Remains of Z-Day

Once again, ravenous zombies descend upon downtown Reno

Ed Adkins is hungry

Ed Adkins is hungry

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There’s something sick and strange about the fact that thousands of Renoites will show up for a celebration of reanimated corpses that devour the flesh of the living. The fourth annual Reno Zombie Crawl will be staggering, stumbling and devouring its way across downtown on Saturday, Oct. 29. Renoites will dress up in zombie make-up and travel to more than 30 bars, sucking down drink specials like they were human brains.

Zombies originated as creatures from Haitian folklore, but the modern concept of moaning, groaning, brain-munching, bone-crunching, half-decayed undead, with their blank stares and ravenous cannibalistic appetites, originated in George Romero’s classic and genuinely frightening 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.

Since then, zombies have appeared in thousands of films, like Dead Alive, by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, and Romero’s own sequels, starting with 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. In 2004, the British film Shaun of the Dead became a massive crossover hit by combining a zombie movie with its polar opposite genre, the romantic comedy. Zombies have inspired books, like World War Z by Max Brooks, and video games, like Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil, which also inspired a popular film series, and graphic novels, like The Walking Dead, which inspired a critically acclaimed TV series, and, last but not least, the title track of the best-selling album of all time, Thriller.

So, zombies are popular. Why? What’s the appeal?

“A lot of people get into the social commentary,” says Ed Adkins, one of the organizers of the Reno Zombie Crawl. (Night of the Living Dead is often interpreted as a critique of Cold War paranoia, and Dawn of the Dead, primarily set in a shopping mall, skewers modern American consumerism.) “But for me, zombies are the punk rock monsters.”

While today’s other most popular monsters, vampires, have devolved into a flock of mopey boyfriends, zombies have retained their sloppy, bloody, noisy thrill. For further evidence of the inherent punk of zombies, Adkins cites the 1985 flick, Return of the Living Dead, in which many of the zombies are literally punk rockers.

Zombie stories offer up endless chances to riff on themes and variations. “They always play with the conventions,” says Adkins. “It’s always like, ‘what are the zombies going to do?’ And any character can become the bad guy.”

In the movies, it’s often a frightening twist when, sometime deep in the third act, the zombies start to evolve. The Zombie Crawl is no different. The first one, in 2008, was about 300 people. The next year, the party grew to 2,400 people. Last year, the event was so big that it was difficult to estimate the attendance. Adkins says he’s seen some sources cite it at 7,000 to 10,000 people, but his own estimate puts it closer to 5,000. Either way, they ran out of the Zombie Crawl cups that participants buy to take advantage of drink specials at the various participating establishments.

This year, the cups are being sold in advance of the event at Junkee Clothing Exchange and some of the participating bars, and multiple routes and starting locations are being suggested to keep the zombie infestations from becoming too congested. If too many zombies descend upon one bar at a time it becomes clogged like a zombie stomach full of undigested people.

And not everyone in the Zombie Crawl is dressed as a zombie. There also horrified victims and paramilitary commandos. Adkins says some people go wild with their costumes and make-up.

“People really get into it,” he says. “It’s for people who like to drink, people who don’t mind dressing up, people with a sense of humor. It feels so good to see so many people out having a blast. When you ask people to dress up, it really filters out the people who aren’t fun.”

for braaaaaaains.

The thrill of it all

A cornerstone of the Reno Zombie Crawl is the “Thriller” dance. Michael Jackson’s 1984 pop hit is near the top of the very short list of songs that can genuinely be labeled as songs nearly everybody likes (or nearly everybody—there are always a couple of contrarian curmudgeons).

“Everybody loves it,” says Sarah McElroy, a Reno Zombie Crawl organizer. “It’s iconic.”

Part of what helped elevate “Thriller” to its iconic status is its massively popular video, which features a fun and funny dance routine performed by zombies. No zombie attack could be complete without a performance of the dance.

“The first year, I just held up the boombox, all Say Anything style,” says Adkins.

This year, the dance will be staged above the train tacks outside of CommRow, near the epicenter of downtown. The “Thriller” dance will be an all-ages event that will take place at 7 p.m., an hour before the official start time of the crawl. This “Thriller” dance is also a part of “Thrill the World,” a number of simultaneous stagings of the dance.

The Reno Zombie Crawl folks have been organizing rehearsal dances. The next two rehearsals are Thursday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 29, at noon. Both will be held at 101 N. Virginia St.

“We have new people learning the dance all the time,” says McElroy. “It’s never too late to learn.”

Even if you don’t know the dance very well, she says, you can stand in the back and fake it.

“Halloween used to be a kid holiday, and not an adult holiday,” says McElroy. “Now it’s an adult party, too.” Or, Halloween offers up the rare occasion for adults to play dress up and act like children.

Reno now has a number of these annual bar crawls, like the Santa crawl in December, and two other crawls also organized by Adkins and McElroy’s production company, Let’s Do Things, including a superhero crawl, and a Valentine’s Day Vampire Crawl. Many of these events might seem rather … pedestrian to non-participants. But none of the other crawls make as much sense as the zombie crawl, because, unlike Santa Claus, superheroes, or even vampires, staggering from place to place in a delirious stupor is part of the character of zombies.

After a while, it can be difficult to tell a drunk from a zombie.

Though the Zombie Crawl offers a VIP all-you-can-drink cup, proceeds from which benefit the American Red Cross, Adkins and McElroy are quick to say that they’re not advocating irresponsible drinking, and are proud to report that in previous years, they’ve had no fights or arrests.

“There’s just something really cool about seeing a huge zombie horde wandering around downtown Reno,” says Adkins. “It’s like an apocalypse! … Well, without the burning cars or the vandalism.”