Edgar Wright has a lot to answer for; by pitting Simon Pegg and Nick Frost against the living dead, he opened the floodgates to a marauding horde of shuffling flesh-eating films. Many were not worth the ground they climbed out of, but some deserve more than a swift blow to the head. Despite the too-close-for-comfort title, Shed of the Dead is firmly in the latter category. There's much more to Drew Cunningham's 2019 comedy-horror than a cheap cash-in.
Headlined by Spencer Brown (Nathan Barley) and Lauren Socha (Misfits), playing mismatched husband and wife Trevor and Bobbi, it featured a supporting cast of well-known faces. Horror royalty Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Bill Mosely (The Devil's Rejects), Kane Hodder (Hatchet), and Emily Booth (Cradle of Fear) all appear and deliver some fantastic moments. There is also some brilliant narration provided by the unmistakable dulcet tones of Brian Blessed.
Ewan MacIntosh - deadpan-faced Keith in the UK version of The Office - plays Graham, Trevor's best mate and fellow gamer. Trevor spends all his time in his shed on an allotment, although he has no interest in growing veg. Instead, he is brewing bootleg vodka and painting his board game figures. These two have a fun line in banter, and there are several cutaway Warhammer-style fantasy sequences in which Trevor and Graham become their sword-wielding alter egos. You'd think this would hold them in good stead when it comes to the inevitable zombie apocalypse. However, in the real world, Trevor is a downtrodden, henpecked, weak (hinted at by being often seen puffing on an inhaler - a bugbear of ours as they never actually use the medication right!) sort. So when the shit goes down, he's less equipped to cope than most. Trevor and Graham do attempt to do the right thing, however, as they head back to 'save' the women.
British horror icon Emily Booth plays a fun role as Bobbi's co-worker at a salon, Harriet. We spoke to her about the film, and the first thing we had to ask was about the scene in which she rode Michael Berryman like a horse. Literally. "I was a little bit apprehensive," she tells us "but he was an absolute gentleman and game for anything." As well as having to have Emily his back, Berryman wore leather shorts and a cropped string vest, along with horse ears and a tail (which was attached to a butt plug, but the director didn't insist on him wearing that, thankfully). "I couldn't believe how game he was for anything," Emily reveals, "He must be 70 plus, and he had a really bad back. So he was on his hands and knees, and there's me on his back, balancing! I'm wearing these riding boots; I'm trying to shuffle along and try not to put my weight on his back. I felt guilty as he's a legend. I was really surprised how game he was for it." It wasn't all stressful, though: "It was a lot of fun, and we got to improvise it. The director Drew just said 'go on - do your thing' so we made a lot of stuff up, like the bit about the safe word."
Emily's character, as you can probably guess, offers more than just haircuts and makeovers. Graham is particularly infatuated with her, going to some quite disgusting measures to 'be close' to her. It turns out fine in the end, albeit not the way he envisaged. Working with Ewan was something Emily was looking forward to, having been in touch with The Office actor even before the part came up; "I really liked our twisted zombification-cum-cannibalism-cum-death-scene," she told us. "I enjoyed the scenes where I'm slowly transforming into a zombie. I had a lot of fun with that because I wanted to slow it down and almost make it an emphatic sort of scene." Elaborating, Emily said: "I kind of feel was sorry for her, she's just left, and her friend doesn't really give a shit about her. Everyone's laughing and being casual about her turning into a zombie. I guess she sees Graham as her only salvation, but then it turned into this cannibalism. There is that little switch, where we sort of kiss, and it turns into this violent kiss where I pull his tongue out." This is where Emily was in her element: "I just really enjoy working with the gore, spitting out bits of tongue or human entrails - I just find it fun and amusing." Laughing as she tells us, it's obvious the horror fan in Emily is coming out. "Because it was quite a slow turn, I was sitting on the edge of the bath for ages and Drew was just laughing at me. I think because I'm all cross-eyed and dying, and they're all having a chat and ignoring me."
While Emily's face wound is a reasonably simple makeup job, she does relish filming those types of scenes: "Behind the scenes, there's a makeup person with a huge mug of gloopy blood, which is basically treacle and food colouring, things like that, they have to be thick, and it can't be too runny. And they whack an absolute load in your mouth, and you have to pretend you haven't got any in your mouth until the moment where you have to throw it up and goo it out. Emily continues, giggling: "So that's always quite fun, but it plays havoc on your teeth, I think because it is just pure sugar. I always like that moment when it all - bleugh - dribbles out of your mouth really slowly. That's always fun!"
Harriet's death scene was a clincher for Emily accepting the role, however. "I only agreed to play the part if they changed the entire way I died," she tells us. "I didn't like the tone of her death in the original script, so they rewrote it for me, so I respected that about Drew."
As we mentioned, there are occasional make-believe elements in which the characters are reimagined as their gaming personas. With Graham having the hots for Harriet, it made sense that she'd be part of his LARP fantasy. "That's another reason I liked the film," Emily continues, "because I thought there couldn't be many films where you're your character and then you get to go into fantasyland and play a manifestation of whatever your RPG character would be." It wasn't just portraying a different element to the character Emily enjoyed, "I really loved the costume, but my baby was about eleven months old at that time, and I'd just finished breastfeeding, and they were trying to get this bra to fit me because my boobs kept changing size and it was really heavy because of the bones sewed onto the bra, but I loved doing Moana, I would have liked more from her."
As star-studded as Shed of the Dead is, it never loses its very British soul and humour. Forget expectations of Pegg and Frost and meet another very relatable pair with unusual quirks. And plenty of flesh-eating zombies, of course.
SHED OF THE DEAD screens on Horror Channel. Sky 317, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, Freesat 138. The short film SELKIE, which was co-written and stars Emily Booth is available to view on YouTube.