Books from Raw Dog Screaming

RDSPhaulDig this haul from Raw Dog Screaming Press! RDSP is a quality publisher of strange literature and they recently ran a deliciously strange promotion: buy one of their titles and get 2 additional books. Those ride-along titles could be books from other publishers or other RDSP titles. I’d been meaning to pick up more of their books ever since I saw a display at Context 27.

I ordered Michael Arnzen’s Grave Markings (the 20th Anniversary edition,) Donna Lynch’s Isabel Burning and Jeff VanderMeer’s Monstrous Creatures: Explorations of Fantasy Through Essays, Articles and Reviews… and in addition to a Raw Dog sticker and a Raw Dog guitar pick, I got a half dozen other books. In fact, the pick of the litter, so to speak, the first volume I grabbed to read was a bonus title, namely Stephanie Wytovich’s Hysteria: A Collection of Madness. It’s a collection of a hundred bluntly brutal poems about sexuality and mental illness, wrapped in a gorgeously expressionist cover. They contributed, I’m sure, to last night’s nightmares.

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Hunting Ghosts at the Historic Howell Theater

Public Ghost HuntWhen my buddy and fellow horror writer, David C. Hayes invited me to hunt ghosts at a fundraiser for the Historic Howell Theater, I only had two questions: Would I get to wear an unlicensed nuclear reactor on my back and could we please, PLEASE cross the streams? My droll Ghostbusters references aside, Elsa and I jumped at the chance for another weird-thrill date-night. The evening was a both an opportunity to check out the newly-reopened Howell Theater as well as a fun introduction to professional spectre detecting led by members of the Portal Paranormal Society who provided all the necessary equipment — alas, they neglected to bring a proton pack, P.K.E or the Ecto One.

I was eager to check out the Historic Howell Theater for very non-paranormal reasons– David clued me into the exciting direction it has taken since re-opening in September. New owner/operator Tyler DePerro has a flair for distinctive, slightly off-beat entertainment. The newly rebuilt stages in both theaters have allowed concerts and storytelling events in addition to an exciting collection of films, both classic and art-house contemporary. For instance, the Howell Theater just completed a retrospective of Roger Corman movies complete with introductions provided by David Hayes himself — he’s kind of a small-c celebrity in these parts. Check out their website and sign up for the mailing list to keep informed of what’s happening behind the fabulous retro marquee right on the old town main drag of Howell. My word to the youth of America: you don’t really experience a film when you watch it on your phone.
For the past three Saturday evenings, after the last mortal movie patron has departed, the Portal Paranormal Society has reached out to the ethereal residents of the Howell Theater. Elsa and I were glad to catch the last of these public investigations. We huddled with David and his wife Sandy in the lobby along with roughly twenty other amateur spook-sleuths while Lead Investigator Ken Suminski briefed us on their research about this “active” location. Even before it was a theater, this spot was used as a temporary infirmary for soldiers wounded in the Civil War, some of whom likely died there. Later, when the area was Town Square, traveling entertainers would perform and in fact, the PPS verified that a circus lion was buried on the spot. One of their researchers had previously experienced both audible growls as well as a spirit rush from a spectre the size and shape of a lion. When the Howell Theater opened in 1928, vaudeville acts performed there in addition to movies and the team had encountered one particularly unhappy ghost backstage in one of the theaters. Even if someone gave absolutely no credence to paranormal phenomena, it was a treat to learn bits of this narratively rich history.
The rest of the evening was a delightful traveling banquet where we sampled different techniques in different parts of the theater. In one auditorium, we did EVP, asking questions and allowing time for the spirits to reply while a recorder monitored results. One cool innovation that PPS uses is a spectral sing-along. We sang famous movie songs, stopping halfway through certain lines to see if the ghosts would continue singing without us. When it came time to ask questions of these beings in the great beyond, I found myself rather stumped. What *would* you ask ghosts in a theater? Elsa had the best idea, though too late to try: we should have ran classic movie lines that were themselves questions like “What are the 39 steps?” or “You know how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow.” The nature of EVP, unlike more direct methods of contact like a Ouija board or table-rapping, is that we won’t know what we got until the team reviews the recordings. PPS researchers took our email addresses and promised to share results once they’d analyzed the data.

