Will El Zombo Fantasma be the Latino Hellboy?

The recently created Death Ray Films and Maya Entertainment have announced that they're teaming up to bring a film version of the Dark Horse comic book El Zombo Fantasma to a theater near you.

Created by Kevin Munroe (who is also writing and directing the film) and David Wilkins, the story revolves around El Zombo, a Mexican wrestler (or luchador) who dies mysteriously and finds himself presented with a choice: Become a guardian for tough-as-nails 10-year-old Belisa Montoya in Los Angeles (who isn't at all what she seems) or spend eternity in hell.

"You've seen guardian-angel stories before, but you've never seen one with a 500-pound zombie wrestler," Munroe said in an interview. He added: "We created the comic in 2002, and we sold it to Dark Horse, and we've been trying for a long time to find the right people to make it. And then up comes Maya releasing company, and they're really enthusiastic about funding the movie and getting it out there. It felt like it was a really good fit. ... At this point, we're really doing the deal to develop and produce the movie. ... I'm just writing the script right now and figuring out what the movie is going to be."

In the comic, Belisa is 10, but the press announcement suggests she'll be a teen in the movie. We asked if the character was being aged a bit for casting purposes. "Yeah," Munroe said. "I mean, it's one of those things that, ... I am such a sucker for Goonies, and I'm a big fan of child endangerment [laughs]. In the nicest way. I think it's one of those things that is quickly becoming a lost storytelling style. It sucks. I think that the Disney Channel of it all is sort of ruining a lot of that. ... Mind you, I have no problem sitting my kids in front of a TV now, because I know that there is nothing at all offensive for them to watch there. But, at the same time, I still miss the idea that kids sort of worry that they could die. As a kid, you know that they're not going to die. I just think the stakes are really hard to make higher for kids these days, so I think we're toying with the idea right now, of maybe aging her up a little bit. Possibly going a little more Buffy route with it. That could be fun as well. It's a great franchise, and I think it's done right, that character."

In addition to the film, the producers are looking at an animated series and some video games, according to Munroe. Perhaps even some direct-to-DVD films, a la Hellboy. And speaking of Hellboy, it seems that will be a big influence on how the film will be shot. Robert Sanchez, who is part of Death Ray, calls this a "Latin Hellboy," and Munroe agrees. "The Hellboy angle is actually a pretty good route to go. To me, this is kind of putting on screen the stuff that is in my head, and Dave Wilkins, the co-creator, ... which actually may fall into that same category with Hellboy. As long as it's believable, I think you can go anywhere."

Munroe added that he's a big fan of wrestling, and a few wrestlers are being considered for roles. "The biggest challenge I find is just what we're going to do with El Zombo. Because there's two ways. One is the guy-in-suit route, which I think is very cool, and I think especially when you think of the work on Hellboy II, like the Wink character, it's insane. And there's also the [pro wrestler] route. ... I'm a huge wrestling fan, and you look at some of the guys in the WWE, like Batista—these guys are, like, huge. ... I think these are some of the best showmen out there."

Death Ray Films was recently formed by Chris Patton, Kevin Munroe and Robert Sanchez, who are currently in production on the Italian comic-based War Monkeys. "The cool slant on the company is that we do movies like this," Munroe said. "It really doesn't matter the size, big and small. The idea being that they take all these genre concepts and turn them on their head a little bit, which is the one unifying factor in all the movies we're talking about. You can point to War Monkeys and El Zombo as two examples of the kind of movies that we make."

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