Simon Pegg loves zombies. In fact, the powers-that-be at Celebrity Mastermind should book him now, such is the wealth of information he carries around about the undead. Which is just as well, considering his new film Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious account of a zombie invasion in London, and one man's attempts to save his parents, girlfriend and flatmate from the ensuing carnage.
Pegg established himself as a star of the small screen with Spaced, the cult C4 sitcom whose fans must have been up in arms that it did not make the Top Ten in the BBC's recent comedy poll. You may also have caught him in the latest series of Black Books, in which he plays the prissy team-building manager of Goliath Books. He should now prepare himself to take the leap into mainstream fame, since many critics are already hailing his film as the best British comedy of 2004.
But back to the zombies. Pegg admits his fascination with them borders on obsession. "I used to lie in bed in my flat and imagine what would happen if there was a zombie attack. In fact Nick Frost (who plays Shaun's best mate Ed in the film) and I used to plan our escape routes if it happened. Over the roof, down the street and find the nearest gun shop." So what is it exactly that he finds so appealing about them? "It's their strangeness. They are so slow and inept, but they don't appear to have any motive or moral rage. They are eerie and hungry. Actually, the film is about city life really, you can step over people like this all the time in London."
There are obvious comparisons with the work of zombie-maestro George Romero to be made, and Pegg laps them up excitedly. "Romero just saw our film a couple of days ago," he announces excitedly, " and it was validation beyond our wildest dreams. We called him and spoke to him and he told us that he really enjoyed it, and was very flattered that we had taken a reverential approach to it."
After an absence of zombie films for a while at the cinemas, it seems you can't go down a movieplex corridor without being promised more flesh-eating fare. Not only did last year's 28 Days Later feature them heavily, but the near simultaneous release of the updated Dawn of the Dead means they are back at the forefront of horror films. "Michael Jackson's Thriller video killed off zombie films for a good fifteen years," theorises Pegg. "It was the ultimate in high camp. It was only when Resident Evil came out on Playstation that it all started again. It is cyclical, and is all to do with a fear of ourselves, of the enemy within and the fact that we could die at any moment."
As for the new films crowding the marketplace, Pegg sees it as a blessing in disguise. "It's strangely good timing. I saw our trailer and the DOTD trailer at the same screening and both worked. We thought initially we might lose our individuality but it seems to have captured the zeitgeist. The more the merrier as far as we're concerned."
Pegg has been bitten by the film-making bug although admits he was unprepared for how difficult it all would be ("it was like going from Junior School to University"), and while he's not ruling out a final series of Spaced, he seems certain that his future lies on the big screen. And for British cinema, that can be no bad thing.