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Judge Michael Rubino • Location: Monaca, PA
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The Zombiefest in Pittsburgh
October 31st, 2007 9:20PM

The first annual "Zombiefest" was held in Pittsburgh this weekend at the Monroeville Expo Mart. Holding such an event in Pittsburgh just seems fitting; after all, the city is the background for every George Romero zombie movie (even when he chooses to film in Toronto... I'm looking at you, Land of the Dead). The event is connected with the world's largest "zombie walk," which is becoming a yearly ritual in the 'Burgh. While I wasn't there to do the walk, I did check out the exhibit hall, sit in on some panel discussions, and meet some of the actors from the Romero films.

The Expo Mart is just across the parking lot from the famed Monroeville Mall, the true star of Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead. The giant hall had a smattering of booths selling all sorts of zombie-wares, from old movie posters to crafts themed after the undead. The majority of folks in attendance were decked out in zombie make-up and costumes: there were zombie soldiers, clowns, sailors, pimps, and bikers. Making things more interesting was the fact that most people staying in "zombie character" while they shuffled about buying things and getting autographs. That's the kind of dedication I can get behind.

Aside from wanting to bask in the glory of all this zombie stuff, we also wanted to come to the convention to see horror author Michael A. Arnzen (who was also a professor of mine in college). Arnzen is a Bram Stoker-winning horror writer who was there as part of the Raw Dog Screaming Press booth. There were plenty of other authors in attendance, all of which participated on panels throughout the day. Each of the panels featuring writers reading excerpts from their published works, and then fielding questions from the audience. Most of the questions were actually pretty good and addressed serious topics like referencing popular culture and censorship in horror fiction. The panels were very interesting, when they weren't being interrupted by a gruff zombie voice making announcements over the P.A. system.

The main attraction of the entire event was Max Brooks, author of the instant bestseller World War Z. While I wasn't able to see the man, he did give a presentation on zombies and signed autographs for the hoards of zombie walkers Sunday afternoon. His novel, which is an oral chronicle of a future zombie outbreak, was optioned to be a movie before it was even published.

I did get to see a question and answer panel with various cast members from the first three Romero zombie films. Included on the panel were members from in the original Night of the Living Dead: Bill Hinzman (aka "Zombie #1"), George Kosana (the sheriff), Russell Streiner (Johnny), Judith O'Dea (Barbara), and Kyra Schon (that weird little girl in the basement); Dawn of the Dead: Scott H. Reiniger (Roger), David Emge (Flyboy), and Leonard Lies (machete zombie); and Day of the Dead: Jarlath Conroy (William) and Joe Pilato (Capt. Rhodes). Oh yeah, and Conrad Brooks was there, who was in The Beast of Yucca Flats and Plan 9 From Outer Space. I'm not sure why he was here.

Overall, it was a cool convention, even if it was sort of small. Hopefully in years to come, this annual event will grow to include more than just the original canon of Romero films, and hopefully attract the attention of bigger names in the zombie world (really, how can you have a "zombie convention" in Pittsburgh without George Romero himself?).

Be on the look-out for Romero's new "Dead" film, Diary of the Dead which debuted in Toronto and seems to be getting some pretty strong online buzz.


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