They tried to contain them, shortening their path and diverting them from crowds of innocents.
During the past few years, enthusiasm for the midtown Sacramento Zombie Walk, which started in 2001 as a hype tool for the Trash Film Orgy midnight-movie series, spread at an unexpected rate.
More than 1,000 humans dressed as the living dead appeared in 2011 a remarkable turnout for an event that once drew 100 or 200 people.
As with any zombie invasion, this one brought challenges, liabilities and expenses. Last year, TFO organizers took out a city permit and bought insurance to cover the walk from the Cheap Thrills costume shop on L Street to the Crest Theatre.
Organizers also tried to manage the 2012 crowd by cutting the route so it no longer reached the heart of Second Saturday crowds. They also limited to an hour the zombie-gathering period at Cheap Thrills, during which professional makeup artists applied blue-gray makeup, for small fees, to those who could not zombify themselves.
"We were trying to scale it back," organizer Christy Savage said, because of the costs and logistics involved.
But the zombies were undeterred, as zombies tend to be.
The 2012 event again drew more than 1,000 men, women, children and "dogs in little skeleton suits," Savage said. "Obviously, people in this town want to have a Zombie Walk."
Unlike Brad Pitt in "World War Z," TFO organizers conceded quickly to the zombie demand.
For this year's walk, starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the route is lengthened so it again passes the MARRS Building at 20th and K Second Saturday's nexus.
Organizers also extended zombie-preparation hours at Cheap Thrills. They'll start at 7, with makeup artists charging $5 to $30, depending on just how undead one desires to look.
To finance the 2012 walk, TFO organizers actively sought and secured sponsors for the first time and began a fruitful crowdsourcing funding campaign. Also helping defray costs is a $595 Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission micro-grant awarded to TFO for the Zombie Walk.
"So we are officially art now," Savage said of the micro-grant. In her application, Savage called the Zombie Walk "large-scale performance art," she said. "And apparently they bought it."
SMAC interim director Shelly Willis said the arts commissioners who reviewed Savage's application "were really supportive because of the event's ever- increasing audience and because it drew people to Sacramento from outside the area. It is the only event of its kind in Sacramento, and it has grown to the point where they really needed help with things like promotion and permits."
TFO has attached a Zombie Walk to its cult/exploitation film series for most of the series' 13 years. But interest had dropped off like so much dead flesh by 2009, and TFO skipped the walk that year.
Organizers revived it in 2010 to mark the series' 10th year, and the walk "really blew up," Savage said.
Interest spread mostly by word of mouth. It helped that AMC's "The Walking Dead," introduced in fall 2010, increased zombie visibility.
But zombie love transcends a single film or TV show, Savage said.
"It's just part of the mainstream," she said.
The annual undead procession to the Crest has increased crowds on the film series' opening nights, when TFO always shows a zombie film. Savage expects 600 to 700 people at Saturday's screening of the 2004 horror comedy "Shaun of the Dead."
Other TFO movies draw about 300 people, she said.
The six-week 2013 TFO lineup includes the 1965 Russ Meyer fast-cars-and-homicidal-women stalwart "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (July 20) and a gory double feature of the 1960s films "Blood Feast" and "2,000 Maniacs" (Aug. 17). TFO showed "Feast" and "Maniacs" in its early years, and the double feature celebrates 100 Trash Film Orgy movies at the Crest.
But the rest of the lineup "Shaun," the original "Friday the 13th" (July 27), "The Road Warrior" (Aug. 3) and "Escape From New York" (Aug. 10) seems mainstream for a festival with "trash" in its title.
Savage said midnight-movie crowds prefer more recognizable titles.
"A lot of times we would just love to put something obscure up there but we also need butts in the seats," Savage said.
TFO screenings come with games, costume contests and onstage skits that increase the need for the series' 18-and-older age requirement.
But onstage shenanigans are not always as racy as advertised. As the Zombie Walk's popularity shows, TFO organizers are masters of hype.
For example, TFO is unlikely to make good on its promise of a "live, topless switchblade fight to the death" to accompany "Faster Pussycat."
"I will not confirm nor deny," Savage said coyly. "But we have been known to exaggerate."
ZOMBIE WALK AND TRASH FILM ORGY
What: The Zombie Walk starts at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Cheap Thrills, 1712 L St., Sacramento. Participants should gather between 7 and 9:30 p.m. to walk to the Crest Theatre, 1013 K St. "Shaun of the Dead" screens at midnight. The Zombie Walk is for all ages; movies are for ages 18 and older. The Trash Film Orgy continues Saturdays through Aug. 17
Cost: The Zombie Walk is free. TFO films are $10, or $9 for moviegoers in costume.
To avoid a long line Saturday night, purchase tickets early at the Crest box office or through www.tickets.com.
TRASH FILM ORGY SCHEDULE
Saturday: "Shaun of the Dead" (2004): In this ingenious mix of comedy and gore, Simon Pegg plays a man jolted out of arrested adolescence by a zombie invasion.
July 20: "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965): Russ Meyer's vixens shimmy, murder and offer flat line readings in this black-and-white cult favorite.
July 27: "Friday the 13th" (1980): The Trash Film Orgy bridges the gap between summer camp and hockey season with this horror classic.
Aug. 3: "The Road Warrior" (1981): Mel Gibson's drifter is the only hope in the battle for gasoline in a post-apocalyptic world.
Aug. 10: "Escape From New York" (1981): Kurt Russell's ex-soldier is the only hope when the president's plane crashes in city-turned-prison Manhattan.
Aug. 17: "Blood Feast" (1963) and "2,000 Maniacs" (1964): That catered meal in "Blood Feast" it's people! But hack filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis was just warming up for his gruesome follow-up, "Maniacs," in which Southerners show visiting Yankees very little hospitality.
Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.