It’s 1990 in rural Washington County. Pittsburgher Tom Savini is directing the color remake of George Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead, destined to be more graphic and gruesome than the 1968 original.
Seven strangers are trapped in an isolated farmhouse while cannabilistic zombies stage a gruesome flesh-eating attack, and four zombies hang in a tree as hunters use them for target practice. Sounds like fun, right? Turns out my husband, Drew, was one of the zombie extras!
When a talent agency he’d worked with on a number of TV commercials he directed over the years called saying they needed four, as they put it, “smaller” people to be hanging zombies, he thought it might be fun and signed up. On shoot day, he drove to Washington County at the crack of dawn, where he and the other extras were bused to a nearby farm which had been turned into a gigantic movie set.
Drew picks up the story from there:
“When I got there, they walked us out to this big oak tree and they said, ‘hey we need one of you guys to be nailed to the tree.’ I looked around and nobody else was volunteering, so I raised my hand,” he said.
“They rigged me up, put a parachute harness under my costume with an O-ring, drove a couple of big spikes into the tree and lifted me up and hung me on the tree, as a test.”
“The whole morning goes by and suddenly we break for lunch, when I find myself sitting in this makeshift cafeteria with 20 other zombies that are sitting around morbidly eating lunch, which was a scene that was pretty bizarre in itself. Lunch comes and goes and we’re waiting and waiting. We literally wait all afternoon. Then, they take us into the makeup trailer and rig us with squibs—those little exploding blood packets. So now, I’ve got 50 squibs under my outfit, with wires running down my legs so when we get shot these things would explode and blood would come flying out. That takes an hour or two for everybody to get wired up with squibs. We wait and wait again. Finally, it’s around 5 o’clock in the afternoon and they say ‘we have to hurry and get this in before we lose the light.’ They take us back up to the tree and off to my right is a dummy zombie hanging there, with arrows sticking in it.”
“As they’re hooking me back up, the stunt coordinator comes up and says ‘what’s going on with this?’ Turns out, the director wanted to shoot real arrows into the fake zombie. The stunt coordinator said ‘wait a minute; you’ve got a guy here on the trunk of the tree. If an arrow deflects off the limb of the tree, this guy could be hit; so you either get the fake zombie with the arrows, or the guy on the trunk of the tree, but you can’t have them both. You’ve got to pick.’ So, the crew member walks all the way down this long hill, to where the camera is set up, talks to the director, then comes all the way back up the hill and says ‘he wants the zombie with the arrows.’ So, at the last second, before they roll, they lift me out of the tree, I go walking down the hill and they run the scene without me. I was not in the shot, after waiting there all day!”
And, just like that…Drew’s 15 minutes of fame faded away! “I was almost a hanging zombie in a Tom Savini/George Romero zombie movie remake.” How many people can say that?