It is once again time to discuss the massive event that is the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse!
For three years now AZA has been the big event for the month of October. If you don’t know, this is no haunted house. It’s an interactive – more so this year than any other – experience where you are fully immersed in a world where zombies roam the planet and only a small group of armed men and women can help you and your friends survive. No pneumatic skeletons will be popping out of doorways. There aren’t any mazes that are spray-painted black with Walmart cobwebs spread all over. During the month of October, AZA takes over all thirty acres and 90,000 interior square feet of the Safety Wolf paintball facility and turns it into the demesnes of the undead.
***SPOILER ALERT!: There are portions of this attraction that are meant to surprise, so if you want to go into this thing fresh do not read my recap. Skip to the next orange bit that says “END OF SPOILERS”.***
DO NOT HANG OUT IN THE AZA PARKING LOT DRINKING ADULT BEVERAGES BECAUSE IT IS AGAINST THE RULES.
So we definitely were not doing any of that. At all.
Unfortunately, we also were not eating any Pallookaville corndogs. I am not privy to the whole story, but apparently the people who own the facility where AZA is held decided at the last minute they wanted to monopolize the food sales for the event. Just to be clear, I fully support their right to do so as well as the decision. If you have the ability to freeze out competition you absolutely should. This is a private business and those folks should be able to make that determination.
Pallookaville serves the best food on the planet, thus making that humble wagon of comestibles a destination unto itself. If I know Pallookaville is going to be set up somewhere I am not going to eat beforehand. I am going to make a specific plan to eat at Pallookaville. I am not, however, going to make a specific plan to eat Safety Wolf hamburgers and potato chips.
By the time everybody showed up there were about fifteen of us. This was too many. I recommend you keep your group to ten or less because that’s how many people AZA tries to keep per group. We ended up with one group of nine and one group of six and I don’t think six is enough. But we’ll get to that.
For 2012, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse consists of three separate experiences. There are two regular walkthroughs – Z-War and Curse of the Undead – as well as the Zombie Shoot. Z-War is mostly interior and is a new variation on the traditional AZA experience. Curse of the Undead takes you into the woods of the facility for the first time ever for an experience involving the Dead, all of whom are quite Evil. Ahem. The Zombie Shoot is all-new, all-different this year. Last year it was a simple shooting range with zombies slowly making their way towards you. This year it is in a portion of the facility and you are given fifty rounds and a mask and make your way through halls of roaming undead. The pricing is as follows:
$20 CURSE OF THE UNDEAD
$30 COMBO Ticket (Both ZWAR and CURSE)
$30 ZOMBIE SHOOT
$55 – FULL COMBO (All 3 attractions)
We happened to go on a night when the combo tickets were ten bucks off, so that was cool.
The exterior of AZA features a merch tent where you can buy AZA t-shirts, a setup where you can get a photo with some zombies, and a food tent. I would say a t-shirt and a photo are a must for first-timers. The t-shirt designs are all very cool and you’re definitely going to want a souvenir of your experience. The photo opportunity is really neat as well, with a full array of weapons and gear for you to choose from to wield and wear while you pose between a couple of zombified mannequins. With all that was going on I forgot to get a picture this year, but here’s the one me and Rescue John got last year:
Before I get into my recap I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t think AZA had enough actors last Friday night. I can’t really say whether or not I think that’s okay, as I’m not sure how I feel about it. But the experience definitely differed from past years as a result. I wonder if spreading their resources out over three full attractions might have been too much.
My group of six ended up doing Curse of the Undead first. Not from any sort of plan, that’s just how it worked out. Definitely be aware that you will be waiting in line for a bit. Even if you arrive early, the attractions are all guided and take a certain amount of time. The quality of the experience demands a wait beforehand; but it’s worth it. We were the third group in line and I would say we waited between twenty and thirty minutes. Not bad, really.
Once we got to the front we were assigned our guide and told the rules, which are essentially this: don’t touch anybody, no pictures, keep moving. Simple enough. Here are my own personal additions to those rules: have fun, don’t be a dick, get into it.
