Event Report: Zombie Fest 2007!
I just returned from an awesome weekend, so naturally I had to share. Most anyone who considers themselves to be a horror fan knows the significance of the Monroeville Mall to horror history. It's the place where, nearly thirty years ago, the mall was overrun with hoards of the undead. This year it happened again, setting a new world record, and bringing fans of zombie goodness together for one hell of a time. Pittsburgh’s The It's Alive! Show hosted the second annual ZombieFest, with authors, actors, flowing spigots of free beer, and lots of bloody fun.
For most folks, finding themselves locked in a big room full of dripping dead folks would be a nightmare. For we horror fans, however, it was heaven, especially because there was free beer.
Did I mention the free beer? Yeah, good times.
The show kicked off Saturday morning with a welcome by horror host Professor Emcee Square, followed by non-stop panels, readings and film viewings. It began with Bloodtype Online creators and contributors Ed Demko, Charlie Fleming, Tim Gross, Russ Rutter, and John Shatzer discussing their work with a few respectful questions and oddly few hecklers. Following was a makeup demonstration by students from Tom Savini's Special Make-up Effects Program, where a few volunteers got painted to horrific beauty. For those who've never seen such a thing to watch a leggy, gorgeous woman get turned into a rotting but nonetheless gorgeous corpse before your eyes can really make a fellow reconsider his standpoint on necrophilia. At least, that's what I heard...
Horror authors Mike Arnzen, Scott A. Johnson (that's me, in case you missed it), and Greg Lamberson followed with readings and discussion, with Arnzen reading zombified and nasty poetry, Lamberson reading from his Johnny Gruesome, and me reading from Deadlands.
At the end of our panel, the convention came to a screeching halt as everyone made their way to the "A" stage to attend the Q & A with the cast members of the Romero zombie movies. Included were Night of the Living Dead cast members Marilyn "Helen Cooper" Eastman, Bill Hinzman, George Kosana, Judith "Barbara" O'Dea, Russell "Johnny" Striener, and Kyra Schon, as well as writer John Russo. From Dawn of the Dead were cast members Sharon Ceccatti, David "Flyboy" Emge, Clayton Hill, Leonard "Machete Zombie" Lies, Scott H. "Roger" Reiniger, and Joe Shelby. Day of the Dead cast members included JarlathConroy, and Antone DiLeo. During the panel, all the stars expressed how much they appreciate the fans for keeping them in their hearts, with several echoing the sentiment that if it weren't for us, the fans, they wouldn't have jobs. Or, as Russell put it, would be doing yard work.
Following was an author panel and reading with horror scribes Gary Braunbeck, Kim Paffenroth, and Edward Holsclaw II.
With such goings on, one might think people would be exhausted by the end of the first day, or at least so drunk on free beer that the line between zombie and guest might be just a bit blurred. But wait; that wasn't the end at all! At 10:00 pm, the convention kicked into high gear with the Zombie Ball, featuring performances by bands such as The Unbangis, The Forbidden Five, Motorpsychos and a rare live performance by The It's Alive! Show's house band, Deathmobile. Hosted by The It's Alive! Show's Stiffy the Undead Clown, the night was marked by (more) free beer (courtesy of sponsor Straub), great music, and a silent auction, the proceeds of which went toward finding a cure for breast cancer. It also featured some of the best zombie costumes ever concocted. See the previous line about necrophilia and all references to free beer.
The next morning, a new world record was set as 1124 zombies converged on the Monroeville Mall to participate in the 2007 Zombie Walk. Who would have thought that walking from one end of a mall to another could be so much fun? Still, the shambling masses did manage to frighten a few of the living. Lorded over by Professor Emcee Square, Stiffy the Undead Clown, and Bill Hinzman, the walk was deemed a rousing success. What struck me as odd, but also as a good thing, was the number of zombie children that were in attendance. Yep, horror parents know how to raise their kids right around blood and dead things! The person with the undead fetus not withstanding, the walk proved that horror knows no age limits and can be full of family fun!
After dispersing, the convention center opened up again with a presentation by authors Arnold T. Blumberg and Andrew Hershberger, followed by a Q & A with horror expert and author of World War Z, Max Brooks.
Films that were shown at the convention included independent releases The Redsin Tower, Flesh Eater, Carmilla's Kiss, Biophage, and Zombie Farm. Mainstream films that were featured included Night of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth, and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Convention goers were also treated to scenes from the documentary Zombietown, USA and the music video for Greg Lamberson's Johnny Gruesome.
Of course, no convention is complete with consumerism, especially one revolving around a mall, and vendors/exhibitors for the events were varied and including the standard fare of T-shirt makers and movie distributors. There were also exhibits by Monster Golf, an indoor horror-themed mini-golf course (!), Savini's makeup course, many local artists, tattoo artists, piercers, and even folks who specialized in preparing for survival during a zombie attack! There were also zombie-themed gaming booths, zombie card games, and even a large area set aside for a live-action-role-playing version of the zombie game The Rising, which allowed groups to enter for two-hour stretches to combat the shambling dead. It also provided for some wonderful background noises for those of us with booths as the day was filled with screams and the distinctive moans of the undead. The most popular booth, however, had to belong to Straub Beer, as they provided free beer all day long on Saturday. In case you had missed that earlier… thank you, Straub!
Throughout the proceedings, several charities made their presences known, as well; The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank was on hand during the Zombie Walk to collect canned goods, while the Central Blood Bank took donations of another kind. The Komen for the Cure Pittsburgh organization of cancer survivors and activists sponsored the silent auction, while the Animal Rescue League managed to get roughly a dozen kittens adopted by good homes. Kittens! At a zombie walk! In addition, the whole event was dedicated to the memory of Karl "Harry Cooper" Hardman, who passed away two months prior to the event.
In all, Zombie Fest 2007 was a fantastic event. It will, I feel, come to rival the larger conventions very quickly in attendance, as next year there are rumors of a writers workshop and other new goodies in the works. Those who missed it should be slowly torn apart by old dead guys ala Trash in Return of the Living Dead, then be used as a display piece for the 2008 convention. In fact, those that missed it should really just start planning right now to attend next year, because it promises to just keep getting bigger, better, and bloodier.
Make your plans for Zombie Fest 2008 with the denizens of the Dread Central forums!