I Was a Paintball Zombie: Actors Spend Night as the Walking Dead

This year, Odyssey Fun Farm added the Zombie Safari Hayride attraction, which lets visitors pepper zombies with paintballs. But what's it like to be on the receiving end of these barages? Patch talks with the living dead to find out.


On the first night of Zombie Safari Hayride, things didn’t go smoothly. The paintball guns that patrons use to shoot the “zombies” were set at twice the level of pressure that they should have been, meaning that the paintballs shot twice as fast, stinging the actors portraying the undead twice as painfully.

A dozen zombies quit that night, said Clint Paraday, general manager of Tinley Park's Odyssey Fun Farm, which introduced the concept of Zombie Hayride to the south suburbs this Halloween season.

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Here’s how it works: Patrons pay $15 to board a trailer that is pulled by tractor through a cornfield. Each seat on the trailer is equipped with a paintball gun stocked with 75 rounds, which the laughing, shrieking, scared marksmen use to assault the zombies that shamble out of the cornfield.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Paraday, who claims as many as 2,000 people have taken the gruesome tour on his busiest nights. (This past Saturday, guests started lining up two hours before the Zombie Hayride started.) “Zombies are the big sell right now.”

And the appeal of this attraction is the interaction. Rather than passively admiring—or being freaked out by—zombies in a traditional haunted house, where guests can’t touch the actors and the actors can’t touch guests, this ride enables people to violently join the action.

If you hate zombies, you get to shoot them. If you love zombies, you get to shoot them. On Saturday night, teenagers howled as they peppered the walking targets with paint. Moms and dads helped kindergarteners steady their weapons. Young lovers on dates shared kisses between rounds of firing on the brain-eaters.

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It’s a strangely fun, totally bizarre, wholly new way to celebrate this silly,sinister season.

And as for the zombies themselves, well, it’s a tough job. As the line of patrons grew in the parking lot, the actors who portray the undead targets prepared themselves in a makeshift, messy dressing room. They strapped on hockey gear and chest protectors, shin guards and shoulder pads, eyewear under reinforced masks, protective cups for the men and bulletproof bras for the rare female actors.

“It’s fun being a zombie, when it doesn’t hurt like hell,” said Joe Vorberg, 32, of Oak Lawn, who points to the bruises that dot is arms and shoulders, courtesy of this creepy gig that pays $8.25 an hour.

“When you get shot it makes everything seem more real,” adds Patrick Williams, 18, of Steger, who is motivated by both the paycheck and the thrill of portraying a ghoul.

By the time the third trailer of shooters has gone through the cornfield, the zombies’ masks are dripping with orange paint, their bulky bodies are splattered with goo, and a new batch of bruises has begun to form.

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“It’s exhilarating to pull that trigger,” said patron Nancy Firkin, of Palos Heights, who in her fancy shawl looks like she should be at a cocktail party, chatting with friends rather than in a chilly cornfield blasting monsters.

And it’s equally exhilarating for the targets. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” said Jenn Wardinski, 19, of Manhattan, one of the few female zombies, when asked why she has accepted this gruesome gig. “I just wanna be a bad ass.”

Zombie Safari Hayrides

When: 10 to 6 p.m. daily until Nov. 3
Where: Odyssey Fun Farm
Cost: $15

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