Zombies Return to Monroeville Mall for Walking Dead Weekend
Now that the pandemic is drawing to a close, it’s time to party like it was in post-apocalyptic 1985!
Living Dead Weekend, the annual celebration of zombies in pop culture, takes over the Monroeville Mall from July 2-4.
This year’s celebration is a tribute to two horror films released in the summer of 85: “Day of the Dead” by George A. Romero and “Return of the Living Dead” by Dan O’Bannon. There will be cast meetings, panel discussions, photo ops, tours of filming locations, film screenings, vendors and after-show parties. Tickets are available online and at the door.
Organizer Kevin Kriess, who runs the mall’s Living Dead Museum, isn’t sure what kind of attendance to expect, but he knows fans are hungry for fun. Horror, after all, has a way to cure it.
“People really want to go out and do something,” he said, noting that Steel City Con, held at the Monroeville Convention Center, was packed to capacity during its three-day run in June.
Romero’s “Day of the Dead” is the third installment in his locally shot zombie trilogy which features “Night of the Living Dead”, shot in Evans City and “Dawn of the Dead”, which used the Monroeville mall. as a backdrop.
“Return of the Living Dead”, based on a novel written by “Night of the Living Dead” co-author John Russo, is an ironic take on the zombie genre with a punk rock soundtrack, slapstick humor and more – the more gory.
Linnea Quigley, who plays Trash in the cult classic O’Bannon, will host a VIP party on Friday night. The actress will recreate her infamous 1990 exercise video “Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout”. She will be joined on stage by ripped zombies from Death Comes Lifting, a Pittsburgh-based company that designs fitness plans and clothing for horror-loving health freaks.
This “exorcising” routine requires a separate ticket, which includes a photo op and refreshments from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. inside the mall.
As an avid zombie fan, Kriess knows this is an event people will eat.
Kriess grew up near Evans City, about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. In fact, many of his relatives are buried in the cemetery where Romero shot the opening scene of “Night of the Living Dead”.
He didn’t see the film in black and white until he was a teenager, but it both scared and captivated him. The flesh-eating ghouls were horrible, but the cast, with their Pittsburgh accents, looked like their friends and neighbors. It gave her a sense of pride in her hometown and brought the magic of Hollywood to her backyard.
“Return of the Living Dead” cemented his love for the horror film genre, and Kriess began hosting annual Halloween parties based on the fast-paced splatterfest. Eventually, those brainstorms turned into a business.
In 2008, Kriess opened Toy Galaxy at Monroeville Mall, a brick-and-mortar extension of his online collectibles company. At the back of the store, he erected a small tribute to “Dawn of the Dead” titled Monroeville Zombies.
After a while, he realized that more people were jostling to pay homage to Romero’s 1978 masterpiece than to buy vintage action figures. Visitors have come from all over the world to bask in the bloody glory.
Kriess eventually expanded the shrine into a full-fledged museum, which moved to the mall several times before moving to Evans City, where the Living Dead Fest was launched in 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of “Night of the Dead. -living”. Kriess took the reins of the annual festival in 2015. Thousands of fans made the pilgrimage to the city to pay their respects.
Covid forced the closure of the Evans City site (and the cancellation of the 2020 Undead Weekend), but, in June, Kriess opened a 3,000-square-foot storefront at the Monroeville Mall. He poured a lot of (fake) blood, sweat and tears into the project.
To say that The Living Dead Museum is a dream (a nightmare?) Come true for rabid fans is an understatement. They can purchase t-shirts and collectibles from the gift shop and, for a fee, walk around the newly expanded exhibit, which is divided into themed rooms.
Norman England, a Romero historian who has written several books about the director, provided a written history of the films, which is displayed on panels in the museum. The space is home to many artifacts, including costumes, props, scripts, and even parts salvaged from the original JCPenney elevator and escalator, which feature prominently in “Dawn of the Dead.”
The gallery celebrates Romero’s entire catalog of films as well as other movies and TV shows, including “Evil Dead II” and the Netflix series “Mindhunter”, parts of which were filmed in Pittsburgh.
“Before ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ zombies were just part of voodoo. George Romero made the zombies an official movie monster along with Dracula and Frankenstein, ”Kriess explains. “I think it’s cool that it started in my small town.”