Zombie Joe’s Underground’s signature show, “Urban Death” was placed front-and-center at Midsummer Scream’s convention this weekend. Just to the left of check in, the line for the show built up before each performance as audiences eagerly anticipated what was to be found behind the doors.
Building on the suspense of what was to come ahead was the terrifying prospect of sealing your cellphones in a pouch so that during the performance there was no way to access them.
The physical unease of the audience was palpable. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” I heard whispered behind me as cell phones were placed into sealed pouches.
The doors opened and we entered.
Those in the front took up the chairs quickly, while the rest of us scrambled for floor seats and standing room in the back.
A black curtain created a divide between the backstage and the stage, and only a taped-off boundary separated the audience from the performance, with audience (myself included) pushed up to the very front of the tape.
Full disclosure: This show is near and dear to me. I have performed in it 100+ times, and was instrumental in developing the “Urban Death: Tour of Terror” October haunted house.
Despite my familiarity with the show, it is virtually impossible to give a traditional review, especially because the nature of the show so nebulous. “Urban Death” presents a series of unconnected vignettes. If there is an overarching theme of the show I would describe it as showcasing taboos and experiences of anxiety. Some of the vignettes can be downright funny and bizarre: such as a man wearing a large tube running away from a hopping bunny. Others can be horrific, such as a hissing, wriggling, multi-headed hydra of faceless bodies appearing in front of you from the darkness (this piece by the way is titled “Flesh Flower”).
The vignettes are usually presented without words, though primal grunts, screams, moans and wails are commonplace. Nudity and graphic (and downright insane) sexual acts are also depicted. The show is decidedly not for children.
“Urban Death” is an assault on one’s senses and people’s opinions on it are extremely divisive. Some love it, others can’t stand it, and others simply don’t understand what they just saw. Kudos to Midsummer Scream’s organizers for giving “Urban Death” creators Zombie Joe and Jana Wimer carte blanche, allowing them to craft an uncensored show for the convention. A warning was given to attendees that “Urban Death” was not suitable for minors, though I have no doubt that some snuck in.
The beauty of this show is how much it reflects on one’s own social morays. I spoke afterwards to a young man who had stood in line in front of me for the show. Going in he had no idea what the show was, but afterwards expressed eager fascination and excitement with what he had just witnessed.
To him, the notion that an actor could stand on stage completely naked and vulnerable in front of a crowd performing a simulated sex act was thrilling. He praised the bravery of the performers. The young man’s friend, who had attended with him, had left the show shocked and stunned. For her it had crossed a personal line.
The show is not for everyone. There’s nothing family friendly about it. But art, good art, should challenge and provoke. “Urban Death” is a litmus test. And to know that Midsummer Scream was so willing to feature a show of this caliber front-and-center during their inaugural year is a testament to the confidence the organizers possess in their willingness to embrace one of LA’s most unique horrors.