Remembrances of a Zombie Jamboree
by Roy Frumkes
I hadn’t been in the Monroeville Mall in 44 years. Back then, in ‘78, I portrayed a zombie in George Romero’s epic horror flick DAWN OF THE DEAD. Now here I was (from June 10th to the 12th, 2022), looking around at my completely unfamiliar surroundings. Four decades had brought many changes to these halls of pop commerce.
I was here as part of an annual celebration called LIVING DEAD WEEKEND where, each year, a specific zombie film would be the focus, and the festivities this year concerned resurrecting Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, a loving homage to the original corpse brigade that launched a million franchises, everything from feature films to the popular tv series THE WALKING DEAD, to countless - literally countless - tv and magazine ads, stories, and columns about the genre that George built.
In the ‘78 DAWN I had the honor of wearing Savini’s zombie make-up design, applied by the master himself, directly after which a marauding biker/extra smashed a pie into my face, obliterating Tom’s artistry. George chose to give my cream pie desecration a full screen close-up. Very generous of him. It led to a great many horror convention appearances where fans of the genre shelled out crisp twenties in exchange for my ‘pie-in-the-face zombie’ autograph.
In 1990 I again made a zombified on-screen appearance, this time as a ‘porch zombie’. I was instructed, along with a bunch of other patio ghouls, to try and bring down the protagonist as he made a dash for the gas pumps. And while I followed orders, some other zombie’s knee collided with my head, and I could literally feel my brain shake inside my skull. That was to be my last zombie appearance - no more getting my brain rearranged - but it qualified me for a table at the current Monroeville Mall event, where doting fans from all over the planet forked over their hard-earned greenbacks. A woman from Nova Scotia asked me to sign a poster from DAWN she’d brought along. A man approached the table with memorabilia to sign having come all the way from Spain! That was the way it went. I was impressed by their devotion.
Co-producer Lawrence DeVincentz not only kept things rolling with nary a slip-up, but somehow also found the time to lead a hundred people on a walking tour of the mall, pointing out every location that had been used by the film – few of them still recognizable as the locations of old. He even pointed at one area and said “That’s where Roy Frumkes got hit in the face with a pie.” The fans reacted with the kind of reverent joy usually reserved for unearthing a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex in Death Valley.
Sitting at the table next to mine was the brilliant make-up artist Greg Nicotero who, having created near-miraculous new ways to add to the art of zombie cosmetics, also gave us seven years of the popular tv series mentioned above. He really didn’t need to be here; he did it as a former fanboy and as a genuine good guy, and took infinite time with each drooling fan, standing with them, arm in arm, smiling for their selfies, regardless of the fact that we were still under assault from Covid 19. (I wouldn’t have done it!)
Saturday morning I conducted a Q & A detailing the making of my film DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, the first ‘making of’ film ever done about an independent feature. Or so I’m told. Some of the event denizens, including Greg Nicotero, told me that my film had actually changed their lives. I had never assumed such a thing, but I believed these people, and I must say it was gratifying.
Sunday I flew back to Tennessee via a bumpy plane ride that scared the living dead shit out of me. Even the Xanax tablet I gulped down failed to fully alleviate my fears. Never again! But next year they plan to pay tribute to the original 1978 DAWN, so clearly I’ll have to find some means of transportation that doesn’t take a year or two off my life just from anxiety…
A few more tidbits to relate. On the mall’s second floor a zombie museum has been created, and it’s a wonderfully redolent piece of work. One corner of the museum is completely covered with a white wall where substantial contributors to zombie culture, like me, get plastic gloves put on their hands, blood-colored paint put on top of that, and then press their hands on the wall, leaving bloody handprints, joining many others who have received this honor, immortalized in the horror version of the handprints in cement along Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame.
Owner and curator of the Living Dead Museum Kevin Kriess was in attendance. I got to chat with him for a few moments and was glad to tell him how spectacularly successful his endeavor has been. Another important mention goes to Daz Sargeant, a third co-producer, who was so passionate, and so vastly busy attending to the minutia of the LIVING DEAD WEEKEND that if I saw him in my field of view, then looked away for a mere moment, when I looked back, he’d already have been long gone, responding to the never-ending demands on the festival’s to-do list.
It was the best horror con I’ve attended in thirty years.
Me as a ‘porch zombie’ in the 1990 remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, with…mystery zombie. However, if you see this and recognize yourself, let me know. I like to know who my zombie neighbors are. Contact email@example.com