Preparing for the undead 

Zombie tool artists create otherworldly installation

Smokers quit for many reasons—to live longer, to prevent wrinkles—but rarely does the decision involve zombies. While Maxon McCarter and Wes Saint John of Missoula’s Zombie Tools both recently quit smoking for better health, they also kicked the habit because if there’s a zombie apocalypse, the ability to run long distances comes in handy.

Also required in case of zombies, according to the duo: a good, brain-slashing blade, which is really what Zombie Tools is all about. They make zombie-killing weaponry. For real.

Their sword handles are made from K6 aluminum and the blades are 5160 spring steel and acid etched to give them a worn look. “We kind of just pre-splatter them so you don’t feel too bad about getting them, uh…crunchy,” says McCarter.

The Zombie Tools website (zombietools.net) has the sort of DIY gothic tone of the The Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice, especially with its pragmatic motto: “Can’t save the world? Then prepare for its end.” But the five Missoula men who comprise the Zombie Tools business aren’t dealing with the dead, they’re dealing with the undead.

“A zombie apocalypse is probably the most horrific thing you could go through,” says Saint John. “I always thought the first lesson we should teach anybody is how to kill your [zombie] friends and family in case of a zombie apocalypse ’cause you are going to come across people you know…but you gotta realize they’re not really your friends and family, they’re a gross representation of what they were. And it’s scary as fuck.”

If this sounds a little out there, a little extreme survivalist, it is. But McCarter and Saint John are just as much in it for the art as for survival. Zombie Tools is really just one project of many that the group of artists/metalsmiths—which also includes Joey Arbour, Clay Cooper and Chris Lombardi—created in the name of zombies. Under the moniker Zombie Tools they forge blades of all kinds—the Urban Bone Machete, the Two-Handed Apocalax, the Two-Faced Bitch—in a metal shop warehouse on Missoula’s Northside. Under the Drunken Jedi Pirate Circus they teach and practice sword play. Under Black Mayonnaise Productions they make zombie film shorts. And under Tainted Saints they provide live horror shows.

The first horror show they ever produced was an ambush. McCarter and Saint John threw a Valentine’s Day party in 2003 at an abandoned Northside barn. The décor should have raised some suspicion—a deer carcass and some gothic art hung on the walls—but people seemed at ease, dancing to techno music.

“All of sudden,” says McCarter, “the music and the lights get cut. And we have some other lights come on so it’s dim but you can see. [A woman] is dragged out in just a tutu by other women, and strapped to this cross…We had red tempura paint hidden in our hands, and we’re screaming and throw all this ‘blood’ all over her. And then we carry her out and the lights and music come back on as if nothing ever happened.”

Since that debut, Tainted Saints’ shows have become a bit more sophisticated and, perhaps, not so guerrilla-style. For last year’s Halloween festivities at the Badlander, the Tainted Saints re-vamped a vacant restaurant space and turned it into an Old West zombie brothel—a sort of haunted house full of tavern-styled platforms and creepy metal cages peopled with bloody, snarling zombie girls.

This year’s Halloween installation, Zombarella vs. The Moon Zombies entails a whole different narrative. The back-story to the performance goes like this: The Illuminati want to destroy civilization and take over the world. They’ve been creating an army of zombies on their moonbase and launching them back to Earth to kill people. The guys at Zombie Tools hatch their own plan—codename “Zombarella”—to save civilization, creating their own army of half-living, half-dead “zombarellas” who kill zombies. The performance, therefore, is set on the moon—where, apparently, there are jugglers, DJs and burlesque dancers. Who knew?

In the world of live performance art, killing zombies is all pageantry. But McCarter and Saint John insist that if a true zombie apocalypse happened you would need some practice.

“Just because you have a sword doesn’t mean you can kill a zombie. It takes real training. See that muscle right there?” says McCarter, pointing to his forearm. “It’s a specific sword fighting muscle. It’s that wrist control muscle. If you don’t have that built up at all, your arms will be exhausted in five minutes.”

And tiring out shouldn’t be an option when fighting the undead.

“The thing about zombies is they’re really the ultimate in things going to hell,” McCarter adds. “So if you’re prepared for the zombie apocalypse, you’re prepared for anything.”

The Badlander hosts Zombarella vs. the Moon Zombies Friday, Oct. 31, at 9 PM, as part of the Second Annual Halloween Bash. Reverend Slanky, The Victory Smokes, Starfucker, Themes, Rooster Sauce, Black Velvet Elvis and DJs provide the music. $15/$12 advance.
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