Beth West, who jokingly calls herself a "fake actor," stars in both films as the X-Files-ish FBI agent (Dan West's former wife, she was roped into the first production after the original lead dropped out). Despite both films' bare-bones shoots — and other concerns, like trying (and failing) to keep continuity with her hairstyle over multiple years of filming — she remains upbeat about the experience: "I loved being part of such a big creative effort."
Though his character is torn to shreds in RetarDEAD, Burr agrees. "This film is going to be 100 times better than the last one, as far as direction, camera shots — everyone was more serious this time," he says. He hopes that RetarDEAD will help Popko and West expand their audience. "Someone's gonna notice the talent there. Maybe not in the acting, but this is these guys' lives. It's never been my whole dream, but it's always been their whole dream."
For RetarDEAD, technical improvements over Monsturd, including the introduction of tracking shots, were important considerations. However, first things first: "We knew we wanted this to be gory as fuck," West says. An ardent fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis — notorious for stomach turners like 1963's Blood Feast — West once hoped to lens a biopic of Lewis and his producing partner, David Friedman. Though it was never completed, he did get the Godfather of Gore's permission to use a snippet of dialogue from the project in RetarDEAD.
"This whole thing begins with his intro — it's like that Charlton Heston thing for Armageddon, where it's like the voice of God — but it's Herschell Gordon Lewis talking about gore," West says. "It was the one way I could go to my grave saying I finally figured out a way to work with Herschell Gordon Lewis."
Appropriately enough, RetarDEAD pays homage to Lewis's signature style. "Monsturd had a couple of bloody scenes in it, but it was pretty tame," Popko says. "This here, we're planning on passing out barf bags at the premiere because, I mean, it's gross. We've got intestines and chain saws and blood all over the place."
Overseeing the splatter was director of special effects Ed Martinez, one of the few additional crew members (and one of few who were paid). A late addition to the production, he "made the movie what it is," according to West.
"A zombie film in this day and age, you can't do amateur-quality makeup and get away with it — it'll be a flop," says Martinez, who teaches special effects makeup at San Francisco's Academy of Art University and is a veteran of films like The Dead Pit. "And [Popko and West] know that."