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Exclusive comments: Steven Pierce on his FrightFest-premiering zombies-vs.-militias film “HERD”

Friday, August 25, 2023 | Exclusives, News


One of the more ambitious recent independent zombie movies, Steven Pierce’s HERD makes its world premiere tomorrow, August 26 as part of London’s FrightFest at the Cineworld Leicester Square. Pierce, who scripted with James Allerdyce, gave RUE MORGUE some exclusive words on the film, its inspirations–and its ghouls.

Ellen Adair and Mitzi Akaha star as Jamie and Alex, whose marriage is on the rocks and who head to rural Missouri, where Jamie grew up, in an attempt to fix it. There, they encounter Jamie’s father Robert (Corbin Bernsen), and discover that the area has become infested with “heps”–local residents turned inhuman savages by a virus. They receive assistance from Big John Gruber (Jeremy Holm of THE RANGER and BROOKLYN 45) and his militia, from whom Jamie and Alex have to keep the nature of their relationship a secret. Complicating matters is a second militia that arrives seeking supplies, and soon the couple are caught up in a three-way battle that has them fighting to save their own lives.

HERD has a more complex interpersonal story going on amidst the gory action than one often finds in movies of this type, and Pierce tells us, “The initial idea came about as James and I were talking about how I can often feel caught between worlds when I return home. I am from very rural America–like, my best friend growing up was a rope swing rural. However, after living in New York City for 15 years, I never really feel like I belong back home, yet I’m still not a city person either. In HERD, Jamie is stuck between worlds as well, and the film is the story of her having to finally decide where she wants to be and fight for that place in the world.”

The remote setting and militaristic antagonists recall George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD, and Pierce says he was “absolutely, completely and totally” inspired by Romero’s seminal zombie cinema. “At its core,” he says, “HERD is focused on how groupthink can lead otherwise good individuals to prematurely condemn and destroy, instead of attempting to accept and understand. Romero’s films serve as the quintessential guide for creating entertaining horror films with a subtextual message. Our goal was to make a film that is not only entertaining–because absolutely no one wants to watch a film that is preachy–but also maintains a balanced perspective on the complex America of today.”

Part of that approach involved a careful consideration of how to depict the controversial subject of militia groups. “I think when you say ‘militia’ today, people are ready to reductively think of gun-waving hillbillies shouting talking points on Fox News,” he notes. “We are so ready to dismiss the humanity of those individuals and never give any thought as to how they arrived at who they are today. So when James and I set out writing the militias, we wanted to make sure everyone in that world was handled with the same care as all the other characters. 

“There are two factions in HERD: the farmer/hunter group led by Big John Gruber [pictured above], and the militarized police force led by Sterling, played by Timothy V. Murphy. There is a lot of tension between the two groups, and both are ready to justify their actions and defend their territory where necessary. The hierarchy of Gruber’s militia is a big part of the film’s plot and delivers a good part of the conflict later in the film. With the scenes focused on the militias, we explore how leadership is not always as glamorous as it seems, and how some can seek power while others are just seeking survival.”

Pierce and his collaborators, including makeup effects creator Caitlyn Young, took a similarly considered tack when it came to conceiving and creating the “heps” that plague the heroes and villains alike. “The mission was to keep the look of our heps firmly grounded in reality, while expanding the infection to the farthest possibility,” he explains. “In the world of HERD, any scratch or bite that would transmit the infection will have the obvious blood elements, and first causes veins to discolor from the infection site, followed by large patches of boils. All the infected characters also get something similar to very intense migraines. The pain is so intense that infected individuals will scratch themselves, pull their hair, knock their heads–anything to get momentary relief from the overwhelming and lingering agony behind their eyeballs. Cat and I did a lot of photo research on boils and blood infections, and one of the fun parts of the character design was getting to decide how deep into the progression of the disease each bitten or scratched character was in each given scene.”

HERD is headed for theatrical and digital distribution in the U.S. in October and digital play in the UK at the same time, and will attack other international territories after that. Look for more coverage of the movie at this site closer to the release!

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).