..and sometimes there!
See those zombies! See them stare!
You can touch their teeth and caress their hair,
You can stroke those zombies everywhere!
Importantly, that topical couplet was designed to address the certitude that zombies literally are everywhere these days – you see, in recent years they’ve infected our culture like a sepulchral pandemic of Gollum-faced meth addicts.
Though we may not have the statistics to hand - chiefly because that would require doing something which resembles work - we believe that last year alone saw the release of something in the region of 9,000 video games featuring these most wretched of undead ghouls. However, as a dairy farmer might chuckle to his prize breeding bullock... here comes "the rub": there are yet more of these games on the way.
Among the zomb-o-titles being released this year are Dying Light, Resident Evil Remastered, Resident Evil: Revelations 2, State of Decay, Dead Island 2, H1Z1, and Sniper Elite’s Zombie Army Trilogy, to name but several.
It’s difficult to know for certain, but - due to the weight of this mountain of reanimation - it’s quite possible that you are no longer being as stimulated by the sight of a-shuff-a-lin' shuff-a-llin’ corpsies as you once were. Indeed, it’s entirely likely that you require a stronger fix, something more visceral, more real than a video game. And you are not alone.
This is why in recent years we’ve seen a surge of real-life zombie experiences – you can now pay for the privilege of being surprised by some pallid young misfit wearing bloody rags, in an abandoned manor house, woods, or filthy old tunnel.
We at Digitiser 2000 have taken it upon ourselves to partake in three of these experiences. Watch now, as we sit astride our resplendent mechanical hag, and present to you our findings.
Claiming to be based in a nuclear bunker, the zombie SWAT training experience actually takes place at a smelly South London paintball and airsoft site, below an amusingly incongruous church.
Enshrouding participants in the fiction that you’re there to enlist as part of a zombie-killing special forces team, a number of shouting men – who occasionally convince as members of the armed forces, in spite of their ponytails – will put you through your paces. After introducing you to their imprisoned, undead captives, you’ll get to play about/"train" with both paintball and airsoft weapons, before being bellowed at to complete an assault course.
Fortunately, before things get too strenuous and you actually have to demonstrate your profound lack of fitness, something goes pretend-wrong. You'll soon find yourself holed up in a briefing room, trying to make contact with the outside world on a busted radio, while gluing a couple of segs together. Groups of players will be sent on missions to restore power, or retrieve equipment – and come face-to-face with the distressingly brown-trousered visage of the mock-undead.
In truth, there’s not a great deal of threat – you know too well that the zombies aren’t allowed to bite you, and they’re so padded up that they frequently fail to register as your airsoft pellets ping off their bulky torsos. Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fun, and absolutely ridiculous. The tongue is kept firmly in the cheek throughout.
However, it lacks the cinematic polish of some other zombie experiences, and while we commend the unlimited supply of ammo, it's a small site and the £115 it costs seems somewhat on the steep side. Also, we weren't lying when we said it smells. In fact, it smells real bad - like somebody bunged up Dumbledore's stinker with a rotting sprout.
Shrouded in the sort of secrecy usually reserved for early-90s raves, the 2.8 Hours Later phenomenon takes place across a number of cities throughout the year.
Participants are told to arrive at a clandestine urban location, before being sent on a mission to retrieve un-tainted water supplies (missions/storylines may vary).
Armed with a map and the variable navigation skills of your teammates, you’ll move from location to location – with a zombie encounter typically awaiting your arrival. Although at one stage we were subjected to an intrusive "medical" examination, which amounted to a gasmask-wearing woman peering beneath our hairs before telling us off for giggling.
It basically becomes a sprawling game of tag – at points you’ll be required to enter codes into computer terminals, while trying not to get caressed by zombies (who become progressivesly more running-y as the game goes on). If you do get stroked, the zombies mark your hand with a pen (which breaks the fantasy only slightly more than the confused members of the public you’ll enounter more often than might be ideal). Presumably due to the fact you’re running around on city streets, you’re not allowed to carry guns – toy or otherwise.
In practice – at least in the version we were a part of – the allegedly dystopian location amounted to the heavily populated streets around Wembley Stadium. Alas, suspension of disbelief was in short supply. Though there were pockets of atmosphere – one section had us inputting our computer code, as zombies (one of whom was literally legless) lunged at us in a multi-storey carpark - it does struggle to maintain a suitable level of post-apocalyptic authenticity.
There’s a lot of walking/running – but if you’re fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to be tagged by a zombie, you'll have make-up done to transform you into a drooling corpse, before being admitted to a heaving and humid post-post-apocalypse nightclub. There’s the faint whiff of hipster about the whole thing – with ‘trendy’ cocktails, craft beer, and presumably ironic zombie-themed dance-offs.
It’s ambitious, and doesn’t always work, but there are moments of genuine alarm. And if being chased by a gurgling, and surprisingly swift, amputee doesn’t appeal – you can always volunteer to be one of the undead.
The best of the lot, The Mall is an abandoned shopping centre in Reading. The eerie setting alone would make this special, but the team at Zed Events do an unparalled job of building atmosphere, from the moment you start filling out your medical disclaimer.
Without wanting to give too much away, your half-day is split into two parts. The first takes the form of a story – led by a couple of tooled-up constables, you’re required to make your way to the roof of the mall to be rescued by “helicopter”. En route you'll be assaulted by cadavers in hallways, basements, soft play gyms, old department stores and makeshift medical bays.
After that, you’re free to roam the labyrinthine building on your own, with your airsoft gun and little torch, taking out zombies, or being taken out (not for dinner, dear).
Admittedly, it is all a little undisiciplined – there’s no real way to guarantee that anybody is going to stick to the rule that you have to go back to base for a time-out if a zombie lays hands upon you. But regardless, wandering around the basement of an old, empty, dimly-liy shopping mall is terrifying enough in itself, without the added concern that a bunch of screaming guys in zombie make-up could run at you without warning.
WHERE: Reading (plus other experiences in Manchester and the Lake District)
Frrrg rrfff, hrrrrrpzztrrr crrrrndz.