Oct 22: A look at the Madtown Horror Festival’s homegrown scares

Madtown Horror 2016

Madison’s horror film festival is back with imaginative body horror, comedic chillers, and Gags the Clown

After its debut year, the Madtown Horror Festival is back for more this Sat at the Market Square Theater.

And like last year, festival founder Jason Davis included a few nods to the state’s independent filmmakers, the centerpiece of which might be Dismembering Christmas. We reviewed Slasher Studios’ yuletide kill-fest last year, but here’s a breakdown of the other local scares you can catch this weekend:

Bachelor Party from Hell (dir. Jon Bell) + Frigid Night (dir. Robert McBride)

The Milwaukee-based outfit behind the web series Ray Gets Robbed has a smaller first entry in Bachelor Party From Hell. Two cynical, deadpan friends take their buddy out for the expected “one last night as a free man.” All three end up getting more than they bargained for in a dancer who’s truly willing to do unspeakable acts to the lucky guy. Cynical and with deadpan humor to the bone, this is about as subdued and understated as one can get with a possessed stripper. Frigid Night quadruples Bachelor Party‘s two-minute running time with a jumbled bar crowd that’s left snowed in and without cell coverage during a storm. One of its miscreants is out to collect a debt, a thread that McBride pulls on to unravel exactly how his characters know one another. Less a horror film than a comedic thriller, the misplaced identities and half-remembered encounters build to a violent déjà vu.

Madtown Horror 2016

Frame of Mine (dir. Matthew Simonis)

In his alternate future, director Matthew Simonis follows two men as they extract film from the memory cards of androids, a clandestine brain wipe that’s performed overnight and without the subject’s knowledge. One of the repairmen (Jason Northern) becomes too attached to a subject (Katie Revae) and exploits his position for romantic gain. Clashing the present day’s colors with the black & white film stock of these “memories,” Frame of Mine works in some serious body horror, and who can be surprised when people are tugging reams of film out of their arms? The Milwaukee-based Simonis channels early Lucky McKee and gets bonus points for trusting viewers to pick up on his steampunk reflection of male entitlement, voyeurism and illusions of control.

Gags the Clown (dir. Adam Krause)

Even after pulling the curtain back on his high-profile viral hoax, Adam Krause returns to his bonafide marketing success for Gags the Clown. In fact, the opening minutes pull right from news broadcasters reporting on his creepy clown as it wandered under Green Bay bridges this past summer. It’s an ingenious upgrade in production value. It also speaks to the reality-driven approach of the “found footage,” which Krause frames as an anonymous tip to the Green Bay Police Department, wherein three friends (Corey Estreen, Taylor Huff, Ashley Magnin) try to find Gags. He’s envisioned in the reserved, silent tradition of Michael Myers. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t speak. He barely walks, to be honest. Instead, Krause highlights the weird stuff on the periphery, like a mysterious green slime and black balloons that seem to drift off on their own. This “clown scare” doesn’t seem to be dying off just yet, and Gags makes for an incongruous explanation as to why anyone would think to put on the pancake makeup and shoes in the first place.

Madtown Horror 2016

Greg the Grouchy Gremlin (dir. Danny Villanueva)

In a meta-commentary on his night-time occupation, “Dr. Destruction” (Reinholdt von Boldt) strikes a desperate bargain with his producer to revitalize interest in his horror show by bringing in Rolando Javier Hernandez, the mind behind once-popular 90s cartoon program Greg the Grouchy Gremlin. The most fun of Madtown Horror Festival’s local selections, Greg the Grouchy Gremlin ribs its own star, with von Boldt essentially playing a despondent version of his own Kenosha area public access alter-ego. Like Frigid Nights, this is both funny and tense, propelled by the comic weirdness of Garfield. Brett Houdek’s unhinged fanatic goes to some serious and seriously unexpected lengths to prove his fandom, and the insane reenactment he spirals down feels like a grimy splicing of that Melvin Belli scene in Zodiac and Christine Chubbuck’s shocking on-air suicide.

  • The Madtown Horror Festival runs this Sat, Oct 22 at the Market Square Theater. (6604 Odana Rd.) Admission is $4.