Kool Kat of the Week: Weird Worlds and Twisted Tales: Spec-Lit Author Nicole Givens Kurtz Talks Diverse Voices, Representation and BLACKTASTICON 2018, Coming to Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 12th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The State of Black Science Fiction shouts “Welcome to the Future!” as co-founders Kool Kat Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis bring you BLACKTASTICON 2018, Atlanta’s top-notch spec-lit convention (formerly known as The State of Black Science Fiction Con), this  Saturday and Sunday (June 16-17) at GA Tech’s Ferst Center. This event is chock full of Afro-futurism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, and then some! So come on out and celebrate the diverse and ultra relevant voices of current black writers, artists, filmmakers, and creators of all kinds delivering some of the most dynamic and ground-breaking speculative fiction today, including our Kool Kat of the Week, Nicole Givens Kurtz.

Kurtz, Dream Realm, EPPIE and Fresh Voices in Science Fiction award finalist, delves deep into the speculative literature genre (sci-fi, horror, weird westerns, urban fantasy, etc.). Her short stories have been published in thirty plus anthologies including “KQ” (LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, VOL. 2 – wild west/horror), “Death’s Harvest” (STREET MAGICK ANTHOLOGY – urban fantasy); “Kanti’s Black Box” (THE MARTIAN ANTHOLOGY – science fiction), just to name a few. Kurtz is also the mastermind behind the CYBIL LEWIS and MINISTER KNIGHTS series. In addition to her prolific writing career, Kurtz is publisher and owner of Mocha Memoirs Press, brought to life in order to bring more diverse voices to the land of speculative fiction.

ATLRetro caught up with North Carolina-based writer and frequent Atlanta visitor, Nicole Givens Kurtz, to find out more about her influences, her career in spec-lit, the need for diversity and representation, and the importance of BLACKTASTICON.

ATLRetro: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was a hit with over 500 attendees and 40 vendors. Atlanta welcomes it back for another exciting year as Blacktasticon 2018 invades the south once again! As a guest and panelist at last year’s event, can you tell us a little about your experience and what you hope to gain this year?

Nicole Givens Kurtz: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was an awe-inspiring event. It also felt like a homecoming. Many of the people there I’ve known virtually via social media. There were hugs, laughter, and a great deal of support. One of the beautiful things about the convention resided in the warmth and promotion of black science fiction. It was ours. Here we were not the fringe of the convention, but the center, its heart. That paradigm shift hit me hard, and there were times when I looked out at the sea of black faces–faces like mine–that I wanted to weep in joy.  I’ve never felt so included in a convention before.

Blacktasticon welcomes us to the future, a boundless and complex yet beautiful future. With the current state of politics, of the #metoo movement, of the societal woes and bloody wounds still saturating the present-day, what message do you hope current writers and creators bring to the table for future generations?

The overriding message I hope Blacktasticon delivers to future generations is that we (African-Americans) aren’t going anywhere. The future is full of black people, including women. We are a creative force, in all aspects of media, comics, movies, novels, and animation. This convention shows the future generations what we are capable of and what they can do. Those creative doors aren’t shut to them because of traditional gatekeepers. This goes beyond simply diversity, but the nuisances of the black collective. African-Americans aren’t a monolith, and here at this convention, all of those various talents are displayed.

Black Women in Sci-Fi Panel 2016 (l-r) Nicole Givens Kurtz, Alicia McCalla, Penelope Flynn, Kyoto M., Rennie Murphy

Do you feel it is the job of artists, writers and creators to represent what this world should be and could be? If so, which speculative fiction writer past or present would you say represents the most comprehensive ideal of how the world and its inhabitants should be?

