Theatre Bizarre 2014: a review in three scenes



The Leech Doktor and I agree that if October is the best month of the year, then Theatre Bizarre is the month’s pinnacle. This past weekend we indulged ourselves at both the Gala preview and The Illusionists’ Ball, leaving with many stories to tell. Thankfully, there is no single answer to the question, “What is Theatre Bizarre?” Allow me to offer you a review in three scenes.
From Clipboard
What I told my mother
Why, Theatre Bizarre is a beautiful costume party! People dress up in wonderful, elegant costumes, and then they spend the evening dancing away at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. There is every imaginable costume! Royalty, storybook characters, ghosts and ghouls, and vampires of course. The Doktor and I wore masks that he made, and he wore his tuxedo, and I wore a long black taffeta skirt. We talked with friends, and watched the shows, and danced ’til all hours. We slept like babies!

Photo by Michael Smith

Photo by Michael Smith

What I told my best friend
IMG_3546Why, Theatre Bizarre is an outrageous and exciting costume party event! People dress up in dream-like or nightmarish costumes, and then they spend the evening exploring the secret chambers at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. The costumes are incredible! Babydolls with gigantic heads, steampunk gentlemen, Leeloo from the 5th Element, ghosts and ghouls, and vampires of course. The Doktor and I wore original Comedia del’Arte masques to the Gala, and he wore his blue tuxedo, and I wore a silver striped corset and a black taffeta skirt. For the second night, we donned rather frightening skull masks, and I delighted in the double-takes of the other revelers! We visited with friends and strangers, and watched burlesque shows, and danced ’til all hours to live music including David J of Bauhaus singing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” We slept like rocks… after the Doktor satisfied his Roxi-inspired fantasies!

What I tell my therapist
Why, Theatre Bizarre is a playground, a dazzling and frightening vision, a clearing in the woods where the Bacchanal is celebrated– and I willingly succumb! In my safe disguises, I follow the costumed throng to explore the secret chambers at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. Baby dolls with bloated heads and tentacles, French aristocrats, naughty nuns, red horned devils, witches, ghosts and ghouls, full-body paint and a lack of clothing! I hid behind the original Comedia del’Arte mask, and from the safety of that anonymity, took in the event. For the second night, we donned frightening skull masks, and I delighted in scaring and leering at the other revelers! We curiously watched the burlesque dancers including Roxi DLite‘s final performance of Zombo’s Funeral/Resurrection and Hayley Jane, the suspension rigs, the rope work that balanced and manipulated an almost naked young woman above the floor, the BDSM play by Lady Pain and her Tortured Souls. And we danced in a haze of strobe lights and smoke. My dreams were haunted by naked women wearing huge oxen heads, ghouls waving their arms at me, monsters, murderers, and witches that I followed through dark hallways, wondering What does it all mean? And how long until I can go back again?


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Nerve’s Alice on Opening Night

tworabbitsThere are no innocent bystanders, not at immersive theatre productions like nerve’s Alice (running until the end of October) so a traditional theatre review nearly misses the point. What I got out of the opening night performance was a function of where I chose to move, what I chose to witness, how I chose to interact. Your Mileage Most Assuredly Will Vary. And therein lies much of the delight.

For me, Alice was a darkly fun meditation on identity, a fantasia about authenticity and the sorrows brought by its lapses, played through fresh presentations of characters I thought I knew. I’m told all the dialogue is actually Lewis Carroll’s words, drawn from both the Alice books and from his poetry. You think you know Alice? Think again. This adaption from Kathe Koja and Steve Xander Carson opens a new doorway to access the world.

I’d experienced several of Nerve’s pop-up performances, the relatively light-hearted game-like interventions they’ve staged in the area but honestly I wasn’t prepared for such a serious piece. From the Caterpillar’s opening soliloquy to the Carpenter’s benediction, Alice asked “who are you?” and showed various ways of answering and of avoiding the question. Tweedledee, for instance, looked obsessively for a soul mate while constantly projecting her own inner emptiness. But there was true heart-felt connection also in this Wonderland, glimpsed for instance in the poignant moment when the Hare bids farewell to Rabbit. Even the insane chattering at the Hatter’s tea party recalled the familiar repartee of old friends, the crazy broken record conversations longtime companions often lapse into.

Scattered around these scripted segments were various opportunities for audience interaction. I played ring toss in a game room where horrors were transformed into amusements, where score was tallied pointlessly and where the prizes were more debt– oddly reminiscent of many suburban rec rooms. I didn’t spend much time in the garden though I contributed a quick sketch to the prompt “What does beauty look like?”

But Wonderland was not all fun and games. Lurking around the scenes constantly were the Red Queen and Pale King whose creepy-sexy interplay of raw power and bizarre subjection was deliciously disturbing. When they brutally murdered two of the characters, I seriously thought I should intervene. The truest antidote to such atrocity was the Carpenter’s poetry, a few chance lines muttered in the dark.

