New York As if a film about a virus that wipes out London and turns its victims into shrieking, blood-spewing zombies weren't bleak enough, "28 Days Later" now has a darker alternate ending.
Moviegoers who stay in their seats past the closing credits will see the five-minute coda, which began appearing in theaters Friday. Newspaper ads tout it as "the ending so terrifying, it will haunt you for days!"
Director Danny Boyle and Fox Searchlight, which is distributing the film, decided to add the second ending after buzz about its existence sprang up on the Web. The original finale, while open for interpretation, is vaguely optimistic.
"(The film) was released in England last November, and when it came out on DVD there a couple of months ago, it had the alternate ending," said Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight's president of distribution.
"The Internet was alive with debate about this new ending," he said. "American viewers were frustrated because they weren't able to see it."
But the darker ending hadn't gone through post-production, so it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it ready for projection on U.S. screens, Gilula said.
"The feasibility of it was a real hurdle," he said. "We had people working on it around the clock because all the elements were in London."
The film received mostly positive reviews and already is an independent hit. Shot on digital video using mostly unknown actors, it cost about $8 million to make and has grossed about $35 million since its release a month ago, said Nancy Utley, Fox Searchlight's president of marketing.
The distributor, which is a specialty branch of 20th Century Fox, expects that repeat business from moviegoers curious about the new ending should push the film well past the $40 million mark. "28 Days Later" later is playing on 916 screens and may go wider.
"We thought we saw an opportunity to borrow a page from the DVD play book and expose scores of audiences to another way of looking at the film while still in theatrical release," Utley said. "I think it illustrates the choices a filmmaker goes through in putting a film forward to the public."