Science fiction has always been political. Mary Shelley‘s FRANKENSTEIN is an absolute novel about hubris. So, yes, I do feel it is our job to tell stories, as humans have done since the beginning of time, since before written language. We tell stories to explain the world around us. That’s the role of artists, writers, and creators to continue to tell those stories, including what the world should be and what it could be. Past fiction writers that I feel offered the most comprehensive ideal of our world are classics such as Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Zora Neale Hurston, and of course, Mary Shelley. There are modern writers of science fiction and fantasy who are representing the world as is or how it could be as well. N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Jose Older, Max Gladstone and anyone at Rosarium Publishing is presenting fabulous visions of the future.

Can you tell us how you got started writing? Did you start writing as a little girl? Or were you older when the writing bug bit you?

I’ve been writing stories before I could actually write words. When I was little, I would go up to my room and continue the stories I saw on television with my dolls or in my head. Once I learned to write, I would scribble the stories down, but it wasn’t until high school where I won a district wide essay contest that I realized I could make money from writing. I read everything I could get my hands on from elementary school onward. My mother encouraged me to keep reading and we spent many weekends at the public library checking out books. When I became a teenager, I would skip the mall and spend my Saturday buried in books, gaining knowledge, and losing myself in other worlds.

Your Mocha Memoirs Press mission statement is “We believe representation in speculative fiction (science fiction, horror, fantasy) is not only important, but a necessity.” Can you tell our readers a little bit about Mocha Memoirs Press, LLC, and why you feel representation is essential?

Mocha Memoirs began as a way for me to funnel more diverse works into the world, where at the time, I saw a huge gap. The company began in 2010, and at that time, I did not see vary many science fiction works that reflected people of color, women, or black women in particular. Often when I attended conventions with my first novel, I was the only black person there at all, let alone actually selling my published novel. In an effort to give back but also bring awareness to the diverse stories we can tell, I started Mocha Memoirs Press. Representation is essential because it provides positive self affirmation. Essentially, seeing oneself in media as a hero, heroine, or protagonists demonstrates to the reader/viewer, “You matter. You exist. This future is yours and you have a place in it. This story could be your story.” Everyone wants to be valued. Representation should reflect the diversity of our world.

We see that you’ve had work published in LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, LAWLESS LANDS, and STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMBSTONE, to name a few. Can you tell us about your love of westerns (the weirder the better) and how living in New Mexico influenced your writing?

Prior to moving to New Mexico, I lived in a variety of other places (San Diego, Chicago, Louisville) but nothing took root inside me the way the Land of Enchantment did. My mother was always a western fan, and in our household, I grew up with Clint Eastwood, SHANE, and THE RIFLEMAN. To this day, my mother still sits and watches westerns. Imagine a young black girl in a housing project watching these men settle scores with the fastest pistols in the west. As a writer, my weird western stories are rooted in the theme of freedom. This place, the west, specifically, the southwest, thrived with a diverse group of people–Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves, and of course, wealthy Eastern whites; each having to work together to scrape out a life in this harsh, new environment, and in doing so crafted an entirely different way of life, of culture, unlike those in the East. Those differences still resonate through to this day. That’s why I write weird westerns.

You’ve had short stories published in over thirty anthologies ranging from science fiction to horror and have had your novels become finalists for several awards, such as the EPPIES, Dream Realm and Fresh Voices in Sci-Fi. If you had to choose a favorite short story or novel from your bibliography, which would you choose and why?

This is like asking me to pick my favorite child! Of all the short stories I’ve written, “Belly Speaker,” is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it is a weird western, but it is about finding one’s voice when others threaten to silence it. My favorite novel, of the ones I’ve written, is DEVOURER. In this second MINISTER KNIGHTS OF SOULS novel, Akub seeks to redeem herself from her violent past by doing something criminal.  I’m interested in redemption and how we overcome the actions of our past.

Which writer from the past and which writer from the present has influenced and continues to influence you the most and what is it about them that draws them to you?

The writer from my past that influenced me the most is Stephen King. Most of my stories have their roots in weird, strange horror. Even if they’re science fiction stories, horrific things happen in them. Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Zora Neale Hurston, and classic literature such as Shirley Jackson, Alice Walker, and of course, Octavia Butler have all influenced me.