The first one is obvious. The second just means be polite to the staff and don’t ruin it for any strangers that might be in your group by being a jackass. While you are certainly part of the show, you are not the star. Don’t show off for your buddies by trying to get out ahead of your guide or mess with the zombies or any of that kind of jock bullshit. As far as getting into it, just immerse yourself. Have fun and scream and run and get scared. Don’t be cynical. If you can’t go along with those three things, you really shouldn’t bother going. Also, you are probably a boring asshole that won’t be invited when your friends go anyway.
Curse of the Undead starts when you wander into what is supposed to be a police station. It took me a minute to figure this out because the guy that was supposed to be a cop was about twelve and the station might not have had the most set dressing ever. The cop was clearly getting used to his role, but the girl who was there reporting a missing person was fantastic.
So we walked in on a scene where this girl is freaking out on the cop because her boyfriend – Ben Traymor (I think – the name sounded so familiar but I can’t place why) – had gone missing in the nearby woods. The cop – who was beleaguered by recent odd goings-on in the area – was trying his best to deal with the hysterical young woman. A phone was ringing incessantly in the next room, not helping the situation. The cop entered the room and demanded to know why a fellow officer hadn’t answered, only to find that fellow officer dead as a doornail. Well, a doornail that jumps up and groans at you after it dies.
From there, everybody was told to get the heck out of the police station and our group – consisting of me, Mrs. Troublemaker, Rescue John, Bear, the Queen of Crunk, and her friend Little Nikki – followed Cop Kid and Girlfriend out of the rooms that made up the police station setting. Cop Kid explained that people in hooded robes had been causing problems lately and that all manner of weirdness had been reported. That night, the weirdness seemed to have come to a boiling point.
We spent a harrowing few minutes in hallways dodging zombies that the officer held at bay, then ended up in a larger, open room with sinister proceedings going on. There was a huge altar on the far side with a scantily-clad, comely young lass tied to it. Naturally. At the base were a pair of seemingly lifeless corpses. An ominous figure in a red hooded robe stood nearby, voicing incantations that you just knew were going to lead to no good. The hooded man stalked over to the restrained girl and turned his back toward us. As he continued speaking, the girl started screaming and suddenly stopped. An arm emerged from the red robes and held out the girl’s heart. At the same time, the corpses at the foot of the altar stirred as a result of the sacrifice. Cop Kid and Girlfriend flipped out and told us to get moving as the newly-reanimated bodies began writhing and hissing.
From there we moved outside where things didn’t seem a whole heck of a lot better.
There was some kind of weird town set up – a variation on past years’ shanty town of filthy survivors – and I’m not quite sure how it fit into the narrative. But whatever. As soon as we got outside we were treated to a small combat arena where bets were being placed on humans fighting zombies. I really liked this and though it was a neat touch. From there you encounter all manner of pimps, whores, and human detritus. The place is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. There was one whore in particular that was very entertaining. She kept leaning on the wall and air-humping in what was meant to be a seductive fashion and solicited Rescue John for her services. The awesome part was that she clearly had either late-stage leprosy or early-stage zombie going on.
There was a deranged little town square with more miscreants milling about and shouting at us. The self-appointed mayor demanded I bring him supplies back from somewhere and I agreed. Meanwhile, a corseted ghouls who would have been Divine if she didn’t look so Dangerous harassed our group from another side. We also got to see a birth. It was gross.
After the shanty town from Hell we moved on into the woods. We had lost Kid Cop some time ago, but Girlfriend was still with us. Whoever had guided us through town handed us off to some Goth chick. This is where costuming failed a bit, as she was supposed to be sort of a crazy, backwoods girl but wasn’t dressed right at all. She guided us through the woods, shooting the occasional – very occasional – zombie every once in a while. Finally we ended up at a shed with a hillbilly nutjob out front.
He seemed friendly enough at first, but eventually sicced some zombies on us.
Halfway to our next destination we finally found Ben Traymor. Despite my warnings, Girlfriend ran out to him and got eaten.
