EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mike Christopher Berhosky
(aka, the Hare Krishna Zombie from Dawn of the Dead)
by Dustin Bennett
How did you find out about the film shoot?
I'm pretty sure everyone knew about the movie because it was a big deal all over Pittsburgh back then. When Romero puts out a call for zombies the word gets out. I was in the "Fluid" band back then, and we composed sound tracks for "Headprints" and "A Ride thru the Fields." by Leonard and Mickey Lies. Mickey was actually responsible for taking a "Fluid" band promo shot to George Romero's people. If I remember correctly, Mickey has a casting credit for Dawn and Lenny of course, is the Machete Zombie.
The "Fluid " band was rehearsing in the New Leona Theater in Homestead around that time and lots of the people associated with the New Leona were involved with Dawn. Clayton Hill the "Escalator" Zombie and Sharon Hill the "Nurse" Zombie were friends of Joe Shelby. Joe is the guy shooting the pistol on the rooftop of the building where the zombies were at the beginning of "Dawn." Joe managed the bar next door to the Leona. What a great life huh? A rehearsal theater with a bar next door! ! ! The big Zombie in the swim trunks was the owner of "Tanks-a-lot" the fish store in the front of the Leona. Paul Musser the sax player, from "Fluid" became the "Plaid Shirt / Airport" Zombie. Michael James the Fluid Bass player is in "Dawn" too but only for a few frames.
"Dawn..." has been lightly criticized by hard-core horror aficionados for its reliance on the "blue" zombie make-up over the years. Did you have any input into your own make-up and/or appearance in the film?
My make up was actually grey. I know, I know everyone says blue but it was grey. The blue came from lighting or telecine. I had no input whatsoever into my makeup. My one suggestion was to donate a pair of leather sandals to the HKZ costume. It was cold in the mall in the winter. Obviously, it was denied so I had to stand in the mall all night in my bare feet. Shoes and sox were out of the question because I had to be in character on a moment's notice. When Fran came at me with the flare I had to ignore the sulphur sparks burning the soles of my feet so my one suggestion would have helped me out!
Are you still in contact with anyone from "Dawn...", if so, who and in what capacity?
I've been in touch with Leonard Lies and Jim Krut who have given me some coaching regarding the inner workings of the Horror Conventions. They've been a huge help conveying what to expect and recommending suppliers for my pictures and T shirts. Just met nearly everyone at HorrorFind 9 March 08. It was the first time I saw them since shooting Dawn. It was a powerful emotional experience. Fran had no idea her flare sparks burned my feet! She apologized but obviously it was not her fault. I never said anything back then. I ambushed George standing in line to get his autograph. He had a good laugh when he finally recognized me. It was so funny . . . a room full of people that caught on I was going to ambush him after 30 years. There were at least 30 cameras pointed at us by the time I got to the front of the line.
Were you offered a choice as to whether or not you were going to be the Hare Krishna zombie, or was that your suggestion?
The Hare Krishna Zombie character came at me from left field. Originally, I thought I was going to get my head chopped off by the helicopter. I love helicopters and remember feeling disappointed. However, being a deeply spiritual fellow in addition to being serious devotee of sarcasm, I ultimately realized the brilliant opportunity afforded by this character. The Krishna's weren't too happy though. I heard they even sent a letter of protest. I'd LOVE to have that piece of paper.
Did you have to shave your head for the role?
Not at all. I had been shaving my head since 1972. Originally, I joined a theatrical space band managed by Rich Engler and Pat DiCe-sare. We all had shaved heads for this space themed rock band. That band broke up after a devastating highway accident in 1973 or so. Around 1976 another band I was in; "Changes" decided to resurrect the bald band thing and we shaved our heads finally morphing into "Fluid" so I only had to get rid of the stubble.
Were you already a horror movie fan at the time?
Well no one is truly a Pittsburgher if they don't love Romero movies, but I have to be honest and say I'm not much of a traditional horror buff. I do love everything Romero and his new movie "Diary of the Dead" is da bomb! I am honestly in awe of this film. I'll probably watch "Diary" as many times as I've seen "Dawn." Romero horror movies are not just horror movies to the true Romero fan I say. Does that make me a snob? Maybe but that's my story.
How many days were you on set for filming?
I seem to remember 2 nights at the mall and one afternoon in a warehouse dahntahn. The warehouse was the location for the room where all my scenes were filmed.
What was your impression, seeing yourself on screen for the first time?
I thought it was pretty freakin' cool. Then . . . I got bashed in the head and everyone CHEERED ! Took the wind right outta' my sails. Everyone hated the Hare Krishna devotees for their incessant pestering and swarming them at the airports and such. None of the young horror fans have any idea of the notoriety that cult / religion had back then. They were a royal PITA. The devotees would be all over ya like a bad toupee, forcing their literature on you and asking for donations for the incense, inviting you for free vegetarian meals at the temple. So, having the Hare Krishna Zombie in the movie was a brilliant parody on a slice of history that would have been under represented. Killing off my character had the effect of releasing a lot of pent up frustration that has no counterpart in today's world. To us old timers. . . . bashing in the Hare Krishna Zombie's head was much more than getting rid of another pesky zombie . . . it was VENGEANCE.
