Morbid Reflection: Michigan Horror Films 1976-2014

This weekend, my friend Forest Juziuk is going to be hosting a festival called Morbid Reflection: Michigan Horror Films 1976-2014 at Planet Ant’s new Ant Hall in Hamtramck. You can find ticket information at the end of this post, but, first, here’s a short conversation between Forest and myself about how the festival came together, why the world, in his opinion, needs more horror, and the Michigan-made features that he’ll be showing… at least one of which involves a bed that eats human hands.

MARK: So, what’s Morbid Reflection?

FOREST: Morbid Reflection is a two-year project spanning 12 events, including two “festivals” of Michigan-made horror movies. Maybe it’s just because I’m from here, but I think that Michigan produces the best music and horror movies, and Morbid Reflection is intended to be a celebration of the filmic side, which I think is underexposed.

You can’t beat Michigan with a stick… Just looking at just at music side of things, there’s Motown, The Stooges, Eminem… Whatever your feelings are on the MC5 or Kid Rock, Michigan is HEAVY… But then we’ve also got movies like Evil Dead, which I didn’t even know, the first time I saw it, was made here in Michigan… Like the Stooges, though, I could just feel it. It really tickled something inside of me.

Not all of the events will be entirely Michigan-centric, but this first event, Michigan Horror 1976 – 2014, will be.

MARK: What do you have in mind for future events?

FOREST: Among other things, we’ll be casting non-horror long and short films into a horror context. So, for example, I saw Toshio Matsumoto’s 1975 experimental short Atman at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and it really felt like a horror movie that was sent to us from the future. And Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, if you watch that with the idea in mind that it’s a horror movie, it’s very scary. So, can we take those two things and put them alongside Demons and have a really good, fun, scary night? I think so. We’ll see.

MARK: Why do we need Morbid Reflection? Is the world not terrifying enough right now?

FOREST: The world is absolutely terrifying. But this isn’t the world – this is an escape hatch. This is fun for the sake of fun. Leave the horror of real life, come into this space where you can sit with a bunch of other interesting people, and get held in the grip of some very imaginative, and spooky, yet often hilarious films made by some pretty visionary local filmmakers. This is entertainment. This is a break…. But it’s interesting you ask, as a few people have brought up something similar. Someone just recently asking, “Isn’t the world morbid enough? I don’t need more.” I guess what interests me is that I haven’t heard people say similar things about corporate-mediated horror events, like regular horror movies in an AMC theater. Nobody says, “The world is scary – we don’t need Annabelle: Creation or Happy Death Day.” It’s just entertainment.

MARK: In my defense, the people making and showing those films aren’t friends of mine, and, if they were, I suspect, given the state of the world today, I’d probably ask them the exact same thing. But, then again, I’m overly sensitive. I had to give up on the Walking Dead. After reading the news all day, I just couldn’t watch people being bludgeoned to death. To each his own, but I didn’t think it was healthy for me… With that said, I’m fine with campy gore.

FOREST: I hear you. I mean, every time I look at Twitter, I think that the world is ending. I’ve gotten to a point where I just read the news every three days. I find that helps quell my fears about the President to some degree. Most scandals, after a day or two, have had enough room to breathe that I’m not caught up in the immediate terror of a just-breaking story. But, yeah, I see what you mean… But the festival is going to be fun.

[above: A scene from Back From Hell, courtesy filmmaker Matt Jaissle.]

MARK: So, how’d the idea for the Michigan horror film festival come about?

FOREST: After seeing Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in San Francisco, my friend Robin and I started making a list of horror movies that were either made in, or take place in, Michigan, and it was just so rich. Either Brian Hunter, or his wife Molly, found a book that lists horror films by state, and that really helped a lot. So we kept the list going. Then, friends in the noise scene, like Aaron Dilloway and Kye Potter, helped round it out. And Jeremy Wheeler had great suggestions too. And, when we had the list, it was just too good not to do something with. And the idea of a festival just worked. If you were to do a Chicago horror film festival, it would be too easy. New York? Come on. But it works for Michigan.

MARK: So, what have you got lined up?

FOREST: Well, it’s insane, but we got Evil Dead on 16mm via U of M. Through a connection with the film’s original distributor, a really nice 16mm print made its way into their archives. I had no idea Evil Dead was even shot on 16mm, but we’ve got it. And we’re playing a VHS copy of Demon Lover, which is also known as Devil Master, because the quality of the DVD versions are really lame. They’re lame as hell, and the VHS actually POPS. We’re also showing Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Back From Hell, The Carrier, and It Follows.

MARK: Any chance we might meet any of the actors or directors at the event?

FOREST: The directors of Death Bed and Back From Hell still live here in Michigan, so it’s likely they’ll come out, but we’ll also be releasing Morbid Reflection zines that will contain interviews with directors, cast, and crew.

MARK: Why do you think it was that Michigan was such a hotbed for early horror? Are you finding any commonality in the stories you’re being told by directors? Do we know to what extent, if any, they were aware of each other, etc?

FOREST: Good question! Horror films are known for making an easy buck, so that could be at play. Then again, it’s not like this is a “studio state”. This is, however, a really creative place, where people spend a lot of time in bad weather, dreaming up weird mysteries. As for who was aware of who, Matt Jaissle from Back From Hell worked on The Carrier, but I’m not sure I can draw too many other lines. The films were made pretty far apart from each other, and have different flavors.

MARK: OK, so let’s pick one of these movies to discuss in a little more depth… You choose.

FOREST: Yeesh, where to start? Honestly, I have no idea. There’s something about each of these films that is unique and cuckoo. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats spans all this time because it took so long to make, and they couldn’t shoot at the same locations, so there’s this heavy displacement of time and place while a bunch of maniacal shit happens. It’s a bed that eats people!! It eats a bucket of chicken, it eats someone’s hands. The moment I saw the Back From Hell trailer, I thought “What on earth do we have here!?” It’s perfect. The Carrier is a pretty well-made movie with bizarre trash costumes, which are right up my alley. Cats figure very prominently in the movie, and someone on YouTube made a super-cut of every scene where there’s a mention of cats. Demon Lover, aka Devil Master, is maybe closest to my heart. The grain of the film is just perfect and crappy. There’s a goofy Frank Zappa lookalike. And my favorite scene is where two young women decide to drive to Ann Arbor to party, and are killed or kill each other or are killed by a demonic force along the way — it’s absolutely confusing, verging on psychedelic.

MARK: Speaking of trailers, the one you shared with me for the event is pretty fucking awesome. How’d it come together?

FOREST: Sean Curtis Patrick did the trailer in one afternoon. I sent him a few scenes, and a very vague idea, and he pulled other scenes and created this really brilliant… I mean, I don’t know how his brain works, but somehow he drew a line through the clips I gave him, to clips he found, and produced a fairly cohesive, funny piece of work.

MARK: So, the event coming up will be the very first of the series, or have things already started?

FOREST: Morbid Reflection: Michigan Horror 1976 – 2014 is the first of the series. Next is probably “Halloween On Christmas”, splicing the first two Halloween movies into one and showing it on Christmas day for those with nowhere to go, or just need to blow off steam after a day with the family. I’m also hoping to show John Wiese’s cut of Purple Rain, called Purple Rain: Terror Beyond Belief. Also slated at some point is, hopefully, a longer Memory Hole show. Memory Hole is the brainchild of Everything Is Terrible. They were given the America’s Funniest Videos archive and have been turning it into a horror movie.

MARK: Do I understand that some of the proceeds from this first event will be going to a good cause?

FOREST: Right. As long as we’ve got all of these people in the room, we figured that we’d try to do something positive. So we’re officially partnering with HAVEN, which, among other things, provides shelter, counseling and educational programs for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Oakland County. We’ll have a donation box, we’ll have a credit card option, brochures – the works.

MARK: Didn’t you and the guys from Wolf Eyes do something similar just after Trump’s inauguration?

FOREST: Yes. It was the day after the election, and we made everything on the Wolf Eyes Bandcamp free for a day, and donated whatever money came in to Planned Parenthood, Border Angels, and the Ruth Ellis Center. The idea there was to flip the band’s grim tunes into a soundtrack of support for what seemed like three key zones where Trump would likely attack: women, immigration, and LGBTQ rights… So, yes, what we’re doing here is similar, in that we’re going to be trying to help rally support for a local organization doing important work advocating for women.

MARK: So where should be go if they want to be a part of Morbid Reflection?

FOREST: There’s a Morbid Reflection site, which is basically the hub where we’ll be sharing information on all the events. It will get you all the information you need, although our Facebook page is updated more often… As for where it’ll all be taking place, I’m really happy to be working with the fairly new Ant Hall in Hamtramck, Planet Ant’s larger venue hall attached to the Ghost Light bar. They’ve been a breeze to work with… Tickets can be picked up from the Planet Ant site.

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  1. Eel
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Where does the phrase Morbid Reflection come from? I want to say it’s from a Hellen Reddy song.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Forest, would you be willing to share your complete list of Michigan horror films?

  3. Posted October 25, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Eel – It’s something I heard someone say and found a lot of ways to look at in terms of mood, filmmaking elements, etc. I had thought up a long list of names but this one clicked. I just looked and didn’t see anything in a Helen Reddy song!

    Anonymous – Here’s an early list I made:

    Hardcore – Paul Schrader (Grand Rapids)
    The Devil Master (aka The Demon Lover) – Donald G. Jackson, Jerry Younkins (Jackson; maybe Exhumed Video has rights)
    Demon Lover Diary – Joel DeMott (companion piece to The Devil Master)
    Evil Dead
    Northville Cemetary Massacre – William Dear and Thomas L. Dyke
    Mosquito – Gary Jones
    Detroit 9000 – Arthur Marks
    Black River Monster
    Death Bed: The Bed That Eats –
    Back From Hell – Matt Jaissle
    The Carrier – Nathan J. White
    Hackers – ?

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