Choose-your-own-adventure productions like Alice inevitably– intentionally, in fact– mean that no single audience member can see it all. I largely lost track of W. Rabbit, for instance, though I bet she was disturbed by the messy chaos of the sets. Alice is not a conventional night at the theatre. Stay home and watch re-runs if you want to sit in a chair. I can imagine a product warning label:

Caution: Alice involves running; darkness, both physical and existential; confusion; unscripted interactions; strobe lights and screams. Not ideal for children under 14 or adults who are smug and complacent.

But if you’re game, the hole to this Wonderland is only open ’til the end of October, with a special performance on Hallowe’en night. Need more convincing? Read the playbill here.

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Winner of Second Annual “Impy” for Short Form Cinematic Horror: “I Owe You”

The Winner of the Second Annual “Impy” award for Cinematic Excellence in Short Horror is “I Owe You” directed by Mike McNeese for Hands Off Productions of Columbus, Ohio. We state pretty clearly in our rules that the Impy recognizes excellence in Midwest Snob Horror for films screened at the Three Corpse Circus, defining “Midwest” by a list of qualifying states “with the possible exception of Ohio.” However, we at the DailyNightmare, based in Ann Arbor, MI, are over-joyed to make an exception for this fine film. I hope the talented folks at Hands Off don’t mind that, in lieu of a cash prize this year, we’re offering a gift certificate at the M Go Blue Gift Shop.

All kidding aside, let me enumerate the glories of this cinematic gem. “I Owe You” is a taut thriller, telling the story of two friends estranged for five years whose paths cross again after a tragic event. Will they settle old debts or seal their own doom?

Impy2“I Owe You” features a great economy of effect, like the best thrillers. The camera work is masterful without being showy or mannered. Smooth tracking shots give energy to the scenes. Each shot matters to the narrative whole. The actors are all solid, especially the two principals, Brian Spangler and Johnny Diloretto, who convey a believable repartee and character mannerisms. They sold every line.

And each line in “I Owe You” matters. Many films at the Three Corpse Circus had an equally strong visual sensibility and some even had acting of a similar excellence. What propelled “I Owe You” to the forefront, in our judges’ opinion, was the clean storyline and the spare expressiveness of the script, penned by Randall Greenland. I sincerely didn’t see it coming.

For its uncluttered look and feel, great performances and killer screenplay, we at are extremely proud to award this year’s Impy award to “I Owe You.”

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An Interview with Kathe Koja about nerve and their upcoming production of Alice


Just when we thought October could not get any better, nerve’s production of Alice graces all the remaining weekends of the month. We have been following the development of this immersive theater experience with great interest and caught several of the pop-up lead-up performances, including “Welcome to the Rabbit Hole” and “Brillig“. Playing along with the characters in those settings has only heightened our anticipation for the production. Be advised that tickets are available through advance sales only; a special Halloween performance invites the audience to enjoy donning costumes and joining in a non-tea party.

This week, I had the chance to sit down, albeit electronically, with director Kathe Koja, and ask the questions that have been weighing heavily on me about the origins and influences that will bring Alice to the stage, as it were. Her answers and insights reveal the excitement and magic that underlines the creativity generated in nurturing live productions.

DailyNightmare: Honestly, I know you mostly through your fiction. What first attracted you to live theatre? Did something in particular solidify your interest enough to found a company?

Koja: It was the Poppy that brought me to theatre as a maker. After collaborating to create the book trailer, I saw that this novel had a performance dimension I needed to explore, which led to lots of research, a trip to the Boston production of Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More,” and then to my own series of Poppy pops-ups, culminating in the full production in April 2013. And, since outrageous amounts of fun were being had, and it was a new way for me to create a story … Here we are.

DailyNightmare: The risks of live theatre are like the risks of life in that they don’t all end in horrific tragedy. Can you share any happy accidents in Nerve’s history where unplanned events turned out wonderfully?

Koja: Not to tempt fate, but so many of our accidents have been happy ones! Such as: the music director of the First UU in Detroit volunteering not only to play the church’s glorious pipe organ for our FAUSTUS performances, but select and devise music for us, too. Or the turn of the century desk-that-turned-into-a-bed that was discovered in the POPPY venue basement (by its owner, who texted me “Guess what I found for Rupert’s office!”). We work to leave room for the gifts we receive, every time.

DailyNightmare: Nerve specializes in totally immersive theatre events that provide a playground for grown-ups. It’s been a long time since some of us played, however. Are there specific qualities a prospective audience member should remember to bring to one of your performances?

Koja: To get the most out of a nerve performance, curiosity is your best tool: come ready to explore, and to interact with the performers if they reach out to you – or not, if you wish to be a viewing patron only. There’s no “correct” way to experience one of our events. But whichever way you choose, give yourself permission to let the moment happen, and let yourself play.

