If you were at the right place at the right time during the SXSW film festival, you might have caught the screening of Dr S Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie. The plot follows a young cheerleader who gets caught in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Fearing that she has no where to run, she follows the enigmatic Dr S as he tries to find a cure for the zombie infection that he caused. It is a story of science gone awry, redemption, and sacrifice. Most importantly, it is the story of a hero who drives a hot rod and blasts zombies while dropping lines like: "Warning, marijuana will induce hallucination, violent behavior, and my twelve gauge shotgun up your ass!" We cheered and laughed as Dr S massacred the zombies. The movie is filled with subtle references to famous horror movies and itself can be considered homage to classic b-movie horror. I caught up with Brian Ortiz and James Hartz, the film's director and writer respectively, after the screening and asked them a few questions:
TalkHard: First off, how did you come up with this idea?
TalkHard: First off, how did you come up with this idea?
James: Bryan came up with the title and characters for the “Grindhouse” trailer contest.
Brian: My producer asked if I wanted to participate in the contest. I was reluctant at first, but one day this image of a doctor killing teenagers popped into my head. Then that turned into a scientist with a shotgun killing kids in the woods. Over time the idea developed into the film we have today. I let my brain sink into the movie knowledge I have obtained over my life and I combined all of the things I love about horror into one man: Doctor S.
TH: What projects did you all work on before Doctor S?
J: I helped out of a few of Bryan’s short films while he was in college, which sounds like we were making porn and I’m fine with that.
B: We were working on shorts for various contests at the time. We filmed Four Minutes Till the End, which took us all the way to the Cannes Film Festival and Big Scary German, Fantasy Inc., and a few others.
TH: The film pays homage to a combination of 50’s instructional videos, vintage horror, and the Evil Dead series. Were there any specific influences that you had in mind when you were developing it?
B: BRUCE CAMPBELL!
J: Definitely. Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead were huge influences. Both, in turn, owe a lot to George Romero’s zombie films. The Resident Evil movies had some small influence. Old Propaganda films (i.e. Reefer Madness) were highly influential. Also, MST3K played a big part.
B: We took a lot from all of these sources. We examined them closely to understand what made them so successful. Once we thought we understood those mechanics, we were able to apply our own sense of style. As James said, both Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright were largely a part of the analysis, combining what we wanted to do with the lessons they taught us. We also took names and characters from our favorite movies and used them as city names and references sprinkled throughout the story.
J: Outside of the film, comic books were a big influence, especially when it comes to that wonderful over-the-top action and attitude for the film.
B: But the icon, the legend that is Bruce Campbell is what we borrowed for the base line of Doctor S.
TH: How did you come up with the character of Dr. S?
B: I wanted nothing more than to create a character that was larger than life and someone that I could become a fan of, but I couldn’t do it by myself.
J: Bryan created the character initially. When we wrote the script and developed the character of Doctor S, we knew we wanted to have this redemption story arc, so Dr. S becomes this anti-hero type who is struggling to better himself, deal with his horrible past, and face the consequences of his actions.
B: We wanted to see someone who was selfish and self-sacrificing at the same time.
J: This is why I think the flashback scenes are important. The audience needs to see that Doctor S was a selfish, power-crazed asshole before all of the atomic reefer stuff. That way he is not off the hook and the audience has a reason to go along on his journey with him, even though they may not like him.
B: Plus, we wanted to get crazy and have someone who could say anything and do anything.
TH: Were there any scenes or ideas that you loved, but you couldn’t get in?
J: There was a scene that took place in a gas station that evolved into the soldier scene in the hospital. Originally, there was a zombie fight there. Also, we had a few great ideas for a chase scene in Mary Jane’s neighborhood. Hopefully, I can put these into the comic adaptation.
B: Still, almost everything we wrote got put into the movie. Of course, we would have loved to take some of the scenes and push them further, faster, harder, stronger (yes, like the Daft Punk song).
TH: Being a native of San Antonio, I recognized a lot of the filming locations that you chose for the film. Did you develop the script with those locations in mind?
B: Yes. I knew a lot of our budget limitations, so I used all the resources I had to complete the film. Most of it was shot on campus at the University of the Incarnate Word and they were really gracious in letting us shoot there. We shot in the wooded area in the back of the school and really worked that area. We used their parking garage to cover the underground lab shots. The city of San Antonio was good to us when we did have to shoot out in the city. I knew when we were writing the script that location was important, but I tried not to let it hinder our ideas. Some locations we had in mind, some were serendipitous, like the hospital scene, which was a last minute change that worked out for the best.
