Ravenous zombies were recently sighted mindlessly shambling their way down International Drive in Orlando, FL in search of what these gruesome creatures desire most: Brains, of course!
Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend convention kicked off last Friday afternoon with a Zombie Walk that started at the Rosen Centre and staggered its way down International Drive to the Hilton Orlando, this year’s new convention venue.
Hosted by Tampa Bay’s zombie social club The Deadite Empire, this sixth annual Walk appeared to draw even more costumed fans this year, possibly due to the increasing mainstream popularity of horror movies and television shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
“I was a horror freak all my life growing up,” said club co-founder Jesse Fish, a veteran of the gothic bar industry in Tampa’s Ybor City. “We created The Deadite Empire in 2007 after zombie stuff started to get really popular. We decided to try to unite our friends in the haunt and horror community and do social things together dressed up as zombies.”
“We were having fun being all creepy and nasty and dripping blood, and then decided we could do something good for the community as well,” Fish explained. “We started with pub crawls and charity events like collecting food for Thanksgiving for Tampa Bay’s Second Harvest, and work for The Children’s Home of Tampa Bay.”
Jesse’s wife Bridgette Fish, who has nine years of experience with Tampa’s Howl-O-Scream, said that Michael Christopher, the actor who portrayed the Hare Krishna zombie in George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” had recommended their club to Spooky Empire organizers several years ago.
Christopher had been impressed with The Deadite Empire after participating in one of their past events and shared his enthusiasm with Spooky mastermind Petey Mongelli. “He’s actually what got us involved with Spooky,” said Bridgette. “[Christopher] is a phenomenal guy and we always give him props because he’s just awesome.”
Prior to this year’s Walk, hundreds of zombie wannabes flocked to the lobby of the Rosen Centre hotel where a special area was provided for people to gather and receive a zombie makeover for a small fee.
Special effects makeup designed to bring out each person’s “inner zombie” was available there from the skilled makeup artists of the Central Florida Face Painting Guild and Post Mortem FX.
Artists J.D. Ellis and Karyna Martinez of Post Mortem FX, a local special effects makeup company whose motto “We Bring Death to Life” is proudly emblazoned on their blood-splattered business cards, spent the afternoon carefully affixing dozens of original hand-sculpted appliances to fans’ heads and bodies in order to create bloody “slashes” and gaping “open wounds.”
“I love zombies! It’s about time they became more mainstream,” said artist Martinez. She attributed her upbringing for starting her off right. “My parents showed me “Pumpkinhead” when I was six or seven years old and I knew that horror was my genre right there. I’ve watched every horror movie since.”
“I just love what I do,” she smiled. When asked her goals in the special makeup effects industry, she added, “I want to do every part of the makeup department. I love fabrication, I love props, anything in that department I would love to do. My goal is to some day work on major movies, or even commercials. I love it all.”
Jessica and Thomas Galvin of Winter Haven, FL arrived for the Walk dressed as zombie versions of “Red Shirts,” the red-uniformed “Star Trek” officers who were so often the first to die on away missions.
Jessica, who works for one of the larger vacation destinations in Florida and Thomas, who is now a graphic designer, attended last year’s convention as a “Zombie Ghostbuster” and the “Zombie Time Machine,” respectively.
Galvin mused that he started working on his “Time Machine” project in 2009, and that it was a year and a half in the making. His wife smiled and said that it seemed more like “a continuous, never-ending project.”
By comparison, their “Red Shirt” couples costumes, which combine their dual love of Trek and zombies, were just two weeks from inspiration to completion.
The couple has long enjoyed attending similar events in costume, such as MegaCon in Orlando and recently their very first Dragon*Con in Atlanta. “[Our costuming] is the conversation starter that beats all others,“ laughed Jessica.
For Stacey Blais of Clearwater, this year’s Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Weekend was her first ever horror convention. “I am loving the Zombie Walk experience,” Blais said. “My best friend comes every year and so, yeah, I had to come and see for myself.”
Blais and her friend Nicole Puglia of Ellenton came in matching uniforms as “Ghoul Scouts,” complete with bloodied badge sashes and gore-splashed green berets. “I was going to be a Girl Scout for Halloween, but then I changed my plans,” Puglia explained, “so I decided to zombie-up that costume for the Walk.”
“And I decided that you can’t have just one Girl Scout, you have to be in a troop, so I did the same,” grinned Blais. “It took about an hour in the room to make ourselves up all bloody like this, and we got quite a few funny looks in the elevator on the way down,” she laughed. “It’s my first convention, so I didn’t know what to expect. It’s amazing!”
“I dress up every Halloween, and both of us go all out and decorate,” said Blais. “My nine-year-old is really into it, he dressed up as a zombie the last two years. So we both like it.”
Nicole’s husband Joey, a police officer by day and a sci fi and horror fan to boot, had arrived wearing his life-sized “Zombie Killer Banana” costume, which has proved to be a crowd favorite at this Spooky Empire convention.
Joey smilingly revealed that he had not long ago completed his first paid photo shoot “all zombied out.” Two of his fun-loving friends had wanted something special for their engagement photos and come up with the idea that after the formal portraits had been taken a gag session would follow with a zombie walking out of the bushes in full costume to “attack” them and then be fought off and “killed.”
The two romantic survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse could then walk off hand-in-hand together leaving a slain zombie behind in a pool of blood. After the successful performance of his part, Puglia admitted that he was highly amused to be later recognized at the couple’s wedding as “that zombie guy.”
Deadite Empire founder Fish gave the undead horde their marching orders at 4:00 p.m. and led the massive contingent of disoriented, staggering undead towards the Hilton, to the delight of waiting fans and unwary, but amused tourists — and the puzzlement of passing motorists.
Fish left us with one last thought before departing, “Remember, the great thing about being a zombie is that the virus that turns you into one doesn’t care whether you’re black, white, gay, straight, or Republican. It just wants you for your brains.”