Playing Dead: I Take a Bullet at Spooky Empire’s May-Hem ZombieWalk!

David O’Connell was one of several talented special effects artists creating horrifying visages at ZombieWalk.

A legion of zombie aficionados dressed in tatters clothing and looking like extras from Night of The Living Dead were drawn to Spooky Empire’s 2012 May-Hem ZombieWalk hosted by The Deadite Empire last weekend in Orlando, FL.

Special effects in shows such as AMC’s hit TV series THE WALKING DEAD have become an increasingly important element of movie and television production, so it’s not surprisingly that the avid horror fans attending May-Hem would desire a taste of the same sort of amazingly realistic professional makeup effects available these days. A large portion of Walk participants showed up several hours prior to the event in order to be “zombiefied” by the professional makeup artists available on-site at Uno’s Chicago Grill.

J.D. Ellis of Post Mortem FX painstakingly paints bloody details onto a “wound” for a sexy Zombie Nurse.

Jessica Redman opted for the gory full-body transformation.

I was on hand at makeup central to witness Post Mortem FX, Dr. SkuLL and the talented crew of special effects makeup magicians working non-stop to turn a seemingly unending stream of horror fans into amazing and frightening undead versions of themselves. For a small fee, a portion of which was donated to charity, excited zombie wannabes received a variety of gruesome additions to their costumes, including mock scars, bleeding wounds, torn throats, slashed arms and legs, nasty bites, or practically any other horrible effect that was desired, all with a requisite dousing of blood if required.

A delicate touch is needed for zombies!

Even regular folks like Jessica Redman who came for just a portion of the convention couldn’t help but succumb to the zombie vibe. “I only heard about May-Hem very recently,” she told me, “but I’m an avid lover of tattoos, so I came to check out the tattoo artists’s books at the convention. I just love seeing all ideas and the creativity!”

“Then I saw the zombie makeup being done and I decided it would a great way to spend the afternoon,” she laughed. “I signed in at noon and it took about an hour to do a full makeup. Originally I asked that they just make me look really scary, and they told me that’s been the generic response all day! All I knew was that I wanted to be as gross as possible, and the makeup artists were simply amazing. My husband doesn’t know that I came and did this, so I’m excited to see his reaction later!”

This adorable zombie brought her own snacks!

Seeing so many people enjoying their radical transformations made me curious as to what the experience felt like, so although I was really there only to record the walk, I decided in the name of research to sign up for a little something simple myself. Besides which, everyone knows that when surrounded by zombies it’s best to either RUN or try to fit in, otherwise you could end up the next item on their dinner menu!

Working fast and furiously because of the large crowd, J.D. Ellis, the co-owner of Orlando-based Post Mortem FX, spent an intense ten minutes applying my wound of choice, a bloody-looking bullet hole to the brain, while answering my questions.

“Normally when people put appliances on they use latex,” Ellis said. “But with latex you have to use an adhesive like spirit gum, and then you need a special remover to take it off afterwards. What we are using today is a poly-vinyl plastic that I apply with 99% alcohol, which means that later on you are going to be able to just peel this off completely painlessly – and without cussing me out.”

Beautiful women were transformed into horrible ghouls before my very eyes!

“In fact, the alcohol-activated makeup we’re using is the same stuff they used in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Chronicles of Riddick. If I’m on set or working with a group like the epic Klingon wedding we did a couple of weeks ago,” he explained, “I’m still on hand to do the removal afterwards, so using latex then is no worries. But with this whole gaggle of people we’ve had here today being made up for ZombieWalk, and whom I won’t see later, I don’t want them back in their hotel rooms later tonight peeling off several layers of skin along with the appliances!”

There’s just nothing like having half of your face torn off, is there?

While he applied alcohol to my forehead and carefully positioned the “bullet hole” above my eyebrow so that my hair could hide it if need be (an important feature if I wanted to be able to surprise my friends later on and for doing other interviews!), I asked Ellis about his beginnings in SFX makeup.

No one is safe with such bloodthirsty fiends roaming the streets!

“I started doing makeup when I was about eight, actually raiding my mom’s makeup because I got hooked on the making of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. I watched it somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-300 times as a kid,” he laughed. “And here recently in the last couple of years I started mentoring under [special effects makeup artist] Rick Gonzales, who worked on Day of the Dead; Automaton Transfusion, Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, eventually taking off on my own. In April of 2011 my partner Brie Conn and I started Post Mortem FX [make up, special effects and prop company]. In fact, Brie and I met at another Spooky Empire horror convention event almost three years ago. The atmosphere and the environment are totally addictive. Once you start coming, there’s nothing like it! People are such fun and sooo crazy.”

Bill Hinzman and J.D. Ellis at a previous Spooky Empire event.

“We actually dedicated this ZombieWalk to the late Bill Hinzman (Night of the Living Dead’s first zombie),” Ellis continued as he painted in details. “And his family is here today, they are absolutely awesome. In fact, the makeup that Dr. SkuLL used today on Bill’s granddaughter was actually from Bill’s own personal makeup kit. His family brought the makeup along specially so we could use it on her for this.”

“Bill was such an amazing guy! He used to go out with us at night after the cons and we’d talk. I’ve got great pictures of Bill and myself from year after year. He may have been a celebrity, but he was also a real person who actually loved to sit and talk to you. You know he’ll really be missed.”

I pronounced my “fresh-killed zombie” head wound a success! Thanks, J.D.!

“We do like to have fun,” Ellis went on to say while he added a few sufficiently bloody drips to complete the realism of my head wound. “Post Mortem FX’s moniker is ‘We Bring Death to Life’, and the one great thing about doing this job is that we are killing people daily, so you really can’t take it too seriously! Not to mention that we always know where to hide the bodies…,” he added with a grin.

I was utterly delighted with the final bloody result, and had loads of fun surprising my friends later that evening with the effect. I can also attest that the whole makeup procedure, including my removal of the poly-vinyl appliance later, was perfectly painless, just as promised. (I’ve even saved it should the mood strike me to terrify my trick-or-treaters next Halloween.) And who knows? Maybe next ZombieWalk I’ll be braver and move up to a nice, ragged facial scar. Anything seems possible with special effects magic!

MORE PICS from May-Hem ZombieWalk HERE!

Cross-posted with


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