Just when you thought it was safe to go to the movie theater.…
No, snow in April isn’t the most terrifying thing to land in Milwaukee this weekend. Beginning Friday night, the first annual Twisted Dreams Film Festival will kick off at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., for a two-day collection of feature-length frights and scream-worthy shorts with the hope of, indeed, gleefully twisting its audience’s dreams into nightmares.
"Horror is unlike any other genre," said Christopher Kai House, one of the festival’s creators. "Seeing a good horror film in a darkened theater with a group of friends is the way films need to be seen. It's an experience."
The horror movie extravaganza opens at 6 p.m. with "Dark," a Joe Dante ("Gremlins") produced creep-out about a young woman trapped alone with her demons – psychological and potentially literal – during the 2003 New York City blackout.
From there, the festival will play several other horror features – the cat-and-mouse thriller "The Hike," the crazed priest on a rampage grindhouse flick "Holy Hell" and the paranormal freak-out "In the Dark," the weekend’s closing night selection – along with a hefty selection of shorts spanning from across the state, across the country and across the full spectrum of the horror genre.
There are moody haunts ("Awakenings") next to sci-fi tinged screamers ("Dark Watch") next to gory shockers ("Inhumane") next to horror comedies ("PMS: Pre-teen Monster Syndrome") next to grindhouse affairs ("Tough Cookie") next to … something involving a thumb-man, fittingly called "The Life and Times of Thomas Thumb Jr."
"There are so many types of horror films from horror comedy to grindhouse to psychological thrillers," said Twisted Dreams Film Festival co-creator Stephen Milek. "We wanted to have a festival where you can see all types of horror."
" (We looked for) unique films that haven't been seen much," House added. "We want to give fest goers new experiences. We are very proud of the films we selected."
In addition to the spine-chilling silver screen entertainment, the festival is bringing in some equally freaky off-screen amusement, including members of Dead’s Man Carnival, cheekily chilling classic horror hosts, Milwaukee indie filmmaking icon Mark Borchardt and local magician Luka.
The Twisted Dreams Film Festival may be based in horror, but according to House and Milek, its origins began simply as a laugh between film-loving friends.
"It started out more as joking between us that every city around Milwaukee had a horror film fest except Milwaukee," House said. "We felt we deserved one too, so we jokingly said if we want one we should do it ourselves. Jokes turned to a serious talk with Ross Bigley of the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. He gave us the encouragement we needed."
"Also when the folks at the Chicago Horror Film Festival started a horror film festival in Madison, we felt they missed a great opportunity to tap into the horror fans here," Milek added. "And after going to a few of the other film festivals in Milwaukee, we felt horror movies were underrepresented. So we posted on Facebook to see if people would be interested, and it turned out lots of people were."
With the idea and the proof of interest in tow, House and Milek began putting together the nightmare film festival of their dreams, finding the right location for the screenings, gathering sponsors, building buzz and – of course – snagging the right movies for the two-day scream-filled spectacular.
"Really, we looked for movies that we enjoyed and scared us and thought others would like," Milek explained. "It’s really that simple."
"The response has been greater than we expected," House added. "We received many more submissions than I think we expected."
Many of those numerous submissions also came pleasantly from local filmmakers – enough so that the festival was able to set aside a shorts block Saturday night solely dedicated to Milwaukee-made horror shorts.
Milwaukee is rarely brought up as a mecca for filmmakers – despite UWM’s long reputation as a strong film school – and the past elimination of the tax credit program for film work has taken the city off the map for many productions, big and small. However, as the increasing popularity of the Milwaukee Film Festival – as well the appearance of smaller festivals like Twisted Dreams and the upcoming Women’s Film Festival in August – has shown, the film community and scene in the Cream City, both in terms of critical consumers and in creators, is slowly yet surely growing.
"There are a wealth of great filmmakers and screenings here in Milwaukee that go largely under the radar," House noted. "People want to see the biggest Hollywood blockbusters because of their advertising, not because they are necessarily good."
"(The scene) is definitely growing, and we are happy to be at least a small part of it," Milek said.
They hope the Twisted Dreams Film Festival will continue to be a part of it as well. Though its inaugural journey has yet to begin, House and Milek have already begun to talk about next year’s addition.
"The sky is the limit," House said. "Who knows the future? We will grow as the fans grow with us."
Good news for movie fans; terrible news for their future sleep habits.
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.