Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008

Zombie Puppet Show Tonight

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It kind of sounds like a band from River West, but there actually IS a “zombie puppet show,” at Bucketworks tonight. In what is perhaps inadvertent recognition of the 40th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, a local group has developed a puppet show parody of the classic horror film. A showing of George A. Romero’s 40 year-old black and white zombie-fest follows the puppet show, which starts at 6pm at Bucketworks’ location on 1340 N. 6th St. The program is listed as being three hours long. With no other advance press on this thing, I can only guess how the three hours fits together—the film itself is only 90 minutes long, so it’s possible that the puppet show is a scene for scene 90 minute comedic re-construction of Romero’s classic, but I’ll find out tonight. Look for a full-length online review of the show here tomorrow.

The puppet show is being put together by Quasi Theatre in conjunction with a group known as Angry Young Men. I’ve been told that AYM is a bit of a misnomer as the group largely consists of women who probably are actually quite even-tempered—even whimsical considering the show they’re producing. Interested parties who can’t make it to tonight’s show may be pleased to know that there are a couple of performances of the show on Saturday, November 1st as a part of Bucketworks’ Haunted House.

Doing a parody of a film with the kind of cult following that Romero’s original classic is always a tricky proposition. Play the jokes too general and you’ll bore die-hard fans of the film. Play the jokes too close to the in-crowd of fans and you’ll get blank stare from everyone else. Regardless of how Angry Young Men plays it, the film that inspired the show potentially has the kind of unabashed horror genre appeal that transcends fans of the genre.

I seem to remember hearing about an interview with director Romero when I was a kid in the ‘80’s. I believe the quote I remember was in response to the fan base continuing to demand more zombie films. The filmmaker behind Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead joked that his next film would be something like A Whole Bunch of Dead People. (For the record, Romero’s other two “dead” films were Land of the Dead in ’05 and Diary of the Dead last year.) Romero is directing another film due out next year. Over the decades the director has become something of an elder statesman of horror films having been in the business longer than almost anyone else. The man who once said, “I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers,” has carved a career out of the undead with some rather clever bits of social commentary plugged into what is essentially a trashy, paper-thin and superficial genre. The real appeal of his films, however, is the fact that he doesn’t feel the need to make a statement with everything he does, which leads me to one of my favorite Romeroisms. He said, “Just because I'm showing somebody being disemboweled doesn't mean I have to get heavy and put a message round it."

The film that started it all screens tonight after the puppet show. Filmed on an independent budget of a little over $100,000, the film was released on October 1st of 1968. Through various releases over the decades, Night of the Living Dead has grossed some $30 million worldwide—a figure that doesn’t include money made on home video or merchandise. It may not have had the ridiculously immense profit margin of a much lower-budget film like The Blair Witch Project (which made $250 million on a budget of $35,000,) but Romero’s film will still be remembered long after everyone’s forgotten about Blair Witch, which was really more a triumph of viral marketing than cinema. True, there was considerable marketing for Romero’s film—most notably a much-publicized $50,000 insurance policy taken out by the film’s marketing group to cover anyone dying of a hearty attack while seeing the film.

Watching the 1968 zombie classic, you see a real love of filmmaking. You know all the blood was really Bosco chocolate syrup and the flesh being eaten was really just roast ham (a culinary combination I wouldn't recommed,) but part of the fun of watching a film like this is seeing an artifact of an earlier era of filmmaking. These guys were doing a low-budget horror film back before the proliferation of video cameras that made this kind of filmmaking accessible to anyone with an imagination and a couple of friends as into horror as they are.

The Zombie Puppet Show and screening of Night of the Living Dead starts at 6pm tonight.

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