Almost always, just before a play starts, you have to sit through an admonishment to turn off all those electronic gizmos in your pocket so you don't bother the audience or the actors.
Splatter Theater does things a little differently.
"If you want to sing along or yell, 'Kill the bitch,' go right ahead," director James Vale tells the audience.
The play also ends in unconventional fashion, with bodies piled up on the floor and blood covering every surface of the tiny stage at Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor City.
In between, there's an hour and a quarter of unmitigated silliness. A group of kids gathers in a house for a party, and a masked madman kills them one by one. There are disembowelments, dismemberments, saw blades through skulls. When the kids are killed, more people start showing up at the house. They don't notice the corpses on the floor or the blood on the walls and they get killed too. When there's no one left to kill, the show's over.
It's deliberately dumb and self-consciously campy, more of a parody of slasher movies than an homage, with dialogue and characters inspired by Reefer Madness. It's a lot of fun, but if it were any longer it could easily wear out its welcome.
Splatter Theater has been around for nearly a quarter-century. A Chicago group called Annoyance Theater first performed it in 1987. There's no playwright listed; a tiny note in the back of the program says it was created collaboratively by its original director, composer and cast.
Here, it's produced by Asylum Theater Group, which was founded by director Vale. Vale has worked with Annoyance and has done makeup and special effects for several obscure slasher flicks.
If this is the kind of show that draws you to the theater, you're probably not inclined to get too analytical about acting and direction and stuff like that. And in fact most of the actors only have a few lines before they're hacked to death or strangled with their own intestines, so they don't exactly have a chance to develop their characters. (A lot of the characters introduce themselves by their stereotypes: "I'm a slut," "I'm a jock," "I'm a virgin.") But there are some impressive performances, including those by Nathan Juliano, the always reliable Slake Counts and Brooke McCarter (whose horror credits include a role as a vampire in The Lost Boys).
Splatter Theater seems designed for a late-night show, and on Fridays and Saturdays curtain is at 10 p.m. (Not exactly "late night," but at least later.) The self-conscious attempt to foster Rocky Horror-esque audience participation probably works better at the late shows, when the Goth-heavy audience might be more lubricated. At Sunday's 8 p.m. performance, despite a full house, no one in the audience came up with any clever lines, so that whole aspect of the evening fell flat.