These days, who doesn’t love zombies? Horror veteran Roy Frumkes has been there since the Dawn.
I took the Path train to Journal Square in Jersey City. Across the street loomed an old movie palace, the Loew’s Landmark Theater. In the alleyway alongside the edifice, a faded wall-high painted ad for GONE WITH THE WIND could still be detected, possibly signifying the year (1939) when the opulent movie house opened. Once earmarked for demolition, the Landmark was saved by public effort, and now is host to specialty shows, such as Mike Lisa’s DAWN OF THE DEAD Zombie reunion that I was about to attend.
I’d been here four years ago for a more elaborate Zombie bash, also thrown by Mike and his wife Joanna. George Romero was in attendance, as was Tom Savini, Ken Foree, David Emge, MARTIN’s John Amplas, Jim Krut, zombie zero Bill Hinzman, Joe Pilato, and Adrienne Barbeau. Mike asked me to conduct the on-stage panel before a packed house of rabid fans, and I had no idea what questions to pose to these nine guests, so a week earlier I called George at his home in Toronto and asked if there was any question in particular he wanted me to toss his way.
“No. Anything’ll do.”
No help whatsoever.
Now we were all milling about restlessly in the near-darkness off-stage, and no one had the slightest idea what the procedure was supposed to be. “What’re we supposed to be doing?” asked a slightly perturbed Savini, “Does anybody know?”
“Don’t worry,” said George: “Roy’ll take care of everything.”
He’d set me up with the phone-call a week earlier. That George!
The next thing I knew I was being announced and, taking my cue, I strode out on stage to thunderous applause. I said ‘hi’ to the audience, and was in the process of explaining to them what was about to occur when suddenly out of the wings, in single file, marched George and the other eight guests. “And here they are” I quickly said, as all of them kept marching right past me and exited the stage on the other side. “And there they go” I concluded, most amused at George’s shenanigans, clearly the ring-leader of the joke.
Take a look at the picture. We posed for it in the alleyway alongside the theater. It’s the last time a congregation of such magnitude will ever occur. Bill Hinzman has since passed away. The zombie horde is thinning. And this past May 2nd we assembled again, to pay tribute to the GONE WITH THE WIND of the genre – DAWN OF THE DEAD. This time without George, Tom, and most of the others. Just a handful of friendly moth-bitten zombies such as myself (the Pie-in-the-face zombie), Mike Christopher (in full orange regalia as the Hare Krishna zombie), and Jim Krut (as the decapitated-by-helicopter-blades-zombie), sitting at tables reminiscing with the die-hard fans about that fateful shoot in Pittsburgh’s Monroeville mall almost forty years ago, when history was made without anyone even hazarding a guess that it would.
I did come away from this recent reunion with a bit more understanding of the worldwide Zombie-Walk phenomenon. Tables had been set up in the theater lobby and outside along the sidewalk, and jubilant kids, happy teenagers and young adults stood on line, getting their faces made up to look like the recent dead. Then Hare Krishna Mike led the happy throng on a walk around the area. As they staggered away, pretty much in silence since zombies don’t tend to gab, I could clearly see the group dynamic at play. As with THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, Zombie walks offered young people the opportunity to indulge in a hive activity. Later, as they browsed the vendors tables and sought out our autographs, I could still see the undead glow on their faces. You can’t do group activities with vampires or werewolves or phantoms of the opera or invisible men or even big-eyed aliens. Zombies are where such possibilities intrinsically reside.