"That was like the Log Flume," said my friend Jake as we left the makeshift "Holehead Playhouse" in the heart of San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood. I looked at him quizzically. His face and hair were spattered with what looked remarkably like dried blood, and though I lacked a pocket mirror, I was quite sure mine were as well. "You know, at an amusement park," he explained. "The Log Floom is kind of a boring ride, 'cause you just sit there, but you get wet, so everyone's really into it." This brilliant metaphor was in reference to the performance we had just seen -- or, rather, participated in: Night of the Living Dead: Live!
As part of this year's San Francisco Independent Film Festival, not-for-profit theater company The Primitive Screwheads have adapted George Romero's screen classic for the stage -- a small stage in the middle of an unmarked warehouse on Indiana Avenue, that is. We arrived a little early and were herded to a merch-and-refreshments area to wait until curtain. Items for sale included cocktails, t-shirts, stickers, and -- disturbingly -- ponchos. Ponchos? The Screwheads' website had warned against wearing nice clothes ("WARNING: BLOOD AND GORE WILL SHOWER DOWN UPON THE AUDIENCE IN AN UNHOLY THUNDERSTORM FROM HELL!!!!") but I had taken it lightly and brought only a white t-shirt to cover up the decent blouse I had worn to work that day. I started to get nervous. A blood-and-gore-crusted zombie lunged against the bars of a cage in the corner, grasping at passersby, rattling the chains around his wrists and moaning loudly, and I could see large plastic tarpulins draped over the chairs in which we'd soon be sitting.
As I was soon to discover, the Screwheads are not to be taken lightly. Though their interpretation (self-described as parodic) of the Original Zombie Movie is heavy on the jokes, they are NOT KIDDING when it comes to special effects. The fake limbs are satisfyingly disgusting, the zombies sufficiently creepy -- especially when they lurch at you as you wait in line for the bathroom during intermission. But what really got my heart racing were my desperate attempts to avoid the bright red flood let forth into the audience each time a character was bitten, shot, or hacked-at with a hand-axe, which was about every five minutes. From carefully concealed Super-Soakers came long and generous spurts of what looked and smelled like raspberry Kool-Aid, hitting audience members from every angle. The tarpulins were helpful at first but after about 30 minutes we were pretty much soaked and at the end of the show, just when we thought it was finally over, crew members stormed the aisles with large buckets, which they proceeded to empty mercilessly onto our heads.
If you're seeking fine art, Night of the Living Dead: Live!, as you might have suspected, is not for you. The script is flat, the acting mediocre (think bad Southern accents, lots of wailing and arm-flailing), the scene changes sloppy. But if you love zombies so much you could die (as many people in the audience clearly did; someone sitting behind me was wearing a press badge for "The Dead Report," a zombie news and reviews podcast) or you're just a fan of the good-old Log Flume, then head to the Holehead Playhouse before it's too late.
Night of the Living Dead: Live! runs through June 23. Get tickets and information (at sfindie.com).