- Posted October 26, 2010 by
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Can they set the world record? 6500 zombies hope so
Set against the backdrop of an iconic NJ town that died 25 years ago and has struggled to come back to life ever since, one man hopes to set a world record for the most zombies to shamble at one time.
If you’re never witnessed a zombiewalk before, it is the definition of the word spectacle. Hundreds if not thousands of people of all ages covered in fake blood, latex and makeup, all stumbling around screaming “BRAIIINNNSSS!!!!!” Sometimes done for charity, they usually are done out of nothing more then a love for the genre. There are variations such as pub crawls (where you go from pub to pub to pub) ands games where zombies are pitted against the military (think paintball except if you’re the military you join the other side when you die).
Zombies and the undead have existed in literature, religion and mythology going back millennium, but the modern zombie began with the classic George Romero film Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Though there were zombie films that predate it, this film set the standard for all zombie films that would follow.
The first known zombiewalk was a commercial event at a film festival California in 2001. The first non-commercial zombiewalk was held 2 years later in Toronto, Canada. In the early 2000’s zombie walks typically drew a few hundred participants at most.
Around this time zombies became prominent draws at the box office and in video games. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, the Resident Evil series, a remake of the Dawn of the Dead, and several George Romero films were all popular successes, as were video game series such as Resident Evil and House of the Dead. The popularity of zombies (and their close cousin, the “infected”) in pop culture, combined with the ease of communication via social networks such as facebook, twitter and myspace have all helped to increase participation at zombie walks.
But what is the appeal? Spending hours covering yourself in makeup and sticky latex and blood? Why? “I enjoy creating a character,” said Shannon, a veteran of the NJ zombiewalks. Whenever I go to a Zombie Walk I brainstorm what type of person would become a zombie in that atmosphere? When I went to the Meadowlands State Fair for a Zombie Walk I thought the best character would be a sideshow freak.. specifically a fire breather that was turned while doing a fire breathing act and burned the bottom half of her face off. I like to get really creative with my costumes. I never do the same zombie character more then once. When you have a great number of people that are just as into creating that zombie character as you are it's a bonding experience and frightening experience for anyone around that doesn't know what's going on.”
Jason Meehan is the organizer of the NJ Zombie Walk, an annual event now in it’s 3rd year in Asbury Park, NJ, and he is hoping to break the Guinness world’s record for the largest zombiewalk. The current record is 4,233 and although numerous zombie walks have claimed to have had higher turnouts, they remain unverified by Guinness. I recently spoke with Jason about the NJ Zombiewalk and his effort to set the world record.
Q: Where did you get the idea to do a zombiewalk in NJ?
Jason: The idea for a Zombie Walk actually came in part from a little jealousy when a friend from college went to one in Atlanta and sent me photos. I wanted to go to one so bad, but after many searches on Google discovered that NJ didn’t have any. So I decided to create one.
Q: How did you go about setting up the event?
Jason: The first one was planned out in under a month. I made some posters and stickers and created a myspace page. My family helped spread the word and we thought maybe we’d get 50 people (mostly my friends) to show up. In a very short time I had 250 friends on myspace and about 450 actually showed up to the event itself. I was very concerned that the town would shut it down but I explained to them what the event was and they were very receptive. I was so worried about the police but a lot of them actually brought their kids to the walk!
The first walk was held on a ‘First Saturday’ (where lots of people come out to Asbury Park for dinner and entertainment.) People were confused, seeing zombies all over the place, but it was Halloween so they went along with it. What amazes me is that the walk brings in just about as many spectators as it does zombies.
Q: How is the planning different now that it’s grown so popular?
Jason: I basically don’t have a life. We began planning for this years walk right after the last one. We brainstormed in January on new ideas and created new posters. The next few months involved constant planning, delegating work to various team members. A lot of the work is getting vendors and people to participate. The walk is much more then just a walk, there are booths, vendors, and events before and after the walk itself and lining all that up is very very labor intensive.
I spend maybe 10 hours a week on the planning during the early going, but as we get closer, I can easily spend 40+ hours a week working on this. It’s comparable to an election campaign coordinator. in some strange way. Total chaos, albeit organized. It’s important to me that it looks and runs like a professional event/concert/festival. All the design, and the organization, the branding and the polished look of our website and products – that’s what I feel attracts so many people to the walk. It’s not a neighborhood block party, people come out expecting the same experience they’d get at a rock concert – and I try to deliver.
Q: You met Max Brooks (author of the NY Times best seller World War Z) at the NY Comic Con. What was that like?
Jason: It was pretty surreal – sort of a role reversal in a way. I was dressed as a zombie, covered in blood and handing out fliers at the Comic Con when he approached me and complimented my makeup. He asked if I had read the ‘Survival Guide’ and that’s when I realized how I recognized him. It was odd, such a formidable name in Zombie Combat training seeking ME out in a crowd of thousands to say hi, instead of the typical opposite that I’m sure he’s used to. He was really excited to hear about the NJ Walk, here’s hoping we’ll see him as a guest at one of our future events
Q: Why are zombie walks so popular? Better yet, why are zombies so popular?
Jason: What’s becoming obvious is that mainstream affect, where now EVERYONE is at least a little ‘into’ those monsters. Zombies are the comic relief of the horror movie monsters. They’re slow, usually dumb, but they scare you because you’re always outnumbered. It’s like a hive mind, as a mob the zombies almost appear like they know what they’re doing.. when they’re really just out for a snack.
Q: You’re hoping to set the Guinness World Record. Tell us about your efforts.
Jason: Currently the world record in 4233. Right now we have almost 6500 fans on facebook and half of those have indicated they are likely to come. I think we have an excellent shot at breaking the record. There are a lot of rules that need to be explicitly followed to receive credit for us to break the record. One thing we’ll be doing just for this attempt is employing an auditing company to literally count the zombies. Zombies at minimum have to be wearing white face paint, black eye makeup and fake blood to be considered undead.
Q: Where do you see the ZW going from here?
Jason: I can’t even think about the 2011 Walk until after this year’s. It all depends on how successful this event is. Breaking the world record will open a lot of opportunities. One thing we might look into is expanding the walk into a 2-3 day convention… but you’ll have to wait and see.
You can learn more about the NJ zombiewalk at www.njzombiewalk.com. The walk is completely free to attend and will be held on Saturday, October 30th in Asbury Park, NJ.