Weekend of the living dead: Zombies return to the Monroeville Mall

They're brainless, they travel in packs, and they're descending upon the Monroeville Mall.

No, they're not tweens, they're zombies.

This weekend, George Romero fans, horror buffs and aficionados of the undead will gather in Monroeville for the first "The It's Alive! 2007 Zombie Fest."

Over the span of two days, novice and veteran zombie fans can take in culture, entertainment, exercise and get their holiday shopping done. The festival, produced and hosted by the cast of "The It's Alive Show," will include zombie book panel discussions, zombie films, zombie bands, a zombie ball, a zombie walk and vendors selling assorted monster goods. Basically, a zombie free-for-all.

The It's Alive! 2007 Zombie Fest
  • Where: ExpoMart, Monroeville.
  • When: Saturday-Sunday.
  • Admission: $15 for one day; $15 for Zombie Ball; $28 advance, $35 at door for VIP passes, which include two-day access to the whole shebang. Everyone attending the Zombie Walk Sunday at the Monroeville Mall will receive a coupon good for $5 off a Sunday single admission to Zombie Fest. The walk is free, but a donation of a nonperishable food item for the Food Bank is requested.
  • More information: www.theitsaliveshow.com
  • Saturday
    • 10 a.m.-8 p.m.: Zombie Fest Dealer and Art Show
    • 10-11:30 a.m.: Horror Writers' Discussion Panel with BloodType Online creators and contributors Ed Demko, Russ Rutter, and John Shatzer.
    • 2-3:30 p.m.: Panel 2: Horror authors Mike Arnzen, Scott Johnson, and Greg Lamberson
    • 6-7:30 p.m.: Panel 3: Horror authors Gary Braunbeck, Edward Holsclaw II, and Kim Paffenroth.
    • 10 p.m.-2 a.m.: Zombie Ball, ExpoMart South Wing.
    • Sunday
      • 9-11 a.m.: Zombie Walk at Monroeville Mall.
      • Noon-6 p.m.: Zombie Fest Dealer and Art Show at ExpoMart.

Last year, "The It's Alive Show" sponsored the first zombie walk at Monroeville Mall, filming site of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." Mark Menold, producer and cast member of the show, expected a few hundred people. What he got was 894 reanimated corpses, enough to create a new Guinness Book of World Records category.

"[The walk] took about an hour. Then all these zombies wanted to do something else so they went shopping," Menold said.

Eve Heidekat, of Squirrel Hill, was one of last year's 894 shuffling undead. "There was no chitter-chatter; they were focused. They did a great job ambling," she recalls.

Menold attributes some of last year's success to what he calls the "Pittsburgh connection."

"For people to come out to Monroeville Mall on a Sunday morning, to bring food for the Food Bank, is a Pittsburgh thing. You know how people get behind the Steelers ... We saw the same thing last year with the zombie walk," he said.

Menold expects the size of this weekend's walk to double that of last year's. If his prediction holds true, approximately 1,788 people will be shuffling down the corridors of Monroeville mall, moaning for brains.

'Less fancy than vampires'

Why would so many people be willing to spend their Sunday morning dressed in rags, with painted circles under their eyes so they can drag themselves, arms stiffly extended, through a mall? What gives? What's the appeal of zombies?

What, exactly, makes a zombie a zombie? Specifics vary, but the basic definition seemed to be a corpse that refuses to lie down and instead attacks the living. According to Kim Paffenroth, author of "Gospel of the Living Dead," the standard characteristics are as follows:

They can be killed by a blow to the head.

They're usually slow, mentally and physically, but what they lack in speed and intelligence they make up for in strength.

They eat people and their bite turns humans into zombies.

According to that vast source of all instant and questionable knowledge, Wikipedia, zombie lore has roots all over the world. In Haitian folklore, a bokor, or Voodoo sorcerer, could revive a corpse or drug someone to make them appear dead. Once the unfortunate drugged person was buried, the bokor would dig them up and enslave them. In Norse folklore, the "draugr" is the reanimated corpse of a warrior who returns to kill those who evidently got to him first. In France, during those wacky Middle Ages, a "revenant" could take the form of a corpse and rise back up to accuse his/her murderer.

