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Review: The Horror at ZJU Theatre

“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream; that’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving.”

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre administers another dose of weird creepiness with The Horror, but this time the man injecting the hypodermic into your brain is Zombie Joe himself. The one-man show features Impresario of the Odd gyrating, walking, talking, and declaiming his way through a half-hour performance that takes audiences through several stages weirdness. The connective tissue between the different sections is tenuous – the whole thing feels like stream-of-consciousness – but moving a small group of viewers through the entire theatre scene-by-scene (reception area, main stage, back stage, even the bathroom!) lends a sense of progress even if the final destination remains unclear.

The first strategy of The Horror, employed before any dialogue is heard, is to confront audiences with something unexplained, possibly inexplicable: What is the gyrating dance at the beginning about? Isis some kind of commentary on the existential horror of modern life when Zombie Joe, dressed in business suit and carrying a briefcase, walks into a wall and his legs keep going even though further progress is impeded.

The second strategy, employed when Zombie Joe begins engaging his audience verbally, is to present serious, almost melodramatic monologues that alternate with incongruous juxtapositions, provoking viewers to laugh nervously, wondering whether what they heard is funny or merely weird.

The Horror justifies its title in a couple of highlight moments. In the first, Zombie Joe, holding an electric candle as the only illumination, listens for ghosts in the allegedly haunted theatre (there are a few creaking sounds), then asks audience members to reveal, in the darkness, the worst thing they have ever done. In the second, Zombie Joe delivers Colonel Kurtz famous monologue about snails and straight razors from Apocalypse Now before shifting in another direction. It’s a really perfect moment – a great performance of the character, not an impersonation of Brando.

Still, when all is said and done, The Horror is very much for audiences who have acquired a taste for the ZJU brand of immersive theatrical performance. Newcomers will probably be baffled, and even horror fans lured by the title may not find quite what they expected.

Hollywood Gothique's rating of The Horror

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not recommended but not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Zombie Joe’s one-man show is geared for fans of ZJU Theatre’s patented brand of bizarre performance. The uninitiated may prefer to wait for the somewhat more accessible horror-spoof, Attack of the Rotting Corpses, on September 17 & 18 or the next iteration of Urban Death: Tour of Terror during the Halloween season.

The Horror continues at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre on August 12 & 13, with performances at 8:30pm, 9:30pm & 10pm. The address is 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Tickets are $20 in advance & $25 at the door. For more info, visit: zombiejoes.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.