DailyNightmare: Immersive theatre offers satisfactions that are somewhat different than the climax of a tightly constructed plot. Do you have any tricks or tips for opening up a narrative or a script to allow the multiple lines of engagement?

Koja: Performative fiction is our name for what nerve does, and it’s exactly that, opening up a text (book, play, whatever) to allow us to play in the interstices, and find the way not through the story, but into it. To immerse ourselves, as if it were real live life, so we can open the door for the audience to join us.

DailyNightmare: What the heck is up with the puppets?

Koja: Oh, the puppets. Are there any actors more theatrical, more indestructible, more beautifully inscrutable? I had no idea I was a puppet partisan until I started researching Under the Poppy, and I immediately loved the playful anarchy that is the puppet’s natural habitat. They are fully free as performers, they can do anything…. And a puppet need not be a traditional figure – our constructed co-performers, from the POPPY trio to Helen of Troy in FAUSTUS and Puppet Alice in ALICE, have no strings attached at all.

DailyNightmare: Why Alice?

Koja: When we started to think about adapting “Alice in Wonderland,” we had to answer that question first – there have been a whole bunch of Wonderlands, why one more? The answer nerve embraced was Alice as everyman/everywoman, as a traveler through life, exploring (or caught by) the way-stations of dread and pleasure, codependence and capitalism, chaos out of hand … Hence: ALICE. Alice alive to the human condition, as the Carpenter who made it all and the Pale King who spins it all enact their endless dance. It’s a morality play, with violence and tea.

DailyNightmare: I’ve experienced a couple of the pop up performances. They have their own delights but how do they relate to the full production? i.e. are they advertising to build buzz, or rehearsals of fragments or actor prep exercises to learn audience provocation…?

Koja: We offered four pop-ups to lead the way into ALICE: “Welcome to the Rabbithole,” “The Pale King’s Tea,” “Brillig!”, and “Follow Us to Wonderland.” Each was a facet of the larger story, a way for people to meet the characters, a way to open the door of Wonderland into the “real” world. And a way to have fun with chalk, plastic flutes, a storefront stage, and the quality of the sunset seen through rain. And for nerve to make new friends.

DailyNightmare: Even though DailyNightmare is ostensibly a “horror” website, we feel that horror is best seen as the handmaiden of hope. What are a couple things that fill you with hope right now, in the world, in culture, anywhere?

Koja: What gives me hope always is the optimism of the young – not just in years, but young-minded, elastic, questioning, brave – that keeps the wheel of life turning. Pain is inevitable, but play gives us the energy to continue. Which is why I insist on fun: that’s where grace resides, where the mystery comes in, to give what we most need but never could expect.

Thank you, Kathe, for this interview and for the invitation to come play with Nerve in a new and novel Wonderland this month.

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The Three Corpse Circus has come to town!

A hard core crowd of horror fans and film lovers braved the autumn rains to attend the Three Corpse Circus retrospective bash Terrors & Treats at Bona Sera last night. Festival mastermind Chris Anderson screened a selection of highlights from the last five years, choice shorts from around the world. Since I am a die-hard attendee of the Circus, I’d seen many of these works before but another viewing felt like seeing old friends. The films ran the gamut from stylized Brazillian weirdness to body horror, from amusing to unsettling but a dozen different kinds of horrific fun.

Did you miss out on this party? No worries. The Circus is in town all week with various events.

Tonight, at the B-Side in Ann Arbor, Three Corpse Circus and First Friday present Lights Out, a horror film festival, followed by music with Byrdrock and Tek-Mazter. Admission is $5, but the first 25 people get in free.

And later tonight is Circo de Tres Cadaveres Extravaganza, a MIDNIGHT MOVIE of the quite insane Spanish-language horror films from the past five years showing at the State Theater. This stuff is crazy.

Saturday is an afternoon showing of the Greek feature film, The Runaway Day, at the State Theater at 1:30pm. It’s not your mega-mart horror, not even Hollywood genre horror. This is a different look at the end of the world.

Saturday night is another MIDNIGHT MOVIE at the State Theater, this time featuring the best splatter and gore films from the past five years. Honestly, this style isn’t my favorite but there are a couple true gems in here that I can’t resist.

Sunday of course is the Big Top, the full day of horror films, puppets, fashion and fun at the Michigan Theatre. The three blocks of movies start at 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm.

Festival passes will get you into all of the festivities. You can get your tickets ahead of time or at the door and put some Three Corpse Circus into your weekend!

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Come One, Come All to Three Corpse Circus, 2014

The Three Corpse Circus, that annual festival of international short horror films, is rolling into Ann Arbor this week with several days of entertainment.

The Big Top event, so to speak — a whole day of short horror — happens on Sunday, October 5th at the historic Michigan Theatre. The Opening Ceremony kicks off at 2pm, followed by a block of films; the “Animated and Weird” films begin at 5pm and “Grindhouse II” block starts at 8pm. This year, the delightful marionettes of Dreamland Theatre will be performing in the lobby. Tickets are on-sale now and at the door.

