Romford Shopping Hall to hit big screen in independent zombie film Welcome to Essex

PUBLISHED: 10:25 20 August 2013 | UPDATED: 10:25 20 August 2013

Lead zombie Heidi Alavi, of Elm Park

Lead zombie Heidi Alavi, of Elm Park


Lock up your boutiques – a sinister force has Romford in its grip.

The urge for budding directors to make zombie films in the town’s shopping centres is spreading like a virus, and nowhere seems safe.

Last month, Spencer Hawken filled the Mercury Mall with lurching, decaying extras for one terrifying night of filming his Death Walks project.

And as dawn broke, another production company was polishing off its own gruesome efforts – this time shot in Romford Shopping Hall.

The emergency services were alerted, but even they were powerless to stop the bloodshed.

“One of the crew, who was covered in fake blood, had popped out of the back of the mall to make a phone call,” said Ryan Fleming, producer of Welcome to Essex.

“A member of the public saw him and called the police.”

But filming continued.

Welcome to Essex is a slab of traditional zombie gore set almost entirely in its eponymous county.

So what prompted Ryan and the crew to venture out to Havering?

“I used to work in Oldchurch Hospital,” he said. “Before I could drive, I used to get the bus and train into Romford to go shopping. I love Romford Shopping Hall – it’s got some cracking shops.

“We wanted a shopping mall for an integral scene but The Mercury and The Liberty were too big – we’d have needed a couple of thousand extras to fill them.

“The shopping hall loaned us the use of their mall over a weekend, and we only needed 120 people to fill it out and charge around the place.”

The flesh-eating wasn’t the only unpleasant thing about the experience.

“They had to turn the air conditioning off because of the sound,” explained Ryan, “so it was like an oven.

“Everyone was in prosthetics and fake blood for five or six hours – and we didn’t hear a single complaint.”

Like Spencer, the people behind Welcome to Essex had the aim of shooting a film for nothing.

They haven’t quite managed it – racking up costs of about £6,000 so far – but at least Romford was inexpensive.

All the extras – including one of the lead zombie roles, played by Elm Park actress Heidi Alavi – turned up for nothing, while the shopping hall was loaned out free of charge.

So when can film lovers get their teeth into the new flicks?

Both Spencer and Ryan are in talks with the Mercury’s Premier Cinema about debuting their films there.

And Ryan hopes to get Welcome to Essex on general release in January.

“We’ve got a few independent cinemas, including the Premier, who expressed an interest quite early on,” he said, “so that cinema and a few others in London and Essex will show it.”

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