Zombie for a day at Dade City Halloween attraction Scream-A-Geddon

After watching countless zombie movies, John Allman's love of horror finally comes in handy.

click to enlarge "How bloody do you like things?" Scream-A-Geddon makeup artist Emily Couch, left, transforms Allman from man to monster. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
"How bloody do you like things?" Scream-A-Geddon makeup artist Emily Couch, left, transforms Allman from man to monster.

Being a zombie is harder than it looks.

It takes a lot more thought than you might realize.

For one, what kind of undead are you going to be? Are you Team Romero, all shuffle and lurch, or Team Snyder, sprint and kill? 

What’s your motivation? Do you crave brains and paramedics, like The Return of the Living Dead? Or beers and video games, a la Shaun of the Dead?

Are you able to speak, or just growl? (Surprisingly, growling for an hour can really fuck with your throat.)

What stage of decomposition have you reached? Are you newly infected, or a rotting corpse? Pro-tip: When your makeup artist asks, “How bloody do you like things?” take her seriously. She’s not playing around. And don’t trust that she will tell you the more gore on your face, the more fake blood and goo that’s guaranteed to find its way to your mouth.

And, finally, there’s posture. If you believe zombies should be hunched over and somewhat feral, with their head cocked askew, listening for movement, it’s probably wise to consider how that might impact your 48-year-old sciatic nerve, if you suffer from lower lumbar inflammation.

All of this might seem trivial to the average guy or girl, but for a lifelong fan of horror, when you finally get the opportunity to be made-up and to be featured in one of the best Halloween attractions in central Florida, you want to make sure you do it right.

click to enlarge It was a no-brainer for our reporter (and lifelong horror fanatic) to lurch at the chance to participate in a haunted house. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
It was a no-brainer for our reporter (and lifelong horror fanatic) to lurch at the chance to participate in a haunted house.

Such were the thoughts swirling through my brain when I arrived in Dade City on a sweltering Sunday night to play a farmhouse zombie at Infected: Ground Zero, one of the original, and best, attractions at Scream-A-Geddon, which has completely revamped its lineup for its fourth year with half of the haunts being brand new.

I immediately consulted with veteran scare-actor Candi Erris, 24, of Tampa, who has worked at haunted houses for eight years.

“This is a good way to let out all your aggression and emotions. That’s why I do it. It’s a good release,” she advised. “Plus, scaring people is a lot of fun.”

If you’ve ever been to a haunted house, it’s a safe bet the actors were trying to, literally, scare the piss or poop out of you. Erris said scare-actors call this Code Yellow and Code Brown, and trust me, they keep a nightly tally for bragging rights.

Then I made my way to the makeup trailer to meet Emily Couch, head monster maker, and one of six total artists responsible for transforming all 148 actors, on average, every night at Scream-A-Geddon.

That might not seem like an impossible task until you consider that Couch and her cohorts get about five minutes per person to make each as terrifying as possible.

I had clarity, and purpose. I was a zombie.

Couch used liquid latex to form a gnarly gash on my forehead. Dark makeup around my eyes to make them sunken. Blood oozing out of my ears. And a healthy, heaping slather of chunky gore across my mouth and goatee.

Just past 8 p.m., the horde of Infected: Ground Zero zombies marched en masse across the Monster Midway to the main entrance. I used that time to perfect my gait, dragging my right foot as I lurched, my head tilted, my lips caked. I growled, guttural at first, then louder as patrons passed. I swiped my bloodied hand at anyone who got close, but never touching them. 

The looks on the faces of adults and children alike told me Couch had done her job well. But, more, I felt it deep down, like that fluttering rush when you first lay eyes on the person you will eventually marry. I had clarity, and purpose. I was a zombie.

If you’ve ever gone to Scream-A-Geddon and braved Infected: Ground Zero, you know that the interactive trail leads all patrons to a looming farmhouse where hell awaits. In the yard, there are bodies of soldiers impaled. And there are three undead soldiers waiting to attack all to approach.

Zombie One lay on the ground. Zombie Two took his post to my right. I hung back to the left, anticipation building, my military fatigues ripped to allow for ventilation.

You get used to waiting as a zombie.

Unlike Halloween Horror Nights or Howl-O-Scream, patrons aren’t hurried and herded through in large groups. People are free to wander and take their time, which is why Scream-A-Geddon is so popular. You get your money’s worth.

click to enlarge Creative Loafing reporter John W. Allman strikes his best zombie pose at Scream-A-Geddon's Infected: Ground Zero. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Creative Loafing reporter John W. Allman strikes his best zombie pose at Scream-A-Geddon's Infected: Ground Zero.

I varied my approach for each new soul that entered the yard. Some I shambled in front of; others, I waited until they passed to attack. At times, I gnawed on a fake severed foot or appeared to chew on the leg of an impaled soldier. 

All it took was that first scream of terror, to see the shock in their eye, to know I had found my calling.

“He looks real!” one woman shouted, pointing at me as she scurried behind her date.

“I bite back,” another warned as I chomped my teeth near her cheek.

I’m pretty sure another woman purred as I staggered up behind her to growl in her ear. That’s right, once you go undead, you never go back.

For an hour, I got to live my dream and scratch off a line on my bucket list. It was exhilarating, and exhausting. I had to fight not to smile each time someone shrieked and ran inside, only to hear them scream louder at the horrors waiting there.

When it was over, and I was in my car, heading back to Tampa, the euphoria was overwhelming. Thankfully, I didn’t speed.

The last thing an undead reporter needs is to be profiled, or stopped and ticketed, for driving while Z. 

For an hour, I got to live my dream and scratch off a line on my bucket list. It was exhilarating, and exhausting. I had to fight not to smile each time someone shrieked and ran inside, only to hear them scream louder at the horrors waiting there.

When it was over, and I was in my car, heading back to Tampa, the euphoria was overwhelming. Thankfully, I didn’t speed.

The last thing an undead reporter needs is to be profiled, or stopped and ticketed, for driving while Z.

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.