Most genres tell pretty well what a story is going to be about. If it’s a romcom, two very attractive people are going to overcome some ordeal to find out that they’re exactly attractive enough for one another. If it’s action, a guy with a testosterone level that would disqualify him from running in the Kentucky Derby goes about saving the day via rocket propelled grenades. If it’s noir, a detective narrates everything in a voice that sounds like he gargles razor blades after meals. 

Horror is the exception. Pop a random horror movie in the VCR and you might see anything, from sentient wisecracking dolls to prom queens immolating their high school dances to Bruce Willis finding out that he’s been a ghost the whole time. It’s a versatile genre, which is why you can watch so many very different live performances this year at the Twin Cities Horror Festival.

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The first assemblage of theatrical productions began in 2012, when Four Humors wanted to produce their original play Harold, a dark comedy about a scarecrow brought to life to the detriment of two isolated goatherds. One of the many problems associated with putting on any play is affording the space you need to show it, so the company set out in search of coproducers. They found a handful of like-minded people, each with their own horror play, and that was that. The Twin Cities Horror Festival would continue on and keep growing every year.

“We’ve got 12 productions this year,” said Ryan Lear, executive director and festival co-founder, “and plays spanning everything that the horror genre has to offer: psychological, blood and gore, camp, theatrical music. It’s rare to see a live horror performance, let alone this many — as far as I know ours is the only festival of its kind in the country. Our audience gets to better connect with horror when it’s presented right there before them. Watching someone’s leg get ripped off is always best in the intimacy of the theater.

“We’ve got very talented performers, who use horror to turn their own life experiences into pure entertainment. The genre is perfect for translating real world problems into something gripping, whether the central issue is social media obsession, racism, or abuse. Some of our shows aren’t rooted in reality at all, and others are even family friendly.”

The festival’s repertoire this year really covers the gamut. Incarnate depicts the unpleasantries that follow when a charismatic cult leader unleashes his malevolence on an unsuspecting small town. Living Embalming Sessions has a self-explanatory title, and ought to be sponsored by the Cremation Society of Minnesota. Bug Girl is set to be a modern application of the Kafka treatment, and Amp brings Shelley into the 21st century. There is sci-fi, dance, comedy, short films, and one play described in part as “the waking nightmare of a lizard brain.”

The neat thing about the Twin Cities Horror Festival is that each of its plays are an hour long or shorter, so they get to present three to four shows back to back on school nights and six to seven on weekends. There is a different lineup every night, so it doesn’t require a miracle of scheduling to take in every play the festival has got to offer. The Skeleton Key pass, which entitles you to carte blanche attendance throughout the festival’s ten day run, is the best way to go about this.

Do you know that feeling you get when you pay umpteen bucks for a movie ticket, where you’re aware that a large chunk of it is going toward caviar hors d’oeuvres served on private jets? Not so with the Twin Cities Horror Festival. One hundred percent of individual and punch pass ticket sales go directly to its performers, who are breaking their backs and having their legs ripped off just to go up there and put on a show for us.

The Twin Cities Horror Festival will be held October 24th through November 3rd at the The Southern Theater in Minneapolis. You can learn more about it at


By David Scheller