More woods with sporadic zombies – who might be more properly referred to as Deadites, given the method of resurrection – and then a strangely familiar-looking cabin. We paused for a moment, then a zombie came out of the woods. Just as it seemed the end was nigh – or we might have to keep running – a guy dressed up as Ashley Williams emerged from the cabin (well, from behind the cabin) and used his chainsaw to do what he does best.
Pseudo Ash then led us to a graveyard where another red hooded figure was standing and incantation-ing. This bit took a really long time. I’m not sure exactly what was supposed to happen here, but there was definitely a sense that some timing was off. Finally, Ash shot the red hooded dude and a horde of zombies – by which I mean two – stormed out from behind us – by which I mean casually moseyed. Ash shot at them and told us to get moving. We emerged on the far side of the facility. That was it. I definitely did not get the sense of a big climax from the ending of Curse of the Undead.
We regrouped in the parking lot, where we most certainly did not enjoy a couple more adult beverages because that is against the rules. I have no idea where the other portion of our group went. We totally lost track of them.
Next up was Z-War. This scenario is post-zombie outbreak and sort of follows the story the previous years of AZA have established. The CDD is at it again, this time developing zombies as weapons, kind of like Return of the Living Dead Part 3.
Our guide this time around was a more military-style fellow. I can’t fault him for staying in character, but he was maybe a little too in character. Nobody wants to be told to shut up a whole bunch of times. You maybe tell your group once to maintain silence and then just go with it from there. He was kind of sucking the fun out of things. But then we met Cyrus, and Cyrus was the single best thing about the 2012 Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. He was an example of staying in character and going with the flow. And I really, really hope somebody reads this and tells Cyrus how awesome he was.
I didn’t catch who Cyrus was supposed to be, but I took him to be the janitor. Cyrus is batshit insane and is your only way out of the dangerous CDD facility.
But before we got to Cyrus we traversed the halls of the CDD, guided by Private Dickweed. There were random zombie attacks, which Private Dickweed ended using no less than five rounds of ammunition each time. Dude was quintuple-tapping and I told him repeatedly to stop it because he was wasting ammo. If only I had realized he was setting an example I should later follow.
There was a laboratory with a mad scientist type examining a particularly gruesome skeleton. This thing looked really good. The room had a cage in it, and what was basically the tar zombie from Return of the Living Dead was inside. It looked pretty good and you damn well knew that thing was going to bust out as soon as Private Dickweed and the Mad scientist finished their expository sketch.
Side Note: What is it with British accents? It seems like if somebody is going to put on an accent, it’s almost always British. First, there’s really no need to use an accent unless you are actually a British character. Second, if you feel like you have to use an accent, try something different. It is not always the Renaissance Festival.
Mad Scientist was portraying crazy as best he could, but it was still a little shocking when Private Dickweed just straight-up shot him. Then the zombie – which some of us had totally forgotten about somehow – busted out of his cage and severely startled certain members of our group. Private Dickweed shot him, too.
I think we ran outside next and the place was absolutely peppered with zombies. At least a half-dozen of the mindless flesh eaters were doing their level best to swarm around the huge, open yard.
Then we went back inside, and this is where we met Cyrus.
Cyrus looked kind of like Nick Dinsmore and was clad in a CDD t-shirt and some coveralls.
Side Note: If they had been selling that CDD t-shirt I would have bought one.
Cyrus was so awesome, you guys. He told us a bunch of stuff about what the CDD was doing and said he needed help to get out of the facility. Cyrus was also much friendlier than Private Dickweed, so we had no problem following him.
Not only was Cyrus great, but there were a whole lot of really clever parts to the new Z-War CDD scenario. There were laser sensors we had to duck under, parts where we got sent ahead to distract zombies – which Mrs. Troublemaker did by dancing, and parts where we had to activate buttons and stuff. Finally we reached the end of the gauntlet.
There were two buttons that had to be activated simultaneously, so Cyrus and Private Dickweed got into place. As soon as they hit their buttons, a thing that was probably supposed to be really big happened, but maybe didn’t come off quite right because it wasn’t entirely concealed when we got there and therefore was no kind of surprise whatsoever. So rather than screaming in fright and running for our lives, we kind of moseyed out the door. Also, I think the thing should have made some noise.
Cyrus was still amazing, though.
