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The One and Only 'Urban Death' Show Brings On New Nightmares

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Show up just a few minutes early to the new Urban Death performance at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood and you'll find that the creepy violence has already gotten underway on the theater's tiny playing area. We were completely bowled over the first time we experienced this under-an-hour-long series of short, wordless scenes and images of horror and intermittent macabre humor, and every few years we check back to see if the latest edition of the show from creators Jana Wimer and Zombie Joe is still as unsettling as ever. It certainly is this time around.

If you're a type to be intrigued rather than repulsed by the nightmares that bolt you upright in bed in the middle of the night, the annual Urban Death production at Zombie Joe's Underground may conjure those fleeting moments of uncanny terror right back up for you. Though it has its usual share of gross-out laughs and outrageous sex scenes, the 2015 Urban Death is especially strong on moments of pure fright. Cast members you didn't even know were standing right in front of you suddenly materialize out of the darkness in a cavalcade of unsettling guises and then disappear again. Ghouls, Nazis, corpses, Wall Street millionaires, clowns, pedophiles, farm animals, gun enthusiasts, fetuses and unprofessional medical professionals, among others, all make their perverse appearances. The show's a riot, to be sure, but the stagecraft here is truly impeccable and the cumulative effect of all these disturbing scenarios transcends mere shock or titillation.

Unfettered by any narrative through-line or overarching philosophy, ZJU's Urban Death offers a high-spirited descent into hell without any guiding figure to mitigate or explain away the scenes of pain and cruelty we encounter on the journey. Every year, the show is different. And every time we see it, we marvel at its brilliant audacity. Luckily, too, so far, we've always made it out alive.

The 2015 edition of Urban Death plays Saturday nights at 11 p.m. through May 16 at Zombie Joe's Underground. Tickets $17.25 online or $15 by phone at (818) 202-4120.