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Don't be afraid of the TC Horror Festival and its infectious plays

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I love Halloween, mainly because it's a time when we tell scary stories and look death in the eye and say, "Yeah, whatever."

The artists behind the Twin Cities Horror Festival IV confront the dark side with cheer and vigor. The fourth installment, brimming with creepy stories and realistic gore, will make you wish the dozen-show mini-Fringe Festival happened more than once a year.

Here are a couple of the highlights, below.

Mortem Capiendum

Four Humors has been an important part of the festival from the beginning, but, as its name suggests, the company is better known for comedy than scares. This year, it combines the two in this absurd piece about a trio of snake-oil salesmen who peddle a concoction that supposedly can outwit death. The show is both howlingly funny and tremendously disturbing.

Professor Jonathan St. Miracle (Matt Spring) is a smooth-talker hawking a bevy of cure-alls in Depression-era Minneapolis. He's ably assisted by the banjo-playing Eustis (Brant Miller) and Lloyd (Jason Ballweber), who is planted in the audience.

The first 20 minutes are played purely for laughs — until the professor unbuttons his shirt, shows us the chest wound where he was shot, and declares that he came back to life.

How did he pull it off? The professor and the other two salesmen wrestled the Grim Reaper into a box and then distilled his essence into an elixir. It can now be yours for just $35. To prove it works, Eustis commits suicide onstage — then promptly comes back to life.

The morbid trend continues with Lloyd, who offs himself when the snake-oil fails to attract buyers, leaving a trio of undead men trying to close a sale.

Epidemic

Walking into the Dangerous Productions show, you see the actors standing on a massive tarp, staring at you. It's unnerving, but the bloodstained tarp is oddly reassuring. The company has a well-earned reputation for stage gore, and Epidemic doesn't disappoint.

In the show, residents of "Housing Facility C" at a biotech research facility are cutting loose after a long day. But something isn't quite right. One woman who's studying an artifact from the site of a mysterious outbreak thinks a tear in her suit may have exposed her and others to the disease.

Tension mounts as the killer contagion spreads through the unit. It causes them to itch so violently that they rip open their flesh and bite off their tongues. Once the victims are all quarantined, it's a free-for-all.

The characters are sketched out quickly, but there is some sympathy built on their rides to self-inflicted, bloody deaths. Epidemic is more disturbing than scary, but you probably won't want to scratch yourself after seeing the show.

IF YOU GO:

Twin Cities Horror Fest
The Southern Theater
1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through Sunday