NEW PORT RICHEY — Derek Covic's transformation to the undead takes about 90 painstaking minutes.
There are no screams of agony. Hardly a sound at all, really. And from the moment it begins, he keeps almost completely still.
"I hope you're breathing," self-taught makeup artist Jeanette Schaefer tells him as she digs into her work. "You're so still."
"I really want to get into the role," he says with his lips barely parted.
And then he goes silent — and still — again.
Covic will be among the couple hundred "zombies" expected to descend this weekend on west Pasco for the first Zombiefest. The living dead will walk in waves Saturday afternoon from Oasis Coffee Spot at 9213 Little Road to Cinema 6 Movie Theater at 9510 U.S. 19, where they will partake in a brain-eating contest, the Thriller dance, zombie tag and the screening of favorite zombie movies.
But first you have to look the part.
Schaefer laid out all her tools — a skinny metal spatula, makeup with names like ghoul grey and ghost white, Q-tips, sponges and a travel-size hair dryer — then began with a glue stick. She rubbed it across Covic's eyebrows and his trimmed beard.
"It will make his hair flat," she explained.
Then she held out a small tube. "This is liquid latex," Schaefer, 36, said excitedly. "You can shape it and mold it and make scars and create indentations."
Like an artist, she does just that. She built layer after flesh-colored layer with the latex, using standard one-ply toilet paper at times for texture. She blended colors on his face like a painter creating a sunset on canvas — but her desired effect seemed anything but sunny.
"It gives it that rigid, old look like your skin is decaying," she said.
Remember, we're talking about flesh-eating beings here.
Schaefer then used the tiny blow dryer and the long metal spatula to tear into Covic's newly created "skin," using a motion similar to crocheting to make holes "like he's decaying."
Then it's a few more dabs of makeup — gray on the skin, black on the lips, crimson oozes of blood. Even his teeth are yellowed and rotted with special makeup to dull those pearly whites.
A poof of a liquid spray on his face to set the makeup and he's just about ready. But there was one last thing to seal the deal: "white out" contacts. As if Covic wasn't creepy enough, this addition is the crowning glory and sends chills up the spine.
After getting a look at his zombie self, Covic had only one thing to say. "It's pretty epic," he said, smiling for the first time.
Now imagine Covic and maybe 200 others like him trudging the 2 1/2 miles from the Oasis Coffee Spot to the Cinema 6.
"Just wait until they are walking on the side of the road, hundreds of them," said Zombiefest founder Chris Coffey, chuckling. "It's always fun to have multiple zombies hanging around."
Coffey, a zombie enthusiast from New Port Richey, said he came up with the idea in January because the area doesn't exactly come alive with activity on the weekend. The 28-year-old went with it and pitched the idea to his fellow zombie movie loving, video game playing friends, Sam Knox, 25, and Jena Musgrave, 19, and they dug it. And so the death-defying event (insert best groan here) was born. They hope to make it an annual gathering.
The event tagline — "Are you ready to die?" — ended up having a double meaning, Coffey said. He attends both Unveiled Church in New Port Richey and Living Hope Church in Hudson, where Knox is the youth pastor. They say this event isn't just a quest for fun and promoting local businesses. It's a spiritual mission.
Coffey, Knox and Musgrave agreed it was a good way to perhaps lead people to Christ. The starting point, in fact, is a Christian coffee shop.
"We thought that it would be an awesome way to do some outreach," Knox said.
They tried to get some churches on board as sponsors, but most shied away from the zombie idea, Coffey said. Their quest to combine it with something more remains, but they haven't advertised the Christian aspect of it. They say they'll sprinkle it in during the event and it's not really a secret.
"In our faith, we believe that we're completely forgiven and going to be brought to heaven when the Rapture happens," Coffey said.
"The zombies are the walking dead, and I kind of feel the people who don't know Christ are the walking dead," Knox added.
At the end of the festivities, Coffey and Knox said, they will invite those who want to stick around to talk about related faith-based issues. They list it as TBA on the schedule. Walking away from the after-zombie activities is just fine, too.
"We're not locking any doors," said Coffey.