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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
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The strange journey of Massacre!: The Musical from stage to screen
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There are plans to submit the finished product to several film fests, including the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, Sundance, and the crème de la gore -- Fangoria.
There are plans to submit the finished product to several film fests, including the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, Sundance, and the crème de la gore -- Fangoria.

Will Gartside likes a few laughs with his horror, some chuckles with his Chucky, so to speak. Not everyone appreciates the humor of a low-budget slasher flick, but Gartside hopes that his film Massacre!: The Musical will change that.

"The play was wonderfully tongue-in-cheek," says Gartside of the stage production Discordia's Sunshine Death by Rob Matsushita. Gartside, who is directing the film, saw the play as part of Mercury Players' Theatre's "Revenge of the Mini-Musicals" last spring and expressed interest to Matsushita about making it into a short film. Gartside, along with Matsushita and co-writer Morey Burnard, expanded the script, added some songs, and worked to coach the actors on adaptations from stage to screen.

The film is a nod to the horror films both Gartside and Matsushita grew up watching. Gartside hopes to use the little-known "slasher musical" genre as a creative way for the actors and writers to get noticed in the industry. He plans to submit the finished product to several film fests, including the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, Sundance, and the crème de la gore -- Fangoria.

"This summer has just been a great film class," says Gartside, who recently was accepted for a master's program at Marquette University. Massacre! is his directorial debut. In the DIY spirit, he and the crew also had to learn to mix gallons of fake blood, make intestines out of paper towels and liquid latex, develop effective lighting and camera angles, and work through several 12-hour all-night shoots.

The production has been successful so far, Gartside says, because of the generosity of many people in terms of location, studio work, and equipment.

The soundtrack currently has 13 songs with an electric punk and rock sound. Musical director Morey Burnard has worked with Emily Mills to record songs such as: "Wait, Wait, Wait, Please Don't Kill Me"; "Baptism of Pleasure"; "What Would Jesus Do (parts I & II)"; and Burnard's personal favorite, "Lordy Me, I Do Love Beer."

"I don't think any of us understood how huge of a project it was going to be," says Burnard about adapting the play into a film. Shooting is almost finished, however, as is the soundtrack, he says. The team plans to have their initial screening in late October in time for Halloween.

The film's teaser trailer promises that this Halloween, "DEATH... IS... KINDA... CUTE." Lead actress Kelly Kiorpes is shown running down a dark corridor wielding an ax and getting splattered with blood. The Devil looks over her shoulder; then more ax, more blood.


"No matter how much blood we throw on her," Gartside says of Kiorpes, "she still looks cute." Without her, he says, "the film really could not have moved forward."

In a battle between good and evil, Kiorpes plays the lead role of virginal Discordia, who she describes as "innocent, cute, evil, and misguided." Engaging in a series of gory mêlée's against a group of archetypal hedonists, Discordia goes about her killing in a "disturbingly cheerful" way, says Kiorpes. The actress has been in past local musical productions such as Ragtime and Walmartopia, among others.

The campy musical flavor of Massacre! -- in contrast to exuberant mutilation sequences -- says Gartside, tries to make the audience uncomfortable while getting them laughing at the same time.

He feels it will succeed, although they have had some prop issues during the shoot. Kiorpes admits that she has had to develop better ax-wielding strength in order to swing it with realistic effect and, Gartside says, "we couldn't get the 11-inch dildo to glow in the dark to save our lives."

But, he continues, "It's very difficult not to laugh when intestines are being shoved down someone's throat." Ahh, a gory mastermind rap, rap, rapping at the art house door.

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