In the other auditorium, we used what I think was called a “Spirit Box,” a radio that continuously scans radio waves. This technique gives immediate audible feedback to questions asked, but due to the constantly changing reception, such inquiries need to be more focused than with traditional EVP. I found the rhythmic, pulsing sussuration of the device rather mesmerizing, almost like noise collage music, and quite calming — I sensed no malevolent forces at play here. We asked all the questions we could think of and got at least a handful of responses.

The final area we investigated were the two attached projection booths where a silhouette had been seen on other occasions. Here we used a flashlight rigged so that the slightest impulse could cause it to flash on. Alas, it didn’t, at least not for us. The flashlight in the other room evidently was quite responsive which is not to say we had no unexplained responses. The most exciting result we had involved the door and a rap against the wall that was so loud it was heard downstairs. In the half-light, it was also cool to see both the modern digital projector as well as the huge antique 35mm projector.

As a final spiritual resting place, there are certainly worse places than the Historic Howell Theater. I know I’ll be back, likely with Elsa though few events could rival this Ghost Hunt for such a memorable weird-thrill data-night. (When I spoke with Ken, he suggested there might be more of these semi-public events in the area. Check out the Portal Paranormal Society website or friend them on FaceBook for updates.) As I entered the first theater, I removed my coat and rolled up the sleeves to allow more skin in case the ghosts wanted touch contact– I don’t think Elsa would be jealous of a chance, spectral caress. I also scanned the room for shadows, areas of darkness within the darkness. At befitting a theater, much of the reported activity here has been visual, I was told. I was struck by the feeling that I should remember this experience when people ask me where I get the ideas for my stories–I get them by looking for things I’m not supposed to see, putting into words things there aren’t already words for. I am far from a skeptic and have experienced many weird phenomena over the years, for likely many reasons. I hope to live long enough to experience much more– I hope at least some of them with my beloved Elsa — and as far as I’m able, to put those experiences into words.

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Nightmare #362: The Bad Assassin

1308547900(Male, 50’s) There is no way I can convey the absolute terror I had in this dream. Reading over what I’ve written down makes it all sound like kind of a joke, but honestly, I woke up in the middle of the night after this nightmare and was ready to swear off every sleeping again. I felt so vulnerable.

I was in a house with my partner and my father and a child, and for some reason, I just knew that someone was trying to kill me. The people around me were supportive but agreed that, yes, I’d likely be killed. I tried hiding in weird places inside the house. I squeezed in a tiny closet where I defended myself with a spray bottle of cleanser. I thought that at least I could spray my killer in the face, maybe wound him or distract him. Even though I was inside and hidden inside too, the killer could somehow get me in his sights and shoot through the walls.

There was a gunshot and the child was killed. Instantly. The boy just fell to the ground like a rag doll. Dead. The killer had missed the shot on me somehow and yet still had delivered a kill shot to a bystander. I decided to get out of there before they killed any of my loved ones. I ran out on the street which was rather crowded and where everyone was carrying guns, big showy guns. Picnic guns, I’ve heard them called. But these were weird guns. One guy in particular had an old school Tommy gun like a 30’s gangster that was shiny like chrome. It was just slung over his shoulder like a fashion accessory. And then he goes down, dead because of my assassin. I hid behind a big overstuffed couch that someone had put out for the trash. I wasn’t really sure where the shots were coming from, though, so I didn’t know if I was safe. And I watched as folks around me, one by one, were picked off by this unseen shooter. It sounds ludicrous to write it out but by the end of this spree, there were easily a dozen people shot dead, all because they happened to be standing too damned close to me.

I woke up just shaking. My first impulse — which is also pretty funny — was to see if I could hide underneath my bed, just in case this shooter from my dream could still see me and shoot me.

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The Return of IndieHorror.TV

IndieHorror.TV relaunches on October 30 with a full weekend of independently made horror films. After a short hiatus of re-organizing, IndieHorror.Tv is now broadcasting through ChromeCast, allowing them to give a later audience a satisfying viewing experience. 21671_548553985158865_1168360471_n

IndieHorror.TV is a local gem with international reach. It’s a station that broadcasts pretty much anything in the horror genre. They don’t position themselves as judge or jury on quality, but instead, they chose to be a free-for-all offering of as much programming as possible. IndieHorror.TV’s goal is to provide a showcase for independent horror filmmakers to share their work and a resource for fans to explore and discover what’s out there.

