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Summerfest Daily Report - Wednesday, August 8

By Glenn Sumi

Film director Brian DePalma once said - and I'm paraphrasing - that film as a medium is really good at depicting sex, horror and violence. (Remember, this is the guy who made his name directing genre films that combined all three, such as Carrie, Dressed To Kill and Body Double.)

He's right. Watching things blow up real good on the big screen is much more entertaining than seeing them explode on TV. In horror and suspense, the audience's perspective is limited to what the camera shows us - so we're always wondering what's outside the frame. Is the axe-murderer in the corner? Behind us? And it's hard not to feel like a voyeur while sitting in a dark movie house, seemingly alone, watching someone reveal that first flash of shoulder...

Theatre is less naturalistic and so less conservative than film. You can't blow things up convincingly onstage. But you can suggest an explosion with lights and sound. As for sex, onstage nudity is more often a distraction and embarrassment than a turn-on. Theatre seduces with words.

But horror and suspense? Here, theatre can make an impact, going back to the great bloody tradition of Grand Guignol, where audiences would faint at the gore onstage. Today, period thrillers still pack 'em in at the Shaw Festival. Suspenseful summer stock shows like I'll Be Back Before Midnight have made their authors rich. And think of the big Rocky Horror Show revival in New York.

So it's no surprise to see several horror shows at this year's SummerWorks, including Billy And The Monsters and Sideshow Of The Damned. Here's a dissection of both of them.

BILLY AND THE MONSTERS
PREMISE: A sullen high school kid (played by author Jon McCurley) gets back at his conservative parents with the help of two European-sounding monsters.
FEAR FACTOR: It begins promisingly, with the appearance of the genuinely creepy flashlight-wielding monsters in the aisles. But none of the characters - including the monsters - are well defined, making their vengeance or their bloody demises meaningless and therefore not frightening.
GORE FACTOR: Way too much, with no payoff. Limbs get hacked off and thrown about, fake blood spurts all over the place. All of which makes you think, 'Who's gonna clean all this up before the next show?'
FUN FACTOR: Minimal. It's a neat idea to have Billy's parents speak in rhyming verse to separate them from him, and there's an obvious camp aspect to a show in which the mom is played by a guy in drag and everyone's plugging products. But there's no consistent tone to the show.

SIDESHOW OF THE DAMNED
PREMISE: Eric Woolfe's trilogy is an homage to those horror anthology programs on TV, and/or those suggestive Tales From The Crypt-style horror comics.
FEAR FACTOR: Pretty high, because director Michael Waller takes the proceedings seriously. The characters are recognizable types, but their emotions and motivations are clear. Woolfe's got the diction and language down pat, and Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey's creepy Satie-inspired music gets under your skin. Plus, Woolfe knows that the scariest things get to our subconscious fears: the mystery of childbirth, humans transforming themselves into monsters.
GORE FACTOR: The stylish use of red ribbons to suggest blood - or in one case a red sheet to evoke a sea of blood - is far more effective than any attempt at recreating real blood.
FUN FACTOR: Director Waller knows that fear and fun go well together. You laugh because you're scared. And of course, it's always satisfying to see greed and selfishness punished.

All three pwyc readings begin at 7:30 pm.

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