A guest post by Curt Connolly
One of my favorite Halloween memories isn’t really Halloween specific, but It’s close enough in theme and timing, that I hope you can let it slide.
My mother is definitely the type of person who needs to be doing things all the time, be it at work or home. She is also the kind of person who likes to try things she is curious about. Throughout my childhood it was largely manifest in the various arts and crafts projects she undertook, frequently trying new techniques, from crocheting afghans, to copper tooling, and even some painting. For a time, creative art interests switched to performing, and she decided to try and do work in local TV commercials or maybe get cast in a local television or film productions that were becoming more frequent in Pittsburgh, in the late 80’s. So she got headshots, and found a local talent agent that handled the type of work my mom was looking for (read: non-union) and waited.
There’s no Internet Movie Database entry for her short career, I am unable to relate all of the auditions she was called for, nor can I specify all the scenes she was on camera for, only to never wind up in a final cut. That’s the nature of extra work. She always seemed to enjoy the experience for what it was, I don’t think she had any delusions concerning a future in the motion picture industry. Still, even when you wind up on the cutting room floor, though, you can come away with a memorable story.
If you say zombie to someone today, they might think of The Walking Dead, or maybe Zombieland or Planet Z, or some other take on the zombie-as-unstoppable-monster film. In 1990, and particularly in Western Pennsylvania, zombie was synonymous with George Romero, he of the Night of the Living Dead fame. For reasons that are unimportant, but almost certainly involve a desire to make a buck, Romero set out to produce a remake of his classic 1968 cult hit. As was the norm for most of his films, Romero chose to stay close to home, and so most of the filming was done in Washington County, just south of Pittsburgh.
If there’s one thing a zombie film needs it is zombies. Generally more is better, and since most will have no lines, and be in the backgrounds shambling around aimlessly (or menacingly as the case may be), extras can get a lot of opportunities. For what seemed like a couple of months, my mother would work a full day, come home, eat dinner, and then head out to Washington County, sit for makeup, and mostly wait around to do the zombie things that needed doing for a given scene. Once shooting wrapped for the night, she would drive home, and catch a few hours of sleep, before getting up to head back to her day job. She seemed to enjoy the experience, and once her work on the movie was over, that was that, another interesting experience. Or so I thought.
A movie theater in suburban Pittsburgh, not far from where we lived, managed to score the world premiere of the film in October of 1990. Part of how they did this apparently, was to actively pitch the studio on how they wanted to promote it. They wanted zombies wandering the shopping Mall where the theater was located, a nod to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, filmed in Monroeville Mall, east of Pittsburgh. The studio liked the idea, and makeup artists were assembled along with some willing extras, my mom included. Should make for a fun addition to the zombie movie story.
The night of the premiere, I’m home from class and channel surfing, and I pop on CNN, and bless a slow news night, but they actually have a remote crew in Pittsburgh at the premiere. Cut to long shots of the mall and the theater, and shambling zombies all about. It’s definitely not hard news, just a fun piece about the movie and amusement at the zombies in the mall. To make it perfectly absurd, the reporter suggests they should interview a zombie.
Cut. To. My. Mom. Full zombie face makeup (pretty low key by today’s standard if I’m being honest), chatting up the reporter about being an extra for the film and being called up for the premiere. Just my mom talking on national television. Except she’s not mom exactly, but a zombie mom.
Sadly, I don’t have a picture, and I didn’t have VHS tape to throw in the VCR in time, but the image in my mind? I’ll have that forever.
Curt Connolly is a former Higher Ed IT professional turned stay-at-home dad, who lives in Bemidji MN, with his wife and son. While he enjoys the George Romero zombie movies, he thinks Martin, a take on vampire myth, is Romero's best work.
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