As the first notes of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” rang out from a parade float’s speakers, over 100 zombies stopped talking, moved into position and stared straight ahead. A woman dressed in a red leather suit, identical to the one worn by Jackson in the 1983 music video, began to dance. The crowd erupted as the horde of zombies shuffled their feet, starting a dance routine they would repeat many times over the next few hours.
It was 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, and the 44th annual Village Halloween Parade had officially kicked off at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Spring Street, with the zombie crew following just behind the lead float. The zombies have been dancing to “Thriller” at the Halloween parade since 2004, and Norman Ellis was excited to be a first-time participant. Ellis was with about 20 other volunteers on the float, while his wife, also a first-timer, shuffled along with the zombies behind the trailer.
“We’re just here to smile and look crazy, while the dancers thrill it out for the crowd along the route,” he said.
And the crowd was certainly excited to see the “Thriller” float. Thousands of people lined up behind metal barriers along Sixth Avenue, holding phones high above their heads to record the zombies dancing their way down the parade route. The mood was cheerful, despite the attack that killed eight people and injured several more earlier that day in Lower Manhattan.
“It definitely affected the atmosphere,” said 40-year-old Jonathan Wellins of Bond Parade Floats, who drove the truck that pulled the lead float. “We’ve already had two floats back out and the amount of people that are here right now, it doesn’t compare to last year or previous years.”
On the corner of Broome Street and Sixth Avenue, replicas of the Batmobile and Ecto-1 from the 2016 Ghostbusters film roared to life. A jazz band dressed as snakes, butterflies, lizards and other creatures brought their instruments to their mouths and performed the Batman theme song. Witches, Donald Trumps in skin-tight, nude-colored suits, Jedis and thousands more Halloween revelers slowly made their way through side streets towards the start of the parade.
“It’s insane. It’s really, really insane,” said Pinky Tarka, admiring the creativity parading up Sixth Avenue. Tarka, a 36-year-old freelance events planner, was visiting from the United Kingdom and didn’t bring any Halloween-related clothing with her, which is why she was confined to the sidewalk behind the metal barriers separating those in costume from everyone else. Her face was in a near-permanent state of disbelief as hundreds of people passed by dressed as characters ranging from Minnie Mouse to Pennywise, the horror clown from Stephen King’s “It.”
“Continental Europe doesn’t do this,” said Tarka. “We’re kind of trying to, but not on this scale.”
Police presence was increased at the parade and throughout New York out of “an abundance of caution,” according to the New York Police Department’s Twitter account. Manny Palha, a tourist from Portugal dressed as an Indian sultan, did not notice yet was pleased to take pictures with officers, something he said he does wherever he visits. It was Palha’s fourth visit to New York specifically for the parade, and he didn’t let the attack disrupt his plans.
“I was worried,” he said. “Everyone in my country was calling and asking me if I was okay. But I said, ‘No, I’m still going to go the parade.’” He paused. “You have to celebrate life.”
Palha’s friend snapped a photo of him with two officers before they re-joined the parade, passing by 11th Street and waving to spectators who were clambering up stop lights to get a better view. A man wearing a Kim Jong Un mask and caressing a nuclear missile prop sauntered by slowly. Next to him a woman brandished a longsword and carried a leash, which wound around the neck of a man trailing behind her. His hands bound by iron shackles, the man wore an oversized papier-mache Donald Trump head adorned with a gold crown. A few blocks away, fake blood was splattered at the feet of a marching band dressed in orange and black plaid suits. It didn’t stop them from kicking their legs up and down as they made their way towards 14th Street.
Charles Walters surveyed the celebration from the middle of Sixth Avenue on top of his retro spaceship (which was actually his car with its own costume — an exterior shell he designed to fit over it). He moved to New York from North Carolina over 20 years ago, because the city “has great Halloween parades,” he joked. But the 42-year-old owner of Williamsburg Pizza was serious when he talked about why he has participated in the parade every year since arriving.
“It’s where all the crazies come out,” he said, laughing. “And it’s always a good time.”