Rich Peterson has a vision for Halloween in Madison that extends well beyond the costumed parade of inebriation that reigns on State Street. Turning rather to the holiday's supernatural heart and gleeful embrace of the macabre, he has organized the inaugural Madison Horror Film Festival, which will serve up scares on and off the screen all day Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre.
Inspired by horror flick fiestas in other cities as well as by Madison's strong film community, Peterson got to work on organizing the festival more than a year ago. Getting rolling with the submission process back in July, and assisted by friends and fellow horror-buffs along the way, he has assembled an overflowing slate of cinema, guests, vendors, and other scary surprises.
Running from noon to midnight inside the Orpheum Stage Door, the festival presents 17 films, of which 14 are shorts and three are feature-length. Trailers will screen throughout, meanwhile, including sneak peeks at the upcoming Madison-based production Incest Death Squad and The Zombeatles mockumentary All You Need Is Brains.
A handful of guests are scheduled to appear at the Orpheum, as well. Top billing goes to Kenneth J. Hall -- a horror movie quadruple threat as a producer, director, writer, and visual effects pro -- who will be speaking in the prime-time slot at the festival. Madison horror history will be well-represented too, with Dick Flanigan taking the stage to discuss his work as "Mr. Mephisto" in the classic late-nite program Lenny's Inferno that aired long ago on WMTV. Also slated to appear are "B-Movie Scream Queen" Elske McCain and the festival promotional trio known as "Freakshow and the Harlots of Horror."
Busy putting some final touches on the festival before the gore hits the screen this weekend, Peterson responded via email to a series of questions from The Daily Page. His comments on the festival selection process, things that scare him, Halloween in Madison, and more follow.
The Daily Page: What kind of challenges have you faced in organizing the Madison Horror Film Festival?
The biggest challenge was finding local and regional filmmakers for inclusion in the festival. We had tried to include as many local films as possible; however, we did not have the local response that we had hoped for. We ended up with five local submissions, four of which will be featured at the festival.
Our overall biggest concern from the beginning, having not presented the event in the past, was having enough material to pull it off. When it looked like we were not going to get that many local films, we opened it up to the world. The response that we got from the horror community was amazing, and we are thankful for each and every filmmaker that submitted their work to us.
What are the locally-connected films screening at the festival?
They are The Medium directed by Ben Wyedeven, Valentines Massacre directed by Trevor Murray, and Knife Fight and Massacre (The Musical) directed by Will Gartside.
Why did these particular films make the cut for screening?
It was a painstaking process deciding which films would be entered into the event. We did not receive any really bad films, and each and every one of them had something to offer. Due to time constraints, we did have to narrow it down. There was one film in particular that I personally thought should have made it in, as the production value and story line were incredible. It is an 88-minute film from Winnipeg called Nobody. We will be screening the film at the festival pre-party this Friday night at The Inferno nightclub.
As far as the selection process to help us narrow it down, we used the same parameters that the judges will be using at the festival: production quality, story and character, writing, acting, cinematography, music/score and directing.
How much time did it take to put the festival together, and how much help did you get?
I started putting together an outline for the event over a year ago. Once I was able to present the idea to a few other loyal and film-savvy friends, as well as people that have been close to my cause in the past, the help that I got from everyone was amazing.
In addition to the people helping directly with organizing the event, I have been graced with support from filmmakers, media groups, sponsors and local, regional, national and international film festival directors. Without all of these people, my dream would never have been attained.
Who are Freakshow and the Harlots of Horror?
Freakshow is an undead urban dating specialist, or zombie pimp if you will. In his former life he was a coroner whose physical being was melded with that of the corpse of a pimp through a toxic waste spill. Once reanimated, he teamed up with two of his former ladies, Candy and Jessica, a.k.a. the Harlots of Horror.
Although he is a zombie, he is not a killing machine and satisfies his appetite for human flesh by stealing fresh bodies from accident scenes and stores his dinner at the burned out morgue that was his former workplace. Most zombies are lurching mindless brain eaters. Freakshow, however, was buried at a green funeral with no embalming fluid to slow the mental capacities, and is able to function as a productive part of the undead world.
Freakshow and the Harlots of Horror will be introducing themselves for the giveaway portion of the festival and will be making a very special horror related announcement as well. Let's just say, this is the beginning of a long and undead life for our friend Freakshow.
What is Incest Death Squad? Who is making it?
Incest Death Squad is a full length feature horror film that will be going into production in April or May of 2009, and will be filmed here in Madison and the surrounding area. The film is being directed by local writer and filmmaker Cory Udler, who is currently seeking cast members to be a part of what will be a true gritty horror film.
What do you hope people at the festival will learn from each of the special guests?
As far as Kenneth J. Hall goes, I would hope that people will find out a little bit more about the man himself and his work as a special effects artist. He has directed a few films as well, and we are hoping he may offer up some tips for an up and coming filmmakers and how his films such as Puppet Master came to be developed and executed.
Dick Flanigan and John Sveum will be able to offer up some of the history, development and craziness behind the local cult phenomenon that was Lenny's Inferno.
And while Elske McCain will not be on stage at the event, she will be signing autographs and will be interacting with the crowd. She is currently in production with her own film Jessika Rabid, and will be able to share updates on the production. She has also acted in many great films including Troma's Poulterygeist, can give insight into working with Lloyd Kaufman and perhaps the challenges a woman working in horror may have.
Are festival attendees encouraged to show up in costume?
We will be having a horror movie costume contest at the festival pre-party this Friday. We do not discourage dressing up for the festival. This is the most festive time of the year, though, and I'm sure that some people will be displaying their creativity through costumes.
What scared you as a child? What scares you the most right now?
As a child, anything that was featured on Lenny's Inferno. I kept going back for more, though, that is the beauty of fear and horror. It stimulates your body and senses on a different level and the excitement associated with it is a bit of a satisfying feeling. The real fear came with reoccurring dreams of being pursued by a monster and being unable to flee. The monster never did catch me, though, and I still chasing me to this day. Perhaps we will meet finally at the festival and end this once and for all.
The thing that I fear most right now is the state of the world and our own nation and the constant unknowing outcome that we will all face in the future.
What makes Halloween such a big deal in Madison?
I personally think that Halloween is big everywhere. If you delve into the horror film community you will learn that Halloween and horror are a year round event.
I think that Halloween in Madison got its jump start with the beginning of the State Street parties that originated back in what I believe was 1979. As the infamy behind the party grew and more and more people began gathering for the event, the local people had to find other ways to enjoy the season and avoid the headache of what was once an enjoyable, although crazy gathering.
People found other outlets to enjoy the most horrific and sometimes comedic time of the year through different events. I feel that Maximum Ink music magazine and I have been a great contributing factor in hosting sold out events the last five years, and giving local people a fun and safe alternative with the Maximum Ink Halloween Spooktacular. The event in the past has featured local musicians presenting tribute performances of their favorite internationally know artists ranging from G N'R to The Misfits.
We took this year's Spooktacular in a different direction with the idea of thanking all of the people who have supported the event over the years with a free show that will be presented on Saturday, November 1 at the Annex.
Do you plan on making the Madison Horror Film Festival a regular event?
Definitely. We feel that it has been a long time coming for this type of event, and we hope to build and develop this into something that will someday be as well known as the Halloween party on State Street.