Not because Colorado has lots of guns and a considerable military presence – although that won’t hurt – but because there are few, if any, cities in the country that can match this state’s passion for the living dead.
Denver is home to one of the biggest annual zombie crawls in the nation, with upwards of 15,000 zombie fans coming together every year to walk the 16th Street Mall in a show of undead solidarity. Most cities are lucky to get half that many ghouls together at once, and Denver won’t rest until it holds the world record.
The annual Denver County Fair features a zombie beauty pageant as one of its signature events. There are zombie proms, zombie hunts and even zombie car washes.
This passion for the living dead isn’t confined to the Halloween season, either. This stuff happens year-round, every year.
“Everywhere I look there's more zombie stuff being announced,” Theresa Mercado, a Denver-based film programmer and self-professed zombie obsessive says. “People don't want to wait the whole year to do things in October. They love any excuse to dress like a zombie.”
With all this expertise concentrated in one place, it’s hard to imagine a better place to be a zombie fan than Colorado.
This fact is epitomized by the upcoming Stanley Film Festival, which has selected Denver-based filmmaker Alexandre Philippe’s zombie-centric “Doc of the Dead” as its opening night movie this year. Philippe’s feature-length documentary will launch the event on April 24.
“A great aspect of ‘Doc of the Dead’ is the exuberance involved – it's clearly a film from fans about fans and that's the audience we're cultivating,” Stanley Film Festival programming director Landon Zakheim says. “Zombie culture, previously for hardcore fans, has now saturated the mainstream and that's something to celebrate.”
That doesn’t mean that we’re unusual.
Zombie culture has exploded everywhere in the past ten years, launching formerly fringe players on the mainstream circuit with uncontested supremacy.
One of the most popular shows on cable TV is “The Walking Dead,” which pulled in more than 16 million viewers for its fourth season premiere and averaged almost 20 million a week including digital video viewings.
And films like “World War Z” and “Zombieland” have elevated the genre from B-movies to tentpole franchises.
Zombies have had their highs and lows before, starting with release of George Romero’s groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 and “Dawn of the Dead” in 1979.
Besides a couple of films like Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” and Dan O’Bannon’s “Return of the Living Dead,” zombies were relegated to the status of horror movie also-rans during the 1980s. And while the undead always had their stalwart fans, the mainstream forgot they existed for years at a time.
Things have been different over the past decade, though. There’s something about the grisly, flesh-hungry creatures and the apocalyptic scenarios they portend that took hold of the post 9/11 American imagination and has thus far refused to let go.
“Zombies are synonymous with the end of the world,” Zombie Research Society founder Matt Mogk says. “These days we’re worried about global economic collapse, global warming and giant tsunamis in Japan. We see these disasters on TV that look like the outcome of the zombie outbreak, and that’s the perfect zombie wheelhouse. It’s a way to process this stuff that already feels real to us.”
Here in Colorado, zombie culture seems to have sunk its teeth in a little deeper than most anywhere else.
Why is that?
It could have something to do with the high concentration of technology industry workers here.
After all, techies tend to be nerds – the explosive growth of Denver Comic Con, just named the fastest growing pop culture convention by the trade publication “Expo Magazine,” suggests we have no shortage of nerds – and nerds tend to love zombies.
Maybe it’s the fact that some of the best zombie fiction, including Max Brooks’ “World War Z” and David Wellington’s “Monster Nation,” put Colorado smack in the middle of the story, with much of the key action in both books happening right here at home.
But like the cause of a zombie infection in many zombie films and stories – why a living person suddenly turns into a walking corpse is unknowable and ultimately unimportant to the development of the plot line – the reason for the proliferation of the genre in Colorado mostly remains a mystery.
Hear arts editor Chloe Veltman chat with Cory Casciato and Alexandre Philippe about zombie culture in Colorado on CPR's arts show this Friday, April 18. Tune in at 10.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. Or listen online anytime at cpr.org.
Want to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse – or even participate in it? Here are some zombie-centric cultural events coming up in Colorado in the coming months:
Stanley Film Festival Stanley Hotel, Estes Park April 24-27 In addition to the Colorado premiere of “Doc of the Dead,” the horror-focused movie festival offers another zombie film, “Dead Snow: Red Vs. Dead,” as well as a zombie burlesque, zombie crawl and more.
Stan Yan Zombicatures at StarFest/HorrorFest Marriott and Hilton DTC Hotels, Denver May 2-4 Let Stan Yan draw out your inner zombie with one of his undead caricatures – or zombicatures, as the artist styles them – at StarFest’s HorrorFest.
Cruel Summer Crash 45, Denver First Tuesday of every month, May through August Theresa Mercado’s signature film series turns its eye toward the undead with four classic zombie films spread out over four months, starting with the original “Dawn of the Dead” on May 6.
Corpses and Crowns Zombie Beauty Pageant Denver County Fair at the National Western Complex, Denver Saturday, Aug. 2 Zombies aren’t usually known for their good looks, but that doesn’t mean they don't want to feel pretty, too, and the third annual Corpses and Crowns Zombie Beauty Pageant is where zombies go to feel pretty.
The Zombie Run The Recess Factory, Erie Saturday, Aug. 2 There’s no better incentive to run than being chased by a horde of flesh-hungry ghouls, and that’s exactly what you get at this 3.1 mile hardcore obstacle race.
Zombie Apocalypse Scuba Dive Windsor Lake, Windsor Saturday, Aug. 2 If you’d rather flee zombies by swimming, try this zombie themed scuba dive, designed to test your skills handling the undead underwater.
Cory Casciato writes about zombies at The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse and the Zombie Research Society and covers the undead and other geeky topics for alt-weeklies and entertainment blogs across the country.