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Zombie-A-GoGo Interviews


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

9:02 AM - Conor McMahon

Interview with
Conor McMahon

Wayne Simmons
aka Spiral

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Picture the scene. You’re in a fancy restaurant with your girlfriend. The waitress takes your order, smiling politely as waitresses tend to do. You ask for the sea bass, only without the tomato salsa dressing (you’ve got a childhood phobia of the damn things) and your lovely belle requests some posh chicken thing-or-other.

Two cigarettes and a glass of wine later, the waitress arrives with your food. Both you and your girlfriend smile excitedly, thanking her profusely whilst stubbing out the ciggies. However, as soon as her back’s turned, you’re both complaining in hushed whispers. There’s tomato dressing on your fish and your girlfriend thinks her food looks more like a dog’s dinner than one fit for a princess (“I thought this was meant to be a top class restaurant?!”)… but neither of you complain. You smile and make do, then blush whilst telling the waitress that your unfinished food was delicious and that you’re just so full you couldn’t finish it. You pay the extravagant bill, tipping generously, then wander onto the street. You call the waitress a sour old bitch and declare you’ll never go into that hole again… Sound familiar? Yes? Ah, you must have green blood in you, then!

You see, we’re a funny bunch us Irish. A race of paradoxes. An insecure people full of good intentions, which have rolled out in bloody civil ’unrest’ for as long as any of us remember. We hate each other. We love each other. We hate ourselves, then we get blind drunk and love ourselves. We never complain. We always complain…

No horror film I have seen captures The Irish paradox ™ as much as Dead Meat. The title itself would have been for me something heard bandied about in Irish playgrounds circa 1985. It was a threat rarely said in jest, yet never carried out. You said it to some wee lad who was your best mate one day and worst enemy the next…


… Fitting, then, for Dead Meat to be the title for a movie as much about the humour as it is about the horror…

Conor McMahon chose to make a zombie film that was unapologetically Irish in terms of dialogue and characters. His leading lady, therefore, is French… or is it Spanish? Either way, it makes about as much sense to find a European in this film as any word spoken by the coach or his monosyllabic wife makes... (When you see the film, you’ll know what I mean. Trust me…)

Yet it all makes perfect sense. The archaic blend of gore, kung-fu spade wielding, brash Irish dialogue and Spanish totty that is Dead Meat for me represents the most exhilarating piece of survival horror since 28 Days Later. Set in rural Ireland, the countryside backdrop provides ample space for this modest budget zombie flick to both amble and thrust itself into your imagination, reaching an inevitable conclusion which says more about human nature than that of the hapless hordes of undead creating merry trouble for our eclectic band of nitwits and French (?!) doll.

I was delighted to catch up with the director of Dead Meat, Conor McMahon, an Irishman by name and nature, to find out what the craic was…

Spiral: Hi Conor. What moved you to pen and direct another zombie film within an already saturated market? What do you think makes Dead Meat unique?

Conor McMahon: Well first of all when I started writing Dead Meat no zombie films had come out yet. I started writing the film a few months before I even heard of 28 days later. And then it was when we were filming that all the other zombie films started appearing. So it goes to show you can never predict what the market is going to be like. I guess the reason I thought about writing a zombie film in the first place was because I hadn't seen one in so long. (A lot of people must have had the exact same idea). Plus I had made a lot of horror shorts but I had never made a zombie one. And I thought if I do a zombie film I can have a load of death scenes and I should be able to drag that out over an hour and a half.

I think the Irish humour is the most unique part about the film.

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Sp: Where do you see the zombie sub-genre going from here, both independently and studio-style?

CM: I think there won't be another rake of zombie films for about ten years. I think we've all had our fill of them.

Sp: You have, of course, dabbled in horror before with 2001 short, The Braineater. What attracts you to this genre?

CM: I started making films with my friends on my Dad's camcorder when I was 15. We made all kinds of films, action, comedy, gangster, horror, westerns even a Shakespeare drama (though I did add in a few extra sword fights). But whenever I made a horror film they were always the ones I had the most fun making and they were also the ones that got the best reaction. I think I got a real buzz at making people laugh or cover their faces with disgust. So I've tried to keep doing it ever since.

