INTERNET HORROR // 'Possibly in Michigan (1983)'

I cannot imagine writing a longer piece about the internet horror that I enjoy without including 'Possibly in Michigan'. If I had a quid for every time I rewatched this short, I would be a very rich man. Truly, I have saved the best, or at least my favourite, until last. The short film is a 12-minute-long surreal horror musical, created by video artist Cecelia Condit in 1983. I saw it in 2018, when Condit uploaded it in full to her YouTube channel. It has since achieved viral status, which is why I class it as internet horror, as the film gets brought up in the same breath as other 'weird side of YouTube' videos (usually art projects that aren't instantly classifiable as such and have a disturbing tone) like 'Dining Room or There is Nothing' and 'I Feel Fantastic'. To say that the short has aged well is an understatement.

Stills from 'Possibly in Michigan (1983)'

The story of 'Possibly in Michigan' is as follows: Sharon and her friend Janice are shopping for perfume at the mall but are being stalked by a masked man named Arthur. When they notice, they are obviously alarmed, but this seems par for the course with both of them, as they often deal with stalkers, violent men, and 'strange ones'. Sharon even thinks she might have met Arthur once before- possibly in Michigan. The women return home thinking they have evaded Arthur, who in reality is still close behind. Arthur attempts to break into Sharon's house as she phones Janice for help. Arthur confesses his love for Sharon and threatens to kill and eat her, also saying that he has done this to six women in the past. Before he can make good on his threats, Janice turns up and shoots him. The women then cook and eat Arthur's body before disposing of his bones. All of this is told to eerily peppy music.

Here are my thoughts, going least to most relevant: firstly, it is not the first time I have included 'Michigan' in a personal project. In school, I had an art module concerning dreams and nightmares, and completed a body of work under this theme, citing Condit's video pieces and their surreal quality as a big influence. I want to re-visit this old 'dreams and nightmares' project for a later chapter, so will go into more detail about it later, but for now, I have included the stills from 'Michigan' that I drew back then.

'Possibly in Michigan' drawings from 2018

"Sharon attracted violent men. Strangely, she had a way of making the violence seem like it was their idea. Her friend Janice was cut from the same mould. They even liked the same perfume. Arthur, who had been following them closely, was similarly disposed. The three of them had two things in common- violence, and perfume." - 'Possibly in Michigan (1983)'

The short is clearly about violence targeted at women, and the after-shocks of trauma that can occur from this. To me, Sharon and Janice live dangerous dual existences: they are in a various fringe societal circles including criminals and other unnerving sorts. They have no qualms about committing murder in self-defence, or cannibalising people, and yet they are, on the surface, two normal women who take dreamy shopping trips and discuss their crazy relatives. I interpret every second random image shown in 'Michigan' (the collapsing building, the woman spinning in her dress, running through the snow, kitchen scenes feeding a dog) as scenes from their lives- and yet they also attend masquerade dances with cannibals. They enjoy the normalcy of everyday femininity, but have had dealings with danger and darkness, with it becoming normal to them but not socially acceptable. And so they lead double-lives. Violence and perfume.

Sharon and Janice

They are the most at ease, and composed, in two scenes- while shopping for perfume in the opening, and right after eating Arthur's body. They can exist in both worlds- a balancing act- but things become complicated for them when their dual existences overlap, when their mobility to move freely between the two is jeopardised with the appearance of the less-composed, men who have no sense of privacy. These men must be evaded and eliminated if their public and past, more private, lives are to remain separate. I think of the sigh in the voiceover: "Here we go again," almost resigned. The other reason they roll their eyes at male attention is because they themselves are an item: after eating Arthur, the women sit nude and smoke cigarettes, the whole thing having an 'after sex' connotation. The world of 'Michigan' makes no pretence about the fact that there are unnerving people in the world, but seems to say that women must hide this side of themselves- which means that combatting unsavoury men who are, on the other hand, not forced to remain hidden, is in their own hands.

Arthur's mask.

Onto Arthur, our masked, tuxedo-clad cannibal, played in the film, at first, by Condit herself, wearing a mask from a practice dummy for dental students. The mask's mouth is unreasonably, lewdly wide, but underneath it, Condit plays the character also open-mouthed, so that beyond the extended rubber-jaw, there is a human mouth. Arthur is the cannibal with two mouths, and wants to eat Sharon 'for love'.

"Arthur longed for that sexual scent that smelled like home. He had worn so many masks to disguise himself that he had forgotten who he was and who he'd known. He imagined himself a frog transformed into a Prince Charming: he felt that the moment he kissed her, he would become the man she would want him to be." - 'Possibly in Michigan (1983)'

As the narrator says this, Arthur is 'unmasked' to reveal a Prince Charming, and he is now played by, not Condit, but Bill Blume, a man.

Bill Blume as Prince Charming

I like to imagine that my relationship with my friends, specifically my friends who have dealt with similar mental health struggles to me, is akin to the relationship between Sharon and Janice. That we have the same 'dark pasts' and can share knowing and joking secret looks now that we're over it. Only for me, I never got over it, and am therefore afraid to appear ill, or ask for help, because I don't want to be the ghost at the feast, like the tactless Arthur, an unwanted reminder of the past and all that has gone wrong. I don't want to drag people down to my ghoulish level.

Arthur's many masks are the many obsessions I have based my whole life and identity around (horror being the current one). Without them I am nothing: I feel like a hole surrounded by everything I have ever drawn, read, watched, liked, or made. Without these obsessions, I would cease to exist and be less than a person. Arthur also wants to define himself externally, in the grips of an identity crisis, and seeks to do so through Janice- he could be her Prince Charming. After all, she vaguely reminds him of something familiar. Except, the only way he knows how to love is to consume mindlessly.

The fact that Arthur is initially played by Condit is also important to me- a woman dressed up in a suit and mask, playing a man. In my darkest moments I wonder if even my trans status is a fabrication to cover up the fact that I am no one. If it is merely an elaborate costume or a mask.

"Love shouldn't cost an arm and a leg!" - Sharon, to Arthur ('Possibly in Michigan (1983)')