ZOMBIEFEST 2008 / WORLD ZOMBIE DAY INTERVIEW WITH LEONARD LIES
The dead have taken Monroeville Mall.Shambling through the shopping center, clothes torn, faces mangled, blood dripping from their gaping mouths, the parade of zombies gargles at the Sunday morning consumers satirized by the film they are commemorating.
Yesterday was World Zombie Day, celebrated by The It’s Alive Show’s third annual Zombiefest and Guinness World Record breaking zombie walk that featured and all-time high 1,375 dead fans.This year’s festival was specifically celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of George Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead that was set and filmed in the Monroeville Mall.Horror fans converged from all over the region to browse original art at vendor tables, Romero film actors, and stumble around the mall to benefit world hunger.
“Zombies are contributing to the food bank and actually feeding the living.It’s another huge step in the evolution of zombies, actually giving back to the living,” said Zombiefest creator and The It’s Alive Show host Mark Menhold aka Professor Emcee Square.
Menhold attributes Pittsburgh’s zombie obsession to a hometown pride spawned by the George Romero classics Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).These two Pittsburgh-set films reinvented the zombie film.What was previously a Haitian mind-control powder used to subjugate victims into slavery became a random apocalyptic siege of flesh-eating ghouls destroying the human race.These monsters proved much more accessible to the American psyche, inspiring a whole generation of people to, as Menhold states, “recreate the films.”The settings of these landmarks of cinematic horror have made Pittsburgh the zombie Mecca, a fitting headquarters for World Zombie Day.
Sunday marked the first ever celebration of this day with coordinated efforts from all over the world.The fifty participating cities ranged from Las Vegas to Copenhagen to Hong Kong.Menhold decided to integrate these cities into Pittsburgh’s festivities to eliminate the competitive part of what is meant to be a fan-oriented commemoration.
“Everyone’s been trying to break our record-- London, Sydney, Paris,” Menhold said, “Let’s take the competition out and do it the same day.We’re zombies.We don’t have to compete.Leave that to the Steelers.”
Menhold is also quick to point out that this year’s Zombiefest is a festival, not a convention.He emphasizes fan participation in the event as festival patrons are able to rub elbows with horror celebrities at the informal setting and at the Zombie Prom that was held on Saturday night at the Churchill Valley Country Club.
“I’ve watched Dawn of the Dead dozens of times and I’m elated to be here where it all began,” said Josh Pearson, 24, who drove down from Rochester, New York to be a part of the record-setting zombie walk.
“It started here with Romero’s movies and for someone that’s a huge zombie fan, it’s Mecca,” Pearson said.
To Leonard Lies, zombies are more than just horror movie monsters, but a reflection of the times and American culture.After his role as the now iconic Machete Zombie in Dawn of the Dead, Lies started the South Hills-based Dream Catchers Films, Inc. for which he is currently writing Chronicles of the Zombie, a film about the zombie plague from the zombie’s point of view.
“Man is completely alone, detached from things, so in his loneliness he has become a cannibal, the ultimate consuming machine,” Lies said behind his table covered in Machete Zombie paraphernalia, “We as humans have consumed everything and when there is nothing left, what do we consume?Ourselves.”
Like all villains from film and folklore, zombies give a grotesque face to the fears of the time and place.But what is it about this particular monster that resonates with the Steel City?Lies believes that it has to do with Pittsburgh’s blue-collar work ethic.
“People were Steeler fans since they were the underdogs.The fans are hard working, hard-partying, real dependable fans.The zombie culture represents the same attitude.Zombies are the underdogs.They have no weapons, just instincts.They have to fight to survive,” Lies said.
“People in Pittsburgh love to call it home and they’re proud that it’s brought Pittsburgh some recognition,” he added.
Kevin Kreiss, proprietor of Toy Galaxy and its adjoining zombie museum in Monroeville Mall, says he can’t explain the current national zombie obsession, but agrees that zombies are a local legacy.
“It’s ours.Our heritage, something that we can claim,” Kreiss said in his interactive zombie gallery where the walls are adorned with genre film posters and a television plays behind the scenes interviews.
Saturday marked the grand opening of the museum that serves as a visual history of zombies in film and pop culture.As an interactive “zombie experience,” the museum even includes a zombie ride, a simulated trip to death and back in a motorized coffin.The shop peddles a variety of movie memorabilia and merchandise commemorating Pittsburgh’s vast contributions to zombie cinema.
“I can’t emphasize any more how important this city was to establishing the zombie,” said Glenn Kay, author of the newly released book Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide.
“For me, Dawn of the Dead is the most important zombie film because it added satire to horror and people found out how smart a zombie movie can be,” Kay stated.He continued to explain that how, through its connection with Italian director Dario Argento, the film became an international phenomenon, introducing the world to George Romero’s Pittsburgh zombies.
“We’re the home of the dead,” Lies said, “Anyone from any other state knows that Pittsburgh is Romero zombie territory.”