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Sp: You received funding for Dead Meat from the Irish Film Board. How difficult was it to obtain such for a horror film? And what was their general reaction to the film?

CM: I think we were very lucky with Dead Meat and we got the funding a month or two after I had finished the script. The Film Board had just launched a scheme called the "Mirco Budget High risk digital Initiative” and our project fitted right into that. They we're excited about the project because they hadn't made a horror film before. I think it was my short film Braineater that convinced them I was up to the task.

The Board have been very happy with the outcome of the film and we're very happy to see it secure a sales agent and sell to countries around the world.

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Sp: Tell us a little about your choices of actors/ actresses for Dead Meat? What were you looking for most?

CM: Well I had already cast the character of the Coach Cathal Cheunt (Eoin Whelan) before I even wrote the script. He was a friend of mine from college and he had appeared in my short film the Braineater. A lot of people found him entertaining so I thought I could develop that character more in a longer version.

It was never my initial intention to cast a foreign person for the role of Helen (Marian Araujo) for the lead, but I really liked her audition and I thought that having a foreign person might also add to the whole Fish out of water thing.

Sp: What made you choose a French character to play the lead within a rural Irish backdrop? What would you see as the strengths of this character?

CM: Most people think she is French but she's actually Spanish. I thought that it might be funny to have a foreign person who didn't understand a word that the Coach character is saying. So maybe other foreign people who can't understand him could relate to her situation. I guess her strengths are that she's pretty nifty at using high heels to kill zombies.

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Sp: How did you train the zombies in the film to move/ behave?

CM: We put them through zombie school and showed them how to walk. I said, "Don't put your arms out in front of you"

Sp: Dead Meat is an unapologetically Irish film. Its colloquial dialogue and humour may make it difficult to transfer, at times, to an international audience. Were you ever tempted to dilute the film in favour of suiting a wider audience?

CM: I think when I was making the film I didn't really think that far ahead. I really liked the coach character and he always had me laughing on the set. If I had to dilute him down I think it would have lost the humour. I think I justified it by saying.."well no one understood Brad Pitt in Snatch and he was really funny"

Sp: Did any of your international distributors try in any way to promote the film differently for their particular audience?

CM: Well Japan called the film Meat of the Dead. They took a picture of the actress Marian for the DVD cover and digitally put a big massive axe in her hand and put all these bloody carcasses on the ground. So I guess the Japanese like their gore a lot.

Sp: Have you been satisfied with the response from fans?

CM: Yeah. I was really worried that people wouldn't understand the humour, but after going to a few festivals, people really seemed to enjoy it. It went down well at Screamfest in L.A. and I was over in Berlin and Hamburg and people were laughing in the right places. I got asked to sign some programmes afterwards, which was something new for me.

I think as well, showing the film at the festivals reminded me why I made the film in the first place. Fans of the genre spotted the little homage's I had put in to other horror films that I had totally forgotten about. Sometimes because I've seen it so many times I just think about the things I could of done better, or if I had more money…but in the end I think for the money we had it was a good achievement.

Sp: Dead Meat is as much comedy as it is horror. How compatible do you see these two genres?

CM: I think it's proven to be compatible with films like Evil Dead 2 and Bad Taste. I think in a way they go hand in hand because comedy is a good way to relieve the tension after a scary scene. Even horror films like Jaws or Aliens are full of humour.

Sp: Have you any plans to return to the horror genre in the future? Or even specifically zombies?

CM: Well I do have an idea for a black and white zombie film set during the Irish famine.

Sp: What are you working on at the moment?

CM: I'm working on two projects. One is a supernatural horror about the Banshee, set once again in the Irish countryside. And because I can't do any over the top gore in that script I wrote a good old slasher film to keep myself amused. Lot's of eye-gouging aplenty.

Sp: Finally, what would be your top five zombie films of all time?

CM: Night of the living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Evil Dead, and Shawn of the Dead.

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