How the dead came to life

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2014

Trailer to zombie documentary Doc of the Dead

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After investigating the Star Wars prequels and Paul the football result predicting octopus, pop culture documentarian Alexandre O  Philippe has now turned his attentions to the evolution of zombies. He talks to James Croot about Doc of the Dead.

Wellington was the home to a pivotal point in the rise of zombie culture, believes Alexandre O Philippe.

The filming of Sir Peter Jackson's 1992 film Brain Dead in the nation's capital breathed new life into the genre, he says. "It's one of the seminal movies of the 90s in the genre and such a blast to watch. It opened the door to taking the idea of the zombie and going as far as could possibly go with it."

Without it, there might not have been Zombieland, Warm Bodies or Shaun of the Dead.

Jackson is one of the very few absentees from Philippe's new survey of the history of zombies in popular culture - Doc of the Dead. He says he would have loved to have come to New Zealand to interview him but the film's limited budget couldn't stretch to that. Instead viewers will have to satisfy themselves with the likes of Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell and George A Romero waxing lyrical about the living dead.

Five years in the making, Philippe says his timing has turned out to be perfect with zombie fandom reaching new heights and the likes of The Walking Dead and World War Z proving to be massive hits. He admits that the difficulties involved in researching and licensing clips and photos for a film like this means you really have to be passionate about your subjects.

"Which obviously I am, but it's not easy. Actually, we had no choice as to when we started making this documentary. Simon Pegg was in Los Angeles on production for Star Trek 2 and he had a day off so we had to grab him then. Shortly after that we got George Romero via some contacts at a film festival in France. Having those two in the can made securing others a whole lot easier."

Apart from Jackson, the only other notable absentee is 28 Days Later helmer Danny Boyle, something that saddens but didn't surprise Philippe. "I would have loved to have interviewed him but I knew he wouldn't give us one because he doesn't feel like he's made a zombie film."

A horror fan since he was six years old (he cites Scanners and Night of the Living Dead as his first horror "memories"), Philippe says while he hasn't seen thousands of zombie films he certainly has a soft spot for the genre. So where does he stand on the whole slow versus fast zombie debate?

"I'm the kind of guy who tends to be inclusive. I love the fact we have fast and slow zombies, as well as zombies that behave like ants and zombies in romantic comedies. New things are happening to the genre all the time, which is a good sign it is alive and well. I can understand why some fans are turned off, but I get excited when I see different people trying different things with any genre. And if we all we had were slow-shuffling Romero zombies the genre would eventually die."

And he believes the versatility of the zombie itself is what has kept the genre alive for so long. "They are us and because of that you can project anything you want on them in a much more powerful, straightforward way than any other monster. They are a blank slate for any metaphor, idea, concept or subtext you're trying to express.

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As part of the Documentary Edge Film Festival, Doc of the Dead will screen (with Philippe in attendance) at 9.45pm on Friday (May 30) and 4.15pm on Sunday (June 1) at Auckland's Q Theatre. For more information, see documentaryedge.org.nz

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