Having had the pleasure of experiencing your panels at last year’s convention, we know you’re not only a killer storyteller, but you’re also a spooky horror film junkie and fanatic like us! Can you tell us your favorite horror movie and why it ranks at the top of your list?

My favorite horror movie of all time is MY BLOODY VALENTINE, the remake. Don’t judge me! Prior to that movie, my favorite horror films were from the 1980s: LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT and HELLRAISER. I still watch these films on streaming media whenever I need a good scare.

As a writer working in the science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme among women, especially women of color in the industry?

When I began my career in science fiction publishing in 2005, the challenges were getting past the gatekeepers at major publishing companies to even look at my work. So many rejections of “Cannot identify with this character,” and “Nice concept, can’t sell it.” The perception that black protagonists wouldn’t sell or that readers who weren’t black couldn’t identify with a non-white protagonist in science fiction was astounding to me. This same genre where people could identify with shapeshifting tigers, but not another human being, continues to be the drumbeat for certain editors and publishers today. The difference today (14 years later) is the convenience of small press publishing, electronic book publishing, and self publishing options that allows my work to by-pass some of those gatekeepers. Conventions like Blacktasticon help me market and connect to readers who are hungry for those stories.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Five things I’m in to right now are: 1) CLOAK & DAGGER on Freeform/Hulu; 2) ALTERED CARBON-the series with Kovacs is a good cyberpunk series; 3) Sting’s TEN SUMMONER’S TALES is always in rotation; 4) Andrea Botticelli is also in heavy rotation; and 5) ROUTE 3 by Robert Jeffery is a comic series that I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Any advice for women writers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

Nicole Givens Kurtz and SOBSFC guest 2016

DO.NOT.SETTLE. I wish I would’ve stuck to this advice at the onset of my career. Don’t settle. Do your research because this business requires a great deal of patience. Know what you want and do not settle for anything less.

Getting back to what brought us here, Blacktasticon 2018! Is there anything exciting you have planned for attendees? Can you give us a sneak peek into the panels you’ll be sitting on?

My press, Mocha Memoirs, will have special package pricing just for the convention. I’m on the Women in Black Speculative Fiction panel, which I’m very excited to be a part of again. Last time we had standing room only!

And last but not least, what are you currently working on and how can we get our hands on it?

I’m currently working on finishing a novella, that’s romance and fantasy. Afterwards, I’m diving back into my Cybil Lewis Science Fiction Mystery series. Then later this year, I’ll be working on my weird western short story collection.

 

Photos courtesy of Nicole Givens Kurtz and used with permission.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Horror Family Values – The Hess Family Gets Twisted, Raring to Spawn Season 2 of their Award-Winning TWILIGHT ZONE meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Ray Bradbury Web-Series, HORROR HOTEL!

Posted on: May 20th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew10888544_564774920288902_2843828761362776837_n
Managing Editor

Ricky Hess, local geek at heart, jack of all film-trades and series creator/director, has resurrected a living, breathing, monster of an award-winning web anthology series, HORROR HOTEL, where the only recurring character is a menacing dilapidated motor court hotel where “People check in, but they don’t always check out.”And he’s drug mom and dad along for the bloody ride! Inspired by the creepy fantastical worlds presented in THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, HORROR HOTEL delivers that nostalgic deep-in-the-gut suspense and spine-chilling plot twisting angst that gained incredible popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and has successfully seeped into the 21st century psyche with a raging resurgence. From what we hear, there’s always a vacancy at HORROR HOTEL, so check in if you dare and catch Season 2, filled to the bloody brim with aliens, androids, ghosts, psychotic killers – all invading your homes in the very near future!

