Zombie Joe's Urban Death Tour of Terror: 2017 Review

Zombie Joe's Underground, North Hollywood, CA

This past weekend marked the opening of yet another year of one of our favorite alternative Halloween staples: Zombie Joe's Urban Death Tour of Terror.  In its fifth year running, this truncated version of Zombie Joe's regular Urban Death theater show takes guests through a near-blackhout maze, into a dimly lit black box theater for an unnervy, disjointed, and haunting 15 minute exercise in theatrical horror, and then back out the same maze, which has been reconfigured during the time guests were watching the show.  Westcoaster visited this unique show last year and was instantly hooked, returning for the full length version and also the similar Blood Alley show ZJU put on earlier this year. 

Guests wait outside Zombie Joe's.  The Tour of Terror show has gained a very popular cult following, so purchasing online in advance is highly recommended!

Guests wait outside Zombie Joe's.  The Tour of Terror show has gained a very popular cult following, so purchasing online in advance is highly recommended!

This year's Tour of Terror follows the familiar format described above, which has been a constant in the five years Zombie Joe has been doing this holiday feature.  The maze itself is a preview of what to expect in the show.  Much of it is navigated in near darkness, with only a very, very dim flashlight available to light the way.  Guests pawing their way around the partitions are practically blind, heightening the trepidation of what they might encounter.  And there are certainly some bizarre creatures lurking within.  Some are strange, some are sexual, some are scary, and some are a combination.  But the mind might be the biggest enemy, since the winding path never seems to end, and one can never be sure if an encounter with one of the eight or so actors is meant to be witnessed or bypassed.  Make sure to take a gander through a hole in a large box near the end of the route.  It has a startling surprise, to say the least.

Guests who make it inside past a rather scantily clad flashlight collector are greeted by a solitary woman forelornly playing a violin in a manner that brushes harmony but more often than not hits upon the range of discordant.  Moving from nervously optimistic to weighted despair, she continues her song until ever last guest files in.  Then, the collector paces methodically toward the stage, past the violinist, and the show begins.

Tour of Terror creators Zombie Joe and Jana Wilmer pose in front of the show banner.

Tour of Terror creators Zombie Joe and Jana Wilmer pose in front of the show banner.

What follows is a familiar formula to veteran Urban Death viewers, but it will most certainly jar first timers expecting anything in the realm of traditional play acting.  A series of vignettes commences--each unrelated to the last--crossing boundaries that range from the horrific to the sexual to the uncomfortable to the discomforting.  As I've mentioned before, this is NOT a show for the faint of heart or the young.  There is male and female nudity, sexual situations, and sometimes viscerally gut-twisting, graphic gore.  Carried out by a most incredibly committed cast of five, the vignettes conjure a diverse range of emotions from the audience, from disgust to fascination to dismay to fear. 

The entire time, there's a tension of expectation--what comes next, and how will it shock or revolt or ironically humor or distress or confuse or startle?  The scenes come together in a pure manner--crisp and unfiltered sound mingling with dreadfully appaling sights.  There's unspoken commentary on the horror of reality--from twisted moment that seems to graphically speak to the rape-filled party culture to a hilarious segment showcasing the perverse shock of the discovery of infidelity to a minimalist scene that literally skitters around in the dark.  Urban Death Tour of Terror grabs the audience by the neck and thrusts them into these unwholesome, unnerving, despondent situations, forcing them to be acutely aware of every last detail, breath, expression being portrayed by the exceptionally talented cast.

When the presentation is done, guests file back out the way they came, navigating the dark maze in reverse.  This time, different scenes are staged--still random, still frightening, still playful of the vestiges of sanity.  Escape to the outside world and earn a little treat (literally--some candy).  And leave with an experience that won't soon be forgotten!

The duo has been producing the Urban Death series since 2005.

The duo has been producing the Urban Death series since 2005.

Zombie Joe's Urban Death Tour of Terror is an avant garde immersion into horror theater, and it is certainly not for the average Halloween fan looking for something spooky and eerie but fun and harmless.  This show challenges its viewers to confront terror of each scene and reconcile it with their own nerves.  It's methodical, cerebral, truly haunting, and beautiful.  And it's a great way to spend an hour during a night out celebrating the Halloween season!

The Tour of Terror runs Friday and Saturday through the end of the month, plus Monday and Tuesday, October 30 and 31.  Tickets and additional information can be found at Zombie Joe's web site.  Last year was our first time experiencing this, but we've quickly become big fans.  If you're ready for something different that pushes boundaries, this show might be thrilling for you!

Urban Death Tour of Terror is just one of many gems featured behind the cozy storefront of this intimate black box theater in North Hollywood.

Urban Death Tour of Terror is just one of many gems featured behind the cozy storefront of this intimate black box theater in North Hollywood.

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.