I’ve viewed some of the offerings and I can honestly say this is the best crop of submissions thus far. The Three Corpse Circus show on Sunday will feature 30 films from 13 countries– the Corpse’s widest reach to date.

I’ll be on-hand –wearing my purple suit– to award the second annual Impy Award for cinematic excellence. This prize is a handsome statue by sculptor Jeremy Haney plus a cash award. Wanna know who wins this year? Take your seat.

But there’s also a long midway of fun leading up to the festival.

On Thursday the 2nd at Bona Sera Underground in downtown Ypsilanti, the festival kicks off with Terrors & Treats, a free showing of highlights from the first 5 years of the Three Corpse Circus and party.

On Friday, Oct 3 at 7pm, Three Corpse Circus and the B-Side present Lights Out, ahorror film festival followed by music with Byrdrock and Tek-Mazter. Admission is $5, but the first 25 people get in free.

On Friday at midnight at the State Theater, the Three Corpse Circus will present a MIDNIGHT SHOWING of Spanish-language horror shorts in their Circo de Tres Cadaveres Extravaganza! For some reason, Spain has been cranking out inventive, twisted visions and this program will give the audience a peek into that storehouse. I have always depended upon the kindness of subtitles.

Saturday at the State Theater at 1:15pm , 3CC will sponsor the showing of its first feature film, The Runaway Day. This is NOT a traditional genre “horror” movie, though this movie from Greece promises to leave the audience chilled and mystified.

On Saturday, at midnight, follow the Circus to the State Theatre for another MIDNIGHT SHOWING of splatter films. I am normally NOT a fan of this sub-genre but I’ve seen a couple of the pieces that will be screened and I’m impressed. A low budget sometimes forces a clever take on stunts, special effects and cinematics. Prepare for cringes and chuckles mixed in with this block.

For more details, check out the Three Corpse Circus on the web and on Facebook. The Circus comes to town but once a year — get your tickets and settle back for a great show.

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Nerve in Ferndale

Hare-HeraldA busking musician wearing bunny-ears played trumpet in front of the Boston Tea Room tonight — not entirely a-typical for Ferndale — but this particular horn-player heralded the last of Nerve’s pop up performances before their full production of “Alice” premieres on October 10th. For those who’ve known where to look, Nerve’s Wonderland has been erupting all over the Detroit area in recent months (like here and here), brief moments of madness and play inspired loosely by the works of Lewis Carroll. Based on what I’ve experienced of these renegade performances, you’ll want to get tickets. You’ll want to get tickets now.


Tonight’s theatrical appetizer starred the White Rabbit, who distributed chalk and encouraged passersby to draw their favorite Wonderland character right on the sidewalk. That’s one magic of a Nerve show: performers aren’t roped off on an elevated stage but rather they mingle with the audience, often starting right on city streets, and provoke interaction. Only a few folks refused the chalk and many of the pictures showed hidden talents.


Rabbit then used this initial interaction as a base for her performance. She hurried (hopped?) among the chalk sketches, commenting and critiquing them in character. For instance, Rabbit seemed to disapprove of the depiction of the Caterpillar, a creature who “lacked organization” in her estimation, and she referred to a portrait of Alice as “that interloper.” White Rabbit was particularly upset by the picture I’d drawn of her and was concerned I’d actually drawn the March Hare. Every attempt I made to modify my tribute seemed to just make matters worse. Poor Rabbit, so worried and rule bound, both perpetually tardy and guilt-ridden about it. I also got to chat with the March Hare who seemed to take a more elevated, perhaps grandiose attitude toward the pictures. We bantered back and forth about the proper name for the rabbit I’d created and I over-heard him making rather grand pronouncements about someone’s Doremouse sketch.


Eventually, the Caterpillar in the window took center-stage. Rabbit warned us not to pay too much attention to this sheet-wrapped figure who writhed and digested several large encyclopediae. These tomes seemed opened to pages about moths and butterflies, as if reading self-help books is the key to personal transformation. The Caterpillar wriggled from the window and crawled through the store, shedding its pale skin as it went. Alas, Caterpillar hid away in a back room before we could see its final metamorphosis.

After this brief tease, Wonderland closed its doors again. Rabbit is quite the rule-follower; tickets, for the full production including a special performance on Hallowe’en, are available only through advance purchase. We’ve got ours! Plan ahead so you can follow Rabbit into Wonderland as well.


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Coffin-Building Advice from a Master Woodworker

Graphic source:

Graphic source:

Funerals and wakes are great parties thrown on one day the guest of honor can’t enjoy them. Master woodworker Chris Schwarz presents one way around that conundrum, sort of, in this description of a coffin-building party.

