By Alan Forsythe
One summer weekend in 2001 in the city of Sacramento citizens were shocked to see decomposing humans shambling through the state capital of California. At first many thought George A. Romero’s classic horror sequel ‘Day of the Dead’ had come to life, but no, they were just witnessing the first Zombie Walk.
This weekend will see the living dead (or a reasonable facsimile there of) shambling through the streets of Vancouver. Starting at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 1 pm (Saturday Aug 20) thousands will begin their slow shuffling walk through downtown Vancouver.
However it’s not all about wearing death mask make-up, shambling walks and searching for fresh brains. In the over half decade that the Vancouver Zombie Walk has being going on it’s evolved into an entire weekend of festivities.
Most major North American cities have Zombie Walks every summer. Many started as flash mobs or still are somewhat spontaneous events. Vancouver however has embraced Zombiefication like no other city. Put it down to Vancouver’s growing culture of sub culture. It’s almost like the silent masses out there that were the denizens of the underground clubs and fetish nights have come out into the sunlight en masse for Zombie Walk. It’s, if we continue with that thesis, a sort of backlash against the beach loving, fitness crazed, puritanical West Coast ethos. The same ethos that tells us here in Lotus Land that we don’t need culture because we have the ocean and the mountains and damn it stop complaining and go for a bike ride.
But healthy living was never a substitute for art. And when there are no mainstream outlets (or very few) then underground outlets flourish in the vacuum.
Just ask burlesque dancer Tristan Risk.
“There’s sort of this collective unconscious of people who are into all things B Movie,” said Risk. She started incorporating zombie themes into her act almost from the beginning. She became known, along with the infamous Bloody Betty, as the chick who would take it a step beyond, doing things like pulling a blood covered brain from out of her beehive. “I once did a show and I was covered in so much blood that it was pouring down my legs. I thought if someone throws a tampon at me and it sticks to my leg that would be hysterical.”
So why blood and gore in the first place?
“There’s a lot of talent in Vancouver so I had to push the bar. You show up as a zombie at an unexpected place and you give people a little slice of the surreal. My roommate doesn’t flinch anymore when she finds bloody body parts in the sink.”
Before they got together Risk made a point of seeing Bloody Betty’s shows whenever she was in town. Betty then became aware of Risk’s act and made it a point to catch as many shows of hers as she could.
“Finally she left the Rock (Victoria) and we lived happily ever after,” said Risk, and the two now generally tour together.
Why do a Zombie Walk in the middle of summer? Risk theorizes that Halloween is already for those who don’t usually dress up. “It’s an excuse for a lot of girls to be slutty who don’t otherwise do that. For me the Zombie Walk is my day to be gross and disgusting.”
As we noted the Zombie Walk isn’t just the Zombie Walk anymore. In fact the night of undead festivities begins the night before at the Rio Theatre (On Broadway at Commercial Drive) with the Undead on Film Film Fest.
Organizer Corrine Lea put out a call for five-minute zombie themed movies several months ago that would be judged by a panel of experts (her and the other movie nerds who work at the Rio). The idea was to pick the top ten. “We’ve had so many amazing submissions I think we may have to add another 10,” said Lea.
She is of course a big fan of zombie themed movies, and if she has to choose one she says she’d pick the one that started it all, George A. Romero’s, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and the Rio will be playing the entire trio of Romero’s Zombie oeuvre on Sun, August 21. Lea is definitely old school when it comes to zombies, and said zombies are slow, shuffling and decaying, not sprinting jocks as some latter day zombie films portray them.
Risk agrees, citing 1980s B movie ‘Return of the Living Dead’ as her favourite zombie pic.
“I’m definitely not a fan of the young fit zombies you see these days. I mean where are the overweight asthmatic white trash zombies in those films?” Said Risk.
And if it’s your first time doing the zombie walk, Risk advises, “yes you’ll be hot and sticky so just embrace that. Also don’t hassle anyone and ruin it for the rest of us. Other than that come out and get your shamble on.”