Ricky, no film-school rookie, has dabbled in producing, directing, writing, SFX – all while creating shorts, web series, commercials and music videos. While brainstorming HORROR HOTEL, he gleaned the business knowledge of mom, Debbie Hess (executive producer) and writing/carpentry skills of dad, Al Hess (writer/set builder), to create one helluva horror filmmaking family and production team! Season 1 of the web series premiered in 2013, spanning 90 minutes of content in six twisted episodes, which can be purchased as a complete series, with each episode running 12-20 minutes in homage to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s style and format. In 2014, the series garnered much attention from the L.A. Web Series Festival (LA Webfest), and won in four categories: Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Series and Outstanding Score. And now, with Season 2 in post-production, you’ll have ample opportunity to catch a ghastly glimpse at Atlanta’s homegrown throwback to the masters of suspense and mystery! You owe it to yourself to take a step off the beaten path, check in to HORROR HOTEL and try to make it out alive!

"Aliens Stole My Boyfriend", Season 2

“Aliens Stole My Boyfriend”, Season 2

ATLRetro caught up with the Hess Family for a quick interview about HORROR HOTEL; the series’ homage to ‘50s and ‘60s horror television; and what it takes to create a successful web series. And while you’re daring to take a peek at our little Q&A, get a twisted taste of the making of Season 2’s “Coma Girl” and “Brain Robbers in Love.

ATLRetro: First off, your web-series, HORROR HOTEL is a perfect fit for ATLRetro! We love all things TWILIGHT ZONE, Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Bradbury and more! Can you tell our readers how HORROR HOTEL was born?

Ricky: I was attending a convention in another city and was seeking out an inexpensive place to stay. I ran across several suggestions but some contained warnings about the neighborhood and possible “risks” staying there, etc. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to stay someplace with such a dangerous reputation. The idea occurred to me that it would be fun to make a series about such a place and the odd, creepy kind of encounters that could occur there. The idea for HORROR HOTEL was born from that.

We see that HORROR HOTEL is a home-grown family affair, with Debbie Hess (mom) as Executive Producer, Al Hess (dad) as Writer and Ricky Hess (son) as Creator/Director. What’s it like to come from such a creative family working so closely with each other? And of course we’d like to know, who’s really the boss?

Ricky: It’s great getting to work with my family on the project. It is the most rewarding thing to me about producing the series actually. My mom and dad were somewhat new to the movie making business, but they each had skills that were needed to put a movie project together. My dad and I had for years enjoyed making up creepy stories on long road trips to amuse ourselves and he’s had some previous writing experience. Not to mention he is a great carpenter and builds all our custom props and set pieces. He’s also a good lighting technician from his years of photography. My mom, Debbie, has a pretty good business head on her and had dealt for years in the marketing world working at advertising agencies, newspapers, radio and television. She is a salesperson at heart and can endure the grueling job of marketing and promotion. I had worked for several years on other people’s projects doing everything from special effects to editing. I moved over to doing most of the directing on the series and do most of the editing as well. So together we make a pretty good, complete team.

Who’s the boss? Well, all our decisions are made together and there are always compromises that have to be made on everyone’s part to settle on a direction, but being family, this is probably a little easier since we know each other so well and have respect for each other.

You’ve stated the major influences for the series are THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Alfred Hitchcock. Are there any particular episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or any particular Hitchcock tale that inspired you more than others?

Al: My favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episode is “Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead. Tiny aliens invade an old woman’s house and hurt her. My favorite Hitchcock episode is a Ray Bradbury tale, “The Jar,” where a farmer buys a creepy pickle jar from a side-show that’s got all this weird stuff floating around in it.

"Invader", Season 1 - Troy Halverson

“Invader”, Season 1 – Troy Halverson

Do you have any additional retro/vintage influences for this series or for other projects you are working on?

Al: I’d like to make something showing a near future world containing a utopian/dystopian conflict. Things that used to scare people during the times of Orwell and Huxley, like being controlled by machines, aren’t so scary now that it’s happened. Each new generation of communication devices and surveillance equipment gives everyone a sense of security even though it necessarily strips away individual human rights and privacy.

