When zombie fans want to feel alive, there’s nothing like a date with the undead.
Hungry for realistic encounters, they’re flocking to events where they can be stalked, surrounded and terrified by zombie hordes.
Take the Zombie Survival Horror experience now taking place at an abandoned shopping center in Reading, England, just outside of London.
For about $190 per person, you too can see what it might take to survive a zombie apocalypse and outwit the monsters, that is, the actors who’ve been transformed into gruesome creatures with the help of special-effects makeup.
Hundreds of people have signed up for the four-hour experience since Zed Events began offering it in March, said Lee Fields, company director.
“Everyone loves a good scare,” he noted. “Zombie culture has been steadily growing for years.”
Indeed, the genre -- including movies, video games and books -- is now worth about $5 billion, according to estimates by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news site.
No wonder tour operators and attraction owners are vying to be part of it.
“Series like AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ have really put a lot of additional focus and awareness on the zombie genre. So zombies are the hottest thing going right now. Everybody out there is grabbing whatever piece of the zombie train they can,” said Dean Jarnig, owner of Zombie Manor in Arlington, Texas.
He opened the house in 2008 as a Halloween attraction, but it’s now in demand year-round for corporate events, private parties and even wedding receptions.
In honor of Zombie Awareness Month -- yes, there is one and it's in May -- the Manor is hosting a Dead Light Fright Night event on May 19, during which visitors go through the pitch-dark house with only a “corpse headlight” illuminating their way as zombies await in the shadows. Tickets cost $15.
If you can stand to wait until the fall, there’s the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, which began as a Halloween-time event in 2010 and is scheduled to take place again this October at an abandoned truck stop that has been converted into a paintball field.
Co-creator Jonathan Rej said organizers took bits and pieces from different movies and wrote a script that thrusts visitors into an apocalyptic world full of zombies, scavengers, drug addicts and military guides wielding guns. Guests must make decisions and figure out whom to trust.
“We were trying to imagine, what would it really be like?” Rej said. “We really want them to feel like they’re in a movie.”
Visitors often come out winded after the intense 20-minute experience that has them running through the 100,000 square foot facility, he added. A $30 ticket gets you into the event and 20 paintball shots at wandering zombies.
Zombie fan Marlinda Phillips said she loved the thrill of not knowing what to expect during the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, which employs 100 actors and draws about 10,000 fans during its fall run.
“You’re part of the story from beginning to the end,” said Phillips, 34. “It’s like you want to cover your face or close your eyes but you can’t because you’re forced to pay attention to what’s going on.”
The interactive performers who play the undead never touch the visitors, but the experience can sometimes be just too much for the guests anyway.
“People get so freaked out ... they have panic attacks, in some cases they wet themselves, in some cases they throw up, in some cases we have to pull them out of the attraction,” Jarnig said.
It can also be an unintended thrill ride for the actors. Jittery visitors pumped up with adrenaline sometimes try to punch the monsters coming at them, so the performers know to stay at arm’s length, Rej said.
Still, the events always turn out successful, he added. “Zombies are huge.”
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