Director Christopher Landon had decidely mixed feelings when Paramount Pictures asked him to take a look at the script for what would eventually become the horror-comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (out Oct. 30).
“At the time it as called Scouts vs Zombies,” says Landon (The Marked Ones). “As soon as I heard the title, I thought, ‘Oh man, this is either going to be terrible or it’s going to be really fun. The concept was ridiculous — and that was really up my alley — but what I really loved about the script was the characters. I was really drawn to the these three boys; there was a sweetness to it, and I liked the contrast with the zombie-thing. I thought, Okay, this is not the average zombie movie. But the scouts were much younger; everything was kind of soft and cute. I said, ‘I want to punch this up, I want it to feel more like Superbad, and to have a little raunch, and to have some gore.’ I wanted it to feel almost like an action movie.”
The film stars Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, and Joey Morgan as a trio of teenage scouts, and Sarah Dumont as a strip club waitress with whom they team during a zombie outbreak. Other cast members include Blake Anderson from Workaholics, Anchorman actor David Koechner, and national treasure Cloris Leachman.
“She was a force of nature,” says Landon. “The first day I met her, which was her first day shooting, I was waiting outside her trailer with Logan Miller. We were both really excited. We were like, ‘She’s a legend, she’s so cool.’ She pulls up, and she got out of the car, and she walked right up to Logan and she said, ‘I’m gonna eat your ass!’ [Laughs] We were like, ‘Okay, she’s going to be awesome. And she was. There’s a youthfulness about her and also a really dry sense of humor. And the mouth of a trucker.”
Leachman and her expletives fitted in well on the set of a movie which, during one sequence, finds a scout using an absurdly elongated zombie penis to hang from a window. “That became a mascot of sorts,” says Landon of the prosthetic. “It came floating around set, after a while.”
The penile prop also caused Landon to have a memorably embarrassing interraction with an extra. “There’s one moment in the film where Tye Sheridan’s character throws the d–k away and it lands in a zombie’s mouth,” says the director. “So I had to go up to this guy and be like, ‘Hey, do you mind if we throw a d–k at your face over and over again?’ This poor guy was so nice about it.”
Do we need to point out the movie was made without the cooperation or approval of the Boy Scouts of America? Probably not. However, Landon believes the finished film is actually a good commercial for the organization. “I think the core values are there,” he says. “Our scouts are cool. They’re resourceful, they’re clever. I don’t see any of it as a negative. I think they’re going to thank us later!”
In addition to directing Scouts Guide and The Marked Ones, Landon had a big hand in writing the three previous Paranormal Activity films and was one of the folks who encouraged producer Jason Blum to get involved with director Oren Peli’s original 2007 film. “This was probably a year-and-a-half or two years before the movie came out,” he says. “I got a call from Jason Blum — at the time I was working on another project with him. He knew that I was a crazy horror nut. So, he said, ‘Hey, I’m watching this horror movie at my house tonight. Will you come watch it and let me know what you think?’ I don’t even know if he had seen it yet. So, I went over to his house, and I saw the movie, and it scared the f–k out of me. I turned to him and said, ‘I don’t know how you can get involved with this thing but you’d better do it. This is the coolest thing that I’ve seen in a long time.'”
Although Landon was busy making Scouts Guide during the production of the currently-in-theaters Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, the franchise insider confirms that it will be the last in the series — at least for now. “It’s really hard to make those movies,” he says. “You don’t have traditional coverage, you don’t have a score to push things along, you don’t have any of the stuff that we all really [use] in a traditional movie. So, you had to find clever ways to create dread and keep people involved. There was only so much we could ultimately do with people in a house. I think, now, it’s like, ‘Let’s be quiet for a while.’ But you know they’re going to reboot it at some point.”
The director seems to have inherited his love for horror from his father, the late actor Michael Landon, who passed away from cancer in 1991 when Christopher was still a teenager. Landon Sr. was famous for appearing in the family-friendly TV shows Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. But early in his career, he had starred in 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf and, according to this son, was a huge fan of genre movies. “When I was a kid, I developed a fascination with horror films,” he says. “And my Dad loved that stuff as well. So, he and I would watch these movies together almost every weekend. We watched a lot of the classics too: Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby. But a lot of it was really sh-tty horror films. He loved them, and he talked about his desire to make a horror film — like, how much fun that would be. But he was in his box and he was very aware of that. My dad, what he did, was obviously very, very, very different from what I do. He was known for wholesome family entertainment and I’m known for killing people. [But] I’ve always felt like my career has been an extension of something he wanted to do.”
You can see the trailer for Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, below.