The ultimate celebration of Romero’s legacy, The Living Dead Weekend Festival is an essential destination for Godfather of the Dead devotees.
Last June, I had the pleasure of attending The Living Dead Festival held inside the Monroeville Mall in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh, and I’m returning this year for an unforgettable milestone.
From celebrating the 45th anniversary of Dawn of the Dead (1978) in its largest cast and crew homecoming to an extra special Knightriders (1981) reunion and honoring Second Sight’s prestigious 4k release of Martin (1977), this year’s Festival will be reminiscent for years to come.
Recapping last year’s festival with a few interviews from those that knew Romero and giving you some insights into what to expect from this year’s festival (taking place June 9th – 11th), here are The Top 10 Reasons why YOU should attend The Living Dead Weekend Festival.
1. The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop
Located upstairs at the J.C. Penney’s end of the mall, you’ll take it all in. From Night of the Living Dead props to Dawn to The Crazies, this museum is laid out in a perfect sequence. Take your time and read the histories of Romero’s films and examine the rare posters and stills on the wall. Even the original J.C. Penny’s elevator, so central to Flyboy’s fate, has been recreated!
The Living Dead Museum moved from Evans to Monroeville in June 2021. Since 2015, owner Kevin Kriess has kept the spirit of all things Romero preserved for Pittsburgh with an awesome gift shop. When you’re done, head on down the escalator to view Romero’s head bust, sculpted in perfection by Christian Stavrakis. It will warm your heart and make you smile.
2. The Monroeville Mall Tour
A tour of the mall with Lawrence “Larry” DeVincentz, a Romero Historian, was the cherry on top moment of the festival for me. No stone is unturned in this tour, as DeVincentz and his team show you every facet of where the film was shot. Larry shared what Dawn meant to him.
“I have been a lifelong fan of George Romero since I was eight years old. When I first watched DOTD, I thought it was interesting how people could live in a mall and take it over; that captured my imagination. Then years later, I started to study the mall, then I got deeper and deeper, so much so that I did research. People wanted to see my tours because I really do know what happened here and where it happened. It’s an absolute pleasure to share the knowledge I accumulated and collected, and it’s fun. It’s different for me because I have to guide the tour, but I love seeing everyone’s faces and reactions to certain spots on the tour and the things that I show them. That’s what I get out of it.”
Friday and Saturday are sold out, but a few spots remain for Sunday’s tour.
3. Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program
At the Douglas Education Center for Special Make-Up Effects booth, I was in complete awe of the student showcase and Program Director Jerry Gergely’s integral work in sculpting. I had the pleasure of chatting with Gergely about the program.
“The school’s been there for twenty-two years; I’ve been in the movie industry for most of my life. I was a special effects artist in Hollywood and worked with Tom Savini for a few years. He asked me to become the director of his program to teach, and I was thrilled. It’s been a lot of fun, and I like seeing students go off and meet their dreams and become successful. I did it, and now they’re doing it. I love seeing what they’re going to do next.”
Last year, Gergely and the team recreated the NOTLD (1990) Twisted Truck Crash Zombie effect on Dyrk Ashton. This year’s live demonstration of “Rifle Scope Zombie” (Bob Michelucci) should be a crowd-pleaser!
4. The Spirit of George and the (GARF) George A Romero Foundation
Make sure to visit the GARF table, as the foundation inspires to support independent filmmaking. I sat down with Suzanne Desrocher-Romero about GARF’s future and the achievement of releasing The Amusement Park (1973). That touching interview can be read here.
Creepshow and Just Desserts are the ultimate Blu-Ray collectibles, thanks to Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures, who shared his thoughts on his enduring friendship with Romero.
“I got to know George as just a fan as I grew up on Creepshow, which was the first horror movie I ever saw. Then I saw Dawn of the Dead, and I wanted to become a filmmaker. I had a relationship with George from the outside in, and then I got to meet him, work with him, and we became good friends, which is one of those things you don’t expect THAT to happen. You don’t get to meet your heroes, let alone become friends with them. And then he just became George, my buddy George.
“There’s a part of me that is still so humbled by the fact that I got to know him as both a professional and a person. To come to a show like this, the Living Dead Weekend, the mall where they shot Dawn of the Dead, as we’re sitting here, I’m looking at a bust of him which would have freaked him out. He never thought he was deserving of all this attention. He obviously so was and is. The man that he was and the filmmaker that he was, we really, in the end, are celebrating him. It’s a real special thing.”
