Ruschelle: Wonderful to have you in the Horror Tree Hot Seat. You are now part of an exclusive club! There are secret handshakes, a fun initiation (warning: don’t ever fall asleep…ever), and everyone’s favorite, human sacrifice! But before we choose your first victim, let’s get to know our newest member. You are a retired mime… I almost blackballed you for that tidbit, but you have a great moustache… so tell give us a glimpse into your days as a mime.
Josef: First off, the mustache thanks you. We both feel honored to be strapped down in the seat of honor.
Mime was a bit of a double-edged sword back in my day. Sure mimes were universally disliked, with attacks from surly penguins with olive pimento loaves, drunken college boys, and bored dads at the medieval festivals. But Mummenschantz was appearing on the Muppet Show, Robin Williams street mime films got out, and Shields and Yarnell had their own show on TV.
I did a lot of busking on street corners and performing at arts festivals. I got to be one of the official performers for Ameriflora, the flower event celebrating the five-hundred-year anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America. Eager children swarming you can do as much damage as drunk who means you harm. I even got a starring role in Mime Legend a short film variation of I am Legend where the disease that ravages Earth turns the dead into mimes. I did all my own stunts.
What I brought from that experience was the ability to write through gesture and body language with no words. I learned how to read a crowd, how to improvise, and how to perform before an audience. All great skills for an author reading and book signing.
Ruschelle: Mimes…some people find them humorous while others find them scary. Kinda like clowns. They are supposed to be entertaining and enjoyable, yet they scare the hell out people. Horror goes together like peas and carrots, like band saws and body parts, like Josef Matulich and The Ren Faire at the End of the World. What is key to the perfection that is the combination of humor and horror?
Josef: Both Horror and Humor create an emotional response from dissonant images and actions. The circumstances are ginned up to created heightened emotions while at the same time an unconscious recognition that the threat and stakes are imaginary. That gives the audience permission to enjoy a dismemberment or a slip on a banana peel. If you attack a character with a knife-wielding maniac, that’s Horror. If the character is attacked by a mime with a four-foot powder puff, it’s Comedy. If your unlucky character has two flesh-eating squirrels run up his pants legs, that’s Horror/Comedy.
Ruschelle: Evil Dead, Scream, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, just to name a few are horror movies with a humorous slant. What movies do you feel best represent the genre? Which are your favorites?
Josef: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Slither, and Fido, where zombies are kept as pets, are some of my modern favorites besides the ones you listed. The old school classics like Vincent Price’s Abominable Dr. Phibes, Madhouse, and Theater of Blood still hold up to viewings in the twenty-first century.
Ruschelle: Is there a book or movie that you recommend for those wanting to try their hand at that horror/comedy?
Josef: I cut my teeth on Frederic Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks. He was an early practitioner of Flash Fiction and his stories could be either creepy, funny, or both.
Ruschelle: You are penning the Squirrel Apocalypse. Why squirrels? Do they use cool weapons like ninja stars… and sporks? Oh, please say yes…
Josef: The squirrels have no need for cool weapons, they are the weapons. Set in Northern California in the days before legalization, it is a wonderland of illicit pot farms, drug gangs, GMO killer squirrels, and plenty of dairy cattle to run down when the hybrid squirrels get the munchies. I co-opted a real-life radio station that in its day broadcast the movements of DEA agents to the local pot farmers. To have those broadcasts interrupted with warnings of swarms of killer squirrels was my personal indulgence.
Ruschelle: A little evil squirrely told me you are writing a play. A play from HELL! The squirrel can’t keep his trap shut. So, spill it.
Josef: The squirrel got it half right: I have a screenplay that has spent ten years in pre-production HELL. It was written for an actor who specializes in creature parts and included junkyard cyborgs, kids camping in the woods, and nerds vs. jocks. You should fricassee the squirrel.
I have had a couple of short plays produced locally. One was a sex-interrupting monster under the bed. The other was a pair of sentient gargoyles on a rooftop who only get suicidal fanboys to visit them. I’m ready for anyone who wants to put on another production.
Ruschelle: In a battle royale, who do you think will kick major ass, Ashy Slashy from the Evil Dead movies or Halloween’s Michael Meyers?
Josef: Ash was able to recreate the Industrial Revolution with a Buick and a college Chemistry book. He would win hands, well hand, down.
Ruschelle: You’re a make-up artist! Zombies and gory creatures would be awesome to see come to life. How did you get into creating men (and women) into monsters?
Josef: At about thirteen or so, my best buddy and I discovered mask-making and special effects make-up. We would hang out at his house and experiment with make-up, cotton, and liquid latex. I would frequently come home with fake acid burns or bloody gashes. It didn’t disturb my mother half as much as I wanted.
Ruschelle: Could you tell us about your favorite makeup? Oooh do you have a photo?Josef: One of my favorite make-ups was a demo where I turned my son into a Steampunk Zombie. The foam latex piece showed the gears that ran inside his head and the brass port for a winding key. He was a really big hit with the girls that year.
There was my most involved movie monster, Bob the Blob. It was an alien that connected up to the heads of students with its tentacles to pump chemicals into their brains that kept them tractable. Bob had an eyestalk that could be moved from side to side by internal wires, a breathing mechanism made from condoms and syringes and about a dozen six-foot long tentacles. The director Sheldon Gleisser is holding the tentacle and sucker mouth.
Ruschelle: Have any of your stories involved a deranged makeup artist whose cosmetics are cursed, causing his ghastly creations to become the real deal? Could be funny if they embellish their junk…
Josef: Not that, but one of my early role-playing supplements for the defunct NightLife property had a special effects guy who made up friends as monsters to go cruise bars and play with the minds of the drunken populace. As he discovered that monsters were real and they wanted to party too, he would include them in the crowd of bar crawling fake monsters.
Ruschelle: You write flash as well as short stories and novels. Of all of those, which do you prefer?
Josef: I like novels best, huge ridiculous stories that take at least two-hundred pages to wring all the weirdness out of them. I have to exercise extreme discipline to produce something as lean as a screenplay or RPG supplement. When I get bogged down with a larger project, I like to write a flash piece or two to cleanse the palate and get motivated again.
I feel that short stories are a penance for evil I have done in previous lives.
Ruschelle: The Arcanum Faire Series you penned looks fantastic. There is a non-Wiccan Witch, vegan Thanksgiving, power tools, sex (hubba hubba) and zombie bunnies! Tell us more.
Josef: Arcanum Faire is the classic story of Boy meets Witch, Boy loses Witch, Witch’s Ex hospitalizes Boy with a sex-summoned invisible tentacle demon. The hero Marc is a tool-obsessed prankster sent to build a renaissance faire in a town overrun by witches, primordial demons, and reanimated roadkill. The locals quickly discover that he has certain attributes useful to magick-users. He’s convinced everyone is as mad as his recently deceased schizophrenic brother.
Things devolve naturally as Marc discovers he can whack supernatural beings with a shovel (cold iron), that he and his Wiccan love Brenwyn can perform accidental sex magick, and that a ren faire full of witches, cultists, and walking wounded seeking a miracle generate a butt load of psychic energy.
It has a little bit of everything for the reader. It has fighting, and magick, and fencing— both with foils and barbed wire. It has romance, and sex (though not graphic enough for some tastes) and some relationships my characters still haven’t figured out yet.
I just got the rights back to these books at the beginning of the year. I should soon have the first book available, self-published with a great new cover by the comic artist Seth Lyons. All three should be done by the end of the year.
Though there are only three books, I’ve left myself enough of a window to write a fourth. If I live that long.
Ruschelle: What is scarier; zombie bunnies or zombie beavers? Have you seen the movie, Zombeavers?
Josef: I, unfortunately, have not yet seen Zombeavers, but I have seen Zoombies and am still having PTSD incidents. I think the undead skinless bunnies and squirrels, along with a small herd of undead Angus cattle, could be far more horrifying if this weren’t a comedy. It’s hard to get people to laugh after a character has been disemboweled by dozens of great pointy teeth.
Ruschelle: To date, what is the writing project you’re most proud of?
Josef: The Ren Faire at the End of the World allowed me to have my bobcat-driving, demented ren faire performer Eleazar improvise his own version of Aragorn’s speech at Pellenor to inspire the rennies and jousters defending the faire against reanimated road-kill and meat puppets. I can’t see how I can outdo myself on that one.
Ruschelle: You have so many awesome interests. You are an avid costumer. Could you give us a little peek into that side of you?
Josef: My wife and I met because she had a costume that required custom pointed ears. Together we costumed plays, films and events for twenty years. For nearly a decade we provided costumed actors for movie openings like Harry Potter, LOTR, or the last Indiana Jones movie. I got to be both Snape and Indy.
Then, we opened The Alley Vintage & Costumes. It’s a nice little place in a strip mall in North West Columbus, only semi-haunted by the clothing’s previous owners. Most of our costuming energy goes into keeping that enterprise going, though we occasionally put together a costume for my convention appearances.
These are two of our favorite costumes done on others. The first is a warrior class Minbari that we did both costume and make-up. The other is the Alien Queen, again costume and the three-foot-long mask.
Ruschelle: If luck struck you in the face like a long breast from an old stripper, which movie or project would you love to costume or be makeup artist for?
Josef: I always loved the chaotic scenes, like the cantina from Star Wars or the goblin market in Hellboy II. Decades ago, I pitched the idea of a spaceport bar on Earth after alien contact with dozens of alien races. Somewhere I still have the series bible with story ideas and a dozen different alien biologies. Yeah, if I got hit in the face with Fortune’s mammary, I’d dust that off.
Ruschelle: We all have our muses. Mine is drunk and passed out right now. So, as a creative, who do you turn to when you need a bump of inspiration?
Josef: I find bad, cheap horror and SFF movies to be highly inspiring. Seeing completed projects that were so cheezy and campy remove any concerns of whether my first draft is good enough.
Screwball comedies of the forties also have a special place in my heart. Like Arsenic and Old Lace or The Front Page. I initially described the Arcanum Faire trilogy as Bringing Up Baby meets Harvest Home.
Ruschelle: What offerings should your newfound fans look forward to from you?
Josef: As the Squirrel Apocalypse is being groomed for publication, I am working on The Silk Empress, a steampunk story of a Chinese airship gifted to an Alsatian business woman to run along the High Silk Road from China to Europe. It has air pirates, clockwork dragons, secret societies, and the world’s most inept boy adventurer, all in an altered history where China is on an equal footing with the European powers.
Then I’ll return to horror/comedy with Dead People’s Houses about an entrepreneur who deals in antiques, vintage clothing, and occult items and he has a knack of having just what you need. This will be in the same universe as Arcanum Faire with the probable overlap of one or two characters.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with us here at the Horror Tree. You are a man of many talents. How can your fans stalk you and send you sweet love notes here on the www?
Josef: You can check out my blog:
on Twitter I am called
On Facebook I lurk under the sign
On Instagram some call me: