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Twisted Dreams Film Festival brings the macabre to Milwaukee

Feeling a chill down your spine even though Halloween is half a year away? It might just be the finishing touches getting placed on the Twisted Dreams Film Festival, Milwaukee's inaugural horror film festival running at the Underground Collaborative April 8 and 9.

Milwaukee movie lovers Stephen Milek and Christopher House, founders of the blog Milwaukee Movie Talk, originally thought of the idea when they discovered that Milwaukee – which they claim has a large horror fan base – is the only major city in the state that doesn’t have a horror film festival.

“While we talk about movies of all genres on Milwaukee Movie Talk, it was clear we had a lot of horror fans,” Milek says. “When the Milwaukee Film Festival announced their films – and it felt like there wasn't a whole lot of horror films to choose from – we decided that we wanted to do one for the horror fans.”

“Madison had its first horror film fest, (so) we decided it was time for Milwaukee to have one,” House adds. “There have been horror film fests here in the past but they have only run one year or haven’t been what we would have done. They didn’t have the indie focus and local content.”

To get started, Milek and House reached out to Ross Bigley, a Milwaukee filmmaker who has been organizing the Milwaukee Short Film Festival for nearly 20 years.

“Definitely the chat with Ross helped us realize that it was possible to do the fest. (He) has been a huge help in pointing us in the right direction,” Milek says.

“He made it sound so easy,” House says. “He convinced us it was possible when we had doubts in ourselves.”

“He did oversell the 'easy' part. It's anything but,” Milek quipped.

It was easier for the two to start their blog Milwaukee Movie Talk — born of simple boredom. House says, "Steve and I worked third shift together, so there was not much to do at 4 a.m. but to talk hobbies. As it was, we both loved films.”

What began as a small Facebook group with Milek, a local pharmacist, and House, a system network tester, quickly turned into a larger group with a few added friends. Now it’s a full-fledged blog where they discuss everything film, from modern work all the way back to the silent era.

Despite the range of films the two discuss, they each have their “specialty genres." Milek loves documentaries and short films while House has always loved horror and sci-fi.

In addition to talking about big-budget films that they’ve seen, the bloggers place an emphasis on local filmmakers.

“We realized that we didn’t know much about what was going on in Milwaukee and it turned out there was a lot,” Milek says. “We wanted to help spread the word about the great film community we have here in Milwaukee. This is another reason why we have an entire block devoted to Wisconsin filmmakers at the festival.”

As for every film festival, of course, the highlight is watching the movies. Milek and House both ended up getting more submissions than they had anticipated, forcing them to select only the best of the best for this inaugural year.

Along with an entire block of local Wisconsin shorts and features, there’s an eclectic mix of everything horror, sci-fi and over-the-top insane.

“One of the things I am most proud of is the diversity of the films,” Milek said. “While we consider ourselves a horror festival we do have something for everyone. Psychological thrillers, scary ghost stories, to straight up crazy grind house horror.”

The full line-up of films is posted on their website, but some of the highlights include the Wisconsin premiere of Dark the new film by Piranha and Gremlins director Joe Dante. The film is a psychological thriller that centers on a young woman alone inside of her apartment during the New York City blackout in 2003. As the night moves forward, she becomes increasingly mentally unstable and faces demons.

The craziest film of the festival, however, will be the 40th anniversary screening of the Troma Entertainment classic, Blood Sucking Freaks, a cult film about traveling performers who enact gruesome, sadomasochistic shows featuring torture and murder. Milek and House say that screening will include a special surprise from Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman.

Twisted Dreams will also feature appearances by three Madison-area TV horror hosts — Doctor Destruction, Deadgar Meyer and FreakShow — as well as iconic Milwaukee horror filmmaker Mark Borchardt as the opening night MC.

It's a lot of work now, but once the festival opens Milek and House both are excited to get back to just appreciating horror films with likeminded moviegoers.

“It’s just fun to watch horror films in a dark theatre with a group of other fans,” Milek says. “It's a great experience.”

“Horror films are also iconic,” House adds. “They will let you live vicariously through a looking glass into another world you could never imagine.”

The Twisted Dreams Film Festival runs April 8 and 9 at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets are $10 for feature films or short film blocks, with packages available. Visit twisteddreamsfilmfest.weebly.com for more details.

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