A monster Halloween weekend: a ‘Bat Boy’ musical, manic movies and gory art

There’s something about the uncertain weather this time of year that makes Minnesota a tricky proposition, costume-wise. Halloween is often frigid and sometimes buried in snow. I remember how unsatisfying it was, when I was a boy, to get done up as Spider-Man, or a ghost, or whatever, and then cover it all with a winter jacket featuring mittens attached to the sleeves with snaps. There’s really only one costume that’s truly suitable to this time of year, and that’s the one worn by the monstrous children of David Cronenberg’s 1979 film “The Brood.” They wore snowsuits.

So be it, though. We Minnesotans aren’t going to let a little cold weather get in the way of our Halloweening, and so here is a list of my suggestions for this weekend’s activities. 

If you’re looking for a costume extravaganza, look no further than “Bat Boy: The Musical,” produced by the Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the Illusion space. Some of you may remember the Weekly World News, a sister paper to the National Enquirer, that, in many ways, became its uncontrolled id. While the Enquirer focuses on celebrity scandal, the Weekly World News shifted its attention to pure nonsense. Every single story was about something unlikely, including bizarre surgeries, lunatic psychic predictions, encounters with space aliens and, for a while, a lot of news about Bigfoot and Elvis, who I recall as having met a few times in the pages of the WWN.

Every so often, the WWN would stumble on a story that became really popular, and so would keep appearing, soap opera-like, week after week in the tabloid. They spent 2003, as an example, detailing a supposed romance between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden — the paper’s editorial stance was often right wing, although perhaps ironically so, and so the opportunity to combine mild homophobia with pro-war jingoism was too much for them to pass up. But they really struck gold with a character they dubbed Bat Boy. This was a batlike child found in a cave in West Virginia, lovingly detailed in a series of obviously doctored photographs. The WWN spent a long time detailing attempts to capture the creature, and then, as was their way, they just lost their mind with it. Bat Boy spent time fighting the war on terror, flew the space shuttle, and, in 2001, for some reason, bit Santa Claus.

Such a character was, quite obviously, perfect for a musical. It debuted off-Broadway about a decade ago, and has enjoyed remounts ever since, and with good cause. The play captures both the hysteria and ironic sensibilities of its source material, constructing a contemporary mock-serious Frankenstein’s monster tale. And how can you resist a musical that includes songs with titles like “Hold Me Bat Boy” and “Apology to a Cow”?

Robert Blake in David Lynch's "Lost Highway": He might be in your house right now!
Courtesy of October Films
Robert Blake in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”: He might be in your house right now!

There are two films screening at the Trylon Microcinema that feel especially apt for this weekend. The first is David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” playing tonight through Sunday. Co-scripted by Barry Gifford, a man of decidedly noirish sensibilities who wrote the novel that “Wild at Heart” was based on, “Lost Highway” at time feels like a crime film. There is a murder, and a crime boss, and a femme fatale. But Lynch’s storytelling often bordered on the supernatural, and this was one of his first films to cross that border, and he has yet to really come back from across it. And so here we have a story of a Los Angeles couple being stalked by an especially peculiar man in makeup (played by Robert Blake, giving the film an additional dose of menace) who seems to have made a habit of breaking into the couple’s house and filming them when they’re asleep. Worse still, he doesn’t seem entirely human — he confronts the couple at a party and insists they call home, handing them a phone. When they do, Robert Blake answers.

Halfway through the movie, it goes about as mad as a Weekly World News article. The husband is arrested for a murder and, while in prison, seemingly swaps identities altogether, and he emerges to an entirely different story that seems to reference the previous one, but never directly. Viewers found this maddening when the film first came out, but Lynch didn’t care — his characters have been swapping identities ever since. Regardless of whether you enjoy the director’s storytelling idiosyncrasies or not, he remains one of America’s premier filmmakers of pure mood, and that mood, often, is near-unendurable dread.

On Monday, the actual day of Halloween, the Trylon will bring back one of the oddest and most entertaining films they have ever shown, a 1977 Japanese ghost story called “House” (sometimes called “Hausu.”) The story is pretty typical for a Japanese horror story, telling of a group of young girls who travel to a small rural house and get picked off, one-by-one, by a malicious ghost. But that description makes it seem like the story follows anything resembling a conventional narrative. It doesn’t. The director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, consulted with his pre-teen daughter, producing a script that is incomprehensible in the delightful way the children often are when they make up stories. Fortunately, the film company, Toho, had made a string of perfectly comprehensible films that lost money, and thought, well, maybe something incomprehensible is just what they need.

And so Obayashi went ahead and made a film that is total delirium. Obayashi’s background was in directing commercials, and so the film is lensed with the glossy surrealism of a television ad, making it an astonishing pop artifact. And Toho was right to gamble on this sort of nonsense, as the film was a huge hit in Japan. Last time I was at the Trylon to see this, it sold out, and the audience walked out raving about it, so I imagine this will be a hot-ticket item this year as well.

Finally, the Cult Status Gallery is opening its annual Halloween-themed art show on Sunday, called “Of Gods and Monsters III,” which sounds appropriately like a sequel to a long-running horror franchise. This is a group show, and a massive one — the Facebook page for the gallery lists more than 40 artists. The directive is simple: Create a piece of art around your favorite horror film. Expect moody monochrome paintings borrowing from the early days of silent horror, coupled with vivid images of spilt viscera drawn from ’80s slasher films and modern “torture porn” horror. It’s not often that one can describe a piece of art as “horrific” or “ghastly” and intend that as a compliment, but, then, it’s not often you can dress up as a monster to go to an art gallery.  

Bundle up, though: Lows are going to reach 38 degrees.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/28/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    “the [Weekly World News] editorial stance was often right wing”

    Haha! Ya still got it, Bunny!

    (BTW, it’d be the WWN, not WWW)

  2. Submitted by Max Sparber on 10/28/2011 - 01:40 pm.

    And you do too, Tom. Although I’m not sure what “it” is, but for a lack of basic factchecking: http://weeklyworldnews.com/category/opinion/ed-anger/

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