I Really Was a Teenage Singing Zombie

October 27th, 2016 § 2 comments

Dan of the Night of the Dead: The Musical

Long after I stopped acting in school productions (which was November 1981 at the University of Pennsylvania, to be precise), my mother would periodically say how much she wished that my shows had been preserved on video, so she could see them again. It’s important to understand that my performances were in the pre-home video era, before every parent had a video camera to capture every precious moment, let alone a pocket-sized phone with a digital video camera within it. The idea of YouTube was unimaginable.

I always said to my mom that I was grateful that there’s no video of me as Will Parker, as Colonel Pickering, as Juror Number 3. Why? Because it allowed me, my friends and indeed my mom to recall the performances, and the productions, as the magical experiences they were at the time. With a recording, my performances might have been revealed as subpar and amateurish, especially as my own highly self-critical faculties developed.

But as I’ve told people about this over the years, I have omitted a key piece of information – though I’ve never lied. For the past nine years, hidden in the dark recesses of YouTube, there has been footage of teen-aged me in performance, during my senior year of high school, if I recall correctly. It is not, however, of me in a school show, or community theatre, but rather as the top-billed “star” of a short film made by my friend Dan Karlok, the one true moviemaking buff I recall encountering as a teen. It should be noted that when I say moviemaking, I mean on film, that forgotten material that had to be sent off and processed, edited by hand, and so on.

To further set the scene, I must explain that in 1980 when the short film below was made, today’s zombie obsession among horror buffs was still very much a cult, built largely upon just two movies: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. There was no The Walking Dead regularly serving up horror on basic cable (there was barely basic cable for most people), let alone the final installment of Romero’s trilogy, Day of the Dead, which came out in 1985, the same year as The Return of the Living Dead, Dan O’Bannon’s riff on Romero’s universe.

So coming way out ahead of the trend, Dan Karlok rallied a significant number of my high school cohorts (mostly drama and band kids), as well as the distinctive figure of his burly and bearded older brother Andy, for the mini-epic which he wrote, scored, edited, shot, and pretty much everything else too: Dawn of the Night of the Dead: The Musical, almost 25% of which is credits. If you don’t recognize me, I’m the guy in the Boy Scout shirt and top hat.

Now I should mention that for people perhaps aged 45 and up, this film may prompt some distant memory. That’s because through circumstances entirely unknown to me, Dan sold the film to the USA Network in its very early days, to use as interstitial material on its “Up All Night” and “Night Flight” schlock movie fests that ran on the weekends in the very wee hours back in the latter half of the 1980s. It also appeared a few times on Connecticut Public Television. Yes, you may have seen me once upon a time, but I forgive you for not remembering the face or name.

Dan has gone on to a career in film and television, having spent several years in the lighting department in the early days of Law & Order; he most recently directed and executive produced the documentary Joan Rivers: Exit Laughing. I don’t see him much, but outside of his film work, he can be spotted around the northeast fronting The Eugene Chrysler Band, a rockabilly combo.

Some may wonder why I haven’t revealed this bit of my performing past until now, since it has been hiding in plain sight since 2007 according to YouTube. Well, I just never thought it the right time. But after shamelessly launching myself back on stage for the first time in 35 years earlier this month, and having a blast doing so, I thought I might as well show all. While I suspect you may get a chuckle out of how ridiculous I am in this, keep in mind that it’s also a time capsule for me of many friends from my youth, some with whom I’m still in touch, and at least one who passed away a number of years ago.

I shall now be adding this to my “reel,” along with my appearances on Cupcake Wars and Law & Order: Special Vctims Unit. Agents, casting directors, producers and directors: I await your call. In the meantime, happy Throwback Thursday and Happy Halloween!

P.S. True zombie buffs may note that in Romero’s Day of the Dead, the zombie named Bub is played by a very fine actor named…Howard Sherman. That is his real name, but he now uses Sherman Howard professionally. No relation. And I got to the zombie game first!

P.P.S. I did one other film with Dan, a stop-motion animated film, the name of which I simply can’t recall. I voiced two characters: a James Bond-esque villain and one head of a particularly dimwitted two-headed dragon.The plot was so convoluted, that Dan typically had to explain the premise, in detail, before showing the film. Only Dan would know whether it has been lost to time, is in the filmic equivalent of witness protection, or lurks somewhere in YouTube, just beyond my reach.

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  • James Palmarini

    Howard, an amusing way to start my morning. I must say your Dead Musical close up was one part Norma Desmond, the other, well…. I don’t know–maybe Jim Varney (aka “Ernest)? Thanks for sharing

  • will10009

    I too have been blessed to have been attached to Dan’s talents. Best thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    I would even be open to arranging a HD transfer of the original materials if they exist.

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