HERD's Corbin Bernsen On The Standout Infected Horror Drama And More Zombies In His Future

The actor and his screenwriter son are gearing up to play some DEADBALL.

By Michael Gingold · December 19, 2023, 7:00 PM EST
Corbin Bernsen as _Robert Miller

One of the year’s best, and perhaps most undercelebrated, genre movies is Dark Sky Films’ independent horror/drama Herd, which first hit select theaters in October and is now available on VOD. Directed by Steven Pierce from a script he wrote with James Allerdyce, it’s an uncommonly character-oriented take on the infected/zombie apocalypse story that also delivers the goods as a scare piece. It boasts a solid cast, including a small but impactful turn by Corbin Bernsen, who discusses Herd—and another impending ghoul project—with us here.

Bernsen, best known for the Major League films and TV’s L.A. Law and to fright fans in the title role of Brian Yuzna’s The Dentist and The Dentist 2, plays Midwestern survivalist Robert Miller in Herd. He’s first seen arming himself against an infected attacker before the focus shifts to his daughter Jamie (Ellen Adair) and her wife Alex (Mitzi Akaha), who set out on a vacation to repair their troubled relationship. The trip takes them into Jamie’s old home territory—which triggers trauma of its own for Jamie, who was thrown out of the house by her father years ago for her sexual orientation. Once the couple become embroiled in the zombie plague sweeping the area, Jamie and Alex are taken in by a militia Robert is part of, run by Big John Gruber (The Ranger and Brooklyn 45’s Jeremy Holm)—and survival may become dependent on the group remaining unaware of the nature of Jamie and Alex’s relationship. There’s a lot going on, dramatically and horrifically, in Herd, and it all starts with Bernsen’s character…

How did you become involved with Herd?

Well, I heard about it [laughs]; I was sent the script and offered the part, and I read it and thought the script really had some originality to it. In a zombie film, it’s very hard to differentiate yourself from other movies and elevate or take the genre in another direction. Then I talked to the director, Steven Pierce, who told me his vision for the film, and I said, “Sure!” It’s a small part at the beginning that sets the tone of the movie, and it worked in my timeframe as well. I play Jamie’s father, who has created a wedge between them because she’s in a relationship with another woman, which doesn’t sit right with me. The world has gone to shit, and our community has become divided. I was certainly divided from her a while ago, but she ends up returning home trying to survive this zombie attack.

One of the interesting things about Herd is that it deals with those kinds of divides and many issues, including the militia, prejudice, etc., that are very relevant right now. Can you discuss how those work within the film and with the characters?

I think really good films tell stories that are very much their own, but that relate to the larger world. And certainly, with the divide of the two militias in Herd—my guys and the other guys—we see it in our country now, a way of taking care of one another and a way of fighting each other—I’m not saying whose side is who. Obviously, we’re still dealing with our acceptance of relationships that aren’t what used to be considered "the norm," if you will, so Herd very much speaks to a divided world. Ultimately, it says something really important, which is that in the end, love conquers all.

Herd poster web

Some people might argue with a film that attempts in any way to paint a militia in a sympathetic light, or at least not as outright villains.

Well, I think when push comes to shove, and the shit hits the fan, there are people in certain parts of the country who will look to a militia to protect them. At the end of the day, I’m not so sure that the U.S. Army will be the ones to take care of everybody, so I believe some will look to our own groups of people to protect us. Is that a militia? I mean, is that what you call a group of armed people trying to protect each other? I’m not sure.

How was it shooting in the Midwest locations?

It was fine. I was only there for a couple of days, to be honest with you, and it was pretty much in and out. It was a little bit tricky because I came in right at the beginning of the shoot, so everybody was still finding their footing. I didn’t really get a chance to hang with the cast, so that wasn’t part of the experience. But I went in, did my thing, and I’m happy with the way it turned out and how I sort of get the story going.

When you saw the finished film, was there anything about it that surprised you?

I don’t want to say I did not expect it, but I was very happy with the quality of the production, the cinematography, and blown away by the actors. Ellen, Mitzi—I mean, there’s really good acting from everybody. Not that other genre films aren’t acted well—it’s very real. Because you’re dealing with not just running away from the zombies but with emotional, real human stories. A lot of people can look scared; you put fake blood on them and they shiver, and music can swell and you can think they did a great job, but it’s another thing to portray these human relationships and sell them in the midst of all this.

The Dentist has had a resurgence of interest lately, including the Blu-ray release of the film and its sequel. Has there been any talk of you playing that role a third time?

I’ve been working with Brian Yuzna for years to try to do something. It seems that the rights to The Dentist are deeply fucked up, so I don’t know if they would ever be available. I certainly could do it, and Brian and I have talked about multiple story ideas. We actually wrote a script called The Plastic Surgeon, which is, I’m gonna say, not too far different. Again, it has to do with vanity and what’s able to be done, and a guy who goes crazy and says, “You want a nose job? I’ll give you a nose job! You want big boobs? Check these out! You want liposuction? I’ll drain you till there’s nothing left of you!”

Do you have any other horror projects coming up?

I’m actually working on one with one of my sons, Henry. I have long wanted to do, let’s call it a baseball zombie movie, which has not really been done. I gave him a story. He’s been working on the script for a while, and he came up with a draft that’s really good. It’s called Deadball, and we’ve been cleaning it up right now. Hopefully, we will be getting it ready to take to market by the end of this year. There could be a part for Charlie Sheen in it, Tom [Berenger]—it could be a little bit of a Major League reunion.

Henry started writing a couple of years ago. He wrote a film for our oldest, Oliver, who is a filmmaker, I read the script and said, “You know, you’re really good at this!” He has an analytical, critical mind, which is frustrating because it takes him forever to write a script, but the end result is really good stuff. Now I just have to teach him how to keep it lean, to edit, and get to the heart of the story.

What can you tell us about Deadball’s plot?

I can’t give away too much, but my original title was Three Strikes, You’re Dead, and he thought that was cute and all, but he studied the sport, and there have been periods when baseball has gone dead, and then somebody like Babe Ruth came along and lifted it out of its hole. Baseball went dead in the late ’50s, and Vietnam, for whatever reason—Henry knows the story—raised it back up again. Things got dead even recently, people weren’t watching it on TV, and then they implemented the pitch clock. So there are periods when it’s down, and they call it “deadball,” and they add these things to pick it up.

So our story is set in a world where zombies are accepted, and they have their own “lives,” and as long as they’re on this drug, they’re good. They’ve got Zombie Leagues, and it’s about the first zombie to play in the pros, like Jackie Robinson. That’s all I can say, but it gives you an idea of where it’s going. We’re gonna make that happen!

Herd is now available on VOD.