A glimpse into the underground theater of Zombie Joe
Article by: Scott Feinblatt
Disturbing Visions of Death and Decay Inspire Life
Photo by Marti Matulis.
Fine art is meant to be experienced
much more than discussed. For, by
gaining knowledge of a work of art
through the analysis of someone like
me, you limit your potential to
experience a genuine reaction. In my
coverage of Rob Zombie's Great
American Nightmare, I called “genius”;
however, in that instance, I was
discussing both Zombie's marketing
acumen and his cross-platform
realization of a lush vignette –
specifically a museum of horrific
oddities. Given that, I recently had the
privilege of experiencing the work of
another Zombie's interactive attraction
– only this one achieved genius on an
experiential level.
The adventure started out in reality. That is, I didn't find out about this event through billboards, commercials or any
other form of advertising that would categorize it into a nice little package. An actual human being, LA Weekly writer
Lina Lecaro, said, “Hey Scott, you should check this out; it's really cool!” Without having a clue as to what “it” was, I
scheduled a visit to the “Urban Death: Tour of Terror” haunted theater attraction.

On the night of my appointment, I approached the North Hollywood address and witnessed a stream of individuals
exiting the theater. There was such an aura of light about them that it was difficult to imagine they had not been
paid to look so satisfied. Additionally, each small group that exited (the guests had been partitioned into groups of
two to three individuals) was greeted by a kindly and gentle soul, whom I soon discovered was Zombie Joe – the
show was a presentation of
Zombie Joe's Underground Theater Group. When Zombie Joe addressed the guests,
his intonation gave me the impression that he was interested in knowing both how affective his presentation was
and whether or not the guests had experienced a sense of personal satisfaction. None of them had to say a thing;
the answers to both of these questions were evident from their smiles and from the looks in their eyes.
What goes on beyond the facade of
4850 Lankershim Blvd. is subversive
stuff. It is not subversive in an overt or
pretentious manner; rather, it is the
product of love, expression and
tradition – all of which are tragically
rare words within Los Angeles, where
words like “buzz”, “spectacle” and
“celebrity” possess the highest value.
And though the combination of a
haunted attraction and avant-garde
theater is new to Zombie Joe's
Underground Theater Group, this is
Joe's 21st season as a creator of
underground entertainment.

He has a classical theater background
and cites as his inspirations:
Brecht, Chekhov and Kabuki theater
as well as Edgar Allan Poe and
George Lucas. The formative years of
his artistic journey are those of the
prototypical starving artist; he went
hungry, he lived in his Northridge
theater and he created dangerous works of art, which depicted violence, sex and drug use while threatening the
safety of both performers and audience members. Joe claims that during the early years the audience could get
messy and occasionally someone would get “clocked in the face”. He had never believed that he would still be doing
this kind of work so many years later, but as the years went on, and the forms matured, the theater became a
community that has continually attracted like-minded performers. Furthermore, he claims that people have forged
friendships and gotten married through their associations with Zombie Joe's. Violent, sexual, shocking and, perhaps
even, invasive motifs and tactics are still employed in the shows, but guests are no longer soiled or injured during
the performances.  
Photo by Marti Matulis.
The current show combines an interactive haunted
attraction with an excerpt from their show entitled
“Urban Death”. In its full form, “Urban Death” is 45
minutes of brief
tableau-like vignettes (ranging in
duration from several seconds to several minutes);
each scene has its own story, but none of them
have any dialogue. The show was created by
Zombie Joe, co-director Jana Wimer and the
performers. Whereas Zombie Joe's chief
contribution consists of shocking and
confrontational themes and imagery, Wimer is
chiefly responsible for the genre-specific horror
elements. Her background includes a theater
degree from California State University, Fresno,
where she studied acting and scene design. She
also has a proclivity for puppetry and has studied
the art form in an intensive environment as well –
this is evident as aspects of “Urban Death” involve
puppetry. Wimer claimed that the brief scenes were
the collective products of the directors and the
show's numerous performers. Alas, I'm not going to
tell you any more about the show than that – short
of saying that it is an affecting experience which will
creep into your head and perhaps other parts of
your body.

In addition to regular transgressive programming,
Zombie Joe's Underground Theater also plays host
to the award-winning Shakespearean plays of
Denise Devin. Additionally, Jana Wimer will soon be
opening the show in Cape Town, South Africa, but
as for the immediate future, this upcoming Saturday,
October 26, Zombie Joe and his merry gang will be
performing at
LACMA. It behooves all horror fans to
attend if they are able. Beyond that, stay tuned to
Zombie Joe's site (or to the Horror Works
for info on any and all upcoming chances to see
great creators doing great things with Zombie Joe's
Underground Theater Group.
Photo of "Ghost in Window" by Zombie Joe.