The Third Twin Cities Horror Festival continues through Sunday at the Southern Theater. Over the first weekend, patrons were treated to nine distinct pieces of theater, while the lobby offered a mix of drinks, tarot readings, and the likes of 28 Days Later and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.
Below are reviews for six of the shows at the festival. The other three will be published on Wednesday.
Dance with the Devil
The deal with the devil is a long-standing horror staple that Erin Sheppard uses for seven intriguing dance pieces. These are mixed with five monologues by storyteller Rita Boersma about the seven deadly sins.
Each dance finds a character or characters making dark deals to get what they want. What they often find is that the object of desire is nothing compared to what they have given up. The most effective of these is set to Phantogram's "When I'm Small." A trio of couples dance happily to the tune, until one partner collapses and dies. The other makes an invocation to bring the partner back to life, but that in turn causes another to collapse. The final dance arrives at a simple equation: Masks plus Massive Attack equals Fear.
Boersma dredges her own life for the various tales of confessing sins in a strict Catholic household or detailing a day tanning that went horribly wrong. The pieces are often funny and somewhat insightful, but the joints between these parts and the dances are a bit crooked, so the whole show doesn't completely fit together.
Gentlemen, I Have Reason to Believe That One of Us Is the Thing
Joe Bozic and Gorilla Sandwich Productions hang out on the goofy side of the horror continuum as we get a low-budget version of The Thing. This time, the action has been moved to England at the turn of the 20th century, as English explorer Shackleton gathers experts from across Europe and the Americas to determine what he has brought back from the Antarctic.
A lot of the humor comes from this mismatched gang, which includes the likes of Curie, Tesla (smart, science); Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok (er, protection I guess); and Houdini (just because it is funny). As they get picked off one by one, their transformations from human to something alien comes through with the use of masks, puppets, and a final low-rent monster with pool-noodle tentacles. It all makes for a sharp and witty journey through a horror classic.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll
Tim Uren's funny examination of the depths of the soul and sexist conventions of society played at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2011. It makes a largely successful return to the Horror Festival, with its humor and insight intact.
In this version, Dr. Jekyll has created his potion, but he doesn't drink it. Instead, it gets mixed up with a decongestant meant for his maid. She gets to have her "darker" side unleashed, while the somewhat dim doctor gets his sinuses cleared. He manages to convince himself that he is a monster -- though the only way that plays out is meeting up with a prostitute.
Mary, on the other hand, has uncovered a lot of justified anger about the place of women and the lower classes in Victorian England. She takes this out on everyone she can find, including a number of college professors who get a beating until they share their knowledge with her.
The contrasts work well, and Uren scores good points about confronting our true nature, by using drugs or not. It's also just a lot of fun to watch, as a talented quartet make the best of the material.
Unusually for the company, the latest Hardcover Theater is an original work. The group is best known for adapting classic and obscure bits of literature to the stage.
The story centers on a hotshot surgeon, David, who gets dragged into a strange world of people who so hate parts of their body that they want to have them cut off. Through some blackmail, David gets ensnared in a plot to cut off the perfectly fine limbs of sufferers.
There are plenty of plot holes here that keep pushing us out of the story -- why doesn't our jerk of a hero just call security when the amputation plan is first unveiled? How are he and his wife tricked so easily by someone who is so clearly insane?
Beyond that, Hardcover's approach of miming much of the action puts this show is poor company with the rest of the festival. Part of what makes terror onstage work is its immediacy. The Surgeon never moves from being just people onstage talking.
If you didn't look at the program -- or know that this is a horror festival -- you might think that The Farmhouse is just a domestic drama with a funny edge. In it, a pair of sisters and a new husband try to move forward following the sisters' father's funeral.
Except that we know that, at play's end, the three of them will be murdered.
That gives Mike Fotis's work an almost unbearable tension. As they natter on about baked hams, Abbot and Costello, and who was the most terrible to the other in the past, we know a specter waits out in the cold and snowy Minnesota night.
And to just make it a bit more harrowing, Fotis doesn't even really indulge in the usual foreshadowing we would expect. Apart from a single glimpse of the murderer midway through, that part of the story is entirely unseen.
The show still has plenty of humor in it. It's just that we know that at some point the laughs will end and the murders will begin.
Two years ago, the Poor Nobodys crafted an original soundtrack to Night of the Living Dead. This time around, they've brought an original film for their onstage creations.
The movie is mainly a series of surreal images designed to keep the audience off balance. That's amplified by the band's moody score, which sits somewhere between Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and side three of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. The constantly shifting musical drones and the cascade of black-and-white images create an unease that sits deeper in the soul than most of the rest of the festival, as it works to alter our minds without any outside aids (though they likely could help).
IF YOU GO:
Twin Cities Horror Festival III Through Sunday The Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis $14-$15 per performance; multi-show passes $50-$75. For tickets and more information, call 612-423-4426 or visit online.