Director Robert Poole remains committed to sharing both short films and feature films with horror fans worldwide. Check out IndieHorror.TV’s Halloween Weekend schedule and find the films you want to see. The station remains committed to supporting horror fans and horror filmmakers. Tune in and return the favor.

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Nightmare #361: Belief and fear

"Scared Child at Nighttime" by D Sharon Pruitt - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Scared Child at Nighttime” by D Sharon Pruitt – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

(Male, 40s)
As a child, I had a recurring nightmare about a monster under my bed.

The horrific thing about it was not its scaly skin, nor its long and sinewy arms and legs, nor its needle-sharp teeth (I knew its form exactly, although I could not see it).

Instead, the monster’s most terrifying aspect was that it lived on its victims’ belief and fear. If you did not believe in it, it could not harm you. The more you accepted and feared its presence, the stronger it became.

In my nightmare, I was trapped in my bed, the nightlight mysteriously extinguished, with that creature below me trying to MAKE me believe in its existence … and succeeding …

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Sir Graves Ghastly Tribute at the Redford Theatre

10698516_10152316596391949_4212563369964863543_nLawson Deming may have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2007, but Sir Graves Ghastly, the campy horror host he portrayed from 1967 – 1983 on TV2 in Detroit, lives on as a fond memory for thousands of metro area residents. This weekend, the historic Redford Theatre, celebrated the career of this lovable vampire with a special showing of “The Wolfman (1941)” with all the trimmings. The film itself was a crisp 35MM print and, interspersed throughout, were skits from the original show as well as vintage commercials for Faygo, Mr. Belvedere and Busemis pizza. During intermission, there was a laugh-off as contestants tried to mimick that classic Graves “nyah-ah-ah” as well as an art ghoulery of children’s drawings, a beloved segment of the original show.

Three of Lawson’s sons also attended the tribute, traveling in from Cleveland, Baltimore and Los Angeles, to share their loving memories. With so many contemporary celebrities proving themselves to be personally reprehensible, it was great to learn that off-screen the guy in the cardboard coffin was a loving father who enjoyed fishing and gardening.

The little touches made this tribute note perfect. Before the show, we were serenaded by a theatre organist while a slide show ran images of Halloween from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Snapshots of kids in their dime-store costumes, ads for candy and TV shows like “Bewitched (1964-72)” and “The Addams Family (1964 – 66), even the occasional Wacky Package or Trading Card vividly set the stage for an evening of Hallowe’en flavored nostalgia. This was Pop Culture from an era before Entertainment was Big Business reaching its cynical tentacles into every pocket. Sir Graves Ghastly and his ilk were more “Mom and Pop Culture.” I had to grab a souvenir of the evening, a t-shirt emblazoned with “I Dig Graves,” one that was produced on the spot.


I am embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I’ve visited the Redford Theatre. It won’t be the last time I visit this grand old time movie palace, rich with (mostly) restored chinoiserie. The auditorium is done up like the courtyard of an Asian palace, complete with twinkling stars overhead. The lobby has chandeliers shaped like Japanese lanterns. The concession stand popcorn comes with real butter! This noble structure hosts a robust film series, too. Find any excuse to see a film there, perhaps the Hallowe’en showing of “Ghostbusters (1984)” or the midnight movie of “Evil Dead 2 (1987).” (Trivia Tidbit: the original “Evil Dead (1981)” had its WORLD PREMIERE at the Redford.)

As Sir Graves exhorted us every Saturday afternoon so many years ago, “Happy Hauntings!”


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Date Night along Marshall’s Haunted Trail

How far would you go for true love? The ends of the Earth? The Underworld? Marshall, Michigan?

Friday night found the Doktor and me walking hand-in-hand down the annual Haunted Trail in Marshall, this one titled “Johnny Octane Vs. The Underworld: A Rockin’ Haunted Trail“. This interactive environmental theater event led us through the story of rocker Johnny, who vows to give up music after the death of his true love, Trudy. He, his gang, and his fans, played by our audience group, learn from a graveyard ghoul that there is a way to heal his broken heart: Johnny must travel to the Underworld and bring Trudy back.


