If you share my fondness for flesh-eaters, you would have found plenty of fellowship at Spooky Empire's Ultimate Horror Weekend. The Wyndham Resort attracted so many lurchers last weekend that I had to park at T.G.I. Friday's and shamble across I-Drive. Once inside, fans found makeup maestro Tom Savini, along with many recipients of his latex lacerations in George Romero's Dead films. (The director himself was unfortunately a no-show.) And budding necrophiliacs must have had a holiday with all the decomposing décolletage on display — not to mention those costumed as demonic vixens and punk dino-centaurs.

Those same crowds who lined up to greet monster-movie bastions Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson and Michael Berryman should take note of Zombies From the Beyond, a musical spoof invading Winter Garden. True, these gore-free ghouls are of a pre-splatterpunk vintage, much like the classic tin toys in the lovely Garden Theatre's lobby display. Instead of severed limbs and masticated intestines, Jester Theater Company's likable love letter to sci-fi/horror clichés delivers a silly skewering of midcentury American movies and Eisenhower-era misogyny.

The plotline looks like a checklist from Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space playbook: Maj. Malone (Rod Cathey) mans the Milwaukee Space Center circa 1955, launching space-race experiments with the aid of his right-hand man, Capt. Jones (David Almeida), and husband-hunting secretary Charlie (Melissa Mason). Egghead extraterrestrial expert Trenton Corbett (Todd Allen Long) arrives just in time to detect an oncoming alien onslaught, foil a Russki spy ring, and fall for the major's multitalented daughter, Mary (Elizabeth Takacs). While Trenton and Mary build an "ultraphonic amplificatory" out of an upright vacuum and delivery boy Billy (Corey Matos) tap-dances his way into Charlie's heart, the zaftig alien queen Zombina (Kate O'Neal) is busy mesmerizing Earth's men with her hypnotic high-C singing in a bid to repopulate male-starved Planet X.

Enthusiasm for Zombies From the Beyond will depend on your affection for the cinematic disasters of the drive-in era and your appreciation for an expertly amateurish sendup of the same. James Valcq's script ain't exactly Shakespeare — characters are more likely to exclaim "Zoniks!" than "Zounds" — and as lyricist he rhymes "Milwaukee" with "walkie-talkie." The doo-wop-pastiche songs range from amiably insipid ballads to jingoistic jingles, and the full-throated cast delivers them with more vocal wattage than they probably deserve. Director Jay Hopkins packs the proceedings with delicious double-takes, corny kick-lines ("I just love catching up on the latest dance craze during a hideous disaster") and enough pie-plate flying saucers on wobbly wires to make William Castle proud. Little touches, like the authentic Amana and asbestos adverts projected during intermission, prove Hopkins understands the proper tone. And just as the absurdity threatens to overstay its welcome, there's a mock-opera finale to bring it on home.

Don't be deceived by the intentionally obvious stagehands and craptastic sets; there's a ton of talent in this tongue-in-cheek tour de farce.



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