Chris Schwartz is the best popularizer of hand-powered wood working of his generation. His manifesto The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is a wise and skilled reflection on the simple collection of hand tools necessary to build most furniture, as well as instructions on making a handsome chest in which to store them. He writes with a wry wit and practice-honed insight. In a recent blogpost, Schwarz describes his experience of building the last piece of furniture he’ll like use, his own coffin.

The style he chose featured a tricky but elegant design that bends the boards used on the sides. To accomplish this feat, a fire is built in the cavity of the coffin which helps coax the necessary bending. This stunt required assistants and what better way to summon helpers than by having a coffin-building party.

We’re written before about home-grown funerals. I myself built a couple practice coffins using a modified toe-pincher style construction which I use for bookshelves. To be honest, my attempts weren’t entirely satisfactory, but the results are distinctive, functional book-holding shelves as well as “conversation pieces”. Even as a non-master woodworker, I totally comprehend the urge to build my own coffin. It’s yet another way of getting more comfortable with and recognizing one’s own mortality. I wouldn’t mind a couple dozen more years though to improve my woodworking skills and get used to the thought.

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Support IndieHorror.TV and the future of independent horror film-making

Robert Poole is a modest, rather mild mannered guy… and the evil genius behind IndieHorror.TV. Most every weekend for the past couple years, IndieHorror.TV has streamed an evening full of scary movies, supplemented by live Q&As with directors and actors, features and interviews, plenty of gory goodies that I guarantee you haven’t seen before. These flicks are never going to show at your local megaplex and honestly, many of these titles won’t even get direct to video distribution. What these micro-budget shockers may lack in slick production values, they more than make up in freshness and spark, not to mention the accessibility to the artists provided by IndieHorror.TV. When was the last time you had a live chat with Michael Bay?

Oh, and did I mention all this creepy content was free?

Not that financial contributions wouldn’t be appreciated, especially right now. In fact, IndieHorror.TV is at a cross roads. Robert is running a Kickstarter campaign to increase the quality of their streaming service and, like most crowdfunding projects, they’re offering a bunch of nifty premiums as well. I already snapped up an autographed monster figure and I might contribute again before the campaign closes on October 2.

Consider tossing them a couple bucks, even if you haven’t yet watched one of their shows.

Why? Because IndieHorror.TV provides an interesting, possibly essential role in fostering the next generation of truly cutting edge horror. One of the most exciting movements in contemporary culture is micro-budget film-making. Cheap powerful video technology is now so widely accessible that nearly everyone with a passion and a pulse can make a motion picture. One trouble is that the distribution of these cinematic visions is still not well evolved. Yes, shorter pieces pop up on Youtube or Vimeo, and there is a vibrant festival circuit for longer works. IndieHorror.TV provides a better distribution option, delivering these evil visions to hungry eyeballs. The benefit goes both ways. Horror fans get to see creations that are often far outside the safe and predictable mainstream-scream factory, and these micro-budget film-makers get access to candid feedback with their audiences.

Sure, not every movie-maker will go on to create the next fresh shock, but already IndieHorror.TV has clued me into a couple production teams I’m keeping an eye on. For instance, director Scott Schirmer and others involved in making Found (2012) (which gained distribution from October People) and Danny Delpurgatorio (whose Other (2012) won the Impy and is now in production as a feature-length movie.)

And without IndieHorror.TV I never would have encountered the truly bizarre work of Toledo based film-maker Dustin Mills. Look for a review of his Puppet Monster Massacre(2010) movie soon.

The real value of IndieHorror.TV, as I see it, is to nurture these films and, more importantly, these filmmakers. Send ‘em $15. And tune in to IndieHorror.TV to watch new, upcoming and surprising horror films and filmmakers.

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How to Haunt Your Home, Part Two: setting the stage

Zed's Hat

By Michael Cieslak

Welcome to part two of our discussion of how to haunt your home. As noted in our first installment, we’re investigating what is required to turn your residence into something fantastically frightening for Halloween.

In terms of full disclosure, I should let you know that my own level of haunting is probably somewhere around Beginner+ to Intermediate-. I have multiple fog machines, an extensive light array, and pneumatics. I both purchase and make my own props. I do have some experience with mask creation and foam latex prop making, but not much. My soldering skills are non-existent.

Oh, you can call me Zed.

Last time around, we discussed the importance of having a centralized theme around which your haunt is based. To explore this further, why don’t we take a quick look at two of the biggest haunts in the area, Realm of Darkness and Erebus. Both are located in Pontiac, but each approaches the idea of theme in a different way.

Realm of Darkness features the classic Quest To Defeat The Wizard. Visitors are lead through a medieval castle filled with various monsters and ghouls until they reach the Wizard at the end. All of the characters and props fits this theme.

Erebus, on the other hand, tells the story of a mad scientist who creates a rift in time and space which allows all manner of horrible things to fall into our world. Using this pretense, the owners can explain areas of science fiction technology next to dinosaurs, swamps inside of a building, and zombies and madmen inhabiting the same space.