Watching such creepy tales played out along the eerily lit trails of Riverwalk Park has become a Halloween season tradition for the Leech Doktor and myself. This was the 22nd Haunted River Walk written and directed by Brodie H. Brockie and put on my the Marshall Recreation Department and Keystone Entertainment. The sets are distributed throughout the park and crafted with obvious love for understated detail. Read the names on the tombstones. Thrill to the bone-guitars. The staging makes the most of the park’s foliage, river and trail ways. The Haunted River Walk is no run of the mill, jump-scare-infested “haunted house” but resembles more hip community theatre with all the enthusiasm of a small town working together, which makes for a very fun evening. Sure, the performance included spooky make-up, wild costumes and a couple obligatory-monsters-popping-out-from-behind-trees that we’ve come to expect, but also howling werewolves, ominous warnings from the recently departed, a pompadoured demon and a climactic battle of the bands. Does Halloween really get any better than rockabilly in Hell?

The final night of “Johnny Octane Vs. The Underworld” is tonight, October 25th from 7:30 until 11:30pm. Parking is at 900 S. Marshall in Marshall, Michigan. Admission is $8 per person at the door. The structure of the story and the large turnout meant that we spent some time in the waiting area, watching a vintage horror film projected on the side of a garage and surrounded by kids in Halloween costumes playing tag. It’s great family-friendly fun worth the wait… and the trip to Marshall.

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MICROFEAR–Kickstarting high quality miniature horror scenes

Space is more than the final frontier; its limited quantities plague collectors of all persuasions. Where to put that new wonder? Horror collectors have one new option for their over-stuffed cabinets of wonders: Microfear miniature horror scenes currently seeking production funds via Kickstarter.

These horrific miniatures are gorgeous. They are clearly inspired by the iconic dioramas produced by Aurora with their context-setting backdrops framing the central character, but they offer both a fresh twist along with amazingly fine details.

The inaugural set is comprised of six scenes available individually as rewards for funding, in either kit form or fully painted. The whole set is also available, complete with a small cabinet with its own LED lighting. The scenes chosen aren’t the same tired scares, either. Sure, there’s a Mummy, but there’s also a Bigfoot. The scene from the Pit and Pendulum is deliciously gory, and the Nanny (which recalls a pivotal scene from The Omen) is both compact and shocking. Two other miniatures, a scary carnival and a mansion psychotically perched atop a hill, complete this first set.

These wonders aren’t simply small, they’re also highly detailed using literally state of the art technologies guided by a horror fan’s affection for the genre. Watch the video if for no other reason than to feel the love that Jason Bakutis has for horror. We at the DailyNightmare adore projects like this that transcend the first-wave gee-whiz aspect of digital manufacturing to create unique artifacts that weren’t feasible to produce with earlier technologies. Using digital design and 3-d printing (not to mention crowd-funding) coupled with lost wax casting and hand assembly, MICROFEAR employs the right technology for each step of these tiny monstrosities.

Full disclosure: I’m backing this project to the princely sum of $25 to get the Bigfoot model. My days of painting D&D miniatures are long past, so I ordered mine fully painted. I was sorely tempted by that ultra-grisly Pendulum scene. I’ve got twenty days or so before the Kickstarter campaign closes, so I very well might get that as well.

Oh and if you’re on the fence, each of these tiny terrors comes with a trading card. Dig it! This guy really knows what collectors like.

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#360: House of 1000 Copses

By Carla Isabel Ribeiro (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Carla Isabel Ribeiro (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

(70% Female, 30% Norse Warrior, 1014 years old)
As a teen, I had a recurring nightmare that I was trapped in a house which had been overtaken by a massive, sinister forest. Ungodly large trees had grown up right through the floorboards, and the roots were a monstrously thick tangle over which it was nearly impossible for me to navigate. I had nowhere to hide, and though I could see doorways to other rooms, it was clear there was no way out. Branches and boughs draped with heavy webs of moss hung everywhere, and I knew there were things in the dark both above and below me that I could not see…things that would be coming for me at any moment. I can still remember the weight of that inevitability–it was paralyzing–and I’ll never forget the sickening sounds I heard as the giant slugs emerged. I could gradually discern their shadows; huge, slick, repulsive masses slithering out from the behind the trees and over the roots in a much swifter pace than Gastropods normally move. I was well aware that it was a futile game of cat and mouse—slug and child—and besides the impossible terrain, my body would not match the movements I was willing it to make. (In fact, this inability to move was a common element in many of my dreams.) I generally awoke just before the slugs caught up with me, but I always felt that the fear I was left with upon waking was worse than anything they could have done to me. It was the fear that stayed with me…the possibilities. The unknown.

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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 Commedia dell’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.

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