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Zombie Movie Shot in Royalton Reaches Viewers

  • Royalton native Dustin Rikert directs a scene from "Dug Up," a comic zombie movie shot in Royalton in 2010. The film has recently been made available through at video-on-demand service.

  • Dustin Rikert, left, and his father, Jim Rikert, on the set of "Dug Up" in July 2010.

  • Kyle Rikert, one of Director Dustin Rikert's brothers, plays a zombie in "Dug Up" during shooting in July 2010.

  • A scene from "A Vermont Romance," the first motion picture shot in Vermont, in 1916. A restored version of the film screens Sunday, April 17, 2016, at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

  • A scene from "A Vermont Romance," the first motion picture shot in Vermont, in 1916. A restored version of the film screens Sunday, April 17, 2016, at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2016 10:00:13 PM
Modified: 4/17/2016 12:51:03 AM

Call it Dustin Rikert’s nightmare. Or at least his dream deferred.

Almost six years after he shot Dug Up in his native White River Valley, with family, friends and former neighbors in the crew and among the extras, the zombie-stoner spoof’s distributor recently released it to Comcast On Demand.

If you want to buy or rent it on DVD, however, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

“We anticipate it coming out closer to Halloween now,” Rikert said on Monday, during a telephone interview while he traveled between Los Angeles and Arizona, where he is a partner in the independent Team Two Entertainment. “It’s been a frustrating road.”

Welcome to the life of an independent director, writer and producer of movies and videos, which Rikert has been navigating since injuries dimmed his childhood ambition to play professional baseball and steered him to attend film school at the University of Southern California in the mid-1990s.

“My undergrad education was USC,” said Rikert, who grew up in Sharon and graduated from South Royalton School in 1992. “My graduate school was the school of hard knocks.”

While it’s been hard at times, Rikert, who between chores on his parents’ dairy farm and playing sports at South Royalton grew up enjoying the B horror movies of the 1980s and 1990s, has stayed busy. In 2002, he wrote and directed his first feature, Essence of Echoes, about an FBI agent who reveals a government cover-up by examining the lives of victims of a serial killer.

He is now in post-production on You’re Gonna Miss Me, which stars Eric Roberts and former Dukes of Hazzard co-star John Schneider in what Rikert describes as a dramedy in which the children of a former country-music star go on a road trip to collect their inheritance.

In between, he has found a niche in writing, directing and producing feature films and TV movies and music videos, most of them built around themes of the country-music lifestyle that “speak to the sensibilities of the flyover states.”

Dug Up, which premiered at the Austin Film Festival in Texas in 2012, plays with some of those themes by following the misadventures of Trevor Bo Chesney, an unemployed, unapologetically-redneck young man who enlists his girlfriend and his sister, a stripper, to help him find $1 million in gold that the caretaker of a cemetery purportedly buried among the dead.

During their search, they trigger a curse that brings the corpses out of the ground and into the open.

“In some ways we were a step ahead of the current zombie revival, with things like The Walking Dead,” Rikert said of the popular cable series. “We knew what the film was going in. It was designed to be campy. In test screenings, the response from the younger crowd was awesome.”

The shoot itself, condensed into 15 days in July 2010 and costing about $175,000, was a big reunion. South Royalton classmate and soccer, basketball and baseball teammate Rob McShinsky worked in roles ranging from unit production manager to zombie, while fellow alumnus Geoff Tuller operated a boom. Meanwhile, Rikert’s younger brothers Wade and Kyle worked, respectively, as a special makeup effects artist and as “zombie general” and stunt man, and their father Jim was “transportation captain.”

“We only took one real day off, the Fourth of July,” Rikert recalled. “The crew stayed at my parents’ B&B and with my relatives. After work, we went swimming in the White River.

“It was very grassroots filmmaking.”

It also helped to have cinematic veterans in his corner and on the set. Executive producer Vince Morella, who plays a small role, gave the OK to shoot in Vermont, and Dug Up co-writer and Rikert’s frequent collaborator William Shockley, a veteran character actor, played a key role onscreen. Shockley also played in and co-wrote other Rikert movies, among them 2012’s Easy Rider 2: The Road Home, and 2013’s A Country Christmas, in which Joey Lauren Adams, Kevin Pollak and Illeana Douglas also performed.

“Without people like Vince, films don’t get made,” Rikert said. “Same with Bill. He believed in what we were doing. It was a fun process.”

The fun is what keeps Rikert following a career road that didn’t lead quite the way he imagined when he headed West.

“You’ve really got to focus on your niche,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done. It’s all about walking that line between art and business. Every kid thinks they’re going to grow up to be Spielberg. A lot of that comes down to luck.”

To see Dug Up on cable, go to and type the title into the search window. For more information about the movie, visit and type Dug Up into the search window.

Big-Screen Comeback

The Vermont International Film Foundation (VTIFF) screens a restored version of A Vermont Romance, believed to be the first feature film shot in the Green Mountain State, at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on Sunday night at 7. The presentation, which Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson, movie historian Bruce Posner and cartoonist and film buff Stephen Bissette are co-hosting, is part of a tour of the state benefiting the Vermont Movie Archive Project (VAMP).

The project remastered the 36-minute-long A Vermont Romance, which the Vermont Progressive Party commissioned in 1916, to high-definition digital. It follows the adventures of a young Vermont woman who loses the family farm after the death of her father, and moves to Burlington to find work.

Veteran silent-film composer Bob Merrill will accompany the screening by playing the new musical score he wrote, and Jacobson and Posner will answer questions after the movie.

For tickets ($15) and more information, visit or call 802-660-2600.

Heart of Cold

Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center hosts a free sneak preview of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, tonight at 7 at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover.

The fantasy-adventure, which goes into general release next Friday, stars Charlize Theron as the evil Queen Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman.

To reserve tickets and learn more, visit or call 603-646-2422.


On May 5 in Dartmouth College’s Loew Auditorium, the Hopkins Center will screen Peabody-Award finalist Thomas Allen Harris’ new film, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People. The documentarian is serving a Montgomery Fellowship at Dartmouth, and will lead a discussion after the screening. For tickets ($5 to $9) and more information, visit or call 603-646-2422.

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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