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Get Zombie Aware at MAYhem Night

Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 16:05

Zombie Awareness Month

Ryan A. Ruiz

If you didn’t already know that May is Zombie Awareness Month, you might be behind some of your friends and neighbors in securing your home and stocking up on Twinkies. But there’s still time to scour the “Zombie Survival Guide” and catch a few zombie flicks before the coming apocalypse.

The Zombie Research Society, founded by former French Foreign Legionnaire and self-styled zombie expert Matt Mogk, dedicated this month to boosting public awareness of the undead based on the fact that many influential zombie films, including George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” are set in May.

Though the concept of flesh-eating undead beings has been a feature of mythologies the world over since ancient times and the term “zombie” originated with West African and Haitian traditions, the modern conception of the zombie didn’t emerge until Romero’s 1968 film. Since then, zombies have staggered and groaned their way through fiction, film and music, from the iconic zombie versus shark battle in the Italian movie “Zombi 2” to the lurching dance moves of the “Thriller” music video.

The enduring popularity of the genre hasn’t necessitated a return from the dead, but zombies have enjoyed a bit of a reawakening in the early 21st century. Max Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide” came out in 2003, prompting a wave of knock-offs and zombie-related merchandise. Zombie walks, often held for charitable causes such as ending hunger, began in 2001 with an undead parade to promote a film festival in Sacramento. The first zombie walk registered with the Guinness World Records drew 894 participants in 2006. The current world record, from a 2011 event in Mexico, stands at 9,806. Films of the past decade, including “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland,” have updated the genre with a comedic twist.

The ghoulish hordes have become so pervasive that in 2011 the Centers for Disease Control launched a “Zombie Preparedness” initiative as a way to get more people engaged with readying for real-life catastrophes.

"If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack," CDC director Dr. Ali Khan notes on the agency’s website.

Zombie Awareness Month started in 2008 with a group who take their zombies with a similar tongue-in-cheek seriousness. Society head Mogk for instance has stated that despite the popular stereotype, zombies likely don’t eat brains because the human jaw lacks the strength and size to bite through a skull. The organization encourages people to wear gray ribbons throughout May to increase awareness of the dangers posed by the undead.

Zombie mania has spread to the desert as well. This year, Tempe’s MadCap Theaters and Cult Classics marks the month with an event that showcases the zombie genre’s versatility. MadCap will host the first Zombie MAYhem night on May 18, with a double feature of Simon Pegg’s ‘romzomcom’ “Shaun of the Dead” and the 2012 Cuban zombie political satire “Juan of the Dead.” Victor Moreno of Cult Classics said that in addition to the blood, gore and horror, the lasting appeal of zombies comes in part from their ability to symbolize problems with society.

“It’s a long-standing tradition with zombie movies to have the zombie stand in as a social issue, i.e. Cuban repression in ‘Juan of the Dead,’” Moreno said.

The event also includes a zombie costume contest, zombie flash mob dancing and author and Phoenix resident Craig W. Chenery talking about his new book “Blood Splatter – A Guide to Cinematic Zombie Violence, Gore and Special Effects.”

Whether it’s Zombie MAYhem or your own undead adventure, the sooner you educate yourself about the zombie menace the better. After all, as the as the Zombie Research Society warns, “What you don’t know can eat you.”

MAYhem Night, MadCap Theaters, 730 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480.634.5192, Friday, May 18, 7 p.m., $10-$20 

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