With skeletons hanging from the lobby ceiling and bathroom mirrors prompting attendees to scrawl three-word scary stories (“President Donald Trump,” “rusty butt plug”), the sixth annual Twin Cities Horror Festival has taken over the Southern Theater. A sampling of eight of the dozen shows, seen on opening weekend of the 11-day festival, revealed a wide range of spooky moods evoked by this year’s artists.
Sometimes scary is sexy, as demonstrated by The Fae. Playwright/actor Nissa Nordland Morgan and director Ben Layne have four ignorant Americans stumble into a supernatural orgy on the Isle of Man, where getting literally fucked to death by a silver-skinned fairy (Marci Lucht) is a best-case scenario, because this pagan party never ends. After the Party is a more metaphorical dance with death, though choreographer Erin Sheppard’s passionate doppelgänger duets are dragged down by Joe Bozic’s uninspired narration.
There’s nothing sexy about writer/director Derek “Duck” Washington’s Intuition and the Mantis, despite several masked figures straight out of Eyes Wide Shut who join the audience for the show’s duration. They make ominous chattering sounds to lend an air of menace to a complicated science-fiction scenario that has a mad scientist (Adelheid Berg) conducting sadistic experiments on her brother (Tim Uren, who deserves some kind of award for giving his all to the scene where a demonic spirit inhabits his body and immediately complains that the vessel is insufficiently virile).
Film, the medium that’s typically most associated with horror, has a supporting role in the festival. Short films curated by the Horror Show Hot Dog podcast are screened in each of five slots, and they’re so good, they’ll have you rethinking your whole October movie-watching game. One of the plays in the festival, Animus, is inspired by a movie: Ingmar Bergman’s eerie Persona (1966). In a 21st-century twist, Emily Michaels King plays an Instagram guru who has a mental breakdown. As she recovers in a remote retreat with a lone nurse (Debra Berger), a camera held by Amber Johnson turns the psychodrama into a film projected onto the Southern’s giant screen.
With horror fans still buzzing about Get Out, two plays take on the topic of race. Gore virtuoso Tyler Olsen directs Skin, the story of a white plastic surgeon (Garrett West Vollmer) who takes his knife to the bodies of black women. Playwright Oya Mae Duchess-Davis uses this Frankenstein redux to explore serious themes of abuse and intersectionality. Theatre Unchecked’s Hand-Picked is a more straightforward seat-jumper, with layers of privilege at a girls’ sleepaway camp being taken to bloody extremes.
Festival founders Four Humors revive their 2012 show Harold, reminding audiences that in all the fuss over scary clowns we’ve almost forgotten about scary scarecrows. This one is a real nightmare, and it might just give you the biggest scares you’ve ever had in a theater. As the eponymous rag man reveals, even a man made of straw can only get knocked down so many times before he snaps.
Twin Cities Horror Festival
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
612-340-0155; through November 5