Independent western film “Cowboy Zombies” premiered at Tempe’s Harkins Valley Art Theatre on Oct. 25.
Paul Winters of Winters Film Group wrote the quirky western more than a decade ago. Winters Film Group produced “Cowboy Zombies” almost entirely in Arizona and rented theaters throughout the state to show it.
Highly rated hits like AMC’s “The Walking Dead” spawned a zombie craze in Hollywood, and “Cowboy Zombies” aims for the same amount of gore and suspense that the pros produce.
“From the first time I saw 'Night of the Living Dead,' the original one by George Romero, it’s really scared me,” Winters said.
Winters took that emotion and built upon it, creating a mash-up of two popular film genres that haven't previously been put together.
Set in 1870’s Arizona, the film spins the typical spaghetti western into a macabre horror film.
“We decided not to make a stereotypical zombie film," Adam Cook, director of photography for "Cowboy Zombies" said. "We set out to make a western film with zombies in it. We all had a lot of discussions about the look and feel and the texture … shooting in Arizona, where so many westerns in the past were shot, really helped."
The majority of “Cowboy Zombies” was filmed in Cowtown, a man-made ghost town near Peoria that has served as a basic set for over 200 movies.
“It has the kind of beaten look that was perfect to the film," Winters said. "It should look like a real tough place to make a living, and it does."
Winters shot additional scenes in Tonto National Forest and Cave Creek. The production traveled outside Arizona for only one scene in California.
The film looks and sounds like any other western until zombies begin to flood into Wilcox’s small town of Crumpit.
Winters hired professional zombies — actors who specialize in transforming into the undead — to crawl their way onto the set in Cowtown.
“They come in full makeup, and then we used special effects people and makeup people that came out from Hollywood," Winters said. "They built us some heads and rigs that blew up, 'cause you have to have a lot of blood."
Lee Whitestar, who played Apache chief Datana in the film, has acted in Winters' previous films, "Red Blood" and "Nate the Colonel." Whitestar said zombies' popularity is apparent in today's film industry, but isn't necessarily something at which to be scoffed.
“These people that worked in the movie with us, they were professional zombies," Whitestar said. "They do it for a living. ... It’s a business.”
Cook believes producers and actors alike thought that "Cowboy Zombies" was a blast to film and that the movie will be a fun, well-intended distraction.
“It’s a great form of escapism for people to overcome fear, to overcome the things that haunt them in their day to day life, and to see those kinds of fears being overtaken,” Cook said.
But don't let the blood and guts deter you.
“It’s interesting," Whitestar said. "It’s made for family and there’s humor in there.”
Catch Cowboy Zombies at Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe until Friday.
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