We found out later that the other group did not have Cyrus and I feel really bad for them. Apparently they change up the experience for each group that goes through, which I think is awfully ambitious and pretty cool.
Aside from there being less zombies than I felt there should be, the only thing really missing from Z-War was any kind of sign of what the CDD was proclaimed to be doing. Ideally, we would have seen a progression of stranger and more weaponized zombies leading up to the big thing at the end.
Finally it was time to shoot some zombies. Me and Rescue John were the only ones that opted for this one. I think mostly because it cost twenty-five additional dollars. But I felt obligated to do it because I knew I would be reporting to you fine people and Rescue John just really wanted to shoot some zombies.
The wait for this one was really long considering the number of people in front of us. At least half an hour, maybe more. That may not seem like too much, but I was very conscious of the fact that people were waiting for us.
Once we did get inside, we had to sign a waiver – which I read – so that AZA wouldn’t be held accountable if we did some dumb shit like shoot each other in the eye. After that they issue you a protective mask and a paintball gun with fifty rounds and your guide takes two of you through the course.
I am going to bitch a lot here, so strap in.
The mask sucked. First of all, it smelled like several hundred other people had worn it on their personal areas before it was given to me. I asked the lady at the counter if they hosed those things out between customers and she lied and said they did. Then we were issued empty paintball guns. Our guide figured that out and issued us two defective guns, then finally realized the solution and transferred the paintballs from the defective guns into the empty guns. It’s those kind of crack decision-making skills that will advance you through This Man’s Army.
Our guide was terrible. I think we were interrupting his nap time or something. Imagine Ben Stein narrating the zombie apocalypse. The only time he ever broke his bored monotone was when he told us to keep moving, and I suspect this is because the only direction he received was to keep us moving.
Rescue John took point and I followed because I was fucking sick of being at the front. I had been at the front all night and you know what happens when you’re at the front? You get to see all the zombies hiding behind walls waiting to jump out at the rest of your group. Nothing ever happens to the person in front.
Unfortunately that rule does not apply to the Zombie Shoot.
Every once in a while we would find a room with a zombie or two in it. Rescue John would double-tap and I would watch our flank, positive that zombies would pop out. The few times I did discharge my weapon I double-tapped and moved on.
After a tense few minutes of room-clearing, we emerged into a Safe Zone. I thought maybe we’d take a breather or switch guides (I was really hoping for the latter), but that was it. The end. I had used maybe ten rounds.
I will take partial blame for the Zombie Shoot kind of sucking – years of playing Resident Evil have taught me to conserve my ammunition. But apparently the AZA folks are counting on you just firing wildly at everything that moves. If I had done that and if our guide hadn’t absolutely sucked I think the Zombie Shoot would have been a lot more fun. Again, I can’t totally hold the fact that there just weren’t that many zombies against the attraction. There’s only so much control they have over how many people show up to perform any given night.
***END OF SPOILERS***
Hang in there – I’ll get to my non-spoilery overview in a minute.
After we got out of the Zombie Shoot we met up with the rest of the group. The other part of the group were going to a bar called Midway in the East Atlanta Village, so we said good night. I can’t stand that place and had no interest in going there. Instead, we went to Elmyr – a Mexican joint in Little Five Points. It was cheap and the food was good, but the first waiter we got was a complete asshole and was rude to Mrs. Troublemaker. We won’t be going back. We did get a waitress later on that was great. As a matter of fact, when it came time to pay the bill I asked the girl who the tip would go to. She said they split them up and I told her that was a shame because she was great and the guy was a jerk. She apologized for him.
I understand that more often than not these douchey little hipster joints have staff that is more firmly embedded than a tenured high school geography teacher. It’s just one of those things you have to live with. I mean, I don’t; but I guess some people do. I’m already displeased enough by the overly loud music, the snotty names for regular foods, and the filthy environs that all it takes for me to swear off a place is one wrong word from the staff. There are hundreds of places to eat in Downtown Atlanta and your shitty little dive is no more special than any other shitty little dive.
Your walls painted by a local artist who probably couldn’t afford to eat in your establishment are not unique.
Your cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon are not special.
