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1966 VW Baja Bug in “The Zombie Patrol”

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Raul Contreras is working on a movie trailer. After earning a filmmaking degree from Northern Michigan University, and eventually making it out to Hollywood, Contreras became a set-dresser for movies and TV shows and has been a California resident for 18 years. He is currently in the process of fulfilling every filmmaker’s dream – producing a feature film that he has written himself. The Mad Max-inspired, post-apocalyptic thriller will star two types of zombie undead: humans and cars.

Six years ago, Contreras was working on the History Channel Show Sniper: Inside the Crosshairs. He was setting up a sniper nest on a building when he fell off his ladder and split his ankle open. “The first sixty days after my injury, I was in excruciating pain. I had this idea in my head that wouldn’t go away,” Contreras remembered. Thus, the details of The Zombie Patrol came together. Even though he doesn’t remember writing it, Contreras penned the entire screenplay in those first 60 days. He does remember being in a world of pain and The Zombie Patrol’s screenplay reflected that frame of mind: “The screenplay turned out to be the bleakest thing I had ever written but I still made it fun,” Contreras said. “I wanted it to be a moody, epic journey.” A key decision in this process was basing the plot of the movie off Homer’s The Odyssey. “The main characters get a message to go back to their Home Base of Ithaca,” Contreras explained. “The story is their journey.” He will even include essential epic characters such as the Sirens and Cyclops that are important to the original classic.

Basing a zombie movie in California had some unexpected perks for Contreras. Currently, southern California is going through one of the worst droughts on state record which causes forest fires to start more easily and run rampant. The arid landscape perfectly resembles a post-apocalyptic world. “There was a huge fire in San Bernadino – 26 miles long,” Contreras explained. “After a huge fire like that, the landscape looks otherworldly.” So, he took advantage of the giant natural disaster and used the charred, black, and smoky scenery as a backdrop for parts of his movie. Such a setting would have been impossible otherwise. Now, Contreras will have scenes of the cars driving over a destroyed, desolate area that couldn’t be more real. He has also jumped on the opportunity to film in the streets of Los Angeles during the winter holidays – when residents usually flee to visit relatives, leaving the city almost empty. These two phenomena alone will no doubt add layers of realness to The Zombie Patrol that even big-budget movie magic would have trouble producing. Needless to say, Contreras is excited for the final outcome.

However, Contreras first had to find the perfect car for his zombie world to even begin filming. The vehicle would have to be all-terrain capable, able to house the appropriate survival equipment, and resemble the ruined state of world infested hungry zombies. After deciding exactly what that car should be, it took Contreras a year to find the right 1966 Volkswagen Baja Bug. “It was already half ready,” he said. It then took him four additional months to find the rest of the individual pieces and he, and a few of his car-guy friends, were able to put it all together in only four days. “The finished Baja has extra fuel and water tanks, is easily repairable, air-cooled, good on gas, and can go just about anywhere,” Contreras claims. The Baja makes a startling first impression.

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As part of the Hollywood film industry, as well as an enthusiastic member of the zombie car culture and community, Contreras has been able to give the 1966 Baja a fair amount of exposure. One instance came when he was working on the set of Marvel’s The Avengers. Contreras was helping put together sets for ‘Black Widow’, played by Scarlett Johansson, who was finishing up her scenes after having her baby. Contreras drove the zombie Baja between stages, right past Marvel executives and Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double. Contreras got a kick out of their reactions: “They all stopped and turned around,” he said. “Their jaws hit the ground and I heard someone say ‘what the f*ck is that?!’”

Driving a car like the Baja has always garnered mixed reactions. One recent example of this is the Baja’s placement in Cool Rides Online’s June “Ride of the Month” Contest. Going up against five other cars, the bug came in fourth with 110 votes out of the total 1,264. Contreras attributes this to the fact that the bug’s appearance is such a stark contrast from traditional classic cars: the Baja is old, dusty, and has a Gatling gun mounted on its roof; it embodies an entirely different car culture. On the other end, Contreras also receives huge positive reactions from those who see the car either in shows or simply driving down the street. “Everywhere I go, people get excited about it. Everyone takes pictures and the responses I get are amazing,” he said. “I even live down the street from a police station and I’ve never been pulled over; officers simply flash their lights and leave which is an old-school sign of respect.” Overall, Contreras is glad that the car is starting a conversation and raising more awareness for the zombie car culture.

While The Zombie Patrol’s teaser trailer is still in the middle of production, Contreras hopes the finished product will help him earn enough funding to produce the entire feature film. Until then, you can find Contreras and his 1966 Baja Bug cruising around southern California, generating crowds at car shows, and zooming away from the undead.

Stop by and see them at ScareLA at the Pasadena Convention Center on August 8-9th, 2015.     

 

 

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