Since HORROR HOTEL is an anthology series, like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, would you say production is more or less difficult than a straight series, with recurring characters, etc.? What would you say are your biggest challenges?

Debbie: Horror works well in the anthology format because people are ok with a short story that is complete in itself and not continuing. Production-wise however, it definitely has its challenges. For starters, to tell a complete story circuit in each episode and do it well, requires a longer length episode which is always harder to do. HORROR HOTEL episodes tend to run longer than most web series, from 10-22 minutes. The first season contains over 90 minutes of content; the equivalent of a feature length film. We have to recast for each new episode, which takes time. With a serial series and recurring characters, this is faster and easier. We also have to retool the set for each new episode, completely redecorate a new hotel room specifically for that episode (new costumes, new props, new everything).

It’s like shooting a whole bunch of short films all the time. The advantage of shooting an anthology is that people can randomly pick out episodes to watch and don’t have to follow a story arch to know what’s happening. Probably the biggest challenge is simply wrangling all the different cast and crew it takes to do a series like this. First season alone took over 100 people to produce, which is a lot for a web series. It’s always a challenge to fit people into the schedule puzzle and keep a project moving forward to completion. Once we set a production schedule, we will do whatever necessary to keep that locked in and not postpone it. Too many independent film projects start but don’t finish. That’s not an option for us.

"Brain Robbers in Love", Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

“Brain Robbers in Love”, Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

What are some of the major differences between television/film formats and the web-series format?

Debbie: For a series produced for traditional television, there are specifically timed breaks (acts) to allow for commercials. The standard TV format calls for 22-24 minutes of actual story for a 30-minute program and anywhere from 44-46 minutes for an hour-long program. With a web series, they can be any length because primarily they are streamed online with no required commercial breaks, although many times they do have commercials depending on the platform. As far as the actual production, the same applies for traditional TV or a web series. You use all the same equipment, follow all the same procedures; everything is the same. The only difference is the viewing platform they will be primarily presented on.

Everyone making a web series should strive for as high a production value as you possibly can. With the advent of so many different ways to view digital series now, from your computer to your big screen TV, you want content that looks really good, with broadcast quality, high resolution, good filming techniques, etc. It’s the only way to have a series ever be seriously considered by higher caliber platforms.

What do you think separates HORROR HOTEL from other web series and makes it one-of-a-kind in the industry?

Ricky: Well, the fact that it is a true anthology sets it apart from the majority of web series out there, but we are not one-of-a-kind necessarily. We have tried to bring back old-school storytelling where the plot and story lines matter the most and we just try to fit in special or visual effects to enhance that. Sometimes filmmakers rely more on visual effects and some kind of “wow” factor to endear an audience but that gets numbing pretty fast without a decent story.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your nominations and wins at the 2014 LA WebFest?

"Life After Men", Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

“Life After Men”, Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

Ricky: It was an honor to receive four nominations and wins at the 2014 LA Webfest for Outstanding Series, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Score and Outstanding Sound Design. The decision came after a review of all episodes in the first season, but the two episodes that screened at the festival were “Tilt” and “Guillotine.

What was your process in obtaining the talent for the series? How did you snag up Grammy Award-winning Matt Still, who scored the music on the “Guillotine” episode and actor James Edward Thomas (Al Sharko), who also acted in the ‘80s television reboot of THE TWILIGHT ZONE?

Debbie: We cast for each new episode locally from the large, talented actor pool in Atlanta. We post audition notices first on our Facebook page to give our fans a chance to submit for an audition first. After that, we post on a number of casting sites primarily focused on Atlanta talent. We continue to be amazed and pleased at the truly talented group of local Atlanta actors we have been proud to work with. James Edward Thomas showed up to audition for episode “Houdini’s Hand” and was a perfect fit for the only recurring actor thus far in the series, Al Sharko. He is not only a fine actor, but a valued family friend. He also appears in episode “Invader” as sci-fi writer Rodney Silvers.

