Zombies are alive and well — er rather, undead and sickly — in mainstream popular culture right now. That fact is evident from the immense popularity of The Walking Dead, as well as the numerous zombie walks, runs, and flash mobs across the world. This saturation of the living dead became clear to me with a recent theatrical version of Night of the Living Dead performed by the Daegu Theatre Troupe in Daegu, South Korea. This is a low-budget — made more for love than for money — theatre production put on by English speaking expatriates in the Asian country. A diverse cast of expats lent an international charm to the show, as it featured actors who were Koreans, Kiwis, South Africans, North American, and from the UK. This makes you wonder where exactly this mysterious farmhouse that shelters these seven folks could be, but this version was played more for fun than the unrelenting and depressing horror of George A. Romero’s original theatrical masterpiece. Thanks to the magic of the theatre, you can be swept away from the very intimate space (seating perhaps a few dozen audience members) to a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland.
This staged version capitalized a bit more on the inherent cheesiness of dead people trying to eat the living. The actor playing Harry, in particular, had some very sarcastic lines and a deadpan delivery that made this viewer crack-up. Also funny were the special effects. While Romero used cuts of meat from a local butcher shop, here in Korea ramen was used as guts and rice was puked up in reaction to the grisly viscera of a pregnant zombie and the protruding newborn hanging from her belly. Just like in Romero’s films, here all of the zombies seemed to be real characters. One unfortunate ghoul was on a single roller skate, and the woman next to me did a great job of loudly chomping and groaning whenever one of the human characters would come nearby. That’s right, there were zombies planted in the audience, although they were difficult to differentiate from those overzealous fans who decided to get made-up in costumes before a night of Halloween partying!
There were some changes from the 45-year-old original film. First of all, the interior setting was split between the living room and basement areas of the house. Scenes ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ were differentiated with lighting, although (unfortunately) there was no extra exposition with the characters Harry, Helen, Tom, and Judy prior to joining Ben and Barbra upstairs. A large projection screen on the far wall played TV news reports and also recapped the beginning cemetery scene with Barbra and Johnny. Obviously, there was no truck explosion, but instead characters were graphically dispatched in a feasting of ramen guts and a plastic severed arm. This happened after a cheesy moment of love and lines (and music) mimicking Armageddon more than Night of the Living Dead. But the cheese that stole the show was the denouement of Sheriff McClelland and his posse saving the day. They still accidentally shot Ben, but they retained their lighthearted charm with their Reno 911 inspired hotpants and mirrored aviator sunglasses.
I was fortunate to sit in the splatter zone, and while there were no head squibs — ubiquitous to so many zombie films — there were catheters pumping copious amounts of red liquid onto the patrons. Another surprising bit of splatter came from the molotov cocktails — waterballoons — used to ward off the horde of the living dead. Overall, it was a very fun night of zombie chills and laughs. If you ever get a chance to see some live horror theatre, then go and watch — I highly recommend it!
(The show has finished its run, but check out this sweet trailer.)