m a big fan of “American Werewolf in London” and that kind of genre.
Shock: When did you begin in relation to “Snakes on a Plane”?
Thomas: The script was certainly done before “Snakes on a Plane.” How I found out about that movie was I was building the airplane [for our film] and I kept trying to get airplane parts. You can get them all over the world and this one guy, who was selling them to me, said, I already got you parts. And I was like, What are you talking about? He’s like, Oh, that’s the other movie. What other movie? So he starts telling me about this other movie and I was sort’ve competing with “Snakes” for airplane parts. That was a quiet movie for me up until then, no one had really heard of it. I was well on my way with “Flight” though.
Shock: It’s not lost on you, obviously, that the distributor who released “Snakes,” New Line, snatched up “Flight.”
Thomas: No, and I was very surprised that they did. We’ve been getting a lot of good responses from this one, they’ve been pushing it well. They were even talking about pairing the two in a double DVD box set.
Shock: Tell me about some of the miniature work you implemented.
Thomas: We used them for most of the exteriors. The jet probably weighed about two tons and if you put four cars end-to-end, that’s how huge it was. It took two cranes to hold it up and the jet fighter was probably as long as a Volkswagen. That was big and weighed about 600 pounds. There are 350 CGI shots in the film and we used effects houses in Chile, Thailand, India and three studios here. We had to coordinate all of the FX coming from those countries.
Shock: Well, bravo to you for still using miniatures.
Thomas: You can’t always get what you want out of CGI these days. I think it’s best to use a miniature and enhanced it with CGI, but it was challenge.
Shock: What zombie films are inspirations to you?
Thomas: I’ve been a fan of the fast-moving zombie. If it’s slow-moving, and you can outrun it, I don’t think it’s all that scary. “28 Days Later” is a good example of the unstoppable, crazed thing you should fear. But then Fulci and Romero, all of those guys are stuck in my mind someplace. The Italian one where the zombie is attacking the shark…
Shock: Fulci’s “Zombie”…
Thomas: Oh my god, I love that.
Shock: No one can top that scene in my book.
Thomas: I know, man. I still think that stands out. [laughs]