It was actually his connection to Matt Still that facilitated Matt scoring episode “Guillotine” which James is in as well. We were so honored and excited to have Matt work on an episode. His reputation as a premiere music producer working with mega stars like Elton John, Madonna and a who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll folks was just amazing and thrilling for us. He did a most excellent job on the scoring of “Guillotine” and obviously it caught the attention of LA Webfest judges. We have been fortunate to have a number of excellent musical artists work on the series including Royal Teague, Kenneth Singleton II and Quinton “Q” Amy in the first season alone.

"Four Eyes", Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

“Four Eyes”, Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

HORROR HOTEL currently has two complete seasons. How can our readers go about getting their grubby little hands on them?

Ricky: Currently the first season is released and can be seen on Hulu, AT&T U-verse, MSN Videos, and xfinity streaming platforms. It also broadcasts on the Shorts Network channel on DirectTV and AT&T U-verse. The new second season is working through post-production, releasing in the upcoming months.

What’s next for HORROR HOTEL and the Hess family? Are there more seasons in the works and if so, can you give our readers some juicy details (without giving away too many details)? Any other projects in the works?

Debbie: We are currently concentrating on post-production work for the second season and getting that distributed, but we are also kicking around some new ideas and worlds we would like to explore. But here’s a little tickler of upcoming second season episodes: Expect cute aliens that crash land their space buggy on the motel parking lot looking for Earth boyfriends; a macabre maintenance man at a convalescence home who falls in love with a comatose patient; a narcissistic businesswoman who swaps brains with a younger business associate; a family of female clones, one of whom has committed a murder; a paraplegic hit-man hired by a disgruntled ex-husband to take out his wife; and an Orwellian tale set in the near future where males are virtually extinct and women rule.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do, and what’s the answer?

"Houdini's Hand", Season 1

“Houdini’s Hand”, Season 1

Ricky: Q: What happens to the many props and costumes you have after each episode? A: I’m so glad you asked! We really like our custom props like the “Houdini’s Hand” ornate box, the brain swap machine from second season’s “Brain Robbers In Love,” the custom ham radio from “Invader,” the hand-carved space buggy from “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend,” and a host of other one-of-a-kind props. Not the least of which is our miniature motel model we built for miniature photography seen in episode “Invader” and “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend” to date. We like to display these for visitors to see, a sort of HORROR HOTEL mini museum if you will. Most of the costumes get saved as well, and we have even reused a couple, like the Nazi uniforms and the Rufus Bass costume because you never know when some of these characters might be resurrected!

All photos courtesy of Horror Hotel LLC and used with permission.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Something Wicked This Way Comes to Avondale Estates; Step Right Up to the Nightmare Circus of the Dark Harvest Haunted House, Masquerade Ball and Festival!

Posted on: Oct 23rd, 2012 By:

Pull back the tent flap and see what happens when the Devil himself brings the circus to town at the Dark Harvest Haunted House at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates! Step right up and brave the cornfields of Bradbury Farm, where the souls of a dead town grow right out of the corn, and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium, inhabited by the spirits of long dead sideshow freaks. Oh, and did we mention the Killer Clown Maze?

Another example of Atlanta’s talent in designing homegrown haunts, Dark Harvest runs Fri. Oct. 26 through Halloween (Oct. 31), with an opening night Masquerade Ball featuring some spooktacular entertainment on Fri. night and a family-friendly street carnival on Sat. Oct. 27 from noon to 5 p.m. And as an extra treat, proceeds from all the tricks will benefit local charities such as The Academy Theatre, Lifeline Animal Project and The South Dekalb Senior Center.

From Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES to Erin Morgenstern’s recent bestselling THE NIGHT CIRCUS and countless carnival-themed horror movies (Hammer’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS [1972] is one of our favorites and recently remastered on bluray), it’s well-established in horror fiction that circuses and carnivals can be creepy places. We caught up with Angelo Ritz, the mastermind of the entire mad affair, to find out more about his haunting Halloween history, Retro influences and the Dark Harvest experience.

