March 29, 2012

The Return of Paul Musser: Dawn of the Dead's Lost Zombie Icon [Horror Hound Weekend]

Paul Musser may be Dawn of the Dead's most iconic zombie, but until the 2012 Horror Hound Weekend in Columbus, he had no idea of his place in zombie movie history.

Paul Musser (sometimes credited as John Paul or John Paul Musser) may not be a familiar name to you, but any zombie fan worth his or her salt knows his face. Blue skin. Bald head. A drooping right eye and torn chest. Have you guessed it?

The Plaid Shirt Zombie: Paul Musser - 1978
Musser is none other than Dawn of the Dead's famous Bald and Plaid Shirt Zombie! His likeness is enshrined on Dawn of the Dead's poster art and replicated on VHS tapes, DVD covers, and t-shirts, not to mention action figures, custom masks, and a slew of bootleg merchandise. Yet, for 34 years Paul Musser's face has been one of the most recognizable zombie images in popular culture -- and he never even knew it!

Paul Musser -- @ Horror Hound, Columbus, OH
The Face that Launched 1000 Posters
"I had no idea that people were so passionate about this kind of thing," Musser said to me at Horror Hound Weekend. Musser went on to admit that he'd never watched  Dawn of the Dead until the two weeks before his Horror Hound appearance.

In the 34 years since the film's release, Musser has been oblivious to the film's cult popularity as well as the proliferation of his image on countless Dawn of the Dead reissues and related merchandise.

So how did Musser feel about being thrust into the limelight and surrounded by fans looking to get his autograph for the 10 hours of forgotten work he did one day back in the late 1970s?

"For me, it's kind of a humbling experience to find out that people are so passionate."

Musser was hesitant to go on the record about his life since shooting Dawn of the Dead, and his recollections of how he got the job were fuzzy. We know from other sources, however, that Musser was the saxophonist for the band FLUID. He and fellow band member Mike Christopher (better known as the Hari Krishna Zombie) got roles as zombie extras when the brother of the Machete Zombie (Leonard Lies) gave Romero a picture of the band.

What started as one day of shooting for Musser as an extra in a small horror film eventually blossomed behind Musser's back into a cult classic!

If Paul Musser is the missing signature in your Dawn of the Dead collection, you can meet him when he appears at the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey (April 27 - 29, 2012).