A beige stucco storefront along Lankershim Blvd in the arts District of North Hollywood glows an otherworldly yellow under the streetlight in front of it. Just above the door is a plain white, backlit sign, with the block letters Z.J.U. While nearly invisible among the endless buildings one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, this is actually the portal to a world of experimental theatre that every Angelino must know if they don’t already.

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group aka Z.J.U. was born in a small industrial garage in Northridge, California. This underground theatre aimed to push the limits of live progressive theater as a vital experimental art form. Their trademark show Urban Death has garnered praise, gasps, and shrieks of maniacal joy since its debut in 2005. It was only relatively recently that the edgy theatre troupe developed there signature show into a Halloween experience complete with a terrifying maze, and performance. This year may be their best edition yet.

After queueing up outside along the busy street, visitors are greeted by a deceptively cheery usher who assures them if they make it through there is a Halloween treat in it for them. As the performance time arrives the line of 50-ish audience members are allowed into the maze, in groups of no more than three people at a time. We suggest you ask to go it alone, but that’s just us. With nothing but a very, very dim flashlight we escape the noisy thoroughfare behind us and are plunged into inky darkness. 

The air is thick with the smell of incense and we can see little except for what our small beam of light allows. We hear the moans and shrieks of the creatures in the dark but can’t see them until they are inches from our face. Winding through the maze of black plastic sheeting, we follow glow in the dark arrows that guide us through the hellish walkthrough until we arrive at a lit performance space. We are safe, for now that is.

Elif Savas, on of the many players in this ghoulish ensemble, stands in a pool of amber light, playing her violin. Once the entire audience has made their way to the performance space the lights dim and the show begins. Fearless is a word I cannot use enough when describing the ensemble here. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch as Savas, Abel Horwitz, and the rest of the talented performers deliver episodic nightmares before your eyes. Shocking, funny, and at times painfully unsettling, this is probably the best edition of Urban Death: Tour of Terror that I have seen.

The performance ends and we have no choice but to make our way back through the maze, dim flashlight in hand, to encounter another set of intimate horrors. Consistently surprising, the talent in this section of the haunt are giving everything to the audience and they deserve the credit for it. Soon enough we make our way back to the innocuous front door to the theatre. We hand our flashlight to the same cheery stage hand and, as promised, a Halloween treat; some trick or treat candy.

Far from the normal boo-scares or polished immersive sets, this is ragged, in-your-face theatre that demands your attention. Aggressively creative and savage, there are no holds barred in subject matter and content. That being said, the actors bare all at times, so this is definitely an 18 and up type of thing. Not kid-friendly. 

If you are looking for something new, something different, something entirely affordable at $15 a ticket, this is your stop. You will not find a more uninhibited cast of actors or a company that allows them to follow their impulses. Dive into the dark with the Urban Death: Tour of Terror this Halloween. You will be scarred, but it’s nothing that will show.

Urban Death created in 2005 by Zombie Joe and Jana Wimer, Music by Christopher Reiner.

 


DETAILS: Urban Death: Tour of Terror Haunted Theater Attraction, ages 16 and up.

WHEN: Friday and Saturday nights, October 6 – October 28, Monday, October 30 and Tuesday, October 31st, 8:00 pm, 9:00 pm, 10:00 pm, 10:45 pm and 11:30 pm. Special Haunters and Press-Performance Thursday, October 6th, 9:00 pm (please reach out to Zombie Joe at ZombieJoes@gmail.com or 818-202-4120 for comp press tickets).

WHERE: Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater Group: 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

TICKETS: $15, can be purchased at the door, online at: ZombieJoes.Tix.com, or by calling 818-202-4120 (NOTE: Due to the popularity of the show, we highly recommend purchasing tickets early).

WEBSITES: www.ZombieJoes.com and www.UrbanDeath.com

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/ZJUTheater/

TWITTER: twitter.com/urbandeath_zju

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About the Author

Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.
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