Event Report: Michigan’s Freakshow Film Festival

Regular Dread Central readers are well acquainted with the sight of announcements for special screenings and film festivals across the country. Usually these events are held in locales like Los Angeles, Austin, New York City, etc. While that’s all well and good for those who live in or around a major metropolitan area, the rest of us who live in less glamorous settings aren’t so lucky.

Indeed, flyover country is not the place to be for those who crave anniversary screenings or Q&A seasons. Imagine, then, this fan’s surprise in early July when an event called Freakshow Film Festival arrived in the wee hamlet of Charlotte, Michigan.

Freakshow Film Festival Event Report (1)

The brainchild of horror fan Marty Kelley along with cohorts Mari Rosario and Douglas Hoy, who plays festival host/mascot Molotov the Clown, Freakshow Film Festival was designed with two goals in mind. One is the obvious purpose of gathering together the local horror community to enjoy some classic scares. Beyond that was the hope of using these events to raise money for local causes. During the initial weeks, the idea was to help the historic Eaton Theatre in their efforts to restore the old marquee.

Having missed the first several screenings, I was finally able to attend the festival’s fourth feature, Return of the Living Dead. Arriving early to talk to the organizers, I found the group spirit was a bit dampened that night as it was the end of their first round of showings. Their original plan had been to make this a weekly event for the foreseeable future. Sadly, the first weekend suffered from disappointingly low attendance, around eleven people or so, from what I’m told. Word seemed to have spread during the following week as I counted a good 30 people in attendance for this feature, with more arriving after that initial count. While it may not sound like a huge crowd, this was a larger audience than when I saw Batman v Superman in the same location during its opening week.

Before the film, there were a few small festivities to be enjoyed. Attendees were encouraged to show up in their best zombie attire for a brief walk around downtown, complete with sparklers. During the march, I began to wonder how Syfy has so far ignored the potential for a pyromaniac zombie flick. After the zombie march, the second activity commenced indoors, a costume contest judged by the non-zombie members of the audience. Prizes were administered in the form of gift certificates to a nearby video rental store. Yes, those still exist. Finally, with all of that out of the way, it was showtime.

The retro atmosphere extended to the original trailers for more classic horror tales. Not only did this serve to enhance the event, it also allowed the organizers to judge interest in movies for future shows. Out of everything on display, Re-Animator took the prize for Best Crowd Energizer.

Next up was Molotov the Clown, who give us an intro to the night’s film along with a story that mixed elements of dirty jokes and real-life events. Unfortunately the setting, combined with the lack of a microphone, made some of this intro hard to understand… a hiccup that will likely be smoothed out in later events.

Finally, with previews and Molotov out of the way, it was time for the feature film. It should be noted that this showing was a simple Blu-ray projection of the new Scream Factory edition. I’ve heard fans complain about this practice, crying out for the legitimacy of a proper print. Being my first experience with a Blu-ray theatrical presentation, I came away not completely understanding the nerd rage. Watching a disc projected through theater equipment actually yielded better audio visual quality than several new films I’ve seen in theaters this year.

Having seen Return of the Living Dead nearly every year since I was ten, viewing it on the big screen was practically a revelation. Scenes that had become tiresome over the years were revived, and with superior sound I realized just how truly incredible the soundtrack really is. Most people wouldn’t think it’d make that much of a difference, but the big screen and a group of strangers made the film seem new again. Most of all, there was a certain charm to seeing fans in their forties and fifties attending with their teenage children to usher in a new wave of horror fandom. Even for a hardened cynic such as myself, this was an almost heartwarming sight.

Freakshow Film Festival Event Report (2)

Something important to note about the environment is that The Eaton Theatre is, let’s say, classically equipped. There’s no leather reclining stadium seating, no D-Box or IMAX, not even one of those specialty soda fountains that allows you to make orange strawberry root beer. No, sir, this is the old fashioned kind of movie house where you sit in somewhat uncomfortable chairs and guzzle a giant cup of Wild Cherry Pepsi. It may not sound fancy, but in all honesty it made for a far more accurate recreation of seeing these films in their native format. They were released in a time when theaters didn’t resort to La-Z-Boys and steak dinners to get arses in the seats. Back then, people came for the movie, not the amenities.

After the tentative success of their first few showings, Freakshow Film Festival has changed locales to the nearby Windwalker Arts & Underground Galleries. The hope is that this new setting will allow for a looser viewing environment with the potential for a wider selection of movies. Even the food options will change, as grub is being provided by a local pizza joint. Whether or not this new venue will make for better showings remains to be seen. I for one will miss the authenticity of the original Eaton Theatre setting but hold out hope that the new spot will allow the festival to grow.

If you live near the Lansing metro area or are planing on traveling through Mid-Michigan anytime soon, consider stopping by for a good old spooky time. You can keep abreast of future developments via the group’s Facebook page for news and announcements.

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Justin Passick

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