It must be said that Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre is at once something everyone should see and not for everyone. Twitching back to life after the pandemic, this fearless theatre troupe in North Hollywood is presenting their annual Halloween show, URBAN DEATH: Tour of Terror. This hybrid haunted house and performance piece beckons the brave into the darkness to face the nasty underbelly of humanity and pulls no punches in exploring what disturbs us. Co-directors Jana Wimer and Zombie Joe have concocted one of the most effective and disturbing Urban Deaths for this time out and it could easily be called one of my favorite iterations of the show. Again, you really can’t be afraid of the dark to see this show and if you are, you will get used to it real quick.
Guests are encouraged to grab their tickets online for $20 but you can buy them at the door for $25. With 5 performances a night you will need to select a show time from 8 pm, 9 pm, 10 pm, 10:45 pm, and 11:30 pm. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to showtime, earlier if you are buying at the box office.
Lining up outside for our show outside of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre there is an anticipation, a certain energy. The crowd is a mix of regulars and newbies to the experience. It’s safe to assume that a number of relationships will be sealed or separated by this remarkable piece of theatre. Our show time arrives and the long line of about 60 people are admitted into the pitch-black theatre one by one with only a dim flashlight to help guide the way. It is our turn and co-director Jana Wimer hands us a flashlight and opens the door.
We venture into the inky black and the ZJU trademark smell of incense envelops us with the dark. Before us is a passageway constructed of black plastic sheeting and we are guided by arrows painted in glow-in-the-dark paint on the walls. The weak flashlight only reaches 4 feet in front of us at best, allowing the terrors lurking in the dark to nearly be upon us before we spot them. Turn after turn in this labyrinth we wince at the turn of every corner in anticipation of a new terror.
Thankfully (or not,) we survive the maze portion of the show and the path leads us to the theatre performance space. A small black box theatre where a man in a rain-slick holds a lantern hoping to see something in the distance just out of view. We hear waves crash and can surmise he is near the shore or perhaps on a boat. The theatre fills, the lights fade, and the parade of horrors begins.
How to describe Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre and their production of URBAN DEATH? In short, it is a blend of Gran Guignol, Theatre of Cruelty, and Butoh. There is no story, no set, no dialogue. The taboo and often shocking are explored yet not exploited. Here in this space, the twisted minds of Wimer and Zombie guide a group of truly fearless performers in confronting the darkness that lives in us all. There is only lighting, sound, and the actor reducing things to a raw power that only live theatre can offer.
The 20-minute performance section of the experience ends and the lights rise in the theatre. Of course, we have to make our way back out which means another trip through the maze in the reverse direction. Don’t worry, there’s a whole new set of terrors waiting for us in the darkness too!
This is, without question, one of the most important and influential theatres in Los Angeles and a must-see for any lover of horror or theatre in general. Here Wimer, Zombie, and the entire cast pull of what I think might be the best URBAN DEATH: Tour of Terror to date. The pieces performed are frightening, poignant, and at times shockingly relevant to our times.
Guests can purchase their tickets to URBAN DEATH: Tour of Terror online for $20 or they can take their chances at the door for $25. The show runs 5 times a night beginning at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays from now through Oct 30 with special additional shows on Oct 31 and November 1. There is also a rather inventive Family-Friendly (ages 8 and up) version of the show that plays Saturday nights at 7pm. We hope to catch that one soon too.
URBAN DEATH: Tour of Terror is back folks. Leave your inhibitions at the door, take a deep breath, and embrace the dark.