THE ART OF THE SCARE: Twin Ports performers, artists reveal what gets their blood pumping


Dark and stark poetry, a haunting photograph that triggers a personal fear and a painting that leaves more questions landed on a list of artists’ best loved pieces of spooky art.

With Halloween just two creaky doors and some organ music away, local musicians, theater-heads, writers and filmmakers were asked to talk about a favorite piece of music, movies, paintings, poems — anything arty that triggers tingles.

Here is what they said:



KATE HORVATH, actor and director

‘K is for Kate who was struck with an axe.’

One of the first picture books I loved as a child was ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’ by Edward Gorey.

It is a delightful dark, nontraditional take on the ABC book with alliterative, playful language and creepy illustrations. Each letter of the alphabet represents a child who experiences a dramatic and untimely death with scant details. Already a literary kiddo, I dreamed up gothic circumstances detailing the 26 characters and resulted in their demise.

Gorey was a total gateway drug; leading to a penchant for Tim Burton, darkling humor and heroines. Especially, the tragic, the diminutive scarlet, or the vampire slaying kind, and ultimately, all things supernatural.

Even the reaper featured on the cover of Tinies bears a striking resemblance to Jack Skellington, Dreamboat.

I don’t enjoy much of the contemporary horror genre. Life has offered some hair-raising experiences that illuminate the fact that there is more to the world than meets the eye. Danger, both super and natural exists, best not to live in fear. Still, I remain drawn to narratives that make light of what is dark, seek what is lost, fight demons when called upon, and attempt to explain our monsters.

These kinds of stories press boundaries of reality and imagination. Whether represented in classical art, literature, film or Youtube videos — they help us peer into dark corners, pry open locked doors and pick the lock of the universe.

And, of course, remind us to beware the axe.”



LANCE KARASTI, filmmaker

“My favorite piece of scary art is the children’s book ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,’ by Alvin Schwartz. I haven’t read any of the books in about 15 years, but the creepy stories and grotesque illustrations still haunt me to this day. I love the fact that something legitimately terrifying was made for kids. Many adults find the books to be too horrific. I wonder how to plan to get a PG rating on the upcoming film adaptation while honoring Schwartz’s clear intention of traumatizing children.”



RUTHE KAY, musician

“When I was in fifth grade, I was at my friend Celia’s house. I was much more terrified by scary movies back then. It was around Halloween, and we thought it would be a good idea to watch ‘Insidious.’ Twice. There is a scene in it where Tiny Tim’s song ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ was played. For some reason, it horrified me and I couldn’t sleep that whole night. Seven years later and my scary movie fear has subsided, but I still shudder when I hear that song.”




“It’s a photo by Sally Mann, the subject is her son. The content seems frightening to me. There is a time when a boy starts the journey of fully separating from his parents. My son, age 11, recently allowed me to treat a tick bite on his most private parts. He had no shame about it and was completely comfortable being nude. However, this will soon change and that change from boy to man is a loss that feels frightening. He’s always going to be my baby.”



2web1027-scary-art-chani-ninnemanCHANI NINNEMAN, actor and director

“My favorite scary art is Orson Welles’ original broadcast of ‘The War of the Worlds.’ Not only is it just a really well-done radio drama and perfect for Halloween, but my favorite part was that it had the power to genuinely scare people. Certainly most people knew that it was fiction, but plenty of people didn’t and they lost their minds. It doesn’t feel like our society can still be affected like that today.”



CATHY PODESZWA, writer and performer

“I’m a real fraidy cat, so I need a gentle scare to give me a nice, spooky feeling. Luckily, there are 1950s sci-fi movies! One that scares me in the best way is ‘Invaders from Mars.’ The movie starts with a thunderstorm and maybe a nightmare — but then people in the town start changing. The acting is surprisingly solid, and much of the creepiness lies in the suggestion of a horror just under the surface. The ending makes me pull the blanket in a little tighter.”


EMMA RUSTAN, who performs as Ingeborg von Agassiz, musician

“Last year out of the blue my younger sister sent me and my other siblings all a copy of Edward Gorey’s ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book.’ Unless you are slightly demented, it’s not the kind of book you’d read to your 4-year-old at bedtime. The illustrations are dark and dismal, and each letter of the alphabet represents the name of a child who dies by some tragic means. It’s actually kind of funny.”




“My favorite piece of ‘scary’ art would have to be the 1985 cult classic ‘Return of the Living Dead.’ This movie is the perfect mix of comedy, horror and music. I remember the first time I saw it. I was probably too young to watch it at the time, but it has stuck with me until this day. The tagline from the movie poster was ‘They are back from the grave and ready to party.’ Does it get any better than zombies and ’80s punk music?”


ADAM SWANSON, visual artist

“My favorite piece of scary art is a large painting titled ‘Habeas Corpus’ by Bo Bartlett. The gallows and noose are frightening, some type of scuffle is happening. A lynching is about to happen. A gray, transparent child stands in front, onstage. Perhaps his mother and father are there with him. A ceremony is disrupted. There seem to be a number of truths to this scene, and all of them are terrifying. It’s an ambiguous painting. Just realistic enough to captivate me, but abnormal enough to leave me unsettled.”




“Want to read something short and terrifying? Try the poem ‘Child Beater’ by Ai. It cuts to the core quickly and in a way that only a great poem can. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”



Written by Christa Lawler as published by the Duluth News Tribune