Last updated: February 17. 2013 1:42AM - 267 Views

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Infect Scranton, Northeast Pennsylvania‚??s first ever zombie convention, has it all for genre enthusiasts ‚?? a themed pub crawl, 5K race, panel discussions, movie screenings, music, and even a brunch. Possibly the most essential aspect is the celebrity guests, giving fans a chance to meet the cast and crew of their favorite horror films and TV shows and take away an autograph or a story worth bragging about.

Each guest has many of their own stories to tell, though few may have as much insight into the origins of the zombie craze as Judith O‚??Dea, who starred as Barbara in ‚??Night of the Living Dead.‚?Ě The 1968 George A. Romero film was the first to introduce zombies and establish all the ‚??rules‚?Ě the undead cannibals live, or die, by.

‚??As time went by and the popularity of the film grew, I became more and more amazed of the longevity of the concept of zombies,‚?Ě O‚??Dea recalled in a recent phone interview. ‚??The way George did it had its own uniqueness, so initially, I didn‚??t question whether or not this was going to be around for a long time.‚?Ě

Simply thrilled to be in her first feature film, she had no idea at the time she returned home to the Pittsburgh area to shoot ‚??Night‚?Ě at the age of 23 that it would be hailed as such a classic decades later. Initial reactions to the shocking gore and violence also gave little indication that this would be the case.

‚??My parents had calls from people saying, ‚??How could you let your daughter be in such a violent film?‚??‚?Ě she acknowledged. ‚??We were on the verge of changing the way horror films were made. Yes, horror films became much more graphic ‚?? so, so violent ‚?? and I guess we had a hand in that. Does it bother me? A little bit, but still, I was a part of something special. That‚??s what I hold dear.‚?Ě

Those distracted by its graphic content often missed the other aspect Romero became known for in all his zombie films ‚?? the social commentary. The zombies set the stage, but the real players are those struggling to survive, including the late Duane Jones as Ben.

O‚??Dea insists he was hired on the strength of his audition rather than the color of his skin, but the fact that he was cast as the hero broke ground and forced viewers to look deeper into the movie‚??s observations on human nature.

‚??When that film came out, nobody made a big deal in the script about Duane being a black man in 1968. That‚??s one of the most important things I cherish about the movie and one of the things I think that has made it remain strong all these years,‚?Ě she emphasized.

‚??(Also) I think that the way George told it, the way he kept it moving made it more a docu-drama‚?ĽPeople said, ‚??Oh my God, if this ever really happened‚?ĽCould it happen?‚?? It brought a sense of realism with its documentary-type feel to the storytelling.‚?Ě

Both of these aspects influenced writer Robert Kirkman when he created ‚??The Walking Dead,‚?Ě the comic-book-turned-TV-show that has only further popularized zombies in modern pop culture.

‚??The Blind Side‚?Ě star IronE Singleton, perhaps best known for playing T-Dog in ‚??The Walking Dead‚?Ě series on AMC, is another guest at Infect Scranton who appreciates this facet of the zombie mythos.

‚??It‚??s symbolic of the world we live in today, from‚?Ľrace and religion - there‚??s a nice dose of that in there - to politics. If you think about our politics today, it‚??s kind of scary,‚?Ě Singleton told The Weekender. ‚??You see that these decisions that our leaders are making serve as a direct influence on the people, and it seems as though these decisions are making some people feel like they have to kind of resort to these zombie apocalyptic-type tactics in order to survive.‚?Ě

Much in the same way that ‚??House of Wax‚?Ě starring Vincent Price terrified O‚??Dea as a child, Singleton‚??s mother used to take him to various ‚??Friday the 13th‚?Ě and ‚??A Nightmare on Elm Street‚?Ě movies that scared him so much that he avoided the genre as an actor.

‚??It kinds of traumatized me a bit, so I was a little hesitant at first (to audition). Then I found out who was on the project and changed my mind quickly ‚?? (developer) Frank Darabont and (producer) Gale Anne Hurd, who are legends, living legends,‚?Ě Singleton admitted.

‚??I just knew that it had the potential to be good because of who was overseeing the project‚?ĽThe entire cast, we all thought the same way. The writing is good, the execs are awesome, the crew is great. Let‚??s see what happens.‚?Ě

What happened was record setting. The show became an instant, award-nominated hit, receiving 9 million viewers in its second season finale and ranking as the number one drama series in basic cable history in several key demographics. Season three, set to premiere Oct. 14, Singleton promises will be ‚??apocalyptic,‚?Ě excitingly spelling out ‚??O-M-G.‚?Ě

‚??Somebody compared it to if you took all those great shows that have been on TV like ‚??24,‚?? ‚??Lost,‚?? to you name it - ‚??The Walking Dead‚?? first episode will be even better than all of them put together combined,‚?Ě he enthused. ‚??I think people are going to get a decent dose of T-Dog and find out a little bit more about him.‚?Ě

It‚??s a character that he related to from the beginning.

‚??T-Dog‚??s a good guy. T-Dog has experienced a lot of hardship‚?Ľcomparing it to my life story. T-Dog is one that is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it‚??s going to help someone else or to better help humanity. He has a great heart, and he‚??s all about right over wrong, good over evil,‚?Ě Singleton described.

In the end, ‚??The Walking Dead‚?Ě even converted him into a ‚??walker‚?Ě fan, becoming a ‚??Green Brigade Commander‚?Ě of the online Zombie Survival Crew and writing a song about the show. Attending the convention specifically for its charitable aspects, he is looking forward to sharing the love with fans along with O‚??Dea.

‚??Being able to talk to the people who have sustained (‚??Night‚?Ě) is one thing I love more than anything else. That‚??s really why I go to these conventions,‚?Ě O‚??Dea insisted.

Despite representing two different generations of survivors, they may also share a little mutual adoration for each other‚??s work.

‚??(‚??Night‚??) was probably the first zombie movie I ever saw‚?ĽI was freaked out,‚?Ě Singleton said. ‚??I‚??ve seen pretty much a lot of the other zombie movies since then‚?Ľbut definitely ‚??Night of the Living Dead‚?? is one that is most memorable. It was probably a lot more real than the rest of them, maybe because it was the first.‚?Ě

‚??I think ‚??The Walking Dead‚?? ‚?Ľis incredibly well done,‚?Ě O‚??Dea added. ‚??That they have spent so much money and so much time on the zombie theme blows my mind.‚?Ě

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