TH: What was the biggest challenge that you had during production?
B: Keeping up the energy and keeping the cast and crew in high spirits is always a challenge. As the director you are the driving force of the production. On top of that, when your people are working for free and the love of the project, you really have to keep your cool and drive the project home. Of course, along the way we ran into production problems…lack of money… constant changes and adaptations to onset problems, the typical movie stuff.
J: I remember that there were quite a few special effects/make-up issues that slowed things down. Securing locations was another huge challenge.
B: Everybody was really professional and made the job as easy as possible for me and put up with a lot of changes and reshoots. The pressure of actually finishing the project is always hard. Sometimes you want to give up because it’s so hard. Yet you can’t because it needs to happen and too much time and love was given to the project.
TH: Was there anything that you expected to be challenging that wound up being pretty easy?
J: Not really.
B: No. The movie was a welcomed challenge from beginning to end.
J: I don’t think there is anything about making movies that is easy. Fun, yes, but not easy. When we lost the first car we were going to use, I thought that replacing it was going to be a big problem. In the script, the car was a hot rod and we had secured a Mustang, but the owner backed out at the last minute. Fortunately, our friend, Mike, was able to supply his Model A and it became one of my favorite bits in the movie.
TH: The zombies in the movie have a distinctive look and sound, with their sunken in eyes and their ghoulish voices. I was wondering why you made that design choice?
B: We had a lot of discussions with the special effects team about the look of the zombie. They aren’t zombies in a traditional sense of being dead, but are infected and transformed.
J: I remember that we toyed with the ideas of having their eyes turn red, having their eyes drip blood, or their eyes just be empty sockets with smoke billowing out of them.
B: Their look is an extreme take of stereotypical attributes of drug use.
J: It plays off the idea that reefer gives you this drowsy-eye tired look.
B: Plus, I like the idea of a dual voice when it comes to evil characters. Using both a high and low pitch give the creatures a sense of being insane and disturbed.
TH: Earlier cuts of Dr. S were in color. Why did you decide to change it to black and white? Did you make any other changes when you made that shift?
B: I decided to make the change because black and white is something I always wanted to do. Even though it looks beautiful in color, the black and white gives the film a vintage look. Plus, I liked the stark contrast in black and white, kind of like Frank Miller’s Sin City. Harsh shadows and deep blacks dominated the film and just added that heavy tone I needed.
J: I remember when Brian first showed it to me in black and white; it was one of those Satori moments. It helped the look, tone and feel of the film to a near infinite degree.
B: And adding the dirt and grain was the final touch to the whole film.
J: Since the black and white gave the movie a more serial and propaganda film quality, it was easier to add the Cinis Labs short in the beginning and all the movie commercials.
TH: Why did you decide to break the film into 3 acts?
B: After the first cut was done I noticed it felt choppy and in pieces. I realized that visually and story-wise, it felt like three parts. So with my theatre background it only felt natural to cut up the piece into three acts.
TH: Are there any important messages that you want your audience to leave the film with?
J: Not particularly. I mean, I don’t think that anyone goes to see something called “Dr. S Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie” and expects a message. Although, there are some ideas and themes if you read into it: the dangers of placing trust in the government or science to solve all of your problems for you, the high cost of acting out of selfish pride or anger, fear as a tool of control, and, of course, kicking some ass with a hot cheerleader by your side is always awesome. Always.
TH: Brian, do you have anything to add?
B: I want to give credit to Evan Boston and Peter Egly, who helped write the movie. This film was made for YOU the audience, for the fans of Evil Dead who want to laugh and scream at the screen and clap in excitement. This is made with a thank you to every director and storywriter before me, and finally this film is made with love and laughter for your enjoyment.
TH: Finally, what are your future projects? (Spoiler)
J: We are coming out with a series of audio dramas that tell the story of what Dr S was doing for the 1000 years. They’re called “Dr S Battles Through Time: The Audio Adventures.” Those should be coming out soon on our website. Dr S will be teaming up with some of history’s greatest figures! From our brains to your ears! Also, I’m searching for an artist to work on a comic book adaptation. Oh yeah, coming this fall, because you demanded it, “Dr. S Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: THE MUSICAL!” A live stage show! That’s right true believer!
TH: Any chance of a sequel?
J: You bet your sweet ass there is a sequel planned!
B: It’s my dream to have a trilogy one day.
J: So start preparing yourself for all the new flavors of sock-rocking whoop ass that we’re piling on to the epic sundae that is Dr. S!
B: And for future projects from Film Classics, go to: