Darren Stockford

Zombie flesh meeters: Ian McCulloch at Memorabilia

Video cover for Zombie Flesh EatersTo some, it’s Zombi 2; to others, it’s Zombie. To me, it’s always been, and always will be, Zombie Flesh Eaters. That’s the title that stirred my imagination back in the pre-VRA days of the early 1980s, the one that conjured up all kinds of hellish images (especially in combination with the wonderfully alluring artwork that graced the video sleeve, pictured left) - basically, the one that promised the most.

And it was a long promise. One day in the early 1980s, my uncle popped round and mentioned that he’d just seen a film so gory that it was almost unstomachable. That film, of course, was Zombie Flesh Eaters - then available in an uncut form from all good video-rental shops, but soon to be labelled a ‘video nasty’ and effectively banned in the UK for two decades. Consequently, I didn’t manage to see the uncut version of the film until I was in my early 30s, via a German DVD. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.

Lucio Fulci’s 1979 entry into the living-dead subgenre is a sweaty, decaying and nightmarishly beautiful film. Though it’s still dismissed in some quarters as a wannabe Dawn Of The Dead, which admittedly its unofficial billing as a Zombi sequel seems to invite (Dawn was released under the main title Zombi in some European countries, including Italy), it actually stands proud as its own creation, taking the undead back to their voodoo roots and reanimating some seriously rotted corpses that know exactly what they want - the cue for some spectacular, spurting grue.

Zombie fighting a shark in Zombie Flesh EatersIt also boasts a zombie tussling underwater with a live shark, the famous eyeball-puncturing scene (one of horror cinema’s best tests of an audience’s nerve), and a memorable electronic score, by Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci, that gives the film a kind of downbeat, maudlin inevitability. It’s a great movie that some folk, me included, call a genre classic.

So when Ian McCulloch - who played Peter West, the film’s male lead - was announced as a guest at the spring Memorabilia show, at the Birmingham NEC, I couldn’t resist paying him a visit and bagging a signed 8x10 for my collection.

Ian McCulloch autographI arrived at the venue at around 11.30am, and made straight for Mr McCulloch’s desk. I was surprised to see him sitting on his own, with no helper to take money and fend off any strange requests, but he seemed quite happy in charge of his own stall.

At any one time, the queue was small, but the take-up was reasonably regular. The photos that Ian had available were mostly Zombie-related, but the wealth of things that people brought to get signed covered plenty of his other work too, especially Doctor Who and the original Survivors. He even shared his email address with a guy who’d brought along a nice-looking screen shot of the latter series, with the intention of getting hold of the original file.

McCulloch, who’s reportedly a farmer nowadays, struck me as a friendly, likeable chap. He’s as well-spoken as he was in the 1970s and 1980s, and is ageing very well indeed. If I didn’t know, I would never have pegged him as 70. After he’d signed my chosen 8x10 (pictured above, the silver signature unfortunately blending into his checked shirt), I asked him if he’d mind posing for a photo with me.

Of course, it was no trouble - or at least it shouldn’t have been. Unfortunately, the first two attempts to get a picture went rather wrong, with the images ending up horribly blurred. I’ve no idea whether it was equipment malfunction or whether the guy I’d handed my camera to just had the shakes (standing in front of Peter West from Zombie Flesh Eaters, I wouldn’t have blamed him).

Meeting Ian McCulloch at Memorabilia, spring 2010Thankfully, Ian was patient and accommodating, pretty much willing me to keep going until I was happy, and the third picture wasn’t too bad - or at least it wouldn’t be once I’d sharpened it.

One more for luck? No - I felt like I was taking up far too much of Ian’s time (even though he insisted otherwise), and the poor chap taking the pics looked like he was heading for a breakdown. If he’s reading, I’m so sorry, and thank you.

While I’m on course for a downbeat ending (quite fitting in the circumstances), I must also apologise to you, dear reader, for the headline I’ve given this post. I’m very fond of puns, but this isn’t one of my best. Still, the pun-phobic should perhaps be a tiny bit grateful: I came dangerously close to titling this page ‘Zombie hello cast’, in tribute to McCulloch’s role in 1980’s Zombie Holocaust. Of course, ‘cast’ is plural, so it didn’t quite work.

I might not be proud, but I do try to be accurate.

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