Zombie Flesh Eaters Star Ian McCulloch Talks Meeting Fulci, the Public’s Reaction to the Film, and More
With the release of Arrow Video’s phenomenal Blu-ray treatment of Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombie Flesh Eaters upon us, we chatted with the film’s star, Ian McCulloch, about his experiences in the world of Italian horror.
It’s hard to believe Lucio Fulci’s now widely celebrated undead nightmare was once rotting in ‘video nasty’ limbo. Most of you reading this right now probably saw Zombie Flesh Eaters years ago in appallingly muddy VHS quality – as if you didn’t already feel dirty enough for deciding to watch the infamous Italian stomach-churner!
Now, thanks to the excellent folks at Arrow Video, you can see it in an eye-popping Blu-ray presentation with some meaty extras to chew through. That’s right; you can watch a zombie fight a shark in glorious high definition!
To celebrate this historical release, we had the good fortune to sit down with one of the stars of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Ian McCulloch, who played plucky reporter Peter West. Despite finding the footage to be uncomfortable to watch, he would later go on to star in spaghetti horrors Zombie Holocaust and Contamination. So just how was it working alongside a genre legend in one of horror cinema’s most infamous films?
Can you recall the moment you landed the role and first met with Lucio Fulci? How was it?
Ian McCulloch: I was offered the role of Peter West on April Fool’s Day. I was rehearsing a play in Plymouth when my agent phoned me with the offer. Having agreed to take it, the film company arranged to fly me to London to meet Fulci for dinner. He was accompanied by the casting director, and the meeting went as well as it could, bearing in mind my total lack of Italian and Fulci’s not so brilliant English. He was, I thought, rather boastful but not about his film career – more his prowess as a man of the world who directed films but also sailed the Atlantic and bred horses.
Did you stay in contact with Fulci after the film’s release?
Ian McCulloch: I did not meet Lucio again after I finished the film.
What were your initial feelings about the project?
Ian McCulloch: I thought I was going to make a ‘Hammer Horror’ type of film. I had no idea how Italians did things, and while I was aware that they did not hold back when they did sex type scenes, I had no premonition of how they were going to shoot the other special effects. However, the offer of a leading role and the locations in New York, the Dominican Republic and Italy, plus a generous financial deal, made me only too willing to accept the offer, especially as there would be no audition or test.
How was it working on set? Was there a scene in particular that was hard to shoot?
Ian McCulloch: I was impressed by the work ethic of the crew and the speed at which they worked. Most of them had worked with Fulci before and were used to his antics and style. An English unit would have taken twice as long. Breaks were few and short. They were also making another film at the same time. In the hotel and on various planes we travelled in. They went out of their way to be friendly and helpful, and there were no problematic scenes.
How does it feel now that the film has gone from a ‘video nasty’ to getting such a polished Blu-ray presentation?
Ian McCulloch: I was astonished that there was enough interest to make the 25th Anniversary DVD and more astonished that there was a huge audience attending conventions in the States who loved the film. The same proved true in the UK and Germany but surprisingly not in Italy, the country of its origin. I saw the Blu-ray, and they have done a tremendous job on it.
Can you remember the public reaction when the film was first released?
Ian McCulloch: I hoped, I suppose, for a bigger and better reaction. It did not set the world alight, and my wife walked out after five minutes. It took its classification as a video nasty to increase its popularity.
Why do you think the film still has such a strong following today?
Ian McCulloch: I have no idea except that it was the first of its kind and probably one of the goriest. Romero set the tone for one type of zombie film, and Fulci set the tone for the other. I am constantly surprised by its following, which now includes almost three generations of film fans.
What did you think when you saw the finished film? Is it true that the film shocked you? Which scene in particular?
Ian McCulloch: I saw the film for the first time when I did the commentary for the 25th Anniversary version with Jason Slater. I was, however, in another room, answering Jason’s questions and looking away to tell anecdotes as I remembered them from the screen so I did not see all of the film. I saw enough, however, to make me wince and feel that I had made the right decision in not seeing it before. I saw it for the first time properly at the Burns Centre in Dumfries where I was doing a Q&A and realised that I would have to see it to answer the questions.
Do many films shock you these days, or do you tend to stay away from horror?
Ian McCulloch: Horror films are not my cup of tea although I see from my CV that I have done more of them than any other!
Many thanks to Ian for taking the time out to chat with us! If you’re a fan of the film (and if not, what the heck are you doing here?), be sure to enter our UK Zombie Flesh Eaters giveaway.
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