RUGBY ZOMBIETHON: A Thriller Night

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Blood-soaked zombies took to the streets on Sunday as part of a grisly Halloween event to raise money for a leukaemia charity.

A mob of 85 walkers in gruesome costumes lurched through town for this year’s annual Zombiethon, a sponsored fancy dress walk which raised £540 for Ben’s Fund.

The charity, part of the Walsgrave Leukaemia Fund, was set up in memory of Rugby teenager Ben Jones, an aspiring artist who died of leukaemia 20 years ago at the age of 16. It was set up by Ben’s parents to send children with leukaemia on breaks to places like Disneyland Paris.

Deputy Mayor Cllr Tony Gillias, who officially started the walk, said: “It is quite an odd event, but it does bring together people who want to spend a bit of time raising some money for a good charity, and I think it’s fantastic.”

Christian Parker, 34, a former friend of Ben, said: “Ben would have definitely taken part in this, loudly and with a big smile on his face. Walking through town dressed as a zombie is my proudest moment!”

Fundraisers embraced this year’s Olympic theme by dressing as undead runners, cyclists, archers and jockeys. The day ended with a medal ceremony for the best and most inventive costumes.

Event co-organiser Clare Plumbley said: “It’s been one of our best years ever - it’s absolutely fantastic. I’m really proud to say that we’ve raised so much.

“This year, more people seemed to get involved as we were walking along, so hopefully next year it’s going to be even bigger and better.”

If I had been innocently shopping only to be confronted by 85 gruesome zombies shuffling through the town centre, it might well have sent me running for the hills. But it seems the people of Rugby are made of sterner stuff, writes Andy Morris.

Despite their macabre make-up, eerie groans and (fake) blood-stained costumes, the walking dead were welcomed to the streets with open arms. Most onlookers found it hilarious; the worst reaction I saw was one of mild bemusement.

But when did it become acceptable for zombies to parade around in public on a sleepy Sunday afternoon?

It’s not the first time the undead have invaded a shopping centre. They famously became a metaphor for mass consumerism in George A Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. But if Sunday’s Zombiethon was trying to provide such social commentary, it wasn’t apparent.

Instead, it felt like a light-hearted charity jamboree - a fête-worse-than-death, if you will - owing more to silly comedies like Shaun of the Dead than to creepy horror classics. Zombie children as young as three years old giggled and grinned their way through the macabre parade, making for an unlikely fusion of family fun and Halloween horror.

Some frighteningly realistic costumes and make-up were on display, from the fake arrows which pierced an Olympic archer to the prosthetic piece which left one woman looking as though an eye was dangling from its socket. But none of the many onlookers voiced any objections.

“I don’t think it’s too frightening,” said a zombified Christian Parker, a teacher from Newbold Road. “The kids seem to be quite happy and everyone we saw was fine, so I think people generally get the idea of it.”

“We do find lots of people actually smile, have a laugh and take photographs,” said event co-organiser Helen Cooper.

Clare Plumbley, her partner-in-crime, agreed. “We’ve never really had any problems with people saying that they don’t want the event to go ahead. During the walk, there were lots of children asking what we were doing.”

And what about those of a squeamish disposition? “We walk far too slowly for us to be scary,” said Clare. “You can easily get away!”