House of the Dead: Lawrenceville's little shop of zombies

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If "Breakfast at Tiffany's" meets "28 Days Later" sounds like a cool monster mash-up, then House of the Dead is the place for all your zombie shopping needs.

"Pittsburgh is the zombie capital of the world, and we thought it was time Pittsburgh celebrated that," said Chuck Cramer, co-owner of this little shop of horrors.

"We couldn't believe no one had opened one before."

Situated at Main and Butler streets in Lawrenceville, House of the Dead took shape fewer than two months ago as a bricks-and-morbid business. Mr. Cramer and co-owner Stu Neft, big fans of the genre, printed up some clever T-shirts and sold them from a pop-up stand over Labor Day weekend at the "Run for Your Lives" zombie-themed obstacle race in Butler County.

"Just from the reception there, we thought, 'This is going to work,' " Mr. Neft said.

They moved forth with setting up the permanent store, which features more than 200 apocalyptic varieties of books, clothing, snacks, videos and oddities.

On a shelf next to severed hands and munchy little brains crafted locally from chocolate hung a poster of the iconic Holly Golightly, zombie-fied. Another sign suggested "Forget about the dog -- beware of the zombie."

There were stacks of colorful T-shirts, various products patterned after the iconic "Keep Calm and Carry On" motto (in this case, "Keep Calm and Aim for the Head") as well as graphic novels, various makeup products including fake scars and something called "blood spray."

With its ghoulish front windows done up with zombie mannequins and blood, House of the Dead stood in stark contrast to its next-door neighbor, a charming country goods store named Dandelions.

"Diversity," Dandelions sales clerk Claudia Dickey said, smiling, "that's how Lawrenceville is."

The popularity of zombies has caught on big in recent years, bolstered by AMC's hit series "The Walking Dead" and movies such as "Zombieland."

At every blood-splattered turn, there seem to be Pittsburghers connected to these shambling creatures. Greg Nicotero is co-executive producer and special effects creator for "Walking Dead," and Tom Savini's special effects makeup handiwork is all over the gory Hollywood landscape.

But of course, much of it began with George Romero.

"George came up with this in 1968 [with "Night of the Living Dead," shot here]; zombies existed in a sort of voodoo way, but he combined it with cannibals and mixed in a little communicability, and you've got your modern zombie," Simon Pegg said last spring at the Los Angeles Hero Complex film festival.

Mr. Pegg, who co-wrote and starred in the cult comedy "Shaun of the Dead," added, "Really, George needs to be canonized for what he did."

For his part, Mr. Romero said he still doesn't quite "get" the cultural phenomenon.

"Why zombies?" he said recently from his home in Toronto. "It's so hard for me to take it seriously."

Nonetheless, the godfather of zombies is still at work in the genre. He will be in Denver on November 7 for an event, with "World War Z" writer Max Brooks and Steven Schlozman, author of "The Zombie Autopsies," which Mr. Romero is adapting to film.

"Although I know Max takes it seriously, he brings weapons."

Note to Mr. Romero: at least have a gardening trowel handy.

"I know, I know, it's like living in earthquake country and not being prepared," he said.

For their part, the proprietors of House of the Dead are ready for both Halloween and the post-apocalyptic world, selling "survival kits" at the store and online.

"We decided we would make this [shop] a destination because there are actually people who make trips to Pittsburgh to see all our zombie highlights," Mr. Cramer said.

"This would give them a headquarters where they could visit and get information on the other places. And, hopefully, buy stuff."

The Evans City graveyard from "Night of the Living Dead" and Monroeville Mall, where "Dawn of the Dead" was shot, are just two colorful sites.

The shop also plans to hold Sunday night "Walking Dead" viewing parties and other themed events. Who knew there was so much life to be had around the living dead?

The owners spoke as one: "We did."

House of the Dead is at 4110 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-687-0510;

neigh_city - lifestyle - holidays

Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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