Zombies descend upon Erwin Center
RTF senior foments zombie renaissance as fad spreads
By Rachel Pearson
Thursday outside the Frank Erwin Center, a horde of zombies attacked the "American Idol" auditions. No one was hurt.
The zombies, 15 fake-bloodied actors in all, lurched out from under the IH-35 overpass and shuffled toward the Erwin Center, where they encountered the pop-star hopefuls.
Most of the 100 or so young people gathered outside had just been rejected by the "American Idol" review board, and they were talking, singing and waiting for rides home when the zombies arrived. "Braaaaaaains!" the zombies said. Nick Muntean, a UT radio-television-film graduate student who organized and participated in the zombie horde, added, "Television rots your braaaaaaains!"
The pop-star wannabes were largely unimpressed. "I don't get it," said Jacob Gandia, a singer.
Muntean organized the zombie horde using the online forum Craigslist. He posted an ad soliciting people who would like to "raise awareness about the brain-melting nature of television by pretending ... to be a zombie, and terrorizing throngs of vapid pop-star hopefuls at the 'American Idol' auditions."
Muntean says that the event, although meant to be subversive, was mostly for fun.
Little did the zombies know that the "American Idol" organizers had seen the Craigslist ad.
"We've been on 24-hour zombie watch," said coordinating producer Patrick Lynn. "We thought it would be fun to have them on the show."
And that is how the zombies ended up squatting down on the concrete of the Erwin Center's second level, signing release forms to allow their images to be broadcast by Fox TV.
"Zombies, I need you back here!" Lynn shouted. "All you zombies, I need to get a group shot!" The undead complied, waving their bloodied limbs about for the TV cameras.
Even flesh-eating ghouls, it seems, want to be on TV.
Muntean's group is part of a "zombie renaissance" that, according to a Los Angeles Daily News article, is sweeping the nation.
George Romero, who directed the original "Night of the Living Dead" series, released a fourth zombie movie last summer, and Austin theaters have also recently shown "Shaun of the Dead," a British zombie spoof, and "Undead," an Australian zombie movie.
Rob Zombie also has a movie out. It is not about zombies. It's about serial killers.
Other recent occurrences of zombie horde street-theatre have raised attention. On July 3 in Montreal, Canada, a horde of people in zombie makeup took to the streets for fun and lurching. They also did mock battle with some live-action role-players in a park.
Later that month, a man named David, who would like to keep his last name confidential, organized a zombie mob in San Francisco. The actors shuffled across the city on July 24, ending up in front of an Apple store, where they smeared fluids on the windows and looked for brains.
They didn't find any.
David says he supports all groups of zombies.
"We stand beside them in their quest for more brains," he said of the Austin event. "If they find any brains there, they should let us know."
The dead have risen
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a zombie is "a soulless corpse said to have been revived by witchcraft." Historians trace the zombie myth back to West Africa and Haiti, where practitioners of voodoo supposedly raised corpses from the dead and set them to work or to wandering about.
The first known zombie movie, 1932's "White Zombie," was set in Haiti, but zombie movies generally disregard voodoo altogether.
In George Romero's 1968 "Night of the Living Dead," which set the bar for zombie movies, an attack by the undead was brought on by radiation from a satellite that had orbited Venus and returned to Earth. In other movies, the dead have risen to feast on the flesh of the living as a result of chemicals, disease, demons, electric shock and aliens.
The walking corpses in "Night of the Living Dead" were called "ghouls," not zombies, but their jerky, shuffling, flesh-eating shtick has become the zombie gold standard.
Zombies are not real.
The undead get ready
About 20 people attended the attack-planning party at Muntean's house Monday. Muntean was expecting more; He kept popping up from his chair on the back porch, muttering, "Where are all the zombies?"
The actors discussed zombie-related issues such as walking style and costume. "I was gonna just dress how I normally dress and make it seem like I had been attacked," said clothing designer Bonnie McManners.
They also wondered whether the American Idol producers had been tipped off. Muntean was not worried about that.
"Their only resource would be to tell security, 'If you see zombies, tell them to leave,'" he said.
Carey Olfers, who works for a health insurance company, felt less sure.
"I don't really know what the legal ramifications of a zombie horde are," he said.
Muntean passed out a flyer reading "DON'T TOUCH THE NORMALS!" He stressed that the zombies should keep to themselves and that the event was meant to be fun, not mean or violent.
The zombies met in Muntean's back yard on Thursday morning. Samantha Inoue Harte, an animator and professional makeup artist, was in charge of the gore. She smeared their faces with make-up, a gelatin mix, liquid latex and fake blood made from corn syrup, chocolate syrup and food coloring. The zombies practiced shuffling, smoked cigarettes and checked their make-up in a window. "Zombie," by The Cranberries, was playing.
When zombies attack
The scene at the Erwin Center that morning was calm. Lt. James Gabriel of the UT Police Department said the event was "going very smoothly," and that the UTPD did not anticipate any problems.
Then the zombies arrived. And the pop-star hopefuls leered and giggled. The media swarmed around the zombies as if they, too, were hungry for flesh.
Kalleen Chilcote, a UT fine arts graduate student, moaned and dragged one leg behind her like a classic zombie. The zombies - all except for Plan II senior Mike Ferstenfeld - signed release forms to appear on Fox TV.
"We've turned into prostitutes for 'American Idol,'" Ferstenfeld said.
When asked why he decided not to be filmed by the "Idol" crew, he said, "Oh, I don't know."
Muntean reports that "American Idol" has asked Chilcote to return in zombie makeup for an audition on the show, but that she will probably decline.
He added that he decided to sign the consent form and participate in the Idol shot because he was worried about being kicked out by the police if he didn't.
The police at the event were certainly keeping an eye on the zombies. The Austin Police Department says there is no history of zombie-related crime in the city.
"In this office, we mostly deal with serious crimes: rape, assault and robbery," said APD spokeswoman Toni Chovanetz. "Zombie-related crimes - I don't think that's ever been brought to our attention."