Three Corpse Circus festival goes beyond gore and fads

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Horror movies these days are mostly all found footage and elaborate torture traps, but a fledgeling film festival in Ann Arbor is out to change that.

“The idea is to create a show that’s sort of like a mix of ‘Twilight Zone,’ ‘The Outer Limits,’ ‘Tales From the Crypt’ and ‘Tales From the Dark Side,’ ” says Chris Anderson, director and co-founder of the Three Corpse Circus International Horror Film Festival. “(We’re) bringing back the idea of horror as a morality tale, and not just (‘The Human) Centipede.’ ”

Three Corpse returns Thursday through Sunday for its fifth anniversary, featuring more short films at more venues than ever before. Anderson, a lifelong horror nerd, founded the festival in 2010 with friends Jonathan Barkan and Brian Schmieder. Since then, the festival has screened exclusively at the Michigan Theater, but this year it will present 40 films at the Michigan, the State Theatre, the Netural Zone teen center and Ypsilanti’s Bona Sera Café.

The festival will mark another milestone by screening its first full-length feature film. “Runaway Day” is a moody, elegantly shot Greek feature about a mysterious mass exodus during the country’s debt crisis. The horror genre is detectable only in the film’s chilly mood and possibly supernatural phenomenon, but Anderson says its themes of “anxiety created due to financial depression” make it an ideal film for Southeast Michigan.

“Areas of (Detroit) are completely abandoned because people have done that over time,” he says. “It didn’t happen over a few short weeks, as we see in ‘Runaway Day,’ but it’s sort of like ‘Runaway Day’ has encapsulated exactly what is happening in Detroit.”

Ironically, this year’s festival features only one film from its home state: 19-year-old Allendale director Garrett Bleshenski’s “A Stranger From Another Place.” Bleshenski, a sophomore at Grand Valley State University, also presented at last year’s Three Corpse. He says there’s “a lot to be learned” about horror filmmaking, and the festival is an ideal place to do so.

“A lot of people had some really weird and cinematically stylistic ideas that they showed,” he says. “I was pretty impressed by some of the things that I saw.”

Anderson says he wants to expand the number of Michigan filmmakers, and just about everything else about the festival, in the years to come. Anderson still works a day job shooting video for the University of Michigan, but he hopes to eventually turn the festival into a major event and a career. This year’s festival will feature a costumed “zombie walk,” a Halloween fashion show and horror-themed puppet shows in addition to the films, and Anderson wants to keep augmenting the screenings with a variety of horror-related art and entertainment.

“At the end of the day, where we’re headed is to create a festival of horrors and not just a film festival,” Anderson says.“I’m super excited about where our show can go from here.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Fifth annual Three Corpse Circus International Horror Film Festival

“Terrors and Treats” preview

8 p.m. Thursday

Bona Sera Café

200 W. Michigan, Ypsilanti


“First Fridays” preview

7 p.m. Friday

The Netural Zone

310 E. Washington, Ann Arbor


All other screenings

11:59 p.m. Friday; 1:15 p.m.

and 11:59 p.m. Saturday

State Theatre

233 S. State, Ann Arbor

Tickets $10 per block;

$7 for midnight screenings

11:59 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m.,

5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday

Michigan Theater

603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor

Tickets $10 per block;

$7 for midnight screenings