Monroeville, PA, is no stranger to zombies, especially at their fabled mall where, in 1978, the original (and still best) Dawn of the Dead was filmed. Now, thirty years later, the shambling dead once again invaded for a three-day event which culminated in a good charitable cause. More on that later. ZombieFest, the annual event, was one hell of a good time, and if you missed it, you should promptly go and kick yourself wherever is most tender.
Friday night the fest kicked off at the Churchill Valley Country Club with the Zombie Ball. Costumes were optional, but well received, as the evening included a costume contest, a silent auction (the proceeds from which went to breast cancer research), and a fifty-fifty drawing in which the lucky ticket holder got half the money taken to purchase the tickets; the rest also went to breast cancer research. Amid all the fine surroundings, the cash bar, and the shambling undead, special convention guest Ken Foree greeted every guest as they walked in. Later, Foree was joined by Day of the Dead star Joe Pilato in judging the costume contest.
ZombieFest continued the next day inside the mall, where admission was free, starting with a welcome by ZombieFest promoter and host of Pittsburgh’s The It’s Alive! Show, Professor Emcee Square (Mark Menold). What followed were makeup demonstrations by the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Q & A sessions with Ken Foree and the cast of The It’s Alive Show, movie reviews by Tim Gross, and top-notch performances by bands The Jason Martinko Revue, Venus in Furs, Eric Boyd & His Machines, The Devilz in the Detailz, and The Legendary Hucklebucks. In an empty storefront of the mall, fans were treated to readings by some of horror’s truly talented authors, such as Travis Adkins, Bowie Ibarra, JL Bourne, Glenn Kay, Mike Arnzen, Ryan Mecum, Steve North, Kim Paffenroth, Gregory Lamberson, and D. Harlan Wilson. There were also screenings of movies such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies and Night of the Living Dead, along with a screeing of The It’s Alive! Show’s Best of Mother and Urnie DVD.
Sunday was when all hell broke loose. The first year of the Monroeville Mall ZombieWalk, more than seven-hundred shambling rotten corpses showed up to raise awareness of hunger and to donate food for local food banks. It set a world record that year, only to be beaten the next year with more than a thousand. This year, more than 1300 zombies gathered at the mall for a historic walk coordinated with more than fifty cities worldwide. Once we were done shambling through the mall, amid news cameras and gawkers (referred to as “bait”), the whole group was treated to a concert performance by The It’s Alive Show’s house band, Deathmobile.
The rest of the day featured the finalist shorts chosen from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Scary Shorts contest, another showing of Night of the Living Dead, and the Vincent Price classic Last Man on Earth. Following was a final author panel discussion consisting of myself, Gary Braunbeck, and Tim Wagoneer. The day also held zombie costume contests, a jello-brain eating contest, live segments of The It’s Alive Show, and even a “zombieoke” with Library of the Living Dead podcast host, Dr. Pus. Also featured at the fest was a “zombie museum” hosted by the mall’s “Toy Galaxy” store, and a “coffin ride,” in which folks would climb into a real coffin and experience what it is like for the corpse having a bumpy ride to the cemetery.
What struck me the most was the amount of effort put into the costumes some of the zombies created. We had zombie-majorettes, zombie-Palins, bleeding aborted fetuses and Jesus among others that truly made the event spectacular. Ken Foree took the time to guide tours around the mall of shooting locations, and I’m pretty sure he shook the hand of every guest. Also particularly impressive were the efforts of Menold, the cast of The It’s Alive Show, and the volunteers (who are members of the show’s bulletin board and call themselves “The Lifeless”), whose combined labors made ZombieFest ’08 one of the best, and most-professionally-run conventions I’ve ever been to.
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