ATLRetro: What’s the first Halloween haunt that you remember going to as a kid and what about it scared you the most or stayed with you?

When I was about eight years old, The Lake Worth Jaycees put together a charity haunted house at The Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Fla. The only thing I really remember of that first visit is seeing an 8-foot tall vampire – he seemed that big to an 8-year-old – appear out of nowhere in a strobe room and running all the way to the exit screaming like a Catholic school girl in trouble the entire way!

When did you first become interested in designing your own haunt and when/what was it? 

After that first haunt, I was hooked on horror films – anything from UniversalFamous Monsters of Filmland and anything else I could get my hot little hands on related to monsters. The next Halloween – 1972 to be exact – I built my first haunted house in my living room for the neighborhood Trick or Treaters. It wasn’t much, but I did make one little girl wet herself!

Dark Harvest has a circus/carnival theme and there’s even a Bradbury Farm area and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium. How much of an influence was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury on the design? Was that story particularly scary for you as a child?

I’m thrilled that you picked up on the reference! As a child, I don’t think any other piece of genre literature had a more profound effect on me than SOMETHING WICKED. It wasn’t particularly scary to me, but for the first time I think I finally understood the human side to horror literature, that the true nature of an individual can be more monstrous than any zombie or vampire I had seen up to that point.

What other classic horror stories or movies provided inspiration for Dark Harvest?

I would say Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) and a little dash of David Lynch‘s ERASERHEAD (1977).

Clowns are supposed to be funny, but creepy clowns have become a special trope in horror movies and fiction (Stephen King’s IT comes immediately to mind). Who are some of your favorite killer clowns and why do you think clowns are so scary to so many people?

Stephen King’s IT, hands down! All others pale in comparison. The book kept me up nights for about a month! The miniseries may not have been great, but Tim Curry as Pennywise haunted my dreams for a good while after. I think people are frightened by clowns for a very simple reason – you never know what’s really under that white make-up and painted-on smile!

Without giving away any spoilers, is there anything else you’d like to point out that’s different about Dark Harvest compared to Atlanta’s other haunted attractions?

The one big difference is the absence of gore. Don’t get me wrong, gore is very effective in the right context, but considering the source material the show is based on, I felt classic scare techniques were more appropriate.

Tim Curry plays Pennywise in the ABC-TV miniseries of Stephen King's IT (1990).

On Friday night, there’s a masquerade ball. The Artifice Club’s Doctor Q will be spinning, but what else will be going on and will there be costume prizes?

We have a great line-up of live entertainment for the ball. Gwen Hughes and The Retro Jazz Kats, The City Gate Dance Theatre Company, Thimblerig Circusand the incomparable Aqualencia Litre. Everyone who attends also gets a VIP (no waiting in line) ticket to the haunt. For the costume contest, there will be trophies in a few categories. I want to keep those under my hat for now!

The family festival on the weekend reminds me of the Halloween school and church carnivals when we were kids. Do you have a favorite childhood Halloween carnival memory and is that the idea – to bring back that tradition?

I think you hit the nail on the head. After my first living room haunt, I built two houses for middle school fundraisers, and I wanted younger children to be able to have as much fun as I did at that age. We are going to have a few different scare levels during the festival to accommodate all ages, including “ The Trick or Treat Haunted House” for the very young (3 to 5 years old) where the actors will give out candy.

Can you talk briefly about the charities that the haunt will benefit?

The haunt will benefit Lifeline Animal Project – a no-kill shelter and pet-fostering facility. The South Dekalb Senior Center – they are greatly in need of art supplies and an instructor for their senior activity program. And The Academy Theatre’s Theater for Youth outreach program.

Advance tickets for all Dark Harvest festivities, including group discounts, are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com 

All artwork courtesy of Dark Harvest and provided by Angelo Ritz.

 

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress