By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 19, 2024 at 5:01 PM

Orson Welles. Don Ameche. Mark Ruffalo. Kenosha has gifted Hollywood with some of its biggest movie stars. Some of the city's most beloved cinematic figures, however, are still found right in town – and aren't found in the actual movies. 

They're horror hosts, heartfelt fans of all things freaky and frightening who dress up as macabre characters to playfully guide their audiences – originally on public access television, now often on the internet – through horror movie classics, from the beloved to the unrepentant B-movies. And strangely, Kenosha has a surprisingly large number of these kitschy characters – borderline "Friday the 13th" sequel-esque in terms of quantity (but certainly greater in quality). At the time of a 2021 Milwaukee Magazine profile by Tea Krulos, the city played host to four different horror hosts; Milwaukee, meanwhile, had none to shriek speak of. 

Even with all the makeup and ghoulish gags, normally it's the hosts' job to share a spotlight with their movie of choice – but thanks to a new locally-made documentary at the Milwaukee Film Festival, it's their turn to truly be the featured presentation.

Based on Krulos' article, "I'm Your Host" brings audiences into Kenosha's heeby-jeeby-inducing yet wholesome world of horror hosts, unmasking the characters underneath the characters and even spilling some real tears to go along with spilling fake blood. After a work-in-progress screening at last fall's horror-centric Twisted Dreams Film Festival, the doc made its official debut this past week at the Times Cinema during the Milwaukee Film Festival.

Before it (be)heads back to the big screen for two more showings – Sunday, April 21 at 8:30 p.m. at the Avalon, as well as Wednesday, April 24 at 9:15 p.m. at the Downer – I sat down to chat with the film's director and editor, Alicia Krupsky, to find out how a non-horror fan wound up amongst the biggest horror heads around, her inspirations for the film and what makes Kenosha's horror host world such a killer community. 

OnMilwaukee: What got you into movies? What were some of those formative movie moments for you?

Alicia Krupsky: I actually started off being very interested in animation. I was a big fan of Tim Burton growing up and Pixar. When I first started in high school, doing a pre-college animation program at MIAD, I realized that I don’t think I can do drawing over and over and over again.

It seems like an extremely stressful and tedious process. I don’t understand how any animated movie gets made. 

Yeah, I feel like you have to like to suffer a little bit. But then I also really liked cameras. I played around a lot with cameras and grew up in that perfect age where my parents had one of those camcorders. I would flip the screen around and look at my own face and be like, “Oh, that’s weird that I look off-camera.” So I decided in high school that I was going to switch from art to film, and so I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York for filmmaking.

And then you came back to Milwaukee?

Yeah, right before the pandemic, actually. In 2019, I came back. I’d just gotten exhausted in New York, and I missed home. So I was like, “OK, I think I need grass and family and Wisconsin nice-ness again.” So I came back and didn’t do any film projects until my friend put me in touch with Tea, who did this article about horror hosts. My specialty was documentary, so I thought this sounded like a really fun project.

Were horror hosts something you had an awareness of before starting this movie?

I didn’t! I joke that I’m more of an existential dread fan than a horror fan. I like sci-fi – but there’s a lot of camp in sci-fi, too. And I watched “Mystery Science Theater,” which could kind of be a horror host, but I think it’s a different aesthetic. But I did not know anything besides Elvira – and I knew her in more of a fashion way – until I read Tea’s article. And then I asked my parents and uncle about it, and their eyes lit up and they started talking about horror hosts. I think it is a really American creation, in the era of cable before YouTube. But yeah, I didn’t know much about it, but I really liked this comedic spin on horror and how these people are able to make you laugh while also being spooky and jump-scary.

What was your favorite thing you learned from talking with these horror hosts and going into this world?

It’s hard because it was such a fun group of people. I think the most exciting thing is how truly DIY it is. It seems like such a buzzword – like “independent,” which sometimes doesn’t really mean anything anymore – but I would show up to Dr. Destruction’s haunted house on Jerry Smith’s Pumpkin Farm in Kenosha, and he would be building everything. They’re all doing multiple things and doing side things – like making hot sauce or doing their own YouTube channels. The scene has punk music, metal music, art, modeling, acting, photography – they all are multi-hyphenates in a way, and they’re always a pleasure to be around. It’s just a very fun, little scene that doesn’t try to be pretentious or anything like that; it’s truly about a love of horror. They can talk about it like a historian but make you laugh the whole way through.

For people who aren’t horror fans, why should they see a movie about horror hosts?

One, it’s not scary. I’ve sent the trailer to a few friends, and they’ve been like, “So is it a horror movie?” And I’m like, “No, it’s a documentary about people who love horror movies.” It’s about these people – these comedians, more than anything – who will teach you how to, at least, dance with horror a little bit. I changed my mind about horror a little bit after working with them.

How so?

I recognized how much fun a jump-scare could be. I did not like them at all until that point, but then I went to see Dr. Destruction do an interview with his producer. I turned this corner, and he turns around, and he jumps – I scared him on accident – and he burst out laughing and saying, “You got me!” And I was like, OK, so this is this interaction where you’re trying to scare each other a little bit, get that jump and that adrenaline rush. It’s not about disturbing you; it’s about making you jump a little bit and wake up.

So I think the film is about these really lovely people who almost hold your hand through a horror movie. They pop up in the middle to make you laugh a little bit and bring you back down before you’re back in the horror movie. For a very long time, in every single city, there’s a figure like this who sits with you while you’re watching a horror movie. And it’s a good introduction to horror, where you’re not just thrown in and terrified. 

Like a built-in exhale.

Yeah, and it’s campy and goofy. It’s a great break. 

Did you have a documentarian or documentary in mind when you were assembling the movie? A perspective or approach you wanted to bring to this story?

There is this documentary called “Hail Satan?” that I was watching a little bit. A lot of the camerawork is found footage and shaky handheld stuff, and I felt like it felt more intimate because some of it was on the phone. And I think that sense of humor and irony and self-awareness was very inspiring for me. Because I’m making a movie about horror, but I’m not trying to make it scary. I’m trying to make it very human and fun and just tell their story as they say it. So I think that movie did a lot for me, as far as helping me think, “I can do this.”

How does it feel now to bring the finished product to the Milwaukee Film Festival?

It’s a little surreal, I’m not going to lie. I almost don’t know how to handle it. My last screening was my senior thesis in New York, and this feels way more like a big deal, just because it’s home and several different theaters. I’m going to be kind of shy and red and blushing and embarrassed – but very excited.

When you stare at a piece for two years, you see every single little crack in it and every stitch you put in. So I hope people have a really good time – and for me, it’s such a nice way to wrap it up: to bring it home.

"I'm Your Host" will screen at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival on Sunday, April 21 at 8:30 p.m. at the Avalon, as well as Wednesday, April 24 at 9:15 p.m. at the Downer. For tickets and more info, click here

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.