So how do you choose your theme? The easiest way to decide is think about what scares you. If there is an idea which creeps you out, odds are it will do the same to someone else. Also, take a look at what you already have purchased. If you have already started building up a supply of props, get them out and see what they have in common. You might have your answer right there.

There are a number of staples for the haunted house which you might want to invest in. These include:

Spiders and webbing — Nothing says “old and creepy” like cobwebs, and spiders rank among snakes and heights as the things most people are afraid of. Large spider webs are also readily available at Halloween stores and are an inexpensive way to start making your house look frightening. The downside to this is that everyone else on the block will have them as well. If you do go the spider route, you might want to invest in a webspinner, a simple device that is essentially a hot glue gun with a fan attachment. This blows the hot glue wherever you point it (wind permitting) and creates gorgeous spiderwebs.

Tombstones — The cemetery is a staple backdrop, whether you are featuring zombies, ghosts, skeletons, or just something eery. They are also inexpensive, fairly easy to make, and an efficient way to make your haunt look bigger than it is. Placing large tombstones in the front of the yard and progressively smaller ones as the boneyard continues rearward will create a forced perspective effect, and the illusion that the space is much larger.

Skulls, skeletons, and bones — We’ve all got them under our skin, but for some reason people are freaked out by bones. You can use full sized skeletons as scares, skulls as background decorations, or bones in the hands of your zombies and werewolves for an added ick factor. I recommend the 4th Rate Bucky Skeleton, available from a variety of retailers, including The Skeleton Store and the Skeleton Factory. Bucky is an anatomically correct skeleton, quite sturdy (I’ve had mine for ten years or more), and it won’t break your bank.

Fog-Machines — We will go into more detail on fog machines in a later post, but they are a great way to add atmosphere.

A number of resources will help you get ideas for your haunt and in some cases learn how to make your own props.

If you are in the Metro Detroit Area, you should check out the Motor City Haunt Club. This group of haunters and horror fans meets once a month on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy. They discuss prop creation, lighting, sounds, fog machines, and just about everything else related to home haunting. Meetings usually feature a how-to demonstration of a Make and Take session where attendees create a prop during the meeting.

On-line Resources:
The internet is an ever-changing landscape. A number of websites devoted to home haunting are only occasionally updated, but they are plenty of archives of useful information which has already been posted. These include the Home Haunters Association, Home Haunt News, and Halloween Show.

Several national conventions devoted to professional Haunted Attractions can be fantastic opportunities to learn. Although some of the material may be beyond the scope of the average home haunter, there are usually also panel discussions and demonstrations which can be applied on a smaller scale. Most feature a sales floor featuring all sorts of ghoulish goodies as well. Some of the biggest and best include HauntCon, TransWorld, the Mid-West Haunters Convention, and local favorite the Great Lakes Fright Fest.

Other Material:
I recommend the following material for anyone interested in bigger, scarier Halloween material:
Boneyard Productions DVD set: Includes Horrific Haunted House Tips, Scenery Made Easy, Scares Made Frightfully Easy, and The Official guide to Haunted House Actor Training and Operations Management.

The DC Prop Builder’s Handbook: Devious Concoctions Custom Un-Earthed Creations Volumes 1 and 2. These books are excellent resources which cover everything from corpse and coffin creation to building pneumatic lifters.

Grande Illusions: Books I & II by Savini, Tom (2013) Paperback. The master of horror make-up illustrates some of the best of his cinematic creations including behind the scenes material on how they were constructed.

Stay tuned for more tips, tricks and guidance for building your best Halloween haunt yet.

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Alice in Ypsi


A quasi-legal street performance of Brillig, a snippet of Nerve’s Alice, erupted in downtown Ypsilanti last Friday, a couple blocks from that oh-so-phallic Water Tower, just down the way from the Heritage Festival and in front of a church where (allegedly) a wedding rehearsal took place. The juxtaposition added context. Call it sudden theatre, guerrilla spectacle, maybe aesthetic shenanigans, the proceedings had an overall religious feel (maybe just “relig-ish?”) blended with a raucous rule-bending of theatrical expectations. These performers eschewed the mystic darkness of a black box stage and brought their Wonderland to city streets.

Director-provacateur Kathe Koja arrived first, parading with her riddle stick, enticing passersby. Soon the Carpenter ushered in a noisy procession of the March Hare, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter. As cars drove past, blaring their horns in solidarity, the Carpenter then intoned a solemn poem about (I think) the origins of Wonderland that felt like genuine Lewis Carroll, though I fought my pedant’s urge to consult the text. Apocryphal or echte, the rhyme certainly conjured that wacky mood found beyond the Looking Glass. After being politely baptized with Mad Hatter’s tea, audience members were issued random instruments and deputized as an impromptu marching orchestra. Together we serenaded Ypsilanti, up and down several blocks, before coming to rest at the feet of a Madonna in a park. All too soon, the service was over and the performers whisked away, leaving a whimsical blessing.
Let me share the benediction: Wonderland is nearer than you think. In fact, tickets are now on sale for the full performance October 2014.

Posted in Art, Dissections, Performances | 1 Comment

3DKitBash: Your Source for 3-D Skull Models

kitbash1You felt like a Mad Scientist, didn’t you, the day you got that 3-D printer, whether it was a MakerBot, a Cube or a home-brewed RepRap… but, admit it, the let-down set in as soon as you tried printing your own skulls. Brain bones are wickedly cool but also notoriously complex items to model. The devious geniuses at 3DKitBash have you covered with their high quality digital 3-D models, shown here printed in an oddly appropriate hunter’s orange.


Their “BoneHeads” collection features models of various skulls, including dragon, sabre-tooth and alligator, all rendered with lovingly organic-feeling texture. At least of couple of the models even have working jaws and I noticed one of the collections came with a femur model, handy for printing an actual skull and crossed bones. But any rec-room Dr. Frankenstein knows the demented potential for mix and match given 3-D files. 3DKitBash is already ahead of you. A human skull with the ram horns makes a quite effective demon skull but frankly, my favorite bit of kitbashing was their jackalope skull. Alas, I didn’t get a good photo of it but it’s prominently displayed on their website. Be sure to download the wall trophy base, when you buy a collection so you can display your skull… that is, unless you’re planning to insert it into the head of your next nightmare creature. Be sure to check out the “Free and Cheap” section to grab the “Monster Parts” collection.
Elsa and I had a pleasant chat with Quincy Robinson and Natalie Mathis of 3DK at the Maker Faire Detroit this past weekend. Quincy was a professional toy designer before launching 3DK a little over a year ago with a remarkable 3D printable fashion doll named Quin. They’ve run a couple successful Kickstarter campaigns including one for a rather ingenious kit to test the calibration of your 3D printer. It’s exciting to find creative folks making cool stuff in the Midwest– 3DKitbash is based in Cinncinnati! And popular stuff too: their “3DK Launcher” toy, a free download from their site, has had over 22,000 downloads.

I get it, seriously I do. You’re an Evil Genius, so I know you *could* learn CAD software, wrangle your own scans, burn through a million test prints and come up with your own 3-D skull models. But wouldn’t you rather just print some first-rate skulls and get on with your other plans for World Domination? If so, 3DKitbash is your Igor.

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Submit your Horror Film to the Three Corpse Circus Film Festival


The Three Corpse Circus is soliciting submissions for their 5th Annual Film Festival coming up in October, 2014.

The Three Corpse Circus event brings together horror artists and fans to enjoy their passion for the macabre at a day-long film screening.

Their objective is “to promote talent and honor success in the horror genre and to build a thriving horror community in Southeast Michigan that is connected to the world.”

The Three Corpse Circus ONLY accepts original films that fit the description of horror, sci-fi horror, nightmare, weird, suspense, thriller, and/or horror-comedic. Content that would be considered discernibly pornographic will NOT be accepted. The broad categories shown at the event include animation, documentary, experimental, fantastic, fiction, terror, horror, science fiction, weird, strange, and nightmare. There’s truly something for everyone.

All films must be submitted by August 9, 2014. Films submitted after July 11 pay a late fee. Any submissions received after the deadline may be considered for next year’s festival.

Notification of acceptance into the 2014 film festival will occur no later than August 24th.

For more details about joining the Circus, visit the Three Corpse Circus’ submission link at Festhome.

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#359: Very Hairy

Photo by Used under the Creative Commons License.

Photo by Used under the Creative Commons License.

(Female, 30’s)
Okay, here’s a hilariously weird, hairy dream I had recently.

In the dream, I was getting dressed to go out. I decided to hear a sleeveless top, so I stood in front of a mirror and lifted my arms to see if my armpits passed inspection or not.
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Chocolate Skull: Life-sized, accurate, delicious

Chocolate Skull from Black Chocolate Company, Manchester England

Chocolate Skull from Black Chocolate Company, Manchester England

Here’s an off-the-beaten-path present that astonish and surprise even the person who has everything! Black Chocolate Company out of Manchester, English crafts life-sized anatomically correct skulls in four tempting flavors, including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel chocolate and chili chocolate. They hand-cast their chocolate skulls using a mold “taken from a genuine human skull.”

Even from the pictures, one can see that the details in chocolate are quite amazing! And the company ships worldwide.

A handmade chocolate skull is a gift that says you really care. Check out Black Chocolate Company’s edible art on Etsy.

