NEW YORK CITY — New York has the undead on its mind as Brad Pitt's new zombie action flick “World War Z” hits theaters Friday. But the brain-dead flesh-eaters are no match for the Big Apple's hordes of zombie fans, zombie survivalists and zombie actors.
From a zombie convention that could give ComicCon a run for its money, to a real-life survival experience that teaches participants to shoot guns and stock up on canned goods, New Yorkers have taken their zombie-obsession and, as with so many other major cultural movements, done it better than anyone else.
For example, there’s NYC Zombie Crawl. Cobble Hill resident Doug Sakmann, 32, founded the organization, which began hosting zombie bar crawls and raves on a semi-annual basis, in 2007. The parties attract thousands of zombie enthusiasts who dress up in costume and enjoy dancing, contests and interactive art exhibits.
As a special effects artist, Sakmann was part of a community of horror fans and zombie enthusiasts who found that there was something special about zombies when compared with other ghouls.
“Zombie culture and zombies as an entity are something humans can relate to much more because zombies I think are the most realistic thing,” Sakmann said. “There are parasites that control animals and kill them and make them move around … And it’s the closest thing to humans. What happens if that starts happening to humans? It’s not like you’re mutating into this giant creature. It’s just your body being moved around.”
NYC Zombie Crawl's next rave is tentatively scheduled to take place at Webster Hall in late July, with the next zombie crawl happening before Halloween. Sakmann said that his events attract a wide variety of fans — not just those who have an interest in horror.
“Half the crowd are the devoted fans who come in their makeup. We have themed zombies coming out and all kinds of things, but then we have just the general public who will stumble upon it,” he said. “We’re doing these zombie crawls in the street, and they’ll just join up with us and follow us to the next spot. The zombie mob does grow in size the same way as in the movies.”
Some New Yorkers like to take a combative approach to their zombie appreciation. At Indoor Extreme Sports in Long Island City, interested parties can sign up for Zombie Laser Tag. Teams of players armed with semi-automatic paintball guns enter a labyrinth in which they are tasked with tagging their opponents. Actors dressed as zombies are a special add-on option for parties.
Zombiefest is another option at the Long Island City space. Participants run through the “Zombie Gauntlet of Death” and shoot down zombie actors who re-animate 30 seconds after they are shot. At the end of the experience, participants are invited to a zombie archery shoot.
And then there are those who are more serious about their zombie apocalypse preparation.
In Southern New Jersey, firearms trainer Mark Scelza and a team of assembled experts offer what they call a Zombie Survival Course. During a day- or weekend-long class, participants learn how to shoot firearms, throw knives, do hand-to-hand combat, operate a crossbow and survive with first aid treatment skills.
Scelza says the workshops attract clients from as close as the immediate area to as far as France. Participants must be screened prior to the training, since firearms training cannot be administered to convicted felons.
Scelza has seen a record number of people signing up for his courses, most noteably after Hurricane Sandy.
“We trained hundreds of people last year. People don’t feel safe, especially after that hurricane,” he said. “I think people start to realize that they’re not ready. If something did happen, they’d be screwed … So what we looked at were the things you’d need if you were in your house, whether it was a natural disaster or the zombie apocalypse.”
Scelza had some advice for urbanites who might want to head for the suburbs in case of such an emergency. First, make sure to have 72 hours worth of food and water stored in your home. Second, keep $1,000 cash in your home in case, as Scelza explained, you need to buy your way out of where you are. Most importantly, stay calm and stay put — at least at first.
“Don’t go anywhere for 72 hours,” he said. “Let all the idiots migrate out and freak out and turn to zombies or whatever and pop your head out and see if you can go out.”