Friday, June 24, 2016

A (Belated) Return to Zombieland - Day of the Dead Film Location

I have been horribly negligent when it comes to my blog, and I've been woefully behind on updating anything.

Take this post for example. Believe it or not, it's almost a year late. My apologies for that.


In October of last year, myself and ZombieBoy partook in what is likely to be an annual pilgrimage to Zombieland... the area of Pennsylvania where George A. Romero filmed his classic unholy zombie trilogy... Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead!

This time around, it was to attend the recently started, but annual Living Dead Fest in Evans City, Pennsylvania. Yes... that Evans City. The bucolic town where Night of the Living Dead, as well as The Crazies, was filmed!

Interestingly, the Living Dead Fest is actually pretty small. Really small, in fact. Evans City is a small little town, and it and the festival's center point is the newly moved Living Dead Museum. You may remember, the original was actually located in the Monroeville Mall - the filming location of 1978 Dawn of the Dead - and I related how cool it was when myself, the wife, and the undead and evil prodigy I call my kids visited it a few years back.

Now, it's in Evans City, and it seemed to -- at least the day of the Festival -- be hopping.

Organized by none other than Gary Streiner - the sound guy for The Night of the Living Dead (and brother of Russel Streiner - who played the iconic Johnny in the original NOTLD). There were a slew of people who appeared in the movie, people dressed as zombies, and all kinds of other coolness.

Probably the highlight, for me though, occurred while we were walking through the vendor area. I was perusing some zombie posters in a tent, and I looked to my left to say something to ZombieBoy. Only he wasn't there. he'd moved on to the next booth. It was who was standing next to me that freaked me out, however. Standing next to me instead... and I get giddy thinking about this still... was none other than TOM SAVINI!

That's right Tom Mother-Flipping Savini! 

I made an "Eep!!" sort of noise, stammered, and said, "Tom, wow! Hi! How are you?"

"I'm good," he said, and reached out and shook my hand.

Then he moved on. And I stood there, all star struck. Like a total fan boy.

I snapped a quick picture of him at the next booth, but did it surreptitiously because I know it's uncool to take a pic of a celeb at a convention or fest without paying them, but I was so fucking jazzed! He was the one person I was hoping to see, and to have a one-on-one personal interaction like that was mind-blowing!

Anyway, after that and given how small the town and festival space itself was, ZombieBoy and I found we had walked through the entire event within a half hour or so. And it was only like 1:00 in the afternoon. We had tickets for the festival movie later that night (The Crazies was playing on a screen in EDCO Park after the sun went down), and needed to kill some time, so we headed up to the Evans City Cemetery as ZombieBoy had never been there.

I started showing him around, and as I'd been there before and knew where things were, I actually managed to pick up a couple of other visitors and wound up leading an impromptu tour. Amazingly, one guy in the group actually had a printout of my blog article on it and was using it as a guide for himself and his girlfriend!

You can check out my first, geeky visit to the Evans City Cemetery by clicking here.

The newly restored chapel looks amazing compared to my last visit, and I'm so, so glad I could contribute to and kick a couple shekels towards the restoration and resurrection of this iconic structure.

Having finished the tour, it was getting on lunch time. As Mrs. Zombie wasn't around, it became necessary for us to eat unhealthy fast food. I feel no shame in this. Dr. Zombie - on occasion - needs to sneak some unhealthy food when he can. Just saying...  So we motored up into Zelienople, which was having a huge Oktoberfest celebration. And by huge, I mean HUGE. The Living Dead Fest, which is down the road a mere 5 minutes, was paltry in comparison.

Anyway, we headed into the local Zelienople Burger King where we got to try something I'd been dying to try since it had come out --- The Burger King Halloween Whopper.

And, in case you're wondering: The news articles were all true. For days afterward, ZombieBoy and I were plagued by neon green, iridescent, 2-4-5 Trioxin colored poop. Unpleasant, I know. But true. So horribly, horribly true. True and sooooo worth it!

As we were eating lunch, I was thinking about how I'd already pretty much seen all Evans City had to offer in terms of movie locations. It was then that I struck upon the idea of visiting the final movie location for Romero's classic Day of the Dead... the one place I'd yet to see! I talked it over with ZombieBoy, and as we had several hours to kill, we went for it.

About a half hour or so ride from Zelienople, you can find the Gateway Commerce Center in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

It was here that George Romero filmed the underground scenes from the fabulous 1985 zombie classic, Day of the Dead!

Here are some shots from the original movie:

A former coal mine, it's been turned into a storage shelter and it made the perfect location for Romero's film. Romero chose it because it was still close to Pittsburgh, and it had the requisite claustrophobia-inducing gloom for the underground military research facility the film's characters find themselves in.

Needless to say, it's just a really cool location.

As you approach, there are two entrances. you drive up a winding road and are met with imposing, monstrous, real-life zombie proof gates that lead into the side of a mountain. Unfortunately, you can't get into the facility because it's private property, but that didn't stop me from driving up to both gates and taking some pictures between the gaps in the security gate.

It may have been wistful thinking, but the shot above feels an awful lot like the shot from the original movie. Here are some screen shots for comparison...

What do you think?

Anyway, it was still cool as hell! There was an undeniable creepiness to the place.  As I looked through the massive gate into the very bowels of the mountain that towered above us, the smell of mustiness and earth and the coolness of subterranean wind was chill-inducing.

We snapped pictures at both gates and were very pleased to have checked yet another unhallowed horror movie filming sites off the list!

We returned to Evans City afterwards, and got some dinner, before moseying down to EDCO park at dusk to watch the amazing and political charged classic, The Crazies, with a small crowd of fellow Living Dead aficionados! ZombieBoy and I cuddled under blankets, ate popcorn, and I had a couple beers under the chilly, October sky in the birthplace of the modern zombie movie.

What was great was that The Crazies was filmed in Evans City proper. It was really neat, and a little surreal, to see many of the same buildings and bridges and streets we'd just spent the day walking through on the big screen. All in all, the movie in the park was one of the highlights of the entire trip. I'd return just for that!

After the movie, we drove back home, and I reflected how glad I was to have shared some of my geeky love of all things horror with my now teenage son, ZombieBoy. He was there when we went to Monroeville to see the Dawn of the Dead Mall, and now, as a young man, he was there for this other great experience. It was cool, and also a little bittersweet as he will soon be leaving for college soon and opportunities like this -- opportunities to share in our mutual geekiness--  will be forever reduced.

He's gone from this...

To this...

Crazy, right?

All in all, it was a great weekend.

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