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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 09:08 GMT
Secrets of a movie zombie
By Rob Winder
BBC News

After years glued to spine-chilling, low-budget horror flicks where the stars are dead and the gore is ketchup, Rob Winder joined a new production to find out what it was like to be a zombie for a night.

Rob Winder plays a background zombie in scene from the film
Rob Winder (left) got to grips with the finer points of zombie acting
It is two in the morning on a grim North London estate. We glimpse a body lying in a dark corridor. It is a woman, the victim of a brutal murder.

We move toward her, faces contorted with hunger in anticipation of the forthcoming feast. I am fulfilling a lifetime's ambition.

The director yells "cut" and the woman gets up laughing.

I am zombie #3 in a low-budget horror film, Dead Centre. Actually, low-budget is an exaggeration - no budget is closer to the truth.

But this film is a labour of love for those taking part - a heartfelt tribute to classic 1970s Italian zombie films like Zombie Flesheaters.

The filming is taking place in the perfect location - a dank concrete estate in inner city London.

Rob Winder in a scene from Dead Centre
You do not have to be Laurence Olivier to play an anonymous citizen of the living dead
In the film, the estate has been designed to keep zombies out but, after a terror attack on the capital, they have found a way in.

Before filming, I must look undead. There is no hi-tech make-up here - but it is amazing what you can do with oats, toilet paper, golden syrup, stick-on wounds and some face paint.

After half an hour, I look suitably gruesome and get ready for my first scene.

Obviously, you do not have to be Laurence Olivier to play an anonymous citizen of the living dead. But there are factors to consider.

First, there is the walk. Should I go for an exaggerated wriggle like those in Return of the Living Dead?

Or perhaps an ominous shuffle reminiscent of a classic Frankenstein. And what if I cannot summon up a look of blood-curdling terror?

Unfortunately, the zombies in this film are silent so my moaning practice has been for nothing. The moaning, it turns out, is supplied by the directors.

Zombies pose in a promotional picture for Dead Centre
There are laughs to be had scaring drunken tourists who wander near the shoot
"You're not supposed to be sprinting, you've got rigor mortis, Rob," they tell me.

Apparently, my stumbling gait is not quite up to scratch.

After a few takes, I get my speed right - but I've got a way to go before reaching the standard of the classic all-time great zombies we are emulating.

But as any professional extra will tell you, most of the filming is spent waiting around.

There are laughs to be had scaring drunken tourists who wander near the shoot - but it is not an option to pop out for a quick drink ourselves while looking like fresh roadkill.

In the final feasting scene, the crew are anxious to make every drop of blood and piece of flesh look as realistic as possible, so a trip to the butchers to pick up some offal is planned.

But they run into a very modern problem - vegetarian zombies.

The ethical, caring, diet-conscious zombie of the 21st Century will not compromise on its morals - even for this film - so an alternative is prepared involving cold pasta, tomatoes and tinned cherries.

It looks disgusting, as well as being medically inaccurate.

Despite this, we mix it up and spread it on the stomach of one very determined actor.


It is time to tuck in.



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