It was only a matter of time before technology caught up with storytelling. Zombie movies began to flicker on the silver screen as early as the 1930s. But it wasn't until George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" was released in 1968 that zombie characteristics were set in stone. "Dawn of the Dead" was sold internationally, spreading interest worldwide. I can vouch for this international interest personally, since once, while in Scotland, I had an Irishman ask me if I had ever been to the Monroeville Mall.

Heidekat, who "slipped" into becoming obsessed with zombies after watching "so many bad horror movies," says that recently the number of zombie fans has burgeoned.

"There's been a zombie explosion. It's a weirdly unifying universal thing. When you watch a zombie movie, there's always a big horde of zombies. I think it's just pretty much anybody can be a zombie. There are no requirements or heavy fees to pay; just show up and shamble," she said.

The appeal of zombies for her is that, "It's less fancy than vampires. I think, overall, zombies are just sort of a nice all-inclusive group. They aren't discriminatory about whose brains they eat."

Menold believes "people love to do the makeup and participate in these walks because it's not hard. You can just put dark circles under your eyes and be a zombie. But if you want to, you can be a zombie with a machete through his head or a zombie missing his lower jaw. It's whatever level of participation you want. The whole appeal of it is it's just fun; the movies are fun and it's a Pittsburgh thing since Romero made the movies here."

Gory details

Zombie Fest should just about be the bee's knees for anyone with an inkling of agreement.

Activities will commence at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Expomart East wing. Vendors will hawk their wares while the first horror writers' discussion panel gets underway. One of the authors featured in Zombie Fest is Max Brooks, who wrote "WWZ" and "The Zombie Survival Guide; Complete Protection from the Undead." The guide advertises, "You'll learn to recognize your enemy and choose the right weapons to defend yourself. You'll get information on the latest killing techniques, along with tips on what to do when on the defense, on the run, or on the attack." Brooks will give a presentation and sign books Sunday.

Keep your autograph book and pen in hand while you're practicing your undead walk because cast members from Romero's classics will be among the laymen. Be on the lookout for Judith O'Dea, Kyra Schon, Bill Hinzman, George Kosana, Russ Streiner and John Russo from "Night of the Living Dead"; David Emge and Scott Reiniger from the original "Dawn of the Dead"; and Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy and Antone Dileo from "Day of the Dead."

A film festival will feature the East Coast premiere of "Zombie Farm, Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero," "Johnny Gruesome" and "Carmillia's Kiss."

Vendors and panels will close at 8 p.m., but the night is still young. From 10 until 2, those over 21 can get their undead groove on at the Zombie Ball while sipping free libations from Straab Brewing Company. Deathmobile, house band of "The It's Alive Show," will perform along with the Motorpsychos, the Forbidden 5, and the Ubangis.

Don't stay up too late, though. On Sunday, the Zombie Walk starts at 10 a.m.; registration begins at 9.

Despite the early start, this is what Ms. Herdekat is most looking forward to.

"I think the best part is definitely the awesome spectacle of seeing hundreds of people shamble down the Monroeville Mall. They're like the mall walkers, but covered in goo," she said.

If you're new to being undead and the last time you applied Halloween makeup you were 6, don't despair. The Tom Savini School of Special Effects Makeup will be on hand Saturday and Sunday.

Or you can just take Menold's advice: "All you have to do is put dark circles around your eyes and stare into space."

Heidekat offered some other tips.

"Don't panic. Remember, you can usually outrun or out-climb them. They look cute when they're small but remember, they grow up. If you see one, tell an adult right away."

Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 26, 2007) Eve Heidekat participated in last year's zombie walk at Monroeville Mall. Her last name was misspelled in this article as originally published Oct. 25, 2007 about this weekend's "The It's Alive! 2007 Zombie Fest.''

Kate McCaffrey can be reached at kmccaffrey@post-gazette.com . First Published October 25, 2007 4:00 AM


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