Please explain your musical background and your thoughts of the music used for your scenes with Gaylen Ross.
I started taking organ lessons in 4th grade thru Gimbels Department store in North Hills. I still remember the day my parents and I decided to buy our first organ instead of a piano. Next, I studied with Mrs. Mary Sundholm from Avalon before becoming the Organist at Sacred Heart Church in Emsworth for 7 years. I then studied under Drs. Beikman and Lord at the University of Pittsburgh. in I dropped out of their music program when they wouldn't let me into the Electronic Music studio at Pitt and then refused to let me study piano and organ in the same semester. I bought some tires for my car, some pot and an ARP 2600 and set off down the long road to ruin and excess.
Honestly I have never tried to analyze the "Dawn" soundtrack. I don't watch it as a musician. I thought about doing my own cues for some scenes but decided against it. Why ? I just love the whole thing just the way it is.
Are you surprised about the continuing popularity of "Dawn of the Dead"?
No, I'm not surprised. To me, "Dawn" is in a class by itself . . . but I sure am grateful as hell. "Dawn" was a major force behind the horror genre and especially Zombie movies. As such, it maintains a rightful place as one of THE BEST Zombie movies that pointed the way to the future. But that's just me.
Do you get recognized on the street because of your character in the film?
Never. However a few people in Dallas came up to me and said they recognized me when I checked into the hotel for Fear Fest 2 in March (2008.
If you had the chance to redo any of your scenes in the film, would you change anything?
I would have liked to see a bit more of me in the stairwell for one. My other complaint is where I'm trying to protect my eyes from the flare. I wish those shots could have been set up to look like the flare was closer than it was so I could keep my hands down. The damned thing was a foot or so from my face and I had no eye protection. I remember trying to channel David Carradine or something stupid like that. There was no rehearsal.
How does it feel to have an action figure based on you?
Honestly, it hasn't sunk in yet. My life is starting to seem more like a cartoon every day so that is just part of the surrealism I guess. Last year I was working for morons in a coupon factory for cryin' out loud. Since that damned Action Figure came out I lost my job, my girlfriend and my entire old life in general. On the plus side, I gained the most precious gift of all . . . a chance to meet generations of "Dawn of the Dead" fans face to face at Horror Conventions. The Action Figure played an integral part in my decision to structure my life around promoting this amazing HK Zombie character. As I begin to relax into a few more conventions, I expect that I'll be able to come to grips with being immortalized in plastic. It's really cool for the fans. I have a friend with an 8 year old kid. He LOVES the Action Figure but dad won't let him take it out of the box ! Another has a 3 yr old that says "Mom, there's no such thing as zombies." now THAT's a huge fan base!
How do you feel, that we taught some of our Zombies in our feature length Zombie film "Flesh Crawl" to act, based on your performance in "Dawn of the Dead"?
I couldn't believe my eyes when I heard about that. I was thrilled to find out that you saw something in my performance that you wanted to translate to your zombies. I vividly remember being on the set trying to prepare myself for the first scene. I tried to maintain a feeling of intense nausea while I was on camera. I wanted to feel completely disoriented as well. When I heard that you used my character as a model I felt vindicated! I only wished that I could have conveyed this info to you last year.
How was it to work with George Romero?
You gotta realize, at the time, my role was called a lead zombie. We weren't characters known as; Machete Zombie, Plaid Shirt/Airport Zombie Helicopter Zombie, Nurse Zombie etc. These designations came after the fact. The fans elevated our status. So, I never got to "Work with George Romero" per se. I wasn't considered an actor. . . I guess I was a specialized extra or something? George would describe the scene to me and I shuffled off down the hall. Then I shuffled up the stairs. I remember asking him if I had any lines and he said " Zombies don't talk . . . they don't even grunt." That was it. I can't believe how much cooperation he got from that mall. I bet they are the most famous mall in the world because of it.
If you weren't in front of the camera for a scene, were you helping out in other capacities?
Nope . . . I was only there to be the Hare Krishna Zombie!
Looking for some acting roles and eventually some sound track work. Immediately . . . finding a way to pay the bills where I can take long weekends off between March and November. I've got a few ways to generate money until I can reinvent myself.
Anything you would like to say to your legion of fans?
Well above all I truly appreciate their devotion to my character. At times it is a bit overwhelming and I am grateful for their attention. There was a bond between myself and everyone I met at Fear Fest 2. It is hard to explain. It is like we are in on some special secret. They like the Hare Krishna Zombie and I appreciate them as the other half of that equation.
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