Fans of the kind of old-school B horror movies that rarely air on TV anymore are rewarded every autumn with Horror Week at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Started in 2004, this annual program at the downtown Madison museum features classic horror movie screenings along with a plastic pumpkin bucket full of other seasonal treats. This year, Horror Week begins on Wednesday, Oct. 24, and runs through Oct. 31.
Science fiction is the theme of this year's Horror Week, with seven films slated to screen at the museum. "We like to mix it up a little bit," says Wisconsin Historical Museum publicist John Lemke. "We've always done the B-horror films, but this year we're going sci-fi." Six of the films are classics, sporting aliens and monsters, and one is a 2007 creation with state connections.
The films are mostly screened at matinee times in the museum on the Capitol Square:
- The Oct. 24 offering is Destroy All Planets (or Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu), a 1968 flick featuring the well-known chelonian kaij?. "Gamera the Flying Turtle falls under the spell of evil space aliens," notes the museum's synopsis. "Two children free Gamera, who then conquers the space aliens."
- The Oct. 25 screening features The Robot Monster, a 1953 work also known as Monster from Mars and Monsters from the Moon: 'An alien clad in a phony gorilla suit and diving helmet tries to conquer earth, but is stopped by the remaining earth family."
- The Oct. 26 screening is a double-feature titled 'The 'It' Film Festival," and will be shown in the evening rather than the afternoon. Up first is It Came from Outer Space, a 3-D film about an alien crash-landing that was adapted from an original treatment by Ray Bradbury and is considered a classic allegory about the Cold War. The second film is It Came From Another World, a Minnesota-made flick released this year.
- The Oct. 27 screening is They Came from Beyond Space, a 1967 British update on the crash-landing-visitors genre. "Intellectually superior aliens crash land in England and use their powers of mind control to enslave humans and unleash a deadly plague," notes the museum's synopsis. "The motive was very simple. They wanted the humans to repair their craft so they could leave."
- The Oct. 30 film is Attack of the Monsters (or Gamera tai daiakuju Giron), the 1969 return of Gamera the Flying Turtle: "This time the flying turtle does battle with Guiron, a giant rhino-like beast. Gamera travels to the planet Terra to rescue a couple earth children who have gone astray. Don't miss Gamera as he confronts the 'groovy spacegirls'!"
- The final screening on Halloween itself is Battle of the Worlds (or Pianeta degli uomini spenti, Il), an 1963 Italian howler. "Another clan of aliens looks to earth as its next victim of destruction," notes the museum's synopsis. "This time they have really met their match because now they have to face Claude Rains -- a real movie star. He can save the planet, but saving the movie is beyond even his abilities."
Every year, the Horror Week films are programmed by Dr. Cryptosis, otherwise known as Rick Bates, a tour registrar at the museum. "He is a collector of all these kinds of movies, so he'll find those that we have permission to use or are in the public domain," says Lemke. "If we can find a Wisconsin connection, we'll pick that and show it."
For example, the inclusion of It Came From Another World (MySpace)in this year's program is the result of a chance meeting between Dr. Cryptosis and director Chris Mihm at the Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theatre, where this movie about "everyone's favorite a-rockin' scientist" was screening. "They got to talking,' says Lemke, "and it just became a natural fit for it to screen during Horror Week at the museum." Mihm and several actors from the film will be appearing at the screening on Friday night.
Horror Week is also a big event for families, as it coincides with the annual Wisconsin Education Association Council fall conference. The museum provides plenty of activities for kids off from school. This year, there will be Create Your Own Monster craft stations, where children will be able to use foam and glue to make the Frankensteins of their dreams (or nightmares). If that's too scary, Lemke says, they can also make pennants (coinciding with the current World Series Wisconsin exhibit about the Braves and Brewers running through early January). These will run from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 25 through Saturday, Oct. 27.
Finally, the museum's regular series "History Sandwiched In" will be reanimated as "Horror Sandwiched In" on Tuesday, Oct. 30. This event will feature Erika Janik presenting Odd Wisconsin, a new book based upon her column covering some of the more peculiar sides of Wisconsin history that don't make it into textbooks.
Lemke explains the origins of Horror Week. "The reason we started doing it is we had all of these Wisconsin connections to old horror movies as well as the old horror television shows around the state," he says. Running from the 1950s through the '70s, these latter creations were locally produced programs that aired late weekend nights, hosted by characters like Dr. Cadaverino and Tooloose Noneck in Milwaukee, Misty Brew and Ned the Dead in Green Bay, and Ferdy and Mr. Mephisto in Madison. Created by Dick Flanigan of WMTV, this final character lives on as the namesake for Mr. Mephisto's Imperial Stout, a seasonal release from Lake Louie Brewery.
"We ran a program of the history behind these old horror hosts on TV along with several old horror movies shown on these programs," notes Lemke. "It was such a success that people asked if we could bring it back, so we've done it again and again."