5. The Artists and Vendors at Living Dead Weekend
When it comes to awesome merch, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop at this festival.
From Pittsburgh’s finest, peruse Illustrator Byron Winton’s amazing prints, Ipswich Witch’s enamel Pins, Severin’s movie table, and the newest Romero characters pillows crafted by The Cuddle Cult. Plus, check out Fantasm Media’s stunning edition magazines. And those are just a handful of the killer creatives on display at the event.
Meeting Ghoulish Gary Pullin was a delight. From illustrating the Birth of the Dead poster to the LP cover artwork for Creepshow and Creepshow 2 (Waxwork Records), along with the graphic design duties for the Knightriders LP (Scare Flair Records), this artist captures the soul of Romero’s vision.
“He’s definitely my favorite director, it’s so hard to put this into words. When George passed away, I did this piece with the glasses. I really didn’t know what to say, he had such an influence on my work. Everyone I know. He’s a one-of-a-kind filmmaker. I just really loved his independent spirit: fuck the Hollywood system. He did his own thing. That’s what I really admired about him. I’m glad we can enjoy his films and continue his legacy. Such a pleasure, one of the nicest people I ever met. He was great with his fans and an influence, an amazing visionary. We miss him.”
6. A Weekend of Panels, Screenings, and Events
Last year, Brian Steward (Fantasm Media) moderated great discussions with the Leatherface 3 cast and NOTLD film preservation with Jim Cirronella (Image Ten) and the Strainers. It was extraordinary
I asked Michael “Zombo” Devine, the 2022 Master of Ceremonies, what the festival means to him.
“It means a lot, I’ve been working with The Living Dead Festival forever; it’s like a family. It captivates the spirit of what George A. Romero was all about. I have all the fun stuff, and this festival works like a very happy well-oiled machine. Keeping the lines running smoothly.”
Sit in on some of the panels, ask those burning questions, and learn about new experiences not always documented on the Blu-Ray extras.
A Knightriders Viewing Party was just announced for Friday night, or head over to the Carnegie Museum of Art for a special screening of Martin Saturday evening.
7. Meet the Guests and Commemorate your Favorite Films
Many of your heroes from Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, and Day of the Dead will be in attendance. Get a bench photo op with the main Flyboy Team of Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree, and Scott Reiniger or the throne op with Christine Romero and Tom Savini. Meet over forty-five members from Dawn alone, along with Amy Ingersoll (Knightriders), Rick Catizone (Creepshow), Anthony Dileo Jr. (Day), and John Russo (Night).
VIP tickets are sold out, but single-day and weekend pass tickets are still available.
8. Connect with Fellow Fans and The Facebook Group
Your best resource is to join the Living Dead Weekend Facebook Group. This group is the first to be in the know, thanks to the moderators and members. The information shared is invaluable in helping you plan for the weekend and navigate Pittsburgh.
Are they worried about long lines? Honestly, they move efficiently, and attendees make the most of it by conversing with fellow fans. Others recommend where to eat, check out each other’s t-shirts, and share directions for rural film locations. You’re amongst the best!
9. So Much More to See and Do Beyond Living Dead Weekend
North of the mall, you can visit the Creepshow house.
Driving back into the city, you can visit the “Fluffy” mural in the Bloomfield neighborhood and the Savini mural on Almond Way. For the Night Cemetery and The Crazies locations, head north on I-76 W, I-79 N, or I-279 to Evans City. There are many location resources available online.
10. The Team That Makes The Living Dead Weekend Happen
The Living Dead Weekend Team — Kevin Kriess, Amanda Rejman, Lawrence DeVincentz, Daz Sargeant, Kip Henniquan, Brian Steward, Jim Cirronella, Missi DiBiccaro, Angie Grossman, and Dave Novak — have been working around the clock and moving five steps ahead to deliver the best convention experience for the Romero fans.
Many thanks to Kriess and his team, in collaboration with Image Ten, Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program, the Douglas Education Center, the University of Pittsburgh, Suzanne, GARF, and so many others transformed by Romero’s work, bringing us all to The Living Dead Weekend Festival – The Road to Romero. I hope to see you there!