Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks and Judd Apatow-verse fame may not be the first person that you’d think will be in your favorite horror film of 2014. And yet that could very well be the case when you experience the inspired lunacy of Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, the ballsier, brasher, better follow-up to the Nazi zombie hit Dead Snow. Starr plays the leader of a trio of undead experts known as the Zombie Squad in this Raimi-esque bit of inspired lunacy. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Red vs. Dead was a twisted surprise, and Starr sat down with us a few days later to talk practical effects, un-PC humor, and the joy of working with people as crazy as you are.
FEARNET: What was it like seeing the film, not just really for the first time, but with an amped crowd at a midnight Sundance premiere?
STARR: Oh, it was incredible. They loved it. It was amazing how much they appreciated every disgusting detail of the movie because we don’t pull any punches. It’s 100% what makes this group of people laugh and it’s what we wanted to make. It was so fun. There were some people that weren’t quite up for how far we went because…well, we’re not like “anti-“ – there’s no intentional racism or anything like that but the jokes are what they are. And I think there was a religious moment – a killing in a church – and, in the middle of that, a few people walked out.
You can’t please everybody.
It’s true. I see just in me saying “there’s no intentional racism” that it will come off in print as me definitely referring to this movie as racist. [Laughs]
I’ll make sure it’s OK. 30 seconds into the movie, there’s an intestine stuck to a door lock, so no one should be surprised by anything that comes later.
Yeah. There’s no message. It’s just about the fun of what the movie is.
Is that what attracted you to it? The fun spirit of it?
Yeah. After seeing the first one, and the practical effects that they used, that made me really want to be a part of it, made me curious. And then talking to Tommy, and knowing that the passion was to continue that same method even though the budget was bigger – to have the same styles and methods used. I think they followed through with all of that and created even more creative ways to kill people. Well, undead people. Are they people, or are they not? Are we going to have this conversation now? This is getting too political. [Laughs]
Are you a horror fan in general?
I am. Like Evil Dead. They’re beautiful. The parody horror movie…
The Grindhouse stuff?
No. But that stuff’s great too. That stuff collages so many different genres. It’s not so specific. That stuff is really fun as well.
But you wouldn’t say you’re a “horror nut?”
I can’t call myself a horror nut, because there are people who really get into it. I like it. I’m happy to watch it. But if I watch a movie, it varies, it’s all across the spectrum.
I’m not sure this is the kind of role that demands a ton of research, but did you meet with zombie experts like the one you’re playing to see why they’re so obsessed with the undead? You’re playing a type of person who does exist.
Yes. 100%. In fact, the organization in the film, Zombie Squad, is a real organization with many chapters.
Did you talk to them?
No. But I looked into a lot on the internet. I didn’t have a tremendous amount of time. But it’s an interesting culture to research.
I was impressed with the action. You’re not really known as an action star, but it gets intense.
I got to do some fun fight stuff, and we didn’t have a stunt double for me. The stunt doubles were all for the zombies. It’s easy enough to put a mask on somebody else, so a lot of the zombies, if there was one person playing one zombie, they could just switch it. The guy in the tank was played by our friend Daniel, and in that scene a stunt guy came in and that’s who I fought. And I was like, “How come he gets to tag out?” It was so much fun. And the injuries weren’t too severe.
You mentioned that you liked the aspect of practical effects and nearly everything is practical in this film.
There’s a lot.
Well, you’re not really ripping people apart.
It’s real close. All the stuff at the beginning with the kid, all of that stuff is just using what it looks like. We used a real kid. We used an actual child.
And busted open his chest.
[Laughs] That’s just what happened. I didn’t realize that in Norway, “practical effect” means actual, literal effect. So it’s not even an effect. We killed a kid. We killed some babies. And a mother.
I got to go. I got a quote. I got a tweet.
We killed a woman in a wheelchair. There’s one guy that we killed and brought him back to life.
“Martin Starr says, This is the racist movie where we killed a child.”
Yep. This is it. “The racist movie where we killed a child.” [Laughs] Oh no.
What was the biggest challenge for you on this movie? Something different that you weren’t expecting?
It was just fun. Knowing the spirit behind it, it was my home base. It was where I feel comfortable. It was a new character for me to play in the sense that this whole world was so new to me and so I was learning so much. It was cold, but I didn’t really suffer that much. Vaegar has blood on his face the entire time. That was one of the things that I was like, “This could be miserable as soon as I start to have blood on my face.” I think we cut a little joke at the end where I get out of the tank and I had a drop of blood right here [points to his cheek]. And Vaegar, who has been covered in blood for the last 90 minutes, goes, “Oh, you have something right here” and he goes to wipe it away. It was just a small little moment.
You keep talking about this group of people. Are they ones you’d want to work with again? Would you make Dead Snow 3?
Yeah. If we have the opportunity. Or something else, even. They’re fun to hang out with. There’s a good vibe on set.
What’s next for you?
I just finished the first season of a new show with Mike Judge [called Silicon Valley]. It’s so exciting. It’s been such a whirlwind to go from that movie to coming back to LA and work with another group of amazingly, talented creative people. Mike Judge is one of my heroes. Just phenomenal. It’s easy to listen to someone who’s not letting their ego get in the way. He’s just looking for what’s right.
See what’s right in Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead later this year, and be sure to check out our Sundance wrap-up for more info on upcoming horror titles.