Your “House Fries” – which are overcooked slices of potato with Bac-Os and maybe cilantro drenched in Velveeta – are not exclusive.
Your rickety chairs, filthy tables, driftwood picture frames, napkin dispensers covered with stickers from local bands, packets of natural sugar, and revoltingly overly-hoppy house brews are not eye-opening treats that patrons will keep coming back for time and time again.
But you’re not here for my opinions of shitty little eateries. You want to know, overall, how good the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse is, right?
It’s still pretty great. The things I had issues with were variable factors, not ongoing problems. The seeming lack of zombies will be different on any given night. Having one not-very-fun guide and one absolutely terrible guide are things that most people may not experience and that might improve over time.
I also have to consider the fact that I was irritated at the way our group got split up. Just a couple more people would have crowded things in more and made for a completely different atmosphere.
Overall AZA is still a must-do Halloween attraction. Thirty dollars for Curse of the Undead and Z-War is a fucking bargain. I don’t know that the Zombie Shoot is worth twenty-five additional dollars. I suppose if it were packed with zombies and you had a guide that seemed like he gave something resembling a shit it might be. But at the very least, you absolutely must visit AZA this season. If I can find the time I might well go again.
Actually, I’d really love to go and be a zombie. I doubt very much I’ll ever have time for that, though.
Keep checking in on Needless Things, as I plan on visiting the Chambers of Horror, Dark Harvest, and making a return to The Netherworld after skipping it for the past… man… seven years? I will review them all here if I can go.
Phantom Troublemaker vs. 31 Days of Halloween
If you’re new here or haven’t been keeping up, this is where I give my thoughts on SyFy’s “31 days of Halloween” programming. Obviously I haven’t seen everything I’ll be talking about, but that’s kind of what the internet is all about – talking out of your ass.
Each day I will cover the schedule from the time my post goes live (usually 11 AM) through the following 24 hours. On Fridays I will cover the whole weekend, which is a huge pain in the ass but also kind of fun.
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM – Ghost Hunters International– Diese Esel finden nie ein Gespenst. Ces ânes ne trouveront jamais un fantôme. Questi asini non troveranno mai un fantasma.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 1
2:00 PM – 12:00 AM – Face Off – This is an absolutely fantastic show and I highly recommend you watch it. If you don’t know, it features makeup and FX artists from across the country competing for what basically amounts to money and prestige. I am not a fan of reality shows, but this is a good one. They are minimal with the drama and mostly feature the contestants competing in their various challenges. Roy from Tucker, GA is my favorite. If you only catch one, be sure and watch “Monster Twist” at 8 PM. It’s my favorite out of all three seasons of the show. The newest episodes – with Dr. Seuss themed challenges – debuts at 9 and then is replayed at 11 after the Alice In Wonderland episode.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 5
12:00 AM – 1:00 AM – Hot Set – I don’t like this as much as Face Off, but it’s still good. It features set designers rather than makeup people and is still a lot of fun. This episode is – like the 10 PM Face Off – Alice In Wonderland themed.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
1:00 AM – 3:00 AM – Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld – Sometimes SyFy’s interpretations of mythology do tend toward a horror aesthetic as opposed to straight myth. This might be perfectly fine. I mean, don’t go expecting Clash of the Titans (the original one) or anything, but it might be fun.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
3:00 AM – 5:00 AM – Witchville – The name makes this sound like a Disney XD movie of the week. There is literally nothing promising about this movie. It is, however, about witches; so at least it has that going for it.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 2
5:00 AM – 8:00 AM – Paid Programming – Hooray for anything that helps keep SyFy on the air! At least we know our favorite (and only) science fiction network will never be threatened by White Devils like Mitt Romney! Who wants to personally shoot Big Bird and rape Elmo in front of all the rest of the Muppets, who he will then burn! Am I right? That’s what Facebook says, anyway.
Halloween score – 1
Quality score – 5
8:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Ghost Hunters–
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 0
Come back tomorrow for a Q&A with the madmen of The Fifty-Two Ways! They’ve got big things coming soon and I’ll have their newest video release right here. That shit is hilarious.