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Zombie fans celebrate iconic 'Night of the Living Dead' in Evans City

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 12:04 a.m.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Will and Harmoni Sanders, center, of Latrobe, and their son Romero, 2, pose with 'Night of the Living Dead' actors Russ Streiner (Highland Park), who played 'johnny' and Judith O'Dea (Flagstaff, Arizona), who played 'Barbara' in the movie. The group was on a tour of the Evans City Cemetery Friday, August 30, 2013 for part of the 45th anniversary of the movie. Segements of the show were filmed at the cemetery. Romero Sanders is named after the director George Romero, and the couple watched the movie in the hospital the night that he was born. In rear, the chapel, which also was in the movie, is being restored. The car, a 1967 Pontiac Le Mans, is similar to the one used in the movie, but is not the original.

Dressed in a yellow polka dot sundress with her hair neatly styled, Beverly Boggio is not how one might picture a zombie fan.

She stood as a bright spot in a sea of black “Night of the Living Dead” T-shirts, as fans waited to board a van that would take them to the Evans City Cemetery on Friday.

The Living Dead Festival, held in Evans City's EDCO Park on Friday and Saturday, celebrates the 45th anniversary of George Romero's iconic horror movie “Night of the Living Dead.”

Many actors and actresses who starred in the cult horror classic are returning to Evans City to meet with fans at notable filming locations, like the Evans City Cemetery. It marks the biggest reunion of cast and crew members in 45 years, said Chris Wlodarczyk, co-event producer.

Boggio, 48, of South Side Slopes went with the tour group to listen to actors Judith O'Dea and Russ Streiner speak about their experience and answer fans' questions.

O'Dea and Streiner arrived Friday at the cemetery in a 1967 Pontiac LeMans, a replica of the car used in the opening scene of the movie.

“It was neat,” Boggio said.

The 1968 cult classic continues to enthrall generation after generation. It's considered to be the first zombie movie, sparking an entire genre. Zombie culture has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, which has brought many people back to where the genre was born, said Terry Callen, co-producer of the festival.

“There's this fascination with zombies and people are looking back to the origins,” Wlodarczyk said.

Boggio said the film drew her in because it didn't have a typical happy ending. “It was the first one,” she said. “It was great in that everybody died. It wasn't a happy, skippy Hollywood movie.”

Gary Streiner, one of the film's original investors and a sound engineer, organized The Living Dead Festival. Streiner, a resident of Evans City, started a movement in 2011 to restore the chapel in Evans City Cemetery, a major landmark from the film.

The grassroots chapel restoration movement took off and garnered worldwide support online, Wlodarczyk said. The project also created a community for many Night of the Living Dead fans.

Wlodarczyk and Callen said they expect about a thousand people to attend the festival, some of them coming from as far away as New Mexico and California. He said there was even one fan from England in attendance.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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