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#358: Child Vampire

"Vampire Teeth" Photo by flickr user Daniel Orth.( Used under the Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

“Vampire Teeth” Photo by flickr user Daniel Orth.( Used under the Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

(Male, 30’s)
I don’t remember the whole nightmare story, but I remember one awful scene involving a child vampire.
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An Encounter with Horror Writer, Editor, and Digital Soothsayer, Séphera Giron

Séphera Giron 5

If I found myself cast in a remake of The Wolf Man, I would hope to find Séphera Giron portraying the traveling fortune teller I encounter in the woods. She would be perfect in this role. In addition to her smoldering beauty, Séphera has published a couple dozen works of horror — so she’d be familiar with the problems facing a lycanthrope; she is a professional tarot counselor — so she would have access to occult resources to foretell the troubles I’d encounter as a man-wolf; and she is an experienced editor, who has worked on over 600 works over the past decade, which could come in handy if I had the opportunity to re-write the typically dire narrative fated to most werewolves. Fortunately enough, I had the chance to consult with Ms. Giron on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Annex area of Toronto, far from any misty wilds and as yet un-bitten by any strange wolves.
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Ann Arbor Book Festival 2014 with David Hayes and Ken MacGregor

DavidHayesThe Ann Arbor Book Festival resurrected its Street Fair, and Doktor Leech braved the blinding sunshine to haunt a table shared by fellow HWA members David Hayes and Ken MacGregor. Hayes, shown here arranging some of his many publications for sale, is perhaps even better known for his contributions to B-grade horror movies, as writer, producer and actor. Check out A Man called Nereus on the istore.

His “splatire” book series blends extreme horror with social commentary. Seriously, they’re smarter than they might first appear, although the covers themselves are pretty awesome. Cannibal Fat Camp, the first in the series, aptly recalls a Garbage Pail Kid and the second Die, You Zombie Crackers! echoes the prolific Goosebumps series. I opted for the deluxe hard bound edition put out by Brian Keene’s Thunderstorm Books White Lightning series. The limited edition is sold out through the publisher but David had a few copies in reserve. Check out his webpage for more details.

Ken MacGregor‘s first collection An Aberrant Mind caught the eye of many passersby at this all-ages bookshow. Kids seemed particularly attracted to the ‘smiling clown’ on the cover, so we became adept at giving the NSFYA (Not Safe for YA or younger) wave. Ken released this new volume at a book launch reading that demonstrated both his twisted sense of humor and fresh take on the horror story.

Doktor Leech sold the last few copies of last year’s anthology, 13 Quick Shivers: from, though they’re still available through Amazon. A second printing will be available in time for the second annual anthology’s launch.

We anticipate being back for Ann Arbor Book Festival 2015 armed with more books hot off the presses– and lots of sunscreen.

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How to Haunt Your Home, Part One: Planning

Zed's Hat

By Michael Cieslak

My name is Zed, and I’m a home haunter. I’ve been approached by the Head Nightmarian to discuss the ins and outs of turning your home and/or yard into something terrifying this October.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the home haunter dwells in the middle ground between person who puts up some decorations at Halloween and the Haunted Attractions which spring up around the end of September. The typical home haunt has detailed props, some of which may use light, sound, and pneumatics to achieve their scares. Some home haunts are large enough that the rival the professionals, drawing hundreds or even thousands of people a night.

If you are thinking “this guy is talking about Halloween already?” then this post might not be for you. Everyone else, read on.
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Nightmare #357: Awful knowledge

Fairfield Cemetery, Monkton, Ayrshire. Photo by Rosser1954 Roger Griffith. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Fairfield Cemetery, Monkton, Ayrshire. Photo by Rosser1954 Roger Griffith. Used under the Creative Commons License.

(Female, 50’s) I had a dream so awful last night that I haven’t been able to think or talk about it without crying, but you asked me to write it down so here goes. The dream was about carrying around some awful knowledge.

I dreamed that my daughter died. She’s grown now and living quite far away. She had some health issues as a child, and in my dream she was very sick again, but none of us knew it. I don’t think she knew it either. And she died. I got a phone call that she was dead.

But we were in the middle of some big, stressful event. I don’t know what exactly, but it was some happening, some convention or presentation that we were preparing for and needed to accomplish.

So I didn’t tell anyone that she had died yet– because knowing didn’t matter. There was nothing that could be done, so I had to wait with my knowledge. I felt very sad and very lonely.

And I knew that I had a lot to do too, but I wasn’t ready to deal with that. I had to make arrangements to get her body home and make plans for what– a memorial? a funeral? I didn’t know. We’d never talked or made plans with her because it hadn’t occurred to me that she could die.

So I was leaving the house and I ran into a neighbor. The dream neighbor was not a real person, sort of a conglomeration of people I know. She was a stocky woman with two little girls running around while we were talking in the front yards. She asked me how I was doing and I had to lie and say fine. Then she asked about my daughter and how she was. Her girls were always talking about my daughter, they enjoyed her company so much and they missed her. Again, I had to lie and say she was fine. I had no idea how to keep going.

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