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Madisonian slashes into feature filmmaking with 'Main Street Meats'

Jeff Lyon loves slasher films — the good ones full of over-the-top deaths.

Not the ones with excessive gore or violence, but the kind that made audiences laugh because of how bizarre the situations were.

“They made you laugh because it was so ridiculous at times,” he said. “That’s what I grew up with in the ‘80s. Watching films edited for television on Milwaukee Super 18. Now the stuff seems so real and gritty and it makes you want to take a shower after — that’s not my thing.”

A lifelong love of the genre is what brought out the “weekend warrior” in Lyon to create a feature film nearly 7 years in the making that premieres tonight at the Barrymore Theatre.

Weekend warrior work is something that someone does in their spare time.

Lyon has made “three or four” short films in the past and once participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival here in Madison, but it wasn’t quite his style. With a bachelor’s degree in film from UW-Oshkosh, he was interested in making a film that suited his cinematic palate.

“Main Street Meats”, a film written and directed by Lyon, is an old school slasher and black comedy film a la “Sweeney Todd” although Lyon has admittedly never seen “Sweeney Todd.”

The film’s conceit is that a struggling, family-owned meat shop tries to find a new route to success. They stumble upon a secret that “boosts business” and are “obligated to continue on with their new discovery,” Lyon said.

While many might immediately think of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the premise of selling human flesh as food, that isn’t the end all be all of the unsettling notion.

“Soylent Green” and “Blood Diner”, among other titles, did it too — it’s not a new idea, Lyon said.

He hopes, however, that his fresh take on the concept will bring people out to see his first feature length film, particularly since the film’s actors hailed from many places to take part in its creation.

“We pulled people out of Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison and as far as Green Bay,” Lyon said. “...They have day jobs as well and this is weekend warrior stuff. It’s their passion and something they enjoy. They came here just to do this for the reason of liking to do it.”

Like many self-funded independent films, the director must rely on the actors’ willingness to work without pay. The director may also have to wait many years to see their project come to fruition.

Shooting for “Main Street” began in 2010 and the majority of filming took place in 2011. The movie has been in post production ever since.

None of the characters like Cherry, Floyd or Sis have last names and the town itself is never named. Audiences are left to wonder.

“Main Street” will premiere at the Barrymore Theatre tonight. The doors open at 6 p.m., the film begins at 7 p.m. and there will be an after party with cash bar at The Harmony at 10 p.m.

Tickets are $10.

“I wasn’t going to do a public screening, I wanted to have a private screening,” Lyon said.

But Lyon said he told someone about the idea of a private screening and got messages from someone else asking him to reconsider.

Audiences shouldn’t expect a scary experience from “Main Street,” but rather an homage to the golden age of slasher film.

“It’s like ‘Three’s Company’, situational comedy, meets ‘Friday the 13th’,” Lyon said.

Even if some scenes throughout the film border on over dramatic, Lyon said he has actively avoided “camp” because that’s not the style he is going for.

There is a fine line between black comedy and camp, however, they are distinctly different things, he said.

“Camp is trying to be funny, but black comedy is situationally funny,” he said. “There is a world of difference but sometimes these things get clumped together.”

Although it isn’t billed as hardcore gore, there is some nudity and foul language in “Main Street,” so Lyon advises parental discretion while adding that the film would undoubtedly be at least rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.

While Madison might not have as big of an indie community as larger cities like Chicago, Lyon said the scene here is still well established and welcoming for filmmakers like himself.

“I think Madison is a little more vibrant than other cities of similar size,” he said. “You get an influx of creative people studying film and art and they stay and create in this community. Madison is great for that for sure.”

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Amanda Finn is an arts and lifestyle reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.