I didn’t know anything about Dance of the Dead when I first saw it sitting on the "new releases" shelf at the local Blockbuster in the fall of 2008. But its title intrigued me: zombies and a high school prom in one movie? You didn’t have to twist my arm (or rip it off), I knew right then that I had to watch it (and I hadn't even seen the devil bong yet).
After watching empathetic high school cliques unite to slay zombies at the prom, I would go on to recommend director Gregg Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini’s Dance of the Dead to anyone who would listen. Little did I know that stars were aligning, and years later I would connect with Ballarini and Bishop and get the chance to do what my 17-year-old self never thought was possible: host 10th anniversary screenings of Dance of the Dead.
Taking place on Saturday, April 28th, the first Dance of the Dead 10th anniversary screening was held at the historic Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, where we were fortunate to team up with the Plaza Theatre’s amazing team and the Atlanta Film Society (who screened Dance of the Dead at 2008’s Atlanta Film Festival). This was the homecoming screening for Dance of the Dead. Much of the film had been made in Rome, Georgia, about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta, and many of the cast and crew members still live in that area, so the screening actually felt like a high school reunion of sorts… although these hard-working folks were reflecting on the living dead prom instead of algebra classes and homecoming dances.
From zombie extras to lead actors, there was a great turnout of cast and crew members at the Atlanta screening, as well as fans of the film and even those who had never seen it before. We all gathered in front of the Plaza Theatre’s towering screen, and from the opening seconds in the cemetery to the closing credits featuring Layton’s cover of “Shadows of the Night,” watching Dance of the Dead on the big screen was a surreal and richly rewarding experience. Not only was it my first time seeing the film in a theater, it was the first time many people had seen it in on the big screen since its original festival run 10 years prior.
Talking with the cast and crew on stage during the post-screening Q&A and watching them interact with the audience, it was evident that everyone in that room was grateful for having had the chance to make Dance of the Dead. This was more than just another movie to them. It was a project that spawned a family and treasured memories for life, and helping them relive those memories—especially in the movie’s home state—was a truly special experience… and we were only halfway done with the anniversary party at that point.
If the Atlanta anniversary screening was the homecoming celebration, then the Los Angeles screening a few weeks later was the zombie prom. Teaming up with Screamfest director Rachel Belofsky and co-director Karen Martin, we were fortunate to have the Dance of the Dead West Coast screening at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, right next to the historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the latest Star Wars movie had premiered the previous week.
With the help of the talented Screamfest team and the gracious TCL Chinese 6 Theatres staff, we gave the Hollywood Dance of the Dead screening a killer zombie prom theme. Once again, we had a great turnout from the actors, crew members, and fans, who packed the theater for a lively evening. After the end credits rolled, I had the great pleasure of donning a fake blood-stained white tuxedo (when in Rome, right?) and hosting zombie-themed trivia followed by a cast and crew Q&A that included some never-before-heard stories from the film’s production, an air guitar solo from Blair Redford, a singing cover of “Shadows of the Night” by Jared Kusnitz, and insights into the making of the movie from director Gregg Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini (including their hopes to maybe one day make a sequel!).
We concluded the Q&A by crowning a zombie king and queen from a wonderfully creative group of participants who dressed up for our living dead-themed costume contest, and we continued the celebration in the theater’s lobby with a prom party, complete with a disco ball and drinks themed after the movie (including “Shoot the Machete Mojitos”). It was truly a night to remember (and dismember!), as we relived the prom of the living dead in bloodstained style.
If you had told me 10 years ago that I would eventually get to help host anniversary screenings of Dance of the Dead, I would have thought you had taken one too many hits off the Quarter Punks’ devil bong. These screenings have reminded me that if you are passionate about something, you should support it. Whether you’re recommending a movie at the water cooler (or in my case, at the lunch table all those years ago) or hosting a Hollywood screening, do whatever you can to celebrate the things that you are passionate about. Having a front-row seat to countless reunions and reactions at these anniversary screenings is something I’ll always treasure. The Quarter Punks rocking out, the best living dead love scene ever put to film, and Coach Keel’s brick channel (“all brick, all the time!)—seeing all of these moments on the big screen with the people who made them possible were priceless experiences that I’ll take to my grave (and who knows, maybe one day I’ll launch out of that grave like the zombies in Dance of the Dead).
Thank you to Gregg Bishop, Joe Ballarini, the cast, crew, and everyone else involved with Dance of the Dead who came out to celebrate it in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Thank you to the fans for showing up and being two of the best, most engaged audiences I’ve ever watched a movie with. And, of course, thank you to my Editor-in-Chief Jonathan James and Daily Dead for giving me a platform to do something like this in the first place.
We’ve collected some of the photos (many of them by the talented Angelica Ulloa via Screamfest) from both events below, as well as Screamfest’s video of the Q&A following the Hollywood screening. And as a special treat, we also have a look at two making-of featurettes from Dance of the Dead for those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the film's living dead set.
You can visit Screamfest’s website and Facebook page for the full gallery of Angelica’s photos, and if you haven’t already, get together with some friends and watch Dance of the Dead… who knows, we might see you at the 20th anniversary screenings!
Los Angeles photos by Angelica Ulloa:
Atlanta photos from Gregg Bishop and Derek Anderson: