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Stage Review: Urban Death 2024

The latest iteration of Urban Death plays like a rapid-fire vaudeville display of the outrageous and the bizarre.

The first thing you need to know about the new production of Urban Death at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood is that it features comparatively little death. Instead, the emphasis is on nudity, sexuality, and perversion designed to provoke a visceral reaction from the audience. Depending on the viewer, that response could be either a gasp of disgust or a laugh of admiration, depending on whether one was outraged or impressed by the unrestrained boundary-breaking on display. The easily offended are warned to stay away; those with a taste for the bizarre will find plenty to appease their craving.

Urban Death 2024 Review: Shocks & Shivers

Urban Death pretty much announces its intentions from the get-go. The nude woman swinging from a bungie cord while the audiences take their seats is a mild preview of the main show, which begins with a naked man stroking his (artificial) penis to the point of ejaculation. This will not be the evening’s last act of masturbation, and the cast spends so much time unclothed that the concept of costume changes becomes almost moot. Male and female nudity seems evenly distributed, but women are more likely to be victims of violence: one is strangled; another is suffocated with a plastic bag; a third spouts blood from the mouth as a man appears to crush her skull. To be fair, at least one scene put the shoe on the other foot, so kudos for that.

Urban Death 2024 Review
With scenes like this, perhaps the title should have been “Urban Sex & Death.”

Interspersed with deliberately shocking scenes are sinister moments that provoke uncanny shivers. A damsel in distress dangles helplessly from a window ledge while, from a darkened doorway below, hands grasp at her ankles. Two actors inside a giant black body stocking writhe like some shapeless living blob. With the lights blacked out, a dimly glowing sheet (animated by an actor underneath) suggests a floating ectoplasmic entity. Enshrouded in shadows, a woman in a frilly white dress seems to levitate off the ground.

Best of all, in a delightfully weird way, a pair of dancing “dolls” flit across stage and bow in unison as if joined at the hip. Their painted smiles and mechanical movements suggest a child’s windup toy – an impression wildly at odds with sharp-looking knives flashing in their rhythmically swinging hands.

Review: Conclusion

Flabbergast is a rather quaint word to use in connection with Urban Death; nevertheless, it does fit: “to overwhelm with shock, surprise, or wonder.” That describes the show in a nutshell and perhaps also explains why so much of the weirdness can be funny: the deliberate provocation is so blatant that the intention behind the scene almost eclipses the scene itself, leaving viewers shaking their heads at how far the show is willing to go to achieve its desire effect. (Alternately, much of the laughter may be of the nervous, defensive variety – a shield to distance one’s psyche from the visual assault.)

We tend to prefer the Halloween version of the show, which runs in October under the expanded title of Urban Death: Tour of Terror, because it tilts the balance a bit more toward the uncanny than the outrageous. For us, the eerie imagery of nightmarish things scuttling in darkness retains its power, while the overtly shocking scenes have been somewhat blunted by overexposure. That probably says more about us than the show itself. First time viewers will no doubt be dumbfounded, and hardcore fans will have a ball.

Urban Death 2024

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Urban Death 2024 posterThe 2024 iteration of Urban Death is by turns outrageous, provocative, hysterical, and eerie. It’s way too extreme for the average viewer, and it’s probably not a great gateway drug for the uninitiated, but if you have been exposed to previous versions of the show and you’re ready for whatever it throws at you, go for it!

Urban Death runs at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays from April 26 to May 11, with performances starting at 8:30m and 10:30pm. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. The address is 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. For more information, visit zombiejoes.com.

Cast: Elijah Cunnally, Andrew Dippe, Joe Filippone, Jonica Patella, Elif Savas, Nick Salas, Jennie Tuliao.

Credits: Directed by Denise Devin. Created by Zombie Joe and Jana Wimer. Produced by Zombie Joe. Original Musical Score by Joseph Bishara. Run time: 45 mins.

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.