Theater Review: ZOMBIE JOE’S URBAN DEATH (Zombie Joe’s Underground in North Hollywood)

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by Lyle Zimskind on October 7, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles


After all the horrors of the last few years, it seemed only fitting that we should return to Urban Death, the signature production of Zombie Joe’s Underground theater company in North Hollywood. Last weekend we checked out its latest installment, this year subtitled “Tour of Terror” and billed as a “Haunted Theatre Attraction.”

The perennially reimagined horrorfest’s format — short wordless vignettes that pop out of the darkness in various spots up, down and around ZJU’s intimate black box theater space — hasn’t changed. Nor has its effect on an audience — the initially rowdy enthusiasm is soon overwhelmed into apprehensive silence, punctuated by the occasional collective gross-out guffaw. What has been new in recent years is its scheduling during the runup to Halloween, an appropriate context for this macabre presentation. And, in keeping with the season, they’ve also created a 7pm Family Friendly Urban Death Tour of Terror version of the show for kids.

Heavier on the humor, lighter on the death, the Urban Death junior show still gets pretty creepy, including a few scenes shared with the full mature version. Our 12-year-old was approached by a shady street peddler character who opened his jacket to display a product line of human noses for her consideration. A classic fairy tale heroine drastically alters her appearance in order to achieve a great escape. A young woman’s inattention to the surrounding world while using a smartphone ends badly. It’s all enough to make a pre-teen cower, but nothing our momentarily traumatized 9-year-old wasn’t over by the time she made it home.

Another new twist in the Urban Death experience has audience members grabbing a weak flashlight at the ZJU theater entrance door and making their way to the performance area through a nearly pitch-dark maze rather than beelining through the lobby. The ambient music is appropriately haunting, and the positioning of cast members in freaky tableaux around unexpected corners sets the tone for what’s to come.

The show this year’s a bit shorter than it used to be, lasting only about half an hour, but it still hits all the marks we know to expect from an Urban Death extravaganza: flashes of light revealing the sudden, unexpected appearance and then disappearance of menacing figures standing right in front of us; chilling sounds of unknown creatures moving around the room in absolute darkness; sex scenes with unusual climaxes; and plenty of pitiless depictions of gruesome demises, actual and impending. One of our favorite effects this time (replicated in the kids’ production) is a spectral human figure removing her own head from her body.

The production has never aimed to be more than the sum of its parts, so some of the novelty wears off after repeated viewings over the years. Though the show’s creators Jana Wimer and Zombie Joe himself develop entirely new content for each edition, the feeling that we’ve seen this all before has perhaps inevitably seeped into our latest encounters. But that’s just being jaded and presumably irrelevant to an Urban Death virgin or more occasional repeat audience member. Especially in its newly assumed identity as a Halloween spectacle, it’s the best event of its kind in town.

photos by Zombie Joe

Urban Death: Tour of Terror
Haunted Theatre Attraction at Zombie Joe’s Underground, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood
Sat and Sun in October; October 31 and November 1: five times a night starting at 8pm
Family Friendly Urban Death: Tour of Terror Saturdays in October and October 31 at 7pm only
for tickets ($20), visit Zombie Tickets (tickets $25 at the door)
for more info, visit Urban Death

{ 1 comment }

Richard Espinoza November 1, 2021 at 12:49 pm

My family went to see this haunted house on Halloween. It turned out to be a XXX exhibition of freaks: 1 girl eating another girl’s vagina out and then pulling her uterus out of her vagina; a guy stark naked with a boner as he masturbated in front of 50 people; a pedophile looking at kids at a playground while he jacked off and then took out a assault rifle and then shot at the kids. Don’t see this. I’m going to try and close them down.

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